Violence against judges

Fifteen activists were arrested and one judge was beaten so badly he had to be hospitalized early this morning. The group was holding a sit-in in front of the Judges' Club in solidarity with the judges currently being threatened with expulsion for their demands for greater independence. This--physically attacking a judge--is dangerous esclation indeed. I have heard few details so far (it's a national holiday here today) but you can read the wire story here.
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Request: Kristof op-ed on Sudan

Would appreciate it if somebody could send me a copy of today's op-ed on Sudan by Nicholas Kristof in the NYT: OP-ED COLUMNIST China and Sudan, Blood and Oil By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF Chinese oil purchases have financed Sudan's pillage of Darfur. (Available only to TimesSelect subscribers) Thanks. Update: Thanks to the people who emailed it. You know who you are.
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Baheyya's back

All you ever wanted to know about the Egyptian judiciary and the current attack on reformist judges, but were afraid to ask:
The pattern governing all of the actions this week is clear: the regime is leaning on certain judges to activate seemingly unobjectionable procedural mechanisms to punish prominent reformist judges, who are portrayed as errant deviants undermining the stature and integrity of the judicial profession. Now, there is a real rift between Egyptian judges, particularly visible in the last four years. This rift widened into a yawning chasm after the parliamentary elections, as reports swiftly circulated telling of certain judges colluding to fix results in the critical districts of Damanhour, Madinat Nasr, Quellin, Doqqi, and Kerdasa, to name but a handful. Bastawisi and Mekky rightly assert that they have never accused any of their colleagues; indeed, the Club committee preparing a report on parliamentary elections is still not finished precisely because it is scrupulously compiling reliable data on the vote count at each and every auxiliary polling station in each of the contested districts. However, this investigative work is itself perturbing, and judges whose initials appeared on the Bar Association’s blacklist have had their reputations sullied and wish to silence their colleagues.
You really have to read it all if you care about this issue. Also see this BBC piece about the judges' sit-in.
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Coverage of Shubra demo on national unity

Big Pharaoh has great coverage of the national unity demo held yesterday in Shubra by Kifaya & Friends. Nice work. 132095155 63E868B543 I stole this picture from BP's post -- he says:
One of the most refreshing things about today was the support we got from passersby and those who were not part of the demonstration. These ladies from the balcony were waving the Egyptian flag, cheering, and ullulating. That's my favorite picture.
Mine too.
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US loses $20 billion from Arab visitors

My friend Yasmine Rashidi writes in the WSJ about the impact of tighter visa regulations and perceptions of discrimination on Arab tourism to the United States:
But America's allure appears to be waning, and travel to the U.S. from the Mideast has dropped. U.S. visits by Saudi Arabians, for example, fell to 18,573 in 2004, the last year for which statistics are available, from 72,891 in 1999, Commerce Department figures show. That represents an especially pronounced drop in tourist dollars because Saudi visitors spend three times as much per person as any other group of U.S. tourists, $9,368 per trip to the U.S., the Commerce Department says. Visa hassles have affected export businesses, too, Arabs and Americans say, by placing a wall between U.S. companies and prospective clients who may turn to countries to which travel is easier. Arab tourists, deterred in part by U.S. visa hassles, are flocking to other burgeoning tourist destinations close to home, such as Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which offers resort hotels, theme parks and shopping malls patterned on U.S.-style attractions. Jay Rasulo, president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, has been outspoken about how the visa process deters tourists. Mr. Rasulo told a recent travel-industry gathering that U.S. share of international travel has dropped by double digits since 2000, to its all-time low, dropping by "about $20 billion a year."
More there on the impact on the healthcare and education industries. [Via Juan Cole.] Update: Related piece in Le Monde - "America also mistrust music" [reg.] -- on how musicians from Muslim countries are facing enormous difficulties in getting visas:
Ces mesures ont créé des délais parfois très longs. Selon une enquête du GAO, l'organisme de contrôle du Congrès auprès des 211 postes qui délivrent des visas américains, le temps d'attente record est de 168 jours, à Madras (Inde). Il est de 116 jours à Paris. Avant le 11 septembre 2001, le nombre de visas accordés était de près de 8 millions par an. En 2003, il était tombé à 5 millions. Il remonte légèrement. Les conséquences de ces mesures sont connues dans les milieux universitaires et scientifiques. Elles le sont moins dans le domaine culturel. Il y a quelques semaines, le Hallé Orchestra de Manchester a annulé sa tournée américaine 2007 : chacun des 100 titulaires devait se rendre à Londres. Le coût du visa pour l'orchestre était de 80 000 dollars (65 000 euros). "Le fardeau est devenu trop lourd", explique Patrick Madden, vice-président de l'association Performing Arts Presenters, qui représente la profession. L'association a questionné ses 7 000 membres. En 2002, 75 % d'entre eux avaient inclus des artistes étrangers dans leur programmation. En 2005, ils n'étaient plus que 60 %. "Une mauvaise expérience, et c'est tentant de se replier", dit-il. Les producteurs "riches" s'en tirent évidemment mieux. Selon le département d'Etat, 44 000 visas d'artistes ont été accordés en 2005, beaucoup selon la formule dite "Premium", mise en place pour accélérer la procédure. Une réponse est promise dans les deux semaines. Mais il en coûte 1 000 dollars (813 euros) par dossier. Pour monter le Festival de la Chine, l'automne 2005 à Washington, le Kennedy Center, l'un des premiers centres culturels du pays, a dû débourser plus de 50 000 dollars (40 000 euros) pour les seuls visas ; 900 artistes et techniciens étaient prévus. Alicia Adams, la vice-présidente de la programmation internationale, a carrément recruté un juriste spécialiste des questions d'immigration. "Un travail énorme", dit-elle. Le problème serait resté confiné à la profession si le violoncelliste Yo-Yo Ma n'avait interrompu ses répétitions pour venir témoigner devant une commission de la Chambre des représentants le 4 avril. Yo-Yo Ma a monté en 1998 une organisation rassemblant des artistes d'Asie centrale et baptisée "Projet Route de la soie". En 2002, il a reçu la médaille nationale des arts, ce qui lui a donné l'occasion de jouer avec une pianiste célèbre, Condoleezza Rice, alors conseillère à la sécurité nationale de George Bush. Devant le Congrès, Yo-Yo Ma a expliqué que son groupe compte maintenant 50 musiciens originaires de 15 pays. "Mais les barrières pour les inviter aux Etats-Unis sont devenues incroyablement élevées", a-t-il regretté. Exemple : les deux musiciens iraniens Siamak Aghaei et Siamak Jahangiri sont venus aux Etats-Unis une dizaine de fois. Malgré cela, ils doivent obtenir un nouveau visa à chaque visite, et donc se rendre deux fois dans le Golfe, à Dubaï, puisque Washington et Téhéran n'entretiennent pas de relations diplomatiques. Une première fois pour l'interview à l'ambassade, une deuxième fois pour retirer leur visa. En 2005, il a fallu un troisième voyage à Dubaï. "L'imprimante était en panne." La participation des deux Iraniens à la tournée américaine de La Route de la soie a coûté 5 000 dollars (4 000 euros).
I don't have time to translate, but long story short: not only has it become more difficult and expensive for artists to get visas, but there is effectively a two-tiered system for getting them, with a "premium" application (for which you pay $1000 extra per application) being answered more quickly.
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Maximum Effectiveness at Egypt’s Social Fund?

It is the Near East foundation telling us that everything is fine at Egypt’s Social Fund for Development. The fund is the government’s agency for implementing development projects and financing SME’s.
How are they doing? Near East Foundation's Center for Development Services was selected--after competitive bidding--to find out. NEF zeroed in on 39 projects in 18 communities in both Lower and Upper Egypt to investigate just how results jibed with original objectives, getting very specific: to what extent has poverty been reduced and people been empowered, and if so, how. They studied seven areas--potable water, sanitation, roads, environment, micro-credit, education, and health--at the household and community levels.
I haven’t read the full report, but it appears to give good grades to the Social Fund’s work. Single projects of the Social Fund might very well improve the situation of ordinary Egyptians, but overall, I always doubted the Social Fund was an effective institution, and this assessment seems to fall short of addressing broader issues. For instance, given the enormous funds the fund has at its disposal, rumours on corruption persist. Back in 2002, an insider told me that corruption was common, although recently an international donor working with the fund also told me that he was satisfied with its effectiveness and management. However, every time I’m on my way to the airport, I see the fund’s new show-room growing and growing, at a site between GAFI and Cairo International Fair, wondering how much money goes into the massive building that will serve to display the fund’s projects. I also think that the micro-lending activities of the Social Fund are crowding out the private sector, at least to a certain extent. The limited availability of lending offers to poor households as well as SMEs is a chronic ill of Egypt’s banking sector, reducing economic growth. Interesting to see how one development agency applauds another.
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Le Journal Hebdo loses appeal

Le Journal Hebdo, arguably Morocco's most irreverent and political critical liberal publication, has lot its appeal to avoid paying the highest-ever libel fees imposed by a Moroccan court. It's all here. I met with Abou Bakr Jamai, Le Journal Hebdo's publisher, about a month ago in Casablanca and found him extremely interesting. In Morocco itself he is considered too controversial. In my book that means he's doing something right. I don't have time to say much more about this, except that it's depressing that the one ray of hope in the region seems to be taking a turn for the worse.
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Timothy Garton Ash engages in some speculative history:
May 7 2009 will surely go down in history alongside September 11 2001. "5/7", as it inevitably became known, saw massive suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, London and New York, as well as simultaneous attacks on the remaining western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Total casualties were estimated at around 10,000 dead and many more wounded. The attacks, which included the explosion of a so-called dirty bomb in London, were orchestrated by a Tehran-based organisation for "martyrdom-seeking operations" established in 2004. "5/7" was the Islamic Republic of Iran's response to the bombing of its nuclear facilities, which President Hillary Clinton had ordered in March 2009.
On the whole I think the article is irresponsible and basically engages in scare-mongering. I am not so sure the response to an attack on Iran would be that dramatic or widespread. But it's a fun read.
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The Israeli who feared Egypt

Surely after the clear demonstration of Israeli tactical and strategic superiority on the battlefield in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 and the vastly superior intelligence gathering services of the Israeli secret services (not to mention the advanced military technology and various forms of US aid), one would think Israelis don't think Egypt is much of a threat. Well, not everyone: Yuval Steinitz, a Likud member who chair the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, is afraid of Egypt. Haaretz is running a long interview with him, below is an excerpt in which discusses Egypt as the biggest threat to Israel today.
Do you really think that we have to invest billions in rebuilding the IDF on completely new foundations when in practice we are not facing any significant conventional threat? "I see an existential conventional threat based on the formation of two military alliances directed against us: an Egyptian-Saudi alliance in the south and a Syrian-Iranian alliance in the north. I am especially concerned about Egypt. I think that there is a concrete danger that Israel fell asleep and that when it wakes up it will find itself facing a very tough Egyptian military challenge." We have peace with Egypt, a peace that has withstood a series of tests and has given us 30 years of quiet and prosperity. "I suggest that we not take at face value the Egyptian declarations of peace but that we look at the facts. The facts show that a vast army is being built in Egypt. Egypt faces no threats and has no active border disputes and no resources but is investing billions in creating an army that has absolute dominance in the Arab world and in Africa. Why is Egypt doing this? The numbers are simply astounding. The size of the Egyptian Air Force is about the same as that of the Israel Air Force, but the number of tanks, artillery pieces, boats and missile batteries is exponentially greater than ours. The Egyptian army is far larger than the IDF. But beyond the fact that during 25 years Egypt forged a tremendous force, an additional process has developed in the past 10 years. "Since the mid-1990s, Egyptian doctrine, Egyptian indoctrination and Egyptian training exercises have been directed against Israel. Since the start of this century Egypt has also invested billions in relocating its military infrastructures so they are opposite Israel. Initially its surface-to-surface missiles were scattered across Egypt, whereas now they are massed against us in the Suez Canal region. The same holds for the logistics facilities and ammunition dumps. Everything is concentrated on the two sides of the Suez Canal. There are also worrisome signs in the Sinai desert itself - perhaps very worrisome, but I cannot elaborate on them. The lenient interpretation says that this gigantic enterprise is being created because the Egyptians are afraid of us. But there is also an alternative interpretation: Egypt is preparing for war. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then maybe it really is a duck. If it looks like preparations for a military confrontation and sounds like preparations for a military confrontation, then maybe it really is preparations for a military confrontation against Israel." Do you believe that Egypt really wants to dwarf Israel and restore it to its natural dimensions? "I have no doubt that if Egypt could make Israel disappear from the map, it would not object to that. A future military confrontation with Israel exists in the Egyptian national consciousness and in the consciousness of the Egyptian security forces, and that is what Egyptian strategic planning is leading toward. I am in favor of peace with Egypt. I welcome the partial improvement that has occurred in relations in the past year. But I think that we must not delude ourselves. A definite possibility exists that a military confrontation between us and Egypt will take place in the future. We have to deploy for that." We haven't yet talked about Iran, which is the true existential threat to Israel. "Israel faces two existential threats. The Iranian existential threat is the only we are permitted to talk about and even like talking about. The Egyptian existential threat is the one we are prohibited from talking about. Quite a few people are aware of it, but only a few dare to utter its name explicitly and refer to its scale. For the same reason we ignore the fact it was Egypt that caused the Camp David conference to fail. Ignore the fact that it is Egypt that built up Hamas and is continuing to do so. Ignore the fact that Egypt allows smuggling into the Gaza Strip and is effectively arming the Palestinian people against Israel. Egypt is interested in seeing Israel and the Palestinians bleed. Contrary to its rhetoric, it had no interest in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - on the contrary."
No comment for now, just wanted to flag it.
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Egypt's judges on trial

IkhwanWeb has a look at the latest development with Ahmed Mekki and Hisham Bastawissi, the two dissident judges who led accusations of vote-rigging during the parliamentary elections and are now being punished for it. About 10 days ago Heba Saleh had a piece about them in the FT (reg), too, in which she interviewed Mekki:
The meeting's cancellation highlights the difficulties faced by the Egyptian judges in a year likely to prove crucial for the future of the judiciary. Parliament is expected this year to vote upon a new law on the judiciary drafted by the government and so far kept under wraps. At stake is the independence of the only important Egyptian institution still able to resist government pressure. In a country where political parties are very weak, the Judges Club emerged last year as the leading force calling for honest elections. Legal experts say the new law will almost certainly fail to deliver the guarantees which the judges are seeking. "That no one has yet seen the draft law is in itself a scandal," said Ahmed Mekki, a senior judge who has been at the forefront of the judges' movement. "We expect the law to be against the election of members of the Higher Council of the Judiciary [the formal body which handles relations between the judiciary and the state] and we believe it will curtail the club's freedom of expression." Judges fear the club will be brought under the control of the council which, many judges charge, functions as a conduit for government influence over the judiciary. The club has been pressing the government to adopt alternative legislation that would place the careers and pay of judges in the hands of an elected council.
Still no signs from Baheyya, though.
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Abou Mazen's plan

A lot of food for thought in this MERIP article on Fatah's strategy for regaining control of Palestine's government:
It was not long before Abbas was conferencing with other Palestinian Authority officials, and key leaders of his losing Fatah faction, to determine how the presidency should traverse the uncharted territory of a Hamas-led government. Fatah’s top leadership, including Abbas, set two strategic goals: first, to work for early elections that would cut short the government’s usual four-year term, preferably in a matter of months, and second, to ensure that Fatah wins the second time around.
But as the article makes clear, purging Fatah and restructuring the party won't be easy. Yesterday's suicide attack in Tel Aviv, in which a Fatah dissident group may have had a hand, certainly does not inspire confidence. Update: Speaking of the suicide bombing, the very elegant blog Tabsir has a good entry on the sheer futility of it all.
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Wehrmacht vs. SS at the CIA

Nazi analogies are always fun:
This former senior officer said there “seems to be a quiet conspiracy by rational people” at the agency to avoid involvement in some of the particularly nasty tactics being employed by the administration, especially “renditions”—the practice whereby the CIA sends terrorist suspects abroad to be questioned in Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, and other nations where the regimes are not squeamish about torturing detainees. My source, hardly a softie on the topic of terrorism, said of the split at the CIA: “There's an SS group within the agency that's willing to do anything and there's a Wehrmacht group that is saying, 'I'm not gonna touch this stuff'.”
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Merci, Jacques

From Le Monde (reg) today:
Quant à l'évolution interne de l'Egypte, la France n'endosse pas, ici comme ailleurs dans le monde arabe, le discours plus offensif des Etats-Unis sur le thème de la démocratisation, mais préfère mettre l'accent sur le fait que des "réformes doivent être conduites par chacun à son rythme". M. Chirac, a indiqué son porte-parole, compte "affirmer le soutien de la France à l'action de modernisation politique et économique engagée par l'Egypte". As for internal developments in Egypt, France does not endorse, here as elsewhere in the Arab world, the more aggressive discourse of the United States on the topic of democratization, but instead prefers to stress the fact that "reforms must be conducted by each at his own rhythm." Mr. Chirac, his spokesman said, intends to "affirm France's support for the political and economic modernization undertaken by Egypt."
When I was a child growing up in Morocco in the 1980s, I followed French politics on local TV -- after all, there was no Moroccan politics to speak of apart from changes in King Hassan II's dazzling wardrobe. It was the days of cohabitation, the uneasy relationship between Francois Mitterrand as president and Chirac as Prime Minister. Mitterrand seemed to be like a sinister figure, whereas Chirac was much warmer and seemed like the underdog. His repeated failure to outdo Mitterrand at the polls and in political maneuvering made him extremely likable to me (of course I didn't know then about his incredible corruption.) But there he is now, a washed failure of a president, a relic of a bygone era (he first became a minister in the 1960s!) who escapes the problems he has at home for state visits to Arab dictators. I think that when he steps down he should be made Secretary General of the Arab League. But hey, maybe Cairo will get a new metro line out of it.
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Terror group or decoy?

How convenient:
CAIRO - The Egyptian government said on Wednesday it had broken up a group of at least 22 militant Muslims planning bomb attacks on tourist targets, a gas pipeline near Cairo and Muslim and Christian religious leaders. The Interior Ministry said in a statement the underground organization called itself the Victorious Group and had members in suburbs northeast and south of the capital. "Information, documents and interviews ... confirmed that they were studying carrying out terrorist operations against tourist targets, the gas pipeline on the Greater Cairo ring road and some sensitive sites through bombings," it said. "They were also studying targeting some Muslim and Christian religious figures and ... what they called degenerate youth in tourist areas," it added. The statement listed 22 members, led by a 26-year-old humanities student named Ahmed Mohamed Ali Badr, but did not say how many of them had been arrested. It said they had downloaded from the Internet information on how to make explosives and poisons but did not indicate they had succeeded in making them. It did not mention any weapons. The ministry said Badr, known by the nickname Abu Musab, and his assistant "adopted the approach of jihad based on takfiri fundamentalist ideas". Takfiris say that Muslims who disagree with their ideas are not true Muslims.
Don't mean to be flippant about a possible terrorist threat, but this regime has a track record of inventing terrorist groups, arresting a bunch of people, trying them in military courts and then we never hear about them again. Or if they're lucky they'll get a State Security Court and a bent judge. Plus it seems awfully convenient just before the Emergency Law is due to be renewed (because in case you missed it, Hosni said that anti-terror law he promised won't come for another two years.) And weren't they saying not so long ago that there were no terrorist groups operating inside Egypt, and that the Taba, Sharm Al Sheikh and Cairo bombings were either Bedouins, Palestinians or isolated individuals? Therein lies the fundamental insecurity of running a police state: how do you know when the threats are real or made up? Update: Of course the same thing can be said of the recent find -- shock, horror -- that Hamas may be stashing weapons in Jordan. What great timing for Jordanian security to have suddenly stumbled upon this. They must have been saving it for the right moment.
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You never expect the Spanish inquisition

Interesting story on anti-Muslim violence in Spain:
Authorities in the city said yesterday that they were considering putting security cameras around mosques, shrines and buildings belonging to other religions in order to dissuade potential attackers. Although it was unclear yesterday whether those who burned the sanctuary were non-Muslims or fundamentalists opposed to the form of worship practised by local Muslims, it came amid reports of a growing number of attacks across Spain. El País newspaper yesterday listed a number of mosques and other Muslim targets that have been ransacked, burned or had copies of the Qur'an set alight by intruders. Police said that extreme rightwingers and skinhead groups were responsible for almost all the attacks. "They want Spain to have the same sort of violent reaction that the Netherlands had after the murder of film director Theo van Gogh," one police expert told El País. "Little by little they are creating an atmosphere for this to grow." Spain's 800,000 Muslims, many of them immigrants from neighbouring Morocco, have some 600 mosques around the country. Spain's imams, however, prefer not to publicise attacks in order to avoid copycat incidents and angry reactions from within their own community. "We try to avoid confrontation," Moneir Mahmoud, who runs the main mosque in Madrid, explained.
I checked because I didn't know what percentage of Spain's population -- it's about 1%. Some interesting charts comparing with other Western countries here.
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Report on ferry disaster blames everyone

The government report on the Safaga ferry disaster is out. It's not pretty:
"The responsibility of the ship's owner and his sons has been determined in this crime because the ferry was operating with major deficiencies that should have prevented it from sailing," the investigating committee reported. The report said Al-Salam Maritime Transport Company failed to respond quickly to the disappearance of its ferry, saying the company owned two other vessels that could have arrived at the scene within two hours to look for survivors. "This amounted to huge negligence in the rescue operation," the report said. Egyptian government ships reached the scene of the sinking, about 55 miles off the Egyptian coast, about 10 hours afterward. The 35-year-old ferry was carrying 1,408 passengers and crew and about 220 vehicles from the Saudi port of Dubah to Safaga. A fire broke out in its parking bay, which the crew did not manage to extinguish. Eventually the ship capsized. Only about 400 people survived. The report said that by international maritime rules the ship should not have been carrying more than 1168 passengers. The owner of the shipping line, Mamdouh Ismail, told The Associated Press it was carrying 1,312 passengers. A member of Egypt's upper house of parliament, Ismail has fled Egypt and been stripped of his parliamentary immunity. The report accused Al-Salam of forging maintenance certificates that testified to the good condition of the ferry's life-rafts and lifeboats. There had been a "wicked collaboration" between the company and the Egyptian Commission of Maritime Safety that enabled the ferry to operate while evading "minimum safety requirements," the report said. The report recommended that the authorities show "no mercy to those who caused the loss of Egyptian lives and corrupted the maritime safety commission."
The report also condemns the government (presumably without calling for "no mercy" to the people responsible there) for not launching rescue operations fast enough. Meanwhile, the person mainly responsible, ferry company owner Mamdouh Ismail, was given the time to flee Egypt and is safely in London. I'm sure he'll miss fuul and tamiyaa during his long stay out of Egypt. The next question: what will authorities now do to ensure it doesn't happen again?
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Who is a "key opposition figure"?

Note to AP: do you really need to refer to thoroughly discredited former Wafdist leader No'man Gomaa as a "key opposition figure"? Perhaps when you mentioned that Gomaa was released by prosecutors "because he was in poor health" (ignoring many Egyptian press reports that he was moved to a hospital simply to be spared from jail) you could have perhaps mentioned a real "key opposition figure", Ayman Nour, who a) actually has a disease (diabetes and associated ills)and was not given this special treatment even before he was sentenced to jail and b) today started a hunger strike to protest the fact that he is prevented from publishing his column and being held in unbelievable conditions in a prison hospital? Just a thought.
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More web censorship in Bahrain

Chan'ad Bahraini has the details. Incidentally, about two weeks ago I got an email at my blog address from the Bahraini Office of Foreign Media Affairs asking if they could subscribe me to their press releases about Bahrain. I said yes and since then got emails about recent reforms in Bahrain (for instance the royal budget was made public this month, apparently, and put to parliamentary scrutiny.) It's good of them to reach out to bloggers, I suppose, but if they want to be credible perhaps they shouldn't block websites.
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