Coptic conscript tortured to death?

There had been emails circulating among the Egyptian leftist Yahoo! Groups demanding an investigation into the death of a Coptic army conscript. The emails had links to The Free Copts website, which alleges Private Hani Sarofim was tortured to death by his commander to force his conversion to Islam. The article included a statement by the deceased family and contact numbers, which when I tried, I could not get through. I am extremely troubled by this, and can not validate what happened. The Free Copts have previously reported on some serious abuses that did indeed happen, but there were other cases which they blew out of proportion. I don't know if this case is true, but if so, then one can safely say we are still living in the Medieval Ages. Please if anyone has more information about this subject, or if you managed to get through to the family on the phone numbers, fill us in.
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Arab politics meets Days of Our Lives

Perhaps the worst thing about Arab ruling elites is how embarrassing they are:
Arafat widow denies reports she remarried Thursday August 17, 06:03 PM TUNIS (AFP) - The widow of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has denied Arab press reports that she had married a brother-in-law of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. "I absolutely deny reports about my marriage with Mr Belhassen Trabelsi and will take legal action against the media who published this wrong piece of information," Suha Arafat, who has French citizenship, told AFP on Thursday. Trabelsi is a brother of Leila Trabelsi, the wife of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
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Israel's political crisis

Jonathan Edelstein at the Head Heeb has an interesting analysis of political crisis Israel is going through after the war:
I'm not going to venture an opinion on whether Olmert should stay in office. My bet, though, is that he will stay, and that even if he is replaced, the coalition will continue in roughly its present Kadima-centered form. Whatever expectation of a political earthquake the war may have created, and whatever differences the coalition members have over where to go from here, their survival instincts and vested interests will be a powerful force against radical change. This isn't last year where much of the ruling coalition hoped to gain from a radical realignment; this time around, the overwhelming concern is to avoid losing, and that will make all the difference. There are three potential ways the current government can be replaced. The first, and most extreme, is a collapse of the government followed by dissolution of the Knesset and a general election. The second involves the right-religious bloc plus a sufficient number of Kadima defectors invoking the "rule of 61" - the provision in the Basic Law: The Government that allows 61 MKs to install a new prime minister - and put either Netanyahu or Lieberman in the premier's chair. The third is a palace coup, in which a senior Kadima figure takes over from Olmert with or without a reshuffle of the coalition.
I don't much faith in Israeli politicians no matter which party they're from these days, but I always believe that things could be worse.
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Asian-Arabic groove

SP sent me links to some cool and funny Bollywood music remixes of Arabic songs. Check it out: Ya Ali - Original Ya Ghali in Arabic by Guitara Ya Ali - GANGSTER New Gangster Yaali ya ali remix By Stolen And here is a Pakistani Amr Diab singing for his mehbooba in front of the pyramids: Haroon Mehbooba And here is an Indian remix of an Amr Diab song... Kaho Na Kaho
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Then there was one

Costa Rica has decided to move its embassy to Israel from Jerusalem, where it has been since 1982, to Tel Aviv.
President Oscar Arias said the move was needed to bring the Central American nation into line with international law and mend relations with Arab nations. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, but most nations don't formally recognize that claim. "It's time to rectify a historical error that damages us on the international level and deprives us of any friendship with the Arab world," Arias said Wednesday.
The Costa Rican foreign ministry explained the move as one of wanting to comply with the UN's guidelines to refusing to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but the move may have also come at the behest of the country's new president, Nobel Prize winner Oscar Arias, who announced the decision soon after the Hizbullah-Israel ceasefire went into place. (It had been part of his election campaign pledges.) Of course Israel is appalled:
The government of Israel expresses its regret and disappointment at the decision by the government of Costa Rica to move its embassy from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. This act, taken at this particular time, is liable to be interpreted as giving in to terrorism and awarding its perpetrators. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people and nothing will change our firm stand on this subject.
So are American Jewish organizations:
“Given the fact that Costa Rica is a shining light of democracy in Latin America, this action against another democracy, Israel, is particularly painful,” David Harris, the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, said in a statement Wednesday.
The only other country to have its embassy in Jerusalem is El Salvador, which was the first South American country to forge strong links with Israel. It acquired the region's first jet fighters from Israel in the early 1970s, when Israel was close to the military dictatorship there. Israel continued to maintain close links to the military junta that fought, with US and Israeli backing, a long and bloody civil war against Marxist rebels throughout the 1980s. A UN report found that nearly all the human rights violations documented throughout that period were caused by paramilitary troops and allied right-wing death squads.
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Greasy trigger fingers

Holy shit, look at that burger! Tell me this is an elaborate spoof. Two websites claim they can arrange delivery of pizza and burgers to IDF units on the Lebanese border and “around Gaza,� and boast that they coordinate with the security forces so that there’s no “security risk.� Imagine the hassle these guys could have saved in Lebanon—all that unloading from ships, piling into trucks, and jouncing down the highway only to be incinerated by an IAF missile when pizza and burgers were just a couple of mouse clicks away. Food's only the start of the fun, however. The chuckles really come rolling in once you get to the messages accompanying overseas orders—seems that the sites are set up for (mainly American) well-wishers who want to show their support. Check out this page of notes from a second grade class in Florida telling the boys to "stay safe and keep fighting." Or this mess of wackiness from just about all over (just try a keyword search on "chosen"). My favorite, however, is this thank-you letter from an IDF soldier who appears to have mixed up the words "supper" and "sniper." An understandeable slip-up when you're trying to write and peg one of those pesky little terrorists at the same time. (Footnote: 42 out of the 184 Palestinians killed by the IDF in Gaza since June 28th have been children, according to a recent UN report.) Anyway, I can see how this won't seem so funny if you've had these guys shooting up aid convoys and fast food outlets all around your country for the last month, or if you're feeling a little peckish in Gaza because the navy won't let you fish (same UN report), but look at it this way: a piping hot all-dressed with extra cheese and chili peppers is just a call (and $16.95) away. There's just one problem...
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For the majority of Arabs, Hezbollah won

My friend Nadia Abou El-Magd of AP wrote this report today:
For the majority of Arabs, Hezbollah won, Israel is no longer the undefeatable army CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Babies have been named "Hezbollah" and "Nasrallah." Even some die-hard secularists are praising the Shiite fundamentalist militia in the wake of its cease-fire with Israel _ saying its fighters restored their feelings of honor and dignity. But behind the outpouring of support for Hezbollah in recent days, some in the Middle East are increasingly worried about the rising power of religious extremists. "The last thing I expected is to fall in love with a turbaned cleric," wrote Howeida Taha, a strongly secular columnist in Egypt, writing in the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper this week. "I don't like them, and of course they will never like somebody like me ... (but) I feel I've been searching for Nasrallah with my eyes, heart and mind. I feel Nasrallah lives within me." Yet, she added, "No matter how much we admire Hezbollah's fighters' bravery, the last thing we want to see is the rise of a religious party in Egypt." Around the Arab world, Hezbollah was widely seen as the victor in the 34-day war with Israel, because of the tougher-than-expected resistance it put up under Israel's relentless bombardment and heavy ground assaults _ and because it survived an onslaught that Israel had initially wanted to cripple the guerrilla group. As a result, Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, have emerged as popular heroes. "Thanks be to God and to Hezbollah," read the banner of an opposition independent weekly, Al-Destour, in Egypt on Wednesday. More than 120 babies born during the war have been named after Nasrallah in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, says the official registrar there. In Gaza City, there are at least a dozen newborns named Hezbollah, (Party of God) Nasrallah (Victory from God) or Hassan. On an Islamist web site for youth, based in Egypt, many women wrote saying they would love to marry someone like Nasrallah. "I want to marry one of Nasrallah's three boys and dedicate myself to resistance and pride of my (Islamic) community," said Noha Hussein, a university student in Cairo. Necklaces and key chains with his image are now in style, the web site notes. Much of the enthusiasm has come from finally seeing an Arab military force dig in against Israel. Arab nations fought several wars with Israel _ in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, as well as Israel's previous two invasions of Lebanon. The first three were heavy defeats for Arab armies, and though Egypt's army saw dramatic successes in 1973, the battle had swung to Israel's favor by the time it ended. In the eyes of many Arabs, Hezbollah's performance shook the Israeli military's image of invulnerability. "The Lebanese people may have lost a lot of economic and human resources .... but away from figures and calculations, they have achieved a lot of gains," said Youssef al-Rashed, a columnist for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Anba. "Its heroic resistance fighters have proven to the world that Lebanese borders are not open to Israeli tanks without a price," he wrote Tuesday. "Lebanon was victorious in the battle of dignity and honor." Also, the image of a guerrilla force doing what a regular army could not has apparently deepened the popular resentment toward Arab governments. "The crux of the problem in Lebanon is that a political movement became bigger than the state," said Mamoun Fandy, the director of the Middle East program at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The same syndrome _ a perceived lack of legitimacy of governments that are being challenged by armed political movements _ can be seen in many Arab and Muslim states. .... Their message is that movements can do what states failed to do, and can restore the honour that governments have squandered." Awni Shatarat, a Palestinian refugee from Baqaa camp, is among those who strongly view Hezbollah as victorious. "Israel was defeated by a small group, which succeeded in demolishing the image of the undefeatable army," he said. But others are far more critical of Hezbollah and pessimistic about what the war might bring. Jordan's former information minister, Saleh Qallab, said Hezbollah's new strength could now be turned against the anti-Syrian, pro-democracy movement that gained power in Lebanon last year _ "which means that a civil war is imminent in Lebanon, unless a miracle occurs." "Do we call this a victory?" he said.
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"The Arabist establishment"

The latest idiocy from Lee Smith: this one really has it all, including a cameo by his intellectual mentor Martin Kramer, blanket attacks on Western experts on the Middle East in general and Hizbullah in particular, and paranoid rantings about Arab genocidal ambitions. My favorite paragraph:
My Jerusalem hotel is filled with refugees: Jews, Druze, and Israeli Arabs, from the north, who can afford to pay for the respite from the ongoing Hezbollah rocket attacks. Right around the corner is the American Colony, one of the best-known hotels in the region, famous not just for its beauty and elegance, but also its guests: U.N. employees, journalists, academics, NGO workers, civil society officials. In other words, the Arabist establishment. Some of them are truly anti-Semitic, like the one Arab who explained to me how Jews ruin everything around the world. This, he continued, is why the French put them on reservations back in the 1880s. However, most of the Arabists do not wish to see Israel disappear; they do not hate Jews or even Israelis.
So basically everyone who is not Martin Kramer, Daniel Pipes, Bernard Lewis or Lee Smith is "the Arabist establishment." Unreal. He then proceeds to smear them with a broad brush with accusations of anti-Semitism before retracting again (the damage having already been done by association.) I won't even mention his conclusion about how Israel is fighting on two pre-1967 borders, which is completely dishonest after four decades of occupation and an ongoing land grab in the West Bank and Golan Heights. What I find really worrying is that Smith and the likes of him find such easy support among influential people like Kramer and Pipes, publications like the Weekly Standard, and institutions like the Hudson Institute. For any youngish writer or commentator on the Middle East, there is an enormous incentive to follow the Likudnik line when one can find gainful employment so easily by being pro-Israel (especially if you're Arab, actually -- these organizations have approached tons of up-and-coming Arab liberal intellectuals I know.) They are creating a vast intellectual straight-jacket in US thinking about the Middle East that accepts mediocre thinking as long as it toes the line. And the result is the kind rubbish quoted above.
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Report: Muslim Brothers coup attempt foiled

This is what is being said in the more cooky corners of the internet:
JERUSALEM – Egypt has arrested a leader of a major domestic opposition group who allegedly confessed to plotting the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, an Egyptian official told the Galil Report. The suspect, identified as Abed al-Munemhem Abu al-Futuh of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, allegedly admitted during interrogation to planning the coup. Cairo is withholding details. Egyptian officials told the Galil Report investigators are focusing on a series of conversations al-Futuh had with Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Syria. The plot was halted just days after Mahdi Akif, leader of the Brotherhood in Egypt, announced his group would train members in military tactics to fight alongside Hezbollah in Lebanon and to join Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip, which borders the Egyptian Sinai desert.
This must have started with some grain of truth (e.g. concern about Egyptian MB discussions with Syrian MB) but otherwise sounds completely preposterous. Especially since Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a leading "moderate" among the MB, has not been reported as arrested, unlike many of his colleagues.
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Debate among Lebanese Shia about Hizbullah

Interesting story in the Boston Globe about a Shia intellectual who has sparked a storm with an essay denouncing Hizbullah. If anyone has the link to her original essay, please share. Meanwhile, here in Cairo, last night I walked past a car that had a poster of Hassan Nasrallah on its side window. I looked closer at the poster, which described Nasrallah as "the man who vanquished Israel," I saw it was from the liberal-ish weekly Al Destour. Al Destour is edited by Ibrahim Eissa, one of the most vibrant voices against the Mubarak regime and a self-described liberal. Somehow all the paradox of why most Arabs cheered Hizbullah is there: even if people don't like Hizbullah's ideology, they're always going to cheer for it when it is responding to attacks that tried to destroy an entire country. Update: Praktike has photos.
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Islamist detainees

I bumped tonight into an Islamist lawyer I know who is a former member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. We chatted about several issues including Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri's latest video, current political situation, and more importantly (for me) the issue of Islamist political detainees--those terror suspects who've been languishing in Egypt's Gulags since the 1990s without trial. The Egyptian Interior Ministry never gave figures for the number of prisoners and detainees. The figures for detainees in the 1990s, put by rights watchdogs, have drastically varied. EOHR puts it at 22,000. I heard other figures that went up to 40,000. Last March, EOHR put the number of detainees at something between 16,000 and 18,000, due to the release of thousands of Gamaa Islamiya detainees with their renunciation of violence. The Islamist lawyer I met tonight said there are currently from 5,000 to 6,000 Islamist detainees in prisons. According to him, the Gamaa's detainees are roughly 600 only, while those of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad number 2,000, and the rest are a mixture of salafis, Sinai bombers' suspects and a random bunch. Of course I have no means to verify this independently. Recommended Book: Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam
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The liquid explosives plot

Being rather busy with work, I have paid rather scant attention to the "liquid explosives" airplane plot except to figure out how to carry all the expensive electronics I usually carry with me when I travel. I did hear, notably from people in Lebanon, many people express a fear that this is a diversionary tactic from the war on Lebanon and thus an invented plot. I have no idea about this, but when you get someone like Craig Murray, the courageous former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who revealed British collaboration with the rather nasty regime of Islam Karimov. What he has to say is quite revealing. (See also this MSNBC report.) I mean, none of the alleged terrorists had bought plane tickets and some of them didn't even have passports! And it seems the US pressured the UK to arrest the suspects sooner rather than keep them under surveillance.
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