Tunisia threatens Moncef Marzouki

The following is a translation of a message by Tunisian rights activist Moncef Marzouki, sent to me by my friend (exiled Tunisian activist) Kamel Labidi:
Communiqué On 14 October, I appeared on Al Jazeera to discuss the situation of complete deadlock in which Tunisia has been for years, under the ruthless grip of an ever-worsening police state. I said that the only possible answer for a population tired of repression and corruption is to begin a civil resistance movement using all peaceful means available to demand its rights and its freedom. I also also announced that I would return to my country on 21 October to be with my fellow Tunisians in their struggle for democracy. Yesterday the Tunisian authorities delivered to my (empty) home in Sousse, and to my brother, a subpoena to present myself in front of a judge on 21 October to face a grotesque accusation: incitation to violence. It is clear that this subpoena (the latest of many) seeks to punish me for the position I have taken and especially to intimidate me so that I will return home. After much thought and consulting with friends, I have decided to return to Tunisia on 21 October as planned, to take all risks, to continue my call to Tunisians to refuse to submit to a regime that has deprived them of their liberties and their fundamental rights. Dr. Moncef Marzouki President of the Congress for the Republic (banned party)
I will be out of internet reach on 21 October, but will post a follow-up as soon as I can.


Le Samedi 14 octobre, je suis intervenu sur la chaîne Al Jazeera pour parler de la situation de total blocage dans lequel vit la Tunisie depuis des années sous la coupe implacable d’un régime policier de plus en plus fermé. J’ai soutenu que la seule riposte d’une population lassée de la répression et de la corruption est de rentrer dans une résistance civile en utilisant tous les moyens pacifiques pour imposer ses droits et libertés. J’ai annoncé aussi que je rentrerai au pays le 21 de ce mois pour être avec les Tunisiens dans leur combat pour la démocratie. Hier les autorités tunisiennes ont fait parvenir à mon domicile( vide) à Sousse, et à mon frère une convocation devant le juge d’instruction …pour le 21 octobre justement et sous les chefs d’accusation le plus grotesque qui soit : L’incitation à la violence. Il est clair que cette convocation (la nième) vise à me punir pour mes prises de position et surtout à m’intimider afin de ne pas rentrer au pays. Après réflexion et consultation avec mes amis, j’ai décidé de rentrer au pays le 21 octobre comme décidé, d’assumer toutes les risques, de persister dans mon appel aux Tunisiens de refuser la soumission à un régime qui les a dépossédés de leurs libertés et droits les plus fondamentaux. Dr Moncef Marzouki

Président du Congrès pour la république ( parti interdit)

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Blunkett backed strike on Al Jazeera in Baghdad

I haven't followed this story, but got this in my inbox yesterday from Al Jazeera:
Press Release For Immediate Release Al Jazeera Denounces former British Home Secretary’s Statements DOHA, QATAR – October 18th, 2006: It is with great disappointment that the journalists and staff of Al Jazeera have received statements made recently by former British Home Secretary, David Blunkett. In an interview with Channel Four, Mr Blunkett – who was a member of the war cabinet during the Iraq invasion – admits that he advised Prime Minister Tony Blair to attack Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office. Mr Blunkett justifies his position by saying that “I don’t think that there are targets in a war that you can rule out because you don’t actually have military personnel inside them if they are attempting to win a propaganda battle on behalf of your enemy.” Al Jazeera Network is outraged at such an attitude toward the free press. We are troubled by the fact that the former Home Secretary’s advice came only two weeks before the actual bombing of Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office, which resulted in the death of our reporter, Tareq Ayoub, and the destruction of our facilities. As an international news organization, Al Jazeera Network is obliged by law to address its employees’ increasing concerns for their very lives. We find Mr. Blunkett’s allegations and position to be irresponsible and dangerous not only for Al Jazeera but for the freedom of media everywhere in the world. Given the weight of Mr. Blunkett’s statements we strongly urge Prime Minister Blair for a clarification of this matter in alignment with the tenants of freedom and democracy which they advocate. Al Jazeera is in consultation with its lawyers and pursuing next steps in the matter.
What this doesn't say is whether Blunkett's advice was heeded by Tony Blair, or whether Blair or Bush personally approved an attack on Al Jazeera's office in Baghdad, which killed several people.
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What's the difference between Shia and Sunni?

Several readers have emailed in this NYT story about how many US officials involved in the Iraq operations and the Global War on Terror (or is it Extremism these days?) are unable to answer the question, "what's the difference between Sunni and Shia?" Well of course it is rather worrying that, at this stage in the game, many people who should don't seem to have even a basic inkling of what the fitna is all about. Even if it's a complicated topic, you would assume they would at least know about where each kind is found, some basic differences in the way they are organized, and a little historic background about early Islam. No one's asking them to memorize the name of the twelve imams. But it seems to me that concern about what they don't know is rather besides the point compared to the idea that you need to have a lot of competent managers who know these things. The United States and its officials should not be trying to run an empire in the Islamic world, and these officials should not be expected to have intricate knowledge of the natives in the same way that a British colonial officer in India might have in the early 20th century. They should not be putting themselves in that position in the first place.
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BBC poll: One third support torture

A BBC survey in 25 countries on the usage of torture showed some depressing results. One third of those surveyed insisted torture could be used in prison on circumstances.
More than 27,000 people in 25 countries were asked if torture was acceptable if it could provide information to save innocent lives.
In Egypt, according to the poll, 65% voted against employing all sorts of torutre, while 25% saw it legitimate under "some circumstances."
Egyptian citizen from Arish, Mohamed Sharif, tortured and sexually abused by police 2006
And surprise, surprise:
Israel has the largest percentage of those polled endorsing the use of a degree of torture on prisoners, with 43% saying they agreed that some degree of torture should be allowed.
You can read the full BBC report here. Related link: Egyptian police abuse videos
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a plague upon them

One of the little devices that helps me get through the month is ticking up how many stories in the Atlantic Monthly annoy me. When I hit a certain number (yet to be determined), I'm going to cancel my subscription. This piece scored a tick. Headlined “Carriers of conflict� it outlines one of the unpleasant side effects of America’s most recent military adventure: the mass movement of people out of Iraq. Now, there’s some interesting factoids in the piece. 700,000 Iraqi refugees now in Jordan? A quick Google doesn't make it clear where this number comes from. UNHCR? Right. A year ago apparently they had recognized 800. Last year the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants put the number at 450,000 and noted the inflow was increasing. But anyway, there's a hell of a lot of them. The annoying part comes in the intro, where authors Dan Byman and Ken Pollack pontificate on the root cause of instability and violence in the Middle East:
where large numbers of refugees go, instability and war closely follow... Palestinian refugees, who with their descendants number in the millions, have been a source of regional violence and regime change for decades.
Ouch! According to the Byman and Pollock, these wanton troublemakers:
helped provoke the 1956 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars [then] turned against their hosts and catalyzed a civil war in Jordan (1970–71) and in Lebanon (1975–90) [and, like that wasn’t enough shit disturbing] … contributed to coups by militant Arab nationalists in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
Wow. Busy little pests those Palestinians. I think they caused the plumbing in my building to get all gummed up last week as well. Oddly, Israel is mentioned only once in the discussion of Palestinian refugees (as a victim of Palestinian aggression!) and the US is never mentioned at all in the discussion of Iraqi refugees. But on second thought, it's not really odd is it? Make that two ticks.
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the politics of offense

London.jpg Jack Straw mentions the palpably obvious—that, in London, covering your body from head to toe in an impenetrable black gown and peering at the world through a slit the size of a pack of cards tends to separate you from those around you—and is characterized as a racist anti-Muslim bigot. The irony, of course, is that the niqab is intended to separate. But that aside, the hullabaloo is a bit hard to understand at first, at least when you’re reading this stuff in Cairo. Here, where the idea of freedom of religion is a sour joke unless you’re a Sunni Muslim, where racism (anti-black, anti-Jewish primarily) enjoys easy acceptance and where turning up to a demo to denounce a government figure will get you a date with a frustrated little man in Lazoughly who thinks a rolled up magazine is sex toy. Now, Britain is replete with pasty-faced racists with angry little mouths who still spout the modern equivalent of "the WOGs begin at Dover." ("They hate our freedom" being one of the more popular these days). And maybe leaders like MCB General Secretary Muhammad Abdul Bari, who characterized Straw's remarks as part of a "barrage of demonization," see sparking a vigorous public debate on minority rights as a healthy way to define their constituency's position in a modern multicultural society and a contribution to making sure that Great Britain doesn’t become as antagonistic to diversity and dissent as, say for example, Egypt. But maybe, sadly, it's just that they’ve finally learned something from the ADL and AIPAC: take offense early, take offense often.
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The Cairo Trilogy on BBC Radio

A big thank you to reader Marwa for alerting me to a BBC Radio rendition of Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy, featuring the great Omar Sharif and my friend Ihab Sakkout (he's also great):
The Cairo Trilogy, part 1 of 3 By Naguib Mahfouz, dramatised by Ayeesha Menon Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawab, a prosperous shopkeeper, is a tyrant at home who terrorises his wife and two daughters and keeps them in strict seclusion behind the house's latticed windows. But outside the home he is a serial womaniser with an appetite for plump, middle-aged singers. The First World War is ending, and then there is a popular uprising in March 1919, when the eldest son Fahmy joins the nationalist cause. Recorded entirely in Cairo. Old Kamal ...... Omar Sharif Young Kamal ...... Karim Fouda Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawab ...... Ihab Sakkout Amina ...... Caroline Khalil Fahmy ...... Mena Reda Yasin ...... Tamer Nasrat Miriam ...... Ola Roshdy Music by Sacha Puttnam; producer/director John Dryden.
I'll try to record them and post them for iPod enjoyment. Update: 68MB MP3 file available here. Not great quality, unfortunately. Min babak?
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52 Ain Shams University workers on strike

Fifty two civil servants and workers are currently on a sit-in at the Ain Shams University Campus, after the administration's decision to cut down their basic monthly salary from LE220 (US$38) to LE134 (US$23.3), according to Kefaya's website. The workers tried without success to meet the University's dean, so they went on strike, and are refusing to leave the campus despite threats from the security.
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Journalists, detainees’ wives demonstrate in Cairo

Dozens of wives of Islamist detainees demonstrated today in front of the Lawyers' Syndicate, Downtown Cairo, to protest their husbands continuous detention by the Interior Ministry. Some of them have been in jails without trial since the 1980s.
Detainees' wives demo (Photos by Nasser Nouri)
Meanwhile, a handful of Muslim Brothers journalists demonstrated in front of the Press Syndicate, protesting the closure of the group-affiliated paper, Afaq Arabiya, seven months ago by the government. The journalists posed as vegetable sellers, to symbolize their financial difficulties. "We are left with nothing but selling vegetables ya hokouma," they were shouting.
Afaq Arabiya Journalists' Demo
Recommended Book: Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam
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The football rules of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

As Homer Simpson says, it's funny because it's true:
The Football Rules of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict: RULE 1: Israel has the right to play on both sides of the field, but the Palestinians can only play in their own half. RULE 2: During the match, Israel has the right to build a wall anywhere across the field to enforce the above rule. RULE 3: Should the referee ever whistle a foul against Israel he shall promptly be denounced as an anti-Semite. RULE 4: The Palestinians are encouraged to shoot into their own goal. Players who refuse will be nominated as terrorists and will not be allowed to play. RULE 5: For security reasons, Palestinians do not have the right to pass the ball to each other. RULE 6: Israel can occupy any empty space on the field by bringing in a new player. RULE 7: All Israeli goals are valid. Even those scored during the half-time break. RULE 8: The Palestinians will only receive their sponsorship money if they agree to let Israel win. RULE 9: The Palestinians can only play in flip-flops. RULE 10: There will be no goal post on the Israeli side.
Via 7adaara. Thanks, SP.
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Jordan to get film school

The diversity of attempts to normalize relations between Israel and Arab states always astounds me:
The Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts is in line with His Majesty's efforts to harness the skills of Jordanian youth by exposing them to the latest technologies in filmmaking and production. The institute would also contribute to His Majesty's vision of establishing a hub for intellectual and creative capital in Jordan, where youth in the region can be equipped with the necessary tools for success. His Majesty drew on the expertise of filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who recommended the partnership with USC, to make this project a reality. "When His Majesty the King approached me on the subject of a Jordan-based, world-class film school serving every country in the Middle East, including Israel, I immediately saw the importance and significance of such a venture for the people and the future of the region.
I have no doubt that films schools in the Arab world are an excellent idea, especially considering the decline of Arab cinema over the last 50 years (especially technically - new movies use cheap film that produces horrible results compared to ones from the 1950s that still look splendid). But why do it with Israel? His Majesty King PS2 once again does his eager Uncle Tom routine.
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Polls? What polls?

Great Onion-like headline:
Many Egyptians haven't heard of opinion polls -poll CAIRO (Reuters) - An opinion poll conducted by an Egyptian government body showed that 61 percent of those surveyed had never heard of opinion polls before, the official Middle East News Agency MENA reported on Thursday. The poll, conducted by the Cabinet's Information and Decision Support Centre, also showed that only 10 percent of those surveyed had taken part in opinion polls before, MENA reported. The report did not mention how many people were surveyed, or why the poll was conducted. State-owned media, for many the main source of news and information in the most populous Arab country, rarely publish any opinion polls. The concept is also relatively new in the Arab world. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed said they would like to be polled on the issue of unemployment in Egypt. The government says unemployment stands at 9.9 percent although the figure is widely believed to be much higher.
It's worth pointing out that polling efforts have been extremely limited in Egypt, not least because you need government permission before carrying out one. I was told by a NDP figure, Muhammad Kamal probably, that they carried out telephone polls during the presidential elections to see whether people would vote. In the Egyptian context it sounds like a get-out-the-vote phone campaign more than poll. But having more independent polls would be fascinating to get a better picture of Egyptian public attitudes, which we know about international events through the polls conducted by Pew and others, but rarely for domestic issues (e.g. should the niqab be banned, what do you think of President Mubarak's performance, what do you think of Gamal etc.) It would also be a tremendously useful marketing tool in a country that over the past decade and a half has made a rapid transition to consumerism.
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Laptops for Lybians

57B1Ded4Fcde4185A8879B7946C9Eaf3After the green book, Qadhafi launches the green laptop:
With the project scheduled to be completed by June 2008, Libya could become the first nation in which all school-age children are connected to the internet through educational computers, Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the One Laptop per Child project, told the The New York Times on Wednesday. The $250 million deal, reached on Tuesday, would provide the nation with 1.2 million computers, a server in each school, a team of technical advisers, satellite internet service and other infrastructure. The One Laptop per Child project, which has the support of the United Nations Development Programme, aims to provide laptops to school-aged children worldwide for about $100 each. It has reached tentative purchase agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand.
I like anything with cranks. I wish my Powerbook had a crank for those long flights. But, while this idea sounds just fine, perhaps Muammar Qadhafi will then, I don't know, allow freedom of speech in his country so that people can use those laptops to start blogs? Just a thought. (I have been thinking of starting a sub-blog to follow Middle East related technology and science news. Especially focused on technology that's especially helpful in this region, for whatever reason. Is anyone interested? And yes, I'm a geek.)
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Stacher on NDP convention in ARB

Check out Josh's take on the recent NDP convention in the latest issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin:
Although the younger Mubarak spoke in terms of consensus, process, committees, and programs, his descriptions did not match what actually took place. NDP delegates from the nation's 26 governorates used the conference to air personal concerns and rub shoulders with the country's political elite, but did not appear to be included seriously in policy debates. The few who offered constructive comments at plenary and committee sessions were often politely ignored as senior NDP members simply reiterated policy statements rather than addressing criticism or suggestions. On the conference's final day, when attendees voted to transform the presentations into party policies, dissent was entirely absent. Secretary General Safwat Al Sharif reminded party members that the papers being voted on were well studied and that President Mubarak had approved the measures. The climatic moment of internal democracy happened in an instant. Almost before Al Sharif could finish saying “all those in favor,” he declared the measures “approved” as hands immediately flung into the air. The political reform proposals adopted in rapid succession are ambitious, if only on the surface. Political Training Secretary Muhammad Kamal said the NDP would propose amending 20-25 articles of the constitution during the parliamentary session that will begin in November. According to speeches and policy papers at the conference, amendments will pave the way for replacing the state of emergency with a specific counter terrorism law, rebalancing parliament's powers vis-à-vis the executive, changing the electoral system (most likely to one of proportional representation), and increasing local governing council powers. While the proposals sounded impressive, however, no specific amendments were discussed at the conference. Given the NDP's failure so far to consult with opposition forces, there is widespread suspicion that the actual legislation to be introduced will favor the interests of the ruling party's upper echelons.
So Muhammad Kamal is now "political training" secretary. I wondered what happened to him after the elections. I think Josh did well to highlight the lack of a clear agenda for the NDP's constitutional amendment program. There is every reason to consider that, as Gamal Mubarak had said in the past, that the end of the emergency law will be postponed and that many other amendments won't be made. The experience of the May 2005 amendment to the constitution to allow for multi-candidate presidential elections is likely to prove the model for the future: small committee drafting of the amendment, approval by rigged referendums or rubber-stamp parliaments, and voila: tailor-made political reform that is not reformist and doesn't really involve politics in any meaningful sense of the term. What we are likely to see is the usual pre-recess parliamentary farce in June: suddenly, MPs will be given two days to approve a dozen laws and amendments, none of which will have been submitted to any kind of serious debate. My prediction: before long, the NDP itself will start getting bored with pretending to be a democratic party with internal dialogue and just start going back to its bad old ways. Why keep up the pretense? Also, Josh or anybody else, you may be able to answer this: did NDP leaders discuss reviving the "dialogue with the opposition" of early 2005? And did you encounter any NDP figures who were unhappy with the Gamal crowd's methods, like the group of 60 or so MPs (or members) who published a critical open letter shortly before the convention? Plus: elsewhere in this issue of the ARB, on Yemen's election:
The Yemeni presidential election was about more than just esoteric notions of political reform; it was about the real issue of presidential succession. As in Egypt, where speculation abounds over the grooming of Gamal Mubarak for succession, there is widespread concern among Yemen's opposition parties over the prospect of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 37-year old son Ahmed inheriting the reins of power.
Within 10 years the entire Middle East will be run by mafia-like families, with their dons and capos and hereditary leadership. Actually most of the region is already run by mafias anyway. Middle East politics classes should make viewing The Sopranos compulsory. I think of Hosni Mubarak as Paulie.
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fun with barbed wire

So the clash of civilizations turns into a bun-fight over a handicapped parking space. In this corner we have the Brotherhood and their new “just say no to Denemark [sic!]� campaign (just when we could get decent butter again!), while over in the far corner (but not far enough for my taste) we have the none-too-bright Christian fundie, and former Inquisitor Generalis, John Ashcroft saying stuff like this:
…those who violate the Geneva Conventions should not benefit from its provisions.
If the pope thought the Muslim faith were better than the Catholic faith, he’d be a Muslim.
It’s all there in the New York Times. And make sure you read all the way to the end:
Ashcroft: I make barbed-wire sculpture. NYT: Why barbed wire? Ashcroft: Because there was a surplus of it on my farm.
What would Jesus do about this man?
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Mubarak's quarter of a century

Tomorrow we mark the 25th anniversary of the start of Mubarak's disastrous rule. BBC: Mubarak's quarter of a century
King Mubarak I
Also, tomorrow the Muslim Brothers will be celebtrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the group's founder, Sheikh Hassan el-Banna.
Hassan el-Banna
[Undated photo of Hassan el-Banna, (second row, third from the left) with MB members and boyscouts. Courtsey of jounralist Ali Zalat]
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