Egypt names first female judges

Egypt names first female judges - International Herald Tribune:
CAIRO, Egypt: Egypt's judiciary chief has named the country's first female judges despite opposition from conservative Muslims, according to a decree published Wednesday. Mukbil Shakir, the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, gave 31 women judge or chief judge positions in Egypt's courts, the official Middle East News Agency said, quoting Shakir's decree. The move is expected to give a boost to President Hosni Mubarak's political and social reforms that have been widely criticized as too restricted. But others said the announcement still falls short of providing women equal opportunities.
There has been a rather depressing debate about why women are unfit to be judges, notably among judges themselves -- turns out they are not the guardians of liberalism some thought they were. But that is the point, isn't it, as Baheyya pointed out in her last post:
The third strategy portrays the regime as the progressive, courageous champion of women’s rights valiantly resisting sexist, exclusionary judges who preach democracy and reform but refuse to allow women entry into the judiciary. Women’s accession to the judiciary in Egypt has been a hot button issue among judges for at least 10 years, eliciting very strong feelings, with a minority of ardent supporters and a majority of variously motivated detractors. Marei has already selected 124 women legal officers for qualifying exams and training in the National Center for Judicial Studies in preparation for their admission into the profession. By playing the woman card, the regime burnishes its own reputation, casts doubt on the integrity of its judicial critics, and drives a wedge between pro- and anti-women judges within the judicial reform movement that the regime hopes will block further collective action.
This brings us back to another missed opportunity in the current constitutional reform process (it hardly deserves such an august title, mind you), to get rid of the reference to Sharia in the constitution which gives judges like the one quoted in the above AP story an opportunity to say naming women judges is against Sharia law, which is currently enshrined about the constitution. There was a brief flirting with changing Article 2 to either remove the reference to Sharia or make the text say Sharia is a source of legislation rather than the source of legislation. In today's papers the government confirmed what's been known for days -- that there would be no change to Article 2 -- but not before a populist storm was brewed up about the regime attacking Islam itself. One independent MP, in fact, says he is starting a "Popular Movement Against Secularism" to combat the ruling party's notions of "citizenship" and the ban on religious parties. You can thank Anwar al-Sadat's 1980 amendment to introduce Sharia as the source of legislation in the constitution and years of state Islamism under Mubarak for that kind of attitude in the political elite and society at large.
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Failure to communicate

Yet another story of greed, corruption and incompetence in the privatization of the US occupation of Iraq: Radar has an interview with a former private Arabic instructor who barely spoke Arabic:
The lack of Arabic translators in Iraq appears to stem from a Bush Administration decision to outsource translation services to private contractors. Called "linguistic support," these companies, two of the largest of which are Titan Corporation and DynCorp International, have received billions of dollars to provide language interpreters to the Iraq reconstruction effort. But many of the supposed "translators" sent to Iraq were untrained, had poor language skills, or couldn't speak Arabic at all. In many cases the contractors appear to have conducted no screenings or interviews with prospective translators. And Titan Corporation interpreters are accused of involvement in two cases of prisoner abuse in Iraq and one case of espionage at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. . . . So you had been out of Arabic from the mid-'90s to 2002 when they hired you to teach soldiers Arabic prior to their Iraq deployment. That's right, with zero experience. I'd never been to a Middle Eastern country. Do you feel you were qualified for the job? Was I the right guy to teach the course? No. Did they give you any instructions? I asked them, "What do you want me to do?" And they said, "You're the expert." Look, it was that REEP got the contract and then they sent an e-mail to me, because it looked like I spoke Arabic, asking me if I would come teach the course. That was it. There was no interview. There was no anything. No accountability. Nothing. How did they know you really spoke Arabic? Because it said so on my resumé. Because I said so when they asked me.
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White man discovers Arab Orwell

London Times columnist (and Tory MP) Michael Gove waxes lyrical about Alaa al-Aswany's Yacoubian Building, comparing him to Orwell making a parallel between the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the Arab world today:
The tragedy of Arab life haunts many hearts but has remained, apparently, insoluble. For those counted wise in the West the state of the Arab world now is like the existence of the Soviet Union in the Eighties — a durable fact that one has to learn to accept. The idea that democracy, or anything like it, can take root in the arid soil of the Middle East is a mirage — and pursuing it will end only in misery, as Iraq’s tragedy is proving. But now new voices are challenging that assumption. A work has recently been produced that lays bare the ugliness of contemporary Egyptian society — the staggering level of business corruption, the ruthlessness with which political power is manipulated by the elites to consolidate their own position, the sexual hypocrisy which stifles genuine freedom and deprives women of basic rights, the crushing of individual initiative and ambition by cronyism and the rise in extremism fuelled directly by the regime’s own flagrant defiance of the common good. The work is not a polemic for a neo-con think-tank but a novel, The Yacoubian Building, by the Egyptian writer Alaa al-Aswany. What makes it remarkable as a work of fiction is the manner in which al-Aswany combines his devastating hatchet job on the current Egyptian regime with a touching and humane narrative that engages the reader as charmingly as Armistead Maupin or Alexander McCall Smith.
In other news, white man discovers social critique in Arab literature. Wait until he finds out about Sonallah Ibrahim! [Thanks, S.]
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Online Censorship Suit

Hossam has linked to Judge Abd al-Fattah's lawsuit here. It's riddled with factual errors. More on that later. It's still not clear if this is going anywhere, but as commenters on Issandr's original post on the topic noted, we have early warning in this case, and we should take advantage of it. A list of the URLs the judge is asking the government to censor follows. Since a court has yet to rule on whether these are libelous, archiving them in Egypt may be risky. So people outside of Egypt who might be interested in hosting mirrors, here are the urls. They include the sites of some of the most prominent human rights organizations in Egypt: The Web site of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (hrinfo) The page of the Hisham Mubarak Center for Legal Aid, hosted on hrinfo's site Web site of the Nur Center The Web site of the Egyptian Inititative for Personal Rights A typo leads to a 404 page, but it's named in the suit. The correct URL for the Hisham Mubarak Center is named above. The Urban Center [lit. "Observatory"] for Human Rights The Egyptian Center for Justice and Law The page for the Nadim Center for Victims of Violence, hosted on hrinfo The Egyptian Association Against Torture A page from a blog concerned with human rights issues From Kifaya's Web site Blog that has campaigned for democracy, human rights, and respect for the environment Purportedly the Web site of the Ghad Party's newspaper. Incidentally, this URL was inaccessible from Egypt March 14 using the ISP LINKdotNET. The Egyptian Renaissance site The Good News company's site, named as the owner of The Egyptian Renaissance, above. Web site of the Nur Center Shmasan News Web site of the Iraqi News Agency Blog post Blog post Blog post The Egypt chapter of HRinfo's 2004 report on Internet censorship in the Middle East HRinfo report on April-May 2006 crackdown HRinfo report on Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt Blog Blog post
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Send Spiders

Did a little digging into Judge Abd al-Fattah Murad's lawsuit to get the government to censor 21 Web sites and blogs:
  1. Abd al-Fattah Murad will likely not be the judge in Abd al-Karim Sulaiman's appeal. This would too nice a present to the defense team, who are engaged in a separate legal dispute with the judge and so could clearly not get a fair trial from him. If Judge Abd al-Fattah is on the stand next session, we can all start believing the rumors that the government never wanted to imprison Kareem in the first place. Or we should all be very scared because the government will have dropped its last shred of shame.
  2. The only source for the suit's existence remains Egypt's finest, Rose al-Yusef. Lawyers have had no communication from the courts. A scanned copy of the Rose al-Yusef article is here. It's possible the lawsuit won't progress, and that this article (in a paper whose meager readership consists mostly of those who have a professional interest in trying to guess what Security is thinking) is another shot over the bow. [Update: AFP cites "a judicial source" and "sources" to confirm the story]
  3. His honor reportedly has very good wasta in the Interior Ministry—but less so in the Judge's Club. It's unclear whether he has the clout to get the government to change its current policy of not censoring the Internet.
Let's hope this one dies on the vine. In the meantime, reason enough to be vigilant and for techies abroad to start archiving sites. Release the spiders. And if anyone from the ICT or information ministries is reading, please read Nart Villeneuve's excellent discussion of the pitfalls of Internet censorship for governments. To these I would add economic ill effects. Egypt's perception as a friendly country for ICT investment, a perception the government has spent millions on fostering, rests in no small part on its policy with regard to online censorship, which is free... and costs nothing. All the Smart Villages, slick IT projects at the Alexandria Library, and UN-prize-winning Web sites will seem like so much expensive window dressing if the government starts censoring blogs, newspaper Web sites, and the Web sites of human rights organizations. Telecom Egypt is looking for a partner to modernize the country's Internet backbone, at a cost of US$1 billion. And let's face it, Egypt isn't China. China will become the largest broadband market in 2007, with 79 million broadband users. When Egypt launched a program to expand broadband access in 2004, it set itself an initial goal of 50,000 users. The difference in GDP is about US$2.13 trillion. Bad publicity ought to seem like more of a liability here. For the sake of the greater good, Judge Abd al-Fattah, and for the sake of the rights to impart and receive information, please drop this lawsuit. Your good reputation will be better served if you're known as the man who forgave an insult than if you're known as the man who censored the Internet. The same president whose honor you're so anxious to defend has himself spoken about the importance of ICT in "supporting national efforts toward more freedom, democracy, and respect of human rights." So, your honor, for the sake of the president and patriotism, for the sake of the next generation of honest, hardworking Egyptians from Aswan to Alexandria, and for the sake of your good reputation, please drop this lawsuit.
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the Ides of March

000019_vl.jpg Coming up on the anniversary of the liveliest expression of popular dissatisfaction with the Mubarak regime in recent memory--the March 2003 demos--it seems like the moment to wheel out some old photos. I've scanned a (rathered battered) roll of negatives, and strung them together with some captions here. I think the moral of the story is this: if there's a dozen guys dressed up like little Darth Vaders chasing you, run like hell.
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URGENT: Lawsuit to be filed to block 21 Egyptian blogs

The head of the very same Court imprisoned blogger Kareem Soliman will be appealing to next week is launching a lawsuit to get 21 blogs and websites blocked in Egypt. Un-f#$%g-believable:
Rumors have been reaching me for days now, and I received confirmation only today from lawyer Gamal Eid, executive manager of Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. It seems that Judge Abdel Fattah Morad, head of Alexandria Appeal Court, has started a lawsuit against the government in Egypt’s Administrative Courts in order to block a number of Egyptian websites. The list, 21-websites-long, includes the blogs and sites that took part in the discussion around the book the Judge has written, and the wide plagiarism evident in the book copying HRInfo’s report on Internet Freedoms in the Arab World, and a how-to-blog guide written by blogger Bent Masreya. 
Of the 21 blogs and website, I was able so far to confirm Kifaya’s and HRInfo’s websites, in addition to the blogs of Bent Masreya, Yehia Megahed, and my own. The lawsuit is started by Abdel Fattah Mourad, one of Egypt’s most senior judges–and head of the Alexandria Appeal Court, where imprisoned blogger Abdul Kareem Nabil Soliman’s case is heard next week.
Follow this story as it develops at Arabawy, where the full email is posted. This is the most serious development against bloggers to take place in Egypt, and if a court rules in favor of the lawsuit it will not only be difficult to overturn but also encourage more lawyers to make a name for themselves by filing lawsuits against other sites. As Amr says:
What worries me, however, is that this is a judge whose ruling cannot be appealed. He can silence, imprison or execute people, and he oversees our elections. Once the blogs are found offensive by the court, then in light of the Egyptian’s regime reputation, it is automatic to prosecute the bloggers. This is an early warning.
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New head of IMA is Zionist

The new head of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, one of the finest cultural center dedicated to the Arab world in the world, is Dominique Baudis, a prominent figure of France's pro-Israel movement. The IMA is financed mostly by France but also by several Gulf states -- and I hope they act soon to stop rewarding people who have fought against Arab causes. French-Moroccan blogger Ibn Kafka has more. [Via Angry Arab]
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Constitutional amendments looking bleak

I am very much working on this issue but don't have time to comment, so read Reuters' take on the constitutional amendments:
Amendments to the Egyptian constitution, as drafted by a parliamentary committee, would weaken the role of judges in monitoring elections and make it almost impossible for Islamists to seek the presidency. The draft amendments would deprive non-party independents of the right to stand for the presidency and ban all political activity based on any religious reference or basis weapons the authorities could use against the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group in the country. The amendments give responsibility for monitoring elections to a committee on which judges may not necessarily be in the majority. Opposition and civil society groups have prized the existing requirement that judges supervise elections as one of the best ways to discourage the abuses which have marred voting in Egypt. In the 2005 elections several judges risked their careers by speaking out against electoral practices that they witnessed. The parliamentary committee is expected to approve the amendments this week.
There is even worse stuff, but more on it when the amendments are in their final form. In the meantime, Muslim Brothers have launched a "We refuse the constitutional amendments" campaign across campuses.
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Reading about the Ikhwan

Here are a few reading notes on some recent articles on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB): What Islamists Need to Be Clear About: The Case of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood - high-caliber work by the Carnegie Endowment's excellent Amr Hamzawy and Marina Ottaway, essentially giving recommendations to Islamists on what they need to to convince the rest of the world that they are not a Trojan Horse. Many will have problems with this paper, but it clearly lists the issues that Western policymakers have problems with. The MB or other groups don't have to agree with, most notably the provisions on international agreements. I also wonder what foreign policymakers would make of the fact that the most thorough intellectual work by Islamists on social justice is probably Sayyid Qutb's "Social Justice in Islam." Let's hope they continue with other examples from other countries. The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood - like most Foreign Affairs articles, pretty bland aside from making the suggestion to the wonk crowd that "a conversation with the Muslim Brotherhood makes strong strategic sense." The article should have been less broad in scope, better sourced and referenced, though, and does not come up with any serious analysis of MB discourse and practice. It also, in my opinion, exaggerates the links between the Egyptian MB and various affiliates in Europe that are dealing with entirely different circumstances. It is however a refreshing change from the Daniel Pipes line that there are no differences between moderate and extremist Islamism. Parties of God - Ken Silverstein's Harpers piece covers a lot of ground, from the Egyptian MB to Hizbullah to the resistance to discussing Islamism with an open-mind in the US. Because of this it's hard to see his point, even if, for its audience, much of the material will be new and interesting. He devotes some space to his own experience dealing with pro-Israel bias with his former editors at the LA Times when reporting on Hizbullah, something that would make a great article on its own (looking at pro-Israel bias and fear of retribution in American newsrooms) but has ultimately little to do with Islamist parties. - at-tarikh as-siri li-jamaa al-ikhwan al-muslimin (The Secret History of the Association of the Muslim Brothers) is a re-edition of a controversial book by Alaa Ashmawy, who claims to be a former member of the tanzim al khass, the MB's paramilitary wing that operated mostly in the 1940s and 1950s. The book has been reissued by Saad Eddin Ibrahim's Ibn Khaldoun Center and makes the argument that the MB retains some kind of paramilitary wing, which is not accepted by many Egyptian and other scholars. I mention it because I was recently given a copy, but I have not had time to read it seriously nor can I comment on its usefulness. The issue is very topical though, particularly after the (inflated) concerns about the al-Azhar martial arts demo and last summer's claim that the MB was willing to send 10,000 fighters to Lebanon. - I'd like to also mention an undergraduate essay a reader sent me about the MB along with a message about the "On Freeloaders" post from a few days ago. The essay was written by an Australian student who has never been to the Arab world, does not speak Arabic and relied only on previously published English-language material. While obviously it isn't ground-breaking, it provides a nice introductory summary and more importantly a decent bibliography of recent academic, policy and journalistic work on the MB. You can read the essay here, and it author has a blog called Jovial Fellow. If someone who had done that much reading contacted me for help on further research, I would have no problems helping them.
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Various items pertaining mostly to Egypt

There haven't been many posts lately because I am quite busy on a project at the moment, and I am spending a lot of time chasing people on the phone and in meetings. There is tons of stuff I'd like to post about but don't have the time -- such as the recent controversial (and problematic) Seymour Hersh article, Egyptian political news such as constitutional "reform" and the ever-growing number of strikes (covered so well by Hossam), developments within the Muslim Brotherhood (see the interviews on Helena Cobban's blog). So here are a few quick links, mostly on Egypt: - How Barack Obama learned to love Israel by Ali Abunimah, Obama's groveling AIPAC speech is here. - Arabs reiterate 2002 initiative, Israel says no to return of Palestinian refugees. - Egypt in diplomatic row over alleged execution of Egyptian war prisoners by Israeli forces in 1967. - Lebanese journalist Serena Assir has a blog, Freespace Beirut. - Marc Lynch has a Guardian piece on the Brotherhood of the blog. - Lawrence Pintak follows up on the US/Egypt tiff over the Iraqi insurgent channel Zawraa. - Maria Golia on The subsistence math of Egypt's neglected workers. - Last but certainly not least, Baheyya on the perils of the succession, hammering the point that I've been telling anyone who'll listen about the fundamental uncertainty and risk of the Gamal scenario. As is increasingly argued, there is an analogy to be made with the crisis of 1951-52 -- most notably the Cairo fire -- and a growing risk of political violence (both spontaneous and calculated) in the next few years. Some even hope for it, thinking it will be the last straw that forces army intervention. I find this line of reasoning among some radical activists, but the other night at a dinner I heard a wealthy, well-connected, pro-regime, prominent society woman say "This country is on the brink of a crisis. The army has to intervene. We won't democracy, but we'll have order." Like Baheyya, I don't think we're about to see the Mubarak regime collapse but the degree of uncertainty has grown tremendously. I am also concerned about the long-term impact of the exclusion of the Brothers from political participation and the ongoing rape of the constitution. But more about that later.
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This man is dangerous

Picture 1-3

Thomas Friedman talks to Mamoun Fandy, reads poetry translated by MEMRI. Conclusion: Muslims and Arabs, as a group of humans, are cowardly and have no moral fiber. They don't feel sorry for Iraqis. They have an irrational hatred for Americans. Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda have the same discourse. I have a suggestion. Can someone get the mustache a subscription to a serious Arab press translation service like Or even point him towards those Arab publications that translate their articles into English, like al-Hayat? Perhaps point out to him that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda are at war over the former's participation in elections and commitment to non-violence? Perhaps even email him a few of the many articles that appear in Arabic doing exactly the things that Friedman (and his native informant Fandy) says do not happen in the Arab/Muslim world? This man is becoming dangerous. He obviously has influence, you can't get the NYT to fire him even though its own correspondents (I hope) could probably tell him that he is full of shit. Someone has to give Thomas Friedman an education before he makes the view that Arabs and Muslims are congenitally amoral subhuman hordes completely mainstream. (The full op-ed is after the jump. Prepare yourself, it's one of the worst in a while.)

New York Times March 2, 2007 Pg. 17

The Silence That Kills

By Thomas L. Friedman

On Feb. 20, The A.P. reported from Afghanistan that a suicide attacker disguised as a health worker blew himself up near “a crowd of about 150 people who had gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open an emergency ward at the main government hospital in the city of Khost.” A few days later, at a Baghdad college, a female Sunni suicide bomber blew herself up amid students who were ready to sit for exams, killing 40 people.

Stop and think for a moment how sick this is. Then stop for another moment and listen to the silence. The Bush team is mute. It says nothing, because it has no moral authority. No one would listen. Mr. Bush is losing a P.R. war to people who blow up emergency wards. Europeans are mute, lost in their delusion that this is all George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s fault.

But worst of all, Muslims, the very people whose future is being killed, are also mute. No surge can work in Iraq unless we have a “moral surge,” a counternihilism strategy that delegitimizes suicide bombers. The most important restraints are cultural, societal and religious. It takes a village — but the Arab-Muslim village today is largely silent. The best are indifferent or intimidated; the worst quietly applaud the Sunnis who kill Shiites.

Nobody in the Arab world “has the guts to say that what is happening in Iraq is wrong — that killing schoolkids is wrong,” said Mamoun Fandy, director of the Middle East program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “People somehow think that killing Iraqis is good because it will stick it to the Americans, so Arabs are undermining the American project in Iraq by killing themselves.”

The world worries about highly enriched uranium, but “the real danger is highly enriched Islam,” Mr. Fandy added. That is, “highly enriched Sunnism” and “highly enriched Shiism” that eats away at the Muslim state, the way Hezbollah is trying to do in Lebanon or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Al Qaeda everywhere.

One result: there’s no legitimate, decent, accepted source of Arab-Muslim authority today, no center of gravity “for people to anchor their souls in,” Mr. Fandy said. In this welter of confusion, the suicide bombers go uncondemned or subtly extolled.

Arab nationalist media like Al Jazeera “practically tell bin Laden and his followers, ‘Bravo,’ ” Mr. Fandy said. “The message sent to bin Laden is that ‘You are doing to the West what we want done, but we can’t do it.’ This is the hidden message that the West is not privy to. Unless extreme pressure is applied on Muslims all over the world to come up with counter-fatwas and pronounce these men as pariahs, very little will happen in fighting terrorism.”

“The battleground in the Arab world today is not in Palestine or Lebanon, but in the classrooms and newsrooms,” Mr. Fandy concluded. That’s where “the software programmers” reside who create symbolic images and language glorifying suicide bombers and make their depraved acts look legitimate. Only other Arab-Muslim programmers can defeat them.

Occasionally an honest voice rises, giving you a glimmer of hope that others will stand up. The MEMRI translation Web site ( just posted a poem called “When,” from a Saudi author, Wajeha al-Huwaider, that was posted on Arab reform sites like

When you cannot find a single garden in your city, but there is a mosque on every corner — you know that you are in an Arab country.

When you see people living in the past with all the trappings of modernity — do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country.

When religion has control over science — you can be sure that you are in an Arab country.

When clerics are referred to as “scholars” — don’t be astonished, you are in an Arab country.

When you see the ruler transformed into a demigod who never dies or relinquishes his power, and nobody is permitted to criticize — do not be too upset, you are in an Arab country.

When you find that the large majority of people oppose freedom and find joy in slavery — do not be too distressed, you are in an Arab country.

When you hear the clerics saying that democracy is heresy, but seizing every opportunity provided by democracy to grab high positions — do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country. ...

When you discover that a woman is worth half of what a man is worth, or less — do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country. ...

When land is more important than human beings — you are in an Arab country. ...

When fear constantly lives in the eyes of the people — you can be certain you are in an Arab country.”

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The Teapacks: Push the button

The Israeli band The Teapacks' song "Push the button" may be banned from the Eurovision song contest for being too political. I think the song is funny and in parts catchy (I love the gypsy folk music accordion thing) and should not be banned, but then again I don't think the Israelis should be allowed to contest Eurovision generally for political reasons and because they are not Europeans. Either way, this is a clever PR coup from the Israeli officials who presented the song to Eurovision -- but don't see it as anything more than that.
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Garton Ash on Egypt

Timothy Garton Ash has an op-ed on Egypt in which he contrasts EU and US policies for democracy promotion. I think the difference between the two is while the US has a democracy promotion policy that systematically loses out to its imperial policy and domestic interests (big oil, Israel, etc.), the EU is even more morally bankrupt in that it does not have a democracy promotion policy at all. In fact, it barely has the guts to have any kind of foreign and security policy at all. The history of EU policy (not individual states) towards the Middle East in the past 15 years is the history of a failure, the failure of the Barcelona Process. It's risible, really. But I don't care much about democracy promotion as a concept, frankly (recent years have left a bad taste in my mouth), and think that European states' policy towards the Middle East essentially take place in a transatlantic context, not in terms of direct bilateral relations between European and Arab states. There is a part of the article I want to quote:
You cannot pass many hours here without encountering the unshakable conspiratorial conviction that the west is to blame for everything that is wrong in the Middle East (starting with Israel). The truth is that Usama's future, and that of the more than 400 million mainly young Arabs who are likely to be around in 20 years' time, is 80% up to the governments and people here and only 20% up to all the powers outside.
While I certainly agree that Arab countries have to do get their act together by themselves, it's profoundly hypocritical to dismiss the regional and global environment when talking about a region that is the core of the oil-based modern global economy. Furthermore, what Garton Ash forgets is that the independent policies of strong and representative Arab states may not be at all to his or Western governments' lacking. But then again organic intellectuals like Garton Ash will be at hand to criticize them when they are too strong rather than too weak.
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Qui écrit encore à Tunis ?

Tunisian intellectual Taoufik ben Brik writes on how the Ben Ali regime has emptied Tunis of its very soul and verve. A deeply sad recollection of better times for someone like me that has only known the current, dreadfully mournful and oppressive Tunis. Tunisians might inform me whether it is, as it appears, a barely disguised ode to Bourguiba. (Text pasted below, in French, from Le Monde.) L'écrivain Taoufik Ben Brik dénonce la disparition des lieux de parole et d'écriture dans son pays Qui écrit encore à Tunis ? Jusqu'au quart de siècle dernier, le siècle des siècles, les caïds étaient légion à Tunis. Ali Chewereb, Kamel M'bassia, Ouled Hnifa... Ils régnaient sur des quartiers populaires. Halfaouine, Bab Souika, Bab Jedid... Ils mettaient une certaine agitation dans notre ville. Chicago n'était pas très loin. Paraître était un devoir. Le Tunisois, même pauvre, pouvait tout perdre à une table, sauf sa gaîté. Il tirait sur la corde en pensant : " Demain, Allah le débrouille... ". C'était l'époque où l'on avait parfois rayé Dieu de la carte du ciel, mais où on croyait encore au diable. Salah Garmadi, le plus tunisois des écrivains tunisois écrivait : " Le garçon se met à ranger les chaises de la terrasse, aperçoit de nouveau le mendiant et lui fait : - Tu es encore là, toi ! Arrête ton éternel " Pour l'amour d'Allah ! ". Qu'est-ce que tu veux encore ? Que je te donne ma tête à bouffer ou quoi ? Je n'ai plus rien à t'offrir, mon vieux, sauf peut-être ce fond de verre de vin. - Oui, donnez-le-moi, pour l'amour d'Allah ! - Comment ! Le vin aussi, c'est pour l'amour d'Allah ! ? - Vous allez le jeter, non ? Alors tant qu'à faire, il vaut mieux le jeter dans la bouche plutôt que par terre, vous ne trouvez pas ? Le mendiant arrache le verre de la main de l'hilare garçon, en ingurgite le contenu rosé et se pourlèche les lèvres ! - C'est bon ! C'est très bon ! Merci Allah. " A l'époque le Tunisois faisait le siège des femmes et portait un fauve pour faire la java. Il ne pensait qu'à mettre un animal dans les draps de ses conquêtes. Jouer à " la brute " avec des gamines de bonne famille ne l'empêchait pas d'être un bon père. Il était capable de traverser quatre pays pour faire " manger sa marmaille ". Un excès de vie s'abritait dans le ventre de ces citadins voraces, capables à eux seuls de faire flamber toute la ville. Partout Tunis s'amusait. La Marsa, Sidi Bou Saïd, l'Ariana, Jebel Lahmar... Errboukh, la Zerda, l'archi-fiesta durait trois jours et trois nuits. Le baroud tonnait pour annoncer l'apothéose des réjouissances. La place se remplissait de convives, ils se déversaient en poussant des cris de joie et en dansant le Fazani Mertah. C'était quand la dernière Zarda à Tunis ? La dictature a servi de clap de fin à des années d'insouciance, de dolce vita. La saveur des choses, paraît-il, n'est plus la même. Tunis avait tenu son rang au grand concert du plaisir. Le ciel faisait à la ville un habit de lumière. Elle avait glissé deux cartes maîtresses dans sa manche azur. Sur la première, quatre couronnes : Carthage, Rome, Bagdad, Paris. Cet atout écartait Tunis de la province pour longtemps. Les racines de la ville s'abreuvaient au meilleur sang. Sur la seconde, la reine, mer Méditerranée. Les longs plis de sa robe formaient autour de la ville un cercle bleu et immobile. A l'intérieur de ce cercle, le temps semblait passer moins vite. Il fallait plus de cent ans pour épuiser un siècle. Tunis joue les prolongations, la lenteur. Elle se farde, se repoudre, se redore, elle s'étire au soleil. Elle déguste à petites gorgées la fin d'une époque. Dans une maison près du port de plaisance de Sidi Bou Saïd, de gros bébés échangent quelques propos au fond de leurs berceaux. Ils rêvent à haute voix d'Ali Baba et des quarante voleurs : leur babil inventera des noms étrangers. Hannibal, Jughurta, Al Kahina, Salambo. La guigne marche sous les voûtes de son sésame. Tous les tonneaux sont vides. On réussit pourtant à tirer une dernière bouteille de vin. Sur l'étiquette, il est écrit : Autrefois. La dernière fiesta de Tunis fut un enterrement. Personne ne s'y trompa. Le jour qui se leva sur les invités du palais de Carthage eut les couleurs d'un suaire. Il n'éclaira que des visages de cire. Il n'y eut pas de temps à perdre. Tunis se décomposa. Il fallut l'enterrer au cimetière El Jallaz. Tunis se tasse sous un soleil africain, venu après le sirocco de la nuit. La lumière détaille son abandon. Allongée dans sa tombe de lumière, Tunis se fane. Elle a la beauté des jeunes veuves ou des femmes abandonnées. Les Phéniciens, les Romains, les Arabes, les Normands l'ont autrefois couverte d'or et de céramique. Ils ont accroché sur son buste des palais et des Colisée. La ronde infinie des soupirants semble pourtant ne jamais devoir finir. Flaubert se jette à ses pieds avec sa prose. Pour elle, Mahmoud Darwich a oublié sa Palestine. Cette croqueuse de talents est loin d'être une sainte-nitouche et elle s'affiche encore avec des puissants personnages en costume sombre et se roule sans pudeur dans leur lit. Elle a connu l'argent, la force, l'esprit, la canaille. Mais la mauvaise affaire de sa très longue vie, elle l'a connue avec un homme trapu, aux cheveux gominés. Le gominé éclipsa tous les autres. Il périmait les plus modernes, déclassait les plus élégants, condamnait ses successeurs à n'être que des ayants droit. Le président Ben Ali a mutilé l'organe le plus précieux des Tunisois : la langue. Plus de cris ni de chuchotements, juste des grognements de muets. L'âme de Tunis a été brisée sur un récif d'acier. Il n'y a plus de théâtre, plus de poésie, plus de roman, plus de musique, plus de danse. Un nulle part au sud. Qu'est devenu Mohamed Guerfi, le plus grand musicien tunisien, l'égal des frères Rahabani ? Interdit de festival pour son franc parler légendaire. Depuis six ans, il ne vit plus de sa musique. Il est contraint de brader ses biens pour survivre. Qu'est devenue cette conscience morale qu'était la troupe du Nouveau Théâtre de Fadel Jaïbi et Fadel Jaziri ? A chaque nouvelle représentation, elle attirait des spectateurs de Suède, du Liban, du Maroc, d'Egypte. Qu'est devenu le plasticien Habib Chebil ? Qu'est devenu Ouled Ahmed, le poète du vin et de l'amour ? Il n'écrit plus. Mais qui écrit encore à Tunis ? Se balader du côté des bars, des cafés tels que l'Univers, le Florence, la Rotonde, le Kilt, c'est entrer dans le monde des ex. Ex-journalistes, ex-écrivains, ex-comédiens. Les anciens temples de la parole et de l'écriture ont été brûlés en fumée de pétard. Les survivants de cette fellouja ont vendu leur âme ou se sont exilés dans d'autres langues. Ce Tunis doit tout à Ben Ali. Il est son professeur et lui a appris à se déposséder de sa mémoire. Et c'est la fin de la fin, le coup de grâce. Seules des silhouettes immobiles animent encore cet univers de cénotaphe. Des femmes au sourire de marbre, des vierges à l'abdomen de carton, empaillées. La nature achève le travail du temps et tord le cou à ces frêles beautés. Mais alors, dites-moi, que nous reste-t-il de ce Tunis disparu ? Quelque chose qui, assurément, est plus beau que la gloire de ces époques si vite enfouies, plus beau que la vie même : la prière de l'absent. Taoufik Ben Brik Taoufik Ben Brik est journaliste et écrivain tunisien.
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Lebanon re-arming

This Le Monde article focuses on an arms race in Lebanon that is driving up prices as militias re-arm themselves:
Le fait est, néanmoins, que d'après les connaisseurs, la demande ne cesse de croître sur le marché noir, où le prix des armes individuelles aurait augmenté. Une kalachnikov se vend désormais entre 500 et 600 dollars au lieu de 100 à 150 dollars avant la crise. Les autorités syriennes ont annoncé de leur côté avoir intercepté, dans un camion se rendant au Liban, un colis comprenant 96 pistolets de 9 mm, un fusil-mitrailleur et leurs munitions. Plus grave : le patriarche de la communauté maronite (catholique), le cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeïr, a fait état d'une véritable " course à l'armement de tous les partis et protagonistes libanais ". " Comme si, a-t-il ajouté dans un prêche prononcé le dimanche 25 février, nous étions revenus plus de vingt ans en arrière ; comme si nous n'avions tiré aucune leçon des drames et des tragédies que nous avons vécus. " Officiellement, les milices de toutes appartenances politico-communautaires qui ont participé à la guerre civile de quinze ans ont été dissoutes et ont remis leurs arsenaux à l'armée. Le Hezbollah (chiite, opposition) fait exception. Il continue d'être équipé d'armes de tous calibres, fournies principalement par l'Iran pour lui permettre de lutter contre Israël. Des dizaines d'obus de moyenne et de courte portée, appartenant au Parti de Dieu, récemment saisies par l'armée libanaise, ont toutefois semé le doute sur ses intentions, pour le moins aux yeux de ses adversaires politiques.
It also mentions Seymour Hersh's recent article in which he alleges that US funding or arms are reaching Jihadi groups with the blessing of the Siniora government and the Hariri-controlled Internal Security Forces.
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I think I am going to puke

I am not going to even go into what I think of "Middle East experts" like Robert Satloff, but I do want to highlight that if he thinks anti-Semitism is a major problem in the Arab world, he has no idea what a real problem is. Real problems are when half of your country is illiterate, you've been under martial law as long as you remember, state failure is rife, massive unemployment has created a lost generation of people with no prospects, and as far as you can see there is little ground to be hopeful about your country for the foreseeable future. This drivel he is producing may achieve its goal, which is getting the support of American Jews and others for his agenda of supporting and legitimizing ethnic cleansing in Palestine (and you really wonder why Jews have a bad image in the region?), but it certainly won't help understand anything about the region's situation.
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