The British government was advised against publicly criticising a report estimating that 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the war, the BBC has learnt. Iraqi Health Ministry figures put the toll at less than 10% of the total in the survey, published in the Lancet. But the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser said the survey's methods were "close to best practice" and the study design was "robust". Another expert agreed the method was "tried and tested". The Iraq government asks the country's hospitals to report the number of victims of terrorism or military action. Critics say the system was not started until well after the invasion and requires over-pressed hospital staff not only to report daily, but also to distinguish between victims of terrorism and of crime. The Lancet medical journal published its peer-reviewed survey last October. It was conducted by the John Hopkins School of Public Health and compared mortality rates before and after the invasion by surveying 47 randomly chosen areas across 16 provinces in Iraq. The researchers spoke to nearly 1,850 families, comprising more than 12,800 people. In nearly 92% of cases family members produced death certificates to support their answers. The survey estimated that 601,000 deaths were the result of violence, mostly gunfire. Shortly after the publication of the survey in October last year Tony Blair's official spokesperson said the Lancet's figure was not anywhere near accurate. He said the survey had used an extrapolation technique, from a relatively small sample from an area of Iraq that was not representative of the country as a whole. President Bush said: "I don't consider it a credible report." But a memo by the MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, on 13 October, states: "The study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to "best practice" in this area, given the difficulties of data collection and verification in the present circumstances in Iraq."While this is not necessarily conclusive about the Lancet study, it is pretty damning about the mendacity of Tony Blair's cabinet. But then again we knew that already. Here is another BBC analysis, dated October 2006, that looks at the competing estimates of Iraqi deaths.
Egypt's president wants military appeals courtCould this be a response to the criticisms about Article 179? If so, it's a pretty limited one.
Wed 28 Mar 2007, 12:41 GMT
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has proposed a law to set up an appeals court for suspects tried before military tribunals, known for their tough and swift verdicts, a cabinet statement said on Wednesday.
Mubarak has sent the draft bill to both houses of parliament, dominated by his ruling National Democratic Party. Under the present law, only the president can reverse verdicts of a military court.
"This will provide more guarantees for those transferred to the military judiciary," the statement said. It did not say how judges will be selected for the new court.
Statement on Egyptian Referendum Vote Yesterday Egypt concluded a popular referendum on a package of amendments to its constitution. While the approval of these amendments is a question for the Egyptian people to decide, it is evident that the vast majority of Egyptians did not choose to participate. Many voices in Egypt have criticized the abbreviated process which led up to this referendum, and have criticized the amendments themselves as a missed opportunity to advance reform and a step backwards. We also took note of significant discrepancies between the estimates of voter turnout provided by the Government and by both Egyptian and foreign media and observers. As the Middle East moves toward greater openness and pluralism, we hope that Egypt will take a leading role as it does on many other regional issues. Secretary Rice was recently in Egypt and discussed political reform with senior Egyptian officials. We will continue to raise these issues at the highest levels in an effort to help the Government of Egypt fulfill the aspirations of the Egyptian people for democracy and meet the standards of openness, transparency, and reform the Government has set for itself.But, as always, no consequences.
In Tehran, after pirated copies hit the streets there a few weeks ago, the movie was quickly denounced by an Iranian government spokesman as an act of “psychological warfare” that was intended to prepare Americans for an invasion of the country. “American cultural officials thought they could get mental satisfaction by plundering Iran’s historic past and insulting this civilization,” he said. The complaint was echoed by President Ahmadinejad, who said, “They are trying to tamper with history . . . by making Iran’s image look savage,” and a Time correspondent reported that many Iranians assumed that the movie was produced by an American government conspiracy. It is perhaps unfair to expect the Iranians to develop a sense of humor about American pop culture. They may also have trouble understanding that commercial American movies are ordered up not by “cultural officials” but by studio officials. The film is, of course, less an act of psychological warfare than an act of capitalism. It was called into being not by a hunger for war but by the desire to exploit a market—professional-wrestling and X-treme Fighting saturnalias play into the movie’s atmosphere. Everyone screams at everyone, and specialized Persian warriors wearing masks and other freakish regalia turn up to do battle. Pop has always drawn energy from the lower floors of respectability; this movie, in which fan-boy cultism reaches new levels of goofy chaos and sexual confusion, draws energy from the subbasement. Still, the Iranians have a point: though first planned years ago, “300” is a political fable that uneasily engages the current moment. An all-volunteer expeditionary force of Spartans ventures forth, the warriors sacrificing themselves to stop the invading hordes from killing their wives and children, which may be an allusion to the Bush Administration’s get-them-in-Iraq-before-they-hit-us-here rationale. The Spartans also fight, as a lofty narration informs us, “against mysticism and tyranny.” Against mysticism? How many ancient armies went to their deaths with that as their battle song? And how many men have died, as the Spartans do, to defend “reason”? A whiff of contemporary disdain for the East—what the late Edward Said called “Orientalism”—arises from the mayhem: “300” turns into a dawn-of-democracy epic in which violence is marshalled to protect the future of Western civilization. Made in a time of frustration, when Americans are fighting a war that they can neither win nor abandon, “300” and “Shooter” feel like the products of a culture slowly and painfully going mad.Luckily American popular cinema is a very, very varied thing. As a counterpoint to 300's glorification of Western superiority, there's some good-natured self-parody in Mike Judge's Idiocracy, when an average American of today wakes up 500 years into the future and finds that everyone is incredibly stupid and speaks a mixture of frat-boy wooos and valley girl slang. The joke is not just that this is the way Western consumerist culture is headed, but that it's not that far off now anyway. An Occidentalist argument? Perhaps, but then again one gets the feeling that the characters of Idiocracy are the kind of people that 300 is intended for.
CAIRO, March 27 (Xinhua) -- Egyptian Justice Minister Mamdouh Mohieddin Marai announced on Tuesday that 75.9 percent of voters in Monday's national referendum said yes to constitutional amendments, the official news agency MENA reported. Marai said the turnout reached 27.1 percent, which meant that some 9.6 million of Egypt's 35.4 million eligible Egyptian voters went out and made a vote on Monday's public referendum.The opposition and monitoring NGOs are skeptical, saying it couldn't have been more than 10% of voters at most. Low turnout for Egypt referendum: al-Jazeera
Anas al-Fiqi, Egypt's information minister, said turnout on Monday stood between 23 and 27 per cent, according to early estimates. The independent Committee for Democracy Support, which deployed 300 observers, said overall turnout was no more than three per cent by 5pm (15:00 GMT).More stories are coming out on this, casting doubt on participation and highlighting apathy -- AP, LA Times, WaPo. In other news, a friend was given a voting ballot by a taxi driver last night. The driver was furious that he had gotten it as payment for a half-hour cab ride -- presumably with a NDP or election official actually the friend just confirmed that it was given by a police officer. In a voting station near the Pyramids, another friend reported that NDP activists were only letting in people who said they would vote "yes" -- just some of the many usual stories of electoral fraud we've come across yesterday.
The regime is especially wary of the Mahalla workers’ challenge to the leadership of the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, because the federation is its primary means of mobilizing support in the street. The “National Democratic Party supporters” bussed to provincial polling places to stuff ballot boxes during the November 2005 parliamentary elections were mainly miserably paid public-sector workers, rounded up by NDP-affiliated union bureaucrats. Labor bosses also turn out the “spontaneous” cheering crowds who greet presidential visits to outlying towns and “mass demonstrations” like the regime-approved protest against the Iraq war in Cairo Stadium in February 2003. In the past, the General Federation (together with the Arab Socialist Union, the NDP’s predecessor) supplied the foot soldiers for the “mass” pro-Nasser gatherings following Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 war, and the “popular” rallies against the January 1977 “bread intifada.” In public meetings and private interviews, labor activists and strike leaders in the textile and railway sectors frequently mention the phrase “independent parallel national labor union.” Various leftist organizations are talking about building such a thing: the Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialists, the Nasserist Karama Party, the remnants of the Egyptian Communist Party, the People’s Socialist Party, the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Rights, and the Workers’ Coordination Committee. (Nearly absent from these deliberations is the “legal left” Tagammu‘ Party.) As of yet, however, there are no concrete plans. The success of such endeavors will depend on whether industrial militancy is sustained, whether political activists can intervene in the strikes and whether workers can establish effective coordination among themselves. It will also depend on whether the Misr Spinning and Weaving workers indeed manage to withdraw from their government-dominated union. If they do score a victory against the union bureaucracy, other workers will be encouraged to emulate them. It is no secret that there is tremendous frustration with union leaders among the rank and file in the railways and other sectors. Because of the high price of oil and receipts from the sale of public-sector firms, the government has significant cash reserves and can afford to meet workers’ bread-and-butter demands. It has done so in the hopes that workers will return complacent to their jobs. But some workers, and it is not yet clear how many, have begun to connect their thin wallets with broader political and economic circumstances -- the entrenchment of autocracy, widespread government incompetence and corruption, the regime’s subservience to the United States and its inability to offer meaningful support for the Palestinian people or meaningful opposition to the war in Iraq, high unemployment and the painfully obvious gap between rich and poor. Many Egyptians have begun to speak openly about the need for real change. Public-sector workers are well-positioned to play a role if they can organize themselves on a national basis.Read the whole thing.
The administration's weakness has emboldened the aging autocrat. In late December he unveiled a series of constitutional amendments that purport to follow through on his 2005 promise but in fact do the opposite. Last Monday they were rubber-stamped by the parliament; the next day Mr. Mubarak abruptly announced that the referendum needed to ratify them would be held six days later. No one believes that tomorrow's vote will be free or fair, and opposition parties have announced a boycott. The package essentially will make the "emergency laws" that have underpinned Mr. Mubarak's regime a permanent part of Egypt's political order. One amendment would write into the constitution the authority of police to carry out arrests, search homes, conduct wiretaps and open mail without a warrant and would give the president the authority to order civilians tried by military courts, where they have limited rights. Other amendments would ban independent political candidates as well as parties based on religion, which would eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood from parliament. Only parties with parliamentary representation would be able to nominate presidential candidates; since the government has refused to register most opposition parties and rigged parliamentary elections, there would be no alternative to the ruling party's choice. The opposition and outside groups such as Amnesty International and Freedom House have rightly described the amendments as the greatest setback to freedom in Egypt in a quarter-century. Yet the Bush administration has barely reacted. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is visiting Egypt this weekend, said Friday that "it's disappointing" that Egypt hasn't proved to be a leader of liberalization. But the State Department is downplaying the constitutional amendments. While acknowledging some "concerns," a spokesman said last week that "a process of political reform has begun in Egypt" and that "you have to put this in the wider context." Here's the wider context: The Bush administration used its considerable leverage over Egypt to force some initial steps toward democratic change two years ago. Then it slowly reversed itself and now has come full circle, once again embracing a corrupt autocracy. It's a shameful record, and one that Egyptians -- who, then as now, mostly despise their government -- won't quickly forget.Washington Times op-ed by Egyptian ambassador to US Nabil Fahmy: A more plural Egypt
Today, Egyptians will vote on the most far-reaching package of constitutional amendments since the adoption of Egypt's current constitution in 1971. This will constitute a defining moment in the course of our nation's history, an endeavor that will provide a greater clarity to Egypt's vision of itself and its framework of governance. . . . Egypt's reformers know well the backdrop to this effort. A system of single-district majority representation has favored individual candidates at the expense of political parties, and local issues over national politics. The result is the current bipolar standoff in parliament between the ruling party and the independents with only a minimal representation for the secular parties, many of which have enjoyed a long and rich tradition in Egypt's history. By moving toward some form of proportional representation system, as well as lowering the threshold for candidates from political parties to compete in presidential elections, the balance will be restored in favor of greater representation for political parties that will compete on the basis of national agendas that can address Egypt's many challenges. Taken together, these amendments will institutionalize a more plural and competitive political process in Egypt, while strengthening the system of checks and balances necessary for good governance. In short, it is a constitution that will chart a transition for Egypt's future, which is precisely why it is engendering such intense debate. Significant as it is, it is by no means the culmination of Egypt's reform. Needless to say, it is a process that will be confronted with obstacles and resistance, even setbacks. Yet because it realizes their aspirations for a more open, democratic polity, it is a course that Egyptians are determined to pursue.One interesting in the language coming out of Egyptian officials is this recognition that "there will be setbacks," that things are not perfect but it's a process that will eventually lead to democracy. Sounds remarkably like the Middle East peace process, in fact: the point is not getting there but staying in the process.
Cela m'avait échappé. Il ne me semble pas l'avoir lu dans les grands quotidiens et il a fallu une remarque en passant pour me lancer sur la piste des déclarations de Nicolas Sarkozy sur Al-Qaida. Seuls quelques blogs les ont reprises et quelques sites de journaux (Marianne) et nouvelobs.com). Voici comment ce dernier en parle : « Invité sur RMC lundi 26 février, Nicolas Sarkozy a été testé sur ses connaissances en matière de terrorisme international. Le journaliste de RMC, Jean-Jacques Bourdin, lui a demandé si les combattants d'Al-Qaïda étaient sunnites ou chiites. "Il est impossible d'y répondre (...) parce qu'Al-Qaïda, c'est une nébuleuse", a rétorqué Nicolas Sarkozy. A trois reprises, le ministre de l'Intérieur a refusé de répondre à la question. "On ne peut pas qualifier Al-Qaïda comme ça", a-t-il insisté. "Je vais d'ailleurs vous donner un exemple : le GSPC algérien a rejoint Al-Qaïda il y a quatre ans à peine. On ne peut pas réduire Al-Qaïda à un problème sunnites-chiites. Al-Qaïda, c'est une mouvance", a encore déclaré le candidat de l'UMP. Jean-Jacques Bourdin a toutefois tenu à lui faire remarquer que "tous les chefs d'Al-Qaïda sont des sunnites". "Nous demanderons à des spécialistes", a conclu le journaliste. ». Que le ministre de l'intérieur français, en charge de la lutte contre le terrorisme, soit aussi ignare pose un véritable problème : comment peut-il mener cette lutte s'il n'est pas capable de faire la différence entre les groupes chiites et sunnites ? de comprendre le fossé qui sépare, par exemple, Al-Qaida des groupes chiites, même les plus radicaux.
The opposition and outside groups such as Amnesty International and Freedom House have rightly described the amendments as the greatest setback to freedom in Egypt in a quarter-century. Yet the Bush administration has barely reacted. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is visiting Egypt this weekend, said Friday that "it's disappointing" that Egypt hasn't proved to be a leader of liberalization. But the State Department is downplaying the constitutional amendments. While acknowledging some "concerns," a spokesman said last week that "a process of political reform has begun in Egypt" and that "you have to put this in the wider context." Here's the wider context: The Bush administration used its considerable leverage over Egypt to force some initial steps toward democratic change two years ago. Then it slowly reversed itself and now has come full circle, once again embracing a corrupt autocracy. It's a shameful record, and one that Egyptians -- who, then as now, mostly despise their government -- won't quickly forget.They also have a story about Rice's trip to Egypt and the Egyptian reaction to her mild criticism. Andrew Exum and Zack Snyder of WINEP call the US "a willing accomplice" of the Mubarak regime:
The United States is the only external power that can exert any meaningful pressure on Egypt, but, to do so, Washington must grasp the significance of these inherently antidemocratic amendments to the Egyptian constitution. Should the administration issue strong, forceful statements in opposition to such purported "reforms," it will help the cause of civil society groups across the Middle East. On the other hand, should it continue to maintain this indifference toward a fundamental assault on key political rights, it runs the risk of inviting Congress to weigh in on the issue. Most opposition parties in Egypt are not, it must be said, friendly to U.S. interests in the region. But they -- like the Egyptian government -- closely follow the statements that come out of Washington. So too do democracy activists in the region, and it is for them as much as anyone that the United States ought not allow this encroachment on political freedom to go unchallenged.Last week the Financial Times called Mubarak misguided and called for military aid to be leveraged:
The regression in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, is part of an attempt by despots across the region to regroup and consolidate their power. With the US giving up on the freedom agenda and reverting back to its old policy of backing autocratic regimes as long as it likes their foreign policy, the first stirrings of democracy witnessed two years ago are fading. But the US has leverage: it provides $1.3bn every year to Egypt's army, for example, the backbone of the regime. It should use this influence to end, rather than promote, repression. The European Union too should raise its voice, particularly after having recently agreed with Cairo an aid package ostensibly tied to political reforms. Western governments might be entertaining the fantasy that weakening Egypt's Islamists would open more space for secular parties to prosper. But Mr Mubarak's scorched earth record towards all dissent, secular or Islamist, shows he will brook no challenge. Not long ago his government's main target was the liberal al-Ghad party, whose leader ran against him for the presidency and now languishes in jail. Egypt's western friends should by now know that Mr Mubarak's moves are likely to backfire, radicalising the Islamists and boosting their popularity.If the opposition in this country is going to get serious, then it may be time for it to start a campaign for all US military aid to be converted to civilian aid. It's an approach that would find much support in the US Congress and would place Cairo in a position where it would have to refuse this aid or accept wherever USAID wants to spend it. Aside from democracy-promotion programs, there are plenty of work they could still do in infrastructure development, health and education. The question is whether the US military and US arms companies that sell to Egypt (one of the US' best customers) would be happy with that. But there would be a clear moral appeal to such a campaign, and it could focus attentions both in Egypt and the US as well as involve the last interest group the Mubarak regime wants to have involved in politics: the military.
Opening a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood would signal to ruling regimes and opposition groups in the region that the United States is committed to promoting democracy -- not just to supporting those who are friendly to US interests. Democracy requires a broader commitment to political participation, inclusion, reform, moderation, transparency, accountability, and better governance. Furthering contacts with the Brotherhood would not constitute a drastic departure for American foreign policy. Despite the lack of a relationship now, American officials have had occasional contact with the Brotherhood in the past. American government officials last held talks with the organization in late 2001, under the current Bush presidency. Although the Egyptian government has occasionally expressed displeasure at such meetings, the American-Egyptian relationship has not suffered as a consequence. Egypt receives billions of dollars a year in aid from the United States, and Washington has a responsibility to meet with all of Egypt's relevant political organizations. After the Brotherhood's success in the 2005 parliamentary elections and the increasing popularity of other Islamist groups in the region, the United States needs to consider an open and frank dialogue with moderate, nonviolent Islamist groups. And there is no more important moderate Islamist group in the region than Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.But I wonder: if the US were to engage the MB, what would they talk about?