Links for 06.25.09 to 06.26.09

Note: Going back to the daily link dump, unless you prefer the individual posts. Most people I asked seem to prefer this method... Tamim death sentences upheld - The National Newspaper | On HTM, case will now go to appeal, perhaps ultimately to Cassation Court. Moving Out of Kuwait’s Political Impasse - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Nathan Brown on Kuwait's divisions between the ruling family and parliament. Al-Ahram Weekly | Focus | Loyalty to racism | Azmi Bishara on Israel's demand that it be recognized as a Jewish state. He makes several really good points. Obama to Send U.S. Ambassador to Syria After Four-Year Gap - washingtonpost.com | Move had been planned, but coming in the middle of Iran's crisis it signals an ambition to split the Syrian-Iranian alliance. Calif. professor's Gaza e-mail cleared by panel - Yahoo! News | Bloody thought police.
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Update on Iason and Iran's media crackdown

Iason Athanasiadis is still being held in an Iranian jail, with no news on the charges against him or when he might be released. (See previous post on Iason's arrest.) Iason's parents have issued a statement:
Meanwhile the parents of the journalist Iason Athanasiadis issued a statement appealing for the authorities to release their son, who was arrested last week on suspicion of what Tehran described as "underground activities". Iran's state media has said the authorities regard the journalist, also known as Jason Fowden, as a British reporter. Polymnia Athanasiadi and Georgios Fowden said: "Iason is a dedicated reporter, photographer and filmmaker who grew up in Greece and regards himself as Greek." "Iason has always maintained his integrity as an independent journalist who sells articles, photographs and film to outlets in many parts of the world," the statement added. "His work serves no purpose other than the fair and humane coverage of life in the many countries where he has worked. He has a particular love of Iran, and a deep respect for its cultural and religious traditions."
Both Greek and British authorities are working towards his release. Iason is one of at least 30 journalists (Iranian and foreign) who have been arrested since the crisis began, including the entire staff of a newspaper affiliated with presidential candidate Hossein Moussavi, Kalameh Sabz. Reporters Sans Frontieres says Iranian demonstrators have been forced to say they protested under the influence of foreign media:
Reporters Without Borders today condemned a parade of Iranian demonstrators being shown on a loop on state-run TV confessing to having protested at the behest of foreign media. All demonstrators make their confessions using the same words that have opened the nightly news bulletin for the past week: “Bismillah, al-rahman al-rahim. I admit that I demonstrated under the influence of the BBC, the radio Voice of America and other foreign media”. The confessions are aired at every hour of the day and night to show Iranians the extent to which those disputing the presidential election were persuaded by western agents to take part in an “orchestrated plot” against the Islamic Republic of Iran, confirming the words of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, where Iason was working, has more updates on his situation.
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Obama, Netanyahu, the Palestinians and the settlements issue

Obama talks to Bibi
Barack Obama on the phone to Benyamin Netanyahu / White House. I've been thinking about the settlement issue, which is currently at the forefront of the tug-of-war between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations and key to relaunching the Middle East Peace Process. I am disturbed by the emphasis on natural growth of Israel's settlements, rather than the existence of the settlements. This post will attempt to stake out this position. And it's long, so click below to read more.To start with, I think it's useful to have a reminder of the current situation, which the Real News provides a handy summary of:
More at The Real News
Netanuyahu's coalition now insists on constructing further settlements, which is of course important in itself. Marc Lynch, fresh back from a trip to Israel and the West Bank (along with Brian Katulis), has an important post about the Obama administration's policy on the Israel/Palestine conflict:
But for now I just wanted to react to the Netanyahu government's decision to brazenly challenge Obama by authorizing new settlement construction north of Ramallah. The bottom line is that Obama needs to stand tough in the face of this first real challenge, or his strategy will likely fail comprehensively. Rightly or wrongly, Obama has made the settlement issue a test of his credibility, and if he backs down then all the progress he has made will wash away instantly. That makes this a pivotal moment, whether or not an Obama administration focused on Iran wants it to be one. Most Palestinians, with their well-earned skepticism of American policy, expect Obama to back down. Most Israelis probably do as well. And that would be tragic, because without much publicity Obama's pressure has already started generating some important results on the ground -- not just Netanyahu's carefully hedged uttering of an emasculated two state formula, but the significant easing of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank, the lifting of some of the more ludicrous parts of the blockade of Gaza, the release of Hamas prisoners (including its Parliamentarians) by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and reports that the Egyptians are planning an unveiling of a Hamas-Fatah unity government agreement on July 7. The importance of this moment -- carefully chosen at a time when the U.S. is badly distracted by the events in Iran -- is enhanced by the fact that the proposed settlement expansion obviously has nothing to do with Israeli security. Nor does it have anything to do with the absurd "natural growth" argument, which everybody understands to be a joke (settlements have been expanding at a breakneck pace over the last few years, even as the Israelis were ostensibly negotiating in the Annapolis process, while the government continues to do everything it can to entice Israelis to move there). This is a political challenge, barely veiled, a bid to cut out Mitchell and Obama's legs, and everyone will take it as such.
Marc does not go far enough, though, and should highlight that the Obama administration's stance on the settlements is just a beginning, but not really a satisfactory conclusion. I worry that after all this foot-dragging, Netanyahu will produce a "major concession" of freezing settlement growth (the minimum demanded of him) but then refuse any dismantling of settlements aside from a few wildcat outposts. Indeed, by choosing to emphasize settlement expansion, the Obama administration may be the willing enabler of an Israeli landgrab. I may like him, but I don't trust Obama (or let's just say he has not earned trust yet), and am deeply worried about the administration focus on settlement expansion rather than settlements tout court. Another article here excoriates Israel's natural growth argument as ridiculous:
Whether he ever admits it publicly or not, Netanyahu is overwhelmingly likely to implement the settlement freeze the US is demanding. The real question is: what then? A settlement freeze accomplishes two things: one, it buys some time for the Palestinian Authority and for a real, tangible peace process to be revived. But only a few months. In those months, it will be crucial that genuine progress is made on the diplomatic front, on the ground in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, and in terms of Israeli security. The second thing it does is to bring the confrontation with the hardcore minority of the settler movement closer to the surface. A frequent refrain of late has been that Israel is “a country of laws.” Unfortunately, this has generally not been the case when it comes to enforcing the law on the settlers. That will have to change, and the most radical settlers’ likely response to a full and genuine freeze on all construction in the West Bank will put law and order to its final test. Either Israel gets serious about applying Israeli law to the settlers or it will demonstrate that it is not a country of law. But that’s the limit of a freeze’s effects. Some, including such notable figures in Washington as Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah of the New America Foundation, have argued that a freeze is the wrong goal, and that the enormous political capital a freeze demands from the US would be better spent on pushing for dismantlement of settlements. They fear that once a freeze is obtained, that political capital will be depleted. I see it differently. I believe that a freeze will be an investment of political capital, one which will generate great returns if successful and open up more opportunities, including opportunities to push for a rollback of the settlement project. It will give the Palestinian Authority the first evidence it has had that, in the age of Obama, their approach works and Hamas’ does not. The continuing ability of the Palestinian Authority's forces to keep a lid on terrorist activity in the West Bank, coupled with a settlement freeze, will create hope and support for next steps. But Levy and Atallah are certainly correct that a freeze does nothing in the long run by itself. It must be followed quickly by serious steps toward a final resolution of this conflict. It will open the opportunity for such an outcome.
A few days ago Tony Judt made a similar (but rightly less compromising) argument, stating plainly the obvious — that Israel has no intention of resolving the settlements problem — and arguing that Obama's policies should not allow them to get away with this:
Thus President Obama faces a choice. He can play along with the Israelis, pretending to believe their promises of good intentions and the significance of the distinctions they offer him. Such a pretense would buy him time and favor with Congress. But the Israelis would be playing him for a fool, and he would be seen as one in the Mideast and beyond. Alternatively, the president could break with two decades of American compliance, acknowledge publicly that the emperor is indeed naked, dismiss Mr. Netanyahu for the cynic he is and remind Israelis that all their settlements are hostage to American goodwill. He could also remind Israelis that the illegal communities have nothing to do with Israel’s defense, much less its founding ideals of agrarian self-sufficiency and Jewish autonomy. They are nothing but a colonial takeover that the United States has no business subsidizing. But if I am right, and there is no realistic prospect of removing Israel’s settlements, then for the American government to agree that the mere nonexpansion of “authorized” settlements is a genuine step toward peace would be the worst possible outcome of the present diplomatic dance. No one else in the world believes this fairy tale; why should we? Israel’s political elite would breathe an unmerited sigh of relief, having once again pulled the wool over the eyes of its paymaster. The United States would be humiliated in the eyes of its friends, not to speak of its foes. If America cannot stand up for its own interests in the region, at least let it not be played yet again for a patsy.
I would modify Judt argument: there is no realistic prospects of removing the settlements only in the context of a cowardly international community and supine "moderate" Arab states. If this does not change, this effectively means there is no real possibility of ending the conflict through a two-state solution — unless Israel thinks it has reached the point where it can break of the will of the Palestinians and force them to accept a landgrab they have always rejected. I would like to see Obama clearly articulate that freezing the settlements is merely a first confidence-building step to the removal of most settlements, even large ones. It's understood that those on the border (generally referred as the big three) might stay, in exchange for land swaps with the Palestinians. But Israel should not be allowed them to get them for free, without substantial concessions and reparations for those displaced by the settlements.
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Links on Iran 25.06.09

Tehran 'like a war zone' as ayatollah refuses to back down on election
Bloody clashes broke out in Tehran yesterday as Iran's supreme leader said he would not yield to pressure over the disputed election. The renewed confrontation took place in Baharestan Square, near parliament, where hundreds of protesters faced off against several thousand riot police and other security personnel. Witnesses likened the scene to a war zone, with helicopters hovering overhead, many arrests and the police beating demonstrators. One woman told CNN that hundreds of unidentified men armed with clubs had emerged from a mosque to confront the protesters. "They beat a woman so savagely that she was drenched in blood and her husband fainted. They were beating people like hell. It was a massacre," she said. The opposition website Rooz Online carried what it said was an interview with a man the government had shipped in to Tehran to quell the demonstrations. He said he was being paid 2m rial (£122) to assault protesters with a heavy wooden stave, and that other volunteers, most of them from far-flung provinces, were being kept in hostel accommodation, reportedly in east Tehran. With the independent media banned from covering street protests, the reports could not be verified. There were also unconfirmed reports tonight that Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, had been arrested. Earlier in the day she had called on the authorities to release Iranians who had been detained.
With so much of this being difficult to verify, it's only natural to err on the side of the protesters since it is the government that is preventing journalists from doing their job. ✩ Obama now playing hard to get with Iran?: Laura Rozen on the Obama administration's change of tactics towards Iran. ✩ Egypt's reaction to protests: Our own Ursula Lindsey reports on conflicting Egyptian attitudes to the protests. PlayMapping the protests in Tehran: cool interactive map of Tehran protests with pics. ✩ Will Iran be President Obama's Iraq?: The Leveretts debunk some myths on Iran, including the assertion that Ahmedinejad definitely stole the elections. They notably tackle the problems with allegations of up to 140% of votes cast in certain constituencies and the Chatham House analysis of the elections:
In response to fraud allegations, the Ministry of the Interior has, for the first time ever, published the results of each of the 45,713 ballot boxes. With the personal information for all the nearly 40 million voters in the election registered on a computer database and each voter’s fingerprints on his or her ballot stub, it is clear where people voted, and each vote can be accounted for. The Guardian Council — tasked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to review alleged electoral irregularities — has acknowledged that the number of votes cast in 50 towns exceeded the number of eligible voters residing in those communities; roughly 3 million votes fall into that category. But this is not unusual: Iranian citizens may vote in presidential elections anywhere in the country. Since the election took place on the Iranian weekend, many people had left their homes for their hometowns and villages and cast their votes there. Thus, in some places, the number of votes exceeded the number of resident, eligible voters. Recently, spot analyses by scholars from the University of Michigan and the Royal Institute of International Affairs suggested that this year’s election results are out of line with previous presidential elections. These analyses compare this year’s results with the first round of the 2005 presidential election, when Ahmadinejad and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani outpolled other candidates to move into a runoff. Viewed through that prism, Ahmadinejad’s 2009 tally seems inflated. But the comparison is structurally flawed. It is tantamount to arguing that, because Barack Obama won 38 percent of the vote in a competitive, multicandidate caucus in Iowa in January 2008, it is implausible that he could have won 54 percent of that state’s vote in the two-person general election in November. A more appropriate comparison for this year’s results in Iran would be the second round of the 2005 presidential election, when Ahmadinejad trounced Rafsanjani. From the outset, this year’s presidential contest was effectively a two-man race, notwithstanding two other candidates’ presence on the ballot. In that context, Ahmadinejad’s second-round vote share in 2005 (61.7 percent) was essentially indistinguishable from the percentage of the vote he won this year (62.6 percent).
The Leveretts also dispute the idea that the regime is close to collapse or has been delegitimized. ✩ BBC Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman interviews Roxana SaberiHas the U.S. Played a Role in Fomenting Unrest During Iran’s Election?: This question, unfortunately, must be asked since regime change in Iran has long been a US policy and, under the Bush administration at least, money was channeled to anti-regime groups inside and outside Iran. One important thing to remember, however, is that even if there are agitators seeking taking opportunity, the size of the protests makes it clear that this is more than just opposition groups - it's a genuine popular uprising. ✩ Iran in the Gulf: Great blog providing translations from the Iranian media and pro-protests publications. ✩ Neda Soltan's family 'forced out of home' by Iranian authorities: Family of girl whose death was filmed further persecuted - this incredible pettiness and lack of respect shows how disgusting this regime is:
Neighbours said that her family no longer lives in the four-floor apartment building on Meshkini Street, in eastern Tehran, having been forced to move since she was killed. The police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, the neighbours said. "We just know that they [the family] were forced to leave their flat," a neighbour said. The Guardian was unable to contact the family directly to confirm if they had been forced to leave. The government is also accusing protesters of killing Soltan, describing her as a martyr of the Basij militia. Javan, a pro-government newspaper, has gone so far as to blame the recently expelled BBC correspondent, Jon Leyne, of hiring "thugs" to shoot her so he could make a documentary film.
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Robert Ménard quitte le Centre de Doha pour la liberté d'information, "asphyxié" - Le Monde.fr

Robert Ménard quitte le Centre de Doha pour la liberté d'information, "asphyxié" - Le Monde.fr
Former head of Reporters Sans Frontieres leaves Doha-based center for freedom of information, saying he was asphyxiated by the lack of freedom and clashes with funders. Menard blames Sheikh Hamid bin Thamer, al-Jazeera's chairman, for his troubles but praised the Emir and Sheikha Moza.
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BBC Radio Documentary on Mubarak's Egypt, Part One

The BBC World Service has put up the first part of an excellent documentary piece on Egypt's current predicament, looking at the Mubarak era, the role of the military in it, and many more things. It really delves into questions rarely probed in depth by most journalists, notably the important role played by the military in the economy and its lingering political power. This first part deals mostly with the features of the Mubarak regime, and the next one will tackle the question of presidential succession. Highly recommended, and also read this companion peace, Egyptians look to military 'saviour' Play
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The Arabs’ Forlorn Envy of Iranians – Tehran Bureau

The Arabs’ Forlorn Envy of Iranians – Tehran Bureau
Rami Khouri takes the words out of my mouth - I'll have my own stuff to add on this topic a little later.
I started writing this column Sunday in Amman, Jordan, and finished writing it Tuesday in Beirut, Lebanon — a short journey that captured how the dynamic events in Iran are playing out in very different ways in a largely passive and vulnerable Arab world. Jordan and Lebanon capture the two extremes of the Arab world, including pro-American and pro-Iranian sentiments, Islamists, monarchists, and an assortment of tribal, Arab nationalist, state-centered and democratic values. All of them, without exception, react to events in Iran with fascination, confusion, and concern, reflecting self-inflicted political incoherence and mediocrity that are hallmarks of the modern Arab world. Broadly speaking, the Arab world has maneuvered itself into a lose-lose situation vis-à-vis developments in Iran, despite different views of the Islamic Republic.
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Iason Athanasiadis


Iason in Tehran, Washington Times The drama unfolding in Iran has many victims, and it may seem arbitrary to focus on any single one of them. But professional solidarity and personal acquaintance move me to speak out for the release of Iason Athanasiadis, a reporter and photographer who has worked on Iran for several years and was arrested on June 20 while reporting for the Washington Times. I have known Iason for nearly a decade, from when he lived in Cairo and worked at al-Ahram Weekly. He is a stellar linguist and journalist. The work Iason and other reporters operating in Iran is crucial to information about the evolving situation getting out, potentially influencing the outcome of the crisis. The Iranian regime, by booting out most reporters and now arresting those who remain, is only communicating one thing: that it is afraid of what is happening in the country, and afraid of transparency about its political process, the state of freedom of speech and freedom of association in Iran. His detention only underlines these fears, discrediting the regime's claims that it is trying to find fair, political answers to the questions raised by the recent flawed election. Although one hopes that the Iranian authorities will treat Iason well and release him soon - as a Greek-British national he may have more cover than the hundreds of Iranians now in jail - we cannot be sure. The uncertain outcome of the situation in Iran and a past record of prosecuting journalists unfairly do not bode well. My solidarity goes to him and his family, as well as to the Iranian people who have had the courage to fight for the right to appoint leaders of their choosing.
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Bahrain's oldest newspaper indefinitely suspended

Bahrain's oldest newspaper indefinitely suspended
After publication of anti-Khameini commentary. A sign of how sensitive this Sunni-ruled, Shia-majority country has become to the pro-Iran (regime) sentiments among its population. Which of course suggests that the Iranian regime must have spent much time building up a constituency there. Update: I posted this as I was clearing open windows in the browser. The newspaper has been reopened, as Bint Battuta kindly informed me. Sorry if I post slightly stale news that I bookmarked in recent days as I was traveling, I have not had much time to process my usual reading material over the last week as I was traveling. And thanks Bint Battuta!
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How to Achieve Israeli-Palestinian Peace - WSJ.com

How to Achieve Israeli-Palestinian Peace - WSJ.com
Op-ed by Hosni Mubarak on the Middle East Peace Process. Note token line about Egypt having achieved reform and providing more jobs for youth, both clearly untrue (the PM after all has warned of rising unemployment, and the reform issue speaks for itself.) Since the op-ed contains no policy initiatives, I guess this is just a PR effort to reassert Egypt's reputation as a peacemaker in the US. One wishes its current efforts were more successful, since Cairo has succeeded in neither Palestinian reconciliation nor a permanent ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, the two goals of the "Egyptian initiative". Of course this is also the Israelis and Palestinians' fault, but you can't really point to recent great Egyptian diplomatic successes.
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Naipaul and the Believers

I just finished reading Patrick French's biography of V.S. Naipaul, "The World Is What It Is." It's a very finely written, insightful and astoundingly unflattering portrayal. Naipaul gave French access to personal correspondence and above all to his dead wife's journals, which chronicle how he slowly and successfully shattered her already low self-esteem. We also learn about Naipaul's mistreatment of his mistress, his cheapness (he always had his volunteer guides in whatever Third World country he was writing about pick up the tab), and his pettiness towards other writers. These embarrassing revelations are only interesting in that they dramatize the old question of the writer "as a writer" and the writer "as a person." Are these character flaws in some way linked to, explained or redeemed by, his writing? Most achievement requires a certain amount of self-absorption and ruthlessness, but Naipaul chose to nurture his talent over his humanity to a very dramatic degree indeed. Reading the book, I kept alternating between finding something monstruously admirable about his dedication to his writing (to himself) and thinking that ten Nobel Prizes couldn't make him less of a wretch.  Then there is the matter of Naipaul's writing. I am in awe of his adamantine prose, his eye for detail. Yet much of what he writes about the non-Western world is scathing--the obvious product of shame (Naipaul came from an Indian family that emigrated to Trinidad as indentured servants--he came to England on a scholarship), shame in which there is truth but also an unfair harshness. But Naipaul is not disingenuous in his writing--he does the hard work of expressing his thoughts with the outmost clarity and precision. Even when one disagrees with what he says, one has to do one's own hard work, articulating one's disagreement in the face of a very sharp, honed, persuasive voice--and this engagement is generally intellectually rewarding. I haven't read that many Naipaul books (A Million Mutinies Now, his last and reportedly kindest book on India; the collection of essays A Way in the World; and the beginning of A House for Mr. Biswas--the book met an unfortunate accident before I could get too far). I have a good friend who picked up Among the Believers--Naipaul's book on Islam--and was so outraged that she never read another book by him again. It does seem that Naipaul set out to write his books about Islam (there was a follow-up, Beyond Belief) with the express purpose of criticizing it. He interpreted the Muslim invasions of  India between the 11th and 17th century as devastating to Indian civilization. In general, his writing on Muslim and African countries seems animated by religious and racial bias.  French is happy to expose Naipaul's personal foibles, but he doesn't engage quite as critically with his writing. Like many in Naipaul's life, French deplores the man but admires the writer. (He wouldn't have written a biography of someone he didn't consider exceptional, after all). But while having strong positions and clear points of view was one the strengths of Naipaul's writing, sometimes he was wrong, and his writerly prowess should not be allowed to obscure that. French points out the absurdity of Naipaul's position that "Everyone not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert," even if that conversion happened centuries ago--Naipaul saw all non-Arab Muslim countries as still the victims of Islamic "imperialism." But French quotes approvingly from Bernard Lewis' defenses of Naipaul, while saying that Edward Said (a constant critic) wrote "jealously" against him. And he justifies Naipaul's "admonitory pessimism" about political Islam by invoking 9/11 (!), turning Naipaul's bias into prescience.  French's biography is one of the best I've read, thoughtful and engrossing. Naipaul is a great writer and an often impressive observer and thinker. His harsh appraisal of post-colonial countries is uncomfortable in part because it contains so much truth. But his insights and his talents are compromised--at times, irredeemably so--by his prejudices.
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