Links for 07.22.09 to 07.23.09

Writer banned from ‘DailyKos’ after satirizing settlements | Shame! More of the Worlds Worst Dictators | Parade.com | What, Hosni only at #20? מגזין הכיבוש Occupation Magazine | How Israel is hiring students and demobilized soldiers to wage a propaganda war through comments across the web. Israeli FM wants Hitler photo to mute world pressure - Yahoo! News | Pathetic. Saudi Efforts to Combat Terrorist Financing - WINEP | I hate to link to WINEP's fluff piece for Stuart Levey, but my hatred for the al-Sauds trumps all. Of course they tolerate individuals who donate to extremists, and we still don't know enough about their role in 9/11. Mubarak invited to Washington in August | The Cable | Egyptian reports had put date at August 15, this says August 17. But will it not be a state visit? Nothing formal announced by White House yet. Amnesty condemns Saudi anti-terror campaign | World news | The Guardian | This comes after years of hearing about how great the Saudi rehabilitation model is... but many of those arrested in anti-terror campaign are just dissidents.
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Apophis, Bringer of Darkness

apophis_snake-crocodile-serpent-dragon.jpg Apophis, an asteroid named after an ancient Egyptian demon-god, may crash on Earth in 25 years' time:
In Egyptian myth, Apophis was the ancient spirit of evil and destruction, a demon that was determined to plunge the world into eternal darkness. A fitting name, astronomers reasoned, for a menace now hurtling towards Earth from outerspace. Scientists are monitoring the progress of a 390-metre wide asteroid discovered last year that is potentially on a collision course with the planet, and are imploring governments to decide on a strategy for dealing with it. Nasa has estimated that an impact from Apophis, which has an outside chance of hitting the Earth in 2036, would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole of the Earth would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere. And, scientists insist, there is actually very little time left to decide. At a recent meeting of experts in near-Earth objects (NEOs) in London, scientists said it could take decades to design, test and build the required technology to deflect the asteroid. Monica Grady, an expert in meteorites at the Open University, said: "It's a question of when, not if, a near Earth object collides with Earth. Many of the smaller objects break up when they reach the Earth's atmosphere and have no impact. However, a NEO larger than 1km [wide] will collide with Earth every few hundred thousand years and a NEO larger than 6km, which could cause mass extinction, will collide with Earth every hundred million years. We are overdue for a big one."
There's even a Bible code conspiracy about this.
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Crackdown on Egypt's Islamist bloggers

Three major Egyptian Islamist bloggers have been arrested over the last 48 hours, Global Voices reports:
Today, July 22, 2009, seems to be a start of a series of crackdown on bloggers in Egypt, as 3 young bloggers were arrested separately. The first blogger is Ahmad Abu Khalil, who was taken from his home in the dawn. State Security forces broke into Ahmad's house and confiscated his books. The State Security did not inform his family about the accusations against the son, or as to where he will be taken. However, he is most likely being held in Nasr City State Security headquarter. Ahmad who blogs at Al- Bayareq (means: lanterns), identifies himself as an ‘Islamist’. And he used to write about his life. The other two bloggers are Abdel Rahman Ayyash and Magy Sa'd, who have been arrested at the Cairo Airport, since yesterday night. The two bloggers were coming back from a visit to Turkey. Ayyash is running ‘Abdel Rahman's Blog‘ , while Magdy is writing at ‘Yalla Mesh Mohem’ blog, (means: OK it doesn't matter).
These guys are among the most influential young Islamist bloggers in Egypt, generally voices for dialogue with other currents and reform inside the Muslim Brotherhood. They are among the people campaigning for the release of Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the prominent member of the MB's Guidance Council who has articulated reformist tendencies more clearly than any other leader. Let's hope they are quickly released. Update: Menassat has a write-up, quoting from here but also with additional info.
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Review: A Child in Palestine

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Review of A Child in Palestine: The Cartoons of Naji al-Ali
Published by Verso, 2009
Introduction by Joe Sacco
Text by Abdul Hadi Ayyad



Most people familiar with Palestine are familiar with the work of Naji al-Ali, the creator of Hanthala. The cartoon of a ten-year-old refugee boy facing away from us, his hands behind his back, is the ubiquitous visual symbol of Palestinians expelled from their homeland and living in camps, silently witnessing the tragedies of Palestinian life since 1948. You can find al-Ali's iconic drawing spraypainted on walls not just around the Arab world but in European and American cities, as a pendant worn around the neck, on tee-shirts, sewn into keffiyehs, animated and all over the internet, and, just for example, on a cut-out sheet of paper taped to the back of the laptop on which I write this essay. Within Palestine and the Palestine solidarity movement internationally, Naji al-Ali's presence is equal perhaps to that only of Mahmoud Darwish as a cultural unifier and voice for the voiceless.
 Naji Al-Ali Israeli tank shoots dove.jpgSo it is shocking to consider that it is not until now, 22 years after al-Ali was assassinated in London (he was shot by unknown assailants on July 22, 1987) and more than 48 years since he was first published by Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani, that the first English-language collection of his cartoons is making its appearance. Despite several online galleries, tracking Hanthala down in print in the West has been quite difficult. Therefore we can all thank and praise the editors of Verso Books for their decision to create a slender introduction to al-Ali's graphic work for the Angolphone world. They have selected 100 cartoons and arranged them roughly by theme in five chapters: Palestine; Human Rights; US Dominance, Oil and Arab Collusion; the Peace Process; and Resistance. There is a brief introduction to each chapter, and each cartoon is accompanied with a short caption providing translation and explanation. The whole book is furnished with an introduction by cartoonist Joe Sacco, probably al-Ali's heir as the single person most associated with the crossroads of Palestine and comics. cartoon_naji_al-ali.gif
 
The work itself is as powerful as one can imagine for a cartoonist who's voice was so threatening to those in power that he had to be silenced with bullets. These are not funny cartoons, not even in the sense of the droll sarcasm associated with editorial cartoons in America. Al-Ali's work is replete with bloody struggle against ghoulish enemies; maimed bodies of children and bullet-ridden adults are wept over by wailing mourners under skies of solid inky black. It is frequently black night in Hanthala's world, without stars and only a crescent moon to see by. Bodies and landscapes transform surreally into bullets, keys, barbed wire, bombs. The leaders of the Arab world become grotesque slugs, fat and corrupt; the Israelis are vampiric goblins. The recurring representative  of the "commoner," the Arab peasant or worker who becomes a militant is stabbed, hung, and shot all the while a little boy watches silently (usually). They are a cri de couer of horror and resolute endurance. 
 naji al-ali cartoon jail.jpg 
Technically, al-Ali's line is usually called "simple" and at times even "crude"--shaky, without variation in weight, using cross hatching or grey ink wash to give the figures roundess and shading without detailed rendering. This style is not dissimilar to other cartoonists and animators internationally of al-Ali's generation working in the 60s and 70s, especially those associated with the underground or hippie movements in the West, like Fred Wolf or Bruno Bozzetto. But the power of al-Ali's work can be seen in the endless creative variation of the visual metaphors used. Recurring elements are recombined and reimagined to produce inventive new ways of reiterating al-Ali's consistent and unwavering message, which is as stark as his images. The Arab commoner (Palestinian, Lebanese, or other), man and woman, thin and starving, is faced with multiple enemies who are in fact in collusion: the U.S., the Israeli soldier, and the leaders and "fat cats" of the Arab world (whether dressed traditionally or in Western business suits), who will always betray the armed struggle that is necessary for Palestine to be reclaimed. An analysis of the Arab ruler's simultaneous repression of their people, dependence on oil wealth and obeisance to the U.S. is neatly summarized in a single, striking, wordless composition. 
 NajiAlAliPalestine.jpg 
Al-Ali's images also provides a quick and easy way to debunk some common Western myths about the history of the struggle for Palestine. Human rights and democratic discourse were a part of Palestinian demands from the beginning, and were blocked by the Israelis. The objection to settlements is not new or recent, but dates to their inception in the 1970s, and from the beginning were recognized as an obstacle to peace by al-Ali. The Arab states and the leaders of the PLO are not "moderate" but in fact capitulate too readily to U.S. and Israel demands and have been doing so for decades. 

Still, one is left feeling that this book only represents the barest beginning for exposing al-Ali and Hanthala to English-speaking audiences. Obviously, 100 cartoons selected from a body of work that includes tens of thousands can only serve to pique the interest of those seriously interested in Naji al-Ali. Strangely, Verso did not credit an editor for this collection, nor is any explanation or rationale for the choice of cartoons given. I know from browsing Arabic-language collections, for example, that many of al-Ali's cartoons do include much text and dialogue despite his reputation as a wordless cartoonist for largely illiterate masses. One can only presume that these cartoons were left out for ease of translation, but they are precisely the ones least accessible to the non-Arabic audience.
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More importantly, and disappointingly, there is no critical biography of al-Ali or attempt at cogent analysis. The written material, credited to Abdul Hadi Ayyad only in the copyright errata inside the book, is generic and prone to platitudes and hagiography, and no more informative about al-Ali's life or work than his Wikipedia entry (actually slightly less). Its attempts at translation and explanation for the cartoons frequently overdetermine what appears to me to be deliberate ambiguity of images. I am left feeling that one of the most influential  and important cartoonists of the second half of the 20th century, of the non-English-speaking world, and of the global decolonization struggle, is still without a compendium that will be of use to more than casually interested audiences.  One hopes that with enough interest in this book it will be forthcoming. 


Ethan Heitner is a member of Adalah-NY: The Coalition For Middle East Justice and a student of cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He has previously written for TomPaine.com and Cairo magazine. His cartoons will be available at www.freedomfunnies.com soon.
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Links for 07.21.09 to 07.22.09

جريدة الراية -مجرد سؤال .. ماذا تريد القاهرة من دارفور المنتدى | Qatari columnist complains "what does Egypt want from Darfur?", says Egypt is trying to start a separate track for negotiations even though Qatar's track working well. The Egyptians certainly hate seeing Qatar getting busy in their near-abroad. The List: The Middle East's Most Powerful Spooks | Foreign Policy | It's missing a few... will try to work on a complete list. Also not sure whether Assef Shakwat is still at the top of his game in Damascus. Facebook | Protest Facebook's categorisation of Israeli settlements as "Israel" | Tell Facebook to correct itself. From gods to garbage dwellers | GlobalPost | On Egypt's cats. Israeli funding angers filmmaker | "ENGLISH filmmaker Ken Loach has withdrawn his film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival because the festival receives funding from the Israeli Government."
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NYU in Abu Dhabi

The Review at The National has a feature on NYU's John Sexton and his hyper-ambitious plans for the university's new Abu Dhabi campus. It's a two-part articles, so I'm hoping the next section takes a tougher look at the university's claims about its mission. I had a wonderful time getting my masters at the Hagop Kevorkian Center at NYU, but I became very skeptical of the administration--their treatment of any student demands for greater participation in the university's running was always condescending and quite ruthless. The articles mentions the way Sexton crushed the grad student union; it also mentions a sit-in that took place when I was there--what it doesn't say is that the students were forcefully evicted by police, expelled from university housing, and charged with vandalism in disciplinary hearings. The sit-in's main demand was greater accountability of the university's finance and greater student participation in its decisions. The Review piece raises interesting questions about how well Western academic standards will withstand the pressures of Gulf politics and religious sensitivities; it should also ask how well Western academic standards have withheld the pressures of the modern American market. NYU is a good university but almost more than that, at this point, it's an efficient conglomerate.
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New Arab Human Development Report

The latest installment in the Arab Human Development Report, Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries , is out. From the executive summary:
In the Arab region, human insecurity—pervasive, often intense and with consequences affecting large numbers of people—inhibits human development. It is revealed in the impacts of military occupation and armed conflict in Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Occupied Palestinian Territory. It is found in countries that enjoy relative stability where the authoritarian state, buttressed by flawed constitutions and unjust laws, often denies citizens their rights. Human insecurity is heightened by swift climatic changes, which threaten the livelihoods, income and access to food and water of millions of Arabs in future. It is reflected in the economic vulnerability of one-fifth of the people in some Arab states, and more than half in others, whose lives are impoverished and cut short by hunger and want. Human insecurity is palpable and present in the alienation of the region’s rising cohort of unemployed youth and in the predicaments of its subordinated women, and dispossessed refugees.
A press release can be found here. Update: Fatemah Farag in Masri al-Youm has an interview with the lead author of the report, Professor Mustafa Kamal Sayed of Cairo University, who says he has disowned the report after major changes were made without consulting him:
"They then sent me the final report and the changes were drastic. They should not have taken place without consulting me. After all the contract we signed says that the final draft is the responsibility of the lead author in consultation with UNDP. And it is the first time in the history of the report that the lead author not be consulted with regards the final draft." At the end of the day El Sayed says he "refused the changes for scientific reasons since they undermine the quality of the report." One such change is moving the chapter on the impact of foreign occupation in the region to human security from being the second chapter to being the last "which of course undermines the importance of this factor. Undermines the impact of Israeli occupation in Palestine and American occupation in Iraq to human security," elucidates El Sayed. Another change was the dropping of a chapter on identity conflict in the region. "The report demonstrated that identity conflict causes damage that exceeds that of foreign occupation. The casualties of the situation in South Sudan, civil war in Lebanon and other such conflicts are very high and yet this chapter was reduced to two pages integrated into another chapter," adds El Sayed. "Personal security, which we had slotted as the last chapter after chapters on foreign occupation, poverty and lack of health services was moved to chapter four – putting the ramifications before the reasons. Further within this chapter I had been careful to maintain balance – by highlighting for example that major Arab cities remain much safer in terms of personal security than many other major cities of the South. This balance is no longer reflected in the current report," lamented El Sayed. He considers that such changes and omissions not only weaken the report but disregard UNDP's own analyses and concepts in defining human security.
In 2004, I had interviewed the report's previous lead author, Nader Fergany, about the pressure he came under from Israel and the US. If you remember, Bush had delayed the publication of the report because of its criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and US occupation of Iraq.
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Cartoon on king's wealth banned in Morocco

original.16748.demi.png Forgive the poor quality, but this is a cartoon depicting King Muhammad VI of Morocco jetskying on money. It was chosen as an illustration for an article in Courrier International, a French magazine that culls and translates articles from around the world. The issue of Courrier International that carried the cartoon was banned in Morocco. The article it accompanied originally appeared in the Moroccan French-language weekly Le Journal Hedbomadaire. Update: And this cartoon that appeared in Le Monde alongside an article on the king by Jean-Pierre Tuquoi also got the issue banned: 18635981.jpg
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Links for 07.21.09

Israel weighs confiscation of more Palestinian land - Haaretz - Israel News | In other words, trend set in past 40 years set to continue, despite what Bibi says, unless more forceful action is taken. BM News: American troops expected in Egypt this September « Bikya Masr | 425 National Guard troops expected to be stationed near Rafah. Apollo astronauts advocate trip to Mars - Bring the Tang | I love the space program, even thought it might be pretty pointless in the end. But can't we seize all the assets of Goldman Sachs and use them to build a rocket for Mars? Come on... Saudi Authorities Arrest Over 65,000 Illegal Immigrants in Three Months |
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Saudi Security apparatus has revealed that it has arrested over 65,000 illegal immigrants and 1,084 smugglers attempting to illegally enter Saudi Arabia during the second
Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards In Morocco | WTO report on labor issues in Morocco. Make no little plans - The National Newspaper | On NYU's plans to open a school in Abu Dhabi as part of "global network university" and questions about academic freedom in the Gulf.
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Links for 07.20.09 to 07.21.09

Iran's Mir Hosein Mousavi: Out of his shell | The Economist | What Moussavi's been up to. The Arabs' view of Iran: Mixed feelings | The Economist | On Arabs' view of the recent political turmoil in Iran. Honour killings in Syria: The law changes. Will attitudes? | The Economist | Bashar al-Assad timidly moves against honor crimes. The "Swiftboating" of Human Rights Watch (Prospects for Peace) | A good piece on the lobby's attack on HRW. Wait, Bibi-- Palestinians can't go buy property in West Jerusalem | Bibi claims that Palestinians are free to buy property in West Jerusalem, so why not let Jews buy in East Jerusalem... except of course it's a lie, you can't buy in WJ if you're not Jewish. Not too mention, of course, under international law any Israeli-owned property in East Jerusalem is an illegal settlement. Daily News Egypt - Full Article | The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy 2008 | Egypt, Jordan Morocco start at 118. [PDF] Islamists Today: Mubarak Regime and Brotherhood: Zero-Sum Game | Khalil al-Anani has a very strong column on the ongoing MB-regime war - but perhaps he goes too far by comparing the arrest of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh to the execution of Sayyid Qutb! Not do I really believe the regime wants to eradicate the MB, but Khalil's expression "to turn it into an antique suitable for the Egyptian Museum" may have some truth to it. The regime's dilemma is, how do you make the MB irrelevant?
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Breaking The Silence I

Since the report Breaking The Silence [PDF] about Israeli war crimes and use of human shields during the Gaza War is not getting much coverage in the American and international press (certainly the major papers - nothing in the NYT so far), I will be reproducing parts of it here.
Sometimes the force would enter while placing rifle barrels on a civilian's shoulder, advancing into a house and using him as a human shield. Commanders said these were the instructions and we had to do it… Anyway, at the concluding debriefing, he (the unit commander) said he didn't know about these things, and the guys, commanders who had been there the first week, said they saw civilians being assigned to break walls and enter with rifle barrels on their shoulders. He said he didn't know this and would look into it. i think nothing substantial had been done about it, i'm also in touch with one of the officers there at present and I don't know if an investigation was made and nothing was found or that nothing was cleared up. several weeks later, the story came out in the paper about these exact incidents, where they were given sledgehammers to break walls, in our area, this i can say with certainty.
In the IDF they call this the Johnny procedure:
The method used has a new name now _ no longer 'neighbor procedure.' now people are called 'Johnnie.' they're palestinian civilians, and they're called Johnnies and there were civilians there who stayed in spite of the flyers the army distributed before it went in. Most people did leave, but some civilians stayed to watch over the houses. perhaps they had nowhere else to go. Later we saw people there who could not walk, some simply stayed to keep watch. to every house we close in on, we send the neighbor in, 'the Johnnie,' and if there are armed men inside, we start, like working the 'pressure cooker' in the West Bank. . . . the commanders tell what they saw and make sure we know how things work on the inside. they also talked about things that bothered them. they said that civilians were used to a greater extent than just sending them into houses. For example, some of them were made to smash walls with 5 kilo sledgehammers. there was a wall around a yard where the force didn't want to use the gate, it needed an alternative opening for fear of booby-traps or any other device. so the "Johnnies" themselves were required to bang open another hole with a sledgehammer.
Uri Avnery has an article about the Johnnies.
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The Ghost of Yasser Arafat

2081984106_09cdadc0fa.jpg Poster commemorating the death of Yasser Arafat in Damascus, from Flickr user Magh While I was away last week, the biggest event of the Arab world appears to have been Farouq Qaddumi's allegation that Ariel Sharon, Muhammad Dahlan, Mahmoud Abbas and someone unnamed Americans may have conspired and agreed to poison Yasser Arafat. Qaddumi made his statement while being interviewed on al-Jazeera, prompting the West Bank Palestinian government to shut down their offices for several days — but it's now reopened, although the Fayyad government is still considering taking the channel to court. Arguably al-Jazeera should not be responsible for what its guests say, but at the same time it has been heavily promoting the story. Marc Lynch covered the incident from the point of view of his speciality, al-Jazeera, and in terms of the West Bank Palestinian government making a typical mistake of the repressive Arab states — I can't say I'm surprised nor do I share Marc's high expectations for Palestinian democracy under Mahmoud Abbas, or indeed, under Israeli occupation. (Or indeed that the United States is a supporter of press freedom, a rather ironic statement to make in context of previous US policy towards al-Jazeera.) Michael Collins Dunn also focused on al-Jazeera's standing in the region and whether or not its ban increased the credibility of Qaddumi's claim, while As'ad AbuKhalil gave background on al-Jazeera's relations with the Abbas regime and Qaddumi's place within Fatah. Likewise Brian Whitaker also wrote about Arab "leaders who can't adjust to a new era of transparency in which their actions are liable to be scrutinised and questioned as never before." I am not sure this should be the focus of the story — al-Jazeera is a power of its own in the region (more or less influenced by the Qatari royal family) but I see it more as an additional bloc in the pan-Arab spectrum, shifting alliances regularly, rather than the "game-changer" it is generally described as. Before al-Jazeera, after all, there were other sources of information (many of them outside the Arab world, such as the BBC World Service or Radio Montecarlo) which fed into Arab political debate. Today's multiplication of information sources has still not made much of a dent in the transparency of governments or their willingness to disseminate information. Indeed, in some cases it has helped neutralize potential "bombshells" such as the one released by Qaddumi. Marc Lynch was spot on in saying that this particular bombshell should be read in the context of the upcoming (but still uncertain) Fatah conference, the first to take place in 20 years. I don't know enough about Palestinian politics to comment on this in detail, but I think it's pretty obvious that Fatah is in deep crisis, and that Abbas has lost much moral authority over the Palestinian people. Several months ago, I spoke to senior Fatah officials who were in Cairo for the reconciliation talks and it seemed clear that the Fatah conference would not be taking place — that Abbas was going through the motions, and that he had reportedly even asked Egypt to refuse to host it so he could at least claimed that he had asked. Hosting the conference inside of occupied Palestine is problematic, of course, since Fatah members outside the West Bank would most likely not be able to attend. Actually having a Fatah conference would provide a venue for many of the group's members to air their grievances in a legitimate way the current leadership might not be too happy with. The last few months, after all, have seen test balloons by various Fatah factions as to what direction the movement should take, while the US, EU and Israel all but consecrated Abbas as the sole person they want conducting final status talks should a peace process properly restart. That — Fatah politics — is one issue. The other is the seriousness of Qaddumi's accusation that senior Fatah members (Abbas and Dahlan) conspired with Israel and the US to eliminate Arafat. Let's remember that Arafat has been alleged to have died by poisoning, from a brain tumor, from AIDS, cirrhosis of the liver and other causes. We still don't know. His widow, Suha Arafat, refused that his body undergo an autopsy in Paris or that French authorities release his medical file. The French government denied the poison theory, but rather weakly. His personal physician, Ashraf al-Kurdi, alleged that while Arafat was HIV positive it was poison that killed him. His nephew, who had access to medical records, says there were unclear, although it has been confirmed he had a blood-clotting disorder called "disseminated intravascular coagulation" (DIC). I had noted Qaddumi's first allegation that Arafat was poisoned, back in November 2004, and dismissed him since he did not really back it up and it was one in a chorus of voices offering different explanations. Then, in 2007, the Israeli peacenik Uri Avnery drew attention to the fact that Uri Dan, a longtime Ariel Sharon advisor, had mentioned that Sharon had asked the Bush administration for a go-ahead to kill Arafat. That decision would have presumably been taken in 2003, when Arafat was under tremendous pressure from the US and had been forced to name Abbas as his PM as a form of power-sharing. (It didn't last long and Abbas resigned after Arafat ensured security services were still loyal to him.) Around that time is when the meeting between Sharon, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Abbas, Dahlan and an unnamed American delegation (possibly headed by William Burns). Since Qaddumi has now released the transcript — exclusively translated into English by Toufiq Haddad of the Faster Times — we now have an idea of what might have taken place. The whole conversation is worth reading (the meeting is essentially about how to get around Arafat, "liquidate" leaders of the Second Intifada in Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad and impose a new Palestinian leadership under Abbas and Dahlan). But here's the bit where Sharon suggests poisoning Arafat:
Sharon: As long as Arafat is around in the Moqata’ [the Palestinian Authority headquarters] in Ramallah, you will certainly fail. This fox [Arafat] will surprise you as he did in the past. Because he knows what you intend to do. And he will work towards your failure and put inevitable obstacles. He’ll proclaim, as the [Palestinian] street does, that you are being used to do the dirty work of the era. Dahlan: We’ll see who uses the other. Sharon: The first step needs to be to kill Arafat by poisoning. I don’t want him exiled, except if there are guarantees from the concerned states that he will be under house arrest. Otherwise Arafat will return to living on a plane [a reference to Arafat's frequent travels before his return to the OPT to drum up support for the Palestinian position internationally.] Abu Mazen: If Arafat dies before we are able to have control on the ground and all the institutions, and over Fateh, and [Fateh's armed wing] the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades, then we will face great complications. Sharon: On the contrary, you won’t control anything as long as Arafat is alive. Abu Mazen: The plan needs to be where we pass everything through Arafat. This will be more successful for us and for you. During the period of clashing with Palestinian organizations and the assassination of its leadership and its member - these matters will bring with them consequences for Arafat himself. And he can’t say to the people that this is the work of Abu Mazen. But it is the work of the head of the PA. For I know Arafat well. He doesn’t accept to be on the margins. He needs to be the leader, even if he has lost all his options, and when he has no option but civil war. He prefers to be the leader. Sharon: You used to say before Camp David that Arafat is the last to know and [then] Barak, Clinton and Tenet were surprised that he is the decider [i.e that Arafat feigned ignorance, but knew what was going on all along, engineering it as such.] Perhaps you do not learn from the past.
Do read the whole thing, but as you can see here Abu Mazen (Abbas) is actually arguing with Sharon over the need to kill Arafat. So it's pretty inconclusive, although if the document is taken at face value it does show Israeli willingness to kill Arafat. This is hardly surprising since so many Palestinian leaders have been assassinated and during that time Sharon was convinced that Arafat was behind the suicide bombings and other killings of Israelis. What is revealing about the exchange (again, assuming this meeting did take place) is the degree to which Abbas and Dahlan are seen to be cooperating with Sharon to isolate Arafat, protect Israeli interests and assume control over the Palestinian Authority. This, without the assassination, should be damning enough. It seems Yasser Arafat will be haunting this gang for a while yet, especially should a Fatah conference actually come through.
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Links for 07.18.09 to 07.20.09

Gambling with peace: how US bingo dollars are funding Israeli settlements | World news | The Guardian | More Moskowitz. There should be an international financial blockade against any institution involved in the settlements. 'U.S. tells Israel to halt East Jerusalem building' - Haaretz - Israel News | More on Irving Moskowitz's settlement plans. Asma Al Assad: Syria's First Lady And All-Natural Beauty (SLIDESHOW) | HuffPo celebrates the beauty of Asma al-Assad. Never mind her hubby being a dictator and all... WaPo bows cravenly to pro-Israel lobby | WaPo publishes inaccurate "correction" on Gilo settlement. De “Freej” à “Hamdoon” : le dessin cartonne aux Emirats | On the spread of homegrown cartoon characters in the UAE. French agents kidnapped in Somalia | Security trainers were posing as journalists and staying at journalists' hotel — can't say I feel any sympathy for them. Publier ici votre bilan des dix de règne - Comme une bouteille jetée à la mer! | Larbi, one of the best Moroccan bloggers, is inviting readers to send in their assessment of the first 10 years of Muhammad VI's reign. Breaking the silence | Soldiers’ Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2009 Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Cementing the rift via dialogue | Update on Egypt-brokered Palestinian reconciliation talks after Ramallah meeting, takes the position that Fatah is sabotaging talks for electoral purposes. But does not acknowledge Egypt's acquiescence in this plan. The freegans' creed: waste not, want not | Environment | The Observer | Article on freeganism, i.e. eating free food that's been thrown away. Clearly only possible as a lifestyle in the first world. Somaliland's addict economy | GlobalPost | About Qat (also spelled Khat, the drug) in Somaliland. EGYPT: Poet accused of insulting Mubarak awaits final verdict | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times | Ridiculous. OpenStreetMap | Not bad alternative to Google Maps. For Cairo not bad, but Google is more detailed and in Arabic. Still, good effort that might improve, and does not lock us in to the G-Man. Revisiting Obama's Riyadh meeting | The Cable | So the idea that Obama came out empty-handed out of his pre-Cairo Speech meeting with Saudi King Abdullah is gaining ground. But it is ridiculous to imagine that Abdullah would pre-emptively agree to concessions before the Israelis have made even a single concession. Egyptian chronicles: Ahmed Rushdie-Barely-Speaks For The First Time | Very interesting post on former Egyptian minister of interior Ahmed Rushdie, described here as the only minister of the Mubarak era to have resigned and the only interior minister who was respected. (I don't know how true this is, but it's interesting!) International Crisis Group - 152 Sudan: Justice, Peace and the ICC | New ICG report on Sudan warns of laying off pressure on Khartoum over Darfur as focus shifts to the south and the CPA again. Among key recommendations to the ruling party is that Bashir should step down as soon as possible. US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman Talks to Asharq Al-Awsat | Sharq al-Awsat interview, mostly on Syria. The Obama administration sure loves Saudi media. Palestinians aim for massive pastry record Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | I'm all for building the world's largest ball of twine or baking the biggest kunafa, but the reporting on this is over the top. Taboo Topics on Contemporary Foreign Policy Discourse | Stephen M. Walt | Excellent post on the Ten Commandments of foreign policy wonks. You could add plenty more, but I would add (as far as Egypt is concerned) "Thou shall greet yesterday's oppressor as today's reformer, or vice versa if appropriate." Walt makes so many good points it's hard to choose a favorite, although #9 is up there.
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Islamic literature?

I've often heard the theory--advanced by the likes of Lebanese author Elias Khoury and Syrian poet Adonis--that Islamist are incapable of producing art or literature, that there is no such thing as Islamic or Islamist literature and that writers, in fact, present an inherent challenge to religion, and to men of religion. I was therefore curious to read, in the last issue of وجهات نظر, a review of a new book entitled الرواية الاسلامية المعاصرة (The Contemporary Islamic Novel). It's by Hilmy Mohammed al-Qa'oud, printed by Dar al-Ilm wa al-Iman lal-Nashr. Frustratingly, the review gives no examples or particulars, but it says the book analyzes works from Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Palestine, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
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Downtown's long makeover

nahas7.jpg The Boursa Exchange recently had a good roundup of news on the purchase of some of Downtown Cairo's historic buildings. I thought I'd point out the long story by Shaimaa Fayed in Business Monthly on this issue, from the real estate business angle:
The idea of taking old buildings and refurbishing them has been done everywhere, from Paris and Rome to Istanbul,” says Karim Shafei, chairman and CEO of Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments. He explains that the company’s project was one that quickly drew in investors, all of whom foresaw sizeable economic potential in restoring the downtown area. However, the details of the venture have yet to be ironed out. “This is a very dynamic project,” says Shafei. “We didn’t calculate the projected returns. It’s not that we don’t see that there’s going to be significant returns; but it’s very difficult to quantify something that is so dynamic and that will also take place in the distant future.” The company has already acquired 11 buildings, including the one housing the popular Café Riche in Hoda Shaarawy street, purchased for LE 9.5 million, and the Davies Bryan building, with entrances on Abdel Khaleq Tharwat, Mohamed Farid and Adly streets, purchased for LE 32 million. It hopes to purchase properties clustered in close proximity. Possible options for re-use of the buildings following their restoration, which Shafei anticipates will be completed over 10-15 years, run the gamut from boutique hotels to office buildings, residences and malls. While the company hopes to acquire one million square meters, Shafei says that the project can become profitable once 300,000-400,000 square meters are purchased. Currently, around half of downtown’s buildings are owned by public sector insurance companies, the remainder by private owners. Among the latter, many are frustrated by antiquated rental laws that prevent them from raising their leasing prices. All leasing contracts in Egypt signed prior to 1996 fall under the old rental law, which forbids rent hikes to protect the interests of lower-income residents. Owners were glad to find investors that would purchase their buildings, explains Shafei. In many cases, he says, “they come to us, we don’t go to them. Tenants want to leave because either they have left their apartments closed for ages, or they don’t like downtown. They don’t want to be living here. The buildings are in a miserable state.” In the case of occupied buildings, Al Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments is negotiating with tenants wishing to give up their rent contracts in exchange for financial compensation, a proposition that has been met with mixed sentiments. The company has taken the same approach with the stores in the area, offering to buy their properties or asking them to comply with storefront alterations that conform to the architectural design of the buildings.
For Downtown Cairo lovers, the issue will be (I expect sooner than most expect, perhaps within 10 years) whether the new buildings will be priced out of the normal neighborhood inhabitants' income (likely), whether the arrival of new stores to cater to this niche part of the elite will arrive (eventually, but don't hold your breath) and whether a spic-and-span, Solidere like Downtown is a desirable thing. On that last question, while some charm and roguishness may inevitably be lost, I think it might be made to work. Beirut's Solidere is quite physically isolated from other neighborhoods, this gives it a kind of amusement park feel. Cairo's Downtown has no such easy divides, and the complicated laws and regulations for the purchase of buildings makes it unlikely that a large enough area will be acquired for that amusement park feel. So instead we may just get a small high-class neighborhood in the pedestrian Bursa area, perhaps for those too hip for Qatamiya or those who want a pied-a-terre in central Cairo before heading for the burbs on the weekends.
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Links for 07.14.09 to 07.18.09

Why is Saudi Arabia buying up African farmland? | FP Passport | More Arab landgrabs in sub-Saharan Africa. Will NBC's The Wanted Endanger Foreign Correspondents? | The New York Observer | This looks like a really stupid idea. WPR Article | The End of Political Islam? | No, it's not. A good passage from this story:
The basic goal of all Islamists, from Salafis to the Muslim Brotherhood, is the revival of Muslim society, and the reversal of the perceived decline it has been experiencing for several centuries. All Islamists agree that this decline occurred because of a shift from the original foundations of its greatness, Islam. Thus, they agree that revival means the re-Islamicization of society through ridding it of what they consider corrupting Western ideas, such as secularization.
Hamas makes feature film about slain militant - Yahoo! News | "the screenplay was penned by Mahmoud Zahar, the Gaza strongman seen as one of the architects of the group's violent takeover of Gaza two years ago." It'd be nice if Zahar was referred to as Hamas' foreign minister, and also if wasn't such an idiot for spending money on this at this time. Who does he think he is, Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qadhafi? BBC NEWS | Middle East | Saudi 'genie' sued for harassment | About time that genies learn that they are not beyond the law. Boston Review — Helena Cobban: Peace Out | The decline of Israel's progressive movement, by Helena Cobban.
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Mauritania's presidential elections

Mauritania is voting for a new president today, after elections were postponed last month to allow for a political compromise between the junta that seized power in a coup nearly a year ago and the main opposition. The main opponent of junta leader Mohammad Ould Abdel Aziz is Ely Ould Mohammad Vall, who led the 2005 coup (known as the better coup), although Ahmed Ould Daddah is also a possibility and Kal's favorite. Kal also has more analysis. Yes, no one cares about Mauritania, but the elections may allow for an easing of sanctions in place since the coup, more foreign investment in a growing oil industry and more. Which might, if there is some balance of power rather than junta rule in what appears to be a genuinely politically divided country, be good for Mauritanians. Le Monde also has more in French. Update: Fraud reports, Abdel Aziz way ahead.
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