Regional endorsements

Micah Sifry tells us of a Bush campaign "Jewish outreach" message that "really made his blood boil." It reported that John Kerry had received endorsements from the PLO. Here's an excerpt:
Last spring, John Kerry boasted that a number of foreign leaders supported his campaign, but refused to name them. This week he received his first foreign-leader endorsement -- from the Palestinian Authority. Congratulations, Mr. Kerry. An organization known the world over as the linchpin of terrorism has now awarded you its support. When Kerry was talking about his popularity in foreign capitals, he said "you can go to New York City and you can be in a restaurant and you can meet a foreign leader" that supports him. Well, it's unlikely that he met the leaders bestowing this week's endorsement at Katz's Deli.
This was supposed to be based on something Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Authority's foreign minister, had said -- according to the Jerusalem Post, which doesn't actually quote him saying he supports Kerry, but rather lamenting the fact that the US elections were taking place at the Palestinians' expense:
"I keep saying that we have many times to pay for these American elections unfairly," Shaath told a news conference. "During an American election and the three months after, allies of the United States should do more work than they would do otherwise."
This is what, for instance, Al Jazeera reported. Other news sources that have reported on this also give the impression that the Palestinians would prefer Kerry, but despite bold headlines never really back up their claims. And in general, the real story with Shaath's statement is that he was unhappy with how much attention the Bush administration is giving the roadmap -- which is to say, none. Realistically speaking, no foreign leader is going to express a preference for one candidate or the other -- it's bad politics, and especially so if you're the Palestinian Authority. In fact, guess which Middle Eastern country has officially endorsed Bush in the region? The answer: Iran.
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208 Iraqis died last week

A disturbing report from the New York Times:
From Oct. 11 to Oct. 17, an estimated 208 Iraqis were killed in war-related incidents, significantly higher than the average week; 23 members of the United States military died over the same period.
The deaths of Iraqis, particularly those of civilians, has become an increasingly delicate topic. Early this month, the Health Ministry, which had routinely provided casualty figures to journalists, stopped releasing them. Under a new policy that the government said would streamline the release of the figures - which were clearly an embarrassment to the government as well as to the Americans - only the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers is now allowed to do so.
"It's a political issue," a senior Health Ministry official said last week.
No kidding.
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The Middle East Awaits

It's always good when an establishment newspaper points out the obvious even when it's not part of the current election talking points. The NYT did so when it penned an editorial on the criminal neglect of the Middle East peace process, which should have been a priority after the 2000 election, after 9/11 and should be now.
Instead, they have joined in offering Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, virtually uncritical support for whatever military operations or settlement expansions he chooses to undertake. After pronouncing anathemas on the discredited Yasir Arafat, they have stood by waiting for a new, less compromised Palestinian leadership to somehow emerge miraculously to replace him. This is not a policy. It is an abdication of leadership that costs Israeli and Palestinian lives, deepens mistrust and makes an eventual peace that much harder to achieve. Washington cannot afford to remain on such a destructive course. It must work to rebuild its influence as a force for Middle East peace.
Update: It's also heartening to see that most of the letters published in response to the editorial are supportive.
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MEF defends Patai

The Middle East Forum yet again confirms its intellectual and moral bankruptcy -- and attachment to racist stereotypes of Arabs -- by reprinting the foreword of the 2002 edition Raphael Patai's The Arab Mind, the book that the New Yorker's Samuel Hersh revealed was behind neo-conservative ideas of the Arab world and may have encouraged the mindset that led to the use of torture at Abu Ghraib. The foreword was written by Norvell B. De Atkine, a teacher at John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who declares himself an "incurable Romantic" about the Arab world, as Patai did. These kind of arabists, who fancy themselves as later-day Lawrences of Arabia or Richard Burtons, are really not helpful in these days of mass poverty, social unrest, political extremism and autocratic regimes. But here is what De Atkine has to say:
It might legitimately be asked how well Patai's analysis bears up in today's world. After all, it has been about thirty years since the majority of The Arab Mind was written. The short answer is that it has not aged at all. The analysis is just as prescient and on-the-mark now as on the day it was written. One could even make the argument that, in fact, many of the traits described have become more pronounced. For instance, Islamist demagogues have skillfully used the lure of the Arabic language, so carefully explained by Patai as a powerful motivator, to galvanize the streets in this era of the Islamic revival, in a way even the great orator Abdul Nasser could not achieve.
Wow, those Islamists, they use language and everything! And the idea that they "galvanized the streets" in way that "Nasser could not achieve" is ridiculous when you think of the crowds he could pull. The Islamists -- at least those of the Bin Laden type -- have a limited appeal in the Arab world, even if they've managed (because of their experience in Afghanistan and elsewhere) to be very effective organizations. Otherwise the entire Arab world would be run by Islamists. Furthermore, Islamic revivalism is also not going anywhere. The biggest trend in Arab societies today is the growth of apolitical piousness that manages to integrate with modernity just fine -- not a Taliban or Wahhabi-like return to seventh-century Arabia. The point is not that Patai had nothing worthwhile to say. It is more that whatever his contribution to understanding the Arab world was, it was too tinted by ideology and romanticism to be fully trusted. The Arab world has gone through tremendous changes since Patai first wrote The Arab Mind, which is why it is time to leave scholars with an outdated view of the region (Bernard Lewis, an outstanding Ottoman historian but dubious interpreter of the Arab world, comes to mind here) to the historiographers and intramural academic bickering.
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On the anti-Semitism report

Although its intention is worthwhile, I disagree with Tom Lantos' bill requiring the State Department to prepare an annual report on global anti-Semitism that has been signed by President Bush.
Lantos, the sole Holocaust survivor in Congress, pushed the idea amid reports of increased anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and continued propaganda against Jews and Israel in the Arab media.
The State Department had opposed his proposal, saying it would send the wrong signal around the world to single out anti-Semitism for special treatment over other human rights problems and stressing the department was already reporting on the issue.
Bush signed the bill Saturday without comment. But his signature was expected, especially in an election year in which the Jewish vote in swing states could prove important to Bush's re-election contest against Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry.
As the State Department argues, anti-Semitism is already covered in its reports, notably its human rights report. Singling out anti-Semitism as a special form of racism is a bad idea, if only because it dissociates it from racism and makes it something "special" -- something that will fuel the arguments of the anti-Semites. Highlighting anti-Semitism like this also exaggerates the phenomenon. In the case of the Arab world, where anti-Semitism is admittedly rife and occasionally gets violent, as it did in Morocco in 2003 or in Tunisia in 2002, it will compound a common misperception that anti-Semitism is the biggest form of discrimination taking place. Taking Egypt as an example, there has been much real state persecution against Shias or Ba'hais, but no case of anti-Jewish persecution. Furthermore, if we're going by religious groups then the most persecuted people are those accused (often falsely) of being Sunni fundamentalists. There are 12-15,000 alleged fundamentalists being held in Egyptian jails, often without trial. The vast majority of them are non-violent. Yet we're more likely to hear about anti-Semitic articles in the Egyptian state press or TV. Focusing on anti-Semitism over other groups' rights simply distorts the picture, which is in nobody's interests. They should get serious about promoting human rights for everybody -- Jewish or not.
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Corruption in the Arab world

This just in from the BBC: Oil wealth 'can cause corruption'. Good to know they're on top of things. Actually, to be fair this is a story about the latest report by Transparency International, the corruption watchdog. The Arab world, as always, does not fare particularly well. The least corrupt Arab countries are Oman and the United Arab Emirates who share a ranking of 29th (1st being the least corrupt, this year Finland) with Bahrain (slightly lower than Israel), Jordan and Qatar trailing not far behind in the mid-30s. Egypt and Morocco are way behind, sharing the 77th ranking -- lower than Saudi Arabia and Syria, which is a bit of a surprise -- and at the same level as Turkey. Libya and the Palestinian Authority don't do too well and share the 108th position. The oil revenue issue is highlighted here:
“Corruption robs countries of their potential,” said [Transparency International (TI) Chairman Peter] Eigen. “As the Corruption Perceptions Index 2004 shows, oil-rich Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen all have extremely low scores. In these countries, public contracting in the oil sector is plagued by revenues vanishing into the pockets of western oil executives, middlemen and local officials.”
TI urges western governments to oblige their oil companies to publish what they pay in fees, royalties and other payments to host governments and state oil companies. “Access to this vital information will minimise opportunities for hiding the payment of kickbacks to secure oil tenders, a practice that has blighted the oil industry in transition and post-war economies,” said Eigen.
And guess which Arab country is at the very bottom of the heap, along with notoriously corrupt countries like Pakistan, Congo, Azerbaijan, Myanmar and Haiti (the lowest-ranked country)? Yup, that's right: Iraq. Sure, it was probably down there at the bottom of the table under Saddam Hussein and the various "Mr. 10%" that controlled business, but seen as this is a report for 2004, I'm curious who they are reporting as corrupt: the Iraqi interim government, foreign contractors or the former CPA?
“The future of Iraq depends on transparency in the oil sector,” added Eigen. “The urgent need to fund postwar construction heightens the importance of stringent transparency requirements in all procurement contracts,” he continued. “Without strict anti-bribery measures, the reconstruction of Iraq will be wrecked by a wasteful diversion of resources to corrupt elites.”
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Iraqi Intellectuals Seek Exile

Iraqi academics are in peril:
Since the war ended 18 months ago, at least 28 university teachers and administrators have been killed, while 13 professors were kidnapped and released on payments of ransom, according to the Association of University Lecturers. Many others have received death threats.
The result: an exodus of academics and other intellectuals, who are urgently needed by a shattered society, from their schools and often the country, joining an earlier generation of exiles who fled the regime of Saddam Hussein.
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Is old Najaf being destroyed?

Kamil Mahdi reports that construction projects around Najaf are destroying the core of the old city:
The destruction of Najaf which is now under way is drastic and irreversible. A statement by the head of the Shia Waqf Diwan dated on 8 September shows clearly that the whole matter was only an idea a month ago, yet a decision was quickly taken and demolition has begun. People should at least be allowed to discuss the rights and wrongs of such decisions.
No such discussion is taking place, not even in the sham, pliant and self-selected National Council. Is this the so-called democracy all these people have died and are dying for? If the destruction continues without open and meaningful public consultation that takes place in a rational atmosphere and in total transparency, it will be nothing short of a criminal assault on Iraq's heritage and on its history. All over the civilised world, historic cities are protected, preserved and developed in ways that retain the character and identity of the city and the integrity of its physical and social fabric.
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Winning Hearts and Minds

The Washington Post has an article about an as-yet-unreleased report on Radio Sawa, one of the Bush administration's attempts--along with Hi Magazine and Al Hurra TV station--to change the hearts and minds in the Arab world. The article says the report--which was commissioned by the State Department's inspector general-- is highly critical of Sawa, which is one of the reasons it (the report) hasn't been released yet. The Broadcasting Board of Governors (which oversees all of the above mentioned media channels, as well as Voice of America Radio) has strongly disagreed with the findings of the reports and is seemingly in the process of "watering" it down. I do freelance work for VOA radio here in Cairo, so I know a little about this. A few years ago VOA's Arabic radio service was discontinued, and Radio Sawa was created instead. Sawa features a blend of pop music and short news. In the opinion of most VOA journalists, Sawa is not a serious news station (not to mention that it's an interloper). Instead of 3 to 4 minutes reports that used to air on VOA's Arabic service, Sawa airs at the most 45 second long news items. Also, supposedly the quality of reporting has suffered (this is noted in the leaked State Department report as well). People also complain that while VOA Arabic had a solid, age-old reputation and wide-spread name recognition, Sawa does not enjoy the same esteem, and is seen as fluff and progaganda (Arabs have wondered why Sawa doesn't openly state that it's a US government station). I have heard of interviewees granting interviews to VOA and specifically stipulating that they not be aired on Sawa. If people are really refusing to give Sawa interviews then that really does speak to a generally low opinion of the station. The Washington Post article quotes Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, "VOA unions are obsessed over knocking Sawa." It's certainly true that VOA employees have resented Sawa since its creation--they have even sent petitions to Congress about it. Part of this may be territoriality, but most of it I think is seasoned professional journalists watching a good news service get dismantled and a crappy radio station created in its place. The whole way Sawa has been created has all the Bush administration trademarks: 1) Appoint an ideologically sympathetic businessman to run the operation (much as advertising mogul Charlotte Biers was appointed to her disastrous stint as head of public diplomacy). The guy running the whole Hi/Sawa/Hurra show is BBG member Norman J. Pattiz, a radio tycoon from California. With what I'm guessing is little experience in public diplomacy, journalism or the Middle East, he has focused single-mindedly on "building audience," making Sawa a pop-music station to attract the huge under-25 audience in the Middle East. 2) Rely on simplistic, flawed and condescending assumptions. The idea that Arab audiences can't be reached by a serious news channel, but rather have to be tricked into listening by a barrage of US pop music and then slipped a little bit of the news on the hour is insulting. Arabs are much more interested in current events and politics than Americans are, for one. Also, what does this approach gain? Even if the whole Middle East listens to Britney Spears, is that really going to make them start calling the invasion of Iraq a "liberation"? Arabs know when they're being pandered to. They can listen to our music and still think our politics are bogus, and the only thing that could change that (besides the obvious, changing our politics) is to offer substantive news coverage, talk shows, in-depth reports, etc. 3) Don't consult any of the seasoned professionals who have been working in the field, thus alienating them all (see my remarks about VOA employees above). Choose your staff based on loyalty to your vision rather than on competency. 4) End up with a shallow, out-of-touch, low-quality, ideologically driven product. 5) Refuse to aknowledge criticism of the results. The Board of Governors is fighting the State Department report tooth and nail, and will probably succeed in having its conclusions re-written. And the same issues apply to Hi magazine (which had one of the most dismal receptions I've ever seen) and Al Hurra, which is so in touch with the Middle East that it is run almost entirely by a cabal of pro-American Lebanese Maronites. These initiatives are all part and parcel of the Bush administration's huge failure in public diplomacy--a failure to engage in any kind of open, substantive, respectful dialogue with people in the Middle East, because these people are not seen as valid interlocutors but rather as children that need to be brainwashed into agreement using whatever the most effective and shallow commercial means are available. (Hum, sounds like their attitude to the American public). And not only are these methods reprehensible, they don't work.
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Kramer's chutzpah

Martin Kramer writes in his blog, Sandbox:
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, held a conference on the fate of the ancient library of Alexandria. To the organizers' credit, they invited Bernard Lewis, who couldn't attend, but who sent a paper, read in his absence. The correspondent of the Ahram Weekly, Amina Elbendary, tied herself in knots about it. The invite to Lewis was "bewildering," since Lewis's name is "controversial, to say the least, and often associated with the negative connotations of Orientalism." Well, quite obviously the organizers accomplished Egyptian historians -- haven't been corrupted by post-Orientalist orthodoxy and its blacklisting militancy. There's hope.
This is pretty laughable from the guy who, along with fellow traveler Likudnik Daniel Pipes, founded an institution whose blacklisting militancy against Middle Eastern studies professors is reminiscent of anti-communist witch-hunts. Not to mention that the likes of Pipes and Kramer, who style themselves as Middle East experts, are really policy advocates, not real scholars like the professors they like to criticize.
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Scowcroft on Bush and Sharon

That wishy-washy liberal,Brent Scowcroft, tells the Financial Times what he thinks of the relationship between Bush and Sharon:
But speaking to the FT, Mr Scowcroft, 79, went a step further in attacking some of the president's core foreign policies. "Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger," Mr Scowcroft said. "I think the president is mesmerised."
"When there is a suicide attack (followed by a reprisal) Sharon calls the president and says, 'I'm on the front line of terrorism', and the president says, 'Yes, you are. . . ' He (Mr Sharon) has been nothing but trouble."
Mr Scowcroft also cast doubt on Mr Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, which last week Dov Weisglass, a leading Israeli adviser, said was intended to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.
"When I first heard Sharon was getting out of Gaza I was having dinner with Condi (Rice) and she said: 'At least that's good news.' And I said: 'That's terrible news . . . Sharon will say: 'I want to get out of Gaza, finish the wall (the Israelis' security fence) and say I'm done'."
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From revenge to friendship

Qadhafi is canceling Libya's "day of revenge," when the country celebrates its independence from the its former colonial master, Italy, and replacing it with a "day of friendship." And he's also agreed to allow former Italian pieds-noir who were exiled to come back:
Giovanna Ortu, born in Libya in 1939 and head of the association of exiles, said: "For six years we've been told it would be possible, since the Italy-Libya agreement of 1998. In April 1999 Libya opened up to tourists, but we were specifically barred. I was very much against Mr Berlusconi's latest visit to Gaddafi. Successive governments of left and right have made oil more of a priority than our problems, and in the process we lost honour."
The group, the Italian Association for Repatriation to Libya, still wants Libya to pay €250m (£170m)for expropriated property, but that is not the principal issue. "None of us wants to go back to live," Ms Ortu said. "We no longer cherish hatred and we are ready to forget. But we want the right to return for holidays. It's a matter of honour."
The $6.6 billion natural gas pipeline that will be going to Italy and bringing $20 billion over the next 20 years will also help bury those bad old memories, I'm sure. Qadhafi Still, I have a weird feeling that you can never quite know what's going to happen next with Qadhafi. After all, he still looks crazy. While on the subject of the mad bedouin, Abu Aardvark writes of accusations that Libya is supporting remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and reminds us that
Most experts on Libya, both academic and governmental, argued something quite different: Libya took the opportunity to cash in its non-existent nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and restoration of diplomatic relations, which Qadaffi had been trying to get through negotiations for many years. Qadaffi got what he wanted - the sanctions lifted and normal diplomatic status - and gave up very little.
One day someone will write a history of Qadhafi's Libya, and I think it will be a most entertaining book.
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ICG on two strands of Saudi Islamism

The International Crisis Group has a new report out on "Who are the Islamists?" It makes some important points about making a distinction between the types of Islamist groups operating there, a particularly important thing in a country where everybody, including (or rather especially) the regime claims to be Islamic. There are also some interesting thoughts on the need to nurture a more progressive Islamist strand that has been overshadowed by the Al Qaeda types.
Beneath the all-encompassing Wahhabi influence, Saudi Islamism developed over several decades a wide variety of strains. These included radical preachers, who condemned what they considered the regime's deviation from the principles of Islam and its submission to the U.S.; social reformers, convinced of the need to modernise educational and religious practices and challenging the puritan strand of Islam that dominates the Kingdom; political reformers, who gave priority to such issues as popular participation, institution-building, constitutionalisation of the monarchy, and elections; and jihadist activists, for the most part formed in Afghanistan and who gradually brought their violent struggle against Western -- in particular U.S. -- influence to their homeland.
By the late 1990s, the Islamist field was increasingly polarised between two principal strands. Among the so-called new Islamists, political reformers sought to form the broadest possible centrist coalition, cutting across religious and intellectual lines and encompassing progressive Sunni Islamists, liberals, and Shiites. More recently, they have sought to include as well elements of the more conservative but highly popular sahwa, the group of shaykhs, professors and Islamic students that had come to prominence a decade earlier by denouncing the state's failure to conform to Islamic values, widespread corruption, and subservience to the U.S. Through petitions to Crown Prince Abdallah -- the Kingdom's de facto ruler - they formulated demands for political and social liberalisation. Their surprising ability to coalesce a diverse group prompted the government -- which initially had been conciliatory -- to signal by the arrests cited above that there were limits to its tolerance.”
ICG reports tend to be well-balanced and insightful. Don't miss this one if you're interested in Saudi Arabia, especially because information about that country is scant enough already.
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Al Azm on Islamism

In an important new essay in the Boston Review, Time Out of Joint, the Syrian philisopher Sadik Al-Azm looks at some of the root motivations behind the nihilist Islamist movements exemplified by Al Qaeda and predicts that the current violence around the world is its death throes:
I predict this violence will be the prelude to the dissipation and final demise of militant Islamism in general. Like the armed factions in Europe who had given up on society, political parties, reform, proletarian revolution, and traditional communist organization in favor of violent action, militant Islamism has given up on contemporary Muslim society, its sociopolitical movements, the spontaneous religiosity of the masses, mainstream Islamic organizations, the attentism of the original and traditional Society of Muslim Brothers (from which they generally derive in the way the 1970s terrorists derived from European communism), in favor of violence. Both were contemptuous of politics and had complete disregard for the consequences of their actions.
That thesis is not new -- it was expressed by French arabists and "Islamologists" Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel in the 1990s -- but Azm's essay adds to it in his eloquent essay the anxiety and urgency that comes from a Muslim intellectual writing about his own intellectual heritage and future. When he writes about Arabs and Muslims perceptions of their role in history and their attitude towards modernity, he writes we, not they. It is an important difference.
In the marrow of our bones, we still perceive ourselves as the subjects of history, not its objects, as its agents and not its victims. We have never acknowledged, let alone reconciled ourselves to, the marginality and passivity of our position in modern times. In fact, deep in our collective soul, we find it intolerable that our supposedly great nation must stand helplessly on the margins not only of modern history in general but even of our local and particular histories.
Read and re-read it all.
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Sinai terror attacks

After a seven-year hiatus, terrorism is back in Egypt. After you read below the fold, do check out this radio transcript from ABC. A Jihadist group has claimed responsibilitz, but the Egyptian government is saying it could be related to the current fighting in Gaza.More later. Blasts kill 30 on Egypt-Israeli border - - - - - - - - - - - - By Sarah el Deeb Oct. 7, 2004 | Three explosions shook popular resorts on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Thursday night as many Israelis vacationed at the close of a Jewish holiday. Officials said at least 30 people were killed and 114 wounded, and witnesses gave unconfirmed reports that all three explosions were caused by car bombs. The first blast, about 10 p.m., shook the Hilton hotel in the Taba resort, only yards from the Israeli border, and Israel's army radio quoted Israeli security officials as saying they were convinced it was a car bomb. "The whole front of the hotel has collapsed. There are dozens of people on the floor, lots of blood. It is very tense," witness Yigal Vakni told Israel's Army Radio. "I am standing outside of the hotel, the whole thing is burning and they have nothing to put it out with." "We know of other people trapped under the ruins of the hotel," said rescue worker spokesman Yerucham Mendola. Today's Day Pass sponsored by Sony Looking for Love? Try Salon Personals The explosion could be heard and felt strongly a mile away, said Selma Abu el-Dahab, who works at another Taba hotel. She said a worker from her hotel returned from the Hilton and told of the blast before collapsing. However, Egyptian officials said they had no evidence of terrorism. Egyptian security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Taba explosion occurred among gas tanks in the kitchen of the hotel, which is next to the casino where many tourists were at the time of the blast. The explosion came a month after the Israeli government urged citizens not to visit Egypt, citing a "concrete" terror threat to tourists in an area. The warning, issued on Sept. 9 by the counterterrorism center in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office, identified Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where Taba is located, as the target of a potential attack. About midnight, two smaller blasts struck the area of Ras Shitan, a camping area near the town of Nuweiba south of Taba, witnesses said. "I heard one very big explosion coming from Taba direction and then, after a while, I heard two smaller explosions from Nuweiba," near Ras al Shitan, human rights activist Abdel Raziq said by telephone. A car rental manager at the Hilton, Mohammed Saleh, said he was in the storeroom at the Hilton when the first blast occurred and couldn't see where the explosion originated, but said several people at the hotel claimed it was caused by a car bomb outside the reception area. Some witnesses reported seeing the wreckage of a car. Amsalem Sarrag, whose uncle and cousin own camps in Ras Shitan, said both told him that Israeli cars exploded outside their camps. The two blasts were only five seconds apart, he said. He said the camps were full of vacationing Israelis, but he had no information on the number of casualties. Israeli police confirmed at least 30 dead at Hilton blast. An official at Taba Hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his institution had taken in 27 bodies from the Taba explosion and two more from Ras Shitan. An official at the Nuweiba hospital said two more bodies arrived there. Israeli police said at least 30 were killed in the Taba blast alone. Taba Hospital was treating at least 100 injured, and Nuweiba 14. In addition, Israeli medics said they had transferred 22 injured to Israeli hospitals in ambulances and helicopters. Israeli rescue workers who entered Egypt told The Associated Press they had evacuated 39 wounded people from the explosion, five of them in serious condition. Egyptians reportedly did not at first allow Israeli rescuers to enter the country but later relented after Sharon called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The two countries signed a peace treaty in 1979, but relations have been chilly as as result of Israeli military actions in Palestinian areas. Sinai shares a border with the Gaza Strip, where 84 Palestinians have been killed in an Israeli offensive that began on Sept. 29 to stop militants from firing homemade rockets into Israel. Taba is the main crossing between Israel and Egypt and the gateway for thousands of Israelis who travel to the hotels and resorts on the Red Sea. Thursday is the last day of the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, when thousands of Israelis vacation in the Sinai. Egyptians also were in the midst of a long holiday weekend marking the anniversary of the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, so popular resort towns along the Sinai coast were packed. Vakni said most of the people at the Hilton were Israeli. A witness told Israel Radio the hotel was filled with Israeli Arabs and Russian tourists from Moscow. "I was in the casino when it happened," he said. "There was a massive explosion and the left wall came down. People started to run around like crazy." Taba, a small Red Sea beach resort, was awarded to Egypt by international arbitration in 1989. Israel had controlled the tiny Red Sea resort since the 1967 Middle East war, and an Israeli-owned, $41 million hotel complex there has become a favorite winter vacation spot. Egypt had demanded return of the land for years, and the dispute was a sore point between the nations. It began when Israel refused to hand over Taba in 1982 when it left the Sinai peninsula under terms of the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Egypt peace treaty. In 1986, the two sides agreed to take the dispute to an international arbitration panel in Geneva for a binding ruling. The panel drew a border that put Taba in Egyptian territory. The five-member panel in Geneva awarded the border pillar closest to the resort to Egypt.
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Benjelloun and Khoury

Frankfurt International Book Fair I barely have anytime left before I run to catch the plane, but I wanted to put this down now: Elias Khoury and Tahar Benjelloun -- respectively some of Lebanon's and Morocco's most respected and best-selling writers -- were just discussing Arab pulbishing. Benjelloun launched into a tirade against Syrian publishers especially, calling on Syria to ratify the relevant intellectual property rights international agreements and clamp down on pirate publishers. "There is this Syrian publisher who loves my books, but in a rather perverse way," said Benjelloun, who writes in French but is frequently translated into Arabic. "Not only does he steal my books, but he translates them badly and then censors all the sex and politics out of them." One example he gave was a character who picked up a newspaper, saw a picture of Saddam Hussein, and exclaims, "Not that bastard again!" In the Syrian Arabic version of that same book, the whole passage was taken out. "If Syria can't even respect intellectual rights than it will never respect human rights," Benjelloun said. "It's not a question of money, but a question of morality and respect." It was an interesting aside from a discussion forum that was still very centered on the information gathered in the Arab Human Development Report -- both Khoury and Benjelloun were rather puzzled when they were asked who their readership was (Khoury just said, "I don't know, I'm not a sociologist.") But there was this idea that the German moderator was attached to that literature has a certain readership in terms of social class -- the elite. I don't think that's really true, and the more important criteria may simply be youth and level of education, which doesn't necessarily correlate with income levels and social class in countries with traditions of free higher education. More to come on this later.
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In Frankfurt

Frankfurt International Book Fair Because of the peculiarities of air travel in the Middle East, which seems to take place mostly at night, I arrived this morning in Frankfurt from Casablanca at 6am and headed groggily to the book fair for a few hours until I take the plane to Cairo this afternoon. (There will be a long post on Morocco later, when I've had time to digest my ten pretty hectic days there.) I am now writing from the press center, where I have been busily looking into the blasts in Sinai mentioned below, and which I will most probably have to work on tonight. My first impressions, walking around the international area of the fair where the booths for individual Arab countries and publishers are gathered (I haven't been to the Arab League's booth yet, which is apparently the main one), is that things are pretty well organized. Some of the booths, especially the ones for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are pretty kitsch -- papier-mache renditions of Arabian forts and so on -- but these tend also to be the largest (although, as far as literature is concerned, the least interesting. Prominently displayed are such books 'Human rights and their enforcements in Saudi Arabia," which turns out to be a rather turgid treatise on how Saudi Arabia recreates various conditions that supposedly existed around the time of the prophet. Syria's stand, staid and boring in the tradition of that country's ministry of information, is replete with biographies of the two Assads that served as presidents and books on the philosophy behind their thinking. Perhaps the strangest thing in the Syrian stand is a kind of prayer computer, basically a screen that one places at the head of the prayer mat and which highlights Suras from the Quran. It looks like it is made with computer technology from the mid-1980s, although the manufacturers say it "helps make devout." Much more interesting, obviously, are the stands by Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria and even Oman -- although I haven't seen all the Lebanese ones yet (they should be the best) or any Egyptian ones (the ones who produce the most books). There really is everything from cookbooks and technical books to fiction and history available, most often in Arabic but also in French and English. Often publishers will have the Arabic books they are selling next to their translations by other publishers, particularly for big names in Arab fiction like Naguib Mahfouz or Abdel Rahman Munif. I'm going for another round now that more people are showing up, and will have another post before I head for the airport. In the meantime, I just read a nice article in the Times Literary Supplement on the relationship between Arabic and the Quran (and more). Here's an excerpt from the middle of the article, but you should read the whole thing.
God chose Arabic. This makes Arabic particularly open to stagnation, mythologization, formalization, kitsch, and demagoguery. It is the fascination and danger of all verbal magic, a theme that has preoccupied thinkers such as Gershom Scholem, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin and Karl Kraus. Anyone who has witnessed a well-phrased, rousing public speech in an Arabic country has felt the effect of the language on the audience. A politician, theologian, or poet who speaks in classical Arabic, provided he is a good orator, is sure to captivate a wide audience. It is difficult to imagine how such a speech might sound in a different language, removed from the constant presence of a 1,400-year-old language with strong sacral overtones in society, its theology, literature and politics. Language operates here as a kind of time machine, effectively transporting all present back to a mythical epoch. Even television broadcasts of a speech by, say, Qaddafi, Yassir Arafat, or Saddam Hussein may have this effect. And how much more impressive were the great speeches by Gamal Abdal Nasser, whose success in leading an uprising in Egypt was due to his extraordinary rhetorical skill.
Since the full article is not on the TLS website (this is all they have), I'll scan it and post it later today or tomorrow.
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Frankfurt Book Fair

Frankfurt International Book Fair The Frankfurt International Book Fair opened yesterday with "the Arab world" as its guest of honor. If all goes well, I'll be attending the fair tomorrow morning as I fly from Casablanca to Cairo, via Frankfurt, and have about eight hours to linger. I'll try to do some reporting on the fair -- as much as I can in that short time-span -- and post anything worthwhile, hopefully from the fair itself or otherwise later in the day. In the meantime, here are a few articles culled from the internet on the opening and other pertinent issues:
  • The BBC writes about how Arab authors are "stealing the show" and the difficulties they encounter with censorship.
  • Al-Ahram Weekly reviews press coverage -- especially German press -- of the Arab role in the fair.
  • The Simon Wiesenthal Center is complaining that some books at the fair "incite hatred" and gives a list of the offending titles. However, while some of the books listed are clearly offensive and racist, others are simply anti-Israeli. For instance, a book about the Israeli destruction of Quneitra (in Syria) doesn't seem that offensive, since that town was razed to the ground by Israel. That's not really racism or anti-Semitism, so it's a shame they include them and only discredits them.
  • IslamOnline has a special book fair file that already has several interesting articles, including:
  • In “Arab Publisher Speaks Out on the Frankfurt Book Fair” the deputy-director of the Arab Publisher’s Association, Mohammed Rashad, speaks out about the obstacles to publishing in the Arab World, reading trends in the Middle East and his preparations for the fair.
  • An interesting note from Rashad's interview:
    “As an observer of the Arab market, I can tell you that the interests of the Arab reader have followed several trends in the course of my career. In the beginning of the ‘70s literature and modern poetry were the main interest of the Arab reader. Towards the end of the ‘70s, religious and classical religious writings came to the forefront, such as Qur’anic exegesis and Hadith. By the ‘80s books related to IT [information technology] topped all the lists. In the ‘90s literature had a strong comeback. Nowadays, surprisingly, classical and modern works on Islam and modern Islamic thought are topping the sales lists. We find a lack of religious thought and intellectual production when it comes to this field. Also, no one can ignore the strong interest in modern poetry.”
  • In “Dialogue With the President of the Frankfurt Book Fair,” Volker Neumann provides us with a behind-the-scenes impression of the organization of the fair, the negotiations with the guest of honor, and his hopes and expectations for the event.
  • In “Arabic Literature in Translation: A Survey,” Peter Ripken gives a historical overview of the translation of Arabic literature into Western European languages and sheds light on the causes for the lack of translations from Arabic available on the Western book markets today. 
  • In “Translations as Caricatures of the Arab World?” Samir Grees challenges the contention that translations from Arabic are chosen exclusively on the basis of Orientalist stereotypes of the Arab world and political sensationalism while expressing harsh criticism of the Arab League for its perceived lack of support for literary production.
  • In “Authors Without Books: Young Yemeni Literature Is Looking for Its Place,” Arab Literature expert Günther Orth uncovers the hidden pearls of a virtually unknown literature and describes the struggles its authors face in a land where the publishing tradition is only just being born.
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