The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged baradei
Baheyya: ElBaradei is a wildcard

"Please God..."

One more ElBaradei link: Baheyya has woken from her recent slumber (first post since mid-October!) has given her take on the man:

Perhaps the scariest thing for Mubarak, wife, and son is that ElBaradei’s social democratic centrism, liberalism, and personal air of gravitas is rapidly forming him a constituency inside and outside Egypt. Like any dictator, the purpose of Mubarak’s existence is to snuff out the bottom-up formation of constituencies around rival groups or individuals. So far, Mubarak has succeeded in blocking or containing the growth of constituencies around challengers. Because elections are the time when constituency-building happens, they’ve always constituted an annoying but ultimately manageable nuisance for him. When the Ikhwan’s constituency-building threatened the parliamentary majority of Mubarak’s party in 2005, state violence was at the ready to strike at both voters and candidates. When Ayman Nour’s unexpected constituency-building in 2005 threatened to embarrass Mubarak, he mobilized his media and legal machine to smear Nour and put him safely behind bars. These tried and true tactics won’t work with ElBaradei. I’m going to enjoy sitting back and watching how the Mubaraks deal with this wildcard.

I couldn't agree more with the piece (and the cartoons she illustrates the piece with are great). Especially the fact that, as I've written before, ElBaradei is shining a spotlight on the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections that will make the usual shenanigans a lot more difficult. 

The Unpolitician

This blog does not want to become "All ElBaradei, All The Time" but the last week has been a distinctively single-issue one in Egypt. I have a piece in the National newspaper's Review supplement taking a more critical look at the ElBaradei campaign than I might have so far.

Prior to his return and the first few days of media blitzkrieg that accompanied it, I thought it was important to note that ElBaradei's conditional candidacy for the presidency was important and could have consequences. I still think it is important, but there are more questions being raised about whether ElBaradei will be a flash in the pan or a constant thorn in the side of the Egyptian regime in the next few years. This piece has two parts: one looking at what ElBaradei represents, the other looking at his apparent reluctance to get into politics proper (and of course this may still change) tackles both the promise of ElBaradei's ideas and where he is appears reluctant to thread. 

What does ElBaradei want?

After spending most of yesterday at Cairo Airport covering Mohamed ElBaradei's return to Egypt, it's worth taking a step back from the infectious enthusiasm of his supporters and listening more carefully to what they say — and what people close to ElBaradei believe he intends to do.

A member of the ElBaradei family sporting this great home-made T-shirt.But before I do that, I think it's fair to note that yesterday's welcoming committee was a success. There were over 1,000 people at the airport, the story got covered everywhere, and it has legs. It energized his campaign, even if many were disappointed that ElBaradei did not speak at the airport. I think he probably should have, but the conditions there were not good: supporters and journalists were crushing each other, there was no platform, and too many people to be controlled easily. One important reason for the success of the welcome was its timing. I think it might be no coincidence that ElBaradei decided to return to Egypt on the day that Egypt faced its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council and the day that Barack Obama met with Egyptian democracy activists Gamal Eid and Bahai Eddin Hassan. There was a lot of international attention on the question of democracy and human rights in Egypt that day. The regime's propaganda may have scared off some (newspapers had reported on-the-spot fines of LE1,000 — $182 — and massive security presence, both of which were untrue) but plenty turned out and a repressive approach was simply not possible.

Back to the ElBaradei campaign's potential. The sense that I get is that most of his prominent supporters are focusing on the potential for ElBaradei to be a symbol, a loudspeaker for the Egyptian opposition's near-universal agreement on what needs to be changed in the country: an end to emergency laws and the police state, constitutional reform to make politics competitive, and an end to the Mubarak family's role in politics. It's not much more complicated than that, and the question of whether ElBaradei will, or even can, run for president really seems secondary to them. The same can be said for ElBaradei himself from the interviews he's given so far: he systematically downplays the prospect of his candidacy in favor of talking about systemic problems, going just short of criticizing Mubarak directly.

Although there's obviously a lot of support for the ElBaradei campaign on and off-line, there are also critics. I'll skip over those who want to defend the regime, particularly as they made fools of themselves in the early attacks on ElBaradei in December, although among pro-regime individuals I think the writings of al-Ahram chairman Abdel Moneim Said may give us the most reasonable criticism of the ElBaradei campaign, especially when compared to the reprehensible attacks of his colleague, al-Ahram editor-in-chief Osama Saraya.

Among ordinary folk and a few politicos, there are a few common issues that do come up.

First, there are the people who don't like ElBaradei, his record at the IAEA, find him boring, too close to the regime, too aloof from Egypt's problems, etc. That's their right, although I think these people miss the potential transformative power of the campaign behind him — more about that below.

Second, there are those who dismiss the whole thing as ridiculous. An American academic friend — someone extremely knowledgeable about Egyptian politics — wrote in an email discussion with a few other experts recently:

These days people seem to be placing their hopes in miraculous changes that defy all prior empirical experience.

I would place expectations of Obama pursuing progressive policies and speculation about El-Baradei contesting the Egyptian presidency in that category.

Well, of course: Egypt has been a military and police dictatorship since 1952, its current president has been able to stay in power for 29 years, political activity is extremely limited and comes at a high cost for those who engage in it, and there is basically no history of a successful popular campaign to bring about political change. Obviously ElBaradei has at best a long shot chance at making a difference. The question is then whether it's worth trying at all, and whether the campaign around him may have some useful purpose, such as spreading the call for democratic reform, embarrassing the regime by raising the costs of electoral fraud and repression. Some of this type of criticism is basically cynicism, a position that is hardly constructive and offers no solutions.

Thirdly, there are those who wonder whether ElBaradei wants, or can, run for president. They have focused on the presidency as the goal. But this is misplaced: the man himself has said he's not so much interested in the presidency as changing the political framework. From Foreign Policy's interview:

What I've said is that I would not even consider running for president unless there is the proper framework for a free and fair election -- and that is still the major question mark in Egypt. I don't believe the conditions are in place for free and fair elections. In fact, I just sent an article to an Egyptian newspaper today setting out what needs to be done before I could consider it. These guarantees [include] an independent judicial review, international oversight, and equal opportunity for media coverage -- there is a lot that needs to be in place -- and of course, the ability to run as an independent. The Constitution is written in a way that I cannot run unless I join an existing party, which, to me, is not how a democratic system works.

I would like to be, at this time, an agent to push Egypt toward a more democratic and transparent regime, with all of its implications for the rest of the Arab world. If I am able to do that, I will be very happy because we need to achieve democracy in the Arab world as fast as we can. Democracy meaning empowering people, democracy meaning a proper economic and social development, tolerance -- it means building up modern societies.

The point for ElBaradei and his supporters is widening the debate about the current political environment, and in essence destabilizing Egyptian politics by spreading a coherent attack on the system. I think Brian Whitaker captures this well here:

Whether or not he runs for the presidency next year (and the rules constructed by the Mubarak regime probably mean he can't) is really beside the point. What ElBaradei can do, if he plays it right, is breathe fresh life into Egyptian politics and get people talking about change in new ways.

But few analysts have taken this logic a step further. In my opinion, the entire point of the ElBaradei campaign is to gain enough symbolic / moral capital to force a change from the regime through a combination of public pressure, international concern and leveraging whatever regime splits that exist. Ultimately, I'm sure some of his supporters hope, the aim is to create enough disturbance to encourage force majeure: an intervention, most probably by the military, to reset the current political system. In other words, a coup. This has long been the position of some Kifaya leaders as the most desirable outcome of the current Egyptian political crisis, although it's very unlikely that it could take place under Hosni Mubarak. Furthermore, ElBaradei's pseudo-candidacy may have already forced one alternative to a Gamal candidacy in 2011, if this report [Ar] that Hosni Mubarak is likely to run again in 2011 is to be believed.

This brings us to the fourth and final point: does ElBaradei really want to fight? This is the most interesting criticism of his campaign, that he seems ambivalent about what he will do. The feeling I got talking to people around him was that the plan is not for him to go traveling up and down the country holding political rallies. There does not seem to be a strategy beyond this week's blitz of television interviews. The onus will be on his supporters to widen and deepen the campaign. As his brother Ali told me, "I think he's already done his fair share, others now have to stand up." In a sense, ElBaradei's cutting criticism of the current regime was already a big step — he could have retired blissfully in southern France without getting himself, and potentially his family, in trouble. But some argue he needs to be a leader, not just a figurehead. I think we still have to wait and see how much time and effort he will devote to helping the campaign and using his contacts to rally other prominent Egyptians, including those inside the regime, to his campaign.

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The end of the beginning

I'm driving back from Cairo airport and writing this on a friend's iPhone as my blackberry has run out of juice. We're headed for a comedy night at the culture wheel on Zamalek. It'll be a nice break after six hours of waiting for Mohamed Elbaradei and constant tweeting.
Elbaradei chose not to speak tonight but will be appearing on many tv shows in the next few days. I got a little more insight on what he may be thinking and what his supporters might do next.
But that will have to wait for tomorrow.

The Campaign for ElBaradei

Poster for the ElBaradei Campaign

Two days ago we went to the office of a small NGO in Downtown Cairo to meet Abdel RahmanYoussef, the poet, television presenter and activist who is being the campaign to draft Mohamed ElBaradei. Youssef and a handful of others are using the office as a temporary HQ for the ElBaradei campaign, and were busy preparing today's welcome at Cairo Airport. 

So far, most of their work has been online: they are the people behind the "ElBaradei for President" website and the Facebook group that has, to date, 65,775 members and is growing at up to 2,000 members a day. But they've also been preparing for the return of Egypt's prodigal son. Versed in activist training seminars, they trained 120 people to manage today's gathering at Cairo Airport. Each person will be responsible for maintaining orders, leading the welcoming committee, and organizing attendance. They hope to have anything from several hundred to several thousand in attendance.

The problem is that it's not clear that the authorities will allow that. A lot of different scenarios to deflate the welcoming committee are possible. ElBaradei's flight — currently scheduled for 3pm on Flight 863 at Terminal 3 (although strangely it's not listed on today's arrivals list for Cairo Airport) — could be delayed. It could be diverted to another terminal, or to the VIP area of the airport where it would be far from the welcoming committee. There was a rumor going yesterday that police would impose an on-the-spot LE1,000 fine to anyone going to the airport to see ElBaradei. They could bar people without a ticket coming in, or do countless other things. Youssef, though, thought that media attention and the fact that it's ElBaradei meant the authorities would not prevent the meeting — "ElBaradei is a headache for the regime, they're not sure how to handle it," he told us. I am less sanguine, and as I head to the airport in a few hours I am not expecting an easy ride (although as a journalist I may have better luck than ElBaradei supporters.)

The ElBaradei campaign people have been in touch with their man, although they won't say how much. But it's an independent initiative, they are not being run by ElBaradei himself. I did not get a clear sense of whether they think they will join an "official" movement behind ElBaradei, or what ElBaradei intend to do beyond media appearances such as yesterday's interview with the prominent broadcaster Ahmed al-Muslimani on Dream TV. I couldn't watch the interview, but Zeinobia liked it. We'll put up the YouTube video when it comes out, and there is a preview of another interview with the generally anti-ElBaradei Amr Adib here. In America, Foreign Policy is planning to run the full interview it excerpted a few weeks ago.

The ElBaradei Campaign's ink stampThe important thing for the ElBaradei campaign, I was told, is to move from online activism to the street. "We can't have an impact unless we have hundreds of people standing behind Dr. ElBaradei," Youssef explained. He expressed impatience with the 6 April youth who were arrested a couple of days ago for spraying "ElBaradei 2011" graffiti in several Cairo neighborhoods over the past few weeks, feeling they made themselves easy targets. But he had his own thought for viral marketing: he has made and distributed ink stamps with the ElBaradei campaign logo and told me the story of this restaurant owner who, at the end of the day, stamps all of his cash with the stamp. The idea is to get money circulating to advertise the campaign.

What is not clear is what's next: will ElBaradei start campaigning immediately — not the presidency, but rather for constitutional change? Will he try to recruit opinion shapers and politicians? What does he have in mind as a way to implement what he's calling for? Will he go out and visit different places in Egypt, make public appearances, or stay aloof as a symbol rather than a politician? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Abdel Rahman YoussefOne note of interest: Youssef is the son of Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based former Muslim Brother and perhaps the most influential Sunni thinker of our time. He doesn't like to be associated with his father (and probably won't be happy reading this), and I think he leans to the left rather than Islamism. He's been active in political circles at least since the invasion of Iraq, and was an early Kifaya backer. He's an impressive figure, very serious-minded and conscious of the limitations he operates under and what he needs to do get traction on the ground for his campaign. He seems to have learned lessons from the Kifaya importance and is adamant about the importance of getting ordinary people (rather than intellectuals) joining the campaign. He's done great work recruiting prominent personalities such as Alaa al-Aswany (who recently wrote an article in al-Shorouk urging people to welcome ElBaradei) to publicize it. His father could end up being a liability, and that would be a shame: Youssef deserves a lot of the credit for getting people excited about ElBaradei's return, and points out that ElBaradei announced his interest in returning to Egypt and competing for the presidency (or changing the political system only two days after they launched their campaign to draft him.

I will be posting updates from the airport on Twitter and may post here too. Stay tuned.

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ElBaradei's proposal for Gaza

Foreign Policy got hold of Mohamed ElBaradei ahead of his return to Egypt and is set to soon publish a long interview, focusing both on Iran and his tenure at the IAEA and his impending return to Egypt (third week of February, FP says.) I can't wait to read the full thing once it's available, and urge you to read the excerpt they put on online. For now I'll focus on the part of the interview which deals with Egypt's policy towards Gaza, where ElBaradei makes an interesting (if off-the-cuff) policy proposal:

FPPresident Mubarak has been criticized harshly in Egypt and from outside, from some quarters, for his policy toward Gaza. Do you have any opinions on his policy toward Hamas?

ElBaradei: I don't really know the details about his relationship with Hamas. All I know about Gaza is that you have to distinguish between national security and humanitarian assistance. I would quote Chris Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University, who wrote that we are failing Gaza and that 1.5 million innocent civilians have been penalized because of the behavior of some of the Hamas members. To me this is not much different from what happened to Iraq before and after the war. You end up penalizing the innocent and the vulnerable -- the citizens. According to Patten, Gaza is only getting 31 of the "essential items" from the Israeli side, while they need thousands of items. They're not getting any construction materials. They received 41 truckloads of materials; the whole place is rubble.

The need to separate your politics from humanitarian needs and from protection of civilians is a principle that was established a hundred years ago with the Hague Convention and the Geneva Conventions. I feel that we are moving away from that in many ways. We talked about "crippling sanctions," for example. When you talk about "crippling sanctions," you have to understand that those who are being crippled are not the people in power -- it is the innocent civilians, the elderly, and the young. That is to me absolutely the wrong approach.

FP: Does that mean you would stop the construction of this underground wall that is currently being constructed between Egypt and Gaza?

ElBaradei: As I said, I don't really know the details, but if this [border area] has been used for smuggling, drugs, weapons, or extremists, then Egypt has the right to make sure it protects its security. But what Egypt can also do is use the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to allow Gaza to have humanitarian assistance. For example, one idea I have is to create a free zone in the Egyptian part of Rafah [the border town]. I don't see why we can't have a free zone there where people from Gaza go and buy their own basic needs. So there is a difference between protecting national security, which no one questions, and providing humanitarian assistance.

I don't think it's entirely fair to say this is an ElBaradei policy platform, but it's certainly a very interesting suggestion and possible answer to the question of what kind of alternative policy Egypt could be pursuing towards Gaza — not the ideal policy, but rather a realistic policy considering the real security threat perception felt by Egypt (and not just the regime), the potential for radicalization Gaza represents, and regional constraints.

I'm not sure how literally ElBaradei is using the term free zone — i.e. whether he means a customs free zone, as Port Said was. If so the concept would run into the intricacies of the Oslo structure, most notably the Customs Union between Israel and the OPTs established under the Paris Protocol. This may seem like a technicality in light of the humanitarian crisis Gaza is facing, but it would certainly be a real concern to the Israelis and both Hamas and Fatah, with implications of separate economic systems for the West Bank and Gaza. In other words, peace-processors and officials of the concerned governments would have to do serious rethinking of the economic structure that currently exists in Israel/Palestine and that allows for the duty-free exports of Palestinians goods to Israel, which Palestinians rely upon to some extent. One could of course counter that Israel is not accepting Gazan exports for the moment, but it is a nonetheless an important shift in thinking.

There is another strategic implication for all concerned: such a plan would risk perpetuating the "three states for two peoples" direction the conflict is now taking, with Gaza becoming integrated into the Egyptian economy and the West Bank quite distinct from it. For Egypt, this is essentially what Israel would love to see: Gaza becoming Cairo's problem, not Tel Aviv's. It runs against the Egyptian argument thus far that Gaza is Israel's obligation under international law, and does not solve the concern about Hamas. 

Still, the argument could be made that Egypt could supply Gaza with the reconstruction material it needs, and perhaps act as an intermediary for Gaza's trade with the outside world (esp. the EU), without becoming economically implicated itself. There is certainly a good argument for a humanitarian opening of Rafah to grant Gazans access to the outside world, and allow goods in. It can be controlled in light of Egypt's concerns, and provide an alternative to tunnel smuggling. The devil will be in the details, though, and whether the PA and Israel (and even Hamas) would approve of such a plan, and what consequences there would be to going ahead with it even without, say, Israel's approval. 

Nonetheless, it's good to see ElBaradei not shying away from tackling this difficult issue. More Egyptians should be thinking about their country's responsibility in Rafah, and proposing serious and fully thought-out alternatives to the current policy. From what I've seen there's been much hand-wringing, but not many concrete proposals.

Articles and more

Just a quick note to link to two new articles by yours truly:

✩ A look at Muhammad ElBaradei's entrance in the Egyptian presidential succession crisis, over at the new issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin:

The advent of Mohammed ElBaradei as a potential presidential candidate has introduced an unpredictable new element into Egypt's slow-moving succession crisis. For the first time in recent memory, a prominent member of Egypt's establishment has spoken out against the Mubarak regime. Even if ElBaradei never attacked President Hosni Mubarak personally, his indictment of Egypt's current predicament is all the more devastating because it comes from a man who appears eminently more qualified for the presidency than the heir apparent, Gamal Mubarak.

✩ An expansion of my argument a few days ago against Marshallplanism, in this week's Review supplement of The National:

For reasons that go beyond mere nostalgia for a more noble age of American foreign policy, pundits and politicians alike have issued innumerable calls for “new Marshall Plans”. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the ills of the Middle East, real or imagined, have been the central target of what I call Marshallplanism – whose adherents are confident that the American policy that worked for Western Europe can be applied anywhere, and that American determination and dollars, properly applied, can bring economic and then political stability to any place on earth.

Some major technical changes to the site will take place over the next couple of days, and while I there won't be any interruption of service, do be patient. More to come soon...

Links for Dec.26.09 to Dec.28.09
Get Elected; or, al-Baradei Tryin’ (Part 1 of ???) « THE BOURSA EXCHANGE | TBE translates that ElBaradei interview from al-Shorouq.
Could the Mullahs Fall This Time? - The Daily Beast | Interesting ruminations on whether Iran is near a revolution and the importance of Ashura as a symbol of the fight for justice.
Op-Ed Columnist - The Big Zero - | Economically, the decade produced nothing.
The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب: Saudi Wahhabi Physiognomy: this man should be teaching at KAUST | Funny.
Rasheed el-Enany on modern Arabic lit: not quite a Renaissance | Al-Masry Al-Youm | "I think the status of translated Arabic literature is better than it's ever been."
Two Hamas members killed in Beirut explosion | Unusual... this attack was in a safe, Hizbullah-controlled area.
Activists appeal to Mubarak over entry into Gaza - Yahoo! News |
Egypt said it would prevent their passage because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza and warned Monday of legal repercussions for anyone defying the ban.
Around 1,300 international delegates from 42 countries have signed up to join the Gaza Freedom March which was due to enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December.

Exclusive excerpt from Joe Sacco’s groundbreaking new book: Footnotes in Gaza | I'm awaiting my copy of this book from this great cartoonist.
Sic Semper Tyrannis : Men on Horseback | Pat Lang on the Afghan policy war inside the Obama administration.
Ardebili's laptop - Laura Rozen - | Iran holding hikers and others because US holding Iranians?
Anis Sayigh: and Israeli history of letter bombs | Angry Arab has an interesting post on the Israeli use of letter bombs against civilians.
Officials Point to Suspect’s Claim of Qaeda Ties in Yemen - | Rather suspicious, this Yemen angle at a time when people are trying to confuse the Huthis and al-Qaeda...
The Lives They Lived - Ben Ali - The Chili That Shaped a Family - | Sausages and chilli, served to Obama by an Indian Muslim Trinidadian.
Mainstreaming the Mad Iran Bombers | Marc Lynch | Lynch on NYT op-ed's call for war.
The Nevada gambler, al-Qaida, the CIA and the mother of all cons | The Guardian | "Playboy magazine has revealed that the CIA fell victim to an elaborate con by a compulsive gambler who claimed to have developed software that discovered al-Jazeera broadcasts were being used to transmit messages to terrorists buried deep in America."

Egypt security plans for ElBaradei

The above letter, published by Wael Abbas, is a State Security document giving instructions all the way back in March 2009 to monitor the phone lines of Mohammed ElBaradei, his family, and his wife's family as part of a comprehensive surveillance plan. As Zeinobia points out the authenticity of the document is to be verified, and Abbas has not disclosed his source (the concern here being, is Abbas cautious enough about being manipulated?) Of course this document sounds entirely plausible, I am sure ElBaradei and his family have been under close watch for a while. One recent estimate puts 5% of Egyptians under the payroll of security services or the military in some respect, I am sure some of that manpower is being directed against the potential threat against the regime that ElBaradei represents.

In the meantime, Amr Moussa has decided to stop playing coy and announced he will not be running for the presidency. Note his reasons:

Moussa, who had been tipped as a possible candidate, said in an interview published in Al Masry Al Youm newspaper on Wednesday it was not possible to mount a challenge.

"The question is, is it possible? And the answer is, the road is closed," he said.


Analysts say constitutional rules make an independent nomination almost impossible.

If Moussa were to run as an independent, he would need the backing of 250 elected representatives across both houses of parliament and local councils -- all of which are dominated by Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.

"I cannot join a party just because it would enable me to be nominated . . . it is against my principles and I consider this to be clear political opportunism," Moussa said.

Running as a independent was a "difficult matter or even impossible," he added.

So basically Moussa has echoed ElBaradei's criticism of the electoral system, adding another establishment voice to the chorus calling the coming presidential elections, for all intents and purposes, already rigged.

Note here that actually a candidate would fairly easily be able to gather the number of backing from at least part of 250 elected representatives. The quota necessary from the People's Assembly is 65, which a candidate could obtain from the Muslim Brother MPs. This also explains why the regime cracked down so hard on the Brothers during the Shura Council and municipal elections in 2007 and 2008.
Links for Dec.08.09 to Dec.09.09

Les voix de la nation : chanson, arabité et caméléonisme linguistique | Culture et politique arabes | Very interesting post on Arab singers adopting accents and styles of different countries -- has great clip of Abdel Halim Hafez trying out a traditional Kuwaiti song.

✩ Comment l’Algérie a exporté sa « sale guerre » au Mali : Algérie-Maroc | How Algeria exported its dirty war to Mali: AQIM conspiracies.

Fatwa Shopping « London Review Blog | On Nakheel and Islamic finance.

The women who guard other women in conservative Egypt | On female bodyguards.

Yemen’s afternoon high - Le Monde diplomatique | On the drug Qat.

US Congress frets over anti-Americanism on TV in Mideast | The leading inciter of anti-Americanism in the ME is Congress itself, when it keeps voting for wars for Israel.

Baladna English | New newspaper launched in Syria, but nothing on its site yet.

EU Action Plan on combating terrorism | Document on EU CT strategy.

What the US Elite Really Thinks About Israel « P U L S E | Most Council of Foreign Relations members think US favors Israel too much - v. interesting analysis of foreign policy expert poll by Jeffrey Blankfort.

‘The Battle for Israel’s Soul’ – Channel 4 on Jewish fundamentalism « P U L S E | British documentary on Jewish fundamentalism.

BBC News - Dubai crisis sparks job fears for migrant workers | On South Asians in Dubai. / Comment / Opinion - Israel must unpick its ethnic myth | Tony Judt.

The Interview Ha’aretz Doesn’t Want You To See « P U L S E | Interview Ali Abunimah not published by Haaretz.

Attention Christmas Shoppers: Top Ten Brands to Boycott | Sabbah Report | Brands to boycott at Christmas. / Middle East / Politics & Society - Egypt’s media warn ElBaradei off politics | On the campaign against ElBaradei.

✩ Flourishing Palestinian sex trade exposed in new report - Haaretz | Amira Hass: "Young Palestinian women are being forced to into prostitution in brothels, escort services, and private apartments in Ramallah and Jerusalem..."

Links for 12.04.09 to 12.07.09
ElBaradei on Zakaria's GPS - CNN | Check in at around 30:50 for his take on Egypt's current situation.
Egypt to re-evaluate subsidies for the poor - The National Newspaper | The debate over subsidies reform in Egypt.
Start the Week: 30/11/2009 | Andrew Marr interviews Eugene Rogan, author of "The Arabs". Also interviews on terrorism, etc.
Cyber Jihadis' LOTR obsession | Super funny post on the use of Lord of the Rings in jihadi propaganda
The Associated Press: Veil's spread fans Egypt's fear of hard-line Islam | I don't like this idea of the government backing a "moderate Islam" vs. some hardcore Islam. The government is as Islamist as anyone else.
AFP: Egypt detains 10 senior Muslim Brotherhood members | 227 Brothers behind bars so far.
Egypt to demand the Rosetta Stone from British Museum - Times Online | Fight to get antiquities back continues.
Why U.S. Mideast Policy is (Still) Screwed Up | Stephen M. Walt | "Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community."
Arms smuggling heightens fears Iran may be building arsenal | US-backed UAE crackdown on arms smuggling to Iran. Interesting story, who leaked it and why? - News : Rising military suicides | "More U.S. military personnel have taken their own lives so far in 2009 than have been killed in either the Afghanistan or Iraq wars this year."
The Generals' Revolt : Rolling Stone | Are the generals pushing Obama on AfPak because of Petraeus' presidential ambitions?
Egypt’s opposition misled by fixation with Mubarak’s son - The National Newspaper | Amr Hamzawy, / UK - Muslim Brotherhood rifts widen | Habib lays out the divide for the FT.
Reset - Dialogues on Civilizations | Life | Interview with Joseph Massad on his ridiculous thesis of the "invention" of homosexuality ion the Arab world by the West and the "Gay International."
Iran whistleblower died from drug-laced salad - Yahoo! News | Nasty.

ElBaradei Drops A Bomb
This may peter out in smoke, but Muhammad ElBaradei's candidacy has the potential to turn into the first moment in which Egypt has had a plausible face for its opposition for a long time. It will shift the focus on the Mubarak regime, its fraudulent elections and its lack of legitimacy -- both at home and abroad. I am not surprised that opposition figures like Ayman Nour and the Muslim Brothers' Muhammad Habib seem negative in the story below; ElBaradei has much more gravitas and "presidentiability" than either. Things have just gotten a lot more interesting.

Opposition hopeful for an ElBaradei presidential run
Nadia abou el-Magd, Foreign Correspondent
Last Updated: December 06. 2009 12:23AM UAE / December 5. 2009 8:23PM GMT

CAIRO // Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said he would consider running for the Egyptian presidency in 2011, in statements published Friday, raising hopes among the country’s opposition. Mr ElBaradei, 67, who recently quit his position after 12 years as head of the IAEA, was expected to return to Egypt yesterday.
“I have been listening tentatively, and deeply appreciate the calls for my candidacy for president,” said Mr ElBaradei in a statement issued late Thursday, which has dominated the headlines of Egyptian opposition and independent dailies while being harshly criticised by the state-owned newspapers “ElBaradei’s storm,” read the headline of the Al Dostor opposition daily yesterday. “Hundreds of volunteers move from the internet to the street in support of ElBaradei”, read the headline of the independent daily Al Shorouk.
Mr ElBaradei emphasised that he did not seek this “senior post” for personal gain and he would decide to run “if the majority of Egyptians, with all their affiliations, agreed that this would be in the interest of the country ... in this critical stage in Egypt’s history”. But he said he wants “guarantees of fairness” in 2011 election. Mr ElBaradei set several conditions for running in the coming elections, which he said must be “under the full supervision of the judiciary... and in the presence of international observers from the United Nations... to ensure transparency”, which are sensitive issues for the regime.
He also called for a new constitution and “the erasing of all constitutional and legal obstacles that are limiting the right of the majority of Egyptians to run “otherwise those elections will lack the needed legitimacy and will contradict the essence of democracy which is the right of the people to choose who to represent them, and it will end in a Greek tragedy,” said Mr ElBaradei. Pro-government newspapers have criticised Mr ElBaradei as out of touch with the political reality of Egypt, and lacking real political experience.
“Imported president for Egypt,” read the headline of state-owned Al Ahram el-Messaei on Friday, along with a large front page cartoon portraying Mr ElBaradei as a foreigner. Mr ElBaradei retired last week from his post after spending three terms in office, beginning in 1997. He joined the UN in 1980, after serving in the Egyptian foreign service. He was born and graduated from law school in Egypt, then obtained a doctorate in international law at New York University School of Law in 1974.
Mr ElBaradei’s name was floated by some opposition forces and political parties here a few months ago as the issue of who will replace President Hosni Mubarak, 81, who has been in power since 1981, has resurfaced amid worries that his youngest son, Gamal, 45, might inherit power. The ruling National Democratic Party’s annual conference last month did not respond to peoples’ questions and concerns about whether President Mubarak will run again in the upcoming elections or whether his son will succeed him.
“’Never say ‘never’,” Mr ElBaradei told CNN on November 5 when asked about the possibility. “But there are clearly conditions. I will only consider it if there is a free and fair election, and that is a question mark still in Egypt.’ Analysts say that Egyptians are yearning for a substantive move away from the current regime and are uninspired by the weak political opposition parties. “Egypt needs a popular leader, whose competence is not questionable, and who is free from any aura of corruption, and likely to receive the support of diverse, and conflicting, political forces and social groups. To many observers, Mr ElBaradei, the 2005 Noble Prize laureate, meets all these criterions,” said Nael Shama, a political researcher and columnist with Egypt Daily News.
However, Mr ElBaradei, and many other possible candidates, do not meet the rigid conditions spelled out in Article 76 of the constitution, which many believe was amended in 2007 to facilitate Gamal Mubarak’s takeover of power and to exclude potential rivals. It stipulates that only members of the upper levels of political parties who have been in their post for more than a year, and where their parties have existed for more than five years, can compete for the presidential post. Independents have to receive the approval of 250 members of parliament and local councils, which are all controlled by the ruling NDP.
Amendments to Article 88 of the constitution in 2007 removed judicial supervision of elections in favour of supervision by “an independent electoral commission” that would include some judges. Mr ElBaradei’s presidential bid has found support among members of the liberal Wafd party and other smaller parties as well as the pro-democracy, anti-inheritance of power, Kifaya movement. Ayman Nour, leader of al-Ghad party, had invited Mr ElBaradei to join his party to ensure he is able to run in elections. Mr Nour, 45, finished distant second to Mr Mubarak, when he ran against him in the first presidential elections four years ago.
However, Mr Nour said that Mr ElBaradei’s statement seems more like he wants to apologize for not running in the coming elections by setting conditions. “You run in elections and try to change the rules of the game,” Mr Nour told The National. Egypt’s Islamist politicans were critical of Mr ElBaradei’s announcement. “Dr Mohammed ElBaradei’s statement is like a bunch of roses thrown into a garbage pin,” said Mohammed Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s strongest opposition group, despite being technically banned.
Mr Habib said that he does not doubt Mr ElBaradei’s sincere intentions, but advised him “to keep himself away from the dirty political arena”, adding that Mr ElBaradei’s conditions do not even address the minimum of political reforms demanded by the opposition over the past 25 years. Other Islamists, like lawyer Mokhtar Nouh, said he would never vote for Mr ElBaradei because of his former job at IAEA.
“All those international agencies, despite being affiliated with the UN, serve the interests of the West, America and Israel,” he wrote in a recent column in the opposition daily Al Dostor. “None of those organisations moved to support an Arab or Islamic issue,” he added.
Baradei on Iran
I linked recently the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' special report on Muhammad al-Baradei's tenure at the IAEA. I thought I'd highlight the bit in the interview [PDF] with him where they get his position on Iran:

BAS: Is Iran minimizing the risk of its nuclear program—namely by keeping it purely civilian-oriented?

ELBARADEI: We have not seen concrete evidence that Tehran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program. But somehow, many people are talking about how Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world. In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped. Yes, there’s concern about Iran’s future intentions and Iran needs to be more transparent with the IAEA and international community. We still have outstanding questions that are relevant to the nature of Tehran’s program, and we still need to verify that there aren’t un-declared activities taking place inside of the country. But the idea that we’ll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn’t supported by the facts as we have seen them so far. It’s urgent, however, to initiate a dialogue between Washington and Tehran to build trust, normalize relations, and allay concerns as proposed by President Obama. To me, that’s the only way forward.

That’s not a popular position. I’m accused by some of politiciz- ing the evidence. About Iran, I’ve been told, “Mind your own busi- ness; you’re a technician.” And yet, at other times, on other matters, I have been told that I’m the custodian of the Nuclear Non-Prolif- eration Treaty—sometimes by the very people who tell me to mind my own business when it comes to Iran. I don’t put much stock in either designation. I’m neither a custodian nor a technician; I’m merely someone who is trying to do his job. And I know the world won’t be successful in achieving nuclear disarmament unless there’s an equitable universal arms control regime in place that deals with the root causes of proliferation such as poverty, conflicts, and vio- lence. So when I tell our member states, “If you want the agency to do a good job at stemming proliferation, you have to work on the root causes,” that’s not politicization; that’s looking at the big picture and being faithful to my job.

Worth keeping in mind as as reports of a "settlement freeze for being tough on Iran" deal between the US and Israel are going around, threats of new sanctions are made and new accusations over the Iranian weapons program are traded.