Osama’s latest

I did a piece on the latest Bin Laden video yesterday (I’ll add the link later, right now it’s not working, but you can find it on th VOA website). The Al Jazeera transcript of the video is here . People I talked to in the Arab world mentioned that the fact Osama clearly took responsiblity for the attack would be a blow to the conspiracy thoeories about the Mossad or the CIA having staged 9/11.

They also stressed a few points about the video:
1. The tone: how Bin Laden avoids military symbols and violent threats and takes a calm, persuasive tone.
2. The suggestion that the battle between Al Qaeda and the West, rather than an inherent and eternal conflict, is a policy-driven one, and can be eneded, resolved, if certain conditions are met.
3. The specific references to US political developments (he references the Florida recount,the Patriot Act), and his critique of President Bush to the American people.

The LA Times has an interesting piece (via www.talkingpointsmemo.com) that ties these observations together and suggests that bin Laden is trying to transform himself from international terrorist to Muslim statesman.

This kind of analysis is worth pursuing; there are a lot of questions about what bin Laden was hoping to accomplish with this message… Personally, I find it fascinating and surreal that he is basically debating President Bush across the world this way, even incorporating some of Bush’s favorite terms (“freedom”) into his own statement.

Middle Easterners for Bush

Abu Aardvark notes that there is some support after all for Bush in the region:

Man, Lee Smith was really on to something with that whole “many Arabs like Bush” thing. Newsweek reports that “Randa Fahmy Hudome, who just this month signed a $1.4 million contract to represent the Libyan government, served as a behind-the-scenes ‘media consultant’ helping to prepare this week’s press release praising Bush’s record in promoting ‘human rights, democracy and self-determination’ in the Middle East.”

So, along with al Qaeda and Saudi diplomats, Bush is evidently favored by unrepentant dictator Moammar Qadaffi.

Notice a trend here?

Doesn’t this bother any of the dwindling number of ‘liberal hawks’ who support Bush because of his supposed commitment to transforming the Middle East?

Don’t forget that Bush is also supported by Iran’s supreme national security council, as we had noted here.

And take a look at this Brian Whitaker article on Bush support in the Middle East.


You may have noticed that the site is occasionally flooded with comment spam. I think I’ve fixed that now (thanks to this) so hopefully it won’t be a nuisance anymore.

Apologies if any of the spam was offensive.

Freedom House on Egyptian women

Abu Aardvark mentioned this study on women in Egypt [PDF] a few days ago. While he highlighted the bit about how the study finds no one reads, listens or watches US-sponsored Arabic media (no big surprises there) I found the next finding more telling:

Women’s political rights: a hollow equality. Women have equal rights to vote and participate in political debates, most Egyptians say. Exercising these rights does not matter, because they see political rights as meaningless in Egypt’s current political system. Many Egyptians see formal politics as an elite game and view debates among political leaders as irrelevant to their lives and concerns. Few Egyptians say that they have ever voted in elections. Reasons cited for not participating in formal politics include not seeing a direct impact on their lives, perceptions of electoral fraud and cheating, and bureaucratic inefficiencies making it difficult to obtain voter identification cards.

Frankly, this does not only to apply to women, but to roughly everywhere in Egypt. In my district in central Cairo, which have hundreds of thousands of highly educated Egyptians living in it, less than 5000 people voted in the 2000 parliamentary elections. The apathy will continue as long as politicians do not offer real practical alternatives.

The other notable finding was:

Concerns about shortcomings in Egypt’s schools. The general public in Egypt sees education as the most important right for women, but they worry that Egypt’s public schools are not up to the task. Several Egyptians issue harsh critiques of the current education system, saying that teachers are poorly trained and schools are ill equipped. Many complain about having to pay teachers for private lessons so their children can pass exams, a payment that several view as bribery for a basic entitlement.

Until about two years ago, money assigned to education under the USAID program in Egypt was shrinking fast and scheduled to be re-assigned elsewhere altogether. The biggest item on the budget was for the commodity import program, which essentially provides support to banks lending money to importers buying American goods. The Bush administration has somewhat slowed down the shift away from education, which was good, but this is by no means safe for the future. Interfering in another country’s education system is a controversial thing to do, of course, but USAID and other organization should be able to do their utmost to support serious educational reform. That would offer an opportunity for some real reform as well as fulfill a laudable US policy objective towards the Arab world. The responsibility for the state of education in Egypt of course lies with the government, but this is one area where we should not be afraid to offer our help, even if it is at the expense of American exports.

HRW on Gaza and Morocco

Two important reports have been issued recently by Human Rights Watch. One is quite timely in light of yesterday’s vote in the Israeli Knesset to pull out of Gaza is about Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip:

Over the past four years, the Israeli military has demolished over 2,500 Palestinian houses in the occupied Gaza Strip. Nearly two-thirds of these homes were in Rafah, a densely populated refugee camp and city at the southern end of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt. Sixteen thousand people — more than ten percent of Rafah’s population — have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time.

As satellite images in this report show, most of the destruction in Rafah occurred along the Israeli-controlled border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.  During regular nighttime raids and with little or no warning, Israeli forces used armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers to raze blocks of homes at the edge of the camp, incrementally expanding a “buffer zone” that is currently up to three hundred meters wide.  The pattern of destruction strongly suggests that Israeli forces demolished homes wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat, in violation of international law.  In most of the cases Human Rights Watch found the destruction was carried out in the absence of military necessity.

HRW reports on Israel/Palestine are always extremely well researched because of the political sensitivity of the issues they address. This one includes some very revealing satellite imagery of Gaza that shows the extent of destruction that took place. What’s important about the report is that it highlights that

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip holds little hope of relief to the residents of Rafah.  Under the plan, the IDF will maintain its fortifications and patrols on the Rafah border indefinitely.  The plan explicitly envisions the possibility of further demolitions to widen the buffer zone on the basis of vague “security considerations” that, as this report demonstrates, should not require a buffer zone of the kind that currently exists, let alone further mass demolitions.

The second report is about the crackdown on suspected Islamists that followed the May 16 2003 Casablanca bombings, which were a setback for due process and human rights in a country that was just beginning extensive reforms under the new king. But the report also notes some positive developments for Morocco, notably in the form of an “Equity and Reconciliation Commission” that is the first in the Arab world to be set up to look at past abuses. Still, the commission’s power is limited.

Dirty Islamists

This story about Algeria’s Harkat Al-Islah Islamist party brought a smile…

Algerian Islamists Rattled by Sexual Scandals, Resignation of Leaders

Scandals surrounding the party broke out earlier this week when a member of the leadership, who must remain anonymous for legal reasons, filed a lawsuit claiming that his wife had been “sexually assaulted” by Sadiq Sulayemah, another party leader.

The plaintiff has accused the party’s leadership of trying to cover up the incident along with other instances of “illegitimate sexual activity” at the highest levels.

Sulayemah, a well-known poet, and a life-long friend of Jaballah, has denied the charge, explaining his presence in the plaintiff’s house as an accident.

Party sources said yesterday that the poet had met Jaballah and “confessed to his sins” and asked for pardon. Jaballah is reported to have asked the poet to keep the incident a secret so as not to harm the party.

“It is hard to know what happened at the house,” says Abdul-Ghafour Saadi, the party’s deputy leader. “There were no witnesses to see what our comrade and the lady did.”

Sulayemah has published an ode lampooning unnamed party leaders for their obsessions with adultery and sexual deviation. The scandals come as a blow to a party that has built its platform on the claim that the Algerian society has become corrupted by Western influence.

Last year the party presented a bill to make Algeria alcohol-free by banning the sale of drinks in public places. The bill failed to get enough support for inclusion in the parliamentary agenda. The party has also campaigned to make polygamy legal again, and opposed reforms presented by President Bouteflika to improve the condition of women.

Nothing reassures me more than corrupt (morally or otherwise) Islamist politicians. It’s the holier-than-thou ones I’m afraid of.

Hizb Al Ghad granted license

Hizb Al Ghad (the Party of Tomorrow), was approved a few hours ago by the Higher Political Parties Committee (HPPC) of the Egyptian Shura Council, the upper house of parliament. The HPPC has, for the past two decades, routinely denied new parties licenses on the spurious grounds that they did not bring anything new to the political scene, one of the requirements for founding a party in Egypt. The Hizb Al Ghad people are of course ecstatic, and we are waiting to see if more parties were granted licenses. Remember yesterday I posted that there were rumors this was going to happen. Well, for one party at least it did.

I don’t want to go into the details of the case right now, but it is likely that the decision came a) from high up, i.e. Mubarak, and b) to avoid the embarrassment of having the administrative court rule in favor of Hizb Al Ghad and overturning the HPPC’s decision. Note that the key decision-maker at that level is Safwat Al Sherif, the former Minister of Information and current head of the Shura Council and secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party. As you might guess, he’s no fan of new parties.

The bottom line: a good first step, but one that probably would have come anyway through the judicial system. Will be more excited if Karamah and Al Wasat, for instance, get through and if currently frozen parties (such as the rather nasty left-Islamist Labor party and the ridiculous Ahrar party) are unfrozen.

Bits and pieces

A few things that I picked up around the web but I have nothing special to say about:

  • A fun story from the October 1854 issue of Harper’s called The Oriental Merchant. Rummage around the site and there are some great 19th century orientalist stories.
  • Mona Baker’s site, which leads with an important appeal to defend Columbia University Assistant Professor Joseph Massad, who is coming under attack by the usual suspects for having opinions of his own.
  • Shebab Misr (the youth of Egypt, in Arabic) is a subversive but relatively apolitical online magazine that prints what’s usually not available in the print publications. A worthy project.
  • We’ve mentioned Al Hurra a few times here in the past few weeks, but Abu Aardvark has a bit more with rumors of impending shake-ups. Also check out his links covering protests over human rights activist Abd al Hadi al Khawaja’s arrest, which we’ve covered before. Update:
  • He’s also right that Chan’ad Bahraini is a must-read on Bahrain and this affair in particular.

    Petition against Mubarak

    Egypt’s pro-democracy movement is gathering some steam:

    More than 650 people – Islamists, Communists and 30 lawmakers – signed a petition in the name of The Popular Campaign for Reforms, to try to amend Egypt’s constitution to limit a president to two terms.

    The petition, a copy of which was faxed to The Associated Press, called the system of one-man rule in Egypt “an obstacle to all opportunities for reform and progress.”

    The left and the Islamists have taken some time to get together and find common ground, but at least they finally have. The group that’s still missing, though, is precisely the one Western powers would most like to see succeed the military regime: the “liberal” businessmen who have been nurtured for years as a rising force in Egyptian politics and are now — to a certain extent — represented by Gamal Mubarak and his cronies.

    Update: Abu Aardvark offers his own analysis, and a conversation I had with one of the activists who signed the petition suggest that the Islamists are not really on board: although they sent a representative to sign the petition, yesterday the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood denied any knowledge of the petition, effectively dissociating himself but maintaining a certain level of ambiguity.

    At the end of the day, the petition itself is not that significant if there isn’t a follow-up to make it a more general opposition to a another Mubarak term. The petitioners gathered under the banner “Enough” when they held their gathering, that feeling now has to be communicated to others who have also had enough.