Khouri on Arab security services and foreign policy

A very cautiously written, but important column by Rami Khouri: When Arab security chiefs conduct foreign policy

Two intriguing meetings took place this past week in the Arab world. In Egypt, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the intelligence services directors of four Arab states – Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just days later, Arab heads of state met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for their annual Arab League summit.
Which of the two meetings was more significant and signaled the tone, content, and direction of Arab state policies? Was this a natural interplay between three separate factors – United States foreign policy, Arab security systems, and Arab leaderships? Or did the three converge into a single trend, where US foreign policy blended with Arab security policy? 
The Arab summit was a routine event that reissued a historic, but five-year-old peace offer to Israel. Rice’s meeting with the intelligence chiefs was a novelty that deserves more scrutiny, for both its current meaning and for its future implications. 
Whatever the nature of Rice’s meeting with the Arab intelligence chiefs, it seems like the sort of noteworthy development that Arab governments should explain to their own Arab citizens. As the Iraq situation shows with gruesome daily regularity, security is a core imperative for Arab citizens and their states. Citizens need to know that they can leave their homes in the morning and have a good chance of returning alive at night. States, societies, and governments need to know that theirs are orderly, secure, stable communities that can aspire to achieving their full potential and even some prosperity.

Continue reading Khouri on Arab security services and foreign policy

MB op-ed defends Kareem Amer

An intriguing op-ed by a young Muslim Brother:

Egypt’s Two-Faced Regime: Not Secular, Not Islamic, Authoritarian

There is an increasing realization amongst Egypt’s opposition political factions that the regime has no ideology to defend, least of all a secular one. The regime’s crackdowns on the Muslim Brotherhood are not part of a sincere attempt to uphold “secularist” values, such as democracy, pluralism and civil rights. They are simply measures to quash political opponents. In fact, these so-called “secularist” values are embraced by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The regime was not sincerely upholding Islamist values when it sentenced Amer to prison for attacking Islam. As an Islamist, I am of course against the hate speech and the anti-Islamic sentiments Amer expressed in his blog. But I am also against his imprisonment, which I’m sure is politically motivated, merely because he harshly criticized the president.

If attacking Islam is a “punishable crime” in the regime’s eyes, why wasn’t the minister of culture prosecuted when he attacked al-Azhar and Islamic Shariah, just as Amer did? If the constitution’s second article stipulates that Islamic Shariah is the main source of legislation, then why does the regime ban any political activity based on a religious ideology? The answer, again, is simple: The regime has monopolized religion.

Abu Omar, Sharqawy on torture at Cairo Conference

There’s been some very interesting developments at the 5th Cairo Conference against Imperialism and Zionism. Hossam reports that it held an anti-torture forum featuring Abu Omar, the Alexandria imam kidnapped in Italy by the CIA in 2003:

Abu Omar–the Alexandrian cleric kidnapped 2003 by the CIA in Milan and rendered to Egypt where he was brutally tortured–showed up today at the Press Syndicate, defying the travel ban imposed on him by State Security as a condition for his release. Abu Omar took part in the Anti-Torture Forum, chaired by leftist activist Dr. Aida Seif el-Dawla, where he presented his testimony about his torture odyssey from Milan to Cairo, via Germany. “I was severely tortured by the Mukhabarrat and State Security,” Abu Omar said. “I was electrocuted for months, till my whole body turned black.”

Another speaker was Mohammed Sharqawi, the Cairo-based activist who was arrested, tortured and sodomized by police last year and whose ordeal was taped and ended up YouTube. Sharqawi has for the first time publicly named one of his tormentors. Hossam has the list of names of officers, as well as pictures, and the activists want to use the conference to launch a campaign to get them prosecuted.

Which goes to show to those commenters who derided the conference’s far-left tone: these activists may be too politically radical for your taste, they may be flirting with Islamists with very different ideas than their own (Mahdi Akef, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brothers, was a guest and spoke about the US military-industrial complex, no less) but at least this they’re doing something. One can’t quite say the same thing for many centrist liberals (I count myself among the latter).

Golia: Referendum blues

Maria Golia, author of Cairo: City of Sand, sent me her latest Daily Star column:

Referendum Blues

Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) should be congratulated for its expeditious handling of the March 26th referendum. Well-scripted, timed, and executed, it also fulfilled the public’s expectations. Everyone knew the yes-no vote would favor the institution of 34 constitutional amendments drafted by the state. They knew it so well that only an estimated ten percent of registered voters, the bulk of which are, in all probability, employed either by the state or NDP backers, bothered going to the polls.

While the usual accusations of fraud have been leveled, they are as empty as the voting boxes. Since the opposition, including the Muslim Brothers, encouraged their constituencies to boycott the polls, they have little grounds for calling foul. Had they participated, they might have more legitimately contested the results.

Granted, the state ensured that there was no time to rally. Yet, if notoriously bungling administrators could mobilize a nationwide election in a few weeks, the Muslim Brothers, feared by the regime for their widespread popularity, could surely have gotten the word around. It may be that in the current depressed atmosphere, even the Brothers figured they would make at best, a poor showing. Then too, there is the justifiable fear of arrest for challenging the state.

Another opportunity has meanwhile been lost. Most Egyptians say, with a rueful laugh, that their opinion doesn’t matter, that the outcome would have anyway been fixed, that they are too busy trying to put food on the table to take time out for futile exercises. Nevertheless, the government has afforded them a valuable lesson in democracy, Egyptian-style, i.e. you had your chance, such as it was, to say ‘no’ and you blew it. So don’t come crying to us.

Continue reading Golia: Referendum blues

Ezbat Abu Gamal

Hagg Abu GamalUmm GamalGamal Bey

The royal family: His Excellency Abu Gamal, Umm Gamal and the Little Bey

Abu Gamal’s village, a little rural paradise nestling in the Egyptian countryside, governed and guided by village headman Mohammed Hosni (Al-Hagg Abu Gamal) and ably assisted by Al-Hagg Fathi Shurour and Kamal Al-Shatamouni (Fathi Evils and Kamal They-abused-me… ho ho). Things are hotting up in the village as it lurches into the new millenium: there’s much talk of — “praise be to the Prophet… wossit called again?”– Jamotratiya and other fiendishly modern ideas such as his latest wheeze, a new constitution. All he wants is a little gratitude. The “Little Bey” Gamal has been helping the great man get to grips with his Lab Tonb and the age of the Kumbuyutur (after a few trifling misunderstandings: the Hagg now realizes “Blog” isn’t a rude word), while Umm Gamal, First Lady of the Village, has been ear-bashing him about ladies’ rights. It’s tough at the top but the Hagg isn’t the type to give up: he’ll see it through.

I spat coffee all over my keyboard when I first read this blog. It’s more than just satire: it’s a perfectly imagined and realized comic universe. Sorry for not providing more translation of the content but at risk of sounding like an Arabic snob (God rot them) much of the genius lies in the language. Anyway, I’ve pasted some of it below so you can get an idea. Reminds me of Muhammed Mustajab’s characters for those who know his stuff: violent, pompous, dishonest, idle rural types… it’s super.

Whoever’s behind this has surely got a book in them.

Here’s a peek at the new constitution… but do go and look at the rest of it:

مادة أولى: عزبة أبو جمال عزبة مستقلة عن أيتها ناحية أو ك�ر أو قرية أو عزبة تانية �ى المجاورة دى
مادة تانية: البلد ببهايمها بغيطانها بناسها هى الكل
مادة تالته: الحاج أبو جمال هو الكل �ى الكل
مادة رابعة: أم جمال ست الكل
مادة خامسة: جمال هو اللى هايورث الكل
مادة سته: عزبة أبو جمال عضو �اعل �ى اتحاد العزب ودخلت خلاص الال�ية الجديدة وعصر التطور
مادة سبعة: قضاء عزبة أبو جمال قضاء مستقل، يعنى اللى متخانق مع حد �ى حاجة يجى لابو جمال وهو يجيب له حقه من غير ما يقل واللى يحاول كده ولا كده يشو� له سكه تانية يبقى عليه العوض
مادة تامنه: أرض الناحية القبلية بحالها حيازة تخص الحاج ابو جمال أما الناحية البحرية �هى ملك لاهل القرية وشريكهم اللى هو المحروس جمال بيه
مادة تاسعة: محرم تربية أو أكل الارانب عشان الواد جمال بيه بيقر� منها ويثتسنى من ذلك لو حد جاياله الارانب �ى زيارة من قرايبه عشان عيب لما نبهدل الضيو� بس حسك عينك يا ضي� تكررها تانى
مادة عاشرة: التعليم هو عماد العزبة وكل واحد لازمن على الاقل ياخد الابتدائية زى المحروس جمال بيه واهم حاجة جودة التعليم والتطوير، يعنى نبقى جميعا طور الله �ى برسيمة مش احسن م الجهل يا بلد
مادة حادى عشرة: حقوق المواطن هى الحقوق اللى يقررها الحاج واللى عليه حاجة يروح برضه يد�عها للحاج
مادة ثانية عشرة: البلد زى ال�ل نضي�ة وكويسه وبتحا�ظ على مواردها وبتبنى الزرايب بالخرسانة المسلحة عشان البهايم متنسرقش
مادة ثالثه عشرة: اهل البلد احرار ابا عن جد وكلهم بيحبوا الحاج وبيخدموه بعيونهم ويشيلوا بلغته �وق روسهم هو والمحروس والست الكبيرة
مادة اربعة عشرة: احلى
حاجة �ى البلد دى جدعنة ناسها واللى عنده حاجة بيدى اللى معندوش والحاج برضه هو اللى �وق يعنى اللى طابخة طابخة كويسة ومعزمتش ع الحاج تبقى مطلقة من جوزها ومحرمه عليه دنيا واخرة
مادة خمسة عشرة: الدستور ده هدية م الحاج لاهل البلد عشان يحسوا بانهم شعب نضي� متطور ساكن مع الناس بتوع الال�ية الجديدة وبينا�س

Rice’s show: Is it comedy or horror?

The Daily Star – Opinion Articles – Rice’s show: Is it comedy or horror?:

The most galling thing about Rice’s and Washington’s approach is its fundamental dishonesty. The Bush administration spent its first six years avoiding any serious engagement in the Arab-Israeli conflict, or decisively siding with the Israelis on most key contested points, like refugees, security or settlements. Now – with little time left for Rice, President George W. Bush on the ropes, his administration in tatters, America’s army in trouble in Iraq, Washington’s credibility shattered in the region and around the world, and the Middle East slipping into greater strife and dislocation – we are asked to believe that she will dedicate her remaining time in office to securing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Does Rice take us in the Arab world for robotic idiots – simply another generation of hapless Arabs who have no options and must go along docilely with every American-Israeli initiative, no matter how insulting, insincere or desperate it may be? This initiative is all three.

The Rice approach is not serious because she does not prod Arabs and Israelis simultaneously to comply with the rule of law and United Nations resolutions. Instead, in her hasty and insincere diplomatic fishing expedition she casts her net wide in an attempt to catch enough “moderate Sunni Arabs” to play by American-Israeli rules. This is a direct consequence of two trends in the region for which the US must share much blame: the invasion and collapse of Iraq into sectarian strife that has started to spread throughout the region; and the persistence of pro-Israeli American policies for some four decades now, which have ultimately contributed to the birth of massive Arab Islamist movements that oppose Israel, side with Iran, and defy the US.

In other Arab summit related news, Qadhafi has apparently declared that Libya is an African state again and not concerned with Arab affairs. on air

After sorting out some technical problems (and coping with traffic much higher then expected), is now on air! The internet youth radio aims to promote tolerance in Egyptian society, by discussing topics such as human rights, women issues, education and others.

Good luck with that, of course, but at the very minimum the site produces badly needed local content to get more Egyptians online. is run by the Egyptian NGO Al Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, founded by friend Ahmed Samih.

Listen in!

BBC: Lancet study on Iraq credible, advised top UK government scientist

I’ve been skeptical myself about the incredibly high figures for mortality in Iraq since the invasion quoted by the Lancet study — they are after all several times higher than other sources — but the BBC has obtained (through a freedom of information request) a formerly confidential report from the UK’s top government scientist who said the methodology used in the Lancet article is credible:

The British government was advised against publicly criticising a report estimating that 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the war, the BBC has learnt.

Iraqi Health Ministry figures put the toll at less than 10% of the total in the survey, published in the Lancet.

But the Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser said the survey’s methods were “close to best practice” and the study design was “robust”.

Another expert agreed the method was “tried and tested”.

The Iraq government asks the country’s hospitals to report the number of victims of terrorism or military action.

Critics say the system was not started until well after the invasion and requires over-pressed hospital staff not only to report daily, but also to distinguish between victims of terrorism and of crime.

The Lancet medical journal published its peer-reviewed survey last October.

It was conducted by the John Hopkins School of Public Health and compared mortality rates before and after the invasion by surveying 47 randomly chosen areas across 16 provinces in Iraq.

The researchers spoke to nearly 1,850 families, comprising more than 12,800 people.

In nearly 92% of cases family members produced death certificates to support their answers. The survey estimated that 601,000 deaths were the result of violence, mostly gunfire.

Shortly after the publication of the survey in October last year Tony Blair’s official spokesperson said the Lancet’s figure was not anywhere near accurate.

He said the survey had used an extrapolation technique, from a relatively small sample from an area of Iraq that was not representative of the country as a whole.

President Bush said: “I don’t consider it a credible report.”

But a memo by the MoD’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, on 13 October, states: “The study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to “best practice” in this area, given the difficulties of data collection and verification in the present circumstances in Iraq.”

While this is not necessarily conclusive about the Lancet study, it is pretty damning about the mendacity of Tony Blair’s cabinet. But then again we knew that already. Here is another BBC analysis, dated October 2006, that looks at the competing estimates of Iraqi deaths.

Mubarak wants military appeals court

The plot thickens:

Egypt’s president wants military appeals court
Wed 28 Mar 2007, 12:41 GMT

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has proposed a law to set up an appeals court for suspects tried before military tribunals, known for their tough and swift verdicts, a cabinet statement said on Wednesday.

Mubarak has sent the draft bill to both houses of parliament, dominated by his ruling National Democratic Party. Under the present law, only the president can reverse verdicts of a military court.

“This will provide more guarantees for those transferred to the military judiciary,” the statement said. It did not say how judges will be selected for the new court.

Could this be a response to the criticisms about Article 179? If so, it’s a pretty limited one.