El Gusto: Algerian chaabi masters regroup

Damon Albarn (of Britpop bands Blur and Gorillaz fame) is producing a kind of Buena Vista Social Club album, instead of Cuban masters you have Algerian chaabi masters: Once more, with El Gusto.

Luc Cherki is a big man. Carrying his guitar, he approaches the microphone with the swagger of Johnny Cash and sings a folk ballad about the dispossessed worthy of the Man in Black that elicits whoops of recognition from his audience. But this is Marseilles, not San Quentin, and Cherki is French. His song, Je suis un pied-noir, tells of having to leave Algeria for France 45 years ago, thus becoming an emigré in his own country.

Accompanying him are the El Gusto Orchestra, veterans of Algerian music’s postwar golden age, when the sound of chaabi united the streets. When the war of independence (1954-62) tore apart the French colony it ripped the heart out of the musical community. For many of those onstage in Marseilles El Gusto is the first time they have seen each other in 45 years.

Now the old friends’ schedules includes a film, a tour by the orchestra, which reaches the Barbican in London on October 10 as part of its annual Ramadan Nights season, and an album, produced by Damon Albarn and released on his label, Honest Jons. “I didn’t know chaabi before I became involved,” Albarn admits. “But after I got the call asking me to contribute to this project I made sure I was well-versed before I got here. Then all I needed to do was to put microphones in the right places and try to capture the rawness of the music. I just told them they were the maestros and let them get on with it.”

Concerts in London and Paris for those lucky enough to make it, and the album of the recording will come out on October 15. Also see this story in Le Monde.

Saudi to create oil protection security service

From Le Figaro, an article on how Saudi Arabia is creating a new security service specifically dedicated to protecting petroleum installations. Beyond threat perceptions about attacks on these centers, there is also the factor that this will create yet another service, exclusively under the control of Minister of Interior Prince Nayef and his son — with a rumored budget of $5 billion and staff of 35,000.

L’Arabie crée une force de protection des sites pétroliers:

POUR EMPÊCHER un attentat terroriste contre ses installations pétrolières, Riyad vient de décider la création d’une force de sécurité spécialisée, d’environ 35 000 hommes. Jusqu’à présent, la protection des 80 champs pétroliers et gaziers, ainsi que des 11 000 kilomètres d’oléoducs du premier exportateur d’or noir au monde était répartie entre une multitude de services (sécurité publique, forces spéciales, Garde nationale, etc.), soit au total 15 000 hommes.

« Compte tenu de la persistance des menaces terroristes ou des tensions avec l’Iran, les Saoudiens se sont rendu compte que la solution du détachement des personnels et des matériels n’était pas satisfaisante », explique un diplomate occidental à Riyad. Annoncée récemment par le ministre de l’Intérieur, le prince Nayef, à la Shoura (une assemblée dont les membres sont désignés par le régime), cette décision n’a pas encore été rendue publique.

La protection des sites pétroliers représente un important enjeu de pouvoir entre les différents clans de la direction saoudienne. La Garde nationale, toujours commandée par le roi Abdallah, gardera certaines prérogatives. Mais le dossier et ses investissements induits – on parle de 5 milliards de dollars – seront gérés directement par Nayef et son fils, les principaux responsables de la lutte antiterroriste dans un royaume durement frappé par al-Qaida depuis 2003.

This will mean more investment into arms purchases and other security technology, much to Western suppliers’ delight.

Eissa no longer to be tried in Emergency Court

Following up on this post from a few days ago, the office of the General Prosecutor has decided not to try al-Destour editor Ibrahim Eissa in a State Security Emergency Court:

CAIRO, Egypt: Egypt’s prosecutor general reversed a decision to send an outspoken tabloid newspaper editor who questioned President Hosni Mubarak’s health to the country’s emergency court of no appeal, a judiciary official said Friday.

Al-Dustour editor Ibrahim Eissa will instead face a regular criminal court where appeals are possible on Oct. 1, said the judicial official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. He did not elaborate on the reasons why the prosecutor general reversed the decision.

One can only come to the conclusion that pursuing the trial in an Emergency court would be unnecessarily hurtful to what remains of Egypt’s image. The decision must have come from up high.

Egypt’s independent press to strike on October 7

Egypt press plans day without papers in rights protest:

CAIRO (AFP) – Egyptian independent and opposition newspapers will not publish on October 7 in protest at a government clampdown that has seen several journalists sentenced to prison terms in recent weeks.

Editors from 15 newspapers agreed to the protest “against the fierce campaign against the free press in Egypt” at a meeting late on Wednesday, according to a statement received by AFP on Thursday.

See recent entries in the media category for background.

Moroccan Unrest Over Bread Price

Moroccan Unrest Over Bread Price:

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Violent protests over the cost of bread prompted the Moroccan government to annul a 30 percent price hike linked to soaring global grain costs.

Protesters clashed with police, cars were torched and buildings damaged in the demonstrations Sunday in Sefrou, 120 miles east of the capital Rabat. Some 300 people suffered injuries, Moroccan newspapers reported Tuesday. The state news agency said more than 30 people were arrested.

The government held an emergency meeting Monday, and Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa ordered the price hike canceled, the Interior Ministry said.

Amid rising world prices for wheat, the government authorized a bread price rise of 30 percent on Sept. 10, soon before the start of Ramadan. Moroccan consumption of breads and pastries rises sharply during the Muslim holy month, as families hold large feasts after sundown to break the all-day fast.

In the past, bread riots were violently repressed in Morocco and the continuation of this trend could point to a return to the social instability of the 1980s and earlier. Morocco is relatively unique among Arab countries in being extremely exposed to rises in fuel and other prices, with the resulting pressure on the state budgets and on social peace. As in Egypt, which remains much, much more subsidized than Morocco is, there has been a grassroots movement growing over the past two years against the cost of life. Drawn largely from the ranks of the left (notably ATTAC Maroc) and associated with the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH from its French acronym), in a sense it has been more active on this crucial issue than Islamist parties such as the PJD or movements like Adl wal Ihsan. Last May, five protesters from the AMDH were given a ridiculous three-year sentence for chanting slogans hostile to the monarchy, one of the many signs that Morocco has not entirely stopped the bad old practices of the Hassan II regime.

A situation like the current one, with genuine economic pressures on a technocratic government keen to balance its budget and on a population finding it ever harder to make ends meet (just as the small upper middle class is encouraged to consume ever more — there are advertisements for bank loans to buy plasma screen TVs all over the place in the big cities — could develop into a very serious issue for the new government of Abbas al-Fassi. No doubt Morocco will be appealing to major grain producers to provide some relief.

Al Qaeda in the Maghreb recruits among teenagers

Le Monde.fr : En Algérie, des adolescents sont les proies des recruteurs d’Al-Qaida:

Treize adolescents algériens ont été condamnés le 23 septembre à trois ans de prison avec sursis pour avoir entretenu des contacts avec Al-Qaida au Maghreb islamique, l’ex-Groupe salafiste pour la prédication et le combat (GSPC). Un suivi psychologique a été ordonné, et leurs parents se sont engagés à les surveiller de près.

Arrêtés en juin à Thénia, dans la préfecture de Boumerdès, région où le groupe islamiste armé est très actif, trois d’entre eux avaient été placés sous mandat de dépôt alors que les dix autres, des collégiens âgés entre 14 et 16 ans, avaient été laissés en liberté provisoire. Selon la police, ces jeunes avaient commencé à recevoir, dans les maquis environnants, des entraînements au maniement des armes et au transport de bombes. Certains avaient été gratifiés de noms de guerre. Des disques compacts avec des cours d’entraînement au combat avaient été découverts à leur domicile.

Report Says Hussein Was Open To Exile Before 2003 Invasion

Report Says Hussein Was Open To Exile Before 2003 Invasion:

“The Egyptians are talking to Saddam Hussein,” Bush said. “He seems to have indicated he would be open to exile if they would let him take one billion dollars and all the information he wants on weapons of mass destruction.”

I can think of several others I’d happily make the same deal with. But what is this bit on WMD information if there were no WMD?