Links September 27th to September 29th

Links from my account for September 27th through September 29th:

  • Mai Yamani: The Arab world’s cold war patron seems to be back | Comment is free – The ghost of Yevgeny Primakov is back to haunt us: "Today, US power in the Middle East is at its historical nadir, and Russia is seeking to fill the vacuum. Even America's closest allies – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel – are vulnerable as they face the aggressive expansion of "radical forces" represented by Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria, and the Iraqi resistance. In the prevailing atmosphere of turmoil and confusion, the radical Islamists attack the Americans as barbarous crusaders who have replaced the communists as the enemies of Islam. Indeed, for the conservative majority in the region, the US, with is pop culture and liberal democracy, is seen as a far more problematic ally than the autocratic and wealth-loving Russians."
  • The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب – Check out this Angry Arab post on how the Petra News Agency photoshopped pics of Queen Rania to make her more covered up.
  • Middle East Report 248: Waiting: The Politics of Time in Palestine – A new issue of MER focuses on Palestine
  • Al Jazeera English – Africa – Egypt tourist kidnappers shot dead – The plot thickens – are the hostages in Libya or Chad? Are the kidnappers Sudanese, Djiboutian, Chadian, Egyptian? Did the Sudanese army's raid, which killed six kidnappers, make further negotiations more difficult?
  • Terrorism: Firebomb attack on London book publisher | UK news | The Observer – "The London home of the publisher of a controversial new novel that gives a fictionalised account of the Prophet Muhammad's relationship with his child bride, Aisha, was firebombed yesterday, hours after police had warned the man that he could be a target for fanatics."
  • Armed robberies in Egypt’s remotest desert – Yahoo! News – This is what happens when you're next door to a failed state: "CAIRO, Egypt – The abduction of a European tour group in a distant corner of Egypt's desert underlines the potential dangers of adventure tourism pushing deeper into remote destinations and getting closer to conflict zones.
    In the case of the 11 Europeans and eight Egyptians held since Sept. 19, the lawlessness in the desert plateau of Gilf al-Kebir may be a spillover from the violence in eastern Chad and Sudan's Darfur region, where armed bands are notorious for hijacking and robberies."
  • Egypt allows prisoners to order out restaurant food – Yahoo! News – Maybe they should just use "CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian prisoners are set to be allowed to order meals from any restaurant they choose after a trial run during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan was deemed a success, a senior security official said on Saturday." What this really is is yet another bonus for the well-off prisoners (usually kept together) who were mostly jailed for corruption and similar crimes. Ordinary prisoners will continue to live in atrocious conditions dependent on family visits for food. In other words, Egyptian economic segregation expands into prisons.

Egypt hostages freed

The word is the 19 hostages are now free and healthy.

Update: Reuters says:


CAIRO, Sept 28 (Reuters) – The 11 Western tourists and eight Egyptians taken hostage in a remote border area of Egypt more than a week ago have been freed and are in good health, state-run Egyptian television said on Monday.

The hostages were on their way back to Cairo, the state television reported, quoting an unidentified official source.

Egypt had said four masked gunmen kidnapped the tourists — five Germans, five Italians and one Romanian — and their Egyptian guides and drivers while on a desert safari in a remote border area and then whisked them into Sudan.

The Sudanese army said on Sunday it had killed the leader of the kidnappers and five other gunmen in a gun battle near the Egyptian and Libyan border, but said the hostages were in Chad under the protection of 30 gunmen.

One security official said the kidnappers had demanded a ransom of 6 million euros ($8.78 million).

Update II: More details from AP:

CAIRO, Egypt – Egyptian and Sudanese troops rescued an abducted 19-member European tour group in an assault on the kidnappers in the remote Sahara borderland, officials said. The tourists and their Egyptian guides returned safely to Cairo on Monday.

The operation, apparently backed by European special forces, ends a 10-day hostage drama that took the 11 Europeans and their eight drivers and guides across a barren stretch of the Sahara Desert. They were seized by gunmen on Sept. 19 while on a desert safari in remote southwestern Egypt. Their abductors took them to Sudan. Reports followed that they were then taken to Libya, or perhaps even Chad.

An Egyptian security official said they were rescued in a joint operation near the Sudanese-Chadian border late Sunday or early Monday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Egyptian Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi said “half the kidnappers” were killed in the rescue operation, according to the state news agency MENA, but the report did not give a precise number or give details on the rescue.

Links September 26th to September 27th

Links from my account for September 26th through September 27th:

  • Golan brides know there is no going back – Yahoo! News – About a bride crossing the border from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to Syria
  • Car Bomb in Damascus and Rise of Salafi Groups in Region – Josh Landis: "The car bomb that exploded this morning in Syria is the first successful “al-Qaida” type terrorist attack in Syria in the last 10 years. Two theories are developing on little evidence so far. One is that the bombers were targeting a state security center. The other theory is that they were targetting Shiites. So far we don’t know what the truth is." Link this with the recent reports of troop movements on the Lebanon border + anti-Syria / anti-Hizbullah feeling among Lebanese Salafists that Nir Rosen recently wrote about (see links from a couple of days ago).
  • Daily News Egypt – BUILDING YOUR OWN STATE – Ibrahim Hudaiby: "When my father decided to buy a farm in the suburbs of Cairo and live there a few years ago, his justification was that if you decide to live in Egypt, you should be ready to build your own state. I must admit it took me years to understand what he meant."
    "To secure a decent, respectable life in Egypt, one should never depend on the state. The state’s revenue mainly made up of taxes, tariffs and foreign aid, and the state’s different apparatuses do not function to serve Egyptians, but rather a few hundred influential politicians and businessmen. The state’s role starts by providing security for its citizens, residents and visitors. Mubarak’s regime increasingly fails to do so. Not only is the police unable to prevent the mounting number of crimes, but it also participates in threatening people’s safety through torture and corruption."
  • #1. Over One Million Iraqi Deaths Caused by US Occupation | Project Censored – The top under-reported story of this year is the death toll caused since the invasion of Iraq
  • Sarah Palin: Henry Kissinger is Beyond Naive When it Comes to Diplomacy – Palin says Kissinger, Obama "naive" about diplomacy with Iran. Maybe Kissinger is naive, if he thought his time was well-spent with Palin.
  • ‘The Secret’: Coming soon to a bookstore near you – Haaretz – Israel News – Controversy over new book on the Lavon Affair, which refers very dirty underbelly (involving Skeletor himself, Shimon Peres) of what was in any case very dirty business.

Rocking the cradle: Grateful Dead in Egypt, 1978


I am not a Deadhead, but having no idea until today that the Grateful Dead played at the Pyramids in 1978, I would love to see this new DVD (click on the album cover above to see the Amazon details):

Much has been written about this storied adventure: About the band’s long-standing desire to play in “places of power,” as Phil put it years ago… The incredible logistical gymnastics necessary to get permission for this strangest of American rock bands to bring their peculiar alchemy to the cradle of the ancient world… The huge, scattered caravan of crazies that descended on Cairo from the U.S. and Europe, drawn to the desert by some irresistible force… The sheer magnitude of shipping in tons of sound equipment, setting up in 110-degree heat, maxing out the local power grid, trying to turn the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid into an echo chamber (alas, Osiris would have none of that!)… The wondrous interplay at each of the three concerts between Nubian drummers and singers and the Grateful Dead… The miraculous final show, during a total lunar eclipse… The synchronicity of that last show and the signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel… Magical horse and camel rides under the desert moon…Trips up and down the Nile… High adventure at every turn!

Now that sounds like fun.

Paulson of Nigeria

Facile but funny:


From: Henry Paulson 

Date: 9/23/2008

Subject: Supper secret transaction Need you’re help

Bright Greetings Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had a crisis that has caused the need for a large transfer of funds of 700 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with renowned Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive you’re information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Wonderful salutations to you cherish friend from Republic of America.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Links September 25th to September 26th

Links from my account for September 25th through September 26th:

  • We run the road – The National Newspaper – Nir Rosen rides with Lebanese salafists.
  • Theater of the Absurd: Sworn Enemies – Nir Rosen: "American troops currently hold more than 20,000 detainees in two main Iraq prisons, and unknown numbers in smaller holding facilities. Very few have ever been charged. In December, the 1-28 Infantry asked elders in Baghdad's Jihad district to name neighborhood residents who should be released. A list of 700 men was submitted, most of them locked up for being "suspected of Shiite militant activity," commanding officer Lt. Colonel Patrick Frank told me." You should really read the rest, including the weird oath released prisoners are made to say — and the pic accompanying the article is pretty funny.
  • Queen Rania of Jordan in New York. – By Rania Al Abdullah – Slate Magazine – Queen Rania's blog: "I was there talking up the Middle East—not a region in conflict and turmoil, as many think, but a mosaic of cultures, stories, traditions, and warm, welcoming people." Oh I am relieved to hear that, all this time I thought it was a region in conflict and turmoil, I stand corrected and great news about the warm, welcoming people. Just remember not to throw shoes at them that would be culturally insensitive.
  • Israeli professor wounded in Jerusalem bomb attack – Yahoo! News – "JERUSALEM – A pipe bomb exploded Thursday outside the home of a prominent Israeli scholar and outspoken critic of Jewish West Bank settlements, lightly wounding him in what police suspect was an attack by Jewish extremists.
    Investigators found posters in Professor Zeev Sternhell's neighborhood offering a $320,000 prize to anyone who kills a member of Peace Now, a dovish Israeli group whose views Sternhall shares."
  • H. R. 6975 – bill currently being considered by Congress – "To require aliens to attest that they will not advocate installing a Sharia law system in the United States as a condition for admission, and for other purposes." It would also remove naturalization from US citizens who advocate Sharia, which surely would be unconstitutional.

Links September 23rd to September 25th

Links from my account for September 23rd through September 25th:

  • The trust problem – Paul Krugman – Op-Ed Columnist – New York Times Blog – "The whole premise of the bailout push has been “We’re the grownups, we know what we’re doing, just trust us.” Sorry, but that’s how Colin Powell sold the Iraq war. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice … you shouldn’t get fooled."
  • Edward Luttwark in the TLS: Without Sentiment – You probably won't find it online, but this week's Times Literary Supplement has a rather strange article review of Lawrence Freedman's "A Choice of Enemies", in which he spends half the article ridiculing that oil and Israel had anything to do with the invasion of Iraq, but then never really says why or presents an alternative explanation (although he keeps saying that he will.) The closest he gets to it is this:
    "Hardest to accept is precisely the motive that seemed most powerful to this observer, who has known the protagonists for a very long time: the desire to fight Islamic extremism and terrorism by bringing democracy to the Arabs, through the example of a democratic and prosperous Iraq engendered by eliminating the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein." A truly bizarre point of view, since after all many of these protagonists have been around for a long time and were never known before as die-hard democratizers.
  • What’s the Point of a Finance Ministry? Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) – "The Syrian Minister of Finance, Doctor Mohammed al Hussein, wrote an article for the Syrian Al Thawra Newspaper entitled, ‘Syria: The Country Least Affected by the Financial Crisis…The Reasons Lie in its own Capitalism,’ in order to reassure citizens and investors that Syria is the state least affected by the financial crisis and if only he didn’t write!

    What the finance minister is trying to say, in simple terms, is that Syria has been saved from this international financial crisis because his country has no financial market and because of the regression of banks and financial institutions in Syria, as well as the lack of foreign investments. Any Arab investments are merely grants or accompanied by political motives."
  • Fears grow in Lebanon as 10,000 Syrian troops arrive on the border – Times Online – "The Lebanese media report that between 8,000 and 10,000 Syrian special forces have taken up positions along some of the hills overlooking the Kabir.
    Their surprise deployment comes after several months of clashes in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, pitting the majority Sunnis against the minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam."
  • CPJ News Alert | TUNISIA: Recently freed journalist is abducted, threatened – "Boukhdhir, who spent eight months in prison for writing articles critical of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, told CPJ that he was abducted Saturday evening as he was heading to an Internet café in Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city. He said he was forced into a small French-made car and taken first to a police station near the city’s old district and then to an isolated area about nine miles (15 kilometers) west of Sfax. There, he said, his captors threatened him before forcing him from the car.
    Boukhdhir, noting that he was taken initially to a police station, said he believes his captors were plainclothes state security agents."

Links September 22nd to September 23rd

Links from my account for September 22nd through September 23rd:

  • Egyptian Policy Imperils Refugees, Migrants at Israel’s Door – – "Since the first recorded border killing in the summer of 2007, when Egyptian authorities announced a live-fire policy on the Sinai border, Egyptian security forces have shot dead at least 28 migrants as they left Egypt for Israel, the rights group Amnesty International said Thursday. Of those, the group said, 23 have been killed since January… Refugee advocates say that Israeli and U.S. pressure on Egypt to stop the flow of African migrants into Israel led the Egyptian government to adopt its live-fire policy — an assertion Israeli and U.S. officials deny. Israeli officials do, however, acknowledge fears that their prosperous country will be overwhelmed if African migration across its porous 155-mile-long border with Egypt is not checked."
  • Dissident Lobbies for Conditions on U.S. Aid to Egypt – – "Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a 69-year-old sociologist from the American University in Cairo, is lobbying members of Congress to attach conditions to America's $1.5 billion annual aid to Egypt. "I am pushing for conditionality, and I would like the democracy and freedom agenda to be a bipartisan one," Ibrahim said."
  • La piraterie au large des côtes somaliennes en pleine expansion – Afrique – Le – On piracy in Somalia – alleges a US warship has already sunk pirate ships, French may start naval escort initiative, how the ransom system works
  • Phillip Toledano – America the Gift Shop – Get yourself unique Global War Own Terror souvenirs such as the Abu Ghraib coffee table
  • A Deadline for Survival at The Sun – – Neocon hate rag going down. Remind me to break open the champagne.
  • Pourquoi l’armée française doit se retirer d’Afghanistan – Alain Gresh argues for French withdrawal from Afghanistan, essentially on the grounds that the French troops there have no input in the way the peacekeeping mission is run, that it's likely to cause blowback and that the human rights argument is bogus. These are good points. I think I probably disagree: France and the EU should increase their presence in Afghanistan, but only if they are given more decision-making power to correct the mistakes made by the US and the Karzai regime. I don't really see what "negotiations" there is to have with al-Qaeda.

Links for September 22nd

Links from my account for September 22nd:

  • A Mauritanian Routine: strike, frustrate and repeat « The Moor Next Door – Good post on recent (dodgy) AQIM attack in Mauritania and the wider problem of terrorism in the Maghreb
  • Pray silence for Bin Laden the wedding poet – Times Online – OBL's sensitive side: "POETRY by Osama Bin Laden is to be published next week by an Oxford-educated academic, who has discovered that the world’s most hated terrorist was once in great demand as an after-dinner speaker.
    Bin Laden’s recitals at wedding banquets and other feasts during the 1990s were recorded on tapes recovered from his compound in Afghanistan in 2001, after the September 11 attacks.
    They have been studied by Professor Flagg Miller, who teaches Arabic poetry at the University of California, Davis. He said: “Bin Laden is a skilled poet with clever rhymes and meters, which was one reason why many people taped him and passed recordings around, like pop songs.”"
  • Op-Ed Columnist – The Push to ‘Otherize’ Obama – Op-Ed – – Nic Kristoff on the Obama as Muslim rumors: "What is happening, I think, is this: religious prejudice is becoming a proxy for racial prejudice. In public at least, it’s not acceptable to express reservations about a candidate’s skin color, so discomfort about race is sublimated into concerns about whether Mr. Obama is sufficiently Christian. The result is this campaign to “otherize” Mr. Obama. Nobody needs to point out that he is black, but there’s a persistent effort to exaggerate other differences, to de-Americanize him."
  • Rachel Shabi: Voice of the Jerusalem’s poor | Comment is free | – On Israel's Black Panthers, a Mizrahi social justice movement once active in the 1970s and that is reforming to run in Jerusalem elections: "The new Panthers proclaim blanket support in "the neighbourhoods" – aka the deprived city districts. But that might not actually count for much: the local election voting turnout from these quarters is around 20%, as compared with 40% within Jerusalem's better-off streets and 70% in the religious sector. The Arab sector has historically refused to vote – in protest against an authority it does not recognise as legitimate. Still, Marciano-Sabag emphatically includes the notoriously deprived neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem in her social justice plans:
    "I personally feel Palestinian," she says. "My colour is their colour, their language is my language, their accent is my accent. And their situation is absolutely unbearable … when we speak of equality we mean the whole city, whether or not people vote.""
  • Middle East Online – Coptic Bishop Morcos: ""If elections take place, I would vote for Gamal Mubarak because he is an economics man and was brought up in a firmly established political household, and this is the view of most members of the Holy Synod," Morcos said in an interview with the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm." One of the things that makes a Jimmy presidency more likely is that since he is the only person who appears to be vying for the presidency, he is the only person who will receive the endorsements of those people who just support the likely candidate (as opposed to stick to principles). The religious establishment in Egypt (Muslim or Christian) is really disappointing for its lack of guts and imagination.