New parties rumor

There has been a rumor going around Cairo that President Mubarak has decided to grant the Hizb Al Ghad (Party of Tomorrow) and Karamah (Dignity) party licenses, and that this will be carried out within a couple of days. Now, I don’t take too much stock in rumors, especially as, at least in the case of Hizb Al Ghad, there is a case pending in the administrative court. (Read Ursula’s post from last month for more info.)

Karamah, an older party founded by ex-Nasserist MP Hamdeen Sabahi — one of the most honest men in Egyptian politics and a respected younger leftist leader — has quite a different background that Hizb Al Ghad. It has ties with the revolutionary socialists, the underground leftist movement that has been one of the main forces behind street protests against the Iraq war and the occupation of Palestine, as well as with Egypt’s growing anti-globalization movement. Karamah is motivated by ideas of social justice, while Hizb Al Ghad’s central issue is constitutional reform. The first has grassroots support among intellectuals and left-wing activists, as well as some poor areas, while the second’s main strength is the personality of its leaders, maverick MP Ayman Nour and former MP Mona Makram Ebeid.

Many of the regime’s fiercest critics nevertheless take pride in the independence of the judiciary (I am more pessimistic on this myself), and if Mubarak can decide overnight to make the court decide in Hizb Al Ghad’s favor (it seems they have a solid case anyhow), while it will be good for that party it won’t say much for the judiciary. But it’ll be interesting to see what happens, and I guess we’ll know by the end of the week if the rumors are true.

Update: Just to clarify things, the Hizb Al Ghad ruling by the administrative court which could grant it party status is scheduled to come tomorrow. This is what probably started the rumors. Regarding Karamah, it has already been denied several times by the Higher Political Parties committee, as has Al Wasat, a centrist party mostly led by former Muslim Brothers.

American legitimacy

Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson take Robert Kagan and others to task in The Sources of American Legitimacy, an article why the Iraq war and the Bush doctrine of ignoring international law, the international community and the United Nations has imperiled the US. They take aim, notably, at Kagan’s argument that

“Contrary to much mythologizing on both sides of the Atlantic these days, the foundations of U.S. legitimacy during the Cold War had little to do with the fact that the United States helped create the UN or faithfully abided by the precepts of international law laid out in the organization’s charter.”

Kagan’s recent book, Of Paradise and Power, which argued that Americans were from Mars and Europeans from Venus and would never agree on foreign policy in general and military intervention in particular. It was the most articulate argument against what Donald Rumsfeld called “Old Europe” by one of the brightest neo-con thinkers. Tucker and Hendrickson’s answer to it is timely and well-argued, without all the wishy-washiness of terms such as “soft power.” They are particulary good when making the argument that the pre-emptive wars envisaged under the Bush doctrine are not only illegal, but dangerous and unrealistic:

Such illegal uses of force are in fact unnecessary for U.S. security and actually imperil it. The Iraq war clearly illustrates both points: not only did containment and deterrence offer a perfectly workable method of dealing with Saddam’s Iraq, but the consequences of the U.S. occupation have also made Americans much more insecure. Those consequences include daily attacks on American soldiers, the inflammation of opinion in the Muslim world (encouraging new recruits for al Qaeda), and the possibility of further wars arising from the potential disintegration of the Iraqi state.

The baleful results of the Iraq war are also relevant to the dangers posed by the acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea or Iran, two instances in which preventive war is often urged. As with Iraq, “preventive” attacks would be remedies worse than the disease and could mean catastrophic war in both regions. U.S. threats of “regime change” also undermine the more reasonable policy of dissuading either state from acquiring such weapons through measures short of war-that is, through a mixture of negative sanctions and positive inducements. The prospects of a grand bargain with either Pyongyang or Tehran would be enhanced were Washington to abandon its not-so-secret wish to bring about the downfall of these regimes.

Good reading if you follow these policy debates.

TV agit-prop

The Washington Times on Al Manar and Znet on Al Hurra: they could be talking about the same thing.

There has been a spate of stories on Al Hurra recently, none of them particularly enlightening. A few weeks ago I met one of their reporters who was coming through Cairo. That person told me that the atmosphere at Al Hurra was unbearable: most of the staff are Lebanese Maronites who come from the MBC channel in Lebanon, which was closed by the authorities for being critical of Syria. Many of them come from Aounist backgrounds, after General Michel Aoun who was one of the main and bloodiest warlords during the Lebanese civil war.

Apparently they have decided to take revenge and now devote a considerable portion of their time to attacking Syria, while other areas of the Arab world — North Africa for instance — are ignored. They also have a tendency to promote Arab and Arab-American reporters who have a history in Arab Christian activist movements, not only Maronite but Coptic too. More than one presenter of talk shows has also reportedly shown a slight obsession with minority-related issues: for instance a 90-minute interview with

If all this is true — and it has been confirmed elsewhere so I think it is — no wonder no one has confidence in this channel.

Two quick TV stories

As anyone who has lived in the Arab world during Ramadan knows, this is the time of the year when new TV series come out and families crowd around their TV set from sunset to the late evening, watching the latest on offer from Egypt, the Gulf and elsewhere. In Egypt, for instance, the big hit show so far is Abbas Al Abiad fil Youm Al Aswad (literally, Abbas the White in Dark Days), a story of mistaken identities in the context of the Gulf War (the 1991 one), which is quite good from what I’ve seen so far.

But the big TV event came before Ramadan, on the eve of the Taba bombings, when Egyptian TV viewers found their 10 national channels bereft of news about the bombings and continuing normal programming even as Al Jazeera provided continuous coverage of events. Tarek Atia — who, as well as writing for Al Ahram Weekly, runs one of the first blog-like Egyptian sites, — reported on what happened on the small screen:

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Hossam El- Garahi, a stock exchange analyst. Having learned of the incident from the satellite channel, Al-Arabiya, El-Garahi kept flipping back to Egyptian TV, determined to find out more about what was going on in Taba. “All the channels had the regular stuff going on — a play here, a video clip there — it was like this thing wasn’t happening in Egypt.”

Millions of other people couldn’t believe their eyes as they watched their TV screens late Thursday night. It wasn’t just the horrific images emerging from Taba that astounded them, but the seeming oblivion to those events being demonstrated by their local channels.

On channel 1, a play continued without interruption. On channel 2, a video clip. Channel 3 was airing an interview, as was channel 4, and so on.

Finally, said a flustered and angry El-Garahi, a news ticker appeared that indicated that an explosion, which might have been caused by a gas leak, had occurred in Taba. “That useless ticker remained unchanged for the next several hours,” he said.

Viewers hungry for information relied more on channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya (or CNN, as in El-Garahi’s case) that were basically blanketing their coverage with news from Taba, albeit with an annoying lack of new details. In fact, most of that first coverage was basically a continuous reel of an Israeli ambulance leaving the scene, and a wounded blond woman on a stretcher.

The other interesting story about TV comes from Jordan, with state TV there pulling a new serial about Afghanistan after threats from Islamists that they would take revenge if it showed the Taliban in a bad light. The same show has also apparently been pulled from Qatar, where it was produced.

Hostages in Iraq

AP did a tally of foreigners taken hostage in Iraq. Sobering.

A Look at Foreigners Taken Hostage in Iraq

By The Associated Press

Insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped more than 150 foreigners:


_Margaret Hassan, director of CARE international in Iraq and a citizen of Britain, Ireland and Iraq. Abducted Oct. 19. A videotape issued Oct. 22 shows her pleading for Britain to withdraw troops from Iraq.

_Two Lebanese electrical workers, Marwan Ibrahim Kassar and Mohammed Jawdat Hussein. A video broadcast Sept. 30 shows masked men holding them at gunpoint. Islamic Army in Iraq claims responsibility.

_Christian Chesnot, 37, and George Malbrunot, 41, French journalists. Disappeared Aug. 20. Islamic Army in Iraq claims responsibility.

_Aban Elias, 41, Iraqi-American. Seized May 3 by Islamic Rage Brigade.

Continue reading Hostages in Iraq

If only

Charles Krauthammer, neo-con editorialist extraordinaire, does his part for the Bush re-election campaign today in Sacrificing Israel, a piece that I suppose is meant to scare supporters of Israel into voting for Kerry. This is his premise:

Think about it: What do the Europeans and the Arab states endlessly rail about in the Middle East? What (outside of Iraq) is the area of most friction with U.S. policy? What single issue most isolates America from the overwhelming majority of countries at the United Nations?

The answer is obvious: Israel.

In what currency, therefore, would we pay the rest of the world in exchange for their support in places such as Iraq? The answer is obvious: giving in to them on Israel.

No Democrat will say that openly. But anyone familiar with the code words of Middle East diplomacy can read between the lines.

Krauthammer then does some deconstruction of Kerry’s foreign policy, including his plans to re-energize the Middle East peace process. So when America will “re-engage” with the peace process, according to Krauthammer this really means turning your back on Israel, embracing Yasser Arafat and encouraging Palestinian terrorism. The entire argument is of course ridiculous, especially when you consider that the two candidates basically have no difference on Middle East policy and that Kerry has done everything to please American supporters of Israel. (See Kerry Tries to Out-Sharon Bush by Ron Chepesiuk and Bush and Kerry Dance to the Tune of Ariel Sharon by Simon Tisdall for some examples.)

Incidentally, the Krauthammer piece may be part of a coordinated campaign by pro-Israeli right-wingers to discredit Kerry: take a look at this ridiculous editorial by Zev Chafets accusing Kerry of faking tears while visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel. Chafets relies on base manipulation of the Holocaust to spread the idea that anyone who doesn’t fully support Ariel Sharon wants to see Israel destroyed. Take a look at the depths to which he goes:

But the threat facing Israel now isn’t primarily military. Countries, including many Kerry prizes as members of “the international community,” are waging diplomatic war aimed at turning the Jewish state into a pariah. This is not a threat you can discern from the cockpit of a jet fighter, but it is real enough. And its desired effect is on display at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

In a time of jihad, an American president who doesn’t see that – and feel it – is a dangerous friend to have.

Joseph Lieberman has also raised the issue that Kerry is not taking a strong enough stance in Israel, particularly with the important Jewish population in Florida — the fourth largest outside of Israel.

If only it were true that Kerry wanted to re-engage in the peace process and apply pressure on the Israelis to finally get out of the Occupied Territories that they’ve held for 37 years. The truth is Kerry’s Middle East policy is uninspiring at best and as criminally negligent as Bush’s at worst. The only hope is that a Kerry administration, at least, may not have neo-con Likudniks in positions of influence.

Makram Ebeid’s Op-ed

Mona Makram Ebeid, a former Egyptian MP turned leading opposition figure, had penned a new editorial for the Daily Star. She reviews the unwillingness of her country’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to move ahead with even limited political decompression. It’s all worthwhile, but I am a big taken aback by the following paragraph:

Among those who expressed their most vociferous criticism were individuals seeking to establish new political parties. During its 23-year existence, the governmental Parties Committee has systematically refused all requests submitted to it (except one) to legalize parties. All other legalized parties since 1990 owe their existence to the State Council, which though bounded by a restrictive law, has tended to interpret it more broadly than the Parties Committee, which remains a mere puppet in the hands of the executive branch. Most significantly, one party, Hizb al-Ghad (The Party of Tomorrow), whose guiding principles are liberty, democracy and respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, has watched its appeal to be licensed, which it lodged with the State Council, adjourned for the third time. The irony is that the adjournment coincided with the ringing call by the NDP to widen political participation!

The part that’s highlighted above about the Hizb Al-Ghad struck me because at no point does Makram Ebeid tell us that she is a leader of that party, and nor does her biographical information at the bottom of the editorial. I’m all for attacking the NDP, but the Daily Star should know better than to provide her a platform for her own political propaganda without saying who she is. Indeed, that might be a better way to promote her party.

A Diamond in the Rough

Go read A Diamond in the Rough, a front-page LA Times story by my friend Ashraf Khalil, who is taking a break from Iraq in Cairo before he goes back in two weeks. It’s a wonderful little gem.

This is the kind of story is what foreign editors love these days, especially if it comes from the Middle East. As one of my own editors once told me, with so much bad news and full pages dedicated to covering the bloodshed in Iraq, a little levity is a good thing. This also often extends to outside the war zones, so that in the rest of the Middle East, stories on “serious” issues like political reform or economic crisis will be less popular than ones of belly dancers or archeological trivia. With so much sad news coming out from this part of the world, foreign pages of newspapers need something to lighten up.

The Secret in the CIA’s Back Pocket

I’ve always thought that one of the most astonishing about the way the Bush administration handled 9/11 is that no one was held to account. Not the people who didn’t get the warnings to the president, not the White House for ignoring that warning if it did get to it, not the Air Force personnel that failed to scramble in time to intercept the third plane, not the CIA for having lousy intelligence — nothing. And even the 9/11 Commission eschews assigning blame to specific institutions or people.

Apparently, the CIA has been working on its own report on 9/11 which does assign blame and treats some people pretty harshly. But, as Robert Scheer reports on Alternet, we’re not about to see it before the elections:

According to the intelligence official, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, release of the report, which represents an exhaustive 17- month investigation by an 11-member team within the agency, has been “stalled.” First by acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and now by Porter J. Goss, the former Republican House member (and chairman of the Intelligence Committee) who recently was appointed CIA chief by President Bush.

The official stressed that the report was more blunt and more specific than the earlier bipartisan reports produced by the Bush-appointed Sept. 11 commission and Congress.

“What all the other reports on 9/11 did not do is point the finger at individuals, and give the how and what of their responsibility. This report does that,” said the intelligence official. “The report found very senior-level officials responsible.”

Let’s hope those senior-level officials will lose their jobs on November 2.