Morocco’s Le Journal: “We are all Shia”

My friend Abou Bakr Jamai, publisher of Morocco’s Le Journal weekly now in forced into exile because of bogus lawsuits against his magazine, sent me this week’s cover highlighting Morocco’s new religious crusade for “the right Islam” that must be followed.

This campaign is aimed at asserting the “Sunni malekite nature” of “Moroccan Islam”; its aim is to buttress the pro-monarchy traditionalism of very Morocco-specific institutions such as the “Commandership of the Faithful” (specific in that it argues that the king has the same role as a Caliph, but only for Moroccans), Sherifism (high respect for descendants of the prophet, a very Shia tradition that has since Sultan Moulay Ismail in the 17th century been a key part of governance through a ethno-religious aristocracy) and the prominence of apolitical Sufi tariqat. The campaign to reimpose these traditionalist values is partly a not-so-badly thought out attempt to limit the spread of salafism (I applaud that) but has also spread into paranoia about Iran-funded Shia conversion and as a way to put pressure on Islamic parties, legal and unrecognized. But it’s the kind of thing that the Moroccan regime has long done – asserting a Moroccan Islam that is nice and fluffy vs. the Islam of its opponents – and, moreover, the foreigners usually lap it up.

"We are all Shia, Sunni, Jewish, Christian, atheist, agnostic..."


Egypt recently passed a new Child’s Law. One of the most controversial parts of the law was the criminalization of female circumcision, or FGM. I just did a story on this for yesterday’s edition of The World.

One things I discovered is that while the figure that’s commonly mentioned is that 96% of women in Egypt are circumcised, the figure for teenage girls is about 80% and they project (from government health surveys in which they ask mothers whether they plan to circumcise their daughters) that the rate for young girls will be 60% by 2015.

The Muslim Brotherhood made a big fuss over this law when it was discussed in parliament. One MP brought his circumcised daughters and wife to parliament as an argument for FGM. I had read about this and went to interview Saad Katatni, the head of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary block. He was much more diplomatic with me than his MPs had been in parliament. He actually said he recognizes that FGM isn’t required by Sharia. But he said it shouldn’t be banned because in some “exceptional cases” it’s needed. Pressed on what those exceptional cases might be, he said they were when the organ (he meant clitoris) “طويل طولا شاذا”, meaning “is perversely/abnormally long.” This harks back to the popular belief that female circumcision is necessary for some women whose clitorises otherwise would grow to a monstruous size. When I asked Katatni about the death of Budur (the schoolgirl who died last summer while undergoing FGM), he said isolated cases shouldn’t lead us to condemn the practice completely. He said: “If I as a doctor makes a mistake during a given operation, and the patient dies, do I discard this branch of medicine, do I erase this branch of science?”

Mahalla detainees appeal to civil society

Letter to head of the Judges’ Club Zakariya Abdel Aziz from the three Mahalla detainees, Kamal El-Fayyoumy, Tareq Amin, and Karim El-Beheiry:

We would like in the beginning to correct certain information which has reached the press about our (the three of us) having been transferred to the prison hospital as a result of our hunger strike.

The truth is that we are still in prison after the administration refused to call an ambulance to take us to hospital, and as a result of the inability of Karim el-Beheiry and Tareq Amin to stand on their feet – as a result of their extreme weakness. Instead, a “nurse” was summoned to examine Karim, whose condition has seriously deteriorated.

We would like to know the reason why we remain in detention. We will continue the hunger strike until we either die or receive this information.

We were tortured in the state security headquarters in Mahalla on the 6th, 7th and 8th April. Officers tortured Karim using electricity while Tareq Amin and Kamal el-Fayyoumy were insulted verbally and physically assaulted. We then spent eleven days in Borg el-Arab prison in a cell with individuals with criminal convictions. When the Tanta court ordered that we be released we were held for four days in the El-Salam police station [noqtat shorta] situated between Mahalla and Tanta before we were taken to Borg el-Arab prison were we began our hunger strike.

[From Fustat: Letter from Burg al Arab prison]

Jailed Tunisian comic freed

After the jump is a press release (in French) by Tunisian rights activist Sihem Bensedrine on the release of comic Hedi Ouled Baballah, who recently spent two months in prison for cannabis possession. It’s widely believed by Tunisian NGOs that the real reason for his imprisonment (and the beatings he received at the hands of police) was a sketch he made at a private event in Tunis imitating President Zine Eddin Ben Ali. The sketch had been taped by mobile phone and widely circulated in Tunisia.

Don’t forget Tunisia — along with Syria and Jordan it is the worst police state in the region, but is completely ignored by much of the Western media because it is a “liberal” country (i.e. it persecutes Islamists and frowns on the veil). In fact it’s one of the most perverse and most corrupt regimes around — it makes Egypt look good in comparison — and sooner or later this small and relatively developed country will pay the price for ignoring political reform. It’s a real shame, because it some respects it is more like a southern European country in terms of education levels, etc.

Continue reading Jailed Tunisian comic freed

“Govts Ever More Draconian, Group Says”

How things are getting worse:

NEW YORK, Mar 27 (IPS) – One of the Arab world’s most widely respected non-governmental organisations is charging that at least 14 Middle East and North African governments are systematically violating the civil liberties of their citizens — and most of them are close U.S. allies in the war on terror.

In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) said that there have been “huge harassments of human rights organisations and defenders have been increasingly subject to abusive and suppressive actions by government actors… in the majority of Arab countries, particularly Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Tunisia.”

The group this week called upon the international community to “exert effective efforts to urge Arab governments to duly reconsider their legislation, policy and practices contravening their international obligations to protect freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom to form associations, including non-governmental organisations.”

It added that “Special attention should be awarded to providing protection to human rights defenders in the Arab World.”

[From RIGHTS-MIDEAST: Govts Ever More Draconian, Group Says]

CIA Largely in the Dark on Interrogation Tactics?

The Washington Independent is a new online magazine, mostly about Beltway politics. Spencer Ackerman has an intriguing piece on how the CIA had to learn interrogation and torture techniques from Middle Eastern countries after 9/11 has its own staff were largely untrained in them.

But 9/11 changed all that. Despite having nearly no off-the-shelf experience, the CIA was tasked by President Bush to come up with a robust interrogation program for the most important al-Qaeda captives. So the agency turned to its partners for assistance in designing its interrogation regimen: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia—all countries cited by the State Department for using torture—among others. Additionally, as Mark Benjamin has reported for Salon, two psychologists named Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who worked as contractors for CIA, helped the agency “reverse-engineer” the military and CIA training on resisting torture for use on detainees. Suddenly, waterboarding, an illegal practice of simulating or in some cases inducing drowning, became an American-administered practice.

I’m not sure how this can make that much sense — didn’t the CIA provide the torture training and interrogations manuals to Iran’s SAVAK in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as Latin American dictatorships? To be fair Ackerman briefly mentions the supposedly Nazi-inspired KUBARK Manual, but there was also the 1983 “Human Resources Exploitation” Manual used in Pinochet’s Chili and elsewhere. Moreover, the idea that CIA and other US staff were distant from actual interrogation in the rendition countries is not true. Last year I interviewed a senior intelligence officer in a rendition program country who said the Americans from the CIA and FBI routinely walked in and out of the interrogation rooms and detention centers. Not to mention that interrogation and torture does not seem to have been a problem for the people at Guantanamo. One can’t help getting the feeling that the people that Ackerman spoke to pulled a fast one on him. The idea that torture has only been used under the Bush administration, while perhaps self-serving for CIA officials with careers that will outlive the administration, is quite laughable. The US, France, Japan and many others have been using these techniques (notably against anti-colonial movements and in counter-communism policies) for a long, long time.

Also read: Watching torture and this book, Torture and Democracy [Amazon], by Darius Rejali, which appears to be one of the more thorough discussions if the issue out there. From the book’s blurb:

As the twentieth century progressed, he argues, democracies not only tortured, but set the international pace for torture. Dictatorships may have tortured more, and more indiscriminately, but the United States, Britain, and France pioneered and exported techniques that have become the lingua franca of modern torture: methods that leave no marks. Under the watchful eyes of reporters and human rights activists, low-level authorities in the world’s oldest democracies were the first to learn that to scar a victim was to advertise iniquity and invite scandal. Long before the CIA even existed, police and soldiers turned instead to “clean” techniques, such as torture by electricity, ice, water, noise, drugs, and stress positions. As democracy and human rights spread after World War II, so too did these methods.

Also see this interview of Rejali.

DENIED: Egypt Bloggers Plan Parallel Torture Film Festival

Egypt: Bloggers Plan Parallel Film Festival on Police Torture:

Egyptian bloggers have announced that, while the Cairo film festival is taking place from 27 November to 7 December, they will hold a parallel festival in which a “Golden Whip” will be awarded to the best video showing “controversial acts of torture allegedly committed by the security authorities.”

Two policemen received three-month jail sentences on 5 November for mistreating a detainee. A video of the incident, filmed with a mobile phone, caused an outcry among human rights activists and enabled identification of the two police officers.

Also, Hossam points out that YouTube has pulled down the Egyptian police torture page.

Update: Blogger Wael Abbas, who released some of the first torture videos, is denying that any such festival is taking place – see comments.

Three years in prison for Emad al-Kabir torturers

I have just received this press release from the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP — yes, that’s a mouthful) saying that the police officers who beat and molested Emad al-Kabir last year. It’s good news in an otherwise pretty awful case — remember that al-Kabir, a bus driver, was sentenced last January to three months of prison for “resisting arrest.” We’ve covered the case a lot as part of the “al-Adly videogate” scandal, when bloggers published several videos of torture in Egyptian police stations.

Historic verdict: defendants jailed for torture of el-Kebeer

The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) commends the verdict issued today by the Giza Criminal Court against assistant investigating officer Islam Nabih and policeman Reda Fathy, both based at the Boulaq Dakrour police station. The two men were convicted of the torture and sexual assault of Emmad Mohamed Ali, popularly known as Emmad el-Kebeer, and sentenced to three-years imprisonment.

The case was brought by lawyer and ACIJLP director Nasser Amin after a clip circulated on the Internet showing the torture and sexual assault of el-Kebeer. Police investigations were initiated, and culminated in the judgement handed down today.

ACIJLP praises the verdict issued against the two men which reaffirms the integrity of the Egyptian judiciary and its effectiveness in the protection of human rights. The judgement represents a new stage during which the Egyptian judiciary will fight torture.

ACIJLP thus celebrates this verdict and urges the Egyptian legislator and government to take widespread measures in accordance with Egypt’s commitments under the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Rural Egypt’s Return to the Ancien Regime

Middle East Online has a translation of a Monde Diplomatique article I’d previously linked to on the reversal of agrarian reform in Egypt. This excerpt deals with the new law passed in the 1990s that has led to many farmers losing land and helped former landlords regain land they had been forced to sell under Nasser:

The 1992 law changed farmers’ lives profoundly. Average rent values have risen 10-fold, and now represent between a third and a half of gross annual income. Perhaps three-quarters of the farmers renting in 1996 have given up because of debts. Farmers have had to indebt themselves to pay rent, and households sell jewels and livestock, reducing expenditure (less meat in the diet, fewer children at school). As the number of very small holdings has declined, those over 10 feddans (4.2 hectares) have improved in number and surface area. It is clear that inequalities in the distribution of agricultural land are again rising, despite the advances between 1952 and 1980 and the relative immobility thereafter.

Over the past 10 years there have been social explosions over land in the governorate of al-Minufiyya, where Kamshish lies. They are the result of manoeuvres by former landowners and have been ignored by the media. Dispossessed families used the new legislation to recover their previous holdings, or obtain more attractive parcels. There have been violent clashes between farmers and the police or hired agents working for these families. Villagers have been intimidated, illegally imprisoned (and tortured), or summarily tried and heavily sentenced. The Land Centre for Human Rights considers that between 2001 and 2004 there were 171 deaths, 945 injuries and 1,642 arrests.

On the UN Human Rights Council

The Israeli government and President Bush are right about the UN Human Rights Council: it does not fairly spread blame for human rights abuses. But the problem is not that it blames Israel too much — it does quite an appropriate job in that. It’s just that it should also focus on other countries, including members such as Egypt (local human rights organizations even campaigned against their country’s membership here!) and of course places like Sudan, Iran, China, North Korea or Myanmar.

But everything it says about Israel holds, and it doesn’t mean it should change its mind about regularly reviewing human rights abuses in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. I can’t say I like the Council’s composition much, but then again I don’t like the way the Security Council works either — and that’s much, much more important.

[I bring this up because a commenter left the link above.]