Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Photos & an account of police detention

Protests against hereditary presidential succession [from Mubarak Sr. to Mubarak Jr.] were staged on Tuesday afternoon outside Abdeen Palace and in Tahrir Street in downtown Cairo. An estimated 300 activists protested against this potential succession scenario; while others are said to have conducted similar protests in Alexandria. Over 50 arrests were reported in both cities.

I can only speak of one protest which I witnessed firsthand, just around the corner of Abdeen Palace - on Hassan Alakbar Street. Arriving at 5:20 from Al-Gomhoriya Street, I noticed that police had sealed and blocked-off the entirety of Abdeen Square - where the protest was initially planned.

Police were (legally) obstructing all traffic into and out of the spacious Abdeen Square. Nobody was allowed in or out of this square except the police and those being arrested and dumped into blue prisoner-transport trucks parked within.

Upon arrival I saw plain clothed policemen/pigs tugging at three activists, beating them along the way, and taking them to the trucks parked inside the square.

Just around the corner, on Hassan Alakbar Street, a small group of activists from the April 6th Youth Movement - only around a dozen - were being tightly cordoned by over 50 black-clad riot police (conscripts.) The activists were sealed in for more than three hours with just enough space between them to stand up shoulder-to-shoulder.

Despite these pressing conditions the youth activists had enough courage to spay-paint an anti-Mubarak slogan - La lel tawreeth (No to hereditary succession) - on the wall behind them.

I only had enough time to take five photos. I was taking a photo of a small group of protesters, primarily young women who were walking towards the square while chanting anti-Mubarak slogans. It was then that a plain-clothed pig wearing (bad-ass) sunglasses pulled me by the elbow and shouted "photography is not allowed!"

I told him I was a journalist - but to no avail in this police-state. He directed me to his commanding officer, a pot-bellied uniformed brigadier general. The general asked asked me where I worked. He demanded to see my press card. While pulling it out of my bag the officer noticed my passport and asked to see it. The pot-bellied pig took my card and passport and glanced through them.

He asked me for "my film;" I told him "I don't use film, I use a card." He replied: "give me your camera." I told him "Sorry, I can't do that." The officer threateningly informed me that he'll take me and my camera to Qasr el-Nile Police Station.

I replied to the big pig "I'm here to take photos, if you're here to arrest people go ahead. But I can't give you my camera." He then ordered his subordinate pig to hold me at the street corner until he made his calls to the bigger pigs.

Some ten minutes later another plain-clothed police officer approached me on the street corner and demanded my memory card and camera. I told him "sorry, I can't give you my camera or my card because I need them for work." He insisted that I hand over the camera, I insisted otherwise.

Surprisingly he didn't make an attempt to tug at the camera dangling around my neck. He just walked off and left me there - waiting for my personal IDs. I waited on the sidewalk for nearly three hours until the dozen protesters on the opposite sidewalk were released one by one.

Although they were kettled-in for over three hours, these protesters intermittently chanted slogans against the ruling regime and its oppression of the Egyptian populace. Sometimes they would climb onto each other's shoulders as they chanted and waved the flag of Egypt and the black flag of the April 6th Youth Movement.

A street cleaner was brought in to paint over their graffiti. He covered the graffiti while the activists were still within the tight cordon.

A handful of activists attempted to throw water-bottles over the cordon to their comrades within but were immediately shoved away by plain clothed pigs. Only two small bottles landed inside the kettle.

Curious bystanders were brushed away by plain clothed policemen, while two photographers and a camera crew were harassed and threatened with arrest. One of the photographers was violently shoved-away from the protest site.

I spent the course of these nearly three hours, sending text messages, smoking, and overhearing the conversations of senior pigs seated nearby. One pig told the other that he didn't understand why these kids were protesting.

"Gamal Mubarak is ideal for the presidency. He's already got his belly full, so he doesn't need to steal from the government or the people." I felt like vomiting.

At the end of this experience with Egypt's finest pigs - as the activists were gradually being released from their kettle - I managed to retrieve my passport and press card. Nothing was confiscated, no photos were erased.

While sending me off, a junior officer told me that he was sorry to keep me waiting all this time; but "we have orders, that today no photography is allowed in this area."

Egypt: Protests against Gamal Mubarak succession plan

Protests in Egypt against Gamal Mubarak succession plans

Sept. 21, 2010

Jack Shenker - Cairo

Hundreds of protesters take to streets of Cairo over widely held belief that president's son is being groomed to take over

Clashes broke out in central Cairo today after hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets to protest against what they claimed were plans for the president's son to assume power.

Lines of riot police encircled and attacked demonstrators opposed to Gamal Mubarak outside Abdeen palace, the site of a 19th-century nationalist revolt against monarchical and colonial British rule.

It is widely believed that Gamal, now 46, is being groomed to succeed his father, Hosni, 82, as Egypt's next ruler. The younger Mubarak accompanied the presidential delegation to peace talks in Washington this month.

Parliamentary elections, which the opposition wants boycotted, are due in November and presidential elections will be held in September next year.

The protest also spread to Alexandria, where it was reported that 30 demonstrators were arrested and women had their clothes torn. In Cairo journalists were among those beaten.

"They have been beating us. You can see the blood on my neck. We are a republic, not a kingdom," said a supporter of the opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who formerly ran the International Atomic Energy Agency and is considered a potential rival presidential candidate to Gamal Mubarak.

"If Gamal Mubarak becomes president, this country will go to hell. He cares only about businessmen.

"The people of Egypt are all dying. We are dying of poverty and we are dying of a lack of freedom."

Referring to the 1882 uprising, when Ahmed Orabi declared that Egyptians should no longer be slaves, the protester said: "After 30 years of Hosni Mubarak's rule we are saying the same thing today: we should not be slaves.

Later protesters tried to break out of the security cordon. Sympathetic bystanders threw in water bottles to trapped demonstrators.

Another protester said: "I am 30 years old and I still have not got enough money to marry. I can't find a job. Tell the world to help us. We are dying under Mubarak. Send an SOS." He then set fire to a picture of Gamal Mubarak. "We are supposed to be a democracy even though everyone knows it's a sham. We will not stand by while the presidency passes from father to son."

Gamal Mubarak has long been associated with a series of neoliberal privatisation reforms which have proved unpopular with many Egyptians.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Egyptian Police Kill Sudanese Migrant at Israeli Border

Agence France Presse
Egypt police kill migrant on Israel border

September 18, 2010

CAIRO — Egyptian police killed a Sudanese man and wounded three others on Saturday when they opened fire on would-be migrants trying to enter Israel, the official MENA news agency reported.

Mohammed Adam Sharafeddin, 38, died of the gunshot wounds while his three compatriots were taken to hospital and the rest of the group who were trying to cross the border were arrested, MENA said.

The death raises to 31 the number of migrants killed on Egypt's border with Israel since the beginning of the year -- most of them by Egyptian police.

Cairo has come under fire from human rights groups condemning its policy of using lethal force against migrants.

The 250-kilometre (150-mile) border has become a major trafficking route for African migrants seeking jobs in Israel.

Friday, September 17, 2010

State-owned paper defends doctored photo of Mubarak

Al-Ahram newspaper defends doctored photo of Hosni Mubarak

Altered image in state-run paper shows Egyptian president in lead role at Middle East peace talks

Associated Press in Cairo

Friday 17 September, 2010

Egypt's oldest newspaper today defended its decision to publish a doctored photograph that appeared to put president Hosni Mubarak at the forefront of key figures at the Middle East peace talks in Washington.

The original photo showed US president Barack Obama walking in the lead on a red carpet, with Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II slightly behind.

But the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper altered the image in its Tuesday edition to show Mubarak in the lead, with Obama slightly behind him to his right, then placed it over a broadsheet article titled "the Road to Sharm El Sheikh", referring to the Egyptian Red Sea resort that hosted the second round of negotiations.

Egyptian bloggers and activists said the picture was an example of the regime's deception of its own people. Critics also said the photo was an attempt to distract attention from Egypt's waning role in the Middle East peace process.

But the newspaper's editor-in chief, Osama Saraya defended the decision in an editorial today, saying the original photo had been published on the day talks began and the new version was only meant to illustrate Egypt's leading role in the peace process.

"The expressionist photo is … a brief, live and true expression of the prominent stance of President Mubarak in the Palestinian issue, his unique role in leading it before Washington or any other," Saraya wrote. The photo is still posted on the newspaper's website.

Opponents of Mubarak's near three-decade rule seized on the controversy to criticize the government, which is accused of widespread abuses aimed at suppressing dissent. Wael Khalil, the Egyptian blogger who first called attention to the altered photo, said it was a "snapshot" of what he called daily deception about a number of issues, including democratic change and social justice.

"They lie to us all the time," he said. "Instead of addressing the real issues, they just Photoshop it."

Saraya accused critics of launching a smear campaign against Al-Ahram, which was first published in 1876. The newspaper has enjoyed the widest circulation in Egypt but has faced a growing challenge in recent years from a new breed of private publications and the internet.

It is not unusual for Egyptian newspapers to retouch pictures of senior officials to improve their appearance or light.

Shameless - Mubarak Photoshopped

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Photoshopped image puts Mubarak ahead

Wed, 15/09/2010

State-run Al-Ahram newspaper on Tuesday published a doctored photo of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak leading US president Barack Obama, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Jordanian monarch Abdullah II as they walked together while meeting in Washington for the launch of renewed peace talks earlier this month.

The original photo, which was published by Reuters on 3 September, shows President Mubarak walking at the rear of his counterparts and peace-talk co-sponsors.

Al-Ahram published the manipulated image on the first day of the second round of talks held in Egypt’s Sharm al-Sheikh.

Samy Abdel Aziz, dean of the faculty of mass communication at Cairo University, said the president's perceived importance should not be affected by his position in a photo. “Formal aspects do not add to realities,” he said.

Barge Leaks 110 Tons of Diesel into Nile

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Leak of 110 tons of diesel fuel in Nile after barge sinks in Aswan

Mahmoud El Gaafari

Sat, 11/09/2010

A Nile Petroleum Company barge carrying 224 tons of diesel fuel has sunk north of Aswan near the village of Abu al-Reesh whilst attempting to dock in the new Nile Corniche area. The accident resulted in a leak of 110 tons of diesel into the waters of the Nile, forming large oil slicks around the islands and aquatic plants in the area. The river’s current spread the spill northwards covering an area of approximately one km square.

Due to the spill, all drinking water plants in the governorate were shut down, until clean-up measures were completed, to prevent diesel contaminated water from being drawn into the plants. Neighboring governorates will be notified so they can take all necessary measures.

Civil defense squads, security forces and specialized teams from the River Transportation Company arrived at the site to help unload the rest of the cargo and transport it by crane to another barge. The media were prevented from reaching the site by security forces that surrounded the area.

Aswan Governor Major General Mustafa al-Saeed said all river water used in drinking water plants is being sampled and analyzed repeatedly to ensure its safety for human use. He also said the spill was under control and that the operation of all drinking water plants had been resumed.

Read Also:

Petroleum and the ongoing threat of Nile pollution


Egypt: Presidential Succession Gives Army a Stiff Test

The New York Times
Succession Gives Army a Stiff Test in Egypt

September 11, 2010


CAIRO — When a boiler at Military Factory 99 exploded in early August, killing one civilian worker and injuring six, a group of employees called a strike to demand safer working conditions, as they are entitled to do under Egyptian law.

Yet, before the month was out, eight of them were on trial — in a military court — for “disclosing military secrets” and “illegally stopping production.”

The message was unmistakable: the rules that apply to the rest of Egypt do not apply to the military, still the single most powerful institution in an autocratic state facing its toughest test in decades, an imminent presidential succession.

President Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt with dictatorial powers for 29 years but is ill and not expected to continue in office after his current term expires in 2011. Retired officers, political activists and other analysts here say that the military’s show of force with the striking civilian workers was part of a concerted effort to put the military’s stamp on the choice of the next president.

Technically, Egyptian voters will determine their next leader in the 2011 elections, but in practice the governing party’s candidate is almost certain to win. The real succession struggle will take place behind closed doors, and that is where the military would try to assure its continued status or even try to block Mr. Mubarak’s son Gamal.

Military officials have expressed reservations in interviews and in the Egyptian news media about Gamal Mubarak, one of the most frequently mentioned potential successors of the president. Retired officers and other analysts said the military would not support his candidacy without ironclad guarantees that it would retain its pre-eminent position in the nation’s affairs. Retired officers circulated an open letter criticizing Gamal Mubarak’s candidacy last month, and several retired Egyptian officers said in interviews that they were skeptical of hereditary succession.

The military has much to lose in the transition, these officers and analysts say. Over the years, one-man rule eviscerated Egypt’s civilian institutions, creating a vacuum at the highest levels of government that the military willingly filled. “There aren’t any civilian institutions to fall back on,” said Michael Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation who has written about the Egyptian military. “It’s an open question how much power the military has, and they might not even know themselves.”

The beneficiary of nearly $40 billion in American aid over the last 30 years, the Egyptian military has turned into a behemoth that controls not only security and a burgeoning defense industry, but has also branched into civilian businesses like road and housing construction, consumer goods and resort management.

The military has built a highway from Cairo to the Red Sea; manufactures stoves and refrigerators for export; it even produces olive oil and bottled spring water. When riots broke out during bread shortages in March 2008, the army stepped in and distributed bread from its own bakeries, burnishing its reputation as Egypt’s least corrupt and most efficient state institution.

“In times of crisis, they are there,” Salah Eissa, editor of a government-run weekly, Al Qahira, said in an interview. “That’s why you see some people today go as far as to call for military rule.”

To enhance their power and prestige, the armed forces cloak themselves in a veil of secrecy, answering directly to the president, not the prime minister or cabinet. They have ignored calls in Parliament for budget transparency. The names of the general officers are not published, nor is the military’s size, which is considered a state secret (observers estimate the ranks at 300,000 to 400,000).

The military interprets its writ broadly. A retired army general, Hosam Sowilam, recently said the army would step in “with force if necessary” to stop the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, from ascending to power. He added that the military still considered Israel a primary threat, even though the two nations had been at peace for more three decades.

“We shall obey the president because he will be accepted by the people,” General Sowilam said in an interview. “But we will not accept any interference by the political parties into our military affairs.”

While the military is not expected to dictate the governing party’s candidate, Egyptian political observers said it held an informal veto power over who rose to the top of the country’s power pyramid. “The military is seen as the only institution that is able to block succession in Egypt,” said Issandr el-Amrani, a close observer of Egyptian affairs who writes the Arabist blog.

At the same time, the military does not want to be seen as dictating political events. “They are the only and primary force in Egypt right now,” said George Ishak, a member of the secular opposition group National Association for Change. “We do not wish for the military institution to play a political role in supporting anyone over anyone.”

The defense minister, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, always appears on the very short list of possible successors to President Mubarak, along with another septuagenarian contender, the intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman. Nevertheless, Gamal Mubarak, who has risen quickly through the governing National Democratic Party, is presumed by many to be the heir apparent; speculation intensified last week when he accompanied his father to Washington for the opening of Middle East peace talks, even though Gamal Mubarak has no official government position.

But many in the military chafe at the idea of a Gamal Mubarak presidency, especially as he ascends to the office through the kind of heavily manipulated ballots to which Egypt has grown accustomed. If he wants to succeed his father, said Mohamed Kadry Said, a retired general, he must win in “clean elections.”

Much of the military’s distrust of Gamal Mubarak stems from his ties to a younger generation of ruling party cadres who have made fortunes in the business world. The military is tied to the National Democratic Party’s “old guard,” a substantially less wealthy elite who made their careers as ministers, officers and apparatchiks. Military officers said they feared that Gamal Mubarak might erode the military’s institutional powers.

“Of course the military has become jealous they are not the only big bosses now,” said General Said. “They feel threatened by the business community.”

General Said, the military adviser to the government’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, still works closely with the defense establishment. He says that he believes a military coup is “not an option,” but that he thinks that President Mubarak’s successor, whether Gamal Mubarak or someone else, will have to convince the military that its position in the Egyptian power structure will remain secure.

And that is likely to include a place in the business affairs of the country. Military Factory 99, for example, produces a variety of consumer goods — stainless steel pots and pans, fire extinguishers, scales, cutlery — in addition to its primary function of forging metal components for heavy ammunition.

In the end, the military court dealt leniently with the strikers. After a quick trial, three were acquitted and the five others received suspended sentences.

But the military had made its point. “There are no labor strikes in military society,” General Sowilam said. “If they don’t want to obey our rules, let them try their luck in the civilian world.”

Egypt: Police Kill Sudanese Attempting To Enter Israel

The Canadian Press
Egyptian police kill Sudanese trying to enter Israel

Ashraf Sweilam

(CP) – Sep 10, 2010

EL-ARISH, Egypt — An Egyptian security official says police have killed a Sudanese migrant trying to cross into Israel.

The official says the police fired warning shots but the migrant refused to surrender on Friday about 100 miles (160 kilometres) south of the Rafah border crossing with Israel.

The official said police also arrested two Eritrean migrants south of Rafah in a separate incident.

They Eritreans said they had paid $1,000 each to Bedouin traffickers to help them cross into Israel.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Many migrants seeking political asylum and jobs try to cross into Israel with the help of Bedouin traffickers. Egypt has killed dozens of migrants in the past two years, drawing criticism from rights groups.

Egypt: Dramatic Increase in Suicide Rates

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Egyptian suicide rate on the rise

September 10,2010

Jano Charbel

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day - a day not widely commemorated or even known about, which reflects the uphill struggle faced by those trying to promote its aims.

According to statistics compiled by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO), every year approximately one million people worldwide commit suicide--almost one death every 40 seconds. Suicide rates are reported to be rising steadily in developing countries, primarily amongst those between the ages of 15 and 44. WHO reports that for every death there are around 20 other people who will have attempted suicide. Its projections indicate that the number of suicides may rise to 1.5 million annually by the year 2020.

According to undefined estimates provided by WHO's Suicide Prevention Program, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, South Korea, and much of Northern Europe, reported suicide rates of over 13 per 100,000 people. The former Soviet Republics of Lithuania, Belarus, and Kazakhstan reported the world's highest reported suicide rates. Jordan reportedly has the lowest rate of suicide in the Arab World, and one of the lowest worldwide.

As for Egypt, it is reported to have an annual suicide rate of less than 6.5 per 100,000--or fewer than 5070 deaths by suicide each year. Exactly how many Egyptians do commit suicide each year? Estimates are available, but there are no definitive statistics.

According to a report published in a leading state-owned newspaper (June 2010 ) which cited numbers issued by a government body, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization And Statistics, a total of 1160 suicides were reported in the year 2005, followed by 2355 in 2006, with the number rising to 3700 in 2007. In 2008 approximately 4000 Egyptians took their own lives, while 50,000 attempted suicides were reported in the same year. In 2009 an estimated 5000 Egyptians killed themselves--and another 104,000 suicide attempts were reported. The report does not include a breakdown of the numbers by age or gender.

These statistics are particularly shocking in comparison to those issued by the Egyptian state in 1987. Only a quarter of a century ago, Egypt officially registered an annual suicide rate of 0.1 out of 100,000--all males: No females reportedly took their own lives. According to the demographics of that time, this translates to around just 24 deaths through suicide each year.

Commenting on these numbers, Dr. Mohamed Rakha, a psychiatric physician at Abbasiya Hospital for Mental Illness said these statistics are plausible. He explained that psychiatric doctors have noted an increased rate of suicides. “Medical studies indicate a definite increase in the number of people contemplating suicide over the past few years, and we are personally dealing with more people who have attempted suicide. But we are a long way from having a complete picture of Egypt's suicide problem.”

According to Rakha, there are no precise statistics available because many cases of suicide are not officially documented. “Very often families of suicide victims seek to cover-up, or to avoid mentioning that a family member has taken their own life.” He added that there are serious moral and religious stigmas involved: “Families do not want people to remember that their son or daughter died as a so-called apostate. Covering up a suicide is often perceived as the only way to preserve the reputation of the deceased, and the reputation of the family.”

Rakha says that “more than ten percent of those suffering from depression contemplate suicide, in one way or another.” But it's not only depression that spurs people into committing suicide. There are a number of other mental health problems which could prompt thoughts of suicide, such as schizophrenia--which may manifest itself as self-destructive voices heard in one's mind telling the sufferer to harm or kill themselves. “Other mental conditions that, if left untreated, may lead to suicide include obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcoholism, and drug addiction. These psychological problems may lead to chemical imbalances, panic attacks, behavioral disturbances, and reckless driving--all of which may lead to intentional or unintentional death."

According to Rakha, most deaths by suicide are typically preceded by several failed attempts. He also argues that weaker societal bonds, along with pressures of all sorts--whether educational, political, social, financial, professional, familial, personal and/or emotional--may lead people to contemplate suicide.

A WHO news bulletins entitled “Choosing to Die--a Growing Epidemic among the Young” says that Islamic countries tend to have some of the lowest suicide rates in the world, and while the figures may sometimes be low because death certificates avoid mentioning suicide, some researchers believe they are largely genuine. According to WHO, Iran, for example, had 0.3 suicides per 100,000 men and 0.1 per 100,000 women in 1991, the latest year for which figures are available.

An official from the Ministry of Health, who withheld his name because he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Al-Masry Al-Youm, "The data pertaining to the annual numbers of suicides cannot be verified. There are numerous reasons--religious, cultural, and societal--why information about suicides is kept hidden." The official went on to say, "Suicides and suicide attempts throughout the Arab World are under reported. The statistics available do not reflect the reality or the magnitude of this massive problem."

Film-maker Maggie Morgan examined this issue in her 2009 documentary “Village Suicides.” Her field study and film revolves around Mair, a predominantly Coptic village near the city of Assiut, in Upper Egypt. In this marginalized village with a population of 10,000, Morgan documented 45 deaths by suicide during the year 2008 alone. According to the filmmaker, "There are hardly any jobs in Mair. There is no industry, no entertainment, and an extremely rigid structure of social, religious, and familial control." Numerous villagers attempt to escape these confines and travel abroad for work or immigration--generally either to the Arab Gulf or the United States.

Those who find themselves unable to leave have frequently resorted to ending their lives by swallowing a pill--intended for use as an agricultural insecticide. "The poison is extremely lethal and fast-acting. One pill can kill in less than half an hour." Morgan added that authorities recently moved to ban the sale of this insecticide, in its tablet form, when it was discovered that people were using it to commit suicide.

Cases of suicide, and suicide attempts, are increasingly covered in local newspapers. Suicides have been reported amongst Christians and Muslims, singles and married people, teachers and students, the employed and those without work, staff and bosses. An international press report mentioned that Egypt's National Center for Toxins has registered approximately 2700 attempted suicides committed by single women in 2009 alone.

Syria Not Responsible For Hariri Assassination?

The Los Angeles Times
LEBANON: Supporters stunned as Hariri says Syria didn't kill his dad

September 7, 2010

Praise, skepticism, betrayal, and mere confusion. The list of reactions is long in Arab media commentaries and on blogs and Web forums to Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri retracting his accusation against Syria in the 2005 assassination of his father in a recent interview.

Whatever the intentions of Hariri's words, they've triggered a storm of feelings and heated debate. Reactions differ greatly, but if there is one thing that many can agree on, it's that Hariri's sudden switch marks a major turning point in the Lebanese political climate -- for good or for bad.

Jamil Mroue, publisher of the Lebanese independent newspaper Daily Star, called Hariri's statements "a milestone" in an opinion editorial on Tuesday titled " Hariri has shown his leadership."

Hariri, who for years blamed Syria for his father's death, dropped a bombshell on Monday when he told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that it was a mistake to accuse Syria in the giant truck bomb that killed ex-Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri along with 21 others near the St George Hotel on the Beirut waterfront on Feb. 14, 2005, claiming that the charge was politically motivated.

"This was a political accusation, and this political accusation has finished," Hariri said in the interview while emphasizing that the determination of his father's killers lies in the hands of the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon, or STL, set up to probe the crime.

Hariri went on to stress that Syria and Lebanon had deep ties, echoing the recent intensified reconciliation efforts between the two nations. Over the last year, Hariri has made no less than five visits to his neighboring former arch-foe to improve ties. Most recently, he took up Bashar Assad on his invitation to a Ramadan suhour, a predawn supper, with the Syrian leader in Damascus on Aug. 29.

Lebanese blogger "Mustapha" suggested in a post on his Beirutspring blog that Hariri's full-out apology to Syria will likely not go down well with many of Hariri's supporters from his mainly Sunni Muslim Future movement who will feel cheated by their leader.

"There will definitely be a sense of betrayal with many of the Future Movement rank-and-files who spent the last 5 years of their lives burning bridges with Syria and Syrians and wasting energy on convincing people that the Syrian regime is pure evil," he wrote in a post.

So what could have pushed Hariri to say what he did?

"Mustapha" reflected on a couple of what he thought could be reasons, including domestic and regional political pressure and issues related to the controversy-riddled international tribunal which is believed to be issuing indictments in his father's murder before the end of this year.

"Could Mr. Hariri have sold-out justice for his father to political expediency (or Saudi pressure)?," asked the blogger. "Does Mr. Hariri know something about the upcoming STL (Special Tribunal for Lebanon) indictment? Wouldn’t that mean that the Tribunal is not as air-tight as Mr. Hariri and his allies keep insisting?"

Tension has risen in Lebanon since Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iran- and Syria-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, said in July that he expected the tribunal would indict Hezbollah members. Hezbollah has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Hariri murder and Nasrallah dismissed allegations, denouncing the tribunal as an "Israeli project" in a series of fiery speeches.

In an August press conference he hosted via video link, Nasrallah accused Israel of plotting and carrying out Hariri's assassination, basing his claim on confessions from ex-Israeli spies and alleged Israeli surveillance video.

Another Lebanese blogger, Oussama Hayek, who describes himself as a "Lebanese Libertarian Atheist," expressed a dose of skepticism over Hariri's apology to Syria, writing in a blog post that Hariri's choice of words shows he has given in to domestic political pressures over the tribunal.

"Hariri is playing into the hands of those (Hizbollah) who are attempting to discredit the entire investigation," he wrote.

Another scenario could be that Hariri might feel he needs Syria in the background to prevent renewed political strife between Sunni and Shiites, suggested the blogger. Fears of a Sunni-Shiite schism have been mounting in recent times, especially when members of Hezbollah and supporters of the Syria-backed conservative Sunni movement Ahbash clashed in a deadly confrontation between the two political allies in the streets of Beirut a couple of weeks ago.

Mroue, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of Hariri reconciling with Syria for the future of the Lebanese democratization process as well as for his own stature as prime minister.

"This dramatic burying of the hatchet with Damascus brings into sharp focus his role as leader of the government. Saad Hariri is extricating himself from heavy political shackles, and he has created the opportunity to undertake the construction challenges that have been holding back the maturation of Lebanon’s democracy," he wrote.

Commenting on Hariri's statements, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said that Hariri is convinced of his ties with the Syrian president and the political relationship with Damascus, according to local media reports.

"This is his conviction and it is better than letting anyone convince him about it," Jumblatt told the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper.

Ancient coastal city rises amid Egypt's resorts

Associated Press
Ancient city by the sea rises amid Egypt's resorts

Paul Schemm

(AP) – Sep 7, 2010

MARINA, Egypt — Today, it's a sprawl of luxury vacation homes where Egypt's wealthy play on the white beaches of the Mediterranean coast. But 2,000 years ago, this was a thriving Greco-Roman port city, boasting villas of merchants grown rich on the wheat and olive trade.

The ancient city, known as Leukaspis or Antiphrae, was hidden for centuries after it was nearly wiped out by a fourth century tsunami that devastated the region.

More recently, it was nearly buried under the modern resort of Marina in a development craze that turned this coast into the summer playground for Egypt's elite.

Nearly 25 years after its discovery, Egyptian authorities are preparing to open ancient Leukaspis' tombs, villas and city streets to visitors — a rare example of a Classical era city in a country better known for its pyramids and Pharaonic temples.

"Visitors can go to understand how people lived back then, how they built their graves, lived in villas or traded in the main agora (square)," said Ahmed Amin, the local inspector for the antiquities department. "Everyone's heard of the resort Marina, now they will know the historic Marina."

The history of the two Marinas is inextricably linked. When Chinese engineers began cutting into the sandy coast to build the roads for the new resort in 1986, they struck the ancient tombs and houses of a town founded in the second century B.C.

About 200 acres were set aside for archaeology, while everywhere else along the coast up sprouted holiday villages for Egyptians escaping the stifling summer heat of the interior for the Mediterranean's cool breezes.

The ancient city yielded up its secrets in a much more gradual fashion to a team of Polish archaeologists excavating the site through the 1990s.

A portrait emerged of a prosperous port town, with up to 15,000 residents at its height, exporting grains, livestock, wine and olives to the rest of the Mediterranean.

Merchants lived in elegant two-story villas set along zigzagging streets with pillared courtyards flanked by living and prayer rooms.

Rainwater collected from roofs ran down special hollowed out pillars into channels under the floor leading to the family cisterns. Waste disappeared into a sophisticated sewer system.

Around the town center, where the two main streets intersect, was the social and economic heart of the city and there can still be found the remains of a basilica, a hall for public events that became a church after Christianity spread across the Roman Empire.

A semicircular niche lined with benches underneath a portico provided a space for town elders to discuss business before retiring to the bathhouse across the street.

Greek columns and bright limestone walls up to six feet high (2 meters) stand in some places, reflecting the sun in an electric blue sky over the dark waters of the nearby sea. Visitors will also be able to climb down the steep shafts of the rock-cut tombs to the deeply buried burial chambers of the city's necropolis.

It is from the sea from which the city gained much of its livelihood. It began as a way station in the coastal trade between Egypt and Libya to the west. Later, it began exporting goods from its surrounding farms overseas, particularly to the island of Crete, just 300 miles (480 kilometers) away — a shorter trip than that from Egypt's main coastal city Alexandria.

And from the sea came its end. Leukaspis was largely destroyed when a massive earthquake near Crete in 365 A.D. set off a tsunami wave that also devastated nearby Alexandria. In the ensuing centuries, tough economic times and a collapsing Roman Empire meant that most settlements along the coast disappeared.

Today, the remains of the port are lost. In the late 1990s, an artificial lagoon was built, surrounded by summer homes for top government officials.

"It was built by dynamite detonation so whatever was there I think is gone," said Agnieszka Dobrowlska, an architect who helped excavate the ancient city with the Polish team in the 1990s.

However, Egyptian government interest in the site rose in the last few years, part of a renewed focus on developing the country's Classical past. In 2005, Dobrowlska returned as part of a USAID project to turn ancient Marina into an open air museum for tourists.

It couldn't have come at a better time for ancient Marina, which had long attracted covetous glances from real estate developers.

"I am quite happy it still exists, because when I was involved there were big plans to incorporate this site in a big golf course being constructed by one of these tycoons. Apparently the antiquities authorities didn't allow it, so that's quite good," recalls Dobrowlska.

Redoing the site is part of a plan to bring more year-around tourism to what is now largely a summer destination for just Egyptians — perhaps with a mind to attracting European tourists currently flocking to beaches in nearby Tunisia during the winter.

Much still needs to be done to achieve the government's target to open the site by mid-September, as ancient fragments of pottery still litter the ground and bones lie open in their tombs.

But if old Marina is a success then similar transformation could happen to a massive temple of Osiris just 30 miles (50 kilometers) away, where a Dominican archaeological team is searching for the burial place of the doomed Classical lovers, Anthony and Cleopatra.

"The plan is to do the same for Taposiris Magna so that tourists can visit both," said Khaled Aboul- Hamd, antiquities director for the region.

These north coast ruins may also attract the attention of the visitors to the nearby El-Alamein battlefield and cemeteries for the World War II battle that Winston Churchill once called the turning point of the war.

In fact, there are signs the allied troops took refuge in the deep rock cut tombs of Marina, just six miles (10 kilometers) from the furthest point of the Axis advance on Alexandria.

Crouched down awaiting the onslaught of German Gen. Rommel's famed Afrika Corps, the young British Tommies would have shared space with the rib bones and skull fragments of Marina's inhabitants in burial chambers hidden 25 feet (8 meters) below ground.

Egyptians Are The Fattest Africans

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Egyptians are the fattest Africans, says WHO

Mon, 06/09/2010

Jano Charbel

With nearly 70 percent of its adult population overweight or obese, Egypt is the fattest African country. Its also the 14th fattest country in the world, according to the most recent World Health Organization statistics issued for the year 2010.

Seven tiny Pacific island nations are, proportionately, the world's most most obese--Nauru, Micronesia, Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, Somoa, and Palau respectively. Kuwait and USA rank respectively as the eight and ninth countries with the highest percentage of overweight and obese adults.

Among Egyptians above the age of the age of 15 there are more overweight and obese females than there are males. According to WHO statistics, an estimated 76 percent of females in this age group are said to be overweight or obese, in comparison with approximately 64.5% of Egyptian males. Indicators reveal that the rate of obesity in Egypt has risen markedly over the past 30 years.

Statistics issued by the Egyptian Medical Association for the Study of Obesity in early 2010 estimate that 15 percent of Egyptian (school-age) children are obese, in comparison with its 1990 estimate of only six percent. Being overweight or obese is determined according to Body Mass Index--with varying measurements for the different age groups and genders.

On a global level, the WHO warns of a chronic disease epidemic and projects that by 2015 there will be 2.3 billion overweight adults, plus more than 700 million obese adults. This is an alarming increase since 2005, when there were approximately 1.6 billion overweight adults, and 400 million obese adults.

The WHO estimates that currently around one in every three of the world’s adults is overweight, while nearly one in every ten is obese.

In Egypt rising obesity rates are connected to a growing number of “junk food” and fast food outlets, coupled with increasingly sedentary lifestyles.

Karim Strougo, a fitness trainer and nutritional expert, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the growing rate of obesity can be attributed to unhealthy eating habits, “especially the prevalence of saturated fats in the preparation of food, and a lack of knowledge about the nutritional value of foods.”

Hereditary factors may also influence the likelihood of obesity, according to Strougo.

If a child is genetically prone to obesity, “special attention must be paid to limit the fat in their diets; especially until the age of 20 or 21,” said Strougo, “because the number of fat cells in the body can increase most during childhood and adolescence.”

The number of fat cells in the body stabilizes from adolescence onwards--although growth hormones in pregnant women do prompt the development of additional fat cells.

Other than poor eating habits, Strougo attributed obesity in Egypt to a general lack of exercise, exacerbated by misconceptions about exercise.

Overweight and obese populations place additional burdens on health care expenditure. Medical studies reveal that obesity increases the likelihood of high blood pressure, cardiac diseases, respiratory illnesses, diabetes, cancer, and other ailments.

Experts say the indirect causes of obesity are complex and include agricultural policy, transport policy and urban planning, besides inadequate health systems that particularly affect the poor.

Egypt: Opposition leader claims official harassment

Associated Press
Egypt opposition leader claims official harassment

(AP) – Sep 4, 2010

CAIRO — Egypt's most prominent democracy advocate has accused President Hosni Mubarak's government of posting Facebook photos of his daughter in swimsuits and at events where alcohol was served in an attempt to discredit him, a newspaper reported Saturday.

Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.N. nuclear chief, was quoted in the independent Al-Dustour newspaper as saying the government is "waging a campaign of sheer lies" by using the photos to portray him and his family as nonbelievers — a politically damaging accusation in an increasingly conservative Muslim country.

The Facebook photos were an unusual personal attack on him and his family.

The more than 30 photos were posted under the title: "Secrets of the ElBaradei family." Some show his daughter in swimsuits at the beach and sitting at events in front of what appeared to be bottles of alcohol. Drinking is forbidden in Islam and conservative Muslims would generally consider a woman appearing publicly in a bathing suit to be immodest.

"This is typical and the only way the regime responds to those calling for democracy, political reforms, social justice and preserving people's human rights," ElBaradei was quoted as saying.

ElBaradei representatives didn't respond to an e-mail seeking further comment. A spokesman for Mubarak's National Democratic Party also didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

ElBaradei has drawn the government's anger with a campaign he started early this year boldly calling for electoral reform and constitutional amendments that would allow a credible candidate to challenge the ruling party in next year's presidential election.

Respected internationally and untouched by the corruption tainting much of Egypt's regime, ElBaradei brought together a coalition of young activists and opposition groups to push for change.

On Wednesday, he called on Egyptians to boycott this year's parliamentary election. In a post on Twitter, he said a "total boycott of the elections and signing petitions are the first steps to unmask the shameful democracy."

Government-controlled media have tried to undermine him by describing him as out of touch with Egyptian society because he lived abroad for many years and accusing him of being an American stooge.

The Facebook site also says his daughter is married to a Christian and shows an image of what it purports is her real profile from the social networking site listing her religious status as agnostic.

The Facebook site also accuses ElBaradei himself of being an atheist and of seeking to deceive Egyptians by touring mosques and being photographed praying.

Censor ship - It's a Horrible Thing


Egypt Bans Reports of Mystery Poster Campaign

BBC News
Egypt bans reports of mystery poster campaign

September 3, 2010

Magdi Abdelhadi

Newspapers in Egypt have been banned from reporting on an unprecedented poster campaign.

The campaign has been promoting the chief of intelligence, Gen Omar Suleiman, as a possible future president of Egypt.

The BBC has learned that thousands of copies of two of the most popular independent dailies, Al Masry Al Youm and Al Dustoor, have been destroyed.

No publication carried the news in their Friday morning editions.

ndependent newspapers in Egypt are always keen to publish details of the latest twist in the hottest political story in the country: who will succeed President Hosni Mubarak.

He is 82, has ruled for nearly 30 years and is known to be unwell but has no obvious successor.

Yet on Friday, no newspaper reported the news of a mysterious poster campaign that has suddenly hit the streets of Cairo.

The posters showed Gen Suleiman in dark sunglasses with a raised arm as if waving to the crowd, and carried the slogan: "The real alternative."


Those behind the posters have not disclosed their identity but they issued a statement.

The statement said Gen Suleiman was a widely respected figure within the ruling establishment as well as the opposition.

It said the general was the only man who can thwart plans to promote Mr Mubarak's son to succeed his father.

The activists, like other members of the opposition, are clearly unhappy about stepped-up efforts to promote the young Mubarak for president.

Those behind Gamal Mubarak have been allowed to campaign freely, while others who support the former international nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, have been harassed by the police.

But unlike all other probable presidential candidates, the 75-year-old chief of intelligence is not known to have political ambitions, even though he has long been considered a very likely successor to Mr Mubarak.

The authorities' decision to gag the newspapers seems to derive from a fear that news of a campaign in favour of the general could refuel speculation that there is a power struggle within various wings of the ruling elite.

Peace Talks For War

Peace Talks For War

[Posted by Center for a Stateless Society]

September 4, 2010

David D’Amato

Taking time away from overseeing international butchery and suzerainty, President Obama has instigated what are illusively called “peace talks” between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Apart from the overt conflict inhering in the United States’ role as mediator (the U.S. allocating billions in military aid to Israel), the entire charade stands on the ridiculous idea that the world’s preeminent terrorist state is a fitting conduit for peace.

It of course befits the unrepentantly hypocritical character of the state that, having subjected the entire region to the antipode of peace for years, the U.S. would arrogate to itself the moral authority to negotiate a ceasefire. The essence of the state — its defining core — is its duplicity, that tactic of, for example, inflicting terror on the world coincident with a supposed, worldwide “War on Terror.”

Artful practice of such legerdemain, as against the use of violence alone, is the source of the state’s power, distinguishing it from any other group of criminals. “[V]iolence,” Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained, “has nothing with which to cover itself up except the lie, and the lie has nothing to stand on but violence,” the two constituting the basis of a methodology that makes Hamas terrorists and the United States a liberating hero. But for the double standard, there could be no justification for the treatment of Israel, a state born of carnage and colonial occupation, as anything but completely illegitimate.

Though as a matter of course all states are illegitimate, the ethos of anarchism, with its uniform application of moral standards, stands in stark contrast to that of statism, the ethics of which are based on Machiavellian expediency. The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms defines terrorism as, “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Fortunately for the state, since the parameters of positive law are its exclusive domain, its actions carry the imprimatur of legal validity perforce.

Contrastingly, it has been suggested that “terrorism” is in fact defined in terms of the sophistication of the weapons used, state of the art technology developed by defense contractors falling conveniently outside its definition. So when Arabs — who have inhabited what is today Israel for centuries — lash out in frenzied violence against a white, European colony planted upon them by a white, European state after World War I, they are condemned as terrorists.

This is not to say that their unfocused violence accords with the narrow ethical requirement of self-defense, that it is in any way justifiable, but Israeli onslaughts have been undeviatingly more deadly, the Jewish State enjoying the appurtenances of a favored position in the United States’ retinue. Israel in many ways reifies the elements of statism, joining bellicose militarism with xenophobic nationalism, albeit the odd variant of religio-nationalism called Zionism. For a country of its size, Israel has been responsible for an inordinate amount of death, its creation plunging an already war torn region into decades of incessant confrontations.

When peace talks reemerge, from time to time, out of the detritus of bloodshed Israel has caused, the words of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, come to mind: “The Jewish people have always regarded, and will continue to regard Palestine as a whole, as a single country which is theirs in a national sense, and will become theirs again. No Jew accepts partition as a just and rightful solution.”

By all accounts, Israel has not acquiesced in any measurable way since 1948, when British troops, who had protected the United Kingdom’s stolen demesne since the defeat of the Ottomans, handed Palestine off to the Zionists. In a world without state interference, peaceful Jewish immigration to Palestine, in and of itself, would have posed no moral problems. The right to move freely is essential to the recognition of individual rights, and arbitrarily imposed political boundaries should not interrupt the natural communication between cultures that comes with immigration.

The displacement and massacre of a people, however, carried out through institutionalized aggression, is repugnant to the fluid idea of free movement and to liberty. “[T]here can never be peace and stability in the region,” writes Markus Bergström, “as long as there is an Israeli government, nor can there ever be a ‘free Palestine’ as long as there is a Palestinian government.

The only way to achieve prosperity is through peace and commerce, and that can only come through a stateless society.” The two-state solution is a misnomer in that it provides no solution at all, promoting the conventional, statist orthodoxy and avoiding the real, underlying problem of legitimized coercion. Anarchists offer the only authentic solution — the no-state solution.

Egyptian journalist facing trial over FM 'insult'

Agence France Presse
Egypt journalist faces trial over FM 'insult'

(AFP) – Sep 5, 2010

CAIRO — A prominent opposition journalist is to go on trial for allegedly libelling Egypt's foreign minister in a newspaper, a judicial source said on Sunday.

Hamdi Qandeel could face prison or a fine if found guilty of the charge of "insulting and libelling a public servant or citizen performing their work," the source said.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit filed a complaint against Qandeel alleging that he insulted him in a piece he wrote in the independent daily Shorouk.

Qandeel could not be reached for comment, but the official MENA news agency reported prosecutors as saying that he did not intend to insult the minister.

Many restrictions on the independent press in Egypt have been lifted in the past decade, but media rights activists say they still face censorship and spurious libel suits.

Ibrahim Eissa, the editor of another independent daily, was sentenced to prison in 2008 for writing that President Hosni Mubarak's health was in decline. Mubarak pardoned Eissa, who did not spend any time in jail.

Egypt: Police Kill African Migrant at Israeli Border

Agence France Presse
Egypt police kill migrant trying to cross into Israel

(AFP) - Sep 3, 2010

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Egyptian police shot dead a man from sub-Saharan Africa on Friday as he tried to cross the border illegally into Israel, a security official said.

"An Egyptian patrol spotted a group of migrants as they were trying to infiltrate Israel south of the Rafah terminal," he said. "When the police asked them to stop, they refused and tried to flee into Israel.

"Police had to fire on the African migrants, which led to the death of one of them," he said, without identifying the victim.

He said two Sudanese were arrested and that the rest of the group was able to get away.

Friday's death takes to 30 the number of migrants killed on the Egypt-Israel border since the beginning of the year -- 25 of them by Egyptian police.

Cairo has rejected strong criticism from human rights groups of its policy of using potentially lethal force against migrants along its 250-kilometre (150-mile) border with Israel.

The Sinai desert border has become a major trafficking route for African migrants seeking jobs and for eastern European women headed for the sex trade.

Peace Talks On Israel's Terms

Peace talks on Israel's terms

September 2, 2010


In late August, U.S. officials announced the resumption of "peace" talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). These talks are the latest stage in a so-called "peace" process, launched with the Oslo Accords, that began nearly two decades ago.

Naseer Aruri, author of Dishonest Broker: America's Role in Israel and Palestine and Palestine and Palestinians: A Social and Political History, talked with Ashley Smith about whether these talks will achieve the long-deferred national aspirations of the Palestinian people.

WHY DID the U.S. and Israel push for this new round of talks?

LET'S BEGIN with some background. The U.S. envoy to the Middle East, former Sen. George Mitchell, who is in charge of trying to bring about a settlement of the Palestine/Israel conflict, has totally failed to reach any kind of agreement. He had been engaged in so-called proximity talks.

Mitchell would go to Jerusalem and sit with the Israelis, then he would go to Ramallah and sit with the Palestinians, and he would try to see if he could bring the two together. There were no results and nothing to really brag about. So the U.S. decided that it was necessary to change the approach, and it came up with the idea of direct negotiations.

These negotiations won't make any difference. In fact, if they do make any difference, they will only make things worse.

The Obama administration has agreed to Israeli terms for the talks. The president recently took a very different position than he did in previous meetings with the Israelis in March and May. At that time, Netanyahu was in a weak position, but at the July meetings, Netanyahu was in a good position to get the U.S. to agree to Israel's conditions for talks.

The July meeting between Obama and Netanyahu revealed the weakness on the part of Obama. The whole ambience was different: the press was allowed in; Mr. Obama praised Mr. Netanyahu--for reasons I don't know--for aiding the "peace process"; and they agreed that there would be no preconditions for peace talks.

Yet in the July meeting, they in fact created preconditions. They want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which means that the million and a half Palestinians who live in Israel will move from second-class citizens to third-class citizens. It's like saying that the United States should be recognized as a Christian state, and so the non-Christians are not part of it and not included in the distribution of rights.

Netanyahu also managed to get Obama to drop the request to end the moratorium on building new settlements. So Netanyahu managed to get preconditions while stymieing Palestinian efforts to set preconditions, such as compliance with UN resolutions--in particular Resolution 242, on the need to end the occupation.

In agreeing to Israeli terms, the Obama administration departed from the global consensus. You can see this in the contrast between statements from the U.S. about the talks and those of the so-called Quartet--the U.S., the UN, Russia and the European Union.

The Quartet's position is much less destructive than that of the U.S. You find nothing in the U.S. position that calls for an end to the occupation. You find nothing that affirms the Palestinian right to self-determination.

On the other hand, the Quartet position speaks of the end of the occupation, which is remarkable compared to the U.S. position. However, the Israelis are in the habit of getting a concession that in talks and negotiations, the Americans will have more say than other parties--in this case, the Quartet. They have done this in many such talks held over the past 20 years.

It's hard to believe that a Palestinian leader would be drawn to talks loaded with new conditions that are not consistent with the global consensus on Palestinian rights and on how to solve the issue and bring about peace in the region. It does not bode well for the Palestinians.

WHAT EXPLAINS the shift in the Obama administration's position from making demands on Israelis to now basically rubberstamping the Israeli position coming into the talks?

OBAMA BEGAN his presidency with a relatively benign approach to the problem, an approach that was not inconsistent with the global consensus, which says end the occupation and create two states based on equality. He gave speeches addressed to the Islamic world and chose two important Islamic spots--one in Cairo, Egypt, and the other in Istanbul, Turkey. His message to the Muslim world was that the U.S. wants to have good relations with you and is not at war with you about terrorism.

He went so far as to criticize Israel's settlement policy. Obama even gained some support from the U.S. military. Gen. David Petraeus went so far as to imply that Israel is not exactly a strategic asset. Those were not his exact words, but the meaning was clear--that Israel was costly to the U.S. in the Middle East. Israel makes more and more enemies in the region.

The military's position has a lot to do with the weakened condition the U.S. is in throughout the Middle East after its disastrous occupation of Iraq. They are concerned about alienating Arab states and the potential of causing more problems in the region at a time when the U.S. is not in a position to act.

But gradually, the Obama position started to wane under pressure coming from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which supported Netanyahu at least 100 percent. Basically, Obama knuckled under. He moved from talking about ending the settlements to now praising Netanyahu, the defender of the settlements, for making a contribution to the peace process.

Most likely, Obama feared that his pressure on Israel would become a domestic issue and cost Democrats support in the upcoming congressional elections. AIPAC demonstrated to him that he couldn't really keep pushing Netanyahu to comply with international law and the global consensus. Obama then capitulated and accepted Netanyahu's preconditions for the current talks.

WHAT DO the Israelis hope to accomplish through the talks?

THEY WANT to end this problem with a major victory for the Zionist movement and for Israel. Netanyahu thinks he can sell Mitchell and possibly the Palestinians an agreement that is based on the creation of a Palestinian Bantustan similar to the Bantustans that apartheid South Africa imposed on that country's Black majority.

Netanyahu does not intend to relinquish even a particle of sovereignty in the area that lies between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. He knows there is an Israeli consensus that includes the left, right and center, which is that throughout this area, there is room for only one sovereign state--Israel.

Of course, they might allow the Palestinians to have a "state." Everyone will call it a state, but it ain't a state--it will be a Bantustan with no real sovereignty. It will have the trappings of a state, such as uniforms, postage stamps and a flag--things that symbolize a state--but it will not look that different from the PA today.

The PA has no less than 60 undersecretaries in the administration, and you wonder for what? What is all this bureaucracy doing? In fact, there is no real sovereign state that they are overseeing. The Palestinians at best would be getting the trappings of a state and continue to suffer the denial of their right to self-determination.

WHY HAS Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to talks that are really on Israeli terms?

ABBAS' STRATEGY from the first day he succeeded Arafat as the president of the PA has been to depend on the Americans. You can see this strategy in every policy he has adopted. For example, when the Israelis build more settlements, he registers a complaint with Washington.

Of course, he knows very well that nothing will come of it. Abbas knows his position is very weak, so he thinks that he cannot dare to stand up against the Americans. So when Mitchell and Obama want him in direct negotiations with Israel, he feels that he cannot say no.

Yet he is in a dilemma. He is caught between the Americans and most of the Palestinian people and their political representatives, including his closest allies in his party, Fatah. A good number of the latter are now saying that these negotiations are a disaster in the making. Outside of Fatah, there is even more opposition. All sorts of forces have come together to plan demonstrations in Ramallah against the talks. These demonstrations will coincide with the opening of the so-called negotiations on September 2.

Abbas has responded by trying to obstruct the opposition. For example, his intelligence services tried to disrupt a meeting in Ramallah called by figures from the opposition, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the People's Party (which used to be the Communist Party), and the undifferentiated public.

The forces in the meeting all voiced opposition to the negotiations and are the ones who have called the demonstration against the negotiations. Abbas packed the meeting with thugs from the PA's Intelligence Services. They whistled, heckled and prevented people from speaking. They effectively stopped the meeting from happening. In response, people left the hall and went to the streets in a demonstration. Abbas then backtracked and promised to open a question of inquiry into the events on the insistence of the opposition.

WHAT HAS been the response of Hamas in Gaza to the talks?

HAMAS DECLARED publicly that it is opposed to these talks. It urged the people not to support the talks and not to participate in anything that might benefit this endeavor. This position is unequivocal, and Hamas took it as soon as Abbas decided to accept the negotiations and their Israeli preconditions.

To my knowledge, none of the Quartet members has even agreed to invite Hamas to the talks. Abbas himself has no interest in having Hamas join the talks. So there is a consensus between the big powers and Abbas to exclude Hamas. Thus, the U.S. is orchestrating talks with only half the Palestinians represented. Beyond that, most of the Palestinians are expressing their misgivings about the whole process. So Mahmoud Abbas is going to the talks with hardly any Palestinian backing.

THE TALKS themselves seem like an effort to legitimize a sham two-state solution. How do you see the increasing demand for a one-state solution fitting into this situation?

IN MANY Palestinian circles, the idea of a single state has gained ground in the past year and a half. At the same time, we find that the idea is gaining ground among the Israeli right wing. This is pretty amazing. Most people have been astonished that the right wing is calling for a single state. But we have to keep in mind that the right wing in Israel has embraced a single state not based on equality.

Their single state would in fact continue the occupation. It would extend the status quo under the name of a single state. On the other side, more and more Palestinians now advocate a single bi-national state with civil equality and the right of Palestinian refugees to return as the only solution. So we have a situation of dueling concepts of a single state.

More ideas and strategies for Palestinians will hopefully come out of the demonstration on September 2 in Ramallah. We should recall the First and Second Intifadas. We have seen countless similar talks that produced very few results (and sometimes bad results) for Palestinians. And at the same time, they produced a new resistance. The First Intifada (1987-1993) produced a brand new approach to the political struggle for national Palestinian rights. We need to be on the watch for statements, ideas and forces emanating from the demonstrations in Ramallah.

WHAT DO you think will be the likely result of the talks?

I WOULDN'T be surprised if the U.S. delegation pushes for a settlement that would be signed, but defer implementation over a period stretching for seven or eight years. That is what they tried in the Annapolis meeting. In other words, they will collect the signatures, but are not in a position to implement anything because the Israelis are not going to agree to make Jerusalem the capital of two states.

They are not going to agree to let the refugees go back to their homes. And they are not going to agree with full sovereignty and full contiguity for the Palestinian state. So I would not be surprised if they postpone these parts of the discussion. There may be signatures and celebrations, but nothing substantive will take place and nothing that could be described as a diplomatic breakthrough. And the entire process is not set up in the interests of Palestinians.

HOW SHOULD the newly emerging movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) respond to the talks taking place?

I THINK this movement would be inclined to oppose the negotiations. They know that these negotiations are at variance with their goals and objectives. The negotiations are designed to establish a Palestinian Bantustan while the BDS movement's goals are the liberation of the Palestinian people based on increasingly isolating Israel and forcing it to concede to Palestinian rights to self-determination.

So the BDS movement should grow and prosper because it is going to have more and more support from what seems an opposition that is reforming and trying to reestablish itself inside Palestine. The international BDS movement hopefully will be able to link up with the new opposition expressed in the demonstrations in Ramallah against the talks. We need to cultivate solidarity between the international BDS movement with any emergent Palestinian opposition to Abbas and these talks.

The Truths About Iraq that Obama Couldn't Utter

The truths about Iraq that Obama couldn't utter

Wednesday, Sep 1, 2010

Joe Conason

As troops withdraw from Iraq, the president gave a dutiful speech. But there was so much he could not say

Barack Obama, who once seemed the most fortunate of candidates, now looks like the least lucky of presidents. His speech announcing the conclusion of American combat operations in Iraq starkly illustrated the adversity he endures every day as the heir of George W. Bush, its desultory tone and flat delivery almost inevitable in speaking of a war whose human, economic and diplomatic costs have so far outstripped its benefits. The president obviously felt that he had no choice but to deliver this address, to mark this occasion, and even to praise the patriotic intentions of his predecessor, author of this grave mistake.

Somber as he sounded, the president was nevertheless trying to reassure us. His proffer of hope is that the fulfillment of his campaign promise to withdraw troops from Iraq will permit him to devote greater force to Afghanistan -- and to reinvest in pressing domestic needs. Having squandered a trillion dollars and probably much more over the past seven years, in other words, the government will eventually stanch our bleeding. In Iraq, anyway.

Today that is what passes for good news.

There was little in the Iraq speech that was exceptional with respect to language or policy, and not much that was exceptionable either. In his description of the current situation in Iraq, however, the president predictably indulged in optimism that is almost certainly unwarranted. He wants to bring American troops home, after all, so he insists that the Iraqis are moving beyond sectarian destruction toward a brighter democratic future. And he preferred not to dwell on the absence of an operational government and functioning services, let alone the dim prospects for ethnic and religious comity.

What the president could not utter, under any circumstances, is an accurate description of the war, the occupation and the ruinous reasoning that led to them.

He could not say, for instance, that the Iraqis are broadly resentful of the U.S. presence in their country and have wished to see us go for years. He could not say what even the most enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq war have been forced to admit: namely that peace in Iraq is tenuous and bloody civil conflict could soon break out again.

He could not say that the predictions of the war’s proponents, both within and outside government, proved to be entirely wrong -- from their claim that weapons of mass destruction would be discovered to their claim that Iraqi oil would pay the costs of the invasion and pacification to their claim that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would result in a wave of democratic reform across the region.

He could not say that U.S. prestige and influence in the Mideast have declined sharply, or that our capacity to criticize human rights violations in other countries -- ruled by thugs like Saddam -- has suffered lasting damage due to our own illegal and brutal mistreatment of detainees in Iraq.

He could not say that the war and occupation resulted in historic levels of corruption, wasting hundreds of billions of dollars on ghost projects, phony public relations scams, and crooked Iraqi politicians and American contractors -- not to mention all the money that simply vanished in pallets of cash, without a trace.

He could not say that the misconduct and irresponsibility of the previous administration’s officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former proconsul Paul Bremer, and many others who botched the occupation so lethally, were a disgrace to the United States.

He could not say that imperial overstretch in Iraq inflicted lasting damage on our soldiers and our military infrastructure -- what he called the steel in our ship of state -- and that our standing has been diminished in the eyes of the world. And he could not say that the most lasting consequence of the invasion of Iraq, to date, has been to strengthen Iran, a rogue state that may well acquire the ultimate weapons of mass destruction.

He could not discuss any of those sour realities, aware of them as he must be, at a moment when his party’s majorities on Capitol Hill are threatened by the national atmosphere of defeat and gloom. Instead he fulfilled his duty as commander in chief by copiously praising the troops and noting, correctly, that patriots on both sides of the war debate honor those who served and suffered in Iraq. If he cannot speak the truth about the war, then he should at least be held to his other promise regarding the Iraq debacle: to ensure that America will not, in a final act of dishonesty and dishonor, neglect the soldiers whose bodies and spirits were wounded there.