Archive | February 13th, 2011

It is More Than Mu-Barak

NOVANEWS

 

The problems of Egypt go beyond a single President or his VP.

And the rot goes much deeper, just considering two aspects should make that clear, State violence and economic power.

Violence against ordinary Egyptians has been a fact of life from before the time of Sadat’s repression in the 1970s/80s. There have been decades of violence, censorship and State interference. Most economic changes since the 1970s have benefited a very small minority of rich Egyptian families, the military, security services and their allies.

Fixing Egypt, and offering ordinary Egyptians a taste of freedom and more importantly a degree of financial security, is going to be very difficult.

I do not see it succeeding without a real and concious process of wealth distribution, from the corrupt elites to the people of Egypt.

That necessary change seems unlikely to occur.

For the moment the army is in charge, they have a conflicted role. On the one hand as instruments of change and on the other, how they propped up Mubarak’s repressive regime.

We should not forget they were the major backers of Mubarak and without them he could not rule.

So the question is, what now and will the Army manage to bring in any real change?

I am not so sure, as the vested interests in the ruling clique are against real reform, against real change.

They might usher in a new constitution with all of the trappings of bourgeois democracy, even initiate the first proper elections for over 60 years, but will that be sufficient?

The deep seated problems of Egypt go further than elections: endemic corruption, a lack of development, an almost non-existent welfare state and infrastructure, and generational poverty are just a few of those tangible issues that have to be dealt with.

Mubarak is history, and not before time, but let us wish Egyptians good luck with their struggles, the real problems facing Egyptians are ahead.

Posted in Egypt1 Comment

I Hate MuZlms!

NOVANEWS

Anti-Muslim brainwashing–SAY ‘NO TO RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY’

by crescentandcross  

 

 

At least seven times today I heard TV newscasters refer to Muslim as Islamic extremists.

The amount and level of this kind of fraudulent suggestiveness has been increasing almost daily.

I call it fraudulent because people hearing this mix of Muslim with extremist repeated often enough become brainwashed into thinking that all Muslims are extremists.

The reference to Islamic extremists is frequently made on Fox News by Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.

A headline on MMTV asserts that “O’Reilly Supports Rep. King’s Islamic Extremism Hearings: ‘You’ve Got to Get a Handle on It.’” The language of Islamic extremist has infected the US congress.

For years, since he was on CNN, Glenn Beck has made wild false claims, like, “Islamic extremism is the biggest threat to our way of life since World War Two and we’ll never be able to fight it – if we can’t see it.”

Now, as chief Fox propagandist, Glenn Beck has the American left wing collaborating with his paranoid vision: “Believe what you want but the left is working hand-in-hand with the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim extremists… Hand-in-hand.”…

Sean Hannity isn’t much better, saying things like, “It seems to me that Islamic extremism is the 21st Century threat that (communism) posed in the last century…”

Similar Islamophobic references have been heard on CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and other networks in the USA. Even reporters on the liberal MSNBC have been guilty of falsely connecting Islam and extremism.

The Associated Press says, “A Senate report on the Fort Hood shooting is sharply critical of the FBI’s failure to recognize warning signs that an Army psychiatrist had become an Islamist extremist…”

Do lunatics who commit wanton killings need to be identified according to their religious affiliations?  If so why weren’t the killers at Columbine and in Arizona recently referred to as Christian extremists?

That is if indeed they were Christians. The media only seems interested in making the religious connection when the mad murderer also happens to be a Muslim.

A Senate committee, headed by Joe Lieberman, asserted that “The enemy — Islamist extremists — must be labelled correctly and explicitly… in order for the military to counter the extremism.”

Recently, while commenting on the protesters in Egypt, several reporters referred to the Muslim Brotherhood as extremists.

Professor Sami Hamod says that the Muslim Brotherhood originated as a tool of America. How can they be extremists?

It seems that members of groups opposed to US interference in the Middle East get labelled Islamic extremists.

Palestinians trying to protect their property have been dubbed Muslim extremists, even when they’re Christians.

According to Western broadcasters, all members of Hamas and Hezbollah automatically qualify as Islamic extremists.

The entire population of Iran seems to have qualified as Islamic extremists because Iran refuses to cow-tow to Israel and America.

Syria and Lebanon, despite non-Muslim populations, have been dubbed Islamist extremists because they have failed to sign peace treaties with Israel.

So-called Islamic extremists have forced the King of Jordan to fire his entire cabinet.  In Yemen, they provided the impetus for Ali Abdulla Saleh to announce that he won’t run for re-election. Both instances were obviously meant to stave off popular rebellions.

Despite the fact that Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, departed president of Tunisia, were both dictators hated by their publics, the rebellions have been referred to as the work of Islamic terrorists.

Recently Tony Blair warned the West that it must abandon its “wretched posture of apology” towards Islamic extremism.

Newscasters, reporters, commentators, politicians and leaders, infected with religious bigotry, need urgent rehab.

COPYRIGHT @ PAUL J. BALLES

Posted in Campaigns1 Comment

EGYPT: THE INTIFADA

NOVANEWS

February 12, 2011

 

In the end, they leave, with hollow eyes and a few plain words. Stripped of their ill-gotten power, they are miserable, ashen, and base. All of the rhetoric they spewed lingers like a bad smell, soon to evaporate in the fresh air of freedom. “The Egyptian people still need to develop a culture of democracy. Their grievances are economic, not political. The ruling party won a sweeping victory. The extremists are going to take over. The government supports limited income groups. Police torture is just a few individual cases. The constitutional amendments strengthen democracy.” Today, all of that is over.

How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished.

  

February 10, 2011

Popular Sovereignty

A citizen outside the gates of parliament, 9 February 2011.
 

 

February 04, 2011

To Egypt, with love

Tahrir Square, February 1, 2011; “We’ve come from Aswan; neither Mubarak nor Soliman.” Photo: Tamer El-Ghobashy

Before we enter the phase of intense politicking to game a post-Mubarak order, the deals being made to contain the public’s unequivocal demand to choose their leaders, I want to express love and awe of all those average people who said enough. Enough repression. Enough thievery. Enough rotten ideas about the apathy and inaction of the people. I have no doubt that the grim realities of elite politics will soon overtake events, as they always do. But I’ll never forget how ordinary citizens completely upended the best laid plans of the rulers in Cairo, Washington, and Tel Aviv. They forced Hosni Mubarak to ditch his dynastic project, posthaste, and to openly express his hatred of the Egyptian people. They forced the Americans to yet again confront the folly of building alliances with loathed dictators. And they reminded Israelis that Arabs want to rule themselves, whether Israel likes it or not. No amount of muddled theories or elite compromises will ever mask the extraordinary clarity of what happened in Egypt this winter. I’m happy to be alive to see it. 
 

 

February 02, 2011

 

Clinging to power at any cost, with criminal disregard for human life, Hosni Mubarak dispatched armed gangs into the amassed peaceful pro-democracy crowds in Tahrir Square. Plainclothes police and hired baltagiyya armed with whips and batons tore into the crowds on horseback, beating the demonstrators like savage marauders. NDP members and public sector clerks marched in processions, including uniformed police officers, holding aloft Egyptian flags and photos of Mubarak to perform support for him.

This is what Mubarak meant in his speech yesterday, that “everyone must choose between chaos and order,” between his rule and his violence.

 
   

(AP Photos, February 1, 2011)  

 

February 01, 2011

(Getty Images, January 31, 2011)  

 

January 31, 2011

(Getty Images, January 30, 2011)  

 

January 27, 2011

It’s about Representation

 

Today, Yemeni protestors went out into the streets of Sanaa to call for an end to social inequality, vote rigging, and the chokehold of president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ruling party.

In 1968, American civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin wrote, “We would be mistaken to think that the only desires of young Negroes today are to have a job, to have a decent house, to be well educated, to have medical care. All these things are very important, but deeper and more profound is the feeling of young Negroes today—through all classes, from the lumpenproletariat to the working poor, the working classes, the middle classes, and the intelligentsia—that the time has come when they should have power, a voice in the solution of problems which affect them.”

Today in Suez, 29-year-old glass factory worker Mohamed Fahim told a reporter, “It’s our right to choose our government ourselves. We have been living 29 years, my whole life, without being able to choose a president. I’ve grown bald, and Mubarak has stayed Mubarak,” he said, rubbing his bare scalp.
 

 

December 01, 2010

 

A Day in the Life of an Egyptian Electoral District

 

Balteem is a captivating town of majestic palm trees and generous people situated on Egypt’s northernmost tip. Jutting out into the Mediterranean and flanked by Lake Burullus to the west, the city and its adjoining modest resort town were best known as Umm Kulthum’s favorite place to spend her summer holidays. But it was suddenly thrust onto the national political map in 1995 when charismatic neo-Nasserist activist Hamdeen Sabahy ran for parliament to represent the large constituency comprising Balteem and the adjoining southern town of Hamoul. Since then, Balteem has become a flashpoint district in every national election.

Sabahy’s 1995 bid was unsuccessful. Two of his female voters died when security forces fired into a crowd of women amassing before a polling station. He ran again and won in 2000 and 2005, thanks to the onset of judicial supervision, unseating the NDP’s four-term incumbent Ahmed Se’da and losing another voter to police violence in 2005 named Gom’a al-Ziftawy.

Sabahy is an unusual figure in Egyptian politics, a leading member of the Cairo opposition political class who happens to have a large and loyal constituency in his provincial hometown. Born in July 1954 to a father who made a living as a farmer, Sabahy was one of millions of beneficiaries of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s redistributive policies. He majored in journalism and mass communications at Cairo University and had his first sampling of national fame when he and fellow university student activist and Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh carried on an unscripted, live televised debate with President Sadat on 2 February 1977. Sabahy’s ties to his base fit none of the familiar categories that structure Egyptian electoral politics. He doesn’t come from a family of local notables. He’s not an Islamist, in a district with a Muslim Brother following. And while he does provide services to the district, notably irrigation pumps for Balteem’s farmers, the scale of benefits is nowhere near what even a middling NDP member can muster.

The links between Sabahy and his constituents are based on his politics and personal qualities. On domestic policy, he supports the package of constitutional reforms long demanded by the opposition and recently taken up by Mohamed ElBaradei, and favors a large government role in the economy. On foreign policy, he advocates a stance independent of American and Israeli interests and much more pro-active in defense of Palestinian rights.

This year, Sabahy’s main contender is NDP member Essam Abdel Ghaffar, backed by the NDP’s Ahmad Ezz and dubbed a “distinctive deputy under the parliamentary rotunda” by the government party. Abdel Ghaffar is a local entrepreneur with a support base centered in the town of Hamoul. He secured the labor seat for the district in the 2005 elections but this year is running for the professionals’ seat, after an NDP rival sued to compel him to change his labor affiliation, pointing out that Abdel Ghaffar is a businessman listed in the city’s commercial registry. His moment of fame came when he and two other NDP MPs assaulted a parliament photographer during a plenary session when the latter photographed Abdel Ghaffar chastising a Wafd MP for printing in the Wafd newspaper a photo of Abdel Ghaffar sleeping in parliament.

Election day begins at 6:30 am. A gentle sunrise blankets the town as campaign workers and early bird voters make their way on the hushed streets to their voting stations.

7:10 am. A women’s polling station in Balteem junior high school. Sabahy’s authorized representatives review the day’s checklist before the official start of voting at 8 am. “You have to check and make sure that each box is empty before voters come in, especially if it’s a wooden box,” instructs the most knowledgeable representative who’s been working with Sabahy since 1995. “Never for a minute leave your ballot box unattended. Stay glued to it until it’s safely transported to the counting stations in Hamoul. If the head of the polling station asks for it, give him a copy and not the original of your certification papers.”

An elderly woman voter comes in ten minutes later, panting from the strain of the walk. I look at her and she breaks out in a huge smile. “I always vote for him,” she says shyly.

8:30 am. Sabahy’s representatives rush to photocopy the new certification papers required to gain access to polling stations. Early that morning at 12:30 am, Sabahy’s campaign was dumbfounded to learn of sudden new regulations for the papers, requiring that they be stamped from police precincts rather than notary publics as had been announced earlier. Certain that this is an 11th hour rule manipulation to bar Sabahy’s agents from accessing polling stations, campaign workers spend all night driving to police stations to get the necessary stamps. Now they’re scrambling to photocopy the agents’ papers so that they can hand them to heads of polling stations when asked, retaining the originals.

9:10 am. The first reports of foul play trickle in. Candidate agents from 12 polling stations phone in that they have been kicked out of polling stations, and one says her certification papers were ripped up despite having the necessary police stamp.

10 am. Campaign workers convene in the courtyard outside Sabahy’s house to plan next steps. The burning issue is how to get to the town of Hamoul to check on the conduct of polling there. The NDP’s Essam Abdel Ghaffar is from Hamoul, which has a larger share of the district’s votes than Sabahy’s base in Balteem. Campaign workers strategize on who should go to Hamoul and how to avoid the ubiquitous threat of assault by either security forces and/or thugs hired by the government candidate. They decide on a select all-male group who will travel to Hamoul in cars with Cairo license plates rather than plates from the governorate of Kafr al-Shaykh (where the electoral district is located). The Kafr al-Shaykh plates would be more easily identifiable as Sabahy’s partisans and thus more likely to come under attack.

11:15 am. A polling station for both men and women in Borg al-Borollos primary school. Borg al-Borollos is a hamlet in Balteem with a voting bloc of approximately 15,000. Borg residents have no fixed allegiance to either Sabahy or Abdel Ghaffar. Some see a split in the town’s partisan support along generational lines, with youth supporting Sabahy for his national political profile and older residents preferring NDP candidates born and bred in the town. Turnout appears to be relatively active. Several riot police trucks are parked unobtrusively nearby, along with a large tour bus holding conscripts. This year, riot police were bussed into districts in tour buses in addition to the customary olive-green trucks.

A pick-up truck with a large megaphone planted on top pulls up directly in front of the school and stands there for five minutes. The megaphone exhorts voters not to give their support to “outsiders” (a reference to Sabahy) but to government candidates who pledge their support to president Mubarak, “the caretaker of all Egyptians.”

A pack of 9-12 year old boys disembark from the truck and gather round the Sabahy campaign car where I’m sitting, and a round of infectious giggles ensues.

1:00 pm. Sabahy’s representatives sent to Hamoul and agents of other candidates who are sympathetic to Sabahy begin to phone in reports of ballot-stuffing in favor of Abdel Ghaffar in villages surrounding Hamoul.

1:25 pm. Reports of rigging in Hamoul come in fast and furious. Now reports from the Borg al-Borollos primary school where we were earlier are also coming in, noting severe irregularities. A sense of defeat and disappointment begins to seep into the Sabahy campaign. A male journalist and ardent Sabahy supporter begins to weep quietly. Campaign aides say Sabahy should hold a press conference immediately to denounce the fraud. Campaign cars and Balteem youth on foot make their way to the courtyard outside Sabahy’s house.

1:50 pm. Balteem’s main streets are lined with men congregating and sitting on the sidewalks, expressions somber and nerves frayed. A procession of cars and pickup trucks loaded with youth speed past in the direction of the highway. “They’re blockading the highway!” Spontaneously, Balteem and Borg youth decide to blockade the highway to protest what is now a certain sense of election rigging. The news travels like wildfire and some cars change route and head for the highway rather than Sabahy’s house. Frantic calls to campaign cars instructs them to make sure no women are headed to the highway, in anticipation of violence between protestors and riot police.

2-4 pm. Town youth blockade the highway with burning tires and clumps of tree branches and wooden sticks. Highway traffic comes to a standstill, with freight trucks backed up as far as the eye can see. A campaign worker says to no one in particular, “Didn’t I say that this morning was the quiet before the storm?”

Crestfallen residents mill about outside their houses, some cursing the government and others eerily silent, sitting on the stoops of their houses with blank expressions. The elements seem to be in tune with the general mood; the day’s earlier blinding sunlight has given way to grey clouds. It finally dawns on me that the government is serious about keeping Sabahy out of the 2010 parliament.

4 pm. Townspeople converge on Sabahy’s courtyard and the candidate comes out to speak, standing on a pick-up truck. Livid, fiery youth and men climb on the pick-up truck and demand revenge. Sabahy struggles to control the crowd’s emotions, saying he’d rather withdraw and give up his seat than join this scandalously handpicked parliament. A fully veiled woman in black climbs on the truck and pulls the microphone from his hand, screaming, “Don’t you dare withdraw, Sabahy! Don’t you dare withdraw!”

The crowd chants, “Balteem boxes won’t leave! Balteem boxes won’t leave!” By law, counting stations for the entire district are located in Hamoul but since Hamoul was experiencing rigging, residents feared their ballots would be destroyed or disappeared en route to the counting station.

5 pm. A contingent of the crowd breaks away like a renegade train car and heads for polling stations, to confront the clerks engaging in fraud and ballot-stuffing. Riot police are called to the polling stations and begin firing tear gas canisters into the crowds, blockading streets, and chasing down any young men. I accompany a handful of journalists trying to get close to the action to take photos. The gas burns our eyes as we get closer and I can’t see well from the tears. I ask a matronly woman standing outside her house for a couple of onions. Without a word she rushes inside and comes back 15 seconds later with two onions sliced down the middle, stuffing them into my hand. We snort the onions and immediately feel better, our sinuses and eyes completely cleared.

We ask a couple of residents for access to their roofs so we can take photos, but they refuse. “Why are they scared? I would’ve let you in if it was my house,” says a high school student walking along with his mate, their school notebooks under their arms. “The private lesson is cancelled today,” his friend quips as he sees me looking at his notebooks in puzzlement.

I come upon a row of riot policemen with their backs to me, blocking the street to a polling station. I start to get closer to take a clearer photo but one of them turns his head, spots me, and starts moving towards me with an extremely long rifle slung over his shoulder. A journalist comes out of nowhere and grabs my hand, and we run like mad.

6 pm. It’s getting dark now, but people are still milling about on the side streets. I come upon a group of mirthful women clustered outside a house, clapping, laughing and loudly chanting one of Sabahy’s campaign slogans: Shemal, Yemeen, Benhebbak ya Hamdeen! I never expected this corner of joy on such a grim day, and I start laughing too. They implore me to take their photo and I’m happy to oblige.

6:30 pm. Everyone convenes back in the courtyard of Sabahy’s house, and rumors fly about that elections in the district have been suspended. The mood is suddenly jubilant, and people mill about waiting for Sabahy to come out and give a speech.

7:00 pm. Sabahy comes out and is immediately mobbed by the crowd, lifting him on their shoulders and giving him a hero’s welcome. He gives a rousing speech in which he denounces the government and several Amn al-Dawla officers by name for fixing the elections in Hamoul, and reiterates his position of withdrawing from the elections. The crowd presses him to authorize and lead a peaceful protest march to the police station to protest the rigging, but Sabahy fears security forces’ violent response and does not want injuries and casualties among his supporters, as in the past. The back-and-forth goes on for an hour that feels like an eternity, but in the end Sabahy prevails and the people are dejected, though none take matters into their own hands as some did that afternoon. Things wind down quietly and people begin to disperse, while others sit in silence mulling over their stolen election.

8:15 pm. In the large mandara of Sabahy’s house, partisans and campaign workers sit in exhaustion on large couches arranged in a U-shape along the sides and back of the room, trading

 

election war stories and surveying the day’s catch. A tear gas canister from the afternoon confrontation is displayed, its noxious powder causing people to sneeze and

 tear up all over again. Crumpled, voting cards filled out for Sabahy and the Ikhwan labor candidate Ali al-Sheshtawy are passed around, said to be found thrown outside polling stations and replaced with forged ballots for the NDP. A spent live bullet is passed around in awe, the initials A.R.E. (Arab Republic of Egypt) engraved clearly on its bottom. News comes in that 18 residents have been arrested in the day’s events, but no serious injuries are reported.

10 pm. Time to get some sleep. I walk down a lane and am greeted by the shrill cry of the insomniac rooster who kept me up the night before. No one is sleeping in Balteem tonight.

*Photos 2 and 6 from the Sabahy facebook group.

 

October 07, 2010

Control the Message

 

The sacking of maverick newspaperman Ibrahim Eissa is only the tip of a vast iceberg. The broader project is to discredit and intimidate independent media outlets and those who run them, ahead of the 2010 parliamentary elections and the 2011 presidential selection. The regime’s goal is clear: to control the flow of political information at an exceptionally sensitive time, limiting the public’s exposure to alternative constructions of political reality. Here’s the true import of Ibrahim Eissa as a media maverick. He didn’t just criticize Hosni Mubarak and his cronies. He challenged the entire set-up of their political language, puncturing the government’s mystifying rhetoric with no-nonsense, down-home critical thinking. Eissa promoted a clear-eyed view of political reality, a dangerous thing during elections. (AP Photo)

Let’s put aside the silly spin that Eissa was dismissed for his incompetent management of al-Dostor, or get trapped by distracting minutiae about Eissa’s monthly salary, his chauffeured car, and what have you. These discrediting attempts by al-Dostor co-owner al-Sayed al-Badawi are transparent and risible. The purpose is to portray Ibrahim Eissa as just another sleazy careerist on the take, banking on the Egyptian public’s weary cynicism about any public personage. But unlike other fake dissidents and phony self-professed gadflies, Eissa has street credibility and an unassailable reputation for service in the public interest.

Ever since he was a cub reporter at Ruz al-Yusuf, Eissa had ambitions to be different, to bring down all sacred cows and smash conventions of deference to the rich and powerful. He implemented this vision when he helmed al-Dostor in its first incarnation, from 1995 until 1998, when the government cancelled its Cyprus-based operating license. Motivated by a notion of the public’s right to know—the newspaper’s tag line was and remains “popular sovereignty”–the weekly tabloid represented something entirely new in the Egyptian media landscape. It was a boisterous, opinionated, oftentimes sensational takedown of ministers and their shady dealings with emergent big business. There was next to no news reporting, the focus was on audacious exposés of erstwhile untouchables, a precursor to the adversarial brand of journalism Eissa would pioneer in the newspaper’s second incarnation.

When the newspaper was no more, Eissa pursued his muckraking itch in novelistic form, penning Maqtal al-Rajul al-Kabir (Murder of the Big Man), a funny, gossipy, expletive-filled whodunit set in the presidential palace. For the longest time, Maqtal was prime samizdat; in 2008, it was reissued by Dar Merit and is now widely available at all bookstores. This paradigm shift in the tolerable boundaries of political discourse was triggered by mavericks like Eissa, and later by writers such as Eissa’s fellow traveler Gamal Fahmi (Egypt’s greatest satirist, in my opinion), Abdel Halim Qandil, Magdi Mehanna, and the political articles of novelist Alaa’ al-Aswany.

When al-Dostor resumed publication in 2005, now operating under license as a domestic publishing company, the Egyptian media market had dramatically changed. Privately owned print and broadcast outlets had mushroomed everywhere. Some were purposely sensationalist, like Sawt al-Umma and al-Fagr, and others were self-consciously “professional”, such as al-Masry al-Youm and al-Shorouq. A few years later in 2008, electronic media such as youtube, facebook, and weblogs became vehicles of political communication and mobilization, making possible the 6th April movement, the exposure of police torture, and Mohamed ElBaradie’s petition drive for political reform. The government monopoly on political communication had broken down; gone were the days when state newspapers al-Ahram and al-Akhbar were considered go-to sources for decoding the official mindset. The diversified media market necessitated new strategies of command and control.

First, the government sponsors its own agents to enter the market and get its message across; hence the daily Ruz al-Yusuf newspaper; the daily party rag al-Watani al-Yawm; talk shows on state-owned television such as al-Bayt al-Baytak and Lamees al-Hadidi’s various inane vehicles; and talk shows like Amr Adeeb’s al-Qahera al-Yawm on the Orbit satellite television network. Regardless of his self-proclaimed status as “a media star in the Arab world” and his scripted, phony populism, Adeeb is scion of the Adeeb media empire, a family corporation that has always served the powerful and profited handsomely. Adeeb’s brother Emad interviewed Sadat and then carried out the six-hour interview with Hosni Mubarak during his 2005 presidential selection spectacle. Adeeb’s wife Lamees al-Hadidi was the PR manager of Mubarak’s campaign. Adeeb’s brother Adel heads the Good News film production company that operates several posh cinemas.

Second, the ruling regime cheerily takes credit for the diversified media landscape, presenting it as a “significant result” of its political reform process. Government agents represent the hard won gains of the opposition as mere effects of government largesse. As the dutiful press attaché in the Egyptian embassy in Washington avows, “Criticism of the government, even the head of state, is now a staple diet of the media,” going on to laud the expanding scope of freedom of expression.

Third, the government mobilizes its arsenal of penal laws to silence, intimidate, or wear down independent journalists and editors. Ibrahim Eissa has been the most targeted; in 2006 he was sentenced to one year in prison (later commuted to a fine) simply for publishing an article about a citizen’s lawsuit against the president. In 2008, he was sentenced to two months in jail when he wrote about Mubarak’s deteriorating health in 2007. In one article, he wrote “The president in Egypt is a god and gods don’t get sick. Thus, President Mubarak, those surrounding him, and the hypocrites hide his illness and leave the country prey to rumors. It is not a serious illness. It’s just old age. But the Egyptian people are entitled to know if the president is down with something as minor as the flu.” Eissa was spared jail with a presidential pardon on 6 October 2008.

Eissa has been removed because he’s a newspaperman with a vision and a superior communicator. When al-Dostor went daily in 2007, the paper’s diverse opinion pages were supplemented with solid news reporting that illuminated key spheres of Egyptian society. Eissa cultivated beat reporters who began systematically covering the universities, the courts, protests and demonstrations, and the Coptic Church. He continued to pack the newspaper’s opinion pages with the widest range of political viewpoints of any Egyptian broadsheet. And he managed to keep on writing his own daily column of hard-hitting socio-political commentary, all while also hosting a television show that showcased his skills as a communicator. In one clip, Eissa broke down weighty matters of political economy into an accessible, digestible, humorous module for public edification.

As Egypt heads toward parliamentary and presidential elections, a time when the free flow of political information takes on heightened significance, the government is intent on controlling all sources of alternative knowledge. Newspapers like al-Dostor that pose the greatest threat are effectively shut down, via an elaborate scheme using al-Sayed al-Badawi as the agent and poor management as the pretext. For other independent dailies such as al-Masry al-Youm and al-Shurouq, they are deterred with veiled threats, inducing them to self-censor and scale back their news coverage during election season. Witness the recent series of openly threatening editorials in the government daily Ruz al-Yusuf, warning the editors and owners of all independent dailies and even threatening them with disappearance by 2012.

For the broadcast media, new regulations have been handed down prohibiting the filming of courtroom proceedings. Little to no information is released about the Higher Elections Commission, the new body tasked with overseeing election supervision after judicial monitoring has been scrapped. And new regulations on election candidacy are issued by the Interior Minister in virtual secrecy, without publication in the official government press.

In this climate, it’s no wonder the government has silenced a man who makes it his life’s work to provide the public with unvarnished information. As he wrote in his penultimate column, “It’s impossible for the Egyptian regime to give up election rigging. So the solution it has devised is instead of putting a stop to rigging, it would put a stop to the talk about rigging. Hence the steps to rein in the satellite media; up next are newspapers; and perhaps soon we’ll see urgent legislation to snuff out Egyptians’ freedom of expression on the internet. And several understandings will be arrived at with representatives of the Western media in Egypt.” 

 

 

August 14, 2010

The Truth Teller

 

It’s a wonderful thing when poets write prose. Their perceptions are so acute, clarity of expression so exquisite, and images so fresh that reading their prose awakens the mind and refreshes the spirit. When poets write, they restore the act of reading as active engagement and appreciation, like listening to a stirring song, offering a respite from reading as necessity, as chore, or as mild form of torture. For this reason alone, reading Mourid Barghouti’s I Was Born There, I Was Born Here is a stimulating experience, whether or not you’re emotionally attached to Palestine and the Palestinians. If you happen to be so attached, Barghouti offers rousing reading plus a haunting, heart-piercing love song.

Because Barghouti is a poet and not a journalist, policymaker, academic, or any of the other very important people that determine how we perceive Palestine, we experience it anew. We experience the permanent disorientation of being Palestinian, either constantly on the move or forcibly fixed in place, always at the behest of others. We see things that are never shown, like the petty joys and idiosyncrasies of ordinary people striving for normalcy. We smell the oranges, jasmine, and coffee that have a special place in the poet’s taste-memory. We hear the sublime voices of Fairouz and Luciano Pavarotti, sacred parts of his writing routine. Reading I Was Born There is like living in Barghouti’s mind for a while, a rich, funny, profoundly insightful place to be.

Written in the same contemplative voice of his earlier I Saw Ramallah (1997), Barghouti’s I Was Born There, I Was Born Here(2009) continues his journeys into Palestine after a 30-year exile. Unlike his first visit in 1996, however, this time the poet’s shuttling back and forth between Cairo, Amman, Ramallah, and his birth village Deir Ghassanah are shadowed by grave events: the al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, Ariel Sharon’s 2002 reinvasion of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Iraq war in 2003, the 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power, and the subsequent machinations of the losing Fatah to unseat Hamas, backed by Israel, the United States, and client Arab regimes. The book also takes in events of personal significance for the poet, like accompanying his son Tamim (himself an accomplished poet) on Tamim’s first visit to Dar Ghassanah and Jerusalem in 1998; Tamim’s deportation from Egypt in 2003 by Mubarak’s government for opposing the Iraq war; and the poet’s brief, unhappy tenure managing a World-Bank funded cultural project for the PNA in 1999.

Barghouti’s pensées are structured in 10 intricately arranged chapters and a four-page coda, chapters that move back and forth in time in a non-sequential ordering that mimics the workings of the mind. The sensibility that made I Saw Ramallah so original and compelling fills the pages of I Was Born There. There’s Barghouti’s poetic concision, the capacity to distill volumes into a few arresting lines. “The occupation soldier stands on a piece of earth and confiscates it, calling it “here”; all that’s left for me, the owner of the earth exiled from it in faraway lands, is to call it “there.” There’s his distinct approach to philosophical rumination. I don’t mean the declamatory, vacuous musings that often pass for philosophizing, but the sort of disarmingly simple, sharp, quiet observations of an introspective soul. As he and Tamim stroll through the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, Mourid wonders what it must be like for Tamim to finally experience the city after only knowing it through stories, statistics, and photos. He thinks, “But imagination cannot be cancelled out by reality. The reality that surprises us soon generates in the mind another image. I wonder, is there a reality outside of human imagination? The answer perplexes me.”

But the real pleasure of Barghouti’s memoir are the images that grace nearly every page, images that can only be crafted by someone of uncommon sentience. The powerful opening chapter is chock-full of these. Titled “The Driver Mahmoud,” it tells the story of Barghouti’s trip from Ramallah to Amman via Jericho, on the eve of Sharon’s reinvasion of Ramallah and other Palestinian towns in spring 2002. The Israeli army is on high alert and has blocked major roads. Barghouti takes a taxi from Ramallah to Jericho with six other passengers, helmed by an indomitable young driver named Mahmoud who’s determined to get his passengers safely to Jericho, from where they will take a bus to cross the bridge into Amman. To avoid Israeli checkpoints, soldiers, and tanks, he veers off the main road and takes unpaved back roads in the middle of fields.

Older than his years and unconsciously heroic, Mahmoud takes out a thermos of fresh coffee and small plastic cups and distributes them to his passengers. Barghouti notes, “With the pouring of the first cup, a cunning race ensues between the scent of cardamom and the scent of coffee. The cardamom gets there first, of course.” He looks out the window and sees massive uprooted olive trees as far as the eye can see, “lying out in the open like humiliated corpses…For every olive tree uprooted by an Israeli bulldozer, a Palestinian peasant family tree falls off the wall. ” As the car winds its way through the wilderness and the misty grey valley, it comes to a complete halt in a ditch. Now only a deus ex machina can save them, thinks the poet. Within minutes, a huge yellow crane appears between the trees, gleaming under the drizzle, operated by two young villagers gesturing to Mahmoud to prepare for the rescue operation. Mahmoud reassures his passengers, “Fasten your seat belts, don’t be afraid. We’re going to ride the carousel!” The metal fingers of the crane clasp the taxi, “like fingers plucking a pomegranate seed,” lift it and put it back down on the embankment. All disembark and hug one another, and “we find ourselves clapping, as if celebrating a grand victory.”

Barghouti’s image-making, poetic concision, and philosophical rumination in the new memoir recover the same themes he broached in I Saw Ramallah, themes that are by turns political, aesthetic, and formal. For it would be a mistake to read Mourid Barghouti as a Palestinian poet, rather than a poet who is Palestinian. To be sure, his identity is one wellspring of his art, but his art is not contained by his identity. His sensibility as a writer is just as acute as his love of homeland. Formally, Barghouti uses to great effect the technique of association of ideas. An observation or sensation triggers a memory, which calls forth another memory, which may be followed by a meditation on some object, a preview of some future event, or a return to the present. Each of the book’s chapters is intricately structured in this way, narratives nested within other narratives that flow back and forth across time and space. In the remarkable, eponymous fourth chapter of I Was Born There, while visiting Deir Ghassanah with Tamim, father and son come upon the village school. Mourid is prompted into a reverie on the contrast between his hardscrabble childhood and his son’s relatively privileged upbringing. We’re then transported to an extremely moving flashback into the poet’s childhood, his first time in school, and why his birth certificate lists his first name as Nawaf. The memory morphs into a loving, heartbreaking portrait of his orphaned mother, robbed of an education and forced into a marriage, twin tragedies that she spends her whole life ensuring that her children and grandchildren won’t experience.

Chapter 6, “The Ambulance” is another standout example of the technique of nested memories. At the height of the Israeli reinvasion of Ramallah in 2002, when Israel besieged the city and blocked entry, Barghouti undertakes a risky venture to cross into Ramallah from Jericho in an ambulance. The experience prompts a memory of the first time he rode an ambulance years earlier in Amman, while accompanying the body of his beloved brother Mounif on its return from Paris. A small detail about the devastating death of Mounif recalls for the poet his presence at the hospital bedside of Palestinian historian Emile Touma when he died in Budapest in 1985. Then, Barghouti is momentarily jolted back to the present when the ambulance worker asks him a question, which prompts another memory and portrait of fellow Palestinian poet Hussein Barghouti, who had recently died of cancer as Mourid was being smuggled into Ramallah in an ambulance.

Given the events of the past few years, what was only hinted at in I Saw Ramallah is spelled out in I Was Born There. That’s to say politics, the corruption of the PNA, and its groveling before the Israelis. A stand-in for this state of affairs is the detested figure of Nameq al-Tijani (Glorifier of the Crown), Barghouti’s sarcastic moniker for the lowly, careerist PNA underling who will sell his soul for a handful of shekels. Whenever he sees this type on a bus or at a café, the poet tenses up and removes himself from the premises, so revolted is he with what the Nameqs of Palestine represent. The poet reacts the same way to his one-year stint in 1999 directing a PNA cultural project riddled with corruption. An episode bitterly remembered and elliptically recounted, Barghouti first confronted the corruption at his new workplace, then resigned in protest and went off to Amman for 35 days. After the mediation of trusted friends, he returned to Ramallah to reluctantly finish out his term, though mentally he retreated into the security of his inner world. Of the experience he states tersely, “I decided to respect my voluntary isolation and resume it forever.”

Disillusionment with the PNA isn’t the only political theme in I Was Born There. More original are Barghouti’s reflections on the Palestinian condition. Much more sharply than he articulated in I Saw Ramallah, in the new memoir Barghouti nests Palestinian displacement within the broader regional condition of dictatorship. “Occupation, like dictatorship, doesn’t just ruin political and party life but also individuals’ lives, even those who are non-political.” No Palestinian family is without tangible experiences of ill-treatment and obstruction at the hands of Arab governments. So what is the difference between Israeli occupation and Arab dictatorship? Watching helplessly as Egyptian policemen yank Tamim out of his home in 2003, rifles pointed at his back, Barghouti says, “Violent power is the same, whether Arab or Israeli. Brutality is brutality and violation is violation, regardless of the perpetrator.”

Barghouti is a gentle soul and a discerning mind, but that doesn’t mean he won’t occasionally lapse into unoriginality and coarseness. I grew tired of his gratuitous jabs at Arab feminists, his predictable disdain for the overt religiosity of some Palestinians, especially women in his family, and repeated announcements of his disgust at the PNA. An unusually hateful remark about Palestinian women who veil their face (p. 241) made me sad, not simply because it’s the secular mirror-image of religious bigotry and intolerance, but it commits the same blithe reductionism that the poet so vehemently detests.

For it’s his uncompromising refusal to simplify that makes Barghouti a writer to reckon with. In I Saw Ramallah, he spelled out his disdain for cheap rhetoric masquerading as art: “I wondered again about that rubbish they call the ‘poetry of the stones’ and the poems of solidarity with the ‘children of the stones.’ It is the simplification that takes the accessible and the easy from the human condition and so blurs that condition instead of defining it, misrepresents it at the moment of pretending to celebrate it. It is the eternal difference between profundity and shallowness. Between art and political rhetoric.” (Ahdaf Soueif’s translation).

The battle against platitudes, derivative language, and sheer numbness is fought out on nearly every page of I Was Born There. The poet-philosopher isn’t merely “resisting” but engaging in the most difficult, the most rewarding task there is. “I don’t weep over any past, I don’t weep over this present, I don’t weep over the future. I live with the five senses, trying to understand our story, trying to see.”

Neither the lamenter of his people’s sufferings nor the chronicler of their greatness, Barghouti is something else. “We will tell the story as it ought to be told. We will tell our personal histories one by one. We’ll tell our little stories as we lived them, as our souls, eyes, and imaginations remember them. We won’t leave history to be the history of great events and kings and soldiers and the tomes on dusty shelves. We’ll recount our individual stories, the stories of our bodies and senses that to the ignorant eye appear to be shallow, incoherent, and meaningless. The meaning is etched in us, one by one, women, men, children, trees, houses, windows, and cemeteries where no national anthem is played, and forgotten by a historian blind of pen. We’ll recover history as the history of our fears, our anxieties, our patience, the desires of our pillows and our improvised braveries, the history of preparing a dinner meal.”

  

 August 01, 2010

The Wonderful World of Kamel Kilani

 

A long time ago in Baghdad, under the reign of Haroun al-Rashid, there lived a moderately wealthy trader named Ali Cogia. One night, Cogia had a portentous dream in which a shaykh exhorted him to make the pilgrimage to Makka forthwith. When the dream recurred the following two nights, Ali decided he had better heed it. He packed up his belongings, rented out his house, and gave his neighbor Hasan a large earthenware jar filled with olives for safekeeping. Unbeknownst to Hasan, Ali hid one thousand dinars of his savings in the bottom of the jar under the olives.

Cogia spent seven years on his travels, going from Makka to Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus, and Bilad al-Fars, doing a brisk and profitable trade and enjoying the sights. In the meantime, his neighbor Hasan accidentally happens upon the dinars and decides to filch them, refilling the urn with fresh olives. But lo, Ali returns a month later, thanks his neighbor and retrieves the urn. When he finds no dinars, he gingerly asks Hasan if he has borrowed them in a time of need. Hasan lies through his teeth, Ali takes him to court and loses, and finally submits a petition of complaint to Haroun al-Rashid himself.

On the eve of deciding Ali’s case, al-Rashid goes on one of his incognito perambulations around Baghdad, inspecting the condition of his subjects. He overhears a group of boys acting out the court case between Ali and Hasan, and is highly impressed with the acumen of the boy who plays the judge. The next morning he dispatches his vizier Jaafar to summon the boy, has him sit in judgment over the real Ali and Hasan, gently chastises the judge who exonerated Hasan, and rewards the boy with a sack of 100 dinars for his uncommon discernment.

Forever after, on moonlit nights, children all over Baghdad and beyond would role-play the story of traders Hasan and Ali, just as the children’s judge and his friends had.

I first read this story decades ago one lazy summer afternoon. It was the first I heard of Baghdad, and imagined how it must be a wonderful city full of mystery, riches, and exotic headgear. Harun al-Rashid going undercover struck me as most clever, his elegant folds and drapes perfectly disguising him, no doubt. And he was so progressive, taking seriously a common little boy who happened to be more astute than the most senior judge. Excellent.

I gobbled up more stories from Alf Layla, as selected and expurgated by a man named Kamel Kilani. There was the one about greedy Baba Abdallah, another Baghdadi trader who gets his just desserts by being blinded and then eaten alive by a pouncing lion. Then there was the good Abu Sayr and the evil Abu Qayr, two Alexandria tradesmen who seek their fortunes in some unnamed North African city. After a string of cruel acts, the dastardly Abu Qayr gets his just desserts too, by being stuffed into a sack and hurled into the sea. And of course those wicked robbers, who meet a most horrible death by having boiling oil poured over them by the plucky Morgiana as they crouched hiding in oil jars.

The hard-won triumph of good over evil, the endurance of basic impulses of greed and wanderlust, the recurrent human failure to think through consequences– these are the building blocks of Kamel Kilani’s strange and wonderful story world. It’s a world that captivated me and millions of other young readers ever since he published his first story in 1928. The stories are handed down from generation to generation; my grandfather bought them for my father, who loved them and introduced me to them. The genius of Kilani is that he managed to make his stories didactic but not preachy, edifying yet fun, written in mellifluous modern standard Arabic but without a hint of stilted formality. Kilani understood the power of story, and made it his life’s work to enchant young people.

Kamel Kilani Ibrahim Kilani didn’t set out to be the modern Egyptian pioneer of children’s literature. He just adored stories and had fond memories of a Greek nanny who raised him on a steady diet of fantastic myths and legends. He also recalled being captivated by tales of Abu Zayd al-Hilali and al-Zanati Khalifa recounted by an itinerant Azharite poet and storyteller in Midan al-Qala’a. Kilani was born on 20 October 1897 in the citadel neighborhood in Cairo, to a father who was a prominent engineer. He studied English literature in high school and enrolled at the Egyptian University (now Cairo University) from 1917 to 1930, reading French and English, and also attending Arabic grammar, logic, and morphology classes at al-Azhar. He spent a few brief years as a high school English teacher and was then appointed as an editor and reviser at the Awqaf Ministry in 1922 (where Naguib Mahfouz also worked), where he spent the rest of his career until retirement in 1954.

Kilani’s day job didn’t prevent him from becoming a prolific, prominent man of letters in the vibrant Egyptian cultural scene of the 1920s-1940s. His passion was the preservation and cultivation of the Arabic language, and he was party to polemical debates with Ahmed Amin and others against the increasing use of ‘ammiyya in newspapers and books. In 1920, Kilani began hosting a literary salon that met every Saturday at his home, and between 1929-1932 he was part of a short lived, pan-Arab literary club named the Arabic Literature Association that included Ahmad Shawqi, Khalil Mutran, and Sameh al-Khalidi as members.

After a brief and unsatisfying stint as a literary critic, which Kilani abandoned because he considered it a quick route to vacuous fame, he opted for excavating and disseminating the gems of Arab letters to a wide audience. He spent his evenings combing through the rich fund of classical Arabic poetry, from which he had memorized hundreds of quatrains, sifting, selecting, and redacting his favorites and publishing them in accessible editions that were soon to be reprinted over and over and distributed throughout the Arab mashreq. Before long, Kilani became a one-man translation and editing powerhouse.

In 1923, he produced the philosopher-poet and skeptic Abu al-Ala’ al-Ma’arri’s 11th century Resalat al-Ghufran (with a foreword by Taha Hussein), and in 1943 Dar al-Ma’aref published an English translation by Gerald Brackenbury based on Kilani’s Arabic redaction. There followed Diwan Ibn al-Rumi (1924, with a foreword by Abbas al-Aqqad), a history of Andalusian Literature (1924), Diwan Ibn Zaydun (1932), chronicles of the prophet’s life and that of his successors (1929), al-Ma’arri’s Resalat al-Hana’ (1944), and a score of books on literary criticism, collections of Greek myths and European stories, and a travelogue based on his visit to Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine in the early 1930s.

The 200-some stories that would eventually constitute Kilani’s library for children and young adults began with the publication of Sindbad the Sailor in 1928. As he would in many of his stories, Kilani prefaces the story with a brief dedicatory page to one of his four children, and in a brief foreword notes with chagrin the sorry state of Arabic books for children compared to the attractive and well-produced ones for European children. He wrote: “Since our children are in need of Arabic books that instill in them the love of reading, I availed myself of the opportunity provided by their instinctive orientation to hearing stories and embarked on publishing a suitable segment of stories from One Thousand and One Nights and other sources.” He exhorts parents and teachers to help explain the language to young readers, and matter-of-factly remarks “girls are no less in need of these stories than boys.”

The ten stories from Alf Layla would be followed by story sets that Kilani translated and redacted from a remarkably catholic range of sources: Shakespeare plays, the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian narratives, Greek mythology, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Ibn Tufail’s Hayy bin Yaqdhan, the travels of the Andalusian geographer Ibn Jubayr, Joha stories, and tales by Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm. In the 1940s, Kilani produced some of his stories into lovely, quite readable English, placing the Arabic text side by side with the English rendition.

Here’s an extract from Scheherazade the Vizier’s Daughter, in which Scheherazade makes a winning case to her skeptical father, convincing him of her bold plan to transform the murderous Shahriar:

And so, if the gazelle, through her artifice, has been capable of drowning in the water, the ghoul of beasts, surely I am capable—God willing—of drowning the ghoul of women in a flood of magic which will fill his heart with mercy and compassion and replace his cruelty and aggression with security and tranquility for my friends. Needless to say, you are prudent enough, father, to realize that the cruelty and violence which Shariar shows are not due to his base nature, but rather to a casual mental derangement, which befell him when his wife became unfaithful and betrayed him…And it is quite likely that had he come across a good and staunch woman, he would have been loyal to her and enjoyed her company, and thus would have reverted to his old ways of charity, compassion, justice, and kindness.

In addition to the literary adaptations, Kilani penned a delightful series he called “Scientific Stories” featuring a menagerie of frogs and toads, geckos, rabbits, owls, industrious bees, squirrels, and spiders, all conversing with each other in perfect Arabic. The critters expatiate on the beauty and harmony of the natural world and rue humans’ casual cruelty to animals. Some stories are supplemented with mini-dictionaries at the back, containing animals’ diverse Arabic names. Did you know that the bear is also called Abu Juhayna?! And the giraffe is Um Eissa?! (A large collection of Kilani’s stories, including the Arabic-English ones, can be downloaded here).

Kilani received accolades for his work starting as early as the 1930s, and no shortage of honorifics: “A leading light of the literary renaissance”, “The pedagogue of the generations”, “The pioneer of Arabic children’s literature.” He was canonized in his own lifetime, with several of his stories replacing the atrocious fare that students were force-fed in schools in Egypt, Palestine, and the rest of the Levant. And countless luminaries wrote contemporaneous and retrospective paeans to his dedication, modesty, sense of humor, and sheer love of his métier.

But thankfully, Kilani was not co-opted, and remained essentially a lone man in his study, churning out fantastic story after story in impeccable Arabic, almost until the day he died in October 1959. It was as if he was communing directly with the minds of children, addressing them as “little reader” in the text, occasionally appending witty verses for memorization at the end of the story booklets, stocking each story with beautiful, expressive illustrations (of unknown provenance), and always including synonyms of unfamiliar words in the text, so that you’re effortlessly building your vocabulary while enjoying the tale. I was especially happy that all the stories had clear and thorough vowellization. The lack of these in other books tormented me; how was I to know that there was a shadda in قبعة if there was no tashkeel?!

Boredom was banished by Kamel Kilani. My attention was held in thrall by all the strange and fantastic goings-on in his story-world, and I resolved to visit Baghdad when I grew up and could do whatever I pleased. I revisit the stories now and am awed by Kilani’s perfectionism; his fidelity to the original stories, making only surgical redaction; the accuracy with which he transliterated foreign names into Arabic. Kilani obviously delighted in language and was exceptionally skilled in building narrative momentum. But his enduring appeal lies in the singular gift of all superb storytellers, the capacity to excite fancy and kindle imagination.

“She was the most beautiful of her kind, the best of form, the most pleasing to behold. Her handsomeness, the brightness of her eyes, the neatness of her tiny pink nose, the nimbleness of her fur-covered paws made her a model of comeliness. If you saw her saunter and strut in her white drape, you wouldn’t be able to contain your admiration. Her most coveted food was clover, which she favored over all other kinds of food. It’s no surprise that her friends and companions called her ‘The Clover Flower.’ She was, among rabbits, as beautiful as the flower that sprouts on cloverleaf.”  

 

July 24, 2010

Questions Never Asked

 

An elderly couple get on each other’s nerves, bicker, and occasionally enjoy simple moments like eating homemade ta’amiyya together. Their quiet lives revolve around fleeting visits by their two grown sons, trips to the hospital or to collect the pension, and mundane daily tasks like folding laundry, having breakfast, and watching lots of television. Retired government clerk Ustaz Khalil and his wife Ihsan have been married for over 40 years, but seem to still be something of a mystery to each other. Ustaz Khalil has a tendency to think too much about insignificant things and to share his thoughts with his wife. Ihsan is more pragmatic and blunt, exasperated by Khalil’s musings and mocking him in a way that hurts his feelings. All this doesn’t sound like material for great literature, but in the hands of Ibrahim Aslan it turns into the stuff of luminous art.

Readers familiar with Aslan’s fiction will find his latest novella very familiar. Written in his trademark economical prose and very short chapters strung together by the thinnest of plots, Two Bedrooms and a Living Room: A Domestic Sequence is vintage Aslan. Nothing much happens: people eat, drink, and talk to each other; they go to weddings and funerals, they look at old photos, they argue and make up, and life goes on. The people about whom Aslan writes are utterly unexceptional. They’re not “the marginalized”, as lazy critics love to call them. They’re certainly not the rich and pampered. And they’re not downtrodden yet heroic peasants. They’re just ordinary people, what sociologists would call the urban petit bourgeoisie but whom Aslan turns into some of the most compelling, hilarious, and moving portraits of human beings in literature.

As always with Aslan, we never get more than a few sentences to describe a character. His characters come alive through eerily real dialogue, dialogue that captures the absurdities and profundities of everyday conversation, the cadence of how real people speak. Characters are then made even more real with their many little tics: how they doze, how they like their fuul in the morning, what makes them scowl or smile, and when they feel puzzled, lonely, or at peace. Barely a couple of chapters into the novella, I felt like I was sitting in the old couple’s living room, hearing them exchange a few words now and then as they move leisurely from the kitchen to the living room to one of the two bedrooms.

In a chapter titled “End of the Day,” after a visit by their grown sons, Ustaz Khalil follows his wife into the old boys’ room and asks her, “Did that boy Suleiman get taller?”

“Suleiman who?”

“Your son.”

“What do you mean, get taller?”

“I mean is he taller than before?”

“Before what? When he was little?”

“No, taller than last month, for instance.”

“Does someone still get taller when they’re thirty?”

Abu Suleiman considered his words and asked her, “Then is it me who’s gotten shorter?”

She looked him up and down and said, “How would I know?”

“I don’t know if it’s me who’s gotten shorter or he’s the one who’s become taller.”

“But how would I know?”

“From your point of view (and he straightened his back), am I like I used to be, or have I gotten slightly shorter?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

As he turned to leave the room she called after him, “Why don’t you bring me a tape measure so that I can constantly measure you and measure him.”

The 28 compact chapters each capture a mood, a moment, a lifetime of love and resentment condensed into barely four pages. When read in succession, they mimic the ups and downs of the couple’s daily interactions, a relationship that the author neither stereotypes as bitter nor romanticizes as warm and awww-look-at-the-sweet-old-couple. Ihsan and Ustaz Khalil’s is a real marriage, one marked by familiarity, comfortable silences, and not a little distance. A chapter in which Ihsan makes a touching peace offering to Ustaz Khalil is followed by one where she mocks his deliberativeness, followed by a chapter where Ustaz Khalil tears up at the thought of Ihsan dying and remembers her as a young woman. He methodically thinks through the steps of how he’ll react once the inevitable happens. In the event, Khalil doesn’t follow his sequence.

Aslan’s depiction of Khalil’s grief is breathtaking in its power. In a chapter titled “The Seamstress’s Needle” immediately following Ihsan’s funeral, Khalil opens the closet and stands gazing at the dress clothes that he now wears only on special occasions. He fingers a pair of dark slacks and finds a tear in them, and suddenly finds himself energized by the task of mending them since he hasn’t mended anything since his youth. He pulls out the spool of black thread and needle from the old chocolate tin in the drawer where Ihsan kept them, puts on his reading glasses, and spends three hours trying to thread the needle, to no avail. The chapter ends with this arresting image of a man in mourning:

He nearly wept but stopped himself immediately so that his blood sugar wouldn’t go up. He stuck the needle in the spool and put it in the old chocolate tin with the faded designs, and left it there in front of him without returning it to the drawer.

The second half of the book follows Khalil in the 40 days after Ihsan’s death. He moves to their old apartment, gingerly reacquaints himself with old neighbors and friends, and tries to face life alone. He keeps himself company by living in his memories, of a time when he was surrounded by the din of his young wife and sons and assorted oddball neighbors. The novella’s longest chapter is a haunting memory of Osta Mahmoud the cobbler, an old neighbor of Ustaz Khalil’s who used to live across the hall and was unraveled by the death of his wife al-Hagga Thoraya.

I wouldn’t be too quick to classify Two Bedrooms and a Living Room as a novella about aging. That’s one dimension of this quiet little work. But I saw in it something more philosophical, a meditation on the regrets of a life decently but not quite fully lived. In a chapter titled “Side Alley,” Ustaz Khalil puts on his starched white gallabiyya to go to the Friday prayers. On his way there, he spots a woman sitting on a stoop throwing her chickens bits of crusty old bread. He doesn’t look at the woman, but his eyes follow a brown hen as it pecks to and fro. The call to prayer rouses him and he hurries off, but on his way back he musters the courage to ask the woman about the brown hen.

“Good day, hanem. Regarding the brown hen.”

The woman looked at the hen and waited.

“I mean the brown hen.”

“What about it?”

“I wonder, is it your hen?”

“Who else’s would it be?”

“Actually, just a question.” He thought a bit and added, “Have you had it since it was a chick?”

“Yeah.”

“This is the answer I was looking for, nothing more, nothing less.” And he remained standing.

The woman said in a low voice, somewhat suspiciously, “And why do you ask?”

“It’s your right to know why I’m asking.” He adjusted his glasses and said, “A long time ago ya sitti, we had a brown chick the same color as this hen. It was one of the chicks the hagga bought to raise them. That chick left and never came back, disappeared. And as I was passing by I spotted your brown hen, and it reminded me of the chick that left and never returned, and it occurred to me to ask you.”

The woman relaxes somewhat and they strike up a friendly yet guarded, polite conversation. Before Ustaz Khalil makes to leave, he says to her:

“You see, I wasted at least 60 years of my life having these kinds of questions. I wanted to ask them but I wasn’t able to, because I was embarrassed. This is a tragedy ya hanem, and the proof is what happened just now. Have you been harmed by the question?”

“God forbid anything bad like that.”

“Because of this, ever since the death of the hagga I’ve decided that any question I have I ought to ask it right away. And you too, any question that preoccupies you, go ahead and ask it. That’s my advice to you. Asking questions is never shameful. Is asking questions shameful?”

“Not at all.”

“I thank you. Salam ‘Alaykum.” 

  

July 11, 2010

Ibrahim al-Desouqi Fahmi, Alabaster (2001)
oil on canvas 

 

February 25, 2010

The Wildcard

 

Five years ago today, when Hosni Mubarak made his big announcement about direct, multicandidate presidential elections, he couldn’t have dreamed that five years down the line, he’d face a most unexpected challenger. Someone who is everything that Mubarak and his son aren’t: internationally respected, intellectually nimble, and domestically popular.

Who knows whether ElBaradei has a real chance at the presidency? What’s clear is that his return to Egypt has completely flummoxed Mubarak and his retinue. Up to now, they’ve dealt handily with all the domestic politicians and pressure groups who’ve opposed their rule, ridiculing some, imprisoning others, co-opting still others, and simply exhausting whoever’s left. Along comes ElBaradei, with an energetic mien and an organized plan. His international standing ensure that he can’t be repressed or ridiculed. He’s made it crystal clear that he won’t be co-opted. And the incredible surge of popular enthusiasm that’s enveloped him makes it unlikely that he’ll get tired and retreat.

Mubarak’s henchmen have so far done a laughable job of dealing with this unwelcome surprise. His arrival on the scene a full year and a half before presidential elections has caught them off guard; they hadn’t yet devised their strategy for 2011 elections. So they’ve been scrambling to respond, dispatching pathetic regime hacks to sling cheap shots at al ElBaradei that only make him more popular. See the priceless interview tactics of the revolting Amr Adeeb, who trips over himself to please his master Zakariyya Azmi. Haga zibala.

At this point, it’s hard to see how ElBaradei can even run in the elections, much less have a real chance at winning. But I think he’s doing more than launching a symbolic campaign. He’s raising the costs of electoral engineering for the Mubarak regime, making 2010 and 2011 the toughest polls yet in Mubarak’s tenure. What’s more, ElBaradei’s entry comes at a time when the regime is at its weakest. Mubarak is fast fading, his son is flailing, the bureaucracy is riven with unbelievable corruption and civil servant protests, and all social classes are literally fed up and can’t stand the Mubaraks anymore. None of this means that ElBaradei is going to displace the system, but it does mean that the regime will have to work harder than it ever has to weather the electoral cycle.

Elections have always been nuisances for Mubarak, now they’re turning into nightmares. Why? First because ElBaradei shows up the ridiculous rules governing the political game. The laughingstock Political Parties Committee, the crazy restrictions of Article 76 on presidential candidacy, the elimination of judicial supervision over elections, and the nefarious provisions littering the law governing political participation. The Egyptian opposition has been crying foul over these things for decades and decades, but the criticism sounds a lot more credible when it comes from someone with impeccable international standing.

Second, ElBaradei’s entry certifies the beleaguered Egyptian opposition. I’m talking about the real opposition, not the fake opposition parties in Wust al-Balad and Dokki licensed by the regime. Some so-called analysts’ favorite pastime is to sit around announcing the demise of Kifaya, the Ikhwan, al-Ghad, the various reform groups among the professions, civil society associations, etc. ElBaradei’s joining of their ranks and endorsement of their decades long demands for constitutional reform, fair elections, and redistributive policies suddenly raises their profile and makes it that much harder for the regime to dismiss them as fanatics, lunatics, foreign agents, loudmouth nationalist-populists, or what have you.

Perhaps the scariest thing for Mubarak, wife, and son is that ElBaradei’s social democratic centrism, liberalism, and personal air of gravitas is rapidly forming him a constituency inside and outside Egypt. Like any dictator, the purpose of Mubarak’s existence is to snuff out the bottom-up formation of constituencies around rival groups or individuals. So far, Mubarak has succeeded in blocking or containing the growth of constituencies around challengers. Because elections are the time when constituency-building happens, they’ve always constituted an annoying but ultimately manageable nuisance for him. When the Ikhwan’s constituency-building threatened the parliamentary majority of Mubarak’s party in 2005, state violence was at the ready to strike at both voters and candidates. When Ayman Nour’s unexpected constituency-building in 2005 threatened to embarrass Mubarak, he mobilized his media and legal machine to smear Nour and put him safely behind bars. These tried and true tactics won’t work with ElBaradei. I’m going to enjoy sitting back and watching how the Mubaraks deal with this wildcard.  

 

October 13, 2009

A Gentle Intellect

On 10 October, 2009, a luminous intellectual and gentle soul passed away. Felled by cancer at the age of 59, Mohamed El-Sayed Saïd was laid to rest yesterday in his native Port Said. Saïd was among a handful of extraordinarily committed, preternaturally courageous public intellectuals and human rights activists who dedicated their lives to making Egypt a more just place. His life is an awe-inspiring string of achievements, spanning intellectual contributions, activist work, and a brief but vital experiment in social justice-oriented journalism. It’s customary for obituaries to list the deeds of such luminaries and mourn their loss, and Mohamed Saïd deserves nothing less. But I find myself first remembering his personal qualities as a wonderful human being.

Those who knew him remember that Dr. Mohamed was an exceedingly nice person–friendly, warm, and genuinely humble. The rough and tumble of public life in an undemocratic country hadn’t coarsened him one bit. He seemed to have swooped into this era from some other time and place, where people were soft-spoken, courtly, even-tempered, a tad shy. He had an air of serenity, unruffled by the constant interruptions of mobile phones and other trappings of the busy-and-important. I often ran into him in noisy public places—a cinema, a downtown street, a public political meeting—and he always seemed enveloped in some otherworldly calm. Once while we were chatting over coffee in his Ahram office, he received three successive phone calls from an irate person who was loudly reproaching him on some personal matter. Dr. Mohamed answered the phone each time and stoically endured the harangue, smiling at me impishly as the agitated person on the other end heaved and screamed.

For someone who had a truly searching mind and considerable erudition, Dr. Mohamed carried his learning lightly. He wasn’t pompous and he didn’t feel the need to dominate every conversation or gathering. He was dead serious about his calling, but didn’t take himself overly seriously. I once teased him about some clunky neologism in his writing (I think it was his literal Arabic translation of “reification”), and he laughed as loud as he permitted himself, blushing endearingly.

In the precincts of al-Ahram where there’s a hyper-awareness of rank and status, with individuals daily seeking to reinforce or augment their social standing, Dr. Mohamed was detached. He seemed embarrassed that he had a driver who ferried him around, and he explicitly refrained from the kind of name-dropping that others think lends them gravitas. Intellectually, he surpassed everyone in that building and far beyond; he was the kind of writer whom you had to read no matter what, because almost always you’d emerge with a new way of looking at an issue, or a clearer understanding of why you disagree with him.

Mohamed El-Sayed Saïd was born in 1950 in Port Said to a father who worked in the Suez Canal authority and a homemaker mother. He took part in the 1968 wave of student and worker protests, and again in the 1972 protests, along with peer Ahmed Abdalla. He was imprisoned in 1972 for his student activism, and in the same year graduated from the Cairo University Faculty of Economics and Political Science. Shortly thereafter he was hired as a researcher at the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, a professional affiliation that would last until 2007 when he left al-Ahram to head the editorial team of al-Badeel. He pursued higher education and in 1983 received a doctorate in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for a thesis titled “Integration as a Model of Ethnic Conflict Resolution in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Mohamed El-Sayed Saïd was a thinking person. He wasn’t a clever wordsmith or a peddler of packaged ideas or a researcher in the narrow academic sense, but someone who seemed to be thinking during every waking moment, challenging received wisdom, looking more deeply at things we take for granted, and trying to communicate his mental strivings through writing and activism. As the obituaries are repeating ad nauseam, he was a socialist and a liberal who respected and was respected by all shades of the ideological spectrum, from Islamists to Nasserists to the most dogmatic leftists. A secular socialist he certainly was, but to me he represents the true meaning of an intellectual: someone who is constantly questioning why things are the way they are, and urging alternative readings of seemingly settled issues.

But Mohamed Saïd wasn’t the kind of intellectual who retreats from the world to better analyse it. I’ll lazily invoke the hackneyed phrase because it fits here: he tried to change the world. He made real contributions to two areas of Egyptian public life: human rights activism and the independent press. He was among the founders of the Egyptian human rights movement in the 1980s, both as a leading member of the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights (EOHR) (and later the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies) and a participant in theoretical debates about reconciling international human rights norms with Islamic principles. Emboldened by their international ties, Egyptian rights groups were the only organisations monitoring the government’s policing, especially during the years-long standoff with violent Islamist groups.

Mohamed Saïd’s human rights work nearly cost him his life. In 1989, the loathsome, vindictive Interior Minister Zaki Badr ordered the violent storming of a steel factory to break up a worker strike (one worker was killed in the confrontation). Dr. Mohamed drafted the EOHR statement expressing solidarity with the workers and condemning the government response. He was rounded up along with colleagues Hisham Mubarak, Amir Salem, and Medhat al-Zahed and subjected to brutal torture. Undeterred, he intensified his human rights work after 1989, and became a valuable source of knowledge about the history, politics, and organisational dilemmas of the rights movement.

In 2007, Dr. Mohamed entered the lively independent press scene. He helmed the fledgling al-Badeel as an experiment in non-partisan, non-doctrinaire leftist journalism oriented to social justice and popular struggles. The newspaper offered superb coverage of domestic politics, from localised cost-of-living protests to national political events, while innovating the idea of opinion pages featuring fresh emerging voices instead of publishing familiar big names serving up their familiar fare. Almost instantly, al-Badeel earned its place alongside al-Dostor and al-Masry al-Youm as daily must-reads, and Dr. Mohamed’s daily column revealed a different side of the public intellectual, a readable, accessible yet no less insightful voice on a far wider range of issues than he had ever commented on in print. During its brief half life, al-Badeel enriched contemporary Egyptian independent journalism and offered a platform for crucial societal debates. In 2008, when his illness became acute, Mohamed Said left the editorship but continued to write occasional pieces. Earlier this year, the paper lost its funding and sadly stopped printing.

The last time I saw Dr. Mohamed was in winter 2007, in the cavernous offices of al-Badeel in Bab el-Louq shortly after they started publication. The place was boisterous, full of energy, excitement, and good humour. Dr. Mohamed didn’t hold court or preside officiously, he darted from room to room, line-editing with journalists and editors, consulting with the website designers, bantering shyly with office staff. He announced a break and herded everyone around a table, a motley crowd of visitors, well-wishers, the newspaper’s funder, journalists, and a few oldtime leftists. We chatted amiably and sipped coffee as the winter sunshine flooded the room. Dr. Mohamed smiled beatifically, alternating sips of coffee with drags on his never-vanishing cigarette. And that is how I shall always remember him.

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Mr. Clone Mr Shalom

NOVANEWS

 

In the end, they leave, with hollow eyes and a few plain words. Stripped of their ill-gotten power, they are miserable, ashen, and base. All of the rhetoric they spewed lingers like a bad smell, soon to evaporate in the fresh air of freedom. “The Egyptian people still need to develop a culture of democracy. Their grievances are economic, not political. The ruling party won a sweeping victory. The extremists are going to take over. The government supports limited income groups. Police torture is just a few individual cases. The constitutional amendments strengthen democracy.” Today, all of that is over.

How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished.

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Justice First, Mr Hague. Then peace

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CRIMES AGAINST INTERNATIONAL LAW
CRIMES AGAINST UNITED NATIONS CHARTER
CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

By Stuart Littlewood 

The word ‘justice’ is conspicuously absent from the mouthings of Western politicians on the Middle East. It has vanished from their vocabulary and from their purpose. Instead ‘peace process’ is endlessly trumpeted, and the lopsided dead-end ‘negotiations’ that go with it.

“It was disappointing that they continued the building of settlements, that they wouldn’t renew the settlement freeze over the last few months.  So yes it does require bold leadership from Israel and of course from Palestinians…” That’s what the UK’s foreign secretary William Hague said yesterday to a BBC reporter.

Israel’s continuing crime spree “disappointing”? And “bold leadership” is now required from the Palestinians? We’re talking about crimes against international law and crimes against the United Nations charter and crimes against humanity. What is disappointing – no, shocking – is the lack of leadership from Hague and that bunch of misfits in the White House who are obligated under the terms of various solemn treaties and international undertakings to step in and end Israel’s lawlessness.

Yes, this is the same William Hague who hangs out a welcome sign to Israeli and other war criminals by watering down the UK’s universal jurisdiction laws.

He’s well and truly stuck in the peace process time-warp and trailing a long way behind the curve. “There is a legitimate fear that the Middle East peace process will lose further momentum… Part of the fear is that uncertainty and change [sparked by Tunisia and Egypt] will complicate the process still further… Within a few years, peace may become impossible.”

He speaks as if the process is alive and kicking. Peace has been impossible for decades. It remains impossible first because Israel doesn’t want it and, second, because peace cannot be achieved without justice. And justice cannot be delivered without enforcing the law. Nevertheless Hague prefers to bypass justice and flog the dead horse called Peace Process, which he must know won’t even leave the starting line.

The UK government is good at saying whatever is correct in international law. For example, “Although we accept de facto Israeli control of West Jerusalem, we consider East Jerusalem to be occupied territory. It is crucial that the parties involved come to an agreement whereby Jerusalem can be a shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian States.

“Attempts by Israel to alter the character or demography of East Jerusalem are unacceptable and extremely provocative.  Settlements, as well as the evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are illegal and deeply unhelpful to efforts to bring a lasting peace to the Middle East conflict.”

Saying it is easy. The thought of actually doing something to enforce the law and rectify the situation paralysis Westminster. Instead we get: “The UK will continue to add to international calls for restraint and the avoidance of provocative actions from both sides in and around Jerusalem.” As if that’ll solve anything.

And “the government is committed to upholding accountability for breaches of international humanitarian law”. Britain has made no move over the years to bring Israel to book for its hideous crimes.

The Foreign Office preaches about how the rule of law, freedom of speech and free and fair elections are inalienable rights, and how the UK “stands ready” to support those who aspire to these things, but none of it applies to the Palestinians. Otherwise the UK would be talking to and forging trade links with their democratically elected Gaza administration.

“Due to the actions that Hamas has taken, we are not yet prepared to engage with them,” says the Foreign Office in true Dickensian Circumlocution style http://www.charles-dickens.org/little-dorrit/ebook-page-58.asp . “Hamas remains committed to terrorism in order to achieve its aims.”

Israel remains committed to killing and maiming with impunity, often targeting Palestinian children. It carries out air-strikes on a daily basis. Before Hague utters the word terrorism again he should look it up and understand who the terrorists are. Has he asked Hamas what its aims actually are? Isn’t resistance to illegal armed occupation perfectly permissible under international law?

Westminster’s mind is shut. “We do not have any direct contact with Hamas. The Quartet have set out clearly that Hamas must renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept previously signed agreements. Hamas must make concrete and immediate movement towards these conditions…” Do the same conditions apply to Israel? And who outside the Israel lobby recognizes Israel with undefined, ever-expanding borders, or expects Palestinians to renounce violence when repeatedly thrown out of their homes and subjected to other atrocities?

However uncomfortable some Westerners may feel about Hamas, it has the authority to speak for Palestinians. Until it is brought in from the cold there’ll be no progress.

But no progress is the real aim of this dirty game, is it not?

 

UN resolutions are not à la carte

Meanwhile, Mr Hague, how do you like the Likud Party’s policy that “the Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state”, and that “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel”?

And what do you make of the Kadima Party’s claim to a national and historic right to the Land of Israel “in its entirety” and its pledge to keep Jerusalem and the settlements?

UN Resolution 181 of 1947, dealing with the Partition that Israel accepted, declared that Jerusalem “shall be established as a ‘corpus separatum’… administered by the United Nations”, and include surrounding villages and towns such as Abu Dis and Bethlehem.

Resolution 242 (1967) by the Security Council, and therefore fully binding, required withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict; freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area and a just settlement of the refugee problem.

Security Council Resolution 338 (1973) called on the parties concerned to get stuck in and immediate implement 242.

Security Council Resolution 446 (1979), besides declaring Israel’s settlements in territories occupied since 1967 illegal, called on Israel to “desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories”.

The UN has laid it down. Israel takes no notice. These are not resolutions on an à la carte menu to be cherry-picked by the Western powers and their friend Israel as the mood takes them. The world is waiting for the senior representative of the country that created the mess in the first place to show leadership, set an example and make sure these binding requirements are implemented.

And just to keep everyone’s thoughts properly focused, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that all peoples have the right of self-determination, and by virtue of that right they may freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The 136 states that are party to the Covenant have a duty to promote the realization of these rights and respect them.

A people may not be deprived of their natural wealth and resources or their means of subsistence. Remember this, Mr Hague, when Israel interferes with Gaza’s off-shore gas resources and the West Bank’s water. And States are also bound to recognize the right of everyone to the opportunity to earn a living by work which he freely chooses, and to take appropriate steps to safeguard this right. “Take steps” is what it says, Mr Hague. Please remember that when talking glibly about the need to lift the siege on Gaza and restore unfettered access to the outside world. Can you look Gaza’s 3000 fishermen in the eye? Or the hard-pressed doctors desperately short of medical supplies? Or the countless thousands still homeless after the Israeli blitz two years ago?

Then there’s the threat of Israel’s weapons of mass destruction, Israel being the only state in the region not to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has not signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention either. It has signed but not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, similarly the Chemical Weapons Convention.

And it’s all in the hands of psychopaths whom our government claims as friends and allies.

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Stepped Down: ”If Omar Suleiman makes grab for power he’s more stupid than Mu-barak”

NOVANEWS 

 

Egyptian Zionist Hosni Mu-barak finally stepped down and handed power to the Pro-Zionist military, according to the country’s Vice-President Zionist Omar Suleiman. It comes after more than two weeks of mass uprisings and protests in the country, which has been accompanied by a wave of violent clashes between pro and anti government protesters, resulting in the deaths of 300 protesters.
“The people are determined to get every member of this current brutal Regime out…”

are the implications for the rest of the Middle East?When asked what

“…well when the people lead, their leaders better listen…or they will become irrelevant…”
A solemn warning to all dictators out there who think Might is Right, ‘Today the Power is with the People,’.

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One For All, And All For One

NOVANEWS

The will of the people is bound to prevail.

By Dr. Ashraf Ezzat 

Thousands of Egyptians demanding that Mubarak steps down.

History has always shown us that people are seldom seen dreaming like one, thinking like one, aspiring to one goal and acting like one for all, and all for one.

We had many fictions and fairly tales that celebrated such oneness but we had very few realities on the ground.

Years and even centuries would pass by before any group of people could be united in heart and mind, before they could start realizing that they can and will make things change according to their true will … and before they believe that they can achieve magical moments with no need for crystal ball.

Millions of people can’t be wrong.

Millions of people can’t do wrong

Millions of people can’t go wrong … when they are joined as one in front of forces of corruption and hypocrisy.

Nothing and no one could stand in front of millions hungry for freedom and dignity.

No one has the power to hide the sun of truth and no one can abort the dawn of liberation and freedom.

Free at last

The will of the people is bound to prevail.

A dictator is like a spider you have to destroy him to get rid of a web of corruption and deception.

The dictator is finally out of Egypt.

Egyptians have every right to celebrate this glorious and rare historical moment.

Let’s hope this will bring a better tomorrow.

Let’s hope the millions would not forget this moment when they were one for all, and all for one.

For more articles by Dr. Ashraf Ezzat visit his website:http://ashraf62.wordpress.com/

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U.S.A: Army Units to Destroy Gulf War Troops Records

NOVANEWS

 

Gulf War Veterans Came Home Ill But NO One Knew Why……

The American people, thinking it was such a fast war, there would be hardly no new casualties to worry about or take care of. Hard to believe it has been 20 years but even harder to believe is that these veterans are still trying to have their claims approved for what their service did to them.

Nerve Agents

Impossible to believe is that the Army ordered units to destroy their records. Now we know how bad it has been for these veterans to have their claims approved and why it has been impossible, but we also now know that the DOD has admitted what they were exposed to.

The Defense Department did send a letter telling the same soldier that he and others in his unit were in an area where exposure to nerve agents saran and cycolosarin was possible, but they should not worry about any side effects.

“So we all got exposed to nerve agent as well, and according to the military, that is never going to affect us,” he said. “They just wanted to advise us that we’ve been exposed.”

Rep. C.W. Young, R-Fla., says he did not know of the Army’s letter until now. His office asking the Defense Department to look into the matter.

Here is a good place to start to understand what this is all about.

PBS Gulf War Syndrome
So they did their duty as yellow ribbons and support the troops were covering almost every business and flags were waving from most homes. Hey, they won and that was all we needed to know. It was over so fast that the images of bodies on the side of the road were replaced by Iraqis surrendering to US forces because they knew they would be treated better than Saddam would have treated them. After all, they lost.

Yet when our own POW’s filed a law suit against Saddam, the Bush Administration blocked it.

House Allows Gulf War POWs to Sue Iraq Over Torture
This is how it started

RETURNED PRISONERS OF WAR
FROM GULF WAR I –1991

NAME SERVICE DATE OF CAPTURE CARRIED AS RELEASE DATE

  • Acree, Clifford M. USMC Jan.18, 1991 POW 03/05/91

  • Andrews, William USAF — MIA 03/05/91

  • Berryman, Michael C. USMC — MIA 03/05/91

  • Cornum, Rhonda USA — * 03/05/91

  • Dunlap, Troy USA — * 03/05/91

  • Eberly, David W. USAF Jan. 17, 1991 POW 03/05/91

  • Fox, Jeffrey USAF Feb. 19, 1991 POW 03/05/91

  • Griffith, Thomas E. Jr. USAF Jan. 17, 1991 POW 03/04/91

  • Hunter, Guy L. Jr. USMC Jan. 18, 1991 POW 03/05/91

  • Lockett, David USA Jan. 20, 1991 MIA 03/04/91

  • Roberts, Harry M. USAF Jan. – 1991 POW 03/05/91

  • Rathbun-Nealy, Melissa USA Jan. 30, 1991 MIA 03/04/91

  • Slade, Lawrence R. USN Jan. 21, 19915,3 POW 03/04/91

  • Small, Joseph USMC Feb. 25, 1991 MIA 03/05/91

  • Sanborn, Russell A.C. USMC Feb. 09, 1991 MIA 03/05/91

  • Stamaris, Daniel USA — * 03/05/91

  • Storr, Richard Dale USAF — MIA 03/05/91

  • Sweet, Robert J. USAF Feb. – , 1991 MIA 03/05/91

  • Tice, Jeffrey Scott USAF Jan. -, 1991 POW 03/05/91

  • Wetzel, Robert USN Jan. 17, 1991 MIA 03/04/91

  • Zaun, Jeffrey Norton USN Jan. 17, 1991 POW 03/04/91

Archive for Tuesday, February 15, 2005

White House Turns Tables on Former American POWs

By David G. Savage
February 15, 2005 in print edition A-1

The latest chapter in the legal history of torture is being written by American pilots who were beaten and abused by Iraqis during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. And it has taken a strange twist.

The Bush administration is fighting the former prisoners of war in court, trying to prevent them from collecting nearly $1 billion from Iraq that a federal judge awarded them as compensation for their torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The rationale: Today’s Iraqis are good guys, and they need the money.

So they couldn’t get justice for being tortured any more than they could get justice for being tortured as a result of their service.

Americans want things all tied up when wars end. They don’t want to hear much about them when they are being fought and even less when they are over. We pride ourselves on saying we support the troops, but fail to admit that support ends at a certain point when our own lives matter more or we don’t want to be upset over sad stories that would change our view of ourselves. The truth is as good as we are at taking care of our veterans, we really suck at it. All these years have come and gone and now we discover our own military betrayed them.

Report: Army told units to trash Gulf War docs

By Mike Deeson – WTSP-TV (Tampa, Fla.)
Posted : Friday Feb 11, 2011 10:55:59 EST

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A letter from the Army Department telling units to destroy their records after the end of Operation Desert Storm has made it more difficult for injured veterans to get the medical benefits they need.

The letter, never made public before now, says units were told to destroy their records because officials had no room to ship the paperwork back to the United States. The letter goes on to say it was in direct contradiction to existing Army regulations.

“This could have been one, five, six, a couple of hundred or this could be thousands [of soldiers],” says Andrew Marshall, a Florida regional officer with the nonprofit Disabled American Veterans group. “You don’t know.”

One solider trying to get help from the Veterans Administration for combat-related injuries says he has been turned down because his records are missing. He did not want to be identified.

He says he has all the medical records for the time he was in the states, but the records for everything that happened outside of the country are gone.

Marshall says the Army should have backups to the records destroyed in the Persian Gulf.

But the Army’s letter says several years after soldiers began putting in medical claims, it was discovered all records below the brigade level no longer existed.

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm pushed Iraqi troops out of Kuwait; it lasted from Aug. 2, 1990, to the cease-fire on April 11, 1991. In the conflict, 383 service members died; as of last year, 467 were reported injured. About 2.225 million troops served in the war, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Not just the after-action reports have been destroyed or are missing. According to some files, when some veterans come to the Veterans Administration to get help for service-related disabilities, records show they served, but medical records are missing.

That means when the vets make claims, they are turned down.
click link above for more

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ONE LOVE: We are All Egyptians Now!

NOVANEWS

 

An Explosion Heard Round the World Destroys 20th Century Dogma

The New World Dis-Order Crushed by the Weight of the One Love Facebook Generation

The FACEBOOK generation takes over Egypt

The FACEBOOK Generation Takes over Egypt

As the dawn breaks over a new Egypt, the former protesters, now proud citizens of a burgeoning democratic Egypt are collectively cleaning up Tahrir Square and getting ready to begin the amazing and determined task to build a government for the people and by the people.

“This is our country, this is my Egypt, this is revolution” said a 20 something jubilant Egyptian at the very moment Hosni Mubarak stepped down from his golden palace.  The amazing enthusiasm by the kids of Egypt was awe inspiring. 

It was as if a mirror had been held up to our faces when we, as Americans, fought back in 1776 against the tyranny of the King.  If only there were Facebook and TV back then right?  But still, we know our foundation and our history and so we relate to our brothers in Egypt, not as Arabs or Muslims or some other kind of man-made label, but as fellow human beings who seek and stand for the basic human right of dignity and self-government.

Granted, on the right wing side in the USA, there are unfortunate expected rumblings of the typical boogey man fear mongering delivered by the doomsayers e.g.  What if, what about, the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel…blah blah blah.

All this noise blocking the real facts on the ground that the Egyptian youth ruled the day talking about Martin Luther King while wearing American branded Levi Strauss shirts yearning for very same American freedoms and liberty we all enjoy at home.  These kids are the future and they are NOT going to have any of this past dogma that so many old people are desperate to hold on to.  This is the new world where the kids are alright and the old people are all wrong.  The kids want peace not that old piece of garbage Hosni Mubarak and his assigns around the world tried to impose. 

One Love

One Love: Protestor Hugs Egyptian Army Officer

So while it’s disappointing to see some of our fellow Americans immediately default to a 20th century fear of the future while the rest of us look forward to a new world order where the Middle East becomes a democratic region and the wishes of the people rule the day, it’s important to note that, in a democratic free country, the people, if they choose, have a right to live in the darkness of the past.  But with the social networks online 24/7, we the people, also have a right to expose their darkness to the light and shine a bright light right into its very vortex showing that the emperor has no cloths.

You see, while liberty and freedom was a battle cry of America in the 20th century, in the 21st century, its’ now a global demand and the rulers of the past are about to fall one by one as we information age ourselves into the enlighten future.  So yeah, we still have to suffer the some fools who yearn for the 20th century dogma but we, the Facebook generation, no longer care for it or are interested in.  It’s a crashing bore! 

As for the snake oil salesmen who sell this ancient old thinking, well, they are on their way to the dusty museum.   In fact, let’s call it The Mubarek Museum of Failed Ideologies (MMFI).  Anyone have some nominees for it’s founding members? 

Look, no doubt, the shot heard round the world in Cairo will have amazing repercussions for Americans and our U.S. foreign policy.  And thats a good thing.  We need a major shake up. 

We are about to enter a new world where the Arab boogeyman is no longer there, except for periodic Osama Bin Laden appearance and pretend statements from old men that we are still looking for this cartoon fabricated character.  It’s over! 

The military industrial complex is getting exposed and they will have to deal with us, the people of the world led by the children of Egypt and the angry and abused here in America.  No more lies, no more fake wars, let’s be good to our earth and respect it’s resources, and let’s expose the banksters….and let’s have peace in the middle east, not by our spending money to pay for it with dictators but by letting the neighbors work it out.  Send them therapists, not money.  No more blood money.  We have nothing to fear anymore.  The kids of Egypt showed us the way…..and so, let us defeat fear by peace, by love, by care of our fellow man and end the hate mongering and demonizing.  We want to live.  It’s time for all of us to become Egyptians.

One Love

One love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying (One love)
Hear the children crying (One heart)
Sayin’, “Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right.”
Sayin’, “Let’s get together and feel all right.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa  

Bob Marley, from the song “One Love

And to think that all of this was started by a meager fruit vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire and with it, lit the world on fire.   Amazing!

So as our American right wing continues to live in their past glory, let us celebrate their right to live in the past; that’s the gift of freedom, liberty, and democracy.  But, as a majority, let’s take a deep breath and marvel at what we have witnessed in the cradle of civilization where a man named Moses once led his people from bondage and now another man, named the children of Egypt, with their keyboards and a dream Facebooked their way to lead the people out of this 20th Century bondage and into our global hearts for a 21st century world. 

It’s one love brother.  We are all human beings.  We are all Egyptians Now!

2011 copyright – JohnnyPunish.com

Posted in EgyptComments Off on ONE LOVE: We are All Egyptians Now!

A.Loewenstein Online Newsletter

NOVANEWS

 

US-backed dictators wonder why their boss turned against Mubarak

Posted: 12 Feb 2011 05:43 AM PST

This is what happens when Washington consistently backs thugs in the Middle East:

…A senior Republican member of Congress who has access to intelligence reports said U.S. spy agencies have seen recent indications that other Middle East leaders were dismayed by the United States’ treatment of Mubarak.

“The other countries are mad as hell, and they’re mad as hell at us,” said the lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly.

 

Washington as spectator in Egypt (and even that’s too much)

Posted: 12 Feb 2011 12:36 AM PST

Rupert Cornwell in the Independent on the well deserved sidelining of Washington during the glorious attempt to overthrow a dear US ally:

A CIA chief who publicly predicts the departure of Hosni Mubarak on the basis of “press reports”, and a White House that reacted in “disbelief” on Thursday to the Egyptian President’s decision to stay on – only to watch on television the next day as his vice-president announced that Mr Mubarak had indeed left office and the military was taking charge.

Nothing could more vividly underline what is self-evidently true but what both admirers and detractors of the US find hard to admit: that the world’s superpower has been a powerless spectator at the greatest and most momentous popular uprising in the modern history of the Middle East.

From the outset the US has been reacting to events – and not very consistently, first supporting Mr. Mubarak, then urging his swift departure, then calling for and orderly transition, before finally throwing its weight unequivocally behind the pro-democracy movement. Only at the end, it seems, was President Obama in the know, having been informed in advance yesterday morning that the Egyptian leader of 30 years was going.

In fact, by luck or judgement, the crisis has worked out more or less the way Washington probably wanted: the end of the ancien regime (or so it would seem today, for this Egyptian drama has repeatedly defied predictions) and the assumption of power by the military, with which the US has longstanding and close ties, and of which it is a key supplier.

 

New Wikileaks cable; US pledged to help human rights in Egypt

Posted: 12 Feb 2011 12:26 AM PST

Of course, funding a brutal dictator such as Mubarak to the tune of billions of dollars annually rather contradicts this easy pledge. An early 2010 cable:

CLASSIFIED BY: Margaret Scobey, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

¶1. Key Points:

– (C) In meetings January 13-14, A/S Posner told activists and opposition politicians that the U.S. is seeking ways to advance human rights and political participation over the coming 12-18 months.

– (C) Activists urged the U.S. to end a “double standard” on Israeli human rights violations, close Guantanamo and speak out
against GOE repression.

– (C) Opposition political leaders agreed that prospects for
significant political reform are slim while President Mubarak
remains in office. Most expected Mubarak to be a candidate in
2011, and predicted the military would play a role in succession to
ensure stability.

– (C) Former Presidential candidate Ayman Nour urged A/S Posner to
press the GOE to stop interfering with opposition political activity, and to allow him to work and travel.

¶2. (C) A/S Posner told activists the U.S. is interested in how to advance human rights in Egypt over the next 12-18 months to improve people’s lives. He said the U.S. would pursue a traditional human rights agenda to address police brutality, restrictions on NGOs, freedom of expression and assembly problems, sectarian tensions, and the State of Emergency. Posner noted that the U.S. is engaged on the coming Egyptian elections, and is working on issues of observation, participation and training. Posner said that the UN Human Rights Council focuses disproportionately on Israel. He described the Goldstone Report as flawed for not being able to include the Israeli government position, and called for Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations into human rights violations during the Gaza war.

 

Suleiman’s Mubarak resignation speech retuned

Posted: 11 Feb 2011 09:41 PM PST

 

 

Perhaps Zionist writer didn’t get memo on Mubarak

Posted: 11 Feb 2011 08:49 PM PST

Seriously, has the man spent any time with average people in Egypt?

Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz:

I don’t know whether President Mubarak was hated personally as much as the regime was despised.

 

And we can dream that Palestine will be truly free

Posted: 11 Feb 2011 06:37 PM PST

Gideon Levy in Haaretz reminds us that the struggle there for independence from Zionist occupation may take a little longer but justice is on the right side:

This week, Jenin’s wonderland was to be found in Egypt. Residents of the refugee camp closely followed events in the land of the Nile, in a mood of melancholy jealousy. Each night they crowded into homes to watch television and see what was going on in Cairo. But no winds of change are blowing in the West Bank. No solidarity demonstration was staged; not a single poster of support was to be seen on the streets. The pining for freedom is to be found only in the Jenin theater.

Camp residents saw what just a few days of popular protest can do – topple a tyrannical regime that has been in power for decades. Yet here in the camp, a struggle that has lasted decades, a mass, armed and sometimes violent campaign for freedom, has changed nothing. All is despair. At the end of last week, the IDF once again invaded the camp and in the dark of night whisked four young men from their beds. Nobody in the camp knew why this happened, or where the men were taken. That’s just the way the world turns

 

What decades of US/Israeli rule has done to the Arab world

Posted: 11 Feb 2011 05:08 PM PST

Tariq Ali:

The age of political reason is returning to the Arab world. The people are fed up of being colonised and bullied. Meanwhile, the political temperature is rising in Jordan, Algeria and Yemen.

 

Savouring what the Egyptian people achieved

Posted: 11 Feb 2011 04:40 PM PST

Today’s Guardian editorial highlights the necessary move away from America and its corrupted policies in the Middle East. What truly sane and democratic nation wouldn’t want to break free from that?

Thirty years of dictatorship disappeared in 30 seconds. This was the time it took for Vice-President Omar Suleiman to announce that Hosni Mubarak had resigned as president of Egypt and that the armed forces council was taking over as head of state. After 18 continuous days of protest in which the occupants of Tahrir Square resisted everything the dying regime dared to throw at them – armed mobs, occasional gunfire, waves of arrest, the shutting down of the internet and the mobile phone network, a media crackdown – the voice of the Egyptian people had finally made itself heard.

Whatever follows, this is a moment of historic significance. It re-establishes Egypt as the leader of the Arab world and Egyptians at its moral core. This revolution – the only word that fits – was carried out by ordinary people demanding, with extraordinary tenacity, basic political rights: free elections, real political parties, a police force that upholds rather than undermines the rule of law. Try as some may to paint them as the lackeys of Islamism, they did this on their own and, to a large extent, peacefully. This was a fight in which Muslims and Christians stood side by side. No sectarian flags were visible in Tahrir Square, just the national one. Together they showed that if they could conquer their own fear – one that was wholly rational – they could go on to bring down the most entrenched and venal of dictators. Mr Mubarak’s fate will not be lost on every other dictator in the Arab world and beyond.

Their achievement was not without sacrifice. More than 300 died fighting for this moment. Nor does the jubilation on the streets of every town and city in Egypt furnish, in itself, the guarantee of a democratic future. Many important questions were left unanswered last night. The biggest centred on what role the army would play in the transition to whatever beckons. Before the crisis, the upper echelons of the army were far from being the potential balancing force between an unyielding president and an angry street. Senior generals who enriched themselves under the former president became part of what one academic has called a military-Mubarak complex. Almost everyone left in power in post-Mubarak Egypt last night, from Vice-President Suleiman down to provincial governors, are career military men. The symbol and head of the regime has gone, but the component parts which supported it still remain. If the experience of Tunisia is anything to go by, the mass demonstrations of the last two weeks may not be the last.

Many will almost certainly demand that Mr Suleiman himself follow his patron’s lead. Even after the revolution started, the former intelligence chief might have played a positive role. But his contradictory statements and actions since then have hardly encouraged the notion that he could be the agent for change. He said that Egypt was not ready for democracy, instructed Egyptians to stop watching foreign satellite channels, and vowed to lift the hated emergency law only when “conditions permitted”. He did, to his credit, talk to representatives of the organisation he once tried hard to crush, the Muslim Brotherhood, but then issued a statement which was so far off the mark that it was denounced by those who had taken part in the meeting. He surely has no further role to play as mediator.

The implications of these events for the US are very far-reaching. Washington has struggled to speak with one voice as it went from preaching stability to declaring that the political demands of the Egyptians were universal and touched America’s core beliefs. Post-revolutionary Egypt may not tear up its treaty with Israel. But it could be less easily swayed to do its neighbour’s bidding in Gaza. Politically, Egypt may become more like Turkey. For Egyptians did not merely re-establish their independence from Mr Mubarak. They also demonstrated their independence from the US and its allies.

 

Joyful sounds and image from a jubilant Egypt

Posted: 11 Feb 2011 04:11 PM PST

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