Saturday, September 28, 2013

Obama makes history and phones Rohani

View image on Twitter 
The Iranian press showed an Obama calling Rohani.

 President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rohani of Iran spoke by telephone on Friday as a sign that they are serious about reaching a pact on Tehran's nuclear program. The phone call was arranged by Obama's staff, after Rohani had signalled that he was willing to talk top Obama on the phone, Reuters reports. A source close to Rohani said the United States had reached out after positive talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif a day earlier, according to Reuters. The conversation between Obama and Rohani was the first direct contact between American and Iranian heads of state since the occupation of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979.
President Obama afterwards gave the following - remarkably positive - statement:  
Just now, I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.  I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in New York — while there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Government in Sudan facing hoge protests after cuts in fuel subsidies

The headway from Khartoum to the north, in Kadro, some 24 km from Khartoum. (Photo AP)

The government of Omar Ali al-Bashir in Sudan is in trouble. At least 27 people have been killed in protests in Khartoum, after president Omar al-Bashir, who is in power since an islamist backed military coup in 1989, on Monday announced severe cuts in fuel subsidies, saying that the existing system posed a danger to the entire Sudanese economy.

A medical source at a hospital in Khartoum's Omdurman neighborhood, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters: "There were 27 people killed in the protests and their bodies are at the Omdurman hospital."
On Thursday the unrest spread to Sudan's biggest port. Port Sudan. Police fired tear gas volleys to quell a small but strident protest in this city on the Red Sea coast where participants chanted,"Down, down with the regime", according to witnesses.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Further overtures by Obama and Rohani at UN-Assemblee

Message to the World: Iranian President Hasan Rouhani speaks during the 68th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013
Rohani at the UN (Photo AP)

President Barack Obama on Tuesday cautiously embraced overtures from Iran's president Rohani as the basis for a possible nuclear deal. A meeting between the two, however, did not take place.
In a speech to the United Nations, Obama said he was determined to test President Hassan Rouhani's recent diplomatic gestures and challenged him to take concrete steps toward resolving Iran's long-running nuclear dispute with the West.
Hours later, Rohani used his debut at the world body to pledge Iran's willingness to engage immediately in "time-bound" talks on the nuclear issue.Rohani stressed Iran's right to enrich uranium, but again asserted that
the Iranian nuclear program serves only peaceful purposes:

Iran’s nuclear program – and for that matter, that of all other countries – must pursue exclusively peaceful purposes. I declare here, openly and unambiguously, that, notwithstanding the positions of others, this has been, and will always be, the objective of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions. Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.
The second objective, that is, acceptance of and respect for the implementation of the right to enrichment inside Iran and enjoyment of other related nuclear rights, provides the only path towards achieving the first objective. Nuclear knowledge in Iran has been domesticated now and the nuclear technology, inclusive of enrichment, has already reached industrial scale. It is, therefore, an illusion, and extremely unrealistic, to presume that the peaceful nature of the nuclear program of Iran could be ensured through impeding the program via illegitimate pressures.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Egyptian court bans Muslim Brotherhood

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Shura (Consultative) council members gather for a photo op outside the new Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, April 30, 2011Members of the Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood outside the new headquarters of the movement at Moqattam in  Cairo. The pictur is from 2011.

A court in Cairo on Monday banned the Muslim Brotherhood and its NGO, which left the Islamist group without legal status. The Muslim Brotherhood has existed outside of Egyptian law for decades and its NGO was only officially registered in March 2013. The court also requestrated the NGO's funds and property and gave it to the state. The lawsuit aganist the Ikhwean was filed by the leftist Tagammu Party.
Egypt launched a crackdown against the group following the ouster on 3 July of president Morsi.Most of its leaders, like its supreme guide, Mohamed Badie,deputy supreme guide Khairat El-Shater, secretary general EzzatIbrahim and senior member Mohamed El-Beltagy have been detained and face charges of incitement to violence. On 17 September, Egyptian prosecutors froze the assets of several senior Brotherhood leaders as part of investigations against them.
The verdict is another big step back on the path of freedom and equality that was one of the supposed goals of the revolution of 25 January 2011. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Egypt returns $ 2 billion to Qatar

Remarkable fact, quoteds by Mada Masr from Reuters 
Egypt will return US$2 billion to Qatar after negotiations failed to convert the funds into three-year bonds, Central Bank Governor Hesham Ramez announced on Thursday, according to Reuters.
Qatar pledged US$3 billion in aid to Egypt last April when former President Mohamed Morsi was still in power. US$1 billion of those funds were dispensed as three-year bonds.
Qatar, seen as a Muslim Brotherhood ally, had initially pledged US$5 billion total to support Morsi’s government in the midst of a rapidly deteriorating economy.
Returning the aid to Qatar could be seen as a symptom of increasingly strained relations between the two countries since the Armed Forces removed Morsi from power and installed a pro-military interim government.
Since the July 3 ouster, Egypt has received pledges of support from military-friendly Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have promised Egypt US$8 billion in the form of grants, deposits and commodities. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rouhani: ´Iran will never develop nuclear arms´

Hassan Rouhani
Hassan Rouhani (Photo: Mohsen Shandiz/Corbis)
Iranian President Hassan Rohani vowed on Wednesday that his government would never develop nuclear weapons, his strongest signal yet that he may be seeking a diplomatic thaw with the West after decades of acrimony.
In an interview with NBC News days before he travels to New York for a U.N. appearance, the new Iranian president also insisted he had "complete authority" to negotiate a nuclear deal with the United States and other Western powers.
"We have time and again said that under no circumstances would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nor will we ever," Rouhani said when asked whether he would forswear nuclear arms.
Rohani's conciliatory comments appeared to be another sign of his willingness to work toward a diplomatic solution in Iran's bitter nuclear standoff with the West. Speaking to the U.S. network at his presidential compound in Tehran, Rouhani said the tone of a letter he had received from President Barack Obama, part of a recent exchange of messages between the leaders, was "positive and constructive."

Iran frees Nasrin Sotoudeh and seven other political prisoners

Nasrin Sotoudeh
Nasrin Sotoudeh
Iran freed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, seen by campaign groups as Iran's highest profile political prisoner, on Wednesday together with a  number of other political prisoners linked to the mass protests after the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The gesture weas seen as another sign that hardline policies may be easing under the new president Hassan Rouhani.
Arrested in September 2010, Sotoudeh was serving a six-year term for spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security. Sotoudeh, 50, who defended journalists and rights activists including Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, went on hunger strike for nearly 50 days last year to force authorities to repeal a travel ban on her young daughter.
The prison releases come less than a week before President Hassan Rouhani addresses the U.N. General Assembly for the first time and is expected to present a less confrontational image than Ahmadinejad, under whose eight years in power Iran came under ever-tougher Western trade sanctions.
One of the other prisoners released on Wednesday was Mohsen Aminzadeh, a former deputy foreign minister under reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, who supported reformist presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi in 2009. Feizollah Arabsorkhi, a former deputy minister of commerce under Khatami, was also released. The total number of prison releases was not immediately clear, but various news reports mentioned seven other women and three men in total.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Yemeni minister will re-introduce bill against child marriages

Minister Mashour
As the controversy is growing around the alleged death of another Yemeni girl following a marriage to a 40-year old man, Yemen Human Rights Minister, Hooria Mashour has promised she would sponsor a bill to introduce a legal minimum age on marriage. The minister wants to impose a age-ban on marriage at 17, thus criminalizing child marriage once and for all. 
When reports emerged last week that a girl named Rawan, from the northern Yemeni town of Haradh, died a few days after being married off to a 40-year-old man, Yemenis were horrified.International outrage quickly grew, as the alleged incident highlighted once again the extremely controversial issue of child marriage in Yemen -- a country where the practice is still legal. Residents of Haradh told local media outlets that Rawan's cause of death was internal bleeding, believed to be the result of sexual intercourse. Local officials, however, have denied the story is true. Governor, Ali al-Khaisy of the Hajja governorate to which Haradh belons, rejected the claims, declaring he had himself investigated the matter and established that the young school-girl was still living under her father's care and that no plan to marry her off had ever been planned.
Even Minister Mashour conceded that there was "not enough evidence at the moment about the incident". But true or not, Masour told AFP that she wrote to the president of the chamber of deputies "to re-file on the parliamentary agenda the bill limiting the age of marriage to 17 years, which has been suspended since 2009".
In 2009 and 2010 there were stories about the death of Yemeni child brides that were confirmed by Unicef, anmong others. 

Chemical weapons attack: UN-report indirectly inculpates Syrian armed forces

Human Rights Watch:
The UN experts’ report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria has few surprises for those of us who have been investigating that deadly attack.
The UN experts collected “clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used in Ein Tarma, Moadamiya, and Zamalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus.”
The experts’ mandate does not allow them to say who was responsible for the deadly barrage.  But if you read between the lines, it isn’t difficult to figure it out.
The rocket systems identified by the UN as used in the attack – truck-launched 330mm rockets with around 50 to 60 liters of Sarin, as well as 140mm Soviet-produced rockets carrying a smaller Sarin-filled warhead – are both known to be in the arsenal of the Syrian armed forces. They have never been seen in rebel hands. The amount of Sarin used in the attack – hundreds of kilograms, according to Human Rights Watch’s calculations – also indicates government responsibility for the attack, as opposition forces have never been known to be in possession of such significant amounts of Sarin.

Enemies of the Egyptian revolution?

This is what blogster Zeinobia wrote on her blog on Sauturday 14/9. We should really be concerned about the road that developments in Egypt are taking:
Here is Ahram Arabi magazine’s cover for this week.  The magazine publishes the blacklists of the 25 January revolution and 30 June revolution enemies and members of the fifth column. The list of the fifth column that works against the nation and the army for the sake of the Muslim brotherhood and United State include the following : Mohamed ElBaradei , Amr Hamzawy , Reem Magued, Yosri Fouda , Wael Ghonim , Mahmoud Saad “He returned back to air recently on the same channel” , Mona Seif, Alaa Seif , April 6 Youth movement members , Israa Adel Fatah , Wael Abbas , Asmaa Mahfouz and revolutionary socialists. These are the primary 25 January suspects in Egypt.
According to the people who are keeping this hashtag active , the fifth column agent is anyone who dares to speak about his rejection to human rights abuse and state of emergency as well to that “War against terrorism” rhetoric and military trials and above them military/police state !! Of course in their view all these points mean that you are against the army thus you are a fifth column that wants to bring the Egyptian state down after the fall of Syria and Iraq.
Ironically most of these names “except Wael Abbas” supported the 30 June and called for it.
In short these names are those who supported the original 25 January revolution and stood against the violations of SCAF. Of course there are other similar hash tags now on twitter like “The January Setback” as people buy more of the conspiracy talk.
Sadly enough this McCarthyism flourishing in Egypt is forcing to people to rethink their positions and even fear to express their opinions freely online or offline as before for fear of the backlash.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Theft of antiquities from Memphis (Mit Rahina)
Statue of Ramses II at the Memphis Museum in Mit Rahina. 

An investigation is underway into the looting of Ancient Egyptian artefacts from Mit-Rahina (once known as Memphis). Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim has asked the prosecutor-general to question representatives from the Ancient Egyptian department at the antiquities ministry, the director of Mit Rahina archaeological site, and local guards and security personnel about the incident.
The story began last week when inspectors at Mit Rahina found the ceilings of two galleries at the site had been broken. A comprehensive inventory of both galleries by an archaeological committee found a large number of missing artefacts.
The Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) has not reported the exact number of missing artefacts. But according an MSA archaeologist who required anonymity, 261 artefacts were stolen.
Memphis, was the capital of Ancient Egypt for more than eight consecutive dynasties in the Old Kingdom.
The city reached its peak during the 6th dynasty and became the centre of worship for Ptah, the god of creation and art. Memphis declined briefly after the 18th dynasty with the rise of Thebes and the New Kingdom, but remained the second city of Egypt until 641 CE. It was abandoned and became a source of stone for the surrounding settlements. It includes ruins of Ancient Egyptian, Ptolemaic and Graeco-Roman temples and chapels.

Egypt prolongs state of emergency, acquits those responsible for killings in Suez in 2011

Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour decided Thursday afternoon to extend the state of emergency, imposed on 14 August, for 2 months, AhramOnline confirmed.
At the same time the government failed to unveil any plans to lift the night-to-morning curfew it imposed in 14 governorates on the same day.
A child walks past burning tyres as demonstrators battle police during a demonstration in Suez
Suez, January 2011 (Khaled Dessouki/AFP)

On the same day an Egyptian court acquitted all 14 defendants, including policemen, accused of killing 17 protesters during the bloodiest day of a revolt that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak over two years ago, judicial sources said.
Former Suez security chief Mohamed Abdel-Hady, along with three other officials and 10 policemen, were accused of killing 17 demonstrators and injuring 300 others on 28 January 2011, dubbed “Friday of Rage.”
Egyptian businessman and member of the now-defunct National Democratic Party Ibrahim Farag, along with his three sons, were also found not guilty of the same charges. Farag -- known in Suez as "the killer of protesters" -- and his family were said to have opened fire from a rooftop at protesters in Suez, killing or injuring dozens.
Over 840 people were killed during the 11-day uprising that toppled long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The excessive use of force and live rounds by security forces was widely blamed for the deaths.
To date, however, Egypt's judiciary has failed to convict anyone belonging to the security apparatus for murder during the protests.
The deaths in Suez City triggered violence across Egypt on what was later called "The Friday of Rage" - January 28, 2011.
The Muslim Brotherhood and some human rights activists accuse the army-backed government of trying to bring back the old order, accusations it denies.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Obama embraces Russian proposal that Assad puts chemical weapons under supervision

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday he saw a possible breakthrough in the crisis with Syria after Russia proposed that its ally Damascus hand over its chemical weapons for destruction, which could avert planned U.S. military strikes.
But Obama, speaking in a series of television interviews, remained skeptical and pushed ahead to persuade a reluctant and divided Congress to back potential U.S. action, saying the threat of force was needed to press Syria to make concessions. However, the Senate postponed a vote about Obama's proposed attack.
In an extraordinary day of diplomacy over the war-wracked Middle Eastern country, Russia seized on an apparently throwaway public remark by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to fashion a new approach that could save face for all sides.
"My preference consistently has been a diplomatic resolution to this problem," Obama told NBC. He said an agreement for Assad to surrender his chemical weapons to international control would not solve the "underlying terrible conflict inside of Syria."
He added: "But if we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action, that would be my preference."
"It's possible that we can get a breakthrough," Obama told CNN, although there was a risk that it was a further stalling tactic by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has presided over more than two years of civil war.
"We're going to run this to ground," he said. "John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see, can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thousands call for Tunisian government to step down

 Protesters in Tunis (7 September 2013)

Thousands of Tunisians took to the streets of Bardo, near the capital Tunis, on Saturday calling for the government led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party to step down, AFP reported. They were marking the end of a 40-day period of mourning after the assassination of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi, shot dead outside his home on July 25.
Protesters gathered late Saturday at Bab Saadoun, on the outskirts of Tunis, before marching to Bardo square, the scene of regular protests after the killing of Brahmi. Demonstrators carrying portraits of Brahmi chanted slogans paying tribute to him and denouncing the government.
The authorities have blamed Brahmi's killing, and the murder in February of another opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, on Salafist militants. But many opposition supporters blame the government for having failed to crack down on Islamist extremists in the wake of Belaid's killing.
Some members of Brahmi's family have accused Ennahda itself of being behind his assassination, a charge the party has repeatedly denied. Members of Brahmi's family and a number of friends of Belaid marched at the head of the rally. Brahmi's widow had made it clear that government representatives would not be welcome at any of the ceremonies in memory of her husband. She too called for the government to go.
The National Salvation Front, an umbrella group of opposition parties that has led the campaign against the government since Brahmi's murder, promised to keep up the pressure on the government. But Ennahda has so far resisted the Front's calls for it to step aside in favour of a non-partisan cabinet. Instead, it has offered to broaden the existing ruling coalition and to hold elections in December. It wants the National Constituent Assembly to be allowed to finish its work drawing up a new constitution for the country. It would replace the one that existed during the rule of long-time president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in the 2011 "Arab Spring" revolution.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shana Tova

I wish my Jewish readers a happy and sweet new year, 
  שנה טובה
Palestinians climb the 'Wall' near Qalandiya as they want to take part in the service in the Aqsa mosque during Ramadan. My wish for this new Jewish year is that in 5774 all of us, like them, will be able to overcome the obstacles we are going to meet.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Attacking Syria remains a bad idea

President Obama's efforts to persuade the U.S. Congress to back his plan to attack Syria were met with skepticism on Monday from lawmakers in his own Democratic Party who expressed concern the United States would be dragged into a new Middle East conflict.
Obama's abrupt decision to halt plans for a strike against Assad's forces and instead wait for congressional approval has generated a hot debate just as the president prepares to depart on Tuesday on a three-day trip to Sweden and Russia.The biggest obstacle he faces is winning the support of members of his own party in the House of Representatives and conservative Republicans who see little need for the United States to get involved in distant civil wars.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who was among the Obama advisers on the call for the Democrats, urged support for giving Obama a resolution to use force, saying Syria had reached a "Munich moment," according to participants.
The White House argument is that Syria must be punished for the chemical weapons onslaught and that at stake are the integrity of an international ban on such weapons and the need to safeguard U.S. national security interests and allies Israel, Jordan and Turkey.
Syria has blamed the attack on rebel forces.
While Obama faced obstacles at home, key U.S. ally France said it had evidence showing that Assad's government had ordered chemical attacks.The French government released a nine-page intelligence document that listed five points that suggested Assad's fighters were behind the "massive and coordinated" August 21 chemical attack.

Secretary general Nabil al-Arabi of the Arab League has said military intervention in Syria is not an option - a further blow to the United States' efforts to act. Following emergency meetings in Cairo on Monday, Al Arabi said the League held the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad responsible for the August 21 attack, but a "military option is out of the question". Al Arabi added that he considered that only the UN, "as the official representative of the international community" could "take action to stop those who committed this crime". Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and an ally of Assad, has said there is no evidence that the chemical attack was launched by the Assad regime.

Maybe it is good to quote as yet Stephen Walt's Op Ed in the New York Times of 26 August. Even if Assad may have used chemical weapons, Walt argues (which of course is bad, although not necessarily that much worse than 'using 500-pound bombs, mortar shells, cluster munitions, machine guns, or icepicks') it is still a bad idea, to strike him:
Airstrikes cannot eliminate Assad’s chemical arsenal and are unlikely to tip the balance in favor of the rebels. And even if they did, this situation would give Assad a bigger incentive to use these weapons more widely. Assad’s fall would create a failed state and unleash a bitter struggle among the various rebel factions. The Syrian uprising may have started as a peaceful reform effort, but today the most powerful rebel groups are jihadi extremists, the last people we want in power in Damascus. These prudential concerns still apply, regardless of the weaponry Assad's forces may have employed.
Lastly, Obama may be tempted to strike because he foolishly drew a “red line” over this issue and feels his credibility is now at stake. But following one foolish step with another will not restore that lost standing. U.S. power is most credible when it is used to protect vital U.S. interests. The United States has little interest in getting bogged down in Syria, and the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces does not alter that fact.
I think Walt is right.