Thursday, May 31, 2012

SCAF lifts Egyptian state of emergency which has been in place since 1981

Archives of the State Security Investigations Service (SSI) Police in Cairo. The archives were  ransacked in March 2011.  (Photo Hossam Hamalawy)  

 The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces SCAF has finally abolished the state of emergency that has been in place in Egypt since 1981, the year in which president Anwar al-Sadat was murdered. Over the years thousands of people have been arrested under this law that permitted to keep them in prison, without due process  as administrative detainees. Thousands also have also been tried before Emergency State Security Courts. Moreover a  special State Security Investigations Service (SSI) used to follow the steps of millions of Egyptians. In March last year the Interior Ministry abolished the SSI and announced a new national security body, the Egyptian Homeland Security, after the SSI offices in Cairo and Alexandria had been stormed. No details have ever been given as to whether former SSI officers were integrated in the new body, or whether anybody will be investigated for human rights violations.
  The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had partially lifted the state of emergency at the beginning of this year, except for cases of 'thuggery.' This meant, in practice, that the state of emergency continues until its end on 31 May, according to a presidential decree, which which issued by Mubarak and extended the state of emergency for two years, from 1 June 2010 to 31 May 2012.
 Lifting of the state of emergency had been a demand of the protesters of Tahrir for the beginning. Also human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights EIPR had repeatedly asked for it.
What is not clear yet, is what is to happen to detainees under the state of emergency currently still in Egyptian prisons. According to numbers available to the EIPR, there are at least than 89 people at the moment held in Egyptian prisons who were placed under administrative detention in the last few months of 2011 and the first few of 2012. All of them were detained by the Criminal Investigations Bureau, and more than half of them arrested in their homes. While for a number of them the reason for arrest is not know, most of them were arrested for criminal and not political reasons. 

Israeli AG drops case against rabbis who wrote book that incited to kill 'gentiles'

Rabbi Shapira during a court hearing in 2011
The Israeli attorney general Yehuda Weinstein, announced this Monday that he is dropping the case against the rabbis Yizhak Shapira, Yoseph Elizur, Dov Lior and Yizhak Ginzburg, writes Yossi Gurvitz on +972. The first two rabbis wrote a book called “Torat Ha’Melech” (The King’s Bible) two years ago, the two others endorsed it. All four are rabbis in the service of the state and connected to the yeshiva (institute for religious learning) in the settlement Yitzhar near Nablus, which is notorious for its violence against surrounding Palestinian villages. Dov Lior is moreover the chief rabbi of the settlements in Hebron

One of the themes of the book was that killing your enemies is allowed. In a  notorious paragraph it even claims that:

Rabbi Yosef Elitzur in court
there is reason to believe harming children, if there is reason to think they will grow up to harm us, is permitted; and in such a case, the harm should be directed specifically at them, and not just while harming grown-ups.
For “harm,” read “kill,” Gurvitz writes. And: There’s much more there, including permission to kill any gentile which does not follow the “Laws of the Sons of Noah,” which conveniently enough encompasses the vast majority of mankind, if by killing that gentile you intended to punish him for not following a divine mandate he was not aware of. All Christians, pagans and atheists are ipso facto non-Noah-observant, and can be slain at will.
The reason  Attorney General Weinstein gave for his decision not press charges was that while Torat Ha’Melech contained severe racist terms, he did not have grounds for conviction, since the rabbis couched their incitement to racism in religious terms. Weinstein wrote that the law specifically exempted “religious studies” from prosecution.
Distressing idea, the most blatant racism is allowed in Israel as long as it is couched in religious terms.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The big challenge for Egypt´s revolutionairies: how to stop a return to a Mubarak-like past

 Protest rally against Ahmed Tawfiq, Monday evening 28 May on Tahrir. (photo Tawfiq Shalabi)

So it´s final: Egypt's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) officially announced on Monday that Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Mursi and last Mubarak-era premier Ahmed Shafiq will face each other in the runoff vote on 16 and 17 June. Mursi was the winner with 24.78%.  Number two, Shafiq, secured 23.66 % and Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi came third with 20.72 per cent. Abdel Moneim Aboul Foutouh got 17.47% and Amr Moussa 11,13%. The turnout was 46.42 %.

The big questionmark form,any now is, how to stop Shafiq, who is as feloul (remnant of the Mubarak era) as can be. In een speech for the American Chamber of Commerce on 14 May he announced that he was never ashamed to tell that Mubarak was his example and that he might choose Omar Suleiman as his vice president when elected. He promised that he, once he was president, would restore law and order in a month.   
Monday evening protest demonstrations were held against the fact that he is in the race in the first place. Thousands came to Tahrir and in Doqqi his headquarters went up in flames.
The office of Ahmed Shafiq is on fire. (Al-Masry al-Youm).

Mohammed Morsi, meanwhile, tries to pose as the candidate of the revolution, so that he can prevent that Shafiq wins. He tried to have a meeting with the other candidates Aboul Foutouh, Sabbahi and Amr Moussa, but all three declined,. Also he promised a ´national cabinet´ in case he´ll become president. So far not too many people went over to his side, although some, like the writer Alaa al-Aswani, voiced the opinion that Morsi is the only hope to keep Shafiq out of office. Morsi´s attempts at having deals with the more secular opposition are most surely to be continued

Hani Shukrallah, the editor of Al-Ahram Online, the English Al-Ahram so to say, wrote an interesting piece about the results of the first round of these elections in which he pointed to the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood in fact lost if we compare the results with those of the earlier parliamentary elections. At that time the Ikhwan got 47%, this time it was a meagre 24,8%. Apparently the opportunist way in which the Ikhwan played its own games after the parliamentary win, was not appreciated by too many voters, Shakrallah concludes. In the countryside the Ikhwan still won, but in the big cities it lost to the candidate of the revolution, Hamdeen Sabbahi:

 Alexandria, for years considered the Brotherhood's stomping ground and foremost urban base in the country gives leftist Sabbahi first place with 34.2% of the vote, compared to 15.3% for the Brotherhood's Mursi, and the state's Shafiq at the bottom of the stack, in fifth place, with a paltry 12%.
Sabbahi maintains his first place position in the nation's capital, Cairo, with 34.6%, followed by Shafiq who does much better here than in Alexandria, with 25.9% with Mursi in third place, with 20.1%, thus earning the city founded by Alexander the Great the title of Egypt's revolutionary capital.

and the case of  Imbaba, which used to be a stronghold of  the Islamists:
Yet another set of spectacular numbers is provided by the extremely densely populated and horribly destitute Cairo district of Imbaba. During the 90s of the last century, Imbaba had come under the sway of the militant Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya to such an extent that it was widely named the Islamic Republic of Imbaba. When the police finally, and with predictably tremendous viciousness, crushed the Gamaa by the end of that decade, it was natural for the district to be inherited by the Brotherhood.  
Imbaba results in the first round of the post-revolution presidential elections in 2012 had Sabbahi in first place (32.2%) followed by: Shafiq (23.2%); Mursi (18.3%); Abul-Fotouh (14.7%). All of which seems to support that not only was the Muslim Brotherhood's support waning, but that in fact there was something of a backlash against the group.

In passing Shukrallah also debunks the conclusion of some that it was the 10 million Copts who helped Shafiq to his position of runner up. Shukrallah argues that Shafiq without doubt was helped by part of the Coptic population of of fear for a victory of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. But he points to the fact that the bulk of the votes for Shafiq came from rural provinces like Menoufia, where there are virtually no Copts. Also it is clear that many Copts, particularly the less well to do, voted for Sabbahi. The ´zabaleen´ - Cairo´s famous Christan garbage collectors, turned out to be a case in point.
Shafiq´s succes, Shukrallah thinks, was largely the work of the remnants of  Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party, which was
 ...never a political party in any real sense of the word. Rather, it was a giant network of state patronage, in which the intermarriage of money and power, businessmen and bureaucrats at the very top is replicated down to the remotest hamlet in the country. (....) Yet Shafiq's 23 per cent is not a sterling result by any means, considering that that's the best that can be done by a decades-old authoritarian state, run by the military, the intelligence and security services and able to mobilise and put into motion a huge machinery made up of the state bureaucracy and repressive machinery, as well as the extensive network interlinking that machinery with local bosses and dignitaries spread across the nation including anything from tribal chieftains, village heads to billionaire industrialists and mangers of state economic enterprises.

So also that machinery is not all powerful anymore, Shukrallah seems to think. Let´s hope he´s right.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bahraini activist Khawaja stops hunger strike

Abdelhadi Khawaja
Bahraini opposition activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja will end a 110-day hunger strike on Monday evening. his lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi said. Earlier Jishi announced that another prominent activist, Nabeel Rajab, was granted bail although he continues to face three separate trials. In a statement posted by the lawyer on his Twitter page, Khawaja cited the fact that he is being  force fed since April 23 as one of the reasons why he stopped his strike.
Khawaja was arrested in April last year following a government crackdown on Shiite-dominated protests, He began his hunger strike on February 8. He is the former head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), and has dual Bahraini and Danish nationalities. Last June he was tried with 20 others by a military tribunal of plotting to overthrow the government. Together with seven olthers he got a life imprisonment, while 14 others were sentenced to between two and 15 years. He is being retried in a civil court along with 12 others. A new hearing is slated for Tuesday.
Rajab, the current head of BCHR, was arrested on 5 May upon arrival from a trip abroad after posting tweets deemed insulting to security forces. He was released on a bail of 300 dinars ($796). However, the prosecutor ordered him to stay behind bars for questioning in the case of taking part in a rally and calling for illegal demonstrations. On Monday, the defence asked the court to "combine the three cases together in one trial," lawyer Jishi said.

Again 87 killed in Syria on Sunday, Annan in Damascus

Annan at his press conference in Damascus (AP)
At least 87 people were killed on Sunday in Syria, shortly  after more than 100 had been killed in Houla, a town in de province of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Thirty-four of the dead were killed in random shelling of the central city of Hama by troops retaliating for losses suffered in clashes with rebel fighters. "Hama is like a ghost city," an activist on the spot told AFP by telephone on Monday. The activist said troops were surrounding the areas where there was fighting, and it was feared that a new attack might occur. 
The Observatory says more than 13,000 people have been killed in Syria since the anti-regime revolt broke out in March 2011.
The UN Security Council had condemned the Syrian government in a non-binding resolution for its role in the massacre that killed 108 people in Houla on Friday and Saturday, among them 49 children and 34 women. Britain and France had proposed a text making a stronger condemnation of the Assad government, bu Russia would not agree on the wording. In Monday it said both sides in the conflict were responsible for the massacre. "Here we have a situation where both sides clearly had a hand in the fact that peaceful citizens were killed," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. 
Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the UN and the Arab League arrived in the Syrian capital Monday for a bid to salvage his peace plan. He expressed "shock" at the massacre in Houla, in remarks to reporters ahead of a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. Annan said those responsible for the massacre must be held accountable, and called on "everyone with a gun" to abide by his six-point blueprint.
 "I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process. And this message of peace is not only for the government, but for everyone with a gun.''

Turkish indictment against Israeli military for raid on Mavi Marmara in 2010

Funeral in Istanbul of one of the nine who were killed aboard the Mavi Marmara (AP)  

A Turkish court has formally pressed charges against members of Israel's military for the killing of nine unarmed activists aboard a Turkish ship trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza in 2010.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency says the court in Istanbul voted unanimously Monday to approve an indictment against Israel's former military chief Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, along with the heads of its navy, air force and military intelligence.
It has said they face nine consecutive life terms in prison for "inciting to kill, torturing and theft of property of the people aboard. Israeli military members are unlikely to stand trial in Turkey but the court might issue an order for their arrest if they are convicted in absentia. The move comes just a few days ahead of the second anniversary of the May 31 raid.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Situation in Syria detoriates further, at least 90 killed in massacre in province of Homs

Amateur video shows bodies in Houla.

A report by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon paints an alarming picture of a situation in Syria that is further detoriating day by day. Groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad now control "significant" parts of some cities and there is "considerable physical destruction" across the country, it says. "There is a continuing crisis on the ground, characterised by regular violence, deteriorating humanitarian conditions, human rights violations and continued political confrontation," according to the report, obtained by AFP on Friday. The report is to be debated by the Security Council next week.
One of the latest examples of  how the situation again completely goes out of hand is an apparent massacre in the town of Houla in the province of Homs. The Britain-based Observatory said the shelling had killed more than 90 people in Houla, including 25 children. Amateur videos on YouTube (like the one posted here) showed horrifying images of children lying dead on a floor.
 Also for the first time since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted 14 months ago, army tanks rumbled through Aleppo, said the Britain-based watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Hours after massive anti-regime rallies across Aleppo, tanks deployed in the city, rumbled through the Kalasse and Bustan al-Kasr neighbourhoods after thousands attended a funeral, it said. According to the Observatory five people were killed in Aleppo by gunfire, including two children.
 Rallies in support of the opposition were also reported from Damascus, in at least five residential neighbourhoods. Loyalist forces fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators marching in the Midan district, the Observatory reported, saying a child was killed by sniper fire in the suburb of Irbin. Both Aleppo nand Damascus have become part ofg the protests in the last few weeks.
The Observatory also said helicopter gunships went into action against rebels, strafing mountain villages in the Latakia area of northwestern Syria, near the Turkish border, wounding at least 20 people. And in southern Deraa province, birthplace of the uprising against Assad, troops fired on demonstrators, several of whom were wounded in Inkhel as they emerged from mosques after weekly Friday prayers, the watchdog said.
 Pictures: above: dead children in Houla. Down: bodies in Houla prepared for mass burial.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Egyptian presidential elections put Morsi and Shafiq in the lead

Updated: As it looks now the Egyptian presidential elections will result in a run-off, next month, between the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, and Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Air Marshall Ahmed Shafiq. That is the worst possible outcome: a contest between the contra-revolutionary Shafiq, or the islamist Morsi. Who is worse: Shafiq, whose spokesman Ahmed Sarhan told the New York Times that  Shafiq would bring back security, and that ''the revolution has ended, it is one and a half years”?  Or Morsi, the candidate of the conservative islamist Brotherhood, with its preference for conservative values as embedded in the sharia?. Really a choice between two opposing devils, both of them from the past. 
The differences turned out to be extremely narrow. Morsy and Shafiq received respectively 24.9 and 24.5 percent of the votes in the first round. The two outran the three other viable contenders: Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi (21.1 percent), moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh (17.8 percent), and former Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa (11.3 percent). These results are still unofficial, the final count will be annnounced on Tuesday.
The one positive surprise was that Sabbahi, the secular, leftist (Nasserist) candidate who is for more equality and taxing the rich, did so well. Other surprises were that Abouel Foutouh after all not seemed to have profited enough of the support the Salafist had promised him, and that Amr Moussa appeared to have been far less appealing to the voters than was expected. Now the big question mark is going to be for whom  the people who did not vote for Shafiq or Morsi, (and together they represent almost more voters than these two put together) are going to vote in the second round. For Shafiq, or for Morsi. Or not at all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Elections for a president 'who will not be able to change the old structures'

Posters of  one of the progressive candidates that not are going to win: Hamdeen Sabahy of the Nasserist Karameh (Dignity) party. He's of rather humble descent, consequently his slogan is 'One of us'. (Reuters).

Egyptians are going to the polls today and tomorrow for the first round of the presidential elections. There are 13 candidates, but only four of them stand a chance to win. All four of them belong in one way or other to the conservative establishment. Two are remnants of the Mubarak era: Amr Moussa was Mubarak's foreign minister and his choice for the post of secretary-general of the Arab Ligue, and Ahmed Shafiq was Mubarak's last prime minister. Two others are islamists: Abdel-Moneim Abouel Foutouh is a 'moderate', and Mohamed Morsi is the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Egyptian revolution was initiated by workers (the textile workers of Mehallat al-Kubra for instance) and spearheaded by young, well educated members of the middle classes who formed the nucleus of the portest of Tahrir and in other cities. A large majority of the Egyptians however is not progressive at all. They may have been happy with the disappearance of the Mubarak-dynastie, but at the moment they are strongly in favour of stability, security and family values. Consequently candidates of the progressive '25 January at Tahrir'' trend are not going to win. There are three of them: the young lawyer Khaled Aly, co-founder of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, the judge and human rights activists Hisham Bastawisi and the leader of the Nasserist Karameh party Hamdeen Sabahy. All three are strongly in favour of a ''civic'' (codeword for secular) society, based on human rights and a strong constitutional system. The majority of Egyptians, however, will give their vote to representatives of the past.   

The writer Khaled al-Khamissi related in the Egypt Independent (Al-Masry al-Youm) the elections to a of nightmare he had during his sleep. He compared the fact that only thes four candidates stand a chance to a game of Russian roulette: Mohamed Morsy and Abouel Fotouh are opposed to the civil camp that advocates human rights, while Shafiq and Moussa belong to a camp opposed to the values of social justice.   
and he concludes:
Hundreds of millions were spent on these electoral campaigns, and the media machine has been working to make the Egyptians feel that they are going through a historic experience. They promoted the idea that this presidential election is the outstanding result of the Egyptian revolution and that the people now have a say.
The truth is, this election is worthless, for it is being conducted in a society that lacks a healthy political life, one that lacks genuine parties and political powers. This election will bring a useless president who will be unable to change the structure of the old regime.
Hope lies in the revolutionary and social mobility. Change will come from the bottom, at the hands of the hundreds of movements, coalitions and blocs that emit hope. It is this that will change the face of Egypt.

And then we did not yet mention the fact that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)  apparently is preparing to issue an addition tot the constitutional declaration that was approved by referendum last year. According to press reports this addition, that has been discussed with some political parties, will curtail the power of the president and keep the duty of preserving the stability and security of Egypt in the hands of the military. Consequently the military will retain the right to appoint the key ministers of foreign affairs, finance, interior and defense, while the rest of the cabinet will be appointed by the parliament.   
The president will reportedly only retain the power to dissolve Parliament and appoint the public prosecutor, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar and the grand mufti of the state. He cannot go to war without approval from Parliament and the SCAF, which also reportedly wanted to keep the last word in any legislation concerning the armed forces and keep the right to keep its budget a secret as it is now. 
 PosPosters in Cairo

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Egyptian state security court convicts Christians and acquits Muslims in unfair trial

 Havoc in Abu Qurqas wrought during the riots in April 2011.

 An Egyptian court sentenced 12 Christians to life in prison and acquitted eight Muslims on Monday in a case set off by religious tensions in the country's south. The Christians were found guilty of sowing public strife, the possession of illegal weapons and shooting dead two Muslims in April of last year in Minya province, about 220 kilometers (135 miles) south of Cairo.
The violence started last year when a Muslim microbus driver, angered by a speed bump outside a wealthy Christian man's villa, got into a scuffle with security guards who beat him. After returning to his village of Abu Qurqas that evening, he rounded up the villagers who then gathered outside an ultraconservative Islamist group's main office there to protest his beating. According to rights researcher Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the Christians nearby thought they were going to be attacked and shot from their rooftops down at the crowd, killing two and wounding two others. For several days after that, angry villagers torched dozens of Christian homes and stores.
The eight Muslims on trial in the same case had been charged with possession of illegal weapons and burning down the Christian-owned homes and stores after the shooting.
"The fact that the Muslims were acquitted means that the attorney general's investigation from the beginning was faulty and unfair because there was evidence to prove these men had burned Christian property," Ibrahim said.
The State Security Court's ruling cannot be appealed. The ruling military council SCAF is the only entity with the power to request a retrial. (See also this list of incidents involving sectarian tensions by Human Rights Watch) 

In spite of UN-monitors at least 54 people killed in renewed fighting in Syria

Fighting in Syria spilled over to Beirut: burnt out car in the Tariq al-Jdideh district. (Daily Star)

At least 54 people, including 31 soldiers, were killed on Monday in the ongoing unrest that has shaken Syria since March last year, the London based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Fierce fighting near Damascus and in the regions of Aleppo and in the Idlib province, in northwestern Syria, killed at least 22 soldiers and 11 rebels, it said. Also tanks and transport vehicles were destroyed during the battles. it added.
Nine army deserters were killed overnight as they retreated under cover of darkness from Jisr al-Ab village near the Damascus suburb of Douma. Also in the Damascus area, troops fired on people at a funeral, the Observatory said. A bomb rocked the Damascus neighbourhood of Qaboon during the night killing five people. Elsewhere five civilians were killed, including two in a bombing and military raid in central Hama province, one by unidentified gunmen in the nearby region of Homs, and two more in fighting between the army and rebels in coastal Banias. 
A spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki Moon said at the NATO summit in Chicago that he was increasingly worried about the situation in Syria. 'The secretary general said we were at a pivotal moment in the search for a peaceful settlement to the crisis and that he remained extremely troubled about the risk of an all-out civil war,' Ban's spokesman said.
The Syrian crisis also spread to Beirut, the capital of neighbouring Lebanon, for the first time since the upheaval erupted in March 2011, with overnight street battles between pro- and anti-Syrian groups.
"During the night, groups of young men cut off the road in the Tariq el-Jdideh district and street battles followed," a security official said.
"Two people were killed and 18 were wounded," he said, adding machineguns had been fired and that the fighting had raged until about 3:00 am (2400 GMT).
The clashes broke out after reports emerged troops had shot dead an anti-Syria Sunni cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Wahid, when his convoy failed to stop at a checkpoint in north Lebanon on Sunday.
The cleric's killing followed a week of intermittent clashes that left 10 people dead in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli between Sunnis hostile to the Syrian regime and Alawites who support Assad.

Suicide bomber attacks parade rehearsal in Yemen: more that 120 dead, 350 wounded

 Collecting debris from the attack.

An attack by a suicide bomber on Yemeni troops rehearsing in the capital Sana'a for a parade has made more than 100 victims on Monday. The newspaper the Yemen Post reported that the death toll rose to more than 120 soldiers, mostly from the central security forces. About 350 others were injured, many in critical condition, hospital sources said. A medic of those who treated some injuries said some soldiers arrived at the new police typical hospital in very critical condition.
There are conflicting reports as to how the attack occurred. Some said a soldier with an explosive belt blew himself up amidst one of the battalions participating in the parade. Others said the bomber came from outside the forces. Investigations are underway.

Yemen's Defense Minister Mohammad Nasser Ahmed and Chief of General Staff Ahmed Ali Al-Shawal were present, but the escaped the incident, military sources said.
The authorities said the attack on the national forces, who were conducting a parade rehearsal a day before the anniversary of the unification of the two Yemens, bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaida.The army has recently stepped up the war on militants in southern and southeastern regions, mainly Abyan where key towns were seized last year. Hundreds of militants have been killed and injured including senior leaders.
But observers doubted whether an Al-Qaida bomber could infiltrate into the parade square, which is heavily guarded by the republican guard and the central security forces, without help from commanders and forces. Citizens said the remnants of the former regime including military commanders might be involved in this massacre, which comes amid security disorders including the spread of guns and tribesmen roaming main cities.

President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi ordered to fire some of the commanders after the incident. The Central Security Forces’ leader, Abdulmalik Al-Tayb, (who was appointed under Saleh) was replaced. . Hadi also removed Saleh’s nephew Amar Mohamed Abdullah Saleh from his post as Deputy Chief of the National Security Organization. Another of Saleh's nephews, Yahia Mohamed Abdulla Saleh, Chief Staff Officer of the CSF, has not been removed, however, according to a source at the Central Security Forces.
Additional changes of command were made with Mohamed Abdullah Al-Qawsi, chief of the Patrol Police, and one of Saleh’s aides who was also replaced.
Reponsiblity for the attack was claimed by the Ansar Al-Sharia, an Al Qaeda affiliate group based in Abyan and Shabwa.The Ministry of Interior warned last week that armed militants of Al-Qaeda have entered the capital Sana’a and are expected to carry out sabotage and terrorism operations. One militant was captured after intelligence reports revealed what car he was driving. However the Ministry warned that there are still terrorists at large and called for tighter security measures to help combat the threat.

Monday, May 21, 2012

'Shelling in Hama province kills 34'

Last Friday nine people were killed and 100 wounded in a powerfull car bomb in the eastern cituy of Deir Ezzor. The blast occurred near a military headquarters. (Sana)

Shelling by Syrian forces on Sunday has killed 34 people in the town of Souran in the central province of Hama, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights  which is based in Britain.
The organisation earlier said the toll was 16 people killed, including three children, but revised this number.
“Where are the international monitors,” read an Observatory statement. “We in the Observatory express our extreme shock at the international monitors’ failure to go to Souran when we issued our first statement on the killing of 16 people.”
In a separate incident there was an explosion in the Douma area of Damascus, near a convoy carrying the head of the UN mission in Syria. There are no reports of casualties in that case and it is not clear if it was a bomb or a rocket-propelled grenade. Clashes had been reported in Douma earlier in the day. Reuters news agency says gunmen wounded 29 members of the security forces.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called the deaths in Hama a "massacre" and urged the UN mission to deploy observers to the area immediately.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Amr Moussa and Ahed Shafiq come first and second in last Egyptian polls

 Not everybody is happy with Ahmed Shafiq as a candidate, to judge from the changes to this poster.

Disturbing news from Egypt today: Al Ahram reports that candidates from the Mubarak era are on top in the last presidential election polls.  Particularly the news that the star of Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, is rising fast, is alarming. The man did not even qualify as a law to bar prominents from the Mubarak-period to stand as candidates, was adopted by parliament almost explicitly to stop Shafiq in his tracks. The fact that he was first disqualified and lateron as yet admitted by the commission that oversees the elections, made suspicions rise that he might be the favourite candidate of the military. Scary indeed.
Al Ahram English:
 In its weekly poll conducted by the Ahram Centre between 14 and 17 May, Mubarak-era FM Amr Moussa maintained his lead as Egypt's favoured presidential candidate, but fell from 40 per cent of the vote to 31.7 per cent. Moussa's popularity fell by nine points between the latest poll and last week's presidential poll published on 14 May.
Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister and long-time air force chief, still held second place with 22.6 per cent, 2.6 per cent higher than in last week's poll.
Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Mursi, meanwhile, jumped into third place for the first time with 14.8 per cent, outscoring former Muslim Brother Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh  by 0.2 per cent. Abul-Fotouh fell to fourth place with 14.6 per cent. Last week, Mursi received only 9.4 per cent of the vote. This suggests that the Brotherhood candidate is gaining 0.6 per cent daily, according to pollsters at the Ahram Centre. 
Abul-Fotouh continues to fall. Last week, he held third place with17.8 per cent, down from 24 per cent in the previous poll conducted between 28 April and 1 May.
Hamdeen Sabbahi, meanwhile, the Nasserist candidate running on an independent ticket, came in at fifth place with 11.7 per cent, 4.7 percent more than he scored the previous week.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bahrainis protest against plans for unity with Saudi Arabia

Bahraini Shiite Muslim men at a protest in Bilad Al-Qadeem, a suburb of Manama, on Thursday.  (AFP)

Thousands Bahraini's took to the streets on Friday to demonstrate against a proposal to unite the kingdom with neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Slogans were "No to union. Bahrain is not for sale," and "the country is not up for auction." The protest marcgh went through several predominantly Shi'íte suburbs of Manam in response to a call by the Shi`ite opposition
Shiite spiritual figure Ayatollah Issa Qassem, speaking at a mosque in Duraz, west of Manama, demanded that any proposed union of the two countries be submitted to a referendum. The principal opposition group, Al-Wefaq, has made the same demand.
The six Gulf states which are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have been discussing a Saudi proposal that would lead toward some form of closer political union. The first step in this process would be the union of Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority, with Saudi Arabia. 
In Iran, across the Gulf, thousands of people demonstrated on Friday to protest the proposed union. Iran has called it an "American plan to annex Bahrain to Saudi Arabia." Bahrain has summoned the Iranian ambassador accusing Iran of interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ghalioun wants to step down as SNC-leader amid growing sign of disunity

The head of Syria's main opposition alliance, the Syrian National Council, has said he will resign amid growing criticism and rifts within the group. Burhan Ghalioun, who was re-elected as SNC leader on Tuesday, said he would step down once a replacement is found.
The move comes as a key activist group said it may leave the SNC over what it called errors and a lack of consensus. The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), threatened to suspend its membership in the Syrian National Council if its concerns are not addressed."We have seen nothing in the past months except political incompetence in the SNC and a total lack of consensus between its vision and that of the revolutionaries," the LCC statement said.
Several prominent dissidents have already quit the SNC, calling it an "autocratic" organization. In Thursday's statement, the LCC -- a network of activists based both inside and outside of Syria -- accused the SNC leadership of marginalizing council members and acting alone on major decisions.
The LCC said the council has "drifted away from the spirit of the Syrian revolution in its quest for a civil and democratic state based on the principles of transparency and transfer of power."

In a rare acknowledgment of shortcomings,Bassma Kodmani, a Paris-based senior figure in the council, said over the telephone Thursday that the LCC concerns were "justified and legitimate." She acknowledged this week's opposition meeting in Rome during which Burhan Ghalioun was re-elected for a third, three-month term as head of the SNC, was marred by the absence of several members and should have been better prepared and organized. She did not elaborate.
A conference sponsored by the Arab League in Cairo to help unite the disparate opposition was canceled this week, largely because of infighting between various groups.

WaPo: Syrian rebels do better with weapons from S-Arabia and Qatar, delivered with US-help

 Syrian rebels with at the background a convoy of the Syrian army that they have destroyed in Rastan in the west of Syria. (WaPo) The rebels have become more successful lately because they received better arms.

Syrian rebel troops have been more successful in their attacks on government troops lately because they received more and better arms which were paid for by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf countries, according to an article in the  Washington Post. 
The article mentioned that the deliveries are partly co-ordinated by the United States. The WaPo:
Opposition activists who two months ago said the rebels were running out of ammunition said this week that the flow of weapons — most still bought on the black market in neighboring countries or from elements of the Syrian military — has significantly increased after a decision by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states to provide millions of dollars in funding each month.
Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also said it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood’s executive committee.

Iran, for its part, continues to deliver arms to the Syrian government army, in violation of a UN Security Council ban on weapons exports by the Islamic Republic. This was revealed in a confidential report by experts that monitor the sanctions for the UN Security Council, which was leaked to Reuters news agency shortly after the above article appeared in the Washington Post. However, the weapons were intercepted and never reached Syria. The report described three arms shipments, two to Syria and intercepted by Turkey, and a third shipment of rockets  for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The two shipments to Syria contained assault rifles, machine guns, explosives, detonators, 60mm and 120mm mortal shells and other items, but were intercepted by Turkey, the last one of the two in February.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Terms of agreement show that Palestinian hungerstrikers scored a modest victory

 Prison in Ramleh.

On Tuesday, almost 24 hours after the Palestinian hungerstrikers, whose number was estimated at about 2.000, ended their action, more details emerged about the deal that was reached with the Israeli prison service (IPS) and the security service Shin Bet. According to what Addameer, the human rights organisation that looks after the prisoners,  published and and based on what I heard from sources within Addameer, I can now conclude that the prisoners scored a modest success. The following was agreed upon: 
- Not only Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Dhiab, the ones who were holding the longest strikes, will be freed at the end of their term of administrative detention, but this goes for ALL 308 Palestinians currently in administrative detention. At the end of their terms there will be no renewal of the detention and if lateron rearrests occur these have to be based on new evidence and not on what is presently in their files. Moreover, a civil court has to handle the cases of administrative detention and not, as is the case till now, a military court.  

-there will be an end to the use of long-term isolation of prisoners for “security” reasons. The 19 prisoners currently in isolation, among them Ahmed Sa'adat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who has been in solitary confinement for three years, will be moved out of isolation within 72 hours.
 - family visits for first degree relatives to prisoners from the Gaza Strip, who have not seen any relatives since 2007, after the Israeli corporal Gilat Shalit was kidnapped, and for families from the West Bank who have been denied visits based on vague “security reasons” will be reinstated within one month. Also the right to study at institutes of higher learning, that was taken away from the prisoners in 2011, was reinstated.
-  there will be a committee formed, consisting of prisoners, members of the security service Shin Bet and people fro the IPS, to discuss the conditions in the prisons and handle complaints. 
The written agreement in turn demands from the prisoners that all of the halt their hungerstrike and that they refrain from 'terrorist activities' in prison. 
Addameer was happy with the agreement, that most probably could only be reached because Israel wanted to avoid extra tensions on 15 May, 'Nakba day', a day that is always good for demonstrations and unrest anyway. Addameer warns, however, that the fulfillment of the agreement has to be closely monitored. Israel has reneged on its commitments more than once in the past. 
 As for the condition of Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Dhiab, whose health is extremely bad after 77 days  without food, and three others who have also been striking much longer than the rest, Hassan Safadi (71 days), Omar Abu Shalal (69 days) and Jaafar Azzedine (54 days), they will be taken care of. It is not clear whether there will be no permanent damage to their health. It is considered a miracle that they are even still alive.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Syrian National Council reelects Ghalioun

The Syrian National Council opposition group re-elected liberal politician Burhan Ghalioun as president at a meeting in Rome on Tuesday for another three-month term, sources at the meeting told Reuters.
Ghalioun, a secular academic, has been leader of the opposition in exile since the SNC's creation in August 2011. Some fellow activists have criticized him for being out of touch with the opposition inside Syria and for failing to unify the SNC.
But the 67-year-old sociologist has the backing of the Gulf states and France, and is seen as a consensus figure in the group, where Islamists, who are divided into different factions, hold sway. Aware that he is an acceptable figure to the international community, the Islamists have supported him.George Sabra, another liberal who is an ally of Syria's top dissident Riad al-Turk, came second, the sources said.

Iran executes killer of nuclear scientist

 Iran on Tuesday hanged a man who had been convicted in August 2011 of playing a key role in the 2010 murder of a top nuclear scientist and of spying for Israel, the official IRNA news agency reported quoting Tehran prosecution office. "Majid Jamali Fashi, the Mossad spy and the person who assassinated Masoud Ali Mohammadi, our nation's nuclear scientist was hanged Tuesday morning," IRNA said.
However at the time that professor Mohammadi was killed, there were some doubts as to whether he was in reality a nuclear scientist and a supporter of the regime. 
Consequently it remains also questionable whether the man that was hanged today was really working for the Mossad. (On the photo policemen lead Fashi to his process - AFP Photo)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Supporters and adversaries of Assad again clash in Lebanese city of Tripoli


The Syrian uprising led to renewed tension in the northern Lebanese city Tripoli this weekend.A total of eight people have been killed and at least 20 wounded, an Al-Akhbar correspondent and medical sources said on Monday. Fierce clashes overnight shook the port city and sporadic fighting continued on Monday.  Armed men were roaming Azmi Street in Tripoli on Monday, according to NNA, as gunfire could be heard in the Bab el-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods.

Tripoli, a conservative city with a Sunni majority which is quite upset about Bashar al-Assad's crackdown, also harbours a small Alawite community (the sect to which also Assad and most pillars of his regime belong).The fighting in Tripoli, 70km from Beirut, highlights how sectarian tensions in Syria can ignite conflict in the neighbouring country. Buildings in the area are still riddled with bullet holes from similar clashes earlier in the year.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Election fraud keeps Algerian government parties in power

Members of the Front des forces socialistes (FFS) of Hocine Ait Ahmed, the only socialist party in Algeria, demonstrate. The party obtained 21 seats.

The old government party FLN (Front de libération nationale) has obtained a majority with 220 seats in the election for the Algerian parliament. The RND (Rassemblement national démocratique) won 68 seats (6 more than before). And the Islamists of the Green Alliance (Alliance verte) were the big losers. They got no more than 48 seats, contrary to all expectations. However, the 'Commission nationale de surveillance des élections - whose duty it was to ensure a fair state of affairs during the elections - has accused the ministry of the Interior of fraud and of having pre cooked the results.

The results according to DNA (Dernieres nouvelles d'Algérie): 
Et le vainqueur est… le FLN. Le vieux parti FLN a obtenu jeudi 10 mai la majorité avec 220 sièges dans la nouvelle assemblée. L’ancien parti unique dirigé depuis 2007 par Abdelaziz Belkhadem a place 68 femmes dans l’hémicycle.
La deuxième place revient au RND du Premier ministre Ahmed Ouyahia avec 68 sièges dont 23 femmes. Le parti de M. Ouyahia a donc amélioré son précédent score de 2007 de 6 sièges( 62).
Les grands perdants de cette élection sont les frères musulmans de  l’Alliance Verte qui n’ont obtenu que 48 sièges. Une vraie tannée alors qu’on annonçait une déferlante islamiste sur l’assemblée.
Le Front des forces socialistes FFS de Hocine Ait Ahmed obtient  21 députés dont 7 femmes, deux de mieux que lors de l’élection d’octobre 1997 à laquelle il a participé.
Donné également grand favori, l'islamiste Abddellah Djaballah n'a pu récolter que 7 sièges dont un qui sera occupé par une femme. Idem pour l'ancien ministre de l'Industrie, Abdelamadjid Menasra, transfuge du MSP, dont le parti siègera avec quatre députés.
L’autre perdant de cette élection est le parti des Travailleurs (PT) de Louiza Hanoune avec 20 députés dont 10 femmes.
Les listes indépendantes on obtenu 21 sièges, le MPA d’Amara Benyounes 6 sièges et l’ANR 3 sièges.

So president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's National Liberation Front (FLN), a party heavily in crisis,  improved its share in the outgoing national assembly and got 220 of the 462 seats, while the National Rally for Democracy (RND) of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, a party close to the military and loyal to Bouteflika, came  second with 68 seats. These results mean that there will be no changes in the status quo. (Apart from the fact that the number of elected women rose to 145 from seven in the outgoing assembly - following the introduction of quotas.

 However the National Commission of Supervison of the Election (Commission nationale de surveillance des élections) acccused the minstry of the interior of fraud. Its president, Mohamed Seddiki, wrote in a declaration that the minister of the Interior, Dahou Ould Kablia published the results before the counting of the votes was even finished in the provinces of Algiers, Oran, Mostaganem, Bejaya and others.  So where did the figures the gobvernment prublished originate from, mr Seddiqi asked rethorically, if not from 'the laboratories of the ministry of the Interior:  
Alors que les membres de la commission étaient réunis vers 15 heures ce vendredi pour une première évaluation du scrutin tenu la veille, presque au même moment (15h30) le ministre de l’Intérieur, Dahou Ould Kablia, tenait une conférence de presse à Alger pour annoncer les résultats du vote.
« Nous sommes surpris que le ministre de l’Intérieur annonce les premiers résultats des élections vendredi 11 mai à 15 heures au moment même où de nombreuses commissions de wilaya à Alger, Oran, Mostaganem, Bejaia etc… procédaient encore au dépouillement et au comptage de ces résultats pour les consigner dans un procès verbal », écrit le président de cette instance.
A l’heure donc où le ministre annonçait la victoire écrasante du FLN (Front de libération) qui a obtenu 220 sièges sur 462, les comptes n’ont pas été finalisés à travers les quatre coins du pays.
D’où sortent alors les chiffres fournis par le représentant du gouvernement, sinon des laboratoires du ministère de l’Intérieur.

Update: See also the article by Jeremy Keenan on 15 May 2012 on the site of Al-Jazeera English.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Algeria: 57,1% did not vote

Under the headline ´´57,1 % d´abstention´´ the leftist Algerian newspaper Al Watan reported Friday:

 Le taux officiel de participation aux législatives d’hier est de 42,90% des 21,65 millions d’électeurs en Algérie et à l’étranger, a annoncé, hier dans la soirée, le ministre de l’Intérieur Daho Ould Kablia, en direct à la télévision d’Etat. Pour rappel, le taux officiel des dernières législatives de 2007 était de 36,51%, soit une hausse de huit points. Pour le détail, le taux de participation de la communauté algérienne à l’étranger a plafonné à 14% alors qu’il est de 44,38% au niveau national. 

So 42,9% took the trouble to vote, and 57,1% stayed at home. It was an improvement when compared with the numbers of the elections in 2007. But still it says it all. No Arab Spring yet in Algeria.

There is a first time for everything: the first ever debate between presidential candidates in Egypt

 Abou el Foutouh (centre) amid his team prior to the debate.

Egypt on Thurday evening witnessed an absolute novelty for the country: a debate between presidential candidates. This hasd never happend before as presidents in Egypt, from Naguib to Mubarak have never before seriously been challenged. Millions watched the debate, which lasted four and a half hours, and which featured the two leading candidates. Amr Moussa, Mubarak's foreign minister for 10 years until he became head of the Arab League, in 2001, and Abdel-Moneim Abou el Foutouh, a moderate Islamist who broke with the Muslim Brotherhood last year. The debate was hosted by Yosri Fouda and Mona al-Shazly, and was organized by Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al-Shorouk daily, Dream TV and OnTV.
The two candidates, each standing behind a podium, were also given time to throw questions at each other. Abou el Foutouh sought to picture Moussa as a key member and supporter of Mubarak's regime. Moussa, in turn, painted Abou al-Foutouh as beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood and hard-line Islamist (his candidature has been endorsed by the Salafist Al-Nour party).Some excerpts:
Abou el Foutouh (l) and Moussa behind their podiums in the studio. (EPA)

On Mubarak and being islamist:
Abouel Fotouh to Moussa: In 2010 Moussa endorsed Mubarak’s presidency. 
Moussa to Abouel Fotouh: I endorsed Mubarak as opposed to his son Gamal in the succession context.
When the regime fell, it fell with its men and I wasn't one of them. I left 10 years ago and when it fell I wasn't part of it.
Abouel Fotouh: One of the strange things I heard today from Amr Moussa was that he was an opponent of the Mubarak regime. I must be a supporter of Mubarak then.  Moussa to Abouel Fotouh: You supported the (Muslim)Brothers in the past. What will this mean now?
Abouel Fotouh to Moussa: I resigned from the Brotherhood and my presidency has nothing to do with their endorsement process.
Moussa to Abouel Fotouh: Abouel Fotouh is a Salafi with Salafis, and a liberal with liberals. Double standards.
About Islam and Sharia:
Moussa: Sharia’s principles should be the foundation of legislation, while other religions should have their own rules, characterizing this as the desired relationship between religion and the state.
Abou el Foutouh: There is no duality between religion and citizenship, the state or the constitution. The nature of Islam is that it looks for the interest of people. When we look for their interests, this is congruous with Sharia law. Islam should be the main source of legislation under the supervision of the Supreme Constitutional Court. 

Moussa: I am against religious parties. I am okay with guiding principles and ideologies. But religious parties are discriminatory in their essence. 
Abouel Foutouh: If he is against religious parties, which represent a parliamentary majority, how will the president deal with them if elected?
 Moussa: Parliamentary majority is legitimate and I will deal with them, but my opinion in general is that religious parties harm the fabric of society. 
Israel, US, Iran:
Also Israel, the US and Iran were discussed. Ever the diplomat, Moussa said relations with Israel must be reconfigured until a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital was created. Aboul-Foutoh was more scathing, labelling Israel a threat to Egypt with its 200 nuclear warheads and continued broaching of Egyptian sovereignty on its borders. Both were rather more blasé about the US. Regarding Iran, Moussa urged that there should be no attack, while Aboul-Foutoh said Iran was welcome to have relations with Egypt as long as it did not attempt to spread Shia beliefs.

 Wages and taxes:
Moussa cites a court ruling with regards to the minimum wage and says it has to be respected.
Abouel Fotouh argues that the minimum wage is connected to inflation and prices, but for now, Egypt has to respect the figure of LE1200 that came out of the court ruling. Raising wages is connected to reforming the tax structure.
 Moussa: I am with progressive taxation. The taxation system has to be robust. Capital gains and real estate taxation are indispensable.
Abouel Fotouh: State income can rise from 15 to 25 percent through taxation. Subsidies should be lifted from energy-intensive industries.

 The debate was aired concurrently on two satellite channels belonging to prominent Egyptian businessmen Naguib Sawiris and Ahmed Bahgat. It was not aired on national television and was full of ad breaks, giving it a Superbowl-type atmosphere and leading to criticism that it was a money-making endeavour as much as it was a historic occasion.
At least one more debate is expected, though it has not been announced which candidates will participate. Along with Moussa and Abolfotoh, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammad Mursi and Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq are also seen as strong frontrunners.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Two bombs in Damascus kill 55 people, 372 wounded

  (Pictures Syrian  news agency Sana)

Two explosions hit the Syrian capital Damascus on Thursday, and the Syrian Interior Ministry said the death toll rose to 55 martyrs, while 372 people were injured including civilians and army members, the Syrian press agency Sana reported. Two booby-trapped cars loaded with more than 1000 kg of explosives and 'driven by terrorists' were used in the blasts, the ministry said in a statement issued Thursday. The statement added that fifteen bags of limbs and turn-off bodies from unidentified people were collected, pointing out that 105 cars crashed completely, in addition to 78 damaged automobiles in the blasts . State TV footage of the blasts showed massive destruction in the al-Qazzaz suburb to the south of Damascus. Damascus has been the target of several bombs in past months amid continuing anti-government unrest. An Associated Press reporter reported that the outer wall of a military intelligence building collapsed, although the structure inside appeared intact.
The last deadly blast was at the end of April, when some 10 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack near a mosque.
On Wednesday a roadside bomb wounded six Syrian soldiers escorting UN observers.The bomb, apparently planted underground, exploded after the passage of four vehicles carrying the UN team, hitting the troops travelling behind them.The blast hit as the convoy entered the city of Daraa, south of Damascus.
Who would be responsible for these bombs? Does it make sense to assume that the Syrian government  is bombing its own military intelligence buildings? Or its own troops?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Landmark buildings disappear with alarming speed from Egypt's big cities

  The Cicurel Villa in Alexandria that is no more.

Al Ahram Online carries an article about the demolition of the above villa in Alexandria, the former possession of the Cicurel family, a Sephardic Jewish family that once founded the most famous warehouses in Egypt. The article underlines the dangers that threaten many of Egypt's most beautiful landmarks. Also in the Garden City area in Cairo villa after villa has been demolished in the past years. The article warns: 

"The minute Cicurel Villa witnesses its fatal end, we are all doomed," is a sentiment often heard uttered by Alexandrians witnessing the heartless end of one of Egypt's historic artistic buildings. Outrage is spreading on social media networks. "It is estimated that more than 50 historic palaces and villas in only Roushdy, Kafr Abdou and Zizynia districts have been bulldozed in the past 14 months," explained Abdel Haleem Nour El Deen, ex-treasurer of the Supreme Council of Antiques and head of the Egyptian Architecture Society.
Despite all calls and marches in Alexandria against the demolition action (including the creation of a Facebook page called "We won't let Alexandria come into ruins") Decree No 86 was issued by Kamal El-Ganzoury to remove Cicurel Villa from the list of "must be preserved" heritage sites in the city.
It is devastating to see our historic and fine architecture decimated in less than 15 months.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Can we celebrate the end of 'Merkozy'? Krugman and Stiglitz about the desastrous effects of austerity

 Paris celebrates Hollande's victory. Place de la Bastille, 6 May 2012.

 ''The French are revolting. The Greeks, too. And it’s about time,'' writes Paul Krugman in Monday's New York Times. The conomist and Nobel prize laureate welcomes the victory of François Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential elections and the fact the Greeks did away with the leading Conservative and Pasok parties in Greece. Krugman recalls that The Economist, warned us for Hollande and wrote about him that he is 'rather dangerous' because he 'genuinely believes in the need to create a fairer society.' - To which Krugman comments: Quelle horreur!

 What is true is that Mr. Hollande’s victory means the end of “Merkozy,” the Franco-German axis that has enforced the austerity regime of the past two years. This would be a “dangerous” development if that strategy were working, or even had a reasonable chance of working. But it isn’t and doesn’t; it’s time to move on. Europe’s voters, it turns out, are wiser than the Continent’s best and brightest.
What’s wrong with the prescription of spending cuts as the remedy for Europe’s ills? One answer is that the confidence fairy doesn’t exist — that is, claims that slashing government spending would somehow encourage consumers and businesses to spend more have been overwhelmingly refuted by the experience of the past two years. So spending cuts in a depressed economy just make the depression deeper.

Let's rejoice in Hollande's victory - or was it rather Sarkozy's defeat? (click here -French or  here (Dutch) -  - and hope that the strict austerity package is off the table, or at least will be amended. Krugman had been arguing against it over the past months. Like him, his colleague Joseph Stiglitz, also a Nobel prize laureate,  has severely criticized the path the European leaders took and maintained that cutting the budgets in times of economic crises is a perfect recipe for committing suicide. But he also pointed towards what could possibly be done to cure the illnesses. Like in this piece 'After Austerity': 

The consequences of Europe’s rush to austerity will be long-lasting and possibly severe. If the euro survives, it will come at the price of high unemployment and enormous suffering, especially in the crisis countries. And the crisis itself almost surely will spread. Firewalls won’t work, if kerosene is simultaneously thrown on the fire, as Europe seems committed to doing: there is no example of a large economy – and Europe is the world’s largest – recovering as a result of austerity.
As a result, society’s most valuable asset, its human capital, is being wasted and even destroyed. Young people who are long deprived of a decent job – and youth unemployment in some countries is approaching or exceeding 50%, and has been unacceptably high since 2008 – become alienated. When they eventually find work, it will be at a much lower wage. Normally, youth is a time when skills get built up; now, it is a time when they atrophy.

Europe as a whole is not in bad fiscal shape; its debt-to-GDP ratio compares favorably with that of the United States. If each US state were totally responsible for its own budget, including paying all unemployment benefits, America, too, would be in fiscal crisis. The lesson is obvious:  the whole is more than the sum of its parts. If Europe – particularly the European Central Bank – were to borrow, and re-lend the proceeds, the costs of servicing Europe’s debt would fall, creating room for the kinds of expenditure that would promote growth and employment.
There are already institutions within Europe, such as the European Investment Bank, that could help finance needed investments in the cash-starved economies. The EIB should expand its lending. There need to be increased funds available to support small and medium-size enterprises – the main source of job creation in all economies – which is especially important, given that credit contraction by banks hits these enterprises especially hard.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

At least one killed and 373 wounded during fighting near Egyptian ministry of Defense in Abbasiya

 Military police in action in Abbasiya. (Egypt Independent)

Update: Egypt's military officials moved swiftly Saturday to prosecute protesters they blamed for an attack on the Defense Ministry on Friday. Military prosecutors interrogated hundreds of demonstrators, referring some 300 of them to 15 days detention pending investigation into accusations of attacking troops and disrupting public order. At least two detainees face accusations of killing a soldier in the Friday violence, a prosecution official said.

Clashes between protesters and military police outside of the Ministry of Defence in the eastern Cairo district of Abbasiya left at least one dead and 373 wounded on Friday. Egyptian army soldier Samir Anwar Samir died Friday from a gunshot wound to the stomach.Tahrir Doctors, a group of medical doctors who voluntarily aid those injured at protests, stated on their official site that at least two had died at the Zahara Hospital in the Abbasiya area, Cairo, due to gunshot wounds. Two more at the same hospital, according to the statement, are in critical condition after being shot too.
The ruling supreme council of the military (SCAF) said groups attacked the army outside of their headquarters earlier that afternoon.Egypt's military police fired water cannons at protesters 3:30pm Friday, shortly after thousands-strong marches reached the army headquarters, in protest of the ruling military council. Protesters responded with stones as clashes broke out.
How the fighting started is still unclear.  The military Council (SCAF) announced a curfew on Friday from 23 p.m till 7 a.m on Saturday. The military prosecution started to interrogated over 170 people who were detained during the clashes.
The marches had been organized by 15 political groups including the April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolution Youth Coalition, the National Front for Justice and Democracy and the Youth for Justice and Freedom, in solidarity with the week-long sit-in at the military headquarters.

Friday also a protest was held  at Tahrir Square, called for by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) under the somewhat strange name 'Final Friday'. This demonstration was supported by the liberal Ghad Al-Thawra party and the Islamist Reform and Development Party, as well as Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya. The FJP called for the immediate cessation of the use of force against the demonstrators in Abbasiya. In a six point list of demands it furthermore called for an end of the military regime, and the repeal of Article 28 of the March 2011 Constitutional Declaration which gives the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission immunity from appeal and for the removal of the current government. Moreover the FJP demanded that the SCAF ends its interference in the drafting of the constitution, that the presidential elections will be held on time and under supervision of a body of judges, and that SCAF hands over power to a civilian authority by 30 June 2012.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Libya lifts ban on religious parties

Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) has lifted a ban on religious parties taking part in June's election.
At the same time the NTC announced a clampdown on Libyans loyal to the country's former leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Public praise of Gaddafi or his regime will now be an offence.
The NTC had announced a ban on parties organised along religious, regional, tribal or ethnic lines on 24 April.
in order to 'preserve national unity'. But it published a new version of the law on 2 May that made no mention of the controversial measure. Islamists and parties campaigning for a greater degree of regional autonomy in Libya will now be able to contest the elections.
The election will choose members of a new General National Congress.Registration centres opened throughout the country on 1 May, and voters have two weeks in which to register. The NTC has promised to hold elections by the end of June, but Western diplomats say this may slip until later in the summer.