Activists: 111 Killed in Syria’s “Bloodiest Day”

December 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian forces killed 111 people ahead of the start of a mission to monitor President Bashar al-Assad’s implementation of an Arab League peace plan, activists said on Wednesday, and France branded the killings an “unprecedented massacre.”

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 111 civilians and activists were killed on Tuesday when Assad’s forces surrounded them in the foothills of the northern Jabal al-Zawiyah region in Idlib province and unleashed two hours of bombardment and heavy gunfire.

Another 100 army deserters were either wounded or killed, making it the “bloodiest day of the Syrian revolution,” he said.

“There was a massacre of unprecedented scale in Syria on Tuesday,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero. “It is urgent that the U.N. Security Council issues a firm resolution that calls for an end to the repression.”

The United States said it was deeply disturbed by reports of indiscriminate killing and warned Assad the violence must stop. Britain said it was shocked by the reports and urged Syria to “end immediately its brutal violence against civilians.”

Events in Syria are hard to verify because authorities, who say they are battling terrorists who have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police, have banned most independent reporting.

Tuesday’s bloodshed brought the death toll reported by activists in the last 48 hours to over 200.

The main opposition Syrian National Council said “gruesome murders” were carried out, including the beheading of a local imam, and demanded international action to protect civilians.

The escalating death toll in nine months of popular unrest has raised the specter of civil war in Syria with Assad, 46, still trying to stamp out protests with troops and tanks despite international sanctions imposed to push him onto a reform path.

Idlib, a northwestern province bordering Turkey, has been a hotbed of protest during the revolt, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world this year, and has also seen increasing attacks by armed insurgents against his forces.

The Observatory said rebels had damaged or destroyed 17 military vehicles in Idlib since Sunday while in the southern province of Deraa violence continued on Wednesday.

Tanks entered the town of Dael, the British-based group said, leading to clashes in which 15 security force members were killed. Six army defectors and a civilian also died and dozens of civilians were wounded, it said.

ARAB PEACE MONITORS

The Syrian National Council said 250 people had been killed on Monday and Tuesday in “bloody massacres,” and that the Arab League and United Nations must protect civilians.

It demanded “an emergency U.N. Security Council session to discuss the (Assad) regime’s massacres in Jabal al-Zawiyah, Idlib and Homs, in particular” and called for “safe zones” to be set up under international protection.

It also said those regions should be declared disaster areas and urged the International Red Crescent and other relief organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said unless Damascus complied fully with the Arab League plan to end the violence, “additional steps” would be taken against it. Washington and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on Syria.

“Bashar al-Assad should have no doubt that the world is watching, and neither the international community no the Syria people accept his legitimacy,” he said.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said on Tuesday that an advance observer team would go to Syria on Thursday to prepare the way for 150 monitors due to arrive by end-December.

Syria stalled for weeks before signing a protocol on Monday to admit the monitors, who will check its compliance with the plan mandating an end to violence, withdrawal of troops from the streets, release of prisoners and dialogue with the opposition.

Syrian officials say over 1,000 prisoners have been freed since the plan was agreed six weeks ago and that the army has pulled out of cities. The government promised a parliamentary election early next year as well as constitutional reform which might loosen the ruling Baath Party’s grip on power.

Syrian pro-democracy activists are deeply skeptical about Assad’s commitment to the plan, which, if implemented, could embolden demonstrators demanding an end to his 11-year rule, which followed three decades of domination by his father.

Assad is from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, and Alawites hold many senior posts in the army which he has deployed to crush the mainly Sunni Muslim protests.

In recent months, peaceful protests have increasingly given way to armed confrontations, often led by army deserters.

In a show of military power, state television broadcast footage of live-fire exercises held by the navy and air force, which it said aimed at deterring any attack on Syria.

U.N. TOLL

The United Nations has said more than 5,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-Assad protests broke out in March.

Arab, U.S. and European sanctions combined with the unrest have sent the economy into sharp decline. The Syrian pound fell nearly 2 percent on Tuesday to more than 55 pounds per dollar, 17 percent down from the official rate before the unrest.

Arab rulers are keen to prevent a descent into civil war in Syria that could affect a region already riven by rivalry between non-Arab Shi’ite Muslim power Iran and Sunni Muslim Arab heavyweights such as Saudi Arabia.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Alister Bull in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Millership)

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Travels from Bangladesh

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nargis Rahman, TMO

Lush green trees amid debris, pollution and beggars surrounded Shah Jalal International Airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, my husband, two-year-old son and I went for an 18-day vacation to visit family two weeks ago. We clung close to our luggage and airport authorities who guided us through the crowd to a Kuwait rented bus that would take us home to Sylhet, Bangladesh.

As the air-conditioned (a luxury in the country) battered bus jerked back and forth and the driver blared the horn through the seven-hour journey, my husband and I cradled our son and braced ourselves for possible accidents. The sky was grey and the cars, rikshaws, and even cows jammed the streets.

Two men dressed in all-black uniforms, do-rags and sunglasses, the Rapid Action Battalion authority similar to the FBI in the US, zoomed past us in a vehicle similar to a pick-up truck. I tensed at their sight. RAB nicknamed the “death squad” by humanitarian groups killed nearly 130 people last year (as of January 2011) to the UK-based newspaper The Guardian.
A mile into the village where my husband was born, 30 people came out to greet us and led us to my father-in-law’s eight bedroom cement home nicknamed “America” by the neighbors. To them we were wealthy.

Bangladesh is known for its poverty. For two weeks we lived removed from the luxuries of a computer, television, heat, and a car. We relied on relatives to set-up trips, execute financial decisions from what to eat to where to shop, and how to interact with the villagers.

The village was unlike the city, with clean air and the wind blowing through grapefruit, coconut, shathkhora (a citrus fruit), and bitternut (used for chewing) trees. Rice fields, grass and vegetation were spread between far-out buildings. Adults and kids bathed in man-made ponds, also used for washing clothes and cooking water. 

While the country seemed busy and quiet from the political rumble, posters of war crime prisoners charged by the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal were put-up in town centers and major road crossings. Five Jamaat-e-Islami and two Bangladesh National Party political leaders have been arrested and one, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, formally charged for crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. His trial began November 21.

A cousin would joke of the Bangladesh Awami League meetings in the village, while he passed out literature of those who died during Jamaat-e-Islami crossfires with police, or fights with the student groups of the major political parties Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh National Party (BNP) on college campuses.

As I looked out into the river behind our home in Bangladesh two days before our journey back to the US, the still water gave me a vision of a brighter future for a country torn between the rich and poor, right and wrong, and past and future.

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Shahid Khan to Purchase NFL’s Jaguars

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver fired longtime coach Jack Del Rio on Tuesday after a 3-8 start and agreed to sell the National Football League’s Jaguars to Pakistani-American businessman Shahid Khan of Illinois. League sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen that the sale is estimated to be between $750 and $800 million.

“It’s a little bittersweet, honestly, that it came as soon as it did,” Weaver announced. “But the main motivation for the exit strategy was to find someone that has the same passion about the NFL, had the same passion about football in Jacksonville as we do, and I found that person.”

“Wayne’s legacy will be lasting, and I will always be grateful for Wayne’s trust and confidence in my commitment to the Jaguars, the NFL and the people of the Jacksonville community,” the 61-year-old Khan said in a statement.

Born in Pakistan, Khan left home at age 16 to attend the University of Illinois. He graduated in 1971, a year after he started working for Flex-N-Gate Corp. in Urbana, Ill. He purchased the company in 1980. Today, Flex-N-Gate is a major manufacturer of bumper systems for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles built in North America.

“He’s going to buy a home here in Jacksonville. He’s going to spend time here in Jacksonville,” Weaver said of Khan. “He’s going to keep the Jaguars management group intact. He’s keeping the Jaguars staff intact. He has a great admiration for what we’ve been able to accomplish here and the way we run our business here so he’s keeping all that intact.”

While Weaver is confident Khan will keep the team in Jacksonville, there is nothing written in the deal which obligates Khan to do that. Weaver’s confidence stems from assurances Khan has made to him personally and the fact that the Jaguars’ lease to play at EverBank Field runs through the 2029 season. If the Jaguars wanted to leave before the end of the deal, the lease requires the team to prove they had lost money in three consecutive seasons or to convince a local judge that the city was failing to properly maintain the stadium.

“It’s pretty hard to put something in writing saying you have to do something but you have to trust individuals’ integrity and I have no doubt that Shahid is going to do what he plans to do,” Weaver said. “I had to be comfortable that his plan was to keep the team in Jacksonville. There’s not a doubt in my mind that this team will be in Jacksonville.”

Khan tried to purchase controlling interest in the NFL’s St. Louis Rams last year. But minority owner Stan Kroenke pulled an end-around and exercised his right to purchase full control of the franchise. Khan’s purchase of the Jaguars is subject to NFL approval. League owners will vote to ratify the deal December 14th, and if it passes it would become official on January 4th.

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Syria Calls for Arab League Emergency Meeting

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin Chulov in Beirut

Syria has called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League after the regional body announced it will suspend Damascus from its membership ranks on Wednesday and impose sanctions – a move that has sharply escalated tensions across the region.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad wants the urgent meeting held before the suspension is due to take effect. Syrian officials made the demand after a night of apparently sponsored violence against the diplomatic missions of states that had voted to punish it because of a crackdown against demonstrators in defiance of an earlier understanding.

On Saturday night, protesters stormed the Saudi Arabian and Turkish embassies in Damascus and the Qatari mission in nearby Beirut, prompting Turkey and Saudi Arabia to withdraw non-essential diplomats and their families.

Turkey has also demanded compensation for damage to its embassy and warned its citizens against travelling across its southern border.

Last month, the US also withdrew its ambassador after the US embassy was twice stormed by a crowd.

The British Foreign Office minister, Alistair Burt, condemned the latest embassy attacks on Sunday. “By allowing these attacks to take place, the Syrian regime is demonstrating yet again that its first response is repression and intimidation,” he said. “This cycle of violence must stop now for the sake of the Syrian people and for those who support them.”

Turkey called on the international community to stop the bloodshed in Syria, a demand that appeared to leave open the possibility of some kind of intervention.

An unnamed Syrian official told the state news agency Sana on Sunday that Arab League monitors could travel to the country to assess the situation before the suspension is due to take effect on 16 November.

Such a concession had been a key demand of the body, which two weeks ago thought it had struck a broad deal with Damascus to end the violence.

However, clashes have intensified since then, with daily death tolls often of more than 20 people, meaning November – the eighth month of the Syrian uprising – is likely to be its bloodiest yet.

A large pro-regime rally saw thousands turn out in central Damascus on Sunday in what was cast as a spontaneous mass display of backing for Assad, whose support base remains stronger in the capital and in the commercial hub of Aleppo than in the third and fourth cities, Hama and Homs. Daily clashes there between troops and protesters underline a deepening divide with ever-sharpening sectarian dimensions.

Syria is ruled by the Assad clan, hailing from the Allawite sect, which has close ties to Shia Islam. The Allawites account for around 12% of all Syrians, but are deeply entwined into the establishment.
Other minorities include Christians, Druze and Kurds. However, the bulk of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, whom the regime fears have drawn strength from successful revolts in the Sunni states of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The effect of Syria’s suspension is not yet clear, and neither are the type of sanctions that the Arab League may impose. The organisation’s secretary general, Nabil al-Arabi, said on Sunday that he is “studying mechanisms” to protect Syrian people.

He left open the possibility of again referring Syria to the UN security council, where Syrian allies Russia and China last month blocked a move that had threatened to bring security council sanctions.
Arabi said the league did not have the means to act alone.

Despite its relative lack of clout, the Arab League move is significant on the global stage, where European and US policymakers had been struggling to craft a means of stopping the violence in Syria without causing a collapse in regional stability.

Without the cover from the Arab League that the US received in March, Barack Obama would have been much less likely to authorise the use of the US military in the early stages of the Libyan operation – an essential element of the ultimately succesful Nato operation.

The move against Syria – only the second of its kind in the history of the 22-state organisation – is likely to embolden states opposed to the regime but fearful of the knock-on effects of the fall of Assad.

Isolation is not sitting well with Assad or Syria’s key patron, Iran.

Both states have warned of “dire consequences” if more pressure is piled on the regime, and insisted that the relentless protests are foreign-backed and being led by militant Sunni Islamists.

Guardian.co.uk

France Recalls Syria Envoy

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – France recalled its ambassador to Damascus and Syria’s suspension from the Arab League took effect on Wednesday, intensifying diplomatic pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to halt a violent eight-month-old crackdown on protests.

Syrian army defectors attacked an intelligence complex on the edge of Damascus in a high-profile assault that showed how close the popular uprising is to sliding into armed conflict.

Hours after the Arab League suspension took effect, Assad supporters threw stones and debris at the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and smeared its walls with graffiti, witnesses said. The embassy is in one of the most secure districts of the capital, near Assad’s home and offices.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France was working with the Arab League on a draft resolution at the United Nations.

Last month Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have condemned Damascus, but since then the normally cautious Arab League has suspended Syria for failing to implement an Arab peace plan.

“New violence is taking place and that has led to the closure of the missions in Aleppo and Latakia and to recall our ambassador to Paris,” Juppe said, referring to weekend attacks by pro-Assad demonstrators on French diplomatic premises, as well as Turkish and Saudi missions, in Syria.

Arab foreign ministers met in Rabat for an Arab-Turkish forum, where a Syrian flag was placed by an empty chair.

Turkey, now a fierce critic of its former ally, said Syria had failed to honor an Arab peace plan to halt the unrest.

Speaking through a translator, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu compared Syria with Libya, where rebels captured, humiliated and killed Muammar Gaddafi last month.

“The regime should meet the demands of its people,” he said. “The collective massacres in Syria and … the bloodshed cannot continue like this.”

IRAN DEFENDS SYRIA

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi criticized the Arab League for “acting in a way that will hurt the security of the region.” He told the official news agency IRNA that Syria, an ally of Iran since 1980, had repeatedly pledged to meet legitimate popular demands and enact reforms.

“Unfortunately, some countries believe that they are outside the crisis … but they are mistaken because if a crisis happens they will be entangled by its consequences.”

Saudi Arabia, which is eager to loosen the ties between its regional rival Iran and Syria, said the Arab League was acting in Syria’s interest, not interfering in its affairs.

“What’s important is not about suspending or not suspending (Syria from the League), it’s stopping the bloodshed, starting the dialogue, and withdrawing troops from Syrian cities,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told Al Arabiya channel.

Western countries have tightened sanctions on Syria and on Monday Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab head of state to urge Assad to quit after ensuring a smooth handover.

In the early months of the uprising, attempts by security forces to crush mainly peaceful protests accounted for most of the violence. But since August there has been a growing number of reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting back.

Activists said Free Syrian Army fighters fired machineguns and rockets at a large Air Force Intelligence complex on the northern edge of the capital at about 7:30 p.m. EST.

A gunfight ensued and helicopters circled over the complex, on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Syrian state media did not mention the attack.

The U.S. State Department said it had few details and no direct confirmation of the incident, but blamed Assad’s crackdown on protesters.

“It’s not surprising that we are now seeing this kind of violence,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We don’t condone it in any way, shape or form. But let’s be very clear that it is the brutal tactics of Assad and his regime in dealing with what began as a non-violent movement is now taking Syria down a very dangerous path.”

“HUGELY SYMBOLIC”

A Western diplomat in Damascus described the assault as “hugely symbolic and tactically new,” saying that if the reported details were true it would be “much much more coordinated than anything we have seen before.”

“To actually attack a base like this is something else, and so close to Damascus as well,” said the diplomat, adding that fighting in recent weeks involving army deserters in the town of Rastan and the city of Homs resembled a localized civil war.

“It’s not a nationwide civil war, but in very specific locations, it is looking like that,” said the diplomat.

The Free Syrian Army was set up by deserters and is led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, who is based in southern Turkey.

It announced this week that it had formed a “temporary military council” of nine defecting officers, led by Asaad.

The statement said the Syrian Free Army aimed to “bring down the regime and protect citizens from the repression … and prevent chaos as soon as the regime falls,” adding that it would form a military court to try “members of the regime who are proven to have been involved in killing operations.”

Syrian television showed thousands of Assad’s supporters rallying in Damascus and Latakia to mark the day his father Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970. It said the crowds were also voicing their rejection of the Arab League’s decision.

“God, Syria, Bashar, that’s all!” demonstrators shouted in central Damascus after turning out in heavy rain to wave flags and posters of the president. Two large posters of Assad and his father hung from a building. “Neither rain nor sanctions will stop us expressing our nationalism,” they said, according to the television report.

The Arab League has stopped short of calling for Assad’s departure or proposing any Libya-style military intervention, but its ostracism of Syria is a blow to a country whose ruling Baath party puts Arab nationalism at the center of its credo.

Syrian authorities have banned most independent media. They blame the unrest on “armed terrorist gangs” and foreign-backed militants who they say have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.
Hundreds of people have been killed this month, one of the bloodiest periods of the revolt.

Syria says it remains committed to the Arab peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of troops from urban areas, the release of prisoners and a dialogue with the opposition.

State media said more than 1,000 prisoners, including prominent dissident Kamal Labwani, were freed on Tuesday. But human rights campaigners say tens of thousands have been detained since anti-Assad protests began.

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Miralem Sulejmani Returns to the Pitch

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

2011-10-18T194013Z_1742180748_GM1E7AJ0AG401_RTRMADP_3_SOCCER-CHAMPIONS

Miralem Sulejmani (L) of Ajax Amsterdam challenges Luis Ibanez of Dinamo Zagreb during their Champions League soccer match at the Maksimir stadium in Zagreb October 18, 2011. 

REUTERS/Nikola Solic

Serbian forward Miralem Sulejmani will be available to feature for Dutch giants Ajax this week in their crucial Champions League clash with Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb. Sulejmani missed the Dutch team’s last two matches with a groin injury but the club’s official website has revealed that Sulejmani returned to training earlier this week.

Sulejmani, who is of Gorani Muslim origin, joined AFC Ajax on July 4th of 2008 from fellow Eredivisie squad AFC Ajax Heerenveen for a reported transfer fee of €16.25 million, breaking the Dutch transfer record. He signed a five-year contract with Ajax, keeping him there until June of 2013. Sulejmani even claimed in an interview that he himself didn’t even know that Ajax paid over €16 million for his services. He made his debut for Ajax against English Premier League club Sunderland on August 3rd of 2008.

Sulejmani made an impact almost immediately at Ajax. But first team opportunities subsequently became scarce. He almost was loaned out to English squad West Ham United in August of 2010, but his work permit application fell through. But after an off-season coaching change, he exhibited more confidence under new coach Frank de Boer and subsequently got more chances in the first-team.

Central defender Gregory van der Wiel is also available for selection having missed his side’s 4-0 win over Roda on Saturday due to abdominal pains. Ajax coach Frank de Boer could slot both players back into the starting XI to face Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday night. Ajax hosts the Croatian outfit having defeated it 2-0 in Zagreb two weeks ago. Ajax were last year’s champions of the Dutch Eredivisie league. They currently at second position in Group D of the Champions League with four points.

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The Other Muslim Soccer Star in Kansas City

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Compiled by Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

Reporters_wcup_nigeria14Senegalese soccer player Birahim Diop welcomed a new Muslim teammate to Sporting Kansas this season with the arrival of heralded striker Soony Saad. But Diop himself has been in Major League Soccer (MLS) for three seasons now. He originally began his career in Senegal with US Rail de Thiès. In one year at the club he appeared in 25 matches scoring 15 goals. He then went on to ASC Jeanne d’Arc and scored 12 goals and added 7 assists in his one year at the club.

In 2001 Diop moved to the United States and joined the New York/New Jersey MetroStars reserve squad. He then impressed the coaching brass to move up to the senior squad appearing in 4 league matches in 2002. Following his stay in New York, Diop moved to Colombian side Deportivo Pereira, before being re-united once again with his former coach in New York Octavio Zambrano at CS Tiligul-Tiras Tiraspol in Moldova. In his first season with CS Tiligul-Tiras Tiraspol Diop appeared in 15 league matches and scored 3 goals playing as a holding midfielder. In 2008 Diop returned to the U.S. and played for FDR United in New York City’s amateur leagues, scoring 19 goals in 25 matches.

On March 17, 2010, Diop joined the Kansas City Wizards, as an addition to their midfield. Diop was reunited with coach Octavio Zambrano once again, as he was now an assistant coach for Kansas City. Diop scored his first two MLS goals on August 21, 2010 in a 4-1 victory over the New England Revolution. Diop than recorded the first hat trick of his career on October 23, 2010 in a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes. Diop enjoyed his best year in Major League soccer in 2010 with the Kansas City Wizards appearing in 14 league matches and scoring 5 goals.

This season, the 22 year old midfielder has yet to score a goal in 18 games played with Kansas City. He has, however, started eight games, and has recorded an assist. At 6’3” and 175 pounds, Diop is an imposing figure in the Sporting Kansas City midfield. And as a result of his size he often plays as a striker. But with Soony Saad part of the strikeforce nowadays, he and Diop could have the makings of quite a scoring pair moving forward.

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Nazem Kadri Begins Training Camp

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

Kadri_2010Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson doesn’t anticipate much roster juggling this year as the National Hockey League team begins its training camp for the new season. And, unfortunately this means limited opportunities for Lebanese-Canadian forward Nazem Kadri on the 2010-2011 roster.

For now, the Leafs coach has his first three lines set, with the possible exception of one spot on the third unit. The trio of Joffrey Lupul-Tim Connolly-Phil Kessel will get things started followed by Nikolai Kulemin-Mikhail Grabovski-Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong-Tyler Bozak-Nazem Kadri.

But both Wilson and general manager Brian Burke said one spot on that third unit could be up for grabs between Kadri, Joe Colborne, Matt Frattin and Philippe Dupuis. “That would be what I would see the first three lines right now,” Wilson told the Toronto Sun. “But it will be the same as last year: If someone plays better than (Kadri), he’ll start in the minors. I’m hoping the year of experience both in the American League and with us is only going to make him better.”

Kadri was the seventh overall selection by the Maple Leafs in the 2009 NHL draft. He has spent the past two seasons shuttling between the parent club and their American Hockey League affiliate the Toronto Marlies. The Leafs begin their regular season on October 6th, hosting the Montreal Canadians. That day will ironically be Nazem’s 21st birthday, and I’m sure that he could not think of a better way to celebrate his birthday than on the ice with the Maple Leafs.

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Malouda and Anelka Lead Chelsea to Opening Day Victory

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

MALOUDARender11
File:  Florent Malouda

It was an all-Muslim score-sheet for Chelsea Football Club this past weekend as they won their opening English Premier League match 2-1 over West Brom. French striker Nicolas Anelka scored the equalizer, before French midfielder Florent Malouda knocked home the winning goal with seven minutes left in the second half.

This was the first match for new Chelsea manager Andres Villas-Boas, and it looked to be an easy time, with Chelsea having beaten West Brom in all 10 of their English League meetings. But Chelsea started poorly after falling behind 1-0 in the first half, leaving the faithful at Stamford Bridge a little nervous heading into half-time. Malouda had lost his starting place in the midfield, but was inserted into the line-up in the second half.

The home fans screamed for a penalty two minutes later when West Brom goalkeeper Foster clattered into Anelka but referee Lee Mason felt the goalkeeper had got a bit of the ball. There was little improvement from Chelsea at the start of the second half but a slice of luck helped them equalize in the 53rd minute.

Frank Lampard went down in the box laying the ball back to Anelka, who cut inside and unleashed a shot which took a telling deflection off the heel of Jonas Olsson and nestled in the far corner. The goal sparked the game to life, Scharner heading James Morrison’s cross over the bar and Malouda seeing a half-volley blocked before Lampard played in Anelka, whose shot hit the legs of Foster and rebounded to Malouda, only for Steven Reid to throw his body at the ball.

Lampard and Anelka were linking up well, the latter hooking over under pressure before Drogba just failed to control a great ball from Ivanovic. Anelka wasted a great breakaway chance with eight minutes left, steering the ball into the sidenetting from 35 yards after Foster had come racing off his line. It did not matter as the winner arrived a minute later, Bosingwa skipping too easily between Morrison and Nicky Shorey down the right and producing the ball of the match, swept home by Malouda at the far post.

Villas-Boas had not lost a league match with his former team, Porto, in the Portuguese league in over 16 months. Thanks to Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka, his unbeaten streak continues.

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Deji Karim Has Sights Set on New NFL Season

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

sf3Jacksonville Jaguars second-year running back Abdul Deji Karim has been sporting sunglasses in practice lately, but it is not an attempt by the humble football player to big-time anybody. He actually has a medical excuse. Karim told Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union that he underwent cataract surgery on his eye during the offseason, and as a result he is currently suffering from light-sensitivity.

As a policy the National Football League does not allow tinted visors, but they do grant exceptions for players with medical problems. One example of such a player is running back LaDainian Tomlinson of the New York Jets. Karim is currently seeking permission from the league office to wear such a visor during games.

Karim was drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Jaguars. Las season he primarily handled kickoff duties, which would be difficult to perform with light-sensitivity due to having to look up into the sun in order to field the kickoffs. Jacksonville takes on the Atlanta Falcons this weekend in preseason football action. They open up the regular season on September 11th at home against division rivals the Tennessee Titans.

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Soony Saad Joins Major League Soccer

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, TMO, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

Michael Nanchoff #9 of the University of Akron sends the ball past Soony Saad #8 of the University of Michigan during the 2010 College Cup semi-final at Harder Stadium, on December 10 2010, in Santa Barbara, California.Akron won 2-1.

A University of Akron player sends a ball past Soony Saad of the University of Michigan at the 2010 College Cup Semifinal in Santa Barbara, California, on December 10, 2010.

Muslim soccer player Soony Saad has now gone from Michigan high school star, to college soccer sensation, to now professional soccer player all in a matter of a year and a half. Saad enjoyed a prolific freshman season with the University of Michigan men’s soccer team, scoring 19 goals and leading his team to the Final Four. But afterward, the lure of professional soccer proved too great. He left the team this spring after the season concluded and traveled to Europe to try out for a number of large European soccer organizations. But after failing find the right opportunities, Saad has returned home to the United States and has committed to Major League Soccer (MLS). And this week, in a weighted lottery, Sporting Kansas City of MLS has now won the rights to the Lebanese-American forward.

Sporting Kansas City already has what American soccer expert Ives Galarcep describes as “…one of the deepest and strongest collection of forwards in MLS…” But any team could use the natural scoring talents of Soony Saad. Last season Soony teamed up with his brother, midfielder Hamoody Saad, to lead the University of Michigan attack that brought home the Big Ten Conference Title. Before that, as a high school senior in the Detroit area, Saad was named the Gatorade National High School Boys Soccer Player of the Year. Sporting Kansas City beat out Chivas USA and the Chicago Fire to win Saad’s rights. Now they are hoping that Saad can bring their team trophies as well.

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Dr. Abdul Razzaque Ahmed Receives Lifetime Achievement Award From the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release

Pan Arab CeremonyDubai, UAE–On 19th of April 2011, the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists honoured Dr. Abdul Razzaque Ahmed of Boston, Massachusetts with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”.  The Award was given at a joint meeting of the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists and Dubai Derm 2011 held at the International Convention Center in Dubai.  The patron of the Meeting was HRH Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who presided over the session.  In announcing the Award, Dr. Omar Al Sheikh of Riyadh, KSA, Secretary General, stated; 

“In recognition of his 35 years of dedication and commitment to treating patients with severe autoimmune blistering diseases and for the discovery of new and novel therapies to treatment them.  In addition, in recognition of his numerous landmark and milestone contributions enhancing the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of their pathogenesis, the Pan Arab League of Dermatologists present this Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Abdul Razzaque Ahmed.”

The Pan Arab League of Dermatologists has been in existence since 1979.  It consists of 23 Arab countries which have a cumulative population of over 8700 dermatologist that constitute the League.  It meets every three years in a different Arab country.  This is the first time in is 33 years of existence that it has bestowed such an Award. 

The objectives of the League are:

•    To hold conferences and educate its members with knowledge of the latest advances and discoveries in the science and practice of medical and surgical dermatology.
•    To promote the specialty, scientifically and professionally the League provides an avenue to advance collaboration between individual members and member countries. 
•    To foster the development of infrastructure in the academic institutions within member countries by aiding in the formulation of curricula, faculty recruitment and exchange, and sharing resources to create a learning environment that is challenging for young physicians to become competent dermatologists. 
•    To strongly support the translation of manuscripts, books, and other written educational resources into Arabic to advance scientific research and the utilization of information technology. 
•    To ultimately be the voice of dermatology in the Arab world by uniting Arab dermatologists under one umbrella.

Dr. Ahmed is originally from a small town called Wani in the District Yavatmal in Maharashtra in Central India.  He studied medicine at the internationally-renowned All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.  Shortly thereafter he went to the United States where he trained in Internal Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, in Dermatology at the University of Buffalo, and in Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the University of California at Los Angeles.  Dr. Ahmed was on the Faculty of Medicine at UCLA for six years before moving to Harvard University in Boston.  He began molecular research and earned a Doctorate of Science degree from the Harvard University Faculty of Medicine, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration (MPA) from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Thereafter, Dr. Ahmed continued his laboratory research for 20 years on the campus of the Harvard Medical School with funding provided by the National Institute of Health.  He also opened the first “Center for Blistering Diseases” in the U.S.  The Center provides an all-inclusive, holistic approach to treating every aspect of a patient’s life.  Dr. Ahmed established a model for the treatment of these autoimmune, potentially fatal diseases.  This model has been emulated in other cities with significant success.

Dr. Ahmed is one among a handful of blistering disease specialists in the world.  He has published original scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, chapters in various books, and edited five  monographs.  He has lectured in the U.S. and worldwide throughout Asia, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East.  Blistering diseases patients come to him from all over the U.S. and several countries overseas.  He is unique because he is an excellent clinician, an imaginative and creative scientist, and an effective teacher with an infectious enthusiasm and the ability to make young physicians become interested and excited in what they study and learn.  He has received several prestigious awards in the U.S. and many other countries.  It is important to note that he also received two Citations for his research and its global impact; one from The Commonwealth of Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the other from the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Argeo Paul Cellucci. 

Dr. Ahmed treats patients with autoimmune, potentially fatal blistering diseases that affect the skin, mouth, throat, nose, eyes, voice box, swallowing tub, genitalia, and rectum.  The blisters break easily, leaving raw and open sores that are open to infection.  These sores stick to the clothes and bedsheets.  Patients are sick, toxic, and have difficulty coping with their daily lives, often afraid to be seen by society in general.  These diseases are rare.  For example, pemphigus occurs in one patient in a 250,000 population; cicatricial pemphigoid with a potential for causing blindness occurs in one in 1 million population, and epidermolysis bullosa acquisita occurs in one in 3 million people.  Most physicians do not know how to handle these patients and refer them to Dr. Ahmed for medical management.  His patients see him as a savior and “God sent”.  His treatments have saved numerous lives and prevented blindness in numerous others. 

When receiving the Pan Arab Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Ahmed thanked the patients who gave him their trust and the opportunity to make the discoveries he has made over the years.  He thanked his teachers, mentors, colleagues, and many students, for their dedication and assistance.  He focused on his research towards the discovery of the genes that predispose individuals to these diseases and their value and importance to all future research in this field.  He spoke about his discovery of two molecules involved in the process that allows these diseases to happen (target antigens).  He ended by discussing the discovery of two treatments (intravenous immunoglobulin and Rituximab) that can save patient lives and give them not only hope but offer the patients an opportunity to live normal lives. 

While many investigators are chasing “cures” for common diseases like cancer, heart attacks, and stroke, or wanting to find ways to lose weight, grow hair, and eliminate wrinkles, Dr. Ahmed has silent but perseveringly and relentlessly worked on these “orphan diseases” so that those unfortunate patients on the sidelines of the medical world may have hope and a chance to survive.  The Pan Arab League of Dermatologists has done the world, and especially the patients with pemphigus and pemphigoid, a great service by recognizing a physician truly worthy of such recognition. 

Direct inquiries to email address:  centerforblisteringdiseases@msn.com

13-21

Electoral Verdict & Muslims’ Success!

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Declaration of results to the five state assembly elections has certainly ended political suspense regarding the fate of candidates and parties engaged in the political battle. It is now imperative to analyse the results particularly in context of electoral success of Indian Muslims. Before elaborating on Muslims’ standing in this political phase, it is relevant to evaluate the overall performance of major parties in the race. Undeniably, the success of Trinamool Congress in alliance with Congress in ousting the Left bloc from power in West Bengal stands out. The Left has been pushed out of power after having headed the state government for 34 years. Trinamool Chief Mamata Bannerjee, popularly known as Didi, has been hailed in most quarters for having succeeded in this mission. Having won 184 seats in polls held in 294 constituencies, the Trinamool has emerged as a major political force in West Bengal, as it has the needed the strength to form the government with or without support from its allies, including the Congress. The Congress has won 42 seats. Credit must be given to both the Trinamool and Congress parties for having fought the elections as allies. It was sensible of Congress not to have insisted on testing its political strength in all the constituencies without reaching any political understanding with Trinamool. The Congress tried this experiment earlier in Bihar assembly elections to only fail and make it easier for its rivals – National Democratic Alliance- to return to power in state with greater success than expected.

In contrast, Congress and its key ally- Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have failed miserably in Tamil Nadu. In polls held to 234 seats, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), led by J. Jayalalitha has won 150 seats. The DMK has secured only 23 and the Congress – five seats.

The Congress has fared well in Assam by winning 78 out of 126 seats. It is a hat trick for Congress leader Tarun Gogoi to return to power as Assam Chief Minister for the third term. Kerala has also spelt success for Congress but only with the support of its ally, Muslim League. Here, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has been pushed out of power with the Congress-coalition that is the United Democratic Front (UDF) winning 72 seats in the battle for 140. The LDF managed only 68. While the Congress has won 38 seats, the 20 secured by Muslim League have played a major role in helping UDF form the new Kerala government. The elections to 30 constituencies in Pondicherry have witnessed victory for Congress in seven, AIADMK- five, DMK – two and others – 16.

Apart from stunning defeat faced by Left in West Bengal as well as its failure in Kerala to return to power, the political loss suffered by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot be sidelined. The BJP has won only one seat in West Bengal, five in Assam and none in South India. The five seats won in Assam are only half of the 10 BJP had in the preceding assembly. The BJP contested more than 800 seats in the five states’ assembly elections. Undeniably, the Congress has performed better, but it cannot be missed that except for in Assam, the party has not fared too well on its own strength. The Congress has won less than 50 percent of the seats it contested. The party has tasted success in only 170 of the 359 seats it contested. 

The assembly elections are also a crucial indicator of the increasing political importance of Muslim votes as well as Muslim parties. As mentioned earlier, the UDF’s success in Kerala would not have been possible without the state Muslim League as a key ally. The reverse is the case in Assam, where Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF) – led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi – has emerged as the leading party in the opposition. The BJP and its ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) have lost their position as the main opposition group to AUDF, which has won 18 seats. Though, nominally, unlike Kerala’s Muslim League, AUDF has not included any religious term in its label, the party is known as a Muslim party. Despite being in the political race only for the second term, AUDF has increased in its tally from 10 in the last assembly to 18 in the new one. What is more amazing is its emergence as the leading opposition party, the second most important party (after Congress) in the Assam assembly.
The percentage of Muslims in Assam is around 31 percent. Against 25 Muslim members in the last Assam assembly, there are 28 in the new one, with 16 from AUDF. West Bengal, with Muslims constituting 28 percent of the state’s population, has elected 59 Muslims, 13 more than in the earlier assembly. Twenty-five percent of Kerala’s population are Muslims. The state has elected 36 Muslims, 11 more than earlier, to the new assembly. Muslims constitute less than 13 percent of the population in both Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The two states have lesser Muslim members than they had in the outgoing assemblies. While Tamil Nadu has elected six members, Pondicherry has elected one, against the seven and two, both the states respectively had in the previous assemblies.
There is no denying that representation of Muslims in the five state assemblies remains below the mark it should be in keeping with their population. Nevertheless, the assembly elections indicate that their political importance and strength have definitely displayed a decisive increase in states where their population is more than 25 percent, which are West Bengal, Assam and Kerala. Interestingly, BJP’s political card has failed miserably in all the five states against the electoral verdict won by Muslim candidates as well as Muslim parties!

13-21

2011 Indian Premier League Cricket Season Under Way

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

Indian Premier League_1The fourth season of Indian Premier League cricket kicked off on Friday April 8th. And through ten matches thus far, the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals have jumped to the early lead in the standings. Those two teams are the only undefeated clubs remaining with identical 2-0 records. Rajasthan started their season with an eight wicket victory over the Deccan Chargers. They followed that up with a six wicket victory over the Delhi Daredevils.

Mumbai were finalists in last season’s IPL, so their thirst for the cup is great, knowing that they were within a whisker of the title last year. They opened their season this year with an eight wicket victory over the Delhi Daredevils. In that match, Muslim bowlers Ali Murtaza and Munaf Patel were a big part of the victory. The left-handed Murtaza bowled four overs, giving up only 21 runs, and grabbing one wicket. His right-handed Muslim counterpart, Patel, completed three overs, giving up only 20 runs, without any wickets.

In their second match, Mumbai demolished the Royal Challengers Bangalore by nine wickets. Murtaza and Patel proved quite dependable in that match as well. Murtaza tossed a steady four overs, giving up 26 runs without any wickets. Patel, meanwhile, bowled three overs and gave up a miniscule 10 runs, without any wickets. It appears that if Mumbai are to take that next step and win the 2011 IPL title, this lefty-righty Muslim tandem will definitely play a role.

13-16

Special Report: The West’s Unwanted War in Libya

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Taylor

2011-04-13T171100Z_1218461909_GM1E74E033901_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

A rebel fighter aims his RPG (Rocket-Propelled Grenade) at a vehicle they suspect to be carrying people supporting Muammar Gaddafi, at a road checkpoint in Zuwaytinah, some 100 km (60 miles) southwest of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, April 13, 2011.     

REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

PARIS (Reuters) – It is a war that Barack Obama didn’t want, David Cameron didn’t need, Angela Merkel couldn’t cope with and Silvio Berlusconi dreaded.

Only Nicolas Sarkozy saw the popular revolt that began in Libya on February 15 as an opportunity for political and diplomatic redemption. Whether the French president’s energetic leadership of an international coalition to protect the Libyan people from Muammar Gaddafi will be enough to revive his sagging domestic fortunes in next year’s election is highly uncertain.

But by pushing for military strikes that he hopes might repair France’s reputation in the Arab world, Sarkozy helped shape what type of war it would be. The road to Western military intervention was paved with mutual suspicion, fears of another quagmire in a Muslim country and doubts about the largely unknown ragtag Libyan opposition with which the West has thrown in its lot.

That will make it harder to hold together an uneasy coalition of Americans, Europeans and Arabs, the longer Gaddafi holds out. Almost two weeks into the air campaign, Western policymakers fret about the risk of a stray bomb hitting a hospital or an orphanage, or of the conflict sliding into a prolonged stalemate.

There is no doubt the outcome in Tripoli will have a bearing on the fate of the popular movement for change across the Arab world. But because this war was born in Paris it will also have consequences for Europe.

“It’s high time that Europeans stopped exporting their own responsibilities to Washington,” says Nick Witney, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “If the West fails in Libya, it will be primarily a European failure.”

A FRENCH FIASCO

When the first Arab pro-democracy uprisings shook the thrones of aging autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt in January, France had got itself on the wrong side of history.

Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie had enjoyed a winter holiday in Tunisia, a former French colony, oblivious to the rising revolt. She and her family had taken free flights on the private jet of a businessman close to President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and then publicly offered the government French assistance with riot control just a few days before Ben Ali was ousted by popular protests.

Worse was to come. It turned out that French Prime Minister Francois Fillon had spent his Christmas vacation up the Nile as the guest of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the next autocrat in the Arab democracy movement’s firing line, while Sarkozy and his wife Carla had soaked up the winter sunshine in Morocco, another former French territory ruled by a barely more liberal divine-right monarch.

Television stations were re-running embarrassing footage of the president giving Gaddafi a red-carpet welcome in Paris in 2007, when Libya’s “brother leader” planted his tent in the grounds of the Hotel de Marigny state guest house across the road from the Elysee presidential palace.

On February 27, a few days after Libyan rebels hoisted the pre-Gaddafi tricolor flag defiantly in Benghazi, Sarkozy fired his foreign minister. In a speech announcing the appointment of Alain Juppe as her successor, Sarkozy cited the need to adapt France’s foreign and security policy to the new situation created by the Arab uprisings. “This is an historic change,” he said. “We must not be afraid of it. We must have one sole aim: to accompany, support and help the people who have chosen freedom.”

MAN IN THE WHITE SHIRT

Yet the international air campaign against Gaddafi’s forces might never have happened without the self-appointed activism of French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, a left-leaning philosopher and talk-show groupie, who lobbied Sarkozy to take up the cause of Libya’s pro-democracy rebels.

Libya was the latest of a string of international causes that the libertarian icon with his unbuttoned white designer shirts and flowing mane of greying hair has championed over the last two decades after Bosnian Muslims, Algerian secularists, Afghan rebels and Georgia’s side in the conflict with Russia. Levy went to meet the Libyan rebels and telephoned Sarkozy from Benghazi in early March.

“I’d like to bring you the Libyan Massouds,” Levy says he told the president, comparing the anti-Gaddafi opposition with former Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who fought against the Islamist Taliban before being assassinated. “As Gaddafi only clings on through violence, I think he’ll collapse,” the philosopher told Reuters in an interview.

On March 10, Levy accompanied two envoys of the Libyan Transitional Council to Sarkozy’s office. To their surprise and to the consternation of France’s allies, the president recognized the council as the “legitimate representative of the Libyan people” and told them he favored not only establishing a no-fly zone to protect them but also carrying out “limited targeted strikes” against Gaddafi’s forces. In doing so without consultation on the eve of a European Union summit called to discuss Libya, Sarkozy upstaged Washington, which was still debating what to do, embarrassed London, which wanted broad support for a no-fly zone, and infuriated Berlin, France’s closest European partner. He also stunned his own foreign minister, who learned about the decision to recognize the opposition from a news agency dispatch, aides said, while in Brussels trying to coax the EU into backing a no-fly zone.

“Quite a lot of members of the European Council were irritated to discover that France had recognized the Libyan opposition council and the Elysee was talking of targeted strikes,” a senior European diplomat said. Across the Channel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, aware of the deep unpopularity of the Iraq war, had turned his back on Tony Blair’s doctrine of liberal interventionism when he took office in 2010. But after facing criticism over the slow evacuation of British nationals from Libya and a trade-promotion trip to the Gulf in the midst of the Arab uprisings, he overruled cabinet skeptics, military doubters and critics among his own Conservative lawmakers to join Sarkozy in campaigning for military action. However, Cameron sought to reassure parliament that he was not entering an Iraq-style open-ended military commitment.

“This is different to Iraq. This is not going into a country, knocking over its government and then owning and being responsible for everything that happens subsequently,” he said. In Britain, as in France, the government won bipartisan support for intervention.

GERMANY MISSING IN ACTION

In Germany, on the other hand, the Libyan uprising was an unwelcome distraction from domestic politics. It played directly into the campaign for regional elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg, a south-western state which Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats had governed since 1953.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, leader of the Free Democrats, the liberal junior partners in Merkel’s coalition, tried to surf on pacifist public opinion by opposing military action. Polls showed two-thirds of voters opposed German involvement in Libya, a country where Nazi Germany’s Afrika Korps had suffered desert defeats in World War Two. Present-day Germany’s armed forces were already overstretched in Afghanistan, where some 5,000 soldiers are engaged in an unpopular long-term mission. Westerwelle made it impossible for Merkel to support a no-fly zone, even without participating. He publicly criticized the Franco-British proposal for a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force to prevent Gaddafi using his air force against Libyan civilians. Merkel said she was skeptical. The Germans prevented a March 11 EU summit from making any call for a no-fly zone, much to the frustration of the French and British.

Relations between France’s Juppe and Westerwelle deteriorated further the following week when Germany prevented foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized powers from calling for a no-fly zone in Libya. Westerwelle told reporters: “Military intervention is not the solution. From our point of view, it is very difficult and dangerous. We do not want to get sucked into a war in North Africa. We would not like to step on a slippery slope where we all are at the end in a war.”

That argument angered allies. As the meeting broke up, a senior European diplomat tells Reuters, Juppe turned to Westerwelle and said: “Now that you have achieved everything you wanted, Gaddafi can go ahead and massacre his people.”

When the issue came to the U.N. Security Council on March 17, 10 days before the Baden-Wuerttemberg election, Germany abstained, along with Russia, China, India and Brazil, and said it would take no part in military operations.

Ironically, that stance seems to have been politically counterproductive. The center-right coalition lost the regional election anyway, and both leaders were severely criticized by German media for having isolated Germany from its western partners, including the United States. The main political beneficiaries were the ecologist Greens, seen as both anti-nuclear and anti-war.

U.S. TAKES ITS TIME

In Washington, meanwhile, President Barack Obama was, as usual, taking his time to make up his mind. Military action in Libya was the last thing the U.S. president needed, just when he was trying to extricate American troops from two unpopular wars in Muslim countries launched by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama had sought to rebuild damaged relations with the Muslim world, seen as a key driver of radicalization and terrorism against the United States. The president trod a fine line in embracing pro-democracy and reform movements in the Arab world and Iran while trying to avoid undermining vital U.S. interests in the absolute monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Gulf states. Compared to those challenges, Libya was a sideshow.

The United States had no big economic or political interests in the North African oil and gas producing state and instinctively saw it as part of Europe’s backyard. Obama had also sought to encourage allies, notably in Europe, to take more responsibility for their own security issues. Spelling out the administration’s deep reluctance to get dragged into another potential Arab quagmire, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a farewell speech to officer cadets at the West Point military academy on March 4: “In my opinion, any future Defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined’, as General (Douglas) MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Prominent U.S. foreign policy lawmakers, including Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator John McCain pressed the Obama administration in early March to impose a “no- fly” zone over Libya and explore other military options, such as bombing runways. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on February 28 that a “no-fly” zone was “an option which we are actively considering”.

But the White House pushed back against pressure from lawmakers. “It would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on March 7. “We need to not get ahead of ourselves in terms of the options we’re pursuing.”

While Carney said a no-fly zone was a serious option, other U.S. civilian and military officials cautioned that it would be difficult to enforce.

On March 10, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper forecast in Congress that Gaddafi’s better-equipped forces would prevail in the long term, saying Gaddafi appeared to be “hunkering down for the duration”. If there was to be intervention, it had become clear, it would have to come quickly.

ARAB SPINE

U.S. officials say the key event that helped Clinton and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, persuade Obama of the need for intervention was a March 12 decision by the Arab League to ask the U.N. Security Council to declare a no-fly zone to protect the Libyan population. The Arab League’s unprecedented resolve — the organization has long been plagued by chronic divisions and a lack of spine — reflected the degree to which Gaddafi had alienated his peers, especially Saudi Arabia. When the quixotic colonel bothered to attend Arab summits, it was usually to insult the Saudi king and other veteran rulers.

The Arab League decision gave a regional seal of approval that Western nations regarded as vital for military action.

Moreover, two Arab states – Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – soon said they would participate in enforcing a no-fly zone, and a third, Lebanon, co-sponsored a United Nations resolution to authorize the use of force. Arab diplomats said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister with presidential ambitions, played the key role in squeezing an agreement out of the closed-door meeting.

Syria, Sudan, Algeria and Yemen were all against any move to invite foreign intervention in an Arab state. But diplomats said that by couching the resolution as an appeal to the U.N. Security Council, Moussa maneuvered his way around Article VI of the Arab League’s statutes requiring that such decisions be taken unanimously. It was he who announced the outcome, saying Gaddafi’s government had lost legitimacy because of its “crimes against the Libyan people”.

The African Union, in which Gaddafi played an active but idiosyncratic role, condemned the Libyan leader’s crackdown but rejected foreign military intervention and created a panel of leaders to try to resolve the conflict through dialogue.

However, all three African states on the Security Council – South Africa, Nigeria and Gabon – voted for the resolution. France acted as if it had AU support anyway. Sarkozy invited the organization’s secretary-general, Jean Ping, to the Elysee palace for a showcase summit of coalition countries on the day military action began, and he attended, providing African political cover for the operation.

OBAMA DECIDES

Having failed to win either EU or G8 backing for a no-fly zone, and with the United States internally divided and holding back, France and Britain were in trouble in their quest for a U.N. resolution despite the Arab League support. Gaddafi’s forces had regrouped and recaptured a swathe of the western and central coastal plain, including some key oil terminals, and were advancing fast on Benghazi, a city of 700,000 and the rebels’ stronghold. If international intervention did not come within days, it would be too late. Gaddafi’s troops would be in the population centers, making surgical air strikes impossible without inflicting civilian casualties.

In the nick of time, Obama came off the fence on March 15 at a two-part meeting of his National Security Council. Hillary Clinton participated by telephone from Paris, Susan Rice by secure video link from New York. Both were deeply aware of the events of the 1990s, when Bill Clinton’s administration, in which Rice was an adviser on Africa, had failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda, and only intervened in Bosnia after the worst massacre in Europe since World War Two.

They reviewed what was at stake now. There were credible reports that Gaddafi forces were preparing to massacre the rebels. What signal would it send to Arab democrats if the West let him get away with that, and if Mubarak and Ben Ali, whose armies refused to turn their guns on the people, were overthrown while Gaddafi, who had used his airforce, tanks and artillery against civilian protesters, survived in office?

The president overruled doubters among his military and national security advisers and decided the United States would support an ambitious U.N. resolution going beyond just a no-fly zone, on the strict condition that Washington would quickly hand over leadership of the military action to its allies. “Within days, not weeks,” one participant quoted him as saying.

A senior administration official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the key concern was to avoid any impression that the United States was once again unilaterally bombing an Arab country. Asked what had swung Washington toward agreeing to join military action in Libya, he said: “It’s more that events were evolving and so positions had to address the change of events.”

“The key elements were the Arab League statement, the Lebanese support, co-sponsorship of the actual resolution as the Arab representative on the Security Council, a series of conversations with Arab leaders over the course of that week, leading up to the resolution. All of that convinced us that the Arab countries were fully supportive of the broad resolution that would provide the authorization necessary to protect civilians and to provide humanitarian relief, and then the (March 19) gathering in Paris, confirmed that there was support for the means necessary to carry out the resolution, namely the use of military force,” the official said.

When Rice told her French and British counterparts at the United Nations that Washington now favored a far more aggressive Security Council resolution, including air and sea strikes, they first feared a trap. Was Obama deliberately trying to provoke a Russian veto, a French official mused privately.

“I had a phone call from Susan Rice, Tuesday 8 p.m., and a phone call from Susan Rice at 11 p.m., and everything had changed in three hours,” a senior Western envoy told Reuters. “On Wednesday morning, at the (Security) Council, in a sort of totally awed silence, Susan Rice said: ‘We want to be allowed to strike Libyan forces on the ground.’ There was a sort of a bit surprised silence.”

THE VOTE

Right up to the day of the vote, when Juppe took a plane to New York to swing vital votes behind the resolution, Moscow’s attitude was uncertain. So too were the three African votes. British and French diplomats tried desperately to contact the Nigerian, South African and Gabonese ambassadors but kept being told they were in a meeting.

“There was drama right up to the last minute,” another U.N. diplomat said. That day, March 17, Clinton had just come out of a television studio in Tunis, epicenter of the first Arab democratic revolution, when she spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a secure cellphone. Lavrov, who had strongly opposed a no-fly zone when they met in Geneva on February 28 and remained skeptical when they talked again in Paris on March 14, told her Moscow would not block the resolution. The senior U.S. official denied that Washington had offered Russia trade and diplomatic benefits in return for acquiescence, as suggested by a senior non-American diplomat. However, Obama telephoned President Dimitry Medvedev the following week and reaffirmed his support for Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization, which U.S. ally Georgia is blocking.

China too abstained, allowing the resolution to pass with 10 votes in favor, five abstentions and none against. It authorized the use of “all necessary measures” – code for military action — to protect the civilian population but expressly ruled out a foreign occupation force in any part of Libya. The United States construes it to allow arms sales to the rebels. Most others do not.

Reuters reported exclusively on March 29 that Obama had signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces. The White House and the Central Intelligence Agency declined comment. Clinton said no decision had been taken on whether to arm the rebels.

Arab Jitters, Cold Turkey

No sooner had the first cruise missiles been fired than the Arab League’s Moussa complained that the Western powers had gone beyond the U.N. resolution and caused civilian casualties. His outburst appeared mainly aimed at assuaging Arab public opinion, particularly in Egypt, and he muted his criticism after telephone calls from Paris, London and Washington.

Turkey, the leading Muslim power in NATO with big economic interests in Libya, bitterly criticized the military action in an Islamic country. The Turks were exasperated to see France, the most vociferous adversary of its EU membership bid, leading the coalition. Sarkozy, who alternated on a brief maiden visit to Ankara on February 25 between trying to sell Turkish leaders French nuclear power plants and telling them bluntly to drop their EU ambitions, further angered Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan by failing to invite Turkey to the Paris conference on Libya.

Italy, the former colonial power which had Europe’s biggest trade and investment ties with Libya, had publicly opposed military action until the last minute, but opened its air bases to coalition forces as soon as the U.N. resolution passed. However, Rome quickly demanded that NATO, in which it had a seat at the decision-making table, should take over command of the whole operation. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini threatened to take back control of the vital Italian bases unless the mission was placed under NATO.

But Turkey and France were fighting diplomatic dogfights at NATO headquarters. Ankara wanted to use its NATO veto put the handcuffs on the coalition to stop offensive operations. France wanted to keep political leadership away from the U.S.-led military alliance to avoid a hostile reaction in the Arab world.

The United States signaled its determination to hand over operational command within days, not weeks, as Obama had promised, and wanted tried-and-trusted NATO at the wheel.

It took a week of wrangling before agreement was reached for NATO to take charge of the entire military campaign. In return, France won agreement to create a “contact group” including Arab and African partners, to coordinate political efforts on Libya’s future. Turkey was assuaged by being invited to a London international conference that launched that process.

That enabled the United States to lower its profile and Obama to declare that Washington would not act alone as the world’s policeman “wherever repression occurs”. While the president promised to scale back U.S. involvement to a “supporting role”, the military statistics tell a different tale. As of March 29, the United States had fired all but 7 of the 214 cruise missiles used in the conflict and flown 1,103 sorties compared to 669 for all other allies combined. It also dropped 455 of the first 600 bombs, according to the Pentagon.

For all the showcasing of Arab involvement, only six military aircraft from Qatar had arrived in theater by March 30. They joined French air patrols but did not fly combat missions, a military source said. Sarkozy announced that the United Arab Emirates would send 12 F16 fighters , but NATO and UAE officials refused to say when they would arrive. Britain’s Cameron spoke of unspecified logistical contributions from Kuwait and Jordan. The main Arab contribution is clearly political cover rather than military assets.

CASUALTY LIST

While the duration and the outcome of the war remain uncertain, some political casualties are already visible.

Unless the conflict ends in disaster, Germany and its chancellor and foreign minister – particularly the latter – are set to emerge as losers. “I can tell you there are people in London and Paris who are asking themselves whether this Germany is the kind of country we would like to have as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. That’s a legitimate question which wasn’t posed before,” a senior European diplomat told Reuters. German officials brush aside such talk, saying Berlin would have the backing of its western partners and needs support from developing and emerging countries more in tune with its abstention on the Libya resolution.

Merkel has moved quickly to try to limit the damage. She attended the Paris conference and went along with an EU summit statement on March 25 welcoming the U.N. resolution on which her own government had abstained a week earlier. She also offered NATO extra help in aerial surveillance in Afghanistan to free up Western resources for the Libya campaign.

A second conspicuous casualty has been the European Union’s attempt to build a common foreign, security and Defense policy, and the official meant to personify that ambition, High Representative Catherine Ashton. Many in Paris, London, Brussels and Washington have drawn the conclusion that European Defense is an illusion, given Germany’s visceral reticence about military action. Future serious operations are more likely to be left to NATO, or to coalitions of the willing around Britain and France. By general agreement, Ashton has so far had a bad war. Despite having been among the first European officials to embrace the Arab uprisings and urge the EU to engage with democracy movements in North Africa, she angered both the British and French by airing her doubts about a no-fly zone and the Germans by subsequently welcoming the U.N. resolution. Unable to please everyone, she managed to please no one.

As for Sarkozy, whether he emerges as a hero or a reckless adventurer may depend on events beyond his control in the sands of Libya. Justin Vaisse, a Frenchman who heads the Center for the Study of the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington, detected an undertone of “Francophobia and Sarkophobia” among U.S. policy elites as the war began. “Either the war will go well, and he will look like a far-sighted, decisive leader, or it will go badly and reinforce the image of a showboating cowboy driving the world into war,” Vaisse said. The jury is still out.

(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry in Paris, Arshad Mohammed, David Alexander and Mark Hosenball in Washington, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Lou Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations, Peter Apps in London, Andreas Rinke and Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Yasmine Saleh in Cairo, Simon Cameron-Moore in Istanbul and Maria Golovnina in Tripoli; writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

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Rabita – Muslim World League Fatwa on Moon Favoring Local Sighting

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The Muslim World League issued a fatwa with very strong support for local sighting of the moon, signed by prominent Saudi Salafi jurists.  http://www.hilalsighting.org/papers/MWL-1981HilalSighting-locality.pdf.  This link contains the original Arabic, with English translation.

 

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