Egypt Protesters Battle on to End Army Rule

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick Werr and Alastair Macdonald

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s army chief, seeking to defuse street protests that have left 37 dead, promised a swifter handover to civilian rule but failed to convince thousands of hardcore demonstrators, some of whom battled police through the night.

One man was killed in clashes early on Wednesday in the second city Alexandria, one of several towns that saw unrest.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who has run the ruling military council since mass protests unseated his long-time ally Hosni Mubarak in February, made a faltering televised address on Tuesday in which he promised a civilian president would be elected in June, about six months sooner than planned.

Confirming Egypt’s first free parliamentary election in decades will start on Monday, the council also accepted the resignation of the civilian prime minister and his cabinet, who had incensed democrats with a short-lived proposal that the army remain beyond civilian control under any new constitution.

But Tantawi angered many of the youthful demonstrators on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in other cities by suggesting a referendum on whether military rule should end earlier – a move many saw as a ploy to appeal to the many Egyptians who fear further upheaval and to divide those from the young activists.

“Leave! Leave!” came the chants in Cairo and, in an echo of February’s chorus: “The people want to topple the marshal.”

Long into the night, while small groups on the fringes skirmished with police in clouds of teargas, those occupying the main square sang: “He must go! We won’t go!”

It is a battle of wills whose outcome is hard to predict.

PROTESTERS DIG IN

The field marshal, hanged in effigy on Tahrir Square in a visual echo of Mubarak’s final days, seems intent on preserving the armed forces’ vast business interests built up over six decades of effective military rule. But there was no renewal of earlier heavy-handed efforts to clear the area.

Parliamentary elections will start this coming Monday – a plan confirmed at a meeting between the army and politicians – but they will take till January to complete. It is not clear how a referendum on military rule might be organized, nor what alternative might be proposed until June’s presidential vote.

Tantawi, 76 and defense minister under Mubarak for two decades, appeared hesitant, speaking in field uniform, as he told the 80 million Egyptians his army did not want power:

“The army is ready to go back to barracks immediately if the people wish that through a popular referendum, if need be.”

Tens of thousands packed Tahrir, the seat of the revolution which ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule, from Tuesday afternoon and, though most drifted away, thousands remained camped through the night into Wednesday, while, in tense side-streets skirmishes, diehards pelted police who hit back with batons and teargas.

In Alexandria, a 38-year-old protester was killed. A Health Ministry official said the man was shot in the head during a confrontation outside a state security building.

Police have denied using live ammunition but most of the 36 dead in the preceding five days of protest have had bullet wounds, medics say. And demonstrators have shown off cartridge casings they say come from weapons used by the authorities.

“We will stay here until the field marshal leaves and a transitional council from the people takes over,” said Abdullah Galal, 28, a computer sales manager, as people set up tents across the sprawling Tahrir traffic interchange which has become the abiding symbol of this year’s “Arab Spring” revolts.

A stream of motorbikes and ambulances ferried away the injured from the skirmishing on the outskirts of the protest, while at the center of the square a mood of quiet occupation set in as blankets were brought out and small bonfires lit.

REFERENDUM SCEPTICISM

Many of the protesters saw the suggestion of a referendum, vague in its content, as a ploy to split the nation:

“He is trying to say that, despite all these people in Tahrir, they don’t represent the public,” said 32-year-old Rasha, one of dozens huddled around a radio in the nearby Cafe Riche, a venerable Cairo landmark. “He wants to pull the rug from under them and take it to a public referendum.”

A military source said Tantawi’s referendum offer would come into play “if the people reject the field marshal’s speech,” but did not explain how the popular mood would be assessed.

Tantawi may calculate that most Egyptians, unsettled by dizzying change, do not share the young protesters’ appetite for breaking from the army’s familiar embrace just yet.

For many Egyptians, trapped in a daily battle to feed themselves and their families, the political demands of some of those they view as young idealists are hard to fathom:

“I have lost track of what the demands are,” said Mohamed Sayed, 32, a store clerk in central Cairo as the capital went about its normal business before the start of what protesters had hoped might be a “million man march” on Tuesday.

“If you talk to the people in Tahrir, they have no clue,” added Sayed. “I don’t know where the country is headed. I’m worried about my life.”

On the square, however, demonstrators believed the army’s reluctance to cede power could see an escalation, as activists tried to complete what some call an “unfinished revolution”:

“All they are doing now is forcing people to escalate,” said Mohamed, 23, a financial analyst. “They are leaving. There is no question about that.

“This opens the door for instability.”

UNCERTAIN OPTIONS

When it was clear Mubarak had lost his potency, it was his former colleagues in the army who delivered the coup de grace. If it were now to be the turn of those generals themselves to have lost the legitimacy they won by easing Mubarak out with little loss of life, it is unclear who might replace them.

Some have raised the possibility of more junior officers ousting their superiors, though so far the ranks seem solid.

Using a computer analogy, protester Abdullah Galal said: “There are many viruses in the system. It needs to be cleaned out entirely. We want to delete, reformat and reinstall … We need to change the regime like they did in Tunisia and Libya.”

While the scale of protests is far short of the mass street action that ousted Mubarak, there is unrest in other cities.

In Alexandria, on the Mediterranean, protesters waved shoes in a sign of disrespect. In five days of protests in various cities, at least 1,250 people have been injured in addition to the 37 killed – a figure that includes Wednesday’s death.

The United States, which gives Egypt’s military $1.3 billion a year in aid, called for an end to the “deplorable” violence in Egypt and said elections there must go forward.

“We are deeply concerned about the violence. The violence is deplorable. We call on all sides to exercise restraint,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The unrest has knocked Egypt’s markets. The benchmark share index has fallen 11 percent since Thursday, hitting its lowest level since March 2009. The Egyptian pound fell to its weakest against the dollar since January 2005.

Political uncertainty has gripped Egypt since Mubarak’s fall, while sectarian clashes, labor unrest, gas pipeline sabotage and a gaping absence of tourists have paralyzed the economy and prompted a widespread yearning for stability.

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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Arab Spring Raises Hope for Era of Cleaner Business

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

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Visitors look at models of the Saadiyat Island project during the Cityscape Abu Dhabi Exhibition in Abu Dhabi, in this April 18, 2010 file photo. When Abu Dhabi announced that it would delay establishing local branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums, it was an important signal of the emirate’s economic strategy as well as its cultural priorities.The company gave no new dates for opening the museums, which were originally scheduled to start operating between 2013 and 2014 as part of a $27 billion art and culture development on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. But the message was clear: getting the projects right and ensuring public demand for them would be given precedence over rushing them out quickly to gain prestige.

AMMAN, Nov 9 (Reuters) – Gulf investor Omar Ayesh flew to Tripoli to meet Saif al-Islam Gaddafi when the son of Libya’s now-deposed strongman wanted to talk business, only to be caught in a web of bribery and crony capitalism.

A deal for a beachfront resort project on Tripoli’s seafront was signed with Muammar Gaddafi’s government and excavation work began, but it stopped after people linked to Gaddafi began asking for payoffs, the 43-year-old businessman says. Now, Ayesh is trying to revive the project.

“I didn’t expect influential figures within the regime would take over the project because it was lucrative. I just hope the new Libya will not repeat the mistakes of the past,” says Ayesh, chairman of United Arab Emirates-based Nobles Investments.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, the Arab Spring uprisings have hurt many businessmen. Economies have slowed sharply as political uncertainty deters investment, new governments focus on trying to restore social stability instead of reforming economic policy, and labor unrest disrupts production and drives up costs.

But Ayesh is one of a substantial number of businessmen who say the economic climate is already improving in an important way: it is becoming easier to do business without the involvement of corrupt politicians and officials.

“Corruption was a major hurdle before the revolution and now it’s much less. This has improved the business environment in Egypt. We are much more optimistic,” said Issam Hijazi, chairman of Hijazi and Ghosheh, a Jordanian meat processing firm with millions of dollars of investments in Egypt and the region.

Patronage

Many businessmen are not as positive as Hijazi. In Egypt, for example, some small company owners still report struggles with corrupt officials and parasitical government bureaucracies that only their larger, wealthier competitors have the money to overcome.

But to some extent, the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak has loosened the grip of a clique of politicians, officials and their businesses cronies on commercial opportunities and the licences and financing needed to exploit them.

Companies linked to the former regime face legal challenges over past deals and must operate under greater public scrutiny; this levels the playing field and allows a wider group of businessmen to compete. Egyptian trade with Sudan, for example, is no longer dominated by businessmen linked to the Mubarak regime; it has become more open and diversified, said a business consultant in Egypt, who declined to be named because of the political sensitivity of the issue.

Cases such as that of former Egyptian housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi have sent a chilling signal to officials and businessmen involved in improper deals. Maghrabi was sentenced to five years in jail in May over an illegal land deal in the Mubarak era; he and a businessman involved were ordered to return a total of 72 million Egyptian pounds ($12.6 million) to the state and were together fined a further 72 million pounds.

Much the same is happening in Tunisia, where members of the family of deposed president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali once owned or controlled many of the country’s biggest companies, with interests in media, banking and telecommunications.

“The political support and access to funds that some of the leaders of private sector in the Arab world had has been lost,” said Walid Nassan, head of the Jordan operation of Egyptian investment firm EFG Hermes.

“They now need to present themselves on their own credentials and many are tarnished. Those who exploited the system can no longer do that so openly and blatantly.”

At a meeting in Istanbul last week between executives of international oil firms and Libyan officials, who discussed Libya’s plans to buy nearly $3 billion of gasoline, oil traders were struck by the change in how the Libyans operated. The newly appointed managers of Libya’s National Oil Corp refused invitations to lunch or dinner and kept to a tight schedule.

“Before, everything was done under the table and with bribes. Now I haven’t heard anything about bribes, and tenders are being used to buy and sell,” one trader said.

In countries that have not seen their governments overthrown, the change in the business climate has been less dramatic. But here too, the Arab Spring appears to be increasing popular pressure for more transparency and an end to political patronage of business — pressure that governments cannot entirely ignore.

In Morocco, King Mohammed has ordered that the antitrust authority be given more powers to enforce transparency and good corporate governance. The authority’s head said it would be even-handed in dealing with firms owned by the monarchy, the biggest private stakeholder in the economy — although it may have to wait until late 2012 to obtain the power to intervene.

Usama Fayyad, executive chairman of Oasis 500, a Jordan-based investment firm which finances start-up firms in the region’s information technology sector, said governments had become more careful about appearing even-handed towards companies, even in countries that have been relatively untouched by the Arab Spring.

“Abuse of authority by government entities has definitely decreased. I see it applying even to countries that don’t have protests,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean it’s disappeared, but it means that they are more careful and this holds true in Lebanon, Iraq and in the Gulf in Saudi Arabia, where people are more afraid of exercising undue influence because scrutiny is coming. They know there will be more scrutiny, definitely more than before and that creates more diversified economic opportunities.”

He said big companies as well as governments had become “afraid of exercising their old methods of intimidation, influence peddling and corruption. This is helping local companies that previously were marginalized.”

Omar Bitar, head of Middle East emerging markets at consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, said bidding processes for government contracts in the region were becoming more stringent and transparent, to the point that the award of some contracts was slowing down.

It is not clear how lasting these changes in the region’s business environment will be. New networks of corruption and economic patronage may form as post-uprising governments become more stable; public indignation over crony capitalism may fade as governments around the region buy off the public with subsidies and increased welfare spending.

Some businessmen suggest that in the short term at least, the cleaner commercial environment is actually hurting economies by making it more difficult for deals to get done.

“Legitimate business is being hurt by the perception of impropriety and few people dare to exercise their authority for fear of a witchhunt, and this is paralysing business,” said one Middle Eastern banker, who requested anonymity.

“Graft has an economic value as you measure the cost of corruption — monetary versus facilitation of business…Although companies now don’t have to buy the deal from some guy, it takes longer to secure the deal, plus the political risks have shot up.

“Business in Tunisia and in Egypt, at least on the surface, is not as tidy. You used to know someone who would facilitate business. Now it’s a big muddle.”

In the long term, though, a cleaner, fairer business environment could, even more than other economic reforms such as deregulation and fiscal policy changes, help to solve one of the Arab world’s biggest problems: job creation.

A more level playing field could spur the growth of small and medium-sized firms, which according to a World Bank study contribute only 20 percent of the region’s gross domestic product but employ 70 to 80 percent of its work force.

These firms could in turn create the tens of millions of new jobs that the Middle East and North Africa, with 65 percent of their 355 million people currently below the age of 25, will need in the next decade to avoid social disaster.

“There is no chance that the jobs needed in the years to come are going to come from government or from large businesses, because they don’t generally generate jobs. So it all has to come from entrepreneurs and new companies,” said Darin Rovere, president of Amman-based Sustainability Excellence, a management consultancy.

He said there were already signs that the Arab Spring was encouraging the growth of a new group of young, entrepreneurial businessmen.

“I think it’s exploding around us. These are all kids, young kids. It’s tech-related and you look at their ideas…and so many people just did not feel empowered or a sense of active citizenship. They are feeling different and feel an opportunity now,” said Rovere.

Fayyad at Oasis 500 agreed: “The desire to launch businesses is stronger than before and as far as start-ups and new companies go, private sector entrepreneurs are seeing more opportunities. More closed systems are now open.” (Additional reporting by Jessica Donati in Istanbul; Editing by Andrew Torchia)

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PWAM Thanks Supporters

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

PWAM Hosts Annual Eid Chaand Raat Mela With Large Community Presence.

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The Pakistan Women Association of Michigan thanks the entire community for attending the Annual Eid Chaand Raat Mela in Novi, MI. The Mela was a huge success with over 2,500 attendees. Families from the entire Metro Detroit area attended the Mela to shop for clothing, Eid gifts, Eid Cards, delicious food, and just to say “Eid Mubarak” to each other.

The evening began with an Iftari donated by PWAM; followed by delicious food from popular vendors that everyone enjoyed.

The PWAM holds all their events for public service or charity; and in this spirit, PWAM raised money for its funeral fund by selling raffle tickets. Many individuals also donated for this noble cause. Visitors kept on coming to the venue until 1AM to enjoy the festivities and shopping of Chaand Raat.

Children had a great time with SpongeBob and Elmo characters. Ladies bought bangles, jewelry, clothes and decorated their hands with beautiful Mehndi. The attending crowd congratulated and thanked PWAM board members for holding such a beautiful event which brought friends and families together. After the success of this event, PWAM plans to continue this event annually.

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Statement by the President on the Occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release

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Michelle and I would like to send Eid greetings to Muslim communities in the United States and around the world.  Ramadan has been a time for families and communities to share the happiness of coming together in intense devotion, reflection, and service. Millions all over the world have been inspired to honor their faith by reaching out to those less fortunate. This year, many have observed the month while courageously persevering in their efforts to secure basic necessities and fundamental freedoms.  The United States will continue to stand with them and for the dignity and rights of all people, whether a hungry child in the Horn of Africa or a young person demanding freedom in the Middle East and North Africa.

As Ramadan comes to an end, we send our best wishes for a blessed holiday to Muslim communities around the world. Eid Mubarak.

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Let’s Stop Blaming America

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Khalid Al Nowaiser

We are still the prisoners of a culture of conspiracy and inferiority

I am a proud and loyal Saudi citizen, but I am tired of hearing constant criticism from most Arabs of everything the United States does in its relations with other countries and how it responds to global crises. No nation is perfect, and certainly America has made its share of mistakes such as Vietnam, Cuba and Iraq. I am fully aware of what happened when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the unprecedented abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. However, what would we do if America simply disappeared from the face of the earth such as what happened to the Soviet Union and ancient superpowers like the Roman and Greek empires? These concerns keep me up day and night. It’s frustrating to hear this constant drumbeat of blame directed toward the United States for everything that is going wrong in the world. Who else do we think of to blame for our problems and failures? Do we take personal responsibility for the great issues that affect the security and prosperity of Arab countries? No, we look to America for leadership and then sit back and blame it when we don’t approve of the actions and solutions it proposes or takes.

For instance, if a dictator seizes and holds power such as Egypt’s Mubarak and Libya’s Qaddafi, fingers are pointed only at America for supporting these repressive leaders. If the people overthrow a dictator, fingers are pointed at America for not having done enough to support the protestors. If a nation fails to provide its people with minimum living standards, fingers are pointed at America. If a child dies in an African jungle, America is criticized for not providing necessary aid. If someone somewhere sneezes, fingers are pointed at America. Many other examples exist, too numerous to mention.

I am not pro-American nor am I anti-Arab, but I am worried that unless we wake up, the Arab world will never break out of this vicious and unproductive cycle of blaming America. We must face the truth: Sadly, we are still the prisoners of a culture of conspiracy and cultural inferiority. We have laid the blame on America for all our mistakes, for every failure, for every harm or damage we cause to ourselves. The US has become our scapegoat upon whom our aggression and failures can be placed. We accuse America of interfering in all our affairs and deciding our fate, although we know very well that this is not the case as no superpower can impose its will upon us and control every aspect of our lives. We must acknowledge that every nation, no matter how powerful, has its limitations.

Moreover, we conveniently forget that America’s role is one of national self-interest, not to act as a Mother Teresa. Every great nation throughout history has used its power and gained ascendancy in order to serve its own strategic interests. America is not just its foreign policy. We must not forget who promoted education and respected learning, who took on research as a way to discovery, who made the airplane that carries us to our destination and the luxurious car we want to own, who created the Internet and developed social media that has transformed the way we do business and interact with one another, who conducted the scientific research that has saved lives and treated cancer, renal failure, AIDS, malaria, poliomyelitis, and who discovered genetic engineering. When man walked on the Moon, it was an American. Who did Japan turn to for help after the devastating earthquake and tsunami? America that led and organized the international relief effort of the Red Cross. Who do people turn to for support when their leaders seek to brutalize them? Who organized NATO air cover and saved the Libyan city of Benghazi from certain destruction by Qaddafi’s brutal armed forces?

Anyone who is a student of history knows that America is simply doing what all other civilizations before it have done for thousands of years, which is to protect and further its own self-interest. The Greek civilization could not have lasted had it not served its own interests, and the same applies to the Persian, Roman, and Chinese civilizations. All of these civilizations put their own welfare before all others, and by doing so, they strived to achieve great things. The truth is that no nation can ever become great without understanding this reality. Indeed, the Islamic civilization has been through horrible and cruel phases. Hideous events that send goose bumps up one’s spine can be extracted from Islamic history, such as that of As-Saffah (The Shedder of Blood), founder of the Abbasid Caliphate, who took out the remains of the caliphs of Bani Umayyah, one after the other, but found nothing but the tip of a nose from the remains of Hisham Bin Abdul Malak. He took him out and whipped him. He then crucified and burned him and sprinkled his ashes in the wind, without mercy, oblivious to any religious or moral restraints.

There are many other similar examples. But does this mean that Islam is unholy? Of course not. Does this imply that Islamic civilization only had Saffahs? Absolutely not. Islamic civilization has given the world brilliant examples in the areas of art and education and promoted a culture of forgiveness, peace and love. However, today, we as people, not Islam, are in desperate need of an intellectual earthquake, a cultural tsunami to get us back on track, to revive Islam’s cultural intellect and combat our undeniable inferiority complex.

The Holy Qur’an states Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. He has the power to change them, but He prefers that they change with their own will power which He respects.

What we are seeing now in the Arab streets is a new hope and a step forward to change what is in ourselves. I remain very optimistic because we have now begun to realize that simply blaming the United States for our problems will not help us progress toward great personal freedoms. Our enemy is not America but an inferiority complex from which I am sure the Arab world with its rich culture and history will eventually recover.

— Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser is a columnist and a Saudi attorney with offices in Riyadh and Jeddah. He can be reached at: Khalid@lfkan.com and/or Twitter (kalnowaiser).

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