Egypt Dominates Arab Games

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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

s071123_arab
Tunisia’s Nour Bo al-Eyuin hits Morocco’s Fatima Alzahraelahqr during their Kumite (sparring) Karate match at the Pan Arab Games in Cairo.

Egypt was once again dominant in the Arab Games as it accumulated a grand total of 233 medals in the 2011 edition of the games. They recently concluded in Qatari capital of Doha. The final tally for Egypt included 90 gold medals, 76 silvers, and 67 bronzes. For Egypt this extended their run to four consecutive Arab Games victories, having been the dominant force in 1999 (0man), 2004 (Algeria) and 2007 (Cairo).

Fellow North African country Tunisia finished as runners up with a total of 138 medals, including 54 gold, while Morocco came third with 113 medals, including 35 gold. The hosts, Qatar, finished fourth with a total of 110  medals, including 32 golds.

Egypt’s gold-medal wins included a 26-21 win over Qatar in the men’s Handball finals, as well as a 3-0 victory over their same Qatari hosts in the Volleyball finals. In the women’s Volleyball competition, Egypt also prevailed with a 3-1 win over Algeria in the finals.

14-1

Qaradawi Warns of Niqab Ban Discrimination

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Anwar ElShamy, Gulf Times

FILES-ALGERIA-EGYPT-POLITICS-RELIGION-QARADAWI Qatar-based Islamic scholar Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi urged those European countries which are considering outlawing the full veil (niqab) to review their plans, saying that a wider ban on niqab might prompt clerics to campaign for imposing a “modest dress code” on foreigners living in Muslim countries.

In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Qaradawi said the recent outlawing of the face-covering veil in public by Belgium along with a French draft law to make it illegal would be a violation of both religious and personal freedoms.

“I hope that France, Belgium and all of Europe will show respect to Islamic values and creed. Banning a Muslim woman from wearing the niqab would only place her in a dilemma about whether to comply with the law or obey what she believes is a religious order,” Sheikh Qaradawi told a congregation at the Omar bin Al-Khattab mosque at Khalifa South town.

However, the scholar, who is the chairman of the Dublin-based International Muslim Scholars Union, said the face-covering veil was not obligatory in Islam and that a woman should cover the head and neck but leave the face open.

“Although I think that wearing niqab is not obligatory and that women should only wear the hijab (covering the head and neck, but leaving the face visible), I am totally against banning a Muslim from wearing niqab if she is convinced of it as a religious obligation,” he explained.

“I do not represent all Muslim scholars. There are scholars in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries who consider niqab as obligatory and there are millions of women who wear it by their own free choice. If I asked them to stop wearing it, I would be violating their personal and religious freedom,” he maintained.

Quoting from a letter he had sent to former French president Jacques Chirac, the scholar said the ban imposed on hijab in schools would be a betrayal of the principles of the French Revolution, namely liberty, fraternity and equality.

“I told (president Chirac) that prohibiting women from wearing the hijab would be discrimination against them and make them hate France which is known to be a leading country for freedom,” he added.

In his letter, he had also dismissed the notion that hijab was a religious symbol for Muslims as “untrue”, saying that if it was a symbol, why they were allowed to take it off when they were in the presence of other women or male relatives.

“Wearing hijab for Muslims could not be dealt with as wearing a necklace with a cross pendant for Christians,” he said.

He indicated that the sentiments against niqab or hijab were a reflection of a desire by European countries to impose their culture on others.

“I have received a recent visit by French ambassador Gilles Bonnaud and I explained these things to him. I told him that Muslims believed in the unity of humanity but also believed that each nation should stick to its traits,” he added.

“When Muslims ruled India, they did not close down temples or impose a ban on cremation. It is the duty of each nation to respect the values of the other, but with the European case, we can make it difficult for French and Belgian women who stay in Muslim countries by asking them to stick to a modest dress,” he quoted from the conversation he had with the French ambassador to Qatar. 

12-20

Remarks by the President at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Supplied Transcript

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center–Washington, D.C.–6:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Washington. 

In my life, and as President, I have had the great pleasure of visiting many of your countries, and I’ve always been grateful for the warmth and the hospitality that you and your fellow citizens have shown me.  And tonight, I appreciate the opportunity to return the hospitality.

For many of you, I know this is the first time visiting our country.  So let me say, on behalf of the American people, welcome to the United States of America.  (Applause.) 

It is an extraordinary privilege to welcome you to this Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.  This has been a coordinated effort across my administration, and I want to thank all the hardworking folks and leaders at all the departments and agencies who made it possible, and who are here tonight.

That includes our United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk.  Where’s Ron?  There he is.  (Applause.)    I especially want to thank the two departments and leaders who took the lead on this summit — Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Please give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)   

We’re joined by members of Congress who work every day to help their constituents realize the American Dream, and whose life stories reflect the diversity and equal opportunity that we cherish as Americans:  Nydia Velazquez, who is also, by the way, the chairwoman of our Small Business Committee in the House of Representatives.  (Applause.)  Keith Ellison is here.  (Applause.)  And Andre Carson is here.  (Applause.) 

Most of all, I want to thank all of you for being part of this historic event.  You’ve traveled from across the United States and nearly 60 countries, from Latin America to Africa, Europe to Central Asia, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. 

And you bring with you the rich tapestry of the world’s great traditions and great cultures.  You carry within you the beauty of different colors and creeds, races and religions.  You’re visionaries who pioneered new industries and young entrepreneurs looking to build a business or a community.

But we’ve come together today because of what we share — a belief that we are all bound together by certain common aspirations.  To live with dignity.  To get an education.  To live healthy lives.  Maybe to start a business, without having to pay a bribe to anybody.  To speak freely and have a say in how we are governed.  To live in peace and security and to give our children a better future.

But we’re also here because we know that over the years, despite all we have in common, the United States and Muslim communities around the world too often fell victim to mutual mistrust.

And that’s why I went to Cairo nearly one year ago and called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities — a new beginning based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  I knew that this vision would not be fulfilled in a single year, or even several years.  But I knew we had to begin and that all of us have responsibilities to fulfill.

As President, I’ve worked to ensure that America once again meets its responsibilities, especially when it comes to the security and political issues that have often been a source of tension.  The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq, and we will partner with Iraqi people for their long-term prosperity and security.  In Afghanistan, in Pakistan and beyond, we’re forging new partnerships to isolate violent extremists, but also to combat corruption and foster the development that improves lives and communities.

I say it again tonight:  Despite the inevitable difficulties, so long as I am President, the United States will never waver in our pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians.  (Applause.)  And around the world, the United States of America will continue to stand with those who seek justice and progress and the human rights and dignity of all people.

But even as I committed the United States to addressing these security and political concerns, I also made it clear in Cairo that we needed something else — a sustained effort to listen to each other and to learn from each other, to respect one another.  And I pledged to forge a new partnership, not simply between governments, but also between people on the issues that matter most in their daily lives — in your lives. 

Now, many questioned whether this was possible.  Yet over the past year, the United States has been reaching out and listening.  We’ve joined interfaith dialogues and held town halls, roundtables and listening sessions with thousands of people around the world, including many of you.  And like so many people, you’ve extended your hand in return, each in your own way, as entrepreneurs and educators, as leaders of faith and of science. 

I have to say, perhaps the most innovative response was from Dr. Naif al-Mutawa of Kuwait, who joins us here tonight.  Where is Dr. Mutawa?  (Applause.)  His comic books have captured the imagination of so many young people with superheroes who embody the teachings and tolerance of Islam.  After my speech in Cairo, he had a similar idea.  So in his comic books, Superman and Batman reached out to their Muslim counterparts.  (Laughter.)  And I hear they’re making progress, too.  (Laughter.)  Absolutely.  (Applause.)

By listening to each other we’ve been able to partner with each other.  We’ve expanded educational exchanges, because knowledge is the currency of the 21st century.  Our distinguished science envoys have been visiting several of your countries, exploring ways to increase collaboration on science and technology. 

We’re advancing global health, including our partnership with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to eradicate polio.  This is just one part of our broader engagement with the OIC, led by my Special Envoy, Rashad Hussain, who joins us here tonight.  Where’s Rashad?  (Applause.)

And we’re partnering to expand economic prosperity.  At a government level, I’d note that putting the G20 in the lead on global economic decision-making has brought more voices to the table — including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India and Indonesia.  And here today, we’re fulfilling my commitment in Cairo to deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

Now, I know some have asked — given all the security and political and social challenges we face, why a summit on entrepreneurship?  The answer is simple. 

Entrepreneurship — because you told us that this was an area where we can learn from each other; where America can share our experience as a society that empowers the inventor and the innovator; where men and women can take a chance on a dream — taking an idea that starts around a kitchen table or in a garage, and turning it into a new business and even new industries that can change the world.

Entrepreneurship — because throughout history, the market has been the most powerful force the world has ever known for creating opportunity and lifting people out of poverty.

Entrepreneurship — because it’s in our mutual economic interest.  Trade between the United States and Muslim-majority countries has grown.  But all this trade, combined, is still only about the same as our trade with one country — Mexico.  So there’s so much more we can do together, in partnership, to foster opportunity and prosperity in all our countries.

And social entrepreneurship — because, as I learned as a community organizer in Chicago, real change comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots, starting with the dreams and passions of single individuals serving their communities.

And that’s why we’re here.  We have Jerry Yang, who transformed how we communicate, with Yahoo.  Is Jerry here?  Where is he?  He’ll be here tomorrow.  As well as entrepreneurs who have opened cybercafés and new forums on the Internet for discussion and development.  Together, you can unleash the technologies that will help shape the 21st century.

We have successes like Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, who I met earlier, who built a telecommunications empire that empowered people across Africa.  And we have aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their businesses and hire new workers.  Together you can address the challenges of accessing capital.   We have trailblazers like Sheikha Hanadi of Qatar, along with Waed al Taweel, who I met earlier — a 20-year-old student from the West Bank who wants to build recreation centers for Palestinian youth. 

Please read continuation at www.muslimobserver.com.

So together, they represent the incredible talents of women entrepreneurs and remind us that countries that educate and empower women are countries that are far more likely to prosper.  I believe that.  (Applause.)

We have pioneers like Chris Hughes, who created Facebook, as well as an online community that brought so many young people into my campaign for President — MyBarackObama.com.  (Laughter.)  We have people like Soraya Salti of Jordan who are empowering the young men and women who will be leaders of tomorrow.  (Applause.)  Together, they represent the great potential and expectations of young people around the world.

And we’ve got social entrepreneurs like Tri Mumpuni, who has helped rural communities in Indonesia — (applause) — harness the electricity, and revenues, of hydro-power.  And Andeisha Farid, an extraordinary woman from Afghanistan, who’s taken great risks to educate the next generation, one girl at a time.  (Applause.)  Together, they point the way to a future where progress is shared and prosperity is sustainable.

And I also happened to notice Dr. Yunus — it’s wonderful to see you again.  I think so many people know the history of Grameen Bank and all the great work that’s been done to help finance entrepreneurship among the poorest of the poor, first throughout South Asia, and now around the world. 

So this is the incredible potential that you represent; the future we can seize together.  So tonight I’m proud to announce a series of new partnerships and initiatives that will do just that.

The United States is launching several new exchange programs.  We will bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.  (Applause.)  So women in technology fields will have the opportunity to come to the United States for internships and professional development.  And since innovation is central to entrepreneurship, we’re creating new exchanges for science teachers.

We’re forging new partnerships in which high-tech leaders from Silicon Valley will share their expertise — in venture capital, mentorship, and technology incubators — with partners in the Middle East and in Turkey and in Southeast Asia.

And tonight, I can report that the Global Technology and Innovation Fund that I announced in Cairo will potentially mobilize more than $2 billion in investments.  This is private capital, and it will unlock new opportunities for people across our countries in sectors like telecommunications, health care, education, and infrastructure.

And finally, I’m proud that we’re creating here at this summit not only these programs that I’ve just mentioned, but it’s not going to stop here.  Together, we’ve sparked a new era of entrepreneurship — with events all over Washington this week, and upcoming regional conferences around the world. 

Tonight, I am pleased to announce that Prime Minister Erdogan has agreed to host the next Entrepreneurship Summit next year in Turkey.  (Applause.)  And so I thank the Prime Minister and the people and private sector leaders of Turkey for helping to sustain the momentum that we will unleash this week.   

So as I said, there are those who questioned whether we could forge these new beginnings.  And given the magnitude of the challenges we face in the world — and let’s face it, a lot of the bad news that comes through the television each and every day — sometimes it can be tempting to believe that the goodwill and good works of ordinary people are simply insufficient to the task at hand.  But to any who still doubt whether partnerships between people can remake our world, I say look at the men and women who are here today.

Look at the professor who came up with an idea — micro-finance — that empowered the rural poor across his country, especially women and children.  That’s the powerful example of Dr. Yunus.

Look what happened when Muhammad shared his idea with a woman from Pakistan, who has since lifted hundreds of thousands of families and children out of poverty through a foundation whose name literally means “miracle.”  That’s the example of Roshaneh Zafar.  (Applause.) 

Look what happened when that idea spread across the world  — including to people like my own mother, who worked with the rural poor from Pakistan to Indonesia.  That simple idea, began with a single person, has now transformed the lives of millions.  That’s the spirit of entrepreneurship.

So, yes, the new beginning we seek is not only possible, it has already begun.  It exists within each of you, and millions around the world who believe, like we do, that the future belongs not to those who would divide us, but to those who come together; not to those who would destroy, but those who would build; not those trapped in the past, but those who, like us, believe with confidence and conviction in a future of justice and progress and the dignity of all human beings regardless of their race, regardless of their religion. 

That’s the enormous potential that we’re hoping to unlock during this conference and hoping to continue not only this week but in the months and years ahead.  So I’m grateful that all of you are participating.  May God bless you all and may God’s peace be upon you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.) 

END 6:22 P.M. EDT

12-19

Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Yes, We Could… Get Out!

By Tom Engelhardt

2010-05-05T120909Z_1306706484_GM1E6551JSJ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man smiles after he received food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.        

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Yes, we could. No kidding. We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that’s not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows). We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.

Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news. There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination. In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park. And that’s only the technical side of the matter.

Then there’s the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable — at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan — would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us.

Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it’s taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of U.S. forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not likely, whereas the U.S. has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.

Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. But that’s a distant past not worth bringing up. And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone(that — it goes without saying — only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix). Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homes, at their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet’s premier narco-nation. It’s not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it’s now cornering the hashish market as well. That’s diversification for you.

It’s a record to stand on and, evidently, to stay on, even to expand on. We’re like the famed guest who came to dinner, broke a leg, wouldn’t leave, and promptly took over the lives of the entire household. Only in our case, we arrived, broke someone else’s leg, and then insisted we had to stay and break many more legs, lest the world become a far more terrible place.

It’s known and accepted in Washington that, if we were to leave Afghanistan precipitously, the Taliban would take over, al-Qaeda would be back big time in no time, and then more of our giant buildings would obviously bite the dust. And yet, the longer we’ve stayed and the more we’ve surged, the more resurgent the Taliban has become, the more territory this minority insurgency has spread into. If we stay long enough, we may, in fact, create the majority insurgency we claim to fear.

It’s common wisdom in the U.S. that, before we pull our military out, Afghanistan, like Iraq, must be secured as a stable enough ally, as well as at least a fragile junior democracy, which consigns real departure to some distant horizon. And that sense of time may help explain the desire of U.S. officials to hinder Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban and other rebel factions now. Washington, it seems, favors a “reconciliation process” that will last years and only begin after the U.S. military seizes the high ground on the battlefield.

The reality that dare not speak its name in Washington is this: no matter what might happen in an Afghanistan that lacked us — whether (as in the 1990s) the various factions there leaped for each other’s throats, or the Taliban established significant control, though (as in the 1990s) not over the whole country — the stakes for Americans would be minor in nature. Not that anyone of significance here would say such a thing.

Tell me, what kind of a stake could Americans really have in one of the most impoverished lands on the planet, about as distant from us as could be imagined, geographically, culturally, and religiously? Yet, as if to defy commonsense, we’ve been fighting there — by proxy and directly — on and off for 30 years now with no end in sight.

Most Americans evidently remain convinced that “safe haven” there was the key to al-Qaeda’s success, and that Afghanistan was the only place in which that organization could conceivably have planned 9/11, even though perfectly real planning also took place in Hamburg, Germany, which we neither bombed nor invaded.

In a future in which our surging armies actually succeeded in controlling Afghanistan and denying it to al-Qaeda, what about Somalia, Yemen, or, for that matter, England? It’s now conveniently forgotten that the first, nearly successful attempt to take down one of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 was planned in the wilds of New Jersey. Had the Bush administration been paying the slightest attention on September 10, 2001, or had reasonable precautions been taken, including locking the doors of airplane cockpits, 9/11 and so the invasion of Afghanistan would have been relegated to the far-fetched plot of some Tom Clancy novel.

Vietnam and Afghanistan

Have you noticed, by the way, that there’s always some obstacle in the path of withdrawal? Right now, in Iraq, it’s the aftermath of the March 7th election, hailed as proof that we brought democracy to the Middle East and so, whatever our missteps, did the right thing. As it happens, the election, as many predicted at the time, has led to a potentially explosive gridlock and has yet to come close to resulting in a new governing coalition. With violence on the rise, we’re told, the planned drawdown of American troops to the 50,000 level by August is imperiled. Already, the process, despite repeated assurances, seems to be proceeding slowly.

And yet, the thought that an American withdrawal should be held hostage to events among Iraqis all these years later, seems curious. There’s always some reason to hesitate — and it never has to do with us. Withdrawal would undoubtedly be far less of a brain-twister if Washington simply committed itself wholeheartedly to getting out, and if it stopped convincing itself that the presence of the U.S. military in distant lands was essential to a better world (and, of course, to a controlling position on planet Earth).

The annals of history are well stocked with countries which invaded and occupied other lands and then left, often ingloriously and under intense pressure. But they did it.

It’s worth remembering that, in 1975, when the South Vietnamese Army collapsed and we essentially fled the country, we abandoned staggering amounts of equipment there. Helicopters were pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers to make space; barrels of money were burned at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; military bases as large as anything we’ve built in Iraq or Afghanistan fell into North Vietnamese hands; and South Vietnamese allies were deserted in the panic of the moment. Nonetheless, when there was no choice, we got out. Not elegantly, not nicely, not thoughtfully, not helpfully, but out.

Keep in mind that, then too, disaster was predicted for the planet, should we withdraw precipitously — including rolling communist takeovers of country after country, the loss of “credibility” for the American superpower, and a murderous bloodbath in Vietnam itself. All were not only predicted by Washington’s Cassandras, but endlessly cited in the war years as reasons not to leave. And yet here was the shock that somehow never registered among all the so-called lessons of Vietnam: nothing of that sort happened afterwards.

Today, Vietnam is a reasonably prosperous land with friendly relations with its former enemy, the United States. After Vietnam, no other “dominos” fell and there was no bloodbath in that country. Of course, it could have been different — and elsewhere, sometimes, it has been. But even when local skies darken, the world doesn’t end.

And here’s the truth of the matter: the world won’t end, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in the United States, if we end our wars and withdraw. The sky won’t fall, even if the U.S. gets out reasonably quickly, even if subsequently blood is spilled and things don’t go well in either country.

We got our troops there remarkably quickly. We’re quite capable of removing them at a similar pace. We could, that is, leave. There are, undoubtedly, better and worse ways of doing this, ways that would further penalize the societies we’ve invaded, and ways that might be of some use to them, but either way we could go.

A Brief History of American Withdrawal

Of course, there’s a small problem here. All evidence indicates that Washington doesn’t want to withdraw — not really, not from either region. It has no interest in divesting itself of the global control-and-influence business, or of the military-power racket. That’s hardly surprising since we’re talking about a great imperial power and control (or at least imagined control) over the planet’s strategic oil lands.

And then there’s another factor to consider: habit. Over the decades, Washington has gotten used to staying. The U.S. has long been big on arriving, but not much for departure. After all, 65 years later, striking numbers of American forces are still garrisoning the two major defeated nations of World War II, Germany and Japan. We still have about three dozen military bases on the modest-sized Japanese island of Okinawa, and are at this very moment fighting tooth and nail, diplomatically speaking, not to be forced to abandon one of them. The Korean War was suspended in an armistice 57 years ago and, again, striking numbers of American troops still garrison South Korea.

Similarly, to skip a few decades, after the Serbian air campaign of the late 1990s, the U.S. built-up the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo with its seven-mile perimeter, and we’re still there. After Gulf War I, the U.S. either built or built up military bases and other facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, as well as the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. And it’s never stopped building up its facilities throughout the Gulf region. In this sense, leaving Iraq, to the extent we do, is not quite as significant a matter as sometimes imagined, strategically speaking. It’s not as if the U.S. military were taking off for Dubuque.

A history of American withdrawal would prove a brief book indeed. Other than Vietnam, the U.S. military withdrew from the Philippines under the pressure of “people power” (and a local volcano) in the early 1990s, and from Saudi Arabia, in part under the pressure of Osama bin Laden. In both countries, however, it has retained or regained a foothold in recent years. President Ronald Reagan pulled American troops out of Lebanon after a devastating 1983 suicide truck bombing of a Marines barracks there, and the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, functionally expelled the U.S. from Manta Air Base in 2008 when he refused to renew its lease. (“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorian base,” he said slyly.) And there were a few places like the island of Grenada, invaded in 1983, that simply mattered too little to Washington to stay.

Unfortunately, whatever the administration, the urge to stay has seemed a constant. It’s evidently written into Washington’s DNA and embedded deep in domestic politics where sure-to-come “cut and run” charges and blame for “losing” Iraq or Afghanistan would cow any administration. Not surprisingly, when you look behind the main news stories in both Iraq and Afghanistan, you can see signs of the urge to stay everywhere.

In Iraq, while President Obama has committed himself to the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011, plenty of wiggle room remains. Already, the New York Times reports, General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in that country, is lobbying Washington to establish “an Office of Military Cooperation within the American Embassy in Baghdad to sustain the relationship after… Dec. 31, 2011.” (“We have to stay committed to this past 2011,” Odierno is quoted as saying. “I believe the administration knows that. I believe that they have to do that in order to see this through to the end. It’s important to recognize that just because U.S. soldiers leave, Iraq is not finished.”)

If you want a true gauge of American withdrawal, keep your eye on the mega-bases the Pentagon has built in Iraq since 2003, especially gigantic Balad Air Base (since the Iraqis will not, by the end of 2011, have a real air force of their own), and perhaps Camp Victory, the vast, ill-named U.S. base and command center abutting Baghdad International Airport on the outskirts of the capital. Keep an eye as well on the 104-acre U.S. embassy built along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. At present, it’s the largest “embassy” on the planet and represents something new in “diplomacy,” being essentially a military-base-cum-command-and-control-center for the region. It is clearly going nowhere, withdrawal or not.

In fact, recent reports indicate that in the near future “embassy” personnel, including police trainers, military officials connected to that Office of Coordination, spies, U.S. advisors attached to various Iraqi ministries, and the like, may be more than doubled from the present staggering staff level of 1,400 to 3,000 or above. (The embassy, by the way, has requested $1,875 billion for its operations in fiscal year 2011, and that was assuming a staffing level of only 1,400.) Realistically, as long as such an embassy remains at Ground Zero Iraq, we will not have withdrawn from that country.

Similarly, we have a giant U.S. embassy in Kabul (being expanded) and another mega-embassy being built in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. These are not, rest assured, signs of departure. Nor is the fact that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, everything war-connected seems to be surging, even if in ways often not noticed here. President Obama’s surge decision has been described largely in terms of those 30,000-odd extra troops he’s sending in, not in terms of the shadow army of 30,000 or more extra private contractors taking on various military roles (and dying off the books in striking numbers); nor the extra contingent of CIA types and the escalating drone war they are overseeing in the Pakistani tribal borderlands; nor the quiet doubling of Special Operations units assigned to hunt down the Taliban leadership; nor the extra State department officials for the “civilian surge”; nor, for instance, the special $10 million “pool” of funds that up to 120 U.S. Special Operations forces, already in those borderlands training the paramilitary Pakistani Frontier Corps, may soon have available to spend “winning hearts and minds.”

Perhaps it’s historically accurate to say that great powers generally leave home, head elsewhere armed to the teeth, and then experience the urge to stay. With our trillion-dollar-plus wars and yearly trillion-dollar-plus national-security budget, there’s a lot at stake in staying, and undoubtedly in fighting two, three, many Afghanistans (and Iraqs) in the years to come.

Sooner or later, we will leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too late in the history of this planet to occupy them forever and a day. Better sooner.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”).

12-19

Gulf Islamic Banks Eye Conversion of Conventional Peers

May 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Frederik Richter and Shaheen Pasha

MANAMA/DUBAI (Reuters) – More banks in the Gulf Arab region may convert to Islamic finance in a bid to tap rising demand for sharia-compliant products and to avoid the heavy investment required to launch new banks.

A source told Reuters this month that Qatari investors are planning to buy a 25 percent stake in Ahli United Bank <AUBB.BH> <AUBK.KW> from Kuwaiti investors and have plans to convert Bahrain’s largest retail bank, which itself plans to take its Kuwaiti unit Islamic.

“Converting to Islamic is compelling in the region. In Kuwait Islamic banks have rapidly won market share from conventional ones,” said Sayd Farook, senior consultant at Dar Al Istithmar.

Converting conventional banks would help the industry expand its retail footprint — for instance in countries where no new licenses are given out but conversions are allowed –, which experts say the industry needs to develop a more sustainable business model.

The Islamic banking industry in the Gulf Arab region has mostly relied on channeling the region’s oil wealth into real estate and private equity, and was badly hit by a regional property correction late in 2008.

“I would say between 70 to 80 pct of the Muslim market (in the region) would bank with an Islamic bank….if you are an Islamic bank you get to capture that market,” said Sameer Abdi, head of Islamic finance at Ernst & Young.

Scholars have said they do not oppose converting conventional banks as long as their investments and debt levels are brought in line with sharia, which bans investments in certain sectors such as alcohol, over a grace period.

“There is usually a two-year conversion gap from the moment you convert….during which you need to give away to charity any income from conventional instruments,” said Farook.

Experts say that converting a bank comes cheaper than launching a green-field retail bank, but costs associated with revamping the bank’s work-flow, accounting and core banking IT systems are still high.

“Depending on the scale of the bank and the market in which it operates, it could take two or three years before the investment pays off,” said Hatim El Tahir, a Bahrain-based director at Deloitte & Touche.

Abdi said he estimated that up to 15 percent of existing customers could leave a converted bank, not necessarily because they disapprove of the switch to sharia, but because the bank might struggle to maintain its service level during a difficult transition period.

Bahrain’s Al Salam Bank <SALAM.BH> is converting Bahraini Saudi Bank <BSBB.BH>, which it bought last year, as is Egypt’s National Bank for Development <DEVE.CA> after Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank <ADIB.AD> partially bought the lender in 2007.

But the Gulf Arab region is rarely seeing mergers and acquisitions due to cultural sensitivities and opaque ownership structures, which could be the biggest obstacle to the conversion of conventional assets.

Bahrain’s Ithmaar Bank <ITHMR.BH> this month concluded the transformation from an investment house to an Islamic retail bank to improve its funding base, but could do so because it fully owned Islamic retail bank Shamil.

But Kuwaiti banks and merchant families have been badly hit by the financial crisis and are trying to sell down their international assets, which could be a way in.

Their ownership in many banks in the off-shore banking center Bahrain, both Islamic and conventional, could migrate to Qatari investors and banks that are awash with cash, bankers and analysts say.

“Qatar is a small economy…the bigger banks are looking at other markets,” said Janany Vamadeva, banking analyst at HC Brokerage, adding that Qatari companies would also be best positioned to raise money in current capital markets.

(Reporting by Frederik Richter and Shaheen Pasha; Editing by Dinesh Nair and Louise Heavens)

12-18

Obama Picks Special Envoy to World Muslim Group (OIC)

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

ResizedImage130160-rashad Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama appointed a special envoy Saturday to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the 57-nation organization that calls itself the “collective voice of the Muslim world.”

He is Rashad Hussein, an Indian-American Muslim who has been a deputy associate White House counsel, described by Obama as “an accomplished lawyer and a close and trusted member of my White House staff.”

Obama made the announcement Saturday in a video message to the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar. He said he made the move to broaden the outreach strategy toward the Muslim world he laid out last year in Cairo.

“Rashad has played a key role in developing the partnerships I called for in Cairo. And as a hafiz of the Quran, he is a respected member of the American Muslim community, and I thank him for carrying forward this important work,” Obama said. A hafiz is someone who has memorized the Quran, the sacred book of Islam.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be speaking Sunday at the 7th annual forum and Obama took the opportunity Saturday to laud the event and reiterate what he calls the “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” – a relationship that he says has been marred by “misunderstanding and mistrust.”

“The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq; we are removing all our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of August, and we will partner with the Iraqi people on behalf of their long-term security and prosperity. In Afghanistan and beyond, we are forging partnerships to isolate violent extremists, reduce corruption and to promote good governance and development that improves lives.

“We remain unyielding in pursuit of a two-state solution that recognizes the rights and security of Israelis and Palestinians. And the United States will continue to stand for the human rights and dignity of people around the world,” he said.

Obama said his administration has held thousands of events with students, civil society groups, faith leaders and entrepreneurs, including Clinton’s “landmark” visit to Pakistan.

“And I look forward to continuing the dialogue during my visit to Indonesia next month. This dialogue has helped us turn many of the initiatives I outlined in Cairo into action,” the president said.

Obama also listed outreach initiatives toward the Muslim world in education, economic development, science and technology, food security, and global health.
“None of this will be easy. Fully realizing the new beginning we envision will take a long-term commitment. But we have begun.”

Hussain has served as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and an editor of the Yale Law Journal. He posted a message on the White House blog saying he is “honored and humbled” by the appointment.

“I am committed to deepening the partnerships that he (Obama) outlined in his visionary address last summer. I look forward to updating you on the Administration’s efforts in these areas over the coming months,” he said.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference says it is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations and that its 57-state membership is “spread over four continents.”

12-8

Israeli’s Bid to Buy Al-Jazeera from Qatar

October 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

PressTV

al-jazeera An Israeli media tycoon has offered to buy the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera satellite television network from the government of Qatar.

Haim Saban, has submitted an offer to the Qatari government in a bid to purchase half of the Doha -based Al-Jazeera satellite network.

The Egyptian newspaper al-Mesryoon reported Wednesday that the Israeli billionaire is currently engaged in negotiations with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, over the partial purchase of the media outlet. The talks are said to be conducted through an Egyptian mediator.

The account comes amid reports that the largest and most controversial Arab news channel in the Middle East is grappling with a terrible financial crisis at present. Saban had previously made an offer to purchase al-Jazeera in 2004, but it was turned down.

The Israeli-American magnate has supposedly made an offer of $5 billion for the popular Arabic-language news channel, in an attempt to get a hold of it and to broadcast a pro-Israeli message so as to influence the Arab opinion in favor of Tel Aviv’s hawkish regime.

Al-Jazeera spawned a media revolution in the Arab world after it was founded in 1996. The network is reliant on state financial largesse, estimated at over $70 million a year, but does not broadcast shows critical of the Qatari government. Al-Jazeera, however, does air programs leveling criticism at all other Arab governments.

Seban made his fortune by buying the rights to market the Japanese kids show, “The Power Rangers,” in America. He is a prominent supporter of Israel and the right-wing Netanyahu government. In addition, the Egyptian-born Jewish businessman is well known for his under-the-table dealings.

11-43

US Prepares to Face UN on Torture as Amnesty Report Blasts ‘War Crimes’

May 4, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

U.S. Prepares to Face U.N. on Torture as Amnesty Report blasts ‘War Crimes’

Courtesy Raw Story

As the US prepares a team of 30 to defend its record on torture before a U.N. committee, Amnesty International has made public a report blasting the US for failing to take appropriate steps to eradicate the use of torture at U.S. detention sites around the world.
US compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment will be the topic of May 5 and 8 U.N. hearings in Geneva.
The United States last appeared before the Committee Against Torture in May, 2000. Amnesty claims that practices criticized by the Committee six years ago — such as the use of electro-shock weapons and excessively harsh conditions in “super-maximum” security prisons — have been used and exported by U.S. forces abroad.

The Amnesty Report reviews several cases where U.S. detainees held in Afghanistan and Iraq have died as a result of torture. The group also lambastes U.S. use of electro-shock weapons, inhuman and degrading conditions of isolation in “super-max” security prisons and abuses against women in the prison system — including sexual abuse by male guards, shackling while pregnant and even in labor.

As of now, the U.S. has yet to prosecute a single official, military officer or private contractor for “torture” or “war crimes” related to its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the “war on terror.”

“The heaviest sentence imposed on anyone to date for a torture-related death while in U.S. custody is five months,” notes Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director for Amnesty International USA. “[That’s] the same sentence that you might receive in the U.S. for stealing a bicycle.”

The five month sentence resulted from the death of a 22-year-old taxi-driver, who had been hooded and chained to a ceiling, then kicked and beaten until dead.
“The U.S. government is not only failing to take steps to eradicate torture,” he adds, “it is actually creating a climate in which torture and other ill-treatment can flourish — including by trying to narrow the definition of torture.”

The report argues that these cases are not isolated incidents, but part of an overall pattern condoned by U.S. officials.

“While the government continues to try to claim that the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody was mainly due to a few ‘aberrant’ soldiers, there is clear evidence to the contrary,” said Javier Zuniga, Amnesty International’s Americas Program Director. “Most of the torture and ill-treatment stemmed directly from officially sanctioned procedures and policies — including interrogation techniques approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.”
Amnesty’s findings have already been sent to members of the UN Committee Against Torture.
At its May 1-19 session, the Committee Against Torture will consider reports presented by Georgia, Guatemala, Republic of Korea, Qatar, Peru, Togo and the United States. With the exceptions of Korea and Peru, Amnesty has also provided reports about the actions of these nations. -