Syrian Forces Round Up Dozens in Hama

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian forces rounded up dozens of people around Hama on Wednesday, a day after shooting dead 22 people, activists said, and Amnesty International said Syria may have committed crimes against humanity in an earlier crackdown.

Tanks were still stationed outside Hama, which has seen some of the biggest protests against President Bashar al-Assad and was the site of a bloody crackdown against Islamist insurgents nearly 30 years ago.

But some of the tanks were redeployed away from the city and a resident said security forces were concentrated around the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party, the police headquarters and a state security compound. Most arrests took place in the outskirts of the city.

Ammar Qurabi, Cairo-based head of the Syrian National Human Rights Organization, said the death toll from Tuesday, when gunmen loyal to Assad swept through the city, had risen to 22.
He said hundreds of people had been arrested.

Rami Adbelrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people had died in Hama in the last 24 hours, and that an opposition figure in the city had reported water and electricity supplies were cut to the city on Wednesday morning.

State news agency SANA said one policeman had been killed in a clash with armed groups who opened fire on security forces and threw petrol and nail bombs at them. It made no mention of civilian deaths but said some “armed men” were injured.

Syria has prevented most independent media from operating inside the country, making it difficult to verify accounts from activists and authorities.

Hama was emptied of security forces for nearly a month after at least 60 protesters were shot dead on June 3, but the security vacuum emboldened demonstrators and on Friday activists said at least 150,000 people rallied to demand Assad’s downfall.

The next day Assad sacked the provincial governor and sent tanks and troops to surround the city, signaling a military assault similar to those carried out in other protest centers.
In a report released on Wednesday, Amnesty International said the crackdown two months ago against one of those protest centers — the town of Tel Kelakh near the border with Lebanon — may have constituted a crime against humanity.

Urging the United Nations to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, it said nine people died in custody after being captured during the operation in the town, close to the Lebanese border.

“Crimes Against Humanity”

Describing a “devastating security operation”, it said scores of men were rounded up, and most of them were tortured.

Some detainees told Amnesty they were beaten and tied by the wrists to a bar high enough off the ground to force them to stand on the tip of their toes for long periods — known as the shabah, meaning ghost, position.

A 22-year-old man told Amnesty he was tied up in the shabah position had electric shocks applied to his body and testicles during five days of detention in the provincial capital Homs.

“Amnesty International considers that crimes committed in Tel Kelakh amount to crimes against humanity as they appear to be part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against the civilian population,” it said.

Syrian activists say security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians since the unrest erupted 14 weeks ago. Authorities say 500 soldiers and police have been killed by armed gangs who they also blame for most of the civilian deaths.

Assad has responded to the protests with a mixture of repression and concessions, promising a political dialogue with the opposition. Preliminary talks on the dialogue are due to be held on Sunday.

But opposition figures refuse to sit down and talk while the killings and arrests continue, and diplomats say events in Hama will be a litmus test for whether Assad chooses to focus on a political or a military solution to the unrest.

Some residents sought to halt any military advance earlier this week by blocking roads between neighborhoods with rubbish containers, burning tyres, wood and metal.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had been told by an official at Hama’s Hourani hospital that security forces surrounded the hospital on Tuesday, although they did not enter it, as it received the bodies of four people and treated 60 others with gunshot wounds.

“Security forces have responded to protest with the brutality that’s become familiar over the past several months.” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.

Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000, sent troops into Hama in 1982 to crush an Islamist-led uprising in the city where the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood made its last stand.

That attack killed many thousands, possibly up to 30,000, and one slogan shouted by Hama protesters in recent weeks was “Damn your soul, Hafez”.

13-28

Another Theocracy in the Muslim World

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Uri Avnery

I am fed up with all this nonsense about recognizing Israel as the Jewish state.

It is based on a collection of hollow phrases and vague definitions, devoid of any real content. It serves many different purposes, almost all of them malign.

Benjamin Netanyahu uses it as a trick to obstruct the establishment of the Palestinian state. This week he declared that the conflict just has no solution. Why? Because the Palestinians do not agree to recognize, etc., etc.

Four rightist members of the Knesset have just submitted a bill empowering the government to refuse to register new NGOs and to dissolve existing ones if they deny the Jewish character of the state.
This new bill is only one of a series designed to curtail the civil rights of Arab citizens, as well as those of leftists.

If the late Dr. Samuel Johnson were living in present-day Israel, he would phrase his famous dictum about patriotism differently: Recognition of the Jewish character of the state is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

In Israeli parlance, denying the Jewish character of the state is tantamount to the worst of all political felonies: to claim that Israel is a state of all its citizens.

To a foreigner, this may sound a bit weird. In a democracy, the state clearly belongs to all its citizens. Mention this in the United States, and you are stating the obvious. Mention this in Israel, and you are treading dangerously close to treason. (So much for our much-vaunted common values.)

As a matter of fact, Israel is indeed a state of all its citizens. All adult Israeli citizens-and only they-have the right to vote for the Knesset. The Knesset appoints the government and determines the laws.

It has enacted many laws declaring that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. In ten or in a hundred years, the Knesset could hoist the flag of Catholicism, Buddhism, or Islam. In a democracy, it is the citizens who are sovereign, not a verbal formula.

What formula? one may well ask.

The courts favor the words Jewish and democratic state. But that is far from being the only definition around.

The most widely used is just Jewish state. But that is not enough for Netanyahu and Co., who speak about the nation-state of the Jewish people, which has a nice 19th-century ring. The state of the Jewish people is also quite popular.

The one thing that all these brand -names have in common is that they are perfectly imprecise. What does Jewish mean? A nationality, a religion, a tribe? Who are the Jewish people? Or, even more vague, the Jewish nation? Does this include the congressmen who enact the laws of the United States? Or the cohorts of Jews who are in charge of U.S. Middle East policy? Which country does the Jewish ambassador of the UK in Tel Aviv represent?

The courts have been wrestling with the question: where is the border between Jewish and democratic? What does democratic mean in this context? Can a Jewish state really be democratic, or, for that matter, can a democratic state really be Jewish? All the answers given by learned judges and renowned professors are contrived, or, as we say in Hebrew, they stand on chickens legs.

Lets go back to the beginning: the book written in German by Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, and published in 1896. He called it Der Judenstaat.

Unfortunately, this is a typical German word that is untranslatable. It is generally rendered in English as The Jewish State or The State of the Jews. Both are quite false. The nearest approximation would be The Jewstate.

If this sounds slightly anti-Semitic, this is not by accident. It may come as a shock to many, but the word was not invented by Herzl. It was first used by a Prussian nobleman with an impressive name Friedrich August Ludwig von der Marwitzwho died 23 years before Herzl was even born. He was a dedicated anti-Semite long before another German invented the term anti-Semitism as an expression of the healthy German spirit.

Marwitz, an ultra-conservative general, objected to the liberal reforms proposed at the time. In 1811 he warned that these reforms would turn Prussia into a Judenstaat, a Jewstate. He did not mean that Jews were about to become a majority in Prussia, God forbid, but that moneylenders and other shady Jewish dealers would corrupt the character of the country and wipe out the good old Prussian virtues.

Herzl himself did not dream of a state that belongs to all the Jews in the world. Quite the contrary-his vision was that all real Jews would go to the Judenstaat (whether in Argentina or Palestine, he had not yet decided). They-and only they-would thenceforth remain Jews. All the others would become assimilated in their host nations and cease altogether to be Jews.

Far, far indeed from the notion of a nation-state of the Jewish people as envisioned by many of today’s Zionists, including those millions who do not dream of immigrating to Israel.

When I was a boy, I took part in dozens of demonstrations against the British government of Palestine. In all of them, we chanted in unison Free immigration! Hebrew state! I dont remember a single demonstration with the slogan Jewish state.

That was quite natural. Without anyone decreeing it, we made a clear distinction between us Hebrew-speaking people in Palestine and the Jews in the Diaspora. Some of us turned this into an ideology, but for most people it was just a natural expression of reality: Hebrew agriculture and Jewish tradition, Hebrew underground and Jewish religion, Hebrew kibbutz and Jewish shtetl. Hebrew Yishuv (the new community in the country) and Jewish Diaspora. To be called a Diaspora Jew was the ultimate insult.

For us this was not anti-Zionist by any means. Quite the contrary:

Zionism wanted to create an old-new nation in Eretz Israel (as Palestine is called in Hebrew), and this nation was of course quite distinct from the Jews elsewhere. It was only the Holocaust, with its huge emotional impact, that changed the verbal rules.

So how did the formula Jewish state creep in? In 1917, in the middle of World War I, the British government issued the so-called Balfour Declaration, which proclaimed that His Majestys Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.

Every word was carefully chosen, after months of negotiations with Zionist leaders. One of the main British objects was to win American and Russian Jews for the Allied cause. Revolutionary Russia was about to get out of the war, and the entry of isolationist America was essential.

(By the way, the British rejected the words the turning of Palestine into a national home for the Jewish people, insisting on in Palestine-thus foreshadowing the partition of the country.)

In 1947 the UN did decide to partition Palestine between its Arab and Jewish populations. This said nothing about the character of the two future states-it just used the current definitions of the two warring parties. About 40 percent of the population in the territory allocated to the Jewish state was Arab.

The advocates of the Jewish state make much of the sentence in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel (generally called the Declaration of Independence) which indeed includes the words Jewish state. After quoting the UN resolution which called for a Jewish and an Arab state, the declaration continues: Accordingly we on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the state of Israel.

This sentence says nothing at all about the character of the new state, and the context is purely formal.

One of the paragraphs of the declaration (in its original Hebrew version) speaks about the Hebrew people: We extend our hands to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the independent Hebrew people in its land. This sentence is blatantly falsified in the official English translation, which changed the last words into the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land.

As a matter of fact, it would have been quite impossible to reach agreement on any ideological formula, since the declaration was signed by the leaders of all factions, from the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox to the Moscow-oriented Communist Party.

Any talk about the Jewish state leads inevitably to the question: What are the Jews-a nation or a religion?

Official Israeli doctrine says that Jewish is both a national and a religious definition. The Jewish collective, unlike any other, is both national and religious. With us, nation and religion are one and the same.

The only door of entry to this collective is religious. There is no national door.

Hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russian immigrants have come to Israel under the Law of Return with their Jewish relatives. This law is very broad. In order to attract the Jews, it allows even distant non-Jewish relatives to come with them, including the spouse of the grandchild of a Jew. Many of these non-Jews want to be Jews in order to be considered full Israelis, but have tried in vain to be accepted.

Under Israeli law, a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother or converted, who has not adopted another religion. This is a purely religious definition. Jewish religious law says that for this purpose, only the mother, not the father, counts.

It is extremely difficult to be converted in Israel. The rabbis demand that the convert fulfill all 613 commandments of the Jewish religion-which only very few recognized Israelis do. But one cannot become an official member of the stipulated Jewish nation by any other door. One becomes a part of the American nation by accepting U.S. citizenship. Nothing like that exists here.

We have an ongoing battle about this in Israel. Some of us want Israel to be an Israeli state, belonging to the Israeli people, indeed a state of all its citizens. Some want to impose on us the religious law supposedly fixed by God for all times on Mount Sinai some 3,200 years ago and abolish all contrary laws of the democratically elected Knesset. Many don’t want any change at all.

But how, in Gods name (sorry), does this concern the Palestinians? Or the Icelanders, for that matter?

The demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state or as the nation-state of the Jewish people is preposterous.

As the British would put it, its none of their bloody business. It would be tantamount to an intervention in the internal affairs of another country.

But a friend of mine has suggested a simple way out: the Knesset can simply resolve to change the name of the state into something like The Jewish Republic of Israel, so that any peace agreement between Israel and the Arab State of Palestine will automatically include the demanded recognition.

This would also bring Israel into line with the state it most resembles: The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, which came into being almost at the same time, after the partition of India, after a gruesome mutual massacre, after the creation of a huge refugee problem, and with a perpetual border war in Kashmir. And the nuclear bomb, of course.

Many Israelis would be shocked by the comparison. What, us? Similar to a theocratic state? Are we getting closer to the Pakistani model and further from the American one?

What the hell, lets simply deny it!

13-27

Egypt Police & Youths Clash; Over 1,000 Hurt

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick Werr and Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) – Police in Cairo fired tear gas on Wednesday at hundreds of stone-throwing Egyptian youths after a night of clashes that injured more than 1,000 people, the worst violence in the capital in several weeks.

Nearly five months since a popular uprising toppled long-serving authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s military rulers are struggling to keep order while a restless public is still impatient for reform.

The latest clashes began after families of people killed in the uprising that ousted Mubarak held an event in a Cairo suburb late on Tuesday in their honor.

Other bereaved relatives arrived to complain that names of their own dead were not mentioned at the ceremony. Fighting broke and moved toward the capital’s central Tahrir Square and the Interior Ministry, according to officials.

The Health Ministry said 1,036 people were injured, among them at least 40 policemen.

The ruling military council said in a statement on its Facebook page that the latest events “had no justification other than to shake Egypt’s safety and security in an organised plan that exploits the blood of the revolution’s martyrs and to sow division between the people and the security apparatus.”

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf told state TV he was monitoring developments and awaiting a full report on the clashes.

A security source quoted by the state news agency MENA said 40 people were arrested, including one U.S. and one British citizen, and were being questioned by military prosecutors.

Some said those involved were bent on battling police rather than protesting. To others, the violence seemed motivated by politics.

“The people are angry that the court cases against top officials keep getting delayed,” said Ahmed Abdel Hamid, 26, a bakery employee who was at the scene overnight, referring to senior political figures from the discredited Mubarak era.

By early afternoon, eight ambulances were in Tahrir, epicenter of the revolt that toppled Mubarak on February 11, and the police had left the square. Dozens of adolescent boys, shirts tied around their heads, blocked traffic from entering Tahrir, using stones and scrap metal.

Some drove mopeds in circles around the square making skids and angering bystanders. “Thugs, thugs… The square is controlled by thugs,” an old man chanted.

“I am here today because I heard about the violent treatment by the police of the protesters last night,” said Magdy Ibrahim, 28, an accountant at Egypt’s Banque du Caire.

Treating Wounded

The clashes unnerved Egypt’s financial market, with equity traders blaming the violence for a 2 percent fall in the benchmark EGX30 index, its biggest drop since June 2.

First-aid workers treated people mostly for inhaling tear gas in overnight violence. A Reuters correspondent saw several people with minor wounds, including some with head cuts.

Mohsen Mourad, the deputy interior minister for Cairo, said the security forces did not enter Tahrir overnight and dealt only with 150-200 people who tried to break into the Interior Ministry and threw stones, damaging cars and police vehicles.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s political party warned Egyptians that remnants of Mubarak’s rule could exploit violence to their ends. Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei called on the ruling military council to quickly clarify the facts surrounding the violence and to take measures to halt it.

U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, visiting Cairo, said he hoped an investigation into the clashes would be “fair and thorough.”

Young men lit car tyres in the street near the ministry on Wednesday, sending black plumes of smoke into the air.

“There is lack of information about what happened and the details are not clear. But the certain thing is that Egyptians are in a state of tension and the reason behind this is that officials are taking time to put Mubarak and officials on trial,” said political analyst Hassan Nafaa.

Sporadic clashes, some of them between Muslims and the Christian minority, have posed a challenge to a government trying to restore order after many police deserted the streets during the uprising against Mubarak. In early May, 12 people were killed and 52 wounded in sectarian clashes and the burning of a church in Cairo’s Imbaba neighborhood.

A hospital in central Cairo’s Munira neighborhood received two civilians and 41 policemen with wounds, bruises and tear gas inhalation, MENA said. All were discharged except one civilian with a bullet wound and a policeman with concussion, it said.

Former interior minister Habib al-Adli has been sentenced to jail for corruption but he and other officials are still being tried on charges related to killing protesters. Police vehicles were stoned by protesters at Sunday’s hearing.

The former president, now hospitalized, has also been charged with the killing of protesters and could face the death penalty. Mubarak’s trial starts on August 3.

(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Sherine El Madany; Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Peter Graff)

13-27

Hundreds of Yemeni Troops Defect to Rebels

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mohammed Mokhashaf and Mohamed Sudam

2011-06-28T165143Z_1312527772_GM1E76T02HG01_RTRMADP_3_YEMEN

An anti-government protester with his face painted in the colours of Yemen’s flag shouts as others chew qat during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa June 28, 2011. The words painted on the protester’s chest read as “Uncover chests”.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

ADEN/SANAA (Reuters) – At least 26 Yemeni government soldiers and 17 militants linked to al Qaeda were killed on Wednesday in heavy fighting for control of a stadium near the southern city of Zinjibar, officials said.

The military setback, following reports that 300 of his soldiers had defected to the opposition, was another blow to President Ali Abdullah Saleh as recovers in Saudi Arabia from injuries sustained in an attack on his palace in early June.

Yemen, the poorest Arab state and a neighbor of the world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, has been shaken by months of protests against Saleh’s three-decade rule, a resurgent wing of al Qaeda and a separatist rebellion in the south.

The United States and Saudi Arabia fear that al Qaeda may use the chaos to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

Yemeni officials said the militants seized control of the stadium from government forces, who have been using the facility — built recently to host a regional football tournament — to support troops fighting to dislodge the militants from Zinjibar.

An official said losing the stadium, located near a military base from which government forces had been launching attacks on Zinjibar, exposed a military base that had been used to launch attacks on the militants in Zinjibar. A counter offensive to retake the position was in progress, he said.

“The militant control of the field will leave the back of the camp from the east exposed,” the official said.

Yemeni officials had been reporting successes against the estimated 300 militants who seized control of Zinjibar in May in the midst of a groundswell of popular protests against the nearly 33-year autocratic rule of Saleh.

His opponents say his forces handed over the city to the militants to bolster his argument that his departure would lead to an Islamist takeover of the Arabian Peninsula state.

Yemeni air force planes had killed at least 10 gunmen in attacks on Zinjibar earlier on Wednesday, a local Yemeni official said. One strike mistakenly hit a bus traveling from Zinjibar to Aden, the official added, killing five passengers and wounding 12 other people.

Defection

Earlier in the day, opposition officials reported that more than 300 members of Yemeni security forces, including 150 from the Republican Guards led by Saleh’s son Ahmed, had defected to rebels.

“From the podium of the Square of Change in Sanaa, an announcement has been issued that 150 soldiers from the Republican Guards, 130 Central Security soldiers and 60 policemen have joined the revolt,” an opposition message said.

No government officials were immediately available to comment on the report.

If confirmed, the mutinies would be a serious reverse for Saleh, who has spent the past three weeks receiving medical treatment in Riyadh for wounds suffered in the June 3 attack.

The defections are the latest in a series by security forces since the anti-Saleh uprising began in February. Most prominent was the defection in March of Brigadier General Ali Mohsen, who has since sent in his troops to guard protesters in Sanaa.

The protests have culminated in battles between Saleh loyalists and gunmen from the powerful Hashed tribal federation in Sanaa that brought the country to the verge of civil war.

Months of unrest have cost Yemen $4 billion, a senior Yemeni official said on Wednesday, adding the Arab state was in talks with potential donors to help plug a gap of $1.5 billion in government commitments for projects funded by Sanaa.

“We are talking with the IMF, the World Bank and donor countries, whether Gulf Arab states or others. There may be some discussions next week with the IMF,” Abdulla al-Shater, deputy planning and international cooperation minister, told reporters on the sidelines of a financial conference in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen has been largely quiet with a ceasefire in place since Saleh was injured in the attack, which investigators say was caused by explosives planted in the palace mosque where he and several senior government officials were praying

Saleh, 69, who has not been seen in public since the attack, has resisted pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia to hand over power to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, under a Gulf nations’ initiative to end the crisis.

Hadi has been running the country in Saleh’s absence, but the opposition wants the president to officially hand over power to him to pave the way for new elections.

Officials have said the president will soon make his first public appearance since the attack with a recorded message to be broadcast on Yemeni state television.

Officer Killed

In further violence, a bomb killed a colonel when it exploded in his car on Tuesday night in the port city of Aden, a security source said on Wednesday.

The source said that Colonel Khaled al-Yafi’i was the commander of a military outpost guarding the Aden Free Zone business park’s entrance.

The outpost was targeted by a car bomb on Friday that killed four soldiers and a civilian and injured 16 other people.

No one has claimed responsibility for the colonel’s killing, but Islamist militants affiliated with al Qaeda are active in southern Yemen.

13-27

Saudi Bans Domestic Workers from Indonesia, Philippines

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday it would stop granting work permits to domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, following hiring conditions imposed by the Asian countries.

The ministry of labour said it would “stop issuing work visas to bring domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, effective from Saturday” due to “the terms of recruitment announced by the two countries,” according to a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

“The ministry’s decision coincides with its great efforts to open new channels to bring domestic workers from other sources,” said the statement in English quoting the ministry’s spokesman Hattab bin Saleh al-Anzi.

Last week Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono denounced the beheading in Saudi Arabia of an Indonesian maid and accused Riyadh of breaking the “norms and manners” of international relations.

His comments signaled Indonesia’s growing anger over the treatment of its manual laborers in the Gulf countries, after a spate of cases of abuse and killings.

Ruyati binti Sapubi, 54, was beheaded on June 18 after she was convicted of killing her Saudi employer, prompting Indonesia to recall its ambassador in Saudi Arabia for “consultations.”

Indonesia also announced a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia, where hundreds of thousands of Indonesians toil as maids and laborers.

Saudi Arabia and the Philippines have also clashed over the working conditions of Filipina domestic workers in the oil-rich kingdom.

Earlier this year the Philippines asked Saudi Arabia to guarantee higher pay for Filipina housemaids but the request was turned down.

The Philippines demanded $400 in monthly wages for for housemaids but Saudi authorities offered a base monthly salary of $210, Filipino labor official Carlos Cao had told AFP in Manila in May.

Manila had also demanded proof that that Saudi households employing Filipina housemaids would pay and provide humane working conditions.

Rights groups say millions of mostly Asian domestic workers are regularly exposed to physical and financial abuse in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states due to poor or absent labor laws.

13-27

Some in Egypt See Threat After Mubarak

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Shaimaa Fayed and Abdel Rahman Youssef

CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA (Reuters) – Down the narrow alleyways of Cairo’s Sayidda Zeinab neighborhood, 100 men sway their heads and clap in rhythm as they invoke God’s name.

“O how you have spread benevolence,” chant the men, some dressed in ankle-length galabeya robes, to celebrate the birth of Fatima al-Zahraa, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (s).
The men are followers of the centuries-old Azaimiya Sufi order who seek to come closer to God through mystical rites.

Some say their traditions are now threatened by Islamists elbowing for influence after the overthrow of Egypt’s veteran leader Hosni Mubarak.

Tensions have long rumbled between the country’s estimated 15 million Sufis, attached to some 80 different orders, and ultra-conservative Salafists who see Sufi practices such as the veneration of shrines as heresy.

The ousting of Mubarak in February has loosened state control over Islamist groups that he suppressed using an emergency law in place since 1980.

As Sufis seek to defend traditions dating back centuries, what began as a loose religious identity could be gelling, gradually, into a political movement.

“If the Sufis stood side by side, they could be an important voting bloc … but their political and organizational power is less than their numerical power,” said political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah.

Alaa Abul Azaim, sheikh of the Azaimiya Sufi order, says moves by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups to enter formal politics endanger religious tolerance and oblige Sufis to do the same.

“If the Salafists or Muslim Brotherhood rise to power, they could well cancel the Sufi sheikhdom, so there has to be a party for Sufis,” Abul Azaim said.

Sledgehammers

Shrines dedicated to saints are central to Sufi practice and can be found in towns and villages across Egypt, but they are frowned upon by Salafists.

Many are built inside mosques and contain the tombs of saints. They are often highly decorated, using wood and mother-of-pearl.

Some religious conservatives also dislike Sufi moulids — festivals celebrating the birthdays of saints that have become carnival-like events popular even among non-Sufis in Egypt.
Moulid music has found its way into pop culture, such as the well-known puppet operetta “El Leila El Kebira” (The Big Night).

Fears for the future of Sufi traditions were underlined in April, when two dozen Islamists wielding crowbars and sledgehammers tried to smash a shrine used by Sufis in the town of Qalyoub north of Cairo. Their plan failed when residents rallied to defend the site revered for generations.

Salafist leaders denied their followers were behind the shrine attack and condemned it, while making it clear that they oppose the shrines.

“The Salafi call does not reject Sufism,” said Sheikh Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, official spokesperson for the Salafi movement in Alexandria. “We reject (the practice of) receiving blessings from tombs and shrines because it is against Sharia law.”

He said Salafis believe religious blessings can only be sought from the Black Stone of the Kaaba in the Saudi city of Mecca. Millions of Muslims circle the stone during the Hajj pilgrimage.

No Sufi Party Yet

Egypt’s constitution forbids political parties formed on overtly religious lines. That has not stopped Salafist groups such as al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood moving to create parties to compete in September elections.

No overtly Sufi party has emerged — adepts of Sufism, with their emphasis on personal development and inner purification, have till now seen little sense in forming a political movement.
But one nascent party, al-Tahrir (Liberation), has pledged to defend their interests and, by doing so, has built most of its membership from among the Sufi community.
“There is no doubt that the (Islamist) flood that’s coming … scares them,” said the party’s founder Ibrahim Zahran.

Affirmative political action would mark a departure for Egypt’s Sufis, who have tended to submit to the will of Egypt’s political leaders since the 12th century.
“From Sultan Saladin al-Ayubi until Mubarak, Sufism was used by the state to reinforce its legitimacy,” said sociologist Ammar Aly Hassan.

In a sign they are more ready to challenge authority, sheikhs of 13 Sufi orders have staged a sit-in since May 1 calling for the removal of Sheikh Abdel Hadi el-Qasabi, the head of the Sufi Sheikhdom who was appointed by Mubarak in 2009.

They say Qasabi broke a tradition of ordaining the eldest sheikh to the position and they refuse to have him as their leader as he was a member of Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party.
Many Sufis oppose the idea of an Islamic state promoted by Islamists who take the Iran’s theocracy or the Wahhabi ideology of staunchly conservative Saudi Arabia as a model.
Sufi Sheikh Gaber Kassem of Alexandria criticized the political ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood and its slogan ‘Islam is the Solution’.

“This is a devotional matter, a religious call … so how are they entering politics? Is this hypocrisy?” he said.

(Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Jon Hemming)

13-26

The Shari’ah Controversy in America:

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Waheeduddin Ahmed, Ph.D.

shariah-compliance_imgIslamophobia, as it exists today in America, cannot be assigned to a single cause. It has a variety of causes. Differences in belief systems have little to do with it, since such a chasm would require awareness, which is all but lacking in the general populace. Clash of civilizations is hardly causative in a civic society, where only one civilization prevails. In fact, it is the cultural side of Islam, which arouses prejudice and disapproval on the part of some and suspicion on the part of others.

The second cause is the global political conflicts in which Muslims are seen as occupying the center stage. Incessant news and events depicting individuals committing terrorist acts, with their religion specifically highlighted in the media if they are Muslims, constantly plays on the minds and emotions of the American people. The worst act of terrorism in its history occurred in New York on September 11, 2001. It was carried out by a few foreign miscreants from the Middle East with Muslim names and had roots in the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it shook the world, it sent chills down the spines of the Muslim inhabitants of America. They were hit the hardest just by name association. They walked the streets under suspicious and disdainful eyes and are still struggling to reclaim their rightful place in the American society.

We are living in an era sequential to global communism. The phobia which dominated that era was the fear of the great Bolshevik conspiracy, which would undermine our freedoms and individual liberties. The product of that phobia was the Cold War, generating thousands of nuclear weapons, sufficient to obliterate human race many times over and which gave birth to scores of dictators all over the world, who subjected their countrymen to tyranny and humiliation. The succeeding era would not pass without a phobia to decorate it with.  Islamophobia readily served the purpose. The bogey of the worldwide Islamic khilafa replaced that of the Communist conspiracy and is beginning to inflict the psyche of the American public. If there are any people, who are unaware of this khilafa “conspiracy”, it is the Muslim people themselves.

The Phobia and its Profile: The Mosque Controversies:

Proposals to build mosques to serve the religious needs of Muslims countrywide have brought out deep-rooted prejudices even from the members of the clergy, from California to Wisconsin to New York. Acts of vandalism against the Muslim places of worship such as in Tennessee proliferated. In Sheboygan, Wisconsin a Muslim doctor who owned a store type building proposed to convert the property into a place of worship for hundred or so of Muslims. The place was close to the hospital he worked in. A public hearing brought out some of the patients he had treated and had faith in, who spilled out venom against Islam, a faith they had no knowledge of. It shook the wits out of him and many of the citizens. In Manhattan, Muslims had been praying at Burlington Factory House at Park51 a makeshift mosque for a year before the Cordoba House proposal. On Fridays the congregation at Farah Mosque nearby would spill over on the street for want of sufficient accommodation. It was not a matter of “desecrating” Ground Zero but a matter of dire necessity and equal rights under the constitution. The proposal became such a big controversy that everybody from the president to the governor to the archbishop to the Jewish Defense League weighed in. It was made to look as though the proposed Cordoba House was a monument of Muslim “triumphalism” at Ground Zero.

Ban the Shari’ah Legislations:

The campaign against the Cordoba House project was started in a blog “Stop Islamization of America”, a xenophobic campaign, playing on the aforementioned fears of people, of the perceived impending transformation of the country’s religious face and its cultural profile. This is an outrageous presumption and a wildly imaginary scenario. Exact statistics are lacking but according to a study conducted by the American Jewish Committee there are 2.8million Muslims in America, while many Muslim organizations have been claiming that the total number stood at about six million. This makes the range of percent population to be from 0.9 to 1.9%. The true number may be closer to the lower figure than the higher one. Of the total population, the practicing Muslims may be less than half that number, scattered over a continent and among the population of 308.7 million. What a force for the Islamization of the United States of America!

The force behind this anti-Shari’ah tirade is an Arizona lawyer: David Yerushalmi, a White supremacist, an anti-Islam hate monger and the founder of the “Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)”. He argues that whites are genetically superior to Blacks.  He wrote: “Some races perform better in sports, some better in mathematical problem solving, some better in language, some better in Western societies and some better in tribal ones.” He urged that the United States must declare war on Islam and all Muslim faithful. This puts him in the same category in hate mongering, as the likes of Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein, Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz and Peter Emerson. He had pushed legislation in 2007 to make adherence to Shari’ah a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Sadly, it is him and the likes of him, who are driving the conservative legislative agenda in this country. He is either the author of or the consultant for most of the anti-Shari’ah bills, which have been introduced. The American legislators, who have been led onto this path by people like Yerushalmi, in the name of patriotism, should realize that their actions are mutilating the values and the principles on which this country was founded.

A majority of the anti-Shari’ah bills is considered to be, in the main, innocuous and inconsequential, emotive rather than practical, save SB1028, the State of Tennessee bill as originally proposed, which would have dangerously violated the basic human rights of Muslims, guaranteed in the constitution, by criminalizing the day to day acts of worship. The other acts of legislation have been rightly branded as: “A Solution in Search of Problem”. However, there are some very complex legal implications, which cannot be overlooked.

Shari’ah, meaning “the way” or “the path” encompasses many disciplines such as ritual worship, moral principles, trade, charity, dietary rules, monetary transactions, matrimony, inheritance as well as criminal law. Many of the Shari’ah rules have been absorbed into cultural norms and adherence to them is almost subconscious, such as the dietary rules. Although ritual worship is an essential part of religion, some Muslims pray and some don’t and those who pray would do so even under the shadow of a guillotine. The criminal law (the Shari’ah penal code) is in abeyance in a majority of the Muslim countries, as secular criminal laws have taken its place. The laws of marriages, divorce and inheritance are in general followed, except that polygamy is now obsolescent among the common people. Most of the laws of Shari’ah, including the penal code, bear striking similarity to the laws of the Old Testament (Halacha) and those followed in early Christian communities. Reformist movements in Judaism and the Church in Christianity have amended those laws but since in Islam there is no Church, Pope or “reform” authority, the Shari’ah has remained immutable, except where the rules are amenable to ijtehad (dialectical derivation).There is a corpus of exegesis in Shari’ah law but its implementation however, has been effected with a varying degree of laxity.

As for the criminal law, it must be noted that Muslims have lived under secular laws for ages without protestations. There are only two countries where Shari’ah law is applied, albeit selectively: Saudi Arabia and Iran.  American Muslims have therefore no qualms about living under the law of the land. Civil laws however are a different matter. Let us take the example of India, home to 161 million Muslims (13.4%) among a total population of 1.2 billion. The criminal law is the law of the land and is applicable to every resident. Muslims are not clamoring for the imposition of hudud, qisas or ta’dhir (elements of religious criminal law).  In civil matters, Muslims are allowed to follow their own “personal law” or opt for the secular law. Western countries would do well to consider this precedence.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had proposed a similar procedure for the British courts, where arbitration, with the consent of the contestants, would amiably settle disputes without burdening the courts with costly trials and litigations. In any case, in the matters of divorce, inheritance, child custody and child support, the parties would have an option between the Shari’ah and the secular laws, whichever they think serves their interests best. This kind of arrangement, if mutually agreed upon by the parties and allowed by the courts, does in no way threaten the integrity and the tranquility of the society; it may on the other hand enhance them. Nevertheless, we must ensure that the women’s rights and the children’s welfare are safeguarded by the courts in the best way possible. There will be times when the Shari’ah will serve women better than the states’ laws. In California recently a court ruled that meher payment (a contractual sum payable to a woman by her husband on divorce under the Shari’ah) violated the state law prohibiting spouses from “profiteering” from divorce. Loss to the woman in this case is obvious. In general the interests of the citizens as well as of the state would be best served when the courts are independent and have discretion — not obligation — in when to reference religious laws and when not to do so.

“Foreign” Law and the U.S. Courts:

In many states legislation prohibiting the courts from considering “foreign” law or international law is being pushed with a vengeance. This raises a number of very complex legal issues, involving international treaties and trade. Compliance with international treaties, when ratified, is vouchsafed in the U.S. constitution and may be outside the jurisdiction of any one state. However, there may be areas of trade and labor laws, where complications may arise and hamper businesses of American companies.

In the U.S. courts presently marriages contracted abroad and under the Shari’ah are recognized, so are divorces executed abroad. The integration of many immigrant families is based on this provision. In the matters of matrimony, parenthood, inheritance and execution of wills disputes do arise in courts and could not be settled without reference to “foreign” laws. There is a serious concern that the ramifications of ban on foreign law now or in the future may put strains on the justice system and adversely affect the social structure of the American society.

Islamophobia, the Underlying Reason:

It is hard to believe that the proponents of the ant-Shari’ah bill of Tennessee, as it was originally written, were unaware of its unconstitutionality. Clearly, their intent was provocation and their motive was historic religious prejudice. It is not uncommon in the American history and in the history of many other countries for hate groups to arise in certain political and economic circumstances and by their actions and rhetoric malign the very society whose wellbeing they claim to protect.

It was said after 9/11 that “history begins now” or words to that effect. How true! Muslim Americans have been living in the full glare of history ever since, with their faces lit with bewilderment, although some governmental agencies, the top political leadership of both the parties, the law enforcement agencies and the leadership of almost every faith have helped to take the attention away from them. We still remember with gratitude the president of the United States’ visit to a mosque in the aftermath of the tragic event and the kind words uttered. This brought out what was good in the American people and averted a possible catastrophe. We appeal to the same good nature of the American people not to heed to bigotry, prejudice and electoral polemics. America will lose its soul if it succumbs to religious intolerance. It will lose its reason for being.

Muslims in America are a highly diverse community, consisting of almost every race, ethnicity and culture, including a large indigenous section. Among them are doctors, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and workers, enriching the economy with their contributions. There are Nobel laureates such as Ahmed Zewail news anchors such as Fareed zakaria and many sports celebrities. There are highly regarded congressmen and mayors in many cities.

Muslim contribution in highlighting the moral values is an asset to the society, which should not be ignored. The mosques are not a threat to anybody but beacons of light. They are centers of spiritual uplift as well as of education, social activism, moral reformation and charity.  Most mosques have prison visit programs, which have resulted in transforming many individuals into productive and law-abiding citizens. Many mosques in the inner cities have food pantries, counseling and crisis management programs.  Above all they curtail social ills. Consider a man who comes to the mosque to pray early morning, early afternoon, late-afternoon, at sunset and at night, five times in Twenty-four hours, to renew his commitment to God. What are his chances of committing unsocial acts in between his prayers? If two million people do this in a society, is the society better off or worse?

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Community News (V13-I25)

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

United Stationers Appoints Khan as Next CFO

DEERFIELD, IL–United Stationers Inc. said Tuesday that Fareed Khan will become its chief financial officer on July 18.

The office and business products distributor said its board elected Khan, 45, to replace Victoria Reich. Reich said in November that she planned to leave the company by the end of 2011. She cited personal reasons for her departure.

Khan has worked at USG Corp., a producer of building materials, for the last 12 years, and was most recently in charge of its finance and strategy.

Other senior level management positions held by Mr. Khan at USG included a variety of strategy, business development, marketing, supply chain management, and general management roles. Before joining USG in 1999, Mr. Khan was a consultant with McKinsey & Company, where he served global clients on a variety of projects including acquisition analysis, supply chain optimization, and organization redesign.

Mr. Khan received his bachelor of science degree in engineering from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and earned a MBA from the University of Chicago.

Abdullah-Muhammad wins state gold in Murfreesboro

MURFEESBORO,TN–Cleveland High freshman Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad soared to a state title in the girls long jump competition Thursday at the Middle Tennessee State University track.
Flying a distance of 18-feet, 9-inches on her third attempt, the three-sport Lady Raider standout left the competition in the dust by at least 8 1/2 inches.

Abdullah-Muhammad went past the 18-foot mark five times in her half dozen passes. After a 17-06.25 on her first pass, the 5-foot-10 ninth-grader leapt 18-01.75, 18-09, 18-02.25, 18-00.75 and 18-06.

Dr. Saleem Bajwa to receive rights award

BOSTON, MA–The National Conference for Community and Justice of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, Inc., founded in 1927 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, will present its annual Human Relations Award  to Dr. Saleem Bajwa, president of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts.

Dr. Bajwa, a physician board certified in internal and pulmonary medicine, practice in Holyoke, and is affiliated with the Holyoke Medical Center.

He is a founding member of the Islamic Society.

For the past 18 years, he has been the executive director of the Islamic Council of New England, an umbrella organization of Islamic centers and societies of New England, actively hosting inter-faith programs to build alliances and learn from one another.

In addition, for more than a decade, Bajwa has served on the Interfaith Council of Western Massachusetts.

Mayfield School District Names Student of the Month

CLEVELAND, OH–Fakhra Saleem, Mayfield City School District’s most recent Student of the Month, is enrolled in the Cleveland Clinic Internship Program at the Cuyahoga East Vocational Education Consortium.

Superintendent Dr. Phillip Price said Saleem was identified at one of the most responsible members of the surgical processing department at the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus.
Price said she is 100 percent accurate when pulling surgical kits to be delivered in preparation for surgeries. She also volunteered to learn decontamination – a task not typically required of CEVEC interns.

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Israel Government ‘Reckless and Irresponsible’ Says Ex-Mossad Chief

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Meir Dagan attacks Binyamin Netanyahu for aggression towards Iran, and for failing to make any progress with the Palestinians

By Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem

meir-dagan--126656584152243800The former head of Israel’s spy service has launched an unprecedented attack on the country’s current government, describing it as “irresponsible and reckless”, and has praised Arab attempts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Meir Dagan stepped down as the head of Mossad six months ago but has gone on the offensive in a series of briefings with journalists and public appearances because he feels that Israel’s security is being mismanaged by Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and Ehud Barak, the defence minister.

One newspaper quotes him as saying that he, as head of Mossad, Yuval Diskin, the head of Sin Bet – the internal security agency, and Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the army, could prevent Netanyahu and Barak from making mistakes but all three have left their positions and have been replaced by men chosen by the current government.

“I decided to speak because when I was in office, Diskin, Ashkenazi and I could block any dangerous adventure. Now I am afraid that there is no one to stop Bibi [Netanyahu] and Barak,” said Dagan.

Upon leaving his post, Dagan publicly warned against Israel attacking Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In his latest comments, he said that if Israel attacks Iran, it will find itself at the centre of a regional war that would endanger the state’s existence. Dagan’s intervention is dangerous for Netanyahu because it comes from the right wing of Israeli opinion rather than the left, where the prime minister would expect criticism.

Dagan has been in charge of aggressive Israeli actions abroad in recent years, that have included assassinations in Lebanon, Syria and Dubai and an air attack on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. He also criticised Israel’s failure to offer any initiative to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.

The absence of any workable plan, he said, will leave Israel in a dangerous and weak situation if the Palestinians push for UN recognition of a state later this year.

Dagan also endorsed Saudi Arabia’s peace plan which offered Israel normal relations with all Arab countries if it reaches a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Leading columnist Ari Shavit summarised Dagan’s point of view in the Ha’aretz newspaper: “Dagan is extremely concerned about September 2011. He is not afraid that tens of thousands of demonstrators may overrun the settlements. He is afraid that Israel’s subsequent isolation will push its leaders to the wall and cause them to take reckless action against Iran.”

Ben Caspit of the Maariv newspaper wrote: “He is one of the most rightwing militant people ever born here … who ate Arabs for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“When this man says that the leadership has no vision and is irresponsible, we should stop sleeping soundly at night.”

Dagan was quoted in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth describing Netanyahu and Barak as “irresponsible and reckless individuals”.

Dagan’s criticism of Netanyahu comes when the prime minister is enjoying popular support following his trip to Washington and his speech to Congress.

Opinion polls suggest that Netanyahu has a nine-point lead over his nearest challenger and his Likud party is the most popular in the country.

However, Dagan’s intervention suggests that while Netanyahu is seen as an able performer in public, he believes that behind the scenes he is less astute.

A spokesman for the prime minister said that he would not discuss Dagan’s comments. However members of the cabinet told the Israeli media: “Dagan was out of line on the Iranian issue. This damages deterrence, because the military option must be on the table as a credible option after sanctions.

“If you come and say, ‘we can’t attack Iran, it’s impossible,’ you project weakness to the Iranians and make it look like you don’t have the courage to do it, and that they can do whatever they want.
“More seriously, it sends a message to the world that they can take their foot off the gas pedal of sanctions.”

The Guardian (UK)

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Community Town Hall at Islamic Center

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) hosted a community town hall meeting this past Sunday. The event featured representatives of law enforcement agencies on the local, state and national levels. 

The ICSC was filled to capacity as the attendees listened to each representative discuss the role of his or her agency and what sort of services that agency provides. A question and answer session followed the brief presentations, and the speakers stayed beyond the scheduled meeting for discussions.

The agencies represented were: the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (Muslim Community Affairs Unit), the presenting agency; Los Angeles Police Department; City of Los Angeles; State of California (Emergency Management Agency); State of California Office of the Attorney General; U. S. Department of Justice  (FBI); U.  S. Department of Justice (Offices of the US Attorneys), and the Department of Homeland Security (Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties).

Saadia Khan of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) was the Master of Ceremonies.

The representative of the FBI said that her organization has a valued Multicultural Advisory Committee. She further said that her organization worked with all of the agencies represented in the auditorium. In addition the FBI Field Office in Los Angeles has a Citizens Academy where selected members of the community spend an evening each week for eight weeks learning about the inner workings of the FBI.

Nadia Bacha, a Senior Policy Advisor for the Department of Homeland Security, said that her office is a watch dog. “We push for civil rights protection, and we have to work with our partners.”  She cited the recently discontinued NSEERS program (National Security Entry/Exit Registration) as an example of what citizen activism can accomplish. This program mandated an alien to reregister after 30 day and one year of continuous residence in the United States. NSEERS was unpopular with civil liberties advocates, and, according to Ms Bacha, was discontinued after continuous pressure by concerned citizens on the government.

Members of the audience were warned to be careful when consulting attorneys who advertised themselves as immigration attorneys. It is best to inquire about the bona fides of these people before engaging them.

A representative of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was asked to address the audience. She said that in October of the past year, MPAC trained 2200 TSA officers in cultural sensitivity.
“I have learned a great deal by coming here” said one young man in the audience.

The first question was from a woman who wanted to know how best to raise her children with respect to civic participation. All of the speakers answered, and their advice was remarkably similar. Participate in civil matters yourself and get your children involved at an early age so that civic participation becomes a duty.

For further information regarding the Muslim Community Affairs Unit within the office of the Los Angeles County Sheriff, please contact Deputy Sheriff Sherif Morsi at: ssmorsi@lasd.org.

13-23

Saudi Arabia Tightens Media Laws

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Royal order threatens fines and closure of publications that jeopardize kingdom’s stability or offends clerics.

Security has been strengthened in Saudi Arabia in an effort to crush possible protests [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has tightened its control of the media, threatening fines and closure of publications that jeopardised its stability or offended clerics, state media reported.

The tighter media controls were set out in amendments to the media law issued as a royal order.

They also banned stirring up sectarianism and “anything that causes harm to the general interest of the country”.

“All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing … anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests,” the state news agency SPA said.

Saudi Arabia, which is a major US ally, follows an austere version of Sunni Islam and does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has no elected parliament and no political parties.
It has managed to stave off the unrest which has rocked the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

Facebook call unheeded

Almost no Saudis in major cities answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11, in the face of a massive security presence around the country.

Minority Shias have staged a number of street marches in the eastern province, where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are located.

Shias are said to represent between 10 and 15 per cent of the country’s 18 million people and have long complained of discrimination, a charge the government denies.

Clerics played a major role in banning protests by issuing a religious edict which said that demonstrations are against Islamic law.

In turn, the royal order banned the “infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country’s senior clerics or statesmen”.

King Abdullah has strengthened the security and religious police forces, which played a major role in banning protests in the kingdom.

According to the amendment published on Friday, punishments for breaking the media laws include a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000) and the shutting down of the publication that published the violation.

It also allows for banning the writer from contributing to any media.

13-22

It’s A War On Pakistan?

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Shireen M. Mazari

For Pakistan, the writing on the wall is clear. We are in a two-front war: One directly with the US and the other an unconventional war where nonstate actors are being trained by powerful external powers to undermine the military and intelligence organizations from within for the final external assault. But our civil and military leadership seems oblivious to these increasingly overt signals.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—That Pakistan is facing a two-front war since 9/11 should have been apparent to at least the intelligence and military leadership. After all, the evidence was there from the moment General Musharraf surrendered the country to the Unites States.

There was the publication of the article by a retired US military intelligence officer Ralph Peters in the US Armed Forces Journal titled Blood Borders which envisaged the partitioning of Pakistan and Iran. There was the commencement of US demands to ‘do more’ on the Pakistani state, especially its military, and there was the ‘invasion’ of hordes of American private security contractors and special operatives–most without going through the proper visa clearance process, especially after the coming to power of the Zardari-Gilani combine courtesy the NRO brokered by the US and Pakistan’s military leadership.

Unfortunately, the Pakistani state, especially its military and intelligence leadership miscalculated gravely when they fell in the US trap of a military-centric approach to dealing with terrorism and extremism. The results have been disastrous for the Pakistani state and nation. The US effectively, under international law, declared war on Pakistan’s people with the drone attacks, and the military and intelligence set up neglected to calculate the costs of the US short-term lures of tactical weapons and a few downgraded F-16s. Apart from other fallouts, Pakistan suddenly found itself the victim of suicide bombings, internally displaced people and the Pakistani Taliban whose increasing funding and sophisticated arms should have raised alarm bells.

Additionally the economic costs have now also run into billions and we are today facing a war ravaged nation deeply polarized and totally unable to feel secure in their own territory despite a huge military and intelligence network.

The attack on Mehran Base in Karachi has made it clear that the policy of destroying Pakistan’s military and intelligence set up is being operationalised but the question for us Pakistanis is why our intelligence and military leadership is going along with this scheme of things – or at least why it is unable to develop a viable counter response to this policy.

Some of us had been pointing to the dangers of having US forces embedded within the Pakistan military far before the WikiLeaks made this public. That the May 2nd incident was a major security and intelligence lapse cannot be denied although the cover up has come in the form of the ‘stealth technology’ pretext. But how can one explain the complete CIA covert set up in Abbottabad?

The incident certainly created a disconnect between the military leadership and the younger officers and soldiers and the lack of accountability of the former has done little to restore this equilibrium. As if to ensure that such an eventuality does not come to pass the attack on the Mehran base has taken place. To suggest that it was not a security and intelligence failure is to hide one’s head in the sand. Yes, as usual our soldiers fought bravely and many were martyred but why should they have been exposed to this danger in the first place? It is time some responsibility was accepted and the leadership made accountable.

How long will we continue to place our soldiers and young officers in these lethal situations created by leadership lapses?

What is equally disturbing is to discover that four to six terrorists held the whole base hostage for over sixteen hours and at the end of the operation it was given out that two terrorists may have escaped while four were killed. In comparison eleven of our soldiers were martyred, including our commandos. The terrorists were trained and carrying sophisticated weapons including RPGs. Who has been training these people and where are the money and arms coming from? If they are the Pakistani Taliban, who is behind them? Why did the government not make public the weapons’ makes and origins?

A larger question is how the details of the base and the location of the targets reached the attackers? These terrorists were not targeting the base in a random fashion. They knew where to go to get to their target: the P-3C Orion surveillance planes especially suited for anti-submarine warfare.

Linked to this is the question of why target these planes? Who would benefit from their destruction? The non-state terrorist actors are supposed to be located within Pakistan and Afghanistan; but it is the US and India which could target Pakistan by sea – and both have been threatening to attack Pakistan post-May 2. The US has its bases in Oman and Bahrain while India has a vast blue water navy.
The question that arises then is whether this was a probe attack to check out our defenses?

Just as the May 2 incident exposed our faulty intelligence and military preparedness, this incident has done the same on yet another front. That a few well-trained terrorists can hold up a whole naval base despite inputs from the Rangers and the Army does not bode well for Pakistan’s military preparedness.

The writing on the wall is clear for Pakistan. It is in a two-front war: One directly with the US and the other an unconventional war where nonstate actors are being trained by powerful external powers to undermine the military and intelligence organizations from within for the final external assault. But our civil and military leadership seems oblivious to these increasingly overt signals. Or are they totally mesmerized by US lures?

Our nuclear assets are not under threat militarily for reasons I have already explained at length in an earlier write up. But a security and military environment is being created where a diplomatic and political campaign to take control of the nuclear assets can reach fruition. This is a well thought out strategy that the US has been operationalizing since 9/11 when it gained military and intelligence access into Pakistan and saw how easy it was to seduce the Pakistani military and subsequently the civilian leadership.

While not denying the extremist militancy and terrorism within Pakistan, we need to realize that the targeting of military installations and intelligence vulnerabilities is the handiwork of trained and well-armed operatives who of necessity have strong external backers. Of course we need to counter the extremist threat but to let this bogey blind us to the two-front war being waged against our very existence as a nation and state post-9/11would be to play right into the hands of our very real, very skilled and very powerful external enemies.

Unfortunately, that is what our civil and military leadership is falling prey to so far. In the process the critical cohesiveness and morale of our military and intelligence institutions, the strongest institutions in the country, is being threatened. It is time to arrest this leadership decay through accountability of those responsible. We have already lost over 35 000 Pakistani lives. How many more martyrs can we afford as a result of fatal leadership lapses?

Dr. Mazari is an adviser on defense policy to a political party and the former director of Islamabad Institute For Strategic Studies. She wrote this comment forPakNationalists.com Reach her at callstr[at]hotmail.com

www.paknationalists.com

13-22

Saudi Arabia Tightens Media Laws

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Royal order threatens fines and closure of publications that jeopardize kingdom’s stability or offends clerics.

Security has been strengthened in Saudi Arabia in an effort to crush possible protests [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has tightened its control of the media, threatening fines and closure of publications that jeopardised its stability or offended clerics, state media reported.

The tighter media controls were set out in amendments to the media law issued as a royal order.

They also banned stirring up sectarianism and “anything that causes harm to the general interest of the country”.

“All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing … anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests,” the state news agency SPA said.

Saudi Arabia, which is a major US ally, follows an austere version of Sunni Islam and does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has no elected parliament and no political parties.
It has managed to stave off the unrest which has rocked the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

Facebook call unheeded

Almost no Saudis in major cities answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11, in the face of a massive security presence around the country.

Minority Shias have staged a number of street marches in the eastern province, where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are located.

Shias are said to represent between 10 and 15 per cent of the country’s 18 million people and have long complained of discrimination, a charge the government denies.

Clerics played a major role in banning protests by issuing a religious edict which said that demonstrations are against Islamic law.

In turn, the royal order banned the “infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country’s senior clerics or statesmen”.

King Abdullah has strengthened the security and religious police forces, which played a major role in banning protests in the kingdom.

According to the amendment published on Friday, punishments for breaking the media laws include a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000) and the shutting down of the publication that published the violation.

It also allows for banning the writer from contributing to any media.

13-22

Palestine: “An Invisible Nation” at UC Irvine

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The University of California in Irvine held a week long educational event titled: Palestine: An Invisible Nation. Beginning on the 5th of May and lasting through the 12th, multiple events took place illuminating the plight of the Palestinians under the boot of Israel. Well known speakers including Alison Weir of If Americans Knew; Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, and University of California in Berkeley Senior Lecturer Hatem Bazian, spoke movingly to their audiences. Topics covered included Anti Semitism: The Zionist Facade; BDS: Apartheid ends Here, and Taking Bullets for Palestine.

The latter was particularly impressive. The presenter, a young Jewish Israeli citizen, Matan Cohen, spoke in a popular outdoor area known as The Flagpole. Shortly after he began to speak in front of the waiting audience others walking along this popular commons joined him. When he was about half way through his presentation a group entered the area carrying Israeli flags and placards supporting Israel. They walked in a circle around the speaker and the perimeter of his audience. A number of them spoke out during the presentation, and Mr. Cohen had to ask them to hold their comments until he was done, and he would enjoy addressing them during the question and answer session.

Mr. Cohen said that when one country occupies another, the occupied country becomes invisible. He called on young people in Palestine to march on Israeli roadblocks and roads marked “For Jews Only” on the 15th of May – the anniversary of the Nakba.

“As an Israeli Jew I stand with my Palestinian brothers”.

The Israelis say that BDS is destabilizing. They say that democracy is destabilizing. “How”, he asked, “can anyone living in a democracy say that?”

He said that Israel wants a democratic state for Jews and a Jewish state for Palestinians. While he referred to himself as an optimist, he warned that Operation Cast Lead might have been only the beginning.

“There seem to be a lot of hecklers” said one young woman.

“No” said a woman standing next to her. “They continuously circle the area to make themselves look like a larger crowd than they are”.

He spoke of the onslaught of repression within Israel against non-Jews.

After the event, students in the crowd spoke among themselves, discussing his speech and the calm and intelligent manner he used while addressing the hecklers. A recurrent theme was admiration for his courage in speaking  out and working for justice while living in Israel.

13-21

What Holbrooke Knew

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nicholas D. Kristof

US AfghanistanWhen he was alive, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was effectively gagged, unable to comment on what he saw as missteps of the Obama administration that he served. But as we face a crisis in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden, it’s worth listening to Holbrooke’s counsel — from beyond the grave.

As one of America’s finest strategic thinkers and special envoy to the Af-Pak region, Holbrooke represented the administration — but also chafed at aspects of the White House approach. In particular, he winced at the overreliance on military force, for it reminded him of Vietnam.

“There are structural similarities between Afghanistan and Vietnam,” he noted, in scattered reflections now in the hands of his widow, Kati Marton.

“He thought that this could become Obama’s Vietnam,” Marton recalled. “Some of the conversations in the Situation Room reminded him of conversations in the Johnson White House. When he raised that, Obama didn’t want to hear it.”

Because he was fiercely loyal to his friend Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, Holbrooke bit his lip and kept quiet in public. But he died in December, and Marton and some of his friends (me included) believe it’s time to lift the cone of silence and share his private views. At this time, with Pakistan relations in a crisis and Afghanistan under review, our country could use a dose of his wisdom.

Holbrooke opposed the military “surge” in Afghanistan and would see the demise of Bin Laden as an opportunity to go into diplomatic overdrive. He believed strongly that the only way out of the mess in Afghanistan was a peace deal with the Taliban, and his team was secretly engaged in outreach to figures linked to the Taliban, Marton says.

“Reconciliation — that was what he was working toward in Afghanistan, and building up the civilian and political side that had been swamped by the military,” Marton recalled. “The whole policy was off-kilter, way too militarized. Richard never thought that this war could be won on the battlefield.”

His aim, she says, was something like the Balkan peace agreement he negotiated at a military base in Dayton, Ohio. The process would be led by the United States but include all the regional players, including Pakistan and Iran.

“He was dreaming of a Dayton-like setting somewhere, isolated, no media, no Washington bureaucracy,” Marton said. “He was a long way from that, but he was dreaming of that.”

Vali Nasr, a member of Holbrooke’s team at the State Department, puts it this way: “He understood from his experience that every conflict has to end at the negotiating table.”

Nasr says that Holbrooke’s aim for Afghanistan was “not cut-and-run, but a viable, lasting solution” to end the civil war there. If Holbrooke were still alive, Nasr says, he would be shuttling frantically between Islamabad and Kabul, trying to take advantage of Bin Laden’s killing to lay the groundwork for a peace process.

To do that, though, we have to put diplomacy and development — and not 100,000 troops, costing $10 billion a month — at the heart of our Afghan policy. Holbrooke was bemused that he would arrive at a meeting in a taxi, while Gen. David Petraeus would arrive escorted by what seemed a battalion of aides. And Holbrooke would flinch when Petraeus would warmly refer to him as his “wingman” — meaning it as a huge compliment — rather than seeing military force as the adjunct to diplomacy.

As for Pakistan, Holbrooke told me and others that because of its size and nuclear weaponry, it was center stage; Afghanistan was a sideshow.

“A stable Afghanistan is not essential; a stable Pakistan is essential,” he noted, in the musings he left behind. He believed that a crucial step to reducing radicalism in Pakistan was to ease the Kashmir dispute with India, and he favored more pressure on India to achieve that.

Holbrooke was frustrated by Islamabad’s duplicity. But he also realized that Pakistan sheltered the Afghan Taliban because it distrusted the United States, particularly after the United States walked away in 1989 after the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan. And renewed threats of abandonment won’t build trust.

Rather, Holbrooke poured his soul into building a relationship not only with Pakistani generals but also with the Pakistani people, and there were modest dividends. He helped improve C.I.A. access to Pakistan, which may have helped with the raid on the Bin Laden compound. And he soothed opposition to drone attacks, Nasr noted.

“He was treating them as a serious player, not as if you’re just having a one-night stand but as if there might actually be marriage at the end of the relationship,” Marton said.

It’s a vision of painstaking diplomacy toward a strategic goal — peace — and it’s what we need more of. President Obama said wonderful things at the memorial service for Holbrooke. But the best tribute would be to listen to his advice.

13-21

On Losing My Nana Jaan (Grandfather)

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nadia B. Ahmad

Nana“He’s letting you beat him.”

“So what!? At least I’m learning something.”

My grandfather, a chess master, would allow us to beat him at chess every time much to the chagrin of our relative onlookers. I was and still am awful at chess.

And after succumbing to a sudden bout of pneumonia this past January, my family laid my maternal grandfather to rest in Ocoee, Fla. Alongside my maternal grandmother who had passed 12.5 years earlier.  Outwardly it appeared Mohammad Sadullah had lived an ordinary life, but he was a remarkable human being distinguished by his keen intellect and penetrating wisdom. My grandfather was the only one who read all my articles in their entirety and never criticized me. He only offered ideas about what to write in the future, which is precisely what grandfathers are meant to do.

From the partition of India and Pakistan which pitted brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor and to the recent geo-politics and back to collapse of the Ottoman Empire, my grandfather preserved his observations and shared them only sparingly. For better or worse I was the usually the one he would discuss these matters. My grandfather attended everything from my high school graduation to my attorney oath ceremony for my induction into the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida in Orlando’s federal courthouse, and my grandfather felt a sense of accomplishment that I was his granddaughter.

It was always the other way around, though—in that I admired that he was my grandfather.

You see, my grandfather worked intelligence for the Indian government.

He never discussed his work even after all that time passed. It was an on-going family joke. Incidentally, he took all those state secrets to his grave.

I miss my grandfather at the oddest of times. Just yesterday passing a road with the namesake of Gibraltar on the way to the Smokey Hill Library in Arapohoe County, Colorado, I thought back to when my grandfather first told me about that story. My grandfather, who has also been my SundaySchool teacher for some time, taught me about the history of Islam, a history of struggle and fortitude.

My grandfather lost his hearing and refused the use of hearing aids in his later years. It helped him be in his own world and so that he could continue to have a single minded determination without a tad of  concern for the world.

With the state of affairs as it is, I remember the battlefields of the Prophet Muhammad (s) that my grandfather would relate. From the Mount of Uhud to the Battle of the Trench, I hearken back to those lessons not for any sense of military strategy but for the lessons of self-sacrifice and the concept of working towards a greater good.

I am glad my grandfather is not alive today, though. I am glad he is not alive to see his brethren across the world celebrating the death of international justice, the loss of human rights, the unaccountability of lost lives, and the travesty and corruption of worldwide political systems.

My only regret was that my grandfather was not able to hold my newborn son, Senan, who was his fifth great-grandchild, prior to his death.

It is easy now to lose ourselves in this mad rush of geo-politics and consumer trending and hinge on the price of oil futures and the volatility of the world’s markets, but for me the world stands still because I lost my grandfather, but gained a son.

Is not that all life is? Everything between birth and death.

What we do between those two moments determines our eternities.

13-19

Heavy Fighting in Misrata and Libyan Mountains

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Lin Noueihed

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s rebel-held city of Misrata won no respite from two months of bitter siege as Muammar Gaddafi’s forces bombarded the city and battled rebel fighters, despite pulling out of the city center.

Gaddafi’s forces were also pounding Berber towns in Libya’s Western Mountains with artillery, rebels and refugees said, in a remote region far from the view of international media.

Italy said its warplanes would join the British and French bombing of Libyan targets for the first time and NATO flattened a building inside Gaddafi’s Tripoli compound, in what his officials said was a failed attempt on the Libyan leader’s life.

Late on Monday, the “crusader aggressors” bombed civilian and military sites in Bir al Ghanam, 100 km (60 miles) south of Tripoli, and the Ayn Zara area of the capital, causing casualties, Libyan television said, without giving details. A Reuters correspondent heard explosions in Tripoli.

The report said foreign ships had also attacked and severed the al-Alyaf cable off Libya’s coast, cutting communications to the towns of Sirte, Ras Lanuf and Brega.

But more than a month of air strikes did not appear to be tipping the balance decisively in a conflict increasingly described as a stalemate.

People in Misrata emerged from homes after daybreak on Monday to scenes of devastation after Gaddafi’s forces pulled back from the city under cover of blistering rocket and tank fire, said witnesses contacted by phone.

Nearly 60 people had been killed in clashes in the city in the last three days, residents told Reuters by phone.

Although rebels’ celebrations of “victory” on Saturday turned out to be very premature, it was clear they had inflicted significant losses on government forces in Misrata.

“Bodies of Gaddafi’s troops are everywhere in the streets and in the buildings. We can’t tell how many. Some have been there for days,” said rebel Ibrahim.

Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam, speaking late on Monday, said Gaddafi’s forces were trying to re-enter the Nakl Thaqeel Road, which leads to Misrata’s port, its lifeline to the outside.

“Battles continue there. We can hear explosions,” he said by phone. He said Gaddafi’s forces positioned on the western outskirts of the city had also shelled the road from there.

Another rebel spokesman, Sami, said the humanitarian situation was worsening rapidly.

“It is indescribable. The hospital is very small. It is full of wounded people, most of them are in critical condition,” he told Reuters by phone.

U.S. officials said relief groups were rotating doctors into Misrata and evacuating migrant workers.

Mark Bartolini, director of foreign disaster assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said aid organizations were aiming to create stocks of food in the region in case Libyan supply chains began breaking down.

Among the places in particular need of food aid were isolated towns in the Western Mountains, from where tens of thousands of people have fled to Tunisia from the fighting.

REFUGEES FLEE MOUNTAINS

“Our town is under constant bombardment by Gaddafi’s troops. They are using all means. Everyone is fleeing,” said one refugee, Imad, bringing his family out of the mountains.

NATO said its attack on the building in the Gaddafi compound was on a communications headquarters used to coordinate attacks on civilians. A Libyan spokesman said Gaddafi was unharmed and state television showed pictures of him meeting people in a tent, which it said had been taken on Monday.

Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam said the Libyan government would not be cowed.

“The bombing which targeted Muammar Gaddafi’s office today … will only scare children. It’s impossible that it will make us afraid or give up or raise the white flag,” he was quoted as saying by the state news agency, Jana.

Italy said its warplanes would join British and French aircraft in carrying out bombing of Libya. Geographically the closest major NATO member state to Libya, Italy had until Monday provided bases and reconnaissance and monitoring aircraft only.

The surprise decision immediately opened a fissure in Italy’s coalition government.

The African Union held separate talks on Monday with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi and rebel representatives in Addis Ababa to discuss a ceasefire plan.

The rebels had earlier rebuffed an AU plan because it did not entail Gaddafi’s departure, while the United States, Britain and France say there can be no political solution until the Libyan leader leaves power.

(Additional reporting by Guy Desmond and Maher Nazeh in Tripoli, Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; writing by Andrew Roche; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

13-18

Of God and Country

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Kassem Zaid has had a connection to the Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement for decades, but has meanwhile become a devout Muslim. How does he reconcile such contrasting elements in his personality?

By Alit Karp, Ha’aretz

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Zaid: ‘There is no room for extremism.’

Photo by: Yaron Kaminsky

We met 35 years ago. At the time Kassem Zaid was a correspondent for Al Hamishmar, the newspaper affiliated with the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. He was also teaching Arabic at educational institutions affiliated with the movement on its kibbutzim (I attended one such school ) and he had close ties with Israeli leftist circles. He wore jeans and checkered shirts and spoke a poetic Hebrew. A short while before Al Hamishmar closed its doors permanently, in early 1995, Zaid lost his job. Subsequently he made the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and became a devout Muslim.

Before we met about a month ago, I was expecting to see my 74-year-old former teacher bearded and dressed in a galabiya. But he arrived for the interview dressed in a suit and tie, and was clean-shaven. “Islam is a moderate, forgiving religion and it has no ritual clothing,” he explained in Hebrew.

Umm al-Fahm, the city of some 45,000, one of the country’s largest Arab towns, southeast of Haifa, has no sidewalks. Pedestrians, most of whom are youngsters (who wear Western attire, although girls do cover their hair ), walk down the city’s alleys where dumpsters overflow with refuse. Here and there one can see a stream of sewage. Any efforts at gardening are the result of private initiatives by local residents, and can only be seen tucked away in people’s yards.

“Relatively speaking, our situation is not bad,” my host, Zaid, told me, “because [municipal] taxes are collected here. The situation in other communities is much more difficult.” He pointed out that there are many fine Arab physicians and talented high-tech personnel in Israel. “Actually, the lack of equality,” he said, “forces us to excel, but that is a real shame. Discrimination is bad for the country; the human landscape here will never be complete without the Arabs.”

Aren’t some Israeli Jews afraid the Arabs will outnumber them and will drive them out by democratic means?

Zaid: “The Jews have a lot of unjustified fears. As someone who believes in coexistence, I cannot understand this fear. For 63 years, and in five wars, Israeli Arabs displayed loyalty at the highest level. I would like to allay the Jews’ fears: The birth rate among the Arabs has plummeted and there is no apparent danger that the Jews will be outnumbered. That fear would be justified only if the Jews do not return the territories. Then there would be a binational state here and Kassem Zaid would be prime minister.”

What is worrisome is the possibility that Muslim fundamentalists, like Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, will come to power.

“That will never happen. Even in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has declared that it will not field any candidate for the premiership or presidency. They are not interested in ruling the country. There is not the slightest chance that an Arab, whether he is Sheikh Ra’ad Salah or Kassem Zaid, will ever be prime minister. That is not at the top of the list of our priorities.”

So what is at the top of the list?

“We want equality. We want the Jews to look us straight in the eye, not look down on us. What is happening here now never happened even in South Africa. [Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman has pushed for a ‘citizenship loyalty’ law, but how can any of us know what another person is thinking or feeling? Even before Lieberman, we were unhappy. We were accused of being responsible for all the ills of Israeli society. There are even some expressions, like ‘Arab work,’ that articulate this feeling of contempt.

“I want Israel to be a ‘state of all its citizens,’” declares Zaid. “Although I also do not like to open up old wounds, I will state here that my family’s lands are located in the place where Moshav Hayogev was established [northeast of Umm al-Fahm]. I am not arguing that the kibbutzim and moshavim founded on those lands should be torn down, but nonetheless, we should receive compensation.”
Don’t you feel you belong in the State of Israel? In the kibbutz dining hall years ago, you looked as if you did.

“I still belong, but the country does not give me that feeling. I belong, despite all those who want to deny me the right to have that feeling. My sense of belonging is a result of my ability to cope with our situation.”

On the night of May 14, 1948, when Israeli independence was declared, you were 11 years old. What do you remember from that period?

“Nothing much happened that night because Israel received the ‘Triangle’ area of Arab villages after the country’s establishment, in accordance with the Rhodes Agreement. Before that agreement, we were Jordanian subjects. The agreement led us to feel that King Abdullah [I of Jordan] had betrayed us. After we came under Israeli administration, the Jews announced, using loudspeakers, that all those who had weapons in their possession must hand them over to the mukhtar [village headman]; the Jews also asked us to ensure that law and order be maintained in our communities.

“People were afraid of change. Obviously, I would have preferred seeing a Palestinian state established; however, people made peace with the new situation and, besides, there are a lot of advantages to living in Israel. On the personal level, Arab individuals can lead their lives in dignity, there is a senior citizens allowance, there is a guaranteed income allowance and no one suffers from abject hunger. My personal dignity is not trampled upon. But man does not live by bread alone. I am concerned about the relationship between Jews and Arabs in this country. Prior to the 1990s, that relationship was better than it is today. It is steadily deteriorating now.”

Who is responsible for this?

“In this struggle, the Jews fired both the first shot and the last one. Although there are some Arabs who undermine Arab-Jewish coexistence in this country, the Jews are the majority and they are the ones who run the government.”

To what extent will recent events in the Middle East have an influence on Israeli Arabs?

“They will have no influence whatsoever. I want to state here categorically that these events will not produce extremism among Israeli Arabs. All of you can relax: These events stem not from pan-Arabism or Islamization, but rather from the fact that the public in those states is fed up with their leaders’ corruption. Muslim circles in the Middle East have no ambitions with regard to seizing control. They want to field candidates in general elections [for parliament], but not for positions of leadership. Even if they had such ambitions, it should be recalled here that those who generated the revolution in Egypt are secular Muslims who use Facebook and Google. They will not allow any party with a religious character to take control of the country in which they live. It is important that leaders in the Middle East remember that people are interested first of all in having their dignity respected and that only afterward are they interested in bread.”

For years, you embraced the State of Israel and maintained close ties with Hashomer Hatzair’s kibbutzim. You were a communist and now you have become someone else, someone who prays five times a day. What happened?

“I was not a communist. I did not turn into someone else and I am still close to Hashomer Hatzair’s kibbutzim.”

The alarm clock rang, reminding Zaid that it was time for prayer, but he rejected our suggestion that we join him in the mosque. “Previously, I observed three of Islam’s commandments,” he explains, referring to accepting the faith of Islam, fasting during Ramadan and giving alms to the needy. “Then I added the commandments of prayer and the hajj.”

How do you resolve the paradox between religion and the aspiration for national equality?

“Islam is a religion that preaches equality between men and women, and God sent the Prophet Muhammad (s) to all humanity. If there is a reason why Islam sees itself as a religion that is preferable to other faiths, it is because Muhammad (s) was the last of the prophets. God sent him in order to complete what is missing in the other religions, not to invalidate them.”

And what about jihad?

“Jihad is not one of Islam’s basic principles. Jihad is the struggle that each person wages against himself or herself, in the metaphoric sense; it is not necessarily an actual war against some external enemy. The great jihad that Muhammad (s) refers to is an ongoing, daily war, not a war against infidels per se. However, even if we agree that jihad is holy war, all the peace agreements that Arab states have signed with Israel are being honored, and if the Palestinians receive their rights, there will no war in this land. The future depends on the intellectuals, not the religious leaders.”

There was a case here of an intellectual who headed an Israeli political party and who, when accused of collaboration with Hezbollah, fled the country in order not to stand trial.

“Azmi Bishara [of the Balad, or National Democratic Alliance, party] is a very intelligent person, but I do not agree with him and his approach. There is no room for extremism and if he did help Hezbollah, I reject him totally. I also call upon [Hezbollah chief] Hassan Nasrallah, who is trying to recruit collaborators among Israeli Arabs, to leave us alone. We have more important tasks to pursue, concerning our citizenship in the State of Israel. Despite the discrimination, I am against the idea of anyone committing treason against this country. We feel that this is a state of all its citizens and that we are among those citizens.”

The term “a state of all its citizens” arouses considerable anxiety in the hearts of many Israeli Jews.

“I am not saying this to irritate the Jews, but this is a fact: Two nations live in this land and I want to be a citizen here with equal rights.”

Did this feeling lead you to seek refuge in Islam?

“I do not consider Islam a refuge. After all, I am a member of one of the oldest Muslim families in the world. My family belongs to the Prophet Muhammad (s)’s dynasty.”

But what happened when you suddenly became a devout Muslim?

“There is no such thing as an atheist Muslim. Anyone who refuses to recognize the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad (s) is simply not a Muslim, but a person who does not observe one of Islam’s commandments is not necessarily severing ties with Islam.”

When did you start praying daily?

“It did not happen on any specific date. I had planned this for a long time. Perhaps I did not have the time to do it, or perhaps I was just lazy, but 20 years ago, I began to pray five times a day. If I have the time, I go to a mosque; if I do not, I pray at home. The prayer lasts less than five minutes and a Muslim can pray anywhere.”

In 2004, Zaid performed the Muslim commandment of the hajj, along with his wife Salwa. As he circled the Kaaba – the most sacred site in Islam, in Mecca – he was deeply moved.
“When I saw millions of people all wearing the same attire, beggars alongside princes and tycoons, all wearing the same robe and praying to the same God, I had a feeling that was simply indescribable. There, and only there,” he said, “I felt that everyone was truly equal.”

Born again

Sociologist Prof. Aziz Haidar is a senior researcher at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, says Kassem Zaid is not a unique case, in terms of his acquired religious identity.

“The phenomenon of the newly observant in the Israeli Arab community is a trend that began back in the 1970s, in the wake of the [Arab] defeat in the 1967 war, and due to disillusionment with pan-Arabism. The trend became more prominent in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the factors that contributed to it was the possibility that was provided in the early 1980s for making the hajj to Mecca. Two other factors were the collapse of communism and disenchantment with the Palestinian national movement.

“A prominent aspect of the phenomenon in the ’90s,” Haidar continues, “was the fact that it was not connected to religious extremism. Quite the contrary. And the vast majority of newly observant Muslims today are people with moderate views. In the ’70s, on the other hand, the first wave of newly observant Muslims was characterized by such extremism. Today these pious Muslims accept the ‘other’ and do not necessarily use external symbols such as attire in order to draw attention to their religiosity. It is hard to pick them out in a crowd − and I am referring here to those who have performed the commandment of making the pilgrimage to Mecca: They enjoy the good life, take vacations and engage in sports.

“Most young Muslim women who cover their heads dress like their secular counterparts and sometimes even provocatively. Even women who dress according to the Muslim religious code generally choose colorful attire, rather than the drab shades that one sees in other countries. Some of these young women do not even cover their heads. A relatively new trend is the phenomenon of women praying in the mosques. Prior to the ’90s, Muslim women in Israel did not pray in mosques, but today they do so during the month of Ramadan and on Fridays. There are even those who pray daily. This is modern, or postmodern, Islam, which is quite unlike what was observed in the past.

“One of the results of the national and democratic awakening in Arab states today may be the weakening of the Islamic movements, and even perhaps … newly observant Muslims…   Ha`aretz

13-17

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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The Reality of Life in Greece

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Christopher Humphrys, Daily Mail

athens-greece A dream job? I thought so. I had left the grey skies of London and the big black hole in my bank account for the sunny skies of Greece. My salary as a cellist playing in a small Greek orchestra was relatively modest, but I could still afford to eat out every night, rent a nice apartment and spend long summer holidays on the Greek islands.

By the time I met my beautiful future wife, Penelope, my mind was made up. I could see no reason for ever wanting to live anywhere else but Greece.

That was 20 years ago. This week, as Greece woke up to the reality that it was effectively a bankrupt nation, I could see many reasons.

Civil unrest: Protesters clash with riot police over Greek ‘austerity measures’

Here’s a snapshot of everyday life in a nation on the brink of civil catastrophe.

Before I set out for work on my motorbike yesterday morning, I first had to plan a route that would avoid the latest demonstration and the inevitable tear-gas that would accompany it.

As I passed the debris of the previous night’s riots, I heard the police helicopters buzzing overhead and tried to avoid eye contact with the nervous policemen on almost every street corner, fingering their carbines.

The vibrant but essentially law-abiding city of Athens has become a tense and slightly threatening place to live. It’s all happening because of the Greek economy, which this week collapsed even further as global credit agencies downgraded the rating of Greek government bonds to ‘junk’ status.

But in truth, the rot set in long ago. For decades, Greece has been living a lie. To say the nation has been living beyond its means is the understatement of the century. We have been indulging in an orgy of over- spending and over-borrowing beyond the wildest imagination.

Let me introduce you to my oldest friend, John, the man I went to school with in Britain and the man who first persuaded me to try for a job in Athens. He was already living here. In the years since then, he has become as Greek as the Elgin Marbles. He has a Greek wife, Greek children and a deep love of the country he thinks of as his own.

greece But today he is desperately looking for a job back in Britain. And that’s because five years ago he managed to do something we all hankered after: he got a job with the state orchestra.

The important part of that sentence is the word ‘state’. It’s not a very good orchestra, but when you work for it you are on the state’s payroll, and that’s the gravy train that just about everyone in Greece wanted to board. It meant a job for life. The pension was eye-watering by British standards and so were the benefits.

Try this for size: a full year’s maternity leave; a year’s sabbatical if it took your fancy; and no matter how badly you played your music, you were utterly secure in the knowledge that you would never be sacked. These rules applied to every single state job in the land.

Now, in the spending cuts that are surely going to have to be made, John is terrified that his gold-star state job could vanish overnight — a bleak prospect with unemployment spiralling, but one that looks increasingly likely.

Unrealistic: Greeks may protest, but for too long they have relied on EU cash

Take another friend of mine, whose father died when she was only 25 years old. She inherited his state pension even though she was a well-to-do lawyer in her own right.

I have plenty of other friends who work for the state. I use the word ‘work’ loosely. Some of them are conscientious and do their nine-tofive hours with a degree of enthusiasm. But the fact is that some didn’t even bother turning up for work at all; they do other jobs instead, but still collect their state salaries.

I think of them as ‘ghost workers’ — and every Greek knows at least one of them. These ghosts have been milking the taxpayer for every penny they could take.

Now, let’s look at that word ‘ taxpayer’. In Greece, tax has long been something regarded by most people as entirely optional. You may choose to pay it, or you may not. There are a hundred ways of finding loopholes — some of them legal, many of them not.

The state has always acknowledged as much. And so, rather than pursuing the tax cheats with all the might of the law, they offered an amnesty: instead of being investigated for tax evasion, people were able to volunteer a one-off payment to make the problem go away.

How much? Just e2,000. And that’s it. No questions asked, even if you had been avoiding a tax liability of tens of thousands.

Greece 5400 But then, why on earth would the politicians seek to end this blatant corruption when they have been at [the receiving end].

One government minister was found to have built an enormous villa on the side of a mountain in a highly desirable location just outside Athens. Not only did he have no planning permission, but he built it with cheap labour supplied by illegal immigrants. His penalty, when the papers made a big fuss about it, was to be demoted — but his house still stands.

It’s impossible to calculate how many houses in Athens have been built illegally. What is certain is that somebody, somewhere, has been making a huge amount of money in bribes from the owners.

The standard way of doing business in this country is to resort to a ‘little brown envelope’. It’s not only corruption, such dishonesty denies the state income that should be paying for the schools, the hospitals and every other public service.

And here’s the strange thing. Those public services are, by most standards, very good. I have always found the health service here to be at least as good as Britain’s, probably better. And it’s entirely free.

So how can they afford it when people don’t pay their taxes? The answer, of course, is: Greece can’t. It’s bankrupt.

Nor can the country afford those staggeringly generous state pensions (my father-in-law’s pension is rather higher than my salary), nor the ghost jobs nor — God forbid — the Olympics that they staged with such fanfare in 2004. They cost more than e10 billion, and the long-term benefits from them have been effectively zero.

Yes, there’s a shiny new Metro underground train system and whole areas of the city have been tarted up — but it was done with borrowed money that has yet to be paid back. And those magnificent new stadiums are decaying before our eyes — a sad reminder of why hubris is a Greek word.

Perhaps the greatest corruption of all was the way Greece managed to join the euro. There was no way in the world the government could have met the strict financial criteria, so they took another route: they lied.

With the help of foreign bankers they simply misled Brussels and everyone else as to the true degree to which the state was in hock to the lenders.

They imagined that being members of the euro would cement Greece’s position as a modern, successful European country. Now, as we know all too well, the opposite has been the case.

Certainly, Greece has benefited enormously from being a member of the European Union. This is a fiercely patriotic country and you will see the Greek flag flying everywhere you go.

But here’s a sobering thought: almost every significant building, road, even park has been financed at least in part by you, dear reader. It’s your taxes — routed through payments to the EU — that have helped Greece look the way it does today. But now, of course, the gravy train has careered off the track and is causing carnage.

Yes, the Greek government is now embarking on what is called an austerity program. But it still doesn’t look anything like austere enough.

Here’s an example. It decided that if you own a swimming pool, you must, by definition, be pretty well-off and therefore you should be paying a certain amount in tax. If not, you’re in trouble.

And, of course, it’s easy for officialdom to spot the pool owners: they just look at the pictures conveniently provided on the website Google Earth. So what do the owners do? They cover their pools with green covers so that it looks as though they have nice, big lawns. Old habits die hard.

My own fear is that corruption and tax evasion and borrowing are so deeply ingrained in the Greek culture that even the austerity measures taken, and the combined bail-outs from other EU nations and the International Monetary Fund, will simply not work. Too little, and much too late.

And what then? Well, maybe we will be forced out of the euro — and maybe that will be good for us.

Many of us who live here will not be sorry to see the back of the euro, because one catastrophic sideeffect of joining the single market has been that the cost of living has pretty much doubled.

Meanwhile, the country must learn to live within its means. It must recognise that the state is not some sort of Santa Claus who can always pull another surprise goodie out of his bottomless sack.

For the past couple of years the Greek tourist authority has been selling the delights of this glorious country with the slogan ‘Live your myth in Greece’.

How appropriate that sounds today. We have been living a myth in Greece for far too long. It is now disintegrating, and all of us are deeply worried about what will take its place.

What a sobering lesson for Britain, as you slowly face up to the enormity of your own economic crisis.

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