The violent epicenter of protests in Egypt is an industrial city few outsiders know much about: the seaport town of Suez, which sits astride the Suez Canal as it opens southward into the Red Sea.
Suez has seen its share of blood over the years. In 1967, the coastal town was nearly wiped out during the Six Day War with Israel and thereafter was the scene of sporadic guerrilla fighting between the two sides. The canal remained closed for nearly eight years, reopening only in 1975.
In recent years, Suez has seen growing prosperity, sending billions in tax revenue from its factories and workers to the government in Cairo. But as in the rest of Egypt, that prosperity hasn't been widely shared, leading to the same sort of dashed hopes that proved so explosive in Tunisia.
This week, Suez erupted in anger as protesters took to the streets to complain about economic conditions and their lack of freedom under Hosni Mubarak's government. It got ugly fast, with several deaths and reports of demonstrators hurling Molotov cocktails in response to a harsh police crackdown. (To get a feel for the chaos, check out journalist Ian Lee's gripping tweets from earlier today.)
Photographs of the mayhem are now coming out. Here are a few of the latest:
Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
As the unrest in Egypt continues, and Washington wonks are beginning to weigh in, I'm starting to see a familiar pattern: The discussion is shifting from what's happening on the ground -- which is still in flux -- to what the United States should or shouldn't do about it.
The Washington Post weighed in last night with a rather predictable criticism of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's first statement on the protests, and now Politico is channeling some of the complaints by outside observers who say that the administration should be speaking out more aggressively in support of the demonstrators.
My colleague Marc Lynch has already weighed in on this topic this morning, but here are my two cents: It's not about us. Indeed, what's been refreshing about the events in Tunisia and Egypt has been that very little of it has anything to do with the United States. For the most part, the demonstrators aren't chanting anti-American slogans; they're calling on their own corrupt, sclerotic rulers to stand aside. And that's a very healthy phenomenon.
Instead of having Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama say some magic democracy words, I'd much rather see the United States think hard about its system of support for these autocrats. Can the U.S. credibly call for freedom in Egypt when it's subsidizing the Egyptian military to the tune of a billion and a half dollars a year? Is Egypt really so helpful when it comes to the "peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians? Can we live with the Muslim Brotherhood in power, or closer to it? If the answer to these questions is the same as it's been for the last few decades, it's probably best to keep our big mouths shut.
The State Department has released the transcript of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks on the ongoing protests in Egypt:
With respect to Egypt, which, as your question implied, like many countries in the region, has been experiencing demonstrations. We know that they've occurred not only in Cairo but around the country, and we're monitoring that very closely. We support the fundamental right of expression and assembly for all people, and we urge that all parties exercise restraint and refrain from violence. But our assessment is that the Egyptian Government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.
Not exactly stirring stuff, and no doubt the many Egyptians who risked their necks today will be disappointed at this statement. Still, as my friend Shadi Hamid -- a staunch democracy advocate -- points out, the United States faces a pretty tough dilemma in deciding when and how to pressure one of its closest Middle East allies to open up its political system:
The U.S. can opt for relative silence, as it did in Tunisia. In Egypt, however, deep support of the Mubarak regime means that silence will be interpreted as complicity. On the other hand, if the U.S. offers moral support to embattled protestors, it will be actively undermining a government it considers critical to its security interests. Tunisia, as far as U.S. interests are concerned, was expendable. The revolt was spontaneous and leaderless. Islamists - mostly in prison or in London - were nowhere to be seen on the streets of Tunis or Sidi Bouzid. But if Egypt is lost, it will be lost to an uprising that includes some of the most anti-American opposition groups in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood - by far the largest opposition force in the country.
How to square this circle? A couple weeks back, I spoke with Tamara Cofman Wittes, the deputy secretary of state who leads Middle East democracy promotion efforts. To be clear, our conversation took place days before the ouster of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, and well before today's protests in Egypt. I asked her (an admittedly long and convulted) question about the Egyptian government and its intrasigence on political reform. Here's what she said:
Look, we have a very multifaceted relationship with the Egyptian government. They're an important partner on a lot of regional issues, and they're an important partner because we share a lot of interests in this region. We share an interest in a stable Iraq that's reintegating into the Arab world. We share in an interest in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We share an interest in containing the strategic threat posed by Iran's nuclear program.
And so we work together on all these things because we have these common interests and we believe that Egypt can be a strong leader on these issues in the region, a stronger leader, if it engages in the kind of political reform that it's committed to both internationally and to its own people. And we'd like to see that. We've been very open about that. And I don't think there's anything we've said publicly that differs from what we've said privately on these issues.
We've been I think very consistent in saying that the Emergency Law in Egypt should not be a regular way of doing business, that if, as President Mubarak has committed, if they're going to replace it with a counterterrorism law, it should be one that protects civil liberties.
[Me: They've been saying that for five years.]
Yes, they have -- you were there when President Mubarak made that commitment, and that's a commitment he made to his own people and it's one that we hope he'll fulfill.
I imagine the Obama administration will be calibrating its message in the hours and days ahead -- but don't hold your breath for a powerful statement during the State of the Union address tonight.
Every protest movement needs iconic images to rally around. In Tunisia, it was protesters holding up baguettes that symbolized the Tunisian people's demand for economic opportunity. It's still early days in Egypt, assuming today's unrest continues, but here's one dramatic video that is already making the rounds on Twitter. Watch what happens around the 1:30 mark:
Lebanon's current political upheaval resembles a mirror image of the strife that overwhelmed the country from 2006 to 2008, when Hezbollah and its allies embarked on a two-year effort to topple the government. But this time, the tables have turned: It's Hezbollah that has mustered the votes to form a government, which will reportedly be headed by former Prime Minister Najib Miqati. Meanwhile, Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his allies are on the outside looking in, left to express their displeasure through street protests and acts of violence.
Lebanon's political ground rules hold that the president must hail from the Maronite Christian community, the prime minister must be a Sunni, and the speaker of parliament must be a Shiite. A parliamentary majority, therefore, is theoretically able to elevate political figures that have little support within their own community.
But the recent reversal of fortunes has shown that the reality on the ground is somewhat different, and that the only real law in Lebanon is sectarian solidarity. Back in 2008, Hezbollah was appalled and outraged that the ruling coalition would consider replacing its resigned ministers with Shiite figures that had little support in their own community - now they're preparing to bring to power a Sunni prime minister that can count on only token Sunni support. Meanwhile, Hariri, who had defended the democratic legitimacy of the government when he had a solid parliamentary majority, now denounces the election of a new opposition-friendly government as "virtually a coup d'état."
All signs currently point toward chaos: The new Miqati government, once it is established, will vote to discontinue government support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is expected to implicate Hezbollah members in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. But as Elias Muhanna pointed out in FP last week, it's hard to see what the opposition gains from this maneuver. As the recent protests have shown, Miqati doesn't have the credibility to convince his community that the tribunal's indictments are flawed. And after he moves to disrupt the investigation of a murdered Sunni leader, his already meager support among his own community will likely fall further.
Hariri and his allies may be tempted take some solace in this dynamic. They will point to this fact as evidence that Hezbollah still needs them, and will therefore be forced to compromise. The situation, however, is not nearly so sanguine: Lebanese politics has a tendency to return to equilibrium only after no small degree of bloodshed and lost economic opportunity. Once again, it is the Lebanese people who will bear the cost of their fundamentally tribal and dishonest political system.
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
For the last few hours, I've been glued to my Twitter stream, monitoring the spreading protests in Egypt. The demonstrations have long been planned as a response to "Police Day," a much-unloved national holiday originally intended to honor cops in the city of Ismailia who stood against the British invasion of 1952. In recent years, it's become a potent symbol of everything that's wrong with Egypt under the rule of Hosni Mubarak.
This year, the protesters, inspired by events in Tunisia and outraged by the death last year of Khalid Said, a young man brutally tortured and killed by police in Alexandria, organized themselves on Facebook and called for a "day of anger" across the country.
So far, they've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Events are moving rapidly, but here's what we know so far: The protests began at different points in the city, such as Doqqi in Giza to the west and Shubra in the north, and converged on points downtown. I've seen reports of large crowds in Ramses, Abdeen, Ataba, and Tahrir squares -- all major important public spaces. There are also scattered demonstrations in other parts of the country, such as Alexandria, Mansoura, and Sinai.
It's too early to say that these are "massive" protests -- there are, after all, some 80 million people in Egypt, and no report I've seen thus far puts today's number at more than 100,000 -- but they could easily grow into something truly huge. So far, the police have mostly taken a hands-off approach, albeit with beatings, tear gas, and water cannons in some places. But if the demonstrations continue to grow, Mubarak could face the same dilemma that faced Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia: Crack down for real, try to meet the protesters' demands halfway (say, by sacking his widely reviled interior minister, Habib al-Adly), or some combination of the two.
After today, Mubarak can't have great confidence in his Central Security Forces -- the riot police charged with putting down demonstrations. These are usually slim, scared-looking lads from upper Egypt, poorly trained and uneducated, with little pay and few perks. I've seen multiple reports of the CSF being outmaneuved and backing down in the face of protesters. The army is another matter -- more than a million men at arms, well-equipped and presumably well motivated to protect their significant interests across the country. (He can also call on the regular police and the vast resources of state security, which will no doubt be hunting down organizers in the days to come.) Will we be seeing tanks in the streets this spring?
It may not get to that point. But the Egyptian street got a taste of its power today. For a people long thought to be quiescent, apathetic, apolitical -- it must be an electrifying feeling. Hosni is not going to sleep well tonight.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
In case you haven't heard, Al Jazeera (along with the Guardian) on Sunday announced it had gotten its hands on more than 1,600 Palestinian documents detailing negotiations with Israeli and U.S. officials. The documents aren't all released yet, but the story is already roiling the Arab world, prompting fresh cries that the Palestinian Authority is "selling out" to Israel by offering politically sensitive concessions on Jerusalem, its holy sites, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Perhaps more damning, in Arab eyes, is the language used by some Palestinian leaders. Longtime peace negotiator Saeb Erekat is quoted in one document, a write-up of a Jan. 15, 2010, meeting with U.S. envoy David Hale, saying he had offered Israel "the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarized state ... what more can I give?"
Erekat and other Palestinian leaders have made no effort to prepare their public for these kinds of concessions. In 2009, for instance, Erekat appeared on Al Jazeera and said, "There will be no peace whatsoever unless East Jerusalem -- with every single stone in it -- becomes the capital of Palestine."
No wonder Palestinian leaders are scrambling to contain the damage, ripping Al Jazeera and even the emir of Qatar, which sponsors the satellite channel. Erekat told reporters that the documents have been "taken out of context and contain lies… Al Jazeera's information is full of distortions and fraud." For its part, the network says it has "taken great care over an extended period of time to assure ourselves of their authenticity," as has the Guardian. The State Department says it's looking into them.
So, who leaked the papers? Most likely people within the Negotiations Support Unit, the Palestinian organization that staffs Erekat and took most of the notes, the Guardian reports:
[A]s the negotiations have increasingly been seen to have failed, and the Ramallah-based PA leadership has come to be regarded by many Palestinians as illegitimate or unrepresentative, discontent among NSU staff has grown and significant numbers have left. There has also been widespread discontent in the organisation at the scale and nature of concessions made in the talks.
If this speculation is right, the leakers intended to embarrass their former bosses. Mission accomplished.
So what now? Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been ruling outside the law for some time now; there doesn't seem to be a legal means for his opponents to oust him. That means Palestinians who oppose the PA are going to need to take to the streets to voice their disapproval, Tunisia style.
And what of the two-state solution? It was probably already dead, and these documents will only reinforce the point. But I imagine the "peace process" will limp along, one way or another, until it becomes impossible to defend anymore. I hope the Obama team has an exit strategy.
As protesters overwhelmed former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's security forces in Tunis, the regional office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the George W. Bush administration's signature democracy promotion organization, watched as its mandate was fulfilled in the most unlikely of places.
It is, to say the least, an awkward bit of symbolism. MEPI defines its mission as "develop[ing] more pluralistic, participatory, and prosperous societies." And in the country where it is based, the Tunisian people proved themselves to be uniquely and spectacularly unhappy with their regime.
But according to current and former democracy promotion advocates in the U.S. government, the decision to base MEPI's offices in Tunisia was made because the embassy had enough free space to accommodate its staff, and the country was thought to be stable enough to not interfere with the organization's sometimes controversial work.
Scott Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration who oversaw the creation of MEPI, said that the Ben Ali regime was "constantly paranoid" about the organization's presence in the country, and never allowed it to undertake significant democracy promotion programs. As a result, "we were doing a lot of stuff very, very quietly - not to say covert, but very quietly," Carpenter said.
The Ben Ali regime's hostility to any efforts to open up the political system was attested to by other Western diplomats who served in Tunis. Alan Goulty, who served as the British ambassador in the country from 2004 to 2008, said that the government would constantly raise the specter of terrorism to discourage any contact with Tunisian opposition figures.
"There was one explosion in 1987 of a bomb, where a British lady was wounded and lost her leg," Goulty said. "I lost count of the times that Tunisian officials, 15 years later, reminded me of that incident to justify their claims that the Tunisian opposition, whatever form it took, was terrorist."
In theory, the European Union should have had considerable economic and political leverage to convince the Ben Ali regime to liberalize. Trade between EU member states and Tunisia in 2009 was in excess of $20 billion - by comparison, total U.S. imports and exports to the country were valued at around $800 million. The EU association agreement with Tunisia also provided a ready-made avenue for discussion human rights and political liberalization. In practice, however, EU efforts in the country were anemic at best.
"Frankly, the EU always pulled its punches [on democracy promotion], because of the need to operate unanimously," said Goulty. "And a different approach was taken by [our] Mediterranean partners, principally France and Italy, who believed that the best way forward was to get close to the regime and further one's economic interests."
In fact, the primary contribution that the United States made to Tunisia's recent unrest was neglect. As U.S. relations with the other North African states improved over the past two decades, the relative importance of Tunisia as a U.S. ally in the region declined. U.S. diplomats may not have had much success promoting liberalization in the country, but the national security implications of the fall of Ben Ali's regime raised steadily fewer concerns in Washington.
David Mack, currently a scholar at the Middle East Institute, served as the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Tunisia from 1979 to 1982. "If you go back to the time when I was there, our relations were disappearing with Libya, we had poor relations with Algeria, and strained relationships in many parts of the Muslim world," he noted. "But the reality is that today Tunisia plays a smaller role overall in U.S. strategic political calculation."
However, diplomats insisted that Tunisia's apparent stability under Ben Ali did not cause them to underestimate the population's grievances with his regime. A prescient June 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks criticizes the "sclerotic" regime, which it says has "lost touch with the Tunisian people." The same memo complains that "make it exceptionally difficult for the US Mission to conduct business" and meet with regime opponents.
Those who spent time in the country seconded that assessment. "The place was so sterile -- you just feel people's fear, and the complete lack of dynamism in the society," said Carpenter. "Within the State Department we used to refer to it as ‘Syria with a smile.'"
PHILIPPE MERLE/AFP/Getty Images
Events are still moving quickly in Tunisia, where word has just come out that 87-year-old Fouad Mebaza, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, is now the new interim president after someone (we don't know who) determined that yesterday's takeover by the prime minister wasn't strictly legal. Also today, Saudi Arabia announced that it had welcomed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the ousted president, and his family.
Under Article 57 of the Tunisian Constitution -- invoked today by the Constitutional Council because Ben Ali has fled the country and is therefore incapable of performing his duties -- Mebaza can only be in charge for a maximum of 60 days, after which he must hold a new presidential election (in which he is not allowed to run). Whoever wins may at that point dissolve the parliament and hold new legislative elections.
We'll have some informed anlysis of the particulars in a few hours, but here are a few questions to think about.
Who is actually running the country right now? The military? The security services? Top civilian officials? Where are these decisions coming from?
Is it a good sign that the Tunisian regime, or rather what's left of it, is trying to following constitutional procedure?
Can one of the most repressive governments in the world, where the last presidential contest saw Ben Ali re-elected with 90 percent of the vote, organize and hold a credible election in only 60 days? Does it want to, or will it try to cheat? And are there any opposition figures who have the national stature to win?
How will the protesters, who seem to have largely stayed home again today, react to this new development? Was getting rid of Ben Ali enough to satisfy them? Or will they now fracture, as the regime probably intends?
What's the protocol for diplomats when the government they serve has collapsed? The staff at the Tunisian Embassy here in downtown Washington DC, apparently deciding that the political paralysis at home required a visual metaphor at their foreign outpost, immobilized the building's front gate with a tightly-coiled iron chain and a padlock. The modernist embassy building served this afternoon as a silent backdrop to a couple of dozen Tunisian immigrants chatting excitedly among themselves as the occasional passing car honked in solidarity and two secret service officers casually stood to one side.
Chained-up as it was, the embassy was hardly making a show of hospitality, but a doorbell offered at least the promise of some normal communication. A man's voice promptly answered over the intercom, "Oui?"
I introduced myself.
"We are closed."
Might there be someone I could speak with?
"There's no one here."
And you are?
Anyone else there?
"We are closed."
The demonstrators told me to give it up. "They are in there, but they are afraid," Monaem Mabrouki, a Tunisian immigrant, told me. "We don't want to hurt them, but they don't feel like celebrating with us." I imagine it's only a matter of time: the scene on the street seemed a lot more fun than the aura of angsty silence coming from the embassy. But who can begrudge a day of private mourning for the passing away of a political order?
It's hard to envy the position Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was in these last few weeks: There just aren't many good answers available to despots who are faced with popular uprisings. Still, he should have known better than to settle on Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's 1978-1979 playbook for quelling incipient revolutions.
Indeed, Ben Ali seemed intent on compressing the shah's yearlong series vacillations into a tidy one-week time frame. First, a show of denial: The shah started 1978 by denouncing street protests as conspiracies directed from abroad, while Ben Ali started this week by declaring mass demonstrations to be "terrorist acts." Next a halfhearted show of force to restore law and order: In the autumn of 1978, the shah declared martial law and organized a military government; Ben Ali, for his part, imposed a nationwide curfew this week and presumably instructed security forces to use deadly force against continued protests. Then a hasty series of concessions that are inevitably interpreted as too little, too late: Late in the game, each leader tried to shuffle his cabinet into a more liberal arrangement. That's followed by a transparently cynical, and frankly depressing, declaration of sympathy for the protests: The shah went on television in November to announce, "I have heard the voice of your revolution"; Ben Ali went on television on Thursday to tell his restive populace, "I have understood you." Finally, there's the retreat into exile -- the shah fled to Egypt in January 1979, while Ben Ali is now reported to be in Malta, France, or Saudi Arabia. (The aftermath is unlikely to get any rosier for Ben Ali, judging from the shah's experience: He shuttled around the world -- from Morocco, to Mexico, to the Bahamas, to the United States to Switzerland -- in search of an offer of residence that was more than temporary, until he finally died in 1980.)
The shah's unsteady strategy was already discredited in the eyes of the current regime in Iran, which came into power after his departure -- hence, the Iranian leadership's unremitting hard-line crackdown when it was faced with mass protests in the wake of the country's 2009 presidential election. Tunisia's current revolution may well be seen in Tehran, and perhaps in other regional capitals, less as a reminder of the power of popular action than as confirmation of Ben Ali's personal weakness in refusing to pick a position and stick with it. If any other governments threaten to collapse in the wake of Tunisia's successful revolution, you can expect that the protests will be met with either an outstretched hand or a clenched fist, but certainly not both.
In a dramatic turn of events, Mohamed Ghannouchi, Tunisia's prime minister, has just announced that he is temporarily taking control of the country. Details are still murky, and nobody seems to know where President Ben Ali is. Rumor has it that he's fled to France, or Malta under Libyan protection, or that the Army prevented him from escaping.
Ghannouchi put the matter this way: "Since the president is temporarily unable to exercise his duties, it has been decided that the prime minister will exercise temporarily the duties."
Earlier today, after thousands of protesters surrounded the Interior Ministry and battled security forces in the streets, Ben Ali announced that he had dissolved the government and would hold elections in six months. Then there were rumblings that there would be an announcement on state television, and many assumed that Ben Ali was going to make another speech.
Instead, Ghannouchi, a colorless functionary in his late 60s, showed up, surrounded by two other senior officials, and made his surprising announcement.
This may not solve the crisis. Ghannouchi is not necessarily any more popular than Ben Ali, though he's not nearly as tainted by the lurid tales of corruption and excess that so damaged the ruling family. But Tunisians certainly don't respect the prime minister; they call him "Mr. Oui Oui" because he's always saying yes to Ben Ali.
This is obviously a fast-moving story, and nobody seems to know what's going on with the Tunisian military. The police are much more powerful and numerous, and as of this afternoon there were still reports of gunfire against protesters. But there were also signs that security forces were unwilling to crack down and that may have told Ben Ali that it was time to get out of Dodge.
UPDATE: Here's the BBC's translation of Ghannouchi's full statement:
"Citizens, men and women! In accordance with the provisions of chapter 56 of the constitution, which stipulates that in case of the impossibility of the president to conduct his duties temporarily, he would delegate his prerogatives to the prime minister. Given the difficulty for the president of the republic to carry out his duties temporarily, I will, starting from now, exercise the prerogatives of the president of the republic. I urge all sons and daughters of Tunisia - of all ideological and political persuasions and of all sections and regions - to show the spirit of patriotism and unity in order to enable our country, which is dear to all of us, to overcome this difficult juncture and to ensure its security and stability. While I assume this responsibility, I promise to respect the constitution and to carry out political, economic and social reforms which have been announced. I will do so with perfection and through consultation with all national bodies - including political parties, national organisations and civil society components. May God grant me success!"
MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
UPDATE: The Tunisian government is denying that Morjane has stepped down, according to Al Arabiya. Meanwhile, President Ben Ali just spoke and said he had ordered security forces to stop firing on demonstrators. He also announced a series of measures aimed at mollifying popular anger, including lower prices for bread, milk, and sugar. Most important of all, he promised not to run for re-election in 2014, when his term is due to expire. We'll see if he lasts that long.
This thing may really be happening. Kamel Morjane -- or someone with access to his website -- has just announced his resignation*:
Citizens of the Republic of Tunisia, After witnessing the recent event that our country has been enduring since December17th 2010, I declare my inaptitude in pursuing my function in a serene and objective environment as intended.
I declare hereby my official resignation from my function as a minister of foreign affairs at the Tunisian government. In a last effort to assume my responsabilities, I am asking the families of the tunisian martyrs to accept my sincere condoleances and my deep regret faced to their common tragedy. I assumed the fate of the Tunisian citizens, after marrying the daughter of one of Ben Ali’s first cousins, and was a member of the family and part of their clan. I am not proud of my own family, and in an honest declaration, would be ready to be judged in court at the same time as they will be. This will be my last service to the Tunisian citizens, in hope that with my resignation, citizens of Tunisia will be more graceful towards me and my family.
I make this decision in hope for the return of rest. I relinquish the Tunisian government to express my deep affliction and my righteous anger toward the dire management of this crisis, causing hence the death of dozens of young Tunisians. I am profoundly convinced that these are not terrorist acts, but citizens exerting their right to strike against a regime who abandoned them for two decades. For this reason, I do not deem myself a member of this oppressing and manipulating government. In a last resort to save face with the international media, the government is working hard from within to portray the protesters as mindless terrorists destroying their country and refusing any peaceful discussion. The government has hired teams of their own police in civilian attire that go around ravaging the suburbs in an effort to spread doubt and disseminate the truth about the tunisian people.
I reiterate my most sincere condolences to the families of victims, not only to the ones that passed away these four past weeks, but to all the broken families by the injustice and inconveniences caused by this clan as well.
For a free Tunisia,
This is a fast-moving story. The New York Times reports that protesters overran a mansion owned by one of the president's relatives. The Twitterverse is aflame with rumors that other members of the ruling family have fled the country. President Ben Ali is said to have three helicopters fueled up and ready for an emergency flight to Malta.
*Note of caution: The statement has yet to be confirmed; it could be a hoax. There are reports that the Foreign Ministry is denying it. But it wouldn't be too surprising if Morjane, an urbane former senior U.N. official, stepped down. Stay tuned.
For the past two and a half years, Lebanese politics was played much like a game of touch football. That is, it operated within the confines of a strictly defined set of rules: It didn't always make for the most compelling sport, but at least nobody got hurt. This was the legacy of the May 2008 Doha Agreement, which gave Lebanon's Hezbollah-led opposition veto power in the new national unity government.
But it's unity no more. The rival coalitions finally faced an issue where no compromise was possible: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was established by the U.N. Security Council to prosecute those behind the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is expected to soon issue indictments implicating Hezbollah members in the crime. Prime Minister Saad Hariri, his son, has staunchly resisted Hezbollah's attempts to pressure him to disavow the court. Today, Lebanon's opposition cabinet ministers resigned in protest, forcing the collapse of Hariri's government.
The new rules of Lebanese politics will make for a full-contact contest worthy of the NFL. The parties now begin what promises to be a protracted process to form a new government. The opposition will likely try to pressure Hariri by raising alternative candidates for prime minister. However, any other potential premier would be hard-pressed to help Hezbollah undermine the tribunal's credibility.
"As the son of the slain leader -- with Hezbollah looking for some form of absolution or some way of getting itself off the hook [for the Special Tribunal's indictments] -- Saad Hariri is in a particular position to do that much more so than anyone else," noted Mona Yacoubian, the director of the United States Institute of Peace's Lebanon Working Group.
Few expect the situation to quickly devolve into violence -- the more likely scenario is long-term government paralysis, punctuated by rival political demonstrations organized to show the various factions' popular support. In other words, the country appears poised to return to the political deadlock that existed in 2006, after Shiite cabinet ministers resigned in an earlier attempt to prevent the Lebanese government from lending its support to the international tribunal.
On the bright side, Lebanese political parties are making an effort to prevent the situation from turning into a sectarian turf battle between the Shiite and Sunni communities. Reached for comment, a delegation from Hariri's predominantly Sunni Future Movement declined to comment. A Hezbollah official also said that his party had decided to not make any further statements for the next two days on the matter. By staying above the fray for the time being, the parties are trying to keep this as a dispute between two political blocs, rather than turn it into a dispute between rival sects.
That has left the political field open to Lebanon's Christian parties, which are divided between the two sides. "Any democratic means [to achieve the opposition's goals] are allowed; this is what the opposition has committed to," a senior official of Gen. Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, the largest Christian party in the opposition, told me. "If there is a need for street protests, why not?"
Labor Minister Boutros Harb, a Hariri loyalist, shot back that "this government will be under the obligation to continue running the current affairs of the ministries" until another cabinet is formed. He also criticized Aoun, saying that his ambition to be president was "a big part of the problem" currently facing the country.
By the standards of Lebanese rhetoric, this is still relatively tame -- Druze leader Walid Jumblatt once referred to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as an "ape" and a "murderer," but now counts himself among Assad's allies. Lebanon still hasn't returned to that level of vitriol -- but the rules that ensured its politics were kept within certain boundaries have now been broken, and nobody can be quite sure where the game is headed next.
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted his pay slip on Facebook today, in what his office is billing as a step forward for government transparency. The picture reveals that Netanyahu makes approximately $120,000 a year, significantly less than President Barack Obama's $400,000 salary.
To me, the greatest surprise of this news was Israel's high income tax rates. Netanyahu's gross income was 43,952 shekels, but after tax deductions, his net income came out to 15,027 shekels. That's a tax rate of almost 66 percent! And I thought the Israeli socialist ideal was dead.
The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) claimed to have uncovered two Israeli spy cameras placed in the mountains overlooking Beirut. And how did it know that the devices belong to Israel? Well, one of them had the word "Israel" written in English on its side. The LAF promptly posted photos of the cameras on its website.
A mysterious explosion also rocked the southern Lebanese city of Saida on Wednesday night, which Lebanese media said was caused by Israel destroying another espionage device. Israel denied that was the case, and Lebanese authorities have so far been unable to produce munitions with "Israel" written in large letters on its side.
A report released today by the group Physicians for Human Rights details the horrific mistreatment of African refugees who are captured as they try to cross through Egypt and into Israel. The Africans -- mainly from Somalia and Eritrea -- are systematically raped, beaten, burned and then extorted by Bedouin human traffickers before they are sent across the border into Israel. Download the full report here if you want to read in appalling detail about the experiences of a few of these African migrants.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian government turns a blind eye to these abuses. That's probably because they feel that it helps discourage migration from Sudan, Somali and Eritrea though Egyptian territory. How else does Egypt discourage migrants from trying to use the country as a transit point? A shoot to kill policy. Egyptian security forces have shot and killed more than 85 migrants in Sinai since 2007 by Human Rights Watch's count. Scores more are deported back to their countries of origin, where they are often in danger because of war or threats from the government.
Some of these migrants are asylum seekers, while others are just looking to move to a new country where they can find work and make money. But Israel doesn't want these people as residents any more than Egypt wants them as travelers. Israel repatriated around 150 Sudanese asylum seekers on Monday, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor. Israel fears that immigration from Africa will take jobs from Israeli Jews and pose a threat to the Jewish demographic majority.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
FIFA President Sepp Blatter isn't the most-respected sporting figure around, and he seemingly doesn't know when to shut up. Just as the furor in the United States at the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup was dying down, Blatter happened to remind the world of another problem with Qatar's bid.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, which apparently doesn't matter to FIFA because, hey, those pre-game speeches are only about racism. God forbid any other minority group be persecuted. Here was Blatter's solution for gay fans worried about attending the event:
They [gay fans] should refrain from any sexual activities."
Former NBA player John Amaechi, who famously came out in 2007, told the BBC 5 radio that, "It's not about people having sex in public and being sanctioned for it, it's the fact that Qatar was one of 79 countries to sanction executing gays at the United Nations." Here's what FIFA's official mission says, under "What We Stand For":
...Unity. We believe it is FIFA's responsibility to foster unity within the football world and to use football to promote solidarity, regardless of gender, ethnic background, faith or culture."
Whoops, forgetting something?
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Critics of the Obama administration's approach to Middle East peace, a group that includes just about everyone who is paying attention, say that focusing on Israeli settlements for the last 2 years -- as opposed to "core issues" -- was the key mistake that hindered potential progress in other areas.
Instead, these folks say, Obama & co. should have focused on borders, because once the Israelis and Palestinians agreed on the outlines of a future Palestinian state, it would be clear what was a "settlement" and what was merely a suburb of Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put himself in this camp Monday, dismissing settlements as a "marginal" issue and calling instead for negotations to focus on -- you guessed it -- "core issues."
"To reach peace, we need to discuss the issues that are really hindering peace, the question of recognition, security, refugees and, of course, many other issues," he reportedly said in a speech just hours before meeting U.S. envoy George Mitchell.
One way to read those remarks is that Netanyahu is ready to roll up his sleeves. More likely, he has no intention of meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's demand to get serious and lay his cards on the table. Note that he did not mention borders at all. Instead, he appears to be reiterating his position that the Palestinians must explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which they refuse to do, that Israel needs to have control of the Jordan Valley, another nonstarter for the Palestinians, and that the Palestinians need to give up the "right of return" (this one is more reasonable) before he'll even think about trading land for peace.
In other words, don't expect the new, settlement-free U.S. approach to yield any more progress than the old one. What's more, even if the talks did focus on borders, where the parties are supposedly closer together, it wouldn't take very long for them to come back to areas where they're further apart... namely settlements and Jerusalem. Israel won't freeze the former, and Netanyahu has said he won't divide the latter, while Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their future capital.
The lesson here is that it's devlishly complicated to jerry-rig negotiations to avoid the tough topics, especially when neither side seems especially eager to do a deal. One can come up with all kinds of sophistry justifying one U.S. tactic or another, but if Israeli and Palestinian leaders aren't serious, and aren't feeling pressure from their own publics to make peace, then nothing will work.
Five tourists have been attacked by sharks (with one killed) over the past week in the waters off Egypt's Red Sea coast, a vacation area especially popular with snorkelers and scuba divers. And nobody knows what to do.
Despite the frequent depiction of the cartilaginous fish as terrifying man eaters, these kinds of attacks are actually very rare. The Egyptian government has brought in experts from around the world to help solve the shark crisis. So far no one has arrived at a definitive conclusion, but possible explanations include over fishing in the Red Sea, an excess of resorts along the coast, and the effects of climate change.
There's another theory floating around, though: Israel's infamous intelligence agency is behind the attacks. Ahram Online reports (and refutes):
Speaking on the public TV program "Egypt Today" yesterday, a specialist introduced as "Captain Mustafa Ismael, a famous diver in Sharm El Sheikh," said that the sharks involved in the attack are ocean sharks and do not live in Egypt's waters.
When asked by the anchor how the shark entered Sharm El Sheikh waters, he burst out, "no, who let them in."
Urged to elaborate, Ismael said that he recently got a call from an Israeli diver in Eilat telling him that they captured a small shark with a GPS planted in its back, implying that the sharks were monitored to attack in Egypt's waters only.
"Why would these sharks travel 4000 km and not have any accidents until it entered Sinai?" said Ismael.
Earlier today, General Abdel Fadeel Shosha, the governor of South Sinai, backed Ismael's theory. In a phone call to the TV program, he said that it is possible that Israeli intelligence, Mossad, is behind the incident and that they are doing it to undermine the Egyptian tourism industry. He added that Egypt needs time to investigate the theory.
The shark attacks have the potential to do some real damage to Egypt, where tourism is pillar of the economy and an important provider of jobs. But the idea that Israel (which is currently dealing with its own Nature Channel-worthy crisis) is behind the attacks is pretty farfetched.
ANNA ZIEMINSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Over the weekend, Israeli authorities finally contained the wildfire that devastated parts of northern Israel, near Haifa. The fire, which killed 42 people, including Israel's highest-ranking policewoman, is being called the worst natural disaster in the country's history. Today, a 14-year old boy admitted to throwing a piece of coal from a hookah pipe into the forest, starting the blaze.
Israel prides itself on its self-reliance and is usually a provider of rescue teams and medical personnel during other countries' natural disasters. The government was reportedly ill-equipped to handle a blaze of this magnitude, and had to take the unprecedented step of asking for help from abroad. Noting that both the United States and Russia have asked for international help in fighting major wildfires, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "We also did not hesitate, nor were we ashamed in requesting such assistance." (Netanyahu also reportedly looked to President George W. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina as an example of how not to respond to a natural disaster.)
What's most surprising is the not the help Israel received from the United States, European Union, and Russia, but that from Turkey and the Palestinian Authority. Relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained since May's deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American. Netanyahu called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time since the raid to thank him for sending two airplanes to help battle the blaze. "We very much appreciate this mobilization and I am certain that it will be an opening toward improving relations between our two countries, Turkey and Israel," Netanyahu said in a statement released to the press after the call.
Netanyahu also spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday for the first time since direct talks broke down in September. Abbas volunteered to send three fire trucks to the area.
Will disaster lead to diplomacy? Turkey has already engaged in "hurricane diplomacy" with Greece after a series of earthquakes devastated both countries in 1999. Greece and Turkey had maintained fraught and conflict-ridden relations for centuries. In the aftermath of the earthquakes, each sent rescue teams to help the other and newspapers were full of stories about Turkish citizens offering to donate kidneys to Greek victims (and vice versa).
Turkey doesn't seem as enthusiastic about improved relations this time. Erdogan said he still expects an apology and compensation from Israel for the flotilla deaths, noting that the aid for the fire was purely humanitarian.
"We would never stand by when people are being killed and nature is being destroyed anywhere in the world," Erdogan told CNNTurk. "No one should try to interpret this any differently." In a dig at Netanyahu, who said Turkey's gesture could help improve Turkish-Israeli ties, he continued:
"Now some are coming out and saying, 'Let's begin a new phase.' Before that, our demands must be met ... Our nine brothers martyred on the Mavi Marmara [the vessel raided by Israeli commandos] must be accounted for. First an apology must be made and compensation must be paid."
The global reaction to Qatar's winning drive to host the World Cup in 2022 can be summed up in a word: incredulous. For a more nuanced take, David Goldblatt has a smart piece for the Middle East Channel weighing the pros and cons of holding the world's top soccer tournament in a tiny sheikhdom with plenty of money and moxy but little history of athletic excellence. Definitely worth a read, but in the meantime, check out these great photos from FP's Doha correspondent (disclosure: my wife) of Qataris celebrating the victory along the corniche Friday:
For the full effect, check out the video, too.
Sandy Choi for FP
FIFA today announced that Russia would host the 2018 World Cup and … Qatar … would host the 2022 Cup. Obviously this is shocking news across the sporting and football worlds.
So why Russia and Qatar?
Russia, actually, makes a certain amount of sense. In the end, it seemed like the choice had come down to Russia and England. (The reports that England finished fourth out of fourth for 2018 bidding are stunning, and if true, really demonstrate an … interesting mindset on the part of the FIFA commissioners.) Russia is still largely untapped by football. The Russian Premier League is not yet at the level of La Liga, Serie A, or the English Premier League, but it certainly qualifies as a middle tier European football division.
Moreover, there's a sense that football is growing in popularity in the country, and there is money to be made in the market. Logistically, brand new stadiums, and enough viable locations for them, are something FIFA salivates over in the bidding process. Russia can provide that. Despite being heartbreaking for England (and the joint bids of Spain/Portugal and the Netherlands/Belgium), Russia has the potential to host a strong Cup.
The 2022 decision is more mystifying, but there are a few legitimate enticements Qatar offered. The idea of hosting the Cup in the Arab world is a plus, and by all accounts Qatar's bid presentation was astonishing -- promising to build 9 completely new stadiums, renovating three others, then donating them to third world countries after the tournament, and guaranteeing a Green Cup. But there's a reason why FIFA labeled Qatar's bid "high risk."
(Puzzling, England was recognized to have the best presentation, but that didn't factor into the 2018 decision. The corruption questions are already swirling -- and have been for some months. The New York Times' Jére Longman wrote up a good overview on Nov. 30. )
Qatar presents two major logistical problems that FIFA faces. Qatar is alleging their new stadiums -- open-air, a FIFA requirement -- will be equipped with advanced air conditioned technology, allowing for adequate playing conditions. But where will the players train? 12 stadiums isn't hardly enough. Unless the plan is to build a giant air-conditioned dome above the country, the heat factor -- consistently over 100 degrees farenheit in summer -- is a massive challenge.
Additionally, Qatar's lack of viable summer activities outside the games -- compared to its competitors -- is sigificant, and will deter a large amount of fans from making the trip. That is, after all, the ultimate purpose of the tournament -- promoting diversity and celebrating the fact that, for at least two months, we can put aside our differences and celebrate an event with universal interest. That's not possible with empty stadiums.
As a devoted United States soccer fan, greatly interested in the domestic (I actually watched the MLS playoffs in the last two seasons, and can say the 2009 championship game was arguably the most epic sporting event I've seen) and international game, this is a crushing blow to take. I am old enough to remember the passion of 1994, and young enough to come of age in an era where soccer took off in the United States. While there's no risk that my interest in soccer will wane, there is a chance that many casual followers will, if not tune out, be less engaged with the sport. It's impossible for me to separate that fact from my analysis -- I, like all other U.S. soccer fans today, feel gutted.
It had long been expected that the 2022 tournament was the United States' to lose, and for good reason: the 1994 World Cup was the most successful in the history of the competition (by far), soccer is growing leaps and bounds in the country and its domestic league has just finished its 15th year and is expanding. The country with the most tickets bought for the 2010 World Cup (besides host-country South Africa) was the United States, again by some margin. No infrastructure construction is required (and a number of new stadiums will be built anyway in the next 12 years), there are a huge amount of viable locations to host games, and, despite its struggles, the United States national team has proved itself a legitimate player in international tournaments. (Lest we forget that the United States, in the 2009 Confederation's Cup in South Africa, beat future World Cup winners Spain 2-0, ending their 35 game unbeaten streak?) Furthermore, the United States has qualified for the last six World Cups, a feat that only powerhouses Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, and Spain can match.
Qatar is 113th in FIFA's world football rankings. There's no history nor tradition of the beautiful game in the country. It has never qualified for a World Cup, finished 8th in the Asian Football Confederation's final qualifying round for 2010 -- and will receive an automatic bid for 2022. It has very little infrastructure in place, and that which will be built will be constructed by migrant laborers with very few rights. As recently as 2008, Qatar was in the lowest country tier in the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report.
FIFA also made another, more practical, mistake -- the United States is a huge market, the growth potential of the sport is enormous in the country, and there's, ultimately, a massive amount of money to be made. The Arab world already loves football -- there are few regional viewers to gain.
Finally, following the 2010 and 2014 (South Africa, Brazil) Cups with two more question marks is a gamble. Now, China, rumored to have interest in hosting the 2026 Cup, will likely not have the chance to do so until 2036 (the same confederation can not host two Cups in a row). And if there are any slipups in the run-up to either 2018 or 2022, you can bet that Brits and Americans will be screaming, "I told you so."
On the bright side, I'd bet everything I have on the United States getting the 2026 or 2030 World Cup.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
While everyone in Washington and probably most global capitals is obsessing over WikiLeaks, the sports world is eagerly awaiting this week's big event: FIFA's decision on who gets to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. (To give you some perspective: World Cup was Yahoo's second-most popular search target this year, after the gulf oil spill.)
Today, the 2022 bidders -- Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea, and the United States -- are giving their final presentations in a last-ditch attempt to persuade any remaining fence-sitters that their country deserves the nod, and tomorrow FIFA will announce the winners.
The 2018 Cup is destined to go to a European country; the most interesting contest is for 2022. Soccer blogs, which have been buzzing with gossip and speculation for the last year or so, seem to think it's going to come down to a choice between the United States and -- believe it or not -- Qatar, the tiny Persian Gulf emirate whose seemingly quixotic bid to be the first Middle Eastern country to host the tournament has captured the imagination of millions of Arabs all over the world. (Disclosure: My wife's company does some small-scale work for the Qatari government in this area.)
Unfortunately for Qatar, FIFA's bid evaluation report rated the country's facilities as "high risk" due to the fact that few of them are built. The extremely hot weather in June and July, when the Cup would be held is another major concern. In response, Qatar is sinking billions into its bid and has promised to build stadiums deploying innovative outdoor cooling technology and then donate them to developing countries. Doha, the capital, is festooned with banners (reading "22" and "Expect Amazing") promoting the bid, and seemingly every shopping mall in town has a booth handing out free bumper stickers and other paraphernalia. Expectations are high.
And that's what worries me. Qatar has made an amazing go of it, and it would be an inspiring win for a region that has too few of them, but I'd be extremely surprised if the United States loses. Ultimately, FIFA's goal is to make as much money as possible, and Qatar can't hope to match the size of the U.S. market. But you never know. Politicians, not technocrats, are the ultimate deciders here.
One final note: It would be a great irony if Arab leaders' sniping about Qatar's alleged support for terrorism and general troublemaking in the region, as revealed in the WikiLeaks cables, tipped the scales against the Middle East's first real shot at hosting the Cup. I think the decision has probably already been made, but you never know...
Clive Rose/Getty Images for Qatar 2022
When Barack Obama took the podium before Turkey's parliament in April 2009, in his first overseas trip as president, he delivered a speech that echoed much of the happy talk that has characterized U.S. rhetoric toward Turkey over the past decade. "Turkey is a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together -- and work together to overcome the challenges of our time."
U.S. officials have repeated variations of this line since the rise of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. When I visited Turkey in March, a well-placed American source made the same point: Sure, the United States was concerned about Turkey's warming relationship with Iran and Syria, and its war of words with Israel -- but those differences paled in comparison with areas where the two countries worked together, such as on Iraq and Afghanistan.
The recent WikiLeaks document dump, however, proves that the U.S. diplomatic corps' concern about Turkey's drift away from the Western alliance runs deeper than it let on publicly. One cable reportedly describes Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister (and No. 7 on Foreign Policy's 2010 Global Thinkers list), as exerting an "exceptionally dangerous" Islamist influence on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
And that's just the beginning of it. Davutoglu and other AKP leaders have scant understanding of how their foreign policy will be understood outside of Turkey, because their knowledge is "handicapped... by their Turkey- and Islam-centric vision of how they want the world to operate," according to another cable. The same cable expresses dismay at Erdogan's inability to view Islamist groups as terrorists. The report summarized the prime minister's views thusly: "Hamas and Hizballah are the result of Western policies gone awry, a response from desperate people -- not truly terrorists."
The leaked cables also show how U.S. views toward the AKP shifted since its early days in power, when it was actively pushing a number of economic and judicial reforms meant to bolster its case for joining the European Union. One document, written in 2004 and signed by then-ambassador Eric Edelman, concludes that Erdogan "is the only partner capable of advancing toward the U.S. vision of a successful, democratic Turkey integrated into Europe."
Even this broadly positive impression, however, contains a few nuggets that the State Department undoubtedly wishes had been kept private. While praising Erdogan as an uncommonly talented politician, it accuses him of "unbridled ambition stemming from the belief God has anointed him to lead Turkey" and "an authoritarian loner streak." Perhaps most embarrassingly, the cable charges the prime minister with harboring "a distrust of women," leading him to exclude them from any prominent role in the AKP.
By 2010, however, U.S. diplomats' frustration with Turkey's government had escalated. A cable written in January by Edelman's successor James Jeffrey condemns Turkish leaders' "special yen for destructive drama and rhetoric," and says that the government possessed "Rolls Royce ambitions but Rover resources," which led to it throw its supports behind "underdogs" such as Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The problems are not merely in the realm of style and rhetoric. The cable laments Turkey's habit of presenting itself as the Islamic conscience of NATO, noting that "[e]xtrapolating that behavior into the even more diversity-intolerant EU is a nightmare." In the intervening six years since the 2004 cable, U.S. diplomats tempered their hope for a broad-based strategic partnership with Turkey in favor a "more issue-by-issue approach, and a recognition that Turkey will often go its own way."
Throughout the AKP's transformation of Turkish foreign policy, U.S. diplomats largely expressed their concerns in private. Publicly, their rhetoric was closer to Obama's happy talk to the Turkish parliament -- and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday largely echoed that line ahead of her meeting with Davutoglu in Washington. State Department officials assumed, no doubt correctly, that heavy-handed ultimatums from Washington would only confirm Turks' beliefs that Washington would never support their newly independent role on the international stage. Now, of course, their careful discretion has been blown apart -- and the U.S.-Turkish relationship could become one of the most prominent casualties of the WikiLeaks' document dump.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Many believe that America's greatest export is its culture; from blockbuster Hollywood films and TV series to jeans and iPods, there is little doubt that American cultural products have profound dissemination and market consumption around the globe.
But few would have imagined that one day Turkish citizens would be cheering on pro-wrestlers in Istanbul.
That's right, WWE SmackDown went to Turkey.
Much like American parents, though, many Turks were quite reticent in allowing their children to watch shirtless men in costumes beat each other up on stage. As Hurriyet reports,
Many parents who brought their kids to the WWE show... [expressed] reluctance about exposing their children to something that could contribute to violent tendencies.
As someone who remembers the glory days of "The Rock" and the playground simulations which inevitably followed, I can say with certainty these parents have a point.
Gaye Gerard/Getty Images
In his new book, George W. Bush writes that he was under pressure not just from hawks in the United States to invade Iraq, but from Arab statesmen as well.
In a revealing passage, Bush writes that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt "told Tommy Franks that Iraq had biological weapons and was certain to use them on [American] troops," a VOA article highlights. Bush goes on to say that Mubarak "refused to make the allegation in public for fear of inciting the Arab street."
Additionally, Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served as the influential Saudi ambassador to the United States for over 20 years and who Bush calls "a friend of mine since dad's presidency" also wanted a "decision" to be made -- although this seems less direct an indictment than "Iraq has biological weapons and will use them against you."
So while the Arab street was firmly opposed to American intervention in Iraq, Arab heads of states were quietly and secretly either encouraging or tacitly endorsing allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a fact that was directly being used as the principal justification for invading the country.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Life in Iraq isn't easy (and hasn't been for a while), but it's still rare to find community leaders imploring Iraqis to leave their home country. But that's exactly what Archbishop Athanasios Dawood of the Syriac Orthodox Church is doing.
"I say clearly and now -- the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing," Dawood said in a prepared statement to CNN. "This is better than having them killed one by one." In other interviews, Dawood, who lives in London, evoked the word "genocide" to describe the treatment of Iraqi Christians.
Fifty-eight people were killed in an attack on an Iraqi church last Sunday.
With the exception of the massive exodus of Iraq's large Jewish minority after the creation of Israel in 1948, there was little sectarian violence in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"You know, everybody hates the Christian. Yes, during Saddam Hussein, we were living in peace -- nobody attacked us. We had human rights, we had protection from the government but now nobody protects us," the archbishop told the BBC. "Since 2003, there has been no protection for Christians. We've lost many people and they've bombed our homes, our churches, monasteries."
Eden Naby and Jamsheed K. Chosky wrote in Foreign Policy last week that there may not be a Christian population left in Iraq by the end of the century. Iran, which also has a (shrinking) Christian minority, is suffering the same fate.
But it isn't only from those countries that Middle Eastern Christians are leaving. Long-time Middle East journalist Robert Fisk pointed out last month (before the massacre in Baghdad) that Christian populations are shrinking across the region, from Palestine to Lebanon to Egypt. "This is, however, not so much a flight of fear, more a chronicle of a death foretold," Fisk writes. "Christians are being outbred by the majority Muslim populations in their countries and they are almost hopelessly divided."
In Michigan, Iraqi Christians rallied today, calling on the United States to put a stop to violence against their coreligionists.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has affected every aspect of society in that country. As many people have written, the U.S. government seems to have been wholly unprepared for what lay ahead in Iraq. It's hard to imagine that George W. Bush, with his own deep Christian faith, expected the catastrophe in store for Iraqi Christians.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
The Egyptian Intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, travelled to Israel on Thursday to officially discuss the Middle East peace process. Haaretz reports that Israeli President Shimon Peres met with Suleiman and "discussed different methods to jump start the flailing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians."
The visit reflects the importance of Suleiman and the Egyptian state security apparatus -- not only for domestic issues, but broader international objectives as well.
As the director of the powerful Egyptian GIS, Suleiman enjoys the support and confidence of President Hosni Mubarak, and the multifaceted role of Suleiman reflects the nature of the present government in Egypt, where regime support is highly valued and loyalty is rewarded with top trusted positions.
This is not the first time Suleiman has served such roles for Mubarak. Suleiman hosted "talks aimed at encouraging... cease-fire between Palestinian militants in Gaza and Israel" in early 2009, according to UPI.
The stated purpose for Suleiman's trip is to talk about the peace process, but there's likely more on the agenda. The two countries also share concerns over the rising influence of Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Egypt last year in a bid to create Arab opposition to counter the Iranian nuclear program.
Relations between Egypt and Iran detiorated following the Islamic Revloution in Iran; last year, Egypt has accussed Iran of backing subversive Hezbollah operatives in the country and convicted 26 men of espionage against the state.
Israel is likely looking to capitalize on Cairo's growing discomfort.
Debbie Hill - Pool/Getty Images
If you watched the midterm election results come in -- and if you're reading Passport, there's a good chance you did -- you likely saw this commercial from The Israel Project. And according to the organization's president, you're going to keep seeing the ad for some time.
The commercial, which was arguably the most prominent instance of a foreign policy issue rearing its head on election night, features remarks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair interspersed with pictures of smiling children. Both Blair and Netanyahu are quoted lauding the Israel's democracy and affirming its desire to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Another ad urged Israel and the United States to work together on developing alternative energy sources, "so that some day, every neighborhood will be free from our dependence on Middle East oil."
Jennifer Mizrahi, the Israel Project's president, said that the ads started airing during the night fo the midterm elections, and will continue to appear for sometime. The organization bought air time on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and Comedy Central, among other networks.
"We bought a lot of ads," said Mizrahi. "I don't know, but I think we were on every break. And we should still be on -- it's a very heavy rotation."
Mizrahi estimated the cost of producing the ads at $50,000. She said that her organization had spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on ad time over the past year.
Mizrahi said that the Israel Project decided to buy ads at this time because they knew that they would reach a demographic concerned about national security issues. And she wanted to ensure that, though the election may have hinged on domestic economic issues, the next session of Congress doesn't neglect the U.S. alliance with Israel.
"[W]e want people in Washington to understand that the holding of the peace process is very important to Israel and to people who care about Israel -- that we want these peace talks to move forward," said Mizrahi. "That was the first thing: to show the Israeli prime minister's commitment to a peace process and a two state solution, and a better future for all."
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
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