In yet another example of the unrealistic ambitions of Egypt's new political class on the world stage, the Building and Development Party, the political wing of Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GI), is calling on the United States to remove the political party and its parent organization from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Building and Development Party do not consider the West as opponents, but instead advocate for the good of all and embrace all ideas that serve Islam," Building and Development Party spokesman Khaled al-Sharif said in a press conference on Sunday, according to a posting on the party's Facebook page. Daily News Egypt reports that al-Sharif then went on to "demand" that GI be taken off the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and called for the United States to release Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh."
GI was a fixture in Egypt's collegiate political scene in the 1980s but became internationally infamous for a campaign of terror attacks in the 1990s, which included assassinations and massacres targeting tourists. GI also occasionally worked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later merged his organization with al Qaeda and eventually became Osama bin Laden's successor in that organization. Abdel Rahman had ties to both organizations and is GI's spiritual leader -- he was imprisoned in Egypt in the 1980s for issuing a fatwa sanctioning the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for helping plan attacks in New York City, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. When the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups was compiled in 1997, GI was an inaugural member.
In 2003, GI reentered the Egyptian political arena, formally renouncing violence in exchange for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. That promise has held, mostly. The change in tactics split the organization, and a violent faction formally joined al Qaeda in 2006. Mainstream members aren't a bunch of peaceniks, either; GI was responsible for organizing the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012, and has threatened to fight for the implementation of sharia law "even if that requires bloodshed."
It's not unheard of for an organization to work its way off the State Department's terror list -- after a years-long lobbying effort, Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq was delisted last September -- but it's a rare occasion. And though GI and its Building and Development Party aren't the only politicians in Egypt to call for the release of the Blind Sheikh, it's certainly not going to win them any fans in Foggy Bottom. It's also not going to happen.
On Friday, we wrote about the arrest of Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, who was detained at Cairo International Airport as he returned from a series of meetings with officials and speaking engagements in the United States. The Daily News Egypt reports that Maher was released on Saturday after spending the night in Cairo's al-Aqrab prison, and that he remains under investigation for "inciting a protest" in March at the home of the minister of the interior. Several Egyptian political parties have condemned Maher's arrest, though they have also distanced themselves from his politics and protest tactics. Upon his release, Maher tweeted out thanks to his supporters and urged them to show the same support for Egyptian political activists still in prison.
Maher co-founded the April 6 Youth Movement, which was instrumental in Egypt's 2011 revolution. Though he supported Mohamed Morsy's presidential campaign, he has since become a vocal critic of Morsy's government and the pace of security sector reforms.
In addition to still being under investigation, Ahram Online reports that Maher was injured in a severe car crash today. The circumstances of the crash are unclear, and Maher is now filing a police report to determine if the collision "was caused by a criminal act."
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, was arrested at the Cairo International Airport on Friday, according to Egyptian press reports. He was returning to Egypt from a 13-day trip to the United States hosted by the Milken Institute and the Project on Middle East Democracy, during which he met with officials from the State Department, the Obama administration, and Congress, and spoke at universities and the Milken Institute Global Conference. "The goal of Maher's trip," according to a press release from POMED, "was to highlight the many challenges to democratic progress in Egypt, including a widespread crackdown on freedom of speech, assembly, and association."
Egypt's Ahram Online reports that Maher's arrest is in connection with a March 28 protest outside the residence of the Egyptian minister of the interior in which activists waved women's clothing and banners claiming the ministry had "prostituted" itself to the government of President Mohamed Morsy. Maher tweeted a picture from the protest, "Now in front of the house of the minister of the interior."
?? ???? ???? ???? ???????? ???? twitter.com/GhostyMaher/st…— ?Ahmed Maher (@GhostyMaher) March 28, 2013
Four members of the April 6 Youth Movement were arrested and then released last month for their involvement in the protest. At the time, a spokesman for April 6 told Ahram Online that no arrest warrant had been issued for Maher. But today, an Egyptian official told AFP that "the prosecution has decided to jail Ahmed Maher for four days as part of the investigation."
Maher and April 6 supported the candidacy of Mohamed Morsy. But since the country's constitutional crisis in November, he has felt disillusioned by the new government. "This regime is the same old regime, but has a religious atmosphere or shape," he said at an event at the New America Foundation on Monday. It has "the same rules, the same constitution ... the same behavior, the same strategy, the same politics -- so we need to keep the struggle until step down all of that regime."
Maher also knows the potential consequences of his protests. "Our members are arrested now and in the jail, and sometimes are tortured. So our role now is to keep the struggle," he said Monday. It's not his first arrest, either -- in fact, Maher was arrested for organizing protests as early as 2008, years before the January 2011 revolution.
"Opposition figures and protestors being arrested isn't new, unfortunately," Marc Lynch, director of George Washington University's Middle East Studies Program and an FP blogger and columnist, told Passport by email. Lynch met with Maher during his visit to Washington. "What is striking is that Ahmed would be arrested after returning from the US where he spoke (I understand) to a variety of US officials as well as academics and think tankers. It just points to the ongoing urgency of real reform of the security sector in Egypt," he wrote.
Maher's arrest also demonstrates the government's unwillingness to work with even receptive members of the opposition, according to Nancy Okail, Egypt director for Freedom House, who also met with Maher during his visit to Washington. "The arrest of any activist is worrisome, but Maher's arrest is particularly significant as he was one of the strongest supporters of President Morsy before and after his elections," Okail told FP by email. "He repeatedly expressed his willingness to extend a helping hand to the government to solve Egypt's problems -- especially with regard to reforming the police. The current repressive approach of the Egyptian government is stifling constructive discussions at the very time it should be expanding dialogue with different segments of Egyptian society."
At the State Department's daily press briefing this afternoon, Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell told reporters that the State Department was still trying to confirm reports of Maher's arrest, saying "of course, if it were true, we'll express our concerns, but at this time we're still seeking more information." Representatives from the Egyptian embassy did not respond to requests from FP for comment.
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It's open season in Tehran: For five days beginning on May 7, presidential hopefuls are registering to run for president in the country's June 14 presidential election. And the number of entrants into the rough-and-tumble world of Iranian politics is staggering, with more than 200 candidates signed up as of Thursday.
So the race must be wide, wide open, right? Not exactly. While nobody's quite sure who the frontrunners are yet, they will most likely be largely loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as the Associated Press points out.
That's because the country's 12-member Guardian Council will vet the vast array of candidates between May 12 and May 17, applying a rigorous set of standards to narrow the field way down. In 2009, for instance, only four of 475 names made it through the lightning round. So what, exactly, does the Guardian Council look for in whittling down the candidates? Presidential hopefuls can be disqualified for failing to meet a host of criteria enumerated in Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution.
Like its U.S. counterpart, the Iranian Constitution stipulates that a viable candidate must have Iranian citizenship. Not only does the presidential hopeful need to be a citizen (I found no mention of an age limit), but he also must be of "Iranian origin." Candidates who aren't Shiite Muslims or "religious and political personalities" need not apply.
Some of the constitution's conditions read more like a help-wanted ad. A viable candidate, for instance, must have "administrative capacity and resourcefulness" and no criminal record (incidentally, the latter is not a prerequisite to hold the highest office in the United States). The candidate must demonstrate "trustworthiness and piety" and must have a firm "belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Those are high bars to clear -- particularly when compared with the low bars to registering. And that means we won't see much more of some of the more colorful aspirants who have already registered or have been floated as candidates .
On Tuesday, for example, Razieh Omidvar became the first woman this year to throw her hat into the ring. While it is often reported that the constitution explicitly forbids women from running for president, the language is, in fact, a bit more ambiguous. In 2009, the spokesman for the Guardian Council said it "has never announced its opinion on whether a registrant is a man or a woman," suggesting that it is open to interpreting the constitution's language in favor of both male and female participation. Still, Omidvar shouldn't get her hopes up. The spokesman was quick to add, "[w]henever a woman has been disqualified, it has been because she's lacked general competence."
Then there's Mostafa Kavakebian, a reformist politician who was disqualified by the Guardian Council in 2009 and also registered on Tuesday, even picking green as his campaign color in homage to the Green Movement that arose after the country's disputed presidential election four years ago. While his persistence is admirable, Kavakebian is just as unlikely as Omidvar to make the cut a second time around.
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's current chief of staff, may be one of the more high-profile contenders. But conservatives in the country, who are locked in a power struggle with Ahmadinejad, predict he will also be knocked off the slate. Though he has yet to register, Ahmadinejad has been grooming Mashaei to take over in what the Guardian describes as a "Putin/Medvedev-style reshuffle."
Meanwhile, Ali Rahimi, a 59-year-old surgeon who graduated from the University of Kentucky, does not seem deterred by the many factors that could keep him out of the running. "I am extremely overqualified,'' he told the Washington Post after registering, "so I want to see what sort of reason they come up with for refusing my candidacy.''
If there's a sure bet in this election, it's that Iranian authorities will find one.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
When Amina Tyler, a 19-year-old Tunisian activist, posted topless photographs of herself on Facebook in March, she caused a global uproar. The tremendous backlash within Tunisia to the images -- which included one of Amina topless, hair short and black, with the words, "Fuck your morals" splashed across her chest -- quickly spilled beyond the country's borders as the feminist protest movement Femen, declared a "topless jihad" in her defense.
But while Amina's name exploded onto the international scene, she herself largely disappeared from the public eye. In April, Amina told Femen's leader, Inna Shevchenko, over Skype that she had been kidnapped by her family, beaten, drugged, and subjected to a virginity test. She also admitted that she had been coerced into doing an interview with the French station Itele in which she declared she didn't want to be associated with Femen. "I will continue the struggle that started in Tunisia," Amina declared during the Skype conversation. I will do a topless protest and then I will leave."
But as recently as May 1, there was still confusion over the whereabouts of the activist. In the Atlantic, Jeffrey Taylor described her as "in hiding" somewhere in the North African country.
On Wednesday, however, the young dissident finally reappeared with another topless photo posted to the Femen Facebook page. So far, the image has generated a number of headlines in the Arabic press but virtual silence in the U.S. media. This time she was blonde, and the words scrawled on her chest were in bright red instead of black. But the message was essentially the same: "No More Moral Lessons."
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
There aren't many surprises in the new WikiLeaks document dump -- the organization is calling the collection of 1.7 million documents dated from 1973 to 1976 "The Kissinger Cables" -- but there are a few interesting finds. For example, there's the request from Morocco's King Hassan II for any information the United States had on an unidentified flying object spotted along the Moroccan coast in the early morning hours of Sept. 19, 1976.
Four days after the incident, the commander of Morocco's gendarmerie requested a meeting with the U.S. defense attaché in Rabat. In their meeting, the Moroccan officer noted that there had been reports across the country of an object sighted arcing across the night sky, and that the king had taken a personal interest in following up on the incident.
"Reports from these widely separate locations were remarkably similar, i.e., that the object was on a generally southwest to northeast course, it was a silvery luminous circular shape and gave off intermittent trails of bright sparks and fragments, and made no noise," the U.S. defense attaché wrote in his cable to Washington. The next day, the attaché met with another gendarmerie officer who had actually seen the UFO. The officer "described the UFO as flying parallel to the coast at a relatively low speed, as if it were an aircraft preparing to land. It first appeared to him as a disc-shaped object, but as it came closer he saw it as a luminous tubular-shaped object."
"I frankly do not know what to make of these sighting, although I find intriguing the similarity of the descriptions reported from widely dispersed locations," the attaché wrote to Washington on Sept. 25. "In any event, I wish to be able to respond promptly to King Hassan's request for information, and would appreciate anything you can do to assist me in this."
One week later, on Oct. 2, Washington cabled back with the terse message: "Hope to have answer for you next week. Regards." Three days later, the secretary's office followed up. "It is difficult to offer any definitive explanation as to the cause or origin of the UFOs sighted in the Moroccan area between 0100 and 0130 local time 19 September 1976," the cable began, before suggesting that, based on descriptions of its trajectory and appearance, it "could conceivably be compatible with a meteor, or a decaying satellite," though U.S. officials noted that "the [U.S. government] is unaware of any US aircraft or satellite activity, either military or civilian, in the Moroccan area which might have been mistaken for such sightings."
Despite their appearance in WikiLeaks' new cache of documents, the cables aren't exactly breaking news. They were quoted at length in a 1990 book titled The UFO Cover-Up: What the Government Won't Say, in which the authors speculated that the 10-day delay between the initial cable from Rabat and Washington's reply was to allow time for secret briefings, and refuted the official narrative:
Is it impossible for a bright meteor to have been responsible for the sightings? Not really, if one examines the information very generally. A silvery, luminous object giving off a bright trail and sparks is not unlike a description of a meteor. However, the sightings were reported over a span of about an hour. The UFO, according to some witnesses, traveled at a slow speed, like an aircraft about to land. And the southwest to northeast course of the UFO would have brought it in the general direction of Iran, where other activity was ongoing. Coincidence?
Well, yes. It was a coincidence. In October 2012, Canadian amateur satellite watcher Ted Molczan (who was profiled by the New York Times in 2008) posted on a satellite interest site that the trajectory and timing of the incident matches the re-entry of a piece of space junk -- specifically a Soviet booster engine from a rocket launched two months earlier -- in July 1976. While it's true that the UFO was not of U.S. origin, it appears the cable from the State Department was either misleading or not fully informed about the incident. The Soviet rocket debris was tracked by U.S. Strategic Command and cataloged in its Space Track database, where Molczan eventually found the record. So there you go, mystery solved -- 35 years later.
(Hat tip to @arabist.)
Earlier this week, we reported on the controversy in Tunisia and Egypt over some "Harlem Shake" videos, which have provoked arrests and an investigation by the Tunisian Ministry of Education, and the follow-up Harlem Shake protests Egyptians and Tunisians were planning.
Well, they happened.
The video above is from Cairo, outside the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. Another protest took place outside the Ministry of Education in Tunis, though rain deterred some dancers.
The videos are spreading (here's one from another school, Tunisia's Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology), as is the backlash. Salafist groups have tried to intimidate students making Harlem Shake videos, and, at one school, a protest broke out that was dispersed by police with tear gas.
The videos are clearly becoming more political. In the video from Egypt, for example, a protester is wearing a large fake beard to mock conservative critics. And in the videos from Tunisia there are a number of protesters wearing the Guy Fawkes and gas masks that were popular during the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Unlike so many other flash-in-the-pan memes, the Harlem Shake might be around for a while -- especially if politicians in Egypt and Tunisia keep trying to get rid of it.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on that killed four American citizens, including the ambassador to Libya. Her remarks came after four months of controversy and finger-pointing about security lapses, intelligence failures, about and the administration's response to the attack, with critics accusing the White House and State Department of misleading the public (a charge that may have scuttled U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice's chances for a nomination to succeed Clinton in Foggy Bottom).
After months of reporting on the attack, there was little new information to be gleaned from Clinton's testimony, but it did provide an opportunity for both the secretary and her congressional critics to air their perspectives and grievances. Clinton's testimony turned emotional early on, as she choked up in her opening statements describing standing with President Obama as the bodies of the Americans killed in Benghazi arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. She also reiterated that, "as I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility."
The hearing also turned heated at times. Sen. Ronald Johnson (R-Wis.) expressed his vehement disbelief that the State Department could not determine whether the attack was a planned terrorist action or grew out of a protest in response to the incendiary film Innocence of Muslims, which had provoked rioting at other U.S. facilities throughout the Muslim world that week.
"Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees [from the Benghazi consulate] would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?" Sen. Johnson asked. "I mean, that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained," he continued, before dismissing Clinton's comment that she did not want to interfere with the processes at work on the ground as an "excuse."
The secretary told Johnson "to read the ARB [Accountability Review Board report] and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised" about the attackers' interests and allegiance. (Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) wrote about the ARB for Foreign Policy last month.) When pressed again, a visibly exasperated Clinton responded, "With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) were visibly frustrated by Clinton's answers. After the secretary told the committee that she had not personally read all the cables from the diplomatic mission in Libya, including those requesting increased security measures, Sen. Paul remarked that this represented "a failure in leadership," a charge that has been leveled by FP's own Shadow Government as well. "Had I been president at the time," he told Clinton, "and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Amb. Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.". McCain again voiced his doubts about the veracity of administration messaging about the attack in the early weeks afterwards. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compared the administration's response to the faulty intelligence behind claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Clinton said of the talking points, "The fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information."
McCain also "strongly disagreed" with Clinton's characterization of U.S. policy towards Libya after Muammar al-Qaddafi's fall, concluding by saying that the State Department's choice of a "soft footprint" for security contributed to the deaths at Benghazi. Clinton pointed out that Congress had placed holds on funding requests aid and security projects like those McCain cited. "We've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority, trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together," Clinton replied.
One of the few substantive clarifications was the role of the Marine personnel stationed with the diplomatic mission -- a point of confusion among many policymakers. "Historically, Marine guards do not protect personnel," said Clinton. "Their job is to protect classified material and destroy it if necessary." Several senators suggested that this should change.
Regarding that classified material, Clinton told the committee that no classified documents were left at Benghazi, "although some unclassified material was unfortunately left behind." Foreign Policy reported about this oversight in September when documents found at the razed compound suggested that there had been warning signs an attack was imminent.
Interestingly, one of the most interesting moments in the hearing wasn't about the Benghazi attack at all. Clinton spoke briefly about the hostages taken at the In Amenas gas field in Algeria, observing that the same proliferation of weapons that helped arm the terrorists in Benghazi also helped arm the terrorists in southern Algeria. "The vast majority of weapons came out of Qaddafi warehouses," she said, characterizing the spread of small arms and shoulder-fired missiles as a "Pandora's box." As to whether the attacks in Benghazi and at In Amenas were directly related, she said there was insufficient intelligence.
The testimony made for a strange coda to Clinton's otherwise well-regarded term as secretary of state. Her imminent departure was mentioned as a matter of accountability by both her critics and herself. Paul remarked that he saw her decision to step down now as accepting "culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11." Clinton saw things differently. "Nobody is more committed to getting this right," she told the committee in her opening remarks. "I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
More than 800,000 Americans packed the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Monday to listen to President Obama deliver his second inaugural address, but many more were listening around the world. Here are a few interesting global reactions:
In the Chinese media, Obama's promise to "try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully" and argument that "engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear" than military force was taken as a sign that the U.S.-China relationship will be at the top of his foreign policy agenda for the next four years. Of course, as the state-run Global Times notes, there's a bit of skepticism that the president will live up to his words:
"If the president really lives his words, he would agree that for the sake of the world's peace and prosperity, it is important for the United States and China to foster mutual trust, for trust is the cornerstone for every relationship, no matter between people or between nations...The words also show that he agrees that the two nations should properly solve their disputes, either economic or political."
News agency Xinhua was a little more positive, describing the overall approach Obama outlined in his Monday address as "balanced" and "decidedly progressive."
One Guardian writer described Obama's speech as "urg[ing] Americans to reclaim from conservatives the spirit of the founding fathers" and as "more inspirational than 2009," praising Obama's strong support of climate change and gay rights. Another was more cautious in hispraise, maintaining that Obama's speech was less of a populist manifesto and more of a "to-do list [covering] what he has still to do to make good on the economic promises of his first term."
Peter Foster of the more conservative Telegraph granted that Obama's speech was well-received
by the spectators on the Mall, he reminded readers just how deeply divided the United States still is: "It was apparent," writes Foster, "that only half of the nation had showed up to listen
to [Obama's] call...Overwhelmingly, the crowd of 800,000 people was filled with
the faces of the young, female, urban, African-American coalition that ensured Mr. Obama's re-election for a second term last November. They were Obama's people, and they
were there to celebrate their victory."
In his article for the Australian, Troy Bramston praised Obama's rhetoric, but argued that Obama cannot rank amongst the truly great American presidents until he "translate[s] a presidency of promise into a presidency of action."
That may be hard to do, claims Janet Hook in another article for the Australian, in which she points out that Obama's speech made little effort to readch out to the GOP.
After the inaugural address, the headline of Saudi-owned, pan-Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat read "The decade of war is over," referencing a line from Obama's speech. Yet in an op-ed for the same paper, Abdul Rahman Rashed, though praising Obama's experience in Middle Eastern affairs, was not so sure about peace in the coming decade. "Obama's second term will possibly be reconciliatory, particularly after John Kerry and Chuck Hagel join his administration...but who can tell if the region will be in a reconciliatory mood?"
In his article for Palestinian-run, London based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi (translated into English by the Times of Israel), Abdel Al-Bari Atwan writes that Obama "completely shut the door on any military intervention, stressing that a decade of wars has ended and that the only way to peace is dialogue." "President Obama's message is very clear," the article continued. "In short, he said that he does not intend to militarily intervene in Syria; will not wage a war on Iran, succumbing to Israeli pressure; and will focus on rescuing his country from its crippling economic crisis."
Atwan continues: "Obama disappointed many of his allies in the Middle East by neglecting to mention any of them in his speech." (Obama didn't mention any foreign countries by name in his address.)
Obama's equal opportunity rhetoric made news in Mexico. In its coverage of the inaugural address, El Universal highlighted Obama's commitment to immigrants, women, and gays. The article quoted Obama's statement promising immigration reform:
"Our trip (as a nation) will not be complete until we find a better way to welcome the hopeful, striving immigrants in the U.S. are still the land of opportunity, until the brightest students and engineers are listed on our strengths work instead of being expelled from our country."
The headline of the article read, in Spanish, "Obama calls for welcoming immigrants."
The president's inaugural address was a chance for Canadians to pat themselves on the back, the Ottowa Citizen snarkily reports:
"On the key issues that President Barack Obama pledged to dedicate his second term to in his inaugural address, Canada has already made substantive progress: on supporting democracy around the world; on providing equal rights to gays and lesbians; on creating an aspirational immigration system."
It doesn't stop there either. The column went to on say that Canada has also beat Obama to the punch in securing a budget deal and repairing its economy.
When Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird hosted a largely American gathering at the Canadian embassy on Monday, he was more tactful. "This is not a time for long speeches," he said. "We have very different systems, so we don't exactly want to be bragging," a Canadian embassy spokesman said.
Rob Carr-Pool/Getty Images
Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
In June, when Mohamad Morsi was elected president of Egypt, replacing the military transition government, he claimed that he would fulfill 64 promises within the first 100 days. That very same day, the website MorsiMeter was up and running to keep track of his progress. It's been about a week since the 100 day mark has passed and the weighing in has begun.
MorsiMeter is the creation of social entrepreneurs Amr Sobhy, Abbas Ibrahim and Safwat Mohamed, modeled after PolitiFact's Obameter. By crowdsourcing through their mobile app and website, MorsiMeter compiles information from a variety of sources (official, opposition and social media) in addition to direct communication with the presidential office to document initiatives implemented or in progress. MorsiMeter is as 2012 recipient of the U.N World Summit Youth Award which the team also won in 2011 for the anti-corruption initiative Zabatak. They consider MorsiMeter to be a "data tool" and strive to "empower the average citizen through sharing of information about crimes and corruption" while staying as neutral as possible.
Their report is now out and according to MorsiMeter, the baseline stats say that the president has achieved 10 out of 64 goals and that another 24 are in progress. This leaves 30 more promises "not spotted", to use to their terminology.
To provide a more nuanced look at what has actually been done, objectives are broken down into five categories: Traffic, Security, Fuel, Bread and Environmental Cleanliness. Many plans in progress are geared toward using financial incentives tied to citizen satisfaction to promote performance in civil servants and police, coordinating between the government and civil society, or using social institutions such as Friday sermons to promote civic behavior such as not throwing trash on the street.
The president's achievements include cracking down on fuel smugglers, providing waste disposal services for reasonable fees, using radio reports to decrease traffic congestion, and increasing the nutritional value of bread while subsidizing bakeries for potential crises.
Several of the "not spotted" promises, such as building new government centers out of urban areas, are additionally large undertakings that couldn't be accomplished in a 100 days. And to be honest, even if there are campaigns to make people follow road rules and traffic lights, it's not going to take effect immediately.
Is it fair to judge Morsi based on 100 days alone? Maybe, maybe not. Online voters at MorsiMeter have an overall satisfaction level of 39 percent. But given the recent clashes and all the hype surrounding this rather arbitrary deadline, Egyptians need to figure out what their real expectations are.
The Egypt Independent reported on Wednesday that two children, aged nine and ten, were arrested and charged with blasphemy in the Upper Egyptian city of Beni Suef after being accused of urinating on copies of the Quran.
Ibrahim Mohammad, a local sheikh, filed a complaint about the incident, stating that the children were incited to desecrate the Muslim holy books. A prosecutor ordered that the minors be transferred to a juvenile facility on Tuesday night.
Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told the Egypt Independent that 17 cases of religious blasphemy have been filed in Egypt in the wake of violent protests against the anti-Islam film The Innocence of Muslims.
On Sept. 27, an Egyptian court upheld a six-year prison sentence for Albert Saber, a Christian man accused of posting the controversial video to his Facebook page. In a speech at the United Nations on Sept. 26, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi defended Egypt's blasphemy law, stating that "Egypt respects freedom of expression," but "one that is not used to incite hatred against anyone. One that is not directed toward one specific religion or cult."
These arrests worry activists who are concerned that free speech in Egypt is being silenced by the new government, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information expressed its outrage at the crackdowns, calling them a "general inclination by the state to silence opponents."
A fight between hardline Salafists at a Tunisian mosque on Tuesday was hardly big news. A brief story by AFP on the incident was buried by reports from Aleppo and coverage of the attack in Sinai. However, the clash between rival Islamists serves as a reflection of the current state of affairs in the country that sparked the Arab Spring.
Apparently, followers of a Salafist scholar angered a group of "jihadists" by beginning iftar, the meal that breaks Ramadan fasting, shortly before the call to prayer. The argument quickly degenerated into a knife fight, and tear gas was even used at one point.
This ugly little brawl would be unremarkable, except that radical Salafists are reportedly becoming quite bold in Tunisia these days. On Sunday, Abdelfattah Mourou, a member of Tunisia's more moderate ruling Ennahada party, was violently attacked during a conference on tolerance and Islam by another Salafist.
In June, Salafists actually rioted over an art exhibition that spelled out the name of God in insects, attacking police stations and the offices of secular parties with rocks and homemade bombs. Reuters reported in May that alcohol venders in the town of Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and the Arab Spring in motion, had repeatedly been attacked by radical Islamists.
Manouba University, a Tunisian college, was also the focus of much controversy in July over a rule forbidding female students to wear a face veil during exams.
Although it's frequently at odds with the ultraconservative Salafists, even the supposedly moderate Ennahada party is considering a bill that would criminalize blasphemy. It defines this as "insults, profanity, derision and representation of Allah and Mohammed."
On July 2, Cinnabon made history, becoming the first American franchise to open a location in Libya. The 7,500 square-foot bakery-cafe in downtown Tripoli also sells Carvel ice cream and is the first of at least 10 locations franchisees Arief and Ahmed Swaidek plan to open in Libya in the next four years. Cinnabon, which already has locations in major Middle East markets, also wants to expand into Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.
Libyan Cinnabons are slated to "feature classic menu items as well as 'locally created' sandwiches, salads and baked goods," along with cakes and pies imported from Italy. Focus Brands International, Cinnabon's overseas expansion partner, also works with other fast-food chains like Moe's Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky's, and Auntie Anne's pretzels. No word yet on whether Libyans will get to experience the wonders of giant pretzels or Tex-Mex in the near future.
On Saturday, as Ramadan began, a new Egyptian satellite television channel was launched, catering to and run by women. Maria TV is an all-woman Islamic channel -- the first of its kind -- in which women work the cameras, determine content, and appear as presenters and actresses, providing programming directed at a female audience. No men will be featured in any of Maria's programming.
Shows on Maria TV will include daily news, talk-show-style programs on topics such as the first year of marriage and make up tips, as well as investigative reports on subjects like women who cheat on their husbands. There will also be a satirical news show starring a female puppet.
Female preacher El-Sheikha Safaa Refai will head the programming. The channel is the newest creation of Ahmed Abdallah, a Cario-based producer of Islamic television, who is also the founder of Ummah TV, a religious satellite station targeting Muslim audiences throughout the Middle East.
Hosni Mubarak's regime had targeted several security raids against Ummah TV , but since Mubarak's fall, Egyptian media has seen some relaxation of restrictions. Earlier in the summer, Egyptian broadcasting also began featuring its first political humorist and satirist, Bassem Yousef, on the air.
Maria TV, which will for now consist of six hours of programming on Ummah TV, will show only fully veiled women. Guests who choose not to wear the Niqab will have their features blurred out.
AMR NABIL/AFP/Getty Images
Libya will face a laundry list of challenges following its national elections, originally set for June 19, which were postponed to July 7. They key issue, said American-Libyan Council president Fadel Lamen at a panel discussion hosted by the Project on Middle East Democracy on Tuesday, is a lack of central power:
"One of the most important things about Libya is that the revolution started at a very local level, and that is the root of how we should look at the country. The country, no matter how many layers there are at the top level, is still run by local elections."
Though Lamen emphasized the importance of a partnership between the central and local levels, it is unclear whether local militias, which have been responsible for a number of recent attacks, will cooperated. As Manal Omar, director of the Iraq, Iran, and North Africa program at the United States Institute for Peace, explained:
"Even as institutions do begin to grow over the next year, these groups have tasted power. They're going to have little incentive -- even once they are reassured -- to give it up."
Omar added that she anticipates the civil society sector will experience a post-election contraction:
"A lot of institutions that we've seen may actually dissolve because their heads are going to become government leaders."
While it is guaranteed that issues such as arms and economics will dominate Libya's post-election conversation, POMED director Stephen McInerney said the atmosphere surrounding the elections themselves is one of general and genuine confusion, citing a lack of reliable public opinion polling, single non-transferrable voting, and unorganized political parties unaware of campaigning rules.
"In terms of the political process, there's a lot of confusion regarding the electoral system."
Legislative elections in Egypt and Tunisia may have produced a Muslim Brotherhood majority, and it's clear that Libya is headed in the same direction, but hopefully the poster child for armed resistance will come out of elections with an effective government.
Though the powerful and prominent Islamist Ennahda
party has sent mixed
messages about its attitude toward Tunisia's 1,500-strong Jewish population,
President Moncef Marzouki's government
has made an extraordinary effort this year
to promote the Hiloula,
an annual pilgrimage to El Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba that
commemorates the death of second-century rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, the father of the
Kabbalah tradition. The two-day event was canceled last year for security
reasons due to the popular uprisings that ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but
it remains "the
barometer of expectations for the coming tourist season," according to the Guardian.
"So far, no more than two hundred Jewish pilgrims have joined the Hiloula.... According to our reporter in El Ghriba, police and journalists outnumbered the pilgrims, mainly Jewish Tunisians, who attended the event."
The Tunisian government has deployed a large security force to the area surrounding the synagogue, the oldest in Africa. Ten years ago, al Qaeda militants bombed the synagogue, killing 21 and wounding 30. Marzouki visited El Ghriba in April for a memorial ceremony, during which he declared that violence against Tunisian Jews was "unacceptable." Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali also voiced his commitment to a tolerant Tunisia:
"Tunisia is an open and tolerant society, we will be proud to have Jewish pilgrims visit El Ghriba as they have in the past."
The government of Israel, on the other hand, apparently sees things differently. The Israeli Prime Minister's Office issued a travel warning earlier this month advising Israelis to avoid Djerba, citing a "specific-high rating" terror threat to Jews and Israelis. Hiloula may end today, but whether Marzouki can convince the rest of the country to practice what he preaches remains uncertain.
Just days after announcing that it would back deputy leader Khairat El-Shater as a presidential candidate in Egypt's upcoming election, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party made a pit stop at Georgetown University on Wednesday as part of a "charm offensive." FJP representatives repeatedly emphasized the Islamist party's commitment to fulfilling "the demands of the young people who revolted in Tahrir Square" through promoting democracy, justice, freedom, and human dignity, and insisted that they intend to be "as inclusive as possible."
"With the new Egypt, it doesn't matter anymore what the party wants," said businessman and FJP adviser Hussein El-Kazzaz. "Our compass is not a movement that's internally inward-looking, our compass is now with the revolution.... Our distinct belief is that the country cannot be be run by one faction."
That's why, he explained, the Muslim Brotherhood flip-flopped on its decision to field a presidential candidate:
"We didn't want to nominate someone ... because we didn't want to be monopolizing positions of power at that time..... It's a very different reality now than it was 10 months ago."
Even though the FJP holds over 47 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament, Member of Parliament Abdul Mawgoud Dardery from Luxor acknowledges that the parliament itself hasn't exactly been smooth sailing:
"It's very tough [to negotiate].... All of a sudden now we are expected to decide ... the fate of our country through a very, very democratic process from which traditions and figureheads are and history and so on are being created as we go."
He added that the members have tried to do "traditional things," like holding meetings and using mediators, but that it's not working "100 percent."
El-Kazzaz also argued that the Freedom and Justice Party seeks to take a "middle ground" when it comes to the existential struggle between secular liberalism and traditionalism:
"We have a tradition that needs to be respected ... but we cannot ignore human civilization ... Europe has great things to offer, the United States has great things to offer, let's look at them and choose what we like, leave what we don't like."
If only it were that easy. Unfortunately for the FJP's philosophies of inclusion and finding a middle ground, it appears that Islamists are set to dominate Egypt's constitutional committee, a crisis that's already alienating the country's minority groups.
KHALED ELFIQI/AFP/Getty Images
The Kauffman Foundation yesterday released its 2011 national Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, showing a 5.9 percent drop in U.S. startup activity from 2010. Not so in Tunisia, according to Mondher Khanfir, an entrepreneur in Tunis who recently co-launched Wiki Start Up, the country's first startup incubator:
"After the revolution, my friends and I wanted to work on innovation, so we built an incubator to create seed funds to make projects happen ... We launched last summer, and right now we have 15 startups and a portfolio of $20 million, but our capacity is 30 startups and we're looking to raise funds here in Tunisia and internationally."
Most of Wiki Start Up's entrepreneurs, he added, are young locals.
"We have two coming from the Diaspora, from Europe and the U.S., but the other 13 were started by Tunisians based in Tunisia, and they're all under 40."
The impressive list of sectors that Wiki Start Up represents includes energy, biotechnology, agribusiness, audiovisual engineering, and other knowledge-based fields. Khanfir says he is optimistic about the future and does not expect the political climate to effect entrepreneurial growth in Tunisia.
"The question is not the stability of the country or the region because we want to work more in the international marketplace. Things are getting more and more stable in Tunisia, and our early-stage startups are not affected by whatever turbulence and volatility there is now because we're working for the future. Tunisians are very entrepreneurial."
So who best embodies the Tunisian spirit of entrepreneurship?
"Mohamed Bouazizi was an entrepreneur, and he set himself on fire because he was not respected as one. He was a small entrepreneur, and he didn't have written permission from the Ministry of Commerce to act as a merchant, but what we need to do is take people who operate in the black economy and put them in the white one. For the last 20 years, the regime failed to promote innovation."
The U.S. State Department is already getting in on the entrepreneurial activity in Tunisia through its partners for a New Beginning program: the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO). In early November 2011, PNB-NAPEO brought a group of U.S. entrepreneurs and early-stage investors to Tunisia to "foster and deepen relationships ... and showcase local talent." It seems that the Kauffman Foundation is also keen on investing in Tunisia's entrepreneurial future: In late November, it sponsored a Global Entrepreneurship Week in Tunis.
Tunisia may have only just begun to build its post-revolution economy, but it's already on track to become a regional startup nation.
JASON REED/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak can now add another title to his resume: real estate mogul. On Sunday, it was reported that Barak had sold his notoriously luxurious Tel Aviv apartment in the Akirov Towers, a five-room compound on the 31st floor whose amenities include a gym, outdoor pool, spa, and breathtaking views, for $7 million. In 2003, he paid a mere $3.87 million for the 450-square-foot space.
Naturally, Barak took to Facebook to explain his decision:
"My wife Nili and I decided that the sale was inevitable faced with the recognition that this place of residence created a sense of alienation and detachment from vast sectors of the public."
In true Ehud Barak fashion, the apartment was sold to a foreign company. The veteran kibbutznik, who was raised in a 12-by-9 foot room with no running water or toilets and described his childhood as "happy" and "warm," entered the private sector after stepping down from a failed premiership in 2001. His business ventures included oil shale rock in Jordan, a stint as president of Satcom Systems, Ltd., a mobile communications company with ties to repressive African regimes, a post on the advisory board of venture capital firm Tamir Fishman & Co., and a network of parking lots in Istanbul (which failed). All of these expeditions, though, were peas and carrots compared to his passion for working with international hedge funds. According to son-in-law Zvi Lotenberg, "the bulk of Barak's activity takes place abroad, for a number of the world's largest hedge funds and investment firms, whose names he declined to reveal."
Barak may maintain that he has been transparent regarding his business transactions, and that he has paid his taxes, but in 2006 he put away some money in a favorite tax haven, using "an account of 38 million Japanese yen (the equivalent of $380,000) in the Cayman Islands branch of Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank as collateral to obtain a loan from the bank."
Compared with the corrupt financial escapades of Israeli leaders like former prime minister Ehud Olmert, this is pretty vanilla, but there are certainly more than enough former government officials with extensive tastes in the world. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, built the 95-acre estate of Hala Ranch in 1991 just miles from Aspen, which was the "most expensive single-family residential property in the nation on the market" when it was listed for $135 million in 2007. Former British prime minister Tony Blair bought a house in London's posh and swanky Connaught Square for 3.5 million pounds. When Jacques Chirac stepped down from the French presidency in May 2007, he rented an apartment overlooking the Seine on Paris' Quai Voltaire. What makes Barak notable is that he's still on the government payroll.
So where will Barak end up next? Perhaps the David Promenade? Or maybe he'll downsize to this four-bedroom stunner on Atzuk Beach? Wherever he ends up, the next home for this cigar-chomping pol promises to be far from the kibbutz.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has an interesting definition of the word "provocative." After meeting with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the U.N. this week, Lavrov commented on March 14 that the recent resumption of U.S.-Georgia military exercises "seems somewhat provocative."
This might make sense if only Russia wasn't organizing military exercises of its own in the Caucasus. In December 2011, Russia announced a new strategic command-and-staff exercise, "Caucasus 2012," to take place in September 2012. The purpose is to prepare for a possible Israeli attack on Iran (and the potential repercussions in the Caucasus region). The exercises are to involve all areas of the armed forces, and will take place not only in the Russian territories of the North Caucasus, but also in neighboring Armenia, as well as the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (over which the 2008 war was fought).
It also conveniently occurs right before the scheduled parliamentary elections in Georgia for October 2012. The Georgian Foreign Ministry is obviously skeptical of these "military exercises" on its borders, claiming Russia is "seeking to instigate a permanent state of tension" in the region.
Then again, Russian foreign affairs rhetoric isn't exactly known for its consistency. Last year, during the NATO decision-making to provide the Libyan rebels with military assistance against Qadaffi, Russia's NATO ambassador Dimitri Rogozin commented that creating a no-fly zone over Libyan air space was "a serious interference into the domestic affairs of another country." Similar words came from Putin himself, who described the NATO mission as a "medieval call for a crusade ... [that] allows intervention in a sovereign state."
Ah, Putin condemning foreign military intervention
in a sovereign state. How quickly he forgot his intentions
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
Muammar Qaddafi's body, believe it or not, is now stashed away in a commercial freezer at a shopping center in Misrata, as Libyans quarrel over where and when to bury the ousted leader. An Associated Press correspondent on the scene describes the state of Qaddafi's corpse in graphic detail:
The body, stripped to the waist and wearing beige trousers, was laid on a bloodied mattress on the floor of an emptied-out room-sized freezer where restaurants and stores in the center normally keep perishables. A bullet hole was visible on the left side of his head -- with the bullet still lodged in his head, according to the presiding doctor -- and in the center of his chest and stomach. His hair was matted and dried blood streaks his arms and head.
Beyond burial arrangements, the big question today is how exactly Qaddafi came to be stashed away in a shopping center's commercial freezer with a bullet in his head. After all, several amateur photos and videos circulating online show revolutionary fighters capturing a bloodied, bewildered, but very much alive Qaddafi in Sirte. And several others show Libyans celebrating near Qaddafi's bullet-riddled dead body in Misrata, with a glaring gap in between the two sets of images. Questions today about whether Qaddafi was summarily executed while in detention have delayed Qaddafi's burial, prompted Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights to call for inquiries into the former Libyan leader's cause of death, and launched a debate about what the circumstances of Qaddafi's death say about Libya's fledgling democracy and international justice.
Let's investigate the forensic evidence surrounding Qaddafi's death (for more, check out this BBC infographic):
The New York Times reports that a convoy carrying Qaddafi left a fortified compound in Sirte around 8:30 am local time but was stopped in its tracks when a French warplane and American Predator drone hit two vehicles, neither of which was carrying the former leader. Revolutionary forces soon descended on the scene and engaged in a battle with loyalists who had splintered off into groups, forcing Qaddafi and several of his bodyguards to ditch their Jeep and take refuge in a nearby drainage pipe.
Qaddafi appears to have been captured around noon in Libya by fighters from Misrata (the cellphone camera image above -- one of the first photos of a captured Qaddafi to surface -- has a timestamp of 12:23 pm). This morning, a day after footage first appeared of Qaddafi in the hands of Libyan fighters, several additional clips have surfaced of the moment when (a reportedly gun-toting) Qaddafi emerged from the tunnel and Libyan fighters seized him.
In the videos, Qaddafi wipes blood from his face while young men beat him and pull his hair amid cries of "Muammar, you dog!", "God is great!" and "Keep him alive!" But, as the AP points out, Qaddafi is talking, walking upright, and showing enough strength to struggle back. There are also no clear signs of bullet wounds to his head, chest, or belly. "One man in the crowd lets out a high-pitched hysterical scream," Reuters observes after watching one of the videos. "Qaddafi then goes out of view and gunshots ring out." Here is one of the main videos making its way around the web today (warning: graphic images):
Reports suggest that Qaddafi died about 30 to 40 minutes after his capture as he was being transported in an ambulance (or some other type of vehicle) to Misrata, according to the AP. But the cause of death is in dispute. A number of Libyan commanders and fighters tell the AP that Qaddafi died of wounds sustained in a gun battle before he was captured (one fighter tells Reuters that Qaddafi was shot by his own men), and the AP notes that a coroner's report has indicated that the ousted Libyan leader bled to death from a shot to the head and also had bullet wounds in the chest and belly. Holly Pickett, a freelance journalist in Libya, caught a glimpse of Qaddafi at around 12:30 pm as she raced by in another ambulance, observing a "bloody head" and a "bare chest with bullet wound and a bloody hand." After seeing some of the amateur footage of Qaddafi before he was loaded into the ambulance, Pickett tweeted that it appeared Qaddafi had been "taken alive."
Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, meanwhile, is telling a somewhat different story. He claimed yesterday that Qaddafi didn't put up any resistance and was hit in the arm and head by bullets when the vehicle transporting him got caught in crossfire between revolutionary fighters and Qaddafi loyalists (the video above raises doubts about this narrative, but a Reuters reporter came under fire from a Qaddafi gunman near the drainage pipe in Sirte nearly two hours after Qaddafi's capture, suggesting there may have been sustained resistance there). Jibril says Qaddafi died a few minutes before reaching a hospital in Misrata.
Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist in New York, suggests yet another version of events in an interview with the Times. He explains the bullet wounds in Colonel Qaddafi's head indicate the shots were fired at close range. "It looks more like an execution than something that happened during a struggle," Baden notes. "Two pretty identical-looking wounds like that would have been hard to do from a distance." An unnamed National Transitional Council official appears to support Baden's analysis, bluntly telling Reuters that Libyan fighters captured Qaddafi "alive and while he was being taken away, they beat him and then they killed him. He might have been resisting."
So there's the evidence. We'll let you arrive at your own conclusions.
Muammar Qaddafi didn't have many friends left in the days before his death, but the ones he'd maintained were still publicly supporting him against mounting odds. Earlier this month, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who blames Western meddling for the unrest in the Middle East, praised Qaddafi loyalists for "resisting the invasion and aggression" and asked "God to protect the life of our brother Muammar Qaddafi." Another Qaddafi ally, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, refused to recognize Libya's interim government, called for the country's new leaders to negotiate with their fugitive ruler, and expressed sympathy for the Qaddafi regime, which, in his view, had been torn asunder by the "machinations of the imperialists." In Cuba, Fidel Castro condemned the "genocide" and "monstrous crimes" committed by the United States and its NATO allies in Libya.
While Castro and Mugabe haven't yet made public statements about Qaddafi's death today, Chavez has already offered a eulogy. Upon returning to Venezuela after receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba, El Universal reports, Chavez expressed outrage at Qaddafi's "murder," declared that the "Yankee empire" will "not be able to master this world," and said "we will remember Qaddafi forever as a great fighter, a revolutionary, and a martyr."
The state-run news outlets in Venezuela and Zimbabwe are dutifully expressing their solidarity with Qaddafi as well. Venezolana de Televisión reports that Qaddafi was "assassinated" -- a verb we're not seeing much in the coverage today -- while the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias ridicules Western leaders (the "patrons of aggression against Libya") for invoking freedom and democracy today while waging a military campaign in Libya and establishing crass commercial ties with its new leaders. The analyst Raimundo Kabchi tells AVN that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "practically authorized and encouraged" Qaddafi's "assassination" during her recent visit to Libya.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's commentary, meanwhile, comes in the form of an obituary. The ZBC explains that while Qaddafi's "anti western, anti imperialism approach" made him an "enemy of the west" (surely it had nothing to do with the Berlin nightclub or Lockerbie bombings), his "strong military support and finances" won him "several allies across the African continent" (including, of course, Zimbabwe). "Rebel forces" may have killed him today, the news outlet adds, but Qaddafi was really toppled by the U.S. and its NATO allies, who "interfered in the Libyan uprising targeting Colonel Gaddafi using their airstrikes and killing thousands of civilians in the process." The ZBC meditates on Qaddafi's legacy:
He will be to many a hero who went down fighting and exposed the west's decolonising mission in Africa in order to secure the continent's rich resources, that is oil in the case of Libya.
Retired Major Cairo Mhandu, a member of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, echoed ZBC's view today, according to the Global Post, warning of the "beginning of a new recolonization of Africa." Qaddafi, Mhandu argued, "won elections and was a true leader. It is foreigners who toppled him, not Libyans. Qaddafi died fighting. He is a true African hero." (Mugabe's political opponents told Voice of America that Qaddafi was the architect of his own downfall and that his death was a step in the direction of democracy).
Qaddafi's friends aren't limited to a handful of anti-Western world leaders, either. The Daily Beast reports that Qaddafi's former nurse Oksana Balinskaya, who's returned to Ukraine, is mourning the loss of her former boss, whom she considers a "brave hero" for making a last stand in his hometown of Sirte. "Why should we hate him or think of him as tyrant, if he gave us jobs and paid us well?" she asks.
Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
With the Libyan rebels now largely in control of Tripoli, and two of Muammar al-Qaddafi's sons in custody after a stunning final assault of the capital, the answer seems clear: absolutely.
Many have criticized U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy of "leading from behind" in Libya, but that strategy now seems utterly vindicated. It was Libyans themselves, with significant help from NATO, Qatar, and the UAE, who liberated their country from Qaddafi's grip -- a fact about which they are fiercely and justly proud. It required little from American taxpayers: As of Thursday, NATO operations had cost the United States around $1.1 billion, according to CFR's Micah Zenko -- a rounding error.
Of course, there will be problems. Not only is Tripoli not yet fully secure, but two regime strongholds -- Sirte and Sabha -- appear to remain in regime hands. Libyan state TV is still, incredibly, on the air. The "brother leader" remains at large, as do his sons Muatassim and Khamis Qaddafi, as well as his intelligence chief and brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi. They may try, Saddam-style, to mount an insurgency (though the speed of Qaddafi's collapse in Tripoli suggest they will find few takers).
The National Transitional Council won't have an easy time of governing, either. Not only is it not clear how much loyalty it commands among the fighters, but Libya has effectively no institutions: It was a state run for the benefit of the Qaddafi family and its shrinking circle of friends and allies. There is little history of political pluralism in Libya, and no doubt many grievances and cleavages lurk below the surface. (Reuters journalist Michael Georgy raises some important concerns to this effect here.) There will likely be intense disagreements over how to distribute Libya's oil wealth, how to account for the last 42 years of despotic rule, how to incorporate Islam into the state, and how to disarm and integrate the disparate fighting brigades that overthrew Qaddafi. There will be a temptation to overly centralize power, fueled by oil receipts concentrated in a few hands. Hopefully, any conflicts that arise will be resolved peacefully.
But these problems seem manageable over time, and it is in any case hard to imagine any Libyan government worse than Qaddafi, whose rule was not only deeply repressive and arbitrary at home but also destabilizing abroad. I disagree strongly with those, like CFR's Richard Haass, who would like to see some kind of foreign stabilization force -- not only is it not going to happen, but it's best if Libyans handle their own affairs as much as possible. They will make mistakes, but these will be their own mistakes. It's now their country once again.
And that's the best news about the fall of Qaddafi. It is the only case so far in which Arab revolutionaries themselves will get the chance to overhaul the old order. In Tunisia and Egypt, the old regimes are still very much in power -- at least until new elections are held and new constitutions are written. And even then, gaining full civilian control over the military and the security apparatus will be a years-long struggle. Libya has the chance to wipe the slate clean, and given what a terrible system is being overthrown, that alone seems like reason enough to celebrate.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
France is urging the Libyan opposition to sit down and negotiate with Muammar al-Qaddafi, the country's defense minister said yesterday in Paris. Gérard Longuet said it was time to "get round the table" and "speak to each other."
He added, "The position of the [Transitional National Council] TNC is very far from other positions."
You might recall France was the first country to recognize the TNC. And it pushed its NATO allies into initiating the military campaign against Qaddafi. It even fired the first shots against Qaddafi's regime. At the time, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the world had to prevent Qaddafi's "murderous madness" against civilians.
"This is a huge transformation," said Melissa Bell of France 24. "From the beginning it was always a question of Qaddafi leaving."
France sparked angry responses from Russian and African leaders when it parachuted weapons to Libyan rebels. Last week, Longuet said France would no longer arm the opposition.
So, what changed? Why is France shifting away from its gung-ho anti-Qaddafi position from earlier this spring?
For starters, the war has dragged on far longer than most people anticipated it would, and France seems to be growing impatient.
There is also frustration with the rebels, who have shown little desire to enter negotiations to end the conflict.
According to the Daily Telegraph, a senior Western diplomat said France was "sending a message" to the rebels that the clock is ticking to bring the conflict to an end. NATO's mandate in Libya is due to expire at the end of September.
"There is general recognition among Western diplomats that the structure of the state existing in the western part of the country should not be completely disregarded in the event of a quick collapse of the Qaddafi regime," the source added.
Observers have noted the campaign is not going as well as it could. George Robertson, the former British defense secretary and former NATO secretary-general told Foreign Policy that European countries lack the military capacity to bring the operation to a close.
"In Libya, the Americans did what I always suggested they might do -- which is to say, 'It's your fight; please take the lead. You're big enough; you're brave enough; you're strong enough. You do it,'" Robertson said.
As in Washington, the Libya war is taking a political toll on the administration in Paris.
Muammar al-Qaddafi likes to play chess, and it may be that he sees a checkmate nearing. According to a respected Russian newspaper today, Moscow officials say the Libyan leader is "sending out signals that he is prepared to relinquish power in exchange for security guarantees." The logic, as summed up by Reuters, is that Qaddafi sees decreasing supplies of money and fuel, and increasing military pressure from NATO and the rebel army.
Of course, no one really knows what is going on inside the Libyan leader's head; his government spokesman categorically denied the report. Many analysts are skeptical. Dirk Vandewalle, a Libya scholar at Dartmouth College who was recently appointed as an advisor to the United Nations mission for Libya, told Foreign Policy that back channel talks between Qaddafi's government and Russia haven't gone anywhere.
"The bottom line is he doesn't want to go," he said.
Western diplomatic sources told Reuters that it is in Qaddafi's interests to "send out conflicting signals about possible deals, in the hope that it will sow confusion among the rebels and the fragile Western alliance trying to push him out."
But according to David Mack, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. diplomat in Libya when Qaddafi first came to power, that analysis doesn't hold up. Qaddafi, he says, is depending on his supporters thinking they don't have any other way out other than backing him until the end. Making the world think his exit is actually an option harms that narrative.
"It's our strategy to try to convince people around Qaddafi that there are better options," Mack said.
One thing is clear -- as NATO bombs continue to target Qaddafi and his backers, and as the rebel army and Qaddafi's forces battle each other in the east and west of the country, there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuvering.
Russia, the United Kingdom, and Turkey are all in back channel talks with his government, according to Vandewalle. The United States is participating in defacto talks through the United Kingdom. And South African President Jacob Zuma has been pushing a diplomatic solution since the fighting started. He's met with Qaddafi several times and yesterday said NATO countries should assist in persuading the Transitional National Council (TNC) "to remove some of the preconditions that are making it hard or impossible to start with the negotiations process" -- such as the insistence on prosecuting Qaddafi.
On Sunday, there were signals that the TNC was softening its position. In an interview with Reuters, opposition leader Mustapha Abdul-Jalil said the TNC had offered Qaddafi the option of resigning but staying in Libya. (The next day he backtracked a bit, saying that it was just a scenario that was discussed internally but that there was no "current or future possibility for Qaddafi to remain in Libya").
Yesterday, the Libyan government said it held talks with the TNC on several occasions in Italy, Norway, and Egypt about finding a peaceful solution (an Italian government spokesman called the reports untrue).
"The one thing that is going on is there's an enormous amount of back channels," said Vandewalle.
Vandewalle is skeptical Qaddafi is really looking for a negotiated exit.
Say you're a poorly trained rebel army battling the ruthless military and hired thugs of a dictator who has said he'd fight to the last drop of blood, you'd probably need some help. So, what would be on your wish list of supplies from the international community?
AK-47s, anti-tank weapons, night-vision goggles, body armor ...and underwear.
Reports this week that France parachuted weapons in to rebel troops in western Libya re-energized the debate over supplying the anti-Qaddafi forces. The African Union and Russia both criticized the French move. So far, Qatar is the only other country that is known to have given weapons to the rebellion. The U.S. has shipped non-lethal aid, including medical supplies, uniforms, boots, tents, personal protective gear, and "more than 10,000 halal meals ready to eat," according to State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
Le Figaro reported that the arms from France included rocket launchers, assault rifles, and anti-tank missiles (though France denied sending the latter; a French government spokesman said the supplies included only light arms such as machine guns and rocket launchers).
In Vienna yesterday, Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the rebel's Transitional National Council (TNC), once again called on the international community to supply weapons.
"The rebels have only light arms," he said. "We need weapons to bring the fight to a quick end."
So, what kinds of weapons are the rebels seeking? In fact, the TNC actually has a shopping list. A State Department official said a third-party broker had approached the United States about supplying weapons, but the U.S. turned the request down because there is an embargo against shipping arms to Libya.
According to a source with ties to the TNC, who has seen the list, it consists of about 25-30 items. Some of the weapons the rebels are seeking include:
All in all, not a bad list of items to jumpstart your rag-tag army.
Last month, Mansour El-Kikhia, a Libyan-American activist with close ties to the TNC and its military leadership, presented a second list to the Pentagon. He said the request came from the senior military leaders of the rebellion.
He asked for the following:
The Pentagon rejected the request, according to El-Kikhia.
The United States and other nations have been more compliant when it comes to providing non-lethal assistance. Nevertheless, there is still a massive need for all kinds of supplies ranging from food to clothing, according to the TNC's envoy to Washington, Ali Aujali. He said supplies being sought for the rebel army range from the most high tech (surveillance equipment) to the mundane (underwear).
Aujali reviewed with Foreign Policy a list of supply needs he recently received from Benghazi. It includes:
And then of course, there's money.
"That's the most important thing and that's their primary concern," said Dirk Vandewalle, who was recently appointed political advisor to the UN Mission for Libya.
They've asked the U.S. to unfreeze the $30 billion of Libyan assets seized from Qaddafi and release them to the National Council.
Vandewalle said, beyond weapons, they also need trainers. "Otherwise, the weapons can't be used efficiently."
Aujali said he has not tried to seek arms from the United States, though he made clear the rebels certainly have that need as well. "Qaddafi is not killing Libyan people with potatoes," he said. "He's using real weapons."
Scenes of protest and war from Bahrain to Libya have become more than familiar over the past six months. Still, these satellite images published today by Stratfor, a risk analysis and geopolitics website and publisher, are striking.
The image above shows Cairo's Tahrir Square on February 11, the day Hosni Mubarak gave up the Egyptian presidency. An estimated 300,000 protesters crammed into downtown Cairo.
Below, more aerial shots from the Middle East's uprisings.
Today's news that Muammar al-Qaddafi was indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges he ordered attacks against civilians in the early days of the Libya uprising was greeted by celebratory gunfire in the rebel-controlled east, but it might be a bit early to celebrate.
ICC indictments are notoriously difficult to follow through on, given that the court relies on individual states to make the arrest -- and many states have not ratified the treaty establishing the court and do not recognize its jurisdiction -- including Libya. Ask Sudan's leader, Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted in 2009 for war crimes committed during the conflict in Darfur. Since then, he's traveled to Kenya, Eritrea, Egypt, Libya, Qatar, Iran, and was supposed to visit China this week, though his plane was mysteriously diverted.
Likewise, it's doubtful that Qaddafi will face the wrath of the international justice system -- as long as he clings to power, says Max Fisher at the Atlantic.
"In practice, an ICC arrest warrant can be little more than a lifelong ban against traveling to certain countries," wrote Fisher.
In fact, argues Simon Tisdall in the Guardian, the warrant could make the international community's goal of removing him quickly even harder to attain. Qaddafi is more likely to feel he has nothing left to lose and must stay and fight until the bitter end -- that's bad news for the United States and its allies since it means Qaddafi is less likely to accept a negotiated solution. Though still possible, it's certainly a more difficult prospect today since it means there are fewer countries that would be willing to take him in -- not to mention his son Saif al-Islam, who was also named in the indictment.
As usual, there is a large dose of unreality and wishful thinking about all this. The ICC's action could easily backfire, as have other aspects of Libyan policy. The court's personal targeting of Gaddafi will revive questions about the wisdom of the Anglo-French-US approach (distinct from that of NATO) of making his removal from power the key measure of success in Libya. It will also fuel claims that the ICC is only interested in pursuing African leaders, as in Sudan and Kenya, and that the US in particular (which is not a party to the ICC) is guilty of double standards.
The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi reported that "some US officials have acknowledged privately that an indictment of Qaddafi would very likely complicate the diplomatic environment and render more remote a solution that includes Qaddafi departing for another country."
Publicly, the United States has given the thumbs up to today's news. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States "believes that the decision to refer the case to the ICC was the right decision; that the ICC has spoken now about the need for justice and accountability. With regard to whether this hurts or helps, it doesn't change the fact that Gaddafi's got to take the message that it's time to go."
Human Rights Watch issued a similar statement.
"Muammar Gaddafi already made clear he intended to stay until the bitter end before the ICC process was set in motion, and his son's February vow to ‘live and die in Libya' speaks for itself,'" said the group's international justice director, Richard Dicker, in a statement today. "It beggars belief that a dictator who has gripped power for over 40 years would be frozen in place by this arrest warrant."
Ultimately, the indictment could wind up being "another bargaining chip in any negotiations over ending Libya's civil war," wrote Fisher. It would mean having to find him a home where he will be free from the threat of arrest -- say Venezuela or South Africa.
"That's a good thing," Fisher said. "As fighting worsens and civil society degrades, anything that makes peace more likely is essential -- but it's not quite international justice in the legal sense of the term."
A Brazilian woman with the title of oldest person in the world died yesterday. Maria Gomes Valentim was just two weeks shy of her 115th birthday. For those keeping track, the new oldest person in the world is an American, Besse Cooper, who is 48 days younger than Valentim.
According to the Gerontology Research Group, which tracks supercentenarians -- people older than 110 -- there are 87 known people in the world who fit that description.
Foreign Policy crunched the numbers to figure out the countries in the world with the most supercentenarians.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.