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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

This is really too good for me to pick excerpts out of. It really expresses so much of what I believe is wrong with the world and to cut it up would diminish it. While focusing mainly on India, Arundhati Roy, author of the God of Small Things (a book I think is overrated since I disapprove of the petered-out ending), and other books manages to strike the heart of the system: that the word democracy has been usurped to mean something entirely different than it should/did. Read it yourselves:

While we’re still arguing about whether there’s life after death, can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By “democracy” I don’t mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy, and its variants, such as they are.

So, is there life after democracy?Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defense of democracy. It’s flawed, we say. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than everything else that’s on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: “Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia… is that what you would prefer?”

Whether democracy should be the utopia that all “developing” societies aspire to is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn’t meant to suggest that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. It’s meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy–too much representation, too little democracy–needs some structural adjustment.

The question here, really, is what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?

Is it possible to reverse this process? Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used to be? What we need today, for the sake of the survival of this planet, is long-term vision. Can governments whose very survival depends on immediate, extractive, short-term gain provide this? Could it be that democracy, the sacred answer to our short-term hopes and prayers, the protector of our individual freedoms and nurturer of our avaricious dreams, will turn out to be the endgame for the human race? Could it be that democracy is such a hit with modern humans precisely because it mirrors our greatest folly–our nearsightedness?

Our inability to live entirely in the present (like most animals do), combined with our inability to see very far into the future, makes us strange in-between creatures, neither beast nor prophet. Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival. We plunder the earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for the profound, unfathomable thing that we have lost. It would be conceit to pretend I have the answers to any of these questions. But it does look as if the beacon could be failing and democracy can perhaps no longer be relied upon to deliver the justice and stability we once dreamed it would.

A Clerk of Resistance

As a writer, a fiction writer, I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on. Does it eventually mask a larger truth? I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.

Something about the cunning, Brahmanical, intricate, bureaucratic, file-bound, “apply-through-proper-channels” nature of governance and subjugation in India seems to have made a clerk out of me. My only excuse is to say that it takes odd tools to uncover the maze of subterfuge and hypocrisy that cloaks the callousness and the cold, calculated violence of the world’s favorite new superpower. Repression “through proper channels” sometimes engenders resistance “through proper channels.” As resistance goes, this isn’t enough, I know. But for now, it’s all I have. Perhaps someday it will become the underpinning for poetry and for the feral howl.

Today, words like “progress” and “development” have become interchangeable with economic “reforms,” “deregulation” and “privatization.” “Freedom” has come to mean “choice.” It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant. “Market” no longer means a place where you buy provisions. The market is a deterritorialized space where faceless corporations do business, including buying and selling “futures.” “Justice” has come to mean “human rights” (and of those, as they say, “a few will do”).

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the tsars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being “anti-progress,” “anti-development,” “anti-reform” and of course “anti-national”–negativists of the worst sort.

Talk about saving a river or protecting a forest and they say, “Don’t you believe in progress?” To people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs, and whose homes are being bulldozed, they say, “Do you have an alternative development model?” To those who believe that a government is duty bound to provide people with basic education, healthcare and social security, they say, “You’re against the market.” And who except a cretin could be against markets?

To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when “free speech” has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.

Two decades of “progress” in India has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it–and a much, much vaster, desperate underclass. Tens of millions of people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods, droughts and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental engineering and massive infrastructural projects, dams, mines and Special Economic Zones. All developed in the name of the poor, but really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy.

The hoary institutions of Indian democracy–the judiciary, the police, the “free” press and, of course, elections–far from working as a system of checks and balances, quite often do the opposite. They provide each other cover to promote the larger interests of Union and Progress. In the process, they generate such confusion, such a cacophony, that voices raised in warning just become part of the noise. And that only helps to enhance the image of the tolerant, lumbering, colorful, somewhat chaotic democracy. The chaos is real. But so is the consensus.

A New Cold War in Kashmir

Speaking of consensus, there’s the small and ever-present matter of Kashmir. When it comes to Kashmir, the consensus in India is hard core. It cuts across every section of the establishment–including the media, the bureaucracy, the intelligentsia and even Bollywood.

The war in the Kashmir valley is almost twenty years old now, and has claimed about 70,000 lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured, several thousand have “disappeared,” women have been raped, tens of thousands widowed. Half a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir valley, making it the most militarized zone in the world. (The United States had about 165,000 active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation.) The Indian Army now claims that it has, for the most part, crushed militancy in Kashmir. Perhaps that’s true. But does military domination mean victory?

How does a government that claims to be a democracy justify a military occupation? By holding regular elections, of course. Elections in Kashmir have had a long and fascinating past. The blatantly rigged state election of 1987 was the immediate provocation for the armed uprising that began in 1990. Since then elections have become a finely honed instrument of the military occupation, a sinister playground for India’s deep state. Intelligence agencies have created political parties and decoy politicians; they have constructed and destroyed political careers at will. It is they more than anyone else who decide what the outcome of each election will be. After every election, the Indian establishment declares that India has won a popular mandate from the people of Kashmir.

In the summer of 2008, a dispute over land being allotted to the Amarnath Shrine Board coalesced into a massive, nonviolent uprising. Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people defied soldiers and policemen–who fired straight into the crowds, killing scores of people–and thronged the streets. From early morning to late in the night, the city reverberated to chants of “Azadi! Azadi!” (Freedom! Freedom!). Fruit sellers weighed fruit chanting “Azadi! Azadi!” Shopkeepers, doctors, houseboat owners, guides, weavers, carpet-sellers–everybody was out with placards, everybody shouted “Azadi! Azadi!” The protests went on for several days.

The protests were massive. They were democratic, and they were nonviolent. For the first time in decades, fissures appeared in mainstream public opinion in India. The Indian state panicked. Unsure of how to deal with this mass civil disobedience, it ordered a crackdown. It enforced the harshest curfew in recent memory, with shoot-on-sight orders. In effect, for days on end, it virtually caged millions of people. The major pro-freedom leaders were placed under house arrest, several others were jailed. House-to-house searches culminated in the arrests of hundreds of people.

Once the rebellion was brought under control, the government did something extraordinary–it announced elections in the state. Pro-independence leaders called for a boycott. They were rearrested. Almost everybody believed the elections would become a huge embarrassment for the Indian government. The security establishment was convulsed with paranoia. Its elaborate network of spies, renegades and embedded journalists began to buzz with renewed energy. No chances were taken. (Even I, who had nothing to do with any of what was going on, was put under house arrest in Srinagar for two days.)

Calling for elections was a huge risk. But the gamble paid off. People turned out to vote in droves. It was the biggest voter turnout since the armed struggle began. It helped that the polls were scheduled so that the first districts to vote were the most militarized districts even within the Kashmir valley.

None of India’s analysts, journalists and psephologists cared to ask why people who had only weeks ago risked everything, including bullets and shoot-on-sight orders, should have suddenly changed their minds. None of the high-profile scholars of the great festival of democracy–who practically live in TV studios when there are elections in mainland India, picking apart every forecast and exit poll and every minor percentile swing in the vote count–talked about what elections mean in the presence of such a massive, year-round troop deployment (an armed soldier for every twenty civilians).

No one speculated about the mystery of hundreds of unknown candidates who materialized out of nowhere to represent political parties that had no previous presence in the Kashmir valley. Where had they come from? Who was financing them? No one was curious. No one spoke about the curfew, the mass arrests, the lockdown of constituencies that were going to the polls.

Not many talked about the fact that campaigning politicians went out of their way to de-link Azadi and the Kashmir dispute from elections, which they insisted were only about municipal issues–roads, water, electricity. No one talked about why people who have lived under a military occupation for decades–where soldiers could barge into homes and whisk away people at any time of the day or night–might need someone to listen to them, to take up their cases, to represent them.

The minute elections were over, the establishment and the mainstream press declared victory (for India) once again. The most worrying fallout was that in Kashmir, people began to parrot their colonizers’ view of themselves as a somewhat pathetic people who deserved what they got. “Never trust a Kashmiri,” several Kashmiris said to me. “We’re fickle and unreliable.” Psychological warfare, technically known as psy-ops, has been an instrument of official policy in Kashmir. Its depredations over decades–its attempt to destroy people’s self-esteem–are arguably the worst aspect of the occupation. It’s enough to make you wonder whether there is any connection at all between elections and democracy.

The trouble is that Kashmir sits on the fault lines of a region that is awash in weapons and sliding into chaos. The Kashmiri freedom struggle, with its crystal-clear sentiment but fuzzy outlines, is caught in the vortex of several dangerous and conflicting ideologies–Indian nationalism (corporate as well as “Hindu,” shading into imperialism), Pakistani nationalism (breaking down under the burden of its own contradictions), US imperialism (made impatient by a tanking economy) and a resurgent medieval-Islamist Taliban (fast gaining legitimacy, despite its insane brutality, because it is seen to be resisting an occupation). Each of these ideologies is capable of a ruthlessness that can range from genocide to nuclear war. Add Chinese imperial ambitions, an aggressive, reincarnated Russia, and the huge reserves of natural gas in the Caspian region and persistent whispers about natural gas, oil and uranium reserves in Kashmir and Ladakh, and you have the recipe for a new cold war (which, like the last one, is cold for some and hot for others).

In the midst of all this, Kashmir is set to become the conduit through which the mayhem unfolding in Afghanistan and Pakistan spills into India, where it will find purchase in the anger of the young among India’s 150 million Muslims who have been brutalized, humiliated and marginalized. Notice has been given by the series of terrorist strikes that culminated in the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

There is no doubt that the Kashmir dispute ranks right up there, along with Palestine, as one of the oldest, most intractable disputes in the world. That does not mean that it cannot be resolved. Only that the solution will not be completely to the satisfaction of any one party, one country, or one ideology. Negotiators will have to be prepared to deviate from the “party line.”

Of course, we haven’t yet reached the stage where the government of India is even prepared to admit that there’s a problem, let alone negotiate a solution. Right now it has no reason to. Internationally, its stocks are soaring. And while its neighbors deal with bloodshed, civil war, concentration camps, refugees and army mutinies, India has just concluded a beautiful election. However, “demon-crazy” can’t fool all the people all the time. India’s temporary, shotgun solutions to the unrest in Kashmir (pardon the pun), have magnified the problem and driven it deep into a place where it is poisoning the aquifers.

Is Democracy Melting?

Perhaps the story of the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, is the most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been deployed there, enduring chill winds and temperatures that dip to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Of the hundreds who have died there, many have died just from the elements.

The glacier has become a garbage dump now, littered with the detritus of war–thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate. The garbage remains intact, perfectly preserved at those icy temperatures, a pristine monument to human folly.

While the Indian and Pakistani governments spend billions of dollars on weapons and the logistics of high-altitude warfare, the battlefield has begun to melt. Right now, it has shrunk to about half its size. The melting has less to do with the military standoff than with people far away, on the other side of the world, living the good life. They’re good people who believe in peace, free speech and human rights. They live in thriving democracies whose governments sit on the UN Security Council and whose economies depend heavily on the export of war and the sale of weapons to countries like India and Pakistan. (And Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, the Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan… it’s a long list.)

The glacial melt will cause severe floods on the subcontinent, and eventually severe drought that will affect the lives of millions of people. That will give us even more reasons to fight. We’ll need more weapons. Who knows? That sort of consumer confidence may be just what the world needs to get over the current recession. Then everyone in the thriving democracies will have an even better life–and the glaciers will melt even faster.

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I stumbled upon this post by Mo-ha-med and discovered a pretty good blog. I am reproducing the post in full. It’s about time someone put this much investigation into such a politically and economically critical yet entirely opaque issue. Don’t neglect to check out the first post (referenced in the first line) and the comments on it for some more valuable info.

Anyway, hats off to Mo-ha-med and without further ado:

(Three Quick notes:
– Part One of this article presented a background to the Egypt-Israel gas export deal and what was ‘renegotiated’ last week, and can be found here.

– The research here was all made from public sources. Some sources required a sign-up for a trial version. References from newspapers, business reviews and databases, and industry analysis consultancies are mentioned as often as humanly possible. Information from unreliable online sources, or quoting an inaccessible print source was discarded.

– That article took me quite some time to write. So If you liked the article – or, hell, if you didn’t – make my day and leave a comment!)

———————-

EMG signed the gas export deal on the Egyptian side. But what hides behind this acronym? And why are they mandated with selling the country’s natural resources?

EMG is short for ‘East Mediterranean Gas’ – an Egyptian-Israeli consortium. Which, despite managing multi-billion dollars projects, has no online presence or website.

We do know however that it was originally a joint venture between the Egyptian Gas Petroleum Consortium (EGPC), a government joint venture operating under the ministry of Petroleum, and Israeli corporation Merhav, after a deal between Minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahmy and then minister of infrastructure Binyamin Ben Eliezer in 2005.

The company has been quite keen on keeping a low profile – hell, I can understand them – but it has gone a bit too far: it is actually spreading false information about itself!

But take a look at this page: this is a typical company-generated public profile – the only one I could find on the internet.

It is so full of misinformation I am still laughing. For instance:

– The website address is fictitious. That’s right: there is no www.emg.com. As a matter of fact, the domain name is registered for an education company in New Jersey.

– Check out the listed shareholders (graph):

Right. Only there is no “MIDGAS” that I can find, there is no Fordas Pernamanian, there is no Middle East Pipeline NV in the Netherlands, and there is no Coltex in Britain. There’s a Coltex in Austin, Texas, which generates annual sales of $170,000 so I’ll make the assumption that they’re not shareholders in a transnational pipeline.

The profile makes no mention of business with Israel anywhere. It just says (hihihihihi) “… to Turkey, to other countries situated along the Eastern Coast of the Mediterranean”.

Now to some more reliable information on the company.

Currently, the owners of EMG appear to be as follows:

28% for HKS, the main Egyptian partner. They seemingly started off with 53% – a controlling share -but sold a 25% stake to PTT – before gas even started pumping.

25% for Thailand’s Public company PTT (see page 3 of this document)

20% for Yosef Maiman, through Ampal-American Israel Corporation which he chairs, and Merhav MNF Ltd., which he owns

10% for the Egyptian government, via the Egyptian Natural Gas holding Company (EGAS)

4.4% for Israeli institutional investors. (Source)

The main remark to make here is that — the Egyptian shareholders in the company that signed on behalf of the Egyptian partner own, that is commonly referred to as “Egypt’s EMG” hmmmm, a mere 38% of the capital.

Let’s be very clear here: the Egyptian signatory to the deal is, ehhhh, not Egyptian. Beautiful, right?

A little digging into the main partners in this venture is in order, surely.

1. EGAS:

The State, of course. The Egyptian Natural Gas Holding company (EGAS) was established in August 2001 by Minister of Petroleum Sameh Fahmy (whose name pops up time and again in the EMG story). It supervises the natural gas industry in Egypt, manages the foreign investments in exploration, production, and the usage of Liquefied Natural Gas tankers”.

In 2000, the Egyptian government decided to allocate one third of the then proven reserves for domestic market requirements for 25 years, the second third for strategic purposes, and the remaining third, plus most gas discoveries from 2001 onward, for export.” Seems that EMG got some of those concessions..

Notice that when we read (like here or there) that “EMG reached an agreement with the Egyptian Government” – EGAS is the mandated government counterpart here.

So EGAS reaches an agreement with a company it is itself a shareholder of. Does that sound like a conflict of interest to you?

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised but can’t help to be a little bit – the 10 % share in EMG appears nowhere on the list of EGAS affiliate companies.

The Egyptian government is a silent partner. Hilarious. Though not unforeseen, given the expected unpopularity of the deal.

2. HKS-GROUP

The HKS-Group is named after the initials of its founder’s, Hussein Kamal-el-Din Salem (usually just referred to Hussein Salem).

A real-estate development company, it owns a number of hotels, most notably the Jolie Ville hotels franchise it took over in 1997.

HKS defines itself as a “a Private Sector Egyptian investment Group whom (sic) has been active during the last Twenty-Five years in international business linking Egypt to the rest of the world in addition to managing a strong investment portfolio abroad.”

Hotels aside, HKS is no stranger to energy mega-projects.

In 1993, it established the ‘Middle East Oil refinery’ (MIDOR – Remember that name!) but declared it pulled out of project (apparently in 1999?) to, I quote, “concentrate in (sic) other new ventures and projects… on the core business of Hospitality and tourism”.

Yet it still owns the Midor Electricity Company (MIDELEC), which provides electricity to 3 oil refineries in the Alexandria region, chiefly to… MIDOR.
(Which HKS says it pulled out from).

Interestingly enough, MIDELEC is no longer mentioned on the company’s main website – but it seems they may forgotten to remove it from the company profile page on the Jolie Ville website.

This said, MIDELEC has its offices (as does EMG) within the HKS building in Cairo – at 26 Roshdy Street, Cairo. So much for distancing oneself…

MIDOR itself is a fascinating story. And it was most probably the meeting point for many partners of the EMG adventure.

For instance, guess who was made CEO and Vice-chairman of MIDOR in 1997? Sameh Fahmy, who 2 years later became minister of Petroleum, apparently supported by a recommendation of Mr. Hussein Salem to the President.

Briefly thereafter, a spinoff of HKS’ MIDOR was established in 2000, Al-Sharq Gas Co., selling gas to Jordan and Syria via the ‘Arab Gas Pipeline’. Al-Sharq, along with a handful others JVs, was granted particular advantages, namely “the same incentives and profit splits as foreign firms”.
Nice, eh?

And guess what Israeli company was part of the MIDOR joint venture? Merhav. They eventually withdrew – APS Review suggested that Gulf countries wouldn’t supply the refinery, forcing it to buy on the spot market; the Ahram Weekly put forth similar justifications at the time. Other explanations include the more general deteriorating Egypt-Israeli relations with Likud’s accession to power in 2001 – but I’m not too inclined to buy this justification.

Today, MIDOR makes a point of mentioning that 100% of its capital is Egyptian. Not Isra… shhhh!! :)
Its Chairman and CEO is a gentleman named Medhat Youssef Mahmoud; until 2006 though it was still reported that Hussein Salem, who held on to 2% of the shares, held the post.

HKS seems to have botched attempts to distance itself from the MIDOR sour memory, and to pass EMG for something it is not. At some level, their behaviour seems so nonchalant I wonder if they really meant to try to put this distance.

3. And the main Israeli partner, Yosef (Joseph / Josef / Yossi) Maiman?

He’s not this the guy on classmates.com :).
German-born, Peru-raised Maiman is a wealthy and influential Israeli businessman who owns Merhav (since 1972), is President and CEO of business conglomerate Ampal, and is on the board of Israel’s Channel 10. (see here, or here if you like US Government archive documents!). and, random fact of the day, his 2007 compensation was $2,154,563. Not bad!

With business interests around the globe, including several very large energy projects in the Middle East and Central Asia – with so much political influence there it reportedly worries Iran. He was also involved in a messy gas concession debacle off the Gaza coast with British Gas and the Quartet Representative a couple of years ago.

He’s a former intelligence officer (yes, former Mossad, but don’t freak out :), hence the close relationship with Shabtai Shavit, whom he recruited to head EMG’s Israel office.

(Yes. The Israel office of “Egypt’s” EMG is headed by the former Director of the Mossad. Tadaaa!).

Oh, and apparently Maiman is such good buddies with President Shimon Peres, he reportedly hosted his 80th birthday party in uber-posh neighbourhood Herzliya Pituah. Selfless friendship, clearly.

His Egypt connections go via HKS (MIDOR, of course) but also apparently via a longer chain of Maiman –>Shavit –> Omar Suleiman –> Every Egyptian Government big head. This relationship, Haaretz suggests, helped him get the EMG deal.

So there you have it.

The Egypt-Israel gas deal, it turns out, is a barely concealed cesspool of clientelism, personal relationships and private interests, breaches of government procedure, of transparency rules, and of corporate governance.

And we’re wondering why the deal was originally underpriced? I’m surprised we knew anything about it in the first place.

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I couldnt let this one by with just a delicious bookmark. Rami El Khouri comments on Arab (regime and popular) perceptions of and reactions to the events unfolding in Iran. I think he hits a crucial point whith this article in highlighting that they’ve trapped themselves in a lose-lose situation regardless of the outcomes in Iran. I’ve reproduced the vast majority of it here:

All of them, without exception, react to events in Iran with fascination, confusion, and concern, reflecting self-inflicted political incoherence and mediocrity that are hallmarks of the modern Arab world. Broadly speaking, the Arab world has maneuvered itself into a lose-lose situation vis-à-vis developments in Iran, despite different views of the Islamic Republic.

The uncomfortable common denominator is that for both the people and the ruling power elites of the Arab world, whatever happens in Iran will largely be perceived negatively by the majority in our region. This is a sad commentary on the condition of Arab political culture, which remains autocratic and rigid at the top, and passive and frustrated at the grassroots.

Most Arab regimes do not like Iran or even fear it, because of its capacity to inspire revolutionary Islamism or at least mildly insurrectionary movements within Arab countries. A few Arab leaders even speak of Iran’s predatory or hegemonic ambitions in the Gulf region, Lebanon, Iraq and other lands. Only isolated pockets of power in the Arab world like or support the Iranian regime, including Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and some other Islamist or nationalist forces. Yet even the few isolated exceptions like Hamas and Hizbullah that have effectively carved out small domains of their own sovereignty are in an uncomfortable zone regarding events in Iran.

Arab public opinion, for its part, views Iran with much more nuance. Many Arabs cheered the Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah 30 years ago, and continue to enjoy Iran’s defiance of the United States, Israel, UN sanctions and conservative Arab leaderships. Others in the Arab world see the Iranian Islamic revolution as a nasty export commodity that only spells trouble for Arab societies. Places like Lebanon and Palestine, especially, are offered the unattractive option of perpetual warfare with Israel, which entails the regular destruction of swaths of their society.

The irony today is that the Iranian regime and its policies are viewed very differently throughout the Arab world; but removing or reconfiguring the Islamic regime through street demonstrations or even through democratic elections seems problematic for virtually everyone in Arab society.

Most Arab governments dislike the current Iranian regime, so you would think they would be pleased to see it toppled, or tempered by its own people. Yet, if such change were to occur through street demonstrations choreographed via a web of digital communications, whispered messages, and rooftop religious chants in the middle of the night, Arab leaders of autocratic regimes would be unhappy — because they would sense their own vulnerability to similar mass political challenges. The fact is not lost on anyone that the Iranian regime effectively withstood and defied American-Israeli-European-UN pressure, threats and sanctions for years, but found itself much more vulnerable to the spontaneous rebellion of many of its own citizens who felt degraded by the falsification of election results by the government.

(An intriguing side note: Events inside Iran picked up steam at the same time as the Iranian presidential elections coincided with the Obama administration’s change of policy — as Washington backed off the threats and aggressiveness of the Bush years — and offered to engage with Iran on the basis of mutual respect. Would a more detached US policy towards Arab autocrats similarly open space for Arab domestic effervescence and indigenous calls for more liberal, honest politics?)

Arab regimes and leaders have worked themselves into a lose-lose situation whereby they would be unhappy if the Iranian regime stayed in power, and unhappy if it were removed through popular challenge. The same awkwardness defines the perspectives of Arab citizens. Most Arabs do not want to live in an Iranian-style political system that blends theocracy with autocracy; but many were pleased to see the pro-American Shah overthrown by Quran-carrying demonstrators. They would also be unhappy to see the Iranian regime overthrown because they enjoy its defiance of the United States, Israel and the UN in particular, along with its development of a nuclear capability.

At the same time, ordinary Arabs would feel jealous were the demonstrators in Iran able to topple their regime for the second time in 30 years — because this would highlight the chronic passivity and powerlessness of Arab citizens who must suffer permanent subjugation in their own long-running autocratic systems without being able to do anything about it. Whether Iranian street demonstrations challenged the Shah or the Islamists who toppled him, Arabs watch all this on television with a forlorn envy.

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AUC adds Israeli to Trustees

Here’s the announcement from the AUC website:

Retired U.S. Diplomat Named to AUC Board of Trustees

June 21, 2009, Cairo, Egypt – The American University in Cairo announced today the appointment of former US ambassador to Egypt Daniel C. Kurtzer as a member of its Board of Trustees.  Kurtzer, the S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, served as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt from 1997 to 2001.

During 29 years of public service, Kurtzer held a number of senior policy and diplomatic positions. In addition to serving as U.S. ambassador in Egypt, Kurtzer also served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, and principal deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research. Throughout his career, Kurtzer was intimately involved in Middle East peace negotiations and the formulation of US policy in the Middle East.

B. Boyd Hight, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, noted that the board continues to strengthen its ranks with distinguished members drawn from public service and business professions in Egypt, the region and the world. “The appointment of someone of Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer’s caliber represents a valuable addition to our board and will play a vital role in advancing AUC’s goal to become a leading global university,” Hight said. “All of us on the board are extremely pleased to welcome him as a trustee as he joins the AUC community at this time of extraordinary transition in the life of the university.”

Since leaving government service, Kurtzer has authored numerous articles on U.S policy in the Middle East.  He served as an advisor to the Iraq Study Group and currently serves on the Advisory Council of the American Bar Association’s Middle East-North Africa Rule of Law Initiative.  He is the co-author, with Scott Lasensky, of Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East, published in 2008.  He also serves on a number of business and public service boards.

Ambassador Kurtzer received his B.A. from Yeshiva University and his M.A., Middle East Certificate, M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. In recognition of his outstanding work in public service, Kurtzer received several of the U.S. government’s most prestigious awards, including the President’s Distinguished Service Award, the Department of State Distinguished Service Award, the National Intelligence Community’s Award for Achievement, and the Director General of the Foreign Service Award for Political Reporting.
Distinguished for their professional accomplishments in the areas of business, law, education, philanthropy and scholarship, members of AUC’s Board of Trustees are all volunteers who dedicate their time and resources to supporting the university.

Primarily Egyptians, Saudi Arabians and Americans, the trustees do not receive a salary and provide their own financial support to the university. AUC’s trustees include Moataz Al-Alfi, chairman of the Americana Group; Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Prize winner and director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency; Mohamed Ibrahim, founder and chairman of Celtel International; and Dina Habib Powell, managing director and global head of corporate engagement at Goldman Sachs; and Dr. Ahmed Zewail, also a Nobel Prize winner and the Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry, professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Director of the Physical Biology Center.

He’s also, supposedly one of the chief architects of Obama’s AIPAC elections speech. Oh and he was appointed commisioner of Israel’s new Baseball League. (wiki)
Really now, AUC is becoming utterly shameless about its political role. While universities in the UK, Europe and even the US are moving towards divestment from and boycott of Iraeli institutions, AUC, formerly in the “heart of Cairo”, is increasingly moving towards normalization. Coupled with the complete cowing to Egyptian Security and the unapologetic disregard for the opinions of the AUC community, the administration’s policies are becoming quite frustrating to faculty, alumni and students alike.

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I just heard that Salma Said, Khaled AbdelHamid, Malek, Sabri El Sammak and at least 3 journalists have been arrested outside of the Arab League building in  Tahrir.  The activists were protesting in support of Gaza

UPDATE 1:05pm The number i am getting is 13-15 arrests. Apparently they have been shoved into micobuses. The few that havent been arrested are being followed around downtown.

UPDATE 1:20pm 4 arrests in Arish. People are convening at Hisham Mubarak to discuss action.

UPDATE 3:05pm 21 detainees in three cars: 1 outside bahtim police station; 1 headed towards maadi (my guess is either the khayyala in basateen or somewhere around tora); 1 under dar el qada2.  Apparently there’s a “harsh crackdown at syndicate” with dozens more being detained as i write.

UPDATE 5:00 Several updates: Apparently massive out of control protest on ramsis at 330. Has been contained since with lots of violence. There are rumors of tear gas. Over 100 arrested. Rumors of people in modereyyet il amn. One tar7eelat car in Tagammo3 with 17 detainees including khaled abdalla, a lebanese reporter, laila soliman, rasha 3azab. truck number 27692. The one in bahteem has 13 people.

http://anhri.net/egypt/hmcl/2008/pr1231.shtml

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Police State 2.0

Once Again, Naomi Klein is right on the money. The disaster capitalism complex has found yet another (err.. repeated) field to plough in the Olympics. And somehow, they’ve managed to find a loophole to avoid legislation regulating what’s sold to china (both for security and human rights reasons), turning huge profits and setting up the Chinese government for years of upgraded capitalist authoritarianism (or McCommunism).

Most critically, as she points out, these systems/technologies/approaches are sure to be transfered elsewhere. As she has pointed out in her book “Shock Doctrine” disaster capitalism and the neoliberal wealth-gnerating machine has been fine tuning itself for decades compiling the lessons learned over more than half a century.

Excerpts:

The games have been billed as China’s “coming out party” to the world. They are far more significant than that. These Olympics are the coming out party for a disturbingly efficient way of organizing society, one that China has perfected over the past three decades, and is finally ready to show off. It is a potent hybrid of the most powerful political tools of authoritarianism communism — central planning, merciless repression, constant surveillance — harnessed to advance the goals of global capitalism. Some call it “authoritarian capitalism,” others “market Stalinism,” personally I prefer “McCommunism.”

The Beijing Olympics are themselves the perfect expression of this hybrid system. Through extraordinary feats of authoritarian governing, the Chinese state has built stunning new stadiums, highways and railways — all in record time. It has razed whole neighborhoods, lined the streets with trees and flowers and, thanks to an “anti-spitting” campaign, cleaned the sidewalks of saliva. The Communist Party of China even tried to turn the muddy skies blue by ordering heavy industry to cease production for a month — a sort of government-mandated general strike.

[..]

The goal of all this central planning and spying is not to celebrate the glories of Communism, regardless of what China’s governing party calls itself. It is to create the ultimate consumer cocoon for Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cell phones, McDonald’s happy meals, Tsingtao beer, and UPS delivery — to name just a few of the official Olympic sponsors. But the hottest new market of all is the surveillance itself. Unlike the police states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China has built a Police State 2.0, an entirely for-profit affair that is the latest frontier for the global Disaster Capitalism Complex.

[..]

There is a bitter irony here. When Beijing was awarded the games seven years ago, the theory was that international scrutiny would force China’s government to grant more rights and freedom to its people. Instead, the Olympics have opened up a backdoor for the regime to massively upgrade its systems of population control and repression. And remember when Western companies used to claim that by doing business in China, they were actually spreading freedom and democracy? We are now seeing the reverse: investment in surveillance and censorship gear is helping Beijing to actively repress a new generation of activists before it has the chance to network into a mass movement.

[..]

The numbers on this trend are frightening. In April 2007, officials from 13 provinces held a meeting to report back on how their new security measures were performing. In the province of Jiangsu, which, according to the South China Morning Post, was using “artificial intelligence to extend and improve the existing monitoring system” the number of protests and riots “dropped by 44 per cent last year.” In the province of Zhejiang, where new electronic surveillance systems had been installed, they were down 30 per cent. In Shaanxi, “mass incidents” — code for protests — were down by 27 per cent in a year. Dong Lei, the province’s deputy party chief, gave part of the credit to a huge investment in security cameras across the province. “We aim to achieve all day and all-weather monitoring capability,” he told the gathering.

[..]

It’s easy to see the dangers of a high tech surveillance state in far off China, since the consequences for people like Jun are so severe. It’s harder to see the dangers when these same technologies creep into every day life closer to home-networked cameras on U.S. city streets, “fast lane” biometric cards at airports, dragnet surveillance of email and phone calls. But for the global homeland security sector, China is more than a market; it is also a showroom. In Beijing, where state power is absolute and civil liberties non-existent, American-made surveillance technologies can be taken to absolute limits.

The first test begins today: Can China, despite the enormous unrest boiling under the surface, put on a “harmonious” Olympics? If the answer is yes, like so much else that is made in China, Police State 2.0 will be ready for export.

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Hillary least electable Dem

One (several actually) more reason to hope Hillary doesnt get the Dem ticket.

While Clinton maintains her lead in national polling among Democrats, in direct matchups against Republican presidential candidates, she consistently runs behind both Barack Obama and John Edwards.

[..]

By contrast, Obama beats every major Republican candidate: He beats McCain 45 percent to 38 percent; Guiliani 46 percent to 41 percent; Romney 46 percent to 40 percent; Huckabee 46 percent to 40 percent; and, Thompson 47 percent to 40 percent. In other words, Obama consistently runs 8 to 11 percent stronger than Clinton when matched against Republicans. To state the obvious: The Democratic presidential candidate will have to run against a Republican.

Clinton’s inherent weakness as a candidate shows up in other ways. In direct matchups for congressional seats, Democrats currently are running 10 percent to 15 percent ahead of Republicans, depending on the poll, while Clinton runs 3 percent to 7 percent behind — a net deficit ranging from 13 to 22 percent. No candidate in presidential polling history ever has run so far behind his or her party.

To look at Clinton’s candidacy another way, Clinton runs well behind generic polling for the presidency

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