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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Iran, Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt

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  • Zafar Khan
    IRAN Robert Fisk: We ve been here before – and it suits Israel that we never forget Nuclear Iran The Ayatollah ordered the entire nuclear project to be
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2012
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      IRAN

      Robert Fisk: We've been here before – and it suits Israel that we never forget 'Nuclear Iran'
      The Ayatollah ordered the entire nuclear project to be closed down because it was the work of the devil
      ROBERT FISK WEDNESDAY 25 JANUARY 2012

      http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-weve-been-here-before--and-it-suits-israel-that-we-never-forget-nuclear-iran-6294111.html

      Turning round a story is one of the most difficult tasks in journalism – and rarely more so than in the case of Iran. Iran, the dark revolutionary Islamist menace. Shia Iran, protector and manipulator of World Terror, of Syria and Lebanon and Hamas and Hezbollah. Ahmadinejad, the Mad Caliph. And, of course, Nuclear Iran, preparing to destroy Israel in a mushroom cloud of anti-Semitic hatred, ready to close the Strait of Hormuz – the moment the West's (or Israel's) forces attack.

      Given the nature of the theocratic regime, the repulsive suppression of its post-election opponents in 2009, not to mention its massive pools of oil, every attempt to inject common sense into the story also has to carry a medical health warning: no, of course Iran is not a nice place. But ...

      Let's take the Israeli version which, despite constant proof that Israel's intelligence services are about as efficient as Syria's, goes on being trumpeted by its friends in the West, none more subservient than Western journalists. The Israeli President warns us now that Iran is on the cusp of producing a nuclear weapon. Heaven preserve us. Yet we reporters do not mention that Shimon Peres, as Israeli Prime Minister, said exactly the same thing in 1996. That was 16 years ago. And we do not recall that the current Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in 1992 that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999. That would be 13 years ago. Same old story.

      In fact, we don't know that Iran really is building a nuclear weapon. And after Iraq, it's amazing that the old weapons of mass destruction details are popping with the same frequency as all the poppycock about Saddam's titanic arsenal. Not to mention the date problem. When did all this start? The Shah. The old boy wanted nuclear power. He even said he wanted a bomb because "the US and the Soviet Union had nuclear bombs" and no one objected. Europeans rushed to supply the dictator's wish. Siemens – not Russia – built the Bushehr nuclear facility.

      And when Ayatollah Khomeini, Scourge of the West, Apostle of Shia Revolution, etc, took over Iran in 1979, he ordered the entire nuclear project to be closed down because it was "the work of the Devil". Only when Saddam invaded Iran – with our Western encouragement – and started using poison gas against the Iranians (chemical components arriving from the West, of course) was Khomeini persuaded to reopen it.

      All this has been deleted from the historical record; it was the black-turbaned mullahs who started the nuclear project, along with the crackpot Ahmadinejad. And Israel might have to destroy this terror-weapon to secure its own survival, to ensure the West's survival, for democracy, etc, etc.

      For Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel is the brutal, colonising, occupying power. But the moment Iran is mentioned, this colonial power turns into a tiny, vulnerable, peaceful state under imminent threat of extinction. Ahmadinejad – here again, I quote Netanyahu – is more dangerous than Hitler. Israel's own nuclear warheads – all too real and now numbering almost 300 – disappear from the story. Iran's Revolutionary Guards are helping the Syrian regime destroy its opponents; they might like to – but there is no proof of this.

      The trouble is that Iran has won almost all its recent wars without firing a shot. George W and Tony destroyed Iran's nemesis in Iraq. They killed thousands of the Sunni army whom Iran itself always referred to as "the black Taliban". And the Gulf Arabs, our "moderate" friends, shiver in their golden mosques as we in the West outline their fate in the event of an Iranian Shia revolution.

      No wonder Cameron goes on selling weapons to these preposterous people whose armies, in many cases, could scarcely operate soup kitchens, let alone the billions of dollars of sophisticated kit we flog them under the fearful shadow of Tehran.

      Bring on the sanctions. Send in the clowns.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Iran's nuclear scientists are not being assassinated. They are being murdered
      Killing our enemies abroad is just state-sponsored terror – whatever euphemism western leaders like to use
      Mehdi Hasan
      guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 January 2012 21.29 GMT

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/16/iran-scientists-state-sponsored-murder

      On the morning of 11 January Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the deputy head of Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, was in his car on his way to work when he was blown up by a magnetic bomb attached to his car door. He was 32 and married with a young son. He wasn't armed, or anywhere near a battlefield.

      Since 2010, three other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in similar circumstances, including Darioush Rezaeinejad, a 35-year-old electronics expert shot dead outside his daughter's nursery in Tehran last July. But instead of outrage or condemnation, we have been treated to expressions of undisguised glee.

      "On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear programme in Iran turn up dead," bragged the Republican nomination candidate Rick Santorum in October. "I think that's a wonderful thing, candidly." On the day of Roshan's death, Israel's military spokesman, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, announced on Facebook: "I don't know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I certainly am not shedding a tear" – a sentiment echoed by the historian Michael Burleigh in the Daily Telegraph: "I shall not shed any tears whenever one of these scientists encounters the unforgiving men on motorbikes."

      These "men on motorbikes" have been described as "assassins". But assassination is just a more polite word for murder. Indeed, our politicians and their securocrats cloak the premeditated, lawless killing of scientists in Tehran, of civilians in Waziristan, of politicians in Gaza, in an array of euphemisms: not just assassinations but terminations, targeted killings, drone strikes.

      Their purpose is to inure us to such state-sponsored violence against foreigners. In his acclaimed book On Killing, the retired US army officer Dave Grossman examines mechanisms that enable us not just to ignore but even cheer such killings: cultural distance ("such as racial and ethnic differences that permit the killer to dehumanise the victim"); moral distance ("the kind of intense belief in moral superiority"); and mechanical distance ("the sterile, Nintendo-game unreality of killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a sniper sight or some other kind of mechanical buffer that permits the killer to deny the humanity of his victim").

      Thus western liberals who fall over one another to condemn the death penalty for murderers – who have, incidentally, had the benefit of lawyers, trials and appeals – as state-sponsored murder fall quiet as their states kill, with impunity, nuclear scientists, terror suspects and alleged militants in faraway lands. Yet a "targeted killing", human-rights lawyer and anti-drone activist Clive Stafford Smith tells me, "is just the death penalty without due process".

      Cognitive dissonance abounds. To torture a terror suspect, for example, is always morally wrong; to kill him, video game style, with a missile fired from a remote-controlled drone, is morally justified. Crippled by fear and insecurity, we have sleepwalked into a situation where governments have arrogated to themselves the right to murder their enemies abroad.

      Nor are we only talking about foreigners here. Take Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamist preacher, al-Qaida supporter – and US citizen. On 30 September 2011, a CIA drone killed Awlaki and another US citizen, Samir Khan. Two weeks later, another CIA-led drone attack killed Awlaki's 21-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman. Neither father nor son were ever indicted, let alone tried or convicted, for committing a crime. Both US citizens were assassinated by the US government in violation of the Fifth Amendment ("No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law").

      An investigation by Reuters last October noted how, under the Obama administration, US citizens accused of involvement in terrorism can now be "placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions … There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel … Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate."

      Should "secret panels" and "kill lists" be tolerated in a liberal democracy, governed by the rule of law? Did the founders of the United States intend for its president to be judge, jury and executioner? Whatever happened to checks and balances? Or due process?

      Imagine the response of our politicians and pundits to a campaign of assassinations against western scientists conducted by, say, Iran or North Korea. When it comes to state-sponsored killings, the double standard is brazen. "Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them," George Orwell observed, "and there is almost no kind of outrage … which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side".

      But how many more of our values will we shred in the name of security? Once we have allowed our governments to order the killing of fellow citizens, fellow human beings, in secret, without oversight or accountability, what other powers will we dare deny them?

      This isn't complicated; there are no shades of grey here. Do we disapprove of car bombings and drive-by shootings, or not? Do we consistently condemn state-sponsored, extrajudicial killings as acts of pure terror, no matter where in the world, or on whose orders, they occur? Or do we shrug our shoulders, turn a blind eye and continue our descent into lawless barbarism?
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      More murder of Iranian scientists: still terrorism?

      http://www.salon.com/2012/01/11/more_murder_of_iranian_scientists_still_terrorism/
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      Iran nuclear scientist killed by car bomb
      State media reports that magnetic bomb placed on vehicle has killed uranium enrichment supervisor in Tehran.
      Last Modified: 12 Jan 2012 04:04

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/01/201211162848691713.html
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      TUNISIA

      Tunisians hungry for a break with the past
      More self-immolations have been performed, while others remain hopeful of real change, one year after the revolution.
      Yasmine Ryan Last Modified: 16 Jan 2012 10:04

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/01/201211513559482819.html

      Tunisia is a country at a crossroads, a year after a popular uprising forced the country's despised leader from power.

      Having pulled through a year of remarkable political upheaval, many questions still hang over the country's future. Strikes and sit-ins have become an almost daily occurrence, as people who lived under the cloak of authoritarianism now have freedom of speech - but not the social and economic rights they hoped would follow their revolution.

      On January 14, 2011, the man who had used fear to keep his people subjugated for three decades fled the country with surprising haste, terrified by the angry hordes taking to the streets, voiceless no more.

      Ousting Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was only the first step for many of the original protesters, many of whom have continued to call for their original demands of economic opportunity and dignity to be respected, now that the country has held a successful election.

      The political transformation that marked 2011 crystallised with an election in October. The country now has a constituent assembly, a body that is to spend a year crafting the country's new political system.

      The moderate Islamist Ennahdha party, which had been outlawed under the previous regime, outperformed the other parties, winning over an electorate hungry for an unequivocal break with the past.

      After a series of controversial interim governments, Tunisia has a new government, appointed by the assembly in December.

      The Congress for the Republic Party's (CPR by its French acronym) Moncef Marzouki, an activist and strident critic of Ben Ali, became president a month ago, while Ennahdha's Hamadi Jebali, an engineer and former journalist, was appointed prime minister.

      "We are waiting," said Othman Chwaya, a leader of the Union of Unemployed Graduates in Gafsa, a southern Tunisian mining region - where anger at the national government has been brewing for years.

      "There's no more unrest, here in Gafsa everyone is awaiting the decision from the government," he said, days after protests against the Yazaki Group had nearly led to the Japanese company shutting down one of its local phosphate mining operations.

      Waiting on change

      Gafsa, which pre-empted the uprising with protests back in 2008, is one of the regions in Tunisia aching with social strife that the government will need to pay urgent attention to if it is to avoid a repeat of the uprising a year ago.

      There is cautious optimism that things might finally be different, Chwaya says, but that could fade fast if the people of Gafsa feel the new government is ignoring their pleas.

      "If they don't deliver, we will have another revolution," Chwaya said.

      On January 5, following a visit by members of the new government, a 48-year-old man set himself on fire in Gafsa, an act of desperation echoing the young street vendor who triggered the uprising more than a year ago. There have been at least three more self-immolations in the past two weeks.

      As the constituent assembly spends 2012 writing the country's new constitution, Amnesty International, the UK-based human rights NGO, reminded the authorities to enshrine fundamental rights in the document, including economic and social rights to be included, along with civil and political rights.

      "The [previous] authorities celebrated Tunisia as an 'economic miracle', even as many Tunisians had their most basic economic, social and cultural rights flouted," AI said in a statement on Friday.

      The government has called on Tunisians to give it time to bring about the economic changes they are so desperate to see.

      Samir Dillou, a spokesperson for the government, said in a press conference a week ago that the recent strikes have caused significant losses.

      "Over 513 strikes have been held since the revolution started. Only 460 were legal, the rest were random," he said, according to the Tunisian Press Agency.

      Several companies have closed as a result of the strikes, he added, calling for an end to random strikes.

      Economic decline

      The economic statistics reveal that life can hardly have improved for many Tunisians: the cost of living rose by 4.2 per cent between December 2010 and December 2011.

      According to the national statistics office, exports rose by 6.7 per cent compared with 2010, although phosphate exports, hit by strikes, plunged by 39.7 per cent.

      And the tourism sector, a key employer, saw a dramatic 31 per cent decline in 2011.

      In a positive sign for those advocating a move away from the neo-liberalism that characterised the Ben Ali era, the constituent assembly have appointed Hocine Dimassi to the position of finance minister. Dimassi was formerly an independent left-wing economist who had tried to warn Ben Ali's government that popular anger over inequality had reached boiling point.

      ...
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Tunisia: Portrait one of a revolution
      Tunisians celebrate the one-year anniversary of the revolution that kicked off the Arab Spring.
      Last Modified: 15 Jan 2012 08:27

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/01/2012114121925380575.html

      Exeter, UK - Today, Tunisia celebrates the first anniversary of its January 14 revolution, when the autocrat residing in Carthage had to flee.

      There are many ways of marking a historical benchmark such as the ousting of a dictator. But what is the significance of January 14? Is it just a question of a national day - or even a Pan-Arab day - when the Arab Spring sprung? Is it about enumerating the anniversaries of a spectacular escape? Or is it an idea and an ideal requiring renewal and stock-taking?

      Clues to these answers may be found in many a tableau vivant depicted all over Tunisia, capturing both the audacity of resistance, and the delight of triumph over injustice.
      ...
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Investigators seek return of Ben Ali wealth
      Extravagant lifesyle of the family of former Tunisian president bred anger and helped lead to his downfall.
      Last Modified: 13 Jan 2012 10:53

      http://www.aljazeera.com/video/africa/2012/01/201211392513498624.html

      [VIDEO]
      The family of Tunisia's former leader, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, had a reputation for leading an excessively extravagant lifestyle that angered many people and helped lead to their downfall.

      Now, almost a year after the Ben Ali's fled the country, there is not much that remains of their lavish mansions; most of them were looted in the days following the revolution.

      But it is estimated the family still took around $17bn with them when they left Tunisia - money that investigators say rightfully belongs to the country.

      Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri reports from Hammamet
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      IRAQ

      Deaths in attacks on Iraq's Sunni districts
      At least 17 killed in attacks across the country, including 10 in a bombing attack in Hamia area.
      Last Modified: 26 Jan 2012 21:44

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/01/2012126193957630853.html

      At least 17 people have been killed after a series of attacks in predominantly Sunni areas across Iraq, police say.

      10 were killed in a bomb attack that destroyed the house of two policemen brothers and their families in the central area of Hamia on Thursday. Both policemen, two infants and four women were among the dead, according to Iraqi authorities.

      Three others died and 17 were wounded after two bombs exploded outside a popular cafe in the predominantly Sunni district of Sadiyah in southwestern Baghdad, the capital.

      A police officer was also shot dead in the same neighbourhood.

      In Yarmouk, a mostly Sunni district in western Baghdad, armed men shot dead a real estate agent and two of his clients, police said. Iraqi authorities could not identify the motive for the attack.

      Also on Thursday, a motorcycle bomb missed a passing police patrol in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing two civilians and wounding five others, Sarhad Qadir, a police commander, said.

      Although there were no claims of responsibility for Thursday's attacks, the bombings in Baghdad's Sunni districts suggest suspected Shia armed groups could be retaliating against Sunni fighters, including al-Qaeda, in the country.

      At least 190 people have been killed in a wave of attacks since the beginning of the year, raising concerns that the surge in violence and an escalating political crisis might deteriorate into a civil war.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Rights group says Iraq becoming ‘police state’
      By BARBARA SURK | AP
      Published: Jan 22, 2012 15:57 Updated: Jan 23, 2012 00:29

      http://arabnews.com/middleeast/article566694.ece

      BAGHDAD: Iraq’s government cracked down harshly on dissent during the past year of Arab Spring uprisings, turning the country into a “budding police state” as autocratic regimes crumbled elsewhere in the region, an international rights groups said Sunday.

      Security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists, torture detainees and intimidate activists, Human Rights Watch said in the Iraq chapter of its annual report.

      “Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for the New York-based group. “Despite US government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy (in Iraq), the reality is that it left behind a budding police state,” she said.

      Protests against Iraq’s US-backed and democratically elected government erupted around the country in February 2011, alongside other demonstrations in the Arab world.

      While protests in other countries demanded the downfall of autocratic regimes, most of the demonstrations in Iraq pushed for improved services like reliable electricity and water, and an end to corruption.

      Day of Rage

      The government clamped down, sometimes sparking bloody clashes — as when 14 were killed in confrontations between security forces and civilians across the country during the Feb. 25 protests billed as the “Day of Rage.”

      A year later, with US troops withdrawn and Iraq’s government mired in a political crisis, the protest movement has all but died out. Demonstrators who gather in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square are usually outnumbered by the security forces watching over them.

      “Iraqis are quickly losing ground on the most basic of rights, including the right to free speech and assembly,” said Samer Muscati, an Iraq researcher for the group. “Nowadays, every time someone attends a peaceful protest, they put themselves at risk of attack and abuse by security forces or their proxies,” he said.

      Prison brutality, including torture in detention facilities, was a major problem throughout the year, the group’s annual report said.

      In February 2011 Human Rights Watch uncovered a secret detention center, controlled by elite forces who report to the prime minister’s military office.

      The group claimed authorities transferred more than 280 detainees to the facility since the beginning of 2010 and charged detainees were tortured there with impunity. Government officials denied the facility’s existence and alleged abuses.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      EGYPT

      Cairo street battles rage for third day
      Twelve killed and more than 2,500 wounded in clashes over authorities' failure to prevent Port Said football violence.
      Last Modified: 04 Feb 2012 16:40

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/02/201224131423624977.html

      At least 12 people have been killed in a third day of deadly clashes in Cairo, as anger at Egypt's ruling military boiled over after 72 people died in football-related violence.

      Police fired tear gas and birdshot at protesters on Saturday, after dozens of protesters threw stones at officers guarding the interior ministry hundreds of metres from the capital's Tahrir Square.

      In the canal city of Suez, two people died from wounds sustained in clashes overnight, medics said. The health ministry said 2,532 people have been injured since the violence erupted.

      Five people were also hurt in overnight clashes outside police headquarters in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, the official MENA news agency reported.

      'Security vacuum'

      Marchers had taken to the streets nationwide on Friday to demand that Egypt's ruling generals cede power immediately after a night of violence in several cities.

      Protesters, many of them organised supporters of Cairo's main football clubs known as the Ultras, held up a huge banner to the police that read: "Those who didn't deserve to die have died at the hands of those who don't deserve to live."

      Many of the dead in Wednesday's football riot in the northern city of Port Said were thought to have been Al-Ahly supporters, set upon by partisans of the local Al-Masry side after the Cairo team lost 3-1.

      The Ultras played a prominent role among anti-government elements in the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak a year ago, and commentators and citizens have suggested pro-Mubarak forces were behind the incident, or at least complicit.


      In the ongoing aftermath, rocks and stones flew in all directions on Friday as police vans in Cairo repeatedly charged demonstrators.

      At one point, police clubbed protesters just metres away from the interior ministry.

      A soldier injured outside the interior ministry on Thursday died in hospital on Friday, MENA said.

      In a sign of increased insecurity, armed assailants carrying automatic weapons stormed a police station in east Cairo, freeing detainees before torching it.

      And in the Dokki neighbourhood, a group of men attacked a police station, taking weapons from the building.

      The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) blamed the unrest on "foreign and domestic hands targeting the country".

      In a statement on Facebook, it urged "all political and national forces of this great nation to take a national and historic role and intervene ... to return stability".

      Spreading unrest

      Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Cairo, said the ongoing nationwide protests are "another symptom of the security vacuum going on across the country".

      Many anti-government activists and loyal football fans, known as Ultras, blame the country's military leadership for either conspiring to foment the Port Said violence or negligently allowing it to occur.

      The SCAF has pledged to cede full powers to civilian rule when a president is elected by the end of June, but its opponents believe it intends to hold on to power behind the scenes after a transfer to civilian rule.

      Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said that during Friday prayers held in Tahrir Square, the leading cleric was questioning where the security forces were when the bloodshed happened.

      She went on to say that since prayers ended the confrontations in front of the ministry of interior were continuing.

      "The people wanted answers as to how exactly the football disaster happened," she said. "The question is, what exactly was the responsibility of the governor and the head of the police force there?"

      "Furthermore, why did the police force, as seen on cameras, remain on the sidelines and not engage the crowds?"

      "More importantly, people are directing their anger at the ruling military council, saying it is not just about the failure of the police force, but a whole failure of leadership."

      Fans of the home side, Al Masry, stormed the pitch after a 3-1 victory against visiting favourites Al Ahly. Witnesses said security forces had allowed men into the stadium carrying knives and sticks. Though the majority of deaths reportedly came from those crushed or forced to fall off of terraces during the stampede, some were reportedly stabbed to death.


      At least 52 people have been arrested and authorities said the search for suspects linked to the violence was continuing.

      The stampede capped a week of violence in which several armed robberies and kidnappings were reported across Egypt, leading some to suspect the government had arranged the escalating chaos in an attempt to convince citizens of the need to maintain harsh emergency laws.

      In the Sinai, the brief abduction on Friday of two US tourists and their guide by masked gunmen dealt a new blow to Egypt's already hard-hit tourism sector, despite their release unharmed several hours later.

      Our correspondent said they were taken "by a Bedouin tribe that has been protesting over the past couple of months ... and is certainly part of larger breakdown in security ... an explosion in incidents from kidnappings to armed robberies".
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Deadly clashes in Egypt over football riots
      Nine killed and more than 2,500 wounded in clashes over authorities' failure to prevent Port Said football violence.
      Last Modified: 04 Feb 2012 08:36

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/02/201222174712848617.html

      [VIDEO]
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Egyptian protesters say 'the revolution never went away'
      A year after the overthrow of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, protesters return to Tahrir Square to hold the military to account
      Jack Shenker in Cairo
      guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 January 2012 20.13 GMT

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/25/egypt-protesters-revolution-never-went-away

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Egyptians mass in Tahrir to honour uprising
      Hundreds of thousands gather in iconic square demanding transition to civilian rule on first anniversary of revolution.
      Last Modified: 25 Jan 2012 23:21

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/01/201212535836564645.html

      [VIDEO]
      Hundreds of thousands of people have gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to commemorate the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that toppled their long-time ruler, Hosni Mubarak.

      It is a year since Egyptians, inspired by an uprising in Tunisia, took to the streets to call for reform and to demand the resignation of Mubarak, Egypt's president for 30 years.

      "Down with military rule" and "Revolution until victory, revolution in all of Egypt's streets" were chanted by one group of mainly youths in an area of Tahrir on Wednesday.

      Sherine Tadros, reporting from Tahrir Square, said: "For a section of people demonstrating here, it's really just about military hijacking the revolution, and about Islamist parties and movements now making the gains instead of those who actually initiated the revolution."

      "But others say it is a rocky transition but it is still a transition pointing out to the fact that Egypt had first free and fair elections in decades and people’s assembly which reflects will of the people."

      Meanwhile, about 3,000 people, who were pardoned by the military rulers coinciding with the anniversary, have walked out of Tora prison located on the outskirts of Cairo.

      In an apparent attempt to appease reformist demands, the military council has in recent days pardoned people convicted in military courts since Mubarak was toppled.

      The military, which was handed power as the president stepped down on February 11, has planned mass celebrations with a naval parade in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, air shows in Cairo and fireworks displays around the country.

      The ruling military council is also issuing commemorative coins for the occasion and is expected to honour public servants.

      It has called on Egyptians to "preserve the spirit of January 25, which united the Egyptian people, men and women, young and old, Muslims and Christians".

      Al Jazeera's Tadros said: "What we have right now is their [military] promise. And this was something reiterated by Field Marshal Tantawi on Tuesday."

      "Apart from saying that the scope of emergency law would be narrowed, he also said and promised, come July when there is new president in power the military will go back to barracks.

      "But the big question is what will be their legacy? What kind of role they want to carve out for themselves? What kind of backroom deal they could have made with the largest force in the parliament [Muslim Brotherhood] so is to guarantee their immunity."

      'Objectives of the revolution'

      Activists say the revolution has been hijacked by Hussein Tantawi, for two decades Mubarak's defence minister, who now heads the military council.

      Wael Khalil, Egyptian blogger and activist, told Al Jazeera: "Definitely, the revolution has not achieved its goal and that’s why the main slogan now on the street is, people going back to Tahrir Square, because the revolution continues until it realises its goal."

      "Everything that has been achieved in the past one year was a result of people’s protests and demands.

      "The trial of Mubarak, free elections, participation of people in the elections and other demands were not achieved by power from above, not by SCAF, but people pressuring from below."

      Prominent novelist and pro-democracy activist Alaa al-Aswani wrote in the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm: "We must take to the streets on Wednesday, not to celebrate a revolution which has not achieved its goals, but to demonstrate peacefully our determination to achieve the objectives of the revolution."

      These goals remain to "live in dignity, bring about justice, try the killers of the martyrs and achieve a minimum social justice", he wrote.

      Dalia Mogahed, director and senior analyst at the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, told Al Jazeera "Egyptians are more optimistic about their future than they have been in a very a long time".

      According to research done by her group, Mogahed said most Egyptians believe things are getting better and will get better in the future. She said the vast majority of Egyptians still have faith in the military and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

      She said Tahrir Square was an important component of the story, but not the entire story. Research shows that more than 85 per cent of Egyptians say they still have confidence in the SCAF.
      ...
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood enters 'uncharted waters' in new parliament
      Islamist party is poised to take 45% of seats amid soaring public expectations but with few concrete powers to deliver reform

      Jack Shenker in Cairo
      guardian.co.uk, Thursday 12 January 2012 21.30 GMT

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/12/egypt-muslim-brotherhood-parliament-seats

      It's a triumph that's been 84 years in the making and, despite a concerted effort by all involved to stay humble and on-message during their movement's finest hour, few members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood can hide their exhilaration.

      "These elections are a historic milestone for us and they are a historic milestone for Egypt," said Amr Darrag, secretary general of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party in Giza. "We've not had such free elections since 1952, so it's a great moment for the nation," he said. "The Egyptian people really intend to seize this moment and secure the position for Egypt that it so clearly deserves."

      The FJP will be the largest force in the country's new parliament when it opens for business on 23 January, almost exactly a year on from the beginning of the revolution that would eventually topple the Brotherhood's tormentor-in-chief, Hosni Mubarak.

      After decades of having to play by the rules of your oppressors, it's a giddying feeling to start writing them yourself. Seham al-Gamal, a Muslim Brotherhood activist who ran unsuccessfully for parliament in 2010, remembers the old game only too well. "Politics was based on corruption, and only groups that accepted this corruption flourished in the political arena," she said in an interview with one of the Brotherhood's slick, regularly updated, bilingual websites this week.

      The movement's online presence contrasts sharply with that of parliament itself: Egypt's legislature boasts two homepages, one of which was last updated in 2001 and the other is permanently offline. Now both the institution and the party that will dominate it are preparing for heady times. "[In the last election] there was scandalous vote rigging in favour of [Mubarak's] dissolved NDP," said al-Gamal. "[Now] we plan to combat corruption in its entirety."

      In just over a week, Gamal will walk through the doors of Egypt's almost century-old parliament building and take her seat as elected representative of the Nile Delta town of Mansoura. She will be alongside at least 192 colleagues from the FJP, marking a milestone of epic proportions for a movement which, as recently as 12 months ago, was headquartered on the second floor of a shabby apartment block and had much of its senior leadership behind bars. Today the FJP boasts a gleaming six-storey home in an upmarket Cairo suburb, its figureheads are feted by international policymakers, and its MPs are set to dominate the country's first post-Mubarak people's assembly.

      But although it's easy to see the outcome of Egypt's elections as an unqualified success for the Brotherhood, the streets around the parliament building tell a more complex story. Entrances to the north and east are blocked off with hastily erected giant granite barriers, each presiding over a carpet of concrete rubble and twisted metal, the residue of recent street-fighting between revolutionaries and the security forces that left dozens dead and several thousand injured.

      All other approaches to the building, which sits on a normally busy thoroughfare just off Tahrir Square, are clad in barbed wire and ad hoc security checkpoints; amid a row of pristine government cars sits one vehicle that has been gutted by a petrol bomb. Nearby walls and floors are blanketed in graffiti marking the dates of last year's struggles, when the roads became a violent battleground between those who maintain a grip on the formal sphere of politics and those who have opted to remain outside it.

      The message is that, despite the election of a new parliament, the era of street revolt is far from over and the fragile legitimacy of the military junta's supposedly democratic institutions is yet to be accepted by all. As Gamal begins her first day at work, she will be greeted on her way in by a four-foot sprawl of spray paint, heralding 2012 as the start of Egypt's second revolution.

      It is against this uncertain backdrop that the lower house of parliament will assemble next week, raising the question of what the legislative body can hope to achieve in such a volatile climate, and how the Brotherhood will manage its new-found authority within it.

      Although final confirmation of the results won't emerge until the weekend, 85% of the seats have been decided and the remaining contests will not sway the general balance of the parties. At present the Brotherhood is on course to claim 45% of MPs, with the more conservative Salafists likely to gain 25% of the total. Secular liberals such as the venerable al-Wafd party and the newly formed Egyptian bloc should secure 15% between them, with the last few seats picked up by other Islamist parties, nationalistic "remnants" of the Mubarak regime, and leftwing political forces.

      According to the current "transition timetable", parliament will quickly appoint a special constitutional assembly and begin working on a new constitution, with a referendum on the new document to be held by April and presidential elections to follow in June.

      It's a breakneck – some would say slapdash – pace of change, leaving critics concerned that a new political system that leaves the power of the military and other elites essentially untouched will quickly become entrenched, thwarting any deeper, long-term struggles for economic and social justice.

      The Brotherhood, time-worn experts at political survival and firm believers in a cautious "participation, not domination" approach, has ascended the political elevator just as the country's contested future remains hanging in the balance, and the group stands torn between enjoying its electoral spoils and retaining credibility with its supporters by not bowing too subserviently to the junta.

      "The movement is entering uncharted waters," says Nathan Brown, an Egypt expert at George Washington University who argues that despite parliamentary victory, it is not yet clear what exactly the Brotherhood has won. "A number of features of Egypt's transition process suggest that however many votes the Brotherhood attracts in the parliamentary elections, it will have a strong, but hardly a dominant voice, for the time being. 'Participation, not domination' may continue to work for now because of the hazy rules governing a country in transition."

      Mindful of the trap that lies before it – one that twins soaring public expectations with very few concrete powers to deliver reform – the Brotherhood is already manoeuvring to give itself cover, abandoning its earlier call for Egypt to become a parliamentary democracy and shifting its backing to a presidential system, alongside a promise that the FJP will not run a candidate for the presidency.

      The emphasis is on partnership and coalition with other forces, including liberals, but the oft-repeated mantra of Egypt's problems being "too big for one party" has been complicated by the FJP's massive haul of seats. This has left other parties viewing the Brotherhood as a threat and consequently wary of linking up with it.

      The Brotherhood is also treading a fine line on its policy programme, advocating a vision of market-friendly reform aimed at boosting living standards and wiping out corruption while pushing cultural and moral issues in the background – a move reassuring to secular Egyptians and international audiences fearful of a lurch towards religious conservatism, were it not for the worry that leaving such political space vacant would allow the hardline Salafists to move in.

      But perhaps the biggest challenge for the Muslim Brotherhood and the parliament it now leads will be to win over those who distrust this junta-curated organ of official "democracy", and move Egypt's political process out of the streets and into a formal arena instead.

      Philip Rizk, an Egyptian activist and film-maker, echoes the sentiments of many revolutionaries when he argues that the recent elections are designed to stifle meaningful change. "The ballot was used in two ways," he claims. "Firstly there was a very specific discourse from the authorities, from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the transitional government, saying 'stop protesting and go out and vote'. It was a propaganda effect aimed at altering people's perceptions of change. Secondly, the vote was used as a cover for direct physical attacks on the protest movement that were carried out with exceptional violence."

      The Brotherhood, Rizk argues, has not been a radical or revolutionary player in the dramatic upheaval this nation has witnessed over the past year, and both its commitment to neoliberal capitalism and its alleged electoral violations – there have been accusations of illegal campaigning and voter intimidation in polling stations, all of which are denied by the FJP – have left it "barely distinguishable" from Mubarak's NDP. "The most significant change that has taken place in Egypt is the one that has taken place inside people," says Rizk. "Not the whole population, but a large proportion of it, have started analysing and thinking and protesting, both within their spheres of daily activity and more centrally in urban squares like Tahrir, as well as other cities like Alexandria and Suez. Elections can come and go but I don't think that is going to shift: the bubble of complacency and fear has been broken."

      How the new parliamentarians respond to such a change remains to be seen. In a shift away from some of its more critical rhetoric towards protesters, leaders such as Darrag are reaching out to revolutionaries, acknowledging their concerns and admitting that the onus is on parliament (and by extension, the Brotherhood) to prove that it really can implement the demands of the revolution and sweep away the old elites. "To be honest, most of the revolution's demands have not yet been met and many are suspicious that remnants of the old regime remain in power and are controlling things from behind the scenes, not necessarily in the realm of higher politics but also other decision-making bodies," he argues. "People need to see the institutions that have been established – the parliament, and later the presidency – act in their interests and secure real achievements before they start believing that they have really made a difference."

      But with so many other unpredictably factors in play, the Brotherhood has a long way to go before it can build a genuinely national consensus and confidently get a handle on the levers of political power. As Nathan Brown concludes: "In the Egypt of 2012, the Brotherhood's leaders will have to answer questions that have never been asked before."
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