Archives for February 2011

The Arab democratic revolution and Saudi Arabia

A group of Saudi intellectuals have published an open letter calling for national reform.

We are witnessing, along with the rest of the Saudi population, the receding of Saudi Arabia’s prominent regional role; the deterioration of the government apparatus and administrative competence; the prevalence of corruption and nepotism; the exacerbation of factionalism; and the widening gap between state and society, particularly among the new generation of youth in the country. This threatens to lead to catastrophic results for the country and the people, which we will never accept for our nation and its children.

Resolving these conditions requires a serious review and an immediate announcement that both government and society will together adopt a comprehensive reform project that focuses on structural shortcomings in our political system, and that leads our country towards a constitutional monarchy.

The people’s consent is the basis for the legitimacy of authority, and the only guarantee for unity, stability, and the efficiency of public administration, as well as the protection of the country from foreign intervention. This requires a reformulation of the state-society relationship, whereby the people will be a source of authority, and a full partner in deciding public policies through their elected representatives in the Shura (Consultative) Council, and whereby the purpose of the state is to serve society, secure its interests, improve its standard of living, and ensure the dignity of its members, their pride, and the future of their children.

We therefore look forward to a royal declaration that clearly demonstrates the state’s commitment to becoming a “Constitutional Monarchy,” and that puts in place a timeline that delineates the beginning, implementation, and finalizing of the desires reforms. The royal declaration should also confirm the adoption of the major reform goals, namely: the rule of law, full equality between members of the population, the legal guarantee of individual and civil freedoms, popular participation in decision-making, even development, the eradication of poverty, and the optimal use of public resources.

Robert Fisk writes:

[D]emocracy – the real, unfettered, flawed but brilliant version which we in the West have so far lovingly (and rightly) cultivated for ourselves – is not going, in the Arab world, to rest happy with Israel’s pernicious treatment of Palestinians and its land theft in the West Bank. Now no longer the “only democracy in the Middle East”, Israel argued desperately – in company with Saudi Arabia, for heaven’s sake – that it was necessary to maintain Mubarak’s tyranny. It pressed the Muslim Brotherhood button in Washington and built up the usual Israeli lobby fear quotient to push Obama and La Clinton off the rails yet again. Faced with pro-democracy protesters in the lands of oppression, they duly went on backing the oppressors until it was too late. I love “orderly transition”. The “order” bit says it all. Only Israeli journalist Gideon Levy got it right. “We should be saying ‘Mabrouk Misr!’,” he said. Congratulations, Egypt!

Yet in Bahrain, I had a depressing experience. King Hamad and Crown Prince Salman have been bowing to their 70 per cent (80 per cent?) Shia population, opening prison doors, promising constitutional reforms. So I asked a government official in Manama if this was really possible. Why not have an elected prime minister instead of a member of the Khalifa royal family? He clucked his tongue. “Impossible,” he said. “The GCC would never permit this.” For GCC – the Gulf Co-operation Council – read Saudi Arabia. And here, I am afraid, our tale grows darker.

We pay too little attention to this autocratic band of robber princes; we think they are archaic, illiterate in modern politics, wealthy (yes, “beyond the dreams of Croesus”, etc), and we laughed when King Abdullah offered to make up any fall in bailouts from Washington to the Mubarak regime, and we laugh now when the old king promises $36bn to his citizens to keep their mouths shut. But this is no laughing matter. The Arab revolt which finally threw the Ottomans out of the Arab world started in the deserts of Arabia, its tribesmen trusting Lawrence and McMahon and the rest of our gang. And from Arabia came Wahabism, the deep and inebriating potion – white foam on the top of the black stuff – whose ghastly simplicity appealed to every would-be Islamist and suicide bomber in the Sunni Muslim world. The Saudis fostered Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. Let us not even mention that they provided most of the 9/11 bombers. And the Saudis will now believe they are the only Muslims still in arms against the brightening world. I have an unhappy suspicion that the destiny of this pageant of Middle East history unfolding before us will be decided in the kingdom of oil, holy places and corruption. Watch out.

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Intifada update

Saudi activists push for political reform
Democracy activists in Saudi Arabia say the government is closely monitoring social media to nip in the bud any protests inspired by uprisings that swept Arab countries, toppling leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Activists have set up Facebook pages calling for protests on March 11 and 20, with more than 17,000 supporters combined, but police managed to stifle two attempts to hold protests in the Red Sea city of Jeddah last month, highlighting the difficulties of such mobilization in the conservative kingdom.

In one case, between 30 and 50 people were detained by police when they gathered on the street, witnesses said. In the second, security forces flooded the location of a protest advertised on Facebook, scaring off protesters.

“They are watching closely what people are saying on Facebook and Twitter,” said Saudi blogger Ahmed al-Omran. “Obviously they are anxious as they are surrounded with unrest and want to make sure we don’t catch the bug.” (Reuters)

Protests at Bahrain’s parliament
Bahrainis campaigning for democratic reforms in the Gulf Arab state staged a protest outside parliament, demanding that all its members resign over recent protester deaths.

“We came to this parliament to say that you represent the people and you represent us – take an honourable position over the killings by the army,” said Mirza al-Shihabi, one of around 500 protesters outside the building in central Manama on Monday. (Al Jazeera)

Looting reported amid Oman protests
Residents in the northeastern Omani city of Sohar have reportedly looted a supermarket damaged in protests, as demonstrations over economic woes carried on into a third day.

Security forces sealed off main roads to the city on Monday and hundreds of protesters reportedly stormed a police station, while protests spread throughout the city.

Sohar, a city about 200km northwest of the capital of Muscat, was the scene of protests over the weekend, as demonstrators demanded higher salaries, jobs for the unemployed and the removal of some government ministers. (Al Jazeera)

Another Tunisia minister quits
Mohamed Afif Chelbi, Tunisia’s industry and technology minister, has resigned from the government, the official TAP news agency has reported.

Chelbi, who resigned on Monday, was one of only two remaining ministers who had previously served in the cabinet under ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

His departure leaves Mohamed Nouri Jouini, the minister for international co-operation, as the only survivor in the cabinet from the Ben Ali era. (Al Jazeera)

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Libya uprising

In ‘Free Libya’: Hey, who, exactly, is in charge here?
It’s easy to find the headquarters of the Libyan opposition in Benghazi, the country’s second city and the hotbed of the uprising against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Just head down to the Corniche, the city’s Mediterranean waterfront, and follow the cheering crowds hanging Gaddafi in effigy to the city’s district courthouse, where the revolution began on Feb. 17 as a protest by the city’s lawyers and judges. But once inside the now battle-scarred and graffitied building, it’s hard to figure out who, exactly, is in charge.

Scores of newly minted revolutionary officials — middle-aged volunteers from the city’s professional and business classes — have many meetings but appear to make few decisions. They hold press conferences in what used to be a courtroom, while about a dozen opposition spokesmen roam the halls trying to be helpful but often offering conflicting information. Trucks full of eggs and baby formula arrive at the courthouse doors without an apparent system for delivering them to the needy and without clear reports of shortages. And though spirits are high, especially among the young volunteers sporting Che Guevara–style berets, the institutional vibe is more like that of a steering committee of a future liberal-arts college than of a guerrilla movement gearing up for a long fight. “The problem is that we don’t have anyone with any political experience whatsoever,” says Iman Bugahaighis, a professor of dentistry now acting as an unofficial spokesperson. “We didn’t have any institutions other than regime. That was part of Gaddafi’s plan: to make everyone loyal only to him.” (Time)

Rebels claim to have shot down jet
Rebels claimed to have downed a military aircraft as they fought a government bids to take back Libya’s third city, Misrata, and the strategic oil refinery town of Zawieh.

Libyan forces have been launched fresh offensives again Zawieh, 30 miles from Tripoli, and Misrata, 125 miles to the east. Rebels said some 2,000 troops loyal to the regime had surrounded Zawieh, but that they had succeeded in holding on to the town centres.

“An aircraft was shot down this morning while it was firing on the local radio station,” a witness, who was identified only as Mohamed, said by telephone from Misrata. (Telegraph)

Libya’s terra incognita
For four decades, Libya has been largely terra incognita, a place where the outsized personality of its quixotic leader and a byzantine bureaucracy obscured an informal network of constantly shifting power brokers. Even before the current unrest, working with these figures was uncertain at best — “like throwing darts at balloons in a dark room,” as one senior Western diplomat put it to me in 2009.

In the near future, even with Qaddafi gone, the country may face a continued contest between the forces of a free Libya and the regime’s die-hard elements. In particular, Qaddafi’s sons — Saif al-Islam, Khamis, Al-Saadi, and Mutassim — and their affiliated militias may not go quietly into the night; the struggle to root them out may be violent and protracted (think, for example, of Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay). Saif al-Islam, who was known for years in the West as Libya’s supposed champion of reform, revealed his true character as a reactionary much like his father by promising a “bloodbath” in a televised speech last week. On the ground, many of the attacks against demonstrators and their suspected sympathizers are being ordered by Captain Khamis al-Qaddafi, who heads the 32nd Brigade, the regime’s best-trained and best-equipped force. As the current unrest unfolded, Al-Saadi’s star was on the rise: as a brigadier in the special forces, he was dispatched to placate and then suppress the brewing revolt in Benghazi on February 16. Lastly, Mutassim, Libya’s National Security Council adviser, reportedly sought in 2008 to establish his own militia to keep up with his brothers and has strong ties to a number of hard-liners. (Foreign Affairs)

International pressure on Qaddafi intensifies
An international campaign to force Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi out of office gathered pace on Monday as the European Union adopted an arms embargo and other sanctions, the opposition showed increasing signs of organization in the east, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton bluntly told the Libyan leader to surrender power “now, without further violence or delay.”

With the rebel and loyalist forces locked in an increasingly tense stand-off on the ground, the prime ministers of France and Britain echoed Mrs. Clinton’s call for Colonel Qaddafi to go, Germany proposed a 60-day ban on financial transactions, and a spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said that contacts were being established with the opposition.

Italy’s foreign minister on Sunday suspended a nonaggression treaty with Libya on the grounds that the Libyan state “no longer exists,” while Mrs. Clinton said the United States was reaching out to the rebels to “offer any kind of assistance.” (New York Times)

Exile an option for Gaddafi, White House says
Going into exile would be one option for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in meeting international demands that he leave power, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

Carney, asked by reporters whether the United States would help facilitate exile for Gaddafi, said this was a bit of speculation that he would not discuss. (Reuters)

U.S. and allies weigh Libya no-fly zone
Obama administration officials held talks on Sunday with European and other allied governments as they readied plans for the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent further killings of civilians by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Further increasing international pressure on Colonel Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, Italy suspended a 2008 treaty with Libya that includes a nonaggression clause, a move that could allow it to take part in future peacekeeping operations in Libya or enable the use of its military bases in any possible intervention. (New York Times)

France begins ‘massive’ aid effort for Libyan opposition
France says it is flying medical aid to the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi in what it calls the start of a “massive” operation to support opposition forces trying to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said two planes were due to leave for Benghazi Monday, carrying doctors, nurses, medicine and medical equipment for the Libyan people in what he described as “liberated” areas. (VOA)

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CIA linked to Pakistan Taliban

Pakistan’s Express Tribune, which is affiliated with the New York Times, reports:

As American newspapers lifted a self-imposed gag on the CIA links of Raymond Davis, in place on the request of the US administration, The Express Tribune has now learnt that the alleged killer of two Pakistanis had close links with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The New York Times reported on Monday that Davis “was part of a covert, CIA-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country, according to American government officials.”

This contradicts the US claim that Davis was a member of the ‘technical and administrative staff’ of its diplomatic mission in Pakistan.

Davis was arrested on January 27 after allegedly shooting dead two young motorcyclists at a crowded bus stop in Lahore. American officials say that the arrest came after a ‘botched robbery attempt’.

“The Lahore killings were a blessing in disguise for our security agencies who suspected that Davis was masterminding terrorist activities in Lahore and other parts of Punjab,” a senior official in the Punjab police claimed.

“His close ties with the TTP were revealed during the investigations,” he added. “Davis was instrumental in recruiting young people from Punjab for the Taliban to fuel the bloody insurgency.” Call records of the cellphones recovered from Davis have established his links with 33 Pakistanis, including 27 militants from the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi sectarian outfit, sources said.

Davis was also said to be working on a plan to give credence to the American notion that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not safe. For this purpose, he was setting up a group of the Taliban which would do his bidding.

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Libya uprising

The New York Times reports from Zawiya:

In this city 30 miles west of Tripoli, hundreds of people rejoiced in a central square on Sunday, waving the red, black and green flag that has come to signify a free Libya and shouting the chants that foretold the downfall of governments in Tunisia and Egypt: “The people want to bring down the regime.”

Rebels, in control of the city, had reinforced its boundaries with informal barricades, and military units that had defected stood guard with rifles, six tanks and anti-aircraft guns mounted on the backs of trucks. In the central square here, a mosque was riddled with enormous holes, evidence of the government’s failed attempt to take back this city on Thursday. Nearby lay seven freshly dug graves belonging to protesters who had fallen in that siege, witnesses said.

“We are really suffering for 42 years, and people are asking here for the same things as other people of the world — they want the real democracy,” said Ahmed El-Hadi Remeh, an engineer standing in the square. He and other residents told how they had used stones to repel the government’s forces.

Proving how close opposition control has come to the capital, where Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi maintains tight control, the confidence of the demonstrators in Zawiya was remarkable, all the more so because it was witnessed as part of the official tour for international journalists that Colonel Qaddafi’s government organized. The public relations effort, apparently intended to show a stable Libya to the outside world, appeared to backfire, as a tour of Tripoli had on Saturday.

Instead, the tour, whose minders were forced to wait at the city’s outskirts, showed a nation where the uprising had reached the capital’s doorstep, underscoring a growing impression that the ring of rebel control around Tripoli was tightening. But in a sign that the fight was far from over, armed government forces were seen massing around the city.

The Associated Press reports:

Two prominent U.S. Senators said Washington should recognize and arm a provisional government in rebel-held areas of eastern Libya and impose a no-fly zone over the area — enforced by U.S. warplanes — to stop attacks by the regime. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton echoed President Barack Obama’s demand for Gadhafi to relinquish power.

“We want him to leave,” she told reporters traveling with her Sunday to a U.N. meeting on Libya planned for Monday. “We want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and forces loyal to him. How he manages that is up to him.”

Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, claimed again that the country was calm and denied the regime used force or airstrikes against its own people. But human rights groups and European officials have put the death toll since unrest began in Libya nearly two weeks ago at hundreds, or perhaps thousands, though it has been virtually impossible to verify the numbers.

AP also reports:

The U.N. Security Council moved as a powerful bloc Saturday to try to halt Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s deadly crackdown on protesters, slapping sanctions on him, his children and top associates.

Voting 15-0 after daylong discussions interrupted with breaks to consult with capitals back home, the council imposed an arms embargo and urged U.N. member countries to freeze the assets of Gadhafi, four of his sons and a daughter. The council also backed a travel ban on the Gadhafi family and close associates, including leaders of the revolutionary committees accused of much of the violence against opponents.

Council members additionally agreed to refer the Gadhafi regime’s deadly crackdown on people protesting his rule to a permanent war crimes tribunal for an investigation of possible crimes against humanity.

Carne Ross, a former British diplomat at the UN, comments:

[T]here are some strking things about this resolution:

  • Clear and early referral to the ICC (paras 4-8), including a demand that the ICC prosecutor brief the Council in two months’ time: this is remarkable. This is I think (and Barbara Plett thinks too) the first time the Council has voted unanimously for ICC referral. This resolution has also taken place very early in a conflict, only days after it began. In other words, the Council is moving in welcome fashion towards the preventive signalling required under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (see my blog comment below). It is reacting almost as fast as news breaks of killing.
  • The second remarkable thing is that the Libya situation is clearly internal. The Council may have denoted it as a “threat to international peace and security” in the preambular paragraphs (though I think this reference has been watered down in negotiation) and by putting the res under Chapter VII of the Charter, but to any outside observer it’s pretty clear that the conflict is confined within Libya’s borders, so far. There is a clear and unambiguous reference to Responsibility to Protect in the preambular paras. This is in my memory the first time that the Council has acted so quickly and so decisively on an internal situation. I am very surprised that the Chinese, Indians etc went along with such clear language. International public opinion seems to be moving them. This is an important precedent too.
  • Thirdly, on a more political note, this resolution is putting the Libyan regime in the freezer – big time. The assets freeze, travel ban etc apply to named members of the regime. These measures will be legally obligatory for all member states to impose – the resolution is under Chapter VII of the charter. And the measures will be in place indefinitely. These sanctions are not time-limited and will require a further positive vote of the Council to be lifted. In other words, all P5 will have to agree, plus 9 non-permanents. Moreover, the criteria for sanctions lift are left very unclear. What this means in practice is the total international isolation of members of the Gadhaffi regime indefinitely.

Reuters reports:

Britain said on Sunday it had revoked Muammar Gaddafi’s diplomatic immunity, putting pressure on the Libyan leader to step down after his government’s bloody crackdown on a revolt against his rule.

Officials said the move, which backs up U.N. Security Council sanctions agreed on Saturday, was an unprecedented step by Britain against a serving head of state.

“It is time for Colonel Gaddafi to go,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC, in the strongest language Britain’s nine-month-old coalition has used so far about the crisis.

The diplomatic immunity of Gaddafi’s sons, family and household had also been revoked, Hague said.

Hague said Gaddafi appeared to have stocks of mustard gas, a potentially deadly chemical weapon, that had not been destroyed under a 2003 agreement to dismantle weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

“Some of those stocks do appear to exist although we are not sure what condition they are in,” Hague said.

Separately, Peter Mandelson, a close confidant of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said that Blair had been in contact with Gaddafi in the last few days.

The Independent adds:

According to Whitehall sources, Mr Blair made an initial call to the Libyan President, who has ordered helicopter gunships to fire on protesters he described as “rats” and “cockroaches”. The Middle East envoy urged him to cease the attacks. The sources suggested that, after consultations with the British Foreign Office, Mr Blair was told that the UK Government would prefer the Libyan President to step down, and so he agreed to phone him again and transmit that message. There was no comment from Mr Blair’s office yesterday. Government sources could not say last night whether ministers knew in advance about the initial phone call.

The first oblique hint that Mr Blair might be in active contact with the Libyan regime came in a routine briefing on Friday in which US State Department spokesman P J Crowley said the former PM was among the international figures that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had spoken to during the day. Asked why Mrs Clinton called Mr Blair and if it was because of “his dealings with Gaddafi over the Lockerbie bomber”, the spokesman said of Mr Blair: “He has very important and valuable contacts inside of Libya.”

The Daily Telegraph reports:

Mercenaries captured in Libya are facing an uncertain future, writes Nick Meo in Al-Bayda.

Crowded into an empty classroom which was stinking of unwashed bodies and reeking of fear, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s defeated mercenary killers awaited their fate.

A week earlier the men – Libyan loyalists of the dictator and black African recruits – had been landed at airports throughout eastern Libya and sent out into the streets to shoot protesters in a murderous rampage. They killed dozens before they were overwhelmed by anti-Gaddafi militias.

The survivors were exhausted, filthy, far from home, and fearful of execution, even though they had been assured of good treatment. Fifty of them lay on mattresses on the floor in one classroom alone, with nearly 100 more in the same school building which was being used as a temporary prison. Most looked dazed. Some were virtually children.

“A man at the bus station in Sabha offered me a job and said I would get a free flight to Tripoli,” said Mohammed, a boy of about 16 who said he had arrived looking for work in the southern Libyan town only two weeks ago from Chad, where he had earned a living as a shepherd.

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The racist entity that is taking over Israel must be toppled

Sefi Rachlevsky writes:

The wretchedness of the law in the face of Rabbi Dov Lior has many meanings, and Lior’s refusal to be interrogated over his support for “The King’s Torah – The Laws for Killing Gentiles” – only marginally gets at the heart of the matter.

Thirty years ago, the terrorist organization known as the “Jewish Underground” was set up with the purpose of killing Arabs. The group’s head of operations, Menachem Livni – who was convicted on multiple counts of murder before being pardoned by the regime – testified at the time that the living spirit, the initiator, the religious instructor and the coordinator of the murders was Lior.

This was true for the murders the underground carried out, and was also true for the pressure he put on the murderers to blow up buses and their passengers. The law states that someone who dispatches murders should receive multiple life sentences, along with additional time for organizing the crime. But thanks to instruction from higher up, Lior was never imprisoned, put to trial and or even properly interrogated.

And so he continued: Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron in 1994, saw Lior as his rabbi and counselor. After the Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre, Lior declared that “Baruch Goldstein was holier than the saints of the Holocaust.” The living spirit behind the religious edicts against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which lead to his 1995 assassination, was also, according to testimonies, Lior. Rabin’s assassin frequented Hebron, where he used to see Lior.

Rabbi Lior is not in prison. He currently serves as a municipal rabbi, the head of a Jewish court and the dean of a large IDF yeshiva. He also heads the Judea and Samaria rabbis committee. Thousands adhere to his commands, hundreds of thousands are taught his ideology, tens of thousands of shekels are paid to him by the Israeli taxpayer every month.

This utter aberration is no accident. The regime chose Lior. Tel Aviv is a dream world. The actual reality that has been instilled in Israel is Lior. Under King Lior, Israel has built a world where the Jews are citizens and the Arabs are not, both in the occupied territories and in Jerusalem; where a Jewish man is a citizen and his Arab neighbor is not. Most Jewish first-graders attend ultra-Orthodox and religious schools. The majority of them are educated along the lines of “The King’s Torah.” A Jew is human. A non-Jew is non-human. “Thou shalt not kill” does not apply to non-Jews. And this is not delivered in the form of incitement, but as a simple statement of a fact. As simple as calling a chair a chair.

There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Either you’re with Lior or you’re against him. The rabbis who chose him are Lior. The education minister – who visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs hand in hand with the convicted terrorist Livni, whom he seeks to put in charge of educating the children who will be brought to Hebron – is Lior. The prime minister, who enslaves Israel to the racist world of the settlements, is Lior.

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Egypt: the military’s gambit

Issandr El Amrani writes:

I’m not sure how long the general Egyptian public can maintain the bizarre idea that the army is so great. This is the army that took power in a coup in 1952 and ended political pluralism, lost tons of wars after that and continued to justify its predation on the national budget despite not having had to fight anyone since 1973 (if you exclude the Libyans very briefly in the late 1970s and those field hospitals sent to Iraq and Kosovo in the 1990s), that has absolutely no experience policing and yet is getting military police and military intelligence to carry out that function (when their primary job has been keeping an eye on rank and file). It is the army that put Mubarak in place in six days after the assassination of Sadat, and now runs things through a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that is headed by Mubarak loyalist Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (in place since 1992) and a government headed by former chief of the Air Force Ahmed Chafiq (who considers Mubarak his “spiritual father.”) Not to mention, of course, the army that owned the land in Tagammu al-Khamiss outside of Cairo that was sold for the spectacular profits by several real estate developers, or the army that continues to employ conscripts as free labor in various places.

In answer to the question that started the preceding paragraph, I think actually the army can maintain that illusion for a long time. Eleven years in Egypt have taught me to never underestimate the power of the ERDF — the Egyptian Reality Distortion Field. It is a surprisingly flexible and adaptable weapon, even in the face of the most stubborn facts. Part of this is information manipulation, of course — it helps that the military has just appointed one of its own to run the Egyptian Radio and Television Union — but also a certain amount of political caution. Hossam el-Hamalawy, never one to hold on to illusions about power, wrote after the clash with the army:

Everyone is rightly upset about what the army did in Tahrir Square last night. Let’s remember, however, the military already moved against peaceful protesters in Suez, and is accused of involvement of torture and arrest of hundreds during the uprising. And almost everyday there is a statement from the army warning strikers and protesters, coupled with an orchestrated media campaign in both state and private TV channels discrediting labor strikes and renewed protests in Tahrir. What happened last night should not come as a shock.

If Mubarak’s regime was corrupt (and it was), then why do we treat the military institution, which provided the backbone of his dictatorship, as “neutral” or “pure”? The leadership of this institution, namely the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are part of Mubarak’s regime. And any real change would affect their privileges and control.

We cannot and will not carry up arms against the army. I salute and support all the efforts for resuming the protests in Tahrir, including the one planned for today at 2pm. But still, the most effective weapon is the mass strikes.

Mass strikes is precisely what the army fears the most, along with the Egyptian elite for which it represents both economic disaster and the rise of mob rule.

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The military/media attacks on the Hastings article

Glenn Greenwald writes:

Last June, when Rolling Stone published Michael Hastings’ article which ended the career of Obama’s Afghanistan commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal — an article which was just awarded the prestigious Polk Award — the attacks on Hastings were led not by military officials but by some of Hastings’ most celebrated journalistic colleagues. The New York Times‘ John Burns fretted that the article “has impacted, and will impact so adversely, on what had been pretty good military/media relations” and accused Hastings of violating “a kind of trust” which war reporters “build up” with war Generals; Politico observed that a “beat reporter” — unlike the freelancing Hastings — “would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks”; and an obviously angry Lara Logan of CBS News strongly insinuated (with no evidence) that Hastings had lied about whether the comments were on-the-record and then infamously sneered: “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.” Here’s Jon Stewart last year mocking the revealing media disdain for Rolling Stone and Hastings in the wake of their McChrystal story.

Hastings has now written another Rolling Stone article that reflects poorly on a U.S. General in Afghanistan. The new article details how Lt. Gen. William Caldwell “illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in ‘psychological operations’ to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war” and then railroaded the whistle-blowing officer who objected to the program. Now, the same type of smear campaign is being launched at Hastings as well as at his primary source, Lt. Col. Michael Holmes: from military officials and their dutiful media-servants. Ever since publication of this new article, military-subservient “reporters” have disseminated personal attacks on Hastings and his journalism as well as on Holmes and his claims, all while inexcusably granting anonymity to the military leaders launching those attacks and uncritically repeating them. As usual, anyone who makes powerful government or military leaders look bad — by reporting the truth — becomes the target of character assassination, and the weapon of choice are the loyal, vapid media stars who will uncritically repeat whatever powerful officials say all while shielding them from accountability through the use of anonymity.

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Why isn’t Wall Street in jail?

Matt Taibbi writes:

Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.

“Everything’s fucked up, and nobody goes to jail,” he said. “That’s your whole story right there. Hell, you don’t even have to write the rest of it. Just write that.”

I put down my notebook. “Just that?”

“That’s right,” he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. “Everything’s fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there.”

Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth — and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.

The rest of them, all of them, got off. Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom — an industrywide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities — has ever been convicted. Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What’s more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions — from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even “one dollar” just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick “The Gorilla” Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars.

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Intifada update

The Economist’s index of unrest in the Arab world

Tunisian interim PM Ghannouchi resigns over protests
Tunisian interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has announced on state TV that he is resigning – a key demand of demonstrators.

He was speaking at a news conference in Tunis, after making a lengthy speech defending his record in government.

Mr Ghannouchi is seen as being too close to former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who was toppled in an uprising last month. (BBC)

Three people killed as demonstrations turn deadly in Tunisia
Protests in Tunisia turned violent and deadly Saturday, just over six weeks after a popular uprising forced the president out of office, and lit a spark of desire for democratic reform in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

Three people were killed Saturday and nine others injured during mayhem in the capital, Tunis, according to a Interior Ministry statement cited by the state-run news agency, Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).

More than 100 people were arrested, the ministry said, in the area around Habib Bourguiba Avenue, in the city’s center, accused of “acts of destruction and burning.” (CNN)

2 dead as protesters, police clash in Oman, witnesses say
Clashes between protesters and police in the Omani industrial town of Sohar wounded about 10 people Sunday, state media reported Sunday.

At least two protesters were killed, Oman TV editor Asma Rshid told CNN.

“The police shot them because they burned shops and cars in Sohar,” Rshid said. Another source said it was rubber bullets that the police fired. A number of police had also reportedly been injured, but numbers were not confirmed. (CNN)

In Bahrain, Sunni activist’s plight seen as a cautionary tale
Mohamed Albuflasa was different from everyone else taking the stage on the second day of Bahrain’s protests. He was a Sunni Muslim.

The 34-year-old Salafist favored government reform, and he believed he should speak at the rally to promote unity among the country’s Shiite Muslim majority and Sunnis at Manama’s Pearl Square.

Within hours, a security agency had detained him, and he has not been seen since. Even as hundreds of political prisoners were freed this week by King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa, Albuflasa remains jailed and his whereabouts a mystery.

“Mohamed’s speech was meant to reduce the fire going on where people create differences between Shiites and Sunnis. He was there to show there is no difference between them. We are all Bahraini,” his brother, Rashid, told The Times this week. “He is not against the royal family and government.” (Los Angeles Times)

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Libya uprising

The New York Times reports:

A bold effort by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to prove that he was firmly in control of Libya appeared to backfire Saturday as foreign journalists he invited to the capital discovered blocks of the city in open revolt.

Witnesses described snipers and antiaircraft guns firing at unarmed civilians, and security forces were removing the dead and wounded from streets and hospitals, apparently in an effort to hide the mounting toll.

When government-picked drivers escorted journalists on tours of the city on Saturday morning, the evidence of the extent of the unrest was unmistakable. Workers were still hastily painting over graffiti calling Colonel Qaddafi a “bloodsucker” or demanding his ouster. Just off the tour route were long bread lines where residents said they were afraid to be seen talking to journalists.

And though heavily armed checkpoints dominated some precincts of the city, in other neighborhoods the streets were blocked by makeshift barricades of broken televisions, charred tree trunks and cinder blocks left over from protests and street fights the night before.

“I have seen more than 68 people killed,” said a doctor who gave his name only as Hussein. “But the people who have died, they don’t leave them in the same place. We have seen them taking them in the Qaddafi cars, and nobody knows who there are taking the people who have died.” He added, “Even the ones with just a broken hand or something they are taking away.”

In some ways, the mixed results of Colonel Qaddafi’s publicity stunt — opening the curtains to the world with great fanfare, even though the stage is in near-chaotic disarray — is an apt metaphor for the increasingly untenable situation in the country.

On Friday, before the journalists arrived, his forces put down a demonstration in the capital only after firing on the protesters. There were reports that an armed rebel force was approaching the city on Saturday, but Colonel Qaddafi’s forces are believed to have blocked the way at the city of Surt, a stronghold of his tribe.

He is no longer in full control of the countryside either. Rebels now control about half the populous Mediterranean coast, including the strategic towns of Zawiyah and Misurata, not far from the capital and near important oil facilities.

Misurata (225km east of Tripoli) – Rally in front of the People’s Hall after city is liberated:

Press TV reports:

The youngest son of the embattled ruler Muammar Gaddafi has joined the pro-democracy protesters in Libya amid an unabated outpouring of rage against Gaddafi, reports say.

According to the reports, Saif al-Arab, Gaddafi’s youngest son, who was sent by his father to cooperate with Libyan security forces in the massive crackdown on pro-democracy protesters joined forces with the demonstrators in the eastern city of Benghazi on Thursday.

Saif al-Arab, who is widely regarded as the most low-profile of Gaddafi’s sons have also hinted that his father would commit suicide or flee to Latin America in the face of rising public outcry over his tyrannical rule.

Saif al-Arab is said to have had the backing of combat troops and had military equipment that was dispatched to the eastern parts of turmoil-hit Libya.

Bloomberg reports:

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi spent most of his 41 year-regime trying to sideline the country’s tribes. That may be something he’s now regretting as his power unravels.

Akram al-Qarfalli, a senior member of the Warfalla tribe, on Feb. 20 announced it was withdrawing support from Qaddafi, saying “he is no longer a brother.” The Al-Zawiya tribe threatened to halt the flow of oil if Qaddafi doesn’t stop killing protesters. By Feb. 23 most tribes were united in their opposition, says former interior minister, Abdul Fattah Younis.

“The tribes are powerful, especially outside urban centers,” said Charles Gurdon, a Libya analyst and managing director of the London-based Menas Associates political risk consulting firm, in a phone interview. “The fact the majority of them are now opposed to Qaddafi is probably the last nail in the coffin.”

Tribal loyalties form the bedrock of Libyan society. While Qaddafi says the patchwork of more than 100 tribes makes a slide into civil war inevitable if he’s ousted, academics and opposition members say they have been key in uniting Libyans against the regime and will help shape the country’s political future.

McClatchy reports:

Citing human rights abuses against peaceful demonstrators in Libya, President Barack Obama late Friday ordered that all the assets of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, his children and their wives be frozen in the United States, or in branches of U.S. banks.

The order comes as Gadhafi is losing his grip on power against massive opposition in his oil-rich nation, which began on Feb. 15. Eyewitnesses reported murders and abductions by Gadhafi’s security forces and by hired mercenaries from other African nations.

“I . . . find that there is a serious risk that Libyan state assets will be misappropriated by Gadhafi, members of his government, members of his family, or his close associates if those assets are not protected, ” Obama said in the order.

And in a statement, Obama said: “By any measure, Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government has violated international norms and common decency and must be held accountable. These sanctions therefore target the Qaddafi government, while protecting the assets that belong to the people of Libya.”

The New York Times reports:

One day after the United States closed its embassy in Tripoli and imposed unilateral sanctions against Libya, the United Nations Security Council prepared to meet in New York on Saturday to consider imposing international sanctions, including an arms embargo and an asset freeze and travel ban against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, his relatives and key members of his government.

Ahead of the meeting, diplomats from the United States, France, Germany and Britain circulated a draft resolution that also called for the referral of the violent crackdown in Libya to the International Criminal Court to investigate possible crimes against humanity.

But Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday warned that sanctions would do more harm to Libya’s people than to Colonel Qaddafi, the Associated Press reported. He added: “We call on the international community to act with conscience, justice, laws and universal humane values — not out of oil concerns.”

The international community was being spurred to action by Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general, who gave a dire description of the continuing violence against protesters in Libya on Friday, as well as an emotional plea from the Libyan ambassador to help his countrymen.

“Please United Nations, save Libya,” Ambassador Mohammed Shalgham told fellow diplomats in New York on Friday, as he publicly broke with the Qaddafi government. “I tell my brother Qaddafi, leave the Libyans alone.”

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Intifada update

23 killed in Iraq’s ‘Day of Rage’ protests
Tens of thousands of Iraqis surged into the streets Friday in at least a dozen demonstrations across the country, storming provincial buildings, forcing local officials to resign, freeing prisoners and otherwise demanding more from a government they only recently had a chance to elect.

At least 23 protesters were killed as Iraqis braved security forces to vent shared frustrations at the nearest government official. Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians, they shouted for simple dignities made more urgent by war – adequate electricity, clean water, a decent hospital, a fair shot at a job.

“I have demands!” Salma Mikahil, 48, cried out in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, as military helicopters and snipers looked down on thousands of people bearing handmade signs and olive branches signifying peace. “I want to see if Maliki can accept that I live on this,” Mikahil said, waving a 1,000-dinar note, worth less than a dollar, toward Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s offices. “I want to see if his conscience accepts it.”

The protests – billed as Iraq’s “Day of Rage” – represented a new sort of conflict for a population that has been menaced by sectarian militias and suicide bombers. Now, many wondered whether they would have to add to the list of enemies their own government, whose security forces beat and shot at protesters and journalists Friday and left hundreds injured.

Six people were killed in Fallujah and six others in Mosul, with the other deaths reported in five separate incidents around the country, according to officials and witnesses. The reports attributed most casualties to security forces who opened fire.

The demonstrators who sparked the crackdown were calling for reform, not revolution, although there were mini-examples of the latter – hyper-local versions of the recent revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Crowds forced the resignation of the governor of the southern province of Basra and the entire city council of Fallujah and chased away the governor of Mosul, the brother of the speaker of parliament, who was also there and fled, too. (Washington Post)

Tribal leader’s resignation is blow to Yemeni president
A leading tribal figure in Yemen announced his resignation from the ruling party on Saturday, signaling a major blow to the embattled leadership of President Ali Abdullah Saleh as demonstrations calling for his resignation continue across the country.

“The Yemeni people would not keep silent on the blood of martyrs shed in Aden and will avenge it,” Sheikh Hussein Al Ahmar said in a speech before a large gathering of tribesmen in northern Amran province, referring to deaths of antigovernment protesters in the southern city of Aden, according to local press reports. He also called for the overthrow the Saleh regime, and the gathering broke out in antigovernment chants.

Mr. Ahmar is a prominent leader in Yemen’s most influential tribal confederation, the Hashids; his brother, Sadiq Al Ahmar, is the chief Hashid leader. Mr. Saleh, the president, is also a member of the Hashid confederation and has been meeting with tribal leaders to garner their support over the past two weeks.

Four days earlier, Mohammad Abdel Illah al-Qadi, a key leader of the Sanhan tribe, a Hashid affiliate that is also the president’s home tribe, resigned because of violence used against protesters. Mr. Qadi, whose father is a powerful military leader, was one of 10 parliament members who resigned the ruling party. (New York Times)

Shi’ite dissident returns to Bahrain from exile
A hardline Shi’ite dissident flew home to Bahrain from exile on Saturday to join an opposition movement demanding that the island kingdom’s Sunni ruling family accept a more democratic system.

“We want a real constitution,” Hassan Mushaimaa told reporters at the airport. “They’ve promised us (one) before and then did whatever they wanted to.”

“I’m here to see what are the demands of the people at the square and sit with them and talk to them,” he said, referring to anti-government protesters camped in Manama’s Pearl Square.

Thousands of anti-government protesters marched from Pearl Square to a former office of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa on Saturday in a new tactic to press demands for the removal of a man who has held his post for 40 years.

Sheikh Khalifa, the king’s uncle, is a symbol of the ruling family’s political power and wealth.

The march was the protesters’ first foray into a government and commercial district of Manama. They halted at a compound that also houses the Foreign Ministry. Many waved Bahraini flags and chanted: “The people want the fall of the regime.” (Reuters)

Saudi youths call for rally in Jeddah
A group of Saudi youth has called for a rally in the southwestern coastal city of Jeddah to show solidarity with the pro-democracy uprisings and revolutions across the Arab world.

A group calling itself Jeddah Youth for Change has distributed printed statements, calling on the people to join a demonstration near al-Beia Square in Jeddah on Friday.

“We will not give up our right to peacefully demonstrate,” the flier says.

“We will express our solidarity with the Libyan people who are living the hardship of their revolt against the oppressive and unjust system of Muammar Gaddafi,” it added.

Also in the eastern Qatif region, people are planning to hold a rally on Friday in support of the Libyan revolution and the uprising in Bahrain.

Thousands of people have said they are prepared to attend the protests after Saudi youth named March 11th the Day of Rage on the social networking website, Facebook. (Press TV)

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The ongoing revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia

Following overnight clash between protesters and the Egyptian army outside the cabinet office near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Jack Shenker reports:

The international press is reporting that the army has issued an apology for its brutality, which included demonstrators being beaten and tasered, but that’s not quite true. In fact it has posted a series of statements on its new Facebook page, one of which is entitled ‘apology’ but which actually says only that the overnight fracas was ‘unintentional’ – prompting scorn and anger from many activists on the ground.

The army is a highly-respected national institution in Egypt, but suspicions are now mounting about its willingness to tolerate – and even prop up – lasting remnants of the Mubarak regime, and its intolerance of any public dissent. Combined with fierce fighting last night in the Nile Delta town of Mansoura, where protesters did battle with central security forces (who hadn’t been deployed in large numbers since Mubarak’s downfall), the incidents outside parliament are amplifying the voices of those who believe the army cannot be trusted, either to build a meaningful and durable set of civilian-led democratic political institutions, or to see through the kind of root and branch economic reform which is needed to answer the legitimate aspirations of millions of poor Egyptians. (For more details on how Egypt’s poor have done so badly from the country’s neoliberal reform programme in recent years see this analysis piece by Walter Armbrust.)

Meanwhile, from Tunis, the BBC reports:

Security forces in the Tunisian capital have fired tear gas to try to disperse hundreds of demonstrators outside the interior ministry.

Police and masked men in civilian clothes, armed with sticks, moved through streets looking for protesters.

The renewed protest comes a day after police cleared huge crowds from the streets demanding the resignation of the interim prime minister.

That was the biggest rally since the president fled after weeks of unrest.

On Friday police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse demonstrators.

The BBC’s Paul Moss in Tunis says the stench of tear gas is again filling the main shopping street in Tunis.

The trouble flared very suddenly – people out shopping found themselves caught up in the confrontation, women carrying heavy bags running for cover with handkerchiefs clutched to their mouths, our correspondent says.

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Amid all the turmoil in the Middle East, al Qaeda remains invisible

Jason Burke writes:

In the summer of 2007, the senior leadership of al-Qaida decided on a major effort in Egypt, Algeria and Libya. Their campaign elsewhere in the Middle East, after an apparently promising start, had not been going very well. Public sentiment in key countries had turned against the extremists the moment bombs started going off locally. Supporting far-off violence was one thing. Blasts in hotels or on the streets of your home town was something different, it seemed. In Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, popular support for the extremists was plummeting.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Cairo suburb-born former medical doctor who leads al-Qaida with Osama bin Laden, tasked Mohammed Hakaima, an Egyptian veteran militant, with creating a regional franchise for the group in his native land. “O heroes, strike … all the Zionist-Crusader targets in the land of Egypt without shedding the blood of Muslims,” Hakaima told his countrymen. Few did. Based in Pakistan, all Hakaima could do was to make approaches to potential collaborators online. He was killed in a drone strike in mid 2008. The project for an “al-Qaida in the land of Egypt” died with him.

Hosni Mubarak, even in the death throes of his regime, did not have the temerity to blame al-Qaida for his downfall. Not so Colonel Gaddafi, who says Bin Laden has been duping Libyan youth with drugs to foment violence. Both the accusation of involvement in narcotics and domestic unrest have long pedigrees. Many, including the British government, have claimed that Bin Laden is involved in the heroin trade though no evidence for such a link exists, for example. And dozens of unsavoury and repressive regimes (mainly allies of the west) have invoked the name of the al-Qaida leader to get diplomatic, military, financial or commercial benefits or explain away internal discontent and dissent.

As in Egypt, Islamic militancy in Libya goes back decades, even to colonial days. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were active in the 1990s as, in Egypt, was Zawahiri’s Islamic Jihad. Between 2004 and 2006, captured records show Libya provided a disproportionate number of foreign “mujahideen” in Iraq. When “al-Qaida in the Maghreb” was formed in 2006, Zawahiri hoped that fusing existing Algerian and Libyan groups, would gain the al-Qaida hardcore new capabilities and a springboard into Europe. But the merger merely revealed the weakness and parochialism of all involved and has since collapsed.

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Iran reports a major setback at Bushehr nuclear power plant

The New York Times reports:

Iran told atomic inspectors this week that it had run into a serious problem at a newly completed nuclear reactor that was supposed to start feeding electricity into the national grid this month, raising questions about whether the trouble was sabotage, a startup problem, or possibly the beginning of the project’s end.

In a report on Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran told inspectors on Wednesday that it was planning to unload nuclear fuel from its Bushehr reactor — the sign of a major upset. For years, Tehran has hailed the reactor as a showcase of its peaceful nuclear intentions and its imminent startup as a sign of quickening progress.

But nuclear experts said the giant reactor, Iran’s first nuclear power plant, now threatens to become a major embarrassment, as engineers remove 163 fuel rods from its core.

Iran gave no reason for the unexpected fuel unloading, but it has previously admitted that the Stuxnet computer worm infected the Bushehr reactor. On Friday, computer experts debated whether Stuxnet was responsible for the surprising development.

Russia, which provided the fuel to Iran, said earlier this month that the worm’s infection of the reactor should be investigated, arguing that it might trigger a nuclear disaster. Other experts said those fears were overblown, but noted that the full workings of the Stuxnet worm remained unclear.

In interviews Friday, nuclear experts said the trouble behind the fuel unloading could range from minor safety issues and operational ineptitude to serious problems that would bring the reactor’s brief operational life to a premature end.

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Libya uprising

Libya’s UN Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham addressing the UN Security Council:

Ambassador Shalgham’s press conference:

The New York Times reports:

The United States closed its embassy in Tripoli on Friday and announced plans to impose unilateral sanctions against Libya, including the freezing of billions in government assets, as the Obama administration made its most aggressive move against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi since his security forces opened fire on protesters.

Just minutes after a charter flight left Tripoli carrying the last Americans who wanted to leave Libya, officials markedly toughened the administration’s words and actions against Colonel Qaddafi, announcing that high-ranking Libyan officials who supported or participated in his violent crackdown would also see their assets frozen and might, along with Colonel Qaddafi, be subject to war crimes prosecution.

“It’s clear that Colonel Qaddafi has lost the confidence of his people,” said the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, in a briefing that was delayed to allow the plane to take off because the Americans feared that the Libyan leader might harm the passengers. “His legitimacy has been reduced to zero.”

With Colonel Qaddafi killing more of his people every day in a desperate bid to remain in power, it was not clear that these actions would do much to mitigate the worsening crisis. Sanctions, for instance, take time to put in place, and every other option comes with its own set of complications. Colonel Qaddafi, increasingly erratic, has seemed to shrug off outside pressure, becoming even more bizarre — with charges that protesters are on drugs — in the face of the world’s scorn.

John Simpson reports:

In a BBC interview, Interior Minister Gen Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi says Col Gaddafi’s regime is collapsing and will last only a few more days.

Having known the colonel for 47 years, Gen al-Abidi says he will not surrender.

“Either he will commit suicide or he will resist till he falls,” he says.

Gen al-Abidi was sent to Benghazi at the end of last week to oversee the suppression of the demonstrations here.

Instead, he rang Col Gaddafi and persuaded him not to use warplanes to crush the protesters.

After this evidence that he was changing sides, there seems to have been an attempt to assassinate him.

Col Gaddafi actually announced the general’s death in a speech on Libyan television, but it was a bodyguard who died instead, in a shooting incident in Benghazi.

All this persuaded the general to come over to the uprising. At present he is living in a secret house on the outskirts of Benghazi.

Protesters shot at in downtown Tripoli, February 25:

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Obama administration’s response to the Libyan crisis continued to face charges of being timid from Libyans and American foreign policy experts. Many Libyan dissidents voiced exasperation with the White House’s unwillingness Friday to call for Col. Gadhafi to step down or deploy military forces.

“What are they waiting for?” said Ali Rishi, a Libyan dissident based in Boston, who has previously advised the State Department on Libya policy. “The longer they wait, the more Gadhafi will feel emboldened to continue what he’s doing.”

U.S. officials said Washington’s response was hampered by fears that American diplomatic staff in Tripoli could be targeted by Col. Gadhafi. On Friday, the U.S. succeeded in temporarily removing its remaining staff by ferry and air. Mr. Carney said the announcement of sanctions came less than a half-hour after the last personnel left Libya.

U.S. and European officials discounted the prospect of NATO taking military action. In Brussels on Friday, ambassadors of the 28 NATO allies met to discuss the crisis and agreed only to monitor events, according to diplomats and officials. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday the situation in Libya couldn’t be considered a direct threat to NATO or its members.

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Intifada update

Hundreds of thousands protest across Mideast
Hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out in cities across the Middle East on Friday to protest the unaccountability of their leaders and express solidarity with the uprising in Libya that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is trying to suppress with force.

The worst violence of the day appeared to be in Libya, where security forces shot at protesters as they left Friday prayers to try to launch the first major anti-government demonstration in the capital. Demonstrations in recent days have been in other cities, and several of those have fallen to armed rebels determined to oust Colonel Qaddafi.

Protests in Iraq also took a violent turn, with security forces firing on crowds in Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi and in Salahuddin Province, killing at least ten people. Unlike in other Middle Eastern countries, the protesters in Iraq are not seeking to topple their leaders, but are demanding better government services after years of war and deprivation.

Religious leaders and the prime minister had pleaded with people not to take to the streets, with Moktada al-Sadr saying the new government needed a chance to improve services and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki warning that insurgents could target the gatherings. But on Friday, the deaths came at the hands of government forces.

Demonstrations elsewhere — in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia — were almost exclusively peaceful. (New York Times)

Tahrir protesters call on old guard to go

Thousands of workers strike in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is now being rocked by strikes as the mood of resistance spreads across the region. A socialist in Saudi Arabia reports on how struggles in the Middle East are even spreading to the most vicious dictatorship, which is sponsored by the US

‘I went to my workplace on Thursday of last week, and I found out that there were over 3,000 workers demanding their rights before they called a general strike in the construction site in Saudi Binladin Group. The workers were very angry. Their workplace is one of the largest construction projects in the country, which is worth SR.100 billion.

However, they live in a terrible conditions. One of the workers told me, “I live in a room four metres by three metres with eight people, and for every ten people there is only one toilet.” Another Egyptian worker told me about the working conditions and the restriction of religious freedom: “They are Zionists, they don’t even allow me to pray on time!” (Socialist Worker)

Egyptian workers strike for minimum wage and independent unions

Britain’s two-faced relationship with Middle-Eastern tyranny has to end
Have you been invited to Kate’s and Wills’s wedding at Westminster Abbey on 29 April? No? I didn’t think so. Nor have I.

But Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa has. He happens to be the king of Bahrain, where thousands of people have been peacefully protesting against his unelected royal regime since 14 February. His Majesty’s response? On 16 February, shortly before dawn, he ordered his security forces to storm Pearl Square in the heart of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, where the protesters – emulating those who had gathered in Cairo’s Liberation Square – were camping out. The police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the king’s sleeping subjects, killing at least four, including a two-year-old girl, and injuring hundreds of others. The next day, they switched to live ammunition.

Nonetheless, the king of Bahrain has received his gilded invitation from Buckingham Palace, embossed with the Queen’s EIIR royal cypher. The Bahraini monarch is not the only Middle East tyrant to have made the cut. Invitations are reported to have gone out to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah of Jordan. Then again, given the pace of events in Tunisia and Egypt and the ongoing unrest in Libya, it is a matter of debate as to whether the two Abdullahs or Hamad will still be in power come 29 April. (Mehdi Hasan)

No real freedom without dismantling the secret political police
President Zine el Abbidin of Tunisia and President Mubarak of Egypt may have been ousted, but the terror and control of the secret political police continues unchecked and invisible to the eyes of the international community. Unless the domestic intelligence agencies: the state security investigations apparatus (SSI) in Egypt and its counterpart in Tunisia are immediately dismantled, not only will repression continue, but an underground witch-hunt against citizens who continue to press for genuine democracy will follow. There are signs that this is already happening in Tunisia where politically active citizens have once again felt the secret police force breathing down their necks.

Sihem Bensedrine, a prominent activist who was harassed under Ben Ali’s rule over attempts to set up an independent Internet newspaper and a satellite television channel, said that recently she has been again subject to surveillance by the secret police. Prior to the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia, the president’s party established a very complex and pervasive regime for monitoring ordinary citizens through the secret [political] police. According to Nadia Marzouki, a citizen had to avoid entanglements with the authorities, otherwise officials may “interfere with her enrolment at a university, her exams, her wedding or her desire to open a restaurant or shop, buy property, give birth in a hospital, obtain a passport or even buy a cellular phone: After 23 years of internalizing fear, Tunisians became their own censors.”

In post-Mubarak Egypt, the fear barrier over mentioning the SSI is now almost fully breached, but activists affirm that the officers are still in full force. The state security investigations apparatus has, since its establishment under British colonial rule, systematically served to protect the ruling regime by collecting intelligence information and using soft and brutal power against real, virtual or potential sources of dissidence. Since former Minister of Interior Habib al Adly came to power in 1997, he has worked to transform the apparatus into a parallel governance structure that uses repression, coercion and control mechanisms to remind citizens that the big SSI brother is always watching. When Mubarak announced the resignation of the government on the night of the January 28, Habib al Adly was removed from power. Technically, the SSI is supposed to be answerable to the Minister of Interior and it was assumed that the SSI would become redundant once Habib el Adly resigned. Yet what happened next suggested otherwise. Wael Saeed Abbas Ghoneim, one of the youth bloggers, was kidnapped by the State Security Investigations apparatus on January 27 and detained blindfolded for 12 days while everyone was oblivious to his whereabouts. It was assumed that he would be released shortly after January 28; but this was not the case. (Mariz Tadros)

Hamas: The US and Israel are the biggest losers in the Arab uprising
Member of Hamas’s political bureau Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahhar said that the US and Israel are both the biggest losers in the changes taking place in the Arab world as a result of the popular revolutions.

In a press statement to Safa news agency on Saturday, Dr. Zahhar ruled out that the Egyptian revolution could immediately impact the situation in the besieged Gaza Strip due to the ruling military council’s preoccupation with its numerous and complex internal affairs.

Gaza police order male hairdressers to quit working
Hatem Ghoul was on his way to work at his hairdressing salon in Gaza City earlier this week when he got word that his employees had been paid a visit by the police.

They had left a message for Ghoul: could he drop by the police station; there was something they wanted to discuss. And, it turned out, not just him. The other four male hairdressers in the city had similar requests.

Ghoul had been expecting this for almost a year, since reports that Hamas was cracking down on men cutting and styling women’s hair. But Ghoul and his male colleagues in Gaza City continued to work, and no one stopped them.

This week he was left in no doubt. One by one, he told me, the men were called into a room where an unrelated detainee was chained to a wall by his wrists, and told to sign a pledge to give up their profession or face arrest and a 20,000 shekel (£3,400) fine. (The Guardian)

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Rescuing the white people from Tripoli

Ben Plesser spoke to the CBS’s Early Show about the situation at Tripoli’s airport:

“There are thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people packed into the terminal, mostly foreign workers. They’re Egyptians, they’re Turks, they’re from Southeast Asia. Every once in a while you see a western face.

“They are living on the floor, wrapped in dirty blankets, they’ve been there for days. And they’re the lucky ones, because they have a roof over their heads,” he said.

Plesser said airport workers were wearing face masks due to concerns about infectious diseases, because no one has had access to facilities or showers, and are living off of whatever scraps or trash they can find. “And these people are basically the lucky ones,” Plesser said.

“Outside the terminal, there are thousands more people trying to inch their way into the terminal. There are policemen with sticks and whips keeping them in line, keeping them away from the terminal doors. There are fights breaking out. They’re living in the trash from days of sitting outside the terminal, just waiting for an opportunity to get out of the country.”

Plesser notes the few “Western” faces in the airport — which, to be blunt, means white people. What else are we to suppose defines a Western face in a crowd of brown faces other than a pale complexion?

There are about 6,000 Americans in Libya, but most hold dual Libyan citizenship, so, according to State Department spokesman PJ Crowley, it’s up to the Gaddafi government whether they will be allowed to leave. Had any managed to reach the airport, Plesser’s snap survey would have overlooked those invisible Westerners.

The New York Times reported:

The scramble by foreigners to leave the country began several days ago, but the number of commercial flights could not keep up with demand. Many countries have been mobilizing military and chartered ships and planes.

After landing in Malta on a flight chartered by the British government, Sam Dewhirst from Leeds who had been teaching English in Libya, described the situation in the Tripoli airport as “hellish.”

While he and other Britons had been able to “jump the queue,” he said, scores of North Africans were still waiting to leave or had abandoned their suitcases on the tarmac in a mad scramble to get on flights. “It was heartbreaking,” he said.

No explanation on how these Britons were able to jump the queue.

And then there’s the inexplicable, inexcusable case of a Canadian flight that landed in Tripoli, found no Canadian’s waiting to get out and so returned to Jordan without a single passenger!

“There were no other citizens from like-minded countries who needed the flight,” said a Canadian government official.

The airport is full of like-minded people — everyone wants to get the hell out of Libya and probably wouldn’t be too choosy about their destination. What is this club of like-minded countries to which Canada belongs? The white club?

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