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Thursday
Jan202011

Afghanistan Snapshot: The Acid Attack on My Colleague Razaq Mamoon

The malicious attack on my colleague Razaq Mamoon in Afghanistan came as a shock to me yesterday. I learned that a lone assailant had sprayed acid on Mamoon's face, scarring it badly and injuring his arms and chest.

I heard the news as I was going to court in the US, applying for asylum because of fear of similar attacks. Here I am, trying to prove a journalist’s life isn’t easy in Afghanistan, and I am confronted by unwanted proof. 

During my court hearing, I kept thinking about the attack. Mammon is perhaps one of the best journalists Afghanistan has had in decades. He has been a thorn in the side of corrupt politicians, meddling embassies, and blood-thirsty warlords. And he lives in a country where journalists are about as safe as bait-worms in a pond full of bass.

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Thursday
Jan202011

Protest Special: Why Tunisia Can But Iran Can't (Eshraghi)

The surprising rapidity with which Tunisians unseated President Zine el-Abidin Ben Ali has been watched keenly in Iran, not least by the political opposition known as the Green Movement.

As Iranian blogs and Facebook messages abound with the punning phrase, “Tounes tounes, Iran na-tounes” –-- meaning “Tunisia could, Iran couldn’t” --- there has also been sober reflection on why this was the case; why the massive protests that followed the disputed presidential election of June 2009 came to nothing in the end.

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Thursday
Jan202011

The Latest from Iran (20 January): Running on Empty?

2135 GMT: Economy Watch. Ayande News, blaming subsidy cuts on fuel, says car sales have fallen by 50% with the market in imported cars almost dormant.

Khabar Online, linked to Ali Larijani, continues to push the Government on economic claims. The latest case is a challenge to the claim of 1st Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi that 1.5 million new jobs have been created: Khabar says only 600,000 of these were new jobs and 900,000 replaced other positions.

2115 GMT: Running on Empty? Back to where we started this morning. MP Ali Motahari, pressing his argument that the Government is not only unwilling but unable to provide the funds for expansion of the Tehran Metro, claims that Minister of Economy Shamseddin Hosseini has said the Government does not want to implement laws mandating $2 billion in support of the expansion.

Motahari said the Government must at least allocate part of the $2 billion and asserted that he will President Ahmadinejad in the Majlis about the issue.

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Thursday
Jan202011

Tunisia (and Beyond) LiveBlog: In Control?

2105 GMT: In Egypt, Al Masry Al Youm grasps the nettle on the recent wave of self-immolations: "Desperate Egyptians setting themselves on fire like their Tunisian counterparts are unlikely to spur wide-ranging protests, but they might serve to pressure the government into providing economic concessions ahead of a pivotal presidential election in September."

And there are two more cases to consider: a pair of workers at a textile factory in Menufia set themselves on fire to protest transfers to other sections.

2045 GMT: Back from a break to find that the Tunisian Cabinet has agreed to lift the ban on all political groups as well as granting an amnesty to all political prisoners.

The parties who can now freely operate include the al-Nadha movement, usually identified as "Islamist".

In other decisions, the Cabinet withdrew university police from campuses, stripped the former ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally of all public assets, and separated senior government employees from the RCD.

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Thursday
Jan202011

WikiLeaks Admission: US Officials Say Damage from Cables is Limited

Since the emergence of the WikiLeaks in late November, I have argued that their damage would be overstated. American diplomats have had to deal for many decades with "leaks", sometimes from officials in the Administration. While WikiLeaks was potentially on a bigger scale --- less than 1% of the 250,000 documents have been released --- redactions in the cables (although there have been a few notable errors in letting names through) have limited any repercussions.

This, of course, would not stop the US Government from proclaiming loudly that there have been grave consequences. "Embarrassment" is not the same as "damage", and there is plenty of that in the released cables, which show --- unsurprisingly --- that the private pursuit of US foreign policy differs from its public presentation. The priority for the Government would be to ensure that a document release on this scale does not happen again.

Now I have gotten support from an unexpected source.

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Thursday
Jan202011

Tunisia Analysis: The Significance of the Revolution (Bamyeh)

At the moment it is abundantly easy to sense everywhere in the Arab World elation at what appears to be one of greatest events in modern Arab history. A genuine popular revolution, spontaneous and apparently leaderless, yet sustained and remarkably determined, overthrew a system that by all accounts had been the most entrenched and secure in the whole region. The wider implications beyond Tunisia are hard to miss. Just as in the case of the Iranian revolution more than three decades ago, what is now happening in Tunisia is watched by all in the Arab world --- as either a likely model of the transformation to come in their respective countries, or at least as a badly needed source of revolutionary inspiration.

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Thursday
Jan202011

Iran Interview: Daughter of Condemned Zahra Bahrami "A Political Death Sentence"

UPDATE 1645 GMT: Radio Farda reports that Zahra Bahrami had a visit from her daughter, Banafsheh Nayebpour, on Tuesday. "I was allowed to meet her...at Evin [Prison] for about 20 minutes and I could tell that she was extremely scared," Nayebpour said.

“The death sentence issued to my mother is completely political and I implore people, the media, and all human rights activists to not believe the fabricated and trumped-up charge of ‘possession of narcotics’ [levelled against my mother]. The accusation is meant to distract and deceive people to believe the reason behind the death sentence is ‘possession of drugs’ so they refrain from supporting and helping us.”

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Wednesday
Jan192011

Wikileaks and Libya 2006: Documenting The "Financial Gains" of Muammar Gaddafi and His Family

In May 2006, the US Liaison Office in Tripoli documents the extensive interests of the family of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in the Libyan economy: "The...family and other Jamahiriya [Libyan system] political favorites profit from being able to manipulate the multi-layered and regularly shifting dynamics of governance mechanisms in Libya. They have strong interests in the oil and gas sector, telecommunications, infrastructure development, hotels, media distribution, and consumer goods distribution."

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Wednesday
Jan192011

Latest Tunisia Video: Wednesday's Protests

Reuters summary, via The Guardian, of interviews and protest in Tunis today:

Claimed footage of last image of Imed Trabelsi, nephew of wife of ex-President Ben Ali. Trabelsi died from a stab wound on Saturday:

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Wednesday
Jan192011

Russia-Palestine-Israel Triangle: Moscow Seeks A Bigger Role

Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Palestinians will ask the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday to declare Israeli settlements illegal and to demand a halt to their construction.

In advance of the meeting, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in the West Bank, holding meetings with Ramallah's officials including the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Medvedev said:

Russia's position remains unchanged. Russia made its choice a long time ago....We supported and will support the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to an independent state with its capital in East Jerusalem.

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