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Monday
Jan032011

WikiLeaks and Tunisia 2008: "President Ben Ali's Extended Family --- The Nexus of Tunisian Corruption"

In the context of the current economic protests in Tunisia, this document from WikiLeaks takes on new significance.

In June 2008, the US Embassy in Tunis takes a full and frank look at corruption in Tunisia. It "is getting worse" and it starts at the top: "President [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali's extended family is often cited as the nexus of Tunisian corruption....Seemingly half of the Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali connection through marriage, and many of these relations are reported to have made the most of their lineage."

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Monday
Jan032011

The Latest from Iran (3 January): Will Wolves Attack?

2140 GMT: Full Circle. We started today with thoughts about the regime's threat to arrest opposition leaders and the sharp response by Mehdi Karroubi, and we'll end today there as well....

Michael Theodoulou of The National considers, "Karroubi Throws Down Gauntlet to Iranian Government", with a guest appearance from EA:

Iran's most defiant opposition leader has challenged his government to try him in an open court for the momentous unrest that swept the Islamic republic after the "stolen" presidential elections in 2009.

Theodoulou also notes the curious and still murky development of President Ahmadinejad's dismissal of up to 14 advisors.

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Monday
Jan032011

WikiLeaks and Iran Special: Did Ahmadinejad Get Slapped by His Revolutionary Guard Commander?

A few weeks ago a WikiLeaks cable emerged in which an Iranian source, talking to a US diplomat, said President Ahmadinejad had been slapped across the face by the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari.

Nobody paid much attention then, but in the last few days, with websites looking to fill space in the holiday season, Mahmoud's slap-down has raced around the Internet.

Only one problem: like many good tales, it may not be true.

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Monday
Jan032011

Egypt Opinion: After the Bombing --- "J'Accuse" (Shukrallah)

Hypocrisy and good intentions will not stop the next massacre. Only a good hard look at ourselves and sufficient resolve to face up to the ugliness in our midst will do so.

We are to join in a chorus of condemnation. Jointly, Muslims and Christians, government and opposition, Church and Mosque, clerics and lay people -- all of us are going to stand up and with a single voice declare unequivocal denunciation of al-Qaeda, Islamist militants, and Muslim fanatics of every shade, hue and color; some of us will even go the extra mile to denounce salafi Islam, Islamic fundamentalism as a whole, and the Wahabi Islam which, presumably, is a Saudi import wholly alien to our Egyptian national culture.

And once again we’re going to declare the eternal unity of “the twin elements of the nation”, and hearken back the Revolution of 1919, with its hoisted banner showing the crescent embracing the cross, and giving symbolic expression to that unbreakable bond.

Much of it will be sheer hypocrisy; a great deal of it will be variously nuanced so as keep, just below the surface, the heaps of narrow-minded prejudice, flagrant double standard and, indeed, bigotry that holds in its grip so many of the participants in the condemnations.

All of it will be to no avail.

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Monday
Jan032011

Israel-Palestine: Still No Agreement to Discuss "Core Issues"

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Palestinian Authority of "evading negotiations with Israel", the Authority's leader West Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that Israel and the Palestinians could reach a deal within two months, as long as Netanyahu was willing to take a new approach in the peace process.

Netanyahus response brought nothing new to the table:

I am prepared to immediately sit privately for direct, continuous negotiations with Abu Mazen [Abbas] until white smoke emerges. If Abu Mazen will agree to my suggestion to directly discuss all the core issues, we will know very quickly if it is possible to reach an agreement.

Who is refusing to discuss these "core issues"?

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Sunday
Jan022011

Egypt Video: Today's Protests in Cairo

Thirteen videos of today's demonstrations in Cairo over the Alexandria attack and events in Tunisia....

Protestors try to get into Egyptian Radio and TV building in Maspero:

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Sunday
Jan022011

Syria Analysis: A New American Approach?

Last Wednesday, President Barak Obama appointed Robert Ford as the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005. Since Ford is a recess appointment, he can serve only until the end of the next session of Congress, which will likely be in December 2011.

On Sunday, the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper reported that Washington has been in secret contact with Syrian officials in the hope for reaching a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and Damascus. Sources quoted Obama adviser Dennis Ross as saying that "Syria is ready to move away from Iran and reduce relations with Hezbollah and Hamas, and work with the United States in the fight against terrorism".

If this is true, then is the White House trying to undertake the new track as an alternative to the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process? The approach is not new --- this has been evaluated since Obama became President --- but it never reached the top of the agenda.

So the Administration may now be using Damascus to bring fresh blood to the "hopeless Middle East", amidst an analysis that a new Middle East war could emerge if Obama cannot break the deadlock between Israelis and Palestinians. But will Washington be ready to persist with the new approach?

Sunday
Jan022011

Egypt Special Analysis: The Lessons and Challenges Behind the Alexandria Bombing (Iskander)

In the wake of the ISI and al-Qaeda threats against Egypt, this attack indicates that there are those who seek to exploit the protracted tensions between Muslims and Christians to destabilise one of the Middle East's largest and most influential states. It is easy, and perhaps accurate in the case, to blame foreigners for inciting this act of terrorism. But the solution is not only in boosting national security. Egyptians, both Muslim and Christian, will need to see a comprehensive investigation into this attack and to ask themselves honest questions about the existence of religious discrimination in Egyptian society. Real initiatives, not hollow gestures, are needed to address concerns about the safety of churches and the security of the place of non-Muslims in Egyptian society if Egypt is to be able to stand firm against terrorism, regardless of whether that terrorism is domestic or international.

Amidst all the confusion and competing information about what happened in Alexandria early on Sunday morning, this reality stands outs: it is the endemic religious discrimination and broad absence of acceptance of the other in Egyptian society that leaves the country so vulnerable.

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Sunday
Jan022011

Bolivia Analysis: The Failed Attempt to Cut Fuel Subsidies 

Yesterday we carried the report that the Bolivian Government of Evo Morales had abandoned, after only five days, its attempt to remove subsidies on fuel. Here is the wider context....

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Sunday
Jan022011

Israel: Hundreds Protest in Tel Aviv over Killing of Palestinian Woman

Photo: Tomer Appelbaum (Haaretz)Hundreds of Israelis gathered in front of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, a 36-year-old Palestinian woman killed on Friday by tear gas fired by the Israeli military.

Police arrested eight activists. The protestors claim that police acted violently, detaining and beating Musi Raz, a former member of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset.

The demonstrators held up pictures of Abu Rahma and chanted, “End the occupation” and “[Defense Minister Ehud] Barak, how many protesters have you killed as of today?” 

Abu Rahmah died on Saturday morning. She was exposed to tear gas as Israeli soldiers tried to disperse a crowd in the West Bank village of Bil'in. The demonstrators were protesting Israel's "separation wall".

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