February 24, 2011

EDITOR: When will Palestine arise?

The turbulence in the Arab world has so far hardly touched Palestine, despite some marches in support of the Egyptian revolution, which were brutally suppressed by the PA. When thinking about those parts which need urgent change, Palestine comes high on the list, and its people have proven many times capable of disturbing the plans of their oppressors. The open democratic structures of the first Intifada were unique for their time, and stand behind much which has taken place over recent weeks. Why then has change evaded Palestine?

In an article full on political insight and careful analysis, Ali Abunimah confronts the need for change in Palestine, and the serious obstacles on the way. What is suggested here may well be anathema for many in Palestine, but is presenting the depth of the problem, and the need to deal with it rather than tamper at the edges with makeup. This is a bold attempt at new thinking, and it should be dealt with by proper discussion of the options available to the Palestinian people in regaining their land and autonomy.

Toward Palestine’s ‘Mubarak moment’: Al Jazeera online

The Palestinian Authority should dissolve itself, as it is acting in Israel’s interest, writer says.
Ali Abunimah  24 Feb 2011

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The slow collapse of Palestinian collective leadership institutions in recent years has reached a crisis amid the ongoing Arab revolutions, the revelations in the Palestine Papers, and the absence of any credible peace process.

 

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction has attempted to respond to this crisis by calling elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the PA presidency.

Abbas hopes that elections could restore legitimacy to his leadership. Hamas has rejected such elections in the absence of a reconciliation agreement ending the division that resulted from Fatah’s refusal (along with Israel and the PA’s western sponsors, especially the United States) to accept the result of the last election in 2006, which Hamas decisively won.

But even if such an election were held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it does not resolve the crisis of collective leadership faced by the entire Palestinian people, some ten million distributed between those living in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank, inside Israel, and the worldwide diaspora.

A house divided

There are numerous reasons to oppose new PA elections, even if Hamas and Fatah were to sort out their differences. The experience since 2006 demonstrates that democracy, governance and normal politics are impossible under Israel’s brutal military occupation.

The Palestinian body politic was divided not into two broad political streams offering competing visions, as in other electoral democracies, but one stream that is aligned with, supported by and dependent on the occupation and its foreign sponsors, and another that remains committed, at least nominally, to resistance. These are contradictions that cannot be resolved through elections.

The Ramallah PA under Abbas today functions as an arm of the Israeli occupation, while Hamas, its cadres jailed, tortured and repressed in the West Bank by Israel and Abbas’ forces, is besieged in Gaza where it tries to govern. Meanwhile, Hamas has offered no coherent political vision to get Palestinians out of their impasse and its rule in Gaza has increasingly begun to resemble that of its Fatah counterparts in the West Bank.

The PA was created by agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel under the Oslo Accords. The September 13, 1993 “Declaration of Principles” signed by the parties states that:

“The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process is, among other things, to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority, the elected Council (the “Council”), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”

Under the agreement, PA elections would “constitute a significant interim preparatory step toward the realization of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements”.

Small mandate

Thus, the PA was only ever intended to be temporary, transitional, and its mandate limited to a mere fraction of the Palestinian people, those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Oslo Accords specifically limited the PA’s powers to functions delegated to it by Israel under the agreement.

Therefore, elections for the PLC will not resolve the issue of representation, for the Palestinian people as a whole. Most would not have a vote. As in previous elections, Israel would likely intervene, particularly in East Jerusalem to attempt to prevent even some Palestinians under occupation from voting.

Given all these conditions, a newly elected PLC would only serve to further entrench divisions among Palestinians while also creating the illusion that Palestinian self-governance exists — and can thrive — under Israeli occupation.

A decade and a half after its creation, the Palestinian Authority has proved not to be a step toward the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” but rather a significant obstacle in the way of achieving them.

The PA offers no genuine self-government or protection for Palestinians under occupation, who continue to be victimized, killed, maimed and besieged by Israel with impunity while Israel confiscates and colonizes their land.

The PA never was and cannot be a stand-in for real collective leadership for the Palestinian people as a whole, and PA elections are not a substitute for self-determination.

Dissolving the PA

With the complete collapse of the “peace process” — the final push given by the Palestine Papers — it is time for the PA to have its Mubarak moment. When the Egyptian tyrant finally left office on February 11, he handed power over to the armed forces.

The PA should dissolve itself in a similar manner by announcing that the responsibilities delegated to it by Israel are being handed back to the occupying power, which must fulfill its duties under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.

This would not be a surrender. Rather, it would be a recognition of reality and an act of resistance on the part of Palestinians who would collectively refuse to continue to assist the occupier in occupying them. By removing the fig leaf of “self-governance” masking and protecting from scrutiny Israel’s colonial and military tyranny, the end of the PA would expose Israeli apartheid for all the world to see.

The same message would also go to the European Union and the United States who have been directly subsidizing Israel’s occupation and colonization through the ruse of “aid” to the Palestinians and training for security forces that act as Israeli proxies. If the European Union wishes to continue funding Israel’s occupation, it ought to have the integrity to do it openly and not use Palestinians or the peace process as a front.

Dissolving the PA may cause some hardship and uncertainty for the tens of thousands of Palestinians and their dependents, who rely on salaries paid by the European Union via the PA. But the Palestinian people as a whole — the millions who have been victimised and marginalised by Oslo — would stand to benefit much more.

Handing the PA’s delegated powers back to the occupier would free Palestinians to focus on reconstituting their collective body politic and implementing strategies to really liberate themselves from Israeli colonial rule.

New leadership

What can a real collective Palestinian leadership look like? Undoubtedly this is a tough challenge. Many older Palestinians recall fondly the heyday of the PLO. The PLO still exists, of course, but its organs have long since lost any legitimacy or representative function. They are now mere rubber stamps in the hands of Abbas and his narrow circle.

Could the PLO be reconstituted as a truly representative body by, say, electing a new Palestine National Council (PNC) — the PLO’s “parliament in exile”? Although the PNC was supposed to be elected by the Palestinian people, in reality that has never happened — in part due to the practical difficulty of actually holding elections across the Palestinian diaspora. Members were always appointed through negotiations among the various political factions and the PNC included seats for independents and representatives from student, women’s and other organizations affiliated with the PLO.

One of the key points of disagreement between Fatah and Hamas has been reform of the PLO in which Hamas would become a member and receive a proportional number of seats on the organization’s various governing bodies. But even if this happened, it would not be the same as having Palestinians choose their representatives directly.

Yet if Arab countries which host large Palestinian refugee populations undergo democratic transformations, new possibilities for Palestinian politics will open up.

In recent years, “out of country voting” facilities were provided for large Iraqi and Afghan refugee and exile populations for elections sponsored by the powers occupying those countries. In theory, it would be possible to hold elections for all Palestinians, perhaps under UN auspices — including the huge Palestinian diaspora in the Americas and Europe.

The trouble is that any such elections would probably need to rely on the goodwill and cooperation of an “international community” (the US and its allies), which has been implacably opposed to allowing Palestinians to choose their own leaders.

Would the energy and expense of running a transnational Palestinian bureaucracy be worth it? Would these new bodies be vulnerable to the sorts of subversion, cooptation, and corruption that turned the original PLO from a national liberation movement into its current sad status where it has been hijacked by a collaborationist clique?

I do not have definitive answers to these questions, but they strike me as the ones Palestinians ought now to be debating.

Inspirational boycott

In light of the Arab revolutions that were leaderless, another intriguing possibility is that at this stage Palestinians should not worry about creating representative bodies.

Instead, they should focus on powerful, decentralized resistance, particularly boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) internationally, and the popular struggle within historic Palestine.

The BDS movement does have a collective leadership in the form of the Boycott National Committee (BNC). However, this is not a leadership that issues orders and instructions Palestinians or solidarity organisations around the world. Rather, it sets an agenda reflecting a broad Palestinian consensus, and campaigns for others to work according to this agenda, largely through moral suasion.

The agenda encompasses the needs and rights of all Palestinians: ending the occupation and colonisation of all Arab territories occupied in 1967; ending all forms of discrimination against Palestinian citizens in Israel; and respecting, promoting and implementing the rights of Palestinian refugees.

The BDS campaign is powerful and growing because it is decentralized and those around the world working for the boycott of Israel — following the precedent of apartheid South Africa — are doing so independently. There is no central body for Israel and its allies to sabotage and attack.

This might be the model to follow: let us continue to build up our strength through campaigning, civil resistance and activism. Two months ago, few could have imagined that the decades old regimes of Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak would fall — but fall they did under the weight of massive, broad-based popular protests. Indeed, such movements hold much greater promise to end Israel’s apartheid regime and produce a genuine, representative and democratic Palestinian leadership than the kinds of cumbersome institutions created by the Oslo Accords. The end of the peace process is only the beginning.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, a policy advisor with the Palestinian Policy Network, and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

The Courageous people of Libya, by Carlos Latuff

 

EDITOR: They have forgotten nothing, and have learnt nothing, from decades of the conflict

Israel has only one modus operandi, it seems. They know how to bomb, kill and burn, and this they do with numbing regularity. The fact that it never change anything long term is neither here nor there; they continue to do this, as if it is the only option open to them. In the end, this inability to see further than than the gunsight will bring about the fall of the Zionist empire.

IDF targets Hamas in Gaza after rocket strike on Be’er Sheva: Haaretz

Air strike reportedly targeted car belonging to Hamas in Rafah; strike comes after long-range Grad missile hit Be’er Sheva on Wednesday.

The Israeli Air Force targeted a car belonging to Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, one day after the town of Be’er Sheva was hit by long-range Grad rockets fired from the Strip.

Hamas officials said Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a vehicle in the Al Salaam area of Rafah, killing one person and wounding several others.

The Israeli military confirmed the airstrike and said the targets were terror operatives.

Two Grad rockets were fired at Be’er Sheva on Wednesday evening, with one of the rockets hitting a house in a residential neighborhood. This marked the first time Be’er Sheva was hit since the Gaza war in 2009.

The IDF released a statement after the retaliatory airstrike on Thursday, saying they “will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers, and will continue to respond harshly to terror.” The statement reiterated that they hold Hamas responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the strip.

An Israeli airstrike was also carried out on Wednesday in response to the rockets fired on Be’er Sheva. Palestinian sources reported that the airstrike in eastern Gaza City wounded three Islamic Jihad militants.

According to an IDF spokesman, the extensive overnight strike was part of the army’s aim to “determinately and forcefully defend against those who attempt to harm Israeli citizens.”

Syria clamps down on dissent with beatings and arrests: The Guardian

Nervous regime breaks up protests and sends intelligence agents round to warn civil rights activists against taking action

The security apparatus of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, has been cracking down on demonstrations showing support for anti-government protests in other Arab countries. Photograph: Remy De La Mauviniere/AP

Tensions are mounting in the Syrian capital, Damascus, after the third peaceful demonstration in three weeks was violently dispersed on Wednesday. There are increasing reports of intimidation and blocking of communications by secret services in the wake of violent unrest in neighbouring Arab countries.

Fourteen people were arrested and several people beaten by uniformed and plainclothes police on Tuesday after about 200 staged a peaceful sit-in outside the Libyan embassy to show support for Libya’s protesters.

Witnesses said at least two women were among those beaten.

The demonstrators carried placards reading “Freedom for the people” and “Down with Gaddafi”, and chanted slogans such as “Traitors are those that beat their people.”

Witnesses said authorities warned the group to disperse but they reconvened shortly afterwards in the central neighbouring suburb of Sha’alan. When they tried to march back to the embassy they were met with a heavy police presence.

Several witnesses told the Guardian there were nearly twice as many secret and uniformed police as protesters. Some protesters were punched, kicked and beaten with sticks..

All present had their identities recorded. Fourteen people were detained but later released, Human Rights Watch in Beirut confirmed.

“They hit two girls, I saw them on the ground crying,” said a witness who was briefly detained.

“There were so many of them, we didn’t know where they all came from.”

Under emergency law, public congregations are banned in Syria. This kind of protest is very rare but last Friday 1,500 people took part in a seemingly spontaneous demonstration outside the central Hamidiyah souq. It was reportedly in protest at the police beating of a local shop owner, rather than being directed at the government. People chanted “The Syrian people will not be humiliated”, “Shame, shame” and “With our soul, with our blood, we sacrifice for you Bashar” in reference to the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Syria’s interior minister has promised an investigation.

On 2 February Human Rights Watch reported a group of 20 people in civilian clothing had beaten and dispersed 15 people who had been holding a candlelight vigil in Bab Touma, Old Damascus, for Egyptian demonstrators. Police detained then later released Ghassan al-Najjar, an elderly leader of a small group called Islamic Democratic Current, after he issued public calls for Syrians in Aleppo to demonstrate for more freedom in their country.

The increase in demonstrations has been matched with an apparent crackdown on communications and movement in the country, despite public pledges of media reform from Assad earlier this month and a much-publicised lifting of the ban on Facebook and other social networking services.

Internet users who previously used international proxy servers to bypass local firewall restrictions now claim they no longer use Facebook anyway, fearing it is being closely monitored.

Civil rights campaigners have told the Guardian that initimidation tactics have escalated to include visits from agents of the Mukhabarat – intelligence services – as well as close monitoring of internet and telephone conversations. Some activists have been warned not to leave the country.

There are unconfirmed reports of a crackdown on foreign journalists working in Syria. At least two reporters have been denied entry to the country.

“The situation is tense, they are clearly nervous,” said one analyst, who refused to be named.

“We didn’t think it was possible here but maybe it could happen after all.”

 

EDITOR: Sad voices support Israel against the BDS campaign

Umberto Eco seems not to have any difficulties with the Israeli occupation and its iniquities, a bit like his leader in Rome… He is so worried about literary boycott, and not at all about human rights!

Prominent Italian author lashes out at Israel boycott proponents: Haaretz

Umberto Eco told reporters that he faced no pressure to stay away from the Israeli book fair, unlike British writer Ian McEwan whose colleagues encouraged him to reject an Israeli literary prize.

Celebrated Italian novelist Umberto Eco yesterday challenged those who advocate cultural boycotts and said that censuring artists because of actions committed by their governments was akin to racism.

Eco, a guest of the 25th Jerusalem International Book Fair, made the comments at a press conference.

Last week, British writers called on prominent British novelist Ian McEwan to reject an Israeli literary prize in protest at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

McEwan, whose 11 novels include “Atonement” and “Amsterdam,” accepted the prestigious Jerusalem Prize at the opening ceremony of the book fair earlier this week. His acceptance speech was peppered with tough criticism of Israeli policy toward Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Eco told reporters that unlike McEwan, he faced no pressure from colleagues to stay away from the Israeli book fair and that he opposes boycotts. “I consider it absolutely crazy and fundamentally racist to identify a scholar, a private citizen, with the politics of his government,” Eco said.

Asked about his opinion of the Israeli government, Eco would only comment that he has too much to say against the Italian government to speak about the Israeli government.

Eco, 79, the author of “The Name of the Rose” and “Foucault’s Pendulum,” is one of Italy’s most popular novelists. His most recent historical novel, “The Cemetery of Prague,” has attracted criticism from both the Vatican and the chief rabbi of Rome, for what some argued was an overly convincing presentation of the arguments of modern anti-Semitism – though the author clearly had the opposite intention.

At the press conference, Eco said he had a very Talmudic mind and once even suspected he was of Jewish heritage, since his grandfather was adopted, although his grandmother was Christian, which by Jewish religious law makes him a Christian. He said his fascination with Jewish culture is evident in his books, and when asked to name his favorite Israeli authors, he said he particularly enjoys reading A.B. Yehoshua.

Even before becoming acquainted with Israeli literature, Eco said, he had ties to the country. In this connection, he mentioned his relationship with Professor Moshe Idel, whom Eco described as “my personal kabbalist.”

Let the generals rule: Ynet

Op-ed: Forget about democracy; what Israelis really want is a Middle East ruled by generals
Asaf Gefen
The sigh of relief in Israel after it turned out that for the time being the Egyptian people are making do with military rule could be heard all the way to Cairo’s Tahrir square. The democratic threat had been removed from the agenda for the time being.

Despite the fear that other states in the region will later attempt to equip themselves with the weapon of free elections, which constitute a clear threat for Mideastern stability, for now we could all breathe easier.

It was not surprising to discover that the new international star for Israelis is Egyptian General Tantawi. Indeed, in a country ruled by generals such as our own, what’s more natural for us than to put our faith in an elderly general? After all, the number of medals and decorations on this guy is greater than the number of wars in the entire world in the whole 20th Century.

Military rule in Egypt contributes to Israel’s sense of security and boosts the feeling that there is someone we can talk to on the other side. After all, what’s more logical than making peace with a regime led by the army?

Tantawi and Barakawi
Besides, rule by the generals will make it clear that we and our southern neighbors share areas of interest, thereby enabling us to take our relationship into a new era. With General Tantawi here and General Barakawi there, the sky is the limit; no longer a cold, annoying peace, but rather, equal ties premised on mutual fear and distrust.

Besides, amid all the nice talk, the time has come to admit that what we truly wish for in the Middle East is not democratization – which, just between us, is right for our regional climate to the same extent that a three-piece suit would fit here – but rather, “general-zation.” It will be a region where each nation is granted the right to manage its life under its own military regime.

It will be an intermediate regime, somewhere between democracy and dictatorship, where citizens freely choose to let the uniforms decide what’s right.

Such general-dominated Middle East will enable us to embark on a new road, and maintain relationships with our neighbors that are based on shared objectives, mutual understanding, and occasionally, a good war as well.

Egypt corruption probe: Ex-minister, state TV boss held: BBC

Egyptian police have detained the former information minister and state broadcasting chief as part of an anti-corruption probe following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak.

The move comes a day after three other officials appeared in court on charges of money laundering and abuse of power.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s new cabinet met for the first time, amid criticism that key Mubarak-era figures were not replaced.

Opposition groups plan to rally on Friday to call for a new cabinet.

They also want an end to the emergency law and for political prisoners to be freed.

Last Friday, millions of Egyptians returned to Tahrir Square to celebrate the victory of their revolution, which led to the resignation of Mr Mubarak on 11 February after 18 days of street protests.

They have vowed to keep up the pressure until their demands are met.

Corruption probe
On Thursday, ex-information minister Anas al-Fikki and former state radio and television chief Osama al-Sheikh were arrested as part of a probe into alleged graft.

Corruption crackdown

Referred to trial

Ahmed al-Maghrabi, ex-housing minister
Ahmed Ezz, businessman and NDP official
Rachid Mohamed Rachid, ex-trade and industry minister
Detained for investigation

Habib al-Adly, ex-interior minister
Zuhair Garana, ex-tourism minister
Anas al-Fikki, ex-information minister
Osama al-Sheikh, ex-state radio and television chief
Travel bans

Atef Obeid, ex-prime minister
Farouk Hosni, ex-culture minister
Nine businessmen with ties to Mubarak regime
Mr Fikki is the fourth member of Mubarak’s former government to be detained, after the former ministers of interior Habib al-Adly, tourism Zuhair Garana, and housing Ahmed al-Maghrabi.

On Wednesday, Mr Garana and Mr Maghrabi – along with steel tycoon and prominent ruling NDP party leader Ahmed Ezz – appeared in Cairo Criminal Court to face corruption charges.

The men wore white prison uniforms and sat in a metal cage. An angry crowd of hundreds taunted them as they arrived in court, screaming “thieves” and “you robbed our money”, the AFP news agency reported.

Atef Obeid, Egypt’s prime minister from 1999-2004, and former culture minister Farouk Hosni have been banned from leaving the country pending further inquiries, along with several businessmen close to Mr Mubarak’s regime.

Egypt’s top prosecutor earlier requested the freezing of the foreign assets of Hosni Mubarak himself, as well as his wife, his two sons and two daughters-in-law.

All the officials say they are innocent.

New cabinet
The crackdown comes as Egypt’s new cabinet set to work, with security high on the agenda.

The 10-member cabinet was sworn in by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s military supreme council which is running the country until presidential and parliamentary elections later this year.

Despite the inclusion of opposition figures for the first time, the key portfolios of defence, interior, foreign affairs, and justice were unchanged – sparking objections from the opposition Muslim Brotherhood and other groups.

In the run-up to elections, a committee is also working to amend the constitution in line with the protesters’ demands. Their work is expected to take about a month, an army source said.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have prompted a wave of popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa, with Libya’s Col Muammar Gaddafi fighting off the biggest challenge to his rule in over four decades.

Revolution fuels Egypt labour movement: Ahram online

Egypt is in the grips of labour action as workers demand their rights and an end to the corruption endemic in all sectors
Marwa Hussein, Thursday 24 Feb 2011

'The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions supports the demands of the people's revolution and calls for a general strike of Egyptian workers," reads a banner in Tahrir Square. (Reuters)

Thousands of labour and organization protests spread across the country following the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Although protests are sporadic, they have a common set of demands: Fair wages and eradication of corruption.

In one day, in downtown Cairo, passersby could cross a group of workers of Nile Enterprise for Cotton staging a sit-in in front of the prosecutor-general’s office, a group of teachers outside the ministry of education and employees of the recently privatized chain Omar Effendi protesting at the company’s headquarter.

Three main demands emerged in most of the protests. The first is for better wages, usually consisting of a minimum wage of LE1200 or in some cases asking for a maximum wage to be determined in function of the minimum wage within the same institution.

Fighting corruption was another prominent demand and one which, in most of cases, targeted the chairman of the company or head of a ministerial authority or syndicate.

The protesters also demanded the hiring of temporary workers as well as addressing the lack of job opportunities.

These labour demands divided the revolutionary youth. These protests were also not welcomed by the new military rulers of Egypt who accused them of harming the economy and the revolution.

The Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), whose leading officials were appointed by former president Mubarak, asked workers to stop protesting.

“Stop these protests. Most of the protests are asking for wage rise, or the removal of chairmen and so on. This is a kind of extremism,” says Ibrahim El-Azhari, secretary general of the federation. He adds that the federation is preparing a paper with the problems of Egyptian workers including the demand for amendments to many laws.

El-Azhari prefers to give the newly appointed government a chance to respond to the worker’s demands.

On the ground, the momentum is rampant.

Ghazl El-Mahalla, the largest spinning and textile company, led a successful three-day strike which lead to all their demands being met. Neither workers nor employers paid much attention to these calls for the protests to stop.

A group of workers and activists published a statement defending their right to protest and declaring their solidarity with all the demands of the revolution.

The workers of El-Mahalla have announced plans to create an independent syndicate separate from what they see as the corrupt Egyptian Trade Union Federation, in contrast to the law which stipulates only one syndicate to represent workers in each sector.

Many others are considering founding independent syndicates, as the Post office employees, the public transportation workers and the nurses among others.

Already, before the January 25 Revolution, four independent syndicates were created but struggled to gain legitimacy. The trend setter was a syndicate of the employees of real estate tax authority.

Thousands of workers are not even members in any syndicate, especially those who work in private sector factories. Their bosses bully them so as to ban any sort of collective organization. EFTU often turns a blind eye to such behavior and fails to support private sector demands.

On the other hand, rigged elections in federation syndicates further eats away at its credibility. “Elections of the federation of syndicates witnessed lots of fraud,” states Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of the Centre for Trade Unions and Workers Services.

“There are 116 verdicts of administrative court annulling the last union elections and we believe members of the federation were involved in acts of violence against the protesters in Tahrir,” added Abbas.

Hesham Fouad, an activist from the Centre for Socialist Studies, believes that by the end of the year an independent syndicate federation will be established in Egypt. Kamal Abbas, shares this belief.

With their rigid mindset locked in the falling past, the federation sees this as a nightmare. “The pluralism will separate the workers and will break their union, besides the law doesn’t allow it,” replies El-Azhari who admits that syndicate pluralism is successful in other countries, like Germany. But he doesn’t believe that Egyptian workers are up to this challenge.

Drunk with the revolution spirit, the workers and activists don’t pay much attention to what the law does or doesn’t permit.

“We should create our independent syndicates according to the international convention that Egypt ratified. We will do as our grandfathers did before 1952 when the first unions were created in Egypt,” says Abbas.

Activists and the official federation were also at odds over whom to nominate minister of manpower. Ahmed Hassan El-Borai, an expert in labour relations who elaborated the controversial unified work law of 2003 but has also stated his support for trade union pluralism, was proposed for the post.

The federation objected to his nomination and suggested one of their members, Ismail Ibrahim Fahmi who happens to also be an employee of Egyptair which was headed by the prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. The federation won and Fahmi was nominated minister of manpower. The activists, however, presented an objection to this appointment before for the military’s supreme council yesterday.

Gaddafi blames unrest on al-Qaeda: Al Jazeera online

Libyan leader says protesters are young people being manipulated by al-Qaeda, as violence continues across the country.
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2011
Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has said in a speech on Libyan state television that al-Qaeda is responsible for the uprising in Libya.

“It is obvious now that this issue is run by al-Qaeda,” he said, speaking by phone from an unspecified location on Thursday.

He said that the protesters were young people who were being manipulated by al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, and that many were doing so under the influence of drugs.

“No one above the age of 20 would actually take part in these events,” he said. “They are taking advantage of the young age of these people [to commit violent acts] because they are not legally liable!”

At the same time, the leader warned that those behind the unrest would be prosecuted in the country’s courts.

He called on Libyan parents to keep their children at home.

“How can you justify such misbehaviour from people who live in good neighbourhoods?” he asked.

The situation in Libya was different to Egypt or Tunisia he said, arguing that unlike people in the neighbouring countries, Libyans have “no reason to complain whatsoever”.

Libyans had easy access to low interest loans and cheap daily commodities, he argued. The one reform he did hint might be possible was a raise in salaries.

Mustafa Abdel Galil, who resigned three days ago from his post as the country’s justice minister, spoke to Al Jazeera at a meeting of tribal leaders and representatives of eastern Libya in the city of Al Baida.

“We want one country. There is no Islamic emirate or al-Qaeda anywhere. Our only aim is to liberate Libya from this regime and then people choose the government they want.” the former minister said.

He warned that Gaddafi has biological and chemical weapons, and will not hesitate to use them.

The United Nation’s Human Rights Council will decide whether it will send an international team to investigate the alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya at a meeting in Geneva on Friday.

‘Symbolic’ leader

Gaddafi argued that he was a purely “symbolic” leader with no real political power, comparing his role to that played by Queen Elizabeth II in England.

He also warned that the protests could cut off Libya oil production. “If [the protesters] do not go to work regularly, the flow of oil will stop,” he said.

Ibrahim Jibreel, a Libyan political activist, said that the fact that Gaddafi was speaking by phone showed that he did not have the courage to appear publically, and proved that he remained “under self-imposed house arrest in Tripoli”.

He said there were similarities between Thursday’s speech and one Gaddafi gave earlier in the week.

Jibreel noted Gaddafi’s reference to loans and that he would reconsider salaries. “I think that there [are] some concessions that he wants to make, in his own weird way,” he said.

Struggling

Gaddafi is struggling to maintain his authority in the country, as major swathes of territory in the east of the vast North African country now appear to be under the control of pro-democracy protesters.

Multiple witnesses told Al Jazeera that protesters were being shot at in the town for much of Thursday by a Libyan army unit led by Gaddafi’s ally, Naji Shifsha.

Az Zawiyah lies on the Mediteranian coast, a few kilometres to the west of Tripoli – where Gaddafi is believed to be hiding. The port town houses the country’s largest oil refinery.

Ali, an eyewitness to the shooting, told Al Jazeera by phone that soldiers began shooting at peaceful protesters on Martyrs’ Square with heavy artillery at around 6am and had continued for 5 hours.

“They were trying to kill the people, not terrify them,” he said, explaining that the soldiers had aimed at the protesters’ heads and chests.

He estimated as many as 100 protesters had been killed. Approximately 400 people had been injured and were now in the town’s hospital. He said he had filmed the bodies after the shooting had stopped, but was unable to send the footage because internet access has been cut off.

In his speech, Gaddafi refered specifically to the protesters in Az Zawiyah, claiming they had been infiltrated by al-Qaeda.

Yet the protesters said they were protesting peaceful protest, and that their demands had nothing to do with al-Qaeda.

“The people here didn’t ask for anything, they just asked for a constitution and democracy and freedom, [the protesters] didn’t want to shoot anyone,” he said.

Gunfire could be heard in the background as Ali spoke, and he said the protesters were expecting the soldiers to launch another direct attack on Martyrs’ Square later in the evening.

Despite the risk of more shooting, he said he and the other protesters would continue their protest, even if it cost their lives.

Also on Thursday, the army unit blasted the minaret of a mosque being occupied by protesters in Az Zawiyah, according to witnesses.

According to witnesses, pro-Gaddafi forces also attacked the town of Misrata, which was under the control of protesters.

They told Al Jazeera that “revolutionaries had driven out the security forces”, who had used “heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns”.

They said the pro-Gaddafi forces were called the “Hamza brigade”.

Similar clashes have also been reported in the cities of Sabha in the south, and Sabratha, near Tripoli, which is in the west.

Anti-government protesters appeared to be in control of the country’s eastern coastline, running from the Egyptian border through to the cities of Tobruk and Benghazi, the country’s second largest city.

Gaddafi is fast losing the support of his inner circle. His cousin, the country’s ambassador to Jordan and a close aide in Egypt all resignined on Thursday.

Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, one of Gaddafi’s top security official and a cousin, defected on Wednesday evening, saying in a statement issued by his Cairo office that he left the country “in protest and to show disagreement” with “grave violations to human rights and human and international laws”.

Al-Dam was travelling to Syria from Cairo on a private plane, sources told Al Jazeera. He denied allegations that he was asked to recruit Egyptian tribes on the border to fight in Libya and said he went to Egypt in protest against his government’s used of violence.

Communications blocked

Libyan authorities are working hard to prevent news of the events in the country from reaching the outside world.

Thuraya, a satellite phone provider based in the United Arab Emirates, has faced continuous “deliberate inference” to its services in Libya, the company’s CEO told Al Jazeera.

Samer Halawi, the company’s CEO, said his company will be taking legal action against the Libyan authorities for the jamming of its satellite.

“This is unlawful and this in uncalled for,” he said.

The company’s engineers have had some success in combating the jamming, and operations were back on almost 70 per cent of the Libyan territory on Thursday, Halawi said. The blocking was coming from a location in Tripoli.

The Libyan government has blocked landline and wireless communications, to varying degrees, in recent days.

Some phone services were down again on Thursday. In the town of Az Zawiyah, phone lines were working but internet access was blocked.

Nazanine Moshri, reporting from the northern side of the Tunisian-Libyan border near the town of Ras Ajdir, said that security forces were confiscating cellphones and cameras from people crossing into Tunisia.

“The most important thing to them is to not allow any footage to get across the border into Tunisia,” she reported.

Capital paralysed

Tripoli, the Libyan capital, meanwhile, is said to be virtually locked down, and streets remained mostly deserted, even though Gaddafi had called for his supporters to come out in force on Wednesday and “cleanse” the country from the anti-government demonstrators.

Libyan authorities said food supplies were available as “normal” in the shops and urged schools and public services to restore regular services, although economic activity and banks have been paralysed since Tuesday.

London-based newspaper the Independent reported, however, that petrol and food prices in the capital have trebled as a result of serious shortages.

Foreign governments, meanwhile, continue to rush to evacuate their citizens, with thousands flooding to the country’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt.

Robert Fisk with the first dispatch from Tripoli – a city in the shadow of death: The Independent

Gunfire in the suburbs – and hunger and rumour in the capital as thousands race for last tickets out of a city sinking into anarchy

Thursday, 24 February 2011

A fire burns in a street in the Libyan capital Tripoli in the early hours of yesterday morning

Up to 15,000 men, women and children besieged Tripoli’s international airport last night, shouting and screaming for seats on the few airliners still prepared to fly to Muammar Gaddafi’s rump state, paying Libyan police bribe after bribe to reach the ticket desks in a rain-soaked mob of hungry, desperate families. Many were trampled as Libyan security men savagely beat those who pushed their way to the front.

Among them were Gaddafi’s fellow Arabs, thousands of them Egyptians, some of whom had been living at the airport for two days without food or sanitation. The place stank of faeces and urine and fear. Yet a 45-minute visit into the city for a new airline ticket to another destination is the only chance to see Gaddafi’s capital if you are a “dog” of the international press.

There was little sign of opposition to the Great Leader. Squads of young men with Kalashnikov rifles stood on the side roads next to barricades of upturned chairs and wooden doors. But these were pro-Gaddafi vigilantes – a faint echo of the armed Egyptian “neighbourhood guard” I saw in Cairo a month ago – and had pinned photographs of their leader’s infamous Green Book to their checkpoint signs.

There is little food in Tripoli, and over the city there fell a blanket of drab, sullen rain. It guttered onto an empty Green Square and down the Italianate streets of the old capital of Tripolitania. But there were no tanks, no armoured personnel carriers, no soldiers, not a fighter plane in the air; just a few police and elderly men and women walking the pavements – a numbed populace. Sadly for the West and for the people of the free city of Benghazi, Libya’s capital appeared as quiet as any dictator would wish.

But this is an illusion. Petrol and food prices have trebled; entire towns outside Tripoli have been torn apart by fighting between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces. In the suburbs of the city, especially in the Noufreen district, militias fought for 24 hours on Sunday with machine guns and pistols, a battle the Gadaffi forces won. In the end, the exodus of expatriates will do far more than street warfare to bring down the regime.

I was told that at least 30,000 Turks, who make up the bulk of the Libyan construction and engineering industry, have now fled the capital, along with tens of thousands of other foreign workers. On my own aircraft out of Tripoli, an evacuation flight to Europe, there were Polish, German, Japanese and Italian businessmen, all of whom told me they had closed down major companies in the past week. Worse still for Gaddafi, the oil, chemical and uranium fields of Libya lie to the south of “liberated” Benghazi. Gaddafi’s hungry capital controls only water resources, so a temporary division of Libya, which may have entered Gaddafi’s mind, would not be sustainable. Libyans and expatriates I spoke to yesterday said they thought he was clinically insane, but they expressed more anger at his son, Saif al-Islam. “We thought Saif was the new light, the ‘liberal'”, a Libyan businessman sad to me. “Now we realise he is crazier and more cruel than his father.”

The panic that has now taken hold in what is left of Gaddafi’s Libya was all too evident at the airport. In the crush of people fighting for tickets, one man, witnessed by an evacuated Tokyo car-dealer, was beaten so viciously on the head that “his face fell apart”.

Talking to Libyans in Tripoli and expatriates at the airport, it is clear that neither tanks nor armour were used in the streets of Tripoli. Air attacks targeted Benghazi and other towns, but not the capital. Yet all spoke of a wave of looting and arson by Libyans who believed that with the fall of Benghazi, Gaddafi was finished and the country open to anarchy.

The centre of the city was largely closed up. All foreign offices have been shut including overseas airlines, and every bakery I saw was shuttered. Rumours abound that members of Gaddafi’s family are trying to flee abroad. Although William Hague’s ramblings about Gaddafi’s flight to Venezuela have been disproved, I spoke to a number of Libyans who believed that Burkina Faso might be his only viable retreat. Two nights ago, a Libyan private jet approached Beirut airport with a request to land but was refused permission when the crew declined to identify their eight passengers. And last night, a Libyan Arab Airlines flight reported by Al Jazeera to be carrying Gaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, was refused permission to land in Malta.

Gaddafi is blamed by Shia Muslims in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran for the murder of Imam Moussa Sadr, a supposedly charismatic divine who unwisely accepted an invitation to visit Gaddafi in 1978 and, after an apparent argument about money, was never seen again. Nor was a Lebanese journalist accompanying him on the trip.

While dark humour has never been a strong quality in Libyans, there was one moment at Tripoli airport yesterday which proved it does exist. An incoming passenger from a Libyan Arab Airlines flight at the front of an immigration queue bellowed out: “And long life to our great leader Muammar Gaddafi.” Then he burst into laughter – and the immigration officers did the same.

Switzerland freezes Gadhafi’s assets to condemn violence in Libya: Haaretz

Gadhafi withdrew money and halted oil exports to Switzerland after relations soured in 2008; remains unclear if he still has assets there.

Switzerland said on Thursday it was freezing any assets Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and his family might have in the country.

“The Federal Council strongly condemns the use of violence of the Libyan leader against the people,” the Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement. “Given the developments, the Federal Council has decided to freeze any possible assets of
Muammar Gadhafi.”

A spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry said it was not clear if Gadhafi and parties close to him do actually have assets in Switzerland. This will be announced in the next weeks.

Relations between Switzerland and Libya soured in 2008 when Geneva police arrested a son of Gaddafi on charges – later dropped – of abusing two domestic employees.

Libya withdrew millions of dollars from Swiss banks, halted oil exports to Switzerland and barred two Swiss businessmen working in Libya from leaving the country.

In recent years, Switzerland has worked hard to improve its image as a haven for ill-gotten assets.

It has also frozen assets that may belong to Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down as president of Egypt as well as those belonging to Tunisia’s former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, ousted by popular protests, and Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down after an election which the outside world says he lost.

 

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