Ameer Makhoul

March 5, 2011

‘Construction in West Bank settlements quadrupled since end of temporary freeze’: Haaretz

According to data by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, settlers began building over 114 houses during the 10-month settlement freeze, and began construction of over 427 houses since October 2010.
Since the end of the settlement moratorium five months ago, the construction rate in West Bank neighborhoods has quadrupled, data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics revealed Saturday.

According to the data, over 114 housing units that settlers started building during the 10-month settlement freeze have been completed, as well as over 1,175 housing units which were started before the temporary moratorium.

The data also reveals that construction of over 427 housing units has begun since October 2010.

The Central Bureau of Statistics noted, however, that the data is based on partial information, and that there has also been a dramatic rise in illegal construction in West Bank outposts that has not been officially documented.

The data does not include caravans and tents that are often placed in illegal outposts to settle the land.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been on hold since Israel’s 10-month freeze on new settlements expired at the end of September 2010.

Is entertaining dictators worse than normalizing apartheid?: The Electronic Intifada

Nada Elia and Laurie King, 3 March 2011

As revolutions continue to sweep the Arab world, and the days of dictators seem numbered, we are learning a lot about the ties and alliances that have long characterized the west’s dealing with tyrants around the globe. “Stability,” apparently, requires us to make deals with the devil. And so we discover that the United States has long known about the human rights abuses of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, deposed Tunisian president Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. But it was willing nonetheless not only to turn a blind eye to these, but even to enable and fund, directly or indirectly, oppressive regimes, for the sake of what exactly? Oil? Corporations? The so-called “peace process?” Iraqi “freedom?” Israel’s security?

And as Arab tyrants are challenged, one by one, social media are abuzz with the embarrassing and numerous compliments and kind remarks that western heads of state, academics, pundits, and entertainers have given these deposed dictators. In a typical statement, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, said in 2009: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” Apparently, the Clinton-Mubarak friendship goes back about 20 years. Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, a close friend of Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son and fourth in line to the British throne, has been a guest at Windsor Castle and Buckingham palace. The list is long.

But as the people seem determined to overthrow all those oppressive regimes, liberal Americans are openly questioning the wisdom and morality of “dealing with the devil.” In a highly critical segment on Anderson Cooper’s program AC 360, Cooper, a CNN journalist exhibiting an unusual level of courage and integrity among mainstream American media personalities, called out the various US presidents who have welcomed Gaddafi into their diplomatic circles, even as they acknowledged his tendency towards malice and mental instability, best epitomized by Ronald Reagan’s name for him: “the madman of the desert” (KTH: The West and Gadhafi’s regime,” 24 February 2011).

In that same episode, Cooper was critical of American artists Beyonce, Usher, and Mariah Carey, all three of whom gave private performances for the Gaddafis. Carey apparently received one million dollars for performing four songs for the Gaddafis on New Year in 2009. The following year, it was Beyonce and Usher who graced the Libyan dictator’s New Year’s celebration. Cooper asked why artists would perform for tyrants, and suggested that they donate the money they received to the Libyan people.

The news item was quickly picked up by other media. Rolling Stone magazine also ran an article stating that the music industry is lashing out at these artists, and quoting David T. Viecelli, agent for Arcade Fire and many other acts, as saying “Given what we know about Qaddafi and what his rule has been about, you have to willfully turn a blind eye in order to accept that money, and I don’t think it’s ethical” (Industry Lashes Out at Mariah, Beyonce and Others Who Played for Qaddafi’s Family,” 25 February 2011).

Amid all this uproar, Canadian singer Nelly Furtado announced on Twitter that she would donate to charity a one million dollar fee she received to perform for the Gaddafi family in 2007 (“Nelly Furtado to give away $1 million Gaddafi fee,” Reuters, 1 March 2011).

Those of us who have long been engaged in Palestine justice activism cannot help but notice glaring double-standards in these denunciations of the various deals with devils. And at this critical point in the history of the Arab world, we must request that our readers begin to “connect the dots” throughout the region. Is entertaining dictators a lesser crime than normalizing Israeli apartheid?

Why hold artists accountable for performing at the behest of tyrants, and let them off the hook for whitewashing Israel’s regime which engages in massive human rights abuses, all subsidized by the United States government?

Why not call out Beyonce, Usher, Mariah Carey, and so many other artists, all of whom have performed in Israel, a state which practices a form of apartheid worse than anything the South African apartheid government had ever done? In 1973, the United Nations General Assembly defined the crime of Apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” As Israel’s official policy privileges Jewish nationals over non-Jewish citizens, creating de facto and de jure discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian people, it is hard to dispute that this supposed “democracy” is in reality an apartheid state.

Many of the discriminatory measures Israel practices today were unthought of in apartheid South Africa. In his powerful essay, “Apartheid in the Holy Land,” penned shortly after his return from a visit to the West Bank, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa” (“Apartheid in the Holy Land,” The Guardian, 29 April 2002).

In 2009, a comprehensive study by South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council confirmed that Israel is practicing both colonialism and apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories.

That study was inspired by the observations of John Dugard, South African law professor and former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, who wrote in 2006: “Israel’s large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, leveling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassination of Palestinians far exceeded any similar practices in apartheid South Africa. No wall was ever built to separate blacks and whites.” And no roads were ever built for whites only in South Africa either, while Israel continues to build Jewish-only roads, cutting through the Palestinian landscape.

Israel’s form of apartheid includes the crippling blockade of Gaza; the ongoing seizure of Palestinian land and water sources; construction of the West Bank apartheid wall declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in The Hague; the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem; the denial of the rights of Palestinian refugees and discriminatory laws and mounting threats of expulsion against the 1.2 million Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship.

And as word inevitably gets out, because we are no longer pleading for permission to narrate, but seizing our right to expose these crimes, Israel is hard at work trying to fix its image, without changing the policies and actions that have tarnished that image. As it cements its apartheid policies, Israel is funneling millions of dollars into burnishing its public image as a culturally vibrant, progressive, and thriving democracy.

Among its PR moves is the cultural “Re-Brand” campaign. Israel is intentionally inviting international artists to such “hip” places as Tel Aviv to mask the ugly face of occupation, apartheid, displacement, and dispossession. If we are to hold artists accountable for their choice of performance venues and income sources — as indeed we should — then we should hold them accountable for complicity in normalizing apartheid no less than for entertaining dictators.

In an important article that appeared in The Grio, Lori Adelman also asks: “Why are black pop stars performing at the behest of dictators?” before making the comparison to Sun City, the extravagant whites-only entertainment resort city in apartheid South Africa. And she reminds her readers of the impact of the Artists United Against Apartheid music project, which contributed one million dollars for anti-Apartheid efforts and, most importantly, raised awareness about the global power of artists to influence political discourse on human rights issues (“Why are black pop stars performing at the behest of dictators?,” 24 February 2011).

Today, there is global awareness of Israel’s numerous crimes. And there is a call for artists to boycott Israel, until the country abides by international law. The call was issued in 2005 by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (www.pacbi.org/). In the US, where we live, the campaign is coordinated by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. When we learn of an artist who is planning to perform in Tel Aviv, we contact them, inform them of the reality on the ground (should they need such information), and urge them to reconsider and cancel any concerts they may have scheduled. Many have already done so, including the industry’s biggest names: Carlos Santana, Bono, The Pixies, Elvis Costello and Gil Scott-Heron. Folk legend Pete Seeger also recently announced his support for boycotting Israel.

In what may be the most eloquent statement to date, Costello wrote: “One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament. Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent. … Some will regard all of this an unknowable without personal experience but if these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way” (“It Is After Considerable Contemplation …,” 15 May 2010).

Today, Artists Against Apartheid are still around, and they are active in promoting the boycott of a country that is practicing apartheid in the 21st century, namely Israel. The question should be, then, if artists boycotted Sun City, shouldn’t they also boycott Tel Aviv? Why the outrage when Beyonce entertains Gaddafi, but not when Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and so many more, entertain apartheid in Israel?

Laurie King, an anthropologist, is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.

Nada Elia is a member of the Organizing Committee of USACBI, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (Facebook).

The people of Libya want freedom, Obama wants oil! by Carlos Latuff

EDITOR: The Winds of Change blow hard

It seems that the general disenchantment with the so-called ‘Two State Solution’ has reached an all time high. This ploy is now seen to be what it has always been – a crude attempt to derail Palestinians from even trying to achieve freedom and equality as well as full political rights, by continuously dangling this mantra in front of them. There has never been such a ‘solution’, as far as Israel is concerned – it was a way of getting international support while enlarging and enhancing its illegal settlements, and acquiring more control over the land and its resources, while oppressing the Palestinian population.

As this understanding is now widely spread, and the talk of a single state is also spreading and advancing, Netanyahu is forced to speak against it. This must be a sign of the growing strength of this tendency.

Netanyahu: Binational state would be disastrous for Israel: Haaretz

Comment comes as Prime Minister expected to present Mideast peace initiative after weeks of intense international pressure over the apparent peace talks deadlock.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected in the coming weeks to put forward a peace initiative in a bid to break through the deadlock in the peace process and extricate Israel from international isolation.

Netanyahu has warned in recent days during closed meetings that “a binational state would be disastrous for Israel,” and therefore it is necessary to undertake a political move that will remove this threat.

In recent weeks the prime minister has come under intense international pressure over Israel’s policies. Europe’s unequivocal stance against Israel at the Security Council vote on the issue of the settlements, the rebuke that accompanied the U.S. veto, and the unpleasant telephone exchange with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week reportedly shook Netanyahu.

Moreover, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations are working together to push through an unprecedented agreement during the Quartet’s meeting in Paris in a week. According to the draft of the agreement that is being passed between the parties, the Quartet will declare that a Palestinian state will be established on the basis of the 1967 borders, with some land swaps.

In some of the drafts East Jerusalem is mentioned as the capital of the Palestinian state.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office say that in recent weeks Netanyahu has been talking with the Obama administration in order to formulate a program that would restart the peace process.

His adviser, Ron Dermer, flew secretly to Washington a week ago and met with senior White House officials. U.S. envoys Dennis Ross and Fred Hoff also visited Israel and met with Netanyahu.

“The prime minister has realized that the political impasse is not working in favor of Israel,” one of Netanyahu’s advisers said.

“Following a few weeks of revolution in the Arab world he is convinced that there are opportunities, not just threats, and that it is important to take advantage of the situation that was created in order to restart the peace process and put an end to the unilateral initiatives of the Palestinians.”

In private talks recently, Netanyahu has reportedly begun discussing the growing threat of a binational state.

“This trend will intensify and become stronger,” Netanyahu told his advisers. “However there are those in Israel who think that one state is a good idea. I think it is a disaster.”

Netanyahu would like to announce his peace plan in a speech in the coming weeks. One of the ideas being considered is that Netanyahu would speak before a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Washington for an AIPAC conference in May, but his advisers are trying to move the trip to an earlier date. Discussion of a speech before a joint session was central to the talks between the Prime Minister’s Office and the White House.

A well-positioned Israeli source said that at this stage U.S. President Barack Obama and his advisers are reluctant to run with the idea over fears it has the imprint of talks between Netanyahu’s advisers and Republic Congressmen. Moreover, the White House is not yet convinced that Netanyahu’s speech will have sufficient substance for it to constitute a political breakthrough.

“The prime minister wants to move ahead substantively but he wants to know that he has American backing,” one of Netanyahu’s advisers said. “If the U.S. administration goes with him, he is willing to undertake compromises and take difficult steps.”

A senior source in Netanyahu’s bureau said that the prime minister had held talks about how to proceed forward with a small number of advisers, including ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, in order to avoid leaks. Defense Minister Ehud Barak participated in some of the meetings.

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February 11, 2011 Page 2

EDITOR: The unbelievable has now happened

After 18 days of amazing and bloody struggle by millions of Egyptians, the fall of the Pharaoh, dictator for over three decades, has made millions of Egyptian happy beyond words, as well as many millions elsewhere. This is the end of the bloody chapter in the history of Egypt, the heart and soul of the Arab world. This will not only affect Egypt, but the whole Arab world.

The dictators and undemocratic regimes in the whole Middle East can now work out what will happen to them, following Tunisia and Egypt. The North African remaining tyrants should prepare their nests in Saudi Arabia, though how safe is that? Maybe Tel Aviv might be safer for ex-tyrants?

The leaders elsewhere are well advised to start working out their exit plans. Those depending on their secret and brutal police forces have only themselves to blame if their people start taking to the streets, which they surely will. The PA should be especially worried, in the wake of the Palestine Papers and the Egyptian Intifada, as should the other leaders east of Cairo.

The Tunisia and Egypt days of struggle have now brought a new force to the Middle East – people’s power. Those who are frightened of Arab democracy, such as the UK, US and Israel, should now think thrice before they support the remaining tyrants. People have long memories, and while the Egyptian Revolution was enacted without violence on the part of the the protesters, the incoming democratic government of Egypt is totally unlikely to continue the Mubarak policies and support Israel by joining its cruel blockade on Gaza, or its brutalities elsewhere in Palestine. The Israelis may well start working out how to continue living in the Middle East without killing thousands every year. It will be necessary for them in the near future.

As far as the US is concerned, this period has shown more than clearly the shallowness, stupidity and criminality of its policies in the Middle East. Will they change? Quite unlikely, I think. All the mistakes they have made in all parts of the world have never taught them anything, it seems; they just love to repeat the same mistakes in new locations.

The next weeks and months are going to be anything but simple or srtaight forward, for sure; despite the great difficulties still facing the young revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, they are nonetheless likely to succeed in changing the narrative and socio-political discourse in the whole region. Those who lost their fear will find their power.

The 25th of January, 2011, will again be a historical date, a new beginning. Today we are all Egyptians!

Mubarak resigns – live updates: The Guardian

• Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has resigned
• Vice-president announces the army council holds power
• Cheers and fireworks as protests turn to celebrations

Egyptian anti-government protesters wave flags as they celebrate in Tahrir Square Photograph: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images
6.50pm GMT: In this audio you can hear the emotion in the voice of veteran activist Ahmed Salah, as he shared what today means to him:

It brought tears to my eyes several times. I mean I have always had faith that we will win but this is remarkable. It’s like, how many days? We started on the 25th … and we won. That couldn’t have been imaginable just even a week ago, 10 days ago, that we will actually be free.

6.43pm GMT: More on vice president Joe Biden’s remarks on Egypt today:

This is a pivotal moment in history. This is a pivotal moment not just in Middle East history but in world history.

On Fox News though they have a different view. One presenter said it was the biggest event since “victory in Iraq”.

Carl Bernstein – the Watergate guy – says it’s on the scale of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

6.35pm GMT: The White House now says that Obama’s statement will take place at 3pm ET / 8pm GMT / 10pm EET.

6.29pm GMT: A spokesman for Egypt’s military has just appeared on television to read a new statement.

Read aloud in a flat monotone, the statement said that the supreme council of the armed forces was “currently studying the situation” and will issue further statements to clarify its position.

The military also had a farewell message for Mubarak:

“The supreme council of the armed forces is saluting President Hosni Mubarak for all he has given in sacrifice in times of war and peace.”

And it had kind words for the protesters:

“The supreme council of the armed forces is also saluting the spirits of those who were martyred.”

Note that the army’s statement made no mention of vice president Suleiman – interesting in the context of the Ahram Online report mentioned below. Further analysis of what this all means when we get the full text.

6.25pm GMT: The New York Times’s Lede blog alerts us to an intriguing report from Ahram Online, the English-language arm of the state newspaper Al Ahram, that “both of last night’s addresses by Mubarak and Suleiman were in defiance of the armed forces”:

Maj. Gen. Safwat El-Zayat, a former senior official of Egypt’s General Intelligence and member of the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs, asserted, in an interview with Ahram Online, that the address delivered by President Mubarak last night was formulated against the wishes of the armed forces, and away from their oversight. He claimed that Vice Preisdent Omar Suleiman’s address, which came on the heels of Mubarak’s address, was equally in defiance of the armed forces and away from its oversight.

El-Zayat said that represented a deep cleavage between the armed forces and the presidential authority of both Mubarak and Omar Suleiman.

6.18pm GMT: My colleague Hazem Balousha sends this from Gaza City:

Hamas is calling on people to rally tonight all over Gaza to celebrate the resignation of Hosni Mubarak and his regime. People are patrolling the streets and raising Egyptian flags. Some Hamas fighters have fired into the air since it was announced that Mubarak stepped down.

6.13pm GMT: The White House has announced that Barack Obama’s statement on Egypt, scheduled for 1.30pm ET (6.30pm GMT) has been delayed, and the venue has been switched from the press briefing room to the Grand Foyer as the administration prepares to ramp up Obama’s response.

This is Richard Adams in Washington DC taking over live blogging duties.

6.08pm: Here’s a video of the full statement from the vice president Omar Suleiman.

Turn off auto-refresh at the top of this page to watch the full video.
It’s fair to say he doesn’t look very happy.

6.00pm: It can’t be very often that Amnesty International is joining in the celebrations of an army taking power but this has not been an ordinary day. Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

I congratulate the protesters for their extraordinary courage and commitment to achieve fundamental change. Persistent attempts to put down peaceful protests have not only failed but redoubled the determination of those demanding change. The way Egyptians have taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand dignity, human rights and social justice has been an inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere.

The departure of one man is not the end. The repressive system that Egyptians have suffered under for three decades has not gone away and the State of Emergency remains in place. Those in power must grasp this opportunity to consign the systematic abuses of the past to history. Human rights reform must begin now.

5.58pm: Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor has been analysing what comes next.

On the army:

Rule by the military can only be temporary. Mubarak’s exit, the dissolution of what is seen as an illegitimate parliament, constitutional reforms and abolition of the emergency laws are all non-negotiable. If those reforms are achieved then Egypt will have witnessed a real revolution – beyond the removal of a stubborn 82-year-old president long past his sell-by date.

It seems clear from the events of recent days – especially the confusion and contradictory messages on Thursday — that the army is divided. If it moves solely to protect its own privileged position, and that of the big businessmen who have done so well out of their links with the regime – then the system will not open up, at least not without large-scale repression and bloodshed.

On the implications for the wider Middle East:

Egypt’s extraordinary change matters first for Egypt’s 82m people. But what happens in the Arab world’s most populous country matters for many millions of other Arabs, who also suffer from unemployment, inequality, corruption and unresponsive, unaccountable governments – and share the language in which it is being covered in media such as al-Jazeera and social networking sites that official censors cannot easily block.

Other authoritarian regimes, shocked first by the uprising in Tunisia and now in Egypt, have been trying to pre-empt trouble by promises of reform, sacking ministers, maintaining subsidies or raising wages to buy off critics and defuse tensions. The symptoms are visible from Yemen to Jordan, from Algeria to Syria.

On the implications for the US:

Egypt remains a vital asset in allowing US military overflights, as the guardian of the strategically vital Suez canal, and a loyal ally in the regional confrontation with Iran. Mubarak has played a key role in supporting the western-backed Palestinian Authority and containing the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip, not least because of its affinity with the banned Muslim Brotherhood – whose likely future role in a freer Egyptian political system is a key and much-discussed issue both at home and abroad.

The events of the last 18 days have forced Obama to shift away from stability to embracing if not promoting democracy – to the evident discomfort of other conservative Arab friends, especially the Saudis. Jordan and Yemen share those concerns – fearing that unconditional US support for them may now also wane.

This is a picture from yesterday when anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square shouted in anger after the first by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
5.54pm: Joe Biden, the US vice president, who initially defended Mubarak, saying he was not a dictator and should not stand down, said: “This is a pivotal moment in history… the transition that’s taking place must be an irreversible change”

There has been reaction from other leaders.

The British prime minister David Cameron called for a move to “a move to civilian and democratic rule” . He said the departure of Mubarak offered Egypt a “really precious moment of opportunity”. Speaking on the steps of No 10, he said the new government should start to put in place “the building blocks of a truly open, free and democratic society”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, said: “Today is a day of great joy. We are all witness to historic change. I share the joy of people on the streets of Egypt.”

5.49pm: The Nobel peace prize winner and Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed El Baradei has been talking to Al Jazeera in the last half and hour.

“This is the emancipation of Egypt. This is the liberation of the Egyptian people,” he said in a phone interview with the broadcaster’s English-language news channel. “It’s a dream come true,” said El Baradei, who added that it was the Egyptian people who had been able to restore their “humanity and independence.

Asked what happens next, he replied: “What I have been talking about and proposing is a transition period of one year. We would have a provisional council, a transition government, preferably a provisional council including a person from the army and civilians, but the main idea would be that the army and the people would work together for a year up to the point where we could have a free and fair election.”

He said his message to the Egyptian people was: “You have gained your liberty, you have gained the right to catch up with the rest of the world. Make the best use of it you can and God bless you.”

5.48pm: There has s been a jubilant response in Lebanon and Tunisia, the Associated Press reports:

Moments after Egypt’s vice president Omar Suleiman made the announcement of Mubarak’s resignation, fireworks lit up the sky over Beirut. Celebratory gunfire rang out in the Shiite-dominated areas in south Lebanon and in southern Beirut.

On Al-Manar TV, the station run by the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah faction, Egyptian anchor Amr Nassef, who was once imprisoned in Egypt for alleged ties to Islamists, cried emotionally on the air and said: “Allahu Akbar (God is great), the Pharaoh is dead. Am I dreaming? I’m afraid to be dreaming.”

In Tunisia, where a successful uprising expelled a longtime leader only weeks earlier, cries of joy and the thundering honking of horns greeted the announcement. “God delivered our Egyptian brothers from this dictator,” said Yacoub Youssef, one of those celebrating in the capital of Tunis.

5.47pm: Amr Mousa, an Egyptian, and the secretary general of the Arab League, who has previously hinted that might stand for presidency, has given his reaction:

I look forward to the future to build a ntional consensus in the coming period. There is a big chance now and a window has opened after this white revolution and after the president’s concession.

Asked if he was interested in being president, he said: “This is not the time to talk about that … As an Egyptian citizen, I am proud to serve my country with all the others at this stage, to build a consensus of opinion.”

5.46pm: Our political correspondent Allegra Stratton says the UK has already been considering the prospect of an asylum application from Mubarak:

The UK’s national security council (NSC) has considered what happens if Hosni, his wife Suzanne or or their son Gamal Mubarak, indeed any of the president’s family, would like asylum in the UK. Remember Gamal has a five-storey house in Knightsbridge.

A government source says that the Foreign Office is aware that the UK’s government’s new position on the middle east – hands off, welcoming of change – would be troubled if the UK were to also grant any asylum requests to Mubaraks or indeed other deposed Arab leaders.

The text from the NSC meeting, held last week, says: “The NSC is working on predicting where and when events might occur next. There is a low risk that former heads of state and members of regimes might seek refuge here. Many have the documentation and money to get here, and some will have links to the UK. Each request will be considered, in consultation between the Home Office and Foreign Office, on a case by case basis.”

So, cautious language, but the source says they are thinking about what their position will be as and when any request comes through. There will be a question mark over exactly what the FCO and Home office could do given Suzanne was born in Wales and is thought to have British citizenship.

5.42pm: In what has turned out to be a momentous day, here is a summary of events.

President Hosni Mubarak has resigned and handed over power to the army. His vice president, Omar Suleiman, said in a short TV address: “In these difficult circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the position of the presidency. He has commissioned the armed forces council to direct the issues of the state.”

Protests turned to celebrations around Egypt. “Cairo erupts in celebration as 18 days of defiant protest finally delivers a revolution after 24 hours of euphoria, dashed hopes and victory,” our correspondent Chris McGreal wrote from outside the state TV centre. “There was a complete eruption of humanity, I have never seen anything like it. The world’s biggest street party has really kicked off here,” said Jack Shenker from outside the presidential palace.

But there are still questions over what happens next. The army is now in charge and it has yet to make its intentions clear.

Protesters celebrate President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
5.28pm: Our correspondent Chris McGreal was outside the Egyptian state TV building when the historic announcement was made. In this audio report, he says:

They were completely stunned. When this very brief announcement came from the vice president Omar Suleiman, he simply said “Mubark’s gone”, there was a a pause. Then a ripple went through the crowd and they went wild. Some fell onto their knees praying, people were weeping instantly. They were hugging each other, chanting in unison, “Mubarak’s gone”, words to that effect. There was joy, euphoria, call it what you want. I think people couldn’t quite grasp that this revolution that they’d led fro 18 days had finally delivered.

But Chris warns there will now be close scrutiny of the army:

Of course there will be a sobering up. Not many people are thinking of what the military role means and of course once the military is in the saddle so to speak, people will be looking to it to actually deliver. They will be wanting to see, for instance, the dissolution of parliament, the lifting of the state of emergency, all the kind of things they have been demanding as well as Mubarak’s resignation. I think they’re feeling newly empowered, I think people realise the can hold parliament to account of bring it down and if it’s seen to be not delivering they may well be back out on the streets.

5.20pm: There are reports that the Egyptian army is to make another statement soon.

5.19pm: Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, has been quick to instill a note of caution:

But the game isn’t over, and now a word of caution. I worry that senior generals may want to keep (with some changes) a Mubarak-style government without Mubarak. In essence the regime may have decided that Mubarak had become a liability and thrown him overboard — without any intention of instituting the kind of broad, meaningful democracy that the public wants.

Senior generals have enriched themselves and have a stake in a political and economic structure that is profoundly unfair and oppressive. And remember that the military running things directly really isn’t that different from what has been happening: Mubarak’s government was a largely military regime (in civilian clothes) even before this. Mubarak, Vice President Suleiman and so many others — including nearly all the governors — are career military men. So if the military now takes over, how different is it?

Mubarak resigns as Egypt’s President, hands power to army: Haaretz

Massive crowd in Cairo square at center of protests explodes with joy following announcement by Vice President Omar Suleiman.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down Friday after 30 years as president and handed control to the military, bowing down to an historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations by hundreds of thousands.

The massive crowd in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square exploded with joy, embracing, weeping and waving Egyptian flags, and car horns and celebratory shots in the air were heard around the city of 18 million in joy after Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on national TV just after nightfall.

The people have brought down the regime,” chanted the crowds in the square.

“In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic,” said a somber Suleiman. “He has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state. God is our protector and succor.”

Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, whose young supporters were among the organizers of the protest movement, told The Associated Press: “This is the greatest day of my life.”

“The country has been liberated after decades of repression,” he said, adding that he expects a beautiful transition of power.

A senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s biggest opposition group, said Egyptians had achieved the main goal of their popular uprising after Mubarak’s resignation.

“I salute the Egyptian people and the martyrs. This is the day of victory for the Egyptian people. The main goal of the revolution has been achieved,” Mohamed el-Katatni, former leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, told Reuters.

Katatni said the Brotherhood awaits the next steps to be taken by the Higher Military Council, which has taken charge of the country’s affairs after Mubarak’s decision.

Earlier in the day, a ruling partly official reported that Mubarak and his family left Cairo for the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, proving he is giving up his presidential powers.

Protesters seeking Mubarak’s overthrow moved overnight to the Ittihadiya presidential palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis for the first time since demonstrations began on Jan. 25.

EDITOR: The final stage of the revolution seems to be here! (those lines were written in the early morning…)

In another facile speech, Mubarak has clarified beyond any doubt, that he is not in touch with reality. Omar Suleiman, his sidekick and servile deputy, is not much more connected either. Both seem to think that they can spout more lies and get the demonstrators home, and continue with their corrupt regime, by promising democracy by September. The Egyptian people know – it is now or never!

Meanwhile, on the farm in Washington, the animals are in disarray… not quite decided if they prefer democracy to ‘stability’ they keep swivelling like a weather-vane gone out of control. It seems that Obama is listening to both sides, and keeps changing his mind on a daily basis. Two things are now clear:

1. The US administration is not well-informed (they don’t seem to have Al Jazeera on the White House channels…) and is not clear about what is happening in Egypt. This may sound incredible, but there is no other expalnation to their bizarre switching of policy.

2. The US administration is also not clear and have not decided what they want out of this situation – do they prefer to see the dictator continue and choke the Egyptian people, or do they risk allowing democracy in Egypt to develop? The choice is difficult for a governemnt which has supported dictators and and brutal occupations as far as memory goes, and not just in the Middle East. Do they want ‘stability’, or do they want to foment unrest and be the arbiter?

This situation is most dangerous for the whole Middle East, now moving at enormous speed to modernise and democratise, after decades of corrupt and brutal regimes. In the end, the US seems just as confused as Mubarak about the direction of events.

All over Egypt, the millions are now rising without fear, witha single voice. We have just heard that Mubarak and his family has run away, apparently to Sharm El Sheikh. Well, it is not far from there to Saudi Arabia. The revolution is on its to victory.

Report: Mubarak, family leave Cairo amid persisting unrest: Haaretz

Al Arabiya says beleaguered Egyptian president leaves for Sinai of Sharm el-Sheikh as protesters call on the military to take action to push Mubarak out.

The Al Arabiya report came as Egypt’s powerful military backed Mubarak’s plan to stay in office until September elections earlier Friday, enraging hundreds of thousands of protesters who deluged the squares of Cairo and Alexandria and marched on presidential palaces and state television – key symbols of the authoritarian regime.

The army’s show of solidarity with the president was a heavy blow to protesters who called on the military to take action to push Mubarak out after he announced Thursday night that he would hand most of his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman but remain in office.

The Armed Forces Supreme Council, the military’s highest body, depicted itself as the champion of reform in its latest statement. Trying to win the trust of an angry and skeptical population, the army promised to make sure Mubarak lifts hated emergency laws immediately once protests end. Mubarak and Suleiman had only given a vague timetable for ending the law – when security permits.

Still, the profound disappointment that Mubarak did not step down on Thursday turned to rage on Friday and protests escalated.

“What are you waiting for?” one protester yelled in the face of an army officer outside Mubarak’s main palace, Oruba, in northern Cairo, where a crowd of demonstrators grew to more than 2,500. “Did you pledge your allegiance to the president or the people?” another shouted.

It was not known if Mubarak was in the palace, one of at least three in Cairo, or even in the capital. The palace was protected by four tanks and rolls of barbed wire, but soldiers did nothing to stop more people from joining the rally.

The march on the palace were the first by protesters who for nearly three weeks have centered their mass demonstrations in Cairo’s downtown Tahrir Square.

More than 10,000 tore apart military barricades in front of the towering State Television and Radio building, a pro-Mubarak bastion that has aired constant commentary supporting him and dismissing the protests. They swarmed on the Nile River corniche at the foot of the building, beating drums and chanting, Leave! Leave! Leave! They blocked employees from entering, vowing to silence the broadcast.

Soldiers in tanks in front of the building did nothing to stop them, though state TV continued to air.

Egyptians hold ‘farwewell Friday’: Al Jazeera online

Pro-democracy campaigners march on state television and presidential palaces, as army calls for normal life to resume

Massive crowds have gathered across Egypt, including hundreds of thousands of protesters in and around Cairo’s Tahrir [Liberation] Square, calling for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to stand down.

Pro-democracy activists in the Egyptian capital marched on the presidential palace and state television buildings, while many also gathered at Liberation Square, on Friday, the 18th consecutive day of protests.

At the state television building, thousands have blocked people from entering or leaving, accusing the broadcaster of supporting the current government and of not truthfully reporting on protests.

“The military has stood aside and people are flooding through [a gap where barbed wire has been moved aside],” Al Jazeera’s correspondent at the state television building reported.

He said it was not clear if they planned to storm the building, but said that “a lot of anger [was] generated” after Mubarak’s speech last night, where he repeated his vow to complete his term as president.

“The activity isn’t calm, but there are a lot of people here who are tired of not having their demands met,” he said.

Outside one presidential palace where protesters had gathered in Cairo, our correspondent reported that there was a strong military presence, but that there was “no indication that the military wants to crack down on protesters … in Cairo”.

She said that army officers had engaged in dialogue with protesters, and that remarks had been largely “friendly”.

Tanks and military personnel had been deployed to bolster barricades around the palace.

Reports indicate, however, that Mubarak and his family have left Cairo, bound for an as yet unconfirmed destination, though Mohammed Abdellah, a spokesman of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, told the AFP news agency that the president was bound for his residence at the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Shaikh.

In Tahrir Square, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered, chanting slogans against Mubarak and calling for the military to join them in their demands.

Our correspondent at the square said the “masses” of pro-democracy campaigners there appeared to have “clear resolution” and “bigger resolve” to achieve their goals than ever before.

He also said, however, that protesters were “confused by mixed messages” coming from the army, which has at times told them that their demands will be met, yet in communiques and other statements supported Mubarak’s staying in power until at least September.

Army statement

In a statement read out on state television at midday, the military announced that it would lift a 30-year-old emergency law but only “as soon as the current circumstances end”.

The military said it would also guarantee changes to the constitution as well as a free and fair election, and it called for normal business activity to resume.

Many protesters, hoping for Mubarak’s resignation, had anticipated a much stronger statement.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Tahrir Square said people there were hugely disappointed and vowed to take the protests to “a last and final stage”.

“They’re frustrated, they’re angry, and they say protests need to go beyond Liberation [Tahrir] Square, to the doorstep of political institutions,” she said.

Protest organisers have called for 20 million people to come out on “Farewell Friday” in a final attempt to force Mubarak to step down.

‘Anything can happen’

Hossam El Hamalawy, a pro-democracy organiser and member of the Socialist Studies Centre, said protesters were heading towards the presidential palace from multiple directions, calling on the army to side with them and remove Mubarak.

“People are extremely angry after yesterday’s speech,” he told Al Jazeera. “Anything can happen at the moment. There is self-restraint all over but at the same time I honestly can’t tell you what the next step will be … At this time, we don’t trust them [the army commanders] at all.”

An Al Jazeera reporter overlooking Tahrir said the side streets leading into the square were filling up with crowds.

“It’s an incredible scene. From what I can judge, there are more people here today than yesterday night,” she said.

“The military has not gone into the square except some top commanders, one asking people to go home …I don’t see any kind of tensions between the people and the army but all of this might change very soon if the army is seen as not being on the side of the people.”

Hundreds of thousands were participating in Friday prayers outside a mosque in downtown Alexandria, Egypt’s second biggest city.

Thousands of pro-democracy campaigners also gathered outside a presidential palace in Alexandria.

Egyptian television reported that large angry crowds were heading from Giza, adjacent to Cairo, towards Tahrir Square and some would march on the presidential palace.

Protests are also being held in the cities of Mahala, Tanta, Ismailia, and Suez, with thousands in attendance.

In a televised address to the nation on Thursday, Mubarak said he was handing “the functions of the president” to Vice-President Omar Suleiman. But the move means he retains his title of president.

“I have decided to stick… by my responsibility in protecting the constitution and the people’s interests until the power and responsibility are handed over to whomever the voters chose next September, in free and fair elections,” the president said.

Halfway through his much-awaited speech late at night, anticipation turned into anger among protesters camped in Tahrir Square who began taking off their shoes and waving them in the air.

‘Go home’

Immediately after Mubarak’s speech, Suleiman called on the protesters to “go home” and asked Egyptians to “unite and look to the future.”

“Youth of Egypt, heroes of Egypt, go back to your homes and businesses. The country needs you so that we build, develop and create,” Suleiman said.

“Do not listen to tendentious radios and satellite televisions which have no aim but ignite disorder, weaken Egypt and distort its image.”

More than 1,000 protesters moved overnight towards the presidential palace in the upscale neighbourhood of Heliopolis in central Cairo.

Union workers have joined the protests over the past few days, effectively crippling transportation and several industries, and dealing a sharper blow to Mubarak’s embattled regime.

The US and EU said the announcement to transfer some powers to the vice-president was grossly insufficient and falls short of genuine reforms demanded by the people.

“The Egyptian people have been told that there was a transition of authority, but it is not yet clear that this transition is immediate, meaningful or sufficient,” Barack Obama, the US president, said in a statement

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February 10, 2011

EDITOR: The real alliance in the Middle East

It is clear for all to see the real Middle Eastern Alliance – US, Saudi Arabia, Mubarak and Israel, all actively supported by the PA! If this is what Obama meant by ‘change’ in his Cairo speech afgter his inauguration, it is really solid – support for undemocratic and dictatorial regimes everywhere. From supporting ‘change in 2010, Obama moved to supporting ‘stability’ in 2011. What a swift and impressive change… It seems that not only is the US and its ‘progressive’ president supporting dictatorial and undemocratic regimes, but also supporting theior torture machine… This is of course not new – the US has done so for over a century.

The Egyptian people will defeat this unholy alliance, even if it takes much longer to get rid of the dictator. After his ousting, he can obviously go to sit in Riad on his billions, unless brought to justice, as he should be.

‘Saudi king told Obama he’d fund Mubarak if U.S. halted Egypt aid’: Haaretz

Abdullah warned U.S. president that withdrawing $1.5 billion in annual aid would humiliate Mubarak, according to Britain’s The Times.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah told U.S. President Barack Obama that his country would prop up Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak if the United States withdrew its aid program, The Times said on Thursday.

U.S. President Barack Obama shaking hands with Saudi King Abdullah at a bilateral meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 3, 2009. Photo by: AP

Abdullah told Obama not to humiliate Mubarak, who is under pressure from protesters to quit immediately, in a telephone call on January 29, the newspaper said, citing a senior source in Riyadh.

Obama’s administration has wavered between support for Egypt in Washington’s conflict with militant Islam and backing for Egyptians who have been protesting for weeks to demand Mubarak and his government quit.

The United States has long nurtured its alliance with key ally Egypt, giving billions of dollars in aid as it seeks to influence affairs in a region whose autocratic rulers are struggling to contain social discontent.

The United States has stopped short of endorsing calls for Mubarak, 82, to leave office immediately. He said last week he would step down in September when an election is due.

On January 28, the White House said the United States would review $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt. Officials later said no such review was planned currently.

Celebrities and artists show support for people’s revolution: Ahram online

The majority of celebrities and artists have shown solidarity with ordinary citizens in the 25 January revolution, while others want to wait until the next elections
Menna Taher and Wael Eskandar, Wednesday 9 Feb 2011
Protester on top of a pole in Tahrir square waving the Egyptian flag
Artists have been actively involved in the people’s revolution which began on 25 January, two weeks ago. The involvement of celebrities has had an impact on the revolution, as the revolution will have an impact on the future work of those celebrities.

A statement was issued by several artists, poets, intellectuals and writers ordering President Mubarak to step down immediately.

The statement affirmed that Mubarak is responsible for the problems that Egypt has faced for the past thirty years and for the stagnation of economic life in Egypt, which has made many suffer, especially those who rely on their daily income. He is also responsible for the massive bloodshed witnessed in the past weeks by the police and NDP thugs.

The statement received over 200 signatures, including the signatures of actors Khaled Abol Naga, Asser Yassin, who have been active in the protests, as well as filmmakers Mohamed Khan, Dawood Abdel Sayed, Ali Badrakhan, Yousry Nasrallah, Mohamed Diab and Kamla Abou Zikry.

Visual artists Mohamed Abla also signed on behalf of the artists of the Cairo atelier. Abla appeared on El Ashera Massan, the talk show hosted by Mona El Shazly and spoke about Ahmed Bassiouny the artist, who died during the violent protests on 28 January (the Friday of Anger).

Bassiouny, a visual artist and a martyr of the uprising, was hit by a police car and died of a rupture in his heart and left lung.

Abla commented on the current cultural scene and how it destroys the dreams of youth and criticised the ministry of culture by saying that money gushes like torrents in the ministry, yet it restrains art. “Ahmed dreamt that Egyptian art would be known on an international level,” he said.

Khaled Abol Naga was interviewed on BBC and called for President Mubarak to step down after having himself experienced police brutality with gunfire during the protests.

Amr Waked is outspoken about the desire for change using peaceful means. He has been present in Tahrir square calling for the president to step down.

Other celebrities present in Tahrir constantly are Ahmed Abdallah, Ahmed Maher, Basma, Yosra El Lozy and Asser Yassin, as well as Mohamed Diab the director of the award winning Egyptian film, 678.

The composer Ammar El Sherei has also taken part in the protests and defended them strongly when he went on El Ashera Masaan with Mona El Shazly, and criticised Safwat El Sherif. After joining in the protest on Friday, he had a stroke and is currently in hospital.

Another initiation was a Facebook post by the independent filmmaker Mohamed Al Assiouty suggesting civil disobedience by refraining from paying bills and taxes.

Some artists were brutally beaten by the police, have died or are still missing. Amr Salama was beaten on Tuesday 25 January and published a post on Facebook two days later relaying a detailed account of what happened to him.

Ziad Bakir, the artist and graphic designer of the Opera House, is missing since 28 January.

Some big budget actors and producers have shown their support for the regime, including Ghada Abdel Razek, Ahmad El Sakka and El Sobky. They were seen at Mostafa Mahmoud square in Mohandessin, chanting pro-Mubarak slogans on Tuesday night after the president’s speech when he declared he will not run for president in the September elections and would look into amendments in articles 76 and 77.

It is worth noting that actors Mona Zaki and Ahmed Helmy supported Mubarak after the speech but later changed their position after the violent events that took place the following day. They have been spotted in Tahrir square giving out food to protesters.

A group was set up on Facebook entitled ‘The Blacklist of 25 January’ which includes numerous celebrities that have opposed the 25 January pro-democratic protests.

The Middle East does not need stability: Haaretz

This so-called stability encompasses millions of Arabs living under criminal regimes and evil tyrannies.
By Gideon Levy
When a tank enters a residential neighborhood, sows fear and destruction, and the local kids throw stones at it, what is this called? “Disturbing the peace.” And what do you call the detention of those stone-throwers, allowing the tank to continue on its way without any more trouble? “Restoring order.”

That is how we have shaped our disgustingly laundered language to serve our one and only narrative; how we would describe to ourselves the misleading reality in which we live. Meanwhile, tanks are no longer entering residential areas; order is somehow being maintained in the territories without them. The occupier oppresses, the occupied people overcome their instincts and their struggle, and good order is maintained – for now. Stability.

Egypt also suddenly dared to “disturb the peace.” Its people, who have had enough of the country’s corrupt government and the tyrannical silencing of their voices, have taken to the streets. Riots. The Western world, including Israel, has tensed in the face of this great danger – the stability in the Middle East is about to be undermined.

Indeed, that stability should be undermined. The stability in the region, something which Westerners and Israeli have come to yearn, merely means perpetuating the status quo. That situation might be good for Israel and the West, but it is very bad for the millions of people who have had to pay the price. Maintaining Mideast stability means perpetuating the intolerable situation by which some 2.5 million Palestinians exist without any rights under the heel of Israeli rule; and another few million Palestinian refugees from the war of 1948 are living in camps in Arab countries, where they also lack any rights, hope, livelihood and dignity.

This so-called stability encompasses millions of Arabs living under criminal regimes and evil tyrannies. In stable Saudi Arabia, the women are regarded as the lowest of the low; in stable Syria, any sign of opposition is repressed; in stable Jordan and Morocco, the apple of the eye of the West and Israel, people are frightened to utter a word of criticism against their kings, even in casual coffee-shop conversations.

The yearned-for stability in the Middle East includes millions of poor and ignorant people in Egypt, while the ruling families celebrate with their billions in capital. It includes regimes, the bulk of whose budgets are scandalously channeled to the military, endlessly and unnecessarily arming themselves to preserve the regime – at the expense of education, health care, development and welfare. The stability entails rule that passes from father to son (and not just in the region’s monarchies ) and false elections in which only representatives of the ruling parties are allowed to run.

It involves unnecessary, worthless wars, civil wars and wars between countries in which the people give their blood because of the whims and megalomanic urges of their rulers. It represses free thought, self-determination and the struggle for freedom. It consists of weakness, lack of growth and development, lack of opportunity for achievement and almost nonexistent benefits for the masses, whose situation is frightfully stable. In their poverty and oppression, they are stable.

A region rich in natural and human resources, which could have thrived at least as much as the Far East, has been standing stable for decades. After Africa, it is the most backward place in the world.

That is the stability we apparently want to preserve; the stability that the United States always wants to preserve; the stability that Europe wants to preserve. Any undermining of this stability is considered disturbing the peace – and that is bad according to our definition.

But let us remember that when Israel was established, this signified a huge disturbance to the region – one that greatly undermined its stability and posed the greatest danger; but it was a just disturbance, to us and to the West. Now the time has come to disturb the peace some more, to undermine the worthless stability in which the Middle East is living.

The peoples of Tunisia and Egypt have begun the process. The United States and Europe stuttered at first, but quickly came to their senses. They also finally realized that the region’s stability is not only unjust, it is misleading: It will be undermined in the end. When the tank invades our lives, stones must be thrown at it; the infuriating stability of the Middle East must be wiped out.

Workers to continue Egypt strikes: Al Jazeera online

Thousands of doctors are among those expected to join workers’ strike as anti-Mubarak demonstration enters its 17th day.

Egyptian labour unions held nationwide strikes for a second day, adding momentum to the pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo and other cities.

The move comes as the demonstrations calling for President Hosni Mubarak’s immediate ouster enters its 17th day.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Cairo, said about 5,000 doctors and medical students were expected to come out on Thursday.

Lawyers, public transport workers and the artists syndicate were also among those who joined the strikes, Al Jazeera correspondents reported.

“It’s certainly increasing the pressure on the government here. I think it’s worth making the distinction that the strikes going on are more of an economic nature, they are not necessarily jumping on the bandwagon of the protesters in Tahrir Square,” Dekker said.

“Many of them are not actually calling for the president to step down, but fighting for better wages, for better working conditions.”

Our correspondents reported that around 20,000 factory workers had stayed away from work across Egypt on Wednesday.

“[Strikers] were saying that they want better salaries, they want an end to the disparity in the pay, and they want the 15 per cent increase in pay that was promised to them by the state,” Shirine Tadros, reported from Cairo.

Some workers were also calling for Mubarak to step down, she said.

Culture minister quits

Meanwhile, Gaber Asfour, the recently appointed culture minister, resigned from Mubarak’s cabinet on Wednesday for health reasons, a member of his family told Reuters.

But the website of Egypt’s main daily newspaper Al-Ahram said Asfour, a writer, was under pressure from literary colleagues over the post.

Asfour was sworn in following the start of the protests on January 31, and believed it would be a national unity government, al-Ahram said.

Determined protesters continue to rally in Cairo’s Tahrir [Liberation] Square, and other cities across the country. They say they will not end the protests until Mubarak, who has been at the country’s helm since 1981, steps down.

Protesters with blankets gathered outside the parliament building in Cairo on Wednesday, with no plan to move, our correspondent reported. The demonstrators had put up a sign that read: “Closed until the fall of the regime”.

There was also a renewed international element to the demonstrations, with Egyptians from abroad returning to join the pro-democracy camp.

Our correspondent said an internet campaign is currently on to mobilise expatriates to return and support the uprising.

Protesters are “more emboldened by the day and more determined by the day”, Ahmad Salah, an Egyptian activist, told Al Jazeera from Cairo. “This is a growing movement, it’s not shrinking.”

Meanwhile, 34 political prisoners, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, were reportedly released over the past two days.

Our correspondent said that there are still an unknown number of people missing, including activists thought to be detained during the recent unrest.

Human Rights Watch said the death toll has reached 302 since January 28. However, Egypt’s health ministry denied the figures, saying official statistics would be released shortly.

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February 9, 2011

EDITOR: The Egyptian Revolution stands firm!

Today unions across Egypt have joined the protest, making it crystal clear that it will not be over until Mubarak is out. In his bizarre speech he has claimed that he must stay to make sure there is ‘no chaos’! It is exactly his remaining as president which causes and deepens the chaos. While he does OK with Israel and the US, and few other lackeys including the UK, he is not chnging what all Egyptians are saying for over two weeks now.

In the article from Cairo by Hani Shukrallah, the shenanigans of the regime are laid out to dry, and the impressive steadfastness of the protest movement is clear. While the regime has all the time in the world, as well as all the money in Egypt (see yesterday’s entry about the bounty of £70 Billion stolen from the poor of Egypt by the dictator Mubarak) so this is still unequal battle, what with Obama switching sides again to back the dead horse, no doubt under Israeli pressure and Pentagon ‘analysis’. Still, the old regime is a spent force, and the fear which permeated Egyptian society is gone.

Egyptians have chosen, time for the state to accept their choice: Al Ahram

The choices facing Egypt are not between dialogue and coup d’état, as the vice president said yesterday, but between a rickety authoritarianism and full vibrant democracy
Hani Shukrallah , Wednesday 9 Feb 2011

It totally escapes me what the vice-president was talking about when he issued us with the dire warning that Egypt faced two choices, either “dialogue” or “coup d’état. Trying to make sense of this most ominous statement, one is first of all struck by what coup d’état is supposed to mean in the context of our current reality.

There are two senses in which Gen. Suleiman’s use of the term may be taken, a “nice”, one and a “grim” one, though neither appears to render the statement awfully comprehensible. In the nicer sense, the vice president is telling us that if the army, which is starkly the single power running the country these days, responds to the revolution’s demands and asks Mubarak to step down, this would be tantamount to a coup, which – reading between the lines – would lead to military rule.

The argument, if that’s what it is, fails to convince. A popular revolution has been sweeping the country for the past two weeks, and all indications are that it is gaining momentum, rather than losing steam. For the state to bow to the people’s will, as expressed on streets throughout the country is not a coup d’état, is simply to bow to the people’s will. This cannot, under any legal or moral standard be deemed a coup d’état.

We’re not reinventing the wheel here. It’s happened in Tunisia a few weeks ago, it swept through in all of Eastern Europe in the late 80s, indeed, it’s been happening across the globe from Latin and Central America to south and East Asia. In fact, it has been our long benighted Arab region that seemed to be the exception, standing immune to waves upon waves of democratization, which were making themselves felt everywhere else.

It so happens also that the army, here as in most of the above example, has been the state body able to step forward and play the role of power broker and guarantor of the transition to democracy.

Neither is the implied threat of military rule very credible. Popular revolutions, I wrote before, do not create military governments, military coups and counter-revolutions do.

Which brings us to the other, darker, possible interpretation of the vice president’s warning: a counter-revolution. Certainly that remains a possibility, but I’m sure the vice president is fully aware that it is becoming more remote with every passing day.

The thing is we’ve already had one counter-revolution and it has failed miserably, though at a horrible cost. We now have a pretty clear idea of how that counter-revolution was conducted, and the identity of some of those who directed it.

We now know, and I am sure the vice president and the prime minister are equally, if not more cognizant of the facts: an alliance of NDP officials and Oligarchs and the interior ministry and Egyptian state TV pursued a deliberate “scorched earth” strategy aimed at sowing fear and panic among the Egyptian people and the international community to show that without the Mubarak regime Egypt would fall into inescapable chaos and destruction.
So that we do not forget, the cynical criminality of this strategy involved the killing of some 300 peacefully protesting citizens and the wounding of thousands, the torching of public buildings, the attempted looting, torching and destruction of the Egyptian Museum, the overnight disappearance of the whole internal security apparatus and the synchronized opening of prison gates around the country, meanwhile letting loose criminal gangs of police agents alongside police and oligarch-run networks of thugs and diverse criminal elements to attack private citizens, public and private property, to murder, torch and loot. This, by the way, is the same “coalition” that was responsible for wholesale rigging of the 2010 and other elections.

The counter-revolution’s last card lay in the madness of the “foreign fingers” in the Egyptian uprising. The police agents and their thuggish friends were sent to infiltrate the “popular committees”, spread misinformation and hysteria about allege Israeli, American, Iranian, Hamas, Hizbullah and all sorts of other foreign conspiracies to foment revolution in the country. Foreigners, including a great many “foreign-looking” Egyptians were exposed to brutal attacks everywhere. The very people who were bemoaning the loss of foreign investment and tourism were willing to ensure that no one elsewhere in the world will even nod our way, possibly for a great many years.

By yesterday, and as Egypt witnessed its largest popular demonstrations ever, involving millions across the country, the counter-revolution looked dead and buried.

This is not to say that a revival of the counter-revolution is impossible. Neither can we as yet totally discount the possibility of a different kind of counter-revolution, as for instance, in having the army at last shoot at the people. Both scenarios are unlikely, however. For its part, the army’s commitment not to resort to violence against the people is now stronger than ever. We’ve even had the vice-president saying that President Mubarak, rather late in the day, has ordered all security forces to refrain from harming the protesters in any way.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the axis of evil, mentioned above, will once again resume its activities. After all, we are yet to see any of those responsible for crimes ranging from murder to high treason arrested or prosecuted, despite the repeated promises to do so.

The network remains intact, but there is every indication that it’s done its worst, it has been defeated, physically, as well as exposed. With the police agents and their thugs out of the picture, the hundreds of thousands in Tahrir sq continue to amaze the nation and world by the peaceful, and outstandingly self-disciplined nature of their ongoing.

The vice president is right, however, in saying that Egypt today faced two choices. He still needs to become aware of what these really are, however; for these two choices are none other than to maintain the old authoritarian order, cosmetically pluralized. Or to effect a radical transition to a fully democratic system of government.

Cosmetically treated authoritarianism, we’ve had for the past 30 years. Indeed, that’s what we have had more or less of since the late President Sadat launched his experiment in controlled pluralism way back in 1976. And, if a full scale revolution is any indication, we’ve had enough.

Yes, Mr. Vice-President we are faced with two choices, the people have chosen, it’s time that you accepted their choice.

Labour unions boost Egypt protests: Al Jazeera online

Thousands of factory workers stay away from work as pro-democracy protesters continue to rally seeking Mubarak’s ouster.

Egyptian labour unions have gone on a nationwide strike, adding momentum to pro-democracy demonstrations in Cairo and other cities.

Al Jazeera correspondents, reporting from Egypt, said around 20,000 factory workers stayed away from work on Wednesday.

Al Jazeera’s Shirine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said that some workers “didn’t have a political demand”.

“They were saying that they want better salaries, they want an end to the disparity in the pay, and they want the 15 per cent increase in pay that was promised to them by the state.”

However, Tadros also said that some workers were calling for Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to step down.

The strike action came as public rallies calling for Mubarak to immediately hand over power entered their 16th day.

Determined protesters are continuing to rally in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, and other cities across the country. They say they will not end the protests until Mubarak, who has been at the country’s helm since 1981, steps down.

Protesters with blankets gathered outside the parliament building in Cairo on Wednesday, with no plan to move, our correspondent reported. The demonstrators have put up a sign that reads: “Closed until the fall of the regime”.

The government seems to be scrambling under pressure from major powers and pro-democracy supporters, Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker reported from the city.

She said people in Tahrir Square were angered by a visit from Tamer Hosni, a famous Arab pop star, on Wednesday morning.

Hosni previously made statements telling the demonstrators to leave the square, saying that Mubarak had offered them concessions. “His comments really did not go down very well,” our correspondent said. The crowd reacted angrily and the military had to intervene to keep them away from him.

“People feel very strongly here,” Al Jazeera’s Dekker said.

Another Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting from Cairo, said there was also a renewed international element to the demonstrations, with Egyptians from abroad returning to join the pro-democracy camp.

There is even an internet campaign aimed at mobilising thousands of expatriates to return and support the uprising, our correspondent said.

Protesters are “more emboldened by the day and more determined by the day”, Ahmad Salah, an Egyptian activist, told Al Jazeera from Cairo on Wednesday. “This is a growing movement, it’s not shrinking.”

Concessions fall short

Mubarak’s message has thus far been that he will not leave until his term expires in September.

As a gesture of goodwill, however, 34 political prisoners, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, were reportedly released over the past two days.

Dekker, our correspondent, reported that there are still an unknown number of people missing, including activists thought to be detained during the recent unrest, while Human Rights Watch reported that the death toll has reached 302 since January 28.

Egypt’s health ministry denied the figures, however, saying that official statistics would be released shortly.

“He (Suleiman) is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed. But what will he do with the rest of the 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward.”

Abdul-Rahman Samir, a spokesman for a coalition of the five main youth groups behind the Tahrir Square protests.

Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian vice president, warned on Tuesday that his government “can’t put up with continued protests” for a long time, saying the crisis must be ended as soon as possible.

Suleiman said there will be “no ending of the regime” and no immediate departure for Mubarak, the state news agency MENA reported from a meeting between the vice-president and independent newspapers.

At one point in the roundtable meeting, he warned that the alternative to dialogue “is that a coup happens, which would mean uncalculated and hasty steps, including lots of irrationalities”.

When pressed by news editors to explain the comment, he said he did not mean a military coup but that “a force that is unprepared for rule” could overturn state institutions, said Amr Khafagi, editor-in-chief of the privately owned Shorouk daily, who attended the briefing.

Response to Suleiman’s statements was grim.

“He is threatening to impose martial law, which means everybody in the square will be smashed,” said Abdul-Rahman Samir, a spokesman for a coalition of the five main youth groups behind protests in Tahrir Square.

“But what would he do with the rest of the 70 million Egyptians who will follow us afterward.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Suleiman said a plan was in place for the peaceful transfer of power, which included forming three committees  – one to propose constitutional amendments, another to oversee the implementation of the amendments and a third to investigate the violent clashes of February 2.

Egypt: A new wave of workers strikes and sit-ins: Al Ahram online

Mass protests demanding change have triggered a fresh wave of mass strikes and workers’ sit-ins across the country Wednesday, spotlighting long-ignored economic demands

Wednesday 9 Feb 2011
Demonstrations and strikes across Egypt

Steel and Canal shipyard workers strike in Suez continues
Following the “Million Man” demonstrations and mass strikes that escalated across Egypt on Tuesday, a new wave of mass strikes and workers’ sit-ins also spread on Wednesday.
Ahram Online has been receiving continuous reports of strikes breaking out in both public and private companies across the country, many of which are still being confirmed. At the time of publishing, the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) had confirmed the following:

More than 2000 workers started a strike in Helwan’s silk factories and circulated the office of the company’s chairman demanding his exclusion.

Thousands of workers have started a strike in Helwan’s coke factories demanding higher wages and full-time contracts.

In Mahala’s Spinning and Weaving factory, hundreds started a sit-in in front of the administration building.

In Kafr El-Zaiat hospital, 1500 nurses started a sit-in demanding their late wages.

Four hundred workers in Suez’s Egypt National Steel Factory started an open strike demanding higher wages.

In Menoufeia, more than 750 of Schweppes factory workers started a sit-in demanding higher wages.

More than 800 of the spinning and weaving workers in Menoufeia started a sit-in demanding higher wages.

In Cairo, 200 workers from the General Committee for Drug Supervision started a sit-in demanding full time contracts and higher wages.

Apart from the demands calling for democratic reforms that have triggered Egypt’s mass protests, social and economic needs have been at the core of the country’s political unrest in recent years.

Although a 2010 court ruling demanded that a new minimum wage be set, the government promised to set a minimum of only LE400 per month (about $70), allowing tensions to soar.

Egypt police kill three anti-Mubarak protesters in desert clashes: Haaretz

Three killed, several wounded in clashes between police and 3,000 protesters in western province of Egypt, which marked first sizeable anti-Mubarak gathering in the area.

Three people were killed and several suffered gunshot wounds in clashes between security forces and about 3,000 protesters in a western province of Egypt, state TV and security sources said on Wednesday.

The clashes in New Valley, a province that includes an oasis in Egypt’s western desert, erupted on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday, according to security sources. State TV said three people died in the fighting but did not provide further details.

It appeared to be the first serious clash between police and protesters since officers all but disappeared from Egyptian streets after they had beaten, teargassed and fired rubber bullets at protesters on Jan. 28, dubbed the “Day of Wrath”.

President Hosni Mubarak sent the army onto the streets that night, but several days of looting and lawlessness followed the withdrawal of police and many prisoners escaped from prison.

On Monday, a security source said former Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adli had appeared before military prosecutors and may face charges of causing a breakdown in order during protests.

The protest in New Valley, about 500 km south of Cairo, was the first sizeable anti-Mubarak gathering in that area reported by security sources. The countrywide protests to topple the president are now in their third week.

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February 2, 2011

BREAKING NEWS!!!

Clashes rage in Tahrir Square: Al Jazeera online

At least one dead and hundreds injured as pro-Mubarak supporters attack protesters seeking his ouster in central Cairo.

Clashes have broken out between pro- and anti-government demonstrators in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

Protesters from both sides threw stones at each other in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of ongoing opposition demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak for the past nine days

The health ministry said at least one person had been killed and another 400 injured in Wednesday’s violence.

Al Jazeera correspondents, reporting from the scene, said clashes were still raging and that petrol bombs were being hurled.

Earlier, witnesses said the military allowed thousands of pro-Mubarak supporters, armed with sticks and knives, to enter the square. Opposition groups said Mubarak had sent in thugs to suppress anti-government protests.

One of our correspondents said the army seemed to be standing by and facilitating the clashes. Latest reports suggest that the centre of the square is still in control of the protesters, despite the pro-Mubarak supporters gaining ground.

‘Absolute mayhem’

Witnesses also said that pro-Mubarak supporters were dragging away protesters they had managed to grab and handing them over to security forces.

Salma Eltarzi, an anti-government protester, told Al Jazeera there were hundreds of wounded people.

“There are no ambulances in sight, and all we are using is Dettol,” she said. “We are all so scared.”

Aisha Hussein, a nurse, said dozens of people were being treated at a makeshift clinic in a mosque near the square.

She described a scene of “absolute mayhem”, as protesters first began to flood into the clinic.

“People are coming in with multiple wounds. All kinds of contusions. We had one guy who needed stitches in two places on his face. Some have broken bones.”

Meanwhile, another Al Jazeera correspondent said men on horseback and camels had ploughed into the crowds, as army personnel stood by.

At least six riders were dragged from their beasts, beaten with sticks by the protesters and taken away with blood streaming down their faces.

One of them was dragged away unconscious, with large blood stains on the ground at the site of the clash.

The worst of the fighting was just outside the world famous Egyptian Museum, which was targeted by looters last week.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent added that several a group of pro-government protesters took over army vehicles. They also took control of a nearby building and used the rooftop to throw concrete blocks, stones, and other objects.

Soldiers surrounding the square took cover from flying stones, and the windows of at least one army truck were broken. Some troops stood on tanks and appealed for calm but did not otherwise intervene.

Many of the pro-Mubarak supporters raised slogans like “Thirty Years of Stability, Nine Days of Anarchy”.

Al Jazeera’s online producer in Cairo said rocks were continously being thrown from both sides. He said that though the army had put up barricades around the square, they let the pro-Mubarak supporters through.

“The people on horses are pro-Mubarak supporters, they are a very angry crowd looking for anyone working for Al Jazeera and for Americans. They are trying to get on the other side of the army tanks to get to the anti-Mubarak supporters. More and more pro-Mubarak supporters are coming in.”

Violence

Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton, also in Cairo, said that security guards have also been seen amongst the pro-Mubarak supporters, and it may be a precursor to the feared riot police arriving on the scene.

Dutton added that a journalist with the Al-Arabiya channel was stabbed during the clashes.

Fighting took place around army tanks deployed around the square, with stones bouncing off the armoured vehicles.

Several groups were involved in fist fights, and some were using clubs.  The opposition also said many among the pro-Mubarak crowd were policemen in plain clothes.

“But we will not leave … Everybody stay put”

Khalil, anti-government protester

“Members of security forces dressed in plain clothes and a number of thugs have stormed Tahrir Square,” three opposition groups said in a statement.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition figure, accused Mubarak of resorting to scare tactics. Opposition groups have reportedly also seized police identification cards amongst the pro-Mubarak demonstrators.

“I’m extremely concerned, I mean this is yet another symptom, or another indication, of a criminal regime using criminal acts,” ElBaradei said.

“My fear is that it will turn into a bloodbath,” he added, calling the pro-Mubarak supporters a “bunch of thugs”.

But according to state television, the minister of interior denied that plain clothes police had joined pro-Mubarak demonstrations.

Elbaradei has also urged the army to intervene.

“I ask the army to intervene to protect Egyptian lives,” he told Al Jazeera, adding he said it should intervene “today” and not remain neutral.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, told Al Jazeera that the clashes look to be orchestrated.

“It is not the first time the Mubarak government has provoked clashes to quell protests, but if it truly is orchestrated, this is a cynical and bloody approach,” she said.

“The army look to be not intervening at all, and the question remains as to whether they have been ordered not to step in.”

The army has told state television that citizens should arrest those who have stolen military clothing, and to hand them over.

Determined protesters

Despite the clashes, anti-government protesters seeking Mubarak’s immediate resignation said they would not give up until Mubarak steps down.

Pro-Mubarak supporters came riding on camels and horses [Al Jazeera/online producer]
Khalil, in his 60s and holding a stick, blamed Mubarak supporters and undercover security for the clashes.

“But we will not leave,” he told Reuters. “Everybody stay put.”

Mohammed el-Belgaty, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera the “peaceful demonstrations in Tahrir Square have been turned into chaos”.

“The speech delivered by President Mubarak was very provocative as he used very sentimental words.

“Since morning, hundreds of these paid thugs started to demonstrate pretending to be supporting the President. Now they came to charge inside Tahrir Square armed with batons, sticks and some knives.

“Mubarak is asking the people to choose between him or chaos.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s clashes, supporters of the president staged a number of rallies around Cairo, saying Mubarak represented stability amid growing insecurity, and calling those who want his departure “traitors.”

“Yes to Mubarak, to protect stability,” read one banner in a crowd of 500 gathered near state television headquarters, about 1km from Tahrir Square.

A witness said organisers were paying people $17, to take part in the pro-Mubarak rally, a claim that could not be confirmed.

Other pro-Mubarak demonstrations occurred in the Mohandeseen district, as well as near Ramses Square.

EDITOR: The Dictator totters at last!

Now the that the US president has abandoned his pet, it seems the Egyptian tyrant is loosing some of his venom, but non of his self-deceit. While he now ‘agrees to to stand again’ in September, it is clear that this malignant politician will have to leave now, rather than to torment the Egyptians for another period of madness.

Last night, in a mad scramble to stick to his seat, he even sent a rent-a-crowd to chant “we want Mubarak” at Tahrir Square, as if this was going to fool anyone… He is definitely on his way out now.

Hosni Mubarak vows to stand down at next election – but not now: The Guardian

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s announcement that he will serve out remaining term immediately rejected by angry crowds

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak said: ‘I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history.’ Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Egypt’s embattled president, Hosni Mubarak, last night bowed to the pressure of millions of people massing on the streets, pledging to step down at the next election and pave the way for a new leader of the Arab world’s largest country.

But Barack Obama, who effectively withdrew US support for the leader of its key Arab ally in a day of fast moving developments, gave an equivocal welcome to the speech by saying that “change must begin now” while praising the “passion and dignity” of the demonstrators in the streets as an inspiration.

Mubarak said he would not be a candidate for a seventh term but would remain in power to oversee reform and guarantee stability – a position that was immediately rejected by angry crowds and promised yet more drama in Egypt’s extraordinary crisis.

“In the few months remaining in my current term I will work towards ensuring a peaceful transition of power,” Mubarak said. “I have exhausted my life in serving Egypt and my people. I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history” – a clear reference to the fate of Tunisia’s president who fled into exile last month.

Looking grave as he spoke on state TV in front of the presidential seal, Mubarak attacked those responsible for protests that had been “manipulated by political forces”, caused mayhem and chaos and endangered the “stability of the nation”.

In a defiant, finger-wagging performance the 82-year-old said he was always going to quit in September – ” a position he had never made public until now.

Opposition leaders had already warned throughout a dramatic eighth day of mass protests that only Mubarak’s immediate departure would satisfy them.

The Egyptian leader made his announcement after meeting a White House special envoy who conveyed the message that Washington had in effect withdrawn US support for the man who had been the linchpin of its Middle East strategy.

The White House declined to reveal details of the message conveyed by the envoy, Frank Wisner, a former US ambassador to Cairo who is close to Mubarak other than to say he urged him not to seek re-election. But after the Egyptian leader’s speech, Obama spoke to Mubarak for 30 minutes and then made a statement at the White House in which he praised the protesters and called for the transition of power to begin immediately.

But the US president did not explicitly call for Mubarak to resign immediately, leaving open the possibility of Washington accepting the Egyptian leader overseeing the transition in the face of unprecedented protests and an insistence by opposition leaders that they would not negotiate while Mubarak remains in power.

“What is clear, and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak, is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now,” said Obama.

“Furthermore the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair.”

But in Washington and Cairo there were questions over the Obama administration’s position with some Americanpoliticians, such as John Kerry, chairman of the Senate’s foreign affairs committee, saying Mubarak must resign immediately.

Certainly many Egyptians want that. “May it be tonight, oh God,” chanted the crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as they waited to hear the historic speech.

Mubarak’s statement came at the end of a day that saw epic protests. Millions of people rallied across the country.

“Illegitimate,” chanted the vast crowds choking Tahrir Square. “He [Mubarak] will leave, we will not leave,” went another slogan, in a festive atmosphere that belied the tense stalemate that has emerged between the people and the regime over an extraordinary 48 hours.

With the army standing by its landmark pledge not to use force against demonstrators, Mubarak faced an intense and co-ordinated US campaign to persuade him and the powerful Egyptian military to effect “an orderly transition”.

But as troops barricaded the presidential palace with barbed wire, Egypt’s fractured opposition rallied together to reject any talks with the ruling National Democratic party on political reform, insisting the president must stand down before any dialogue can get under way.

On Monday, Mubarak ordered his new vice-president and intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, to begin a dialogue with opposition groups, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. “Omar Suleiman approached us, and we have rejected his approaches,” Essam el-Arian, a Brotherhood spokesman, told the Guardian. “As long as Mubarak delays his departure, these protests will remain and they will only get bigger.”

Mohammed ElBaradei, 68, the former UN nuclear weapons inspector who has been nominated to lead any negotiations, met protesters and the US ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, insisting afterwards that no talks were possible while the president remained in power.

“I hope to see Egypt peaceful and that’s going to require as a first step the departure of President Mubarak,” he told al-Arabiya TV. “If President Mubarak leaves then everything else will progress correctly.”Mass protests were reported across Egypt, including in Alexandria, Suez and many other cities.

Underlining the regional impact of the crisis, the Jordanian prime minister was sacked after weeks of protests over price rises and unemployment and inspired by events in Tunisia and now Egypt.

The Foreign Office said in a statement last night: “We have been clear in public, and with President Mubarak and his government in private, about the need for a transition to a broader-based government that will produce real, visible and comprehensive change.”

William Hague, the foreign secretary, said a charter flight would be sent to Cairo to bring Britons back but they would have to pay £300 for the service.

Hiding behind the tanks, by Carlos Latuff

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January 30, 2011

EDITOR: Egypt’s revolution affecting all around

Despite the still unclear results of the Egyptian mass movement towards ridding the country of its dictator and his corrupt regime, the momentous events sent waves of terror towards Israel and the other corrupt Arab regimes surrounding it.  With Rafah being the single, fragile gateway into and out of Gaza, this is a difficult time for Palestinians there, who, like most of us, are wishing success to the marchers in Egyptian cities, who share with them the need and urge for freedom and democracy.

Concern mounts in Gaza as Egypt shuts down its shared border: Haaretz

Gaza border official Ghazi Hamad says Egyptian counterparts indicated the crossing could remain closed for several days.

There was widespread concern in the Gaza Strip on Sunday after Egypt decided to shut down the Rafah border crossing until further notice amid growing unrest.

The Islamist Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, said it was officially informed by Egyptian security officials that the Rafah crossing would be closed.

Gaza border official Ghazi Hamad said they had been in contact with their Egyptian counterparts and indicated that the crossing could remain closed for several days.

The Interior Ministry in Gaza said in a press statement Saturday that it had redeployed dozens of security personnel to guard the border, to prevent any infiltration of Palestinians from the coastal enclave into Egypt.

Salah al-Bardaweel, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza, said there was so far no official Hamas position on the turmoil in Egypt.

“All what we hope is to see calm and stability are back in Egypt and that the Egyptian people choose their representatives freely and democratically,” said al-Bardaweel.

In a Gaza city cafe, a group of young men expressed concerns over the situation in Egypt. Mohamed al-Shawa said, “We depend on Egypt in so many things in our life, and Egypt has been always our gate for the outside world … we are afraid that Egyptian fuel would be cut off.”

Ahmed Abu Sido, another young Gazan, said: “If the regime in Egypt collapses, I believe that all Arab regimes will follow.”

‘Don’t take our girls …’: Al Jazeera online

Jewish-Palestinian couples in Israel face increasing pressure as racism becomes more open.

”]Not long after religious nationalists held a rally in Bat Yam under the banner of “Jewish girls for the Jewish people,” a group of rabbis’ wives published a letter urging Jewish women not to date Arab men.

Jewish-Palestinian couples remain uncommon in Israel. But both the rally and letter point towards the difficulties faced by such couples, even those from liberal backgrounds.

Rona, a young professional Jewish woman in her early thirties who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, has kept her relationship with a Palestinian man a secret from most of her relatives for almost four years.

While her parents know and have met Rona’s boyfriend, Rona says that she is at a point where she is “actively lying” to the rest of her family.

“I don’t know how to articulate how they’d react, “Rona says. “I think that my aunt and uncle know that there is someone … and they definitely know that he’s Arab. But it’s more about my grandmother and her sisters and the older generation. It’s like if [I] were to bring home a mass murderer.”

She laughs nervously and continues.

“It just doesn’t happen. It’s like: ‘Bring home somebody who is a total loser, but don’t bring home an Arab.'”

Rona describes her parents’ political views as “moving more left but kind of traditional,” adding, “my mum always says that she thinks that the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 was a mistake and that [Israel] should have returned the territories.”

Still, Rona did not tell her parents about her relationship right away.

“There was a period of time I was hiding it for convenience’s sake. I just wanted to enjoy my life and not be harassed.”

When she did talk to her parents about her boyfriend, who is a non-practicing Muslim, they sidestepped the issue of his race, focusing instead on “cultural differences”.

“I was like, ‘What are you saying? That he’s going to come home one day and want me to put on a hijab? Do you know what the cultural differences are?'” Rona recalls. “So I took immediate offense to this concept. I thought it was racist from the get go.”

Her parents also objected to the relationship because “it would be so difficult for us to live here together,” Rona says, due to the widespread discrimination they would face.

She describes the first time her parents met her boyfriend as “awkward”.

“I think it was actually their first personal interaction with an Arab, other than [those working in] stores and restaurants. I think it was a very emotional encounter for them. They liked him and my mum said he seemed like an amazing guy.”

Still, Rona’s mother insisted that she not put herself “in that kind of a situation”.

Rona says that she has not felt any racism coming from her boyfriend’s family. But, because of the political situation, there are moments when she feels a divide between them.

She was living with her boyfriend when Operation Cast Lead began in December, 2008. Her boyfriend’s mother, whose sister lives in the Gaza Strip, happened to be visiting when the war began.

“We were watching the news and they were showing the first strikes, the air attack,” Rona recalls. “His mum was screaming and crying and cursing the army and the Israelis and the Jews and everyone and I was standing there like ‘I don’t know what to do.’ On the one hand, I wanted to show her that I care. On the other, does she now want an Israeli Jew to put her arm around her? But I did.”

History of mixed marriages

Although Israel’s religious nationalists have only recently spoken against such relationships, they are far from new. Jews and Arabs have been falling in love in Palestine for as long as both have been there.
Iris Agmon, a professor in Ben Gurion University’s department of Middle East studies, says: “In the Ottoman sharia court records one can find women whose nicknames hint to the fact that they are converted Muslims.” And some of these women were probably Jewish.

After Ottoman rule ended, the British mandate also saw such couples. Deborah Bernstein, a professor in the University of Haifa’s department of sociology and anthropology, says that although there is no “systematic documentation or even discussion of the subject … it is clear that such a phenomena did exist”. She found family stories of these couples while researching her Hebrew-language book about women in mandatory Tel Aviv.

Bernstein also discovered “archival welfare documents,” pointing to such relationships. “For example, [one referred to] a [Jewish] woman leaving her husband and children and going to live with an Arab man.”

In most cases, Bernstein says, Jewish women converted to Islam before marrying their Arab partner. She believes that a majority of these couples left Israel when it was established in 1948.

Bernstein did not come across any examples of Jewish men marrying Christian Arab or Muslim Arab women.

Bernstein adds that the Jewish community was “very strongly opposed” to “mixed marriages”.

“This was the case in [Jewish immigrants’] countries of origin,” Bernstein says, explaining that the opposition to mixed marriages took on an “additional national element” in Israel.

But, sometimes, protests against such relationships ran the other way – leaving a lasting impact on generations to come.

The Palestinian grandson of such a marriage lives in a neighbouring Arab country. According to Jewish religious law, he is not Jewish. While, technically, many of his cousins are Jewish, they do not know it – their grandmother’s conversion is a strictly-guarded secret, shared with only a few members of the family.

Segregation

Because it remains an extremely sensitive issue for both communities, a number of Jewish-Palestinian couples declined my requests for interviews. Several are so concerned about family reactions, they have not told their parents about their Jewish or Arab partner.

But Alex and Salma are lucky. Alex is the son of Jewish Israeli leftists. Salma is a young Palestinian woman whose Communist parents raised her and her four sisters with only a nod to their Christian roots. Because their families are so progressive, Alex says, their relationship is “relatively simple”.

“The first song I learned to sing was shir l’shalom [song for peace]. We’ve gone to demonstrations since I was a toddler. So I was always on the left,” he explains, “but I never knew any Palestinians.”

Alex’s comment points to the deep divisions in Israeli society that make Jewish-Palestinian relationships so unlikely.

“[Society] is built in a way that doesn’t help relationships,” Salma says. “Everything is segregated. The educational systems are separated … People don’t meet. And if they do meet, they meet under unusual circumstances, like at a demonstration.”

Even though both Alex and Salma grew up in liberal homes, the two were no exception – it was activism that brought them together.

And it helps keep them together. Most of their friends hold similar political views, providing a buffer from the rest of Israeli society.

“You know, we sort of chose our lives,” Salma says. “I can’t be friends with racist people so it’s easy to avoid. But I think if we would have gone out to more parties we would have faced more problems.”

Still, things are only “relatively simple”.

Alex recalls running into a friend from school who made a racist and obscene remark about his relationship with Salma. And one of Salma’s closest childhood friends stopped speaking to her when she joined a Jewish-Arab group that advocates for a bi-national solution to the conflict.

“I think it comes out more than that,” Alex adds.

Salma nods and begins to explain: “I have one sister who got married last summer. She knows Alex and his family very well, so she wanted to invite [them] …”

She pauses and, a bit like an old married couple, Alex picks up the thread and continues: “And the oldest sister says, ‘What are you going to invite all of your Zionist friends?'”

There is a flicker of hurt on Alex’s face as he remembers. “Now, this comes out of nowhere. I refused [mandatory military service],” Alex says. “I’m definitely not a Zionist. I refused and my parents aren’t Zionists.”

Alex emphasises that he maintains a warm relationship with Salma’s oldest sister and that her remark came during an emotional argument. But, Alex says, the incident pointed to something that “can’t be completely erased … that the relationship can’t be normalised. It always has to be politically justified.”

What do such tensions say about Israeli society?

“Nothing good,” Alex answers.

The couple is also concerned about the recent outbreak of open racism in Israel.

“I think the hatred is becoming more and more explicit,” Salma says, pointing to the rally in Bat Yam and the rabbis’ wives’ letter as two examples. “It’s ‘don’t take our girls’ ….”

Israeli Arab who spied for Hezbollah jailed for nine years: Haaretz

Ameer Makhoul was detained by the Shin Bet and police anti-terror units last May; struck plea bargain with prosecution.

Ameer Makhoul at court

The Haifa District Court on Sunday sentenced Israeli Arab activist Ameer Makhoul to nine years in prison and another year suspended sentence for charges of spying and contact with a foreign agent from the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant organization.

Makhoul’s lawyers struck a plea bargain with the prosecution in October 2010, in which they asked for a reduced sentence of seven years, while the prosecution asked for 10 years – the maximum sentence for the charges against him.

The verdict stated that Makhoul handed intelligence to a Hezbollah agent on Shin Bet installations in the Haifa region and on Mossad offices in the center of the country. He also attempted, the verdict said, to pass on information about a military base and sought details about the residence of Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin.

Makhoul, director general of the charity Ittijah (Union of Arab Community-Based Associations), was detained by the Shin Bet security services and police anti-terror units on May 6, along with fellow Israeli Arab activist Omar Saeed.

Saeed struck a plea bargain in August, under which he will be charged with working for an illegal organization, a crime that carries a punishment of several months’ jail-time.

Upon his arrest, Makhoul was kept from meeting with a lawyer or speaking with his family for nearly two weeks, during which he confessed to the accusations. His lawyers later claimed the confession was coerced. They were finally allowed access to Makhoul only after threatening to boycott a hearing.

Makhoul, a veteran activist well-known among Arab charities and NGOs, was a regular participant in conferences on discrimination in Israel and abroad and has been a virulent critic of government policy.

Europe’s failure on Middle East peace: The Guardian CiF

Attempts to reconcile policy contradictions have prevented the EU from mounting an alternative foreign policy to that of the US

Many have questioned why the European Union failed to provide an independent view to that of the United States on Middle East policy during the last decade. It is not a simple question to answer. Partly, the EU failed to assert its voice because, at the beginning of the decade, it was scrambling to contain the impact of inflating US hubris, fuelled by the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Partly, it was also a simple reflection of most European politicians’ dependency on Washington. But the release of the Palestine Papers provides another answer.

They show how Tony Blair in particular had so undercut the political space that there was effectively no room for it. In a secret policy switch in 2003, he tied the UK and EU security policy into a major American counter-insurgency (Coin) “surge” in Palestine.

It was an initiative that would bear a heavy political cost for the EU in 2006, and for years to come, when Hamas won parliamentary elections by a large majority. The EU’s claims for democracy have rung hollow ever since. Blair’s “surge” also left the EU exposed as hypocrites: on a political level, for example, the EU might talk about its policy of fostering reconciliation between Palestinian factions, but at the security plane, and in other ways, it was pursuing the polar opposite objectives.

In 2003, US efforts to marginalise Yasser Arafat by leeching away his presidential powers into the embrace of the prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, collapsed. Arafat dismissed Abbas as PM. This was a blow to the US policy which – even then – was focused on creating a “de-Fatah-ised” Palestinian Authority. George Bush complained to Blair bitterly about Abbas’s dismissal: the Europeans still were “dancing around Arafat” – leaving the US to “do the heavy lifting” with the Israelis. Europeans were not pulling their weight in the “war on terror”, Bush concluded.

Blair’s Coin surge was his response to Bush. The Palestine Papers reveal “a security drive” with the objective of

“degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists: Hamas, PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], and the al-Aqsa Brigades – through the disruption of their leaderships’ communications and command and control capabilities, the detention of key middle-ranking officers, and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources held within the occupied territories. US and – informally – UK monitors would report both to Israel and to the Quartet. We could also explore the temporary internment of leading Hamas and PIJ figures.”
The papers also show how the project ballooned: a huge investment in training and infrastructure of the security services, building prisons to accommodate the possible introduction of internment for Hamas members, the establishment of the Dayton military battalions to confront Hamas, the planning to depose Hamas in Gaza, the targeted assassination of Hamas leaders. Even the international Quartet was engaged to work with Arab states’ intelligence services in order to disrupt Hamas’s sources of financing.

The “surge” sucked in everything: aid, economic assistance, institution-building – all were reoriented towards the counter-insurgency project. Ultimately, the Palestinian state-building project, and the Coin surge, were to become one.

Against this counter-insurgency background it is not surprising that Hamas’s victory in the 2006 polls only prompted a further increase in European “off-balance sheet” assistance to the EU/US-made security sector. At a political level the Europeans were attempting to keep an independent voice, the Palestine Papers show, when EU envoy Marc Otte spoke with Saeb Erekat two months after the Hamas election.

Otte: EU has to deal with the reality of a Hamas-led government … In this respect, EU position is different from the US.
Erekat: How is this position different?
Otte: US wants to see a Hamas government fail. The EU will encourage Hamas to change and will try to make things work as much as possible.
Inevitably, the EU’s actions spoke louder than Otte’s words. The EU had endorsed the Quartet conditions for engagement with Hamas – conditions that the UN representative at the time told the UN secretary general were hurdles raised precisely in order to prevent Hamas from meeting them, rather than as guidelines intended to open the path for diplomatic solutions. Soon after, British and American intelligence services were preparing a “soft” coup to remove Hamas from power in Gaza.

EU standing in the region has suffered from the contradiction of maintaining one line in public, while its security policies were facing in another direction entirely. Thus, we have the EU “talking the talk” of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas while “walking the walk” of disruption, detention, seizing finances, and destroying the capabilities of one of the two factions.

Thus we have EU “talking the talk” of aid for Palestinians, while “walking the walk” of tying that aid to the objectives of the US security project; we have the EU “talking the talk” of Palestinian state-building, while Palestinian institutions are dispersed to external control; we have the EU “talking the talk” of democracy, while it colludes with a system of government exercised through unaccountable decree, and parliament is prevented from exercising any function.

This catalogue of attempts to reconcile an internal policy contradiction has pre-empted the EU from mounting any effective foreign policy alternative to that of the US on the “peace process”, and has eaten away its standing in the region. The legacy of Blair’s 2003 surge has been a highly costly one, as the Palestine Papers well illustrate.

• This article appeared first on al-Jazeera. Copyright reserved.

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January 28, 2011

Gaza protests accuse Palestinian Authority of betrayal in talks with Israel: The Guardian

Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair calls for Palestinians to ignore row over leaked papers and ‘get on with making peace’

Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters in Gaza have staged a demonstration against the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority dominated by Fatah. Photograph: Mohammed Saber/EPA
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Gaza venting their anger at Palestinian negotiators for offering big concessions in peace talks. Meanwhile, Tony Blair accused those behind this week’s leak of documents of wanting to inflict serious damage on the peace process.

About 3,000 joined a rally organised by Hamas in support of anti-government protests in Egypt. But speeches and the shouts of the crowd focused on the leaked Palestinian papers and fierce criticism of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Thousands of pages of Palestinian documents covering more than a decade of negotiations with Israel and the US were obtained by al-Jazeera TV and shared exclusively with the Guardian.

The papers revealed that Palestinian negotiators were willing to go much further in offering concessions than their people realised.

In Gaza City the crowd of mostly young men chanted slogans against Fatah, the party that dominates the authority and is Hamas’s bitter rival. “The concept of Palestine is not for sale,” they shouted, before vowing loyalty to Hamas and promising never to relinquish Palestine’s claims to its land and holy sites.

Mahmoud Saleen, 21, said: “We are here to deliver a message to the Palestinian Authority that they must come back to Palestinian ideas and reject the policies of American and Israel.

“We are against the political arrests in Ramallah and against the security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Yusef Salam, 20, said the leaders of the authority “are not from our own blood, they belong to the enemy more than they do to us. We hope there will be a revolution in the West Bank to relieve the Palestinian people from the people in power now.”

Blair, the envoy of the Middle East peace quartet, said the release of the confidential documents prepared by Palestinian negotiators had been “destabilising”. In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he urged the Palestinians to ignore the damage and press ahead with the drive for peace.

Asked how much damage the leaks had caused, Blair told Today: “I think it’s hard to tell right now, but its intention was to be extremely damaging.”

“I think we’ve just got to be big enough and strong enough to say, OK, whatever al-Jazeera are putting out, we’re going to get on with making peace.”

Palestinians preventing Middle East peace deal, says Israeli deputy PM

Moshe Ya'alon said without Palestinian recognition of Israel there could be no resolution of the Middle East conflict. Photograph: Jim Hollander/AP

: The Guardian

Moshe Ya’alon says Israel is ‘fed up of giving and giving’ while Palestinians refuse to recognise Jewish nation state

Moshe Ya’alon said without Palestinian recognition of Israel there could be no resolution of the Middle East conflict. Photograph: Jim Hollander/AP
An agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not happen in the next “one or two years”, Israel’s deputy prime minister said today, blaming the Palestinians for the lack of progress.

“We’re fed up with giving and giving and giving, and not getting any real substance [in return],” said Moshe Ya’alon, the minister of strategic affairs, after this week’s leak of secret documents on the peace talks. He dismissed the extensive concessions offered by Palestinian negotiators, revealed in the documents, saying they were insignificant compared to the “core of the conflict – our right to exist”.

The Palestinians’ refusal to recognise Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people” was preventing a peace settlement, he said. The issue was the most important at stake in negotiations. “We are not ready to discuss territory without recognition of the Jewish state … We’re not ready to start with issues in which we give [ground] and do not get anything.”

Ya’alon, a member of Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and a former military chief of staff, said that without recognition, the Israelis could not “solve the conflict, we have to manage it”.

The issue of refugees was central to the question of recognition, said Ya’alon. Palestinians saw the occupation as beginning in 1948 with the birth of the state of Israel, he said, rather than in 1967, and wrongly believed they could return to Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa and Acre. “Our position is not even one refugee is going to be settled in Israel. If you open the door, you open the door.”

Managing the conflict meant working with the Palestinian leadership on economic reform and security. Ya’alon urged Palestinian political leaders to re-educate a new generation in a “culture of peace, coexistence and reconciliation”.

Further disclosures about negotiations between the two sides are expected this weekend with the serialisation of the former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. In the last year of his premiership, Olmert offered a deal to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, covering borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

According to a preview in today’s Yedioth, Olmert says in his memoirs: “Never before had any Israeli prime minister presented such a crystallised and detailed position about resolving the conflict as was presented to him on that day. For the first time since the negotiations began, I was very tense. For the first time since I had become prime minister, I truly felt the weight of Jewish history on my shoulders

“Abu Mazen said that he could not decide and that he needed time. I told him that he was making an historic mistake. ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is more fair or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving [the conflict].'”

The deal was never signed. The Palestinians later claimed that an agreement struck with a lame duck Israeli prime minister would have been worthless.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, today named an American and a Briton in connection with the leak of the documents. He said the Palestinian Authority wanted to question Clayton Swisher, a former state department official and now a reporter for al-Jazeera, and Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer. An unnamed French national was also being sought, he said.

Palestinian killed after settlers open fire in West Bank village: Haaretz

Incident comes only a day after police confirmed Palestinian reports saying that a Palestinian youth was shot to death by an unidentified Israeli citizen.

One Palestinians youth was killed and another wounded early Friday after settlers reportedly opened fire at a village north of the West Bank city of Hebron, only a day after a Palestinian youth was shot and killed by an unidentified Israeli citizen near Nablus.

According to preliminary Palestinian reports, the incident occurred after dozens of settlers from the settlement of Bat Ayin descended on the village of Khirbet Safa in the early morning hours and confronted some of the locals.

The confrontations reportedly resulted in the setters opening fire at the crowd, leaving one Palestinian lightly wounded and another in critical condition. The two were evacuated to a hospital in Beit Jala near Bethlehem, where one of them, a 17-year-old succumbed to his wounds.

The settlers, however, claimed that a group traveling nearby was fired upon, adding that others came to their rescue. Preliminary reports said it took police and Israel Defense Forces units over half an hour to arrive at the area.

Commenting on the fatal incident, Kiryat Arba’s council chief Malachi Levinger reiterated claims that the settlers were attacked while hiking in the area, and emphasized what he called as the “right of Jews to travel their country.”

“We call upon the IDF and the police to aid the defense of this right and to seek the guilty parties within the rioters not within the travelers who acted in self defense,” Levinger added.

On Thursday, police confirmed Palestinians reports claiming that a Palestinian who was shot to death near Nablus earlier in the day was shot by an unidentified Israeli citizen.

Palestinian eyewitnesses said that 18-year-old Fadi Kaddous was shot to death by a settler after clashes broke out between the shooter and a group of rock-throwing Palestinians.

A nearby security camera apparently captured grainy images of the shooting and confirmed that the shooter had Israeli features.

The camera footage showed the group of Palestinians attacking a man with rocks. The man responded by firing a gun in the air, which failed to deter his attackers. The man fired again, this time in the direction of the Palestinians. The video supposedly shows the bullet entering and exiting the shoulder-chest region of one of the attackers; it is being further studied by ballistics experts.

Police also investigated the group of three Palestinian villagers who reported the incident. The group had at first said that armed settlers attacked them but further on in the investigation changed their testimony. The police are currently searching for the unidentified shooter. Click here to continue reading “January 28, 2011″ »

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January 26, 2011

EDITOR: Palestine Papers continue to sting both Israel and the PA, as well as the US and UK

Today we learn that bot MI6 and the CIA have worked tirelessly to get rid of the Hamas movement for a decade, assisting Israel and the PA in their various attempts to thwart Hamas as the leading force in Palestinian politics. What the result of their effort was we all remember well – the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections six years ago, and the strt of the longest ever blockade of over a million and a half people, mostly refugees, in what has become the largest open air concentration camp on earth.

Palestinians will be pleased to learn that their ‘leaders’ in Ramallah were discussing the extra judiicial murder of a number of Palestinian activists, some who have indeed been murdered eventually. What emerges from those meetings is the great intimacy between the sides, as well as the deep contempt in which the very leadership of the PA is held by Israel and the US; on the one hand, they make use of them, on the other, they really despise them. Not an atypical colonial scenario, and one Franz Fanon wrote well about over fifty years ago.

Then it gets even better – the South American option of resettling the refugees is now blown open, shocking people in those countries as well as the refugees themselves. This will run and run.

The besieged leadership in Ramallah, has in the meantime flipped a number of times, in the time-honoured fashion so beloved of the Israeli leadership… it seems that by working closely together for many years, some of the Israeli methods have rubbed off, and adopted by the Palestinian democrats… First, like the IDF always does in such cases, they called the papers a ‘pack of lies’ and dubbed Al Jazeera as “Zionist’, then today comes the admission that the papers are indeed genuine, and the PA is looking for the culprit who leaked them… The problem for them is not that Al Jazeera are zionist, but that they themselves emerge from this round of the revelations as ardent Zionists…

It is clear that we will soon learn of arrest and trioal of Palestinian ‘traitors’ who leaked the papers, in the tradition beloved of Middle Eastern regimes. Israel has done the same in the case of Anat Kamm, for example. Whoever tells the truth will pay dearly, no doubt. However, should not the corrupt leaders in Ramallah be worried about the wind blowing East from Tunis, already affecting Egypt? The hot Khamsin is almost due, coming normally around March, and blowing for fifty days, supposedly, hence its name. This time, the Khamsin has come early, and the corrupt leaders might do better than trying top continue lying, torturing and silencing their populations. Maybe they are better looking for a nice place in Saudi Arabia?

Well, this Khamsin might even blow that far.

Palestine Papers Part 3

Palestinian negotiator rejects claims of back door deals with Israel: The Guardian

PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says leaked documents show how passionately Palestinians want peace

• Saeb Erekat: Papers are a distraction from the real issue

Saeb Erekat says the leaked papers show how far Palestinians are willing to go to reach a settlement. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters

The PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has described the leak of confidential memos documenting a decade of Middle East peace talks as a “slander campaign” and insisted that no single concession will be agreed without a comprehensive agreement with Israel, whose colonisation of Palestinian land is the “only constant”.

Writing in today’s Guardian, Erekat rebuffs accusations that he has been involved in “backdoor dealings” with Israel, but fails to repeat his previous claim that the documents – obtained by Al-Jazeera TV and shared with the Guardian – are “a pack of lies”.

He says the lesson that should be drawn from the documents is that the Palestinians are serious about peace.

“What should be taken from these documents is that Palestinian negotiators have consistently come to the table in complete seriousness and in good faith, and that we have only been met by rejection on the other end,” he writes. “Conventional wisdom, supported by the press, has allowed Israel to promote the idea that it has always lacked a partner. If it has not been before, it should now be painfully obvious that the very opposite is true. It is Palestinians who have lacked, and who continue to lack, a serious partner for peace.”

He underlines that any solution agreed in negotiations must pass a Palestinian national referendum – though the documents reveal him admitting that it will not be possible to hold a vote outside the West Bank and Gaza, which would leave millions of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon unable to take part.

Evidence from the papers shows Palestinian negotiators agreed privately in 2008 to let Israel annex all but one of the settlements built illegally in East Jerusalem and accepted the return of a symbolic number of 10,000 refugees to Israel. “Nothing would be agreed,” Erekat writes, “until everything is agreed”.

The papers also show the PLO working closely with Israeli security forces to target Hamas and other militants.

Publication of the Palestine papers has generated angry reactions from Palestinians, especially the PLO’s Islamist rival Hamas, which advocates armed resistance and will only negotiate with Israel on a long-term ceasefire.

The latest revelations show Tony Blair, envoy for the Quartet, was perceived by PA officials to have a pro-Israel stance and to advocate “an apartheid-like approach to dealing with the occupied West Bank”. A spokesman for Blair said today: “There has been real change on the ground as a result of Tony Blair’s efforts. The economy is now flourishing in the West Bank with double digit growth and falling unemployment. Palestinians are now able to move in the West Bank in ways impossible when Tony Blair started pushing for changes in the access and movement regime.”

Other papers describe how the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, tried to persuade a Palestinian businessman to contribute millions of dollars to a radio station for the Iranian opposition after the country’s presidential elections in 2009.

Abbas’s move was cited by Erekat in a meeting with the US Middle East envoy George Mitchell as evidence of the PA’s support for US goals in the region, especially its attempts to counter the influence of Iran, which finances Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

PA stonewalled the Goldstone vote: Al Jazeera online

PA, with US encouragement, delayed a UN vote on the Goldstone Report into war crimes committed during Israel’s Gaza war.

”]

The Palestine Papers reveal the conversations between US and PA officials in the days before the vote [EPA]
On October 2, 2009, the UN Human Rights Council was widely expected to pass a resolution supporting the Goldstone Report, the UN’s probe of war crimes committed during Israel’s war in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

The Council instead agreed to delay a vote on the report until March 2010, following major reservations expressed by the Palestinian Authority, the United States and Israel.

A UNHRC endorsement of the report would have brought Israeli officials one step closer to prosecution before a war crimes tribunal, an event many Palestinians were anxious to see.

But, as The Palestine Papers reveal, the Palestinian Authority apparently sacrificed a potential victory for Palestinian victims in exchange for favorable assurances on negotiations from the United States and, they hoped, from Israel.

Quid pro quo

The Goldstone Report, formally known as the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, was released in mid-September 2009 amid calls for a review of Israel’s wartime practices. The probe was led by Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge; it identified war crimes committed overwhelmingly by Israeli forces, but also by Hamas, during Israel’s war on Gaza.

Both the United States and Israel were outspoken in their criticism of the report, claiming that any UN endorsement would endanger the peace process and future Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has already admitted that the PA asked for the postponement; he said at the time it was to secure more international support before the vote.

“Since we felt we would not be able to gather enough support we asked for the postponement,” Abbas said in October 2009. “We wanted to reach mechanisms that would ensure the implementation of the decision and punish the perpetrators of crimes against our people.”

What The Palestine Papers demonstrate is that, in the weeks preceding the vote, the United States apparently urged the PA to stall the report as a means of restarting negotiations with Israel.

At a September 24, 2009 meeting between Saeb Erekat, George Mitchell and David Hale, the latter informed Erekat that “Our intention is to move quickly to relaunch negotiations. We are wrapping up an agreement on a package with Israel, and including other parties.”

Erekat resisted, saying “I simply cannot afford to go into a process that is bound to fail. I am trying to defend my existence and way of life.” Mitchell informs Erekat that President Barack Obama’s “attitude was consistent: we need to proceed to negotiations; delay will not be beneficial to anyone.”

During the same meeting, the U.S. also stressed to the PA that it was actively engaged in supporting the PA through other means. Mitchell informs Erekat, “I’ve devoted half my time over the last several months to things like getting you support (for example with Kuwait), not just financial. We will stay the course on this.”

At end of the meeting, Mitchell invites Erekat to Washington, D.C., on the day before the UNHRC was due to vote on the Goldstone report. “Regarding coming to DC next week…you should come next Friday,” Mitchell said. Erekat resisted, countering, “That does not give us enough time to go back and consult…”

The Palestine Papers further divulge that during the exact time of the crucial UNHRC vote, Erekat was in Washington, D.C. seeking more guarantees from the United States.

During a meeting at the U.S. State Department with Mitchell and Hale, on October 1, 2009, Mitchell reiterated to Erekat not only the U.S.’s commitment to a new round of talks, but also U.S. willingness to take a more active role on behalf of the Palestinians.

Mitchell said the U.S. would “explicitly repeat its position on Jerusalem (non-recognition of Israeli annexation and related actions; demolitions, evictions etc.) In such a situation, with negotiations going on, if [Israel] make a provocative announcement, the US has the leverage to state that this undermines the process, and that Israel is acting in bad faith in the negotiations.”

Erekat further bared not only the PA’s reliance on the United States, but the PA’s desperation to get back to the negotiation table. Erekat informs Mitchell that “peace through negotiations is a strategic choice… Our whole future depends on it, and we are counting on the US to help us… Another failure will be devastating.”

The following day, on October 2, 2009- while President Abbas was in New York pushing to postpone the vote on Goldstone – Erekat again met with Senator Mitchell. This time, Erekat appeared to use the expected international backlash to the vote deferral as a bargaining chip in proving their commitment to peace talks.

“I did not come here to complain, but to try to help move forward,” Erekat told Mitchell. “Many people strongly objected to [Abu Mazen] going to NYC and me coming to Washington.”

Mitchell continued building a case to Erekat and the PA on why all parties should move quickly to negotiations. “For 60 years, the choices open to the Palestinian people have become less and less attractive,” Mitchell said. “The circumstance under which they live worse and worse…..Believe me it is the best time.”

Erekat, meanwhile, only seemed to further push Palestinian priorities behind those of even Israel. “We find ourselves in the eye of the storm,” Erekat lamented to Mitchell. “We pray every day that Israel will come to the point where they realize that a Palestinian state on the [1967] border is in their interest…That’s why we are frustrated. We want to help the Israelis.”

At the very same meeting, Senator Mitchell presented Erekat with a document containing language that, if agreed to, would nullify one of the PA’s few weapons – the chance to prosecute Israeli officials for war crimes in Gaza at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The U.S. language stated:

“The PA will help to promote a positive atmosphere conducive to negotiations; in particular during negotiations it will refrain from pursuing or supporting any initiative directly or indirectly in international legal forums that would undermine that atmosphere.”

Erekat, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority accepted the language and simultaneously agreed to call for a deferral of the UNHRC vote. Unsurprisingly, this decision was met by outrage, as Palestinians and Arab nations condemned the PA leadership for kowtowing yet again to American and Israeli pressure.

Israel leaked the PA’s support for the resolution deferral on the day before the UNHRC vote was to take place. Erekat, undoubtedly caught off-guard, was outspoken in his complaints weeks later to the U.S. on what he perceived as unfair Israeli tactics. In a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones on October 21, 2009, Erekat revealed:

“Then came Goldstone and all hell broke loose. You know the first public response to the Goldstone thing came from Lieberman, who said Abu Mazen agreed to postpone the vote because the Israelis threatened to release the “tapes” showing him coordinating the attack on Gaza with Israel. Then there was the report that he did it for Wataniya, which they said is owned by his two sons.”

Jones, however, was quick to assure Erekat that the PA’s efforts would not go unnoticed. “And thank you for what you did a couple weeks ago,” Jones told Erekat. “It was very courageous.”

That same day, Erekat also met with Mitchell, and wasted no time in asking for the U.S. to deliver on its previous promises.

Erekat: When can you give me something, a document or a package, so I can take it to [Abu Mazen], so we can study it in good faith?

Mitchell: Much of what I read is not controversial…

For the United States, and unfortunately for the PA, it was simply business as usual.

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