Monthly Archives: December 2010

>حين قرر الكتابة

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على أية حال لم تكن ضرورية تلك الأحلام التي تتالت على رأسه في الصباحات الباكرة طيلة أسبوع مضي. فقد كانت ملامحها تشغل الحيز الأكبر من تفاصيل يومه.  أما باقي اليوم فكان يذهب للصراع على ألا تحتل هذه الملامح ما تبقي من اليوم. حجب عنه الخوف متعة القلق من أن يكتب إليها. لكنه وفي صبيحة يوم قرر البوح. استغرق الأمر ساعات، قضى بعضها في السير متأملا رقعة المياه الطويلة الممتدة أمام مسكنه (النيل أقصد). وحين حل المساء تأمل دخان السجائر وانهمك في بعض الكتابة

>Licking electoral wounds, opposition proposes formation of shadow parliament

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Photo by: Ahmed Zaki

By: Ahmed Zaki Osman 
Egypt’s opposition has called for the formation of a “parallel” or “shadow” parliament to operate alongside the recently-elected People’s Assembly, although the proposed body’s exact role and function remain vague.

Earlier this month, a group of opposition parties proposed the formation of a parallel parliament to “represent the true will” of the Egyptian people. The move aims to challenge the legitimacy of Egypt’s incoming parliament, dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak.

In recently concluded parliamentary elections, opposition parties failed to secure more than 3 percent of the assembly. According to official figures, the NDP won over 480 of parliament’s 508 elected seats.

Claiming the election was fraudulent, the liberal opposition Wafd Party and the formally-banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood (MB) both boycotted a second round of voting on 5 December.

Representatives of the MB, the country’s largest and best organized opposition movement, had accounted for almost one fifth of the seats in the outgoing assembly. This time around, however, the group failed to win a single seat.

Rights organizations, for their part, say the polls were riddled with electoral violations, including vote rigging and vote buying.  

On Monday, several opposition leaders publicly called for the formation of a parallel parliament, although they appeared to disagree on the strategies and objectives to be adopted by the alternate assembly.

According to Ayman Nour, leader of the liberal opposition Ghad Party, the shadow parliament’s objective is to provide a mechanism by which NDP officials can be questioned regarding issues of misconduct and poor administration.

George Ishak, member of the National Association for Change (NAC) reform movement, stressed that there was general agreement among most opposition figures on the need to establish the parallel assembly.

“We have agreed that Egypt’s parliament should be a parliament for the people,” Ishak said in a recent panel discussion organized by the radical leftist group Al-Tagdeed al-Eshteraky (Socialist Renewal). “All national political forces should be represented in such an assembly.”

“But we haven’t yet agreed on the nature and structure of the parliament,” he added.

The NAC has already drawn up a committee to discuss the aims and structure of the proposed parliament, and is expected to meet this week with leaders of various opposition groups for joint consultations.

In the aftermath of the parliamentary polls, former independent and opposition MPs demonstrated outside Egypt’s State Council Court in Cairo. Demonstrators reiterated calls to establish a “popular parliament” to reflect the popular will.

Abdel Fatah Rizq, an MB parliamentary candidate who lost in the recent polls, said the brotherhood supported the notion of a shadow parliament.

Abdel-Halim Qandil, spokesman for the Kefaya pro-democracy movement, argued that the formation of a parallel parliament would serve to force a differentiation between genuine opposition and “fake”–i.e., NDP-controlled–opposition.

“The ruling regime not only installs its supporters in parliament but also members of the so-called opposition,” Qandil said. “The proposed shadow parliament would create a distinction between real opposition MPs and the fake ones by creating a place for the real opposition.”

So far, more than 110 former MPs who lost in the last election have declared their intention to participate in the proposed shadow parliament in order to monitor government performance and challenge the legitimacy of the incoming NDP-dominated assembly.

The idea of establishing a “parallel” parliament is not new. Prominent opposition personalities also floated the idea in 2007 after parliament passed constitutional amendments making it more difficult for the opposition to nominate presidential candidates.

Although Egyptian opposition groups have frequently attempted to forge a unified platform, such efforts have traditionally run aground on ideological and personal differences.

The Arab Novel: Women against the siege

“Women’s stories haven’t yet been told,” said Afaf Alsayed, an Egyptian novelist and feminist who advocates for a more radical stance towards the position of women in Egyptian society. Alsayed was speaking at the fifth International Forum for the Arab Novel, which has been running in Cairo since Sunday under the theme “The Arab Novel… Where is it Going?” Continue reading

هي أشيائي الحزينه

 

منذ مدة طويلة لم أرَ نجمةً تضيء
ولا يمامةً تصدحُ شقراء في الوادي
لم أعدْ أشربُ الشاي قرب المعصره
وعصافيرُ الجبال العذراء ،
ترنو إلى حبيبتي ليلى
وتشتهي ثغرها العميقَ كالبحر

>Interview: Australian FM on Assange, Afghanistan and peace process

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Kevin Rudd (Wiki)

By: Ahmed Zaki Osman 
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said that his government is providing all the legal and consular support for the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, adding that he is totally against the release of the diplomatic confidential US cables.
In an exclusive interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Rudd said that the whole issue of “so called WikiLeaks” is left for legal authorities to determine who’s responsible for the release of such documents.

Speaking during his two-day visit to Egypt this week to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Australian-Egyptian diplomatic relations, Rudd described relations between the two countries as strong but said both sides need to work more on their economic ties.

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Some argue that Australia hasn’t provided enough support for Julian Assange because it doesn’t want to clash with the United States. Do you agree with that?

Kevin Rudd: I disagree with that. The reason I do so is that I was clear from the beginning, Mr. Assange is entitled to exactly the same consular and legal support that we provide for any Australian citizen abroad anytime they find themselves in difficulties with legal authorities. We’ve contacted him and the Australian Embassy attended his appearance in court. We’ve offered regular consular visits to guarantee his wellbeing and the adequacy of his legal representation.

We also expect that any other country examining Mr. Assange’s actions also impartially apply their laws in examining these matters as well, including the government of the United States and other governments.

Al-Masry: Ex-Australian Prime Minister John Howard sent Australian troops to Iraq and you pulled them out. Now where is Iraq in your foreign policy?

Rudd: When I was elected prime minister of Australia in 2007, our policy was very clear: we would withdraw our forces. And that’s exactly what we did. Our responsibility for the government of Iraq is to provide strong, continuing support for education, health, community building and agriculture.

When Iraqi Prime Minster (Nouri) al-Maliki came to Australia I asked him how I could help. He said he needs lots of scholarships for agricultural training and research for dry land farming in Iraq. We do a lot of that in Australia so I agreed to provide them with scholarships, and now we have Iraqi experts studying all over Australia, and they are learning how to apply farming techniques in their very dry land.

Al-Masry: Is it the same level of support that you provide to Afghanistan?

Rudd: Afghanistan has always been a different challenge. Remember, Afghanistan came about because of the extraordinary attacks of 2001. This was an attack by Al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization, which was backed and supported by the Taliban.

We went in to get rid of the Taliban and help build a new Afghanistan. It’s tough, it’s hard, it’s difficult. But we’ve made some real progress in health, education and infrastructure, but also most critically in training the army and police who will take charge of security in the next couple of years.

Al-Masry: Then your troops will be in Afghanistan even with the casualties?

Rudd: We’ve already had casualties. We understand that it’s a difficult and a bloody operating environment. But at the same time we need to be clear cut with the progress that has been made. I spoke recently with (Afghani President) Mr. Hamid Karzai and he stated clearly the date for the withdrawal of foreign forces, for them to take on the security of their own country by 2014. We are helping them in delivering those responsibilities by that date.

Al-Masry: Where is the Middle East in Australia’s foreign policy?

Rudd: Australia is a middle power with global interests. When I said that we are supporting the UN this means that we support bilateral and multilateral relations. We are expanding our diplomatic representations in Africa and our embassy in Addis Ababa is working very closely with the African Union. We are also increasingly active in the Arab region and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) in particular. But as for my reason for being here as a foreign minister, and I was speaking with president (Hosni) Mubarak about this, it is to underline again the importance we attach to this relationship. It’s 60 years and I’m here to plan the next 60 years.

Al-Masry: How do you evaluate this relationship?

Rudd: It is strong relationship. We need to do more in the economy. We are very good at mining. Egypt has many resources. Let’s work together on that. Egypt also is a dry country with a vast interest in dry land farming. We can help with that.

Al-Masry: The Israeli press expressed mixed feelings about your visit to Jerusalem, especially following the assassination of Hamas Leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. How will you handle this?

Rudd: In terms of the incident in Dubai, our position was very clear. No one should abuse the Australian passport system. That’s why we acted the way we did. However, we are a long-standing friend of Israel–but this doesn’t mean that you naturally and inevitably do everything that Israel wants. We’ve had close relations for many years. At the same time we have very close relations with our friends in the Arab world.

We are deeply concerned about the fact that the roadmap to peace did not produce an outcome. We are concerned about the recent obstacles in the peace process. We have to get to a conclusion.

Secondly, and fundamentally important for the security of the region, is the nuclear program in Iran that affects all the states of the region, not just Israel. Therefore we have to be able to work with our friends of the Arab world and with the Israelis on the challenges that Iran represents.

>US-Egypt rift widens as Cairo joins Nobel boycott

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Egypt this week announced it will not attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on Friday in an indirect message to the US that its opposes Washington’s interference in its internal affairs, analysts say.The Nobel Prize committee will honor Chinese dissident Liu Xiaob.

Xiaobo is considered a subversive criminal by the Chinese government. Beijing has sent letters to foreign ministries urging them not to take part in the ceremony, warning of “consequences” for those who support the activist that is currently serving an 11-year jail sentence for human rights advocacy.
China also put trade talks with Norway on hold because of its selection.
Egypt joins another 18 countries that declined invitations to attend the ceremony, according to the prize committee.
The other countries include Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia and Venezuela. Many of the absentees are either trading partners or otherwise allied with China. Meanwhile, 44 embassies have said they will attend the ceremony.
Political commentator Ammar Ali Hassan told Al-Masry Al-Youm that it was predictable that Egypt would decline the committee’s invitation to attend Xiaobo’s ceremony.
“Cairo is highly infuriated by what it calls the systematic unacceptable intervention in Egyptian issues regarded as matters of sovereignty, such as the negative American comments about the status of religious minorities in Egypt and recently the American comments about the elections,” said Hassan.
Last month, the US State Department released its annual International Religious Freedom Report which leveled severe criticism on President Hosni Mubarak’s regime for its poor performance in respecting religious freedom.
The report said that Christians and Bahais “face personal and collective discrimination, especially in government employment and their ability to build, renovate, and repair places of worship.”
Egypt rejected the report, saying Washington does not have the right to evaluate religious freedoms in the Muslim-dominated country.
Moreover, Washington expressed last week its disappointment over how Egypt’s elections were carried out and called reports of numerous irregularities “worrying.”
Cairo later accused Washington of meddling in its affairs, saying “The latest positions taken by the administration toward internal Egyptian affairs is something that is absolutely unacceptable,” according to a foreign ministry statement.
For such reasons, Egypt is seizing this opportunity to align itself with China against the US, according to Hassan.
“In recent years, Egypt has worked on advancing its relations with China. [This is] a strategy that seeks to diversify Egypt’s international cooperation and not to depend only on the United States,” said Hassan.
Beijing said granting Xiaobo the internationally acclaimed prize is an affront to its “legal sovereignty.” Egypt shares the same point of view with Beijing in that it opposes Western efforts to support opposition figures domestically.
“Moreover, Egypt’s refusal to attend the ceremony is also an indirect message for (Mohamed) ElBaradei that Egypt is not taking the prize and its symbolic importance so seriously,” said Hassan. ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear chief and Nobel peace laureate, has called for reform and is considered a potential 2011 presidential candidate.
On Sunday, ElBaradei, who returned to Cairo after a several-week visit to Vienna, said he will tour a number of governorates where he plans to meet with National Association for Change (NAC) members.
ElBaradei on Monday told the German Der Spiegel the “next parliament will be dominated by the president’s party. It will function like the Duma in Moscow during the darkest days of the Soviet era. As a consequence, the opposition will close ranks even further.”
Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Beijing of pressurizing smaller countries to boycott the ceremony.
“China has been arm-twisting behind the scenes to stop governments from attending the Nobel Prize ceremony, using a combination of political pressure and economic blackmail,” reads the Amnesty’s press release.
“The fact that, despite the pressure and threats, the Chinese could only cajole a small minority of countries, reflects the unacceptable nature of their demands,” the release adds. “Governments and international institutions must continue to resist this type of bullying.”

>Al-Ahram commentary on Pope Shenouda riles Egypt’s Coptic Christians

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Egyptian Coptic activists filed a complaint on Wednesday with the General Persecution Office accusing state-run daily Al-Ahram of defaming Pope Shenouda III, head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, and inflaming sectarian tensions. 
The move comes after Al-Ahram published a column on Monday that carried an unprecedented attack on Pope Shenouda III.

“We went to the General Prosecution Office in order to stop the attack on Copts and their spiritual leader by Al-Ahram,” Coptic Church lawyer Naguib Gebraeel told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Gabriel’s complaint accuses the government broadsheet of libel, false reporting, the undermining of social stability, and incitement of sectarian unrest.
In his weekly column, Al-Ahram journalist Abdel Nasser Salama held Shenouda accountable for inciting sectarian hatred between Muslims and Christian for the last four decades. 
“Concepts such as sectarianism, citizenship and the resort to foreign powers for support only began circulating in popular discourse when Shenouda assumed the papacy in 1971,” Salama wrote. 
Shenouda became the 117th pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church in November, 1971.
Salama claims that the pope told a Coptic congregation in 1973 that, “By the year 2000, the number of Christians will be equal to that of Muslims, according to the plan the church is implementing.”
Coptic Christians are said to account for roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s population of some 80 million.
In the same address, Salama went on to write, the pope also “called for expelling the ‘Muslim invaders’” from Egypt.  
According to Gebraeel, such statements amount to defamation.
“These accusations are illegal since they defame someone and make claims about things that never happened,” he said. “I repeat–this alleged address by Pope Shenouda III is a fiction.”
Coptic Bishop Sergius Sergius issued a statement on Tuesday accusing the writer of “agitating the state against the church.”
“The issue this time is highly sensitive,” said Gabraeel. “It’s not a writer accusing the Copts of something; it’s the official newspaper of the state launching an attack on the church’s spiritual leader. Pope Shenouda III represents a symbol for millions of Copts inside and outside Egypt.”
Al-Ahram, Egypt’s most widely-read state newspaper, published the article in its Monday print edition. It also ran the article on its website before abruptly removing it.
Al-Masry Al-Youm failed to obtain a reaction to the legal complaint from Al-Ahram. Al-Ahram Editor-in-Chief Osama Saraya acknowledged on the front page of the Wednesday edition that Salam had been “out of line,” but had only been motivated by his fears of rising sectarian tension.
Saraya added that Shenouda represented “a national symbol for all Egyptians” and was therefore “beyond being evaluated by anybody.”  
Salam in his article also accused church officials of recently planning and staging demonstrations in northern Cairo in which several police officers were injured and two Coptic protesters were killed. “The huge number of Molotov cocktails thrown in the Omraniya church riot shows that churches can be used for stockpiling weapons.” 
Shenouda denounced what he described as the excessive use of force against Christian protesters, who clashed with security forces after authorities halted construction of a local church. Along with two Coptic fatalities, 157 were arrested, while church property suffered significant material damage.
Last September, prominent Islamic scholar Selim al-Awah accused Egyptian Copts of maintaining their own armed militia and stocking arms and ammunition in the country’s monasteries and churches. These and similar remarks caused public uproar among Copts.
The church quickly dismissed the allegations, describing them as “false and baseless” and aimed at igniting sectarian strife.
Several Islamic groups, meanwhile, have staged demonstrations against the pope in various cities across Egypt, accusing the church of detaining a Christian woman who they allege attempted to convert to Islam. The church has denied the allegations, going on to hint that the state had turned a blind eye to the demonstrations.  
“What was written was not a random article,” said Gebraeel in reference to Salama’s article. “The words reflect the government’s policy of not only marginalizing the Copts, but of also degrading them.”
On Sunday, Shenouda refrained from casting a ballot in Egypt’s parliamentary run-offs in a move that some experts believe signaled his growing disappointment with the ruling regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
In the first round of polling, Shenouda voted for the liberal opposition Wafd Party, clearly expressing frustration with the Mubarak regime. Previously, Shenouda had always called on Copts to vote for Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).  
Egypt’s Coptic minority has traditionally sided with the NDP, which, say some observers, it looks to for protection.