Thursday, February 28, 2013

Egypt's president calls early elections and the opposition responds with a boycott

    Thursday, February 28, 2013   No comments

EGYPTIANS have reason to fear the domestic news these days. If it is not about events such as a freak ballooning accident that killed 18 tourists, or the death of nine villagers who fell, one after another, into an open manhole, or a plague of locusts sweeping in from the Red Sea, it will surely be about something at least as grim: Egyptian politics. Two years after an uprising toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s public affairs remain as miserably unsettled and accident-prone as ever.

It might seem a good thing, for instance, that the president, Muhammad Morsi, should recently have set a date, April 22nd, for fresh parliamentary elections. Egypt has had no lower legislative house since June, when courts dissolved the last one after declaring the election rules which produced it to be unfair. The weak upper house, elected last year with a voter turnout of barely 10%, functions as a temporary lawmaking body. Its 85% dominance by Islamists, led by Mr Morsi’s own group, the Muslim Brotherhood, renders its deliberations suspect in the eyes of many.

The Taliban's New, More Terrifying Cousin

    Thursday, February 28, 2013   No comments

Abdul Amir (as we'll call him), a chemistry teacher in Quetta, Pakistan, was taking an afternoon nap on Feb. 16 when his house began to shake and the earth let out an almighty roar. His mother and sisters started screaming and ran out of the house, but by the time they gathered in the street, the noise had already stopped. He climbed to the roof to get a better view of what happened and saw a thick cloud of bright white smoke, a mile south, suspended above the market place where his students would be buying snacks after their weekend English classes. He rushed back down to the ground, started his motorcycle and took off toward ground zero, knowing all the while that this was foolish - during a bombing five weeks before, the people who came to help were killed by a second explosion.

Still he raced through the streets, swerving around people running away from the bomb, finally arriving at a scene even worse even than he'd feared. The blast had been so powerful that the market hadn't been destroyed so much as it had been deleted, as had the people shopping there and those in buildings nearby. Everything within 100 meters was simply flattened, and all that remained were the metal skeletons of a few flaming vehicles and the chemical smell of synthetic materials burning. Abdul would find more than fifty of his students were injured. One of his favorite students would die from her wounds six days later.
In all, 17 students and two teachers in just one school would be killed, their bodies mostly unrecoverable. No secondary bomb went off that day, but it didn't need to, because the message to first responders had been heard: So few ambulances showed up that people were relegated to ferrying their dead and dismembered in their own cars.

For the Hazaras, a group of Shia Muslims from Afghanistan with a large population in Pakistan, leaving the house has become a fraught enterprise. Schools have emptied, students stay home and parents try to explain to their children why people want them dead. They believe their government is at best uninterested in protecting them, and many are so traumatized they believe it's complicit. The Feb. 16 bombing killed 85 people, almost all of them Hazaras, and the number is still rising as people succumb to their wounds. About a month prior, another attack had killed 96 people who were also almost all Hazaras. The victims are not bystanders; they are a people who are being exterminated.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms

    Tuesday, February 26, 2013   No comments


Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria in a drive to break the bloody stalemate that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad to cling to power, according to American and Western officials familiar with the purchases.

The weapons began reaching rebels in December via shipments shuttled through Jordan, officials said, and have been a factor in the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad.

The arms transfers appeared to signal a shift among several governments to a more activist approach to assisting Syria’s armed opposition, in part as an effort to counter shipments of weapons from Iran to Mr. Assad’s forces. The weapons’ distribution has been principally to armed groups viewed as nationalist and secular, and appears to have been intended to bypass the jihadist groups whose roles in the war have alarmed Western and regional powers.

For months regional and Western capitals have held back on arming the rebels, in part out of fear that the weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists. But officials said the decision to send in more weapons is aimed at another fear in the West about the role of jihadist groups in the opposition. Such groups have been seen as better equipped than many nationalist fighters and potentially more influential.

The action also signals the recognition among the rebels’ Arab and Western backers that the opposition’s success in pushing Mr. Assad’s military from much of Syria’s northern countryside by the middle of last year gave way to a slow, grinding campaign in which the opposition remains outgunned and the human costs continue to climb.

Washington’s role in the shipments, if any, is not clear. Officials in Europe and the United States, including those at the Central Intelligence Agency, cited the sensitivity of the shipments and declined to comment publicly.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

'Unprecedented' Conversation Yields Proposals for US-Iran Negotiations

    Saturday, February 23, 2013   No comments

With the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers group just days away, Asia Society brought together Iran's highest-ranking official in the United States, Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaee, and former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering to discuss breaking the nuclear impasse and the future of U.S.-Iran relations.
The result was an unprecedented public conversation between knowledgeable and influential individuals from Iran and the U.S., speaking in their official and personal capacities respectively, focused on arguably the most intractable foreign policy challenge today. Award-winning journalist and author David Ignatius moderated the discussion, which took place Wednesday night before a full auditorium at Asia Society in New York.
On the upcoming talks to be held on February 26 in Kazakhstan, Khazaee stated that Iran "does not oppose negotiation in any way," but cautioned that the U.S. approach to the process is undermining the chance for success. "As long as pressure is on Iran, as long as there is a sword on our neck to come to negotiations, this is not negotiations, therefore Iranians cannot accept that," he said.
While welcoming the suggestion put forward by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden for direct bilateral talks, Khazaee also expressed doubt over the seriousness of the offer as the United States continues to impose "new and harsher sanctions" against Iran.
Khazaee suggested a series of "ingredients" for successful negotiations, including "mutual respect, respect for Iran's national sovereignty, non-intervention in Iran's domestic affairs, and discarding the two-track policy of pressure and engagement."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Who are the Kurdish people?

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013   No comments
Kurdish mountain guerrilla fighter

About 25 to 30 million live in the Middle East. Throughout history, the majority inhabited the mountains and plateau regions where Iran, Iraq and Turkey meet. About half the Kurds live in Turkey, accounting for an estimated 20 percent of the total population there. There are believed to be approximately 5.7 million Kurds in Iran and about 1.5 million in Syria. There also important communities of Kurds in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.

America’s involvement with Iraq, where Kurds make up about 20 percent of the population, has led to the creation of a semi-autonomous region that is the closest thing to a Kurdish state since the end of World War I.

But while the Kurds of northern Iraq have prospered, the growth of their power there has been at the price of the dream of true independence. And while they have exploited their role as holding the balance of power in a country divided between a Shiite Muslim majority and a resentful Sunni minority, their position will remain vulnerable as long as Iraq lurches from political crisis to crisis.

On top of the tensions in Iraq and long-simmering Kurdish autonomy movements in Iran and Turkey, the civil war in Syria is presenting the Kurds with a new set of hopes and dangers.

The Kurdish militias in northern Syria had hoped to stay out of the fighting there. They were focused on preparing to secure an autonomous enclave for themselves within Syria should the rebels succeed in toppling the government. But slowly, inexorably, they have been dragged into the fighting and now have one goal in mind, their autonomy, which also means the balkanization of the state.

Analysts fear this combustible environment could presage a bloody ethnic and sectarian conflict that will resonate far beyond Syria’s borders. There is concern that Iraq’s Kurds, who are already training Syrian Kurds to fight, may jump into the Syria fight to protect their ethnic brethren. That could also pull in Turkey, which fears that an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria would become a haven for Kurdish militants to carry out cross-border attacks in the Kurdish areas in southeastern Turkey.

Visiting Libyan doctor reports harsh treatment by FBI

    Tuesday, February 19, 2013   No comments

By Alexa Vaughn

Three Libyan doctors, visiting Boston and Seattle to begin a health-care partnership with U.S. physicians, say they were detained and interrogated as soon as they arrived in the U.S.

When Dr. Laila Taher Bugaighis landed in the United States with two other Libyan physicians Sunday, all she was expecting was the beginning of an exciting partnership with hospitals in Seattle and Boston — one that would help elevate sorely lacking health care in her own country.

The partnership was the kind of outreach former U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens had been trying to create when he was killed in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. His sister, Seattle Children’s Dr. Anne Stevens, has since collaborated with Dr. Thomas Burke of Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital to make that dream happen.
So it shocked everyone when, as soon as they landed in Boston, Bugaighis and the other physicians were immediately detained by people she believed to be Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and then interrogated for hours, she said.

Bugaighis, deputy director general of Benghazi Medical Center, hadn’t been to the United States since before Stevens’ death. So when their passports were taken and their baggage searched, Bugaighis said, she thought the security measures might be routine, considering the current uneasy relations between Libya and United States. The trip, after all, had been cleared through her government and the U.S. State Department.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Extra-Juridical Killing Is the Opposite Of Justice In A Free Society

    Monday, February 18, 2013   No comments

Last week, Senators threatened to put a “hold” on the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director over his refusal to answer questions about the use of drones to kill Americans on US soil. That the president’s nominee to head the agency that has used drones to kill perhaps thousands overseas could not deny their possible use at home should be shocking. How did we get to this point?

The Obama administration has rapidly expanded the use of drones overseas, as they appear a way to expand US military action without the political risk of American boots on the ground. In fact they are one of the main reasons a recent Gallup survey of Pakistan, where most US drone strikes take place, found that 92% disapprove of U.S. leadership. This is the lowest approval rate Pakistan citizens have ever given to the United States. And it is directly related to US drone strikes. The risk of blowback increases all the time. However the false propaganda about the success of our drone program overseas leads officials to believe that drones should also be used over US soil as well.

Islamic extremists are an increasingly multilingual bunch, especially online

    Monday, February 18, 2013   No comments

ARABIC was for long the unchallenged language of Islamic extremism. Its speakers far outnumber any other linguistic group. Arab lands are the most fruitful recruiting grounds. Without Arabic, tyros may struggle at training camps and on the battlefield. And fluency implies piety: the language of the Koran also connotes learning and wisdom.

But the once monoglot world of jihad is increasingly multilingual. Al-Qaeda has long advocated the creation of self-starting, independent terrorist cells. Materials are being produced in the language of any part of the world that has a Muslim minority and thus potential sympathisers, says Thomas Hegghammer, an expert on violent extremism. Translations are appearing in the languages of countries where jihadist leaders want to see further activity.

Counting the Dead in Syria

    Monday, February 18, 2013   No comments

The U.N. is using a number that suppresses the true extent of the number of people killed in Syria. Do they have an better alternatives -- and would it even matter if they did?

The death count in Syria's ongoing civil war was revised upwards on Tuesday. Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, now says that the toll is "probably now approaching 70,000," an increase of 10,000 from the end of November, when a U.N.-commissioned report found 60,000 individual instances in which a name, date and location of death could be determined. The data set from that report suggested that the true number of dead in the Syria conflict was even higher than that, and one of the report's authors told The Atlantic that the figure was "a very conservative under-count." Pillay's 70,000 number has some relationship to two unknown figures: the number of deaths that can be estimated given currently available information, and the actual number of deaths in the conflict, a total which might not be known for several years (if it is ever conclusively known at all). Both of these numbers are higher than 70,000. Perhaps they're even much higher.

Whether intended or not, Pillay's claim masks the actual gravity of the Syria conflict. The widely-cited 60,000 and 70,000 numbers bear some kind of statistical relationship to the true death count; though at present, we have no idea what that relationship is. The numbers are a reflection of what is currently known about the conflict -- and not, in fact, a reflection of the realities of the conflict. Official and popular adherence to such an obviously deflated figure is troubling, given the enormity of the Syria conflict and the still-unfolding debate over how and whether the United States and the international community should intervene there. A misleading number is now woven into a debate of global importance: because Pillay and the news media are using the 60 or 70,000 figure without any meaningful qualification, the conflict's true humanitarian scope is being unintentionally yet insidiously distorted.

United Arab Emirates helps Joplin ‘think big’ in rebuilding tornado-scarred schools

    Monday, February 18, 2013   No comments

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran

JOPLIN, Mo. — Two weeks after a mile-wide tornado tore through this city, killing 161 people and rendering a landscape of apocalyptic devastation, the public school system here received a telephone call from a man working for the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington.

“Tell me what you need,” the embassy staffer said.

Six schools, including the city’s sole high school, were destroyed in the May 2011 disaster. Insurance would cover the construction of new buildings, but administrators were scrambling to replace all of the books that had blown away.

Instead of focusing on books, the staffer wanted “to think big.” So the school system’s development director pitched the most ambitious plan that came to mind, a proposal to obviate the need for high school textbooks that had been shelved two years earlier because nobody — not the cash-strapped school system, not the state of Missouri, not even local charities — had the money for it: Give every student a computer.

Today, the nearly 2,200 high school students in Joplin each have their own UAE-funded MacBook laptop, which they use to absorb lessons, perform homework and take tests. Across the city, the UAE is spending $5 million to build a neonatal intensive-care unit at Mercy Hospital, which also was ripped apart by the tornado.

The gifts are part of an ambitious campaign by the UAE government to assist needy communities in the United States. Motivated by the same principal reasons that the U.S. government distributes foreign assistance — to help those less fortunate and to influence perceptions among the recipients — the handouts mark a small but remarkable shift in global economic power.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Turkey's role in destabilizing Iraq for energy could backfire

    Sunday, February 17, 2013   No comments

The Turkish prime minister has expressed resolve to continue to purchase oil from Iraq’s Kurdish region, maintaining that the Iraqi constitution bestows on the Kurds the right to export oil and gas, but the issue of legality seems to be a rather controversial one.
“Mr. [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s interpretation appears to be an extremely loose one, which is unlikely to be supported by the Iraqi Supreme Court,” says Joost Hiltermann, a senior Iraq analyst from the International Crisis Group (ICG) based in Brussels.

Turkey, which aims to knit closer ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq in an effort to decrease the enormous size of the bill it pays for energy imports while at the same time diversify its energy sources, has been getting, since last year, oil by the truckload from the Kurdish region despite protests by the Iraqi central government, and opposition from the US.

“The US says, ‘You are acting wrongly.’ No, we are saying, the [Iraqi] constitution allows this, because the Kurdish region is entitled to dispose of 18 [sic] percent [of the country’s natural resources],” Prime Minister Erdoğan said on his return flight from the Czech Republic about two weeks ago, once again affirming Turkey’s position on the issue.

While the US is concerned that Turkey’s efforts may pave the way for an already fragile Iraq to break up, pushing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki further towards Iran, the Iraqi central government’s opposition is a legitimate concern. The central government, which maintains that, as per the constitution, all energy deals and exports of oil and natural gas need the authorization of the central government, describes the Kurds’ trade with Turkey as illegal.

Libya marks two-year anniversary of uprising

    Sunday, February 17, 2013   No comments
Security forces were on high alert across Libya on Sunday as the north African nation marks two years since the start of the revolt that toppled Moamer Kadhafi after four decades of iron-fisted rule.

Borders have been closed and some international flights suspended amid fears of a new outbreak of violence.

The anniversary of the uprising that ended with Kadhafi's killing in October 2011 comes as Libya's new rulers battle critics calling for a "new revolution" and accusing them of failing to usher in much-needed reforms.

On Friday, thousands of people gathered in the main cities of Tripoli and Benghazi to celebrate the initial February 15, 2011 protest that ignited the revolt two days later.

There is no official programme for Sunday's anniversary, but the authorities have taken steps aimed at preventing any violence on a day when spontaneous celebrations are expected.

Libya's borders with Egypt and Tunisia were closed from Thursday for four days, and all international flights have been suspended except at the airports of Tripoli and second city Benghazi – the cradle of the "February 17 revolution."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pakistan: bomb targeting Shiite Muslims kills and wounds 250 people

    Saturday, February 16, 2013   No comments

At least 63 people are dead and another 180 are wounded after an explosive device went off in a crowded marketplace in Quetta, Pakistan. Photos from the scene show heavy smoke rising over buildings.

Pakistani news outlet, Dawn, cites Quetta senior police official Wazir Khan Nasir, who says the bomb appeared to target Shiite Muslims because of the neighborhood the attackers picked. Most of the victims are women with their children who were shopping for vegetables.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Sergei Lavrov urges the opposition to abandon preconditions for talks with the Assad government

    Friday, February 15, 2013   No comments

Russia's foreign minister has dismissed the Syrian opposition as offering nothing constructive since the uprising began.

In an hour-long interview with the German broadcaster ARD, Sergei Lavrov urged the opposition to abandon preconditions for talks with the Assad government.

The price for insisting on the removal of Assad before talks begin, will be more violence, he said.

Lavrov conceded that the reforms offered by Assad were too little, too late, and that the Syrian president was not “really getting in line with events”.

But he claimed Assad was offering a form of dialogue which the opposition should seize.

The opposition is not offering any political alternative. The only thing which is uniting the opposition is toppling the regime ... In almost two years [the opposition] never produced any constructive platform.

Lavrov insisted that last June's Geneva agreement, which does not explicitly call for Assad to go, should be the basis for a settlement.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Britain must work with regimes that have abused human rights, says William Hague

    Thursday, February 14, 2013   No comments

Britain must be prepared to share intelligence with foreign governments that could prevent a terrorist attack in this country or abroad even if those countries have questionable human rights records, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said today.

Speaking in the wake of last month’s terrorist attacks at a gas instillation in Algeria, Mr Hague said the Government will step up efforts to support the legal, criminal and human rights systems across North Africa.

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute, he warned at the same that Britain faces a “stark choice” over whether to share intelligence with countries that could prevent a terrorist attack even if we do not have full confidence that the investigation and prosecution of the individuals involved would be in accordance with Western human rights law.“In many cases, we are able to obtain credible assurances from our foreign partners that give us the safeguards we need and the confidence that we can share information,” Mr Hague said.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Turkish main opposition blames PM on explosion

    Tuesday, February 12, 2013   No comments

Main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has blamed the government for a deadly blast yesterday at the Cilvegözü border gate with Syria while also noting how price rises over the past year have hurt many people. 

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu told his party’s group meeting in Parliament that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was responsible for the blast, which killed 14 people in the southern province of Hatay. 

“If a bomb explodes, responsibility for it rests on your [Erdoğan’s] shoulders. This should not turn into [something like] the jet incident, in which we learnt [information] from others,” said Kılıçdaroğlu, referring to the downing of a Turkish jet by Syria over the Mediterranean on June 22, 2012.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chinese Regime Courts Africa With Confucius Institutes and Scholarships

    Monday, February 11, 2013   No comments

By Jenny Li

In a move that critics say is meant to increase Chinese influence over Africa, the Chinese regime has plans to hand out thousands of scholarships to residents of the continent, while setting up dozens of Confucius Institutes—educational centers that have been criticized for promoting Party ideology and revisionist history.

The Chinese Communist Party announced a three-year “African Talents Plan” in July, which aims to train around 30,000 Africans and give out 18,000 government-sponsored scholarships, according to Party mouthpiece Xinhua.

The announcement was first made by Hu Jintao, the Party chief, and included a $20 billion line of credit to African nations for investment in infrastructure, agriculture, and manufacturing. 

A conference was recently held in Stellenbosch, a city of South Africa, to “draw the blueprint for future development” of Confucius Institutes across the continent. 

Confucius Institute Director-General Xu Lin proclaimed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has founded 31 of its schools in 26 African countries, with some that grant accredited degrees in those countries.

But behind the generosity is a plan to garner influence, according to Chinese dissidents and critics of the regime.

Islamists chant anti-French slogans at rally in Tunisia

    Monday, February 11, 2013   No comments

Thousands of pro-government supporters rallied in the streets of the Tunisian capital Saturday, shouting anti-French slogans and accusing its former colonial ruler of interference, a day after the funeral of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

Several thousand supporters of Tunisia’s ruling moderate Islamist party rallied in the capital in a pro-government demonstration on February 9, a day after the funeral of an assassinated opposition politician. Protesters hurled insults at France, accusing the former colonial ruler of interfering in the North African country’s politics.

The ruling Ennahda party had called for a show of support for the constitutional assembly, whose work on a new constitution suffered a severe setback after the killing of Chokri Belaid on Feb. 6 - when leftist parties withdrew their participation. It said the demonstration would also protest “French interference” after comments earlier in the week by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who denounced Belaid’s killing as an attack on “the values of Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution.”

Violence and democracy in Syria

    Monday, February 11, 2013   No comments


Could political violence coexist with a democratic project? This big question has been raised for decades by the progressive democratic movement in Latin America, and we are obliged to pose it strongly in the Syrian case.  We see with our own eyes that the counter-revolution at the hands of most Islamists conjoint with some neo-liberals in this war is no longer primarily about democratic change, except in public relations and the media.

It is not possible to say that the language of non-violence and peaceful civil struggle was embedded in the political discourse in the region, although Moncef Marzouki and I have defended the idea of civil resistance as the most important weapon to overthrow dictatorship in the Arab world since the end of the ‘90s in articles and studies which sought to situate these goals in the broader political and human rights movement. See Moncef Marzouki’s books, Second Independence and Until the Nation has a Place in this Time, and my Short Universal Encyclopaedia of human rights, and my book, Civil Resistance.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

False Eyewitness: “Who are you going 
to believe? Me or your lying 

    Sunday, February 10, 2013   No comments
By Douglas Starr
Late last year, psychologist Gary Wells was watching an oral argument before the United States Supreme Court. He wasn’t enjoying it.

Wells, who has the countenance of a boxer and the mind of a Talmudic scholar, had come with a group of scientists affiliated with the American Psychological Association, along with lawyers from the Innocence Project, for the appeal of a convicted New Hampshire burglar. The case involved a middle-of-the-night car break-in. Police had apprehended Barion Perry in a parking lot carrying a couple of car radio speakers. One officer stayed with him while another went upstairs to question a woman who had reported a “tall black man” peering into cars. Although she had identified Perry only from her distant vantage on a third-floor balcony, her testimony was used successfully to convict him.

To Wells and his fellow scientists and lawyers, the case illustrated the weakness of many eyewitness convictions. The woman saw the suspect only briefly and in the custody of police; naturally she would assume he was a criminal. The psychologists agreed with Perry’s attorney that the witness’s memory was so unreliable that the judge should have held a pretrial hearing to determine whether it should be admissible at all. Now they wanted to go much further: They hoped that the Supreme Court justices would use the case to reexamine the whole legal question of eyewitness memory—a question the court hadn’t considered since 1977.

Obama’s Turn in Bush’s Bind

    Sunday, February 10, 2013   No comments


WASHINGTON — If President Obama tuned in to the past week’s bracing debate on Capitol Hill about terrorism, executive power, secrecy and due process, he might have recognized the arguments his critics were making: He once made some of them himself.

Four years into his tenure, the onetime critic of President George W. Bush finds himself cast as a present-day Mr. Bush, justifying the muscular application of force in the defense of the nation while detractors complain that he has sacrificed the country’s core values in the name of security.

The debate is not an exact parallel to those of the Bush era, and Mr. Obama can point to ways he has tried to exorcise what he sees as the excesses of the last administration. But in broad terms, the conversation generated by the confirmation hearing of John O. Brennan, his nominee for C.I.A. director, underscored the degree to which Mr. Obama has embraced some of Mr. Bush’s approach to counterterrorism, right down to a secret legal memo authorizing presidential action unfettered by outside forces.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The assassination of a secular opposition leader is forcing an Islamist-led government to give ground. But how much?

    Friday, February 08, 2013   No comments
THE Islamist-led government that has been running Tunisia for the past year has been badly shaken by the assassination on February 6th of a prominent secular-minded opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, who was shot dead outside his house in Tunis by assailants so far unknown. After a wave of angry protests erupted in the capital and across the country, the prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, who is also secretary-general of the Islamist Nahda party, condemned the murder as an “act of terrorism…against the whole of Tunisia” and said he would form a new government “of competent figures without party affiliations”. The event has sparked Tunisia’s worst crisis since the revolution that toppled the country’s long-serving, secular-minded dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled into exile in January 2011.

It was unclear if Mr Jebali’s hasty reaction meant that Nahda, which handsomely won an election to a constituent assembly in October, 2011, would actually cede power or whether there would merely be a government reshuffle; it already heads a three-party coalition that includes non-Islamists. Mr Jebali has urged the constituent assembly to hurry up and finish the writing of a new constitution so that there can be a fresh election to a proper parliament as soon as possible, perhaps by the end of June.

‘Bound for Freedom’s Light: African Americans and the Civil War’

    Friday, February 08, 2013   No comments

It’s easy to believe that when Abraham Lincoln drafted his second inaugural address in 1865 — writing that if God willed it, the struggle against slavery would continue until “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword” — he had in mind a famous photograph made two years earlier. The image shows a former slave, known only as “Gordon,” who had escaped bondage in Louisiana to freedom behind Union lines at Baton Rouge. The man appeared seated, with his face and torso turned away from the camera, showing a gruesome and abstract welter of lash marks and lacerations on his back.

The photograph was one of the most convulsive images of the 19th century, circulated widely by abolitionists, reproduced and disseminated not just through popular magazines but on visiting cards, small reproductions on card stock that could be purchased and collected in albums. As Frank Goodyear writes in a recently published Smithsonian book, “Photography Changes Everything,” the image not only galvanized antislavery sentiments, but it “also inspired many free blacks in the North to enlist.”

Monday, February 4, 2013

Syrian opposition leader renews dialogue offer, urges Assad to respond

    Monday, February 04, 2013   No comments

DAMASCUS, Syria — The leader of Syria’s main opposition group urged President Bashar Assad on Monday to respond to his offer for a dialogue, insisting he is ready to sit down with members of the regime despite sharp criticism from some of his colleagues.

Mouaz al-Khatib, leader of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, said he is extending his hand to the regime to “facilitate its peaceful departure.” And some anti-regime activists are behind him, threatening even deeper fractures in the already divided movement to oust Assad.
Al-Khatib’s offer, first made last week, marks a departure from the mainstream opposition’s narrative insisting that Assad step down before any talks. It has angered some of his colleagues who accuse him of acting unilaterally.

It is likely to be rejected by Syrian officials who insist Assad will stay in power at least until his term ends in mid-2014. And even if accepted, he will likely not have broad enough backing among the opposition to make any deal meaningful.

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