Wednesday, August 24, 2005

what did i say i'd do? oh. here's what i meant.

it's been a long time since i posted, largely because i recognize work is not an appropriate place to be posting from. and i live in chinoistown, so i have no internet access. however, this is the list of reforms proposed by the hoz, and i couldn't resist going through them.

ya misr... forsa sayida... oy.

-Constitutional amendments that enshrine the liberites of the citizen, reinvigorate political parties, develop the institutional framework of our policies and the decision making process, and place restrictions on executive authority.

-Amendments to enhance parliament’s oversight, allowing it to hold the government accountable, empowering it to be involved in the budget process.

if they pass, of course. and if they don't? why then, it's democracy at work. at least they were proposed.

-Reforms to guarantee fair representation of women in parliament
fair representation... of women? of women's issues? or actual, physical seats for women in parliament?

-Adopting an electoral system that guarantees the greatest chance for multi-party representation.

of course, these are chances that are being increased. this does not make any provisions for reducing the obstacles to establishing political parties or keeping them from being banned.

-Revising the Judicial Authority Law to reinforce the judiciary’s independence.

which wouldn't be necessary if they hadn't been stripped of power in the first place in the 90's

-Decentralize decision making, giving more authority to local government.

or local large landowners

-Legislation to guarantee all citizens the right to basic due process and a fair and speedy trial.

unless they are a threat to the state- see below (if america does it...!)

-An anti-terror law to replace the emergency law.

modeled on the patriot act, a piece of legislation itself a source of great controversy and often cited as the main threat to personal freedoms in the US today

-Revise system of administrative detention to reinforce the rule of law.

i'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. administrative detention? isn't that already... a grey area?

-Legislation that will guarantee citizens’ rights to the free flow of information.

unless again, it is considered harmful to the government. or not vetted by the MoI

-Further enhance the performance of public newspapers.

in their coverage of the president's daily constitutional. or we could perhaps privatize them, and reduce state expenditures?

-Create over 4 million job opportunities in the next six years, through the largest investment program Egypt has ever witnessed.

because now that the hoz has reformed, the US and EU will be more than willing to invest. oh, i'm sorry, you expect this to come from private investors? and you expect they will trust you when you point to your courts and legislation as the defenders of private interest? mmmm.

-Increase availability of micro financing.

if banks want to come in and do it on their own. and are willing to partner with my associates. say it with me now- partnership.

-Empower private sector to build 1000 factories in the next six years, and to provide 250,000 job opportunities.

really? only 250 people per factory? that's a lot more like a sweatshop's employee roster.

-Reclaim one million feddans of desert land, thus providing an additional 70,000 jobs.

because toshka's been an unqualified success

-Increase hotel capacity, creating an additional 200,000 jobs.

and when bombs stop going off, maybe tourists will come back too.

-Extend health insurance coverage to every citizen.

i've got a 3" long, 1/2" deep scar in my side from the egyptian health care industry. but i guess it's better than being dead.

-3,500 new schools over next six years.

i can't argue with the benefit of this. i can say that we might want to look beyond teaching kids that being a mohandis is the route to success.

-80,000 government subsidized new homes per year.

as stacey says, and with whose money? not to mention, what happens when subsidies are cut? memory might serve to remind us that people don't react well. this is not sound fiscal policy.

-Provide squatter settlements water, electricity, sewage, and access to schools.

this would be good. the zabaleen deserve as much. except when modern innovations, like refuse carting, replace traditional jobs and increase unemployment, while actually implementing a less efficient system.

-Establish private mass transportation companies to develop road networks in Upper and Lower Egypt.

yes... public companies have proven their efficiency and transparancy time and time again.

-Ease traffic in the capital by completing third metro line.

yeah. this one would be nice. but you think that you are the only candidate cut out for the job?

-Raise wage of low-income civil servants by 100%.

with what government revenue? and does this mean i'll get to stop paying baksheesh at the mugamma?

-Increase remaining civil servants’ wages by 75%.

what defines a low-income civil servant? is omar sulaiman a civil servant? and will he get a 75% wage increase?

-Guaranteed job contracts, health insurance, and social security to those working in the informal sector.

that would actually mean formalizing the informal sector. and if janet abu lughod has taught us anything, this is generally an idea that proves more wasteful than beneficial. if they can really give a job contract to that young man who sells me the garland of jasmine when i'm in standing traffic...

-Raise pensions.

this is from now on the stacey clause.

-Child care for working mothers

as long as they're muhaggabas.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

andu sadaa!

From an excellent new source of free comprehensive translated articles from around the region, Mubarak calls Assad, and verbally bitchsmacks him for being uppity.

"Mubarak to Assad: Your behaviour is giving me a headache"

Al Seyassah, an independent Kuwaiti newspaper, reported on July 19 that, "the decision to free the Lebanese fishermen, a decision taken by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was prompted by a call from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak… This came after attempts by the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, to end the vengeful actions being taken by the Syrian government against the Lebanese." The parties trying to ease the tensions want the Syrians to reopen the Lebanese-Syrian borders and free the fishermen held by the Syrians, Al Seyasah reported.

The newspaper added that Assad heard harsh words from the Egyptian President who threatened him by saying: “If you don’t free those fishermen, I will not stand by you facing your worsening relationship with the international community." Assad was, according to sources, shocked since he considered the issue of the fisherman unimportant, saying that it was only nine fishermen. Then, according to Al Seyassah, Mubarak answered back: “Even if it was only one fisherman, this issue is an issue of principle. Your behaviour is causing me a headache”.

A Syrian source told Al Seyassah, yesterday, that Syria has decided to stop treating Lebanon as a preferred country and will cut off its “free electricity” and gas pipelines. - Al Seyassah, Kuwait

the crazy as a rabies award

when you want your passport to be worth less than the paper it is printed on:

Settler wants to become Palestinian

Move dismissed as ploy, but Palestinian official warm to idea By Reuters

ELEI SINAI - Jewish settler Avi Farhan, determined not to give up his home overlooking the sea when Israel quits the Gaza Strip, is looking into becoming a Palestinian.

"I have met with Palestinians. I am willing to be a test case for peace and take up Palestinian citizenship," Farhan told Reuters. "It will hurt me to give up my Israeli citizenship, but I want to remain here."

the complete article here, on Ynet

excuses and ponies

I've been remiss and not been updating lately (cause my 'audience' has just been clamoring for it...) but i've been busy with work, and don't have access to the internet at home. When things free up, I'll be back.

Since i can't resist anything with a good horsey twist, i'd like to announce that the Iraqi Equestrian Team is back in the saddle, according to the CSM.

Iraqi show jumpers get back in the saddle
Braving bombs and bullets, Iraq's national equestrian team begins a new quest for the Olympics

By Scott Peterson Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

BAGHDAD - Just after a Baghdad dawn, the pungency of leather and horses mixes with another scent rare in the Middle East, which emanates from the grass: moisture.
It is on this turf, dotted with brightly painted wooden jumps and steeped in a long-beleaguered hope, where Iraq's national show-jumping team is beginning to rebuild its Olympic dreams.

For now, its national competition flag appears mockingly out of place in this arena - a humble patch of grass ringed by date-palm forests, tucked away on the edge of Baghdad University in a southern district of the capital.

Cars and trucks pass by on a narrow dirt road leading to nearby farms, churning up early-morning dust as passengers crane their necks to watch the horses jump. It's a small slice of unaccustomed solitude and defiant normality (albeit relatively upscale) in a city rocked daily by bombs and understandably obsessed with security.

Overcoming obstacles
After two decades of war, sanctions, the attention of Saddam Hussein's son Uday (who often brought a menacing presence to one of his favorite hangouts), and even the wartime pillaging of facilities, Olympic hopes are once more taking shape here.

"Don't be tense!" barks instructor Essam Abdulaziz, who led Iraq's Olympic team to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, as a horse and rider circle the warm-up ring. "Try to balance and be in control. Put your weight on the saddle, and keep your back straight!"

As rider Adnan Asad begins an approach to the jumps, an exploding car bomb resonates in the distance.

Even on such a bucolic morning, the occasional gunshot breaks the spell. Mr. Asad's horse extends out over the first of three jumps in a row.

"When you clipped the first jump, that mistake made the second and third ones off," explains Mr. Abdulaziz, as Asad and his horse - wearing a saddle pad marked with a pale Iraqi flag - continue to trot.

Three days before the April 2003 collapse of the regime, rumor had it that Uday was in hiding here - a favorite haunt of the dictator's notoriously violent playboy son. In the aftermath of the war, everything from the door handles to the horse tack was looted. The team began training again just one year ago, using five horses imported from Bulgaria that added up to a $40,000 expense - a fraction of what it would cost to outfit the team with "so-so" European horses that can sell for $50,000 each.

"We are starting everything from zero," laments Abdulaziz, as he describes the challenges for the four-man team.

"Will this team go to the Olympics?" he asks, tapping his riding crop on his tall leather boot, as he looks out at fellow riders, who look the part with riding helmets and reinforced knee breeches. "No, they need more training, more competition."

Several Arabian horses have also been bought locally, but it is all a far cry from more peaceful times in the 1980s when Iraqi riders used to train in Europe, with German and Dutch experts.

While United Nations sanctions no longer prohibit the transport of horses in and out of Iraq - a restriction that cut Iraq completely off from outside competition - today the highway across Iraq to Jordan is too dangerous to risk driving horses.

So the team is working on plans to keep several top horses at stables in Jordan or Syria, and create a training camp there for months at a time.Strapped for cash
When the daily balance sheet, however, requires everything from feed to expensive veterinary care and equipment, the cost becomes prohibitive.

Many reconstituted Iraqi national teams - including the soccer players who took Iraq to the quarter-finals at the Athens Games last year and came within striking distance of giving Iraq its second Olympic medal ever - are battling for cash.

"You need so many things," says Asad, during a break in the rider's air-conditioned locker room, as grooms outside shift saddles from one horse to another, for the second workout session. "To go to the Olympics would take $1 million - you need trainers, administration staff; so many things."

The rising cost hasn't dimmed spirits, though, nor a lifetime love of horses and sport. They relish the predawn hours and the noble beauty of the jumping steed.
"I love it!" says Asad, a lawyer who joined the team in 1994, as he straps on his helmet to step out the door.

Already, many women are taking lessons, to be seeds for a women's national team. And as the team deepens its roots, it hopes to expand its equestrian repertoire to the more refined "dressage" level.

"This is my life," says Ali Farouk, a team member since 1989. "Every day we are facing explosions and traffic jams, but what else can we do?"

Thursday, July 14, 2005

tourism in lebanon

It was Israel! I knew it!

Just kidding. I’m referring to the summer buzzings of downtown Beirut that the Israeli air force has made part of their annual retinue. Last summer, as I twisted and strained to catch a glimpse of the rapidly receding planes, a friend shook his head disgustedly. ‘Israel. They always do that,’ he said. ‘To scare away the tourists, make them think it’s a dangerous city.’

I have no idea whether this is true or not, but it does fall into my class of favorite Israel anecdotes. Tourism in Lebanon last summer didn’t suffer from these buzzings, in fact, it grew from previous years to register over 125,000 people in June alone. Lebanon, and Beirut in particular, experienced a huge increase in tourism following 9/11, as well-to-do Arabs avoided Western Europe and the US in favor of the culinary and nightlife delights of the Levant. (And if I recall, people were just thrilled.)

The bombings this summer have been remarkably effective at accomplishing what the Israeli air force was unable to do, according to the Daily Star. They’ve managed to scare away enough tourists that revenue from tourism related sectors has plummeted, with the overall visitor numbers dropping 30%. As the article points out, the short-term effects of the bombing, while bad, are not nearly as damaging as the accompanying downgrade in security status. A number of tour operators have increased their risk ratings of the country; a move that echoes decisions by finance giants Moody’s and S&P to change the sovereign ratings in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination.

The majority of government revenue comes from tourism and services, as high as 67% of the GDP. * Given that the national debt is currently over 160% of the GDP, and as much as 30% of the budget goes to paying off this debt, a slump in the primary source of revenue spells danger for the economy. While new minister Fouad Siniora was a key architect of the Paris II debt restructuring under the leadership of the late Rafiq Hariri, unless he is able to push his cabinet through Lahoud’s iron curtain of resistance, the economic situation will only get worse.

The nomination of 24 technocrats should prove interesting. He’s got about one more shot to make this right, or the country will enter a deadlock. The pressure must be unbearable. Nominating technocrats seems to be a quick and easy out these days, calculated to provide maximum assurance to politicos and international types without promising any real results. Technocrats often are uncomfortable negotiating political boundaries and lack the charisma and following that allows them to push through reforms. Timothy Mitchell’s book, Rule of Experts, discusses the role of technocrats – and their failings – at length. So from a cabinet that couldn’t get passed to a cabinet that may be unable to get anything passed... seems like more gridlock to me.


Monday, July 11, 2005

this could be an issue

we over here at istisharqiya wonder where the syrian regime finds itself headed after the ba'ath party conference in june and following a number of syrian-attributed bombings in lebanon. will they? won't they?

the new york times magazine runs an excellent, if a bit gossip-raggy, article on the first couple of arab nationalism this week. heavy on personal details and widely known facts (to those of us to who eat, drink, dream and breathe the sharq, at least) and light on analysis, projections, or hard news, the article by james bennet is nonetheless well written and a compelling read. he paints asma al-assad as a reformist firecracker of a woman, sharp, business-like, and sincere. bashar is a bit softer, a reflective young man not altogether convinced power is his main calling.

above all, they come across as the accidental leaders, the ones that you don't necessarily want in power, but aren't so keen on expelling in a bloody coup d'etat either. they politely applaud at a mediocre ballet, they ignore the b'roh, b'dem... chants, they drive off alone in a modest audi sedan. they eschew child-sitters, they work together on projects. ms. assad defends the press. bashar seeks support, he says the sort of dissidents he likes are the ones that complain because it is a better state that they need, rather than those who hate for the sake of hating or simply seek power. convincing words. sincere? tough to tell. in two years, we should know.

the opposition does not come across as the favored alternative in the article. the term 'opposition' is rightfully dismissed, with it's implied organization and articulation. dissidents are instead those who criticize the regime, with the connotations of "moral authority and solitude." it's a preferable term, and accurate. short of the chalabi-esque farid ghadry, syria lacks a clear figure with any substantial international ear. (and calling ghadry a 'figure' is itself generous.) the unfortunate state of the syrian alternative is sadly summed up in this anecdote:
When I asked if he believed that Assad had a clear idea of what he wanted to do, the brazen reformer gave his response in baby talk, and addressed it to the infant son he was cradling in his arms. ''This is a question,'' he told the baby. ''I don't know.''

the article concludes without favoring either the assads or the reformists. it does not conclude the viability of their reign, nor speculate about the future intervention of the US government. it clearly articulates only the position so commonly held amongst syrians and syria-observers alike. the new government is not the old government. if there is something new coming, it will come. there is no policy that the US can persue that will work and avoid another iraq. if anything is to happen, it will come from within, and we can only cross our fingers and hope that bashar and the emminently capable asma are sincere.

Friday, July 08, 2005

something about a self-fulfilling prophecy?

did i actually guess it right?

not that this is indicative of government policy or the state department's wishes or anything like that, but there ya go:

last night on Fox News, as summarized by NewsHounds.

Reckless Response to London: Bomb Syria

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger gave one of the more reckless responses to the London bombings Thursday (July 7, 2005) when he proposed that the U.S. bomb or invade Syria and possibly Iran in retaliation.

Appearing on "The Big Story" with John Gibson, Eagleburger admitted what he was going to say would not be popular and then said the U.S. should "move against those who are housing terorists."
"This is war and I don't understand why it's not proper to go after those who mother the terrorists," Eagleburger said, pointing to Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

In a (for him) astute question, Gibson asked what should be done if the terrorists were "home-grown" in Great Britain. Eagleburger responded that that was less likely, but if so, that would have to be dealt with. Whatever that means. Rather than be specific about what could be the case, Eagleburger found it much more satisfying to just go bomb somebody, anybody.

"If we have to do some discreet bombing in Syria" or "go across the border" to areas where terrorists are being allowed to stay, Eagleburger said, the U.S. should do it so that Syria gets the message that things will get worse if the terrorist situation doesn't get better.

At the time Eagleburger spoke, a group calling itself Al Qaeda in Europe was claiming responsibility for the bombings. Nothing had been mentioned about Syria, or Iran, or Saudi Arabia. Eagleburger foresaw no bad consequences such as retaliatory bombings on troops in Iraq or on civilians in the U.S. or elsewhere, the creation of thousands of more terrorist wanna-bes, or the stiffening of Syria's resolve (as we claim is happening now in Great Britain) -- only the giant U.S. military imposing its will on a weaker country.

As the U.S. should have learned by now, that's not always the way it turns out.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

syria and london

This may be an opportunity for leaders of the US to claim connections between the London attacks and Syrian sponsored terrorism. If this is the case, expect increased pressure on Syria.


Al-Qaeda is claiming responsibility for the six bombings at tube stations and on a double-decker bus that began in a series of explosions this morning at approximately 8:49 this morning in London.

There is a statement on a website linked to al-Qaeda that attributes the attack to ongoing 'zionist' British activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is further mention of Italy and Denmark, in what appears to be a threat to these nations if they continue to participate in the Afghani campaign.

Since al-Qaeda seems to keep a policy of limited attribution, their claims seem to carry weight. The organization generally does not take credit for attacks on the international scene (Iraq is a different story) unless they will substantiate them later.

I am assuming international blame will probably fall to the group, regardless of actually culpability. Expect increased security in major cities, both middle eastern and western, and in all G8 countries. There are likely already raids and arrests being carried out in Britain. Britain has a large and sophisticated anti-terrorism force, and they have likely wasted no time in following leads. A trial will eventually be in the works, and the international focus will shift back to 'global terrorism'.

The current number of casualties reported varies- BBC is quoting only two, while French media is claiming 20. The scale and effect of these attacks will be directly related to the proportion of attention they recieve, the length of their media shelf life, and most importantly, the vitality of a renewed terrorism concern. While it is unpleasant to say, 40 people dead will have far more of an impact than 4.

It seems likely, reading eyewitness accounts of attacks, that deaths will be somewhere between 15-25 30-50 people, with more injuries.
Update:Confirmed 37 people dead. 700 injured, around 70 critically.

Given the timing of the attacks and the massive coordination, it seems likely that al-Qaeda was in fact, involved. While London has suffered it's share of terrorism in the past, this does not look similar to the work of the IRA. They do not seem to be suicide attacks, but rather, the work of abandoned knapsacks.

The timing should likely be attributed to the G8 summit, and not the Olympic bid, given the immediacy of response. An attack this sophisticated and coordinated would have been extremely difficult to pull off with only a 24-hour leadtime. The timing with the G8 summit can be seen as a message to the leaders of that club, the primary instigators of world change, that al-Qaeda remains a potent force to be reckoned with.

We should also expect a renewed series of arrests in counties like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. These close western allies enjoy opportunities to prove their committment to the 'war on terror'. There will likely be statements and press conferences where they will express condolences and extoll solidarity in the face of this 'threat.'

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

very busy today. apologies, will get back on it tomorrow. for now, be content with this:

just because we have not heard specifically about arrests of the members of the al-Atassi forum does not mean it did not happen. it may just mean they are in jail.