Why am I getting "no signal" from al-Jazeera?
.;.... never mind, all better now.
No posting today. I have a crushingly imminent deadline. Go read the Super-Friends instead.
"On 25 May, the day of the referendum, women and girls participating in peaceful demonstrations demanding democracy in Cairo at the Press Syndicate were subjected to harassment and sexual assault in public, perpetrated by simple people rented by thugs of the National Democratic Party and supervised by generals of the Interior Ministry.
"We the Egyptian Mothers who dream of a better future for the homeland and a better life for our children have decided to invite the Egyptian people to leave their homes as usual next Wednesday, the 1st of June, but wearing black on their way to work or while running their daily errands.
"Every citizen and responsible person before God disapproves of what happened, even if they are not political activists nor care for public activism. We only ask that they leave their house that day as on any ordinary day, but wearing black, and to invite those around them to do the same and explain to them the importance of this symbolic public protest.
"As for activists, we call on them in all of Egypt’s provinces to coordinate peaceful, silent vigils in front of their syndicates or in their universities or in certain public places they agree on, in silence and complete solemnity in their black clothes.
"The Egyptian Mothers is not a political movement, it is the voice of the silent majority of women, housewives and working women. But they have realised today that the Interior Ministry has overstepped all red lines, and that silence today is a crime and we must stand up in united formation as a united people to defend the Egyptian woman and girl.
"Our demand is clear, it is a single demand: the resignation of the Interior Minister."
Egyptian women calling for all Egyptians to wear black on June 1 in protest over the assault on female protestors on referendom day.
Meanwhile,Josh Stacher finds that the Kefaya website is down, and the opposition weekly al-Araby did not appear on the news-stands on Saturday.
Josh writes that, based on official statements and local scuttlebutt, the Egyptian government "is feeling extra-confident that there is not going to be any follow-up Western pressure" and that it seems to be taking the line that the assaults on women were only a small number of isolated incidents blown way out of proportion by the international media - "a few bad apples" plus "biased media". Heck, it worked for Bush on Abu Ghraib, so maybe they think he'll go for it here?
True story, this conversation happened last night between me and my two year old cub:
Abu Aardvark: It's bath time! Let's do the Bath Dance! [dancing begins]
Cub: No, Daddy, no dancing
AA: What's wrong with dancing?
C: Daddy dancing scary!
AA: Is Daddy's dancing really that bad?
AA: Oh, okay... I guess Daddy won't dance.
C: That is a good idea, Daddy.
Raed in the Middle says that al-Arabiya's website has been systematically deleting comments in its Iraq discussion boards which are anti-occupation. He says:
Al-Arabiya started a really interesting and important Comments Section on their website some time ago. Then I left many comments on their site but they were never published because of what seems to be a strict monitoring system.
The strange thing about this is that I always used polite language and I never supported or incited violence, and yet all of my comments were deleted. The only reason of why my comments were deleted is that all of them were anti-occupation and anti-war.
Al-Arabiya started taking a bush-friendly political stand after the US administration pressured them, and this has reflected itself in their Iraq policy. It's really sad that all the anti-occupation remarks are being filtered out from their site even if they were rational and calm.
Interesting. He has written them a letter asking for an explanation of their comment posting policies.
Short piece in the New Statesman about the women of al-Jazeera. It supports my "Jumana Option" argument a few months ago (scan down the comments thread) - the idea that the cool, confident, beautiful, and highly professional women of al-Jazeera offer a major alternative to the Lebanese sex-bombs and the veiled muhajibat as role models for young Arab women.
Some bits from the piece:
Last year I spent three days in Doha, Qatar at the headquarters of al-Jazeera, arguably the leading Islamic television channel. Researching a behind-the-scenes feature, I interviewed a number of the women working there. Some were in suits that wouldn't look out of place on the GMTV sofa, some mixed hijab and shalwar kameez with jeans, others were in floor-length black with their faces almost completely covered (with amazing heels flashing under the hems of their robes). None conformed to any stereotype.
Al-Jazeera has its own Kate Adie in Atwar Bahjat, its 28-year-old aggres-sively objective Baghdad correspondent. There is a Natasha Kaplinsky, the glossy-maned business news presenter Farrah Barkawi. The channel is a distinctly female-friendly environment. Forty per cent of the staff are women, including eight out of 18 news anchors (most of whom don't wear the hijab - and viewers don't seem to mind; they are just obsessed with their hairstyles).
Al-Jazeera Economics anchor Farah al-Barqawi (AA screen shot, not from the article)
They come from all over the Arab world - Sudan, Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine. Katia Nasser, 30, a repor-ter from Lebanon, said: "Here I can act like a journalist independent of my sex. I try to be efficient and professional regardless of being a woman. As a journalist, I want to show defects of Arab regimes and show that we need to solve our problems with our own solutions." The religious aspect may be more pronounced than in other television newsrooms (there is a prayer room), but all the women I spoke to saw this as a personal, private issue.
Al-Jazeera is, admittedly, a special case - the staff are well educated, middle class, most speak several languages and they are drawn predominantly from the most progressive corners of the Arab world.
Hanna, the anchors' make-up artist (eight months pregnant and breezing through the newsroom, with no one batting an eyelid), explained: "This is one of the only places in the Arab media where women are treated well - like family."
Al-Jazeera may be an exception to the rule (and it is undeniably unpopular with fundamentalists), but it is respected and followed avidly - 70 per cent of satellite- owning Arabs watch it.
Female journalists don't get death threats, they get fan mail - hundreds of letters a week requesting details of their hair, make-up and clothes. The discussion programme For Women Only is one of the channel's most popular.
Al-Jazeera's multicultural female staff demonstrate that to be a working woman in the Arab world is not only not un-Islamic, it is also not necessarily a pro-western thing to do.
My only complaint... yes, you saw it coming. Where's Jumana al-Nimour?
Q Mr. President, President Bush, the First Lady under the Egyptian pyramids this week enthusiastically endorsed Mubarak's first steps towards direct presidential elections. Two days later, Mubarak supporters attacked the opposition in the streets. Was it premature to back Mubarak? What's your message to Mubarak now?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I also embraced President Mubarak's first steps and said that those first steps must include people's ability to have access to TV, and candidates ought to be allowed to run freely in an election and that there ought to be international monitors. That's -- and the idea of people expressing themselves in opposition in government, then getting a beating, is not our view of how a democracy ought to work. It's not the way that you have free elections. People ought to be allowed to express themselves, and I'm hopeful that the President will have open elections that everybody can have trust in.
I don't think Hosni Mubarak is quaking in his stylish yet affordable boots over Bush's comment that this is "not our view of how a democracy out to work" - actual criticism, in a statement rather than in the last answer to a press conference on a different subject, might have been stronger. Or concrete actions, even. One casual Bush remark in a press conference won't solve everything, any more than did Rice's intervention on behalf of Ayman Nour earlier in the year - especially if there is no follow-up. But it's a start, and I commend Bush for saying the right thing here.
And it matters. Here is a sampling of headlines in the Arab press today:
Al-Sharq al-Awsat: "Egypt's referendum: 83% approve, and Bush criticizes the attacking of protestors."
Al-Hayat: "Egypt: Participation in the referendum represents limited numbers, and Bush calls for tolerance and freedom of opinion and assembly."
Al-Quds al-Arabi: "Washington condemns the attacks on the opposition in Egypt and Kifaya accuses the police of sexual atrocities against female protestors."
Al-Wafd (center-right Egyptian opposition paper): "International and American condemnation for the referendum scandal: Bush calls for free elections in Egypt.. and the White House calls for trials of those who attacked the protestors."
Al-Arabiya: "America calls for prosecution of members of the ruling party in Egypt for attacks on femal protestors... Bush condemns the policy attacks against those protesting against the referendum."
Al-Jazeera: "Bush criticizes the Egyptian government and the opposition doubts the results of the referendum."
Moral of the story: if America does the right thing, it can and does get the benefit of the doubt in the Arab media. No lesson could be more important for thinking about public diplomacy. It is really worth reflecting on this, given the relatively tepid nature of Bush's criticism of Egypt and the fervent embrace of those comments by virtually the entire Arab media - across the political spectrum, from al-Arabiya to al-Jazeera, from al-Sharq al-Awsat to al-Quds al-Arabi. Forget about building a lousy television station that nobody watches, forget about spin, forget about advertising and public relations. Say the right thing, do the right thing, and Arabs will in fact notice and give the U.S. a chance.
(side note: Egypt's semi-official paper al-Ahram's headline declared that the successful referendum "sent a message to the world about Egypt's ability to progress towards democracy under Mubarak's leadership." Thankfully, the world's media didn't bite, and rejected that message. Pictures of women and men peacefully protesting being beaten up by government thugs spoke a bit more powerfully this time. I think.)
On a lighter note, just for the moment, Cairo Magazine has a nice piece on Arab pop star controversies:
In the current culture wars that are roiling around the topic of Arabic-language music videos, both sides have a tendency towards hyperbole and bombast. For example, the Islamic students who protested on 7 March at Alexandria University against sexy music videos slammed them as “porno clips” for their “nudity.” This despite the fact that the sexual content is more suggestive than overt and relies heavily on traditional belly dancing moves (or when it doesn’t, never broaches those lines of sexuality).
Those are the "Nancy-Haifa Culture Wars" to you, my friend.
The author, Ethan Weitner, goes on:
Still, there are a lot of provocative video clips on TV these days that show young, pretty female singers singing, dancing, having relationships with men, and frequently dressed in significantly less than anything you’d expect to see on the streets of Cairo. Even their proponents aren’t trying to defend them as being anything other than eye candy. “Look, Ruby really can sing. But it’s impossible to imagine [singer] Haifa Wahbe just with the audio. You need the visual,” admits Amr Adeed, the managing director of Egypt’s largest private FM station, Negoum FM.
I can imagine Haifa Wahbe with just the audio. But good lord, why would I want to?
In the age of widespread satellite TV, it is increasingly possible for even low-income families to get Arabic-language programming from anywhere in the Arabic world (as opposed to stodgy state TV), meaning that more culturally fluid and diverse countries like Lebanon and more Western-oriented hubs like Dubai can export pop stars like Nancy Ajram or Haifa Wahbe (both Christian Lebanese) through labels like Rotana and networks like Melody TV (both based in Dubai) to Imbaba or Shoubra Al Kheima.
The piece claims that
Reason magazine’s Charles Freund is the leader of the group asserting the “revolutionary potential” of music video clips, which he claims are not about the sex. Rather, he argues, they are about “Arabs shaping their identity” in a medium that allows the protagonist to be modern, cool and Arab at the same time.
Hey, it's not like a "group", in the sense of we actually know each other or agree about stuff. There is a secret handshake, but it would look kind of silly if I showed it to you... Anyway, with all due respect to Charles, who does great stuff on the topic, why don't Aardvarks get any respect? How come I don't get to be leader, or mentioned?
Finally, there's this:
Egyptian state television is reportedly in the process of making “sweeping reforms” to its policies towards showing the clips of certain pop stars in order to protect the morals of Egyptian youth after noise in the press about provocative clips (which there has been pretty much every year since satellite TV and music videos first appeared). But this may only be further proof of state TV’s irrelevance to the world of Egyptian teenagers.
I'd have to agree with this. Yes, indeed-y I would.
OK, back to your regularly scheduled wanton violence against protestors and the dismal referendum day.
Or, to be more precise, that's for you. For me, off to yet another meeting which should manage to waste much of my morning, until I can finally be free to grade more papers and exams, do final proofreading of my book, write an essay with an alarmingly impending deadline, and bottle-feed the charming Baby A. Sleep? What's that?
More reports of violence against protestors in Egypt.
Crowds of pro-government demonstrators attacked opponents of President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday while police looked on, staining a day of national voting that government leaders had touted as a major step toward democracy.
In some cases, pro-Mubarak protesters dragged unarmed men and women by the hair and beat them with police-style rubber truncheons. In other cases, young men who arrived marching in formation groped female demonstrators and used wood poles bearing cardboard portraits of Mubarak to beat rival demonstrators over the head in plain view of hundreds of uniformed police.
Though voting in most of the capital unfolded quietly, the violence marred what Egyptian leaders had pledged would be a showcase of democratization in the Arab world's largest country.
Ten yards from where Allam was speaking, three rows of uniformed police detained about a dozen anti-regime demonstrators, mostly men and women in their 20s. Minutes later, the police cordon opened, and about 25 pro-government protesters surged in, beating, kicking, pulling hair and groping the detainees.
Asked by a reporter why police permitted it to continue, a plainclothes officer with a walkie-talkie said: "These are our orders."
A few minutes earlier, a crowd of pro-Mubarak demonstrators harassed and knocked to the ground a British employee of the Los Angeles Times and kicked her repeatedly, before she escaped without serious injury.
A few yards away, 36-year-old lawyer Raba Fahmy was set upon by a mob of young men bearing pro-Mubarak placards, who tore open her shirt and skirt. "I need a pin, I need a pin," she pleaded, holding her clothes together, as police escorted her to the side and shooed away reporters.
"Mr. Mubarak, if you are a respectable president, give the Egyptian people their rights," she shouted.
A female reporter from The Associated Press also wrote of being cornered, grabbed and pulled by the hair. Victims said they believed many of the young male pro-regime demonstrators were police in plainclothes. That could not be independently confirmed, though they marched in formation and some carried batons of the kind used by Cairo police.
As citizens turned out to vote on the amendment to Article 76 of the constitution, violent clashes took place between government supporters and opposition groups. Some of the violence that took place, notably towards women, was unprecedented.
Kifaya members left outside the building were attacked and repeatedly beaten by NDP demonstrators, who seemed to focus on attacking women. A number of young women were beaten, groped and had their clothes ripped or removed. Several times, Kifaya members were assaulted directly in front of impassive security forces.
Josh Stacher (see his photo collection here):
One thing I failed to clearly capture were the attacks against females (primarily demonstrators and journalists). I have some pictures of one woman in a group of men but it is impossible to see what is going on (although I cannot even imagine).
That said, I saw many women (including some friends) after they were sexually harassed and, in some cases, beaten by those animals masquerading as humans.
Much more from Josh, including a detailed and frightening narrative, here. Including this:
Hossam al-Hamalawy, a news assistant with the LA Times and long-time friend, went over to security. He spoke to a plain-clothed guy with a walkie-talkie. Hossam said to him, “Hey what is going on? They are going to slaughter them.” The officer coldly replied, “We have our orders.” Amazed and confused Hossam asked, “Do your orders include having people kill each other in the streets?” The officer smirked and said “Yes”.
About this time, the scholar called me. He told me one of the woman beaten and harassed by the thugs was in the al-Ghad HQ (Ayman’s law offices). We quickly made our way there. Sitting there was the victim, who was traumatized and scared. She said she was not an al-Ghad member but she knows Ayman Nor helps people. She did not know where else to go. She explained that she clothes were ripped off her and she was naked in the street. Her co-workers saw her and she was ashamed to go back to work. After re-telling her story, Hossam tried to console her. She wanted nothing of it. She said her frustration was at an all time high and that her only wish was to leave Egypt and never look back. Hossam did his best. He told her, “No, this is our country, not theirs.” With tears in her eyes, she quickly responded, “No this is their country, we are nothing.” After a quiet period she looked up more angry than scared and said, “This was a message today. If you go to the streets, the government will beat and humiliate you.”
Ayman showed up a bit later and took the woman into his office - perhaps to discuss her legal options and cheer her up. The woman was determined to go to the authorities and report her attackers. For her part, this victim wants a public apology from the Egyptian president.
This should be the only story which matters about the referendum for Americans and Arabs actually interested in democracy. So far, I'm glad to see, it has been, with most of the press coverage focusing on the savage repression of the protestors and not buying Mubarak's spin. The New York Times fails to mention it on its front page, but gets a story in with Hassan Fattah reporting (from Beirut!?!?). The Washington Post has a good story and an even better op-ed savaging Laura Bush's disastrous visit to Cairo. Here's the LA Times. Not a word yet from erstwhile Arab democracy promoters at the Weekly Standard, National Review, or Opinion Journal, but I'm sure that's coming.
What about the Bush administration? Here's what Secretary of State Condi Rice had to say yesterday:
MR. MACKLER: In Egypt, we're also having a referendum on the political reforms today. We've had reports on our wire and AFP reporters have seen people, who are opposing this process, are actually being beaten by police and stuff like that. It's anecdotal. I can't say how widespread it is. There have there been complaints that the reforms that are adopted are a step forward, as you've said, but are still not really geared to have a significant challenge to President Mubarak. Do you think -- how do you react to these opposition complaints?
SECRETARY RICE: I've not seen the reports that you're talking about today. We have said to the Egyptians that this process needs to be as open and as forward leaning as possible because political reform is a necessity for Egypt. Now, they are taking steps forward. Not everything moves at the same speed and there are going to be different speeds in the Middle East. But again, if you just step back and ask yourself whether a year ago or two years ago, you would have seen these developments in the Middle East, if you could have predicted that you would have seen these developments in the Middle East, I would think you probably wouldn't have.
So the whole character of the conversation has changed about what needs to be done in the Middle East, about what's possible in the Middle East, about what the expectations are in the Middle East. And having done that, I think we want to continue to encourage governments to be supportive and proactive about reform. Not every step is going to be an ideal one, but if we can keep the forward momentum going, I think you're going to see a lot of changes in many of these places, including in Egypt.
With all due respect to Secretary Rice, that is an absolutely pathetic answer. I deeply and sincerely hope that today, with a chance to review the evidence, the Bush administration can come up with something a little bit better. Heck, since I'm hoping, let's hope for a lot better. And, while I'm at it, a pony.
Sana Abdullah UPI reports on the political crisis in Jordan:
As Jordan marks its 59th independence day Wednesday, it faces a deep crisis between the government of Prime Minister Adnan Badran and a large minority in parliament that has threatened to withhold confidence.
The formation of Badran's government last month did not so much divide the country as it resurfaced the unspoken sensitivities between East Bank Jordanians and Jordanians of Palestinian origin, with the first group using the so-called threat of absorbing or settling the Palestinians as an excuse for what it sees as the second gaining too much power.
At issue is that Badran, a veteran academic, brought an unprecedented number of Jordanians of Palestinian origin into his Cabinet, while ignoring representatives from major tribes in southern Jordan. Around 12 of the 26-member government are Palestinians.
I'm glad to see that my reading of the Jordanian political scene is becoming the conventional wisdom, and I'm even more glad to see Jordan getting the critical attention it deserves. As Rami Khouri argued in the piece I quoted yesterday, it was only this negative Western attention which got the attention of the Jordanian Powers That Be. The more criticism right now, the better.
Is the criticism getting results? Reuters reports that
Jordan will introduce fresh legislation to promote political freedom, the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, but he denied the government was responding to pressure from Washington.
The government would reform electoral law and review unpopular draft laws that have caused an outcry by international human rights groups and mainstream Islamists for violating free speech and public liberties, said Prime Minister Adnan Badran.
"We are talking about major domestic changes. There are no red lines in our reform agenda," he said in an interview with Reuters.
So in terms of getting the government to pay lip service to the need for democratic reforms, yes - the criticism is getting results. As to whether that amounts to real, significant changes... very much a wait and see. Since the Bush administration has been completely silent on Jordan (over 45 days without a single official reference to the Kingdom's political crisis now), it won't get any credit if reforms do materialize. But I don't much care who gets credit, I just want to see results.
Meanwhile, Elaph is running an unsourced report claiming that PM-designate Adnan Badran has recently begun private talks aimed at reshuffling the cabinet to make it more acceptable to Parliament. The shuffle would add several ministers of southern, Transjordanian origin, without removing anyone already in the Cabinet (i.e. Bassem Awadullah). Sounds plausible to me, the best way for Badran to move past the crisis - dealing the King and Badran a real political defeat, confirming the strength of the Transjordanian nationalist trend, without actually derailing the Parliament or sparking a real confrontation. Plausible, but at this point still only speculation.
Kifaya men were dragged into the crowds of Mubarak supporters, beaten badly about the face and kicked repeatedly when they fell to the ground. In one instance, Kifaya member Ragab Mahdi, a young woman, was trapped against the grate for an underground garage with riot police between her and the pro-Mubarak men.
As the riot police began to move aside to allow the men through, she screamed, "What are you doing, they're going to kill us."
An Egyptian journalist off to the side urged the police to intervene, but was told, "Our orders are to allow this to happen." After the men beat her for a few minutes, older men in suits working with the attackers told them to back off and, her clothes torn and her body bruised, she was bundled into a taxi and taken to safety.
Elsewhere in the capital, 150 pro-Mubarak protesters attacked Kifaya members, belting them with wooden sticks use to hold Mubarak banners. Demonstrators scattered, with some taking refuge inside the press syndicate building.
One woman trying to leave the building was pounced upon by Mubarak loyalists who punched and pummeled her with batons and tore her clothes. As police looked on, the woman screamed, then vomited and fainted.
Another clash occurred when demonstrators placed Kifaya stickers onto placards emblazoned with Mubarak's face and waved them in the air, chanting, "Leave, leave Mubarak!"
An Associated Press reporter on the scene said plainclothes state security investigators were beating, groping and verbally harassing demonstrators, particularly women.
About a dozen people, mostly women, were violently cornered and surrounded by nightstick-toting plainclothes police. Some began beating demonstrators. The AP reporter was grabbed and pulled by the hair.
I called a friend involved with Kefaya after I finished voting to confirm his boycott, and to tell me that today's demonstration by Kefaya turned violent, protestors were beaten and girls were sexually harrased (I hope the two girls I know there weren't violated by those thugs).
Witnesses said police abused women taking part in the demonstration, while several men were beaten.
Alaa (via Mohammed in comments):
today me and my mother where attacked by tens of hired thugs from the NDP sham demonstration.
the police where there, they saw everything and they did not interfere, they kept asking for my ID while I was being kicked, they tried to arrest me and tried to confiscate my camera.
I was scared very scared but I'm glad I showed some bravery they attacked my mom first and I actually managed to protect her (other females where not as lucky, the fucking bastard harrased many).
they cracked some bone in the feet (yet to be confirmed, going to get an X ray soon) , they broke our glasses, I can hardly see.
but I don't feel violated, after we got cornered (we gopt the police to thank for that), after it became obvious the police was not about to help (they tried to interogate me while I was ducking blows and kicking back, its hard to describe how it looks like having a wal of police officers in front of you with gaps opening from time to time to let a hand or a leg in to do damage), after the stole my bag with everything in I decided not to break I stood up and started taking photos, one of the officers asked the thugs to get the camera.
.... (it goes on... and on)
Baheyya: Just go read everything.> But especially this: "Two days after Laura Bush and Suzanne Mubarak held their summit meeting about the necessity of girls' and women's “empowerment” in the Middle East, Mubarak's hired thugs battered and sexually assaulted women protestors and reporters, as they did during the 2003 anti-war protests and during parliamentary elections. AP reporter Sarah al-Deeb is no stranger to Mubarak's thuggery, this is the umpteenth time she gets assaulted while doing her job. Women were pulled by the hair, punched and kicked, and dragged on the ground until their clothes came off, while policemen stood by watching. To all the women and men who had their bodies violated while peacefully demanding self-rule today: your pains are not forgotten, your bravery humbles us, your souls edify us. Your blood is on the hands of this despotic regime, until the day of reckoning."
Or are we still in the "Bushy Democracy Tsunami" phase?
UPDATE: al-Arabiya is now running the assaults on women as their lead story:
The story features a female Egyptian journalist who says that she was assaulted by NDP thugs in a sexual manner and her clothes ripped. These stories are coming from everywhere now, fast and furious - enough to suggest that these were not isolated events. That, or it's a concerted Kifaya media strategy. Either way, it's highly disturbing.
By the way, why is it that nobody seems to be writing anything at all about the travesties surrounding this Egyptian referendum? After all the Bushy Tsunami talk, you'd think that people would be all over a referendum vote in Egypt... right? Whether to crow over another Arab vote on Bush's watch, or to complain that Bush sold the Egyptian opposition out... but I haven't seen much of anything at all yet. What, are they all waiting for the outcome? Because the only vote that counts was already cast:
(note: I've been updating the middle part of this post as new stories of these attacks on protestors, and especially on women, come in. In case you can't tell, I'm really pissed off about this. Not that it isn't 100% expected by these thugs, but still... as I said to Mona in comments a minute ago, we're going to find out whether the world really is watching, and cares, the next few days. The world, and Bush.)