Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Egypt clashes turn deadly; Brotherhood offices burn

As protesters battled supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy outside his palace, his chief of staff announced Thursday that the president would address the nation later in the day. The chief of staff, Refaa El-Tahtawy, said the speech would include important news but did not specify what that might be. The announcement came hours after demonstrations erupted into violence Wednesday night over Morsy's assumption of sweeping powers last month. Three of Morsy's advisers resigned Wednesday in protest of his edict, while demonstrators set fire to offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, in three cities. The unrest comes as Egypt lurches toward a scheduled December 15 referendum on a new constitution. Days of largely peaceful protests in Tahrir Square had preceded Wednesday's violence.
But that all changed Wednesday. After Morsy supporters chased protesters from the grounds, pro- and anti-Morsy demonstrators threw rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at each other.Late in the day, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood called on protesters to withdraw from the area of the palace "and not to protest there again due to its significant symbolic position as the president's office." The Health Ministry reported four were killed and 271 were injured; state media reported earlier in the night that no one was killed. Dr. Mohamed Sultan, a spokesman for the ministry, said the injuries ranged from bruises to cuts, burns and fractures. More marches were promised for Thursday, said Rami Shath, a member of the Revolutionary Alliance and the Free Egyptian Party. "We hold opposition figures, namely Sabbahi & ElBaradei, fully responsible for escalation of violence & inciting their supporters," said the Muslim Brotherhood in a tweet, referring to opposition leaders Hamdeen Sabbahi and Mohamed ElBaradei. Morsy, Egypt's first freely elected leader, was a Muslim Brotherhood leader before winning office in June, when he resigned from the movement and the Freedom and Justice Party to represent all Egyptians, he said. Demonstrators were protesting his recent edict granting himself sweeping powers and the proposed constitution -- drafted by an Islamist-dominated council -- that they fear will give him even more power.
"This is not what we asked for," one protester said. "It's a complete dictatorship." Other protesters vowed to remain in the streets until Morsy is forced to leave office. "He's not our president anymore," another protester said. The three advisers who announced their resignations said they had done so after failing to persuade Morsy to reverse his November 23 decree. "He has rejected all our suggestions and initiatives that may have avoided the cycle of violence we are witnessing today," Ayman al-Sayad, Seif Abdel Fattah, and Mohammed Esmat said in a joint statement. But the powerful Muslim Brotherhood called the protesters "thugs" who were trying to overthrow the president. "By the grace of God, the Egyptian people will be able to protect this legitimacy, its constitution and its institutions," the group said on its Facebook page. Ahmed Sobea, a spokesman of the Freedom and Justice Party, said the party's offices in the northeastern cities of Suez and Ismailia had been ransacked and torched by masked, armed men on Wednesday night. The offices were empty when the attacks occurred, Sobea said. State-run Nile TV broadcast pictures of the Ismaila office on fire and reported that other masked men had burned the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in the northeastern city of Zagazig. Opposition leaders are prepared to open talks with Morsy if he withdraws his edict and delays the referendum, said ElBaradei, leader of the liberal Constitution Party and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But Vice President Mahmoud Mekki said the referendum will be held as planned. "Saying the referendum will be held on time is not being stubborn," Mekki said. "The president has backtracked from decisions before; he's not a stubborn character." On Thursday, Syrian television posted a statement from 150 Egyptian diplomats rejecting the Foreign Ministry's supervision of the referendum for Egyptian expatriates. "We condemn every sinful hand that took part, whether directly or indirectly, in today's bloody events," the diplomats said in the joint statement. "We reject the Foreign Ministry's supervision of Egyptian expats' (voting) in the referendum over a draft constitution for which Egyptians' blood is being spilt." Morsy's decree placed his decisions out of the reach of courts until a new constitution is approved. He said the move was designed to protect the spirit of the popular 2011 uprising that drove former strongman Hosni Mubarak from power. Critics call it a power grab. Egyptian judges and media outlets as well as liberal political groups have protested Morsy's decree and the proposed constitution, saying it goes against the goals of the revolution. How the struggle plays out could have repercussions across the Middle East and North Africa, regions already wracked by upheaval. In nearby Gaza and Israel, tensions remain high after last month's fighting. In Syria, a civil war has raged since March 2011. Wednesday's violence followed clashes Tuesday outside the palace, which has become the focus of protests by Egypt's liberal opposition. On Tuesday night, police fired tear gas after anti-Morsy protesters broke through barbed wire around the palace and hurled chairs and rocks at retreating officers. After the initial clashes, police withdrew behind fences and the demonstration was peaceful for several hours. Yassir Ali, a spokesman for the presidential office and the vice president, told reporters Wednesday that the presidential office had ordered the security forces at the palace "to protect the protesters and keep them safe." "The orders to the security forces were not to confront (them), (but) to preserve the lives of the protesters and to prevent any clashes between the security forces and the protesters," Ali said.

UNICEF condemns school shelling near Syrian capital

The United Nations Children' s Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday condemned a deadly mortar attack on a school outside the capital of Syria as "unacceptable," a UN spokesman told reporters here. "UNICEF has condemned yesterday's shelling of a school near Damascus that killed a number of students and a teacher," said Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at the daily briefing. "UNICEF said that this is unacceptable. Schools are, and must remain, zones of peace," he said. The spokesman quoted UNICEF as saying that since the violence in Syria began, schools have been "looted, vandalized and burned." According to Nesirky, UNICEF has renewed its call for all parties to the conflict in Syria to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and to ensure that all children are protected at all times. At least 29 students were killed along with their teacher on Tuesday when a mortar shell struck their school in al-Wafidin camp in the outskirts of Syria's capital Damascus, the state-run SANA news agency said. SANA said the mortar was fired by "terrorists," giving no further details.

LATEST: 4 killed in Egypt clashes

At least four people killed and 300 others injured as supporters and opponents of President Morsi clash in Cairo.

Head of Egypt’s ambulances confirms three dead in Brotherhood violence
The head of Egypt’s ambulances told ONTV that at least three people they have received have been killed in the ongoing violence as the Muslim Brotherhood launched an attack on anti-President Mohamed Morsi protesters on Wednesday. The chief said that the three deaths were the result of gunshot wounds. They were named as Mahmoud Mohamed Ibrahim, Mohamed Khalaf and Mohamed Ahmed. Those are not the three earlier named by the Revolutionary Socialists Party and other activists. The two socialist activists murdered were named as Karam Gerges and Mohamed Essam. Activists shared photos of the two dead men with blood covering their faces and bodies. Al-Tayar Al-Shaabi, the popular current revolutionary movement confirmed the protesters death. Another protester, Hany Mohamed, was also reported to have been killed, although could not confirm that specific information. The armed Brotherhood supporters were reported to have used knives, broken glass, Molotov cocktails, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse the opposition sit-in that followed a massive protest outside the presidential palace late on Tuesday, calling for Morsi to step down. The ambulances chief said over 350 people have been injured as Muslim Brotherhood supporters continue to attack Egyptian activists who had been protesting against President Mohamed Morsi.

Muslim Brotherhood 'paying gangs to go out and rape women and beat men

Egypt's ruling party is paying gangs of thugs to sexually assault women protesting in Cairo's Tahrir Square against President Mohamed Morsi, activists said. They also said the Muslim Brotherhood is paying gangs to beat up men who are taking part in the latest round of protests, which followed a decree by President Morsi to give himself sweeping new powers.
It comes as the Muslim Brotherhood co-ordinated a demonstration today in support of President Mohamed Morsi, who is rushing through a constitution to try to defuse opposition fury over his newly expanded powers.Just 24 hours earlier around 200,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square, the heart of last year's revolution which toppled President Hosni Mubarak, yesterday to protest against a new draft constitution. Large marches from around Cairo flowed into the square, chanting 'Constitution: Void!' and The people want to bring down the regime.'But amid the calls for democracy a sinister threat has emerged. Magda Adly, the director of the Nadeem Centre for Human Rights, said that under Mubarak, the Government paid thugs to beat male protestors and sexually assault women.
'This is still happening now,' she told The Times. 'I believe thugs are being paid money to do this ... the Muslim Brotherhood have the same political approaches as Mubarak,' she said.One protestor, Yasmine, told the newspaper how she had been in the square filming the demonstrations for a few hours when the crowd suddenly turned. Before she knew what was happening, about 50 men had surrounded her and began grabbing her breasts. She said they ripped off her clothes, starting with her headscarf and for nearly an hour, indecently assaulted her with their hands. A few men tried to help her but they were beaten away. Eventually some residents who had seen the attack from their windows came to her aid and an elderly couple pulled her into their home. She suffered internal injuries and was unable to walk for a week.
Four of Yasmine's friends were also sexually assaulted in the square that day, in the summer.Afaf el-Sayed, a journalist and activist, told the newspaper she was assaulted by a group of men while protesting in Tahrir Square just over a month ago and she was sure her attackers were 'thugs from the Muslim Brotherhood'. In February 2011 the correspondent for the American network CBS, Lara Logan, endured a half-hour sexual assault in Tahrir Square by a group of men. She said after the ordeal that she had been 'raped with their hands'. While the exact frequency of these attacks is unknown, activists have reported nearly 20 attacks in the last ten days and say there has been a dramatic increase in mob sex attacks on protestors in the last year. Most attacks take place in one particular corner of the square, at roughly the same time every evening, and usually starts with a group of men forming a human chain around women as if to protect them.Yasmine said she was almost sure the assault was planned. She managed to throw her camera to a friend and was able to watch the footage later. She told The Times: 'Just before the attack it looks like men are getting into position. They look like they're up to something, they don't look like random protestors.' The newspaper spoke to two men who admitted they were paid to target female protestors. Victor and Tutu, both in their thirties, said they operate in a group of around 65 local men and got paid between £10 and £20 a time. But they would not reveal who pays them. 'We're told to go out and sexually harass girls so they leave the demonstration,' Victor told The Times. He said the aim was to cause disruption and instil fear in protesters. He said members of the public sometimes joined in. Protestors in Tahrir Square yesterday angrily vowed to bring down a draft constitution approved by allies of President Morsi.The protests have highlighted an increasingly united opposition leadership of prominent liberal and secular politicians trying to direct public anger against Morsi and the Islamists - a contrast to the leaderless youth uprising last year which toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Figures from a new leadership coalition took the stage to address the crowds. The coalition, known as the National Salvation Front, includes prominent democracy advocate Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa. 'We are determined to continue with all peaceful means, whatever it takes to defend our legitimate rights,' ElBaradei told the crowd. He later posted on Twitter that Morsi and his allies are "staging a coup against democracy" and that the regime's legitimacy 'is eroding'. Sabbahi vowed protests would go on until 'we topple the constitution'. The opposition announced plans for an intensified street campaign of protests and civil disobedience and even a possible march on Morsi's presidential palace to prevent him from calling a nationwide referendum on the draft, which it must pass to come into effect. Top judges announced Friday they may refuse to monitor any referendum, rendering it invalid.If a referendum is called, 'we will go to him at the palace and topple him,' insisted one protester, Yasser Said, a businessman who said he voted for Morsi in last summer's presidential election. Islamists, however, are gearing up as well. The Muslim Brotherhood drummed up supporters for its own mass rally today and boasted the turnout would show that the public supports Morsi's efforts to push through a constitution. Brotherhood activists in several cities handed out fliers calling for people to come out and "support Islamic law". A number of Muslim clerics in Friday sermons in the southern city of Assiut called the president's opponents "enemies of God and Islam". The week-long unrest has already seen clashes between Islamists and the opposition that left two dead and hundreds injured. On Friday, Morsi opponents and supporters rained stones and firebombs on each other in the cities of Alexandria and Luxor.The Islamist-led assembly that worked on the draft for months passed it in a rushed, 16-hour session that lasted until sunrise on Friday. The vote was abruptly moved up to pass the draft before Egypt's Constitutional Court rules on Sunday whether to dissolve the assembly. Liberal, secular and Christian members and secular members had already quit the council to protest what they call Islamists' hijacking of the process. The draft was to be sent to Morsi today to decide on a date for a referendum, possibly in mid-December. The draft has a distinctive Islamic bent - enough to worry many that civil liberties could be restricted, though its provisions for enforcing Sharia, or Islamic law, are not as firm as ultra-conservatives wished. Protests were first sparked when Morsi last week issued decrees granting himself sweeping powers that neutralized the judiciary. Morsi said the move was needed to stop the courts - where anti-Islamist or Mubarak-era judges hold many powerful posts - from dissolving the assembly and further delaying Egypt's transition. Opponents, however, accused Morsi of grabbing near-dictatorial powers by sidelining the one branch of government he doesn't control.

The death of Egyptian democracy

The draft constitution, which erases any line between religion and state, declares Egypt will be governed by the "principles" of Shari’a law.
If Egypt ever really did have democracy, it was born and died with the election of Mohamed Morsi in June. The election was free and fair according to international observers, but that appears to have been both the beginning and end of the experiment. Since taking office Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party have taken control of the presidency, the military and the parliament, and are sidelining the judiciary. Morsi followed the example of Hosni Mubarak and tried to arrest his defeated opponent, but Ahmed Shafik saw it coming and fled the country. The president then moved quickly to purge the army of Mubarak holdovers with close ties to the United States and install his own loyalists. The generals so far appear willing to accept the new Islamist order so long as they are allowed to retain their vast economic empire. Morsi wasted little time doing what many feared most: instituting Islamist government. Brotherhood followers were placed in government posts across the spectrum, including governors, ministers and presidential advisers. His boldest move to date came on November 22 with a power grab that gave him near-dictatorial powers and created a rift with the country’s judiciary as well as the secularists who helped push Mubarak from power. He declared his rulings could not be overruled by the judiciary nor could the courts dissolve the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, which was drafting a new national constitution. The judges called the move an “assault” on their independence and went on strike. MORSI QUICKLY accelerated publication of the constitution before the courts to head off an adverse ruling. Secularists, women, Christians and other non- Muslims and other opposition leaders were excluded from the drafting process. Morsi’s edicts had come one day after he won widespread praise for his role in brokering a Hamas-Israel cease-fire. The constitutional power grab probably had been in the works for a while as Morsi waited for an opportune moment to spring it, perhaps hoping his new international stature would give him the political capital for his power grab. If that was his plan, it failed. Protests grew as hundreds of thousands went back to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where the revolution had begun nearly two years earlier. He went on national television Saturday to say the new constitution would bring “a new day of democracy in Egypt.” That promise had a hollow ring. The draft constitution, which erases any line between religion and state, declares Egypt will be governed by the “principles” of Shari’a law and gives clerics a role in approving legislation. Morsi, who shares that goal, called for a referendum on December 15. The judiciary is supposed to oversee all voting but the strike will undermine the authenticity of any vote. If the draft passes, parliamentary elections are supposed to be called for two months later, but those would similarly be questionable, for the same reasons. Morsi has tried to reassure people that his emergency powers are only temporary, but Egyptians recall that Mubarak ruled by “temporary” emergency decree for decades, as did his predecessors. Morsi has no desire to become he Egyptian Thomas Jefferson; he is driven by the decidedly anti-democratic Muslim Brotherhood ideology. THE ANTI-ISLAMIST forces are disorganized, depressed and angry; they have no direction, no plan and no idea how to deal with politics and the challenges of the Brotherhood, according to a report issued by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The authors of the report, former Republican Congressman Vin Weber and former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig, said the United States should use its $2 billion-plus in annual aid to push for reform. The authors, who recently visited Egypt and met with leaders of the government, opposition, military and other factions, said it would be a mistake to listen to those in the Congress who want to cut off all aid and support. Instead the new government should be presented with “a set of choices” to show they are responsible national leaders and not “religiously inspired ideologues,” Craig said. Continuation of unconditional US aid is “too risky” and “would free its leaders from taking the necessary decision to repair the economy and pursue responsible policies,” he added. The president should be required to certify to the Congress that Egypt is meeting well-defined commitments on regional peace and bilateral strategic cooperation, primarily adherence to the Israeli- Egyptian treaty and the fight against terrorism, as conditions for continued American aid and political backing. In addition they said the administration should press for political reform and respect for the rights of women and religious minorities. “This is not an ultimatum, but necessary to satisfy Congress and the American public that our support serves US interests,” Craig said. Weber recommended earmarking about $100 million of US military aid to finance more aggressive counterterrorism efforts in Sinai. A Congressional foreign policy expert recently in the region agreed, adding that stabilizing Sinai and dealing with lawlessness there isn’t getting enough attention from the administration or the Egyptians. The Pentagon’s top concerns are maintaining good relations with the Egyptian military and keeping the Suez Canal open, and the State Department seems more focused on rebuilding the Egyptian economy than building a civil society, he said. So far the Egyptian revolution has replaced a secular dictator with an Islamist dictator, and the outlook is gloomy. As often happens in the Muslim world, political change too often begins with the mosque, and all the exits are blocked. Islamists came to power in Egypt through democratic election but quickly showed their contempt for the concept. The new constitution puts Islamic law above democratic government. It’s a familiar pattern: one man, one vote, one time.

Several killed in Egypt clashes

At least three people killed and 300 others injured as supporters and opponents of President Morsi clash in Cairo.
At least three people have been killed in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, as supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi clashed near the presidential palace in Cairo, medics and police say. After a brief calm on Wednesday night, fighting extended into the early morning with fires burning in the streets where the opposing sides threw stones and petrol bombs at each other. "No to dictatorship," Morsi's opponents chanted, while their rivals chanted: "Defending Morsi is defending Islam." A small group of opposition activists have been camped outside the palace since Tuesday night, when tens of thousands rallied against a controversial decree which gives Morsi near-absolute power. Supporters of the president marched to the palace on Wednesday and tore down the opposition's tents. Witnesses said they threw stones and used clubs to attack demonstrators. Opposition protesters were driven away from the palace and fled down side streets. Thirty-two people were arrested, according to a statement from the interior ministry. Protests spread to other cities, and offices of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood in Ismailia and Suez were torched. Both sides blamed the other for starting the clashes: Opposition leaders said Morsi was responsible for the bloodshed, while senior Brotherhood officials accused the opposition of "inciting violence".
Political standoff
Morsi did not make any public appearances on Wednesday, but his prime minister, Hisham Qandil, issued a brief statement calling for calm "to give the opportunity for the efforts being made now to begin a national dialogue". The violence escalates a two-week-old political standoff in Egypt, which began with Morsi's November 22 decree, which shielded his decisions from judicial oversight. Hours after the clashes began, a spokesman for the Brotherhood called on protesters to leave. Mahmoud Ghozlan said both sides should "withdraw at the same time and pledge not to return there, given the symbolism of the palace". Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo, said the main message now was a call for dialogue. "What's really significant and saddening, and very worrying for a lot of people in this country watching their TV screens, is that these are Egyptian civilians fighting Egyptian civilians," she said. "The country is so divided and polarised. That has been the situation for many months, but it was made all the more intense two weeks ago when Morsi issued this constitutional decree giving himself sweeping powers." The crisis continues to divide Morsi's government. Four of Morsi's advisers resigned in protest on Wednesday. Saif Abdelfattah, one of the president's political advisers, quit during a live interview with Al Jazeera, blaming the "mummified" political culture in Egypt for his departure. Two other top Morsi aides resigned last week, including Samir Morcos, a prominent Coptic Christian scholar.
Referendum on constitution
The decree issued by Morsi barred the courts from dissolving the controversial 100-member constituent assembly which has been drafting a new constitution. A final draft of the document was sent to Morsi last week, and it is scheduled to face a public referendum on December 15. While protesters battled outside, Vice President Mahmoud Mekki held a news conference inside the palace and tried to calm the situation. He urged the opposition to rein in street protests, and said political groups could agree on a plan to amend contentious articles after a new parliament is elected in 2013. He called for "communication between political forces" on the document. "There must be consensus," he said. "There is real political will to pass the current period and respond to the demands of the public." A group of prominent opposition leaders, including Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa, held a press conference in Cairo on Wednesday night and dismissed Mekki's offer. ElBaradei said the opposition is open to dialogue, but not until Morsi revokes his decree. All three men blamed Morsi for the violence outside the presidential palace. "He has lost the moral legitimacy to lead Egypt," said Sabbahi, who placed third in the presidential election earlier this year. But the Muslim Brotherhood quickly turned around and blamed their opponents for the clashes. Gehad el-Haddad, a senior adviser to the Freedom and Justice Party, accused the three opposition leaders of "inciting violence". "It's very sad to see opposition leaders such as ElBaradei, Hamdeen and Amr Moussa to resort to such levels of talk," he told Al Jazeera. "Such disrespect to the sanctity of peaceful protesting, within the context of democracy, is very alarming."

The first flower of the Arab Spring

The newly empowered Egyptian people are not just fighting for their freedom, they are using the tools of democracy in an ideological battle for the future of their nation.
The outrage and political ferment that arose in Egypt after President Mohamed Morsi’s recent decisions to centralize power and ram through a new constitution is, in fact, the true beginning of the “Arab Spring” that erupted in Tunisia and Egypt two years ago. The newly empowered Egyptian people are not just fighting for their freedom, they are using the tools of democracy in an ideological battle for the future of their nation. The fundamental change that has taken place in Egypt since the fall of the Mubarak regime – aside from the assumption of power by political Islam – is the new-found openness and freedom of expression enjoyed by the people, the media and the political parties. The transformation is remarkable. Where there was once a police state in which people feared government agents who enforced a ban on all anti-establishment activity – especially anti-government activity – today stands an Egypt in which journalism is more or less free and where criticism and demonstrations against the government are simply part of daily life. The liberal forces that initiated the Egyptian uprising felt that the Islamists jumped on the bandwagon late and then hijacked the revolution. This impression was reinforced by Morsi’s first steps as president: disbanding the army council, unrestricted support for the Islamist-dominated houses of parliament, and the creation of a committee to draft a new, Islamist-oriented constitution. These sophisticated political moves hinted at what was to come. With the added bona fides he garnered for brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Morsi took the opportunity to institute his latest draconian measures. The Islamists are using today’s opportunities to institute changes that may not be reversible tomorrow. THE NEW round of demonstrations in Tahrir Square and throughout the country indicates an important change in Egyptian society. The Arab uprising that began in 2010 – disorganized, lacking leadership and without an ideological agenda – had one inchoate purpose: to depose Mubarak’s authoritarian regime and create a democratic nation in which the people themselves determine their own political future, not those sitting in the presidential palace. Today’s demonstrations are entirely different. Egyptians of all backgrounds – Islamist men and women, liberals and secularists, young and old, intellectuals and common folk – have taken to the streets to determine the character of the nation. Will Egypt continue on the path to democracy or become an Islamic dictatorship? The outcome of this struggle – which will have important implications for Egypt and the region – is by no means predetermined. In truth, Morsi beat his secular rival, Ahmed Shafik, by the narrowest of margins. It is now abundantly clear that Egyptians – secular or religious – are not homogenous in their political ideology and will not walk in lockstep with the political marching orders of the government. Morsi’s actions have brought to a head the political tension between the forces of Western liberal democracy and those of the Islamists. These two streams, which cooperated to bring down Mubarak in 2010, are now arrayed against one another over the nature and future of the state. At this tenuous moment, when so much is in the balance, it would be wise for the United States and the Western nations to devote intensive care, effort and resources to strengthening the liberal parties and democratic forces in Egypt, and in the other states in the Arab world. The time to do so is now, with the repressive restrictions of the old regimes gone, the wheels of democratic change in motion and it is possible to effect change. Indeed, a recent bipartisan task force of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy concluded that the United States should impose “informal conditionality” on its relationship with Egypt based, in part, on its performance on democracy and human rights issues. In its final study, “Engagement without Illusions,” the task force concluded that “it is too risky to provide Egypt with virtually unconditional aid and support and thereby feed a dangerous sense of entitlement – the notion that Egypt is somehow owed American reparations for Washington’s past support of nondemocratic leaders who served US strategic interests.” The report recommended that the Obama administration should link a close and mutually beneficial relationship to Cairo’s performance on a variety of issues, including maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, support for constitutional democracy and commitment to political pluralism. Specifically, the report urged the Obama administration to actively engage with the broadest possible spectrum of political actors in Egypt. UNFORTUNATELY, IT seems that the Egyptian government that was brought to power on the silver platter of a democratic election now seeks to shatter the dishes in an attempt to gradually eliminate the very steps that led to a real democratic country. In the past, when he campaigned for office, Morsi expressed a willingness to cooperate with secularists, even to nominate a woman or a Coptic Christian vice president. But today, the attitude is closer to the Muslim Brotherhood line and is demonstrating a desire put its Islamist policies into practice. His political position is inclining more toward the radical Salafists than the secularists. Many Egyptians are saying no to this in Tahrir Square and across the country. The coming weeks and months will be the most critical in determining the outcome of this struggle, a byproduct of the Arab Spring that will determine the future and the character of Egypt. Today, more than ever, they should not undertake this campaign alone.

Egypt: Mursi responsible for violence

Egypt’s opposition coalition blamed President Mohamed Mursi for violence outside his palace on Wednesday and said it was ready for dialogue if the Islamist leader scrapped a decree that gave him extraordinary powers.
Clashes erupted after the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that helped Mursi win a presidential election in June, told its supporters to go to the palace where opponents were protesting against the president’s powers and against a draft constitution that they say is biased. “Today what is happening in the Egyptian street, polarization and division, is something that could and is actually drawing us to violence and could draw us to something worse,” said opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei. “We hold President Mursi and his government completely responsible for the violence that is happening in Egypt today,” said ElBaradei, coordinator of the National Salvation Front alliance. Protests began after Mursi issued a decree on Nov. 22 that expanded his powers. He fuelled opposition anger further by racing through approval of a draft constitution, drawn up by an Islamist-led assembly, for a referendum in the middle of December. “Our opinion was, and still is, that we are ready for dialogue if the constitutional decree is cancelled ... and the referendum on this constitution is postponed,” ElBaradei said. He said Mursi should appear on television to say he accepts the “foundations of dialogue.” Another opposition politician Hamdeen Sabahy said at the news conference, attended by senior figures in the alliance, that Mursi had lost his “moral legitimacy,” saying Mursi was “pushing Egypt towards division that may lead to civil conflict.” Conditions flared up on Wednesday after Mursi’s supporters scuffled with the president’s opponents, hurling stones and other objects at each other outside the presidential palace in Cairo. Riot police began to deploy between the two sides to try to end the violence which increased despite an attempt by Vice President Mahmoud Mekky to calm the political crisis. He said amendments to disputed articles in the draft constitution could be agreed with the opposition. A written agreement could then be submitted to the next parliament, to be elected after a referendum on the constitution on Dec. 15. “There must be consensus,” he told a news conference, saying opposition demands must be respected to overcome the crisis.

Weapons Sent to Libyan Rebels With U.S. Approval Fell Into Islamist Hands

The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats. No evidence has emerged linking the weapons provided by the Qataris during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to the attack that killed four Americans at the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in September. But in the months before, the Obama administration clearly was worried about the consequences of its hidden hand in helping arm Libyan militants, concerns that have not previously been reported. The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government. The experience in Libya has taken on new urgency as the administration considers whether to play a direct role in arming rebels in Syria, where weapons are flowing in from other countries. The Obama administration did not initially raise objections when Qatar began shipping arms to opposition groups in Syria, even if it did not offer encouragement, according to current and former administration officials. But they said the United States has growing concerns that, just as in Libya, the Qataris are equipping some of the wrong militants. The United States, which had only small numbers of C.I.A. officers on the ground in Libya during the tumult of the rebellion, provided little oversight of the arms shipments. Within weeks of endorsing Qatar’s plan to send weapons there in spring 2011, the White House began receiving reports that they were going to Islamic militant groups. They were “more antidemocratic, more hard-line, closer to an extreme version of Islam” than the main rebel alliance in Libya, said a former Defense Department official. The Qatari assistance to fighters viewed as hostile by the United States demonstrates the Obama administration’s continuing struggles in dealing with the Arab Spring uprisings, as it tries to support popular protest movements while avoiding American military entanglements. Relying on surrogates allows the United States to keep its fingerprints off operations, but also means they may play out in ways that conflict with American interests. “To do this right, you have to have on-the-ground intelligence and you have to have experience,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department adviser who is now dean of Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, part of Johns Hopkins University. “If you rely on a country that doesn’t have those things, you are really flying blind. When you have an intermediary, you are going to lose control.” He said that Qatar would not have gone through with the arms shipments if the United States had resisted them, but other current and former administration officials said Washington had little leverage at times over Qatari officials. “They march to their own drummer,” said a former senior State Department official. The White House and State Department declined to comment. During the frantic early months of the Libyan rebellion, various players motivated by politics or profit — including an American arms dealer who proposed weapons transfers in an e-mail exchange with a United States emissary later killed in Benghazi — sought to aid those trying to oust Colonel Qaddafi. But after the White House decided to encourage Qatar — and on a smaller scale, the United Arab Emirates — to ship arms to the Libyans, President Obama complained in April 2011 to the emir of Qatar that his country was not coordinating its actions in Libya with the United States, the American officials said. “The president made the point to the emir that we needed transparency about what Qatar was doing in Libya,” said a former senior administration official who had been briefed on the matter. About that same time, Mahmoud Jibril, then the prime minister of the Libyan transitional government, expressed frustration to administration officials that the United States was allowing Qatar to arm extremist groups opposed to the new leadership, according to several American officials. They, like nearly a dozen current and former White House, diplomatic, intelligence, military and foreign officials, would speak only on the condition of anonymity for this article. The administration has never determined where all of the weapons, paid for by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, went inside Libya, officials said. Qatar is believed to have shipped by air and sea small arms, including machine guns, automatic rifles, and ammunition, for which it has demanded reimbursement from Libya’s new government. Some of the arms since have been moved from Libya to militants with ties to Al Qaeda in Mali, where radical jihadi factions have imposed Shariah law in the northern part of the country, the former Defense Department official said. Others have gone to Syria, according to several American and foreign officials and arms traders. Although NATO provided air support that proved critical for the Libyan rebels, the Obama administration wanted to avoid getting immersed in a ground war, which officials feared could lead the United States into another quagmire in the Middle East. As a result, the White House largely relied on Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, two small Persian Gulf states and frequent allies of the United States. Qatar, a tiny nation whose natural gas reserves have made it enormously wealthy, for years has tried to expand its influence in the Arab world. Since 2011, with dictatorships in the Middle East and North Africa coming under siege in the Arab Spring, Qatar has given arms and money to various opposition and militant groups, chiefly Sunni Islamists, in hopes of cementing alliances with the new governments. Officials from Qatar and the emirates would not comment. After discussions among members of the National Security Council, the Obama administration backed the arms shipments from both countries, according to two former administration officials briefed on the talks. American officials say that the United Arab Emirates first approached the Obama administration during the early months of the Libyan uprising, asking for permission to ship American-built weapons that the United States had supplied for the emirates’ use. The administration rejected that request, but instead urged the emirates to ship weapons to Libya that could not be traced to the United States. “The U.A.E. was asking for clearance to send U.S. weapons,” said one former official. “We told them it’s O.K. to ship other weapons.” For its part, Qatar supplied weapons made outside the United States, including French- and Russian-designed arms, according to people familiar with the shipments. But the American support for the arms shipments from Qatar and the emirates could not be completely hidden. NATO air and sea forces around Libya had to be alerted not to interdict the cargo planes and freighters transporting the arms into Libya from Qatar and the emirates, American officials said. Concerns in Washington soon rose about the groups Qatar was supporting, officials said. A debate over what to do about the weapons shipments dominated at least one meeting of the so-called Deputies Committee, the interagency panel consisting of the second-highest ranking officials in major agencies involved in national security. “There was a lot of concern that the Qatar weapons were going to Islamist groups,” one official recalled. The Qataris provided weapons, money and training to various rebel groups in Libya. One militia that received aid was controlled by Adel Hakim Belhaj, then leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who was held by the C.I.A. in 2004 and is now considered a moderate politician in Libya. It is unclear which other militants received the aid. “Nobody knew exactly who they were,” said the former defense official. The Qataris, the official added, are “supposedly good allies, but the Islamists they support are not in our interest.” No evidence has surfaced that any weapons went to Ansar al-Shariah, an extremist group blamed for the Benghazi attack whose members have ties to an offshoot of Al Qaeda. That episode has set off a furor on Capitol Hill, where Republicans accuse the federal government of having failed to provide adequate security to the diplomats and of trying to play down any terrorist links. The case of Marc Turi, the American arms merchant who had sought to provide weapons to Libya, demonstrates other challenges the United States faced in dealing with Libya. A dealer who lives in both Arizona and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Turi sells small arms to buyers in the Middle East and Africa, relying primarily on suppliers of Russian-designed weapons in Eastern Europe. In March 2011, just as the Libyan civil war was intensifying, Mr. Turi realized that Libya could be a lucrative new market, and applied to the State Department for a license to provide weapons to the rebels there, according to e-mails and other documents he has provided. (American citizens are required to obtain United States approval for any international arms sales.) He also e-mailed with J. Christopher Stevens, then the special representative to the Libyan rebel alliance. The diplomat said he would “share” Mr. Turi’s proposal with colleagues in Washington, according to e-mails provided by Mr. Turi. Mr. Stevens, who became the United States ambassador to Libya, was one of the four Americans killed in the Benghazi attack on Sept. 11. Mr. Turi’s application for a license was rejected in late March 2011. Undeterred, he applied again, this time stating only that he planned to ship arms worth more than $200 million to Qatar. In May 2011, his application was approved. Mr. Turi, in an interview, said that his intent was to get weapons to Qatar and that what “the U.S. government and Qatar allowed from there was between them. “ Two months later, though, his home near Phoenix was raided by agents from the Department of Homeland Security. Administration officials say he remains under investigation in connection with his arms dealings. The Justice Department would not comment. Mr. Turi said he believed that United States officials had shut down his proposed arms pipeline because he was getting in the way of the Obama administration’s dealings with Qatar. The Qataris, he complained, imposed no controls on who got the weapons. “They just handed them out like candy,” he said.

Egypt descends into political turmoil

Supporters and opponents of Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi fought with rocks, firebombs and sticks outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday in large-scale clashes that marked the worst violence of a deepening crisis over the disputed constitution. Egypt's Health Ministry said 126 people were wounded in the clashes that were still raging hours after nightfall. Three of Morsi's aides resigned in protest of his handling of the crisis. With two aides who had quit earlier, now five of his panel of 17 advisers have left their jobs since the problems began. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition advocate of reform and democracy, said Morsi's rule was "no different" from that of former President Hosni Mubarak, whose authoritarian regime was toppled in an uprising nearly two years ago. "In fact, it is perhaps even worse," the Nobel Peace Laureate told a news conference after he accused the president's supporters of a "vicious and deliberate" attack on peaceful demonstrators. The opposition is demanding Morsi rescind decrees giving him nearly unrestricted powers and shelve a disputed draft constitution that the president's Islamist allies passed hurriedly last week. The dueling demonstrations and violence are part of a political crisis that has left the country divided into two camps: Islamists versus an opposition made up of youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public. Both sides have dug in their heels, signaling a protracted standoff. The latest clashes began when thousands of Islamist supporters of Morsi descended on the area around the palace where some 300 of his opponents were staging a sit-in. The Islamists, members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group, chased the protesters away from their base outside the palace's main gate and tore down their tents. The protesters scattered in side streets where they chanted anti-Morsi slogans. After a lull in fighting, hundreds of young Morsi opponents arrived at the scene and immediately began throwing firebombs at the president's backers, who responded with rocks. "I voted for Morsi to get rid of Hosni Mubarak. I now regret it," Nadia el-Shafie yelled at the Brotherhood supporters from a side street. "God is greater than you. Don't think this power or authority will add anything to you. God made this revolution, not you," said the tearful el-Shafie as she was led away from the crowd of Islamists. By nightfall, there were about 10,000 Islamists outside the palace. They set up metal barricades to keep traffic off a stretch of road that runs parallel to the palace in Cairo's upscale Heliopolis district. Some of them appeared to plan staging their own sit-in. "May God protect Egypt and its president," read a banner hoisted on a truck that came with the Islamists. Atop, a man using a loudspeaker recited verses from the Quran. "We came to support the president. We feel there is a legitimacy that someone is trying to rob," said engineer Rabi Mohammed, a Brotherhood supporter. "People are rejecting democratic principles using thuggery." At least 100,000 opposition supporters rallied outside the palace on Tuesday and smaller protests were staged by the opposition elsewhere in Cairo and across much of Egypt. It was the latest of a series of mass protests against the president Buoyed by the massive turnout on Tuesday, the mostly secular opposition held a series of meetings late Tuesday and Wednesday to decide on next steps in the standoff that began Nov. 22 with Morsi's decrees that placed him above oversight of any kind. It escalated after the president's allies who dominated the constitution-writing assembly hurriedly pushed through the draft constitution without participation of representatives of liberals, minority Christians and women. While calling for more mass rallies is the obvious course of action, activists said opposition leaders also were discussing whether to campaign for a "no" vote in a Dec. 15 constitutional referendum or to call for a boycott. Brotherhood leaders have been calling on the opposition to enter a dialogue with the Islamist leader. But the opposition contends that a dialogue is pointless unless the president first rescinds his decrees and shelves the draft charter. Vice President Mahmoud Mekki called for a dialogue between the president and the opposition to reach a "consensus" on the disputed articles of the constitution and put their agreement in a document that would be discussed by the next parliament. But he said the referendum must go ahead and that he was making his "initiative" in a personal capacity not on behalf of Morsi. He put the number of clauses in disputes at 15, out of a total of 234. Speaking to reporters, ElBaradei said there would be no dialogue unless Morsi rescinded his decrees and shelved the constitution draft. Asked to comment on Mekki's offer, he said: "With all due respect, we don't deal with personal initiatives. If there is a genuine desire for dialogue, the offer must come from President Morsi." The charter has been criticized for not protecting the rights of women and minority groups, and many journalists see it as restricting freedom of expression. Critics also say it empowers Islamic religious clerics by giving them a say over legislation, while some articles were seen as tailored to get rid of the Islamists' enemies. If the referendum goes ahead as scheduled and the draft constitution is adopted, elections for parliament's lawmaking lower chamber will be held in February.

Arab Spring nations slip in corruption index

Egypt falls six places and Syria 15 but Libya manages slight improvement in Transparency International's league table.
Egypt has fallen in a global league table of perceived official corruption in the past year, and the Arab Spring revolutions have yet to produce serious anti-corruption action across the region, Transparency International (TI) says. In its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, released on Wednesday, the Berlin-based group said Egypt had fallen six places to 118th out of 176 countries as levels of bribery, abuse of power and secret dealings remain high in the Arab world's most populous nation. The public-sector league table - on which the higher the ranking, the cleaner a country is - produced a mixed picture for nations swept up in last year's unrest. Tunisia slipped two places to 75th while Morocco, which experienced less turmoil, fell eight spots to 88th. Syria, which is engulfed in a civil war, dropped 15 places to 144th but Libya managed an improvement from a very low base, rising to 160th from 168th. Egypt was in a five-way tie with the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Indonesia and Madagascar with a score of 32. European rankings Greece has scored the worst ranking of all 27 European Union nations, falling below ex-communist Bulgaria as public anger about corruption soars at a time of crisis. The index on state sector corruption also showed other struggling eurozone countries scoring poorly such as Italy which ranked below Romania. Greeks have long complained about corruption but anger has soared, particularly about tax evasion among the rich, as the government has imposed wave after wave of austerity that the country's international lenders have demanded. The EU has kept Bulgaria and Romania out of its Schengen zone, which allows passport-free travel between member states, due to concerns about corruption. A recent study showed Bulgarians gave about 150,000 bribes to civil servants every month last year, more than in 2010. Portugal and Ireland, which like Greece have received eurozone rescues, were placed 33 and 25 respectively in the table. BRIC economies TI said there was a stronger public recognition worldwide, including in big emerging BRIC economies such as China and Brazil, of the costs of corruption and a growing refusal to accept it as an inevitable fact of life. Overall, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand were in a first-place tie with scores of 90 on a new scale where 100 stands for most clean and 0 for most corrupt. Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan shared last place. Among the major global economies, the US ranked 19, up from 24, Germany was at 13, up from 14, Japan and Britain tied for 17th place and France was at 22, up from 25 last year. China meanwhile saw its ranking slip to 80 from 75 last year.

White House calls for calm in Egypt
As protests continued in Egypt on Wednesday, the White House declined to take sides in the conflict, noting that the United States has an important relationship with Egypt, but called for all sides to refrain from violence. When asked at a White House briefing if President Obama supports Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, press secretary Jay Carney said, "The president has an important relationship, well, the United States has a very important relationship with Egypt. The president has worked effectively with President Morsi on key issues, including recently the negotiated ceasefire in Gaza. We are monitoring the situation." Carney did not say whether Obama has spoken with Morsi or taken any other action. A White House official later confirmed to POLITICO that the president did stop by a meeting between national security adviser Tom Donilon and Morsi adviser Issam Al-Haddad. The official did not say what they spoke about. Protests in Cairo turned violent for a second day Wednesday, with protestors supporting and opposing Morsi throwing fire bombs and rocks at each other outside the presidential palace, CBS reported. The opposition demonstrators want Morsi to rescind declarations he made exempting himself from judicial oversight and to throw away a draft constitution quickly passed by his allies last week. Carney said the administration thinks dialogue between all Egyptians is "urgently necessary." "It must be a two-way dialogue that includes a respectful exchange of the concerns of the Eyptian people themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of their constitution. The Egyptian people want and deserve a constitutional process that is open, transparaent and fair and does not unduly favor one group over any other," he said. He added that most demonstrations so far have been large but "generally peaceful." " As Egyptians continue to express their views, we look to the government of Egypt to respect freedoms of peaceful expression and assembly and to exercise restraint. We also continue to call on demonstrators and political parties to take all possible measures to avoid confrontation and violence."

VIDEO: Morsi's supporters attack protesters at presidential palace Wednesday afternoon

At least one killed as anti-Mursi protests flare outside Cairo’s presidential palace

First death reported in Egypt as clashes exploded Wednesday night between supporters and foes of President Mohamed Mursi outside the presidential palace.
Stones and Molotov cocktail bombs flew around, and gunshots were heard as supporters of Mursi fought protesters outside the palace in Cairo, according to Al Arabiya’s correspondent. The clashes started escalating even after Egypt’s vice president, speaking at a news conference from inside the palace, proposed a way to end a crisis over a draft constitution that has split the most populous Arab nation. Three members of Mursi’s presidential advisory council announced the resignation over crisis, reported Al Arabiya. The members are Seif Abdel Fattah, Ayman al-Sayyad and Amr al-Leithy. In the same vain, the Grand Imam of Egypt’s powerful al-Azhar Mosque Dr. Ahmed el-Tayyeb urged Egyptians for dialogue after Wednesday’s clashes. Conditions flared up on Wednesday after Mursi’s supporters, who had flocked to the palace in response to a call from the Muslim Brotherhood, scuffled with the president’s opponents, hurling stones and other objects at each other. Two Islamists were hit in the legs by what their friends said were bullets fired during the clashes in streets around the compound in northern Cairo, according to Reuters. One of them was bleeding heavily. Riot police began to deploy between the two sides to try to end the violence which flared after dark despite an attempt by Vice President Mahmoud Mekky to calm the political crisis. He said amendments to disputed articles in the draft constitution could be agreed with the opposition. A written agreement could then be submitted to the next parliament, to be elected after a referendum on the constitution on Dec. 15. “There must be consensus,” he told a news conference, saying opposition demands must be respected to overcome the crisis. Opposition leader Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and secretary-general of the Arab League, said Mursi should make a formal offer for dialogue if his opponents were to consider seriously Mekky’s ideas for a way out of the political impasse. “We are ready when there is something formal, something expressed in definite terms, we will not ignore it,” Moussa told Reuters during talks with other opposition figures. Opposition leaders have previously urged Mursi to retract a decree widening his powers, defer the plebiscite and agree to revise the constitution, but have not echoed calls from street protesters for his overthrow and the “downfall of the regime."
Under Siege
Mursi had returned to work at his compound a day after it came under siege from protesters furious at his assumption of extraordinary powers via an edict on Nov. 22. The president, narrowly elected by popular vote in June, said he acted to stop courts still full of judges appointed by ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak from derailing a constitution meant to complete a political transition in Egypt, long an ally of Washington and signatory to a 1979 peace deal with Israel. Rival groups skirmished earlier outside the presidential palace on Wednesday. Islamist supporters of Mursi tore down tents erected by leftist foes, who had begun a sit-in there. “They hit us and destroyed our tents. Are you happy, Mursi? Aren’t we Egyptians too?” asked protester Haitham Ahmed. Mohamed Mohy, a pro-Mursi demonstrator who was filming the scene, said: “We are here to support our president and his decisions and save our country from traitors and agents.” Facing the gravest crisis of his six-month-old tenure, Mursi has shown no sign of buckling, confident that Islamists can win the referendum and a parliamentary election to follow. Many Egyptians yearn for an end to political upheaval that has scared off investors and tourists, damaging the economy. Mekky said street mobilization by both sides posed a “real danger” to Egypt. “If we do not put a stop to this phenomenon right away ... where are we headed? We must calm down.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed into Egypt’s political debate, saying dialogue was urgently needed on the new constitution, which should “respect the rights of all citizens”. Clinton and Mursi worked together last month to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip. “It needs to be a two-way dialogue ... among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution,” Clinton told a news conference in Brussels. Washington is worried about rising Islamist power in Egypt, a staunch U.S. security partner under Mubarak.

Majority of Americans want Hillary Clinton to run in '16
Hillary Clinton's popularity is booming, and the majority of Americans said they would like to see the secretary of state and former first lady make her own run for the White House in 2016. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, 57 percent of Americans, including 23 percent of Republicans, would support Clinton if she were to run for president in the next election. Clinton earned her most positive ratings among women, with 66 percent saying they would support her in 2016. That number jumps to 75 percent among those under 50 and drops to 54 percent among those aged 50 and up. Forty-nine percent of men back a Clinton bid, regardless of their age, reported the Washington Post. It's not only die-hard Democrats who overwhelmingly favor a Clinton bid. Fifty-nine percent of independents and 65 percent of moderates would vote Clinton into office in 2016. Come January, Clinton will be ducking out of public office when her term as secretary of state ends. She has repeatedly said she plans to take time off and isn't planning any immediate return to politics, reported POLITICO. But according to the New York Daily News, Clinton is hinted at a run by airing what is essentially a campaign video at the Saban Forum for Middle East Policy last Friday. The Daily News said the tribute video "is not about Clinton's accomplishments at the State Department. It's a celebration of her essence, of her supposed strength of conviction, her personality, even her smile."POLITICO also suggests that Clinton is positioning herself for a run by sending letters to a handful of Democratic congressional candidate who lost their races in November. She is also expected to embrace same-sex marriage after leaving the Obama administration. Marc Ambinder at The Week said last month that Clinton would be one of the best qualified candidates in modern history and has "proven she has the fortitude to BE president." "She has been humbled, first by her husband's affair and later by the 2008 primary campaign, and has pulled herself up each time, becoming a better politician and person," Ambinder said. But since President Obama's second term hasn't even started yet, it will certainly be a while before anyone is sure what Clinton's presidential plans are.

Following Malala's footsteps, Pak girls defy Taliban to get educated

Four girls in Lower Dir district of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province are following in the footsteps of 15-year-old education campaigner Malala Yousufzai - who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban - by defying the Taliban to receive proper education. Malala was shot by the Taliban in the head and neck on October 9 while she was returning home from school. She was attacked for speaking up against the terror outfit and advocating girls' right to education. She is now recovering at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, reports The Sun. Saira, 13, the daughter of a poor farmer who relies on seasonal farming work to feed his family of 13, said her dream to study came alive when a charity called Khwendo Kor built a community school in 2002. The donations from the organization helped her cover her school expenses. Her books and stationery are also paid for by the charity. "Before I started school I couldn't read or write. Now I'm learning new things every day. My favourite subject is English. I want to become a teacher when I graduate because I think teaching is a respectable profession. And I could educate other children in my community. That would be my dream," she said. Another girl, 13-year-old Nazish said: "My mother is an uneducated housewife and my father is a labourer but, luckily, he approves of education for girls. So when we heard about a school that was being built near our home, he saw it as a great opportunity for me. Now I am in grade seven. My parents are so happy with my progress. My dream is to become a teacher in the school that gave me the chance of an education. I also want to work to promote education in my country. Malala has sacrificed so much to tell the world about us. Salma, 12, said her parents have been her greatest role models along with Malala. She termed Malala "a brave and brilliant person". Irum, 17, who lives in a small hut along with nine members of her family works as a teacher. She succeeded in receiving her education after her teachers persuaded her reluctant father to allow her to study. "My education has only been possible because of the courage of my teachers who persuaded my parents to let me carry on with my studies. It also took courage for my parents to agree because girls in my country face many threats for attending school," she said.

Afghanistan: Education attacked
Afghanistan has become a country where rhetoric pulls more crowds than reason and rationalism. Our current and as well as coming generations are faced with a bleak and challenging future because in a society where reason, debate culture, and intolerance have gone missing then it is quite difficult to give them a secure and prosperous future. Sectarianism, tribal feuds, militancy, corruption, ethnic tensions, and internal bickering are some of the social evils that have made home here which collectively are pushing back this country into the age of barbarism, intolerance and deadly dormancy, for we have become a nation that doesn’t make efforts on its own to overcome its own problems but ogles for outside support, always. We are quite expert in blaming others for our own blunders and problems but quite blockhead to keep our house in order ourselves. Just ask anyone on a road or in a university that who is responsible for the miseries of this miserable nation and you will get a long list, starting from Israelis, Americans, Pakistanis, Iranians, and Indians but hardly you will hear that we ourselves are responsible for our current plight. Who killed a Kabul University student and injured 28 others in the violent clashes stirred by an attempt by Shiite students to flagellate themselves at the main mosque on the campus during the Ashura rituals? The response is, no Israeli, no American, no Pakistani, and no Indian but Afghans. Then why to blame others? Our illiterates are being killed by NATO, Americans and the Taliban whereas our students are being killed by students. Earlier the children of the nation witnessed a setback over political move when a University name was renamed after the then peace interlocutor, Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani whereas the anger of the students was not allayed that Kabul universities’ students received another setback. The sectarian clashes in the Kabul University’s hostels have led to the extension of vacation for three months. Though initially the government has declared classes will remain suspended for 10 days but to control the hostile situation that was triggered on the day of Ashura has left a bad mark on the history of our education. The decision has been taken by the government in such a time when university exams were quite near while now they will have to take their exams in February 2013. It was a good decision by the government to pacify the searing anger of the Sunni and Shiite students but the government will have to take two steps, either to impose ban on political and certain other sensitive activities in education institutions that could potentially put the peaceful environment of universities in danger or ensure freedom of speech and act until it is in contrast to law of the land. Moreover the religious minority should keep their rituals away from university when they have other places to perform freely with no hindrance. Why our universities have turned into centers for sordid politics, and that too, a politics of polarization and hatred. Those behind the sectarian violence in the university should be trialed and those found guilty should be sent behind bars. Such like incidents are badly affecting our collective behavior and those students who want to stay aside from politics are reluctantly pushed into the whirl of ethnic politics and the politics of sectarianism. Earlier our education was in danger from the insurgents and now unfortunately education has been endangered by students themselves. What difference is there between the insurgents and those students who have disturbed the environment for education? Both should respond to the nation as the nation asks them why they have been doing it, at whose behest, and for whose advantage.

Central Asia: A Look at Sources of Violence and Instability
August 7, 2012 There is a general assumption that Afghanistan is a notorious exporter of violence and that the pullout of US and NATO troops in 2014 from the country portends trouble for the neighboring states of Central Asia. Yet this assumption rests on shaky evidence. The recent fighting in Tajikistan reminds us that disorder and violence in Central Asia are homegrown phenomena. Experts in Russia, China, the U.S., and Europe are worried that Afghanistan’s evil twins – drug trafficking and the export of religious extremism – will bring chaos and violence to Central Asia after 2014. To address these threats policy makers agree that security assistance to Central Asian governments needs to be ramped up. Highest on the list of what needs to be done is an expansion of train-and-equip programs for border guards and local security forces. In addition, the United States is considering leaving armored personal carriers and other military equipment in the region after the pull-out from Afghanistan. Russia, meanwhile, is negotiating with Tajikistan to extend a base deal that would permanently station 6,000 Russian troops in the country. While these policies may seem like sound strategy, the problem is that none of them address the causes of instability in Central Asia, and some may even exacerbate existing problems. The basic truth is that security threats in Central Asia develop from within, and are not imported from elsewhere. An example: two weeks ago, as Tajik soldiers were engaged in firefights with gunmen in Khorog, the capital of the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan, I was skyping with a friend in Dushanbe. In reply to my question of what was going on he said: “It’s simple: one gang of drug traffickers is fighting with another gang of drug traffickers over their turf. Both wear official Tajik uniforms.” His explanation resonates with many inside and outside Tajikistan. Even if the Tajik government initially stressed links to Afghan militants and spoke of eight Afghan nationals with possible links to the Taliban, al Qaeda or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that had been detained, little evidence or even logical arguments could be produced to bolster these claims. In fact there is very little to indicate that Afghanistan’s evil twins after 2014 will influence the security situation in Central Asia more than they do already. Take the export of religious extremism: the Tajik civil war in the 1990s did have a religious component, and United Tajik Opposition commanders enjoyed a safe haven in Afghanistan. But the conflict itself arose out of internal political contradictions, rather than being exported from Afghanistan. Similarly, recent flare-ups of violent religious extremism in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan developed within a local context and as a reaction to repression of religious and other fundamental civic and economic rights of Central Asian citizens by their governments. Looking at drug trafficking, opium derivatives such as heroin are generally not smuggled into the region, but cross the border by the truckload on established roads and through official checkpoints. Few seriously contest that the biggest drug traffickers in Central Asia are government officials, or at least individuals or groups closely connected to the governments in the region. If one considers instances of violence in Central Asia over the past two decades – including the riots in Uzgen and Osh in 1990, the Tajik civil war in the mid-1990s, the events in Andijan in 2005, the violent revolutions in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2010, the clashes in Osh in June 2010, the riots in western Kazakhstan in 2011 or the fighting in Tajikistan in 2010 and 2012 – Afghanistan really isn’t a factor. A multitude of local factors were behind these outbursts of violence, including the political dynamics inherent in non-democratic states, conflicts over resources and the inability of states and societies to manage conflicts. Traditional security assistance to Central Asian governments as currently conceived in Brussels, Washington, Moscow or Beijing does little to address these problems. Given some evidence that governments in the region are more part of the problem than they are of the solution current assistance programs are counterintuitive. Even initiatives that specifically include an element aimed at professionalizing relations between uniformed officials and civilians such as western-funded police training or border management assistance programs generally fail to deliver results in these areas. The stated aim of foreign security assistance in Central Asia is to promote stability in the region itself. The first step towards providing such assistance should be to stop assuming that Afghanistan is the biggest threat to regional stability and to acknowledge the homegrown nature of the threat. Editor's note: Cornelius Graubner is a Central Asian policy expert affiliated with the Central Eurasia Project of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) in New York. EurasiaNet publishes under OSF’s auspices.

RUNA LAILA .... benjamin sisters

White House to Ask for $50 Billion in Hurricane Relief Aid

President Obama plans to ask Congress for about $50 billion in emergency spending to help rebuild the states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, according to administration and Congressional officials briefed on the discussions. The White House is assembling a spending request to send to Capitol Hill as early as this week, and while the final sum is still in flux, it should fall between $45 billion and $55 billion. That represents an enormous sum at a time when Mr. Obama is locked in a titanic struggle with Republicans over the federal deficit, but is significantly less than the states sought. Unless an austerity-minded Congress adds to the president’s plan, state leaders would have to figure out other ways to finance tens of billions of dollars of storm-related expenses or do without them. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were seeking a combined $82 billion in federal help both to clean up and restore damage from Hurricane Sandy as well as to upgrade and harden infrastructure to prepare for future storms. Administration officials would not say which specific spending items were being excluded, but other officials monitoring the issue identified several that the White House seemed cool to. New York, for instance, sought reimbursement for business owners for money lost while they were closed as well as for privately held utilities like Consolidated Edison. Another proposal that may not make the cut was fully reimbursing homeowners for the costs they incur bringing damaged and destroyed homes to their condition prior to the storm; typically, the federal government covers the cost of bringing homes to a lower “livable” standard after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. The administration request appears likely to come in even below the $60 billion that Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said on Tuesday that he expected it to include. Yet even a spending request in the neighborhood of $50 billion would strain the current political system in Washington coming just weeks before a series of deep spending cuts and tax increases are set to take effect automatically, unless the president and Congress agree on a plan to avert them. Supporters of the disaster-relief request are proposing that the money not have to be offset, or paid for through spending cuts elsewhere. The administration request is unlikely to propose a way to pay for the aid and Mr. Reid said he did not believe it should require savings elsewhere, but House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio is reserving judgment. If it is not offset, then it would be financed through additional federal debt. The White House is trying to frame its storm-spending request so as not to conflict with its showdown with Republicans in Congress over broader budget issues, hoping to present it as a separate issue that has little to do with the long-term health of the treasury. Storm relief, once completed, would not be a recurring expenditure like Medicare or military spending. But officials privately acknowledge the timing is problematic. “We expect to discuss the ongoing support that the federal government continues to provide for affected communities and our state and local partners,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. “The administration has already obligated more than $2.1 billion to support response and recovery efforts.” Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development, are scheduled to testify before a Senate panel on Wednesday morning, although officials do not expect them to detail what may be in the forthcoming administration spending request. Republicans eager to preserve what they see as the high ground on spending in their struggle with Mr. Obama may try to avoid approving all of the storm aid right away. Representative Hal Rogers of Kentucky, the Republican chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has privately suggested taking up the aid request in two phases: emergency needs during the current lame-duck session and longer-term recovery requests next year. “It might be difficult to get a large aid package through Congress in a lame duck” session, said a senior Republican committee official, who declined to be identified as speaking for the committee members. But lawmakers from New York and other storm-damaged states are urging Congress to act now, largely because they fear the sense of urgency will almost certainly diminish if the matter is pushed into next year. They have an ally in Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, the Democratic chairwoman of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees disaster funding. Ms. Landrieu, a veteran of fights for recovery money after Hurricane Katrina devastated her home region, rejected the idea of leaving much of the storm recovery money until next year, arguing that breaking it into parts creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that makes it difficult for local officials to plan and implement long-term recovery projects. “I would suggest we do as large a package as soon as possible,” she said. “You should do a lot now and a little bit later.” “Nibbling around the edges,” she added, “is not going to help.” While she and others tried to keep the storm question separate from the larger fiscal debate now roiling Washington, it may be impossible to disentangle the two. A 10-year deficit reduction plan presented by the Obama administration to Congressional leaders last week included $50 billion for short-term economic stimulus, generating fierce criticism from Republicans. Some Congressional officials said that could be dropped and replaced with disaster relief in roughly the same amount. “That looks like a possible outcome,” said one Congressional official who declined to be identified. “I can see how the disaster funding gets rolled into a year-end fiscal cliff bill.” Mr. Obama’s pending request would leave the states with difficult choices to make. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has asked for $33 billion to repair the city’s subway system, hospitals and other facilities wracked by the storm, plus another $9 billion to upgrade infrastructure to protect against future storms, for a total of $42 billion. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has requested $29.5 billion to repair schools, roads, bridges, businesses, homes and other facilities in his state, plus $7.4 billion for mitigation and prevention of future storms, for a total of $36.9 billion. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut has asked for $3.2 billion, the bulk of it to bury power lines, upgrade transmission systems, build sewage treatment plants and other projects to guard against future storms.

U.S. reducing plans for large civilian force in post-2014 Afghanistan

The Obama administration has ordered significant cutbacks in initial plans for a robust U.S. civilian presence in Afghanistan after U.S. combat troops withdraw two years from now, according to U.S. officials. Learning from Iraq, where postwar ambitions proved unsustainable, the White House and top State Department officials are confronting whether the United States needs — and can protect — a large diplomatic compound in Kabul, four consulates around the country and other civilian outposts to oversee aid projects and monitor Afghanistan’s political pulse. Planners were recently told to reduce personnel proposals by at least 20 percent, a senior administration official said. Projects once considered crucial are being divided into lists of those considered sustainable and those that will not be continued. “As we saw in the Iraq exercise, you need to be very tough on the numbers going in,” the official said. “We need to have enough civilians to achieve the goals we’ve laid out,” within “a finite amount of money we have to spend.” Officials declined to specify specific projects that might end. But the inevitable decrease in eyes and ears across Afghanistan could threaten a range of long-term U.S. investments and priorities, such as women’s rights, education, health care and infrastructure. The challenge of balancing the American civilian presence of what are now about 1,000 officials and thousands of contractors with reasonable resources goes beyond pocketbook and personnel issues, according to several senior officials, who discussed the planning on condition of anonymity because it is at an early stage. On one side of the simmering internal debate are fiscal constraints, diminished hopes for progress and national weariness with the Afghanistan effort. On the other side are formal U.S. pledges of development support, moral and political commitments to a country where nearly 2,200 U.S. troops have died and $590 billion has been spent, and fears Afghanistan could again become a terrorist haven. Looming over the debate is the determination to avoid a repeat of the September attack on a poorly defended U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Last month, the administration began what is likely to be a year-long negotiation with the Afghan government over how many troops the U.S. military will leave behind when combat ends in 2014. A key sticking point is whether remaining troops will be subject to Afghan law, which doomed similar talks with Iraq last year. Even if the negotiations succeed and a sizable American force remains, the U.S. military is certain to curtail or stop the security and other services it provides U.S. government civilians in Afghanistan. “How do you do security? How do you do mobility? These are expensive propositions when State has to do it all itself,” Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan until last summer, said in an interview. Those concerns were echoed by Sarah Chayes, who has spent years in Afghanistan and was an adviser to the U.S. military command there. “There is a significant risk that the conditions in Afghanistan are going to be too hostile for an influx of civilians to be able to function,” she said.
The mega-embassy problem
The mega-embassy concept was born in Iraq as the State Department tried to hold its own with a U.S. military whose counterinsurgency strategy included development and governance tasks once reserved for diplomats and civilians. When the military withdrew, the diplomats tried to continue the noncombat work without the military’s massive budget or the protection provided by up to 150,000 troops. As the State Department assumed many of the military’s tasks, including training Iraq’s national police, the diplomatic mission grew to nearly 20 support personnel for each official, including more than 6,000 contract security guards. With a $6 billion budget, the department set up its own domestic Iraqi air service and staffed three hospital facilities. The rolls of civilians and contractors topped 20,000. Today, the world’s biggest diplomatic mission employs about 13,000 government and contract workers, but the goal is to reach fewer than 8,000, officials said. The police program, originally planned with 350 U.S. trainers at 22 sites, has been reduced to about 40 trainers at two sites. Plans to build seven consulates have shrunk to two. As hard as Iraq has been, Afghanistan poses far more difficult security and logistical problems. There is little optimism that the war against the Taliban will be over before U.S. combat troops leave or that Afghan security forces will prove an able substitute. “The problem with Afghanistan is, it’s not going to look like success,” James F. Jeffrey, who until September was U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said in an interview. “It’s still going to be backward and totally corrupt, with not enough government infrastructure and a huge burning insurgency. This is terribly complicated and hard stuff under the best of circumstances, and these are the worst.” U.S. diplomats and other civilian officials outside Kabul are housed at military at bases large and small. They depend on the military to protect and transport them, and provide medical care. They consume imported food and water brought in massive military convoys. The bases are disappearing, and plans for the Afghans to provide security leave many Americans nervous. Where Iraq has been kept afloat by oil revenue, Afghanistan depends on handouts. International donors have promised a post-2014 annual supplement of $4 billion for Afghan security forces and an equal amount in development and economic assistance. More than half of the $8 billion will come from the United States. U. S. Agency for International Development officials say that every development project started in recent years has been approved only if the Afghans can eventually sustain it without U.S. help. “We want to have an appropriate [civilian] footprint,” the senior official said. “We just have to be smart about it.” The official declined to specify a final number of civilians but said there had already been “lots of cutting” and it would be well below the current level. Some worry that the zeal to cut may get out of hand. “There’s a point at which it would be too small, a point at which the message to Afghans would be that we actually didn’t learn the lesson in 1989-90,” said a second senior official, referring to the abrupt withdrawal of support after U.S.-backed Afghan guerrilla forces ended a decade of Soviet occupation. Left to its own devices, Afghanistan sank into a civil war that opened the door to the Taliban, who ruled much of the country, and hosted al-Qaeda, until U.S. forces helped overthrow them in 2001.
Preliminary plans
Firm decisions on civilian numbers and locations cannot be made “until we resolve exactly what the military follow-on numbers are going to be,” one official said. “That will determine . . . where we locate, what kind of security, medical and other support we might be able to get.” At its headquarters in Kabul, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force is preparing recommendations for Obama on how fast to withdraw the 68,000 remaining U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan. Plans for the follow-on military presence are being formulated in the Pentagon, where the largest of several preliminary options calls for about 10,000 troops, with several other NATO governments penciled in for several hundred each. According to these preliminary plans, ISAF’s successor would be based in Kabul, officials said, with most U.S. training and counterterrorism troops probably stationed in Kandahar and at the air base at Bagram. Both locations are to be converted to Afghan ownership. Smaller counterterrorism units of the Joint Special Operations Command would be positioned primarily in the eastern part of the country, where most of their activities take place. Italy, in charge of the ISAF mission in Herat in western Afghanistan, would remain there to train Afghans. Germany would do the same in Mazar-e Sharif in the north. It is unclear what would happen at Camp Bastion, the British headquarters in Helmand province. Officials say the NATO allies are waiting to see what sort of agreement is reached between the Americans and the Afghans, and how many U.S. troops will remain. Although the Afghan government has agreed to a long-term foreign military presence in principle, negotiations over the size and terms have just begun. The main sticking point is likely to be the issue that led to the breakdown with Iraq — whether U.S. forces are immune from Afghan legal jurisdiction. The size of the U.S. military will help determine the size of the civilian footprint. “If there’s no military medical capacity or medevac capability, then it’s going to be pretty pricey,” Crocker said. “That may mean downsizing. I hope it doesn’t mean eliminating any of the four posts” designated as U.S. consulates. The fate of the consulates is a topic of debate between the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and planners in Washington. Crocker and others contend that the United States must be present in all four corners of Afghanistan. Last June, the first consulate was opened in Herat, which is relatively peaceful. A location in Mazar-e Sharif was abandoned when it was determined to be insecure — after the State Department had signed a 10-year lease and spent $80 million. For now, the other two facilities, in Kandahar and Jalalabad, remain on the drawing board.