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Travel ban lifted on US NGO workers

February 29th, 2012 Comments off

This is what Reuters is reporting:

(Reuters) – Egypt has decided to lift a travel ban preventing American pro-democracy activists from leaving the country, judicial sources said on Wednesday, a move that is likely to defuse a standoff that has plunged U.S.-Egyptian ties into a crisis.

It was not immediately clear when any of the activists involved in the case would leave the country. Sixteen of the 43 people facing charges are Americans. Some of them are not in Egypt and some others have sought refuge in the U.S. embassy.

Since late this morning I’ve been getting rumors that the Americans had in fact already left, or that a deal had been brokered by Jeffrey Feltman in DC, or somesuch. I did not know what to believe, but there were already signs earlier today by Hillary Clinton’s statements when she said “we will resolve this issue concerning our NGOs in the very near future.” She was speaking to lawmakers in the US.

I suppose my first reaction is good for them — they’ll be able to leave the country, won’t have to face the risk of jail. Good for US-Egypt relations too, I suppose, with no images of Americans in a court cage or facing trials. The stupid descriptions of this situation as a “hostage crisis” and hyperbole on both sides threatened to turn this into a political issue and, in an election year, into an electoral issue.

But as I sit watching Mona Shazli, one of Egypt’s top political talk-show hosts, appear rather flummoxed by the whole thing, there are signs that Egyptians’ reaction will be to think (no matter what they think of the merits of the case) that all the talk about their judicial system being above political influence being total bullshit. Especially after the cryptic way the judges involved in the case recused themselves earlier today. No doubt some Egyptians will not be happy about the way this unfolded, in the way it makes their country look. (Perhaps though that’s a hidden plus if it further discredits SCAF!)

Of course, Egypt deserves to look ridiculous in this case. The government media raised anti-Americanism to hysterical levels. The officials and judges involved painted a ludicrous picture of a foreign conspiracy to divide the country. Politicians rushed to jump on the we-don’t-need-the-khawagas’-fluss-anyway bandwagon, and the prime minister gave credence to an ill-thought-out campaign to “replace” foreign aid by asking cash-strapped citizens to donate.

You know what it all reminded me of? Mubarak-era Egypt, with its weird hysterical petulance.

Of course, there are many unanswered questions. What will happen to the others indicted in the case? What will happen to the NGOs involved?What will happen to the manner in which the law, officials and state media treat NGOs more generally? And what was the price paid by the United States — particularly as the Obama administration is still supposed to confirm to Congress that Egypt is making progress in its democratic transition? 

 



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In Translation: Nabil Fahmy on the US-Egypt NGO crisis

February 29th, 2012 Comments off

A few days ago the trial of 43 NGO workers — some of them US citizens — started amidst a campaign of hysterical anti-Americanism in some of the Egyptian press. In the US, the question has been handled with arrogance by part of the political class, and no doubt a degree of alarm amidst defense lobbyists, Pentagon officials and others who worry that the crisis could end the $1.3bn in subsidies to the US defense industry that military aid to Egypt primarily is, as well as strategic relations with Egypt. While the tone become more subdued among senior officials on both sides, the outcome is still hard to predict — because everything is unpredictable in Egypt these days, and because the US is in an election year.

One of the calmest, down-to-earth Egyptian commentaries on the affair I’ve seen is by Nabil Fahmy, who was Egypt’s ambassador in Washington for much of the late Mubarak period — notably when tensions with the Bush administration were at their highest. In this piece, Fahmy gives his opinion that the crisis will be overcome, and reflects on the mistakes made by both sides. He is most lucid when look at his own side, though, notably the arbitrary nature of the enforcement of NGO legislation that belong to the pre-revolutionary era. Fahmy is sometimes said to be a potential future foreign minister, and some believe he was sidelined (or chose to take a leave of absence from the ministry of foreign affairs) at the end of his career, as the Mubarak era entered its last phase.

The article was, as always, ably translated by Industry Arabic, the full-service translation company. Those guys are awesome!

Egyptian-American Relations after the NGO Crisis

By Nabil Fahmy, al-Shorouk, 26 February 2012

In recent weeks, we have witnessed extreme strain in Egyptian-American relations. In the sphere of public opinion in both countries, this crisis has been accompanied by demagoguery exploited by politicians and media personalities, as well as some officials. They have carelessly reported inaccurate information, or adopted slogans and demands that are not in their countries’ best interests.

I will not go into the charges leveled against a number of both foreign and Egyptian NGOs, as well as against governments in detail, as they have now been put before the court. Rather, I will first limit myself to some brief observations before moving on to the most important issue, which is the future of Egyptian-American relations.

The most important of these observations is:

The dispute raging over NGO activity is first and foremost about the post-revolution relationship between the Egyptian authorities and Egyptian and foreign NGOs. We must quickly pass a new law regulating NGO activity so as to facilitate and broaden their activities in a way consistent with a climate of democracy, whose basis should be responsiveness and facilitating their activity, while ensuring transparency and accountability. If we have adjusted and amended the political parties law, we also need to adjust and amend the law for NGOs. Enough with the excessive constraints, enough with laws and legislation that ban NGO activity at some times, and opens the door for the same activities under the law regulating companies at other times – not to mention allowing Egyptian or foreign civil society organizations to work without permits or accountability as the authorities see fit.

As long as the Egyptian economy remains limited and contracted, most NGO funding will come from abroad, and it is illogical to try and block this funding until a local alternative is available. If the government and the private sector can try to obtain foreign loans and grants, how can NGOs be barred from doing the same thing? Therefore, the issue is not whether or not to ban funding; rather, it is about putting in place arrangements to guarantee complete transparency and determine extremely narrow sectors that are banned from receiving foreign funding, such as election campaigns, party programs, etc.

All the foreign actors – both governmental and non-governmental – made a mistake when they provided funding and set up NGO branches in Egypt without getting permits. This includes both American and European bodies, as well as those from other nations. I will add, though, that the United States in particular committed an error as well, since an Egyptian-American agreement has been in place since 2005, which regulates NGO funding. The American side, however, completely ignored it even though they signed the agreement.

If the foreign actors have erred, then we too in Egypt are also in the wrong. We are in the wrong because we have let foreign organizations work in Egypt – German and American organizations, among others – from anywhere between 30 and five years. The Egyptian government has made contracts with them, even though they did not obtain permits. So if we do not respect our own laws, or apply them only now and then according to the way the political wind is blowing, then it is only natural that other parties will disregard these laws, regardless of whether they have good or bad intentions. Moreover, we are also in the wrong because we have not applied the law equally across the board when we have decided to enforce the law, and we opened up space again for a tug of war between foreign NGOs and international financiers. The time has come for Egypt to amend its NGO laws, and the time has come for us to apply these laws fully and rigorously to everyone, and I hope that this will take place now and without delay.

It would have been possible to protect Egypt’s sovereignty, Egypt’s national security, and communal stability in Egypt through strict enforcement of the law without indulging either side. I was among those who were calling for this the most. Before the revolution, however, we heard how foreign and Egyptian NGOs were being exploited in political maneuvers that created practical arrangements on the ground. As a result, it would have been better after the revolution to freeze the activity of all unlicensed or illegal civil society organizations until a new law came out in Egypt regulating civil society activity and giving them a grace period to straighten out their status during the freeze. This would be so that we do not turn a blind eye to any illegal activity in Egypt, and to prevent those who have decided to antagonize Egyptian or foreign NGOs in particular from emerging on the scene – especially after a revolution whose rallying cry was freedom and democracy.

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It is noteworthy that this crisis has provoked various intense reactions and comments within Egypt about the relationship between Egypt and the United States – including calls to reject the American aid allocated for Egypt. The focus and the gesturing has been directed chiefly against the United States, despite the fact that foreign funding from other countries as well has gone to Egyptian NGO projects, and even some non-American NGOs have been indicted. The main reason for this is that there are American aid programs for Egypt, and American officials have been waving these up in the air as a pressure point to influence decision-making in Egypt, and this has been met in Egypt by calls to forego this assistance.

I hope to see the day when Egypt has no need of aid from any foreign country, and I add that whatever the benefits of aid or the need for it in the short term, for this aid to last in perpetuity creates an unnatural and harmful situation. The side offering the aid – i.e., the U.S. – inevitably expects this investment to bring about a favorable political and economic climate, even if it does not try to use it as a means of direct pressure. Meanwhile, the side receiving this perpetual aid – i.e., Egypt – relies on it as easy revenue, which causes the country not to try to develop its own potential with the necessary efficiency, and diversify its available alternatives so as to achieve a greater amount of stability and revenue. For this reason, I support gradually relinquishing U.S. aid to Egypt, provided that this takes place according to a timetable consistent with Egypt’s real needs, and not as reaction to a dispute over some issue or another. However, if this aid is used unabashedly to bring Egypt’s political decisions into line, we have to take a stand there, regardless of the decision’s material cost.

We did not get American aid in return for giving up our rights in the framework of the peace accord between Egypt and Israel, regardless of the fact that America disbursed this aid to bolster the peace process between Egypt and Israel in both the political and economic realm. Hence, if Egypt wishes to review the peace agreement with Israel, specifically the part dealing with security arrangements – which is a necessity – it should not be linked to the continuance or suspension of American aid to Egypt, since the goal of comprehensive peace between the Arab world and Israel has to be upheld whether or not aid is on the table. Moreover, the security arrangements of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel have to be revised even if this means a reduction in American aid to Egypt.

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Personally, I do not think that American aid to Egypt will be canceled because of the dispute taking place over NGOs, because it is part of a calculated investment made by the U.S. to advance American interests along with benefitting Egypt. However, there will naturally be various repercussions from the current strain in relations between Egypt and the U.S.. It will be difficult for the American administration to give an accurate statement to Congress – especially during an election year in the U.S. – that Egypt is taking practical steps towards democracy when international and Egyptian NGOs are under attack, the American parties in particular. Therefore, the current crisis between Egypt and the U.S. will have repercussions of varying degrees on the relationship between the two countries and the aid provided. This all depends on many considerations, chiefly the decisions and verdicts reached by the Egyptian justice system in the cases brought forward. For example, if the Egyptian court hands down verdicts against the organizations charged as institutions that have been in place for a long time, I think that this crisis can be overcome. However, if a decision comes down against the bureau chiefs in their organizational capacities, the American response will no doubt be more robust during an election year. By pointing this out, I do not mean to call for the Egyptian justice system to be interfered with — as this is contrary to my long-held convictions and stances — but rather I am simply trying to predict the future, so that we will be fully informed about the situation and prepared for it.

Honesty bids me say that each party is in the wrong in its handling of the current civil society issue: Western countries and in particular the U.S. for their arrogance and indifference to Egyptian law, and Egypt for its inconsistent and non-application of the law, then its shifting from one direction to another without warning or prior notice. As a result, there will be repercussions for Egypt’s image abroad and its relationship with the parties concerned, regardless of how these events turn out. However, despite the disturbances we are now witnessing in Egypt, I have a deeply-rooted conviction that the Egyptian revolution will strengthen and bolster Egypt’s standing in the world. This is despite the fact that the rousing of Egypt’s voice in all its diversity and divergent views – including the so-called “Islamist current” – will prompt questions and delicate calculations domestically within Egypt, in its broader role as an Arab and an Islamic country, and in our relationship with the international community. Naturally, this will have an impact on our relationship with the United States, Israel, etc.

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This issue and many others will crop up in our relationship with the U.S., and both the Egyptian and the foreign side – including the U.S. – will have to deal with the other sensitively and adroitly in order to safeguard the country’s best interests and respect the political mood of the people. This will have to be done without falling into the trap of an artificial stability that leads to stagnation or irresponsible populist polemics, as political parties strive to outdo one another in one country or the other.

Egypt is a great nation in the region, and will recover her lost vigor and her sway and influence, as well as her pioneering intellectual role in the march of revolution and calls for freedom and democracy. It is in Egypt’s interest to safeguard her own interests by dealing confidently with the world, including the U.S. Likewise, it is in America’s interest finally to deal with the Arab peoples with respect, openness, and understanding, especially the Egyptian people that make up one-fourth of the inhabitants of the Middle East. The U.S. will not be able to safeguard its own strategic, economic and security interests – especially in creating a climate that is not hostile to the West in the Arab and Islamic worlds – and will not be able to safeguard the Arab-Israeli peace process and protect minorities in the Middle East unless it deals with peoples the way it used to deal with governments in the past. Due to all these considerations, I expect Egyptian-American relations to face a crisis in the short term that has consequences for both sides as a result of missteps committed by both sides. However, I am confident that relations between us will be better in the long term if each of us respects the other – both governments and peoples – and we apply fixed standards in our conduct and relations.



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Judges in Egypt’s NGO case recuse themselves

February 29th, 2012 Comments off

From al-Ahram:

Three judges  in charge of handling the recent case filed by the government against a number of US and Egyptian non-governmental organisation (NGOs), announced Tuesday afternoon that they have submitted their resignation from the case “for reasons of discomfort.” The 14 Egyptian and 29 foreign aid workers face trial for receiving illegal foreign funding and for working without a formal license: they have been accused of posing a threat to Egypt’s national security.

Judge Mahmoud El-Khodairy, lawyer and head of the People’s Assembly Legislative Committee, explained Tuesday night to private TV channel Al-Hayat that a judge stepping down for “reasons of discomfort” could be due to an existing relationship the judge has with any of the defendants, the accused or the lawyers. A judge may also relinquish the case, he added, if the court itself was involved in any details of the case. When a judge does resign from a case, the lawsuit is transferred to another district court within a “brief” time period, El-Khodairy concluded.

Reasons of discomfort? Try talcum powder. But seriously, this either means something fishy is going on or that the trial will take even longer than planned. The next date was meant to be April 26, which is a while away.



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Colonial powers divide Yemen

February 29th, 2012 Comments off
France writes the constitution of Yemen, and US handles security, and British handles political dialogue.  Long live democratic transition managed by GCC.  “Les travaux préparatoires en vue de la rédaction d’une nouvelle Constitution ont été confiés aux diplomates français à Sanaa, qui seront aidés par un juriste venu de Paris.   La prochaine Loi fondamentale yéménite devrait privilégier un système fédéral. «Les partis d’opposition veulent tourner la page du présidentialisme, qu’ils associent à la dictature de l’ancien président Saleh», estime-t-on généralement à Sanaa.  Les séparatistes au sud et les rebelles houthis d’inspiration chiites au nord plaident en faveur d’un large fédéralisme. Lundi, l’ex-raïs déchu a solennellement cédé le pouvoir au président élu Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.  Dans le cadre de la transition négociée entre les partisans de Saleh et l’opposition, plusieurs pays occidentaux se sont vu attribuer certains «dossiers» : la réforme de la sécurité a été prise en main par les Américains, très en pointe dans la lutte contre al Qaida au Yémen, et le dialogue politique par les Britanniques.” (thanks “Ibn Rushd”)

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All that Israel knows it fetches from Wikipedia

February 29th, 2012 Comments off
“” The IDI is operating on the assumption that Yemen will be completely out of water in eight years. I asked if this was their own assessment and source said, “No, it’s public information. You can find it on Wikipedia.” “” (thanks Asa)

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casualty lists in Syria

February 29th, 2012 Comments off
“We cannot give exact figures,” said the spokesman, Eduardo Del Buey, calling the new number “a reasonable estimate building off the previously provided figures and the regular, credible daily reports of casualties since.” The United Nations halted its official count of the dead in Syria after it passed 5,400 in January, saying the situation on the ground had made it impossible to verify the numbers.”  Wait: so the UN says that it is impossible to verify numbers but that it will rely on “credibly daily reports” by Ikhwan media? How on earth does that make sense?

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Israeli: Syrian rebels want peace with Israel (AP)

February 29th, 2012 Comments off

AP – An Israeli lawmaker says Syrian opposition leaders have told him they want peace with Israel after Syrian President Bashar Assad falls.
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US defense leaders meet with Israeli defense chief (AP)

February 29th, 2012 Comments off

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose before a meeting in Ankara February 29, 2012. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY - Tags: POLITICS)AP – Pentagon leaders met with Israel’s defense minister Wednesday to discuss the ongoing tensions with Iran and Syria, amid escalating speculation that the Israelis will launch a pre-emptive strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

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UAE zoo offers special safari for kids

February 29th, 2012 Comments off

A zoo in Al Ain city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will offer a fun-packed zoo safari for children this spring.
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Dubai exported products worth $800 mn in 2011

February 29th, 2012 Comments off

The total value of exports from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), crossed three billion dirhams (over $800 million) in 2011.
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