Friday, April 30, 2004

Feedback on latest Iraq poll

I was listening to Hafez El Marazi, Al-Jazerah’s reporter in the USA, in a recent interview on CNN. I heard him say delightedly that the recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 57% of Iraqis want the coalition to leave Iraq. El Marazi was surely delighted by this number especially after all previous polls indicated that the majority of Iraqis do not want the coalition to leave before helping in creating a strong government and that the vast majority are against attacks on coalition troops.

I became so angry when I saw his delight. I hate it when those AJ guys score a point and feel happy about it. I immediately logged on the internet and printed the entire survey results. A closer look at the question would indicate why the majority answered that way. The question asked was: Should the US/British forces leave immediately (next few months) or stay longer? 57% said immediately, 36% said stay longer. Now, any sane Iraqi would say that the coalition should leave in the next few months. I would say the same thing if the US was occupying Egypt. Now, compare this question with this question: If coalition left today, would you feel safer or less safe? 53% said less safe and 28% said safer!!! I’m wondering why Hafez did not comment on this. In addition, I am sure that if the wording of the question changed to something like “should the US/British forces leave immediately even BEFORE a strong government takes over� the majority will definitely respond by no. The last poll (the one before this one) asked this question and the majority were willing to tolerate US presence until a strong government takes over. That’s what I have been begging the US for: help in establishing a stable government and then say goodbye. That’s the best thing the US can do since it cured Europe with the Marshal Plan.

The most striking aspect of the poll was the attitude of the Kurds. They seem to live in a world of their own. Consider this: 95% of Kurds have favorable view of President Bush (that’s more than the USA)!!!!, 92% have favorable view of Paul Bremer!!! 94% would feel less safe if the coalition left, and 96% want them to stay longer.

The attitudes of the Kurds lead us to ponder about who are the most pro-America people in the world. After listening to the news for several years, I can come up with this list:

1) Kurds
2) Eastern Europeans (USA helped them in defeating communism and establishing freedom; 100,000 Romanians stood in the pouring rain to listen to a speech by Bush)
3) Israelis
4) Older generation of South Koreans (those fought along with US soldiers so that they won’t end up starving under the yoke of the North Korean leader)
5) A large number of Iranians (the only Muslims who automatically held street vigils after 911 all by themselves)
6) French who live around Normandy!
7) A good number of Kuwaitis.
8) Secular Iraqis and moderate religious Iraqis.

Of course there might be more groups but I can only think of those. Now, the US can learn a lot from why those groups love her. That’s for another post.

  Posted by BP at 2:21 am Comments (29)

I’m going to Sharm El Sheikh tomorrow and will return next Wednesday. I’ll probably post the following Thursday May 6. Sharm El Sheikh is a beautiful resort on the Red Sea in Southern Sinai. It is one of the most beautiful spots in Egypt and probably the whole world. The resort is literally occupied by Italian tourists; we call it the “Italian colony�. People from all over the world come to scuba dive in the Red Sea and enjoy the marvelous mountains and sun. I hope the world calms down until I return!

  Posted by BP at 1:16 am Comments (18)
Thursday, April 29, 2004

I don’t know why my blog looks like that. A lot of the stuff I wrote before just vanished. I sent a complaint to Blogger. Any clues you might have? Please email me at aswantiba@yahoo.com

The son who wants it both ways

In 1995, the son of the Qatari emir carried out a bloodless coup against his father and seized control of the country. The domestic and foreign policy of Qatar were changed dramatically ever since. I will deal with Qatar’s foreign policy since Al-Jazeerah is a major player in the international relations of Qatar.

The new Qatari emir divided his foreign policy into objectives. The first is to get closer and closer to the West. On the other hand, the second objective was to compete with Saudi Arabia for the “leadership� of the Arab masses. Qatar now has very strong relations with the US and Europe. It hosts the largest US base in the region and it seems that the emir is proud of that. Surprisingly, Qatar also forged warm economic relations with Israel.

To neutralize such policies, the new emir launched Al-Jazeerah channel to be the “free mouth piece� of all Arabs, whether they are government officials or their dissidents. That provoked many Arab nations especially Saudi Arabia who launched Al-Arabiya channel as an answer to Al-Jazeerah that interviewed Saudi dissidents on a constant bases. What is so weird is that Qatar allows its channel to embarrass any Arab nation except itself! Mamoun Fandi, the famous Egyptian liberal thinker, said in a recent interview “Al Jazeerah has a program where they interview former political leaders who tell the behind the scenes stories of what happened during their time, I’ll congratulate Al-Jazeerah if it interviewed a former Qatari politicians who would tell us about the son vs dad coup!� Fandi went on to add that Muslim Brotherhood members constitute 60% of Al-Jazeerah’s staff (Ahmed Mansour, who was dispatched to Fallujah, is a well known Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member).

What would make a country that hosts the largest US base in the Middle East a host to a channel that is dedicated to failing the US and its allies with every possible means? The answer lies in the answer to this question: what would you do if you discovered that there is rust on your metal table? You would put a certain cover on the table. That’s right. Al-Jazeerah is Qatar’s cover to its unbelievable warm relations with the US and Israel. It is also Qatar’s own tool in making that tiny nation a strategic roaring lion in the Gulf area and a fierce competitor of Saudi Arabia.

I want to hear it in Arabic.

General John Abizaid, commander of the US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is an Arabic speaker of Lebanese decent. I am wondering why I’ve never heard him speaking in Arabic in those Baghdad press briefings. I can’t believe the US army missed and continue to miss such an opportunity.

  Posted by BP at 1:50 am Comments (7)
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Before posting the second part of my article on Al-Jazerah, I would like to address some of the comments I got in the column.

I think the Iraqis UNDERSTAND better than we Americans about how to deal with their own people.

You’re right. However, we have to pray day and night that Ayatollah Sistani endorses the interim government on June 30. I have doubts that he will do that and he will use his I-hate-it-with-all-my-heart-but-I-will-keep-my-mouth-shut-for-the-time-being attitude. I really really hope Sistani doesn’t undermine the coming interim government because Iraq needs such an entity to usher it to elections in 2005. An interim government backed by Sistani will be nightmare to Muqty and other trouble makers. However, as I said, I doubt he will throw his weight on an “unelected� body. Let’s hope he does more good than damage.

Aljazeera is systematically criticised by the US, but it’s also often banned by Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria, the PLO, etc… and was even described by Bahrein as being “pro-zionist”.

True, Al-Jazerah is a tool in the hands of Qatar to bug other Arab nations. That was the main reason behind Saudi’s launch of Al-Arabiyah. A Jordanian official put it so well when he said “Al Jazerah is a lion with Arab nations but a lamb with Qatar�. More on that point in my upcoming article.

Aljazeera is probably the only arab channel to regularly interview and debate with western officials including Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair and even Ariel Sharon.

Not true. Other channels are doing the same thing. However, what would a couple of interviews do with the completely biased structure and philosophy of the channel?

True, Aljazeera combative talk-shows are largely anti-american, but it is reflecting the anti-american feeling among 99% of the arab world.

I agree, it does reflect the feeling on the Arab street, however, it doesn’t reflect the feeling among 99% of Iraq! However, Allah forbids, the recent fiasco coverage in Fallujah indicated that the Qatar financed channel is trying to reach that percentage in Iraq. Iraqi people need to be reminded of the channel’s past everyday because as Zeyad (an Iraqi blogger) told me, Iraqis forget easily (just like everybody else I guess).

Besides what about the other satellite channels competing with Aljazeera (Dubai, AlArabya,..)?

They all reflect the feelings of the Arab world, however, I pointed Al Jazerah since it is their mother! Besides, it’s the only channel with good solid relations with Saddam’s Mukhabarat!

To me, Aljazeera is becoming more like the arab Fox News

That is a very misleading comment. I agree, Fox News is overly patriotic and biased towards the US government, but I would like to present the following differences:

Fox: Independent, owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, can kick government butt if it wants to.
Al-Jazerah: Not independent, receives $30 million from the ruler of Qatar and it will kiss Doha goodbye if it kicked Qatar butt.

F: Does not incite violence nor call for murder
AJ: Incites violence and indirectly calls for murder of Iraqi officials and coalition members (80% of Iraqis are against that)

F: Did not take bribes from Saddam nor collaborated with his intelligence agency
AJ: Took bribes from Saddam and collaborated with his intelligence agency

F: Twists some truth
AJ: Twists the truth and nothing but the truth

F: Most importantly, wants Iraq to be a decent nation and a beacon of decency in the region
AJ: Doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Iraq being a decent nation and a deacon of decency in the region as long as the coalition is in trouble.

Still, it’s a little bit ridiculous to blame all the US failings in Iraq on it

I didn’t. Read my post again and you’ll discover that I said that the coalition did some serious avoidable mistakes.

Is Al Hurra making any inroads into the market?

I have loads and loads of criticism towards Al Hurra and their performance so far. I think the current management should be fired as soon as possible. It broke my heart to read that a couple of my fellow Iraqi bloggers complained that they tried watching Al Hurra for more sensible news yet were dismayed at its failure to provide adequate coverage of the recent events. I am planning to write a very harsh worded email to them. However, I noticed only one good thing in Al Hurra: it is surprisingly very balanced. When they have a show, they always have someone presenting the anti-america/anti-israel and pro-america/pro-israel views. I think Al Hurra has a lot of potential in the region but it needs to get its acts together.

RSN, BBC, Reuters etc are not the same. These organizations do add left-wing spin, and they stick in left-wing opinions into the news, but nothing is fabricated.

Very true. BBC has a clear preset political agenda and I hate it when broadcasters have such an agenda of their own, however, they are angels when compared to Al-Jazerah for example. I thank Lord Hutton for kicking their butts. Don’t think that I don’t consider Fox and Sky to lack such a preset political agenda. The only channel that I really respect and accept most of what it says without taking a grain of salt is CNN International (Please do not email/comment telling me that I am wrong because I really made my mind). Even though I hate Ted Turner, I think CNN International (I don’t know about CNN USA) takes great pain in presenting both views. I trusted CNN Int’l when both the Israelis and Arabs shouted “CNN LIES�!

Is there a stream in this wadi?

Yes, there are small lakes in the region I was camping in.

also GM just a curious question why do so many people hate the US in countries like egypt when egypt is the second largest receiver of US cash after isreal. same with jordan.

I have been getting this question over and over again. I will answer it after I post Part 2 of my article.

  Posted by BP at 12:55 am Comments (3)
Monday, April 26, 2004

The war in Fallujah vs. the war in Afghanistan and Iraq

I closely followed the beginning of the war in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2002) on Al-Jazerah simple because it was the only channel allowed to operate at the beginning of the two wars. Al-Jazerah’s reporter in Afghanistan was Taysir Allouni who ran with the Taliban out of Kabul when the Northern Alliance marched through the city. He made headlines last year after his arrest in Spain for aiding Al-Qaeda. At the end of the Iraq war, the relationship between Al-Jazerah’s manager and Saddam’s intelligence agency became known and the ruler of Qatar (who finances Al-Jazerah with $30 million annually) had to fire him.

However, Al-Jazerah’s covering tactics in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be compared to what it did in Fallujah. The level of biases and lies propagated during the first two wars would pale in comparison with the coverage of the Fallujah war. I personally have not seen such hate and incitement as I have seen in its coverage of Fallujah. They dispatched their Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Ahmed Mansour who writes in one of Egypt’s top conspiracy theory tabloids. They were so smart; Taysir was busted in Spain, now they can send Mansour. The level of unconfirmed lies that Mansour spilled out forced the CPA to post a matrix where they countered his claims on a daily basis. Why was Fallujah different? Why did Al-Jazerah forsake any rules they might have learned in Journalism 101 when they were covering Al-Jazerah? The answer is quite simple: Iraqis are now watching.

Al-Jazerah knows very well that Iraqis are the US’ main allies in Iraq! Al-Jazerah knows very well that the vast majority of Iraqis did welcome the US occupation in the hope that it might result in a better life. Al-Jazerah knows very well that on April 9, 2003 US troops were walking side by side with Iraqi men who were armed to the teeth. Also, Al-Jazerah knows very well that the occupation is becoming unpopular not because it is an occupation (over 70% of Iraqis not want the coalition to leave Iraq now), but because this occupation failed to deliver security, jobs, and cheese. I love what New York Times columnists Thomas L. Friedman said in an article right after the end of the war, he said: now you own Iraq, make Iraqis feel as if they won the lottery ticket. The coalition failed in doing so. We cannot put all blame on the coalition because it is trying to build while fighting a war; however, it did some serious mistakes that were avoidable. Al-Jazerah wanted to increase the rift between the coalition and Iraqis. I do not differentiate Al-Jazerah’s dirty tactic to those who blow up oil pipelines and other infrastructure to increase the rift as well.

I have done some research on Al-Jazerah and its Qatari sponsorship and would post my views later. Why did Qatar, a nation that is perceived to be a stanch ally of the west, a host of the largest US base, and a nation that has considerable warm economic relations with Israel choose to finance such a propaganda outlet? The answer will be in my next posting.

  Posted by BP at 6:05 pm Comments (24)

I apologize for not writing during the past 4 days. I was camping in Wadi El Natroon (natroon valley) in the western desert of Egypt. I enjoyed my stay there. The weather was crazy; it was so hot in the morning and freezing at night. The best thing however was staying away from news! However, I couldn’t help but ask myself questions like I’m wondering what Muqty is doing, how was the terrorist crucible Fallujah doing, how many coalition troops were killed, were there any crazy terrorist bombings that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent Iraqis, etc.

Upon my return I tried to get a summary of what happened in those 4 days. It was all bad news as usual. The only positive thing was the fact that some residents in Najaf were beginning to voice their opposition to Muqty and his thugs. I presume that his failure to guarantee the full backing of prominent religious leaders in the “Shitte Vatican� encouraged this sprinkle of opposition. For example, an unknown group started circulating leaflets denouncing the mahdy army and they even attacked one of their posts. My only advice to the coalition is this: don’t attack Najaf, don’t attack Najaf, don’t attack Najaf. I’ll keep saying it until I faint.

Attacking Najaf would inflame shittes sensitivities and alienate Sistani. And of course I suppose you already know that loosing Sistani means loosing Iraq. Let Sistani and the Shitte Vatican handle Muqty.

An awesome article about Iraq is here. It’s a must read.

  Posted by BP at 3:20 pm Comments (34)
Wednesday, April 21, 2004

We don’t deserve it

Events in Basra today and the breakup of the ceasefire in Fallujah forced me once again to start believing that the US and its coalition lost the war. No, no, I don’t mean loosing the war militarily, but loosing the war over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. I feel so sorry for the US and I can’t express anything but deep appreciation for their efforts to do the impossible, which is to fight a guerilla war and reconstruct a country at the same time. It is so difficult to build and fight an all out war at the same time. The Marshal Plan came after the end of World War 2 and not right in its middle.
The coalition is loosing the hearts and minds simply because Al-Jazerah focuses upon how many civilians were killed and how many mosques were blown up. It totally ignores stories such as the new power station that employs hundreds of Iraqis or the new women rights group that the coalition helped to organize. In addition, Iraqis, just like everyone else in the region, are taught that no westerner will offer any help without sucking something back and no educated Iraqi dares to offer an alternative view lest he be shot at his house doorstep. The situation is very grim because if the US lost the hearts and minds of the shias, its game over. Al-Jazerah knows that very well, this is why they dispatched their most radical correspondent to Fallujah and gave Sadr more airtime than their ads.
Today I watched as angry Iraqis pelted British army vehicles with stones as they rushed to the bombing area. They did that because they believe that they coalition is not doing enough to offer security. This attitude troubles me because if the coalition reacted somehow to provide security, they would also start complaining about the violence. Offering security entails going into houses, seeing women (as if those women are Sharon Stone!), shooting at bad guys, etc. Those actions would definitely further alienate the same Iraqis who pelted the British soldiers for failing to provide security.
I don’t know but I feel that Saddam is laughing in his prison cell right now saying “suckers, I told you idiots, those people deserve someone like me. I, and only I, can keep the lid on. I can keep the lid on those crazy religious leaders who think that Allah ordered them to force His laws on earth, I can keep the lid on anything the “disturbs the peace�. Gamal Abdul Nasser kept the lid on by leading a one-party draconian regime, Hafez El Asad kept the lid on by slaughtering 20,000 people in Hama, King Hussein kept the lid on by crushing a Palestinian challenge to his rule, and I kept the lid on by filling mass graves and killing any damn being who dared to cause trouble�.
I am so sorry for my negative attitude; I hope I can turn positive sometime soon. But I am really depressed because everyday I become convinced that we Arabs deserve Saddam and we cannot live without Saddam.

  Posted by BP at 5:12 pm Comments (6)

Reactions to Rantisi’s Killing

As expected, students from major universities in Egypt organized mass demonstrations and sit-ins to protest the killing of Hamas leader Rantisi. They did the usual stuff: burn Israel, US, and UK flags, hold banners, and shout for jihad. A slogan I managed to hear was “Our sitting rulers open the doors of jihad�. Early in the morning, security police vehicles were dispatched to those campuses. During those protests, students are allowed to protest inside their campus but they’re not allowed to leave it. When some students overreact and decide to climb over the campus gates, they’re met with water hoses and sticks!

The government hates those protests for 2 main reasons. First, the government doesn’t like anything that disrupts the peace and this is why the police do everything to control those protests. Second, radicals tend to exploit the fervent emotions and highlight the inability of the government to do anything. When Sheikh Yassen, Hamas’ spiritual leader, was killed about a month ago, the Muslims Brotherhood in Egypt hung posters of him and their logo underneath. They wanted to make the link between this “great martyr�
and their organization. Hamas was actually born out of the Muslim Brotherhood. I hate it when they turn a political issue into a religious crisis.

At the American University in Cairo (AUC), the situation was similar to the other universities. AUC students always want to convey the image that they are not rich spoiled Americanized brats and they do care about what the society cares about. Security vehicles and guards surrounded the campus lest anything goes out of control. I remember during Desert Fox in 1998, AUC students went out of the campus and sat in a circle right in the middle of a busy road. A police officer with a bullhorn asked them politely to return to their campus and warned them that terrorists might exploit the situation and carry out an attack. Then he became more aggressive in his tone when they refused to stand up and leave. The circle was surrounded by anti-riots soldiers armed with sticks and shields. After several warnings, the officer ordered his soldiers to attack. They started beating the students and forced them inside the campus. Girls fainted and guys started kicking the soldiers.

Anyway, I just wanted to give you a glimpse of how protests are carried out here. I really do not want to talk about the Palestinian/Israeli crisis because I’m quite fed up. Iraq is my world now.

Check out this article by Amir Taheri, one of my favorite commentators. Also USA Today’s article on Iraqi bloggers. I remember Omar, an Iraqi blogger, talking about this interview. It was so cool to see it today on USA Today.

  Posted by BP at 2:33 am Comments (9)
Sunday, April 18, 2004

Below are the answers to the questions I got.

Do you know of any other Egyptians that feel the same as you do about Iraq and the U.S.?

Yes but very few though. Nearly every news outlet that an Egyptian is exposed to is fervently anti-America and so it is quite normal for such an attitude to develop.

“strong balanced man of peace” isn’t good enough .. what about the economic and social failure of his (President Mubarak) 23 years of authocratic reign?
I totally agree with you, however, I tend to compare Mubarak with other Arab leaders and he’s surely doing a much better job. For example, you cannot compare Mubarak with Saddam or Syria’s Asad. I support Mubarak because of 2 main points. First, he is strong. Second, he is a man of peace who doesn’t want Egypt to plunge into other proxy wars. Despite all the economical and social problems that we’re facing, I’d rather have Mubarak forever than a single day with the radical Muslim Brotherhood in power. This is my priority.

Are we arabs just reduced to accept such low standard of regimes just because it stands to islamist extremists ?

Yes, again, it is a matter of priorities. Islamist extremists do not believe in democracy yet they use it to reach power (does Hitler ring a bell). That is the reason why I totally reject the “ballot box democracy� and cry for social democracy instead (freedom of speech, expression, etc). When we are well grounded in social democracy, then we can speak about the ballot box democracy because anyone elected will be forced to follow social democracy.

I didn’t understand whether you agree that no Palestinians refugees should be let back in to Israel/Palestine. If you think they shouldn’t be allowed in, why not?
No they shouldn’t be back in Israel but to the West Bank and Gaza instead. Israel could however offer compensation or accept a symbolic number of refugees. That is the most realistic approach I guess.

I have read that 90% of Egyptian women have clitoridectomies. If this is true, are there any groups opposing the practise in Egypt?
True, I’m not sure of the percentage though. Feminists and even the first lady are against this inhumane practice. People do it to their girls because of their tradition. Others do it because of religious reason so that the girl would be a nice holy virgin with no sexual desires. Both Muslim and Christian leaders have spoken against the practice.

How do you feel about the Emergency Laws that were just renewed in Egypt? Do you think that they’re good? Do you think that they’re necessary? When (if at all) do you see them being lifted?
That’s a very interesting question. I am torn between wanting it removed and my fear that extremists might exploit its removal. The Emergency Law gives the government the right to arrest anyone anytime and incarcerate him indefinitely. This draconian law is definitely against all human rights and many innocent people were victimized. However, the law is a great tool to limit extremists. Again, back to the point I made earlier, I’ll support its annulling only when I’m confident that no one would turn Egypt from a dictatorship to a ruthless theocracy.

Will Gamal Mubarak become President of Egypt?
The President said no, Gamal himself said no. However, I will support the guy if I am not sure of who might follow his father. We have a saying in Egypt that says: what we know is better than what we do not know. Gamal was educated at the American University in Cairo, he’s modern, he’s hip, and I personally like him.

  Posted by BP at 5:31 pm Comments (2)
Saturday, April 17, 2004

Wrong Timing!

I was just going to publish the the answers to the questions I got when I received the news that Israel had killed Hamas leader Rantisi. Rantisi became in charge of Hamas in the Gaza strip after the killing of Sheikh Yassen. I think it was completely wrong timing to kill Rantisi. Not now at all.
First, Bush has just endorsed Sharon’s disengagement plan and enraged Arabs for accepting some settlements in the West Bank. Even though I personally think that the Sharon plan is a good step forward, it still angered Arab opinion. Now this will further fuel anger against the US since everyone believes that Sharon got a green light from Bush to carry this operation even though the US State Department denied this.
Second, what is most important to me is Iraq Iraq Iraq. Now the poisonous mix of baathists and wahabis in the Sunni triangle will have another legitimate reason for their fight. In addition, by killing Rantisi, this mix will be more successful in turning more and more sunnis against the US, not mentioning Sadr’s Shitte supporters and other moderate Shittes.
If Sharon did indeed act alone, I would like to tell him these words: wrong wrong wrong, why didn’t you think about the situation in Iraq?
I don’t think I can publish my answers to the questions now. It’s the wrong timing.

  Posted by BP at 11:46 pm Comments (9)