Thursday, June 30, 2011

Overcoming Injustice Together

The October 2011 Movement pledges that if any US troops remain in Afghanistan on October 6, 2011, a huge rally will be held in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC [GALLO/GETTY]

A New US Movement Seeks To Unite Citizens In Overcoming Corruption, War, and Social Injustice.

By Kevin Zeese
Last Modified: 25 Jun 2011 08:34
Courtesy Of "Al-Jazeera"

Inspired by the courageous, nonviolent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Greece, Spain and elsewhere, people in the United States have come together to form the October 2011 Movement. This fusion of peace, social justice, environmental, student, and immigrant rights organisations is in solidarity with all who seek a peaceful, just, and sustainable future and stands ready to engage in its own campaign of nonviolent resistance - beginning in Washington, DC, this October. We recognise that your revolution is our revolution, that the US empire prevents you from achieving self-determination and economic justice, and that only together can we achieve our shared goals. 

October marks the beginning of the 11th year of the US invasion and destruction of Afghanistan. It marks the beginning of yet another federal budget that delivers unlimited funds for war and corporate interests while putting in place an austerity budget for services that meet human and environmental needs. But this October will mark the beginning of something else in the United States - a moment when we will unite to demand an end to a system that puts profits and warfare over the welfare of people and the environment.

The response to our call, which just a few weeks old, has been tremendous. Already, more than one thousand people have pledged to join this resistance action in Freedom Square and that number is growing rapidly. Leading figures from a wide range of communities have stepped up to join the call. Among them are noted African-American scholar and activist Cornel West; Farm Labor Organising Committee (FLOC ) President Baldemar Velasquez; Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent and author Chris Hedges; single-payer health-care advocates Drs David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler; noted environmentalists Derrick Jensen and Harvey Wasserman; and anti-war leader, Colonel Ann Wright (retired), along with numerous other prominent peace activists. You can see more of the people who signed up by visiting our website.

History is knocking on the door of the United States and its people are ready. As the crises in our communities and around the world grow, so must our response. We can no longer abide the outrageous and growing wealth inequality in this country. We cannot accept a government "of, by and for" the corporations. We cannot remain silent while our leaders continue to exploit and slaughter people in distant lands or while millions of us have no access to health care. A majority of Americans want the wars to end. We want investment in jobs, education, and environmental protection. We want banks to invest for our future, not for their executives' pocketbooks. We want laws that are just, lawmakers who obey them, and the power to hold them accountable when they do not. For that, we need a judiciary biased toward justice, not the partisan powers and big business interests they serve.

In the United States, the people have little voice in the process of governance, as elected officials and institutions have been corrupted by concentrated corporate interests that have bought and paid for them. The people have no control over their own lives and the direction of their own communities. The brave who speak out for justice are often ignored, harassed, or imprisoned. Unified resistance has become the essential avenue for change.

Our time has come. We pledge to stand together in nonviolent resistance to corporate greed, government corruption, violence and injustice. We must follow our brave brothers and sisters of the Arab Spring and developing European Summer into an Autumn of an American awakening. With our bodies united in resistance and our voices coalesced into one sustained cry for justice, we can and must stop the machine and create a new world. 

It is very difficult for us to get honest information about democracy movements around the world from the US corporate-controlled media. Please visit our website at and keep us informed of your actions. We have called our action "Stop the Machine! Create a New World!" Together we will end concentrated corporatism and create a peaceful, just, and sustainable future that respects all of humanity and the planet.

Environmental campaigner and political activist Kevin Zeese wrote this piece on behalf of the movement, a coalition of individuals and organisations seeking to end corporatism and militarism in the United States.

Criminalising Palestinian Solidarity

Palestinian solidarity activists making their voices heard are alleged to be supporting 'terrorism', as if an entire nation of people can be generalised as criminals [GALLO/GETTY]

Campaigning Against Israeli Apartheid Has Resulted In 23 Palestinian Solidarity Activists Facing US Federal Grand Jury.

By Maureen Murphy
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2011 12:31
Courtesy Of "Al-Jazeera"

The United States government has criminalised the Palestinian people, and now it is increasingly treating US citizens who stand in solidarity with Palestine as criminals as well - including those courageously putting their lives on the line to break the siege on Gaza.

I am a Palestine solidarity activist in the US, and one of 23 US citizens who have been issued with a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury as part of what the government has said is an investigation into violations of the laws banning material support to foreign "terrorist organisations".

None of us have given money or weapons to any group on the State Department's foreign terrorist organisation list. But what many of us have done is participate in or help organise educational trips to meet with Palestinians and Colombians resisting the US-funded military regimes they live under.

The goal of these trips is to learn about the human rights violations happening in these places and to bring those stories back home to the US, to educate people and to organise to change US foreign policy for the better.

Warranting An Investigation

Travel for such purposes should be protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. But a year ago the US Supreme Court decided in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project to dramatically expand the government's definition of what constitutes material support for a foreign terrorist organisation.

Now the government considers travel to places like the West Bank and Colombia to be a predicate or justification for opening up an investigation and issuing search warrants to raid activists' homes and seize their belongings. Political speech if made in a "coordinated way" can be construed as material support.

Travel to Colombia was the initial pretext for the investigation into the 23 of us, but it expanded to travel to Palestine. This was confirmed with the recent discovery of files accidentally left behind by the FBI in one of the homes raided last September.

The file includes dozens of questions that the FBI wanted to pose to activists - many of them focused on travel to Palestine and Colombia, two asking activists to name every person they know who has ever travelled to the Middle East or South America.

Civil liberties groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights have decried Holder v. HLP because it imposes guilt on people by association and criminalises "activities like distribution of literature, engaging in political advocacy, participating in peace conferences, training in human rights advocacy, and donating cash and humanitarian assistance, even when this type of support is intended only to promote lawful and non-violent activities".

The investigation into the 23 of us is viewed by many as a test case for Holder vs. HLP. Conviction of a violation of the material support laws means a prison sentence of up to 15 years - and what happens with our case will set a precedent for many social justice movements in the US. But it will particularly - and perhaps more immediately - impact Palestine solidarity activists who campaign to end US aid to Israel and in support of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Palestine Solidarity Movement In The US At Risk

The Palestine Solidarity Movement has gained significant ground in the US in the past few years. Consciousness of the oppressive nature of the Israeli apartheid regime has been raised in the wake of Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon - when the phrase "Dahiyeh doctrine" was coined to describe Israel's wholesale destruction of civilian infrastructure. The winter 2008-09 invasion and air attacks on the trapped civilian population in the Gaza Strip further exposed Israel's cruelty, and the execution of nine humanitarians aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla last year showed that Israel knows no bounds - and that the impunity it enjoys needs to end before the next massacre is perpetrated.

Activists in the US play a key role in efforts to bring Israel's war crimes and occupation to an end, as the US government bankrolls the Israeli military with our tax dollars, and shields Israel from accountability through diplomatic bullying and the veto at the UN Security Council.

For these reasons, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in the US, while still young, is especially significant. The movement is rooted in a rights-based approach and aims to compel Israel to respect international law.

Such efforts to hold Israel to account are viewed as enough of a threat that the US State Department this month reiterated its commitment to "counter head-on efforts of de-legitimisation" regarding Israel.

"Our diplomatic engagement with Israel in multilateral affairs is rooted in a core commitment by President Obama," the State Department's Esther Brimmer told Zionist thinktank Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 
"President Obama and this administration have worked tirelessly, in both word and deed, across the UN system, to ensure that Israel's legitimacy is beyond dispute and that Israel has the opportunity to contribute fully to all institutions to which it belongs," she added.

Siege-Breaking Activists May Be Next
It is US policy to block Palestinians from all avenues to justice at the UN level, by foiling the Goldstone report on war crimes in the Gaza Strip or preventing any censure of Israel for last year's massacre of flotilla activists. But this week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given Israel the green light to attack the second Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

The State Department also issued a statement on the second flotilla- which will include approximately fifty Americans - in which it warned that "delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to, or for the benefit of, a designated foreign terrorist organisation, such as Hamas, could violate US civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration".

Hamas, which is the ruling party in the Gaza Strip and which won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006, is on the US State Department's unilateral foreign terrorist organisation list - along with every other major Palestinian political party besides Fatah (though its armed wing is on the list). This means that the US has essentially criminalised the entire Palestinian people and the parties which represent them - except for those that collude with the Israeli occupation.

The State Department's foreign terrorist organisation list is a politically motivated register, not reviewed by any court, and inclusive of pretty much every liberation movement resisting regimes bankrolled and supported by the United States.

Prosecution for violations of the material support law is also blatantly political. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey (John Ashcroft's successor), former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and a former homeland security secretary and national security advisor are (as far as I know) not being investigated for material support for foreign terrorist organisations after they spoke in support of an Iranian opposition group on the state department's list at a conference organised by the group last year.

Obama On The Wrong Side Of History

It is also not lost on any of the 23 of us whose freedom is on the line that, had this material support statute been in place when President Obama was an anti-apartheid campus divestment activist, he too would have been vulnerable to prosecution.

At the height of the South Africa anti-apartheid movement, the US State Department designated as a foreign terrorist organisation the African National Congress - the party led by Nelson Mandela (he founded its armed wing) and which guided the solidarity movement in the US. Mandela was only removed from US "terrorism watch list" in 2008, aged 89.

Now that the international movement to bring apartheid in Palestine to an end has claimed more and more victories, Israel finds itself increasingly isolated. Just as the US was amongst the last to support apartheid in South Africa, it will be among the last to support apartheid in Palestine up to the bitter end - and those who oppose it will face an increasing backlash.

While President Obama, who wrote the introduction to Mandela's most recent autobiography, was on the right side of history when it came to apartheid in South Africa, he is on the wrong side of today's anti-apartheid struggle. Furthermore, US citizens who have dedicated their lives to fighting for what is right are being criminalised on his watch.

Maureen Clare Murphy is managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and a Palestine solidarity activist based in Chicago.

You can follow her on Twitter: @Maureen_70

The ADC and Arab-Americans

Arab-Americans have used organisations such as the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee to defend their civil liberties in the US and bring government attention to matters overseas [GALLO/GETTY]

Racism and Hostility Toward The Arab-American Community Cannot Be Addressed By Organisations With Dwindling Credibility.

By Hoda Mitwally and Yaman Salahi
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2011 13:41
Courtesy Of "Al-Jazeera"

Malek Jandali's "dis-invitation" from the annual convention of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) earlier this month raises questions about the organisation's ability to accurately claim that it represents the Arab-American community. It also highlights the dire need for the ADC to re-examine its longstanding ties to authoritarian Arab regimes, US law enforcement, and the Washington political elite.

Jandali is a renowned Syrian musician who had been set to perform his song, Watani Ana, ["I am my homeland"], at the group's annual convention. In the days leading up to the performance, ADC Chair Safa Rifka wrote Mr Jandali an email, warning him: "I just want to make sure that your stand on the issue of Syria will not be carried over to the convention."

Jandali rejected the condition, and Rifka personally ordered ADC staff to disinvite him.

Incensed by the incident, more than 700 Arab-Americans and allies signed a petition calling on Rifka to resign, citing his willingness to defend the Syrian regime - even as the death toll in that country rises above 1,300. The petition also called for the resignation of Ray Hanania, a Palestinian American ADC board member appointed by Rifka, who is notorious for his vile and obnoxious attacks on Palestine solidarity activists.

To date, the ADC has refused to take action and has offensively characterised the petition's authors and supporters as people who wish to undermine the organisation's work. To the contrary, we care deeply about Arab-American issues. We are concerned that the organisation has opted to dig in its heels, refusing to take the steps outlined in the petition - and instead possibly saving face by allowing Hanania's term to expire quietly, while leaving the issue of the organisation's dependency on Rifka's donations and leadership unaddressed.

Angering Arab-Americans

The ADC, however, can't dodge its critics by hoping that the storm will pass. If the uprisings in the Arab world are a lesson, once out in the open, dissent has a tendency to gain traction. The problem today, really, is not the singular egregiousness of the Syrian regime, but rather, the ADC's longstanding financial and political ties to many Arab regimes that do not tolerate human rights, let alone feminist, labour, or dissident organisations in the countries they govern. Such relationships have often disillusioned people who believe it is inconsistent to stand up for the rights of Arabs in the United States while simultaneously taking money from Arab governments and apologetically ignoring their violation of those rights.

To make matters worse, the ADC has also angered Arab-Americans because of its decision to cozy up with officials in the Bush administration - even as that government launched a full-fledged assault on our communities at home and our relatives abroad. In some cases, this discontent has led to the secession of local chapters that became independent regional groups; and in others, potential members were deterred from joining.

It is becoming increasingly the case that the ADC cannot claim to legitimately represent the Arab-American community. As an organisation, it can take a number of steps to remedy this problem.

First, it should immediately suspend all ties to Arab regimes and develop a plan to seek alternative sources of funding. If it wants to connect to Arab countries, it should connect to them through independent rights groups that are fighting for social justice, not illegitimate governments.

Second, it should commit to greater financial transparency. Many suspect that the organisation is dependent on the largess of a handful of individuals as well as foreign regimes, making it less accountable to the Arab-American community as a whole. We believe that the "need" for such a dependency is over-stated. The ADC should agree to an independent third-party audit and should publish details about its finances on its website.

Third, the ADC should adopt more democratic governance procedures. The election process for its directors is unclear because the by-laws are not accessible on the webpage and are otherwise difficult to procure. Few members know, for example, that they have the legal right to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the organisation's directors. The organisation should disclose its corporate governance documents so that the community can be more informed about how the organisation works and how they can effect change within it.

Unfair Policing and Harassment

Finally, and most importantly, the ADC should review its relationship with government agencies that have targeted and caused great harm to members of our community. ADC's job is to defend the rights of our community against government incursion, rather than cast itself as the government's ally in the pursuit of misguided policies. The infiltration of mosques, civic organisations, and community centres with informants and spies by federal law enforcement creates a climate of fear and divisiveness. In many cases, these federal agencies concoct terror plots and entrap otherwise innocent individuals in the process. The ADC's collaboration with such agencies only further promotes unfair policing and harassment of Arab-Americans while undermining our civil rights. The ADC should not give organisations like the FBI the benefit of association with the Arab-American community while such policies continue.

Overall, the ADC has failed to demonstrate that it knows how to design and execute effective political campaigns on behalf of our community in Washington. Despite the positive work by many ADC staff on a local and national level, including the publication of reports and the pursuit of impact litigation, the ADC has a poor record of political advocacy. It should know that its power in Washington can only rest on a healthy, thriving, and organised grassroots to bolster its work. While strong local organisations are the most important aspect of political advocacy, it is undeniable that some issues can be effectively addressed only on a national scale. Yet the ADC has not shown that it knows how to coordinate strong national campaigns, or even that it is capable of impacting the national political agenda and conversation in any way. The fact that, despite a considerable lack of resources, campus organisations have been better at impacting public discourse than the ADC over the past decade highlights the issue.

A Much Larger Problem

Many of the problems above arise out of the fact that the ADC's presence in Washington appears to be geared at schmoozing with the Washington political elite, not at developing strategic contacts and allies in government agencies that can later be utilised to pursue an affirmative agenda. For example, the ADC should be utilising its resources to pressure the Department of Justice to stop the grand jury investigation of 23 Arab-American and solidarity activists in the Midwest that threatens our First Amendment rights.

It should be reaching out to and filing Title VI complaints with the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education on behalf of student activists who have been harassed, silenced, and otherwise marginalised on campus due in part to their background and their Palestine solidarity and anti-war organising. It should be confronting the State Department about its failure to protect Americans who are planning a flotilla headed towards Gaza.

A group headquartered in Washington is better positioned to navigate such institutions than regional groups, though their support is essential. Surely such work would be more effective political advocacy that actually benefits the Arab-American community than political donations or the bestowal of useless honours and awards to officials at expensive galas.

It should be clear that the Malek Jandali episode was one symptom of a much larger problem that requires a change of direction at the ADC. We repeat our call to the Arab-American community to continue pressuring the ADC to better represent its interests; to date, the organisation has been dismissive of such calls. So long as the ADC continues to claim to speak on behalf of the Arab American community at large, despite the growing divide between the two, we call on community members and allies alike to recognise the difference. Racism and violent hostility toward the Arab-American community cannot be alleviated by organisations with dwindling credibility, moral and political. Now more than ever, Arab-Americans must reclaim the institutions that ought to safeguard our human and civil rights and liberties, and steer them in a direction that truly upholds our principles.

Hoda Mitwally is an Egyptian-American and a recent graduate of Rutgers University, where she was involved with Middle East solidarity organising.

Yaman Salahi is a third-year Syrian-American student at Yale Law School and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

For more details about the effort to reform the ADC, visit

Losers and Winners In Obama's Afghanistan

By M K Bhadrakumar
June 24, 2011
Courtesy Of "Asia Times Online"

United States President Barack Obama never fails to rise to the occasion when rhetorical flourish is the need of the hour. By that yardstick, the drawdown speech on Wednesday in Washington that he thoughtfully titled "On the Way Forward in Afghanistan", has been more a programmatic speech than intended to stir up the mind. His judgment is correct that the occasion is not one of celebration but of justification for what is to be done about something that went horribly wrong.

There are winners and losers in Obama's speech. The losers, first. They are the Pentagon, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan and South Asia and the amorphous creature known as al-Qaeda. The winners are the Taliban and, once again, Pakistan.

The shift from "combat to support" and from the military track to the political track is the reflection of growing skepticism about the purposiveness of the troop "surge". Obama thanked the soldiers for a good job done, but that was more perfunctory. He claimed the "surge" to be a success and then he moved on. He didn't praise the "surge" - the 33,000 troops he ordered to Afghanistan in late 2009 - as an outstanding success. He was sombre. He thanked the foot soldiers who had laid down their lives in supreme sacrifice, but he failed to mention the hero of the "surge" - General David Petraeus, the US's commander in Afghanistan and now nominated by Obama to become the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

From all accounts, this is not the kind of drawdown the Pentagon would have wanted - 10,000 troops by end-2011, 33,000 by mid-2012 and the withdrawal of the remaining 70,000 troops at a "steady pace" through 2013 so that by end-2014 "this process of transition will be complete". Obama left it open whether all 70,000 would be withdrawn by end-2014 or whether, as in Iraq, where 10,000 troops may stay back even after the complete withdrawal promised by end-2011, there will be an American residue on a long-term left in the Hindu Kush mountains.

Conceivably, Obama left it vague since the issue isn't completely for him to decide. He would know that the time is long past for the US to dictate the aftermath of the bloody 10-year war. When you fail to win a war, the aftermath has to be decided by consensus. So, first and foremost, the Taliban will have a say, and then Karzai's government and, increasingly, regional powers too.

Besides, Obama admits that America has limitations. Money can be better spent at home for road-repair, for creating new jobs and industry "at a time of rising debt and hard economic times at home". America is not going to withdraw into an isolationist mood, but it won't have enthusiasm for interventions abroad unless it is threatened. And even if threatened, the choice will be not to deploy large armies abroad (rather through high-tech weapons) and to rally international action.

Obama asserted that al-Qaeda was a spent force and there was no reason to wage a war anymore. Vigilance is what is called for so that the serpent doesn't rear its head again. But he gave a warning to Pakistan that he still intended to "address terrorist safe-havens" in that country. He added that he would "continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation ... work with the Pakistani government ... and will insist that it keep its commitments".

Obama didn't bother to offer any olive branches to Islamabad, make any form of overtures to mend the fractured US-Pakistan relationship, leave alone to even momentarily take note of Pakistan's claims of the enormous sacrifices it has made - more so than any of the US's allies.

Put plainly, he is moving on without a "thank you" note. This is going to be noted by the Pakistani military command in Rawalpindi and the civilian leadership in Islamabad. What consequences might follow lie in the womb of time. Curiously, Obama's choice also gives a window of opportunity to the Pakistani side to cherry pick.

On the other hand, Pakistan is also a big winner. Obama's speech is, quintessentially, a vindication of all that the Pakistani military has been demanding for the past year or two - that the Afghan war is futile, that it is time to reconcile the Taliban, that the military track is a road to nowhere, that enduring peace and stability can only be reached through a peace settlement.

Now from the pinnacle of power in the US comes the word, indirectly though, that "yes, Pakistan said the right thing all along". Obama duly acknowledges in his speech that the "tide of war is receding" in Afghanistan. Obama speaks of the prospect of a political settlement with optimism, although "there will be dark days ahead".

The nuances of the road to peace in Obama's speech will merit maximum attention as that is where the meat lies for the coming days. He speaks of the Taliban as a whole without segregating the Haqqani network. As long as the preconditions of reconciliation can be met, just about all are welcome to walk into the peace tent. The mood is of "forget-and-forgive". The Taliban have been noted as part of the "Afghan people".

Two, Obama admits that the reconciliation must be "Afghan-led". He echoes the standard US position but says nothing more by way of addressing the palpable fears in Kabul and Islamabad which regard this as mere lip-service, whereas the US insists on being the locomotive and keeps its Afghan and regional ally in the dark. Maybe, this is a minor detail.

Or, maybe, there is nothing Obama can do about the situation because when the camel enters the tent, it invariably becomes the case that the tent has little space left for others. But Kabul and Islamabad are sure to be left wondering until US envoys come to the region to annotate Obama's speech, as to whether anything has changed in the US's lone-ranger diplomatic strategy toward the peace process.

The most interesting point in the entire speech is the optimism Obama exuded with regard to the reconciliation of the Taliban. He says he has "reason to believe that progress can be made ... the goal that we seek is achievable". But then, he tantalizingly leaves it at that. The conclusion needs to be drawn that Obama is quietly pleased with the feedback he has received from US officials' secret confabulations so far and he has reason to believe that the Taliban are amenable to persuasion and will be willing to deal.

Obama fails to mention Karzai in this context of the peace process, which is a deafening silence. True, he takes note of the Afghan government's key role in stabilizing the ground situation, but his emphasis is unmistakably on America's tryst with the Afghan people at large.

Equally, Obama says nothing about the conference that the Germans are ambitiously planning to hold in December in Berlin in the mould of a Congress of Vienna where the Taliban would apparently sit around the table under the chandeliers with diplomats in pin-stripe suits sipping champagne. But Obama does speak of another international conference, but that will be restricted to the US and its allies and will be held in May in his "hometown" Chicago "to shape the next phase of this [Afghan] transition".

Obama is a gifted politician and can visualize the immense potential of displaying before the American public just ahead of the presidential elections in the US how brilliantly he salvaged the Afghan war, which the previous Republican government had left in a mess.

Obama can count on the newly-elected Chicago mayor and old chum Emmanuel Rahm to do a splendid job in making the May conference a defining moment of the election campaign. Actually, Obama doesn't miss out in his speech on the follies of the previous George W Bush administration in not paying enough attention to the Afghan war and thoughtlessly launching the Iraq invasion in 2003.

Arguably, it is Obama's right to make political mileage at home from the conclusion of the Afghan war. (The peak of the drawdown - mid-2012 - also coincides with the peak of the election campaign.) After all, it takes superhuman courage for a commander-in-chief to realize that a war cannot be won. It is even more difficult to make sure that the retreat doesn't look like a defeat or having to be made from the top of the US Embassy building in Kabul in helicopters. Obama is successfully achieving both.

The Taliban have won the war. No quibbling over this plain truth. Keeping them out of the Afghan power calculation is no longer the American objective. The US recognizes that the Taliban are an integral part of the Afghan nation. No section of the Taliban will be excluded from mainstream Afghan life out of American pride or prejudice. All are welcome to board the peace train to Kabul.

The region surrounding Afghanistan will be aghast, wondering what the war was all about it. A lot of debris is lying around, thanks to the destruction the US has caused. Obama pleads American has no money for reconstruction. "America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home." Those dozen words will be echoing not only in the valleys and mountain tops of Afghanistan, but all through the Central Asian steppes and the ancient Indus Valley.

The stark reality is that Obama's speech will send shivers of fear down the spine of the non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan. There is nothing worse than offering someone protection and support and then walking way at the heat of the moment. Central Asians will worry how the triumphal return of the Taliban will play out among the forces of Islamism in their countries, which are already bracing for the arrival of the Arab Spring.

India will feel badly let down. Iran will be pleased to no end. So may Russia to the extent that history will record that it wasn't the only superpower that failed to win a war in the Hindu Kush. China's dependence on Pakistan increases by leaps and bounds to ensure that the Taliban keep their word that they have no agenda beyond Afghanistan's borders.

How the unpalatable truth sinks in will be Pakistan's formidable challenge. Like the witches told Banquo in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, it is a mixed blessing. He may be about to lose his own life, but his progenies will live in regal glory - "Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none." Can there be a greater satisfaction?

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.)

Iran Carves Out An AfPak Hub

By M K Bhadrakumar
June 28, 2011
Courtesy Of "Asia Times Online"

The participation of the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan in the international conference on terrorism held in Tehran over the weekend becomes a major diplomatic and political victory for Iran at the present juncture of regional politics. Both Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai were received by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei. 

One main focus of the conference was to highlight that the United States has been using international terrorism as the pretext to intervene in Afghanistan and in the Middle East and to interfere in their internal affairs. Khamenei's message to the conference, in a nutshell, highlighted the "calculations of satanic world powers, which use terrorism in their policies and planning to achieve their illegitimate goals". 

Khamenei alleged that the US finances and arms terrorist groups in the region and, most interestingly, he singled out for reference the "crimes" by the Blackwater (Xe Services) group of "assisting terrorist groups" in Pakistan as "part of this shameful and unforgettable list of American acts of terrorism". 

Expressing solidarity with the growing criticism by Islamabad and Kabul against the excesses of the US's military operations in AfPak, Khamenei added, "The deadly attacks by the American drones against defenseless families in villages [of Pakistan] and in the most deprived areas of Afghanistan have repeatedly turned weddings into mourning ceremonies." Khamenei said in a scathing attack on the US's regional policies:
With such behavior, it is a shame [for the US] to claim to be leading the fight against terrorism ... From the standpoint of the leaders of the hegemonic powers [read US], everything that threatens their illegitimate interests is viewed as terrorism. All struggles intended to defend a cause against the occupiers and interventionist forces are regarded by them as terrorism.
Zardari highlighted at the conference that Pakistan had suffered immensely during the decade of the US-led war in Afghanistan. He said over 5,000 Pakistani security personnel had lost their lives and the estimated damage in financial terms amounts to US$37 billion for the Pakistani economy. Zardari stressed the importance of the "vital need for a collective campaign" by the regional states in the "war on terror". 

Overlapping Security Interests 

Karzai, on the other hand, said, "I believe that the campaign against terrorism is not possible through merely military means." He called for unity, a firm stand and "collective cooperation" by Muslim states in the fight against terrorism. 

On the eve of the conference, Zardari and Karzai held a tripartite meeting with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, which, again, "urged close cooperation among regional countries" over the issues of "peace and security in the Middle East". The Iranian president's office said, "[Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan] pledged to expand their cooperation in political, security, economic and cultural areas as well as fighting terrorism and foreign interventions." 

From the Iranian perspective, a main objective was to forge common thinking with Pakistan and Afghanistan that the continuance of the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan adversely impacts on all three countries' national interests and on regional security and stability. This comes out clearly in the meetings Khamenei had with Zardari and Karzai. 

Khamenei sought an "all-out expansion of ties" between Iran and Pakistan and cautioned Zardari that "Washington is trying to sow seeds of dissension in Pakistan to meet its illegitimate goals". He expressed his appreciation that the Pakistani people were well aware of the US's "ominous intention" and are resisting the US's "hegemonic plots". 

Khamenei's reference went beyond the earlier allegation by Ahmadinejad that Tehran had "specific evidence" of a US conspiracy to seize Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Khamenei seemed to imply that the US plans to destabilize the Pakistan' state in order to weaken it and to break its resolve to resist US dominance, as well as to hamper its capacity to play an effective role in the region. 

Clearly, the tensions that have accrued in the US-Pakistan relationship in the recent period provide the backdrop for this exchange. This is the first time that such a reference has been made at Khamenei's level. Zardari's delegation included Interior Minister Rehman Malik, which suggests the Pakistani expectation of Iran sharing details of its perception regarding the security implications of the US's regional policies. 

Malik indeed had a separate meeting with Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, who was previously Iran's defense minister and belongs to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Iranian account of the meeting suggested that it was mainly concerned with the activities of the terrorist group Jundallah, which operates out of Pakistan in Iran's eastern border province of Sistan-Balochistan. 

"We discussed ways to collaborate on the fight against extremists and terrorists who use Pakistani soil for actions against Iran's interests," Mohammad-Najjar said. Significantly, Tehran is making a distinction between Jundallah and the Pakistani state, whereas there have been earlier allegations of Pakistani complicity. Whether Malik (who was a former head of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency) also met with Iran's powerful Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi remains unclear. 

At his meeting with Karzai, Khamenei frontally attacked the US plans to set up military bases in Afghanistan. "The Americans are after permanent bases in Afghanistan, which is a dangerous issue because as long as US troops are in Afghanistan, there would be no real security. The Afghan people are suffering from the US military presence in their country and this presence is a great pain for them and the entire region", he said. 

The meeting with Karzai took place two days after US President Barack Obama's announcement of a troop drawdown in Afghanistan. Khamenei told Karzai that a rapid pullout of US troops was in the interests of Afghanistan and the region. He was confident that Afghanistan was capable of "controlling its affairs and determining its fate". 

Having said that, all indications are that in the Iranian assessment, the US may be compelled to abandon its earlier plans to set up military bases in Afghanistan due to a combination of circumstances - the Taliban's uncompromising opposition, the US's economic crisis and overall war weariness and the urgency to concentrate on the Middle East and Africa. 

Meanwhile, Tehran keeps urging Karzai not to give in to the US plans. What worries Iran most is that the planned US military bases include Herat and Shindad in western Afghanistan on the border with Iran. 

Broad Convergence 

The big question is how tangible will be an Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan regional axis over the Afghan problem. The short answer is that the axis is both a matter of appearance as well as of some substance and how the proportion works out will depend on the acuteness of the situation in Afghanistan and the regional milieu. 

At this point in time, the varying degrees of antipathy felt toward the US on the part of Pakistan and Afghanistan on the one hand and Iran's inveterate standoff with the US on the other give impetus to the three neighboring countries drawing closer. 

Both Zardari and Karzai undertook the visit to Tehran with the full awareness that it signified an act of "strategic defiance" of the US - and more important, they knew that Washington would get the message as well. That is to say, the "Iran connection" gets them some room to maneuver vis-a-vis the US. 

But then, there are also specific interests for Kabul and Islamabad to forge an understanding with Iran. Karzai would like to secure all the political support that Iran can provide that enables him to press ahead with the reconciliation with the Taliban. 

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-i-Islami, which is represented in Karzai's government, lived in exile in Iran for five years. Iran also wields influence over a variety of non-Pashtun forces that happen to harbor misgivings about Karzai's peace plans of reconciling the Taliban. 

In a worst-case scenario, Iran could prove to be a "spoiler", while Karzai's negotiating strength substantially increases via-a-vis the US (and Pakistan) in political terms if Iran is seen as his partner. 

Iran's support for the peace process as next-door neighbor is an imperative need for Karzai to reach a durable Afghan settlement. The bottom line is that reciprocally Tehran would expect Karzai to keep in mind at all times the red line regarding Iran's legitimate interests in Afghanistan and acts accordingly. 

Karzai has managed to maintain good equations with Tehran all through despite US interference. From this angle, Khamenei's strong demarche with Karzai regarding US military bases in Afghanistan could prove to be a clincher. 

In the past, Iran's and Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan often proved to be at loggerheads. But a qualitative change has taken place. For Pakistan, gnawed by apprehensions of the US's intentions toward it, Iran as a friendly neighbor becomes a critically important asset today. 

Especially so, as Iranian inputs regarding the US's covert activities inside Pakistan will be of invaluable use and solidarity with Iran helps mitigate the US pressure. For Tehran, too, it is important that Pakistan does its utmost to ensure that Jundallah activities from its soil are curtailed and the possibility of third countries exploiting Jundallah as a means to destabilize Iran is excluded. 

Equally, Pakistan is a major Sunni country and Iran's interest lies in ensuring that it does not become part of the Saudi-led alliance against Iran in the Middle East. Iran can flaunt its friendship with Pakistan to expose the Saudi campaign to whip up the phobia of a Shi'ite-Sunni schism in the Middle East today by way of branding Tehran as the leader of the Shi'ite camp and rallying the Sunni Arab opinion. 

The Taliban used to be a divisive issue in the Iran-Pakistan relationship. But this is no longer the case, as the cutting edge of the Afghan situation today for both countries lies in regard to the US's military presence. Both Iran and Pakistan agree that a long-term US presence in Afghanistan should be somehow scuttled. Also, the Taliban have transformed, which is what the direct contacts between them and the US (without Islamabad's knowledge) suggest. 

Above all, Iran's comfort level is much higher today regarding a fair deal in an Afghan settlement for the Afghan groups with which Iran has enjoyed historical and cultural links. The old-style Pashtun dominance of Afghanistan is a non-starter as there has been a sort of "political awakening" among the Afghan people. 

Iran also would factor in that the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the ensuing downstream consequences have greatly reduced the capacity of the Pakistani state to dictate an Afghan settlement unilaterally. Karzai is the best bet under the present circumstances for both Iran and Pakistan as the leader of an "Afghan-led" peace process. All these elements have contributed to the broad convergence of interests between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

How this convergence plays out in the coming weeks and months will have a significant bearing on the course of events in Afghanistan and it will no doubt impact the reconciliation process with the Taliban. 

Iran will have the maximum interest in forging a regional axis out of this broad convergence of interests and concerns and making it a real driving force that shapes events to come rather than acts as a mere catalyst. But it takes two - or in this case three - to tango.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey. 

(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.)

'Most Captured Taliban Were Civilians'

General David Petraeus says progress has been made against the Taliban, but critics think he conflated the number of fighters captured by US forces [GALLO/GETTY]

News Agency Says US Military Documents Indicate That Four In Five Captured Afghan 'Taliban' Were Actually Civilians.

By Gareth Porter
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2011 15:04
Courtesy Of "Al-Jazeera"

During his intensive initial round of media interviews as commander in Afghanistan in August 2010, General David Petraeus released figures to the news media that claimed spectacular success for raids by Special Operations Forces (SOF): in a 90-day period from May through July, SOF units captured 1,355 rank and file Taliban, killed another 1,031, and killed or captured 365 middle or high-ranking Taliban.

The claims of huge numbers of Taliban captured and killed continued through the rest of 2010. In December, Petraeus's command said a total of 4,100 Taliban rank and file had been captured in the previous six months and 2,000 had been killed.

Those figures were critical to creating a new media narrative hailing the success of SOF operations as reversing what had been a losing US strategy in Afghanistan.

But it turns out that more than 80 per cent of those called captured Taliban fighters were released within days of having been picked up, because they were found to have been innocent civilians, according to official US military data.

Even more were later released from the main US detention facility at Bagram airbase called the Detention Facility in Parwan after having their files reviewed by a panel of military officers.

Data Examined

The timing of Petraeus's claim of Taliban fighters captured or killed, moreover, indicates that he knew that four out of five of those he was claiming as "captured Taliban rank and file" were not Taliban fighters at all.

Checking on the claims of the number of Taliban commanders and rank and file killed is impossible, but the claims of Taliban captured could be checked against official data on admission of detainees added to Parwan.

An Afghan detained by US or NATO forces can only be held in a Forward Operating Base for a maximum of 14 days before a decision must be made about whether to release the individual or send him to Parwan for longer-term detention.

Inter Press Service news agency has now obtained an unclassified graph by Task Force 435, the military command responsible for detainee affairs, on Parwan's monthly intake and release totals for 2010, which shows that only 270 detainees were admitted to that facility during the 90-day period from May through July 2010.

That figure also includes alleged Taliban commanders who were sent to Parwan and whom Petraeus counted separately from the rank and file figure. Thus more than four out of every five Afghans said to have been Taliban fighters captured during that period had been released within two weeks as innocent civilians.

When Petraeus decided in mid-August to release the figure of 1,355 Taliban rank and file allegedly captured during the 90-day period, he already knew that 80 percent or more of that total had already been released.

Major Sunset R Belinsky, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press officer for SOF operations, conceded last September that the 1,355 figure applied only to "initial detentions".

Task Force 435 commander Admiral Robert Harward confirmed in a press briefing for journalists on November 30, 2010 that 80 per cent of the Afghans detained by the US military during the entire year to that point had been released within two weeks.

"This year, in this battlespace, approximately 5,500 individuals have been detained," Harward said, adding the crucial fact that "about 1,100 have come to the detention facility in Parwan."

Harward did not explain the discrepancy between the two figures, however, and no journalist attending the Pentagon briefing asked for such an explanation.

Petraeus continued to exploit media ignorance of the discrepancy between the number of Taliban rank and file said to have been "captured" and the number actually sent to the FDIP.

Numbers Game

In early December, ISAF gave Bill Roggio, a blogger for "The Long War Journal" website, the figure of more than 4,100 "enemy fighters" captured from June 1 through November 30, along with 2,000 rank and file Taliban killed.

But during those six months, only 690 individuals were sent to Parwan, according to the Task Force 435 data – 17 per cent of the 4,100 Taliban rank and file claimed captured as "Taliban".

The total of 690 detainees also includes an unknown number of commanders counted separately by Petraeus and a large number of detainees who were later released from Parwan. Considering those two factors, the actual proportion of those claimed as captured Taliban who were found not to be part of the Taliban organisation rises to 90 per cent or even higher.

Three hundred forty-five detainees, or 20 percent of the 1,686 total number of those who were detained in Parwan from June through November, were released upon review of their cases, according to the same February 5, 2011 Task Force document obtained by IPS news agency. The vast majority of those released from the facility had been sent to Parwan in June or later.

Detainees are released from Parwan only when the evidence against them is so obviously weak or nonexistent that U.S officers cannot justify continuing to hold them, despite the fact that the detainees lack normal procedural rights in the "non-adversarial" hearing by the Task Force's Detainee Review.

The deliberate confusion sowed by Petraeus by referring to anyone picked up for interrogation as a captured rank and file Taliban was a key element of a carefully considered strategy for creating a more favourable image of the war.

As Associated Press reporter Kimberly Dozier wrote in a Sepember 3, 2010 news analysis after an interview with Petraeus, he was very conscious that "demonstrating progress is difficult in a war fought in hundreds of small, scattered engagements, where frontlines do not move and where cities do not fall."

SOF raids, however, could be turned into a dramatic story line. "The mystique of elite, highly trained commandos swooping down on an unsuspecting Taliban leader in the dead of night plays well back home," wrote Dozier, "especially at a time when much of the news from Afghanistan focuses on rising American deaths and frustration with the Afghan government."

Petraeus made sure the impact of the new SOF narrative would be maximised by presenting the total of Afghans swept up in SOF raids as actual Taliban fighters.

The deceptive nature of those statistics, as now revealed by US military data, raises anew the question of whether the statistics released by Petraeus on killing of alleged Taliban were similarly skewed.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

Rumors Of US plans For Libya, Syria Cause Concern

US Army soldiers
The idea of US Army boots on Libyan soil is causing alarm

Among the rumors circulating of US plans for expanded military operations in Libya and a possible intervention in Syria lie certain truths which are cause for concern - despite the dismissals of analysts.

June 27, 2011
Courtesy Of "Deutsche Welle"

When the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973 on March 17 of this year, it authorized the use of force by UN member states, granting them the right to "take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in Libya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory."
In the three months that have followed, the rules of Resolution 1973 appear to have been bent to allow the NATO-led mission to not only protect civilians in Libya but actively pursue the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, target his strongholds and effectively force him out of power.
This 'mission creep' has caused fractures and divisions within the international coalition that originally agreed to take on the UN's Libyan operations.
The Arab League, whose involvement helped sell the mission to the Arab world, is becoming increasingly nervous about what it sees as NATO's new goal of regime change. Meanwhile, those members of the Security Council that abstained from the Resolution 1973 vote are concerned by developments they fear may lead toward a land invasion of Libya and the contravening of the UN resolution.
Russia in particular has been angered by the deployment of military advisors and Special Forces operatives from the US, France and Britain to support the efforts of the Libyan opposition.
Russian Warning
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters earlier this month after France and Britain had deployed attack helicopters to Libya for the first time that the prospect of land operations in Libya was against Moscow's wishes. "We consider that what is going on is either consciously or unconsciously sliding toward a land operation," he said. "That would be very deplorable."
Lavrov's comments came just days before NATO agreed to extend its mission in Libya for a further 90 days and less than a week after French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama agreed on the fringes of the G8 summit at the end of May that Gadhafi could not be negotiated with and that "the shadow of tyranny" must be lifted.
Soon after, a number of unsubstantiated reports based on anonymous military sources began flooding the Internet claiming that US forces were already being readied for a full-scale ground invasion of Libya.
The alleged military sources at the US Army's Fort Hood base in Texas, where these preparations were said to be taking place, revealed to the website that the invasion was being planned for October. This report spawned a wave of similar extrapolations on the theme of a potential escalation in Libya, again with little solid evidence to back them up.
"The prospect of the US considering a land invasion of Libya is very unlikely and with no credible sources to back up these rumors it would be very hard to gauge their authenticity," Dr. Robert Jackson, an international security expert at Chatham House, told Deutsche Welle. "It is possible that these rumors are being inspired by and confused with ship movements in the region."
Other experts believe the US has absolutely no appetite for further involvement in Libya.
"All efforts in Washington are now being diverted to completely withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no appetite or budget room for more war or 'contingencies,'" Dr. Geoffery Wawro, the director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas, told Deutsche Welle.
US Navy Deployments
Whether it is part of a future invasion plan or not, the existence of a recently re-deployed US Navy strike group in the Mediterranean cannot be disputed and its arrival could certainly have helped generate the buzz about a possible escalation.
The group, led by the Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, along with the guided missile destroyers Truxtun and Mitscher, the missile cruisers Gettysburg and Anzio and eight squadrons of aircraft, has been sent to strengthen the US Sixth Fleet which is based in Naples, Italy. Most of the NATO missions in Libya to date have originated from bases in that country.
If an invasion was being planned, the amount of naval firepower now available in the region would give more than adequate support for any land forces being deployed on Libyan soil.
This is not the only US Navy strike group on the move. The USS Bataan, which alone can land more than 2,000 marines, equipped with helicopters and vertical takeoff planes, artillery and tanks, along with two other amphibious assault ships, anchored in Italy in mid-May. Reports suggest that the Bataan and its flotilla then left for an undisclosed location off the Syrian coast, prompting further rumors of a potential US intervention in Syria.
Battle Group
The independent news site DEBKAfile, again quoting anonymous US military sources, reported that the Bataan was moving into position as part of a potential mission involving US and Turkish forces to stop the anti-opposition crackdown currently taking place in Syria and to counter any response from Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon to any such operations.
It also added that, under the advice of the Iranian secret service, Hezbollah had moved its rockets from northern Lebanon to areas in the center of the country "out of range of a possible American operation in Syria."
The report included statements from Syrian and Iranian officials warning against US interference but offered no Western sources to back up its claims. However, while there is no documented evidence that suggests the US is planning to intervene in Syria, the presence of US warships in the vicinity - for whatever reason - supported by Iranian and Syrian responses to its presence cannot be denied.
Analysts are not convinced that the US presence is a precursor to an intervention in Syria.
"It is very unlikely that the US will get involved with a direct intervention in Syria," Dr. Jackson said. "There is too much opposition from Russia there and the UN Security Council will never sign off on a resolution to justify it."
US security expert Xenia Dormandy agrees that the probability of the US significantly increasing its military resources to Libya is extremely low. She also believes that, unless there's a major contextual change in Syria and in Yemen the same is also true for these countries.

"Decisions in Washington today have to factor in politics," she told Deutsche Welle. "The politics in America right now are that spending needs to be focused at home, on jobs in the US, rather than on more operations overseas in areas perceived as being of dubious national interest to the US."
Wawro says the looming specter of another Iraq means the US will not risk any type of deployment on the ground.
"The Syrian situation is analogous to Iraq in the sense that 'if we break it, we own it,' which is a burden that Washington won't be eager to inherit. The sectarian differences in Syria are as deep as they are in Iraq. Decapitating the Assad regime might lead to a civil war. That is not an argument for supporting Assad, it is however an argument against an 'Operation Syrian Freedom.'"
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Egypt's Struggle To Reinvent Itself

A demonstrator waving the Egyptian flag above a packed Tahrir Square in Cairo in April.
A demonstrator waving the Egyptian flag above a packed Tahrir Square in Cairo in April.

After The Revolution

A new state is being born in Egypt in the wake of the revolution. While the old guard is battling to preserve its influence, scores of new parties are jockeying for power, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which is resorting to shrewd tactics in a bid to cement its political clout.

By Volkhard Windfuhr in Cairo
June 27, 2011
Courtesy Of "Der Spiegel Online"

On the banks of the Nile, politicians of all kinds are vying for power in a democratic contest the likes of which Egypt hasn't witnessed in generations. The severity of their clashes shows how rapidly freedom of opinion has developed -- and how limitless that freedom now is. But the dreams of the fearless protestors who took to the streets in January are at risk of being crushed in a power struggle among Egypt's resurgent old guard.

Five months after Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country for 30 years with a single political party and a clique of corrupt corporate leaders, stepped down at the age of 83, Egypt's population of some 80 million is mired in a political swamp . It is hard to discern the democratic reforms , the long-overdue improvement in living conditions and the more equitable social order that Egyptian protestors longed for. "It's business as usual," wrote the popular weekly newspaper Al-Fagr (The Dawn) in a resigned commentary. "The old powers are still in control."

Very few of Egypt's key government decision-makers have had to give up their posts. Only a handful of prominent officials, such as Information Minister Anas el-Fiqqi and Mubarak's previous long-standing advisor and secretary generalSafwat el-Sherif, were replaced. Their staggering corruption and blatant nepotism rendered them untenable.

The cleaning-up necessary for a credible fresh start has been sluggish, even though Egypt's political parties have gradually been putting pressure on the country's ruling military council. However, even critics concede that some progress has been made: Mubarak's sons have been detained, and the former ministers of housing and tourism have each been sentenced to five years in prison. The government has also asked Interpol to help track down former officials who fled Egypt -- another step forward. But attempts to cover up past transgressions, and the continued delays in prosecuting Mubarak -- who is permitted to order his personal hairdresser to come from Cairo to his residence in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh -- betray the reluctance of the military council and the justice system to deal with the legacy of the old regime.

Egypt May Soon Have More Than 45 Political Parties

Security also leaves much to be desired. Crime is rife due to a lack of police operations. Unknown gangs have meticulously dismantled and stolen some 300 kilometers of train track along an important route across the Suez Canal towards Palestine and Israel.
For weeks, the political landscape 

has been in a state of surprisingly spirited transformation. The country may soon have more than 45 political parties, if all of the announcements are brought to fruition. The approval process is simple. The military council only bars political parties that are based on religon. Religious parties are forbidden.

That rule is no longer being enforced to the letter. But the leader of the Coptic Church, Shenouda III, forbade his 10 million followers from establishing Christian parties. And even the Arabian Peninsula's wealthiest resident, billionaire Egyptian business leader Naguib Sawiris, has adhered to that requirement and limited his political activity to providing financial and staff support to liberal parties. His In-TVhas become the most popular non-partisan television channel. He doesn't transmit pro-Christian propaganda.

The heavily traditional Wafd Party, which has for decades embodied modern secular values, also abstains from any religious symbolism -- with the exception of the crescent and cross which form the party's emblem. To emphasize its openness to all denominations, Wafd established a scarcely credible alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful Islamist movement. But powerful Wafd party members such as executive committee member Mohammed Sarhan quickly rebelled against the alliance, and the anti-Islamist party youth arm plans to establish a "completely liberal" Neo-Wafd Party in a few days.

How Egypt's New Politicians Are Jockeying For Power

Many of the new liberal parties have formed electoral alliances, and some of them even share members. The goal is a new democratic state with a civil social structure protected by the constitution. That is how Egypt plans to circumvent the term "Laicism" that representatives of political Islam have decried as an "attack on God and Islam."

The Freedom and Justice Party of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which has, since its foundation in 1928, never held government power, runs a propaganda network unlike that possessed by any other political group. Internet, Facebook and YouTube experts are working to sell the Brotherhood as a normal democratic power with an Islamic ideology.

The Brotherhood's leader, Mohammed Badie, has set the ambitious goal of seizing 50 percent of parliamentary seats. He wants to institute Sharia law, the Islamic code of justice that has been seen as the "first source of jurisprudence" since the era of former President Anwar al-Sadat. In order to gain acceptance socially and in the international political sphere, the Muslim Brotherhood, among whose stated goals include that of establishing a caliphate, says it agrees with the principles of civil government. But the flaw can be found in the details. Prominent spokesmen and members of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership, like Professor Salih, reveal in talk shows how far their supposed concession to a multi-faith society really goes: "Even the state of the Prophet Mohammed was based on a civil society," said the normally eloquent Salih.

The Brotherhood has opposed suggestions that the parliamentary elections currently planned for September be postponed. This could, and would, help the new liberal parties, especially the politically-inexperienced revolutionary youth, by giving them more time to cultivate their image -- to the detriment of political Islam.

The pious are fighting for their future and they have no qualms about the tactics they deem necessary to win. The Brotherhood offered Christian lawyer Rafiq Habib the post of the party's deputy president. He accepted. Many in the Christian community criticized the move as an act of treason.

The presidential candidates are still far from achieving political breakthroughs.

  • The ranking compiled by neutral Egyptian media is topped by Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister who was Secretary-General of the Arab League until last week. Many Egyptians, both Muslims and Christians, are pinning their hopes on him. They were impressed by his open support for the revolutionaries from the very beginning, his political distance to President Mubarak who had removed him as foreign minister because of his growing popularity, and his criticism of the US policy on the Middle East.
  • At the bottom of the list is Ayman Nour, the founder of the small, liberal, chameleon-like El Ghad party (Ghad means Tomorrow). Washington had long described him as the most promising candidate. But even the army's poll of presidential hopefuls published this week gave him just 1 percent.
  • Mohamed ElBaradei remains an important candidate. He campaigned for democratic change, which gained him support especially in the West. He is working with political think-tanks on drafting proposals for a new democratic constitution. But others had already done so before him, such as members of the Wafd Party and various youth forums following the start of the revolution. The first brave Egyptian to call for democracy and freedom of opinion was the Catholic founder of the mass movement Kefaya, George Ishak.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood is making headway in its campaign in the villages and city slums where imams are trying to persuade the faithful that everyone who denies the party of the Muslim Brotherhood his vote is betraying Islam.

Liberal Parties Taking Action Too

But the liberal parties are now engaging in similar agitation and aren't doing badly, even though they joined the fray fairly late. The liberal parties want to exercise control over the Brotherhood, which poses dangers to them. They have entered into an electoral alliance with the Brotherhood in which all participants must commit to refraining from religious election propaganda, discrimination based on gender and membership of a social group is forbidden and all political principles that apply in the democratic West must be adhered to. "We pay very close attention to that," Kefaya leader Ishak told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Anyone who doesn't stick to these rules isn't our partner anymore."

This Tuesday several revolutionary youth organizations will announce the formation of a "Party of Revolutionary Change." The popular 24-year-old politician Mu'adh says: "We will set sail with our feluccas (traditional Nile sailing boats) under the right wind. New million-strong protests on Tahrir are possible."

If the army sticks to the timetable, there will be a democratic Egypt in less than one year, even if parliamentary elections are delayed for several months. The question of whether there should be a new constitution before the parliament and president are elected isn't as crucial as critics claim. The basic elements of the new constitution have already been set since March: free elections, a presidential term limited to five years, the removal of religion from all party propaganda, equal status for all citizens, and the construction of a free civil society.

May Allah provide a strong wind to the triangular sails of those feluccas.