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Where Is Ghassan Yasin? Another Free Syrian “Disappears” : Mohja Kahf

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MOHJA KAHF,  3/1/2011


Syrians live in fear of saying the wrong word. Ghassan Yasin said it on February 17.

Yasin, a thirty-something resident of Aleppo, Syria, created a grass-roots group called the Committee to Combat Corruption.  This in itself, a citizen organizing a committee, is an illegal act in Syria, without prior government clearance. Representin the Committee, Yasin speaks briefly but candidly via phone on a news program airing in Syria on the Orient TV satellite channel at three p.m. Thursday February 17. The theme : “Syria’s Day of Outrage.”  The host introduces Yasin by effusing, “You’re against corruption!  You have a committee against corruption? Can you work in corrupt conditions?”

“Definitely not “ Yasin replies. Here’s what gets said next; the man is paying dearly for these words, so I’d like to print them in full:

Yasin: “It’s an idea on the internet, on Facebook, but it will definitely become reality some day….the topic of this episode is very important, regardless who calls for going out and who is against it. I live in this country and I wish I could go out to the street and protest just like anyone else in another country. But our demands are going to be very limited. We’re not going to demand, like the people of Tunisia and Egypt, the downfall of the regime and changing it, and such slogans…this does not represent the Syrian people. We, as youth living in Syria, love our country a lot and are proud of its foreign stances. But we have a specific perspective. We can be resistant and be Arab nationalist, but at the same time our country can be in good shape.

I feel like Syria is for all Syrians, not just five percent of them. Syria has more corruption than Egypt and more corruption than Tunisia-but we don’t want any protests. Our demands are going to be very limited, and I’ll tell you right now on the air: we are going to out to the streets, but we’re not going to demand the downfall of the regime. We’re going to demand the downfall of corruption—the corruption that the government in all its press releases says, “We are against corruption” so therefore we are practically with the government. But there is a difference in the apparatuses. The government for forty years has been using slogans, just slogans, and slogans that are socialist, but where is the socialism in reality? How is there socialism and we have private industry?” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

March 2, 2011 at 7:51 am

Posted in Middle East

A Brave New Arab World

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by Sabir Ibrahim

Over the course of 18 days, a popular uprising in Egypt swept one of the world’s longest-ruling dictators from power. Ripple effects from the downfall of Hosni Mubarak are being felt in Libya, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, and Bahrain as Arabs, emboldened by the Egyptians (who were themselves emboldened by the Tunisians), are breaking long-standing barriers of fear that have thus far kept popular resistance to autocratic rule from taking root. Though it remains to be seen what long-term effect the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings will have on the region, the events of the past month undoubtedly signal the dawn of a new era in the politics of the Arab World.

Discussions of a post-Mubarak future in the Middle East have centered on two key questions: what now and who’s next. Egypt’s fate now lies in the hands of its military, which took control of the country after forcing Mubarak to step down on February 11. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, has dissolved parliament and suspended Egypt’s constitution. Though the army has vowed to stand aside and hold elections within six months, any optimism that the fall of Mubarak’s government will immediately usher in a new era of democracy should be tempered by unease over the absence of a constitution and the concentration of absolute power in the hands of a few army generals. Militaries in poor countries that become involved in politics don’t have a great record of living up to their promises. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

February 27, 2011 at 1:36 am

Making dictatorships pretty: Isn’t that Hillary Clinton’s job?

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A Fashion Commentary by Rahat Kurd

Something sinister lurks inside the dazzle and shine of Vogue magazine’s print version of the March 2011 ‘Power Issue’. Among features on iconic performer Lady Gaga and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, past the Miu Miu heels and the sample strip of Jimmy Choo’s new perfume, a few good pages are spent glossing the ego of Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syria’s dictator.

The article, “A Rose in the Desert” (Vogue, March 2011, p. 529), written by Joan Juliet Buck and photographed by James Nachtwey, is an exercise in the surreal alternating with the dangerously fantasist. Fawning over the “glamorous, young, and very chic” Assad, the writer repeats a Paris Match quote calling her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones” – then blandly informs readers: “In Syria, power is hereditary.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

February 27, 2011 at 1:05 am

Posted in Middle East

Is the Middle East the new land of opportunity?

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February 16, 2011 9:05 am


Before the uprising in Tahrir Square, young entrepreneurs had been creating their own opportunities throughout the Middle East and North Africa. For investors brave enough to overcome the existing political strife, the pay-offs could be huge.

By Christopher M. Schroeder

Cairo EgyptCalm returns to the streets of Cairo.

The great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke famously said that revolutions are most often overestimated in the short run and underestimated in the long run. One need look no further than recent events in Middle East and North Africa, the region known as MENA, to know that the long run is now.

Many investors understandably remain on the sidelines of a region long caught in a narrative of political unrest, poverty and corruption. Others, however, are betting on a new generation of entrepreneurs writing their own narratives of technology and innovation at a regional and global scale.

Arif Naqvi, Pakistani-born founder of Abraaj Capital, the largest private equity firm in the global emerging markets, knows these entrepreneurs well. “These young populations have strong aspirations for a better life and are better educated, better connected, more politically aware and have a stronger sense of national pride and dignity than many give them credit for,” he says. “As such, they want to have a voice in deciding their own futures. ” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

February 17, 2011 at 2:20 am

Posted in Economy, Middle East

Dual Uprisings Show Potent New Threats to Arab States

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Holly Pickett for The New York Times

Tunis, Jan. 14 Demonstrators climbed the walls of the Interior Ministry as thousands gathered outside to demand the resignation of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The protests that brought down Mr. Ben Ali that day began on Facebook.

Published: February 13, 2011


CAIRO — As protesters in Tahrir Square faced off against pro-government forces, they drew a lesson from their counterparts in Tunisia: “Advice to the youth of Egypt: Put vinegar or onion under your scarf for tear gas.”

The exchange on Facebook was part of a remarkable two-year collaboration that has given birth to a new force in the Arab world — a pan-Arab youth movement dedicated to spreading democracy in a region without it. Young Egyptian and Tunisian activists brainstormed on the use of technology to evade surveillance, commiserated about torture and traded practical tips on how to stand up to rubber bullets and organize barricades.

They fused their secular expertise in social networks with a discipline culled from religious movements and combined the energy of soccer fans with the sophistication of surgeons. Breaking free from older veterans of the Arab political opposition, they relied on tactics of nonviolent resistance channeled from an American scholar through a Serbian youth brigade — but also on marketing tactics borrowed from Silicon Valley.

As their swelling protests shook the Egyptian state, they were locked in a virtual tug of war with a leader with a very different vision — Gamal Mubarak, the son of President Hosni Mubarak, a wealthy investment banker and ruling-party power broker. Considered the heir apparent to his father until the youth revolt eliminated any thought of dynastic succession, the younger Mubarak pushed his father to hold on to power even after his top generals and the prime minister were urging an exit, according to American officials who tracked Hosni Mubarak’s final days.

The defiant tone of the president’s speech on Thursday, the officials said, was largely his son’s work.

“He was probably more strident than his father was,” said one American official, who characterized Gamal’s role as “sugarcoating what was for Mubarak a disastrous situation.” But the speech backfired, prompting Egypt’s military to force the president out and assert control of what they promise will be a transition to civilian government.

Now the young leaders are looking beyond Egypt. “Tunis is the force that pushed Egypt, but what Egypt did will be the force that will push the world,” said Walid Rachid, one of the members of the April 6 Youth Movement, which helped organize the Jan. 25 protests that set off the uprising. He spoke at a meeting on Sunday night where the members discussed sharing their experiences with similar youth movements in Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Iran.

“If a small group of people in every Arab country went out and persevered as we did, then that would be the end of all the regimes,” he said, joking that the next Arab summit might be “a coming-out party” for all the ascendant youth leaders. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

February 14, 2011 at 6:37 am

Posted in Middle East

LIBERATION SQUARE IN EGYPT: A Poem by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

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As Moses cast his staff down
so the masses are casting theirs

and their transformed and transformative
multi-million-strong serpent is swallowing

those vain wrigglings of the Pharaoh’s
police-state magicians now made

useless by the greater heartfelt

uncoiling masses of
God-sent Moses

all peace and success
be upon him (and them)

and each of his prophetic lights now
shining across every Pharaonic

tyrant’s face

February 1, 2011

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Written by Wajahat Ali

February 9, 2011 at 5:41 am

Protesting for Egypt in Syria: A political activist’s harrowing story

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Attached is Suhair Atassi’s story. She is a Syrian political activist. She managed to communicate it to Iyas Maleh on Feb 2, 2011, the night she was beaten by Syrian authorities.  She was beaten for protesting in solidarity with Egypt. It is illegal in Syria to have a demonstration not organized by the government.

Iyas Maleh sent this transcription to Hamzeh Ghadban through email, which in turn was translated by Dr. Mohja Kahf.

“Those who jumped us in the street identified [themselves] as “baltajiyeh.” [This is an Egyptian term for “hired thugs.”]

And he says that “Bashar Asaad is our president and you’re in big trouble with him.” And he adds, “If you  don’t get out of here; go  to Egypt!”

Then they lunge and start beating.  I was videotaping. And one of them was about to break my camera.   There were two of them with him, and they start cursing us using obscene words. One of them takes off her belt and commences beating with her belt. Police just watched.  Because it is known that these are security agents.

We then go to the police station and I say, “We want to file a complaint because Security sent out thugs to attack people and the police stood and watched in silence.”

They commence disappearing [behind the desk], going out and coming back in.  Then they say that all those who came with me have to leave. So-called because they want to hear from me alone.

I was isolated in a room by myself.  Half an hour later, a male security agent comes in and starts beating me.   He comes in with two others, and locks the door.  Then he starts cursing me, using phrases so obscene that I have never even heard them before.  And he’s [said that] I’m arming people and I’m working for Israel’s interests. And that I’m an insect and a germ and I’m arming people against the country, and then obscene words.

I begin answering each charge and he lunges at me.  I didn’t shut up. I spring and hit his hand that he had struck me with on my face.  And then he strikes me [with] a gigantic face-slap and …then the end of it is a threat to kill me. He says I should expect to be killed any minute from this moment on, and that he’d kill me even while I was standing out in the street. He says, so as to rid the nation of this germ that I am.

So after the beating and the curses— and they had confiscated my i.d. and my camera, which they erased the recordings from—he threatens to kill me, and then he leaves.

Then, they open up the door and say, “Right this way,” and give me my stuff back.

I say, “What kind of police is this, serving the people—you come in to report being beaten up out in the street, and you get beaten up inside the police station, by the security man?  And he assaults me physically and assaults me with threats to kill me?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

February 9, 2011 at 5:35 am


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