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Walking Off Into the Sunset
Posted on August 26, 2009 by Rob
MediaShack readers,
The time has come for me to announce my retirement from the blogosphere.
I no longer have the motivation to consistently write good posts  on the Middle East.  Rather than let the quality slip,  I will be walking away from the blog, Michael Jordan style.
A special thanks goes out to all those who contributed to MediaShack  through writing comments.  I as well as other readers have learned an enormous amount from hearing different perspectives, many coming  from  people with experience and knowledge of the Middle East far greater than mine.
I also also want to thank all those who contributed as posters, and especially Blackstar for constant editorial guidance and not hesitating to tell me to shut the %^&* up on the few occasions when I may have written something stupid or outrageous.
It’s been fun.  Keep it real,
Rob
Filed under: Uncategorized | 40 Comments »
How are people still getting fooled by this guy?
Posted on March 18, 2009 by Rob
Do foreign journalists often visit National Guard units and ask_to_train​?
Military officials met Cohen and his crew at the gate.
“He was treated like a member of the media and escorted around. He was put in a uniform like he requested to allow him to get a taste of what it was like to be an officer candidate,” she said.
Guard officials who let Cohen and his crew into the Alabama base initially believed they were helping foreign journalists.
“They called and said they were a German affiliate of a TV station doing a documentary on what it was like to be in officer candidate school,” said Timmons. “They wanted to know if they could come here and embed one person for a few hours up to a day.”
The ruse, which included comedian Sacha Baron Cohen exposing his thong underwear while changing clothes, was going well until a young cadet recognized Cohen and notified older officers who weren’t familiar with the actor.
“It’s an embarrassment to the Alabama National Guard,” Staff Sgt. Katrina Timmons said Monday. “Since then we have put in protocols to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
Who gave those to you?
Posted on March 17, 2009 by Rob
Here is  very interesting story from Egypt’s Al-Masryoon newspaper on Mohamed Hussaneyn Heikal (for more on his background see this post from mregypt).  
Basically, Heikal was one of the most important Arab voices of the 1950s and 1960s (close ally of Nasser) and still has a huge following throughout the region.   As a sign of his popularity,  he has how own_show on Al-Jazeera which consists of nothing but him giving lectures on Arab history (usually that he was involved in).  Due to his position of influence during this period, Heikal obtained a tremendous amount of primary source documents related to Egyptian foreign policy and there are usually the subject of his show.  For example, he will pull out a letter  that Eisenhower sent to Nasser (which Heikal stores in his house) and then talk about it for an hour.  
Some people in Egypt, however,  wonder whether Heikal has the right to do this.  For one, there’s the question of whether a private citizen should be permitted to own so many primary source documents or whether they are the rightful property of the state.  Secondly, there’s a question of whether Heikal has the right to talk about what might be classified information on the air.  According to this article,  an NDP person is calling for an investigation into both of these questions.  Heikal  does not talk about current Egyptian politics on the air nor is he especially critical of the Government, so I don’t think its a question of domestic politics.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: "مع هيكل" على قناة "الجزيرة​, Egypt, Heikal, heykal, محمد حسنين هيكل, الوثائق | 2 Comments »
“Umm…the Dog Ate my Agenda”
Posted on March 17, 2009 by Blackstar
Editor’s Note: Yes, we know that the font’s messed up.  Blame wordpress for not allowing a simple copy and paste from a word document. Not Rob.
Last year, Syria and Lebanon finally agreed to establish diplomatic ties.  The decision was hailed as a political breakthrough, with significant credit given to French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his efforts to coax Syria.  But many expressed doubts as to the ease with which the decision would actually be implemented.  Since the two countries had gained their independence from France in the 1940’s, there have been no embassies and no recognition by Syria of Lebanon’s sovereignty.  Syrian governments always considered Lebanon as something of a historical mistake, and saw it as part of geographic and historic Greater Syria. For this reason, while the Syrian decree to open diplomatic channels of communication was lauded, it was not without scepticism as to how genuine the move truly was.
The locality of the Syrian embassy will be the trendy neighbourhood of Hamra in Beirut, close to the Lebanese American University and the American University of Beirut. The building which will house the Syrian embassy in Beirut raised the Syrian flag on 26 December, 2008.  But there is still no Syrian ambassador working there.  There has been a great deal of speculation as to who Syria will appoint in the past few months, and two names that were floated were those of Makram Obeid, current Syrian ambassador to Spain,  and Collette Khoury, Bashar el Assad’s literary advisor and a francophone poet and novelist.  In early January 2009, news stories started circulating quoting diplomatic sources as saying that the choice had fallen on Collette Khoury, and that the official announcement would be made by Bashar to French president Nicolas Sarkozy during a state visit by the latter.  Since those stories however, there has been no announcement confirming Collette Khoury’s appointment, or anyone else’s appointment for that matter.  The office where the Syrian embassy will be located is presently being run by three Syrian diplomats and is not yet fully operational.  This perceived dilly-dallying on the appointment of an ambassador by Syria hardly serves to counterract the impression that it is still not truly committed to dealing with Lebanon through diplomatic channels and to recognizing its smaller neighbour as a fully independent and sovereign state.
As to Lebanon’s choice for its ambassador to Syria, that fell on Michel Khoury. Yesterday, Monday, 17 March 2009, a Lebanese delegation attended the official inauguration of its first ever embassy in Damascus.  Ambassador Khoury will only take office in April and until then, Rami Murtada will head the embassy as chargé d’affaires.
One would think that the opening of an embassy by a direct neighbour, and in a context as meaningful as this one, would merit some kind of Syrian attention.  After all, surely the Syrian government was aware that this would make international headlines, just as the initial announcement did in 2008?  Interestingly, not so.  There was a conspicuous absence of an official delegation by the host nation.   The reason? “Ooops, we forgot… or something….” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem  stated at a joint news conference with Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, that the absence was not intentional.  It’s just that, well,  the Syrian government thought the inauguration was taking place on Sunday, not Monday.  This begs the question:  did the Syrian delegation show up on Sunday all suited up, only to realize they were a day early?
Diplomacy is often jokingly referred to as the world’s second-oldest profession.  The principles, formalities and rules governing it are so detailed and have become so entrenched in state practice that they were written down in an international treaty known as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.   Article 4 (1) of the Vienna Convention obliges state to send their ambassadors’ accreditations to the host country’s government, and to obtain the host country’s approval:
Article 4
1. The sending State must make certain that the agrément of the receiving State has been given for the person it proposes to accredit as head of the mission to that State.
Not only that, but the Vienna Convention also requires that the sending state notify the host country of the appointment of members of a diplomatic mission, of their arrival and their departure, of the arrival and departure of the diplomats’ family members, and even of  the arrival and departure of their private servants:
Article 10
1. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the receiving State, or such other ministry as may be agreed, shall be notified of:
(a) The appointment of members of the mission, their arrival and their final departure or the termination of their functions with the mission;
(b) The arrival and final departure of a person belonging to the family of a member of the mission and, where appropriate, the fact that a person becomes or ceases to be a member of the family of a member of the mission;
(c) The arrival and final departure of private servants in the employ of persons referred to in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph and, where appropriate, the fact that they are leaving the employ of such persons;
(d) The engagement and discharge of persons resident in the receiving State as members of the mission or private servants entitled to privileges and immunities.
If the host country has to be informed of private servants’ arrivals and departures, should it not, a fortiori, also be informed of when an embassy opens? Granted, the Convention doesn’t specify how far in advance the host country has to be notified. But given the geographic proximity of the two countries, the political importance of the event, the regional and international press coverage, not to mention all the legal formalities a sending country has to follow, it is a little difficult to believe a Syrian government official when they  pretend not to know when an embassy on their own territory was scheduled to be inaugurated.
The Daily Star quotes Mouallem as saying that he had not been informed of the opening, but had “heard the news in media”.  Am I the only person who finds it a bit odd that a Foreign Minister heard of an embassy opening in his own country, through the news?  To be honest, I’m not so fussed about a  Syrian delegation not attending the opening. It’s the pretension, founded or not, that the Syrian government didn’t know when the opening was set to take place.  Surely, there must have been some kind of communication as to this politically important event between Beirut and Damascus?  Wouldn’t the Syrian Foreign Ministry have received an invitation to attend?  Or at least some kind of notice along the lines of: “By the way,  we’re thinking of opening an embassy on Monday…” ? Should we conclude that this was just another snub by older brother Syria towards its little neighbour?  Or are there simply excusable administrative errors in diarizing events in the Foreign Ministry’s calendar?
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Bashar el Assad, Collette Khoury, Damascus​, embassy​, Lebanon​, Michel Khoury, Sarkozy​, Syria, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations​, Walid Mouallem | 5 Comments »
Book Endorsement
Posted on March 17, 2009 by Rob
I want to recommend a good  book I’ve been reading called AC/DC Maximum Rock and Roll: The Ultimate Story of the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.   Overall a good read, even if it occasionally provides more details than necessary about the band’s extracurricular activities.  Any band that has a tendency to melt amps with their intensity is one I like.   Oh, and before I forget,  I need  to give a special shout-out to my flatmate for having such a good collection of books on rock.    Without them,  I wouldn’t have anything to read at all, since I’m  banned from my local library until I pay about 120$ in fines ( this is what happens when you forget to return your library books and then leave the country for 7 months).    Here’s my favorite AD/DC song: 
Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
The Judges of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
Posted on March 13, 2009 by Blackstar
Blackstar, Esq,  MediaShack’s Legal Analyst, continues her coverage of the Lebanese Special Tribunal.
Naharnet and Al Mustaqbal report today that Justice Antonio Cassese, has  been appointed presiding judge of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.   Justice Cassese was the former presiding judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and one of the most eminent and published scholars of public international law.
Professor William Schabas’ blog speculated a few weeks ago that another former judge from the ICTY and the Amsterdam Court of Appeal, Justice Bert Swart would be appointed to the Tribunal, as well as Justice Howard Morrison.  Justice Morrison practiced as a defense lawyer for 9 years at the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and is now a UK Circuit judge.  He has the prestigious status of being a “QC”, or Queen’s Counsel.
The Tribunal is meant to have a total of  9 judges (or 11 including alternate judges):
On the prosecution side, the Chief Prosecutor is Daniel Bellemare (an international), but Lebanon is meant to appoint a Lebanese Deputy Prosecutor.  As it turns out, there’s a stalemate at the cabinet level about who to appoint.
We’ll have more on the appointments as events unfold.  Also Part II of the series “Why the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was Created​” will be up in a few days.  It will look at the legal and political reasons behind the creation of the Tribunal.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Antonio Cassese​, Bert Swart, Daniel Bellemare​, Howard Morrison​, ICTR, ICTY, Lebanon​, special tribunal for Lebanon​, William Schabas | 3 Comments »
The Next King of Saudi Arabia?
Posted on March 13, 2009 by Rob
This is a very good article on Prince Alaweed Bin Talal, a Saudi businessman and a major player on the Saudi, Arab and even global scene.  I like this part:
He’s not above a little discreet bragging. “I’ll tell you a secret,” he confides to a reporter. “I went to the king almost ten years ago. He was crown prince then. I showed him pictures of homeless people [in Saudi Arabia].” Abdullah formed a committee to investigate, Alwaleed says, then visited a poor neighborhood. “The day before that, if you talked about poverty in Saudi Arabia, you were a traitor. The next day [after Abdullah's visit was made public], if you didn’t talk about poverty you were a traitor.”
I don’t know much details about the process, but the sucession rules have changed and its not out of the question that bin Talal could be the king of Saudi Arabia someday.  Thanks John for passing this along.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Alaweed bin talal, Gulf, kingdom​, Saudi Arabia | 7 Comments »
Getting out of the game
Posted on March 11, 2009 by Rob
According to this story, 134 members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (which really means the most extreme holdouts  from Algerian GSPC who don’t understand that the war is over) have turned in their weapons and embraced the national reconciliation process.  This came after Hassan Hattab, the group’s founder, issued a statement and set up a website calling for remaining fighters to turn themselves in.  The articles quotes local experts who said that Hattab’s appeal is causing an “violent earthquake” amongst the followers of Abdal Malek Drudekal, the leader of AQIM, causing many of them to want to embrace the reconciliation.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Al Qaeda Maghreb​, Algeria, GSPC, Hattab Hassan | 4 Comments »
Update on Russian MiG donation to Lebanon
Posted on March 11, 2009 by Blackstar
A few months ago, Rob and I discussed Russia donating  10 MiG-29 fighter jets to Lebanon (read here and here).  The cost of maintenance was back then considered a serious issue  for (and probably by) the Lebanese government.  As it turns out, so too it was for the Russian government.
Russia has apparently failed to invest enough roubles to make its military hardware operational.  A few weeks ago, AP and several newspapers, including Al Nahar and The Moscow Times, started publishing reports that the planes are too unsafe and unreliable for use, and a word of warning was sounded out to the Lebanese:
“Lebanon has been advised to “wait” before accepting MiGs after reports that at least a third of Russia’s fighter jets are unsafe and should be written off or repaired.”
Apparently, Russia had tried to pull a similar act of generosity towards Algeria recently.  That didn’t last very long, as Algeria returned 15 MiG 29′s back to Russia, citing “poor quality”.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Algeria, fighter jet, Lebanon​, MiG 29, Russia | 2 Comments »
She’s got my vote
Posted on March 11, 2009 by Rob
Is there really any question about this?  If this contestant does not win American Idol, something is seriously wrong with the American people. I don’t even care if she wins, make a cd,  anything, I’ll buy.
Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »
Bringing the Shia into the Fold?
Posted on March 10, 2009 by Rob
Yesterday both Blackstar  and Abu_Muqawama  posted on the UK’s attempt to open up lines of communication with Hezbollah. I don’t think its signifigant and I participated in a long 91 comment discussion at Mr. Muqawama’s site which was quite good until about the last 40 when the whackjobism of a few individuals……
Anyway, speaking of Hezbollah, I recommend this  article on Lebanese Shias at Islam Online, which seems to have recently expanded its coverage of Shias.  Readers might be wondering why this is significant?  It’s because Islam Online is affiliated with Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi so its pretty much an exclusive Sunni organization.  It’s office is in Cairo, all the employees there are Sunni, and Sheikh Al-Qaradawi caused a controversy when he made some_negative_comments about the Shia last September.   One thing that has always stuck out (at least to me) is that the section on Islamist movements totally ignores Shia groups.  But during the last week I’ve noticed two articles on the Shia ( also see here)  whereas I can’t remember reading any before.   Is this some kind of attempt by Sheikh Al-Qaradawi to repair relations with the Shia? Or am I reading way too much into it? If anyone knows, I’d be interested in hearing.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Hezbollah​, Islam, Lebanon​, qaradawi​, Sadr, Shia | Leave a Comment »
By George!
Posted on March 10, 2009 by Monty
I imagine that many of my fellow constituents of Bethnal Green and Bow, East London woke up quite surprised to find that our local MP, George Galloway, had arrived in Gaza along with $1.5 million in aid to the embattled enclave. ”I have entered Palestine many times but the most emotional of these is after the 22-day genocidal aggression against the Palestinian people,” Galloway told The Times.
Galloway, the leader of the Trotskyist Respect Party and MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, had led the aid convoy across Europe for the last month, finally managing to negotiate his way through Rafah after a 24 hour impasse.  Galloway’s previous declaration that Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak should be overthrown by the army may not have done him any favours.
But then again, I should be careful what I say.. My elected voice in Westminster is a hugely controversial figure in the UK, and many a national newspaper has been sued for printing stories about him.  Galloway has long been strongly pro-Palestinian and known for his pro-Arab views.  He lobbied hard for the removal of sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq:  
When he visited Baghdad in 1994, Galloway said to Hussein that ”Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”   (It’s on video, George.  Please don’t sue me.)
For all of you who haven’t come across him before, Mr Galloway is certainly an interesting figure, who is said to be uniformly disliked in Westminster (reason enough for me  to like him you would think) and when campaigning for London Mayor in 2008 on an open-top bus he was knocked unconscious by a stress-ball thrown from a near-by building.
If that wasn’t enough then his interpretive dance in a one piece leotard on Celebrity Big Brother almost beggars belief -  you_need_to_watch_this.  I have really never been the same since.  No doubt the aid convoy to Gaza was and is a great thing.  But, sorry George, I won’t be voting for you any time soon.
Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »
Talking to Hezbollah
Posted on March 9, 2009 by Blackstar
The Obama administration seems to have ushered in a welcome wind of change (well, for now).  The British government this week has announced that it is opening up talks with low-level officials from Hezbollah’s political wing. The UK had cut off all ties with both the military and political wings of the party in 2005, and had added the military wing to its list of “banned organizations” in July 2008.
While the US has officially distanced itself from this policy change (see this article from Hezbollah’s Al Manar), it seems to have very subtly opened the door for it to take place.​President Obama after all has very recently started calling for reconciliation talks between the Taliban and the US. An anonymous State Department source quoted in the Al Manar article also states that the US might find the UK-Hezbollah talks beneficial.
There’s a great Op-ed today in the New York Times by Roger Cohen which discusses these policy reversals:
“Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has long been treated by the United States as a proscribed terrorist group. This narrow view has ignored the fact that both organizations are now entrenched political and social movements without whose involvement regional peace is impossible.
Britain aligned itself with the U.S. position on Hezbollah, but has now seen its error. Bill Marston, a Foreign Office spokesman, told Al Jazeera: “Hezbollah is a political phenomenon and part and parcel of the national fabric in Lebanon. We have to admit this.””
The Cohen piece is highly recommended reading.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Al-Manar​, Hamas, Hezbollah​, Lebanon​, Obama, Roger Cohen | 8 Comments »
Stuff to check out
Posted on March 9, 2009 by Rob
1)  America’s Finest:   Except for  Lou_Dobbs​, most  major American TV stations are mediocre and unserious in their coverage of important news — unless we now consider Tweeter updates as “serious and critical.”   There is, however, one huge exception to this trend.  Check out this clip and see what I’m talking about.  I learned more from this 8 minute clip about the financial crisis than I have from watching CNN for months. 
2) A Pattern?:   This didn’t get  much coverage but there was a  third potentially violent incident in Egypt about a week ago.  
3)  Universal Culture:   If you are Saudi Arabia you are supposed to “own” the Gulf.   So when you tie little upstart Qatar in a football match that’s embarrassing.  Its the same feeling us Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans have when we lose to Boston College.  So watch this Youtube_clip of a Saudi prince going into the locker room and chewing the team out.  He basically says “this was totally unacceptable…your passing sucked, the attack was pathetic, the midfielder looked like he was sleeping” but not only that “you represent the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this was a disgrace – so get it together.”
Who says Saudi culture is  different than American?   Delete_the_F-words and this could be an Arab Bob Knight.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: bombing​, Egypt, financial crisis, football, jon Stewart​, Lou Dobbs, media, metro, Saudi Arabia | 5 Comments »
Why the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was Created (Part I) Rafiq el Hariri: Why the Big Fuss?
Posted on March 6, 2009 by Blackstar
Note: This post is the first part in a series explaining why the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which opened its doors on March 1, 2009, was created. Today’s post explains why Rafiq el Hariri was such an important personality on the national, regional and international scenes. Check back in the next few days for a discussion of the Western powers’ reasons and interest in prosecuting those responsible for Hariri’s assassination.  
        Lebanon’s Most Important Financial Asset
In his heyday, Rafiq el Hariri was one of the richest people in the world. A self-made billionaire, he had spent most of his adult life building a corporate empire in Saudi Arabia, and at the end of the civil war in Lebanon, moved back to his home country where he became the de facto re-builder of run-down Beirut. The tiny enclave of architecturally re-furbished (yet strangely character-bereft) buildings that make up today’s downtown Beirut is the product of Hariri’s efforts to revamp one of the most dilapidated part of the city through the company Solidere, of which he was the largest shareholder.
Solidere succeeded in turning the area into a huge tourist attraction and a crucial economic asset for the country, yet at the same time, attracted widespread criticism. First, because it did so by expropriating the original landowners and compensating them with shares worth much less than the expropriated property’s value. As if this were not enough, the share plummeted in value a few years later in 2001 (from about $17US per share to $3US per share). Although the price climbed back up eventually, Solidere’s questionable corporate practices in the process of reconstruction (as an example, Hariri’s fortune went from being valued at $4.3 billion US in 2005 to $16.7 billion US in 2006 by Forbes, with no explanation by his family as to how it could have quadrupled in one year), its perceived and actual superiority over the government on the reconstruction issue, suspicions of influencing the judiciary in court actions brought against it by its opponents, as well its disregard for individual and property rights, and freedom of press attracted the scorn of many. Read the great article “The Reconstruction of Downtown Beirut in the Context of Political Geography​” by Professor Heiko Schimd which discusses the politics of the reconstruction with great detail and background. In light of this, it’s easy to condemn Solidere and Hariri. On the other hand, despite these accusations, it’s worth wondering whether without them, what little renovations were carried out in the city would ever have been carried out.​Hariri was also noted for his philanthropic activities and channelled significant sums of money towards financing the education of tens of thousands of Lebanese students. In all, it’s not easy to make a black or white qualification of him. The good and bad sides of his legacy should merely be considered as a hole.
Fr   From Mr. Lebanon to Mr. Anti-Syria
Hariri coupled his financial capital to equally weighty political capital, and became one of the major, if not the major, player in Lebanese politics. He was Prime Minister from 1992 to 1998, and then again from 2000-2004. He developed strategic ties and friendships with big international players, such as former French President Jacques Chirac (who made his affiliation clear when he attended Hariri’s funeral, but snubbed the pro-Syrian politicians including then President Emile Lahoud), and more or less became Lebanon’s face both inside and outside Lebanon. Both periods of his premiership took place under the Syrian mandate, that is when Syria more or less had turned Lebanon into a fiefdom and had a say in, well, everything.
I open an important contextual parenthesis here: Without getting into the nitty gritty of Lebanese constitutional law and at the risk of oversimplifying, it’s important to mention that the Taef Agreement which put an end to the civil war changed the balance of power by transferring many of the President’s powers and his executive authority (the President being always a member of the Maronite community) to the Prime Minister (always a Sunni) and the Council of Ministers (ie the cabinet). This reform was an attempt to more accurately reflect the demographic changes which had taken place in the country since the country’s sectarian power sharing system had been devised in the earlier parts of the 20th century (and going back as far as the 1860s). For a more detailed background discussion on this, see Hassan Krayem’s article The Lebanese Civil War and the Taif Agreement​.
I close the parenthesis now and return to Hariri’s tenure as Prime Minister, or more correctly, President of the Council of Ministers. Despite being “in bed” with the Syrian government for a considerable period, Hariri eventually fell out of favour with Bashar el Asad. He had too much clout for the Syrians not be concerned, and they tried to balance him out by strengthening their main ally, President Lahoud. The Syrians circumvented the changes brought about by Taef by propping up Lahoud at the expense of the Council of Ministers. To get an idea of the tug of war between Lahoud and Hariri, see the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin’s “dossier” on Lahoud​.​When you read this dossier however, keep in mind that the MEIB is published by the US Committee for a Free Lebanon, a right-wing lobby group which includes Fouad Ajami and Daniel Pipes among its recommended experts. It nonetheless offers a detailed account of the power struggle between Lahoud and Hariri, and the former’s relationship with the Syrian government.
In the summer of 2004, as Lahoud’s term was drawing to an end, it became clear that Syria planned for Lahoud to stay on despite constitutionally being barred from doing so (Article 49 (2) of the Lebanese Constitution limits the President to one six-year term in office).​Syria therefore began piling on pressure for a constitutional amendment to be passed which would allow Lahoud’s term to be extended by another three years. Hariri initially opposed the extension. But as the story goes, he was summoned to Damascus and had a very brief meeting with Bashar el Asad, who threatened to “break Lebanon” on Hariri’s head if he blocked the extension. Hariri allegedly had such a shock from that meeting that his nose started bleeding.​Under pressure, he voted in favour of a bill setting out the amendment.
On September 3, 2004, Parliament approved the amendment, allowing for Lahoud to extend his term in office until November 2007. On September 9, 2004, Hariri told journalists he intended to resign in protest over the extension, which he officially did on October 1, 2004. Over the next weeks and months, Hariri formed an impressive cross-sectarian opposition coalition group which brazenly began denouncing Syria’s role in Lebanon. From the richest man in Lebanon, to the most powerful politician in Lebanon, Hariri transformed himself yet again, this time into the most visible and most important critic of the Syrian mandate. He thus came to embody all the frustrations which had been accumulating in Lebanon against the Syrian regime, and became both the symbol and the leader of anti-Syrian sentiment.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Article 49, Bashar Asad, Beirut, Damascus​, Hariri, Heiko Schmid​, Lahoud​, Lahoud extension​, Lebanese Constitution​, Lebanon​, Reconstruction​, special tribunal for Lebanon​, Syrian mandate​, Taef Agreement | 7 Comments »
Posts to Check Out
Posted on March 5, 2009 by Rob
1)  History of Jihadi Forums​
I’ve always been skeptical about the significance of Jihadi internet forums,  perhaps due to my experience using the Net in the Middle East.   Like spending ten minutes waiting for my AOL account to load at one of those Internet Cafes in Cairo that brags about their “High-Speed Internet”  and then having to spend another ten minutes arguing that “No, I haven’t been here for half an hour when its 8:30 and I clearly entered at 8:20.”  Things like that.  It can’t be any easier for Jihadis right?  However,  I have to admit I haven’t spent alot of time researching the issue in depth, so that’s why I recomend  History_of_the_Jihadi_Forums by Thomas Hegghammer at Jihadica who takes a look at some new research on the topic. 
For readers looking for good blogs,  take note:  I’ve always considered Jihadica MUST-READ even if I disagreed with the previous_owner over the significance of Dr Fadl’s Revisions.   Its MUST-READ because everyone who posts there are doing all of their research in the local language (Arabic) and that in my mind is essential when it comes to anything related to Islam. 
2) A Child Prodigy? 
My friend  Adrian Martin has just published his first_book.  It’s a chapter in a book called Threats_in_the_Age of Obama which looks at how rational people become involved in terrorism and gang violence.   Check out the book and for those who can’t get enough of the author’s wisdom, here’s a  couple of dope posts he has written at MediaShack such as  CT in the South_Sahara and another which looks at whether deterrence can work with Al-Qaeda.  Big ups to my main man Adrian.
3) Shakeup  in Egyptian Media?
The Arabist has a good post on a coming shake-up in Egyptian media.  Mr Egypt told me this story a few weeks ago and had promised a post…..dude what happened to that?  I don’t want to say anything else because I’m not sure how much I am allowed to say.  I’ll say this:  it wouldn’t surprise me if some big names in Egypt switch writing homes in the near future.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Al-Qaeda​, internet forums, Jihadi, rational​, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism​, violence | 1 Comment »
Another “Big” Interview
Posted on March 4, 2009 by Rob
Hillary Clinton just gave an interview_with_Al_Arabiya​.  I still don’t understand  the lack of interviews with Al-Jazeera​.  There’s simply no way of getting around the fact that Al-Jazeera is the top dog in Arabic media.   If you want to reach the Arab street and be given any sense of credibility you have to face tough questions on Al-Jazeera​.  Do her advisers understand this?   There are logical reasons why the President might confine himself to a soft-ball interview on pro-US Al-Arabiya but this shouldn’t apply to lower ranking officials in the administration.
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Gamal Mubarak Goes to DC
Posted on March 3, 2009 by Rob
Son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in_Washington:
While his father hosted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Sharm el-Sheikh resort on the tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula earlier this week, Gamal Mubarak quietly slipped into Washington for a “private visit,” multiple sources have told Foreign Policy.
 The younger Mubarak, who is widely thought by Egypt hands to be positioning himself to succeed his father, prefers to keep a low profile on his trips to the United States. In comments paraphrased by Al-Masry al-Youm​, an independent daily newspaper in Cairo, Gamal said he would “participate in seminars on the global financial crisis and its impact on Egypt and the region, and … meet with research centers and congressmen to know their vision regarding the Middle East and the future of the Egyptian-American relations.”
But according to one source familiar with Gamal’s visit, the unofficial purpose is likely to “take the temperature” in Washington ahead of his father’s rumored trip to D.C. later this spring. A spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy in Washington said he had no information to share about either visit….
Yesterday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted Gamal for a small, off-the-record meeting. A Middle East expert who attended the gathering said he offered “nothing different” than he has in the past — anodyne comments about the “tremendous effort” Egypt is making in enacting economic and political reforms.
Today, Gamal is slated to meet with Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Howard Berman​, Kerry’s counterpart in the House, sources told The Cable. Committee spokespeople did not immediately respond to queries.
A Washington pro-democracy hand said Gamal’s trip has two purposes. First, trying to lobby Congress against any sort of conditionality or earmarking in appropriations of U.S. aid to Egypt. Second, he is also trying to feel out different audiences to get a sense of what kind of reception his father will receive when he comes next month. “This is the month where the Arab world sees what the Obama administration approach to human rights and democratic reform in the Middle East will be,” he said.  
Tomorrow, the younger Mubarak heads to New York for a small, invite-only meeting with members of the Council on Foreign Relations.
I wouldn’t read too much into the trip.  Gamal Mubarak is one of the most important politicians in Egypt so its only natural that he take a visit to Washington.
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Why No More 9/11s? Parts III and VI
Posted on March 2, 2009 by Rob
Timothy Noah contines his eight-part series at Slate.  Part III is called ” the_Melting_Pot_Theory” and  basically says that one reason for a lack of attacks is that American Muslims have not been as receptive to Al-Qaeda:
The relative dearth of Islamist radicalism in the United States is at least as much a function of American demographics as it is of American exceptionalism. Muslims simply loom smaller in the U.S. population than they do in the populations of many Western European countries. …..Somewhere between one-quarter to one-half of U.S. Muslims are African-American. Historically, American-born black Muslims have felt little kinship with Arab and foreign-born Muslims, and while al-Qaida has sought to recruit black Muslims, “there’s no sign” they’ve met with any success, according to Laurence. (Arabs make up less than half of 1 percent of the U.S. population, and a majority of them are Christian, mostly from Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.) Among foreign-born Muslims in the United States, nearly one-quarter are Shiite​—many of them refugees from the 1979 Iranian revolution—and therefore harbor little sympathy for al-Qaida’s Sunni following. Europe’s Muslim population, by contrast, is overwhelmingly Sunni, hailing typically in France from Algeria and Morocco; in Germany from Turkey; and in the United Kingdom from Pakistan and the subcontinent.
This might be true but I’m not sure how relevant it is to Al Qaeda.  It misses a major point:  Al-Qaeda is best thought of as primarily an Arab organization.  We can’t think of it as a generic or broader Muslim organization but only people of that religion from parts of the world that feel the strongest sense of grievance with the US.  There’s a reason that Indonesian Muslims haven’t joined groups such as Al-Qaeda — they aren’t very angry with the US.  The Israeli-Palestine conflict, the number one issue of public interest in places such as Egypt has much less traction outside of the Arab world and less traction in parts of the Arab world that are furthest from Palestine, such as Morocco.  
Part IV Noah blames on the Burden_of_Succes_Theory. 
According to this theory, the 9/11 attacks were so stunning a success that they left al-Qaida’s leadership struggling to conceive and carry out an even more fearsome and destructive plan against the United States. In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine​, journalist Ron Suskind attributes to the U.S. intelligence community the suspicion that “Al Qaeda wouldn’t want to act unless it could top the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with something even more devastating, creating an upward arc of rising and terrible expectation as to what, then, would follow.”
Sounds plausible but I’m not sure how much this is on the minds of Al-Qaeda leaders.  In my reading of the Arabic sources this does not strike me as a motive that’s heavily preoccupying them   nor have I  heard this mentioned in my conversations with Arab commenators.
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Lebanese Justice, Dutch-Style
Posted on March 2, 2009 by Blackstar
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon opened its doors to the world yesterday​.   After a tedious investigation which has lasted for the past 4 years, Daniel Bellemare, the last head of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) and now Chief Prosecutor of the Tribunal, has moved along with his team to The Hague, where the trial for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq el Hariri, the 22 others who were killed with him, and any other attacks  which are connected to and of similar nature and gravity  to the Hariri attack, will begin.
Distinguishing features of the Tribunal
The Tribunal is unique in many ways:
I       It’s a tribunal “of an international character” but it’s not a UN tribunal, meaning: it will not be funded by the UN but 49% by Lebanon and 51% by international donors, and its judges will be picked based on pre-determined quotas from among Lebanese and international magistrates;  it will not try international crimes as defined by the Rome Statute which set up the International Criminal Court like crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and aggression.  Instead, it will be the first international tribunal to try individuals for the domestic crime of terrorism as defined in the Lebanese Penal Code;  Similarly to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, it has been imposed on Lebanon by way of a Chapter VII UN Security Council Resolution (read the text of Resolution 1757 here) instead of a treaty. To better explain this last point: international tribunals can be set up by way of a treaty between the UN and the country concerned.  This means that the country concerned accepted the creation of the tribunal.  In Lebanon’s case, due to a domestic political stalemate, the withdrawal of Hezbollah and Amal-appointed ministers from cabinet, and an ensuing constitutional crisis,  the Lebanese government did not ratify the treaty in time, which led the UN Security Council to issue a Resolution under the UN Charter’s Chapter VII, a chapter which allows measures to be imposed on member states by the Security Council when international peace and security are threatened (read the text of Chapter VII here).
Polarization and Politicization
The Tribunal has become an intensely polarizing institution in Lebanon.  Certain segments of the population support the Tribunal and view it as a means to bring those responsible for the assassinations to justice.  Other segments see the Tribunal as yet another manifestation of Western meddling in domestic Lebanese affairs.  The discourse on the Tribunal locally has become very heated which has had the effect of politicizing it to a phenomenal level.   In this kind of atmosphere, the media and the political parties’ role of information, misinformation and lack of information has succeeded in turning the Tribunal’s politicization into a self-fulfilling prophecy: in Lebanon today, support for or against the Tribunal clearly pits a person in one or other of the main political camps. It also contributes to severely affect public perceptions of the Tribunal’s role, purpose, and impartiality.   Indeed, in discussions with various actors from the legal community who have either been directly involved or keen observers of the Tribunal, a common sentiment has been the frustration with the outreach program (or lack thereof) and information campaign to familiarize the Tribunal to the Lebanese public.
This is not to say the Tribunal is not discussed. On the contrary, it’s discussed daily on news programs and newspapers. It is currently perhaps one of the two or three main sagas in Lebanon’s political life (another one being the upcoming elections). But the attitudes towards it are starkly contrasting, and there is no neutral channel through which it is discussed. One of the rare good-content information channels is this blog set up by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, a local NGO (not to be confused with the Institute for Human Rights, which is an organ within the Beirut Bar Association). But in most other arenas, the Tribunal has turned largely into a rallying banner, a symbol of either something very good or something very bad. In many ways, the Tribunal has been hijacked and made a hostage of the political agenda of the various parties in Lebanon. In light of this context, it is worth wondering whether the trial(s) which will eventually take place at The Hague and any ensuing judgments will be hijacked and made hostage in the same way.
UNIIIC
UNIIIC, more specifically UNIIIC under its first investigator Detlev Mehlis, has arguably been a contributing factor to some segments’ distrust of the Tribunal. Mehlis issued a damning first report in which he implicated high-ranking officials from the Syrian government and the Lebanese security services in the Hariri assassination. On the basis of his conclusions, four Lebanese generals were arrested and remain incarcerated to this day, despite the fact that no charges have been brought against them. Mehlis was and continues to be roundly criticized, not so much for his conclusions, but for the manner in which he conducted the investigation. Indeed, despite the criminal investigation being ongoing, not to mention of supreme political sensitivity, his report did not shy away from publicizing facts which perhaps should have remained privileged. The report named witnesses, described confessions from suspects who later on recanted their stories, and some of whom disappeared, Hollywood spy-movie style. The Mideast Monitor describes some of these dramatic developments​.​When Daniel Bellemare was interviewed three weeks ago, he was pressed on whether the revelations and investigative methods of previous investigators (read Mehlis) hamper or prejudice his task. Bellemare diplomatically declined to comment on his predecessors’ work. The lingering impression however remains that Mehlis seriously complicated subsequent investigators’ work.
One criticism was therefore that Mehlis revealed too many of his investigation’s findings. But also, it turns out, Mehlis revealed too much Mehlis. He was in Beirut and decided to enjoy the city’s more epicurean offerings. It’s hard to hide surprise when a respectable academic and journalist describes him as a “playboy” (but I did learn not to quizzically to ask: “really?!” after the second time I heard it). Mehlis apparently became a fixture on the chic restaurant scene, and showed off a glittery lifestyle. Of course restaurant choice can hardly be equated with improper investigating. It nonetheless did serve to alienate him, and by extension UNIIIC, from the public. It also negatively affected the perception of his professionalism and dedication.
Mehlis was first replaced by Serge Brammertz (apparently Mehlis was pressured to resign: see this piece from Wednesday’s L’Orient Le Jour), and then by Bellemare, both of whom chose not to go the playboy route and assumed a very low profile, both personally and professionally in their investigation.
What’s next?
Kind of a wait-and-see game. No one knows who will be indicted, no one knows whether the indicted will be handed over by whatever state they reside in, it’s also not clear when the trial will begin.
Conclusion and Disclaimer
There’s a lot more to be said about the Tribunal. I’ve left out a lot of issues and facts in the post which are just as important as what was mentioned. Don’t take it as a bias. For now, consider this a partial introduction and a prelude to posts to come.
 Blackstar is an international lawyer based in London.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: 1757, Bellemare​, Brammertz​, chapter VII, Hariri, international tribunal​, Lebanon​, march 14, Mehlis, Rome Statute, special tribunal for Lebanon | 11 Comments »
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