Saturday, January 25, 2014

Egypt's ban on TV satirist Bassem Youssef doesn't send a 'good message to the world'

Bassem Youssef Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart presenting a Daily Show item about his friend and Egyptian opposite number Bassem Youssef

Three years after the pro-democracy protests began in Tahrir Square, freedom of speech faces a new challenge, says TV satirist whose show was blocked
"Early in November, millions of Egyptians switched on their televisions to watch the latest episode from the Middle East's most successful political comedian. But 10pm passed and Bassem Youssef did not appear. Instead, a newsreader read a statement from the channel's board:Youssef's show had been withdrawn.
It was a telling moment for free speech in Egypt, in the wake of the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi. Youssef, a former heart surgeon, had become a poster boy for post-revolutionary Egypt in the months that followed the 2011 uprising. He was the most popular of the many Egyptians who took advantage of the freer political landscape to broadcast thoughts and jokes from their bedrooms to the internet. Youssef's satirical takes on politics first earned him millions of hits on YouTube, then the epithet of "Egypt's Jon Stewart", after the American satirist – before finally he got his own slick TV show, the first of its kind to feature a live audience in Egypt.
So when his own paymasters pulled Youssef's latest episode – the second of a new series that had lightly criticised many Egyptians' unthinking nationalism – many saw it as a sign of how the space for public discourse created by the revolution was vanishing fast under the de facto leadership of General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
According to Youssef himself, the show's cancellation was not a direct order by the army-backed government that was installed after Morsi's overthrow last July, but the product of an environment in which dissent is strongly discouraged. "You can always implement some sort of a mood, without actually giving direct orders," Youssef said in an interview with the Observer. "It is about creating a certain atmosphere that would make this acceptable or doable, and I think it reflects badly on everybody. Even if the people in authority do not do it, it reflects badly on the freedom of speech in Egypt."
In the months since Morsi's removal, the government and most of its media outlets have developed a narrative in which an authoritarian secular state is portrayed as the only buffer against political Islamists like Morsi. In this with-us-or-against-us atmosphere, people like Youssef, who question both options, are ostracised – or even smeared as terrorists. Earlier this month, up to 35 activists who dared to encourage people to vote against Egypt's new constitution were arrested, their actions portrayed as treasonous. Last week, two leading liberal academics – Emad Shahin and Amr Hamzawy – were placed under investigation after criticising first Morsi's regime and then the abuses of the Sisi era. On Friday, the hysteria reached farcical proportions when prosecutors reportedly began investigations into Pepsi because of an advert in which, officials claimed, the soft drinks company was inciting protest.
For Youssef, the irony is that this censorship exceeds the attacks on free speech under Morsi – attacks that were part of the reason millions called for the former president's downfall on 30 June last year. Youssef himself had been summoned by Morsi's prosecutors in April after some particularly provocative mockery. But his show was only pulled after Morsi fell.
"If we come up to 30 June saying that we want democracy, that we want to get rid of religious fascism, and then you see that this happens," Youssef said, "it really doesn't send a good message to the world."
The hypocrisy was crystallised by Youssef's television station, CBC, which had backed him wholeheartedly when he took on Morsi's government but abandoned him when he showed even a remote interest in taking on Sisi's. "There was an unlimited support from the channel before 30 June," said Youssef, who is in talks with a different station about taking his show elsewhere, but won't say which. "They were behind me every step of the way."
But after just one episode of Youssef's first post-Morsi series, CBC pulled the plug. "They said I was speaking about things I should not be speaking about ... insulting national symbols. But, you know, Morsi was the president: he was a national symbol."
Youssef puts the public abandonment of liberal principles down to the relief that many felt after the removal of Morsi, whose ideology threatened the identity and lifestyles of secular Egyptians. "It's like: thank God we got rid of the Muslim Brotherhood, we're not a jihadist Islamist republic – and we would do whatever it takes [to keep the Brotherhood from power], even if that means sacrificing a few liberties," he said. Like many of Morsi's critics, he is a devout Muslim – but rejects religious rule.
"People say that if it's going to be that bad, I would prefer it to be with this [non-Islamist] regime. Even if you compare the two extremes, a military dictatorship and an Islamic dictatorship – and I am not saying that we are in a military dictatorship right now – people are not threatened for having the same style of life. Whereas under the Islamist dictatorship, everything is questioned."
The mindset he describes is one he has not always entirely avoided himself. These days Youssef is one of Egypt's few public figures to voice concerns about the polarised nature of Egyptian society. But in the frenzied days following Morsi's overthrow, he was accused of contributing to the polarisation after claiming, in a tweet that he later deleted, that Morsi supporters had got themselves killed by police for publicity. A day later, he wrote a column defending – ironically – the closure of Morsi-friendly TV stations. It was another week before he took a more nuanced stance, encouraging liberals not to replicate the undemocratic tendencies of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Eight months on, Youssef maintains that his two positions were consistent. "There was no contradiction between the two articles," he said, sitting in his office, decorated with pictures of his friend and mentor, Stewart, in a restored cinema in Cairo.
"The first article basically said that if 30 June had not happened, the Muslim Brotherhood would have taken us, and they would not have shed a single tear. There were already warrants: they were going to close our channels, it was either us or them. Then I spoke to 'us', the quote-unquote 'victorious us', and I said: you know what, why don't we show grace? We already won, please do not repeat the same mistakes that were the reason that we took against the Brotherhood. It was not a contradiction. If we go back, I would still choose what happened on 30 June."
But evidence from his latest series suggests Youssef is unhappy with what has gone on since. "I don't support the hypocrisy, deification, pharaohisation, and the repetition of the mistakes of the past 30 or even 60 years," he says during its most controversial sequence, in a veiled reference to the dictatorships of Hosni Mubarak, Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, a strongman era to which some seek a return. "What we fear is that fascism in the name of religion will be replaced by fascism in the name of patriotism and national security."
Many were outraged, and there were even protests outside his studio. But for a few revolutionaries, Youssef did not go far enough. Under Morsi, he took on the man. But Youssef would not pick on Sisi personally, just the mentality of his supporters.
Youssef thinks he struck exactly the right balance. "For those people who said I didn't go far enough, obviously it was far enough for my programme to be stopped," he smiled. "And for the other people who said I went too far, well, compared to what I did under Morsi, it was not even close."
In Youssef's ideal world, people would just view him as a commentator – much as Jon Stewart is viewed in America – rather than as a politician in his own right. "I'm just a watcher," he sighs. "I'm just a spectator. I'm not into this game. I'm not a political player."
But in a polarised Egypt, three years and a day after protests began in 2011, it may not be Youssef's choice.

Al-Jazeera Video: حديث الثورة.. تزامن تفجيرات القاهرة مع ذكرى 25 يناير

Friday, January 24, 2014

وداعا للممانعة والمقاومة: أهلا بمكافحة الإرهاب!

د. فيصل القاسم

لاحظنا في الأونة الأخيرة أن محور ‘الممانعة والمقاومة’ نسي شعاره التاريخي تماماً، فلم نعد نسمع تلك العنتريات القديمة، التي تهدد بمحو إسرائيل عن الخارطة، أو بمواجهة ‘الشيطان الأكبر’ وتكسير أنفه. 
اختفى هذا الخطاب العنتري تماماً، لا بل إن الخطاب الممانع أصبح يتماهى بطريقة مدهشة مع الخطاب الامبريالي المناهض للإرهاب، فلو قارنت الخطاب الأمريكي، الذي يحتل الساحة منذ سنوات بالخطاب السوري والإيراني والحزب اللاتي والعراقي، لوجدت أن لا فرق أبداً بين الخطابين، فقد غدت نغمة ‘مكافحة الإرهاب’ واحدة في واشنطن وطهران ودمشق وبيروت وبغداد. 
وكلنا سمع زعيم حزب الله وهو يتوعد االإرهابيين التكفيريينب في سوريا بالويل والثبور وعظائم الأمور. ولا شك أن مثل ذلك التصريح نزل برداً وسلاماً على سكان البيت الأبيض، فأومأوا له بأن يمر، ويسير على بركة الله. لم نسمع اعتراضاً أمريكياً واحداً على تدخل حزب الله الصارخ في سوريا. وكيف تعترض واشنطن، والحزب يصرح على رؤوس الأشهاد بأنه أصبح رأس حربة في المشروع الأمريكي، الذي يتصدى للإرهاب والإرهابيين في العالم.
وفي طهران اختفت الشعارات العالية ضد االشيطان الأكبر’، لتحل محلها شعارات معادية جداً ‘للتكفيريين والإرهابيينب الملاعين. فجأة أصبحت إيران حاملة الشعار الأمريكي نفسه ذائع الصيت. وحدث ولا حرج عن نوري المالكي فيالعراق، الذي ما أن حمل سيفه، وهجم على االإرهابيينب في صحارى العراق حتى انهالت عليه كل أنواع الأسلحة الأمريكية الحديثة لمساعدته في ملاحقة االإرهابيينب ونسفهم عن بكرة أبيهم.
أما في سوريا، فقد أصبح ‘الإرهاب’ النغمة الأكثر سماعاً في الخطابين السياسي والإعلامي السوري على مدى الشهور الماضية. وقد غدت محاربة الإرهاب على الطريقة الأمريكية الشغل الشاغل للقيادة السورية. 
وقد وصل الأمر بالرئيس السوري إلى التأكيد على أن مؤتمر جنيف الثاني يجب أن يتناسى المسألة السورية برمتها، ويركز على ضرورة مكافحة الإرهاب في سوريا والعالم. ولا بد من الإشارة هنا إلى أن النظام السوري معروف تاريخياً بعلاقاته الوطيدة مع أمريكا والغرب عموماً في محاربة الإرهاب. وقد كانت واشنطن ترسل له الكثير من المتهمين بالإرهاب للتحقيق معهم وتعذيبهم في السجون السورية، لأن القوانين الأمريكية تمنع التعذيب على الأرض الأمريكية.
أضف إلى ذلك أن وكالات الاستخبارات الغربية ظلت على اتصال بالمخابرات السورية في هذا الشأن حتى في عز العقوبات الغربية المفروضة على سوريا. وتتفاخر وسائل الإعلام السورية، وتتغنى، لا بل ترقص فرحاً في الآونة الأخيرة وهي تهلل، وتطبل، وتزمر للاتصالات الكثيرة التي يتلقاها اللواء علي مملوك مدير الأمن الوطني في سوريا من نظرائه الأوروبيين في ما يخص محاربة ‘الإرهاب’.
هل يا ترى كانت ‘الممانعة والمقاومة’ مجرد مهمة أوعزت بها أمريكا إلى حلف ‘المقاومين والممانعين’ أن يقوموا بها على مدى العقود الماضية للضحك على شعوبهم ولترسيخ أنظمة حكمهم بموجبها، وقد آن الأوان الآن لاستبدالها بمهمة أخرى بعد أن انفضح أمرها، ولم تعد قابلة للتداول في بورصة السياسات والعنتريات والأكاذيب الدولية؟ الله وأعلم! 
وفي هذا السياق أريد أن أنقل حرفياً رسالة لكاتب سوري يكتب باسم ‘حسان السوري’ يوجهها لبشار الأسد حول هذا الانتقال التاريخي من مرحلة ‘المقاومة والممانعة’ إلى حقبة محاربة ‘الإرهاب’: ‘تقول يا سيادة الرئيس إنك تحارب الإرهاب، وهذه الحرب تحتاج لوقت طويل.. يعني سيادة الرئيس: كم سيطول هذا الوقت؟ وكم ولاية تريد أن تجدد لنفسك بحجة الوقت الطويل، الذي تحتاجه للقضاء على الإرهاب؟ قبل هذه المرة حكمتمونا ثلاثاً وأربعين سنة بحجة محاربة إسرائيل، واستعادة فلسطين، وتوحيد العرب، والتصدي للمشروع الصهيوني – الامريكي في المنطقة، واستعادة الجولان الحبيب، فكانت النتيجة صمتاً كاملاً استمر ثلاثاً وأربعين سنةً عاشت فيها إسرائيل أزهى عصورها، ومسحت الأرض بكرامة السيادة الوطنية، واخترقت الأجواء السورية لعديد المرات، وقصفت سوريا مراراً، لا بل كانت الطائرات الإسرائيلية تحلق فوق قصركم كالعصافير، وأنتم كالزوج المخدوع: آخر من يعلم. ولم نسمع منكم إلا التنديد، والاحتفاظ بحق الرد، بينما جيشكم الباسل جاهز لتدمير سورية إذا ظن أن فيها معارضاً أعزل، أو تلميذاً مشاغباً! لماذا تتحولون سيادة الرئيس إلى حمل وديع عندما تهاجمنا إسرائيل، بينما تمحون مدناً عن خارطة سوريا بوحشيتكم النازية عندما تطالب فقط بزيادة جرعة أوكسجين الحرية؟
أما فلسطين، التي وعدتم باسترجاعها، سيادة الرئيس، فزادت سيطرة المحتل الإسرائيلي على أراضيها خلال الثلاثة وأربعين عاماً. أليست فلسطين بالنسبة لكم مجرد مكياج تضعونه فوق وجوهكم، عندما تريدون تمثيل دور عروبي، أو ستر فضيحة من فضائحكم، أو تحويل هزيمة لحقت بكم الى نصر مبين، فتضعون مكياج فلسطين للحظات، وتقفون على المسرح للضحك على الشعوب، ثم تسارعون لإزالته فور انتهائكم منه؟ هل شاهدت يا سيادة الرئيس صور الجوعى والمحاصرين في مخيم اليرموك الفلسطيني في ‘قلب العروبة النابض’، دمشق’؟!
ولا ننسى نكتة توحيد العرب، فنشكركم على تفريق الشعب السوري الى تسعمائة ألف وستمائة وخمسين طائفة وملة وفصيل وشرذمة ومذهب، فما بالك بتوحيد العرب.
أين تصديكم للمشروع الصهيو- أمريكي، فحيائي يمنعني من ذكر التسهيلات التي قدمتموها لهم لإتمام مشروعهم بمنتهى الإخلاص. أما الجولان، فلو استعدت سنتمتراً واحداً منه على مدى ثلاثة وأربعين عاماً لكنت أول من يرفع لك القبعة. 
ثلاث وأربعون سنة كانت أسوأ حقبة عرفتها سوريا. أين مشروعكم القومي؟ أرجوكم أن تنهوا هذه المهزلة، وصارحونا بأنكم تحكموننا بالقهر، كما صارح سيف الإسلام القذافي شعبه، حين قال:’ لو أردنا ان نجري انتخابات لفزنا بنسبة مائة وعشرين بالمائة. لا داعي للانتخابات المزورة، فنحن نحكمكم بقوة السلاح’. 
إنها صراحة قذرة.. صحيح، ولكنها أشرف مليون مرة من المتاجرة بالشعارات، التي تخرج منكم طيلة ثلاثة وأربعين عاماً. 
هل مطلوب منا الآن، سيادة الرئيس، بعد أن نزعتم قناع االمقاومة والممانعةب أن نعاني عقوداً أخرى من القهر والقمع والطغيان بحجة محاربة الإرهاب؟ وأخيراً: كيف للإرهابي أن يدعي محاربة الإرهاب؟ هل شاهدتم آلاف صور التعذيب المسربة من سجونكم لآلاف السجناء الوطنيين؟ ألم تصفها وسائل الإعلام العالمية بـبالهولوكوست السوريب؟ 

Geneva I, Geneva II

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Palestinians in Yarmouk Refugee Camp, by Khalil Bendib

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Horrifying Video: صور جديدة لانتهاكات النظام السوري ضد المعتقلين بسجونه

Emad Hajjaj's Cartoon: Geneva II

اضغط على الكاريكاتير لإرساله إلى صديق!

Real News Video: Will Geneva II Talks Keep Assad in Power in Order to Fight Al-Qaeda?

Dahi: Although John Kerry says Bashar al-Assad must step down, most Syrians think Geneva II will be about creating a front to fight Al-Qaeda, extremist groups, and that the U.S.-Russian agreement had basically accepted that the regime would stay.

More at The Real News

Egypt three years on, wide-scale repression continues unabated

Amnesty International

The Egyptian authorities have tightened the noose on freedom of expression and assembly
The Egyptian authorities have tightened the noose on freedom of expression and assembly
© REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Egypt has witnessed a series of damaging blows to human rights and state violence on an unprecedented scale over the last seven months. Three years on, the demands of the ‘25 January Revolution’ for dignity and human rights seem further away than ever. Several of its architects are behind bars and repression and impunity are the order of the day.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
"The Egyptian authorities are using every resource at their disposal to quash dissent and trample on human rights, said Amnesty International in a damning new report published ahead of the third anniversary of the “25 January Revolution”.
The briefing entitled Roadmap to repression: No end in sight to human rights violations, paints a bleak picture of the state of rights and liberties in Egypt since the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
“Egypt has witnessed a series of damaging blows to human rights and state violence on an unprecedented scale over the last seven months. Three years on, the demands of the ‘25 January Revolution’ for dignity and human rights seem further away than ever. Several of its architects are behind bars and repression and impunity are the order of the day,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
Across the board the Egyptian authorities have tightened the noose on freedom of expression and assembly. Repressive legislation has been introduced making it easier for the government to silence its critics and crack down on protests. Security forces have been given free rein to act above the law and with no prospect of being held to account for abuses.
“With such measures in place, Egypt is headed firmly down the path towards further repression and confrontation. Unless the authorities change course and take concrete steps to show they respect human rights and the rule of law, starting with the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience, Egypt is likely to find its jails packed with unlawful detained prisoners and its morgues and hospitals with yet more victims of arbitrary and abusive force by its police,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
In a speech last weekend President Adly Mansour described the newly adopted Egyptian constitution as paving the way for building a country that “respects freedom, democracy and makes rights and justice a way of work and life”.
“In reality, the current state of human rights is abysmal. The Egyptian government will be judged by its actions not its words. Verbal reassurances will ring hollow if repression on the ground is increasing and a mere tweet can lead you to prison”, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“The authorities must loosen their stranglehold on civil society and allow peaceful protests and other avenues for lawful dissent. Their current policies are a betrayal of all the aspirations for bread, freedom and social justice of the ‘25 January Revolution’.”
In recent months, the country has seen violence on an unprecedented scale, with security forces committing gross human rights violations, routinely using excessive, including lethal, force against opposition protesters and at demonstrations on university campuses.
Since 3 July 2013, 1,400 people have been killed in political violence, most of them due to excessive force used by security forces. No proper investigation has been carried out into the deaths of more than 500  Morsi supporters when excessive force was used to disperse a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya in August 2013. Not a single member of the security forces has been charged in connection with the incident which was a callous bloodbath on an unprecedented scale.
“Instead of reining in the security forces, the authorities have effectively handed them a mandate for repression. Once again in Egypt, the rhetoric of ‘countering terrorism’ is being used to justify sweeping crackdowns that fail to distinguish between legitimate dissent and violent attacks,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“Security forces must be held to account for human rights violations. Far from it, by allowing them to operate with impunity, the authorities have emboldened them. The cycle of abuse will only be broken when the rule of law applies to all, regardless of their rank, and political affiliations”.
Since the “25 January Revolution” just a handful of low-ranking security forces have been convicted over the deaths of protesters.
In the months following the military’s removal of Mohamed Morsi as president, army checkpoints, security personnel and government buildings have come under increased attack by groups described by the authorities as “terrorists”. While the Egyptian government has the right and duty to protect lives and prosecute those responsible for such crimes, human rights must not be sacrificed in the name of “countering terrorism”.
Ahead of the third anniversary of the uprising, Egypt’s interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, warned that prisons and police stations have been secured with heavy weapons. In a show of force, signalling how emboldened the security forces have become, he dared anyone to try to test their strength.
The most brazen clampdown has been on freedom of expression and assembly. Thousands of perceived Muslim Brotherhood supporters and members have been rounded up by the security forces for criticizing Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Women, men and children peacefully expressing their opposition to the military have not been spared.
In December the Muslim Brotherhood was officially designated a “terrorist organization”, making it even easier for the authorities to crack down on the group. On 23 December at least 1,055 charities affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood had their assets frozen.
Hundreds of students have also been arrested during protests and clashes. In one emblematic case in November, a 19-year-old student Mohamed Reda was shot dead at Cairo University when riot police fired teargas and shotguns inside the university grounds.
Secular activists and students have also been targeted in an apparent attempt by the government to quash all dissent, across the political spectrum. Prominent “25 January Revolution” activists are today in jail for daring to call for accountability and human rights.
A new protest law placing restrictions on public gatherings and demonstrations has been introduced posing a grave threat to freedom of assembly and granting security forces license to use excessive force against peaceful protesters. The result is a charter for state-sanctioned repression and carte blanche for security force abuses.
This has been coupled with attacks on journalists and media freedom as well as raids and attempts to place further restrictions on non-governmental organizations.
“There is a concerted effort underway to squeeze out any independent observers from activists, to journalists to nongovernmental organizations. This is a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for them to operate in Egypt and continue their work documenting and reporting on state abuses,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
The authorities have also sought to use the criminal justice system as a tool of repression.
The judiciary is being used to punish government opponents while allowing perpetrators of human rights violations to walk free,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Geneva II

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US-Israel alliance strange but stable

By Ramzy Baroud 

Asia Times

"Israel is often viewed by Washington politicians as the most "stable" ally in the Middle East. But stability from the American perspective can mean many things. Lead among them is that the "ally" must be unconditionally loyal to the diktats of the US administration. This rule has proven to be true since the United States claimed a position of ascendency, if not complete hegemony, over many regions of the world after World War II. Israel, however, remained an exception.

The rules by which US-Israeli relations are governed are perhaps the most bewildering of all foreign policies of any two countries.

An illustration of this would be to consider comments by Israeli

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, as quoted by the Israeli news portal Ynetnews: "The American security plan presented to us is not worth the paper it's written on," he said, referring to efforts underway since July by American Secretary of State John Kerry, "who turned up here determined and acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor," Ya'alon added. Kerry "cannot teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians", he said.

So far, Kerry has made 10 trips to the Middle East with the intention of hammering out an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Based on media reports, it seems that the potential agreement is composed in such a way that it mostly accommodates Israel's "security" whims and obsessions, including a proposal to keep eastern West Bank regions and the Jordan Valley under Israeli military control. In fact, there is growing interest in "land swaps" an idea floated 10 years ago by Israel's notorious Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

"When Mr Lieberman first proposed moving Arab-populated Israeli towns near the present border into Palestine in exchange for Jewish settlement blocs in the Palestinians' West Bank being incorporated into Israel, he was branded a racist firebrand," wrote the Economist on January 18. "Liberals accused him of promoting the forcible 'transfer' plan, akin to ethnic cleansing, proclaimed by a rabbi, Meir Kahane, who vilified Arabs while calling for a pure Jewish state."

Those days are long gone, as Israeli society drifted rightward. Now, "[e]ven some dovish Israeli left-wingers find such ideas reasonable," The Economist said. Ten years ago, the Americans themselves were irked, even if just publicly, whenever such ideas of "population transfers" and ethnic cleansing were presented by Israel's ultra-right politicians. Now, the Americans find them malleable and a departure point for discussion. And it's Kerry himself who is leading the American efforts to accommodate Israel's endless list of demands - of security and racial exclusiveness even if at the expense of Palestinians. So why is Ya'alon unhappy?

The defense minister, who sat immediately next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during talks with Kerry, was unapologetic about his reasoning: "Only our continued presence in Judea and Samaria and the River Jordan will endure." It means unrelenting Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu is hardly an innocent bystander in all of this, although for diplomatic reasons he often entrusts his government minions to deliver such messages. The prime minister is busy issuing more orders to populate the occupied West Bank with Jewish settlements, and berating every government that rejects such insidious behavior as being anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian or worse, anti-Semitic. This was the case again in recent days following another announcement of settlement expansion.

On January 17, Netanyahu called on Europe to stop its "hypocrisy". On the same day, Israel's foreign ministry summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, Italy and Spain, "accusing their countries of pro-Palestinian bias", the BBC reported. According to the ministry, the "perpetual one-sided stance" of these countries is unacceptable.

Yet, considering that Europe has supported Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territories for decades, economically sustained the Jewish state and its over 100 illegal Jewish settlements, and continues with its often unconditional military support of Israel, the accusations may appear strange and equally bewildering to that of Ya'alon against John Kerry.

How could a country the size of Israel have so much sway over the world's greatest powers, where it gets what it wants and more, hurls regular insults against its sustainers, and still asks for more?

European countries found themselves in Israel's firing line because a day earlier, four EU countries took the rare step of summoning Israeli ambassadors to object to the Netanyahu government's latest announcement of illegal settlement expansion (building of 1,400 new homes). EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton even went to the extent of calling the settlements "an obstacle to peace", although hardly an advanced position considering that Israel's colonial project in Palestine has been in motion for 46 years.

Even that is too much from the Israeli point of view. "The EU calls our ambassadors in because of the construction of a few houses?" Netanyahu asked as if baffled by a seemingly foreboding act, in a January 16 press conference. He even had the audacity to say this: "This imbalance and this bias against Israel doesn't advance peace," and also this: "I think it pushes peace further away because it tells the Palestinians: 'Basically you can do anything you want, say anything you want and you won't be held accountable.'"

There is no sense in arguing with Netanyahu's strange logic, but the question regarding Israel's stronghold over the US and EU remains more pressing than ever, especially when one considers the ruckus in US Congress. No, the congress is not revolting because of the unmitigated power of the Zionist lobby, but for a far more interesting reason.

There seems to be a level of confusion in the US Congress because members of the senate have yet to feel serious pressure by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over a bill that proposes more sanctions on Iran.

"The powerful pro-Israel lobby has not engaged in a shoe-leather lobbying campaign to woo wayward senators and push Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) to schedule a vote on the bill ... While the group supports the bill - authored by Sens Mark Kirk (R-Ill) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) - it is not yet putting its political muscle behind a push for an immediate vote," Politico reported, citing key senators and their aides.

To say the least, it is disturbing that the US Senate is completely bewildered that AIPAC, which lobbies for the interest of a foreign power, has yet to provide its guidelines regarding the behavior of America's supposedly most respected political representatives. 

"I don't know where AIPAC is. I haven't talked to anybody," said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich). "I don't know what they're doing," said Senator John McCain (R-Ariz).

This alone should shed some light on the seemingly bewildering question of the "strong bond" and "stable" alliance of Israel and the US - and to a lesser degree EU countries. This is not to suggest that Israel has complete dominance over US foreign policy in the Middle East, but to ignore Israel's indispensable role in shaping the outlook of US foreign policy is dishonest and inconsistent with the facts, to put it mildly. 

Syrian army slows Yarmouk food aid to a trickle

By Ali Abunimah

A devastated street in Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus.
 (UN Archive)
"As representatives of the Syrian government and opposition, along with official delegations from various countries, met in a conference hall in Montreux, Switzerland today, on the ground civilians continue to live through the horror of Syria’s civil war.
On 21 January, staff from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, attempted once again to deliver food parcels to Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus, where thousands of Palestinian refugees and Syrian citizens are trapped.
There are reports of widespread malnutrition and deaths from starvation in Yarmouk, which has been closed to humanitarian access since July.
UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness gave this statement describing what happened:
To date UNRWA has managed to deliver just a few hundred food parcels into Yarmouk, where as many as 18,000 civilians, including women and children, have been trapped in extremely harsh conditions for months. In spite of UNRWA’s persistent efforts, only a small number of families have so far been able to receive food parcels.
Thousands more are desperately waiting their turn to benefit from this first food distribution inside Yarmouk since July 2013.
UNRWA is working with Syrian authorities, who are facilitating the distribution, to do more to speed up the process so that more substantial quantities of relief can reach the thousands of of civilians in Yarmouk, and help to ease their suffering. 
UNRWA appreciates the steps taken so far to facilitate the delivery of food parcels to Yarmouk. However, humanitarian access is not yet sufficient to meet the desperate needs of civilians trapped in the camp. UNRWA is strongly urging that more should be done to provide access to many more civilians and to achieve safe, substantial and regular humanitarian access to Yarmouk. 

Syrian army delays

The UNRWA statement is typically diplomatic, but hints at the fact that greater humanitarian access to the civilians trapped in Yarmouk camp remains in the hands of the Syrian army.
An eyewitness told The Electronic Intifada that distribution of relief supplies in recent days has been extremely slow as a result of a time-consuming process of identification and list-checking by government forces at the distribution point.
On 18 and 20 January, for instance, numerous civilians were turned away and only a fraction of the available relief was distributed each day.
On 21 January, according to the eyewitness, UNRWA staff arrived at the northern Batikha entrance of Yarmouk before 11 AM. At 11:30, the team was permitted by government forces to enter the camp under the same government clearances that had allowed access for UNRWA staff on 18 and 20 January.
UNRWA brought several dozen food parcels and other supplies to the to the Sama Street distribution point, approximately one kilometer south of the Batikha entrance and about 100 meters north of the front line.
However, the distribution of the supplies was delayed for several hours by Syrian government forces as nine civilians were being evacuated.
Finally the distrubution began at 2:45PM, but was again interrupted when an injured Palestinian man unsuccessfully tried to seek clearance to leave Yarmouk.
Distribution then resumed, but at 4:45PM government forces shut the process down. By the end of the day, only about two dozen food parcels had been distributed in total and the UNRWA team left.
The reason the distribution was so slow is that that military personnel would only allow food parcels to be given to people whose name is on a list of 5,000 Yarmouk residents supplied to it by a Palestinian charity.
Any other civilians approaching the distribution area seeking food were turned away.

Food as a weapon

The Wall Street Journal reported on 21 January, that “Both sides in the conflict have used access to food and medicine as a weapon, but it has been mostly the Syrian government, according to human-rights groups and interviews with more than a dozen aid officials and workers.”
Yarmouk is among several other areas around Damascus including Ghouta and Moadamiyeh that have been closed to aid, a situation that prevails in several other Syrian cities as well.
“The unimpeded delivery of medical supplies must be facilitated in an impartial manner to all areas,” the International Committee of the Red Cross reiterated on 15 January.
“The denial of this until now represents a major obstacle to any meaningful improvement in the humanitarian situation.""

Current Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Online Poll

Do you see that the photos documenting torture of prisoners in Syrian prisons are clear evidence to try the Syrian regime for crimes against humanity?

So far, 91% have voted yes.

Great Cartoon by Steve Bell: Steve Bell on evidence of 'systematic killing' in Syria

22.01.14: Steve Bell on evidence of 'systematic killing' in Syria

Missing from Syria's streets: recording detainees

The Guardian

Find out about who has been detained when and where in Syria using this interactive map

Syrian lawyer Razan Zaitouneh started the Violation Documentation Centre (VDC) in 2011 to monitor human rights abuses in her home country. In December last year, Zaitouneh, with three other VDC activists, was abducted from the organisation's offices.

This map uses VDC data to map the number of detainees in different parts of the country since 2011. There is an individual record for each instance where there is evidence that someone has been detained by government forces

To view trends over time, either select a specific period from the dropdown list or drag the scroller from left to right. The circles will resize and the table below will update to show the additional numbers of detainees.

برسم جنيف2 ومستقبل "الأسد"....55 ألف صورة لمعتقلين ماتوا تحت التعذيب

"لا فرق بين من يصمت على هذه الجرائم ومن صمت على جرائم النازية 
والستالنية، مع الفرق أن الصور والمعلومات متوفرة هذه المرة." -- Azmi Bishara

تمكن أحد العناصر الذين خدموا 13 عاماً في سلك الشرطة العسكرية التابعة لنظام الأسد، بالتعاون مع عدد من أصدقائه، من التقاط 55 ألف صورة، لـ 11 ألف حالة تعذيب ممنهج حتى الموت، قامت بها قوات النظام على مدار عامين، ضد معتقلين لديها.

وبحسب وكالة "الأناضول" فقد أظهرت الوثائق بعد التدقيق، أن الضحايا في الصور تعرضوا للتعذيب وهم موثوقو الأيدي والأرجل، مع وجود حالات خنق متعمد، بواسطة أسلاك أو حبال، فيما أظهرت حالات أخرى أن بعض الضحايا فقدوا حياتهم بعد أن تم خنقهم بواسطة سيور مركبات مسننة، فضلاً عن استخدام الجوع كأسلوبٍ للتعذيب.

وقررت لجنة مشكّلة من خبراء دوليين مشهورين عالمياً، سبق لهم أن عملوا في لجان تحقيق تابعة للأمم المتحدة في دعاوى مشابهة، أن الوثائق المذكورة تشكل "أدلة قويّة" لإدانة نظام الأسد بارتكاب "جرائم ضد الإنسانية" و"جرائم حرب".

وأوضح الخبراء، أن الصور سيكون لها تأثيرٌ على مسارات الحرب الأهلية في سوريا، ومستقبل الأسد، ومحادثات جنيف.

وكلّف أحد العناصر الذين خدموا على مدار 13 عاماً في سلك الشرطة العسكرية التابعة لنظام الأسد، بالتقاط صور الأشخاص الذين يتم إحضارهم أمواتاً إلى المستشفيات العسكرية التابعة للنظام السوري، طيلة فترة الحرب التي تدور رحاها في عموم البلاد.

كان جميع أولئك الأشخاص الذين يتم نقلهم إلى المستشفى، وقد فارقوا الحياة نتيجة التعذيب والخنق بالأيدي والجوع في المعتقلات، من أنصار المعارضة السورية. 

وكانت مهمة الشرطي المذكور، تتمثل في تصوير وجوه وأجساد الأشخاص الذين يتم إحضارهم إلى المستشفى العسكري بشكل يومي، من مراكز الاعتقال، بعد ترقيمهم من قبل الشرطة العسكرية، تلك الأرقام المشفرة والمكتوبة بخط اليد، اعتبرت وثيقة توضح تنفيذ الجيش السوري لأوامر قتل ممنهجة.

لم يتمكن الشرطي المكلف بتصوير الجثث، من تحمل المشاهد التي تنتج عن سياسة القتل بالتعذيب الممنهج، فما كان منه إلا أن اتصل مع المعارضة السورية بشكل سرّي، ثم نسخ جميع الصور التي التقطها طيلة عامين على وحدة تخزين محمولة (فلاش ديسك)، وهرّبها سراً إلى المعارضة.

من جهتهم، سارع المعارضون إلى تأسيس لجنة تحقيق مؤلفة من رجال قانون دوليين، ضليعين بقضايا جرائم الحرب والجرائم ضد الإنسانية، وأخصائيين في الطب والتصوير الشرعيين.

وضمت لجنة التحقيق، النائب العام ومساعديه، الذين كلفوا من قبل المحكمة الخاصة التي أنشأتها الأمم المتحدة للتحقيق في جرائم الحرب المرتكبة من قبل الرئيس السابق ليوغوسلافيا "سلوبودان ميلوشيفيتش" والجرائم الخاصة بـ "سيراليون"، فيما تم تدقيق الصور والتأكد من مصداقيتها وخلوها من أي تعديل، في أحد المختبرات البريطانية.

أثبتت جميع الفحوصات التي أجريت على 26 ألفا، من أصل 50 ألف صورة، أنها كانت حقيقية، ولم يجر عليها أي تعديل، وأظهرت الوثائق بعد التدقيق، أن الضحايا في الصور، تعرضوا للتعذيب الممنهج، وهم موثوقوا الأيدي والأرجل، مع وجود حالات خنق متعمد، بواسطة أسلاك أو حبال، فيما أظهرت حالات أخرى أن بعض الضحايا فقدوا حياتهم بعد أن تم خنقهم بواسطة "سيور مركبات محززة".

واللافت للانتباه، هو استخدام النظام السوري للجوع كأسلوبٍ من أساليب التعذيب، فيما قدرت اللجنة عدد الأشخاص الذين لقوا حتفهم، وتم توثيقهم في 55 ألف صورة ملتقطة، قرابة الـ 11 ألف شخص.

واستطاع أعضاء اللجنة الاستماع إلى شهادة الشرطي المصور، بعد تمكنه من الفرار إلى خارج سوريا، فضلاً عن استماعها إلى شهادة شخص آخر، على علاقة أيضاً بالموضوع.

وقررت اللجنة التي قدمت تقريرها المفصل والمذيل بتوقيع جميع أعضائها، أن جميع المواد المسربة تحمل درجة "أدلة قوية"، ومقبولة من قبل المحكمة التي سيتم إنشاؤها، فضلاً عن أنها تشكل "أدلة دامغة" لإدانة نظام الأسد بارتكاب "جرائم ضد الإنسانية" و"جرائم حرب".

وأوضح الخبراء، أن الصور سيكون لها تأثيرٌ على مسارات الحرب في سوريا، ومستقبل الأسد، ومحادثات جنيف.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Systematic killing evidence in Syria just tip of iceberg - aid agencies

International bodies say evidence of execution of 11,000 detainees in regime jails comes from just one area of Syria
Martin Chulov
The Guardian

Detained Syrian men, blindfolded and handcuffed, in Qusair, near Homs
Detained Syrian men, blindfolded and handcuffed, in Qusair, near Homs. Photograph: Sana/Reuters
"The cache of evidence smuggled out of Syria showing the "systematic killing" of 11,000 detainees in Syrian jails may only be the tip of the iceberg, international aid agencies have said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, various United Nations bodies and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly complained of having next to no access to detainees and being stonewalled by Syrian authorities despite repeated requests to visit infamous detention sites, such as Sayednaya prison in Damascus.
They said Monday's report by three eminent international lawyers that at least 11,000 victims have been killed while in detention only represents numbers in one part of the country.
"All I know after years of trying to get access is that this is likely to eventually shock the world," one senior official from an international body told the Guardian, on condition of anonymity. "What we have seen in the [war crimes lawyers'] report broadly reflects what we have pieced together over the past few years."
Syrian activists say an estimated 50,000 detainees remain unaccounted for. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been held in detention centres and released, often after months of deprivation and torture.
Ulceration on the lower shin and foot of a Syrian detaineeUlceration on the lower shin and foot of a Syrian detainee. Photograph: The Report/Carter-Ruck/EPA
Most of the 55,000 images taken of the victims' bodies were shot by one official photographer. Many other photographers are attached to security units elsewhere in the country and are likely to have been asked to provide visual evidence of deaths.
Each main city in Syria has several large prisons, off limits to all but elite military and security units but known to hold large numbers of detainees.
Syria has one of the most extensive state security systems in the Middle East. Before the uprising, citizens feared the pervasive reach of more than 15 agencies, which was supplemented by the eyes and ears of the Ba'ath party, whose members were well-attuned to dissent against President Bashar al-Assad and his senior officials.
Since the first stirrings of the uprising in March 2011, security chiefs have been busier than ever. The Military Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, and Political Security branches have been among the most active, detaining large numbers of citizens, especially in areas held by opposition fighting groups. Syrian rebels and foreign jihadists have also been detained.
International bodies in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, have reported they are overwhelmed by the number of families reporting the detention of their relatives. The full scale of the brutality inside Syria's prisons, they say, may never be known.
Refugees outside Syria talk frequently about missing relatives. Conversations in recent months have seemed increasingly desperate, as those who have fled Syria have ever-decreasing means of finding information about those they left behind.
"They came to take him on a night in June," said Subhi Ahmed, a refugee from Aleppo now living in Beirut of his son Mohammed Ali. "It was the Air Force Intelligence and we don't know where he is now. We have not heard a word. We went to the prison before leaving Syria and we have called many times. There is nothing."
Those who have been released from such facilities have told the Guardian and international investigators of the widespread use of summary executions. Detainees have also spoken of torture being routine behind prison walls. In a 2012 report, Amnesty International itemised 31 methods of torture that it said were regularly used on prisoners.
The most rigorous process to establish a precise number has been conducted by Razan Zeitouneh, a Syrian activist and human rights lawyer who works with the Violations Documentation Centre, an organisation that has gathered figures on Syrians in detention since the start of the uprising. Until she too disappeared late last year, Zeitouneh's group had accounted for more than 47,000 missing citizens.
Zeitouneh was seized from an opposition-held district near Damascus. Unlike the bulk of those whose cases she documented, Zeitouneh is believed to have been seized by a jihadist group. She has not been heard from since."

Obama Spying Speech

John Cole, Cagle Cartoons, The Scranton Times-Tribune

Demoted Egyptian editor bemoans lack of press freedom

2013-635224696018951878-895.jpg (460×275)"(Reuters) - Journalist Abdel Nasser Salama had high hopes for press freedom when Egyptians took to the streets and ended the 30-year rule of president Hosni Mubarak.
Three years later, he has scaled the peak of his profession, with promotion to editor-in-chief of Egypt's best known paper state-run Al-Ahram, and fallen sharply back down to earth by being relegated to the rank of reporter.
He says the demotion was partly a punishment for running hard-hitting stories criticizing authorities; a source at a government-appointed press council said he was poor at dealing with staff and there were complaints of bias.
Salama's rise and fall sheds light on the relationship between the state and the press in a country that has lurched from Mubarak's authoritarian rule to a turbulent Islamist administration and then back again to a government backed by the army.
"After January 25 we had hoped there would be change in everything, not just the press," Salama told Reuters, referring to the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, whose anniversary falls on Saturday.
"We had hoped for social justice. It hasn't been realized yet. Press freedom hasn't been realized yet until now."
Through three decades of state-controlled journalism under Mubarak, reporters and editors grew used to the fact that the government would dictate what appeared in the media.
According to Salama, that pressure to toe the government line remained constant under both the leaders who succeeded Mubarak: Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, elected in June 2012, and the interim government backed by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Mursi last July after mass protests.
Salama's successor who started as editor-in-chief this month had also preceded him in 2012 under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. One of his first actions back in office was to write an editorial saying Al-Ahram was "on the doorstep of a new patriotic period" and won't enter any "unnecessary useless controversy."
Salama says his disenchantment with the "new" Egypt began after he was named head of Al-Ahram - a decision determined by bodies appointed by the state - under Mursi in August 2012.
"We had problems with the ruling regime, the regime of Mursi... They wanted Al-Ahram to be like it was before January 25, which just reports statements from the presidency," he said.
Under the interim government, he said, the challenges did not end. Government officials pressed him and his staff to paint a glowing picture of interim president Adly Mansour on the front page, he said, and complained when the leader was pushed onto the inside pages.
They were not the only unhappy ones. In August 2013, then U.S. ambassador to EgyptAnne Patterson wrote an open letter to Salama condemning an "outrageous, fictitious, and thoroughly unprofessional headline article" that appeared in Al-Ahram.
"Your article's claim that I personally am involved in a conspiracy to divide and destabilize Egypt is absolutely absurd and dangerous," she said.
Salama also repeatedly stressed there was a 'red line' when it came to criticism of Egypt's armed forces.
"We criticized the behavior of the army in one area or another, or the behavior of the police in one area or another," said the former editor, who has filed a legal challenge against his dismissal.
"But we were aware in editorial meetings that the army in Egypt is a red line that is not possible to be crossed."
A source at the presidency denied Salama's allegation of official interference in editorial policy.
A court last month decided to cancel Salama's appointment due to irregularities concerning his salary and other administrative reasons, Al-Ahram reported at the time.
A member of the state-appointed Supreme Council for the Press, who asked not to be named, painted another version of the editor's behavior and the reason for his demotion. Salama had caused internal problems in Al-Ahram and had poor relations with the staff, who said he was a Brotherhood sympathizer.
"So he was changed," he said.
The source said there was no pressure on newspapers from the state and Salama's removal had nothing to do with his stories.
Under the army-backed government, the media, which praised Mubarak on the front page on an almost daily basis, has gone into overdrive again for the state, lionizing security forces and depicting the Brotherhood as terrorists.
Salama acknowledges the Egyptian press has been guilty of self-censorship, another sign of its stumbling political transition. He says one of the bloodiest days in the country's modern history was a prime example of this.
On August 14, riot police backed by snipers and bulldozers crushed a big pro-Mursi protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya in the capital. Hundreds of people were killed. Corpses in white sheets filled mosques and Cairo's morgue.
"There was no one in the newspapers who showed pictures of the dead, or visited relatives of victims," said Salama.
"There wasn't anyone in newspapers with the other point of view. Everyone dealt with Rabaa as official business."
Asked to comment on his political affiliations, Salama said: "I look at the interest of the homeland, whoever is the ruler."

The former editor predicts others who fail to satisfy the authorities will also be dismissed: "Suffice it to say that the sword of sacking is being brandished.""