Saturday photoblogging - back in the high desert
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A Familiar Story
Resort to the language of order, stability, incrementalism, and moderation is hardly new and existed well before the events of last week. Not only is it consistent with the basic stance that the Obama administration has taken toward the Middle East from the very outset, but it reflects the long trajectory of American practices in the region, which have depended on shoring up Arab authoritarians who are willing to serve in an American "axis of moderation." The members of this axis -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan -- have displayed little in common other than a commitment to sustaining current U.S. foreign policy priorities - on Israel/Palestine, the containment of Iran, and access to oil. What they pointedly do not share is any tangible commitment to actual moderation - understood as an internal project of democratization or political openness. This latter fact has been powerfully exposed by the nonviolent demonstrations across the region, and, as in the case of Egypt, the increasingly brutal response such protest has elicited from "moderate" allies.At the heart of American support for such autocrats is a false opposition between chaos and order, with many in Washington arguing that the only way to avoid pervasive regional violence is to maintain the status quo.
Al Jazeera’s Cairo office burned down by pro-Mubarak ‘thugs’
Al Jazeera's office in Cairo was stormed by a "gang of thugs" and set on fire along with all the equipment inside it, the Arab news network said Friday.
"It appears to be the latest attempt by the Egyptian regime or its supporters to hinder Al Jazeera's coverage of events in the country," the news network said in a statement.
"In the last week its bureau was forcibly closed, all its journalists had press credentials revoked, and nine journalists were detained at various stages. Al Jazeera has also faced unprecedented levels of interference in its broadcast signal as well as persistent and repeated attempts to bring down its websites."
"We are grateful for the support we have received from across the world for our coverage in Egypt and can assure everyone that we will continue our work undeterred," the statement added.
Al Jazeera also said its website "has been under relentless attack since the onset of the uprisings in Egypt." A banner advertisment on the news network's Arabic-language website was hacked Friday and replaced with a slogan reading, "Together for the collapse of Egypt." The banner linked to a page critical of the network.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has said he would like to resign immediately but fears the country would descend into chaos if he did so.
In his first interview since anti-government protests began, he told ABC News he was "fed up" with power.
Journalist Christiane Amanpour told the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes that President Mubarak warned that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood party would fill any power vacuum if he stepped down.
The Obama administration is discussing with Egyptian officials a proposal for President Hosni Mubarak to resign immediately and turn over power to a transitional government headed by Vice President Omar Suleiman with the support of the Egyptian military, administration officials and Arab diplomats said Thursday.
The US-backed military dictatorship in Egypt has become, amusingly enough, a Bonapartist state. It exercises power on behalf of both a state elite and a new wealthy business class, some members of which gained their wealth from government connections and corruption. The Egypt of the Separate Peace, the Egypt of tourism and joint military exercises with the United States, is also an Egypt ruled by the few for the benefit of the few.
The whole system is rotten, deeply dependent on exploiting the little people, on taking bribes from the sole superpower to pursue self-defeating or greedy policies virtually no one wants or would vote for in the region.
As long as the president and the Congress are willing to lie down and serve as doormats for America’s supposed allies in the Middle East– out of a conviction of the usefulness of their clients and the inexpensiveness of putting them on retainer– there will be anti-Americanism and security threats that force us to subject ourselves to humiliating patdowns and scans at the airport and an erosion of our civil liberties every day. We are only one step away of being treated, with “protest zones” and “Patriot Acts” just as badly as the peaceful Egyptian protesters have been.
Over 20,000 take to streets in Yemen "Day of Rage"
More than 20,000 Yemenis filled the streets of Sanaa on Thursday for a "Day of Rage" rally, demanding a change in government and saying President Ali Abdullah Saleh's offer to step down in 2013 was not enough.
Further anti-government protests were expected across Yemen, which Saleh has ruled for over three decades, and supporters of the president were driving around the capital urging Yemenis over loudspeakers to join pro-government counterdemonstrations.
But by early morning, anti-government protesters had already gathered the largest crowd since a wave of protests hit the Arabian Peninsula state two weeks ago, inspired by protests that toppled Tunisia's ruler and threaten Egypt's president.
"The people want regime change," protesters shouted as they gathered outside Sanaa University. "No to corruption, no to dictatorship."
Wednesday's crackdown was vintage Mubarak
Not long after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak pledged political reforms and promised not to run for a sixth five-year term, pro-government demonstrators with reported connections to the Egyptian security forces laid siege to a downtown square Wednesday and fought fierce battles with anti-government protesters.
The assault was so well planned that it suggested government orchestration, or at least complicity, according to political observers, who noted that Mubarak backers had been conspicuously silent during a week of massive demonstrations against him.
The strategy of sending in the thugs after making half-hearted promises was vintage Mubarak. The tactic is familiar to political observers, for he's employed the same approach in national elections — assuring Western allies of fair polls and instead rounding up opposition candidates and dispatching foot soldiers to rough up their supporters.
Samer Shehata, an Egypt expert at Georgetown University, said Mubarak has used such tactics for years to break up anti-government demonstrations and to prevent opposition supporters from casting ballots.
On Wednesday, the Mubarak regime showed its fangs, mounting a massive and violent repressive attack on the peaceful crowds in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. People worrying about Egypt becoming like Iran (scroll down) should worry about Egypt already being way too much like Iran as it is. That is, Hillary Clinton and others expressed anxiety in public about increasing militarization of the Iranian regime and use of military and paramilitaries to repress popular protests. But Egypt is far more militarized and now is using exactly the same tactics.
The outlines of Hosni Mubarak’s efforts to maintain regime stability and continuity have now become clear. In response to the mass demonstrations of the past week, he has done the following:
1. Late last week, he first tried to use the uniformed police and secret police to repress the crowds, killing perhaps 200-300 and wounding hundreds.
2. This effort failed to quell the protests, and the police were then withdrawn altogether, leaving the country defenseless before gangs of burglars and other criminal elements (some of which may have been composed of secret police or paid informers). The public dealt with this threat of lawlessness by organizing self-defense neighborhood patrols, and continued to refuse to stop demonstrating.
3. Mubarak appointed military intelligence ogre Omar Suleiman vice president. Suleiman had orchestrated the destruction of the Muslim radical movement of the 1990s, but he clearly was being groomed now as a possible successor to Mubarak and his crowd-control expertise would now be used not against al-Qaeda affiliates but against Egyptian civil society.
4. Mubarak mobilized the army to keep a semblance of order, but failed to convince the regular army officers to intervene against the protesters, with army chief of staff Sami Anan announcing late Monday that he would not order the troops to use force against the demonstrators.
5. When the protests continued Tuesday, Mubarak came on television and announced that he would not run for yet another term and would step down in September. His refusal to step down immediately and his other maneuvers indicated his determination, and probably that of a significant section of the officer corps, to maintain the military dictatorship in Egypt, but to attempt to placate the public with an offer to switch out one dictator for a new one (Omar Suleiman, likely).
6. When this pledge of transition to a new military dictator did not, predictably enough, placate the public either, Mubarak on Wednesday sent several thousand secret police and paid enforcers in civilian clothing into Tahrir Square to attack the protesters with stones, knouts, and molotov cocktails, in hopes of transforming a sympathetic peaceful crowd into a menacing violent mob [emphasis added]. This strategy is similar to the one used in summer of 2009 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to raise the cost of protesting in the streets of Tehran, when they sent in basij (volunteer pro-regime militias). Used consistently and brutally, this show of force can raise the cost of urban protesting and gradually thin out the crowds.
Note that this step number 6 required that the army agree to remain neutral and not to actively protect the crowds. The secret police goons were allowed through army checkpoints with their staves, and some even rode through on horses and camels. Aljazeera English’s correspondent suggests that the military was willing to allow the protests to the point where Mubarak would agree to stand down, but the army wants the crowd to accept that concession and go home now.
Pro-Mubarak thugs everywhere have same talking points, same signs, same hostility to journalists. An organized crackdown.
We had to disassemble our cameras and hide them in our bags to walk around these thugs. They are attacking journalists, cursing Al Jazeera.
Events in the Middle East have slipped away from us. Having long since opted in favour of political stability over the risks and uncertainties of democracy, having told ourselves that the people of the region are not ready to shoulder the burdens of freedom, having stressed that the necessary underpinnings of self-government go well beyond mere elections, suddenly the US has nothing it can credibly say as people take to the streets to try to seize control of their collective destiny.
All the US can do is "watch and respond", trying to make the best of what it transparently regards as a bad situation.
Our words betray us. US spokesmen stress the protesters' desire for jobs and for economic opportunity, as though that were the full extent of their aspirations. They entreat the wobbling, repressive governments in the region to "respect civil society", and the right of the people to protest peacefully, as though these thoroughly discredited autocrats were actually capable of reform.
They urge calm and restraint. One listens in vain, however, for a ringing endorsement of freedom, or for a statement of encouragement to those willing to risk everything to assert their rights and their human dignity - values which the US nominally regards as universal.
But there are two things which must be stressed in this regard.
The first is the extent to which successive US administrations have consistently betrayed a lack of faith in the efficacy of America's democratic creed, the extent to which the US government has denied the essentially moderating influence of democratic accountability to the people, whether in Algeria in 1992 or in Palestine in 2006.
The failure of the US to uphold its stated commitment to democratic values therefore goes beyond a simple surface hypocrisy, beyond the exigencies of great-power interests, to suggest a fundamental lack of belief in democracy as a means of promoting enlightened, long-term US interests in peace and stability.
The second is the extent to which the US has simply become irrelevant in the Middle East. It is not that US policy is intentionally evil: After all, regional peace and an end to violence against innocents are worthy goals.
[T]he US's entire frame of reference in the region is hopelessly outdated, and no longer has meaning: As if the street protesters in Tunis and Cairo could possibly care what the US thinks or says; as if the political and economic reform which president Obama stubbornly urges on Mubarak while Cairo burns could possibly satisfy those risking their lives to overcome nearly three decades of his repression; as if the two-state solution in Palestine for which the US has so thoroughly compromised itself, and for whose support the US administration still praises Mubarak, has even the slightest hope of realisation; as if the exercise in brutal and demeaning collective punishment inflicted upon Gaza, and for whose enforcement the US, again, still credits Mubarak could possibly produce a decent or just outcome; as if the US refusal to deal with Hezbollah as anything but a terrorist organisation bore any relation to current political realities in the Levant.
If it weren't for Al Jazeera, much of the unfolding Egyptian revolution would never have been televised. Its Arabic and English language channels have provided the most comprehensive coverage of any network in any language hands-down. Despite the Mubarak regime's attempts to shut it down, Al Jazeera's brave reporters and camera crews have persevered. Six Al Jazeera journalists were detained briefly on Monday, their equipment seized. The US responded swiftly to their detention with the State Department calling for their release. "We are concerned by the shutdown of Al Jazeera in Egypt and arrest of its correspondents," State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley tweeted. "Egypt must be open and the reporters released."
The Obama White House has been intently monitoring al Jazeera's coverage of the Egyptian revolt. The network, already famous worldwide, is now a household name in the US. Thousands of Americans—many of whom likely had never watched the network before—are livestreaming Al Jazeera on the internet and over their phones. With a handful of exceptions, most US cities and states have no channel that broadcasts Al Jazeera. That's because cowardly US cable providers refuse to grant the channel a distribution platform, largely for fear of being perceived as supporting or enabling a network that for years has been portrayed negatively by US officials.
For people who have followed Al Jazeera's history with the US, the fact that it is now perceived by the White House and the American public as a force for democracy and freedom is an ironic, some would say hypocritical, development. The contrast between Washington's posture toward Al Jazeera from the Bush era to the Obama presidency could not be more stark.
[A] group of hackers is close to delivering software that could turn laptops into low-cost Internet routers—and help protesters organize.
Hours after the government in Egypt shut down that country’s access to the Internet, hackers around the world started banding together to craft some kind of workaround. And one group claims to be only a day or two away from delivering a partial solution.
Their initiative is called the Open Mesh Project and it began when Shervin Pishevar, an Internet entrepreneur in Palo Alto, California, posted a message on Twitter calling for help shipping software into Egypt that could turn regular laptops into low-cost Internet routers, forming what’s known as a “mesh network,” where each computer can route messages along to the others.
Google launched an Internet-free workaround for Twitter users in Egypt, whose Internet and cell phone service has been disabled. ... Working with engineers from Twitter, Google developed a call-in system that allows users to dictate messages over a landline, which are then transcribed and posted.
AlJazeera: Jordan's King Abdullah dismisses government, names new PM amidst protests
Jordan's King Abdullah has dismissed his government and appointed a new prime minister, AlJazeera reports.
The network says the Jordanian government resigned amid protests in the country.
Of the nearly 131 million housing units in this country, 112.5 million are occupied. 74.8 million are owned, and that's only dropped by about 30 thousand in the past year. 38 million are rented, but that's up by over a million year over year. That means more new households are choosing to rent.
Now to vacancies. There were 18.4 million vacant homes in the U.S. in Q4 '10 (11 percent of all housing units vacant all year round), which is actually an improvement of 427,000 from a year ago, but not for the reasons you'd think.
The number of vacant homes for rent fell by 493 thousand, as rental demand rose. 471,000 homes are listed as "Held off Market" about half for temporary use, but the other half are likely foreclosures. And no, the shadow inventory isn't just 200,000, it's far higher than that.
So think about it. Eleven percent of the houses in America are empty. This as builders start to get more bullish, and renting apartments becomes ever more popular. Vacancies in the apartment sector have been falling steadily and dramatically, why? Because we're still recovering emotionally from the toll of the housing crash.
Younger Americans have seen what home ownership has done to their friends and families, and many want no part of it. Credit has become very nearly elitist. Home prices, whatever your particular data provider preference might be, are still falling.
U.S. Scrambles to Size Up ElBaradei
[A]s Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition on the streets of Cairo have increasingly coalesced around Mr. ElBaradei to negotiate on their behalf, the Obama administration is scrambling to figure out whether he is someone with whom the United States can deal.
Egypt's most prominent democracy advocate took up a bullhorn Sunday and called for President Hosni Mubarak to resign, speaking to thousands of protesters who defied a curfew for a third night. Fighter jets streaked low overhead and police returned to the capital's streets — high-profile displays of authority over a situation spiraling out of control.
Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei's appearance in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square underscored the jockeying for leadership of the mass protest movement that erupted seemingly out of nowhere in the past week to shake the Arab world's most populous nation.