Tag Archives: Robert Mackey

What The Hell Is Going On In Egypt?

The guest bloggers at Andrew Sullivan’s place are covering it.

Scott Lucas at Enduring America’s live blog.

Robert Mackey at NYT

Foreign Policy’s photo essay

Mark Thompson at Time

Paul Behringer at The National Interest:

The protests in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak might be snowballing into something big. The New York Times reports “tens of thousands of people” protested in “several Egyptian cities,” tearing down posters of their autocratic leader in what organizers called the “Day of Revolution.” But, though there were clashes between protestors and security forces, and the government shut down Twitter access, Time magazine quotes one police captain as saying with a shrug: “We can contain them at any time.” See the Times‘s Lede blog for several video clips of the hubbub. The Washington Post is now saying that calm has returned to Cairo’s streets.

New York Times correspondent Mark Landler reports that the unrest across the region—Tunis, Lebanon and Egypt—has thrown a monkey wrench into the administration’s foreign-policy approach, downplaying the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda.” Brookings fellow Shadi Hamid agrees that Washington “is—at least in the short term—stuck,” and urges the Obama administration to “to ride with, rather than against, the tide of Arab popular rule.” Mother Jones‘s Nick Baumann gives a thumnail sketch of what’s going on here.

In the latest development, the Times of India is repeating a story that it says surfaced on a “US-based Arabic website,” that Mubarak’s son and potential successor, Gamal, and his family have fled to Britain along with Mubarak’s wife.

Juan Cole:

CNN estimates that at the height, the rally was 15,000 to 20,000 strong in Liberation Square (Maydan al-Tahrir), downtown Cairo. The rallies protested the high unemployment rate, high price of food, and long years of ‘emergency rule’ by President Hosni Mubarak, under regulations that suspend most civil and human rights on grounds of national security.

The pan-Arab London daily, al-Hayat [Life], wrote: Thousands of youth in Egypt yesterday disappointed expectations that the call for a “Day of Rage” put out on the internet last week would fail. Numerous big demonstrations were mounted in the center of Cairo and a number of provinces. This, even though the streets were thick with security personnel. Their attempts to disperse the demonstrators failed, but two bystanders were killed by gunfire in a provincial city. When demonstrators in Cairo started throwing stones at the parliament building, Egyptian police intervened with tear gas.

Egypt is of the utmost geopolitical importance. In one recent year, 7.5 % of all the world’s trade passed through the Suez Canal (and a much higher percentage of seaborne trade). Over 4% of world petroleum trade went through the canal. Egypt, with a population of 81 million, is the 15th largest in the world. A middle income country, it has the world’s 36th largest GDP in nominal terms, putting it ahead of Malaysia, Nigeria, Israel, and the Czech Republic. Egypt’s soft power in the Arab world, as its cultural center, and its peace treaty with Israel, make it a crucial ally of the United States. Unrest in Egypt puts a great many things in doubt that are important to the US. Were a government to come to power that was more hostile to Israel and more committed to the Palestinians, that development could roil the region.

I lived in Cairo for altogether about three years, off and on, know Egyptian Arabic, and have written two monographs and lots of articles and book chapters about modern Egypt. I was there in January, 1977, the last time the country was shaken by demonstrations on this scale. Seeing these events reminded me of the late afternoon I came out of a public lecture at the American University in Cairo onto Liberation Square, to find throngs in the streets and the sky darkened with debris. People were throwing rocks, bottles, pieces of wood. Young men were carrying friends on their shoulders. They taunted then President Anwar El Sadat. The demonstrations were caused by Sadat’s decision to listen to the International Monetary Fund and to cut subsidies on bread, other staples, and natural gas canisters, making all of them shoot up in price and harming the working and middle classes. After three days of rallies and fruitless government attempts to impose order, Sadat announced he was restoring subsidies, and Egypt calmed back down. Because it was purely a food price protest, it suddenly evaporated when the government met its demands.

Hundreds or thousands also came out in other cities yesterday. In Alexandria, a crowd of 1,000 called for President Hosni Mubarak to leave the country, as Zine Ben Ali departed Tunisia for Saudi Arabia. They taunted Mubarak “Saudi Arabia is waiting for you.”

The US embassy denied rumors that the president’s wife, Suzanne Mubarak, and his son Gamal and his daughter-in-law had fled the country on private jets.

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic:

After reports this morning that Facebook and Twitter were blocked in Egypt, Facebook’s spokesperson Andrew Noyes says that they have not seen the signs of such an effort.

“We are aware of reports of disruption to service but have not seen any major changes in traffic from Egypt,” Noyes wrote in an email.

Of course, as we learned from the Tunisian riots, the government could have something else in mind altogether. In that case, the government had slipped malware in-between users and Facebook to steal their passwords.

I got one anonymous report that appeared to claim a similar operation was in the works in Egypt. A source wrote in saying “the ministry of Interior wanted to record all activist personal data” on Facebook and that “all activist information is now on the ministry server.” I’m digging in to see what else I can find.

Laura Rozen at Politico:

The Obama administration needs to “seize the moment” to grapple with the wave of anti-government protests sweeping through Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, several foreign policy scholars urged on Wednesday.

“My impression is that the administration has been basically closing its eyes and praying that it all works out, because anything else seems too hard and too risky,” said Robert Kagan, a foreign policy scholar at the Brookings Institution and co-chair of a bipartisan Egypt working group of former officials which has been urging the Obama administration to prepare for what comes after the regime of Egypt’s octogenarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“They can still swing to right side of this thing, but one thing I have been most struck by in meeting with [U.S. officials] at all levels over the past year is that as of yesterday, they have no plan in any direction” for how to deal with the anti-government movements sweeping through the Middle East, Kagan continued.

The official U.S. response to the remarkable events in Egypt and Tunisia – where the president of more than two decades, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country earlier this month amid a wave of anti-government street protests – has thus far been cautious.

“Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists Tuesday, as Egyptian police continued cracking down on anti-government protests.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

The end of the Tunisian story hasn’t yet been written. We don’t yet know whether the so-called Jasmine Revolution will produce fundamental change or a return to a cosmetically-modified status quo ante, democracy or a newly configured authoritarianism. But most of the policy community has long since moved on to ask whether the Tunisian protests will spread to other Arab countries — Egypt, of course, but also Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Libya, and almost every place else. Most experts on each individual country can offer powerful, well-reasoned explanations as to why their country won’t be next. I’m skeptical too.

But I found it unsatisfying to settle for such skepticism as I watched the massive demonstrations unfold in Egypt on my Twitter feed while moderating a panel discussion on Tunisia yesterday (I plead guilty). As I’ve been arguing for the last month, something does seem to be happening at a regional level, exposing the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarianism and empowering young populations who suddenly believe that change is possible. There are strong reasons to expect most of these regimes to survive, which we shouldn’t ignore in a moment of enthusiasm. But we also shouldn’t ignore this unmistakable new energy, the revelation of the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarian regimes, or the continuing surprises which should keep all analysts humble about what might follow.

The arguments for skepticism are strong ones. Without belaboring the obvious, every Arab country is different. Each has a distinct political history and culture, a distinct political economy, a distinct demographic profile and urban geography. Many compelling articles have now shown precisely why Tunisia was different — its robust middle class, its highly educated population, its relatively small size, its ties to Europe through labor migration and remittances, its vulnerability to the global financial crisis, its particularly censored media, its relatively small and under-nurtured military, its relative insignificance to U.S. strategic interests. But those aren’t the only reasons to doubt that the Tunisian model can spread.

Another argument for skepticism is authoritarian learning. Simply put, most Arab regimes are quick studies when it comes to their own survival, and quickly adapt when challenged. Unlike tightly controlled Tunisia, states such as Egypt and Jordan have been grappling with protests movements for going on a decade now and have an all-too-rich experience with how to repress, divide, and defeat the new protest movements. Yesterday’s massive demonstrations in Cairo may have shocked everyone — outsiders, Egypt’s government, even the protestors — but in a country which has been rocked by pro-Palestine and anti-Iraq war protests, the Kefaya movement, the April 6 movement, the judges and lawyers protests, and massive labor unrest, the difference is in scale, not type. The same is true across many of the Arab countries which have struggled with restive societies over the last decade.

Dictators learn from each other, not just from the past. The Arab Summit last week displayed this very clearly. Every Arab leader is on red alert at the moment, determined not to repeat Ben Ali’s mistakes. They are frantically offering concessions on economic issues, reversing price rises and increasing subsidies. And of course they are ramping up the repressive apparatus, on the streets and online, to try to stop any snowballs from rolling before they get too big. The lesson most seem to have learned is not “be more democratic,” it is “be tougher.” No Arab leader seems likely to be taken by surprise, or to disregard the early signs of trouble. The success of Egypt’s protestors yesterday doesn’t mean that they won’t be violently crushed today.

And then, of course, there’s the international context. Where Tunisia may be relatively insignificant to the great international strategic issues in the region — Israel, Iran, Iraq, oil — other potential dominoes have a greater claim on the support of the world’s Realists. These authoritarian regimes are the foundation of the America-led regional order. For all the U.S. talk about democracy promotion, the goal has always been to strengthen and legitimize these allies — to prevent, not to nurture, the kind of popular mobilization exploding today. It’s not the least bit surprising that the Washington Post, which has obsessively focused on democracy in Egypt, today finds itself deeply worried by instability there and the strength of Islamists.

Finally, most of the regimes seem to retain the foundations of their overt strength. Oil prices are tolerably high, security services loyal, elections thoroughly manipulated, Islamists repressed, international support strong. In short, there are plenty of reasons to see Tunisia as a one-off.

And yet… it doesn’t feel that way. The scenes in Cairo yesterday stand as a sharp rebuke to any analytical certainty. The Egyptian regime was fully prepared, its security forces on alert and deployed, the internet disrupted and al-Jazeera largely off the table… and yet tens of thousands of people still poured into the streets and put together one of the largest demonstrations in contemporary Egyptian history.

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Domodedovo Airport

Video from Robert Mackey in NYT

BBC News:

Moscow’s Domodedovo airport has been rocked by a bomb explosion that an airport spokesman says has killed 35 people.

More than 100 people were injured – 20 of them critically – by the blast, which reports suggest was the work of a suicide bomber.

Russia’s chief investigator said terrorists were behind the attack.

The airport – the busiest serving Russia’s capital – is 40km (25 miles) south-east of the city centre.

President Dmitry Medvedev vowed those behind the attack would be tracked down.

He ordered increased security across Russia’s capital, its airports and other transport hubs, and called an emergency meeting with top officials. He also postponed his planned departure for this week’s World Economic Forum at Davos.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said immediate suspicion about Monday’s attack would fall on militants from the Caucasus region.

Militant groups fighting in the Caucasus know how important the perception that the president and prime minister provide a secure society is, and to undermine that is a key aspect of their aims, adds our correspondent.

Last March the Russian capital’s underground system was rocked by two female suicide bombers from Russia’s volatile Dagestan region, who detonated their explosives on the busy metro system during rush hour, killing 40 people and injuring more than 80.

Ed Morrissey:

Update: Reuters also reports 10 dead, 20 injured, and that it was a suicide bomber:

At least 10 people were killed and 20 injured in a suicide bomb blast at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport Monday, Interfax news agency reported.

Update II: The AP was a little more cautious, saying that “no immediate word” on a cause had been given and not offering anything more specific than “at least 20 casualties.”

Update III: At the same link, the AP now says 23 are dead and are now including the likelihood of it being a suicide-bomber attack.

Update IV: The AP now puts the death toll to 31, with 130 injured.  They also note that Domodedovo had a reputation for lax security:

Domodedovo is generally regarded as Moscow’s most up-to-date airport, but its security procedures have been called into question.

In 2004, two suicide bombers were able to board planes at Domodedovo by buying tickets illegally from airport personnel. The bombers blew themselves up in mid-air, killing all 90 people aboard the two flights.

At least according to today’s reports, it’s also the busiest airport in Moscow, which makes it an even bigger target.

Doug Mataconis:

The most obvious suspects here would seem to be the Chechens, who have shown an ability to carry out spectacular, and deadly, terrorist attacks throughout Russia and even in Moscow itself many times over the past decade.

Michelle Malkin:

The NYTimes report doesn’t even bother to mention how Russia has been plagued by Islamic jihadist attacks.

But that’s par for the course.

The Jawa Report:

Now taking bets. The culprit is:

a. Tea Party Member

b. Someone incited by Sarah Palin’s violent rhetoric

c. A Christian

d. all of the above

e. None of the above (it wouldn’t be PC to define it)

[Update] Death toll now at 31 35. Russian President has already called the attack an act of terrorism. (In the U.S., authorities would insist it had no terrorist link until right-wing bloggers discovered direct and indisputable evidence that it was.)

Still no word – or even a hint – on motivation.

John Hinderaker at Powerline

The Gateway Pundit

Aaron Worthing at Patterico:

There are some reports around that this is a suicide bombing, which suggests a terrorist organization like al Qaeda is behind it.  But to be blunt the last time we had a breaking news story like that, the Safeway Massacre, very little of what was believed at first turned out to be true.  I mean Ms. Giffords can now use that familiar Twain joke “the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  The fact that those rumors were published in major media outlets is correctly seen as an embarrassment.

So, take everything you are hearing as a “penciled in” report.  All of it could be wrong.  But hopefully as time goes on we will sort it out and I will try to update this post as details get clearer.

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What The Hell Is Going On In Tunisia?

Andrew Sullivan has a great many posts on Tunisia. Video above is graphic.

Live blogs: The Guardian, Scott Lucas at Enduring America, BBC News

Paul Behringer at National Interest:

“Wildcat protests and rioting” have “shaken” Tunisia’s leader of twenty-three years, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, according to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. The demonstrations, which the United Nations says have resulted in over sixty deaths, were sparked at least partly by a WikiLeaked document written by the American ambassador (and cleverly titled “Corruption in Tunisia: What’s Yours is Mine”) in which he detailed the ruling family’s extravagent wealth (many Tunisians refer to Ben Ali’s extended relations as “The Family” or “The Mafia”). And what began in mid-December as one small-town street vendor’s self-immolation (after authorities took away his vegetable cart) culminated Thursday in the looting and destruction by protestors of a home owned by the president’s uncle in a wealthy seaside resort.

President Ben Ali, who originally took power in a bloodless coup, then gave a speech in which he promised to halt violent crackdowns on the demonstrators, open up freedom for the press and stop Internet censorship—and “cut prices for sugar, milk and bread.” He also promised to step down as president after his current term runs out in 2014, as required by Tunisia’s constitution. But the Times also reports that his effort to sooth the public’s anger (and save his own neck) have thus far come to naught.

Nick Baumann at Mother Jones:

Want to know what’s happening in Tunisia? Let me explain:

What is Tunisia? Tunisia is a mostly Arab, mostly Muslim country in North Africa. It is on the south side of the Mediterranean sea, east of Algeria and west of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. Its capital is Tunis, and it has been ruled by dictators since it won independence from France in 1956. The current ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (Ben Ali), has ruled since 1987. He is the kind of ruler who gets re-elected with 90 percent of the “vote.”

What’s happening? Violent riots and protests have spread across the country over the past four weeks. Now Ben Ali’s totalitarian government seems to be collapsing. (Elliott Abrams, a former Bush administration official who unfortunately is rarely right about anything, thinks that if democracy can take hold in Tunisia, is could spread elsewhere in the Arab world, too.)

Why are Tunisians unhappy? Well, they don’t have much freedom. But there also just aren’t enough jobs. Official unemployment is 13 percent, but it’s probably actually much higher. The combination of a repressive regime and a faltering economy is often bad news for the regime. Plus, the regime has diverted a lot of the country’s wealth to Ben Ali’s family and friends, so people are really upset about official corruption.

How did it all start? On December 19, authorities in the small, central city of Sidi Bouzid seized the produce cart that 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi was using to make a living. So Bouazizi set himself on fire. Young people in the small, central city of Sidi Bouzid rioted, and police moved to seal the city. In early January, Bouazizi died, becoming an early martyr for the cause. Brian Whitaker, the Middle East editor of the Guardian and a Tunisia expert, has a good article explaining how Bouazizi and Sidi Bouzid got the ball rolling on revolution.

Robert Mackey in NYT:

On Thursday, as protests continued across Tunisia, bloggers and eyewitnesses posted more video of the demonstrations online, including graphic images of protesters who have been gunned down on the streets.

One clip, uploaded by contributors to Nawaat — a group blog using Posterous, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to spread news of the protests — showed a huge banner of the country’s president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, being torn down in Hammamet on Thursday. As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reported from Hammamet, an exclusive Mediterranean beach town, “rioters calling for the ouster of Tunisia’s authoritarian president swarmed the streets, torched bank offices and ransacked a mansion belonging to one of his relatives.”

Despite apparent efforts by the government to keep Tunisians from using social networks to report on the crisis, new video continues to be posted day after day.

As the casualties mount, and the government continues to use violence to suppress the discontent, video of dead protesters has been added to Nawaat’s YouTube channel with disturbing regularity. On Thursday,  one extremely graphic clip, apparently filmed earlier in the day on the streets of Tunis, the capital, showed the body of a man the bloggers said was gunned down by a sniper.

Jillian C. York, on 1/13:

An email from Youssef Gaigi:

Today’s speech shows definitely a major shift in Tunisia’s history.
Ben Ali talked for the third time in the past month to the people. Something unprecedented, we barely knew this guy. Ben Ali talked in the Tunisian dialect instead of Arabic for the first time ever.
He spoke directly to the police forces and ordered them not to shoot, unless in cases of self-defense. On the same line he said a commission will investigate in the murders that occurred.
He also said that people misled him in several areas, and particularly in the areas of politics and freedom. He admited that he didn’t achieve his goals or dreams in these areas.He granted that all liberties will be given to the people of Tunisia. He stated that the right of setting an organization, a political party, or a media will be totally opened. He said all censorship online or on traditional media will be stopped.
People are still cautious and doubt these words. We are talking about billions of $ stolen by his family. A political party, RCD, which is much much stronger than other parties. We are also talking about 150k policemen who acted like a terrorist organization for decades and particularly lately. Turning his words into action will be a very difficult mission.
We will probably start by checking his words tomorrow.


I missed another major point in his speech, probably because of the excitement of this moment.
He announced that he would not run for president in 2014.
Again, I am not sure this is sufficient. Yet this is a step forward.

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy:

Barely a month goes by without a Washington Post editorial bemoaning Egypt’s authoritarian retrenchment and criticizing the Obama administration’s alleged failure to promote Arab democracy. But now Tunisia has erupted as the story of the year for Arab reformers. The spiraling protests and the regime’s heavy-handed, but thus far ineffective, repression have captured the imagination of Arab publics, governments, and political analysts. Despite Tunis’s efforts to censor media coverage, images and video have made it out onto social media and up to Al Jazeera and other satellite TV. The “Tunisia scenario” is now the term of art for activist hopes and government fears of political instability and mass protests from Jordan to Egypt to the Gulf.

But the Post‘s op-ed page has been strikingly silent about the Tunisian protests. Thus far, a month into the massive demonstrations rocking Tunisia, the Washington Post editorial page has published exactly zero editorials about Tunisia. For that matter, the Weekly Standard, another magazine which frequently claims the mantle of Arab democracy and attacks Obama for failing on it, has thus far published exactly zero articles about Tunisia (though, to his credit, frequent Standard contributor and ex-Bush administration official Elliott Abrams has weighed in on it at his new CFR blog). Why are the most prominent media voices on Arab democracy so entirely absent on the Arab reform story of the year?

Perhaps they’ve had nothing to say simply because there has been little coverage of Tunisia in the Western media, and the United States has few interests or leverage in Tunis, making it a marginal issue for U.S. political debate. Tunisia is not generally on the front burner in American thinking about the Middle East. It’s far away from Israel, Iraq, and the Gulf, and plays little role in the headline strategic issues facing the U.S. in the region. Despite being one of the most repressive and authoritarian regimes in the region, Tunisia has generally been seen as a model of economic development and secularism. Its promotion of women’s rights and crushing of Islamist opposition has taken priority in the West over its near-complete censorship of the media and blanket domination of political society. Indeed, the United States has cared so little about Tunisia’s absolute rejection of democracy and world-class censorship that it chose it for the regional office of MEPI, the Bush administration’s signature democracy promotion initiative.

This is understandable, but hardly satisfying. I can understand the hesitation of U.S. officials to take a strong position on the side of either the protesters or the regime at this point, given the strategic complexities and the implications of taking any rhetorical stance. To my ears, at least, the U.S. message has been muddled, with some officials seeming to take the side of the protesters and warning against too-harsh repression and others seeming to avoid taking a stance. For what it’s worth, I told a State Department official in a public forum yesterday that the absence of major U.S. interests in Tunisia and the real prospect of change there make it a good place for the Obama administration to take a principled stand in favor of public freedoms and against repression.

Daniel Larison responds to Lynch:

The easy answer, but possibly also the right one, is that they have nothing to say about it because it is something much more like a genuine, indigenous popular movement that is not working to advance “pro-Western” or “pro-American” policy goals, and it is therefore irrelevant or even unwelcome in their view. Most of the “color” revolutions were directed against governments that were seen as hostile to U.S. and allied interests or at least too closely aligned with Russia and (in Lebanon’s case) Syria, and the “color” revolutionaries were always identified as “pro-Western” reformers regardless of the accuracy of this description, and so advocates of “democracy” responding accordingly with enthusiastic support for the protesters. When a pro-Western secular autocrat faces a popular uprising that is almost certainly not being encouraged and backed from outside, these advocates of “democracy” have nothing to say because democratic reform was simply a means for advancing regime changes in several countries that the advocates wanted to bring into a Western orbit. Ben Ali’s downfall represents quite the opposite. If Lynch looked back at the reactions from most democracy-promoting outlets after the elections of Morales or of Chavez, which came at the expense of pro-American oligarchies, he would likely find a similar silence and indifference to the empowerment of those countries’ poor majorities.

Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy:

UPDATE: The Tunisian government is denying that Morjane has stepped down, according to Al Arabiya. Meanwhile, President Ben Ali just spoke and said he had ordered security forces to stop firing on demonstrators. He also announced a series of measures aimed at mollifying popular anger, including lower prices for bread, milk, and sugar. Most important of all, he promised not to run for re-election in 2014, when his term is due to expire. We’ll see if he lasts that long.

This thing may really be happening. Kamel Morjane — or someone with access to his website — has just announced his resignation*:

Citizens of the Republic of Tunisia, After witnessing the recent event that our country has been enduring since December17th  2010, I declare my inaptitude in pursuing my function in a serene and objective environment as intended.

I declare hereby my official resignation from my function as a minister of foreign affairs at the Tunisian government. In  a last effort to assume my responsabilities, I am asking the families of the tunisian martyrs to accept my sincere condoleances and my deep regret faced to their common tragedy. I assumed the fate of the Tunisian citizens, after marrying the daughter of one of Ben Ali’s first cousins, and was a member of the family and part of their clan. I am not proud of my own family, and in an honest declaration, would be ready to be judged in court at the same time as they will be. This will be my last service to the Tunisian citizens, in hope that with my resignation, citizens of Tunisia will be more graceful towards me and my family.

I make this decision in hope for the return of rest. I relinquish the Tunisian government to express my  deep affliction and my righteous anger toward the dire management of  this crisis, causing hence the death of dozens of young Tunisians. I am  profoundly convinced that these are not terrorist acts, but citizens  exerting their right to strike against a regime who abandoned them for  two decades. For this reason, I do not deem myself a member of this  oppressing and manipulating government. In a last resort to save face with the international media, the government is working hard from within to portray the protesters as mindless terrorists  destroying their country and refusing any peaceful discussion. The  government has hired teams of their own police in civilian attire that  go around ravaging the suburbs in an effort to spread doubt and  disseminate the truth about the tunisian people.

I reiterate my most sincere condolences to the families of victims, not only  to the ones that passed away these four past weeks, but to all the broken families by the injustice and inconveniences caused by this clan as  well.

For a free Tunisia,

Kamel Morjane

This is a fast-moving story. The New York Times reports that protesters overran a mansion owned by one of the president’s relatives. The Twitterverse is aflame with rumors that other members of the ruling family have fled the country. President Ben Ali is said to have three helicopters fueled up and ready for an emergency flight to Malta.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic

Elizabeth Dickson at Foreign Policy:

As I spoke by phone with Taoufik Ben Brik, a Tunisian opposition journalist, just moments ago, the country’s president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, got onto a plane and left the country. “There will be a military coup — we will see. You will see,” Ben Brik told me. “The army has just closed down the airspace in Tunisia, and they are arresting members of the family.”

If Twitter is to be believed, Ben Ali really is gone.

Ben Brik, one of the (now former?) president’s most pronounced critics, described the regime as “the worst kind of tyranny — [running] a police state, a military state, and a surveillance state.” Ben Brik himself has been subject to that as a journalist, having been harassed and imprisoned on numerous occasions. “It wasn’t just that I was arrested — I was harassed, me and my family. Google me and you will see how they arrested my child, just 14 years old.” Ben Brik was most recently released last April and remains in Tunis, where he is watching the situation unfold on the streets.

What brought the protesters to the streets in the first place was the drive for democracy, a place where freedom was possible — and normal. And yes, WikiLeaks helped. “WikiLeaks revealed a truth previously unspeakable about the mafia-like state,” Ben Brik said.

Mahar Arar at The Huffington Post:

To understand why these acts of violence against civilians is rarely condemned by Western governments, we have to understand the political dynamics in the region. Tunisia, despite the private criticisms targeted at the regime by the U.S. ambassador (as was revealed by WikiLeaks), is considered an important Western ally in the so called “war on terror”. Ben Ali, the President of the “Republic”, like the majority of the Arab dictators, have taken advantage of the American government’s strong desire to build relationships with new allies to fight Al-Qaida and related groups. These police states, including Tunisia, exploited this post-9/11 trend in the American foreign policy which allowed them an increased grip on power. As a result, they delegitimized peaceful decent further, put more restrictions on freedom of expression and heavily controlled Internet access. Also, because they have only been concerned about their own well being, and not about the well being of their constituents, these rulers have focused on increasing their own wealth and that of their family members through questionable business dealings and favouritism. It is no secret that the Ben Ali clan acts more like a Mafia putting their hands on the majority of profitable businesses in the country.

Here is my humble prediction for the next decade: unless Arab leaders implement serious political and economical reforms we will see more of this type of popular uprising in other neighbouring countries. It is only a matter of time. The wind of peaceful change in Tunisia has given hope to the oppressed people all over the Arab World. Whether Western countries or their allies in the region like or not, this wind, with the help of the Internet, will eventually affect the all these countries who are thirsty for democracy and justice. Only then, when it is too late, the Western countries will regret that they have all along been on the wrong side of the fence.

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Yes, We Had To Use A Bob Marley YouTube For This Post

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic:

Kingston, Jamaica exploded in violence this week as local police and Jamaican soldiers tried to locate and apprehend Christopher Coke, an alleged drug lord wanted for trial in the United States. Coke, whom the U.S. considers one of the world’s most dangerous drug traffickers, is thought to be walled up in a housing complex in West Kingston. More than 1,000 soldiers and police officers have been deployed to the area in recent days, but Coke’s gunmen have returned fire, killing at least three. Violence has spread to other parts of the city, more than two dozen civilians have died, and the government has declared a state of emergency in Kingston. Meanwhile, the bloodshed has occasioned a number of observations about the role of the drug trade in Jamaican society.

Robert Mackey at NYT:

Before she left for work on Tuesday, Laura Redpath, a reporter for The Jamaica Gleaner, a Kingston newspaper, gave this summary of the latest reports from Television Jamaica on her Twitter feed:

Weapons have been confiscated and security personnel are going door-to-door to “flush out the gunmen”: TVJ

5 persons shot in ‘Monkey Town’ in Spanish Town #Jamaica: TVJ

Another Twitter user aggregating news reports is Chris Mills, the chief executive of Chrysalis Communications, a new media firm based in Jamaica. On his feed, Mr. Mills noted two hours ago that a local television journalist said some of those killed had been taken to a hospital in the capital:

Reporter on @CVMTV reports seeing a truck with human bodies parked outside/near the Kingston Public Hospital, Downtown Kingston

Within the past hour Mr. Mills posted a link to a graphic image uploaded to TwitPic this morning, which is said to show the bodies of three people killed in the violence.

As Janine Mendes-Franco of Global Voices Online pointed out in a post on Jamaican bloggers on Monday, Annie Paul, a Jamaican writer and critic, is also using her Twitter feed to aggregate reports and comment on the siege, although she is following events from outside the country while attending a conference in Barbados. On Monday, among snatches of information derived from online news sources, she posted this observation on what the chaos in the prime minister’s district of west Kingston means:

The pact between the criminals and the state has been broken, we are being shown the consequences of that rupture…

My colleague Marc Lacey explains that the criminal gangs are so powerful that “Jamaican politicians, no matter their party, know that their political survival often depends on the men Jamaicans call ‘dons,’ inner-city emperors who hold enormous sway over their communities and pull in huge sums from both legitimate and illegitimate means.”

Steven Taylor at PoliBlog:

First off, this is from the “You Can’t Make this Stuff Up” File:  a drug boss named Christopher Coke.

Second, the above would be more amusing if the current situation wasn’t so violent:

As hundreds of troops and police officers close in on alleged drug lord Christopher Coke, explosions and steady gun fire can be heard throughout the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica. Plumes of smoke are rising from the barricaded community and journalists are hearing reports of as many as 15 dead, but caution that at this time they are unable to confirm that tally.


As many as 700 troops from the Jamaica Defence Force have been deployed in West Kingston, with 200 or more at the barricaded community, and according to authorities as many as 1000 police officers are also mobilized.

The goal of the operation is Coke’s arrest so that he can be extradited to the United States.  He has vowed that he will not surrender.

The Economist:

The risk of such mayhem is precisely why the prime minister had stalled on Mr Coke’s case, ever since the United States filed its extradition request last August. He only acted after being caught in a flip-flop over the hiring of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, an American law firm, in the case. Mr Golding initially denied retaining the firm and subsequently admitted doing so, albeit using funds from his political party rather than the taxpayer. Facing calls to resign, he announced the government would comply with the order. Mr Coke laid low at first. But seemingly with an eye to the history books, he went for broke on Sunday: Labour Day commemorates the start of strikes and unrest in 1938, which left 46 dead and 429 injured.

The standoff could be resolved peacefully, as some reports claim Mr Coke’s lawyers are talking to American officials. He might feel safer in American hands than in the local prison where his father, from whom he is believed to have inherited control of the Shower Posse gang, burnt to death in 1992 while awaiting his own extradition. If he doesn’t surrender, however, more bloodshed is likely to ensue. Mr Coke could escalate the conflict by calling on armed backers elsewhere in the country, like the Stone Crusher gang in Montego Bay, a tourist haven, to stage further attacks.

The only other way for Mr Golding to restore calm without Mr Coke’s consent is legal acrobatics. The courts will hear a challenge to the extradition will be heard on May 31st. Before acceding to the request, the prime minister had contended that the wiretapping evidence on which it was based was illegal. Peter Phillips, a leading opposition member, said last Thursday that Mr Golding’s about-face could “by chance or design” undermine the legal case for sending Mr Coke to America—thus letting the prime minister off the hook.

Jane Engle at The LA Times:

The U.S. State Department is warning Americans against travel to Kingston, Jamaica, and surrounding areas “because of escalating violence, shootings and unrest” related to attempts to arrest Christopher “Dudus” Coke, an alleged trafficker of drugs and weapons.

On Tuesday, thousands of police and soldiers in the capital clashed with Coke’s defenders, and at least 30 people were reported killed, according to the Associated Press.

The State Department’s travel alert, issued Monday as an update to its May 21 alert, states that access to Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) “has been blocked on an intermittent basis by gun battles between criminal elements and police” and that some flights have been canceled.

UPDATE: Bob Mackey at NYT

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What The Hell Is Happening In Nigeria?

Heather Horn at The Atlantic has a round-up

Mark Memmott at NPR:

Horrible news this morning from Nigeria:

“Rioters armed with machetes slaughtered more than 200 people including a 4-day-old infant, residents said, less than two months after sectarian violence in the volatile region left more than 300 dead. The violence in three mostly Christian villages Sunday appeared to be reprisal attacks following the January unrest in Jos — when most of the victims were Muslims, said Red Cross spokesman Robin Waubo.” (Associated Press)

The BBC says the already terrible death toll may be even higher — “some 500 people, many women and children, are now reported to have died in a weekend religious clash near Nigeria’s city of Jos, officials say.”

According to The Guardian, “bodies were reportedly piled in streets near the central city of Jos.”

The Jawa Report:

The Australian dutifully reports ,”500 die in Nigerian race riots”

Er uh, Islam is not a race! To add insult to injury they go on to quickly blame the violence on the “Christian race”.

In Jos, Yusuf Alkali, a member of the Fulani group, said he believed the attacks were a reprisal for the killings of four herdsmen two weeks ago, when a Fulani settlement was raided by ethnic Berom youths.

So see, according to the effing Dhimmis at The Australian” the Muslim race was like totally justified in hacking off the heads of women and children?

Rod Dreher:

I didn’t realize “Christian” and “Muslim” were ethnic categories. You read down into the story, and you realize that the Christian victims were members of one ethnic group, and the Muslim perpetrators are members of another. OK, fine. But what kind of cockeyed editorial policy downplays the religious nature of this violence? Does it really enhance our understanding of the deadly conflict in Nigeria to marginalize the religious element of the fighting?


But I want to know more about why Nigerian Muslims and Nigerian Christians are fighting so viciously. Anyway, this screwball headline brought to mind the headline on this Times story from 2002: “Killing Underscores Enmity of Evangelists and Muslims.” It was about Lebanese Muslims who had murdered an Evangelical medical missionary. The enmity only went one way, obviously; that headline really misled the reader.

Robert Mackey at NYT:

In a telephone interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News on Monday, the Rev. Benjamin Kwashi, the Anglican archbishop of Jos, described the attacks on Christian members of Plateau’s leading ethnic group, the Beromas, by Fulani herdsmen, who are Muslims, as “systematic and quite well organized,” and suggested that they were carried out by “people who knew what to do and were trained on how to do it.”

Asked if he knew who was orchestrating the attacks, Rev. Kwashi said, “If we had an idea of who it was, the problem would be solved. That’s what we have been facing in Jos, we don’t know who,” is responsible for the repeated outbreaks of violence between the two communities. He added:

Suddenly from [say,] the construction of a house, people are killed, churches are burned. […] These are faceless people. If they could identify themselves we could ask them ‘what do you really want’ and some meaningful negotiations can be done.

In January, Rev. Kwashi argued in an essay for Christianity Today magazine — headlined, “In Jos We Are Coming Face to Face in Confrontation with Satan” — that violence in the region was not motivated by religious differences, writing: “those who have in the past used violence to settle political issues, economic issues, social matters, intertribal disagreements, or any issue for that matter, now continue to use that same path of violence and cover it up with religion.”

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The Chilean Earthquake And The After Effects

Robert Mackey’s liveblog at NYT


UH OH: 8.8 Earthquake Hits Chile.

UPDATE: Via Jake Tapper on Facebook, here’s the State Department number for those concerned about friends or relatives traveling in Chile: 1-888-407-4747.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Chaiten volcano webcam is still up and showing a lot of smoke or something. Connection? Who knows? (Thanks to reader Joan of Arghh for the link).

MORE: A list of Hawaii twitterers covering the tsunami warning. More on the warning here: Tsunami expected at 11:19 a.m. Hawaii time, 4:19 p.m. Eastern.

Ed Morrissey:

I lived in California for more than 30 years, and I don’t ever recall a tsunami warning.  Obviously, this is a rare situation.  The 1960 tsunami killed 61 people in Hawaii and 140 in Japan, but its height was somewhere between three and thirteen feet.  This tsunami is estimated to be considerably smaller — but still dangerous.

In Chile, at least 76 people are reported dead, and MS-NBC has the video showing the extensive damage. That number will unfortunately rise as rescuers begin digging through the rubble. It won’t reach the kind of massive death as we have seen in Haiti despite being a stronger quake, thanks to stronger building codes, but it will almost certainly go into the hundreds. Chile needs our prayers — and let’s hope that the island nations remain safe.

Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy:

There’s still much we don’t know — particularly about what’s going on in Concepcion, the country’s second-largest city, which was the closest major town to the quake’s epicenter. Some Flickr users, such as condeorloff, have already started uploading photos of damaged buildings some 200 miles away in Santiago, the capital. So Concepcion must be pretty bad. There have also been numerous aftershocks, and warnings about tsunamis threatening the coastline.But  one thing is already clear: Chile was well prepared for this disaster, having been struck by 13 large earthquakes since 1973. The biggest seismic event in recorded history was in Chile, a 9.5-magnitude quake in 1960.  While the death toll will inevitably go up, and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage are likely, the country seems very resilient.

Matthew Yglesias

Marcelo Ballve:

Haiti is the hemisphere’s worst-off country, with the weakest state. Chile is the hemisphere’s up-and-comer, a developing nation that has in the last 20 years earned a reputation for having Latin America’s best-organized and efficient government.As Philip Bobbit argues in his book Terror and Consent a natural disaster is tantamount to a terrorist attack in that it challenges the legitimacy of the state. Haiti’s quake showed up the weakness of the government (we won’t get into whose fault that is, but it’s a long list starting with extortionist reparations demanded by France after Haiti’s independence).

It will be interesting to see how the Chilean state responds to this challenge and meets this test of its capacity.

Ruth Calvo at Firedoglake:

From working on a build with Habitat for Humanity in Chile, I am sure that the little houses we put up are still standing. Most of the building we did was wood frame, and even by falling wouldn’t do a lot of damage. The area where we built, CasaBlanca, is a wine growing area and lowland, so there is not be great threat from earthquakes.

My greatest fear personally is for the Santiago archaeological museum, a priceless collection of pre-Columbian art and mementos. Sadly, the building itself is of stone, a renewal of the monumental architecture period that saw a downtown built of heavy, immense, stone structures. Circling an interior courtyard, the collections are on two stories, with large stairways, heavily built and decorated, many tiles and carved stones. Many of the earthenware remnants of the tribes that occupied the country before Europeans arrived will be easily damaged, and is not recoverable.

In Santiago, the downtown area contains multitudes of the monumental style of buildings, and even farther out the lack of space has created many-storied buildings. Ominously, as in Port au Prince, Haiti, there are supermarkets on the bottom floor scattered everywhere. Apartment buildings abound, many of stone and concrete.

In Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, seaside towns that we visited, the hills rise up from the shore, and older buildings built of stone are interspersed with funiculars to climb the steep hills. Houses are built one above the other, rising up the hills, around the shore. Shopping centers are formed by several stories of stores, with stairways winding up through the stores through several layers. A tsunami has hit Valparaiso, where the docks are full of ships and old stone buildings, and a seaside cafe that has particular appeal – that I hope wasn’t destroyed.

In Vina del Mar, there are many tall apartment buildings where visitors from all over the world vacation. The parks on the beach are lovely, and there is a flower clock that is a feature the town prides itself on. The shopping mall there has several stories, which include a supermarket in the bottom story.

As word continues to come in, I am terribly concerned for the Chileans who were woken up in the middle of the night to find a world tumbling around them. Soon the assistance will start coming in, to do what it can. Much that was of such great worth, though, will never be replaced.

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Berlusconi And The Bruiser

David Sessions at Politics Daily:

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spent the night in a Milan hospital after an assault at a political rally left him bleeding heavily, CNN reports. A man with a history of mental illness struck the prime minister with a metal replica of Milan’s cathedral, fracturing his nose and breaking some of his teeth.

Berlusconi’s press aide said that the prime minister was “feeling better” Monday morning, but would spend another 36 hours in the hospital, where he is receiving antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers.

The suspect, Massimo Tartaglia, was taken to San Vittore prison, where Italian law allows him to be held for up to 48 hours without a judge’s order. He will be charged with “grievous bodily harm,” and anti-terrorism prosecutor Armanda Spataro was assigned to investigate.

Carl Franzen at The Atlantic has a round-up. Adam K. Raymond at New York Magazine:

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was left bloodied and confused after being hit in face with a statuette at the end of a rally today. A 42-year-old man, who follows a long line of people who have thrown things at political figures, stands accused of hurling the object at the womanizing PM as he was signing autographs in Milan. Berlusconi was immediately ushered into his car after being hit, but quickly emerged, apparently to show that he wasn’t badly hurt. And also to bless the world with some awesomely gruesome pictures.

“Police intervened after scuffles between the hecklers and security staff but it was not immediately known if there was a link between the incidents and the attack. Berlusconi was the victim of a similar attack several years ago in Rome when a young man hit him with a camera tripod cutting his head,” AFP reported.

We have an increasingly violent political world.

Tom Elia: “This should never happen to a political leader in a Western democracy. Period.”

I agree.

Simon Shuster:

There is also the satisfaction of knowing that even a guy like Silvio Berlusconi, who was socked in the mouth on Sunday by some random guy in the crowd, is not untouchable. On a strictly egalitarian level, it’s comforting to know that regular people can hold these guys to account if they want to, like the Iraqi reporter did when he hurled a shoe at Bush.  I for one felt empowered (Bush would probably say emboldened) by that whole incident, and so too by this one

Robert Mackey at NYT:

Mr. Berlusconi was struck full in the face by what the Italian news service ANSA reported was “a marble statuette of the Milan Duomo” thrown at him as he signed autographs in a crowd after a rally near that landmark. By 4:45 p.m. Monday afternoon in Italy — less than 24 hours after the attack — more than 63,000 people had registered as fans of Massimo Tartaglia, his accused attacker, on a Facebook page apparently created for him Sunday night. According to ANSA, Italy’s interior minister plans to ask the social networking site to shut down that page and others like it.

Beneath the accused attacker’s profile picture on Facebook, the fan who created the page wrote that he is “42 years old, with no criminal record and such courage.”

Mr. Tartaglia is being held in a Milan jail and faces charges of attacking a public official. According to ANSA, “Court sources said he offered a ‘full confession’ but did not give a motive for the assault.”

However, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that Mr. Tartaglia told interrogators he hated Mr. Berlusconi’s politics.

Richard Owen reported from Rome for The Times of London that the police “suspect Mr. Tartaglia of a premeditated attack because his pockets contained a pepper spray and a crucifix.”

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Return To The Heady Days Of June?

Tehran Bureau as more videos here

Robert Mackey at NYT:

According to my colleague Nazila Fathi, Iran’s official Fars news agency, which is close to the powerful Revolutionary Guard corps, reported on Monday that thousands of pro-government protesters staged a demonstration chanting in support of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

That may be true, keeping in mind that Monday is one of a series of days Iran sets aside for officially-sanctioned demonstrations, but it seems clear that the country’s opposition movement did take the opportunity to use the occasion of Students Day to remind the regime that the discontent over June’s disputed election remains close to the surface. Near the end of this video, uploaded to YouTube today, students outside the front door of a university in Iran chant “Ya Hussein! Mir Hussein!” again connecting the name of opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi to one of Shia Islam’s holiest martyrs

Andrew Sullivan

Jawa Report:

I reckon the Mullahs thought they had placed a cap on these protests, and I guess I had kinda thought that too. That it was over.

Someone forgot to tell the people of Iran though?

Huffington Post:

While turmoil erupted in the streets outside Tehran University on Monday, authorities took dramatic steps to close the campuses to the outside world.

Cell phone networks around the universities were shut down. To hide anything going on inside, the fence around Tehran University was covered with banners and signs bearing quotes from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and messages marking an important Shiite occasion celebrated Sunday. Police and members of the elite Revolutionary Guard surrounded all the university entrances and were checking IDs of anyone entering to prevent opposition activists from joining the students, witnesses said.

Footage posted on YouTube purported to show a march by thousands on Monday inside Tehran University. The young men and women were shown chanting “death to the dictator” and slogans against the Basij as they marched through the campus. There was no sign of security forces, and the students marched without frictions. The authenticity of the footage could be immediately be confirmed.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan

Talking Points Memo

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Don’t Call It A Comeback, They’ve Been Here For Years


We’re going to be getting a lot of this from Sully, who has a great many posts up.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators chanting, “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran,” swarmed the streets of the capital, turning a day in support of the Palestinian cause into a major opposition rally.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose disputed reelection three months ago triggered Iran’s worst political domestic crisis in decades, delivered a blistering condemnation of Israel on the occasion of annual Quds Day.

In a fiery speech, he questioning the Holocaust and blamed “Zionists” for ongoing wars in the Middle East.

“If the Holocaust you claim is correct, why do you reject any research about it?” he said in a speech before Friday prayers. “The Zionists are behind the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan.”

State-controlled Iranian television showed thousands of demonstrators wearing traditional Arab scarves, holding posters of Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and chanting “Death to Israel,” a traditional rallying cry on this holiday, which takes place on the last Friday of every Islamic calendar month of Ramadan.

But witnesses reported that demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans had taken complete control of Tehran’s expansive Seventh of Tir Square. Video posted to YouTube showed thousands of others holding up green ribbons and rallying peacefully in Tehran, Esfahan and Shiraz. Late in the morning came reports of tear gas being fired into crowds in the capital, but they could not be confirmed.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who ran and lost against Ahmadinejad in an election marred by fraud allegations, had urged supporters to join the rally to show the continued strength of the opposition despite a violent three-month crackdown since the vote.

Martin Fletcher at The Times:

The regime and its security forces could hardly cancel Iran’s traditional annual rally in support of the Palestinian cause, so opposition supporters simply hijacked it.

They turned out in tens – perhaps hundreds – of thousands to express solidarity with the oppressed: not the Palestinians, but themselves. They were protesting not just at the regime’s alleged theft of last June’s presidential election, but at the subsequent killing, torturing and raping of its opponents.

“They needed an opportunity where they could come out in large numbers and outmanouvre the regime, and this provided the ideal opportunity,” said an Iranian analyst. “The whole official day turned into a day of protests against the regime.”


Rick Moran:

So far, only 10 arrests have been reported and some random thuggery by the usual regime suspects.

Former president Khatami has been involved in a physical altercation with the editor of a hard line, pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper. The older man was apparently unhurt as he has continued to march.

The British left wing newspaper The Guardian is once again live-blogging the event, picking up Twitter feeds and getting updates from on-scene Middle East correspondents. They have a couple of interesting videos including one that shows a massive crowd marching in downtown Tehran.

The Guardian live-blog

Andrew Sullivan:

Today’s Qods rally has been a huge blow to the regime. While Ahmadinejad delivers one of the most unhinged and despicable anti-Semitic rants he has ever uttered, trying to rally Iranians with the usual Jew-baiting, the crowds display contempt. Here is a video with a government bus chanting the slogan “Down with the USA!” The crowd chants: “Down with Russia!”

What’s particularly encouraging is that the crowds are waving green again – despite strict warnings that such displays would be punished viciously. The regime is done. It has lost the people. But its death throes remain extremely dangerous.

From Sully’s blog:

More video at Sully’s

Via Sully, BBC:

Mr Mousavi was forced to leave the rally for Quds Day after an attack on his car, official news agency Irna reported.

In a separate incident ex-President Mohammad Khatami was knocked to the ground, a reformist website reported.


Also via Sully, Muhammad Sahim at Tehran Bureau with some background:

All the important reformist leaders, including Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi  Karroubi, and former president Mohammad Khatami, have called on people to  participate in the demonstrations, as has Rafsanjani. Formally, they have invited people to show up for the demonstrations to protest the occupation of Jerusalem by Israel, but it is clear that they have something else on their mind: To demonstrate once and for all the overwhelming strength of the reform/Green Movement not only the hardliners, but to the entire world.

All the reformists groups and political parties, including the leftist Association of Combatant Clerics, the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization, and Islamic Iran Participation Front, have asked people to participate in the demonstrations under the guise of the Quds Day protests. Other important clerics who support the reformists, including Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanaei, the outspoken critic of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have also called on the people to come out for the demonstrations.

Perhaps the strongest call for participation in Quds day came from Hojatolleslam Sayyed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini. In a thinly disguised rebuke of the hardliners, he announced that “Quds Day is International; it is not exclusive to Quds. It is a day for the oppressed to resist against the oppressors,” implying that it is also a day of protest against repression and oppression in Iran. In effect, he was responding to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who, during his sermons in last Friday’s prayer, declared that, “Quds Day is only for Quds [Jerusalem].”

The possibility of a great show of strength by the Green Movement has terrified the hardliners. The show would debunk their claim that the 85% of the eligible voters who voted in the rigged presidential election of June 12 did so to express their support for the political system, not as a peaceful way of making deep and lasting changes in Iran, as the reformists claim.

Thus, to prevent a strong show of strength, the hardliners have resorted to a manner of tricks. First, Mr. Rafsanjani will not be the leader of the Friday prayer in Tehran, which is conspicuous since he has led nearly every Quds Day Friday prayer during the Islamic Republic’s 30-year history. It has been announced by hard-line news agencies that Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a hard-line cleric and supporter of Ahmadinejad, will lead the Friday prayer, and that Ahmadinejad himself will also speak.

A reliable source in Tehran told the author that the decision to set aside Rafsanjani was made by Ayatollah Khamenei himself. The last time that Mr. Rafsanjani led the Friday prayer in Tehran on July 17, at least 1.5 million people participated in the prayer, the largest of such gatherings since the heyday of the Revolution in 1979.

More from Tehran Bureau

Robert Mackey at The New York Times liveblogging

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40 Days


News blog at The Times:

Iranian mourners are marking the death of Neda Soltan this afternoon, 40 days after she was shot dead in Tehran. Foreign journalists are banned from reporting inside Iran but we are trying to gather as much information as possible.

Riot police have beaten or arrested many of the mourners gathered at the cemetery where Neda is buried.

– CNN are reporting that the Basiji are videoing the mourning protesters

[…] – A Tweet from Iran says: “ppl chant in BeheshtZahra: “WE R all 1 voice, WE R NEDA”

– A blogger reports: “Security forces fired shots in the air and used tear gas to disperse crowds”

– The Los Angeles Times has a witness who says: “thousands and possibly tens of thousands of mourners, many of them black-clad young women carrying roses, overwhelmed security forces today at Tehran’s largest cemetery.”

Huffington Post:

Police barred opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi from joining the crowd around the grave of Neda Agha Soltan, a young woman was shot to death at a June 20 to protest the disputed presidential election. The 27-year-old music student’s dying moments on the pavement were filmed and circulated widely on the Web, and her name became a rallying cry for the opposition.

“Neda is alive, Ahmadinejad is dead,” some of those at the ceremony chanted, referring to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who the opposition claims won the June 12 election by fraud. Witnesses said plainclothes forces charged at them with batons and tear gas, some of them chanting, “Death to those who are against the supreme leader.” State television also reported that police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

Robert Mackey at the NYT’s Lede blog:

Update | 10:56 a.m. The Iranian blogger Mojtaba Samienejad writes on Twitter that there have been clashes in Tehran on Thursday. Minutes ago he wrote: “Intense conflict between people and police & Basijs in Abbasabad ST With throwing tear gas.”

Update | 10:53 a.m. Reuters reports that a witness in Tehran says that police and “at least 2,000 people have gathered” at Tehran’s Grand Mosala, a prayer location where tens of thousands can gather. Opposition leaders asked for and were denied permission to hold a mourning rally at this location today.

Two posts of tweets from Sully, here and here.

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice:

The stories covering today’s events are breaking now — but not all reports agree on the extent of the police reaction. And one analyst notes that reports and demonstrations do not necessarily add up to the kind of revolution suggested by mainstream and new media stories, posts and headlines.

Kevin Sullivan at HuffPo on the bigger picture

Abbas Milani in TNR:

For more than a thousand years, the Persian language has been both a vessel of Persian nationalism and a tool for fighting Islamo-Arab influences. Islamists have long believed Arabic to be the “perfect” language, the one Allah used when he spoke with Adam and Eve in heaven and when he revealed divine truths to Mohammad on earth. In recognition of this sanctity, Iranian Islamists have tried to infuse the Persian language with Arabic words and grammar. Before the revolution, Islamo-Arabic names–Mohammad, Hassan, Hussein, Ali, Reza–were prevalent amongst every strata of Iranian society; in the last two decades, a new generation of Iranian parents have showed their disdain for the status quo and its ideology by rejecting Islamic names in favor of others that are purely Persian and secular in their connotations. And so it is with Neda–a Persian name, meaning “the clarion call,” or “the voice.”

When, in the early 1920s, her grandparents, like all Iranians, were presumably ordered by the government to pick a family name, they could not have imagined that the surname they picked, 75 years later, would become a potent metaphor of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s autocratic rule. Agha, a Mongolian term picked up by the Arabs, means sir or master; it is also used by Khamenei’s inner circle to refer to him. The clerical cognoscenti referred to his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, as Agha as well.

The term Agha-Zadeh, meaning “son of an Agha,” has in recent years come to refer to the thousands of children of the clergy, now millionaires and billionaires, who use their fathers’ connections to rapidly and illicitly enrich themselves. Today, Mojtaba, Khamenei’s son, is the most infamous Agha-Zadeh. According to the Guardian, he has more than 1.7 billion pounds in his personal account, which the British government, according to this report, has now frozen. Mojtaba is one of the masterminds of the electoral coup of June 12, as well as one of the main culprits in rigging Ahmadinejad’s first presidential victory four years ago. Many Iranian democrats worry that the Khameneis, father and son, are emulating North Korea not just in its nuclear program but also in their succession scheme.

The third part of Neda’s name, “Sultan,” is Arabic for an absolutist ruler, as in the Ottoman Empire. It also conjures up Max Weber’s theory of Sultanist regimes, in which one man has absolute domination over society’s every political domain.

Los Angeles Times

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