Posts Tagged protests

If only the rest of the Arab world had Tunisia’s problems

There is a genuine confrontation going on between pro-Government protesters and the State media.

That means the State media is actually not controlled by the Government and has been reporting on flaws in Government policy. Even Al-Jazeera, which everyone keeps heralding as a “democratic force” is suspiciously silent on the leaders of the Gulf states(/often just putting out Qatari propaganda when it reports on the Middle East).

These protests in Tunisia are a sign that the country may actually pull through and establish democracy. Long may they continue.

THE DAILY STAR :: News :: Middle East :: Tunisian TV journalists in shouting match with protesters.

TUNIS: Journalists of Tunisia’s state television Wataniya had a shouting match Monday with protesters who have staged nearly two months of sit-ins outside its offices accusing it of backing the ousted Ben Ali dictatorship.

Shouting “Media of Shame!” the protesters brandished brooms and bottles of chlorine and demanded the “cleansing” of the national broadcaster, while Wataniya employees massed on the other side of the perimeter fence vented anger over the disturbance. …

Relations are strained between state media and Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that won elections in October and now leads the governing coalition.

Wataniya is regularly accused of denigrating the work of the government and even of plotting to overthrow it. On the other hand, many in the media suspect Ennahda of wanting to keep them in check.


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Palestinian “Nakba Day” protest footage

There has been a lot of controversy around yesterday’s protests to commemorate “Nakba Day” (“nabkba” means “catastrophe” in Arabic and is the word that Palestinians give to 15th May 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence). CNN have kindly released raw footage, so judge for yourself by clicking on the image below.

To my mind, throwing stones and fireworks at soldiers like that does kind of belie the “peaceful protests” moniker – this was far from peaceful. Were the soldiers reacting excessively? Debatable, but certainly some kind of reaction was warranted.

UPDATE: Readers may also be interested in the below footage, think about what could have happened and how it would be reported…

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Three nobodies who sparked the revolutions



There is a fantastic article by Lydia Khalil in this month’s Australian Literary Review that goes through a lot of the causes of the Middle East unrest. What I found particularly emotional were the stories of Neda Soltan, Mohamed Bouazizi and Khaled Said – who became symbols of the repression in their respective countries.

These three stories go a long way in describing the actual situations in these countries, in a way that words like “despot”, “repression” and “autocracy” could never sum-up.

Youthquake in the Middle East | The Australian.

For the shabab, the new civic sphere has taken on three seemingly contradictory characteristics: it is at once individualistic, pluralistic and anonymous. This trio is explained in the stories of three young people who personify the struggle of the shabab: Neda Agha Soltan in Iran, Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia and Khaled Said in Egypt.

Soltan was an aspiring musician and a 27-year-old graduate student who worked at her family’s travel agency. One day she happened upon one of the many groups of protesters that had taken to the streets of Tehran that summer of 2009. One minute she was milling about with her friends, shielding her eyes from the sun as she observed from the sidelines the chanting protesters and commotion, the next minute she was slumped to the ground, blood spewing from her face and nose.

A stranger captured her death on a mobile phone and later that day the amateur videographer uploaded the video of Soltan’s murder to YouTube. The scene of her death was played again and again on computer and telephone screens all across Iran and the world. She became an accidental martyr for the Iranian opposition movement.

Soltan had been a sympathiser and observer by any account and was only marginally involved in the opposition. She was not an active dissident, yet she was killed. One face of many, standing along the sidelines, became the icon that defined the opposition. Her murder at the hands of government henchmen highlighted the criminality of the entire Iranian regime.

Bouazizi came from a large Tunisian family of six brothers and sisters. They lived modestly in the backwater of Sidi Bouzid where job opportunities were few.

When he was a young boy, his father died, forcing Bouazizi to sacrifice his already mediocre education in a one-room school to take on a job to support his family. The best work he could come up with was selling fruit at the market, but even then he could not afford an official permit. With his meagre salary as an illicit fruit vendor, he paid for his sisters’ college fees and attempted to save up for a work van.

Bouazizi would set up his stand during the day, trying to avoid the market inspectors who had already nicked him twice that year for not having a proper licence. He couldn’t even afford to bribe an official to let the fine slide. It amounted to three days’ earnings.

As he was setting up one morning to sell his wares, a female inspector came up to fine him for selling without a licence. When he protested, she slapped him, humiliating him in front of the entire market. When he tried to complain to the local authorities, no one would take his meeting.

Desperate and incensed, he doused himself with petrol and set himself on fire in front of the municipal building. He died 18 days later.

Bouazizi’s suicide wasn’t the kind we are used to hearing about from the Middle East. He did not die after strapping on a bomb and killing innocents in the name of jihad. He committed suicide by self-immolation, the ultimate act of sacrificial spectacle. At his funeral, his supporters chanted, “Farewell Mohamed, we will avenge you.”

And they did; weeks later, the Tunisian government was toppled.

At first, it seemed as if Bouazizi’s death was destined to be a desperate act in a desolate town. The first local protesters were friends and family who, like him, were also ignored. Calls for an official investigation into the inspectors’ actions went unheeded. The local media didn’t cover the events.

But the protests grew, despite the lack of official media cover.

Shamseddine Abidi, an interior designer from Tunis who heard what was happening in Sidi Bouzid, started to post videos and update his Facebook page with news of the protests. One of Abidi’s Facebook friends, a journalist from Al Jazeera, picked up the story. For weeks it was exclusively covered by Al Jazeera, spreading the news across the Arab world.

The wave of Arab revolt was sparked in the most obscure, backwater town in the margins of Middle East. It was done by someone with no history of political protest or activism. Bouazizi was a nobody, really, until his tragedy provoked an irresistible movement for change across the Arab world.

On Facebook, an anonymous administrator started a page about one year ago called We are All Khaled Said. The page showed extremely graphic photographs of a battered face. This was Said. It also showed a photograph of a pale young man in a grey hooded sweatshirt. His ears stuck out a bit, but he had a friendly, direct gaze. He seemed unassuming, not at all strident, and completely unrecognisable from the battered face shown alongside. Said was a small shopkeeper in Alexandria, Egypt, with an artistic bent.

The We are All Khaled Said page explained his story as the tragic tale of a young man who was brutally murdered because he refused to be searched by narcotics detectives.

Said was at his usual haunt, an internet cafe in Sidi Gaber, when two cops stormed into the cafe asking people for their IDs. Said refused because he had a small bag of hashish he planned to smoke later and as a consequence was dragged out of the cafe and beaten before being thrown in a police vehicle. The police continued torturing him at the police station, where he died of his wounds. They threw his corpse in the street, claiming he was attacked by strangers. Later they would claim that he choked on the bag of hash he was trying to hide.

The We are All Khaled Said page was not the first group to publicise Egypt’s ubiquitous police brutality but it was the first one that gave a face to the problem. Expressions of outrage were disparate and unconnected before We are All Khaled Said. Said’s story gave a focus and a forum to widespread rage and a desire to right a wrong.

“Each one of us can be Khaled” — this sentiment was expressed over and over by people who heard his story.

Soltan, Bouazizi and Said were unknown, ordinary young people; anonymous members of the masses. Their lives were not marked by anything in particular but their deaths carried a potent symbolism: they came to symbolise the anonymous, persistent struggles of their generation against authoritarianism.

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The shit hit the fan: massacres in Libya, allegations of genocide and the UN is useless as always

This stuff in Libya is really getting serious. Qaddafi does not want to quit, there are reports of soldiers firing on protests from helicopters and warplanes, missiles being fired into crowds and soldiers being burned alive for refusing to kill civilians.

Qaddafi is rumoured to have hired mercenaries from other African countries to come and help slaughter his people. It’s all hard to really tell, because there is not much communication going in or out – the internet and mobile phones have been shut down, as have the regular phones in most areas, and people risk their lives by stepping out of their houses. Most of the reports come from relatives of Libyans, who apparently have managed to reach their families.

Of course, this means that most reports are not confirmed and no one really has a clear picture of what’s going on.

Dozens of bodies reported on Tripoli’s streets after Gadhafi crackdown – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

Ali, reached in Dubai, and the Tripoli resident say forces loyal to Gadhafi shot at ambulances and some protesters were left bleeding to death. The resident spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

At least 233 people have been killed so far, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. The difficulty in getting information from Libya made obtaining a precise death toll impossible. Communications to Tripoli appeared to have been cut, and residents could not be reached by phone from outside the country.

The most amazing thing is that, even in the face of this, the people apparently are not giving up. I’ve been watching the Facebook page of a Libyan friend as he posts updates and calls-to-arms.

We have just heard that the military ships are bombing an area in Tripoli and many people have been killed although we don’t know how many at the moment because people have just called to tell us it is happening.

I have had calls from people in towns and cities all across Libya. Those in the east can not get out but those in towns and cities in western Libya, everybody is saying: “We are going to Tripoli.” The plan is to come from everywhere and go to Tripoli to sack the city, for the finish.

– Salem Gnan National Front for the Salvation of Libya

This makes what happened in Egypt look like a playground scuffle. For all his eccentricities and funny titles like “mad dog” and “king of Africa”, Muammar Qaddafi is a serious dictator, a genuinely evil person.

Leading on to my next point, here is another status update from my friend:

In Libya more than 500 shot dead in the protests against Gaddafi’s 42 years dictatorial regime, they use live ammunition, machine gun and last night security forces started using anti aircraft guns Jet fighters flying over and tanks on the ground! they even brought snipers and foreign mercenaries to kill people! internet is down & no foreign media allowed, it’s a genocide!

Again, this is terrible, but it is NOT a genocide. The use of “genocide” here actually came from the Libyan mission to the UN:

“We find it impossible to stay silent,” Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Dabbashi, told reporters. “The Libyan mission will be in the service of the Libyan people rather than in the service of the regime.” He accused the regime of “genocide.”

I take a huge issue with every inhumane act being referred to as a “genocide”. Genocide’s greek roots mean “genus murder”; it is a very specific crime, with a very specific meaning:

Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Qaddafi is not trying to destroy any group based on nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. He is trying to destroy a group that pose a threat to his rule. That is definitely a crime, but it’s not genocide.

The UN in general has gone through all the usual motions when a “crime against humanity” is committed.:

LIBYA 11:45 p.m. ET, 6:45 a.m. local: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on Libya to immediately stop the “unacceptable” attacks on anti-government demonstrators.

“Like you and many others around the world, I have seen very disturbing and shocking scenes, where Libyan authorities have been firing at demonstrators from warplanes and helicopters,” Ban said from Los Angeles. “This is unacceptable. This must stop immediately. This is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

LIBYA, 11:22 p.m. ET, 6:22 a.m. local: At the request of Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations – who earlier today called the crackdown in Libya a “genocide” – the U.N. Security Council scheduled a Tuesday morning meeting on Libya. This will be the first time the council has held consultations over any of the revolts that have swept Arab nations since January.

If there was anything funny about this situation, I’d be laughing at this. Particularly Ban’s tone, it sounds like something a school teacher would say about a student who had been chewing gum.

I fully expect the UNSC to issue a particularly angry statement, calling for the killings to stop. I then expect absolutely nothing whatsoever to change. And if Qaddafi does manage to cling on to power, the UN and the Arab League will most likely forget about this whole “business” overnight, once oil prices start dropping again. I mean, it’s not like the UN had an issue with the last few massacres Qaddafi committed. In fact, they rewarded him for it – apparently, he was worthy of sitting on the peak human rights body…

The UN’s Libya failures

In 1996, an estimated 1,200 prisoners, mostly opponents of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorial regime, were rounded up and gunned down in the space of a few hours in Tripoli’s infamous Abu Salim prison. The victims’ bodies were reportedly removed from the prison in wheelbarrows and refrigerated trucks and buried in mass graves. To this day, the Libyan authorities refuse to disclose the whereabouts of these graves. It wasn’t until 2004 that Gaddafi admitted that the massacre had taken place.

…The HRC [UN Human Rights Council] has in the past five years issued some 50 resolutions that condemn countries; of those, 35 have been focused on Israel, and not one has been issued against Libya. Even as of Monday evening, as protesters were being shot down in the streets of Libya, no emergency session of the HRC had been called by its members, which include the US and the EU.

Indeed, instead of being condemned, Libya has been lionized. In May 2010, Libya was, absurdly, elected as a member of the HRC, a move that was not blocked by the Obama administration (as Iran’s bid for membership was). This was the culmination of a steady ascendancy to every important diplomatic body at the UN – including the African Union chairmanship, the UN Security Council and the presidency of the UN General Assembly.

So much for “international human rights law”. This sums it up quite nicely:

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They say Mubarak was bad, but look at Iran and Libya

There’s no doubt that life under Mubarak wasn’t pleasant. His security forces were notoriously brutal and like all good dictators, he crushed any opposition with force, including arrests without charge, and he wasn’t averse to a little torture either. That said, he obviously didn’t have the material that allow real autocrats to hold onto power despite being despised by their public. Remember how the Soviets used to do it, before soft leaders like Gorbachev took over. Stalin and Khrushchev would burn food supplies and let millions of their own people starve to death just to prove a point. Back in Tienanmen, the Chinese had no qualms about letting their tanks run-over anyone brave/foolish enough to keep standing there.

Unlike Egypt, other regimes in the Middle East have got this kind of thing down. Wanna protest in Iran? Better be ready to get trampled. Trying to take the centre of Tripoli away from the ruling regime? I hope you don’t mind some indiscriminate firing into the crowd.

Protests in Tehran Are Stifled by Security Forces –

Anti-government protesters gathered throughout parts of Iran on Sunday, most concentrated in the capital Tehran, to mark the deaths of two men killed during demonstrations last Monday. The government mounted a stultifying security presence in the capital, with the police making arrests and using tear gas to try to prevent the unrest from escalating.

There were reports of indiscriminate shooting here too, but can we confirm them? No. Why not? Well you see, Iran’s autocrats are smart enough to not allow foreign journalists into the country. They also shut down the internet and mobile phones and jam all satellite TV, so no pesky “Twitter revolution” happening there.

Same deal in Libya. Qaddafi’s been around the block a few times, he knows the score. Shut down the internet and then just fire away. Look at what the information that does get out sounds like:

Libya protests: gunshots, screams and talk of revolution | World news | The Guardian

“I’ve seen violent movies and video games that are nothing compared to this. I can hear gunshots, helicopters circling overhead, then I hear the voices screaming. I can hear the screeching of four-by-fours in the street. No one has that type of car except his [Gaddafi’s] people,” she told the Guardian by phone, occasionally crying. “My brother went to get bread, he’s not back; we don’t know if he’ll get back. The family is up all night every night, keeping watch, no one can sleep.”

I’m not trying to make light of the suffering of the Egyptian people at all, I sure as hell would not have wanted to be one of them, but I do have a point here – when push came to shove, Mubarak was not as brutal, vicious and unforgiving as many other leaders in his position. Maybe he does deserve that $64bln that he ran-off with…

[Well, probably not]

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Iranian leader: Zionists behind the protests. Also, Egypt and the fried chicken conspiracy

Why am I not surprised? It had to be those damn Zionists, always plotting to bring down the Muslims!

But that’s ok, because Khatami knows how to deal with them – “harshly and in a legal manner”. I wonder what they could possibly mean by that.

Note: doesn’t this kind of undermine all these claims of Israel propping-up dictators? Those Iranians need to think about the implications of what they’re saying.

MEMRI Transcript

Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami Accuses America and the Zionists of Being the “Real Instigators” of the Riots and Calls to Deal with Oppositionists “Harshly and in a Legal Manner”

Following are excerpts from a speech delivered by Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, which aired on IRINN, the Iranian news channel, on February 15, 2011.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami: The Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom,1 which exists only on the Internet, appears only in order to publish communiqués denouncing [the regime]. They caused this battle by initiating this fitna.


We say to the Americans and to the Zionists that we consider them to be the real instigators of the fitna. We will never forget who the main enemy is. We continue to shout passionately: Death to America, death to Israel.

Crowds: Death to America, death to Israel!

Death to America, death to Israel!

Death to America, death to Israel!


Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami: We, the clergy, explicitly say that we demand that all the rioters be dealt with harshly and in a legal manner – especially Mousavi and Karroubi.

And this is not the first time! Apparently, the protestors were caught eating KFC – proof that they were in league with not only Hizballah and Hamas, but also the CIA and Mossad. Pretty nefarious, right?

Tens of phone calls have been received by the television channel, whereby callers made the smart point that they had seen the protesters eating from KFC, and that this was proof that they have foreign agendas. They seem to believe that no one can eat from the American chain without being an agent of foreign forces.

It has filled people’s minds with thoughts of hidden agendas – the agents of Mossad, Hezbollah, and CIA allied for the first time in history to take the Egyptian regime down. I do not know how Mossad has allied with Hezbollah and Hamas, but the media insists that this has happened.

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What a riot: unrest in the Arab world, the Muslim Brotherhood and why Obama just doesn’t get it

I’ve been concentrating on other endeavours over the past three-or-so weeks, however with the aeroplane-based wifi that American Airlines seems to provide, I now have time to comment on the dramatic events that seem to be changing the face of the Middle East as I type. As everyone will be aware, this began with mass popular protests in Tunisia resulting in the as yet relatively benign ousting of long-time dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The reality here is that in the greater Arab world, Tunisia is one of the least volatile countries. As outlined by John Thorne in The National, Tunisia has an extensive recent history of forced secularisation, allowing for a minimalist Islamist presence:

Islam came to Tunisia in the 7th century with Arab armies sweeping across North Africa, and cities such as Tunis and Kairouan became centres of Islamic learning. French colonialism from 1881 injected secularist ideas into Tunisian society.

That set the stage for the policies of Habib Bourguiba, who ruled Tunisia after independence in 1956 and believed that Islamic tradition impeded the building of a modern state.

During Bourguiba’s three-decade rule, a new family code was enacted that gave women equality with men in key areas, the hijab was restricted, and Islamic schools and courts were shut down.

The lack of extreme sentiment in Tunisia is what allowed the revolution to maintain such a positive and peaceful atmosphere (at least so far). This is VERY different from the situation in other Arab countries.

The events grabbing the most headlines, of course, are the protests in Egypt – which look likely to end the 30-year reign of dictator Hosni Mubarak. What a lot of people, particularly the Obama administration, fail to grab is that Egypt is not Tunisia. At all.

It is understandable that, after realising that Arab dictators are not absolutely invulnerable and that mass popular actions can topple autocratic regimes, the people of Egypt decided to give this a shot. Mubarak’s ailing health had been the topic of headlines anyway, and widespread speculation that he was grooming his son Gamal for office had led to a lot of discontent amongst Egypt’s masses. The problem is that Mubarak for years has been a stalwart of Western policy in the region and has led one of the two most powerful Arab countries into clamping-down on extremists and minimising conflict in the region. We may not be so lucky with his successor, who could be:

Gamal Mubarak

The New Yorker‘s Joshua Hammer did some excellent coverage last year of this year’s planned presidential elections in Egypt, which explains the different parties and their positions.

Mohamed ElBaradei, Gamal Mubarak, and the race to succeed Hosni Mubarak : The New Yorker.

Gamal Mubarak is widely seen as a symbol of nepotism and privilege. “A lot of Egyptians don’t like the perception that there is a dynastic process here,” the Western diplomat said. “This is a republic.”

Hammer goes on to explain that while a gifted economist, Gamal Mubarak’s “trickle-down” policies have led to an increasing rich-poor divide in Egypt and the view that he is only interested in furthering his own privileged class.

Mohamed ElBaradei

The other major contender is formar International Atomic Energy Agency president and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei – who has been sending mixed signals about his candidacy. While his achievements, particularly with the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear program, are undeniable, he does look less than ideal on a number of levels. In particular, he displayed a reluctance to aggressively pursue Iran over its nuclear program; his departure last year from the IAEA allowed the US to dramatically step-up its attempts at imposing sanctions on Iran. Also, extremely worryingly, he had this to say about Israel and the Palestinian resistance:

Palestinian violence [is] the only path open to the Palestinian people, because “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.”

(As I have previously observed, the Palestinian resistance has a far, far superior path open – state building.)

These attitudes certainly raise certain doubts regarding ElBaradei’s foreign policy plans. Despite being a seasoned diplomat, it appears that he has a tendency to appease extremists and that he is not too friendly towards Israel. This means that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty could be in jeopardy. This treaty, formed several years after the last war between Israel and it’s more powerful neighbours, began the era of relative peace between Israel and the Arab world and continues to be possibly the single most stabilising factor in the Arab/Israeli conflict – there is apparently an Arab saying that goes “you cannot make war without Egypt”. It’s dissolution would be extremely dangerous and could lead to an unprecedented war in the region.

ElBaradei has been a little evasive on the issue, saying:

…again, the whole issue of peace in the Middle East is an issue which everybody – nobody wants to go to war, Fareed. Nobody was – not want not to have peace in the region, but as you know, the (inaudible) the credibility is not really whether you are supported by a dictator here. It’s whether you have a fair-handed policy, vis-a-vis the Palestinians. And that is really the question. The criteria is not the reaction of the Egyptians. And you’ll get the same reaction under Mubarak, under a democracy. The people feel they are unfairly treated. There is a double standard vis-a-vis the Palestinian issue, and that will continue.

But if you want to have Egypt and the rest of the Arab world have into policy as recognition of Israel, well, you need to review your policy. And however, you know, whatever, what – whatever is going to happen, you know, I am confident that dialogue, negotiation between democracies is much more effective than dialogue between dictators who are in no way representing their people.

Also, as noted here, he may not even last long as a leader as he does not seem to possess the strength that is required of Egyptian rulers, who had a habit of being assassinated before the ruthless policies of Mubarak came into effect.

Muslim Brotherhood

Speaking of these assassinations, the big elephant in this room is, of course, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. For those of you who don’t know, Egypt was the cradle of the Brotherhood – the movement that began modern Islamism as we know it. Their brand of politicised Islam eventually led to Al Qaeda and all of the other Islamic terrorist groups and individuals we know today; however, they also now exist as an arguably non-violent political group (very arguable – they did assassinate the last two Egyptian presidents) with the goal of transforming Muslim states into Islamist ones. As Hammer notes:

Parliamentary elections were also held in 2005, and one opposition group performed significantly better than expected: the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party that supports Sharia law and has engendered such violent offshoots as Egyptian Islamic Jihad. (The Brotherhood renounced violence in 1970.) Although the organization has been officially banned since 1954, independent candidates who openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s positions were allowed to run for Parliament, and won eighty-eight seats—a fifth of the total. Many Brotherhood candidates portrayed the Mubarak regime as corrupt. The ruling party still controlled three hundred and eleven out of four hundred and fifty-four seats, but the strong showing of the Islamists was a shock.

This shows that the Brotherhood has a large popular support base and regardless of who takes over in Egypt, will wield considerable power. As noted here, the brotherhood, which is the parent organisation of Hamas, is already unequivocally calling for an end to the peace treaty with Israel. There is also a considerable concern for Egypt’s minority Christian group, which has been under attack in recent months.

The key question is: how much power will they have and how will this affect Egypt’s policies? Whichever way you look at it, the outcome is grim. The Muslim Brothers are a powerful force and every regime in the Middle East is struggling to contain them. If ElBaradei or anyone else takes over, it is unlikely that they will be strong enough to crush them and so will have to appease them in some way – most likely by cooling relations with Israel and America and turning the strongest Western ally in the Middle East into something a little less reliable. The problem is that by trying to nudge Mubarak out of power, Obama has guaranteed that Mubarak will not be as friendly as he once was if he does cling to power. I am very concerned for the future here…

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