To Defeat ISIS, We Must Call Both Western and Muslim Leaders to Account

And that includes the Saudi kings whose funding of Wahhabi doctrine gave rise to the scourge of Islamic extremism.

 Flowers are put in a window shattered by a bullet as Paris mourns the victims of a terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Flowers are put in a window shattered by a bullet as Paris mourns the victims of a terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

By Laila Lalami

 What happened in Paris on November 13 has happened before, in a shopping district of Beirut on November 12, in the skies over Egypt on October 31, at a cultural center in Turkey on July 20, a beach resort in Tunisia on June 26—and nearly every day in Syria for the last four years.

 The scenario is by now familiar to all of us. News of the killings will appear on television and radio. There will be cries of horror and sorrow, a few hashtags on Twitter, perhaps even a change of avatars on Facebook. Our leaders will make staunch promises to bring the terrorists to justice, while also claiming greater power of surveillance over their citizens. And then life will resume exactly as before.

Except for the victims’ families. For them, time will split into a Before and After.

We owe these families, of every race, creed, and nationality, more than sorrow, more than anger. We owe them justice.

We must call to account ISIS, a nihilistic cult of death that sees the world in black and white, with no shades of gray in between.

Read more at The Nation

How the Statue of Liberty Almost Ended Up in Egypt

By Dora Hasan Mekouar in Voice of America

The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)
The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)

Instead of imploring the world to “give me your tired, your poor”, the Statue of Liberty’s welcoming message might well have been “as-salamu alaykum”, the Arabic greeting used by Muslims around the world.

That’s right, the world’s most recognized symbol of freedom and the American dream, was originally intended for Egypt, which ultimately rejected it for being too old fashioned.

The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.

The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.
Statue of Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s original design for the mouth of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

“He was inspired by the Sphinx and the pyramids and the idea you could create something massive that could almost be eternal,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, who brings Bartholdi’s quest to life in her book Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.

Mitchell was motivated to write the book after coming across Bartholdi’s diaries at the New York City Public Library. That’s when she first realized the iconic symbol wasn’t a gift from France as many Americans believe.

“In fact, the true story is more moving because what you have is this individual artist who had a vision and he really wanted to make this happen,” Mitchell said, “and he really had to go through every machination to get this thing built.”

After his failure in Egypt, the artist shifted his attention to America, which was prospering after the end of the Civil War.

“Maybe no other country at the time would understand the excitement and importance of having this bigger-than-life, colossal symbol,” Mitchell said.

Read more at Voice of America

Out of control: How the world’s health organizations failed to stop the Ebola disaster

 Two people lay dead on the floor Sept. 20 inside a ward at the Redemption Hospital, which has become a transfer and holding center for Ebola patients in the New Kru Town slum of Monrovia, Liberia.

Two people lay dead on the floor Sept. 20 inside a ward at the Redemption Hospital, which has become a transfer and holding center for Ebola patients in the New Kru Town slum of Monrovia, Liberia.

Tom Frieden remembers the young woman with the beautiful hair, dyed a rusty gold and braided meticulously, elaborately, perhaps by someone who loved her very much. She was lying facedown, half off the mattress. She had been dead for hours, and flies had found the bare flesh of her legs.

Two other bodies lay nearby. Bedridden patients who had not yet succumbed said of the dead, “Please, get them out of here.”

Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), knew it was no simple matter to properly carry away a body loaded with Ebola virus. It takes four people wearing protective suits, one at each corner of the body bag. On that grim day near the end of August, in a makeshift Ebola ward in Monrovia, Liberia, burial teams already had lugged 60 victims to a truck for the trip to the crematorium.

Frieden had seen plenty of death over the years, but this was far worse than he expected, a plague on a medieval scale. “A scene out of Dante,” he called it.

Shaken, he flew back to the United States on Aug. 31 and immediately briefed President Obama by phone. The window to act was closing, he told the president in the 15-minute call.

That conversation, nearly six months after the World Health Organization (WHO) learned of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, was part of a mounting realization among world leaders that the battle against the virus was being lost. As of early September, with more than 1,800 confirmed Ebola deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, there was still no coordinated global response. Alarmed U.S. officials realized they would need to call in the military.

Obama eventually ordered 3,000 military personnel to West Africa; about 200 had arrived by the beginning of this month. They will be joined by health workers from countries such as Britain, China and Cuba. Canada and Japan are sending protective gear and mobile laboratories. Nonprofit organizations such as the Gates Foundation also are contributing. But it’s not at all clear that this belated muscular response will be enough to quell the epidemic before it takes tens of thousands of lives.

This is an open-ended crisis involving a microscopic threat on the move. This week came the unsettling news that the Ebola epidemic has now reached across the Atlantic Ocean to a hospital in Texas, where a Liberian man has tested positive for the virus.

So how did the situation get so horribly out of control?

Read more at The Washington Post

Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.

Islamist fighters in the Libya Dawn coalition guarded the main airport in Tripoli, Libya, after its capture on Sunday. Credit Mahmud Turkia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ERIC SCHMITTAUG in The New York Times

CAIRO — Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.

The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation, the officials said, in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and Cairo.

The strikes in Tripoli are another salvo in a power struggle defined by Arab autocrats battling Islamist movements seeking to overturn the old order. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt last year, the new government and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region — in the news media, in politics and diplomacy, and by arming local proxies — to roll back what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Read more at The New York Times

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi Elected President of Egypt.

A man reads a local newspaper with the headline in Arabic reading, “Egypt surprises the world,” outside a polling station in Cairo, May 27, 2014. (Voice of America – public domain)

Egypt: El-Sissi Wins Election by Landslide in The New York Times (AP)

CAIRO — With nearly all the ballots counted, Egypt’s former military chief has won a crushing victory over his sole opponent with more than 92 percent of the votes, according to results announced by his campaign early Thursday.

The campaign of retired field marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he won 23.38 million votes, with left-wing politician Hamdeen Sabahi taking 735,285. Invalid votes were 1.07 million, or nearly 350,000 more than the number of votes for the 59-year-old Sabahi.

El-Sissi’s win was never in doubt, but the career infantry officer, also 59, had hoped for a strong turnout to bestow legitimacy on his ouster last July of Egypt’s first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.

Read more at The New York Times

Egypt’s ‘Couch Party’ Silent on Third Day of Polls in Voice of America

By Heather Murdock

CAIRO — As voting in Egypt’s presidential elections winds down, residents say the silent majority has spoken by not showing up to the polls.

During the 2011 revolution, activists on the streets jokingly referred to Egyptians who stayed home as the ‘Hizb al-Kanaba’ or ‘The Couch Party.’ The name stuck and it applies to most Egyptians who want to live their lives, feed their families and do not care all that much who occupies the presidential palace.

Abdelrahman Hany is the opposite of the Kanaba: a human rights worker who took to the streets in 2011, later protested military rule and he joined the crowds in 2013, demanding the resignation of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s last president.

But this week, he did not vote.

He said in this election he is proud to be a Kanaba member because he does not support either candidate. Former army chief and de facto Egyptian leader Abdul Fatah el-Sissi will surely win, he said, and challenger Hamdeen Sabahi’s campaign lends legitimacy to the election.

Read more at Voice of America

Egyptians celebrate Sisi ‘victory’ ahead of final results in Al Arabiya


Supporters hold up posters of Egypt’s former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as they celebrate at Tahrir square in Cairo May 28, 2014. (Reuters)

Supporters of Egypt’s presidential frontrunner Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi held impromptu “victory” celebrations in different parts of Cairo late Wednesday, according to the Cairo-Based ONA News Agency, as partial results showed the former army chief was headed to a major election win.

One group gathered at the One Unknown Soldier Memorial group in the Nasr City district of the capital, unfurling the largest banner ever made of Sisi, who is almost certain to win the crucial election.

Read more at Al Arabiya

Mistrust and Hate: The Frightening New Lives of Homosexuals in Uganda

By Jan Puhl in Kampala, Uganda

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On February 24, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a law allowing for life sentences for homosexuals. Michael Kawuba is one of the many in the country who supports the measure. He spends much of his free time preaching against what he sees as the evils of homosexuality.

Michael Kawuba is sitting in his church office reflecting on tumescence. “We Ugandans get an erection when we see a beautiful woman,” he says. “Anything else is unnatural.”

During the day, Kawuba works as a financial advisor, but once he is finished, he rejoins the battle against homosexuality. A friendly man of 31, Kawuba is married and has three children — and he is not one to rant. But every second Sunday, he preaches to the Kakumba congregation. “The Bible forbade homosexuality. God rained down fire onto Sodom and Gomorrah” — he continues in this vein for hours at a time, standing behind a wooden pulpit. The sanctuary is spacious with a roof made of palm fronds. A band including guitar, bass and drums players pumps out gospel music while worshippers sing along, sway to the rhythm and stretch their arms heavenward as they call out “praise the Lord!”

On Feb. 24, God would seem to have finally heard their entreaties. That was the day that President Yoweri Museveni signed a law making “aggravated homosexuality” punishable with sentences of up to life in prison. A first draft of the law had even called for the death penalty. Michael Kawuba invited friends over for the event and they watched their head of state sign the new statute. “We cheered like we were watching football,” Kawuba says.

According to one survey, 96 percent of all Ugandans find homosexuality unacceptable and many are in favor of locking away gays, lesbians and transsexuals. Uganda has long been a model country in Africa: Though the regime is authoritarian, the country is stable and economically successful. Now, it has one of the most draconian anti-gay laws on the continent, trailing only Nigeria’s Muslim north, Mauretania, Somalia and Sudan. Now, homosexuality is a punishable offense in 36 of Africa’s 54 countries.

Afraid of Attacks

The international community was horrified: The United States slashed development aid to Uganda, the Europe Union threatened to impose sanctions and the United Nations warned the country to uphold human rights. But the reactions have done little to help the gays and lesbians in Uganda: Many have gone into hiding or fled the country. They believe that a wave of arrests is pending. Most of all, though, they are afraid of attacks from anti-gay activists.

There are thousands of congregations like that of lay-preacher Michael Kawuba. They tend to be small, but are often radical. Many of them, including Kakumba Church, maintain close contacts with evangelicals in the US whose self-proclaimed mission is that of bashing homosexuals. In 2009, for example, the ultra-right-wing activist Scott Lively traveled to Uganda claiming, among other things, that gays are to be blamed for the Holocaust.

The new law, following years of debate, has led to an increase in hate in the country. Though homosexuality has long been forbidden in Uganda, and gays and lesbians were often the target of abuse, nobody was locked away for it. There were even bars and clubs where they could go undisturbed. But that has now changed.

‘No Chance Against a Mob’

Attacks against gays and lesbians now occur on an almost daily basis, with human rights activists counting more than 70 cases since the law was signed. Dennis Wamala’s boyfriend, an actor, decided to stay in France following a theater trip to the country — out of fear. “We aren’t so much afraid of the police,” Wamala says. “When you get arrested, you can get yourself a lawyer. But you don’t have a chance against a mob. Many in Uganda would prefer to see us dead.” He says that the new legislation is a green light for people to take the law into their own hands.

Read more at Der Spiegel

Poet Maya Angelou’s Tribute to Nelson Mandela

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In case you missed it, check out Harry Smith’s interview with Maya Angelou on Meet the Press.

Egypt: sentencing to death of more than 500 people is a ‘grotesque’ ruling

Relatives cry sitting outside the courthouse after hearing the verdict. © AFP/Getty Images

‘This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen … anywhere in the world’
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East & North Africa Director

Numbers are more than total death sentences in Egypt in last three years combined

The handing down of mass death sentences by a court in Egypt today has been condemned as a grotesque move by Amnesty International. According to state media reports in Egypt, in a single hearing this morning the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 529 supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi to be executed for their alleged role in violence following his ousting last July.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“This is injustice writ large and these death sentences must be quashed. Imposing death sentences of this magnitude in a single case makes Egypt surpass most other countries’ use of capital punishment in a year.

“This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.

“Egypt’s courts are quick to punish Mohamed Morsi’s supporters, but ignore gross human rights violations by the security forces.

“While thousands of Morsi’s supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Just one police officer is facing a prison sentence for the deaths of 37 detainees.”

The Egyptian authorities do not release figures on death sentences and executions, despite repeated Amnesty requests. However, Amnesty knows that Egyptian courts handed down at least 109 death sentences in 2013. There were at least 91 death sentences in 2012, and at least 123 in 2011. The last known execution in Egypt was carried out in October 2011, when a man was hanged for the killing of six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police guard in a drive-by shooting in 2010.

via Amnesty International UK

Egypt’s White December: First Snowfall in Cairo in 100 Years

(Credit: Twitter user @omarsa2r)

In the early morning of Friday the 13th 2013, parts of Cairo witnessed the first snowfall in more than 100 years. The city known for its hot weather and historical monuments amazed both Egyptians and foreigners. This cold snap is not limited to Egypt, with snowfall across the Middle East.

Below are a few of the best photographs from Cairo and elsewhere taken today.

Read more at Egyptian Streets

First Evidence Found of a Comet Strike on Earth

Comets haven’t been observed entering Earth’s atmosphere (shown here: Hale-Bopp in 1997).

Saharan glass and a brooch belonging to King Tut provide the first evidence of a comet directly impacting Earth, a new study claims. The finding may help unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the birth of our solar system.

A brooch owned by Tutankhamun. Photograph courtesy Jon Bodsworth via University of the Witwatersrand

About 28 million years ago a comet exploded over Egypt, creating a 3600°F (2000°C) blast wave that spread out over the desert below. The fiery shockwave melted the sand, forming copious amounts of yellow silica glass scattered over 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) of the Sahara.

Polished into the shape of a scarab beetle, a large piece of this glass found its way into a brooch owned by the famed Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen.

“Because there is no sign of an impact crater, it has been a mystery as to what kind of celestial event actually could have caused this debris field, but a small, black stone found lying in the middle of the glass area caught our attention,” said study co-author David Block, an astronomer at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Saharan Surprise

A tiny slice of the black pebble was put through isotopic analysis, which definitely ruled out that it came from a meteor. Instead, the analysis showed that the pebble possessed the unique chemical signature of a comet, measured in terms of elements such as argon and carbon.

“It was then basically a matter of running the movie backwards in time and predicting what temperatures were needed to create the conditions we find that make up the fragment today,” Block says. “So when I saw the result of the analyses, I was completely ecstatic to realize that such a piece of cosmic history has been found for the first time right on our doorstep.”

Read more at National Geographic