Friday, August 5, 2011

HM Ershad from Jatiyo Party Expressed Sad on the Daeth of Late Mutafa Kamal

Mubarak's Trial and Errors

According to Egyptian news reports former president Hosni Mubarak will stand trial on August 3 for crimes he allegedly committed before and during the revolution that shook the country last January. Whatever the outcome, by authorizing these hearings, and hearings for his associates, the 20 senior officers of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which seized power in February, have tried to distance themselves from Mubarak's fallen regime and buy themselves much-needed legitimacy. Still, the SCAF might have promised more than it will deliver.

After Mubarak's February ouster, the country's state prosecutor, presumably operating under SCAF instructions, wasted no time in putting together a raft of cases against the president, his sons, his ministers, and their business associates. Mubarak, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, and six senior ministry officials are accused of having ordered police to shoot unarmed demonstrators in January. Mubarak, his sons Alaa and Gamal, and their alleged business partner, Hussein Salem, are all charged with illegally profiteering through a number of schemes, including selling natural gas to Israel at below-market prices. Meanwhile, several major figures in Mubarak's National Democratic Party, including Safwat al-Sherif, Egypt's former information minister, and Fathi Surour, the former speaker of parliament, face trial for having mustered a small army of petty criminals and other regime supporters to attack Tahrir protesters on February 2 and 3, what is now known as the "Battle of the Camel," since some were mounted on dromedaries.
The charges have impressed many Egyptians, even those who live far from Cairo or were initially hesitant to support the revolution since Mubarak had at least brought 30 years of relative stability. Before the January uprising, state media had acknowledged that the Egyptian government suffered from corruption but had presented Mubarak as a reformer trying to control dishonest ministers and elites. During the revolution, the media also present the protesters as naïve, or manipulated by foreign powers. By charging Mubarak and his family with defrauding the public, the prosecutors have reduced any lingering sympathy for them, and vindicated Mubarak's ouster.

On a hot July afternoon, a group of farmers from the village of Arab al-Tambakiya gathered to discuss Egypt's future. They told me that the prosecutions had convinced them that the old regime was rotten at the top. Further, they had already seen some improvements since the revolution. Economically, times were as tough as ever, they said, but the police no longer harassed them and public officials had become somewhat less aggressive in their demands for bribes. The farmers had no specific vision for the type of government that should replace the SCAF, but they seemed confident that it would at least be more honest than Mubarak's. "What's coming next will be better than what went before," said Saad Mohammed, who had been a member of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party. "Any official [who steals] will be afraid to be put in prison."
Although the cases against the old regime's big names have drawn the most attention nationwide, many political activists pointed out the paucity of trails for low- and mid-level police officers. Police brutality, such as the infamous June 2010 beating death of 28 year-old Khaled Said, was one of the major grievances that ultimately brought millions of Egyptians onto the streets in January. And, during the revolution, police shot hundreds dead. Justice for these "martyrs" and their families is one of the few demands that unites the various branches of Egypt's opposition.
Mansour al-Essawy, the new interior minister appointed by the SCAF government, has promised justice, but squandered his credibility by acting as though he is trying to protect fellow officers: ignoring calls to surrender police snipers alleged to have fired on demonstrators, and retaining in the ministry senior officers whom activists say are abusive and corrupt.

So far, only a handful of officers have been prosecuted, and just one convicted, in absentia. On July 4, when a Cairo court released on bail seven police officers accused of shooting protesters during the January riots in Suez, residents again took to the streets. They reoccupied Tahrir Square, flying banners calling for "serious purging and serious judging."
Cases against the old regime's big names have drawn the most attention nationwide, but many political activists pointed out the paucity of trails for low- and mid-level police officers.
The SCAF may be easy to blame, but part of the reason for the lack of prosecutions might lie elsewhere. Egypt's judges are a famously independent lot, and have signaled their willingness to acquit defendants if the cases against them are sloppily built. Egypt's investigating magistrates are dependent on police officers cooperation to compile evidence and, in the chaos that followed the revolution, many police were afraid for their lives and in no position to gather evidence even if they had wanted to. The cases against Mubarak and senior officials, for their part, rest on documenting where and when shoot-to-kill orders were issued -- a difficult task at any time.
The public does not seem to take seriously the courts' warnings that it will throw out cases. Some judges have gone to the media to try to squelch expectations that they can deliver the verdicts the public wants. "The investigation files in the cases of killing demonstrators are devoid of hard evidence," Ashraf Zahran, a senior appellate judge, was quoted as saying in al-Dostor on July 9. "Do you ask judges to issue convictions on this flimsy evidence?"

Of course, during the Mubarak era, the regime was never overly troubled by a lack of evidence. It was frequently able to manage the rotation of cases so that compliant judges sat on the bench during sensitive trials. Even if the SCAF wants successful convictions, it has found that even the appearance of tinkering with the justice system causes a backlash. For example, Egyptian activists were outraged when the judge presiding over Adly's trial turned out to be Adel Abd al-Salaam Gomaa, who had been known for issuing jail sentences against regime critics during the Mubarak era. It is unclear whether the SCAF actually interfered to get him appointed to the case, but any further such controversies will likely be seen as attempts by the SCAF to protect the defendants.

For low-profile cases, the SCAF has fallen back on military courts, which critics say have little respect for due process and frequently convict on very scant evidence. In the last 20 years of his rule, Mubarak used such tribunals to try about 5000 Islamist militants, drawing widespread condemnation. In less than six months, the SCAF has already court-martialed over 12000 people. Human rights groups say that most of those tried have been poor, with no leadership roles in the protest movement or connection to anyone else who might publicize their plight. Their convictions sometimes come after five-minute trials, for which they are given few opportunities to prepare a defense, and whose verdicts they have no right to appeal.

The SCAF's reliance on tribunals could at first be blamed on post-revolutionary chaos -- it needed to restore order, prevent looting, and return escaped criminals to jail, all with no police force to speak of. But the tribunals soon began to target SCAF critics, including a blogger, Maikel Nabil, who received three years in jail for "insulting the military," and former officials who may have defrauded the military, such as former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, who the military recently interrogated for charges of facilitating the sale of army-owned land near Luxor to an investor at below-market prices. Beyond Nazif, SCAF seems to prefer that civilian courts handle all the Mubarak-era offenses that do not directly involve the military or touch on everyday security concerns. This balancing act -- presiding over a purge of Mubarak's associates without getting too directly involved -- seems to fit SCAF's declared plans to get Egypt through its post-revolution transition as quickly as possible. The SCAF presumably wants to keep the military both feared and respected, to deter criticism while remaining as much as possible above the political fray.
All this places Egypt's human rights and pro-democracy groups -- which campaigned against Mubarak's violations of judicial independence for decades -- in a tricky situation. Since the legitimacy of the revolution hangs on delivering speedy convictions, they might be tempted to overlook a few unfair trials. So far, however, most have not been. To reduce the SCAF's influence on judicial processes, some groups have advocated creating a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission, an exceptional investigative body tailored specifically toward justice during the revolutionary transition.

But between the military's apparent lack of appreciation for the finer points of due process, the street's demands for swift justice, and the judiciary's probable unwillingness to let any other body take over its prerogative, this option has not gained much traction. At this point, human rights attorney Negad al-Boraie told me, defendants accused of killing demonstrators are unlikely to receive a fair trial anyway, so they might as well be tried by military courts: "This will help [the public] to forget." Newspaper publisher Hisham Kassem however took the opposite stance, saying that he would rather see defendants acquitted by a civilian court than convicted by a military one: "I fought [the Mubarak regime] for the rule of law, and I don't intend to abandon it now just to get revenge."
In the end, SCAF might simply be able pass the problem on to someone else. Even as Mubarak and other major defendants are acquitted on some charges, prosecutors can continue to bring new cases against them. They are unlikely to permanently walk free. The aggrieved families who lost sons and daughters to police gunfire might never receive closure, but their numbers are limited. Egyptians mostly seem satisfied by the humiliation of formerly mighty officials who are now treated like ordinary criminals, even if they are not given actual prison sentences.

If the SCAF sticks to its commitments, it will hand over power to an elected government by the end of the year. This new regime, less tainted by its ties to Mubarak and hopefully more politically adept than the SCAF, might be better placed to preside over a systematic program of transitional justice, during which Mubarak-era legal tactics would not be used to create a post-Mubarak state.

more than 2000 people are dying every day in Somalia,

Dear friends,

More than 2000 people are dying every day in Somalia, in a famine that threatens to starve more than eleven million people to death. Conflict between Somalia's Al-Shabaab regime and world leaders has kept out aid that could end the famine. But a few key countries have the power to broker a deal to stop the suffering. Sign the urgent petition for a humanitarian truce and forward to everyone:

Right now, more than 2000 people are dying every day in Somalia, in a famine that threatens to starve eleven million people to death. Drought has brought this region to its knees, but the food crisis is really fueled by a complete breakdown in governance and international diplomacy, and we can put an end to it.

The famine-hit area is governed by Al-Shabaab, an Islamist regime that is linked to terrorist groups. The isolation and conflict between Al-Shabaab, other local leaders, and the international community has kept out much of the aid and trade that could end the famine. But a few key countries, including the United Arab Emirates, still trade with Al-Shabaab -- they have an opportunity to broker a deal with the regime and break the stalemate that threatens the survival of millions.

We cannot let the politics of the war on terror claim any more innocent lives. It's time for the international community and Al-Shabaab to come to an agreement to immediately get food to the suffering Somali people.The UN Security Council is meeting in a few days -- let's demand that they take immediate action to support key Arab nations in an effort to open talks with Al-Shabaab on cooperating to end the famine and seize this chance for a long-term political solution:

Somalia's government was destroyed in 2006 by a US-backed invasion which feared Islamic extremism. But the tactic backfired. Since then, even more radical groups like Al-Shabaab took over and brutalized most of Somalia, and the international community has propped up a corrupt government whose control is limited to parts of the capital. The policies of isolation, invasion and pressure in the war on terror have not helped anyone, and now thousands of Somalis are dying every day. It's time for a new approach.

The US has already stepped up to tackle the crisis, relaxing anti-terrorism laws that blocked aid from reaching the Somali people in Al-Shabaab's region. Meanwhile, there are growing cracks within insurgent groups, and some leaders are willing to let aid in. But it is not enough to break the wall that surrounds those hardest hit by famine. Only bold international diplomacy can engage with all key parties to ensure that relief safely reaches the hundreds of thousands of desperate families.

One of Al-Shabaab's largest sources of income comes from cutting down acacia trees for charcoal, which they illegally export primarily to the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries. These nations could now leverage their economic ties to Al-Shabaab to play a crucial diplomatic role and guarantee humanitarian access to famine-stricken areas.

We urgently need a new direction for Somalia -- let's appeal to the UN Security Council to support key Gulf countries to lead mediation efforts to ensure that Somalis dying behind Al-Shabaab's lines are able to access life-saving food and health care for themselves and their starving children. Sign now and forward widely:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Embracing the American mainstream

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani regretted the ghettoisation of the Pakistani community and its absence from the American mainstream.

On one bright sunny day a school trip to Newseum— a museum in Washington DC which is exclusively devoted to media and journalism— changed Noorulain Khawaja’s life. Inspired by gallant stories and heroic images of war correspondents, the little Pakistani-American girl decided to become a journalist. She wanted to tell fascinating stories to the world but her mother believed “journalism was a failed profession”.
Ms. Khawaja’s was destined to be a bumpy ride because of what she terms the “complex identity as a Pakistani-American-Kashmiri Muslim woman”. She faced hardships due to each of these misconstrued identities.
“If you want to achieve a goal in your life,” says Ms. Khawaja, a producer with Al-Jazeera English, “just go and achieve it. Don’t wait and only harp about it.” Today, her mother is “110 per cent satisfied” with Khawaja’s decision to stand different from the mob by deciding to opt for journalism as a career against the oft-preferred spheres of medical science and engineering.
The audience at the Washington DC Youth Conference on “Embracing the American Mainstream” fervently listened as Khawaja recalled her journey from the Pakistan Television to BBC, CNN and the United Nations to pursue her goal as a scrupulous story-teller.
“Don’t waste any opportunity of practical learning,” she advised the young audience of Pakistani Americans while referring to the significance of networking and interactions to assimilate into the US mainstream: “intern, intern and intern until you learn what you need in your professional life”.
While Ms. Khawaja confidently counted her achievements, every speaker at the conferences did not share similar experiences of joy and success. For Ms. Darakshan Raja, a human rights activist, it had been a contrary experience.
“They [the Americans] hate us,” said Ms. Raja, a panelist who works with the Amnesty International in New York, “Discrimination against Muslims and particularly Pakistanis in the US has significantly skyrocketed since 9/11.”
Her anguish was officially certified by Ms. Iffat Imran Gardezai the deputy chief of the Pakistani diplomatic mission in the United States. “There is a nasty media campaign unleashed in this city [Washington DC] against Pakistan,” she grumbled, “The media are propagating against us.”
Such divergent stories of success and suspicion made the one-day conference a ‘must-attend’ event to learn more about the role and issues of the Pakistani-American community.

In the first session of the conference on “Reflections on Pakistani American visibility in the US”, Dr. Mehtab Karim, a visiting senior research fellow at Pew Research Center, said around 600,000 Pakistan Americans lived in the United States. 32.7 per cent of them were born in the United States while the biggest migration (23 per cent) took place between 1990 to 1999. During 1980 to 1989, the second higher migration (14 per cent) was recorded. However, the post-9/11 period saw a dramatic decline in the number of Pakistanis who migrated to the US.
“A vibrant, educated youth is in fact the strength of the Pakistani American community,” said Dr. Khan, who had formerly taught demography at Karachi’s Agha Khan University, “60 per cent of Pakistanis are below the age of 35 while only 49 per cent of America’s total population is below 35 years.”
He noted that more Pakistanis (29.5 per cent) completed four years of college than Americans (17.6 per cent). Likewise, Pakistanis did better (22.5 per cent) than the Americans (20.0 per cent) in terms of completing a Master’s degree in a professional degree while 1.6 per cent Pakistanis obtained a doctorate degree as compared to the total of Americans (1.1 per cent).
“More Pakistani Americans opt for medical and engineering while fewer join the education sector,” he observed, “America is a country where writers and researchers are easily noticed and widely respected whereas a low presence of Pakistanis in social sciences is one major reason for their invisibility in the American mainstream.”
Moeed W. Yusuf, the South Asia advisor at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), said the Pakistani-Americans faced tough challenges because of an increasing clash of interests between their ancestral and present countries.
“The Pakistani community faces a serious problem of assimilation either because of the experiences they bring from their home country or due to averseness to politics,” he pointed out.
The presentation by Shuja Nawaz, the Director of South Asia Center, at the Atlantic Council, was very helpful to the audience in grasping the classic problems of integration and nostalgia faced by Pakistani and other communities who newly settle in the United States.
According to Mr. Nawaz, the immigrants bring with them the South Asian culture to the United States and continue to romanticise the “good practices”, “delicious food” and “wonderful music” of their home country which does not necessarily exist in the new country of their residence. Hence, the new-comers subsequently find it hard to integrate into the American pluralistic culture and initiate a nostalgic discourse of ‘my country versus America”. They also draw an analogy of American cultural practices with their home country instead of accepting diversity and pluralism as the essence of American society.
“Those who have come to the United States should not shy away from taking ownership of responsibilities and practice the rights they are guaranteed by the constitution instead of living in ghettos,” he recommended, “At the end of the day, it’s your hard work and credibility that counts.”
During the conference, discussions on “the art of organising and mobilising”, “the value of public service” and “Shaping Public Discourse” further helped in understanding the challenges and opportunities the Pakistani community faced in the United States. A few young Pakistani girls, who now work at important institutions such as the US Congress, Department of Defense, USAID, ABC News etc, inspired the audience with their stories of hard work and achievement of professional goals.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, like most speakers of the conference, regretted the ghettoisation of the Pakistani community and its absence from the American mainstream. In his views, Pakistanis failed to join the mainstream because of their unwillingness to shun their past experiences and get out of their comfort zones.
A lot of Pakistanis still look at channels and newspapers from back home as the “reliable sources” whereas the ambassador insisted that they were “full of conspiracy theories and rhetoric which eventually form people’s perceptions about the United States and distance our people from accepting the different realities of the western world.”
Mr. Haqqani described America’s ties with Pakistan as that of a rich uncle’s troubled relations with a thankless child who loved to accept gifts and presents from the ‘rich-uncle’ but still continued to speak against him.
“Pakistan should not solely depend on American assistance,” he suggested, “We should take this assistance as an opportunity to grow the seed for future progress by developing our institutions. It is easy to suggest discontinuing relations with the US or rejecting their aid but we have to calculate the price of such an emotional decision.”
In the session called “Town Hall with the Ambassador”, Mr. Haqqani frankly spoke about Pakistan’s “poor branding” in the United States. For instance, only 5298 Pakistani students were enrolled in the United States as compared to 98,000 Chinese and 60,000 Indians and even 11,000 Nepali students because of the poor standard of education in Pakistan.
The first youth conference of the Pakistan-Americans was very candid in debating pressing challenges and appreciative of success stories of gifted youth of Americans of Pakistani origin. It did a remarkable job by recognising the achievements of those individuals whose actions have ultimately spoken louder than the stereotypes. The event also provided a chance to critically analyse the problem of increasing isolation and self-imposed segregation of the American-Muslim-Pakistani community from the American mainstream.
Malik Siraj Akbar, a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow based in Washington DC, is a visiting journalist at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).

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