October 25, 2005

from the hinterland with love

I was hoping to highlight the appearance of Mr. Ibrahim Sharif on Alhurra satellite channel last night. The head of NDAS (or wa3ad as it is now called) was the closest an opposition figure came to arguing the case, forthrightly, non circuitously, and convincingly. A very good performance by all accounts. If you were an opposition sympathizer, you may have gone to bed feeling unusually refreshed.

But then, a story in the morning paper taketh what a TV program giveth: The inauguration of the Ibn Taymia Mosque in East Riffa. I'm not sure whether this is a new or expanded mosque, which can now accommodate 1400 worshippers. But it is the name rather than the capacity that turns heads here. Shaykh al-Islam crossing the causeway to install in the land of Shaykh Maytham? ( both were near contemporaries, Kamal Al-Din Maytham Al-Bahrani died 679 AH, while Taqqi Al-Din Ahmed Bin Taymia Al-Harrani died 728 AH). No small feat, although very low key. A story which should have been celebrated in the manner that greeted the opening of the first Macdonald in Beijing or Moscow, was buried in Page 4 of two papers. A new way of life coming to town. A new cultural frontier marching forward, or backward.

There is more to the matter than a different taste in names here. Widely flashed these days is Assad's threat to “break Lebanon on the heads of Hariri and Junblatt". Ibn Taymia was the jurist widely credited with breaking the legal and theological skies over Shia heads. Say you are an imaginary embattled leader with imaginary political foes who happen to be one/group/majority of shias, and you need immediate spiritual cash to deal with the situation, where do you turn to? His bank of fatwas (and ITM’s) is at your service 24/7. "The Shia's are more infidel than Jews or Christians. Their harms is far greater". "No Shia is free of a strand of treachery". "If Jews were to rule in Iraq, you will find Shias to be their first servants". All valid, binding, non-expiring immunity-shredders coming to you courtesy of one of the foremost, most prominent, unadulterated authority of all-time Islam. Who can do without it.

May be one is reading too much of it, or may be it is a harbinger of more things to come, a logical extension of the need to replace wishy-washy legal school with razor-sharp theology that puts your adversaries on the defensive, or lay sacred siege around them, one and all. It may not be taught at your favourite prestigious cadet academy, but it does not escape the strategic minds of this land, who are certainly more brilliant then their opposition counterparts.

October 23, 2005

mehlis report

The main conclusion of the Mehlis report:

“There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate (Hariri) could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security official(s) and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services,"

"It is the Commission's view that the assassination on 14 February 2005 was carried out by a group with an extensive organization and considerable resources and capabilitie...The crime had been prepared over the course of several months. …Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge."

Alomg the same line of thinking...

Given the pervasive technical and human assets both the US and Israel have in Lebanon and in & around Damascus, is it conceivable that such an extensive operation could pass from planning to communicating (over mobile phones) to diabolic implementation over several months and by so multitude of conspirators, men and materiel, without anyone else ever getting a whiff of it?

The report did expose an intercept of a call between Berry ( Mr. X in the report) and Mr. Ghazali. Was that all that was intercepted?

It was widely known that many – including the French- had warned Hariri to take more precautions in recent months. He was adamant: “They don’t dare touch me” was his response even to the person charged with his security details. What was the source of his absolute confidence? Mohammed Al-Mashnouq (a confidan and a communication advisor of Hariri) is emphatic that, 4 months prior to the assassination, the U.S. had given Hariri an iron clad assurance that his life is not in danger. Has anybody misled Hariri? Did they bait the Syrians into their fateful blunder, as some would claim they baited Saddam into invading Kuwait? Was Hariri lured into false pretense of safety?

Or, in the run up to the assassination, did an interested party played on the siege mentality of the Syrians following the Iraq's invasion and fed them false reports of Hariri being in cohort with the enemies of Syria?

October 19, 2005

saddam in the dock

In ordinary legal cases, justice seen to be done is as crucial as justice being done.

And in cases such as the one of today, which belongs to the special and curious category of political justice, perception is everything.

For this is not really a case to establish whether Saddam is guilty of ordering hundreds to be tortured or killed in Dujail. Even his ardent supporters concede the point. Rather, a case to prove or disprove that an ideology, such as espoused by its proponents and its beneficiaries, was worth the blood and suffering of its victims. The verdict will not be uttered in one hall of justice, but in the minds and hearts of all interested individuals across the Middle East, and perhaps beyond.

To be sure, this is a process that was micromanaged by the U.S. (through the Regime Crimes Liaison Office), and aided by the U.K. (5 judges received a special training for several months in Britain). So an accusation that it is a sort of “victor’s justice” is certainly warranted. To what extent, victims' justice will come to replace victors justice is an open question. Though the very first signs are not very encouraging.

For a starter, the presiding judge did not seem a good choice. He came across – on the surface at least- as a judge without that essential gravitas to instill the aura of the law. So far. A second issue is his ethnicity. Nothing personal against the Kurds (may they have free and independent Kurdistan today). But if your intended audience is the entire Arab World, having a Rezgar Amin trying a Saddam Hussain won’t help your case. The judge also seemed to be unsure of his Arabic, and spoke in rather colloquial language.

Saddam, on the other hand, succeeded in appearing pensive, defiant, and in full control of his verbal barrage.

On a day that saw the victims of his atrocities still absent from the court room or its vicinity, and certainly absent from Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera extended TV coverage, Saddam –sadly- managed to win this round in his first day in court.

October 18, 2005

class act

It happened at one of the country's most exclusive schools. A school where the students’ family names reveal a roll of who’s who of the super powerful, the very rich, and -sparingly- the ultra successful. The recent, now famous incident started in a crowded corridor, when one student apparently got in the way of another. Tempers flared, and swearing and high-pitched insults were traded. A common occurrence that should have ended there. Except...

Except that one of the two students involved was anything but common; he was a favourite son of the very first and foremost family. Deeply affronted, he left the school earlier, and returned with several of his personal servant-guards “fedaweya”. The troupe heads towards the boy in question (a son of owner of a chain of restaurants), converge upon him and beat him, badly. Four fellow students tried to intervene to protect him, but they too got beaten, badly.

The school board met, and a disciplinary committee decided to exclude the favourite son from school. His caring mother was obviously not bemused by this second indignity. In short order, His Excellency, the Minister of Education summons the School’s Principal and orders him to reinstate the princely son. For the significant others to see it, next day's papers carried a photo of the meeting and quoted the honourable minister as stressing on the school the importance of adhering to true norms and authentic values of the society. The school seemed to oblige.

Except that many among the students remain furious over the incident, and are threatening to boycott classes when and if the boy gets reinstated. Left to pass one time, they will be open season, open prey, big time. What’s a privilege of high class if you feel unsafe in - or around- class?

Nay sayers will be quick to jump on this incident to rehash history, and recount how the populace at large was always deemed open season for use or abuse “halayel”. They will say this is a troubling incident with wider implications beyond school walls. But these radicals who dream of fairness and just order here and now are -as per usual- just blowing things out of all proportions. He is just a kid after all, for royals’ sake. Besides, it took other societies several hundreds years from their Magna Carta to arrive at a semblance of state, or kingdom, of law. Patience, as the Arab proverb would say, is just beautiful.

October 05, 2005

Ramadhan Kareem

Ramadhan Kareem to all, especially to those who are away from home, health or comfort.

(15 were reported to have testified of seeing the new noon last night before a grand jury of religious notables of Shia Bahrain. Sunni Bahrain had commenced a day earlier).

May it be a month of blessing and peace, everyhere.

October 01, 2005

royal chairs

They came, they swore -solemnly-, and they quickly left - to their new ministries. Two were appointed as Deputy PM – both are from the ruling family (FRF), two -FRF- for ministerial portfolios, and a head for the newly established Oil and Gas Authority -not FRF.

If you were watching, you will be forgiven if you noticed that the delivery of the solemn swearing was hurried and brisk. There was not a customary pause, nor any inflictive hint of serious, weighty avowal. It could be the endemic difficulty with classical Arabic, or the conflict of attending to a metaphysical lord when two are at hand. Duty, as a friend from the Subcontinent would have it, comes before God.

As cabinet reshuffles go, this was not an insignificant change around, rather a win-win move by the two rulers of the land. HH the PM got his son promoted to be his deputy, a further bid to ensure his succession, while HM's Royal Court got the appointment of those it favoured. Thus, a son of Atteyatallah –not to be confused with an Ayatollah- became Minister for Cabinet Affairs –not to be confused with the minister of the PM Court- giving the royal court another leverage tool on the cabinet agenda, especially that a second son of Atteyatallah became few months earlier Minister for Royal Court Affairs –not to be confused with the Minister of the Royal Court. The sons of Atteyatallah are not considered as first tier members of the ruling family, but -as with the case in outer circle FRFs- are studious people with degrees. So proponents of opening doors for the qualified but disenfranchised can find comfort here.

The re-shuffle was a further confirmation that the re-form project is alive and ongoing. The two new ministers are young generation FRFs who studied overseas and had a brush with modernity. You may be heartened to know that the new Foreign Minister had worked as a volunteer on Jimmy Carter’s election campaign. We can not only rival Qatar in terms of diplomatic heft, but also win by points for a fresh proactive approach. Also, the new Minister for Cabinet Affairs began his career as a system programmer. Some sectarian souls may gloss over this remarkable feat, by pointing to the fact that organization responsible for Statistics and Census which he was heading was virtually Shia-free, but that’s moot point in data-sensitive missions. One may take heart that an efficient decision making will be gradually programmed and instilled into the working of the new and improved cabinet.

Last and not least, but least discussed for sure, is the replacement of the crucial Minister for National Security – an FRF, and a third son of Atteyatallah- by another new FRF. The outgoing minister joins the Court of the PM as Advisor for Security Affairs, accompanying former ministers who serve HH as Advisors for Legal Affairs, Cultural Affairs, and Economic Affairs, to name few. The incoming replacement has the added advantage of not having a first-hand experience with former residents of detention chambers in bygone years.

All in all, this was an event brimming with total confidence, for all to behold. If some had the slightest impression of a government on the defensive, they are sourly disappointed. FRFs now occupy half the seats of the cabinet plus one, and confidently and not the least diffidently so. An opposition which came to the brink over the Societies Law, will soon brace itself for a crisper, sharper anti-terror bill in few weeks time. So by the time all go to elect the electable half of the Assembly in 2006, the re-form project would have unfold in a firm and clearer form.

Or in the words of a famous western politician when asked what he will be doing with the exceptional powers he obtained, he shrugged: ” Just watch me!”.