Carter calls on Mubarak to Quit

Available at Ledger-Enquirer

PLAINS, Ga. — Former President Jimmy Carter called the weeklong political unrest and rioting in Egypt an “earth shaking event” and said that the country’s president, Hosni Mubarak, “will have to leave.”  Carter’s remarks came at Maranatha Baptist Church, where he regularly teaches a Sunday School class to visitors from across the country and globe.  “This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office,” Carter said Sunday to the nearly 300 people packed into the small sanctuary about a half mile from downtown Plains.

Carter spent the first 15 minutes of his 50-minute class talking about Egypt. Carter was president from 1977-81 and brokered the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978. He brought Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together for an agreement that still stands today.

As the Egyptian unrest has escalated, Carter said he has been watching closely on his computer the coverage on Al Jazeera, an international news network headquartered in Qatar. Carter knows many of the players well.

Mubarak — the man at the center of this storm — was vice president at the time the peace accord was signed and became president in 1981 when Sadat was assassinated. Carter, 86, called Sadat’s assassination “one of the worst days of my life.” Carter described his relationship with Mubarak, whom protesters want ousted from power.

“I know Mubarak quite well,” Carter said. “If Sadat had a message, he would send Mubarak.” As Mubarak’s 30-year rule has continued, the Egyptian leader has “become more politically corrupt,” Carter said.  “He has perpetuated himself in office,” Carter said.

Carter said he thought the unrest would ease in the next week, but he said his “guess is Mubarak will have to leave.” “The United States wants Mubarak to stay in power, but the people have decided,” Carter said. Over the years, Mubarak has been a concern. “Other U.S. presidents would privately tell Mubarak you have got to have freedom,” Carter said. The former president pointed to the control of the media.

“As news organizations — television or newspapers — criticized Mubarak, they were put out of power or in prison,” Carter said. As the unrest raged and escalated, Mubarak appointed Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president.  “He’s an intelligent man whom I like very much,” Carter said.

Carter has maintained a relationship with Suleiman over the years. “In the last four or five years when I go to Egypt, I don’t go to talk to Mubarak, who talks like a politician,” Carter said. “If I want to know what is going on in the Middle East, I talk to Suleiman. And as far as I know, he has always told me the truth.” The former president, who performs work throughout the world for fair elections through The Carter Center in Atlanta, said this was not a revolution “orchestrated by extremist Muslims.

“The Muslim brotherhood has stayed out of it,” Carter said.


RIP Sovereign of the Week: David Kato- Ugandan Gay Rights Activist Slain


The murdered gay Ugandan activist David Kato, 42, is remembered by friends and colleagues as loud and proud. “He used to say that he was the first ‘out’ gay Ugandan,” blogger GayUganda posted after he heard the news of his murder. A school teacher, he became a prominent campaigner in recent years, especially taking on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which called for the death sentence to be imposed for some homosexual acts.

“David was always proactive and also very authoritative. He seemed to want to be a leader in every way,” close friend Poline Kimani, from the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, told the BBC. His colleague Julian Pepe said he came out to his family, particularly his twin brother, Waswa, just before he went to spend a few years in South Africa.

“But the brother was really not shocked, he was like: ‘Come on I could tell that you’re different, but I respect you,'” she told the BBC. On his return,David Kato felt galvanised by his time in South Africa, where until the end of apartheid homosexuality had been banned.  “In South Africa I fought for their liberation in Johannesburg, so when I came home that was in 1998 I had the same momentum – I tried to liberate my own community,” he said in an interview last year posted on YouTube. “I didn’t know anyone but I knew there were people there.”

Not long afterwards he spent a week in police custody for his activism – the start of a career that saw him become a leading member of the gay rights community in East Africa. Ms Kimani said he was one of the most visible gay campaigners in Uganda, serving as the litigation officer for the group Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug).

This often caused him problems with his career in schools. “He was getting a lot of problems with people where he was employed – especially with the media visibility he had gained,” she said. He often faced accusations that he was trying to groom children, which Ms Pepe, who worked with him at Smug, blamed on “religious propaganda”. “These allegations were of course were false,” she said.

In the end he gave up teaching last year to concentrate on his work with Smug.  He then took on Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper, which last October began publishing photographs of people it said were gay – including Mr Kato – next to a headline reading “Hang them”.

His complaint was upheld and a judge ordered the paper to stop publishing the photographs, saying it contravened their right to privacy. Mr Kato, who was passionate and outspoken about his views, said that the life of a gay activist in Uganda was like playing “hide and seek”. Offices were often changed so they did not become targets.

Smug’s executive director Frank Mugisha said the threats against Kato had increased. One his colleagues, who asked to remain anonymous, remembered him as “a brave man”. “He wasn’t afraid to speak out and would always put himself out there,” he told the BBC. “He took a lead role in developing HIV/Aids policies for a number of organisations.”

Rebecca McDowall, a student in London who met Mr Kato at an event recently, said he was aware that what he was doing was dangerous. “He was so inspirational as a public speaker,” she told the BBC. “He looked like a small unassuming person but when he got up, you couldn’t help but sit up and listen.”

Ms Pepe said Mr Kato’s family and friends are still in shock. “We spoke to Waswa yesterday, he’s equally devastated – he’s trying to hold it together but he’s shattered because of course they were really close,” she said. She and Mr Kato were chatting on the phone about an hour before he was attacked – and he had been laughing and joking.  “I keep hearing his laughter in my head – it breaks my heart,” she said

The Guardian- Al Jazeera Staff Arrested in Egypt

Egyptian authorities today arrested six al-Jazeera journalists as the government continues its media crackdown after a week of political protest in the country. The journalists were arrested and had their cameras and other broadcasting equipment seized by the military in Cairo earlier today, according to the satellite TV channel’s United Arab Emirates correspondent in Egypt, Dan Nolan.

 “Four soldiers entered our room took our camera. [We are] under military arrest,” Nolan posted on Twitter just after midday UK time. “Unsure if arrested or about to be deported. Six of us held at army checkpoint outside Hilton hotel. Equipment seized too,” he addedAl-Jazeera later reported that Nolan and five other reporters were being detained by police.

Egyptian authorities yesterday took al-Jazeera off the air in the country, blaming the broadcaster for instigating the unprecedented country-wide protests against the president, Hosni Mubarak. The Arabic-language news channel today issued a plea for help from Egyptian bloggers and others to send in their eyewitness reports of the uprising, saying contributions had risen dramatically in the 24 hours it was forced off the air in Egypt.

 “This call goes out to bloggers, citizen journalists, and anyone with a camera who has content to send,” Al-Jazeera said in a statement. “We’ve already made great use of social networking, and today we’ve found public contributions intensifying.” Al-Jazeera’s Cairo operations were shut down after it broadcast an interview with the popular cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who called on President Mubarak to leave the country.

 The Qatar-based channel has faced interference with its transmission from Egypt since Friday, when authorities also shut down much of the country’s internet access. Al-Jazeera described the shutdown as an “act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists” and aimed at “censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people“.

Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the emir of Qatar, has been reporting the Egyptian unrest since it erupted early last week. Government supporters and other Arab leaders have accused the channel of fermenting Egyptian unrest with its round-the-clock coverage.  Over the weekend, when protests rumbled on in Egypt’s largest cities while the blackout of the majority of internet communication in the country continued, al-Jazeera said its English-language online livestream had been viewed for more than 26m minutes in 12 hours on Saturday.

 Al-Jazeera is the largest news broadcaster transmitting 24-hour coverage of the Egyptian uprising that is not wholly or in part owned by the country’s government.  Journalists from a number of other organisations, including the Guardian, have been at the receiving end of rough treatment from the Egyptian police and army while covering the protests. The Guardian’s Jack Shenker was assaulted and arrested in Cairo last week, while the Times’s James Hilder was beaten and held at gunpoint over the weekend.

 More than a dozen journalists have been arrested in Egypt since the protests began, according to the latest figures compiled by the international press freedom group Reporters Without Borders. “The shutting down of al-Jazeera is a brazen violation of the fundamental right of Egyptians to receive information as their country is in turmoil,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.

BBC: Egyptian Protestors Step up Pressure on Hosni Mubarak

Tens of thousands have gathered in central Cairo for a seventh day of protest, calling for a general strike.
Police have been ordered back to the streets, to positions they abandoned on Friday, but it is not clear whether they are returning to central Cairo.

The demonstrators are also planning a huge march to take place on Tuesday. Protesters want President Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years in power. He has promised political reform and has now announced a new cabinet.

The state TV announcement said Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, who correspondents say is widely despised by protesters, had been replaced. The president has ordered his new Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to push through democratic reforms and create new jobs.

Correspondents say all the signs continue to suggest that the only change the protesters will settle for is Mr Mubarak’s removal from office. Meanwhile, Moodys Investor Services has downgraded Egypt’s bond rating and changed its outlook from stable to negative, following a similar move by Fitch Ratings last week. Both cited the political crisis.

‘Protest of millions’

But there were signs of disagreement within the opposition, with the largest group, the Muslim Brotherhood, appearing to go back on its endorsement of leading figure Mohamed ElBaradei as a negotiator with Mr Mubarak. As demonstrations enter their seventh day, correspondents say there are at least 50,000 people on Tahrir Square in the centre of the city. On the seventh day of the crisis which will help define Egypt’s future, the extraordinary is beginning to feel ordinary. The now familiar rhythms of a day of protest are re-establishing themselves.

Demonstrators remain on Tahrir Square, their strength hard to assess as their numbers fluctuate over the course of the day.  Egypt remains trapped in the pre-internet age to which government censorship has dragged it back. Military helicopters drone overhead.

The role of the army remains enigmatic. Troops are on the street and military checkpoints have been playing a more assertive role today in controlling traffic crossing the bridges over the Nile. The soldiers see themselves as a force for stability and while some of their armoured vehicles are daubed with graffiti that reads “Down with Mubarak” it’s also true that the very act of preserving order helps the old regime to maintain its grip on power.

The opposition is declaring a general strike and talks of bringing a million people onto the streets tomorrow but it’s far from clear that they have the coherent structure to keep sustained pressure focused on the Mubarak administration. One possible outcome of this remains a Hosni Mubarak who will be re-booted rather than booted out.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Cairo says the military, who have cordoned off the square with tanks, are very relaxed and letting people come and go.  Elsewhere the streets are busy and things appear to be returning to normal, with some police returning and seen directing traffic.

But there are no riot police, and our correspondent says the government is being quite clever in keeping the unpopular police force out of contact with the protesters. There are plans for a “protest of the millions” march on Tuesday.

Our correspondent says this is an attempt to reinvigorate the movement, as many are wondering what to do next if Mr Mubarak stays in power, as he is showing every sign of doing.  Mr ElBaradei has been mandated by opposition groups to negotiate with the regime.

But a spokesman for the largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, appeared to reject this position. “The people have not appointed Mohamed ElBaradei to become a spokesman of them,” Mohamed Morsy told the BBC.  “The Muslim Brotherhood is much stronger than Mohamed ElBaradei as a person. And we do not agree on he himself to become representing [sic] this movement, the movement is represented by itself, and it will come up with a committee… to make delegations with any government.”

Thousands have rallied in Alexandria, and there have also been sizeable demonstrations in Mansoura, Damanhour and Suez.

Economic impact

The unrest is having an impact on the Egyptian economy, beyond the closure of shops and businesses and the call for a general strike.  Many countries including the US, China and the Netherlands are evacuating their citizens, leading to chaotic scenes at Cairo airport as air traffic becomes congested and flights are cancelled or delayed.

Tourism is a vital sector in the Egyptian economy, accounting for about 5-6% of GDP. International pressure is growing for some kind of resolution. In the strongest language yet, both US President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about the need for an “orderly transition” to a democratic future for Egypt.

The White House says Mr Obama made a number of calls about the situation over the weekend to foreign leaders including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and British Prime Minister David Cameron. The protests in Egypt are top of the agenda of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

NY Times: Battle for the Bridge in Cairo

CAIRO — The battle had gone on for hours, and the end of the bridge was in sight. Somewhere past the green armored cars and through the smoke was Liberation Square. For miles the protesters had marched peacefully, shouting at balconies for their neighbors to join them.

But water cannons and tear gas halted the march, for a time. Atef Badr, 28, turned to the retreating protesters with tears stirred by the moment, not the gas. “I’m begging you,” he screamed. “All of you in the back, come forward!” A few tear gas canisters got caught in the wind and drifted away toward the river: an opportunity. The protesters surged forward, chanting, “Overthrow Mubarak!” They gained ground and then lost it, when the dull metal gas canisters started falling again.

So it went all afternoon on the Kasr al-Nil Bridge, as thousands of protesters tried again and again to get past the riot police, who were just as determined to keep them at bay: first with gas and water cannons, and then by beating them with truncheons. The long struggle for the bridge set the tone for the momentous events throughout the country on Friday. Egyptians slowly shed their fear of President Hosni Mubarak’s police state and confronted its power, a few halting steps at a time.

The protesters came from every social class and included even wealthy Egyptians, who are often dismissed as apolitical, or too comfortable to mobilize. For some of them in the crowd on Friday, the brutality of the security forces was a revelation. “Dogs!” they yelled at the riot police, as they saw bloodied protesters dragged away. “These people are Egyptians!”

The protests started around noon, miles from the bridge, with prayer at the Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque west of downtown and a sermon praising the protesters. Anticipating the clashes, a police officer adjusted his riot helmet. A restaurant shuttered its doors. Everyone seemed nervous. Nasser al-Sherif, 24, looked for his friends, who were late. It was his first protest in Egypt. “I’m just here to say no,” he said. “Once things get rough and violent, I might leave.”

Ibrahim al-Missiri, 36, looked at the crowd, which included two famous actors. “This is the class that never spoke out before,” he said. “I want the right to vote.” The prayer ended, and the protesters, herded by a ring of riot police officers, started walking away down a side street and then stopped, turning back for their first confrontation of the day. The police let them pass.

On a broad avenue, hundreds swelled to thousands. Three young men, old school friends, marched among them. Two of them worked at a call center for the Expedia Web site, earning a little more than $400 a month. They had all been intending to leave Egypt. The protests were changing their minds. “We’ve had enough time stolen,” said Ali Bilal, 23. “We want to take control of the situation.”

Friends pushed a man in a wheelchair. A fruit vendor begged off calls to join the protests, pointing out that he would have to leave his donkey. On a balcony, an elderly woman looked at the crowd and threw her hands in the air. On other balconies, there was applause.  “Peaceful,” the marchers shouted. At the foot of the bridge, the security services were waiting, with other plans.

When the first tear gas canisters landed, Ziad Ali wondered whether the march would go on. “I’m 35; he’s been the president since I was 5,” he said of Mr. Mubarak. “I hope we can make it this time.” At key moments young men inspired the marchers. A man with a red scarf wrapped around his face stood on a statue near the foot of the bridge, defiantly, as the tear gas clouds swirled around him.

Another man yelled into a bullhorn, telling protesters it was fine to fall back but not to retreat. A third managed to climb on top of one of the four green personnel carriers blocking the bridge, as the riot police fell back. The crowd cheered and advanced, as the first hurdle fell. 

Abandoned by their comrades, the officers still in the transport trucks, no longer fearsome, sobbed as the protesters occupied the bridge for the first time. A local police chief was carried off the bridge bleeding from the head, joined by many people wounded by the falling canisters. When the bursts from the tear gas launchers quickened, the protesters retreated, until the young men at the front told them to come back.

The nearby 6 October Bridge filled with people, and the marchers on Kasr al-Nil cheered. The plan was to march to Tahrir, or Liberation, Square in downtown Cairo, to link up with other groups of protesters. In the distance, a building burned. “This is the first time I’ve seen collective action,” said Omar Barazi, 44, pondering the future. “I think there will be chaos and losses.”

That moment came quickly. Police officers watched the assault from boats. Hundreds of riot officers stormed the bridge, throwing benches and a police hut into the Nile and beating anyone who did not run. By late afternoon, they had retaken Kasr al-Nil and penned in a group of protesters next to a park.

Officers fired tear gas toward an opera house as the young men ran away, and for the protesters, everything seemed to be lost. Nadine Sherif walked among badly wounded comrades, despondent. “I hope he gets the message,” she said of Mr. Mubarak. “He’s not wanted.”

A few officers lit cigarettes, relaxed and chatted with the protesters, thinking they were done. They were not. Night fell, and the protesters finally took the bridge.

Egyptian Opposition Leader ElBaradei placed under house arrest

Published in The Guardian.

The Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei warned President Hosni Mubarak today that his regime is on its last legs, as tens of thousands of people prepared to take to the streets for a fourth day of anti-government protests.

The Nobel peace prize winner’s comments to the Guardian represented his strongest intervention against the country’s authoritarian government since he announced his intention to return to Egypt to join the protests. “I’m sending a message to the Guardian and to the world that Egypt is being isolated by a regime on its last legs,” he said.

His words marked an escalation of the language he used on arrival in Cairo last night, when he merely urged the Mubarak government to “listen to the people” and not to use violence.  ElBaradei has been criticised by some Egyptians for the late return to his homeland, two days after the protests began – hundreds of people have already been arrested and exposed to the brutal tactics of the security services. But ElBaradei was keen to stress his solidarity with the protesters.

There is of course a risk to my safety today, but it’s a risk worth taking when you see your country in such a state you have to take risks,” he said. “I will be with the people today.” In an apparent bid to scupper the protests, the Egyptian authorities have cut off almost all access to the internet from inside and outside the country. ElBaradei said the move was proof the government was in “a state of panic”.

“Egypt today is in a pre-information age,” he said. “The Egyptians are in solitary confinement – that’s how unstable and uncomfortable the regime is. Being able to communicate is the first of our human rights and it’s being taken away from us. I haven’t seen this in any other country before.”

He said the lack of communications could hamper organisation of the demonstrations, planned to begin after Friday prayers. “I don’t know what my hopes are for today,” he said. “It would be hard with the communications cut off but I think a lot of people will be turning out.” Organisers of the marches – dubbed “the Friday of anger and freedom” – are defying a government ban on protests issued on Wednesday. They have been using social media to co-ordinate plans, and hope to rally even more than the tens of thousands who turned out on Tuesday in the biggest protests since 1977.

ElBaradei has already criticised the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, for describing the Egyptian government as stable and he stepped up his calls for the rest of the world to explicitly condemn Mubarak, who is a close ally of the US.

“The international community must understand we are being denied every human right day by day,” he said. “Egypt today is one big prison. If the international community does not speak out it will have a lot of implications. We are fighting for universal values here. If the west is not going to speak out now, then when?”

Riot police face protestors in Cairo

The Guardian: Chavez tackles homelessness by encouraging squatting

 Venezuelans left homeless after December’s torrential rains gather in the wealthy Caracas neighbourhood of La Castellana. Hugo Chávez has sent out troops to take over farms and urged the poor to occupy “unused” land in wealthy areas of Caracas, prompting a wave of squats that is rattling Venezuela‘s middle class.

The move by Venezuela’s president to step up the campaign to “recover” land and other property follows a housing crisis that has left millions of people in shabby conditions and affected his popularity in the run-up to next year’s election. Squatters wearing red T-shirts from Chávez’s socialist party seized 20 spaces in a co-ordinated strike in the well-off Caracas municipality of Chacao last weekend, a move which shocked even some government supporters. Additional groups have targeted other cities.

Chávez has also announced a series of laws and deals with China, Russia, Belarus, Iran and Turkey, among others, in a breakneck effort to build 350,000 housing units in Venezuela in the next two years. “The fundamental goal of socialism is to satisfy human needs … the needs of all, equally, without privilege,” Chávez said in a television broadcast yesterday.

Opponents claim the government has failed to build enough houses over the past decade and has been offering “empty promises”. Previous house-building deals with foreign allies reportedly produced just 10% of the promised number.  Emilio Grateron, mayor of Chacao, described Chávez’s exhortation to seize supposedly unoccupied land as demagogic, and a move that would kill what little private investment remained. “There is irresponsible rhetoric without heed of the consequences. This is a very dangerous game.”

The government has stepped up rural expropriations by deploying 1,600 troops at 47 farms in the western states of Merida and Zulia, claiming the farms were unproductive. The state has taken control of 2.5m hectares since Chávez gained power in 1999. The government is now looking at cities in response to the housing crisis and to its fading support in the slums, once Chávista heartlands, which have voted for opposition mayors and governors.

Floods last year ruined hillside slums and displaced thousands of families, highlighting the shortage of 2m or so housing units. Residents have had to erect shacks on top of shacks on precarious slopes. Under Chávez the government has built fewer than 40,000 units a year – some say only 24,000 – in contrast to previous governments, which averaged 70,000. The president admits to problems but rejects accusations of incompetence and corruption. He has said that the rich keep all the best land, especially in the capital, but often leave it idle. The government has closed six golf courses and recently had its eye on the Caracas Country Club, saying thousands of poor families could be settled on its greens.

Such a move would take several years, however, and the presidential election calendar requires speedier results. This month Chávez said the government would take over unoccupied spaces and any incomplete structures. Last weekend he urged the poor to join in, and hours later, at 4am, militant supporters laid claim to 20 areas of Chacao. Police expelled them but the “invasions” caused uproar, with even pro-government newspapers such as Ultimas Noticias voicing concern.

Chávez decided the squatters had gone too far, saying “the middle-class cannot be an enemy of this democratic revolution”. However, the government made clear the squatting would continue, saying the correct term was “occupation”. Even hotels have become skittish since being asked to host those displaced by the floods. They have obliged, but some proprietors now worry they will be the next industry to be nationalised.

Chacao’s five-star Marriott hotel is hosting about 60 displaced families on its third and fourth floors. It has replaced doors with curtains and removed TVs, lamps and other fittings, but Maria Patino, 52, and her sister Blanca, 55, had no complaints. “We’re supposed to use the service entrance and not go near the lobby, but we get treated well. Three meals a day, everything free,” said Maria. “It [was] like being in the desert, and then you get to an oasis.”