Getting out of the game

According to this story, 134 members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (which really means the most extreme holdouts  from Algerian GSPC who don’t understand that the war is over) have turned in their weapons and embraced the national reconciliation process.  This came after Hassan Hattab, the group’s founder, issued a statement and set up a website calling for remaining fighters to turn themselves in.  The articles quotes local experts who said that Hattab’s appeal is causing an “violent earthquake” amongst the followers of Abdal Malek Drudekal, the leader of AQIM, causing many of them to want to embrace the reconciliation.

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Update on Russian MiG donation to Lebanon

A few months ago, Rob and I discussed Russia donating  10 MiG-29 fighter jets to Lebanon (read here and here).  The cost of maintenance was back then considered a serious issue  for (and probably by) the Lebanese government.  As it turns out, so too it was for the Russian government.

Russia has apparently failed to invest enough roubles to make its military hardware operational.  A few weeks ago, AP and several newspapers, including Al Nahar and The Moscow Times, started publishing reports that the planes are too unsafe and unreliable for use, and a word of warning was sounded out to the Lebanese:

“Lebanon has been advised to “wait” before accepting MiGs after reports that at least a third of Russia’s fighter jets are unsafe and should be written off or repaired.”

Apparently, Russia had tried to pull a similar act of generosity towards Algeria recently.  That didn’t last very long, as Algeria returned 15 MiG 29’s back to Russia, citing “poor quality”.

She’s got my vote

Is there really any question about this?  If this contestant does not win American Idol, something is seriously wrong with the American people. I don’t even care if she wins, make a cd,  anything, I’ll buy.

Bringing the Shia into the Fold?

Yesterday both Blackstar  and Abu_Muqawama  posted on the UK’s attempt to open up lines of communication with Hezbollah. I don’t think its signifigant and I participated in a long 91 comment discussion at Mr. Muqawama’s site which was quite good until about the last 40 when the whackjobism of a few individuals……

Anyway, speaking of Hezbollah, I recommend this  article on Lebanese Shias at Islam Online, which seems to have recently expanded its coverage of Shias.  Readers might be wondering why this is significant?  It’s because Islam Online is affiliated with Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi so its pretty much an exclusive Sunni organization.  It’s office is in Cairo, all the employees there are Sunni, and Sheikh Al-Qaradawi caused a controversy when he made some_negative_comments about the Shia last September.   One thing that has always stuck out (at least to me) is that the section on Islamist movements totally ignores Shia groups.  But during the last week I’ve noticed two articles on the Shia ( also see here)  whereas I can’t remember reading any before.   Is this some kind of attempt by Sheikh Al-Qaradawi to repair relations with the Shia? Or am I reading way too much into it? If anyone knows, I’d be interested in hearing.

By George!

I imagine that many of my fellow constituents of Bethnal Green and Bow, East London woke up quite surprised to find that our local MP, George Galloway, had arrived in Gaza along with $1.5 million in aid to the embattled enclave. “I have entered Palestine many times but the most emotional of these is after the 22-day genocidal aggression against the Palestinian people,” Galloway told The Times.

Galloway, the leader of the Trotskyist Respect Party and MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, had led the aid convoy across Europe for the last month, finally managing to negotiate his way through Rafah after a 24 hour impasse.  Galloway’s previous declaration that Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak should be overthrown by the army may not have done him any favours.

But then again, I should be careful what I say.. My elected voice in Westminster is a hugely controversial figure in the UK, and many a national newspaper has been sued for printing stories about him.  Galloway has long been strongly pro-Palestinian and known for his pro-Arab views.  He lobbied hard for the removal of sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq:  

When he visited Baghdad in 1994, Galloway said to Hussein that “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”   (It’s on video, George.  Please don’t sue me.)

For all of you who haven’t come across him before, Mr Galloway is certainly an interesting figure, who is said to be uniformly disliked in Westminster (reason enough for me  to like him you would think) and when campaigning for London Mayor in 2008 on an open-top bus he was knocked unconscious by a stress-ball thrown from a near-by building.

If that wasn’t enough then his interpretive dance in a one piece leotard on Celebrity Big Brother almost beggars belief –  you_need_to_watch_this.  I have really never been the same since.  No doubt the aid convoy to Gaza was and is a great thing.  But, sorry George, I won’t be voting for you any time soon.

Talking to Hezbollah

The Obama administration seems to have ushered in a welcome wind of change (well, for now).  The British government this week has announced that it is opening up talks with low-level officials from Hezbollah’s political wing. The UK had cut off all ties with both the military and political wings of the party in 2005, and had added the military wing to its list of “banned organizations” in July 2008.

While the US has officially distanced itself from this policy change (see this article from Hezbollah’s Al Manar), it seems to have very subtly opened the door for it to take place. President Obama after all has very recently started calling for reconciliation talks between the Taliban and the US. An anonymous State Department source quoted in the Al Manar article also states that the US might find the UK-Hezbollah talks beneficial.

There’s a great Op-ed today in the New York Times by Roger Cohen which discusses these policy reversals:

“Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has long been treated by the United States as a proscribed terrorist group. This narrow view has ignored the fact that both organizations are now entrenched political and social movements without whose involvement regional peace is impossible.

Britain aligned itself with the U.S. position on Hezbollah, but has now seen its error. Bill Marston, a Foreign Office spokesman, told Al Jazeera: “Hezbollah is a political phenomenon and part and parcel of the national fabric in Lebanon. We have to admit this.””

The Cohen piece is highly recommended reading.

Stuff to check out

1)  America’s Finest:   Except for  Lou_Dobbs, most  major American TV stations are mediocre and unserious in their coverage of important news — unless we now consider Tweeter updates as “serious and critical.”   There is, however, one huge exception to this trend.  Check out this clip and see what I’m talking about.  I learned more from this 8 minute clip about the financial crisis than I have from watching CNN for months. 

2) A Pattern?:   This didn’t get  much coverage but there was a  third potentially violent incident in Egypt about a week ago.  

3)  Universal Culture:   If you are Saudi Arabia you are supposed to “own” the Gulf.   So when you tie little upstart Qatar in a football match that’s embarrassing.  Its the same feeling us Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans have when we lose to Boston College.  So watch this Youtube_clip of a Saudi prince going into the locker room and chewing the team out.  He basically says “this was totally unacceptable…your passing sucked, the attack was pathetic, the midfielder looked like he was sleeping” but not only that “you represent the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this was a disgrace – so get it together.”

Who says Saudi culture is  different than American?   Delete_the_F-words and this could be an Arab Bob Knight.