Monday, October 31, 2011

Iran Makes Diplomatic Protest

Iran Formally Complains to US over Saudi Ambassador Plot Charges

By Associated Press
Monday, October 31 2011

WASHINGTON — Iran has formally complained to the U.S. over claims the Iranian government was involved in an alleged plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, a U.S. official said Sunday.

The official said the U.S. received a diplomatic note on Friday expressing displeasure with the charges that were leveled earlier this month. Iran has already denied the allegations. The official said the note was delivered through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran since the two countries don’t have diplomatic relations.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private diplomatic exchange.

Earlier this month, U.S. officials claimed agents linked to Iran’s Quds Force — an elite wing of the powerful Revolutionary Guard — were involved in the suspected plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adel Al-Jubeir.

An Iranian diplomatic source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the letter emphasized Iranian assertions that Washington’s allegations are “based on lies” and called into question U.S. diplomatic tactics that Iran calls violations of “international rules and regulations.”

The Iranian source did not make the precise wording of the letter available, but said the letter also mentioned the thousands of deaths in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the “billions of dollars from the U.S. citizens’ pockets.” Plans by President Barack Obama to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year have drawn criticism from political opponents because of Iran’s close ties with Iraq’s Shiite majority and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The letter called for a U.S. apology for the ambassador plot allegations and sought unspecified compensation for “material and moral damages of this baseless accusation,” the source added.

A dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who holds an Iranian passport, Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, pleaded not guilty last week in U.S. District Court in New York in connection with the plot allegations.

According to the U.S. complaint, Arbabsiar has admitted his role in a $1.5 million plot to kill the ambassador at a Washington restaurant by setting off explosives.

But many experts in Iranian affairs have questioned why Iran’s Quds Force, which typically works through third parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, would reach out to Arbabsiar, a former used car salesman in Texas who is accused of seeking Mexican drug cartel hitmen to carry out the slaying.

No trial date has been set for Arbabsiar. U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan scheduled his next court appearance for Dec. 21.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Exploitation of Libya Begins

West Sees Opportunity in Postwar Libya for Businesses

By Scott Shane
The New York Times
October 28, 2011

WASHINGTON — The guns in Libya have barely quieted, and NATO’s military assistance to the rebellion that toppled Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi will not end officially until Monday. But a new invasion force is already plotting its own landing on the shores of Tripoli.

Western security, construction and infrastructure companies that see profit-making opportunities receding in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned their sights on Libya, now free of four decades of dictatorship. Entrepreneurs are abuzz about the business potential of a country with huge needs and the oil to pay for them, plus the competitive advantage of Libyan gratitude toward the United States and its NATO partners.

A week before Colonel Qaddafi’s death on Oct. 20, a delegation from 80 French companies arrived in Tripoli to meet officials of the Transitional National Council, the interim government. Last week, the new British defense minister, Philip Hammond, urged British companies to “pack their suitcases” and head to Tripoli.

When Colonel Qaddafi’s body was still on public display, a British venture, Trango Special Projects, pitched its support services to companies looking to cash in. “Whilst speculation continues regarding Qaddafi’s killing,” Trango said on its Web site, “are you and your business ready to return to Libya?”

The company offered rooms at its Tripoli villa and transport “by our discreet mixed British and Libyan security team.” Its discretion does not come cheaply. The price for a 10-minute ride from the airport, for which the ordinary cab fare is about $5, is listed at 500 British pounds, or about $800.

“There is a gold rush of sorts taking place right now,” said David Hamod, president and chief executive officer of the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce. “And the Europeans and Asians are way ahead of us. I’m getting calls daily from members of the business community in Libya. They say, ‘Come back, we don’t want the Americans to lose out.’ ”

Yet there is hesitancy on both sides, and so far the talk greatly exceeds the action. The Transitional National Council, hoping to avoid any echo of the rank corruption of the Qaddafi era, has said no long-term contracts will be signed until an elected government is in place. And with cities still bristling with arms and jobless young men, Libya does not offer anything like a safe business environment — hence the pitches from security providers.

Like France and Britain, the United States may benefit from the Libyan authorities’ appreciation of NATO’s critical air support for the revolution. Whatever the rigor of new rules governing contracts, Western companies hope to have some advantage over, say, China, which was offering to sell arms to Colonel Qaddafi as recently as July.

“Revenge may be too strong a word,” said Phil Dwyer, director of SCN Resources Group, a Virginia contracting company that opened an office in Tripoli two weeks ago to offer “risk management” advice and services to a company he would not name. “But my feeling is those who are in favor” with the transitional council “are going to get the nod from a business point of view.”

The Security Contracting Network, a job service run by Mr. Dwyer’s company, posted on its blog two days after Colonel Qaddafi’s death that there would be plenty of work opening up in Libya.

“There will be an uptick of activity as foreign oil companies scramble to get back to Libya,” the company said, along with a need for logistics and security personnel as the State Department and nonprofit organizations expand operations. “Keep an eye on who wins related contracts, follow the money, and find your next job,” the post advised.

In Tripoli, there is a wait-and-see atmosphere. At breakfast on Friday in a downtown hotel, a British security contractor pointed out the tables of burly men — hired guns like himself. “Look at it,” he said. “Full of ’em.”

Many are still protecting foreign journalists, but others are hoping to get training contracts with a fledgling government trying to tame its unruly armed forces. Security industry officials say the work here may never match the colossal scale of spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with a squeeze coming on European and American government spending, it is a prize nonetheless.

Business opportunities for Western companies began opening in Libya in 2004, when Colonel Qaddafi’s decision to give up his nuclear weapons program ended his country’s pariah status. Mr. Hamod led four American business delegations to Libya between 2004 and 2010 and watched “a gradual thawing of commercial relations,” he said.

Total foreign direct investment in Libya had grown to $3.8 billion in 2010, from an estimated at $145 million in 2002, according to the World Bank. But many deals were skewed by brazen demands from Colonel Qaddafi’s children for a share of the proceeds, and the state of the country was grim after many years of economic sanctions and neglect.

Libya “needed everything,” Mr. Hamod said: banking and financial services, hospitals and medical clinics, roads and bridges, and infrastructure for energy and for the oil industry.

Now, after months of fighting, and with the security situation still fragile, there are huge new requirements, like rebuilding apartment complexes reduced to rubble by shelling, guarding oil installations as they restore or expand production, and training and equipping new armed forces.

Mr. Hamod said American companies are often more hesitant than Chinese or some European companies about operating in a tumultuous environment like that of post-Qaddafi Libya. “There’s reluctance to charge headlong back into Libya,” he said. “Historically, U.S. companies are interested in the rule of law on the ground and what it might mean for a multimillion-dollar investment.”

At a Group of 8 meeting in Marseille, France, in September, finance ministers pledged $38 billion in new financing, largely loans, to Arab countries between 2011 and 2013. Though Libya is now pumping less than one-third of its prewar oil production of 1.7 million barrels a day, it has Africa’s largest oil reserves, which eventually should mean a steady supply of cash.

The simultaneous excitement and confusion for people exploring opportunities in Libya are evident in proliferating Libya-themed groups on LinkedIn, the online business-oriented social network.

“Can anyone in the group tell me if there are flights into Tripoli,” wrote Peter Murphy, an Irish surveyor now working on an offshore wind project, on a LinkedIn discussion page called Anglo Libya Business Group. “Also, what is the situation for business visas for business travelers?”

One answer came from Mabruk Swayah, who identified himself on LinkedIn as a Libyan working in business development. “Hi friends you are all welcome to Libya,” Mr. Swayah wrote. “Just make sure you go through the proper channels for your work contracts and don’t get involved in bribes, inducements or sweeteners to officials.”

He added, “Remember we have free media now.”

Adam Nossiter and David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Tripoli, Libya.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Vote for Islamic Democracy

In Tunisia, Islamists Flourish as Democracy is Ushered in

By Leila Fadel
The Washington Post
Thursday, October 27 2011

TUNIS — The strong showing by a moderate Islamist party in Tunisia’s elections this week has made this tiny coastal nation a test case for whether Islamist ideology and democracy can coexist in a region long dominated by Western-backed autocrats who have used religion as a foil, not a governing philosophy.

Tunisia’s election — the first since uprisings in the Arab world began to dislodge an entire generation of North African rulers this year — was watched closely in Egypt and Libya, which expect to go to the polls in the coming months.

Leaders of Ennahda, the long-oppressed Islamist party that won more seats than any other in Tunisia’s vote, say they hope to demonstrate that Islam can be an effective organizing principle for their nation, and one that poses no threat to the West.

The party succeeded by appealing to a constituency far beyond the pious, encompassing the poor and others who had been marginalized during nearly a quar ter-century of despotic rule by Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. During the campaign, Ennahda emphasized a return to traditional Islamic values, as well as economic and social justice. The group promised to protect women’s rights in this relatively liberal Arab nation.

Now Ennahda’s rhetoric will be tested by its role as the leading member of a governing coalition very likely to include secular groups. Tunisia’s assembly — which was elected Sunday in the country’s first free and fair vote — has the power to appoint an interim government and a year to draft a constitution.

“People were presented with a choice: either Islam without modernity or modernity without Islam,” said Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda and its spiritual guide.

But that, he said, was a false choice: “We want Ennahda as an open space: open to religious people, non-religious, male, female, open to all Tunisians.”

Ghannouchi said he hopes Tunisia’s example of democracy will dispel stereotypes of Islamists as being violent, intransigent and enemies of the West.

Across the region, Islamists have for years lived in the shadows. They were marginalized, stigmatized and imprisoned in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia — the three nations in which popular revolts this year have succeeded in ousting longtime autocrats.

Ghannouchi said the Islamist leaders who are likely to emerge from the Arab Spring would probably be similar to those in Turkey but definitely not in the vein of militant groups such as the Palestinian organization Hamas or Afghanistan’s Taliban.

As Tunisian election results were announced in recent days, there has been no serious outcry from secularists. Liberal parties are in discussions with Ennahda about a pluralistic interim government.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has been watching the events in Tunisia with great interest. The party — which was used for decades by President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in February, to justify iron-fisted tactics in suppressing dissent — is expected to make a strong showing in parliamentary elections scheduled for next month.

But the Brotherhood is considerably more conservative than Ennahda, and it operates in a more traditionally minded country that is grappling with a deep divide between Muslims and Christians. Salafist groups, which are more reactionary and were more severely oppressed under Mubarak, also are running and may take a sizable minority in Egypt’s parliament.

Still, the Brotherhood is drawing inspiration from Ennahda’s victory.

“This is a new phase, a birth of a new era for all the nations of the Arab world,” said Essam el-Erian, a leader in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. “The Tunisian people are showing the world that there is no conflict between the Islamic ideology and democracy.”

Ben Ali, Mubarak and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, who was killed last week, ruled through cronyism and cult followings. They also derived support from the United States and Europe by presenting themselves as bulwarks against militant Islam.

But secular Arab nationalism of the sort embodied by those three men made a “shambles of the society,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst at the Century Foundation. Now Islamists are reaping the gains as the people of the region rise up against repression, he said.

“The Islamists have weathered that repression better than any other group and remained coherent,” he said. “The proof will be in how Ennahda chooses to govern in this short period.”

Tunisia enjoys substantial advantages that its neighbors lack, including a relatively peaceful transition to democracy.

After eight months of conflict, interim Libyan leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil declared the nation’s liberation this week with a promise of instituting Islamic law. But Libya is probably headed for a major debate over the proper role of religion in public affairs.

In June, Libyans are expected to elect an assembly that will be responsible for writing a new constitution. Some secularists in Libya fear that the ascendancy of Islamists could strip away some of the freedoms for which the country’s revolutionary fighters battled and died.

The fears are prominent in Egypt, as well.

“The events in Tunisia were a catalyst for the revolution here, but it doesn’t mean that we will continue walking in their footsteps,” said Dina Abdel Ghany, 19, a college student. “I don’t want fundamentalist Islamist parties to come to power in Egypt because they would limit a lot of people’s freedom.”

As Tunisian election results were announced this week, hundreds of Ennahda supporters — male and female, veiled and unveiled — gathered outside party headquarters as music blasted and people celebrated.

“They will do something for the poor and middle-class people. We’re 80 percent of the country. We’re tired of the bourgeoisie, we’re tired of them,” said Fathi Gabsi, 51, a taxi driver.

“The generation of Ennahda has arrived,” the crowd sang, and then it burst into the national anthem.

Under Ben Ali, Tunisia was in some ways rigorously secular. Women’s head scarves were snatched off in the 1980s and 1990s, and women were forced to sign letters asserting that they would not wear “sectarian dress.”

Ghannouchi said he hopes that the West will understand that Islamist philosophy reflects a wide range of views — from the intolerance of Osama bin Laden to the openness of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“It doesn’t have to be a clash of civilizations,” Ghannouchi said. The West and the East can coexist for the “sake of humanity.”

Correspondent Mary Beth Sheridan in Tripoli and special correspondent Ingy Hassieb in Cairo contributed to this report.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tunisia's Political Rebirth?

First Free Election in Tunisia Brings Joy and Pride

By Leila Fadel
The Washington Post
Monday, October 24 2011

TUNIS — Voting lines wrapped around street corners on Sunday and parents brought children to witness the milestone, the first truly free vote in Tunisia’s history and the first election of the Arab Spring, which began in this small North African nation and sent shock waves through the region.

There were few reports of fraud or violence, and election officials said turnout was higher than expected, with an estimated 7 million of 10.4 million people eligible to vote. Tunisian officials said they would probably release preliminary results Monday or Tuesday.

For Tunisians, it was an opportunity to have their say in the political rebirth of their country after the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January. But the vote was also closely watched in other Arab countries that are stepping toward democracy after decades of dictatorial rule. Egypt is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in a month, the first since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, and, with the declaration of the formal end of the regime of Moammar Gaddafi, Libyans are expected to go to the polls in eight months.

“Whatever the outcome is, it is our decision, it is not imposed on us,” said Ismail Trabelsi, 42, an environmental engineer who went to vote in the middle-class neighborhood of al-Aouina at 7 a.m. He waited in line for more than an hour to cast his ballot in a school, one of more than 4,000 polling stations. “We’ve waited 55 years for this moment,” he said.

Residents of the capital brimmed with joy and pride as they marked their choices on a large paper ballot that contained the name of each party as well as symbols representing them, for those who can’t read. Voters dropped the ballots in plastic bins, dipped their fingers in blue ink, and, as they walked away, often looked giddy.

More than 14,000 international and domestic observers were on hand to watch for election law violations. There were also visitors from Libya, which faces the difficult task of building a democracy in a country long dominated by one man.

“It’s going to be hard,” said Salwa Boughaghis, an activist and lawyer from Benghazi who played a key role in the early days of the Libyan revolution. “What’s happening here is amazing,” she said.

The votes cast Sunday will elect Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly, a body of 217 representatives who will draft a new constitution and appoint an interim government. With dozens of parties running, none were expected to receive a majority of votes, although the once-banned Ennahdha movement, which formed a moderate Islamist party, was expected to take the most votes.

Election rules forbid parties from campaigning on election day, and officials said they would prosecute violations. The country’s new independent electoral commission also warned parties against putting pressure on voters.

Overall, the elections appeared to be a success, officials said.

“Revolts spread from Tunisia to Wall Street, and now democracy will spread from Tunisia to the world,” said Thameu Jaoua, 46, a civil engineer who had never cast a ballot before Sunday.

Ben Ali led Tunisia for 23 years, until he fled the country Jan. 14, in the most peaceful of the Arab Spring’s uprisings. Under his rule, voters cast ballots through a system of colored cards that were slipped into translucent envelopes, making it easy for authorities to see voters’ choices. Red cards were for Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally party, and most never dared to choose the colors of the marginalized and repressed opposition parties.

Sunday’s vote probably meant much more to older citizens than it did to the young. In a primary school in the poor western suburb of Hay al-Tadhamon, Tayeb Awishi, 83, brandished his ink-dipped finger. He said he had voted in every rigged election since 1956, when Habib Bourguiba declared Tunisia’s independence from France and assumed power. But this was his first real vote, Awishi said.

“We were kneeling, and now we’re standing,” he said. “If I die now, I will die with serenity. Even if I don’t benefit from this, my children and my grandchildren will.”

The vote was not without problems. Some wanted badly to vote but could not afford to take the taxi to their polling stations or did not understand where they were required to cast their ballots. The names of a few thousand registered voters did not show up on the rolls, but the commission said that the problem would be rectified and that those citizens would be permitted to vote.

Fathi Ben Amer, 40, walked for hours in Hay al-Tadhamon, accompanied by his wife and young son. At each voting center he found, he presented his ID card. But each time, he was turned away and told to go someplace else. He had not registered to vote in advance, and although there were special balloting centers for the unregistered, he was unable to find one.

Finally, he gave up. The disheveled day laborer never cast his ballot, and he went home dejected.

“We suffered from the old president, and we are suffering today,” he said.

Nearby, along the potholed streets of this sprawling district, young men idled as voters walked to polling centers. These were the same streets in which Tunisians revolted last winter, fighting police, dodging snipers and enduring tear gas. Some died for the cause. Among some who survived, there is a sense that the revolution has yet to pay any dividends.

“We are jobless, we have nothing, and we will not vote,” said Bel Hussein al-Malki, 27, a political prisoner under the previous regime. “Everything is the same. The world is the way it was, and the world will stay the way it is.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Another Perspective on Qaddafi's Legacy

Many in Sub-Saharan Africa Mourn Qaddafi’s Death

By Josh Kron
The New York Times
October 22, 2011

NAIROBI, Kenya — While Libya’s former rebels and many Western nations welcomed the end of the country’s long and brutal dictatorship, many sub-Saharan Africans are mourning the death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, celebrated as much for his largesse as for his willingness to stand up to the West.

To them, his violent death was another sad chapter in a long-running narrative of Western powers meddling in Africa’s affairs.

“We are the 1 percent who are not celebrating,” said Salim Abdul, who helps run a major mosque in Uganda’s capital named for the former Libyan leader, who provided the money to build it.

“He loved Uganda,” said Mr. Abdul in an interview at the mosque, in Kampala. He noted that Colonel Qaddafi had committed to paying the salaries for the staff of 20 for the next 20 years. “His death means everything comes to an end,” Mr. Abdul said.

On Friday, approximately 30,000 people packed the mosque to pay tribute to the slain leader, according to local news media in Uganda.

The Daily Monitor, a prominent independent Ugandan newspaper, reported that Sheikh Amir Mutyaba, a former ambassador to Libya, wept as he told followers that Colonel Qaddafi had “died as a hero.” He added that while “Allah will bless him,” foreign “oil diggers will be punished,” likely alluding to a perception among some that the West intervened in Libya mainly because of its oil riches.

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and about half Muslim, a senator told local news media that Colonel Qaddafi “was one of the finest African leaders we have.” And a former Nigerian militia leader, who said he was once financed by Colonel Qaddafi, told Agence France-Presse that the former Libyan leader’s death would be “avenged.”

The colonel “spilled his blood as a martyr to rekindle the fire of revolution all over the world,” said Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the militia leader. “The people of the world will rise up against this.”

Colonel Qaddafi came to power in 1969 as a 27-year old ideologue, who modeled himself on President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and focused his energy on leading a pan-Arab renaissance. But by the turn of the century, feeling spurned by his fellow Arabs, he turned his focus south toward sub-Saharan Africa. He used his own money, as well as state-owned investment firms, to build mosques, hotels and telecommunications companies.

He also meddled in the politics of other African countries — at least a dozen coups or attempted coups on the continent were traced to his support.

One of the many grandiose titles he embraced for himself was “the king of kings of Africa.”

Over time, his efforts won him many African allies, and when the uprising against him began this year, the African Union took months to recognize a rebel council as the country’s governing authority.

There were many reports early in the revolution that Colonel Qaddafi had reached out to fighters in African states and had used them as mercenaries, but journalists saw little evidence of mercenaries during the revolt.

As Colonel Qaddafi’s enemies begin their efforts to rebuild their country, many on the continent remain angry that the transfer of power happened, in large part, because of the military support NATO provided to the former rebels.

In Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe led a liberation struggle against a white-minority regime that ended in 1980, a presidential spokesman said Colonel Qaddafi would be remembered there for his support of Zimbabwe’s independence fight and railed against foreign interference in Africa’s affairs.

“The government cannot accept drawing blood as a model for changing political systems on the continent,” said George Charamba, the spokesman. “Moreso when that blood is drawn at the instigation of foreign countries.”

Zimbabwe, of course, has had its own run-ins with West, facing intense criticism for a bloody, discredited presidential election in 2008. “As a matter of principle,” Mr. Charamba said, “Zimbabwe does not believe it is the duty of the West to tell us who our friends are and who our enemies are, who the beautiful ones are and who the ugly ones are.”

Even some Africans who said they did not necessarily support Colonel Qaddafi were stricken by the way he was killed and argued that he had left behind an important legacy.

“I had never been really a fan of Qaddafi, but now I am touched by how he died,” said Manny Ansar, the director of a popular annual music festival in Mali. “Love him or not, we must recognize that this is one of the greatest African leaders who influenced several generations, including mine, and found in the constancy and courage of his positions what we research in a hero. In a word: pride.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tunisians Prepare for Elections

From Arab Spring to Elections: Tunisia Steps into a New Era

The previously banned Islamist party, Al Nahda, is leading the opinion polls and is pitching a moderate, pluralist agenda.

By Rachel Shabi in Tunis
The Independent
Friday, 21 October 2011

As she browses a wall plastered with photos of election candidates, Ameni, a 21-year-old student at Carthage University in Tunis, is preparing to take on a new responsibility. "It's a major turning point," she says. "I feel like a real citizen for the first time."

For Ameni and more than 10 million other Tunisians, the vote in elections this Sunday is their first experience of democratic election. Decades of despotic rule ended in January this year when Tunisia's revolution brought down President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. This small North African country sparked a string of revolutions in the Middle East – and now it is the first to put democracy to the test at the polling booth.

"I never voted. I never imagined that I would," says 62-year-old Mohamad Ali Mahfoudh, a magazine proof-reader in Tunis. "Before, there was no point [voting] as the elections were faked."

Like others, Mr Mahfoudh takes his time to survey the campaign posters along Avenue Habib Bourguiba – Tunisia's central artery, named after the nation's first president after independence from French rule. The street is itself a collage of recent history. At its central square, a giant clock monument that once commemorated 7 November 1987, when Ben Ali seized power, has now been renamed to honour 14 January, the day of his fall. To one side, barbed wire, army tanks and riot police protect the loathed interior ministry building – home to the state police whose brutal repression helped trigger the revolution. No one has yet been put on trial after about 300 pro-democracy protesters were killed in the January uprising. Underneath lies what locals say is a vast underground prison that once held hundreds of political prisoners.

Tunisians face a choice of more than 100 new political parties, and about 11,000 candidates are vying for 217 seats. The winners will form an assembly to write the county's new constitution over the next year and appoint a transitional government.

Tunisia's previously banned Islamist party, Al Nahda (renaissance), is leading the opinion polls with 25 per cent of the vote. Better organised and funded than its rivals, the party is pitching a moderate, pluralist agenda, but liberal and secular parties worry that it will impose religious restrictions on a nation proud of its socially liberal society and the most progressive women's rights in the region.

Ameni says she is thinking of voting for the party but is put off by possible future alliances between Al Nahda, whose moderate politics she likes, and the rigidly conservative Salafists.

Other parties include the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), an established secular party with about 16 per cent support; Ettakol, the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties, a centre-left party founded in 1984 and now level with the PDP; and the Congress Party for the Republic, another centre-left party with a civil liberties platform and 8 per cent support.

Fears remain that the elections may still not be genuinely free, despite the presence of 10,000 observers. "There will be no fraud inside the polling stations," says Alaeddine Saidi, a 40-year-old economics professor in Tunis. "But there is manipulation and attempts to bribe and buy influence outside."

Successful elections could dispel Western suspicions that Arabs are immune to democracy and inspire neighbouring pro-democracy movements. For Tunisia, says Mr Mahfoudh, "it's definitely going to be better than it was."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How US Policy Helped to Corrupt the Egyptian Economy

In Egypt, Corruption Cases had an American Root

By James V. Grimaldi and Robert O’Harrow Jr.
The Washington Post
Thursday, October 20 2011


CAIRO — Beginning two decades ago, the United States government bankrolled an Egyptian think tank dedicated to economic reform. A different outcome is only now becoming visible in the fallout from Egypt’s Arab Spring.

Formed with a $10 million endowment from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies gathered captains of industry in a small circle — with the president’s son Gamal Mubarak at the center. Over time, members of the group would assume top roles in Egypt’s ruling party and government.

Today, Gamal Mubarak and four of those think tank members are in jail, charged with squandering public funds in the sale of public resources, lands and government-run companies as part of a dramatic restructuring. Some have fled the country, pilloried amid the public outrage over insider deals and corruption that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

“It became a crony capitalism,” Magda Kandil, the think tank’s new executive director, said of the privatization program advocated by its founders. Because of the corruption, the center now estimates, the assets that Egypt has sold off since 1991 have netted only about $10 billion, $90 billion less than their estimated worth.

The privatization saga is a cautionary tale about the power and perils of U.S. foreign aid — most notably the nearly $8 billion that the United States has provided to Egypt since the 1990s to push the country toward economic reforms.

Gamal Mubarak, 47, and the others deny any wrongdoing and are fighting corruption charges filed by the new Egyptian government, saying they have been trumped up to placate street protesters calling for retribution. The defendants also assert that the deals were legal under existing laws.

But the arc of the American-backed privatization effort in Egypt recalls years of questions from critics about the transparency and effectiveness of the more than $70 billion in military and economic assistance to that country over the past six decades, the most aid given to any country other than Israel.

Although U.S. officials have not publicly raised questions about the funding to ECES, as the economic think tank is known, they expressed concerns in confidential cables that privatization efforts could lead to high-level corruption, according to a review of hundreds of WikiLeaks documents by The Washington Post.

“The privatization and economic opening of recent years have created new opportunities for ‘vertical corruption’ at upper levels of government affecting state resources,” said one confidential State Department cable written by an unidentified diplomat in 2006, quoting Hitler Tantawi, a former chief of an internal government financial watchdog called the Administrative Control Authority.

Officials at USAID declined to discuss their support of the Egyptian think tank, privatization efforts in the country or the sentiments shared in the confidential cables.

In a statement, the agency said it took measures to ensure that the grants to ECES were properly used. “ECES is a reputable think tank and research center that has produced many valuable economic research papers over the last 20 years,” the agency said.

The path to privatization

Since the 1970s, USAID has provided billions of dollars in economic help to Egypt in exchange for promises of liberalization of the socialist economy created in the 1950s by President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Despite those promises, Egypt’s privatization initially moved at a glacial pace, in part because Hosni Mubarak’s tenuous hold on power made him reluctant to risk pushing against popular opposition.

By the end of the 1980s, the public sector still constituted more than half of Egypt’s industrial production and 90 percent of its banking and insurance industries. At least 20 percent of the workforce was in the public sector.

But the picture began to change in the early 1990s, after a financial crisis in Egypt, when international lenders said they were no longer willing to float an economy so dependent on state-run enterprises.

In exchange for bailouts, Egypt agreed to make the types of structural reforms that were sweeping the planet after the collapse of Soviet communism. Policymakers envisioned the market pulling the masses out of poverty, as well as spurring a middle class and ultimately democratic reforms.

The worldwide effort came to be called “the Washington Consensus.”

In Egypt, privatization had a powerful champion in Gamal Mubarak.

He was a graduate of the American University of Cairo and began his career as an investment banker at Bank of America in London. Gamal and his older brother, Alaa, founded Medinvest, becoming capitalist converts and earning a fortune by buying and selling Egyptian debt, according to allegations by Egyptian prosecutors.

As Gamal Mubarak became more deeply involved in public life, he moved toward the Washington Consensus with a single-minded commitment.

He had an ally in an ambitious lawyer named M. Taher Helmy, who helped draft legislation in 1991 that authorized Egypt’s privatization program, with a plan to privatize more than 350 companies worth $104 billion.

A year later, Mubarak teamed up with Helmy to create the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies to promote market reforms through books, policy papers and conferences. The center’s primary source of revenue came from the $10 million endowment from USAID.

Some privatization deals occurred in the 1990s. But meaningful change, involving major government assets, came only after Gamal Mubarak and fellow reformers gained control of the National Democratic Party, the ruling party of Egypt. Then the reforms came in a cascade of new policies and laws, many of them based directly on the papers produced by the U.S.-funded ECES.

In 2002, Mubarak formed the party’s powerful policies committee. Following his lead, the party’s general assembly quickly appointed other ECES members to the committee, including Helmy, who was the think tank’s chairman at the time.

In a speech promoting “new thinking,” Mubarak said that economic growth must come “through the perfect application of free-market principles.” The rhetoric came straight out of ECES policy papers.

Privatization deals came quickly. In 2003, Egypt privatized nine companies worth about $18 million. In 2005 and 2006, the number of deals soared to 59, worth $2.6 billion.

The changes appeared to benefit the overall economy in Egypt, as the gross domestic product doubled and growth hit 7 percent. But behind the scenes, American diplomats warned of potential trouble.

U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone wrote in a classified embassy cable in early 2006 that the interests of “high-level members” of the political party and Hosni Mubarak’s regime could pose a risk to reform. “Corruption also remains a significant impediment to growth, and may become more difficult to control as economic reform progresses,” he wrote.

But finally, privatization was in full throttle — with ECES in the center of the action.

Insiders benefit

Some of the privatization deals included the titans of business involved in ECES. And some of them were handled by Helmy’s firm. They included Egypt’s $1.6 billion sale of the National Bank of Alexandria and the $892 million sell-off of Telecom Egypt.

“ECES was simply in the right place at the right time,” Mahmoud Mohieldin, then chairman of the National Democratic Party’s economic committee and a key figure at ECES, told Bruce Rutherford, a political scientist at Colgate University, for a book,“Egypt After Mubarak.” “It had a set of proposals already on hand that harmonized with where the government wanted to go.”

Under Helmy’s leadership, the Cairo office of the giant Chicago-based international law firm Baker & McKenzie handled more than $3 billion of the privatization deals, including the government’s sale of assets, companies and land, according to information on the firm’s Web site, news releases and news accounts.

The firm has represented the government in deals and helped private-sector companies acquire government-run enterprises.

Helmy has long maintained that he was working to benefit the nation.

“We help because it’s our duty as Egyptians,” he told the publication Business Today Egypt in 2004. “We want to help the country advance by drafting legislation to match the fast development of economic policies.”

Among those who allegedly benefited from ties to ECES, Gamal Mubarak and the privatization effort was Ahmed Ezz, a founding member of ECES and a leading member of parliament and the former ruling party. Once known as the “steel king,” Ezz built the state-owned Alexandria National Iron and Steel into the largest steel producer in the Middle East, with more than 7,000 employees. Helmy’s firm handled the transactions for Ezz Steel.

In 1998, with the company facing bankruptcy, Ezz began buying shares, with help from then-Minister of Industry Ibrahim Salem Mohamadein. Prosecutors allege that he made more than $1 billion in inappropriate profits over the next decade as he acquired more than half of the state-run company’s shares.

Ezz also benefited from laws written and pushed for by ECES colleagues and privatization advocates, who also served with him on the National Democratic Party’s policies committee or in the government, according to a recent study by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

In 2004, for instance, a law first drafted by Helmy slashed the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, leading to a windfall for Ezz’s steel empire.

The next year, Helmy had a hand in writing a competition law that appeared to buffer Ezz’s business from allegations of operating as a monopoly.

In September, appearing in a courtroom in New Cairo, Ezz told a three-judge panel, “I am not guilty, and all of the allegations are not supported by law and are against common sense.”

Another ECES member who partook in the privatization boom was Ahmed al-Maghrabi, a property developer who became Egypt’s housing minister. Palm Hills Developments, a joint venture owned by Maghrabi and his cousin, built a development of “luxurious villas” in 6th of October City, off highways leading to the port city of Alexandria, according to the development’s Web site.

‘Bizarre’ deal

The offices of ECES are on the eighth floor of the granite-clad Nile City Towers complex, a premier business address in Cairo that includes global brand names such as Procter & Gamble, Motorola and American International Group. The corner office at ECES, now occupied by Kandil, the new executive director, has a commanding view of the Nile River.

One recent day, Kandil pulled out the galleys for a new book — one that was so controversial among the board that its publication was not approved until after the revolution. She flipped to a page that cites statistics showing that the sale of Egypt’s public assets had recouped just one-tenth of their true value over the 20 years since the program began.

The sales prices were $9.6 billion, or about 1 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product. The assets’ true value was $104 billion, according to Kandil.

“Some of the privatization deals were bizarre,” said Kandil, an American-trained Egyptian economist who has a PhD from Washington State University and was hired by a search committee headed by Helmy.

“The results benefited those who oversaw the process,” she said.

Five people closely affiliated with ECES — members, directors or founders — have been charged in the corruption investigations launched since the revolution. In addition to Gamal Mubarak, they include Ezz, Maghrabi and officials who had served as the ministers of housing and trade. (Ezz was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison after being convicted in a scheme involving the illegal sale of steel licenses.)

ECES has suspended Mubarak’s and Maghrabi’s memberships until their cases are resolved, and Ezz was removed from the membership because he had not paid his dues, Kandil said. (Egyptian prosecutors this week said they have evidence suggesting that Mubarak and his brother deposited hundreds of millions in foreign bank accounts, including $340 million in Switzerland.)

Kandil said Helmy, who chaired ECES last year, was asked to step down. She said she last saw him before the January revolution, when he said he was going on a business trip. But Kandil said he has told her since that he has no immediate plans to return from the United Kingdom, where he lives now with his wife and his three school-age children.

“I’m sensing,” Kandil said, “he is not very hopeful about coming back.’’

Helmy, who has not been charged in the corruption cases, is still listed as head of Baker & McKenzie’s Cairo office in the Nile City Towers. He declined a request for an interview. A spokesman for the firm said: “Mr. Helmy continues to be actively practicing and managing our firm’s Cairo office. He has not permanently relocated to our London office.”

Kandil emphasized that ECES’s board troubles should not cloud the center’s solid work.

She said Egypt’s leaders did not follow the center’s policy positions calling for robust regulation and laws.

“There is a role for government in the business of regulation,” Kandil said, “and making sure there is a level playing field to restrain the greed.”

O’Harrow reported from Washington. Research editor Alice Crites and special correspondent Ingy Hassieb, in Cairo, contributed to this report.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Syria's First Lady Unmoved

So, What Do You Think of Your Husband's Brutal Crackdown, Mrs Assad?

What did Syria's First Lady, supposedly a force for compassion, say when aid workers confronted her about the bloody crackdown? Alastair Beach reports.

The Independent
Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Vogue magazine famously called her a "rose in the desert", while Paris Match proclaimed she was the "element of light in a country full of shadow zones". But when Syria's glamorous First Lady invited a group of aid workers to discuss the security situation with her last month, she appeared to have lost her gloss.

During the meeting, British-born Asma al-Assad – who grew up in Acton and attended a Church of England school in west London – came face to face with aid workers who had witnessed at first hand the brutality of her husband's regime. Yet according to one volunteer who was present, the former investment banker and mother of President Bashar al-Assad's three children appeared utterly unmoved when she heard about the plight of protesters.

"We told her about the killing of protesters," said the man, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. "We told her about the security forces attacking demonstrators. About them taking wounded people from cars and preventing people from getting to hospital ... There was no reaction. She didn't react at all. It was just like I was telling a normal story, something that happens every day."

Syrians working with aid agencies to try to help the thousands injured as Mr Assad's security forces unleash tanks, guns and airpower to crush a seven-month uprising against his rule had hoped for a lot more. The First Lady's office contacted them and said she wanted to hear about the difficulties they faced in the field. She met the humanitarians in Damascus.

"She asked us about the risks of working under the current conditions," he added. But when she was told about the abuses of power being committed by her husband's notorious secret police, Mrs Assad's blank face left them unimpressed. "She sees everything happening here. Everything is all over the news. It's impossible she doesn't know," said the volunteer. Yet even if Mrs Assad does know about the worst of the violence and the 3,000 civilians human rights groups accuse the regime of killing, many people who have met her question what she could possibly do about it.

"Whatever her own views, she is completely hamstrung," said Chris Doyle, the director of the Council of Arab-British Understanding. "There is no way the regime would allow her any room to voice dissent or leave the country. You can forget it."

Mrs Assad, who achieved a first class degree in computer science from King's College University, was brought up in Britain by her Syrian-born parents, who were close friends of Hafez al-Assad, the former President of Syria. She started dating Bashar al-Assad in her twenties, and they eventually married in 2000, when she moved to Syria for the first time.

According to one prominent Western biographer of the Assad family, Bashar chose Asma against the determined opposition of his sister and mother. "He had lots of beautiful girlfriends before her," said the journalist, who asked not to be named. "He faced opposition when he wanted Asma because she was Sunni and he is Alawite. Here was Bashar al-Assad marrying outside the clan."

She championed several development initiatives, and delivered genuine change by helping to create NGOs in Syria, as well as highlighting the plight of disabled children and laying the groundwork for plans to rehabilitate dozens of Syria's ramshackle museums.

For some, she is the modern, made-up face of a former pariah state; to others, an aloof, 21st-century Marie Antoinette. Either way, nothing perhaps crystallised the fate of Syria's First Lady better than the disastrously-timed interview run by Vogue magazine in its March issue this year.

Amid obsequious descriptions of Chanel jewellery and her matey banter with Brad Pitt during the Hollywood star's 2009 visit to Syria, the article described how the Assad household was run on "wildly democratic principles". According to Mrs Assad: "we all vote on what we want, and where."

Naturally, many outraged Syrians were left asking why the Assads could not extend them the same courtesy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Syria Musters Regional Support

Syria Avoids Arab League Suspension

By Aya Batrawy and Maggie Michael
The Associated Press
Sunday, October 16 2011

Persian Gulf countries seeking to suspend Syria's membership in the Arab League over its bloody crackdown on protesters failed to gain enough support Sunday to push the measure through, reflecting deep divisions among the body's 22 nations.

Arab foreign ministers met at the group's Cairo headquarters behind closed doors for an initial session without Syria's representative, then took a break and reconvened for talks with Syrian diplomats that lasted late into the night.

Just after the meeting with Syrian diplomats, Qatar Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim made no mention of a possible suspension and instead gave Syria a 15-day deadline to enact a cease-fire.

The Arab League also agreed to create a committee led by Qatar to oversee the situation in Syria and said a national dialogue between Syrian officials and the opposition would take place at the league's headquarters in Cairo.

"A national dialogue in 15 days is one of the most important decisions of the day," bin Jassim said.

The talks are to include members of the opposition from outside Syria as well as inside. If the meeting and a cease-fire do not take place within the allotted time frame, the Arab League will meet again in an emergency session, participants said.

The move to suspend Syria's membership would have required the support of at least two-thirds of the league's members. A bloc of six gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, was leading the push for the measure along with recognition of the opposition leadership, the Syrian National Council, said an Arab diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Many gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria to protest the regime's bloody response to the protests.

However, the diplomat said, a significant bloc of countries was opposed to suspension, including Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon and Yemen, whose leader is also facing a serious uprising. According to Arab League diplomats, Mideast heavyweight Egypt did not indicate which side it is on.

Suspension of an Arab League member is rare. Although the move would probably not have a direct, tangible impact on Syria, it would constitute a major blow to President Bashar Assad's embattled regime by stripping Damascus of its Arab support and further deepening its isolation.

The United Nations says more than 3,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Another Deadly Weekend in Yemen

Witnesses: Security Forces Fire on Yemen Protesters, Killing 4

By Mohammed Jamjoom
CNN
October 16, 2011

(CNN) -- Yemeni security forces opened fired on demonstrators gathering for a planned march in Sanaa on Sunday, killing four people and injuring 37 others, according to a medic on the scene.

The reported violence comes a day after at least 10 people were killed and 38 others wounded in clashes in the capital, said Mohammed Al-Qubati, who works at a field hospital in Change Square, the center of the protests.

Molhim Saeed, another medic in Change Square, called Saturday "a sad day for the revolution."

"The marches were peaceful and the youth were unarmed. They refused to even fight back when they were being shot at," Saeed said.
'Sad day' as Yemen protests turn deadly

There was no immediate comment from the government. Demonstrators have taken to the streets regularly to call for an end to the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Last week, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Sanaa, marching, chanting and calling for the United Nations to come out with a firm resolution in support for change in the country.

For its part, the government says it is trying to come up with a solution to end the political stalemate.

"The ruling party is serious on finding a solution to the political crisis from its roots to ensure they don't erupt in the future," said Tareq Shami, spokesman for the ruling party, the General People's Congress.

Saleh is also facing armed revolt from members of powerful tribes in his country.

Eyewitnesses and residents reported heavy clashes Saturday in Sanaa between Yemeni security forces and fighters from the Hashid tribe, led by Sadiq Al-Ahmar.

Abdulqawi Al-Qaisi, a spokesman for the Al-Ahmar family, said six people were killed when government forces attacked attacked homes of Al-Ahmar tribesmen.

Al-Ahmar called on Saleh to step down after the shooting of dozens of protesters in March.

A top State Department official also urged the leader to resign.

"We are deeply concerned by recent violence in Yemen. We extend our deepest sympathies to those who lost loved ones as result of this violence. We are monitoring the situation and continue to seek more information on the actions that led to this tragedy," said Aaron Snipe, a spokesman for the State Department's bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

He called on Saleh to "initiate a full transfer of power without delay" to allow the Yemeni people to attain a stable democracy.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Iran's Leader Denounces Plot Allegations

West Trying to Spread 'Iranophobia': Khamenei

Agence France Presse
13 October 2011

TEHRAN — The West is trying but failing to instil "Iranophobia," Iran's supreme leader said Thursday in remarks that appeared to be prompted by, but did not directly address, US allegations of a thwarted Tehran-sponsored assassination plot.

"The repeat of ineffective and stupid methods by hapless and distracted policymakers in the West (to spread) Iranophobia will again bear no result," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in an army base in the western city of Kermanshah, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"They will once again taste failure's bitterness," he said.

Khamenei added that Iran's arch-foe, the United States, was caught in a "quagmire" of its own creation because of its "wrong policies and performance."

The all-powerful leader did not explicitly respond to US allegations that Iranian government officials were behind a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

His remarks were made just before US President Barack Obama demanded accountability from the top levels of the Iranian government over the alleged plot.

In separate comments, the commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards -- whose Quds Force special operations unit was implicated in the alleged plot -- said Western animosity towards the Islamic republic was only "natural" because of his country's achievements.

"Today Iran faces foreign and domestic enemies.... But these animosities are natural... because of the Islamic revolution's achievements in various fields," Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said in the city of Khoramabad, Mehr news agency reported.

Like Khamenei, Ali Jafari did not directly address the US accusations levelled at Iran.

US officials on Tuesday said they had charged two Iranians, one of them a dual US citizen, with preparing to carry out a bomb attack on the Saudi envoy under a plan "conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran."

The US Justice Department accused the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force of being involved based on testimony given by one of the Iranians who was in US custody.

The other Iranian, said to be a member of the Quds Force, was at large and believed to have left the United States, according to US authorities.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writing the Script to Bomb Iran

The Fast and Furious Plot to Occupy Iran

Tehran would have to be terminally foolish to try to snuff out an ambassador on US soil, author says.

By Pepe Escobar
Al Jazeera
12 October 2011

No one ever lost money betting on the dull predictability of the US government. Just as Occupy Wall Street is firing imaginations all across the spectrum - piercing the noxious revolving door between government and casino capitalism - Washington brought us all down to earth, sensationally advertising an Iranian cum Mexican cartel terror plot straight out of The Fast and the Furious movie franchise. The potential victim: Adel al-Jubeir, the ambassador in the US of that lovely counter-revolutionary Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

FBI Director Robert Mueller insisted the Iran-masterminded terror plot "reads like the pages of a Hollywood script". It does. And quite a sloppy script at that. Fast and Furious duo Paul Walker/Vin Diesel wouldn't be caught dead near it.

The good guys in this Washington production are the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In the words of Attorney General Eric Holder, they uncovered "a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign Ambassador on US soil with explosives".

Holder added that the bombing of the Saudi embassy in Washington was also part of the plan. Subsequent spinning amplified that to planned bombings of the Israeli embassy in Washington, as well as the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Buenos Aires.

The Justice Department has peddled quite a murky story - Operation Red Coalition (no, you can’t make that stuff up) - centred on one Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old holding both Iranian and US passports and an Iran-based co-conspirator, Gholam Shakuri, an alleged member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps's (IRGC) Quds Force.

Arbabsiar allegedly had a series of encounters in Mexico with a DEA mole posing as a Mexican drug cartel heavy weight. The Iranian-American seems to have been convinced that the mole was a member of the hardcore Zetas Mexican cartel, and reportedly bragged he was being "directed by high-ranking members of the Iranian government", including a cousin who was "a member of the Iranian army but did not wear a uniform".

On top of it, he told the DEA mole that his Iranian government buddies could come up with "tons of opium" for the Mexican cartel (an Afghan connection, perhaps). Then they discussed a "number of violent missions" complete with Arbabsiar bragging about bombing a packed Washington restaurant used by the Saudi ambassador.

Holder characterised the whole thing as a $1.5m "murder-for-hire" plan. Arbabsiar was arrested only a few days ago, on September 29, at JFK airport in New York. He allegedly confessed, according to the Justice Department. Shakuri for his part is still at large.

Holder was adamant: "The United States is committed to hold Iran accountable for its actions." Yet he stopped short of stating the plot was approved by the highest levels of the Iranian government. So what next? War? Hold your horses; Washington should first think about asking the Chinese if they’re willing to foot the bill (the answer will be no).

Predictably, the proverbial torrent of US "officials" came out with guns blazing, spinning everything in sight. An alarmed Pentagon will be increasing surveillance over the Quds Force and "Iran’s actions" in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. Former US ambassadors stated that, "it's an attack on the United States to attack this ambassador". Washington is about to impose even more sanctions against Iran; and Washington is urgently taking the matter to the UN Security Council.

What next? An R2P ("responsibility to protect") resolution ordering NATO to protect every House of Saud minion across the world by bombing Iran into regime change?

Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a spokesman for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at least introduced a little bit of common sense. "I think the US government is busy fabricating a new scenario and history has shown both the US government and the CIA have a lot of experience in fabricating these scenarios ... I think their goal is to reach the American public. They want to take the public's mind off the serious domestic problems they're facing these days and scare them with fabricated problems outside the country." Iran has not even established yet that these two characters are actually Iranian citizens.

The Iranian government - which prides itself on a logical approach to diplomacy - would have to have been inoculated with a terminal Stuxnet-style foolishness virus to behave in such a counterproductive manner, by targeting a high-profile foreign policy adviser to King Abdullah on American soil. The official Iranian news agency IRNA described the plot as "America's new propaganda scenario" against Iran.

As for the Washington mantra that "Iran has been insinuating itself into many of the struggles in the Middle East", that's undiluted Saudi propaganda. In fact it's the House of Saud who's been conducting the fierce counter-revolution that has smashed any possibility of an Arab Spring in the Persian Gulf - from the invasion and repression of Bahrain to the rash pre-emption of protests inside Saudi Arabia's Shia-dominated eastern provinces.

The whole thing smells like a flimsy pretext for a casus belli. The timing of the announcement couldn't be more suspicious. White House national security advisor Thomas E. Donilon briefed King Abdullah of the plot no less than two weeks ago, in a three-hour meeting in Riyadh. Meanwhile the US government has been carrying not plots, but targeted assassinations of US citizens, as in the Anwar al-Awlaki case.

So why now? Holder is caught in yet another scandal - on whether he told lies regarding Operation Fast and Furious (no, you can't make this stuff up), a federal gun sting through which scores of US weapons ended up in the hands of - here they come again - Mexican drug cartels.

So how to bury Fast and Furious, the economic abyss, the 10 years of war in Afghanistan, the increasing allure of Occupy Wall Street - not to mention the Saudi role in smashing the spirit of the Arab Spring? By uncovering a good ol' al-Qaeda style plot on US soil, on top of it conducted by "evil" Iran. Al-Qaeda and Tehran sharing top billing; not even Cheney and Rumsfeld in their heyday could come up with something like this. Long live GWOT (the global war on terror). And long live the neo-con spirit; remember, real men go to Tehran - and the road starts now.  

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is named Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Egyptian Military Stokes Sectarian Violence

Deadliest Clashes in Egypt since Revolution

By Ernesto LondoƱo
The Washington Post
10 October 2011

CAIRO — At least 23 people were killed and nearly 200 were wounded in downtown Cairo on Sunday night as a march by Coptic Christians turned into the deadliest outbreak of violence in Egypt since the popular revolt that toppled the country’s autocratic leader in February.

The violence began after men in civilian clothes attacked the Christian demonstrators with stones, according to witnesses. Soon, more Christians and Muslims raced downtown, where they clashed with security forces for hours. Protesters torched police personnel carriers along an iconic street that rings the Nile River, and, late in the evening, armored personnel vehicles were dispatched to Tahrir Square, where security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

The protests also spread to the country’s second-largest city, Alexandria, where residents said demonstrators gathered outside the main military command center and blocked several streets.

Sunday’s violence was the clearest signal yet that Egyptians are turning on the military commanders who were widely hailed as saviors eight months ago, when President Hosni Mubarak was forced from power. Many Egyptians say that swelling anger over the slow pace of reforms and the country’s economic woes could give rise to a new revolt.

“Down, down, Field Marshal Tantawi!” protesters chanted, referring to the leader of the ruling military council.

In an apparent move to discourage a new sit-in in Tahrir Square, the cabinet said late Sunday that it would impose a curfew in the area from 2 to 7 a.m.

The clashes unfolded amid growing criticism of the military leaders, who have continued to rely on loathed policies from the Mubarak era. Many Egyptians reacted with dismay to the recently announced electoral timeline, which would put off presidential elections until 2013.

“What happened today will definitely increase people’s anger toward the military and the anger of the entire Christian population,” said Wael Abbas, a well-known activist and blogger. “People’s rights are being violated, and nothing real is happening.”

Earlier Sunday, the ruling council said it would no longer try civilians in military courts, apparently bowing to pressure from activists.

Coptic Christians have been among the most vocal critics of the council. They complain that the military leadership has done too little to protect them in the wake of a string of attacks on churches this year. Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s 80 million people, blame fundamentalist Muslims for the violence.

Sunday’s march began in the predominantly Christian district of Shubra, in northern Cairo, as demonstrators took to the streets to condemn the recent attack on a church in southern Egypt. The marchers were headed downtown toward the state television building, which in recent months has become a backdrop for sit-ins and demonstrations.

When they were a few blocks away, men in civilian clothes attacked the protesters with rocks, witnesses said.

Demonstrators said a harrowing and confusing scene followed. As reports of gunfire and rock-throwing spread through word of mouth and social media, thousands, including Muslims who joined the Coptic marchers, swarmed toward the state television building, where intense clashes with riot police broke out.

Security and civilian vehicles drove erratically through the area, mowing people down, witnesses said.

Mourkos Aziz, 32, a demonstrator, said he saw a police personnel carrier slam into a crowd, killing at least six people.

“They fired on us,” protester Morkos George, 30, said outside the television building, referring to security forces. “We had no weapons.”

Demonstrators retaliated by setting police vehicles on fire using molotov cocktails — a tactic widely used during the early days of the uprising to strike at the symbol of a police state Egyptians had feared for decades.

State television reported that three soldiers were among the 23 people killed in the clashes. The channel said Coptic protesters instigated the clashes, but there appeared to be little evidence to back up that claim. Human rights activist Hossam Bahgat said on Twitter that he saw 17 bodies at the Coptic Christian hospital morgue — which suggested that most of the dead were Christian. Witnesses said the death toll was likely to be higher.

Shortly after the clashes began, Egyptian state television and radio broadcast a message urging “honest Egyptians” to protect the military. Egyptian activists called the message inflammatory, saying it probably fueled the violence.

As fighting intensified, witnesses said, the violence appeared to be fueled by religious fervor. Men wielding clubs raced toward Tahrir Square shouting “no God but Allah,” and “the people want to overthrow the Copts,” said Elijah Zarwan, a Cairo-based analyst who witnessed the scene.

“What I saw and heard today is a side of Egypt that I’ve never seen before,” said Zarwan, who works for the International Crisis Group, a think tank. “There have always been sectarian tensions simmering under the surface, but now something very dangerous has been unleashed.”

Military police barged into the Cairo studio of the U.S.-funded Alhurra satellite television channel and the independent TV 25 news channel to stop them from broadcasting live footage of the mayhem nearby, according to Egyptian news site al-Ahram Online.

Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf called for restraint and urged Egyptians not to “give into strife.” He convened an emergency cabinet meeting late Sunday.

“The cabinet’s crisis management committee is meeting now to discuss the developments of the unfortunate events the country is witnessing,” said a statement posted on the cabinet’s Facebook page Sunday night.

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Syrian Opposition in Exile Plots Violence

Syrian Colonel Plots Guerrilla Attacks against Assad Regime

Leader of rebel army formed by military defectors is protected by Turkey.

By Justin Vela in Istanbul
The Independent
Monday, 10 October 2011

The most senior officer to defect from Syria's armed forces is plotting a series of guerrilla attacks and targeted assassinations from self-imposed exile in Turkey in an attempt to topple the regime.

Colonel Riad al-As'aad, 50, is the head of a newly formed Syrian Free Army – a force made up of defectors from the Syrian military – devoted to overthrowing the regime of Bashar al-Assad by military force in apparent connivance with his Turkish protectors. "They [the regime] forced us to respond," he told The Independent. "We are organised inside. We are soldiers, we are working. Our power is slowly growing."

Colonel As'aad said that he co-ordinates daily with officers on the ground through intermediaries moving between Syria and Turkey.

The government of Turkey has turned on the Assad regime because of the shooting of hundreds of peaceful protesters and has called for sanctions against its neighbour.

The opposition has formed a new umbrella organisation, the Syrian National Council, announced last week in Turkey, which includes most major opposition groups. Syria yesterday said that it would take "tough measures" against any country that recognised the body as the country's rightful authority.

Colonel As'aad lives under constant guard by Turkish security officials in Turkey's Htay province. The colonel, who served as an engineer in the air force for 31 years, claims that his strategy is based on guerrilla attacks and assassinations of security force figures and state-sponsored militia amid signs of growing armed resistance against the regime after months of protests.

However, he denied being responsible for attacks on civilian figures considered close to the regime, such as the son of Syria's Grand Mufti who was killed last week in an ambush. Instead, he blamed such attacks on the government, accusing them of trying to provoke sectarian conflict.

He said 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers had defected from the approximately 200,000-strong Syrian military and said he was hoping to relocate his command into Syria soon to lead those who had stayed to fight against the regime. He claims that morale among the Syrian armed forces is low and that defections will increase in the coming weeks.

"Without a war, he will not fall. Whoever leads with force, cannot be removed except by force," he told Reuters news agency. "The regime used a lot of oppressive and murderous tactics so I left, so that I will be the face outside for the command inside, because we have to be in a secure area and right now there is no safety in all of Syria."

The uprising against the regime began in mid-March amid a wave of anti-government protests in the Arab world that has so far toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. President Assad has reacted with deadly force that the UN estimates has left some 2,900 people dead. Turkey, whose Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cancelled plans to visit a refugee camp for fleeing Syrians in the region yesterday, kept up the pressure on its neighbour.

It condemned the killing of an ethnic Kurdish leader in Syria on Friday and warned President Assad's government that violent suppression of the opposition "cannot turn back the course of history".

A group of protesters broke into the Syrian embassy in Berlin and two other Syrian diplomatic missions in Germany and Switzerland over the weekend in what appeared to be protests against the killing of the Kurdish politician, Mashaal Tammo. More than 50,000 mourners marched through the north-eastern city of Qamishli for his funeral. Security forces fired into the crowds, killing five people.

The funerals for the five were held yesterday. Amateur videos posted online showed a crowd that was carrying a black banner and Kurdish white, green, red and yellow flags.

"The people want to execute the President," the crowd at the funerals chanted. "Assad is the enemy of God."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Crushing Protest in Saudi Arabia

Middle East Unrest Spreads to Saudi Arabia

Videos have been posted online that are purported to show protesters in Saudi Arabia being shot at by security forces as reports emerge of violence in the east of the country. For video click above link.

By Alastair Good
The Telegraph
05 October 2011

Saudi police sealed off the village of al-Awamiya in the east of the country on Monday night after using live fire to disperse Shia protesters, according to exiled Saudi dissidents.

A group calling itself arabianrevolution have posted videos on YouTube which they claim show Saudi security forces in al-Awamiya, home to much of the Sunni kingdom's Sunni minority, firing on protesters on Monday evening.

In the video a makeshift roadblock of burning tyres can be seen as the sound of gunfire echoes in the background.

As the camera pans right, two security service vehicles can be seen with their headlights pointed toward the protesters.

Shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is great) are interspersed with the sound of gunshots.

The group have also posted footage purported to have been shot on Monday night in the eastern city of al-Qatif, near the bridge which links Saudi Arabia to Bahrain.

Bahrain, home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, called in security forces from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries in March to quash demonstrations against King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa whose Sunni Muslim family rules over the majority Shi'ite population.

In the footage smoke fills the street as young men with covered faces stand in front of what appear to be security service vehicles with their lights flashing.

The stand-off ends as shots are fired and the protesters retreat.

So far Saudi Arabia has not seen the widespread protests that have led to regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

King Abdullah has been making some concessions in an effort to avoid the bloody confrontations that are taking place in Yemen to the south and Syria to the north, announcing ten days ago that women would be allowed to run and cast ballots in the 2015 municipal elections and pardoning a woman sentenced to 10 lashes for defying the kingdom's ban on women driving.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Turkey's Problematic Stance

Iran Criticizes Turkey over Missile Defense Shield

By Ali Akbar Dareini
The Associated Press
5 October 2011

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran criticized Turkey on Tuesday for agreeing to allow NATO to station an early warning radar in the southeast of the country that will serve as part of the alliance's missile defense system.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed the defense system was meant to protect Israel against Iranian missile attacks in the event a war breaks out with the Jewish state.

"The missile defense shield is aimed at defending the Zionist regime. They don't want to let our missiles land in the occupied territories (Israel) if one day they take action against us. That's why they put it there," Ahmadinejad said in an address to the nation on state TV late Tuesday.

Turkey agreed to host the radar in September as part of NATO's missile defense system aimed at countering ballistic missile threats from neighboring Iran. Ankara claims the shield doesn't target a specific country and had threatened to block the deal if Iran was explicitly named as a threat.

A military installation in Kurecik has been designated as the radar site, according to Turkish government officials. Kurecik in Malatya province lies some 700 kilometers (435 miles) west of the Iranian border.

In September, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said the United States hopes to have the radar deployed there by the end of the year.

Ahmadinejad said his government has conveyed Iran's displeasure to Turkish officials.

"We told our Turkish friends that it was not a correct job (decision) they did and that it's to their detriment," he said. "Such shields can't prevent the collapse of the Zionist regime."

The deployment in Turkey, the biggest Muslim voice in NATO, signals improving ties with Washington since the 2003 Iraq invasion. Turkey also closely works with U.S. forces in NATO operations in Afghanistan and Libya, though it is not directly involved in combat.

Last month, Turkey confirmed talks with the U.S. for possible deployment of Predator drones on its soil after the U.S. leaves Iraq. The U.S. currently shares drone surveillance data with Turkey to aid its fight against Kurdish rebels who have bases in Iraq. Turkish authorities did not specify if they want armed drones or just surveillance ones.

Turkey has built close economic ties with Iran and has been at odds with the United States on its stance toward Iran's nuclear program, arguing for a diplomatic solution to the standoff instead of sanctions.

But the agreement over the radar facility comes at a time when Turkey and Iran appear to be differing on their approach toward Syria, with Turkey becoming increasingly critical of Iranian ally Syria's brutal suppression of anti-regime protests.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Where is our Syrian Diplomat?

A recent article in Al-Arab al-Yawm drew my attention to this post last month on a CNN blog. I thought it worth reposting considering the attack against Syrian Ambassador Robert Ford only a few days ago, when Syrians pelted his convoy with tomatoes and eggs in protest of yet another one of his meetings with opposition activists. Of course I disapprove of any violence against diplomats, or anyone for that matter, however we should still criticize Ambassador Ford's actions in Syria. His recent behavior has been anything but diplomatic as the below post suggests. Indeed the Ambassador is fomenting revolution, and such improper interference only fuels cries from the Syrian government that the protesters are not loyal to Syria but instead are American puppets. And these cries will be used to justify harsh punishments against protesters. Which just illustrates how once again the Americans are so consumed by their own self-interests that they cannot see local interests here and global interests everywhere.

America's Undiplomatic Diplomat in Syria

CNN "Security Clearance" blog
September 8th, 2011

Typically, U.S. ambassadors serving abroad consider insulting their host government a definite no-no.

Not the American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. Rather than working to strengthen the U.S. relationship with the government of Bashar al-Assad, Ford has been dubbed by some U.S. officials as the "ambassador of change."

Since the Syrian government began cracking down on anti-government protesters earlier this year, the U.S. ambassador to Damascus has traded diplomatic niceties for tough talk about the regime.

The regime sees him as an activist, working to knock it out of power - especially after Ford sparked a diplomatic firestorm in July when he traveled to the restive city of Hama to express support for demonstrators. He was welcomed with flowers by local residents who had suffered a brutal crackdown by government forces. Al-Assad's government called the trip an attempt to foment dissent.

Since then, Ford has continued to serve less as a traditional diplomat and more as a provocateur. On Tuesday he called into question the Syrian government's capability to enact "the deep, genuine and credible reforms" demanded by opposition protesters.

In a sharply-worded letter posted on the U.S. Embassy Facebook page this week, Ford voiced his support for what he called the "courage" shown by demonstrators and slammed the killings of unarmed civilians protesting peacefully, placing the blame for the violence squarely on the government.

"Given the extent of the government's brutality, neither the Syrian protest movement nor the international community will believe that this Syrian leadership desires or is capable of the deep, genuine and credible reforms that the Syrian people demand," Ford wrote.

Officials tell CNN that Ford has not been directed to speak so harshly in public by the State Department, but that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given him the leeway to speak out as he sees fit.

"He has been very gutsy and forward leaning," one State Department colleague said. "But it isn't being pushed by (the department). It's his personality. He is a gutsy guy."

The Obama administration has faced criticism for not recalling Ford. The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, has called for the United States to recall its ambassador as a signal that the Obama administration does not support the al-Assad government. But senior officials, including Clinton, have said he has an important role to play on the ground, including showing U.S. support for the opposition.

While the State Department insists publicly that Ford continues to meet with members of the Syrian government, privately, senior officials concede his interaction with senior members of the regime in recent weeks has been minimal at best. Considering that Washington has called publicly for al-Assad's ouster, these officials say there aren't too many reasons for regular meetings with the regime, except to protest the violence.

Instead, Ford has been increasing his outreach to the Syrian opposition and civil society groups. He is also on the lookout for members of the government who could be persuaded to abandon the regime.

"He's open to anyone that is willing to whisper in his ear," one senior U.S. official said.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Disturbing Developments in Homs, Syria

Key Syrian City Takes On the Tone of a Civil War

The New York Times
October 1, 2011

This article was reported by a correspondent for The New York Times in Homs, Syria, and written by Anthony Shadid in Beirut, Lebanon.

HOMS, Syria — The semblance of a civil war has erupted in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, where armed protesters now call themselves revolutionaries, gun battles erupt as often as every few hours, security forces and opponents carry out assassinations, and rifles costing as much as $2,000 apiece flood the city from abroad, residents say.

Since the start of the uprising in March, Homs has stood as one of Syria’s most contested cities, its youth among the best organized and most tenacious. But across the political spectrum, residents speak of a decisive shift in past weeks, as a largely peaceful uprising gives way to a grinding struggle that has made Homs violent, fearful and determined.

Analysts caution that the strife in Homs is still specific to the city itself, and many in the opposition reject violence because they fear it will serve as a pretext for the government’s brutal crackdown.

But in the targeted killings, the rival security checkpoints and the hardening of sectarian sentiments, the city offers a dark vision that could foretell the future of Syria’s uprising as both the government and the opposition ready themselves for a protracted struggle over the endurance of a four-decade dictatorship.

“We are done with the protesting phase,” said a 21-year-old engineering student here who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “We’ve now entered a more important phase.”

Homs is a microcosm of Syria, with a Sunni Muslim majority and minorities of Christians and Alawites, a heterodox Muslim sect from which President Bashar al-Assad draws much of his leadership.

Six months of protests and crackdown here have frayed ties among those communities, forging the conditions for urban strife.

An armed opposition is battling security forces in the most restive neighborhoods. Insurgents have tried to protect the same peaceful protesters the government has relentlessly sought to arrest. Tension has grown so dire that members of one sect are reluctant to travel to neighborhoods populated by other sects. Men in some parts of the city openly carry weapons.

Perhaps the most dramatic facet of the struggle is a series of assassinations this past week that have left nearly a dozen professors, doctors and informers dead in a paroxysm of violence that echoes the sectarian vendettas still besetting Iraq. Unlike the uprising’s early days, when the government exercised a near monopoly on violence, fear is beginning to spread in the other direction, as insurgents kill government supporters and informers, residents say.

One of those killed was Dr. Hassan Eid, the chief of thoracic surgery at the National Hospital here and an Alawite from Al Zuhra, one of a handful of neighborhoods where his sect makes up a majority and where buildings and streets are still plastered with the portraits of Mr. Assad. He was shot to death in front of his house as he headed off to work, residents said.

Al Ouruba, a government-aligned newspaper, called him a “symbol of dedication” and said he treated victims of the violence “without discriminating between any of them.” But in Sunni Muslim locales, residents called him a government informer who helped security forces detain the wounded who were treated at his facility.

By nightfall, a hint of triumphalism echoed in parts of the city, as some people celebrated his death.

“He was responsible for the death of many young men,” said a 65-year-old resident of Homs, who gave his name as Rajab. “He was killed because he deserved it.”

Soon after dawn the next day, gunfire erupted as children went to school.

“They shot Abu Ali,” an old man who collects garbage and cleans the streets in the neighborhood said a short time later.

Abu Ali, the name most knew him by, was another informant, the residents said.

“The guys were aware of him a long time ago,” said an activist in his late 40s who gave his name as Abu Ghali. “But now it’s different. He kept reporting, so they had to kill him. I don’t think he died right away though.”

Abu Ghali added that it was not difficult to get information on informers. “You can do anything with money,” he said. “You just bribe an officer, and be generous with him, and you can get all you want.”

The killings took place during two bloody days in Homs, a city along the Orontes River and not too far from the historic medieval castle Krak des Chevaliers. Residents said that after Abu Ali died, three Alawite teachers were killed at a school in the neighborhood of Baba Amr. (Government newspapers did not confirm those deaths.) In the afternoon, Mohammed Ali Akil, an assistant dean at Al Baath University in Homs, was found dead in his car on a highway. Students said he had shown support for the uprising and criticized Mr. Assad’s leadership in his lectures.

“It is true that we were scared during your lectures, but you were a wonderful professor,” a student posted on Facebook. “May you rest in peace. We won’t forget you.”

Near the Lebanese border — where residents say weapons flow across a porous border from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even Qatar — Homs strikes an odd posture. Many of its Sunni residents are at once fearful and proud, empowered by their opposition to dictatorship. Many Alawites are terrified; they are often the victims of the most vulgar stereotypes and, in popular conversation, uniformly associated with the leadership.

In Alawite villages, only government television is watched. To do so in Sunni neighborhoods amounts to treason. There, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are the stations of choice. Suspicions give currency to the wildest of rumors; in one, a female butcher in Homs named Um Khaled asks the armed gangs to bring her the bodies of Alawites they capture so that she can cut them up and market the meat to her customers.

Centuries-old connections between sects still knit together the city, even as the suggestion of civil war threatens to sever them forever. The countryside, residents say, is roiled by far more sectarian hatred. Government checkpoints separate Sunni from Alawite.

“One side kills an Alawite, the other kills a Sunni,” a 46-year-old activist said.

The uprising’s overall toll has been grim: By the United Nations’ count, more than 2,700 people have died. The revolt still draws much of its strength from the countryside, and the two largest cities, Aleppo and Damascus, remain relatively quiescent. Though protests have flagged lately, Homs has stayed defiant.

Armed men often protect the perimeter of protests in places like Bab al-Sbaa, Khaldiya and Baba Amr, where some stores are shut and buildings are scarred by broken windows and bullet holes. Some of them have carried out the assassinations of informers, or “awayniyeh,” as they call them. Others scout government checkpoints and occasionally set up their own, temporary versions.

“They have rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs,” said a driver in his late 50s who lives in the neighborhood of Khaldiya. “They should be armed,” he added. “They protect us.”

A woman who gave her name as Suleima lives on Al Joura Street in Baba Amr. She earns a living by preparing kibbe, a dish of minced meat with cracked wheat, for wealthier clients in other neighborhoods of Homs. For three days, gunfire kept her inside her house and telephones were down.

“You never know when they will start shooting again,” she said.

Angry and exhausted, she professed neutrality in a conflict that makes such a notion ever more difficult.

“Neighbors accuse me of being with the regime, so I laugh,” she said at her house, which she shares with her daughter. “What on earth did this regime give me? Absolutely nothing. But neither did the revolutionaries. I work, I eat. If I don’t work, I starve. At least I worked before. Now I’m at home, hardly leaving it, and hardly making a living.”

The Politics of an Extrajudicial Killing

Yemen Notes Its Own Role in U.S. Attack on Militant

By Laura Kasinof
The New York Times
October 1, 2011

SANA, Yemen — Yemeni officials provided more details on Saturday about their role in the tracking and killing of an American-born cleric, while a government spokesman said that the United States should show more appreciation to Yemen’s embattled president for his assistance in the case.

A high-ranking Yemeni official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Yemen had provided the United States with intelligence on the location of the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by an American drone strike on Friday. The information came from “a recently captured Al Qaeda operative,” the official said.

He said that Yemeni security officials located Mr. Awlaki on Friday morning in a house in the village of Al Khasaf in Al Jawf Province. The remote village lies in a desert where the Yemeni state has no control and tribes with varying loyalties rule.

The United States said that Mr. Awlaki, a propagandist for the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, had taken on an operational role in the organization, and last year the Obama administration placed him on a list of targets to kill or capture. The Yemeni group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered Al Qaeda’s “most active operational affiliate,” President Obama said Friday, and the United States was a major target.

The State Department issued a travel alert on Saturday, warning that the attack “could provide motivation” for retaliatory attacks worldwide against American citizens and interests.

The killing came a week after the return to Yemen of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been recovering in Saudi Arabia from wounds sustained in an assassination attempt and whose resignation after 33 years of autocratic rule has been demanded by a large protest movement in Yemen, the political opposition, regional powers and the United States.

The timing of the airstrikes fueled speculation that Mr. Saleh, who has frequently portrayed himself as an essential bulwark against Al Qaeda, had handed over Mr. Awlaki to the Americans in order to reduce American pressure on him to leave.

American officials said Friday that there was no connection between Mr. Saleh’s return and the airstrikes. They said that American and Yemeni security forces had been hunting Mr. Awlaki for nearly two years, and that new information about his location surfaced about three weeks ago.

That information allowed the C.I.A. to track his movements, the officials said, and wait for an opportunity to strike when there was little risk to civilians.

A senior American official made it clear on Saturday that Mr. Saleh’s immediate resignation remained a goal of American policy and said that Yemen’s government was under no “significant illusion” that the United States had changed its position.

“Sustaining military-to-military cooperation is in our best interest,” the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We don’t want to undermine that cooperation.”

A Yemeni government spokesman, however, said that Mr. Saleh deserved credit for helping the Americans.

“After this big victory in catching Awlaki, the White House calls on the president to leave power immediately?” a deputy information minister, Abdu al-Janadi, told Reuters. “The Americans don’t even respect those who cooperate with them.”

The spokesman for Yemen’s opposition coalition, Mohammed Qahtan, rejected the idea that Mr. Awlaki’s killing was a feather in the government’s cap. Instead, it showed “the regime’s failure and weakness to perform its duty to arrest and try Awlaki in accordance with the Constitution,” Mr. Qahtan said. “And it’s that that forced America to go after him using their own means.”

Although Yemen did not carry out the strike, which was launched from a secret American base, Yemeni officials were quick to trumpet the results. A high-ranking Yemeni security official called The New York Times at 10:15 a.m. local time on Friday, about 20 minutes after the attack.

The Defense Ministry broadcast the announcement an hour later, hours before American officials made any public statement.