May 31, 2006 | 9:57 PM ET

There's more coverage on imprisoned Egyptian blogger Alaa, with the CBS Public Eye blog writing on the topic.  And the Christian Science Monitor has published a piece by another Egyptian blogger, the pseudonymous "Sandmonkey," who writes:

As I write this, I am watching Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak give his speech at the World Economic Forum, being held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The usually pro-US Mubarak has just delivered what can only be described as a fiery anti-US speech, criticizing the American push for democratic reforms in Egypt. He informed the world that he was confident his government was "on the right path" when it comes to democratic reforms, but he cautioned that changes should be gradual to avoid "chaos and setbacks."

This guy gets funnier every single year he stays in power, I swear.
...
If arresting peaceful protesters on the street, week after week (653 last month alone), weren't enough, the Egyptian government is looking to end public dissent over the Internet. So far, six bloggers have been arrested. One of them is Alaa Abdel-Fatah, one of Egypt's most prominent bloggers. Mr. Abdel-Fatah runs an aggregator service for Egyptian blogs, using the space to help organize protests. He has been a thorn in the side of the Egyptian government for some time, which finally decided to handpick Abdel-Fatah and fellow bloggers out of a recent street protest and detain them. They have been in jail for three weeks now in a place that makes Abu Ghraib look like the Four Seasons.

Another blogger, Mohamed el-Sharqawi, was released, then rearrested two days later, just last Thursday. He was beaten up and says he was raped by the police before being thrown in jail again. There is still no word on what he is charged with, or how long he will be detained, since the emergency laws allow his indefinite incarceration without charges.

Needless to say, their detention is scaring other opposition bloggers - present company included - into thinking that they may be next.  My blog has been receiving more and more hits from Egyptian government Internet provider addresses, but I tell myself I am just being paranoid.  So what if the ministry of information visits me about 30 times a day?  They must be fans!

For more on this, just scroll down and keep reading.  If you'd like to let the Egyptian government know what you think, you can contact the Egyptian embassy in the United States here:

3521 International Court, NW
Washington DC 20008

Telephone: (202) 895 5400
Fax: (202) 244-4319
E-mail: embassy@egyptembdc.org
URL: http://www.egyptembassy.us

May 29, 2006 | 11:43 PM ET

Free the Egyptian bloggers

I've written here before about imprisoned Egyptian blogger Alaa.  Now there's a new story from the Associated Press about his continued imprisonment:

The 24-year-old Abdel-Fattah's blog, which he does with his wife Manal Hassan, has become one of the most popular pro-democracy voices in Egypt.  He has continued writing despite being arrested in early May during a street demonstration in Cairo — part of a crackdown on reform activists by Egyptian security forces.
...
The duo call their blog Manalaa, a combination of their first names. Young, secular and anti-authoritarian, they link the blogosphere with a democracy movement demanding reform from President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power longer than they have been alive.  Their blog, launched two years ago and written in a mixture of English and Arabic, is an Internet rallying point for activists in a nation where state-run media predominate and give little voice to reformers.

It posts announcements of planned demonstrations, political commentary, even photos — with names — of plainclothes security agents notorious for beating protesters.  In March, the couple used their blog to organize a sit-in, where more than 100 protesters slept in a downtown Cairo square.
...
"It's a revolution on the Web in Egypt — they're civilian journalists with no censorship," said Salma Abdel-Fattah, 20, a childhood friend of Alaa's who is not related to him.

"Instead of opening sites like Al-Jazeera or the BBC, we open Manalaa's blog to see what's going on," said Abdel-Fattah, whose boyfriend, Ahmed El-Droubi, was arrested with Alaa.

That's not Mubarak's dream, to put it mildly.  But as the story notes, by arresting Alaa the Mubarak regime has given him a much higher profile than he had before.  And they've called international attention to the problems of Egypt.

Meanwhile, as Michael Rubin notes, it's time for President Bush and the State Department to speak -- and act -- firmly.  Writing about another imprisoned democracy activist, Mohammed el-Sharkawi, Rubin writes:

The Sharkawi case is the type of case which can help repair the U.S. image abroad. It costs nothing for the U.S. ambassador to visit Sharkawi or for the White House to issue a statement such as it did for Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji.  Perhaps Mubarak wouldn't be so bold if our recent actions weren't so impotent, or if Foggy Bottom hadn't received his son and anointed successor like a visiting potentate.  Now is the time for Bush to show Egypt—home of one out of every three Arabs—that he is serious when he speaks about freedom.

Absolutely right.

May 25, 2006 | 1:51 PM ET

Congress:  American nobility?

Apparently, executing a duly-issued search warrant on a Congressional office is some sort of outrage.  That's what Congressional leaders are saying, but it's hard to see why.  Congress members are immune under the Speech and Debate Clause only for things they say as part of their legislative duties; they're also immune from arrest for most crimes while Congress is in session.  There's nothing in the Constitution about immunity from search, and it's not clear why there should be.  (More on that here.)

Congress has certainly been happy to approve sweeping searches of other Americans, leading one wag to summarize the Congressional position this way:

WARRANTS: Not good enough for us, too good for you.

This is bipartisan idiocy, but the Republicans are coming off worse because (1) they control the leadership, and Speaker Dennis Hastert has been the point man on this; and (2) as James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal noted, it flies in the face of their promises:

Hastert and Boehner's objections are bound to rub many Republican constitutents the wrong way.  After all, the first plank of the Contract With America was a promise to "require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress." Something like this makes it harder to argue that the GOP deserves to maintain its majority.

Yes, it does.  I think Congress needs to be looked at more closely, not less, which is why I support making the Freedom of Information Act apply to Congress.  Congress exempted itself from FOIA, naturally, but there's no good reason why the activities of our elected representatives should be less transparent than the activities of unelected bureaucrats.

Congress needs to be reminded that the Constitution also prohibits the establishment of "Titles of Nobility."  By trying to put themselves above laws that apply to everyone else, Congress seems to have forgotten that.

May 24, 2006 | 10:39 AM ET

Congress and Mubarak, above the law?

In Egypt, imprisoned blogger Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam is still imprisoned.  Mark Glaser has more on that story:

One female blogger (pictured here), who is a friend of Alaa's and blogs anonymously at Freedom for Egyptians, told me the reforms of the past year would be hard to turn back.

"On the ground in Egypt, change is on the march," she told me.  "An Egyptian told me a very nice expression when I was there last April: 'The train of change has left the platform and there is no way that it will go back to where it was.' There is a strong momentum for change that will happen eventually. There is a point when suffering reaches its highest point, when fear becomes no issue. I do expect lots of violence from the government because it has no will or wish for taking Egypt towards the path of democracy and freedom. It wants to maintain the status quo which means resisting the will of the Egyptian people by all means."

Meanwhile, in the United States, some members of Congress think that they're above the law, maintaining that an FBI search of the Capitol offices of bribery-suspect Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) is somehow unconstitutional.

This is a pretty weak argument -- the Constitution's Speech and Debate Clause protects Congress only in terms of, well, speech and debate, not bribery — but it's brought both Democrats and Republicans together.  When it comes to making sure that the laws that apply to little people don't apply to the anointed, party divisions disappear.

This hasn't played very well in the blogosphere.  Blogger Radley Balko points to a bunch of no-knock raids on citizens' homes (not offices) and wonders why Congress doesn't object to those.  Meanwhile, Freeman Hunt thinks the objection to the search is the height of chutzpah:  "Sort of like a man who catches his cheating spouse in the act and all she can say is 'I can't believe you didn't knock!'"

A Zogby poll released today shows widespread distrust of leaders, with Congress looking particularly bad.  No surprise there.

May 23, 2006 | 10:51 AM ET

Smothering Egypt's secular alternative

Imprisoned Egyptian blogger Alaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam had his detention extended another 15 days.  That's despite an international campaign for his freedom that has gotten attention in media outlets like USA Today and the Chicago Tribune.  The Tribune report sums up what's at stake:

The ruling National Democratic Party aims to rout respected critics and throttle the one branch of government that could damage its future political chances, analysts said.

The judges' vigilance in monitoring the government's manipulation of electoral laws and the elections has made them vulnerable, analysts said. Judges in Egypt--and specifically the professional organization that represents 8,000 judges--have been stalwart critics of electoral changes that favored the ruling party.

The Judges' Club, as the group is known, refused to certify parliamentary results last year after 100 judges reported irregularities at the polls. Pro-government judges who ultimately supported the results said the most outspoken judges insulted the judiciary. In February, four of those outspoken jurists--including Hisham el-Bastawissi and Mahmoud Mekki who are now facing disciplinary action--were stripped of immunity by the state-controlled Supreme Judicial Council.

"They're going after the judges to hollow out the institution most capable of reform," said Joshua Stacher, who until recently was a researcher for International Crisis Group, a respected non-profit group.

"Mubarak is planning for the future," Stacher said, noting that the president, at 78, is believed to be positioning his son, Gamal, to take over the reins of government. "And the last thing the Egyptian system wants is for there to be a transition of power--and for the judiciary to be able to claim it is not a legitimate transition," he said.

Mubarak wants a monarchy in all but name, and thinks that the United States is too distracted to stand in his way (though in truth the United States has never worked very hard for democracy in Egypt).  The repression is more focused on the secular democratic reformers than at the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups for two reasons: First, because the Islamists are more violent; and second because Mubarak needs them as a bogeyman to discourage Western interference.

The consequence, though, is that if Mubarak's regime falls -- which I think is fairly likely, as I think he's weaker than generally believed -- there won't be a progressive, secular alternative, just radical Islam.  That's why the United States, along with the rest of the civilized world, needs to be pressing Mubarak hard.

May 19, 2006 | 10:51 AM ET

Egypt in trouble

Unrest and violence continues in Egypt, while around the world bloggers and activists are protesting the imprisonment of secular pro-democracy figures -- and bloggers.  Here's a report, with photos, of a protest at the Egyptian Embassy in London.  Excerpt:

We aim at creating more awareness of the Egyptian cause and offering a counter argument to the official version that is usually propagated by the government abroad.  We aim at making the support that the current UK government shows to the Mubarak regime a liablility and a burden through increasing the English public awareness to the consequences of that support and how it negatively affects the lives and security of Egyptian civilians who have to deal with the bruitality of the Police thugs. We aim at strengthening the point that there is a lively movement calling for freedom in Egypt that seeks to achieve democracy without the need for any intervention from the Western governments.

We often hear that democracy in Egypt would bring radical Islamists to power.  To the extent that that's true, it's partly because the Egyptian government has done its best to ensure that there's no secular opposition of any significance.

This behavior isn't likely to benefit Egypt -- or even Mubarak -- in the long run, but I don't think that the Mubarak regime is very bright.  It's likely to leave a mess, which, if history is any guide, the United States will probably have to clean up.

May 17, 2006 | 10:21 AM ET

Fixing immigration from south of the border

Yesterday, I mentioned that Bush was stuck because cracking down too hard on immigration might lead to the election of a Chavista leftist.  But maybe I spoke too soon.  Here's the leftist in question:

Illegal immigration to the United States is "Mexico's disgrace," caused by the government's failure to create enough jobs, the country's leftist presidential candidate said on Tuesday.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who trails conservative Felipe Calderon in polls ahead of July 2 elections, accused President Vicente Fox's administration of causing the flight of millions of Mexicans to the north, which prompted President Bush to order National Guard troops to the border.

"They are the ones mostly responsible for what is going on because there is no employment, there are no jobs in Mexico so people need to emigrate," Lopez Obrador said on his morning television show."

He said Bush's plan, announced on Monday night, to deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops to help secure the Mexican border would not end the flow of illegal aliens.

"It is not the solution. It is not an alternative but it is a disgrace for us Mexicans because of the irresponsible rulers of this country," the leftist said.
...
Lopez Obrador's comments echoed those of some U.S. critics who say Mexico should do more to keep its people at home.

But he said Washington also needs to help Mexico economically if it is to stem the illegal immigration which has mushroomed in recent years.

I agree, and one way that could happen would be if Mexico would open up to foreign investment.  It also needs to reform its economic system, along the lines of Chile.

Economist Gary Becker has some thoughts on leftism in South America, and why attitudes toward capitalism there are different.  Excerpt:

One legitimate reason for the opposition to capitalism in Latin America is that it frequently has been "crony capitalism" as opposed to the competitive capitalism that produces desirable social outcomes. Crony capitalism is a system where companies with close connections to the government gain economic power not by competing better, but by using the government to get favored and protected positions. These favors include monopolies over telecommunications, exclusive licenses to import different goods, and other sizeable economic advantages.  Some cronyism is found in all countries, but Mexico and other Latin countries have often taken the influence of political connections to extremes.

In essence, crony capitalism often creates private monopolies that hurt consumers compared to their welfare under competition. The excesses of cronyism have provided ammunition to parties of the left that are openly hostile to capitalism and neo-liberal policies. Yet when these parties come to power they usually do not reduce the importance of political influence but shift power to groups that support them. A distinguishing characteristic of Chile since the reforms of the early 1980's is the growth in competitive capitalism at the expense of crony capitalism. This shift more than anything else explains the economic rise of Chile during the past 25 years that has made Chile the most economically successful of all Latin American nations.

If Mexico were to reduce corruption and cronyism, and promote openness and the rule of law, its economy would grow and the flood of immigrants to the United States would shrink to a trickle.  Unfortunately, the Mexican "right" is wedded to state power, and it seems unlikely that a Mexican leftist regime would enact those sorts of decentralizing economic reforms.  That's too bad, as a Chilean-style economy would solve a lot of problems on both sides of the border.

May 16, 2006 | 12:40 PM ET

Immigration flop

Bush didn't flip, but he flopped.

Okay, that's probably too strong.  But President Bush's immigration speech last night, which was supposed to bring conservatives back into the fold, didn't accomplish that.  It certainly didn't play well in the blogosphere, as this round-up of blog reactions illustrates.

Bush is in a tough spot.  He's always been more favorably inclined toward open immigration than most of his base, and -- after a series of bad moves, including the Harriet Miers nomination and the Dubai Ports deal -- the base doesn't trust him as it once did.  He also knows that Mexico has an election coming up, featuring a challenger backed by Venezuelan Castro-wannabe Hugo Chavez.  So he doesn't want to do anything that will inflame anti-American sentiment and give Chavez's puppet a boost.

Given those constraints, I suppose Bush didn't do too badly, but I don't think he did well enough.  I do have a suggestion however.

The two keys to success for Bush here are assimilation and reciprocity.  He did mention the importance of assimilation in his speech, saying:

Fifth, we must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one Nation out of many peoples. The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America. English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery … from cleaning offices to running offices … from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own. When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams ... they renew our spirit ... and they add to the unity of America.

That shouldn't have been fifth, it should have been first, or close to it.  Most Americans who are concerned about illegal immigration aren't so much concerned with the immigrants themselves as with the notion that we might dilute our own nationhood.  Personally, I'm willing to take pretty much anybody who's willing to live here as an American.  I think a lot of people feel that way.  Bush should capitalize on this by pushing pro-assimilation measures, not just talking about them.

The other issue is reciprocity.  Mexico is asking a lot -- and don't kid yourself, the Mexican government has been pretty anxious to promote illegal immigration to the United States.  In return, it ought to open its borders -- and investment, and real-estate laws, and more -- to Americans.  The border should be just as porous in one direction as another, something that's certainly not true now.

By calling for negotiations on that, Bush could open up the problem, turning it from a one-sided dispute to a dialogue.  He could also look active, rather than just reactive.

Will he do anything like this?  Frankly, I doubt it.  The White House has been off its game for the past year, and unless staff shakeups make a difference, I don't think we'll see anything that creative.

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