Monday, November 29, 2004

Good news from the Islamic world, Part 3 

Some snippets of the past four weeks' progress of the Muslim world on the road to more freedom, democracy, free market and open, tolerant society.

Region-wide: Read Cinnamon Stillwell's profile piece "Moderate Muslims and Arabs Emerge from the Shadows":

"Even amidst the dictatorships of the Arab world, a brave few have refused to conform. Fed up with the scapegoating - of Americans, Jews, Christians, and the West - that passes for governance and journalism in their countries, some Muslims have begun writing their own narratives. They suffer intimidation, harassment, and even attacks at the hands of fellow Muslims, but by refusing to cave in to the extremists, they can perhaps pave the way for future generations to follow."
Stillwell's link-rich article provides an excellent round-up of individuals and organizations who are slowly starting to make a difference in the battle for the future of the Islamic world.

Afghanistan: For the latest "Good news from Afghanistan" read my
separate post.

Bahrain: The authorities defend their decision to seek a
free trade agreement with the United States, brushing off accusations from within the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (AGCC) that such deal would violate the Council's internal tariff agreements. "[Prime Minister] Shaikh Khalifa said the FTA between Bahrain and the US was aimed at energising the economy of Bahrain as well as other Gulf states." The US is also rumored to be pursuing free trade deals with the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Bahrain's King Hamad also becomes the first Arab leader to
visit President Bush following his re-election in November.

Egypt: Another
political party in Egypt:

"Egyptian officials approved a second political party on Thursday, less than a month after authorizing the country's first new political party in 27 years... The Political Parties' Committee, a semi-official body headed by the speaker of the upper house of parliament, gave the green light for the formation of the Liberal Constitutional Social party after reviewing a request presented by its founding members. It becomes Egypt's 19th party. Three parties were set up by presidential decree in the 1970s: the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), the Marxist party Tagmmua and liberal-rightist Al Ahrar. Another 12 were rejected by the parties committee but won licenses through legal action."
Iran: Ordinary Iranians rejoice about the outcome of the US presidential elections, according to the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran:

"Millions of Iranians expressed their satisfaction on the outcome of the US Presidential elections and George W. Bush's victory by calling and congratulating each other. Many were seen walking in the streets and shaking each others hands or showing a discret V sign.

"Many are speaking about the promises made by Mr. Bush to back the Iranian Nation in its quest for freedom and democracy."
Iraq: For the latest "Good news from Iraq" read my separate post.

Reactions to the re-election of George Bush varied across Iraq, but
two out of three major ethnic and religious groups seem largely happy: "Iraqis were almost as sharply divided as the American electorate over the results of the U.S. presidential election: The majority of Shiites and Kurds appeared pleased that President Bush will serve another four-year term, while many Arab Sunnis expressed anger and regret...

"At almost the opposite end of the spectrum [to the Sunnis] are the Kurds, who are deeply grateful to Bush for forcing out Saddam, who was responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of their kinsmen in such incidents as the gassing of the northern Kurdish town of Halapja. The overwhelmingly secular Kurds are also sympathetic to Bush's vocal opposition to religious Islamic militants."
Says Kurdish poet Jawhar Kerman: "We were watching the results on the television and on the Internet. It was important for the Kurds that George Bush win the election for another term for many reasons." And writer Abd al-Karim Shaykhani adds:

"I will not exaggerate when I say that all the world was holding its breath for the elections, because this process is not a normal process. It's an election for the president of the strongest nation in the world and in [Bush's] hand he will have to power to control the world. And I can confirm here that the Kurdish nation was twice as interested in the elections than the other nations because Bush was the only one to fight against terrorism and he led the campaign to finish the Taliban [in Afghanistan] and also...because he was the president who destroyed Saddam's regime."
Kuwait: Kuwiatis, too, are happy about the result of US election:

"Kuwait is rejoicing over George W. Bush's victory in the US presidential election.

"Bush's father had liberated the country from Iraqi occupation as the US president in 1991, and for Kuwaitis this is all that matters.

" 'For us, it will be Bush, Bush and Bush, even if the grandson runs one day,' a Kuwaiti was quoted in a local newspaper as saying.

"Such is the fascination with the family here that a high rise building in the city's upmarket Shaab area is also named after Bush."
Morocco: The number of Internet subscribers increases to 3 million out of population of 32 million. Not too bad, considering that in 2001 Morocco had only 360,000 Internet users.

Pakistan: Foreign Minister
Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri comments on the re-election of George Bush:

"US President Bush victory for second term will surely be in the interest of Pakistan, [said Kasuri]... He termed the existing ties between Pakistan and US very good noting that relations between President Pervez Musharraf and President Bush are also very excellent. 'Our ties with US administration and other functionaries are also stronger,' he added.

"He hoped that President Bush's win for second term in US presidential elections will ensure continuity of policies. Had new administration come to power, it would have taken at least five to six months in gaining acquaintance. The norms of confidence have restored between Bush administration and Pakistan. Both the governments respect each other, he added. 'We want multidimensional relations with US,' he underscored."
Another senior government minister also joins in:

"Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has said that president Bush success in US presidential elections for second term will lead to resolution of Kashmir and Palestine issues.

" 'With the success of President Bush for his second term, an interesting and crucial era of bilateral relations between Pakistan and USA is going to start. Pakistan will reap huge benefits from it,' he said."
And in legal news, Pakistani parliament has passed a law setting the death penalty for those guilty of "honor killings."

Peace finally breaking out on the Indian sub-continent?

"India has offered to consider Pakistani proposals on resolving the decades-old Kashmir issue if they are made formally.

"Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, has informally floated some ideas on the future of the divided region, including demilitarising the state, independence, joint governance or some form of United Nations control.

"Foreign Minister Natwar Singh then announced New Delhi is scaling back of its troop presence in the Himalayan state [sic!]."
There's this goodwill gesture for the start: "Indian troops began pulling out of Kashmir yesterday as the Indian prime minister made his first visit to the disputed region to offer unconditional talks with 'anyone and everyone'... [Manmohan Singh] insisted at a news conference that 'I am not pessimistic. I am hopeful enough. Who could have imagined some 20 years ago that the Berlin Wall would dissolve, that Germany would be reunited?' India has not announced how many troops will be withdrawn from the highly militarised border with Pakistan, but news reports have said only about 40,000 of India's half a million troops would be redeployed."

Palestinians: are
preparing for the election, their first opportunity since 1996 to have a say in the course of their affairs:

"Freed from Yasser Arafat's one-man rule, Palestinians say they are eager and able to build the first real democracy in the Arab world, despite the dangers lurking on the road to Jan. 9 elections.

"The thrill of new possibilities is felt across the West Bank and Gaza Strip: the field of candidates for Palestinian Authority president gets more crowded by the day and includes a militant sheik turned moderate, a dissident once jailed by Arafat, and a prisoner of Israel campaigning from his cell...

"Sensing Fatah's weakened grip, other challengers are emerging in sectors previously excluded - devout Muslims, middle-class intellectuals and women. None are considered front-runners, but hope they can forge a winning coalition.

"Other possible contenders include Abdel Sattar Qassem, a political science professor and anti-corruption crusader once jailed by Arafat; Talal Sidr, a former Hamas leader-turned-moderate; journalist Majda al-Batch, 47, the only woman who has said she would run; Mustafa Barghouti, a distant cousin of Marwan Barghouti, who wants to speak for the 'huge silent majority' unaffiliated with any faction; and billionaire Monib al-Masri who says a skillful CEO is needed to untangle the Mideast mess."
And in a long-overdue start to security overhaul, the 70-member Department of Protection and Security, known as the "Death Squad" and accused of human rights violations and involvement in crime, is being finally disbanded by the Palestinian authority.

Saudi Arabia: From a statement by Ambassador to the United States
Prince Bandar bin Sultan in response to a group of Saudi religious scholars calling for jihad in Iraq:

"In regard to the open letter to the Iraqi people by a number of individuals calling for support of armed resistance in Iraq, I would like to state that these individuals do not represent the Saudi government nor the Council of Senior Ulama [Religious Scholars], both of whom have repeatedly condemned terrorism in Iraq and throughout the world. The Saudi people pray for the end of bloodshed in Iraq, and the restoration of peace, security and stability in Iraq for the benefit of the Iraqi people and the region."
Others inside Saudi Arabia are not happy either:

"The head of Saudi Arabia's Higher Judicial Council wants to prosecute teachers and clerics who encourage Saudi youths to fight against U.S. troops in Iraq.

"The Daily Okaz quoted Sheik Saleh al-Luhaidan Luhaidan as warning Saturday against the consequences of issuing statements and religious edicts inciting young Saudis to travel to Iraq to fight against U.S.-led multinational forces.

" 'The authorities should question and hold accountable the authors of the statements and edicts which make the people feel that fighting in Iraq is a heroic and religiously legitimate act,' Luhaidan said.

"He also said donating money to fighters and militants in Iraq at the present time 'is only bound to aggravate the situation.' 'We don't want to repeat in Iraq the same mistakes committed in Afghanistan,' he added."
And "the father of a young Saudi fighter killed in Iraq is planning to sue religious scholars who called for jihad against US forces... Majid Shabib al-Otaibi blamed the scholars, who declared 'jihad (holy war) against the occupiers is a duty for all who are able', for the death of his son Muqrin. Majid Otaibi said he was standing up against preachers who tried to 'corrupt the minds of young men'."

In other developments, "Saudi Arabia, a country where women are not allowed to drive, will next year see
its first woman pilot take to the skies flying with the private fleet of billionaire Saudi Prince Al Walid Bin Talal." And while women still don't have a political voice - this is a good start:

"Saudi businesswomen are to be allowed to directly choose board members of Riyadh's chamber of commerce for the first time... Previously female business owners had to delegate a man to cast their vote for the body's board, which counts over 39,000 companies as members. 'The 2,750 businesswomen registered with the chamber would be allowed to vote,' said Princess Haila al-Farhan, director of the women's section at the chamber..."
It would be far from the first time when the business freedoms lead to eventual political freedoms.

Somalia: A good news story about the triumph of
free market and competition even under the most difficult circumstances:

"A host of mobile phone masts testifies to the telecommunications revolution which has taken place despite the absence of any functioning national government since 1991.

"Three phone companies are engaged in fierce competition for both mobile and landline customers, while new internet cafes are being set up across the city and the entire country.

"It takes just three days for a landline to be installed - compared with waiting-lists of many years in neighbouring Kenya, where there is a stable, democratic government.

"And once installed, local calls are free for a monthly fee of just $10. International calls cost 50 US cents a minute, while surfing the web is charged at 50 US cents an hour - 'the cheapest rate in Africa' according to the manager of one internet cafe.

"But how do you establish a phone company in a country where there is no government?"
Read on to find out how (hint: "In some respects, it is actually easier.")

Tunisia: is setting up a
"free trade zone" with Turkey "to facilitate economic exchanges and encourage mutual investments" between the countries.


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