The pro-democracy protests in Egypt have entered their third week as demonstrators are holding another massive protest in Tahrir Square. While President Hosni Mubarak is refusing to resign, his regime is attempting to offer some new concessions in an attempt to end the protests. Mubarak’s cabinet has approved a 15 percent raise and increased pensions for state workers. Mubarak’s government has also set up a committee to recommend constitutional amendments to relax presidential eligibility rules and impose term limits.
The German magazine Der Spiegel is reporting that preparations are underway for President Hosni Mubarak to possibly leave Egypt and visit Germany for what’s been described as an “extended medical check-up.”
It is unknown how many protesters are still being jailed by Egyptian authorities. On Monday, authorities released one of the most high-profile detained protesters, Google executive Wael Ghonim, who was secretly detained 12 days earlier. Ghonim was an administrator to a Facebook page used to organize Egypt’s unprecedented pro-democracy uprising. He spoke to reporters after being released from jail.
bq.Wael Ghonim: “We want our country to change. I ask you, really, please don’t turn me into a hero. I am not a hero, OK? I am not a hero. I am a very ordinary person. The heroes are the ones out in the street. I’ve been asleep for 12 days. Please, everybody, I ask you…we won’t leave until we change our country, and we will take our rights. We will take them. That’s it.”
Newly released classified U.S. diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks reveal that Israeli officials have long hoped that newly appointed Egyptian vice president, Omar Suleiman, would eventually succeed Hosni Mubarak as president of Egypt. In an August 2008 cable, a U.S. diplomat wrote, “There is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman.” The cable reveals that Suleiman’s deputies spoke to Israeli military officials several times a day via a “hotline.” The cable also shows that Suleiman wanted Hamas “isolated” and thought Gaza should “go hungry but not starve.” The Obama administration has already embraced the longtime ally. Suleiman played a key role in the U.S. extraordinary rendition program. He also underwent training in the 1980s at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Al Jazeera English is reporting 20 lawyers have delivered a petition to Egypt’s prosecutor general alleging the Mubarak family should face charges of stealing state funds. Last week, news agencies reported the family’s wealth at as much as $70 billion, much of it deposited in U.K. or Swiss banks, or in real estate in London, New York, Los Angeles and on the shores of the Red Sea.
A new report (download PDF here) published by New York University has raised questions about one of the central premises of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The study says the Afghan Taliban have been wrongly perceived as close ideological allies of al-Qaeda. The authors of the study write, “It is not an ideology they share; it is more a pragmatic political alliance. And therefore, a political approach to the Taliban ultimately could deliver a more practical separation between the two groups.” The study warns that the Obama administration’s surge in Afghanistan may be making it harder to negotiate because the attacks have eliminated many older Taliban leaders, who have been replaced by younger, more radical fighters.
Agence France-Presse reports a suspected U.S. drone crashed in Yemen earlier today in an area where al-Qaeda is said to have a strong presence. Police officials said it was a Predator drone, which can be used for surveillance, as well as armed missions.
Julian Assange, the founder of the online whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, is back in a London court today fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sex crimes. On Monday, Assange’s attorney insisted that his client had had consensual sex with his two accusers and that Assange should not be sent to Sweden because he would face a secret trial that violates international standards of fairness. On Monday, Assange spoke outside the courthouse.
bq.Julian Assange: “For the past five-and-a-half months, we have been in a condition where a black box has been applied to my life. And on the outside of that black box has been written the word 'rape.' That box is now, thanks to an open court process, being opened. And I hope over the next day we will see that that box is in fact empty and has nothing to do with the words that are on the outside of it.”
Meanwhile, the Stop the War Coalition organized an event in London Monday to show support for Assange. Speakers included former British parliamentarian Tony Benn.
bq.Tony Benn: “The Swedes are trying to get Julian back to Sweden. Now, of course, if he goes back to Sweden, then the Americans will go in and get him extradited back to the United States, and like Bradley Manning, who began this work, he could easily be put in solitary confinement and denied a fair trial. And then the whole WikiLeaks story could be ended, and we’d be back to the secrecy that we are protesting against now.”
In other WikiLeaks news, Russian authorities have expelled the Moscow correspondent of the Guardian newspaper. Luke Harding attempted to enter Moscow last weekend after being back in London for two months to write a book on the organization WikiLeaks. Although no explanation was offered to the journalist, the decision was made after Harding used WikiLeaks cables to report on allegations that Russia, under the rule of Vladimir Putin, had become a “virtual mafia state” in a December article. Harding is believed to be the first British journalist expelled from Russia since the Cold War.
President Obama spoke at the Chamber of Commerce Monday as part of his campaign to reach out to corporate America. The Chamber spent more than $50 million during last year’s midterm campaign, much of it on television ads aimed at electing Republicans. President Obama called on American companies to start hiring again as he outlined a series of initiatives to help the business community.
President Obama: “Which brings me to the final responsibility of government: breaking down some of the barriers that stand in the way of your success. As far as exports are concerned, that means seeking new opportunities and opening new markets for your goods. … Now, another barrier government can remove — and I hear a lot about this from many of you — is a burdensome corporate tax code with one of the highest rates in the world. …Which brings me to the last barriers we’re trying to remove, and those are outdated and unnecessary regulations. I’ve ordered a government-wide review, and if there are rules on the books that are needlessly stifling job creation and economic growth, we will fix them.”
During his speech at the Chamber of Commerce, President Obama also advocated for the signing of new so-called “free trade” deals.
bq.President Obama: “We finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. And by the way, it’s a deal that has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans. That’s the kind of deal that I will be looking for as we pursue trade agreements with Panama and Colombia, as we work to bring Russia into the international trading system.”
The Democratic Leadership Council has announced it is suspending operations after a quarter century. Al From founded the group in the mid-1980s to push the Democratic Party away from its liberal roots to become more moderate and pro-business.
Democratic Rep. Jane Harman of California has announced she is resigning from Congress to head the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Harman was a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
In other news from Capitol Hill, the House is expected to vote today on extending certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. One of the provisions authorizes the FBI to continue using roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; the second allows the government to access library records and other records in the course of surveillance; and the third provision allows for surveillance of so-called lone wolfs — targets who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has drawn criticism from drug legalization advocates regarding comments she made during a Mexican news interview. Clinton argued the United States cannot legalize drugs because there is “too much money in it.” Clinton went on to say, “You can legalize small amounts for possession, but those who are making so much money selling, they have to be stopped.” Clinton suggested legalization would give traffickers an easier road to take because they would find it in their interest to addict minors. Critics contend Clinton has misunderstood fundamental problems of illegal drug trade — in particular, the concept that a great deal of money is made selling illegal drugs precisely because they are illegal. Clinton’s comments came in an interview focusing on Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s drug war, which, since its inception in 2006, has cost an estimated 34,000 lives, including more than 1,000 minors.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has criticized the Obama administration for what he describes as an unwillingness to clamp down on illegal gun sales on the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House recently denied a request from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives for an emergency rule forcing gun dealers on the border to report bulk sales of assault rifles. Bloomberg condemned the denial, saying, “The White House decided that the illegal trafficking of thousands of semiautomatic assault rifles from the U.S. to Mexico is not an emergency, our coalition of over 550 mayors strongly disagrees.”
Eleven students at the University of California, Irvine, have been charged with conspiracy after they disrupted a speech on campus last year by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. If convicted, they could be fined and get probation or six months in jail. Many of the students were members of the Muslim Student Union.
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