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History > 2013 > USA > International (III)




Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood stand next to the bodies of fellow protesters

killed in clashes with Republican Guards forces,

at a hospital morgue in Cairo, Egypt, on July 8.

Clashes between Islamist protesters and the army in Cairo

erupted at dawn killing at least 42 and injuring 322 others, according a health official.

Fighting broke out when an armed group attempted to storm the Republican Guards club,

where the ousted president Mohamed Morsi is thought to be held by the army.

The violence amplifies the conflict between the army

and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood group,

who vowed to continue demonstrating until he is restored to power.


Mohammed Saber/European Pressphoto Agency

Boston Globe > Big Picture > Egypt in turmoil        July 10, 2013
















White House Muted in Response

to New Mass Killing

of Egyptian Protesters


July 28, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s response was once again muted on Sunday after the second mass killing of Egyptian demonstrators in three weeks, as Western diplomats worked behind the scenes to calm the tensions, and lawmakers expressed scant support for cutting off American aid to Egypt.

One leading Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who heads the Intelligence Committee, said Congress should consider suspending $1.5 billion in annual American aid to Egypt in response to the Egyptian security services’ attack on Saturday that killed at least 72 people and wounded hundreds more. “We have to relook at granting aid,” Ms. Feinstein said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “The ball is in Egypt’s court.”

But other Democratic and Republican lawmakers, while condemning the second mass killing of demonstrators following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, stopped short of calling for cutting aid to Egypt.

Spokeswomen for the State Department and the White House’s National Security Council declined to comment on Sunday. In a statement on Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry called the violence “a pivotal moment for Egypt” and urged its leaders “to help their country take a step back from the brink.”

Mr. Kerry, who talked by telephone with Egypt’s interim vice president and foreign minister on Saturday, added, “In this extremely volatile environment, Egyptian authorities have a moral and legal obligation to respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”

Also on Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed deep concern over the violence in Egypt and urged restraint in a phone call with the Egyptian army chief, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement.

President Obama, in his first punitive response to Mr. Morsi’s ouster, last week ordered a halt to the delivery of four F-16 fighter planes to the Egyptian Air Force. But the White House has emphasized that the decision did not have implications for the $1.5 billion that Ms. Feinstein mentioned, which it has said it does not want to cut off for now.

The administration is reviewing that aid but has carefully avoided referring to Mr. Morsi’s ouster as a coup d’état, which could force its suspension on legal grounds.

“This is a real point of definition of what kind of Egypt is going to come out of this,” Senator Feinstein said Sunday, adding that she was putting Egypt’s new civilian leadership and Army generals — the real power in the country — on notice.

Diplomats were trying on Sunday to defuse the political crisis in Egypt, as supporters and opponents of Mr. Morsi continued to clash. Violence broke out at the funerals of Mr. Morsi supporters who were killed by Egyptian security forces on Saturday, leading to at least one death on Sunday.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, arrived in Cairo in what appeared to be an attempt to mediate the standoff between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that backs Mr. Morsi and demands his reinstatement.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Ashton said she would be meeting with General Sisi, with members of the Brotherhood, with civilian leaders in the interim government, and with youth activists. Ms. Ashton has also asked to see Mr. Morsi, who has been detained by the military since he was deposed July 3. The army declined a similar request by Ms. Ashton two weeks ago.

The spokeswoman did not say whether Ms. Ashton was carrying a specific proposal to end the impasse.

A Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad, said that he knew of no proposal, but that the group was open “to every patriotic initiative.”

The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, sharply condemned the bloodshed in Egypt on Sunday, warning that political violence was leading the country to a disaster.

Egypt’s leaders continued to blame the protesters for the bloodshed on Saturday, even as videos circulated on the Internet that clearly showed police officers and plainclothes gunmen firing at the rally. Prosecutors said a preliminary investigation found the protesters had tried to block a central bridge, and clashed with police officers who tried to stop them, according to state media.

The prosecutors said Sunday that the clashes had led to fatalities on both sides and that 73 pro-Morsi protesters had been arrested and faced charges including murder. That seemed to contradict statements by the interior minister, who said Saturday that police officers had been injured, but did not mention any fatalities. Other American lawmakers speaking on the political talk shows on Sunday also condemned the violence in Cairo.

“We’ve had a positive relationship between the United States and the Egyptian military,” Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said on the ABC program “This Week.” “But we should make it clear in Egypt, as we made it clear in Libya and in Syria, that firing on your own people is unacceptable by any government.”

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the senior Republican on the Intelligence Committee, echoed the comments of other lawmakers in recent days of the need for the United States to walk a fine line with its once-staunch ally in the Middle East.

“We’ve got to be careful that we don’t inject ourselves too much into the situation because it’ll probably make it worse,” Mr. Chambliss said on “This Week.” “But we also need to send a very clear and very strong message to the Egyptian military that we’re not going to tolerate, from a friendly-nation relationship standpoint, the kind of violence that we saw over the weekend.”

Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo.

    White House Muted in Response to New Mass Killing of Egyptian Protesters,
    NYT, 28.7.2013,





Egypt’s Ruling Military

Kills Scores of Islamists at Rally


July 27, 2013
The New York Times


CAIRO — The Egyptian authorities unleashed a ferocious attack on Islamist protesters early Saturday, killing at least 72 people in the second mass killing of demonstrators in three weeks and the deadliest attack by the security services since Egypt’s uprising in early 2011.

The attack provided further evidence that Egypt’s security establishment was reasserting its dominance after President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster three weeks ago, and widening its crackdown on his Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. The tactics — many were killed with gunshot wounds to the head or the chest — suggested that Egypt’s security services felt no need to show any restraint.

“They had orders to shoot to kill,” said Gehad el-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman. The message, he said, was, “This is the new regime.”

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry called this “a pivotal moment for Egypt” and urged its leaders “to help their country take a step back from the brink.”

The killings occurred a day after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians marched in support of the military, responding to a call by its commander for a “mandate” to fight terrorism. The appeal by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who has emerged as Egypt’s de facto leader since the military removed Mr. Morsi from power, was widely seen as a green light to the security forces to increase their repression of the Islamists.

In the attack on Saturday, civilians joined riot police officers in firing live ammunition at the protesters as they marched toward a bridge over the Nile. By early morning, the numbers of wounded people had overwhelmed doctors at a nearby field hospital.

One doctor sat by himself, crying as he whispered verses from the Koran. Nearby, medics tried to revive a man on a gurney. When they failed, he was quickly lifted away to make room for the many others.

With hundreds of people gravely wounded, the toll seemed certain to rise, and by Saturday evening had already surpassed the more than 60 deaths on July 8, when soldiers and police officers fired on pro-Morsi demonstrators.

As the deaths have mounted, more than 200 since the government was overthrown, hopes have faded for a political solution to the standoff between the military and the Brotherhood, whose leaders, including Mr. Morsi, are imprisoned or preparing themselves for jail.

In a televised news conference hours after the clash, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim absolved his men of any responsibility and made no mention of the high death toll. His officers, he said, “have never and will never shoot a bullet on any Egyptian.”

He blamed Mr. Morsi’s supporters for the violence, saying they planned to disrupt traffic on the bridge. “We had to stop them,” Mr. Ibrahim said. The protesters threw rocks and fired weapons, he said, and a large number of officers were wounded, including two who were shot in the head.

Mr. Ibrahim also suggested that further repression was imminent as the authorities prepared to break up sit-ins that thousands of Mr. Morsi’s supporters have held for weeks.

“God willing, it will be dispersed in a way that doesn’t cause many losses,” he said. “But God willing, it must end.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is vice president in the interim government, added a rare note of support for the Brotherhood from the country’s new leaders, writing on Twitter that he condemned the “excessive use of force” and was trying to “end the standoff in a peaceful manner.”

Mr. Kerry called on Egypt’s leaders to “respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression” and to open an inclusive political dialogue.

“Over two years ago, a revolution began,” he said in a statement. “Its final verdict is not yet decided, but it will be forever impacted by what happens right now.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke by telephone with General Sisi, urging him to exercise restraint and “take steps to prevent further bloodshed and loss of life,” according to a Pentagon statement.

The violence broke out on Friday night after a day of large, competing marches by supporters of Mr. Morsi and his opponents expressing solidarity with the military. At least eight people died on Friday, but there was not the kind of widespread violence that many had feared after General Sisi’s speech on Wednesday calling for demonstrations in support of the military.

That changed around 10:30 p.m., when groups of Mr. Morsi’s supporters left their vast encampment in Nasr City, marching toward the central October 6 Bridge, where police officers were stationed, according to witnesses. Several people said that the protesters had left the camp because it had become overcrowded, and that people had fanned out from the encampment along several boulevards. Others said they had planned to march through a nearby neighborhood.

The group that came under attack walked down Nasr Street, past the reviewing stand where President Anwar el-Sadat was assassinated in 1981, and the pyramid-shaped memorial to the unknown soldier across the street, toward the bridge.

“We didn’t have any weapons,” said Mohamed Abdulhadi, who said he had joined the march, which was “not violent.” More than 10 other witnesses confirmed his assertion.

The Interior Ministry released a video after the killings that it said showed Morsi supporters firing birdshot at the police and damaging property. It showed protesters throwing rocks, unidentified people wandering into traffic, and one man pulling out what appeared to be a silver pistol and firing it, though it is not clear who the man was, or which side of the fighting he was on.

Mohamed Saeed, an agricultural engineer, said he and some of the other protesters had started to exchange words with the officers before even reaching the bridge.

“You know how it is,” he said. “Some of us said some provocative things, and the tear gas started.”

The protesters threw rocks, and the confrontation quickly escalated, Mr. Saeed and others said. The Morsi supporters feared that the police were preparing to storm their encampment, so they started building brick walls on the road to “to prevent them from coming into the sit-in,” Mr. Saeed said.

An hour and a half after the clashes started, the police and their allies started firing live ammunition and pellet guns, Mr. Saeed said. Other witnesses said they had seen snipers on the roofs of nearby buildings.

Ahmed Hagag was there with his best friend, Ashraf. They had rushed to the front line bearing aid for their comrades, but it was useless given the kind of violence under way. “We went there with masks and vinegar,” he said, in preparation for the tear gas.

Ashraf, who had been “yearning for martyrdom,” did not want to stand in the back, Mr. Hagag said. “So it happened, and a bullet ended up in his heart.”

As the sun rose, a bullet struck Mr. Saeed’s right kidney. An hour later, a path that the protesters had cleared to the field hospital had become a highway for the wounded, who came in ambulances, on motorcycles and in the arms of friends.

A taxi drove by with a shattered rear window, pierced by a bullet that struck the driver in the neck. He declined offers of help and kept driving, blood running onto his shirt.

Before the police retreated around 8 a.m., a spray of gunfire had come from their positions, sending people scrambling for cover and setting off a new cavalcade of ambulances.

In the makeshift morgue at the field hospital, 29 bodies lay in a row covered with white sheets. A medic, Mahmoud al-Arabi, said the wounds were disturbing for their accuracy: many of the dead had been shot in their head, chest or neck.

Their shrouds were marked with names and sometimes the cities they had traveled from to join the Islamists in their square: Saadawy Mohamed from Beni Suef, Khaled Abdel al-Nasser from Qena.

Later Saturday, the Health Ministry said 72 people had been killed. The Brotherhood said it had counted 66 dead and classified an additional 61 people as “clinically dead.”

The violence left the Brotherhood in an increasingly dire position, facing the prospect of a ban of the kind it suffered before the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak. Its options at this point are limited, said Samer S. Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at the University of Oklahoma and an authority on the group.

“They really can’t resort to violence,” he said. “They don’t have a militia and it runs against all their rhetoric and recent history.”

Mr. Ibrahim, the interior minister, raised the prospect of a new threat to the Brotherhood, saying Saturday that he was reconstituting a state security agency that under Mr. Mubarak was responsible for monitoring Islamists and known for carrying out torture and forced disappearances. Without security agencies that have a political focus, Mr. Ibrahim said, “the security of the country doesn’t work.”


Robert F. Worth contributed reporting.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 27, 2013

A summary that appeared briefly with an earlier version

of this article misstated the death toll.

Dozens of people have been killed by the Egyptian authorities,

not hundreds.

    Egypt’s Ruling Military Kills Scores of Islamists at Rally, NYT, 27.7.2013,






Libyans Turn on Islamists and Liberals

After Killings


July 27, 2013
The New York Times


TRIPOLI, Libya — Protesters on Saturday attacked the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood of Libya and the headquarters of a liberal coalition after demonstrations set off by killings in the eastern city of Benghazi turned violent, witnesses said.

Hundreds took to the streets overnight to denounce the killing of Abdelsalam al-Mosmary, a prominent political activist and Brotherhood critic, who was shot Friday after leaving a mosque.

Mr. Mosmary opposed the Brotherhood, whose Islamist political wing is the second-biggest party in the national congress. Two military officials were also killed in Benghazi on Friday.

Libya’s government is struggling to assert its authority over armed groups that helped topple the longtime ruler Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, part of the wave of Arab Spring uprisings that also felled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.

Protesters in Benghazi set fire to two buildings, one belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and another to its political wing, the Justice and Construction Party, witnesses said.

In Tripoli, a crowd stormed the party’s headquarters before moving on to ransack the headquarters of the liberal National Forces Alliance, the country’s biggest political coalition, founded by the wartime rebel prime minister Mahmoud Jibril.

There has been rising opposition to the influence of the Brotherhood, which has links to several government ministers. It has struggled to convince Libyans wary of foreign interference that it has no financial or administrative ties to its namesake in neighboring Egypt, whose Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown by the military on July 3.

Tensions were also high between secularists and the ruling Islamists in Tunisia, where the funeral of a slain secular politician took place on Saturday.

Many of the Libyan protesters accused the Brotherhood of being behind the killings in Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 revolution, a charge the Brotherhood rejected.

“We have strongly condemned the assassination of Mosmary, and all the Libyan people should hear this and not openly blame us,” said Abdulrahman al-Dibani, a member of the Justice and Construction Party in the congress.

Reached by phone, Bashir el-Kubti, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, declined to comment on the attacks on the movement’s offices.

Libyans are growing increasingly frustrated with the political squabbling and lawlessness that has followed the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi.

“The people were in the streets because they are fed up of all political parties and how the state has failed,” said Hisham Idris, who demonstrated in Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli. “Maybe the growing opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood is because they are trying to achieve their political ambitions using religion as a cover for their agenda.”

The Tripoli protesters waved Libyan flags and shouted anti-Brotherhood slogans. A group of youths descended on the Justice and Construction Party offices, smashing windows, climbing on desks, grabbing documents and tossing them in the streets.

Graffiti reading “Go shave your beards, hypocrites — Libya does not need you” was sprayed on the building.

    Libyans Turn on Islamists and Liberals After Killings, NYT, 27.7.2013,






Thousands Gather

to Bury a Slain Tunisian Politician


July 27, 2013
The New York Times


TUNIS — Several thousand demonstrators gathered here on Saturday for the funeral of a slain opposition politician in a show of force against the government, which many blame for the assassination. Supporters filled the tree-lined avenues here in downtown Tunis, the capital, as they followed the funeral cortege on foot to a hilltop grave in the city’s main cemetery.

The Tunisian government ordered a state funeral for the politician, Mohamed Brahmi, 58, a National Assembly member and the leader of the People’s Party, and soldiers drove his coffin across town in a six-vehicle convoy while a military helicopter circled overhead.

But those following the cortege were opponents of the government, and no government figures attended the funeral itself. Led by Mr. Brahmi’s own party and its affiliates in the liberal Popular Front, the demonstrators were a mix of leftists, trade unionists and middle-class secularists.

Mr. Brahmi was assassinated by gunmen on Thursday outside his home in a Tunis suburb, an attack witnessed by his wife and children. On Friday, the government blamed an Islamist extremist cell linked to Al Qaeda for the killing and identified the chief suspect as a Salafist who it said was also responsible for the death of another opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, in February.

Protesters chanted slogans against the government and the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, which many blame for allowing violent extremists the freedom to operate. Opposition leaders who joined the protests called for the government to resign and for a national salvation government to replace it before elections.

The funeral was an emotional event for Mr. Brahmi’s family and followers, especially after the assassination of Mr. Belaid. Mr. Brahmi’s wife and two children joined the cortege, his son giving the victory salute to the crowd as the convoy moved forward.

Mr. Brahmi was laid to rest in the Jellez cemetery, alongside Mr. Belaid, in a corner reserved for martyrs.

“He was killed because he criticized the government,” said Nabil Brahmi, who is married to a cousin of Mr. Brahmi’s. “He was killed because of his values, his principles and his free speech, because it went against their interests.”

The assassination has thrown the country into a new political crisis, revealing deep social divisions between Islamists and their opponents. Two years after the revolution that overturned the dictatorship of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the transitional government has still not passed a new constitution or organized elections amid growing public dissatisfaction.

News agencies reported that one man was killed early on Saturday in an antigovernment protest in the southern city of Gafsa. Violence also broke out in several other cities.

A bomb in a police car exploded in Tunis but caused no casualties; the police spotted the homemade device and cleared the vehicle in time.

After the funeral, opposition groups and government supporters baited one another in a park in front of the National Assembly building. Black-clad riot officers quickly broke up the rival demonstrations, firing tear gas across the small park. They shouted at the demonstrators to go home and moved in to block off the whole area.

Supporters of Mr. Brahmi’s party drove the three hours from his home district, Sidi Bouzid, to stand guard at his house as the coffin was brought out on Saturday morning. It was in Sidi Bouzid that the suicide of a fruit seller protesting police cruelty helped set off the Arab Spring.

“We don’t trust Ennahda at all,” said Faouzi Gharbi, one of the Brahmi supporters. “We want the assembly and the government dissolved. Either we drag them down or they will drag us down.”

    Thousands Gather to Bury a Slain Tunisian Politician, NYT, 27.7.2013,






Scores of Demonstrators Killed in Egypt


July 27, 2013
The New York Times


CAIRO — The Egyptian authorities unleashed a ferocious attack on Islamist protesters early Saturday, killing at least 56 people in the second mass killing of demonstrators in three weeks and one of the deadliest attacks since Egypt’s revolution in early 2011.

Police officers joined by civilians fired live ammunition at supporters of the former president, Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the military three weeks ago.

The attack, in which some victims were killed with gunshot wounds to the head, appeared to offer further proof that Egypt’s new leaders were widening their crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood and suggested that Egypt’s security services felt no need to show any restraint.

“They are not shooting to wound,” Gehad al-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman told The Associated Press. “They are shooting to kill.”

With hundreds of people gravely wounded, the toll seemed likely to surpass the more than 60 deaths on July 8, when soldiers and police officers fired on pro-Morsi demonstrators.

The killings came a day after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians marched in support of the military after its commander called for mass demonstrations to give him a “mandate” to fight terrorism. That appeal, by Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, was widely seen to auger an imminent crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hours after the violence, the interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, quickly absolved his men of any responsibility. His officers, Mr. Ibrahim said, “have never and will never shoot a bullet on any Egyptian.”

He blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the deaths, referring to “those who preach and incite violence.” And he suggested that further repression was imminent as the authorities prepared to break up sit-ins that Mr. Morsi’s supporters have held for weeks.

Mr. Ibrahim said he hoped the protesters would be “reasonable” and remove themselves to avoid further bloodshed.

“We all hope and want the sit-ins to be broken up now, but blood is precious for us as well,” he said. “Be sure that dispersing the sit-in with force will lead to losses.”

The violence broke out on Friday night after a day of massive, competing marches by supporters of Mr. Morsi and his opponents expressing solidarity with the military. At least eight people died on Friday, but there was not the kind of widespread violence that many had feared after General Sisi’s speech last Wednesday calling for demonstrations in support of the military.

That changed at about 10:30 p.m., when groups of Mr. Morsi’s supporters left their vast encampment in Nasr City, marching toward the central October 6 Bridge, where police officers were stationed, according to witnesses. Several people said that the protesters left the camp because it had become overcrowded, and that people had fanned out from the encampment along several boulevards. Others said they planned to march through a nearby neighborhood.

The group that came under attack walked down Nasr Street, past the reviewing stand where former President Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated in 1981, and the pyramid-shaped memorial to the unknown soldier across the street, toward the bridge.

“We didn’t have any weapons,” said Mohamed Abdulhadi, who said he joined the march, which was “not violent.” More than 10 other witnesses confirmed his assertion.

The Interior Ministry released a video after the killings that it said showed Morsi supporters firing birdshot at the police and damaging property. It showed protesters throwing rocks, unidentified people wandering into traffic, and one man pulling out what appears to be a silver pistol and firing it, though it is not clear who the man is, or which side of the fighting he was on.

Mohamed Saeed, a 27-year-old agricultural engineer, said he and some of the other protesters started to exchange words with the officers before even reaching the bridge.

“You know how it is,” he said. “Some of us said some provocative things, and the tear gas started.” The protesters threw rocks.The confrontation quickly escalated, Mr. Saeed and others said. The protesters feared that the police were preparing to storm their encampment, so they started building brick walls on the road to “to prevent them from coming into the sit-in,” Mr. Saeed said.

An hour and a half after the clashes started, the police and their allies started firing live ammunition and pellet guns, Mr. Saeed said. Other witnesses said they saw snipers on the roofs of nearby buildings.

Ahmed Hagag was there with his best friend, Ashraf, both of them woefully underequipped for a fight. “We went there with masks and vinegar,” he said, in preparation for the tear gas. His friend Ashraf, who had been “yearning for martyrdom,” didn’t want to stand in the back, Mr. Hagag said.

“So it happened, and a bullet ended up in his heart.”

The violence went until morning, choking a field hospital nearby with bodies and patients near death.

Before the police retreated at about 8 a.m., a spurt of gunfire came from their positions, sending people scrambling for cover and setting off a fresh stampede of ambulances.

In the morgue of the field hospital, 29 bodies sat in a row covered with white sheets. A medic, Mahmoud al-Arabi, said the wounds revealed a disturbing pattern of accuracy: many of the dead were shot in their head, chest or neck.

Other doctors walked around in a daze, near relatives in disbelief. They included a woman, who stumbled down the stairs after seeing a stricken relative.

“Do you need a mosque?” a volunteer asked, but the woman kept walking.

Later Saturday, the Health Ministry said 38 people had been killed. The Brotherhood said the toll was 66.

The violence left the Brotherhood in an increasingly dire position, with limited options, said Samer S. Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at the University of Oklahoma and an authority on the Islamist group. “They really can’t resort to violence — they don’t have a militia and it runs against all their rhetoric and recent history,” Dr. Shehata said.

The group now faces the prospect of a broad legal ban of the kind it suffered under President Hosni Mubarak, and it is not even clear that it could avoid that even if it agreed to dismantle the sit-ins and relinquish its demands for the reinstatement of Mr. Morsi.

The interior minister on Saturday raised the prospect of a new threat to the Brotherhood, saying he was reconstituting a state security agency that under Mr. Mubarak, was responsible for monitoring Islamists and known for carrying out torture and forced disappearances.

Without security agencies that had a political focus, Mr. Ibrahim said, “the security of the country doesn’t work.”


Robert F. Worth contributed reporting.

    Scores of Demonstrators Killed in Egypt, NYT, 27.7.2013,






Violence Erupts

After Mass Rallies Over Fate of Egypt


July 27, 2013
The New York Times


CAIRO — Heavy fighting following mass rallies over the political fate of Egypt left dozens dead Saturday, a day after officials announced the possibility of serious criminal charges carrying the death penalty against the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi.

As hopes faded for any sort of political accommodation between the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood, the two sides held dueling rallies to show their power. But violence erupted overnight, and by Saturday morning the bodies of at least 25 protesters were laid out on concrete floors in a room being used as a morgue, while other bodies had to be sent elsewhere. The Muslim Brotherhood put the death count at 70 people, saying the demonstrators died when security forces opened fire on protesters on the edge of a round-the-clock vigil.

The violence came after a vast state-orchestrated display of military power Friday, with army helicopters hovering low over a huge throng of flag-waving, pro-military demonstrators in Tahrir Square and soldiers deploying in armored personnel carriers across the capital.

The crowds had turned out in Cairo and other Egyptian cities in response to a call by the defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, for mass demonstrations he said would give him a “mandate” to fight terrorism, a phrase widely understood to mean crackdowns on the Brotherhood.

It was another blow to the Arab world’s most prominent Islamist group, which until recently was the major political force in government, having repeatedly won elections after the country’s uprising two years ago.

The Brotherhood and several Western and Arab diplomats had called for the military, which has held Mr. Morsi incommunicado since his ouster three weeks ago, to release him as a good-will gesture, in hopes of brokering a compromise that would end the standoff between Islamists and the military. That now seems almost impossible, analysts say, with indications that the military is carrying out investigations geared toward a broader legal assault on the Brotherhood.

“This is a preparation for eliminating the Brotherhood,” said Emad Shahin, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo.

The Brotherhood responded defiantly on Friday, with pro-Morsi marches taking place along dozens of planned routes in Cairo and other cities. The group has continued to demand Mr. Morsi’s reinstatement as a precondition for any negotiations and labeled General Sisi’s plea for street demonstrations as a call to “civil war.” Its leaders insist that they are not seeking violence. Their marches, which regularly snarl busy Cairo streets, have become increasingly confrontational, setting the stage for the violent clashes overnight.

“Our blood and souls we will sacrifice for Islam,” some pro-Morsi protesters chanted, while others chanted his name and held posters bearing his face.

In Tahrir Square, by contrast, posters bearing General Sisi’s face bobbed above the crowd, amid a mood of aggressive nationalism that has gripped much of Egypt since the military removed Mr. Morsi. Crowds began gathering early in the day, with protesters hugging the soldiers guarding the entrances to the square and posing for pictures with them. Television networks delayed daytime serials broadcast during the holy month of Ramadan, to encourage people to join the anti-Brotherhood demonstrations.

The two protest camps also clashed on Friday in the port city of Alexandria, where seven people were reported dead and scores were injured.

Well over 100 people have been killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of the Brotherhood in the last month, including a polarizing episode on July 8 in which soldiers and police officers fired on Brotherhood members and killed 62.

Mr. Morsi, whose face regularly appears on large banners in Islamist marches across the country, is being investigated on charges that he conspired with the militant Palestinian group Hamas in a prison escape. The charges appear to relate to his own 2011 escape from Wadi Natroun prison. He is accused of conspiring with Hamas in “hostile acts,” including the kidnapping and killing of police officers and soldiers, according to a report on the Web site of Egypt’s flagship state newspaper, Al Ahram. He was also ordered detained for an additional 15 days, the report said.

The Wadi Natroun accusations, which have been emphasized by his political opponents for some time, gained little traction until after Mr. Morsi was deposed, and they have been dismissed by many human rights advocates as political. Mr. Morsi was arrested in the final days of Mr. Mubarak’s government, and after his release, Mr. Morsi said in a television interview that he was among 30 members of his movement who were broken out of prison by men they did not know.

The announcement of the formal detention and possible charges may also be aimed at providing legal cover in the face of international pressure on the Egyptian authorities to release Mr. Morsi. On Wednesday, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, joined the United States, the European Union and other bodies in expressing concern about Mr. Morsi’s unexplained detention.

In a statement, Salah al-Bardaweel, a spokesman for Hamas, denounced the accusations and challenged Egyptian prosecutors to present evidence that the group had been involved in the prison breaks. “This is an implication of Hamas into a dishonorable political battle,” he said.

Mr. Haddad, the Brotherhood spokesman, said Friday that the threatened charges amounted to a repudiation by the military of the revolt that toppled Mr. Mubarak and “might increase the number of angry people on the ground.”

“It will only help strengthen the realization that the Mubarak state is back,” he said.

At many protests, where thousands of Brotherhood supporters and their Islamist allies have been camped out for weeks, bearded clerics called for an Islamic state while the crowd chanted, “The people demand the return of the president.”

“I think the criminal charges were filed to push the Brotherhood to violence, so the military could then use that as an excuse to crack down,” said Soha Emera, a 43-year-old woman in a pale head scarf, standing near the stage. “But they have stayed peaceful. Look what happened today: it was other people attacking the Brotherhood.”

In Tahrir Square, a stronghold for Mr. Morsi’s opponents for weeks, many in the crowd seemed heartened by news of the formal detention and legal accusations.

“Morsi is nothing but a criminal, and the Egyptian people will be victorious,” said Ibrahim Abdelrahman, a 60-year-old retiree, as he waved an Egyptian flag. “The people, the army, the police: we are all one hand.”


Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo

and Gerry Mullany contributed from Hong Kong.

    Violence Erupts After Mass Rallies Over Fate of Egypt, NYT, 27.7.2013,






Inching Forward in the Mideast


July 25, 2013
The New York Times


The week that Secretary of State John Kerry said could start the revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is passing without visible progress. The naysayers are chortling, but Mr. Kerry, to his credit, is undeterred. His aides insist that plans to resume the dialogue on a two-state solution that collapsed in 2010 are on track; on Thursday, an Israeli minister said that talks could begin next week.

Even if they do, the path will never be smooth. The differences are deeply felt, and the two sides have repeatedly squandered chances for peace. After Mr. Kerry announced last Friday that he would bring Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to Washington “within a week or so,” both sides poured cold water on the idea. The Palestinians said talks could not begin without an agreement that would be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 war; the Israelis rejected that and said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not even proceed with talks without approval from his divided cabinet. That could come on Sunday.

While crucial details remain secret, Mr. Kerry has used six trips to the region to pursue a sensible strategy to nudge the two sides to the table. The Arab League has given the Palestinians political cover to enter talks by endorsing Mr. Kerry’s efforts and modifying their 2002 Arab Peace Initiative so it is more in line with American and Israeli positions. The international community has promised the Palestinians a $4 billion economic package.

For its part, Israel has said it will release 82 Palestinian prisoners convicted after the 1993 Oslo accords. It has also slowed the expansion of settlements that have shrunk the land available for a Palestinian state. As a concession to Israel, the Palestinians will not ask the United Nations to further upgrade their status while negotiations are under way. The European Union has weighed in: on the one hand pressuring Israel with the threat of reduced aid if it does not negotiate, and on the other putting Hezbollah’s military wing on the terror list.

Half-measures will not do. To be fruitful, negotiations must proceed quickly to core issues. Palestinians need to have the borders of their state defined, and Israelis need to know that the new state will not threaten their security. But other critical issues — Jerusalem’s future and the fate of Palestinian refugees — must also be addressed.

One sign of Mr. Kerry’s optimism is his plans to name a full-time envoy to oversee negotiations. It is reported to be Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration. While well-versed on the issues and known to regional leaders, Mr. Indyk, a vice president of the Brookings Institution, has a long association with pro-Israel groups. He, or whoever is chosen, will need to be creative and evenhanded in pressing both Mr. Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on a compromise.

The pessimists insist that this is not the time, and these are not the leaders, for a peace deal. Yet the future seems increasingly unpredictable and the consequences of inaction increasingly grave. No good can come if Israel, with its growing Palestinian population, evolves from a Jewish majority state to an Arab majority state; if disenfranchised Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza remain stateless in an increasingly restive region; and if the long sought dream of a Palestinian state is left to die.

    Inching Forward in the Mideast, NYT, 25.7.2013,






A New Anti-American Axis?


July 6, 2013
The New York Times


THE flight of the leaker Edward J. Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow last month would not have been possible without the cooperation of Russia and China. The two countries’ behavior in the Snowden affair demonstrates their growing assertiveness and their willingness to take action at America’s expense.

Beyond their protection of Mr. Snowden, Chinese-Russian policies toward Syria have paralyzed the United Nations Security Council for two years, preventing joint international action. Chinese hacking of American companies and Russia’s cyberattacks against its neighbors have also caused concern in Washington. While Moscow and Beijing have generally supported international efforts to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program, they clearly were not prepared to go as far as Washington was, and any coordinated shift in their approach could instantly gut America’s policy on the issue and endanger its security and energy interests. To punctuate the new potential for cooperation, China is now carrying out its largest ever joint naval exercises — with Russia.

Russia and China appear to have decided that, to better advance their own interests, they need to knock Washington down a peg or two. Neither probably wants to kick off a new cold war, let alone hot conflicts, and their actions in the case of Mr. Snowden show it. China allowed him into Hong Kong, but gently nudged his departure, while Russia, after some provocative rhetoric, seems to have now softened its tone.

Still, both countries are seeking greater diplomatic clout that they apparently reckon they can acquire only by constraining the United States. And in world affairs, there’s no better way to flex one’s muscles than to visibly diminish the strongest power.

This new approach appears based in part on a sense of their growing strength relative to America and their increasing emphasis on differences over issues like Syria. Both Moscow and Beijing oppose the principle of international action to interfere in a country’s sovereign affairs, much less overthrow a government, as happened in Libya in 2011. After all, that principle could always backfire on them.

They also don’t like watching the West take action against leaders friendly to them, like President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. As this sense of common interests becomes entrenched, increasing Russian-Chinese cooperation could pose grave risks for America and the world.

Their conduct suggests that they see less cost in challenging the United States and fewer rewards for acting as a partner. These calculations stem from two dangerous perceptions.

First, they see American decline and decadence. In their view, the United States is on the wrong side of history, holding on to ties with Europe and parts of Asia, while losing economic leverage and moral authority in the rest of the world. American disengagement from Iraq and Afghanistan without victory contributes to a related impression that America’s unquestioned military superiority isn’t worth much in terms of achieving policy objectives on the ground.

Second, many Russian and Chinese elites consider American foreign policy objectives fundamentally hostile to their vital interests. Neither group views American democracy promotion as reflecting any genuine commitment to freedom; instead, both perceive it as a selective crusade to undermine governments that are hostile to the United States or too powerful for its comfort.

Meanwhile, Russian and Chinese leaders make clear that Washington’s support for their neighbors in practically every dispute involving Beijing or Moscow is less a matter of respect for international law than a form of dual containment that seeks to curtail the regional and global influence of these two major powers.

American backing for Georgia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia bothers Russia. Likewise, China views American support for Vietnam and the Philippines in their maritime disputes with Beijing as a menace.

No wonder Xi Jinping of China made his first international trip as China’s president to Moscow, where he told his counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, that Beijing and Moscow should “resolutely support each other in efforts to protect national sovereignty, security and development interests” and promised to “closely coordinate” on regional and international issues. Mr. Putin reciprocated by saying that “the strategic partnership between us is of great importance on both a bilateral and global scale.” While the two leaders’ words may have generated more of an impression of collusion than was necessary, it’s safe to assume they knew exactly the message they were sending.

POLICY makers in Washington must carefully assess the growing chumminess between China and Russia and what it means for America. To ignore it would be foolish.

Yes, China and Russia continue to be divided by a history of mutual distrust as well as by conflicting economic interests and Chinese territorial ambitions. China’s concerns about North Korea exceed Russia’s, and Moscow’s stake in Syria is greater than Beijing’s. And in Central Asia, the two nations are outright competitors. Moreover, China is a rising superpower and Russia is fighting to stay in the big leagues, which gives them different perspectives on world affairs.

That said, both countries share a strong interest in maintaining partnerships with the United States and the European Union, their main trading partners and the custodians of the international financial system, in which each has a major stake. These are powerful reasons for staying on good working terms with Washington, but the United States should not assume that they will halt the new anti-American tack in Beijing and Moscow. That would be a dangerous misreading of history.

Before World War I, many assumed that mutual economic entanglement and the huge costs of war would prevent conflict among key European powers. On the eve of World War II, Communist Russia and Nazi Germany seemed the unlikeliest of allies, until the two-year-long nonaggression treaty known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact left Europe in ruins and many millions dead.

President Obama should see China and Russia as neither enemies nor friends, but as significant powers with their own interests, as the Snowden affair showed. Initially, Mr. Obama railed publicly and ineffectually at both, urging them to extradite Mr. Snowden. Only when he softened his public stance and hardened his private line did Beijing and Moscow begin to see the advantages of avoiding further confrontation.

Washington needs to understand that most security threats around the world — from Syria to Iran to North Korea — can’t be managed safely and successfully without Russia’s and China’s cooperation. With respect to Syria, this approach would mean appreciating Moscow’s historical connection to the country’s Alawite leaders as well as Russia’s concern over the fate of Syria’s Christians, especially Orthodox Christians. In dealing with Beijing, it would mean strongly protecting American trade interests while understanding that Chinese leaders face real obstacles in tackling their own domestic economic problems.

To gain the respect of Russia and China, the White House must first demonstrate that American leadership is essential to solving key world problems, including those vital to China and Russia. America can’t be seen as passive.

Relations with Russia and China deserve to be given priority, but the United States mustn’t be afraid to stand firm in some cases or, in others, to partner with these two authoritarian but ultimately pragmatic powers. To do otherwise would be a folly of historic proportions.


Leslie H. Gelb, a former columnist, editor and correspondent

for The New York Times, is president emeritus

of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dimitri K. Simes is president of the Center

for the National Interest and publisher of its magazine,

The National Interest.

    A New Anti-American Axis?, NYT, 6.7.2013,





Venezuela Offers Asylum to Snowden


July 5, 2013
The New York Times


President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela said Friday that he would offer asylum to the fugitive intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden, who has been stranded in a Moscow airport searching for a safe haven.

“I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden,” Mr. Maduro said during a televised appearance at a military parade marking Venezuela’s independence day.

Mr. Maduro said he had decided to act “to protect this young man from the persecution unleashed by the world’s most powerful empire.”

It was not immediately clear, however, how Mr. Snowden could reach Venezuela or if Mr. Maduro was willing to help transport him.

Also on Friday, Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, said he was open to taking in Mr. Snowden. “It is clear that if the circumstances permit we will take in Mr. Snowden with pleasure and give him asylum in Nicaragua,” Mr. Ortega said in Managua.

Mr. Snowden has sought asylum from more than two dozen nations. Most countries have declined.

The offers from Venezuela and Nicaragua appeared to be linked to outrage in Latin America over the treatment last week of President Evo Morales of Bolivia, whose plane was denied permission to fly over several European countries because of what Bolivian officials said were unfounded suspicions that Mr. Snowden was aboard. Mr. Morales was on his way home from a meeting in Moscow.

Mr. Maduro had previously voiced sympathy for Mr. Snowden. He frequently bashes the United States, depicting it as an imperialist bully in Latin America. But at the same time he has shown a desire to improve relations with the United States, directing his foreign minister to start talks with Washington aimed at smoothing the rocky relationship with the top buyer of his country’s all-important oil exports.

Earlier on Friday, WikiLeaks said in a post on Twitter that Mr. Snowden, who is wanted by the United States on charges of revealing classified government information, “has applied to another six countries for asylum,” following up on similar applications to about 20 nations last week.

Supporters of Mr. Snowden clearly blame the refusals on pressure from the United States, and, as a result, WikiLeaks said it would not reveal the latest countries in which he is seeking shelter. “They will not be named at this time due to attempted US interference,” the group wrote on Twitter.

In Russia, officials have expressed impatience over Mr. Snowden’s continuing sojourn in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport. On Thursday, a deputy foreign minister, Sergey A. Ryabkov, told reporters that Mr. Snowden should pick a destination and leave as soon as possible.

Russia was apparently among the original countries to which Mr. Snowden submitted an asylum request, but a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, Dmitri S. Peskov, has said since that the request was withdrawn.

On Thursday, Mr. Putin sent a telegram to President Obama noting the Fourth of July holiday and restating his commitment to holding a summit meeting in Moscow in September, ahead of the G20 conference, which will be in St. Petersburg. American officials have signaled that Mr. Obama is unlikely to visit Moscow if Mr. Snowden is still holed up at Sheremetyevo airport.


María Eugenia Díaz contributed

reporting from Caracas, Venezuela.

    Venezuela Offers Asylum to Snowden, NYT, 5.7.2013,






Israel Sees a Chance for More Reliable Ties

With Egypt and a Weakening of Hamas


July 5, 2013
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — After Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist, was elected president of Egypt a year ago, he refused any contact with Israelis, raising deep anxiety here and concern about the future of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, a cornerstone of regional stability for decades.

But with Mr. Morsi’s ouster and the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt this week, Israelis see the prospect of a return to what they view as a more reliable status quo, as well as a weakening of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that runs Gaza.

And yet, the good news for Israel remains tempered by the danger of chronic instability next door.

“What is important for Israel is a stable Egypt,” said Shaul Shay, a former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council. “I don’t see the Muslim Brotherhood there swallowing the blow and waiting another 80 years to try to return to power. The story is not over, despite the fireworks in Cairo.”

While Mr. Morsi served as head of state, Israel’s only line of communication with Cairo was through the Egyptian military and security establishment, which is now controlling Egypt’s political process. Perhaps more reassuring to Israel is the role of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the top commander who led the move to depose Mr. Morsi.

General Sisi is well known in Israel’s defense establishment from his past roles in military intelligence and in northern Sinai. An Israeli expert said that even after Mr. Morsi appointed General Sisi as his defense minister, the general’s office continued to communicate and coordinate directly with Israel.

Israeli officials have maintained a diplomatic silence since Mr. Morsi’s overthrow, refusing to comment publicly on what they say is an internal Egyptian affair.

“We are observing very closely,” one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. “This is a matter of highest importance for us. We really hope the Egyptians manage to put together a functioning democracy, slowly but surely, but there is still a very high level of uncertainty.”

He added, “What’s next is anybody’s guess.”

Still, for some Israelis, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood was reason enough to celebrate.

“It’s good that the Muslim Brotherhood has gone,” said Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. “If they had stayed in power for another two or three years, they’d have taken control of the military and everything else, and Egypt would have become like Iran.”

Mr. Morsi did not radically shift Egyptian policy toward Israel, upholding Egypt’s commitment to the peace treaty. Under his authority, the Egyptian military acted in the volatile Sinai Peninsula against Islamic militants who had been attacking Egyptian forces in recent years and using the wild desert terrain to stage cross-border attacks against Israel. Israeli experts said Israeli-Egyptian security coordination over Sinai in the last year had been closer and more intense than during the era of Mr. Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

In November, Mr. Morsi played an instrumental role in brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza, ending a fierce eight-day Israeli offensive. Hamas has since worked to rein in rocket fire by Gaza militants against southern Israel.

With Egypt in flux, the Sinai Peninsula remains a potential source of friction. Early Friday, gunmen attacked an airport and Egyptian security forces there. The Egyptian authorities took the immediate step of indefinitely closing the Rafah crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border, presumably to block any potential access for Hamas to its allies in Egypt.

It was a sign of the times for Hamas, which faces increasing isolation, experts said. When the Brotherhood was in power in Egypt, Hamas had a strong ally.

For a while after Mr. Morsi’s election victory, Hamas felt empowered. Mr. Morsi sent his prime minister to Gaza in November in a show of solidarity amid the Israeli offensive. In October, the emir of Qatar became the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007. He pledged $400 million for major housing and infrastructure projects there.

But the high expectations never fully materialized. The Rafah crossing remained limited to passengers and closed to commercial goods. The Egyptian military recently stepped up its campaign against the tunnels beneath the border that are used for smuggling goods, weapons and fugitives. The clampdown is causing shortages of cheap fuel and depriving Hamas of the significant tax revenues it collects from the underground trade. In addition, Qatar indefinitely suspended its projects in Gaza, partly because of the unstable situation in Egypt. Qatari officials were apparently unable to get to Gaza to endorse the second phase of the work.

Hamas had already been suffering from a sharp drop in financing from Iran in recent months because the group did not stand by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, its former patron, in his struggle against rebel forces.

“Hamas is in a very difficult situation because its outside relations are shrinking,” said Akram Atallah, a political analyst in Gaza.

But Israeli experts cautioned that a weakened Hamas was not necessarily good for Israel, either, noting that weakness could also lead to extremism.

Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described Egypt as “the sick man on the Nile,” adding, “A situation in which Egypt, a nation of 85 million people, is in danger of some kind of implosion is a horror scenario for all of us.”

Internal chaos would also be likely to further erode Egypt’s historic role as a leader of the Arab world, but Israeli analysts said its influence had already been in decline for years.

“Egypt is busy with its own domestic problems and is not much of an actor on the regional scene,” said Efraim Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.


Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza.

    Israel Sees a Chance for More Reliable Ties With Egypt
    and a Weakening of Hamas, NYT, 5.7.2013,






Mayhem in Cairo

as Morsi Backers Fight for Return


July 5, 2013
The New York Times


CAIRO — Egypt’s bitter split over who should be ruling the country exploded into violent clashes in the streets of Cairo and elsewhere on Friday as masses of demonstrators celebrating the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi battled crowds of Islamists who wanted him reinstated.

Combatants used rocks, sticks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails in a battle lasting hours that raged near Tahrir Square and across a bridge spanning the Nile, part of the most widespread street violence in Egypt since the early days of the 2011 revolution.

The mayhem capped a day full of massive and defiant protests by Islamists demanding that Mr. Morsi be returned to power. At least four people were killed and many were wounded when security forces fired into a protest near the officers’ club of the powerful Republican Guard, where many believed Mr. Morsi was detained.

With clashes breaking out late into the night, it was impossible to estimate the full extent of casualties and damage. But early Saturday, security officials said at least 30 people had been killed nationwide and hundreds wounded, many of them in Cairo.

Islamists in other cities across the country also demanded Mr. Morsi’s reinstatement, breaking into government offices in several provinces and temporarily evicting military officials. Fifteen people died in Alexandria, and a curfew was declared in the Sinai Peninsula, where six soldiers and police officers were killed in at least four attacks on security posts.

The new violence suggested that the military’s removal of Mr. Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, after protests by millions of Egyptians angry with his rule, had worsened the deep polarization between Islamists who call his ouster a military coup and their opponents who say his removal was the result of an urgent need to fix Egypt’s myriad problems.

By turning out in the tens of thousands, the pro-Morsi crowds underlined the organizational might of the Muslim Brotherhood, which emerged as the major political force and dominated rounds of elections after the country’s revolution two years ago. At that time, it gained power that many in the group had dreamed of for decades. The military’s intervention in politics this week entirely removed it from the government.

The group called the protests the “Friday of Rejection” and chanted for Mr. Morsi’s return.

“We will bring him back bearing him on our necks, sacrifice our souls for him,” Mohamed Badie, the group’s spiritual leader, told an enraged crowd at a large demonstration in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City. “We will bring back the rights of the Egyptian people who were wronged by this disgraceful conspiracy.”

Mr. Badie said the reports that he had been among the Islamist leaders arrested in a post-Morsi crackdown by security forces were false. Hundreds of Islamists were detained within a day after Mr. Morsi’s ouster. Some were released on Friday.

An interim president installed by the military, Adli Mansour, a former chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, took a further step on Friday to erase the vestiges of Mr. Morsi’s government by formally dissolving the Shura Council, the country’s only operating house of Parliament, which the Islamists had dominated. The constitutional court had disbanded the lower house last year, one of many challenges Mr. Morsi had faced in his troubled tenure.

In a further affront to the Islamists, the Egyptian news media have marginalized their message in the two days since Mr. Morsi was deposed. Despite the interim government’s pledge of inclusiveness, Islamist television broadcasters were shuttered, and the state television barely covered the breadth of the pro-Morsi demonstrations on Friday.

Underpinning the Islamists’ fears of the emerging political order was a keen awareness of the long history of enmity with the security services. While some Islamists did use violence against the state, Egypt’s previous rulers kept even nonviolent Islamists in check by banning their organizations and subjecting them to arbitrary arrests and torture.

For some, those memories have come flooding back.

“They hung me up, they beat me, they used electricity — all the means of torture they had,” said Hussein Nada, 43, a protester, recalling the eight years he spent in prison for his association with the Gamaa al-Islamiyya, an ultraconservative Islamist group that attacked tourists and security forces in the 1990s but later renounced violence.

“Anyone from the opposition who came to power could decide to put us all back in prison,” he said. “As soon as the army came back, they put hundreds on the arrests list, so we fear we could lose all we’ve gained.”

The shooting outside the Republican Guard officers’ club broke out after protesters had reacted angrily to an officer who shredded a poster of Mr. Morsi that had been hung on the barbed wire blocking the entrance.

Blood spots stained the sidewalk where the wounded had fallen, and the size of the protest soon swelled as angry Islamists from elsewhere joined in.

“Where’s Morsi?” they screamed. Others denounced Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who ordered Mr. Morsi’s removal on Wednesday. “Traitor, traitor, traitor! Sisi is a traitor!” they cried.

The clashes downtown erupted when masses of Mr. Morsi’s supporters marched across a Nile bridge to try to enter Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and the main spot for aggrieved Egyptians ever since. Anti-Morsi demonstrators, camped in the square, rushed to keep them out, and the two sides clashed on and around a bridge near the Ramses Hilton Hotel and the Egyptian Museum.

“This has become a gang war, a street battle,” said Hisham al-Sayyed Suleiman, 50, who stood watching the clashes from the bridge.

Military helicopters circled as the two sides faced off, each protecting its front line with huge sheets of metal. Rioters pelted each other with rocks and chunks of concrete and lobbed fireworks over their opponents’ heads, showering them with a rain of red, green and blue sparks.

The pro-Morsi rioters surged onto the bridge, and a battle raged over the Nile for hours until dozens of armored vehicles packed with black-clad riot police officers were deployed.

The anti-Morsi crowd hailed their arrival with cheers of “The people and the police are one hand!” and marched alongside as the armored convoy routed the Islamists off the bridge with blasts of birdshot and volleys of tear gas.

“They wanted to enter Tahrir so they could try to bring back Morsi, but we’ll never let that happen,” said Adel Ibrahim, 42, who carried a small satellite dish for a shield in one hand and stones in the other. “If the Islamists try to come back, we will all unite against them.”

Once the clashes subsided, dozens of young men climbed atop the police vehicles to cheers from the crowd. Some stopped to pose for photographs with police officers holding their shotguns — a curious sight since the police had been widely detested for killing protesters during the anti-Mubarak uprising.

Some said the police joining forces with Mr. Morsi’s opponents meant that the Muslim Brotherhood had lost its place in the country.

“They tried to rule the whole country for themselves,” said Ali Hassan, 32. “But if you want to rule Egypt, you have to rule for everyone or the people will stand against you.”

In a sign that the anti-Morsi backlash may have overreached, a Mubarak-appointed prosecutor general, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, who had been dismissed by Mr. Morsi and was among those reinstated to his office on Thursday, resigned less than 24 hours later, apparently sensitive to the appearance of engaging in political retaliation. Mr. Mahmoud said in a statement that he had decided to resign to “avoid the embarrassment of making judicial decisions against those who removed me from office.”

The Obama administration, which provides $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt and has watched the crisis unfold with increased concern, called for calm. “We condemn the violence that has taken place today in Egypt,” Jennifer R. Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We call on all Egyptian leaders to condemn the use of force and to prevent further violence among their supporters.”


Reporting was contributed by Mayy El Sheikh,

David D. Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim from Cairo

Rick Gladstone from New York; Alan Cowell from London;

and Peter Baker from Washington.

    Mayhem in Cairo as Morsi Backers Fight for Return, NYT, 5.7.2013,






Demoting Democracy in Egypt


July 4, 2013
The New York Times


DOHA, Qatar — WHEN Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president last year, it was an especially sweet victory for the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s oldest and most influential Islamist movement. After a long history of repression, the Brotherhood had finally tasted triumph. But their short-lived rule ended Wednesday when Egypt’s army deposed Mr. Morsi.

The Brotherhood’s fall will have profound implications for the future of political Islam, reverberating across the region in potentially dangerous ways. One of the most important political developments of recent years was the decision of Islamist parties to make peace with democracy and commit to playing by the rules of the political game. Leaders counseled patience to their followers. Their time would come, they were told.

Now supporters of the Brotherhood will ask, with good reason, whether democracy still has anything to offer them. Mr. Morsi’s removal will breathe new life into the ideological claims of radicals. Al Qaeda and its followers have long argued that change can’t come through the democracy of “unbelievers”; violence is the only path. As the Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri once said, “What is truly regrettable is the rallying of thousands of duped Muslim youth in voter queues before ballot boxes instead of lining them up to fight in the cause of Allah.”

Al Qaeda’s intellectual forebears emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, and were shaped by events that bear an eerie similarity to those of this week. In 1954, a popularly backed Egyptian Army moved against the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting thousands and dismantling the organization. Prison had a radicalizing effect on Sayyid Qutb, a leading Brotherhood ideologue, who experienced torture at the hands of his captors before being executed in 1966. Many of Mr. Qutb’s followers later left the Brotherhood’s embrace and went their own way, setting up militant organizations that would begin perpetrating acts of terrorism.

In 1954, no one could have guessed that the brutal crackdown against the Brotherhood would set in motion a chain of events that would have terrible consequences for the region and America.

The events of this week could have similarly profound implications. In the hours after Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the new military leadership suspended the Constitution, shut down at least three Islamist television stations, and, more ominously, issued arrest warrants for at least 300 Brotherhood members. Prominent liberal voices are calling for “dissolving” the Brotherhood and holding what would amount to dubious show trials.

America finds itself in a tight spot. After the coup, President Obama expressed “deep concern,” steering clear of any explicit condemnation. More troubling, he called for the restoration of “a” — not “the” — democratically elected government, an important distinction that won’t be lost on the Brotherhood.

When I spoke to one of Mr. Morsi’s top advisers on the night of June 30, he was already pre-emptively blaming the United States. If a coup takes place, he told me, it means that America either supports it or is willing to look the other way.

This, too, bears the echoes of a not-so-distant past. In 1992, Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front was on the verge of a historic victory in free elections. But the Algerian Army intervened, annulling the results and rounding up thousands of Islamists, many of whom ended up in desert prison camps. Days before the crackdown began, one of the Salvation Front’s leaders, Abdelkader Hachani, warned a crowd of supporters what might be in store. “Victory is more dangerous than defeat,” he told them.

In hundreds of interviews that I’ve conducted with Muslim Brotherhood leaders and activists in Egypt and Jordan over the past decade, many have brought up Algeria and the so-called American veto — the notion that the United States and other Western powers would simply not allow Islamists to assume power through democratic elections.

The subversion of democracy in 1992 in Algeria wasn’t widely reported in the West, nor was it seen as particularly important. This time, in Egypt, it happened while the whole world was watching.

Along with 1954 and 1992, 2013 will stand as a historic moment in Islamist lore, shaping future generations of Islamist activists and deepening their already powerful narrative of persecution, repression and regret. America is blamed for enough as it is. There is no need to add another grievance to the list.

The Obama administration would be wise to distance itself from the army’s actions and use its leverage, particularly the promise of financial assistance, to pressure the military to respect the rights of Islamists.

To limit the fallout from this week’s events, Egypt’s new government must ensure that the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party are reincorporated into the political process and free to contest — and win — parliamentary and presidential elections. Otherwise, Islamist parties’ faith in democracy could be irrevocably damaged.


Shadi Hamid is director of research

at the Brookings Doha Center

and a fellow in Middle East policy

at the Brookings Institution.

    Demoting Democracy in Egypt, NYT, 4.7.2013,






Unable to Visit With Mandela,

Obama Honors His Legacy


June 29, 2013
The New York Times


JOHANNESBURG — The possibility of a meeting between the two historic figures — the first black president of the United States and the first black president of South Africa — was so tantalizingly close. But with Nelson Mandela fighting for his life in a Pretoria hospital, President Obama abandoned his hope for a visit and instead on Saturday used every stop here to talk in emotional and sweeping terms about what Mr. Mandela meant to the world, and to him.

“I expressed my hope that Madiba draws peace and comfort from the time that he is spending with loved ones,” Mr. Obama said after a meeting with some of Mr. Mandela’s children and grandchildren, using the clan name by which Mr. Mandela is widely known. “I also reaffirmed the profound impact that his legacy has had in building a free South Africa, and in inspiring people around the world — including me. That’s a legacy that we must all honor in our own lives.”

In an earlier news conference with South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, he also spoke about one of Mr. Mandela’s greatest gifts: his ability to see beyond his own considerable legend.

“Despite how revered he was,” Mr. Obama said, Mr. Mandela understood that government must be “bigger than just one person, even one of the greatest people in history. What an incredible lesson that is.”

Mr. Obama had built his Africa trip months ago on the hope of meeting with Mr. Mandela, whom he has called a personal hero. And like many South Africans, he was eager to ensure that Mr. Mandela’s legacy will live on through younger generations. He brought his two daughters on the trip, even as many locals spent Saturday taking their own children to makeshift memorials outside the Pretoria hospital where Mr. Mandela, 94, lay in critical condition and outside the Johannesburg home where he lived much of the time after his release from 27 years in apartheid prisons.

Herschelle Sigudla was one of those South Africans. He went to the hospital on a brilliantly sunny winter morning with his wife and two teenagers to pay their respects.

“We were in university during the struggle,” said Mr. Sigudla, 43, a physiotherapist, referring to himself and his wife, Pinky, 39, a radiologist. “He inspired us to look forward to the new South Africa.”

Mr. Sigudla and his family exuded the confidence and prosperity of the new South Africa’s affluent, well-educated black middle class. With his arms around his children, he said: “We wanted to be here for our kids as well. This is history. One day they will learn it in school, and we want them to be able to say, ‘We were there.’ ”

Mr. Obama not only praised Mr. Mandela at the news conference, but in his first visit here as president also hailed South Africa’s historic integration from white racist rule as a shining beacon for the world.

“The struggle here against apartheid for freedom, Madiba’s moral courage, this country’s historic transition to a free and democratic nation has been a personal inspiration to me; it has been an inspiration to the world,” he said.

The meeting with 10 of Mr. Mandela’s family members replaced the meeting with Mr. Mandela himself, and was arranged according to the family’s wishes, the White House said.

On Saturday afternoon, the presidential limousine slipped past a gate at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, leaving reporters behind for the 25-minute meeting before Mr. Obama headed to a town-hall-style meeting with students in Soweto. In a statement after the family meeting, Mr. Obama said he had also spoken by phone with Graça Machel, Mr. Mandela’s wife, who has been spending most of her time at her husband’s bedside.

The Centre of Memory is expected to be the institution that keeps Mr. Mandela’s legacy alive. The sleek glass-and-steel building lies just beside a roaring freeway in the upscale Houghton section of Johannesburg, not far from Mr. Mandela’s home here.

A steady stream of mostly white well-wishers gathered outside that home Saturday, leaving flowers or inscriptions on small colored rocks clustered under trees outside the closed gates. One note, left under a tree, said: “Madiba, we drove across town without having to get permission. We live where we can, not where we are told to. All because of you and other heroes. Thank you, Lucien, Joelene, Ava and Luke.”

At one point, Ms. Machel emerged from a vehicle leaving the grounds to greet the crowd in what was a rare public appearance since Mr. Mandela’s latest bout of illness.

“I just wanted to say thank you,” she said, accompanied by security guards, before getting back into her car and driving off. “All these messages you are compiling, it means so much to us. Every day he is getting well. So you should know that the message is getting across.”

Mr. Mandela was admitted to the hospital three weeks ago for a chronic lung infection. His condition turned critical, according to South African officials, just as Mr. Obama headed to Africa for a weeklong trip that started in Senegal.

The American president still plans to salute Mr. Mandela’s life with a visit on Sunday to Robben Island, the prison where Mr. Mandela spent most of his incarceration. White House officials said Friday night that there was no change in the schedule, though Mr. Obama promised to “gauge the situation” based on Mr. Mandela’s condition and his family’s wishes.

Mr. Obama noted that he had visited Robben Island as a senator. He said he looked forward to taking his two daughters to Mr. Mandela’s tiny prison cell to “teach them the history of that place and this country, and to help them understand not only how those lessons apply to their own lives,” but also more broadly.

After traveling to Cape Town on Sunday, Mr. Obama will deliver a speech to university students that aides said would be built around themes that related to Mr. Mandela’s legacy. Mr. Obama will end his trip in Tanzania on Monday and Tuesday.

Mr. Obama began his first full day in South Africa in a private meeting with Mr. Zuma, who noted that the talks had taken place “against the background of the ill health of our beloved former president.” Mr. Zuma pointed to the symbolism of the moment, saying Mr. Obama and Mr. Mandela are “bound by history as the first black presidents” of their countries.

Afterward, Mr. Obama told reporters from both countries that his top priority for Africa was to help its governments to establish more stable and transparent democracies and to promote greater trade and investment that will help the economies of both the United States and the continent.

“I’m here in Africa because I think the United States needs to engage in a continent full of promise and possibility,” Mr. Obama said, dismissing a question about whether America has fallen behind China and other countries in outreach to Africa. “I think it’s good for the United States, whatever others do.”

In Soweto, the site of the town hall meeting, a relatively small group of protesters demonstrated against the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

The meeting with students and others included video hookups to small groups in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda — three countries he is skipping on this trip. Students queried him on America’s economic policies and terrorism in Africa, among other topics.

Many of the questioners, some of them young entrepreneurs, focused on how American investment and trade can help Africa’s economies and businesses. Mr. Obama pledged to work toward better trade relations with African nations, saying if Africa is doing well, “we’ve got a market of people who will want to buy more iPads and Boeing airplanes and all the good stuff that we sell."

Outside Mr. Mandela’s house, people were more focused on their more immediate future. “According to a lot of black people I spoke to through my staff, they all fear an eruption of violence,” said Laurence Hodes. “But I don’t think so. This is history.”

Diana Anderson arrived with her two young children, one of whom peppered her with questions.

“Yes, he’s still at the doctor’s. He’s not feeling well,” Ms. Anderson told her 2-year-old, Rupert. Ms. Anderson wiped away tears as she carried her children back to her vehicle. “It feels like he’s dead already,” she said. “Which is terrible.”


Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Johannesburg,

and Marcus Mabry from Pretoria, South Africa.

    Unable to Visit With Mandela, Obama Honors His Legacy, NYT, 29.6.2013,






Dangerous Divisions in the Arab World


June 28, 2013
The New York Times


Even in a region where violence has become all too commonplace, the killing of four Shiite men in Egypt last weekend seemed particularly vicious. According to news reports, a cheering Sunni Muslim mob armed with clubs, swords and machetes raided a house in a Cairo suburb where about 30 people were marking a religious festival and beat, stabbed and lynched the four men. Video footage showed the victims’ bodies, bloodied and motionless, being dragged through the streets. Among those killed was a prominent Shiite cleric, Hassan Shehata.

The incident illustrates a pernicious sectarianism that was largely repressed by pre-Arab Spring dictators but that now threatens Egypt and much of the Arab world. If left unchecked by newly elected leaders who either exploit simmering historical animosities or refuse to address them constructively, divisions will worsen between Sunnis and Shiites or between Muslims and other minorities, like Christians, ensuring prolonged regional turmoil.

In Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist party from which he hails, have failed to unite the overwhelmingly Sunni country and its Christian and Shiite minorities around a centrist agenda in the post-Mubarak era. Instead, they have solidified ties with Salafist hard-liners in the Islamist camp; derided opponents, including many secularists, as “enemies of Egypt”; and demonized Shiite and Coptic Christian minorities.

The mob attack came after months of anti-Shiite hate speech; the week before the incident, Mr. Morsi appeared on stage at an event with hard-line Sunni clerics who denounced Shiites as “filthy.” Tensions over Mr. Morsi’s rule have been running strong for some time. On Friday, at least three people were killed and hundreds were injured in protests, and many fear violence during protest rallies set for June 30, the first anniversary of his inauguration. The army has warned it may intervene if things get out of control. Mr. Morsi’s speech to the nation on Wednesday offered little to appease critics demanding his resignation.

The sectarian problem, however, goes well beyond Egypt. In Iraq, renewed killing between Sunnis and Shiites has produced the highest death toll in five years. Part of the blame falls on Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who heads an elected Shiite majority-led government that has never made good on promises to re-integrate minority Sunnis, empowered under Saddam Hussein then banished after his ouster, into politics and the work force. In Bahrain, the royal family representing the Sunni minority has cracked down hard on protests by a Shiite majority population seeking a greater role in political life. Sectarian tensions are also roiling Lebanon and, less so, Turkey.

Every country’s situation is unique, but to a great extent the regional ferment has been stoked by Syria’s civil war as it spills across the border and ignites Sunnis and Shiites in neighboring states to also attack one another. The conflict began more than two years ago as peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the minority Alawites, a Shiite sect. Now with 100,000 Syrians killed, Sunnis across the region have become incensed by Mr. Assad’s brutality against the mainly Sunni opposition, while Shiites from outside Syria have joined the fight to defend Mr. Assad. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar — Sunni countries with broader strategic interests — are backing the Syrian opposition, while Iran and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, both Shiite entities, are backing Mr. Assad.

Regardless of what happens in Syria, leaders in neighboring countries need to move quickly to reverse the sectarian slide. That means stating unequivocally that they are committed to the equal rights of all citizens and to ensuring that Shiites and other minorities can practice their religions without fear. Such principles are embedded in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More broadly, it will require an acknowledgment that elections do not alone produce democracies; that governments need to be inclusive; and that nurturing hatreds, for whatever reason, inevitably backfires and makes stable societies impossible.

    Dangerous Divisions in the Arab World, NYT, 28.6.2013,






Visit by Obama Is Overshadowed

by Mandela Vigil


June 28, 2013
The New York Times


JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela always wanted to go quietly. Despite his stature as a global icon, he sought a dignified withdrawal from public life in recent years; privately he told aides of his desire for a quiet funeral, stripped of pomp.

That is not how it is happening now. With Mr. Mandela in critical condition in a hospital from a serious lung infection, and as President Obama arrived Friday for a state visit, the country was in the grip of passions, ceremony and controversy as its people come to terms with finally bidding Mr. Mandela farewell.

Outside the hospital gates, South Africans of all races prayed, sang and dropped flowers for their revered father figure. Less harmoniously, a simmering family feud over his funeral arrangements burst into public view. A 65-year-old woman claiming to be his illegitimate daughter stepped forward, demanding to be let into the hospital to meet him.

In the evening, Mr. Obama entered the fray, faced with a delicate diplomatic balancing act involving statesmanship, policy and respect for a fading hero. Mr. Obama, who had planned weeks ago to visit Mr. Mandela during this trip, wishes to honor the man who inspired his career in politics, mindful that he is arriving as South Africans are sorrowful over their beloved former president’s condition.

“I don’t need a photo-op,” Mr. Obama said while on his way to South Africa, where he landed just a few miles from the Pretoria hospital where Mr. Mandela has been lying in intensive care. “Right now, our main concern is with his well-being, his comfort, and with the family’s well-being and comfort.”

At any other time, Mr. Obama’s arrival would have been a symbolically potent moment with resonance for both countries: America’s first black president visiting a nation that only two decades ago shook off the yoke of white minority rule.

But for South Africans, their hearts, if not their eyes, were focused on something else.

“This trip is overshadowed by Nelson Mandela’s illness,” said Justice Malala, a political commentator and columnist. “Its impact will be blunted because people’s attention is elsewhere.”

Some unfolding events seemed to be exactly what Mr. Mandela had hoped to avoid. A court hearing in a provincial town on Friday exposed a bitter family rift over arrangements for his funeral.

Mr. Mandela has long been painfully aware of the divides within his family, and on Friday lawyers and magistrates confirmed that 16 Mandela relatives, led by his eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, had filed a lawsuit against a grandson, Mandla Mandela, a tribal chief.

A report from South Africa’s national broadcaster pointed to a macabre squabble at work: the plaintiffs want to compel Mandla to rebury three relatives, who had been exhumed and moved some years ago from the family graveyard at Qunu, Nelson Mandela’s home village, back in their original graves.

The court action appeared to stem from an argument over where Mr. Mandela should be buried. Mandla prefers a site at the headquarters of his tribal village of Mvezo, where Mr. Mandela was born; the rest of the family wants him to be buried at Qunu, where he grew up.

Among some South Africans, the government’s careful management of news about Mr. Mandela even stoked speculation that it was somehow keeping him alive in order to facilitate Mr. Obama’s trip. The government flatly rejected such rumors.

“Urban legend,” said Mac Maharaj, the presidential spokesman. “That has been put to us before, and it is wrong. People take the government’s report as accurate.”

Mr. Obama, who is accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, arrived from Senegal and was due to travel to Tanzania on Sunday. His long-awaited African tour is intended to stress the importance of trade, not aid, for the continent.

“Everything we do is designed to make sure that Africa is not viewed as a dependent, as a charity case, but is instead viewed as a partner,” he told reporters on Friday.

In South Africa, Mr. Obama plans to salute Mr. Mandela’s life with a visit on Sunday to Robben Island, the prison where Mr. Mandela spent 18 years in a tiny cell, now a somber tourist attraction inhabited mainly by penguins.

Mr. Obama’s host here will be President Jacob Zuma, a controversial figure who in some ways epitomizes the disappointments of the post-Mandela era.

A charismatic populist, Mr. Zuma has attracted fire for his views — he is a practicing polygamist who believes all women should get married — while his penchant for singing his signature song, “Bring Me My Machine Gun,” causes some supporters to cringe.

Mr. Zuma’s reputation has been dented by a 2006 rape trial (even though he was acquitted), corruption accusations and his handling of the police shooting of 34 striking platinum miners last August.

On Saturday, he will meet with Mr. Obama to discuss economic development, security issues in Sudan and Central Africa, and efforts to promote democracy on the continent. A day later, on Sunday, Mr. Obama is scheduled to deliver the major speech of his trip at the University of Cape Town, where Robert F. Kennedy made a famous address in 1966.

It is unclear whether either side will nod to the more controversial aspects of America’s historical engagement with South Africa: accusations that the C.I.A. helped the apartheid police arrest Mr. Mandela in 1962, or the fact that the State Department removed Mr. Mandela from its terrorist list only in 2008 — 15 years after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Along with enthusiastic well-wishers, Mr. Obama is expected to confront protests about his foreign policies from a coalition of trade unionists, students, lawyers and Muslim groups.

Looming over the visit is the possibility of Mr. Mandela’s death. White House officials say that Mr. Obama will “gauge the situation” when deciding whether to visit Mr. Mandela, based on his condition. While aides would not discuss their contingency plans, they have indicated the president’s schedule might change.

For South Africans, however, the American president’s visit was not the biggest story of the day. The tide of public worry has focused on the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, where a wall of handwritten notes and balloons has become a shrine of sorts to Mr. Mandela.

His wife, Graça Machel, sleeps in a room nearby, remaining far from public view. In recent days, visiting relatives have emerged from the hospital with often worrisome news. “I won’t lie, it doesn’t look good,” Makaziwe Mandela said on Thursday.

But on Friday Mr. Mandela’s former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela offered a note of hope. He was showing “great improvement” compared with a few days earlier, she told reporters.

Tension over the intense news media coverage at the hospital, stoked by criticism from the Mandela family, continued on Friday. The police detained a South African filmmaker who flew a radio-controlled helicopter, with a camera mounted underneath, over the scene.

Despite his stated desire for a quiet goodbye, Mr. Mandela has long been used to the idea of leveraging his celebrity in the service of his struggle for freedom, said Mr. Malala, the political analyst.

“He was always someone who understood the value of spectacle,” he said. “The liberation struggle needed a face, a symbol. And he understood that was the price that had to be paid.”


Rick Lyman contributed reporting from Johannesburg,

Lydia Polgreen from New York and Alan Cowell from London.

    Visit by Obama Is Overshadowed by Mandela Vigil, NYT, 28.6.2013,





Senegal Cheers Its President

for Standing Up to Obama

on Same-Sex Marriage


June 28, 2013
The New York Times


DAKAR, Senegal — In Senegal, never mind about same-sex marriage: gay men and lesbians are abused by the police, beaten and sometimes tortured, with impunity. They are threatened by mobs, mocked on the front pages of newspapers and subject to criminal prosecution for being gay. And the persecution is even more severe elsewhere in West Africa.

So it was hardly surprising that a day after President Obama, in front of hundreds of reporters, traded barbs with President Macky Sall of Senegal on the topic, people on the street, the press and the radio in Mr. Sall’s country lined up firmly on the same side.

During the opening leg of his visit to sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Obama on Thursday called the Supreme Court’s decision the day before to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act a “victory for American democracy” and urged African nations that treat homosexuality as a crime, like Senegal, to make sure that the government does not discriminate against gays.

The comment prompted a retort from Mr. Sall that his country was not “homophobic.” Still, he added, “we are not ready to decriminalize homosexuality,” making a quick jab about the death penalty in the United States and earning plaudits from Senegal’s voluminous and voluble press.

“Firm ... and subtle,” crowed Sud Quotidien on its front page, praising Mr. Sall for his response.

“No, We Can’t,” trumpeted Liberation.

“Macky says no to Obama,” said Walfadjri on its front page.

“Obama makes a plea for the homos, Macky says no!” said Le Pop.

“President Sall has closed the debate on homosexuality,” read a headline in L’Observateur.

On the streets of Dakar, support for Mr. Sall’s stance was widespread, though some wished he had been even firmer. “He should have said, ‘This can never exist in Senegal; this can never happen here,’ ” Tidiane Gueye, a security guard, hanging out in Dakar’s Ouakam neighborhood, said of gay marriage.

“Senegal is 95 percent Muslim,” Mr. Gueye said. “As a Muslim country, we will not permit laws that allow gays to marry.”

A retired army major, Bouramon Ndour, contemplating the late-afternoon bustle from a bench on the Tally Américain, a road said to have been built by American soldiers, said sharply: “He did extremely well. Nobody here can accept that. We are categorical on this point.”

Mr. Ndour added: “No, we are absolutely staunch on it. Look, this is a Muslim country. Over our dead bodies!”

Mr. Ndour said proudly of Mr. Sall: “He’s courageous to have spoken like that, in front of the greatest power on earth. Even if they turn off the spigots, we won’t give in.”

Senegal is one of 38 African countries that criminalize “consensual same-sex conduct,” according to a recent report by Amnesty International, and it is not the worst in its persecution of gay men and lesbians. Arrests of gay men, and long and abusive imprisonments, are regularly reported in Cameroon, among other places in Africa.

But abuse is well documented here as well, despite Mr. Sall’s claim at Thursday’s news conference that “Senegal is a tolerant country that doesn’t discriminate.”

In 2010, Human Rights Watch reported on numerous cases here: a mob of “dozens of people” armed with slingshots and knives attacking a party; the bleeding victims were then taken to a police station, where they were beaten further; a young gay man repeatedly arrested and beaten by the police; others beaten with impunity by neighbors.

The newspapers here take great delight in publishing the names, photographs and salacious details of trysts that run afoul of anti-homosexuality laws. The Senegalese news media has “recommended violence against people perceived or known to be gay,” said the Human Rights Watch report, which also spoke of “unchecked violence” in the nation, “state inaction” and the “near-universal condemnation of homosexuality in the public sphere.”

Religious leaders also regularly issue inflammatory statements condemning gay men and lesbians, even recommending that they be killed, according to a person cited in the report.

Senegal, celebrated in the West for a democratic tradition that includes a coup-free record since independence in 1960, unlike its West African neighbors, remains very conservative on social issues.

So while Mr. Obama was generally welcomed here during his brief visit, his praise for the United States Supreme Court decision on gay couples was not. And Mr. Sall’s retort was seen as a rare moment when a small African nation stared down a giant, “a little like David and Goliath,” said a front-page editorial in Le Pop, “or like the La Fontaine fable, ‘The Oak Tree and the Reed.’ ”

“In front of the most powerful man in the world, fully armed with his mission to influence the decriminalization of homosexuality, Macky Sall was able to say, ‘No,’ ” the editorial continued. “And we are in a country of free men, who have built a strong state.”

Those sentiments were amply echoed in the Ouakam neighborhood here Friday afternoon.

“He responded very well, and we are all very happy with it,” Moustapha Thiam, the owner of a bustling open-air welders’ shop, said of Mr. Sall. “This is a Muslim country, and in our religion, we can’t accept that. Everyone agrees with him.”

    Senegal Cheers Its President for Standing Up to Obama on Same-Sex Marriage,
    NYT, 28.6.2013,






Obama Gets Tough on Bangladesh


June 27, 2013
The New York Times


In a move designed to push Bangladesh to improve working conditions in its clothing factories, the Obama administration on Thursday suspended the country from a trade program that grants preferential access to the American market. The decision should exert pressure on the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to do right by four million workers.

Fires, building collapses and other preventable industrial accidents have claimed hundreds of lives in Bangladesh’s booming garment industry in recent years. In April, more than 1,100 people died when a building housing several garment factories collapsed outside Dhaka, the capital. And, in November, more than 110 people suffocated and burned to death in a factory fire.

We have urged American and European companies to demand that suppliers improve working conditions and to help pay for factory renovations. But the fundamental responsibility lies with Bangladesh’s leaders. Ms. Hasina has repeatedly said her government would beef up inspections and make it easier for workers to form unions, but she has not done enough to follow through. Her government recently proposed changes to the country’s labor laws that would not allow workers to unionize in export-processing zones where many large factories are.

The United States grants duty-free access to imports from many poor countries under a program known as the Generalized System of Preferences. But the preferences are limited and, in Bangladesh’s case, America does not grant any preferences to clothing exports, which make up the bulk of that country’s $4.9 billion in annual exports to the United States. The preferences for Bangladesh apply to other products such as tobacco, sports equipment and porcelain. As a result, the suspension will not directly harm the garment workers.

The Obama administration’s move could also help embolden the European Union to revoke the benefits it provides to Bangladesh, which cover more exports. Europe grants duty-free access to Bangladeshi apparel, which gives it significant leverage over Ms. Hasina’s government.

There is little doubt that revoking trade preferences will hurt businesses that are not responsible for the poor conditions in clothing factories. But Western governments have a right, which they have rarely used, to suspend these benefits when countries like Bangladesh repeatedly refuse to live up to their obligations to protect the rights and lives of their workers.

Leaders like Ms. Hasina are unlikely to change policies that are unpopular with the powerful families that own clothing factories unless they are forced to do so. American and European leaders have few tools to exert such pressure, which is why they must use the ones they do have when the lives of millions of poor workers are at stake.

    Obama Gets Tough on Bangladesh, NYT, 27.6.2013,






Snowden Case Has Cold War Aftertaste


June 24, 2013
The New York Times


MOSCOW — Looking to secure Russia’s help on an array of issues, from Syria to nuclear arms cuts, President Obama at the Group of 8 summit meeting last week talked of his hope for “a constructive cooperative relationship that moves us out of a cold war mind-set.”

But there are times when the old rivalry is as fierce as ever, when spying and counter-spying are a given. The arrival in Moscow of Edward J. Snowden was such a moment.

Ignoring demands by the White House, and even a personal entreaty by Secretary of State John Kerry, to intercept Mr. Snowden and return him to the United States, where he is accused of disclosing classified intelligence, the Russian government denied having any information about him.

The denials echoed Monday on state-controlled television and on news agencies close to the Kremlin, even as Russian police surrounded the Aeroflot jet that would presumably ferry Mr. Snowden to Cuba. They were repeated even as WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that is helping Mr. Snowden, said he had special travel papers from Ecuador for safe passage through Russia.

The White House, meanwhile, said that it believed Mr. Snowden was still in Russia, and some experts on U.S.-Russia relations said that belief made sense.

“The guy is supposedly carrying four laptops, plus a bunch of thumb drives, supposedly knows all sorts of other things,” said Matthew Rojansky, the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “You don’t pass up an opportunity like that. You don’t just let him pass through the business lounge, on the way to Cuba.”

The Russian Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the post-Soviet successor of the K.G.B., would not say if it had met Mr. Snowden. But Mr. Rojansky said if the agency had avoided Mr. Snowden, that would contradict the gut instincts for great gamesmanship.

“Not exclusively because of the cold war, but in part also because of national psyche and culture, these two sides are like Ninja masters who have taken up a new profession,” he said. “It’s like Mr. Miyagi at the cash register, and when a fly comes by they reach up and grab it.”

The ability of the United States and Russia to jockey for intelligence advantage while maintaining their broader relationship was on display just last month when the F.S.B. arrested an American Embassy official here, carrying two wigs, a compass and a large sum of cash, and accused him of working for the Central Intelligence Agency.

In that case, both sides knew the playbook well: the official, Ryan C. Fogle, who had diplomatic immunity, was expelled.

Mr. Snowden’s case was different, partly because he was passing through Russia by choice, as a fugitive, and partly because of the intelligence data he was said to be carrying.

While Mr. Obama seemed to go out of his way at the G-8 conference not to publicly chastise President Vladimir V. Putin over human rights disagreements, there was no such restraint on Monday by Mr. Obama’s aides in the Snowden intrigue.

“I suppose there is no small irony here, I mean I wonder if Mr. Snowden chose China and Russia as assistants in his flight from justice because they are such powerful bastions of Internet freedom,” Mr. Kerry said. “And I wonder while he was in either of those countries if he raised the question of Internet freedom since that seems to be what he champions.”

And where just last week Mr. Obama was praising Russia for its cooperation with the investigation in the Boston Marathon bombing, Mr. Kerry warned on Monday of unspecified “consequences” for the relationship as a result of the Snowden case.

Nonetheless it seemed that more pressing priorities like Syria, and cooperation on the American withdrawal from Afghanistan next year, would far outweigh any tension over Mr. Snowden.

There is also a long history of disagreement over defectors that would suggest American officials have little hope for cooperation.

“I know of no instance where a Russian has defected for political reasons to the U.S. and we have returned them,” said Pete Earley, the author of a book about Sergei Tretyakov, a senior Russian intelligence officer who defected in 2000, called “Comrade J.: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War.”

More recently, the United States has refused Russia’s demands to repatriate Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen convicted and imprisoned in the United States for arms trafficking.

Examples abound of alleged criminals sought by Russia that other governments have refused to extradite, including Leonid Nevzlin, a former executive of the Yukos oil company who fled to Israel and owned an apartment in New York.

Jasvinder Nakhwal, a partner with the British law firm of Peters & Peters, which has fought numerous extradition requests by Russia, said that both legal and political factors complicate any such situation, but that many Russian requests were blocked.

“They have sought the extradition of many individuals and in those particular cases the courts have concluded that the requests have been made for political purposes,” Mr. Nakhwal said.

In that sense, the Snowden case has provided Russia with an opportunity to accuse the United States government of a politically motivated prosecution, a charge more frequently leveled against the Kremlin by American officials.

Mr. Rojansky, of the Carnegie Endowment, said that aiding Mr. Snowden fit with Russia’s view of itself as a check on American hegemony.

“There’s a real continuity in that narrative from cold war to post-cold-war – Russia is an alternative power center, truer to certain ideals,” he said. “And this all kind of tracks with Putin’s personal mantra: ‘I have an independent foreign policy. I am the only world leader who has an independent foreign policy that is not dictated by Washington.'”


Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from New Delhi.

    Snowden Case Has Cold War Aftertaste, NYT, 24.6.2013,






An Elizabethan Cyberwar


May 31, 2013
The New York Times


NEW HAVEN — AS Barack Obama and China’s president, Xi Jinping, prepare to meet in California next week, America’s relations with China are feeling increasingly like the cold war — especially when it comes to cybersecurity.

With the two countries accusing each other of breaking the old rules of the game, a new breed of “cyberhawks” on both sides are arguing for cold-war-like escalation that could turn low-level cyberconflict into total war.

But treating today’s Beijing like Brezhnev’s Moscow distorts the nature of the threat and how Washington should respond to it.

In confronting today’s cyberbattles, the United States should think less about Soviets and more about pirates. Indeed, today’s cybercompetition is less like the cold war than the battle for the New World.

In the era after the discovery of the Americas, European states fought for mastery over the Atlantic. Much like the Internet today, the ocean then was a primary avenue for trade and communication that no country could cordon off.

At that time, the Spanish empire boasted a fearsome navy, but it could not dominate the seas. Poorer and weaker England tested Spain’s might by encouraging and equipping would-be pirates to act on its behalf without official sanction. These semi-state-sponsored privateers robbed Spain of gold and pride as they raided ships off the coasts of the New World and Spain itself, enriching the English crown while augmenting its naval power. Spain’s inability to attribute the attacks directly to England allowed Queen Elizabeth I to level the playing field in an arena lacking laws or customs.

Today’s cyberbattles aren’t so different.

Next week’s summit takes place amid reports of increasingly sophisticated Chinese cyberespionage. Earlier this week, evidence surfaced that Chinese hackers had gained access to several top-secret Pentagon programs. That followed news that cyberunits believed to be linked to the Chinese Army have resumed attacks on American businesses and government agencies.

As tensions deepen, hawkish Chinese military leaders are paving the way for offensive war. A study by a RAND Corporation expert cited Chinese sources calling for pre-emptive cyberstrikes “under the rubric of the rising Chinese strategy of xianfa zhiren, or ‘gaining mastery before the enemy has struck.’ ” And a recent paper found that Chinese military officials have contemplated using cyberweapons like Stuxnet, which the United States and Israel deployed against Iran’s nuclear program, to target critical infrastructure.

American policy makers are beginning to view their cyberstruggle with China through a cold war lens. One Pentagon official recently said that while during the cold war America focused “on the nuclear command centers around Moscow,” today American leaders “worry as much about the computer servers in Shanghai.”

Another senior official declared that “the Cold War enforced norms, and the Soviets and the United States didn’t go outside a set of boundaries.” But, he argued, “China is going outside those boundaries now.”

Among those who view these hostilities as the cold war redux, some are proposing a more strident response. Earlier this year, the United States military announced the formation of 13 units dedicated to offensive cyberstrikes and endorsed pre-emptive cyberattacks. And late last month, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former ambassador to China, and Dennis C. Blair, the former director of national intelligence, suggested allowing American companies to retaliate against Chinese hackers on their own.

This emergence of cyberhawks in both nations raises the odds of a hack’s becoming a cyberwar. These voices could pressure both nations to treat any escalating cyberconflict as a latter-day Cuban missile crisis.

But the cold war model of a struggle with calibrated boundaries, clear rules, and the threat of mutual assured destruction simply doesn’t fit cyberspace.

The first major difference is terrain. The United States and the Soviet Union fought for global influence, manning divisions here and infiltrating covert operatives there. The Internet is more fluid. Neither the United States nor China can slice cyberspace into the reassuring structure of spheres of influence. With no obvious borders for states to violate or defend, power in cyberspace is at once easier to exercise and harder to maintain, a battle of subtleties rather than hard-nosed deterrence.

There are also more players today. The United States and the Soviet Union were the world’s unmatched nuclear powers. But in the cyberrealm, the United States and China stand only just ahead of other nations, hacker groups and individuals in their ability to inflict damage. And all of these actors can hide behind layers of networks and third parties, making it difficult to discover not only who attacked but also how and when. There will, in most cases, be plausible deniability. Even if American and Chinese policy makers wanted to manage the Web as carefully as their predecessors did the cold war, no working group could tame this instability.

With nations still navigating how to interact on the Web and arguments persisting about whether international law applies to the Internet, there are few established customs of cyberbehavior, legal or implicit. The United States should not expect China to follow the rules of a previous era. The norms of American-Soviet conflict, which themselves emerged out of years of gunpoint diplomacy, can’t be grafted onto cyberspace.

If American policy makers continue to define the cyberstruggle between Washington and Beijing as a new cold war, they will not meet the challenge. Viewing China’s actions through an obsolete lens will give them a distorted sense of its intentions. And it will limit American retaliation to the outmoded rules of a bygone battle.

If they must look to the past, they should heed the lessons of the 16th century, not the 20th. In 1588, the Spanish crown, in no small part due to its frustration with English piracy, resorted to massive retaliation, sending its armada to overthrow Queen Elizabeth. That move ended in disaster and an overwhelming English victory.

Instead of trying to beat back the New World instability of the Internet with an old playbook, American officials should embrace it. With the conflict placed in its proper perspective, policy makers could ratchet down the rhetoric and experiment with a new range of responses that go beyond condemnation but stop short of all-out cyberwar — giving them the room to maneuver without approaching cyberconflict as a path to Defcon 1.

In these legally uncharted waters, only Elizabethan guile, not cold war brinkmanship, will steer Washington through the storm.


Jordan Chandler Hirsch,

a former staff editor at Foreign Affairs,

and Sam Adelsberg,

a fellow at the Yale Information Society Project,

are students at Yale Law School.

    An Elizabethan Cyberwar, NYT, 31.5.2013,






Assad Says Syri

Has Received Advanced Missiles

From Russia


May 30, 2013
The New York Times


BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said in a television interview to be broadcast on Thursday that Russia has delivered S-300 air defense missiles to his country, weapons that Israel has said present a threat to its security and against which it is willing to use force.

“Syria has received the first shipment of Russian antiaircraft S-300 rockets,” Mr. Assad said in the interview, to be aired on Al Manar, the television channel of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which in recent weeks has dramatically increased its military intervention in Syria on the side of Mr. Assad’s government. “The rest of the shipment will arrive later today.”

Russian officials had said earlier this week that the country would deliver the weapons to Syria, a move that Mr. Assad’s opponents said was a sign that neither Russia nor the Syrian government was serious about proposed negotiations to end the Syrian civil war that Russia and the United States are trying to organize for as early as next month.

The interview with Mr. Assad was taped on Tuesday, according to the Beirut news director of Iran’s PressTV, which is scheduled to broadcast it in English. That same day, Israel’s defense minister declared categorically that no missiles had yet been delivered.

Both the Syrian government and the opposition have hardened their positions in recent days, casting doubt on the future of the proposed talks as each side declared a starting point that is thoroughly unacceptable to the other.

On Wednesday, the Syrian opposition said that Mr. Assad’s departure is a prerequisite to talks — a condition his government and Russia reject — while Syria’s foreign minister said that Mr. Assad would stay on at least until 2014 and might seek re-election and that any peace agreement would have to be approved by a referendum.

Mr. Assad’s statements — and the choice of the Hezbollah channel to deliver them — added to the confrontational atmosphere. His statements were first reported in the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar and confirmed by Ali Rizk, who performed the simultaneous translation of the interview to be aired on Iran’s English-language PressTV channel. Mr. Rizk said the interview had been taped on Tuesday.

Syrian rebel commanders have also issued aggressive statements in recent days, threatening to attack Hezbollah and even the Lebanese Army inside Lebanon if Hezbollah’s intervention is not halted.

Late Wednesday, Lebanon’s president, Michel Suleiman, a political ally of Hezbollah, issued an unusual statement calling on Hezbollah to pull out of Syria for the sake of Lebanese security and the integrity of the group’s primary mission, fighting Israel.

Lebanese politicians of every stripe have been loathe to directly confront Hezbollah, which fields the most seasoned and influential military force in the country, trumping even the army. But as rocket attacks on Hezbollah areas have increased along with sectarian anger, a growing chorus has worried that Hezbollah and Lebanese Sunni militants supporting the Syrian rebels are destabilizing the country.

Mr. Suleiman said he wished that Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, would not “involve the resistance” — as Hezbollah and its confrontation with Israel are known here — in Syria’s war.

“It is the resistance of Lebanon and not of Syria,” he said.

Mr. Suleiman said he still had good relations with Hezbollah, but that his role as president was “to correct paths.”

He even compared Hezbollah’s intervention — which its leaders and supporters have described as a pre-emptive war to prevent Sunni extremists involved in the Syrian uprising from infiltrating or attacking Lebanon — to the pre-emptive war doctrine President George W. Bush formulated to justify the United States invasion of Iraq.

“I am against anything pre-emptive, like the wars of ex-U.S. President George Bush,” Mr. Suleiman said, a stinging rebuke in a region where American foreign policy in general and Mr. Bush in particular are deeply unpopular.

Mr. Suleiman also said he opposed Hezbollah’s newly avowed plans to help the Syrian government open a front in the Golan Heights, the disputed border area between Syria and Israel. “Who guarantees that Israel does not attack Lebanon?” he said.

The missile shipment also threatens to escalate tensions between Israel and Hezbollah. Neither side wants a war now, analysts say, but as the situation grows more volatile they could end up in one through miscalculations, as occurred in 2006.

Israel has lobbied Russia not to deliver the S-300 systems to Syria. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned on Tuesday that Israel would view such a move as a threat to it and that it could prompt an Israeli reaction.

“The deliveries have not taken place, I can attest to this, and I hope they do not,” Mr. Yaalon said. “If, by some fortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do,” he added.

Israel has declared that it will not tolerate the transfer of game-changing weapons from the Syrian government to its ally, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, or their fall into rebel hands. Israel is believed to have bombed targets in Syria three times this year, including a convoy of Russian-supplied SA-17 surface-to-air missiles.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic and intelligence affairs, told an audience of reporters and diplomats in Jerusalem on Tuesday that Israel did not want to get involved in the civil war in Syria and had decided not to ask or encourage the United States or Europe to take any action there, because of the highly complex situation.

He said that the Russian S-300 systems were not just defensive weapons but could also be used offensively. With a range of around 125 to 185 miles, he said, they could threaten civilian and military aircraft deep inside Israeli territory.


Isabel Kershner contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

    Assad Says Syria Has Received Advanced Missiles From Russia, NYT, 30.5.2013,






McCain Travels to Syria

to Meet With Rebel Forces


May 27, 2013
3:49 pm
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has called for the United States to intervene militarily in Syria, traveled to Syria on Monday to meet with rebel forces fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, according to a spokesman for Mr. McCain. It was the first time that a United States senator had gone to Syria to meet with the rebels since the conflict there began two years ago.

Mr. McCain entered Syria from southern Turkey, according to his spokesman, Brian Rogers, who added that the senator had been in the region to attend the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan over the weekend.

In 2011, Mr. McCain traveled to Libya to meet with rebel forces there while they were fighting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and made similar calls for the United States to provide military aid to the rebels. The United States did ultimately provide military support, along with several European countries, and Colonel Qaddafi’s regime was toppled.

Since the conflict in Syria began, Mr. McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, have harshly criticized President Obama for not doing more to help the rebels. They argue that the president, who has authorized the shipment of night-vision goggles and body armor, should establish a no-fly zone and provide weapons to the rebels.

While in Syria, Mr. McCain met with Gen. Salim Idris, the leader of the military wing of the Supreme Military Council, a Syrian opposition group. The Obama administration considers General Idris much more of a moderate than the leaders of the Nusra Front, which has ties to Al Qaeda and is better financed and organized. Mr. Obama has refused to provide the rebels with military support because he fears that would empower the more radical elements of the opposition.

After the Israeli military struck a major Syrian military research center near Damascus this month, Mr. McCain said the strike had weakened the argument that Syria’s air defense system would be difficult for the United States to penetrate.

“The Israelis seem to be able to penetrate it fairly easily,” he said on May 5 on “Fox News Sunday.”

The United States, Mr. McCain said, could easily strike the Syrian defenses “with cruise missiles, cratering their runways, where all of these supplies, by the way, from Iran and Russia are coming in by air.”

    McCain Travels to Syria to Meet With Rebel Forces, NYT, 27.5.2013,






U.S. Shift Poses Risk to Pakistan


May 25, 2013
The New York Times


From multibillion-dollar military aid to stealthy and secretive drone strikes, Pakistan, perhaps even more than Afghanistan, has been the central focus of America’s 12-year war on Islamist militancy.

Now, as President Obama’s landmark policy speech on Thursday made clear, all of that is changing. Drone strikes are dwindling, the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close and the battle against Al Qaeda is receding.

Pakistani leaders who have long demanded an American exit from their region may get their wish, but a broader disengagement is also likely to diminish the financing, prestige and political importance Pakistan held as a crucial player in global counterterrorism efforts, and could upset its internal stability.

The diminution of the drone campaign may ease a major point of friction between Pakistan and the West, but the tribal belt in northwestern Pakistan, where about 360 drone strikes have landed in the past decade, remains a hotbed of Islamist militancy, largely outside government control. Although many senior leaders of Al Qaeda sheltering there have been felled by C.I.A. missiles, they have been largely replaced by committed Pakistani jihadists with ties that span the border with Afghanistan.

With American combat troops leaving Afghanistan in 2014, and the drone campaign already winding down in Pakistan, analysts fear that unless the Pakistani Army can assert itself conclusively, the tribal region could be plunged into deeper chaos.

“It’s going to be a lot of trouble,” said Hasan Askari-Rizvi, a Pakistani academic and defense analyst. “If the insurgency increases in Afghanistan, it will spill into Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the Taliban will become very confident.”

For 12 years, the United States’ security-driven policy has shaped power, politics and militancy in Pakistan.

After 2001, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a military coup, established himself as a steadfast ally of the West; it underwrote his authoritarian rule, which lasted until 2008. The military received almost $17 billion in American military aid, and transfers of American military hardware, solidifying its position as the dominant arm of the state.

That relationship has also fostered resentment, and some Pakistani leaders welcome an American disengagement.

They blame America’s muscular presence — expressed through troops in Afghanistan and espionage and drone operations in Pakistan — for an Islamist surge that has killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis, and they argue that it has been a recruiting tool for militant groups like the Pakistani Taliban.

“Less American involvement is good, not bad,” said Hina Rabbani Khar, who served as foreign minister in the last government, and who said she warmly welcomed the tone of Mr. Obama’s speech on Thursday. “Drones help us lose the war. And the ideological space for these terrorists is the supposed U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Once that excuse is not there, these people will have to face the music.”

America’s dogged pursuit of fugitives linked to Al Qaeda — first in Pakistan’s cities, later in the tribal belt along the Afghan border — led to a two-faced policy toward Islamist militancy. Pakistani officials secretly accepted, and in some cases encouraged, the American drone program, while condemning it in public as a violation of sovereignty.

Similarly, under pressure from Washington, Pakistan helped the C.I.A. arrest some jihadists, while it quietly sheltered other armed militant groups, like the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, who were seen as furthering Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and India.

The American presence also created a giant blind spot in Pakistan’s political psyche: with so much focus on American operations, Pakistani leaders used the United States as a scapegoat to avoid tackling some homegrown problems. Lurid tales of American espionage and other skulduggery abounded in the news media, promoted by politicians and mullahs but also fanned by real-life controversies like the shooting of two Pakistanis by the C.I.A. contractor Raymond Davis in January 2011.

Now that calculus is shifting for Pakistani policy makers. From now on, they will be less able to rely on the cloak-and-dagger workings of the drone program to have it both ways. Indeed, many fear a replay of the early 1990s when, after the departure of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the United States withdrew abruptly, leaving behind a cadre of fired-up Islamist fighters, and then imposed sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program.

Behind the bellicose speech, there is a complex dependency on both sides. While Pakistan’s powerful generals have grown to resent the United States, they also lean on American military aid as a steady source of income in an economy so shaky it may soon require a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The generals also rely on transfers of American military hardware to keep their fleet of F-16 fighters in the air.

General Musharraf, the former president, recently admitted that he had secretly authorized American drone strikes in the tribal belt in the early days of the campaign, from 2004. Four years later, Pakistani officials quietly helped the United States assassinate Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, in a missile attack.

“I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people,” Yousaf Raza Gilani, then prime minister, told American officials in 2008, according to an American cable published by WikiLeaks in 2010.

Among the wider Pakistani public, though, the drones stoked anger, particularly over the issue of civilian casualties — a factor acknowledged by Mr. Obama last week. At the same time, the C.I.A.’s success in assassinating senior Qaeda figures in the tribal region reduced the number of available targets.

Recently, as concern over drones mounted in the United States, the number of strikes in Pakistan dropped sharply, from about 130 at their peak in 2010, to just 12 so far this year. Civilian deaths also fell sharply, as the United States cut back on so-called signature strikes against clusters of militant suspects, which had caused the most casualties.

Now, Mr. Obama announced Thursday, American drones will attack only militants who pose an imminent threat to the United States, virtually ruling out strikes against the Pakistani Taliban, whose stated goal is the creation of an Islamist caliphate in Pakistan.

Still, the shift signaled good news for Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister-designate, who has vowed to make Pakistan less dependent on the United States. A scaled-back drone campaign will, at the very least, be one less issue to argue over.

It will, however, continue to exist, even if greatly diminished.

“This doesn’t change much for Pakistan,” insists Ahmed Rashid, author of several books on militancy in the region. “The fact that the campaign will remain under the C.I.A., surrounded in secrecy, is quite depressing for Pakistanis.”

The central factor now, experts say, is the American withdrawal from Afghanistan next year. The United States will seek a smooth exit from the conflict; Pakistan will seek to retain influence in its western neighbor, while ensuring the flow of money and military assistance from the West.

As ever, the relationship is shaped more by threats than possibilities, a stark contrast with Washington’s trade-based relations with Pakistan’s traditional rival, India.

Still, few doubt that America will remain deeply involved in Pakistan, a country with a growing population of more than 180 million people, a network of seemingly indefatigable jihadi groups and a stockpile of over 100 nuclear warheads.

The question now is how Washington will pursue those enemies, and what level of cooperation it will enjoy from its Pakistani allies. “The Pakistanis look to the U.S. for financial and other support; the Americans are pursuing senior Al Qaeda,” said Shamila N. Chaudhary, a former Obama administration official, now with the Eurasia Group, a Washington-based risk consultancy.

“Even after 2014, that mutual dependency will not go away,” she said.


Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

    U.S. Shift Poses Risk to Pakistan, NYT, 25.5.2013,






Yahoo Is Planning

to Buy Tumblr for $1.1 Billion


May 19, 2013
The New York Times


The board of Yahoo, the faded Web pioneer, agreed on Sunday to buy the popular blogging service Tumblr for about $1.1 billion in cash, people with direct knowledge of the matter said, a signal of how the company plans to reposition itself as the technology industry makes a headlong rush into social media.

The deal, which is expected to be announced as soon as Monday, would be the largest acquisition of a social networking company in years, surpassing Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of Instagram last year.

For Yahoo and its chief executive, Marissa Mayer, buying Tumblr would be a bold move as she tries to breathe new life into the company. The deal, the seventh since Ms. Mayer defected from Google last summer to take over the company, would be her biggest yet. It is meant to give her company more appeal to young people, and to make up for years of missing out on the revolutions in social networking and mobile devices. Tumblr has over 108 million blogs, with many highly active users.

Yet even with all those users, a basic question about Tumblr and other social media sites remains open: Can they make money?

Founded six years ago, Tumblr has attracted a loyal following and raised millions from big-name investors. Still, it has not proved that it can be profitable, nor that it can succeed on mobile devices, which are becoming the gateway to the Internet. Even Facebook faces continued pressure from investors to show it can increase its profits and adapt to the mobile world.

“The challenge has always been, how do you monetize eyeballs?” said Charlene Li, the founder of the Altimeter Group, a consulting firm. “Services like Instagram and Facebook always focus on the user experience first. Once that loyalty is there, they figure out how to carefully, ideally, make money on it.”

A Yahoo spokeswoman declined to comment. A representative for Tumblr did not respond to requests for comment.

If the deal is approved, Ms. Mayer will face the challenge of successfully managing the takeover, given Yahoo’s notorious reputation for paying big money for start-ups and then letting the prizes wither. Previous acquisitions by Yahoo, like the purchase of Flickr for $35 million and a $3.6 billion deal for GeoCities, an early pioneer in social networking, have been either shut down or neglected within the company.

Because of this, Ms. Mayer will face pressure to keep Tumblr’s staff, led by its founder, the 26-year-old David Karp, who dropped out of high school as a 15-year-old programmer. It is unclear whether all of Tumblr’s 175 employees, based in New York City, will move over to Yahoo.

At the same time, analysts and investors are likely to question whether buying a site that has struggled to generate revenue makes sense.

“This is not an inexpensive acquisition, but they’re willing to pay to get back some of what they’ve lost,” said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners. “They want to be hip.”

In her short tenure as chief executive, Ms. Mayer has bought a string of tiny start-ups. Most of those were aimed at buying engineering talent that could help freshen Yahoo’s core products, like mail, finance and sports, as well as build out new mobile services.

Ms. Mayer has had ambitions to hunt bigger game, armed with $4.3 billion in cash from selling half of Yahoo’s stake in the Chinese Internet titan Alibaba.

She has had conversations with a number of other big-ticket targets, like Foursquare, a mobile app that lets users find nearby restaurants, stores and bars, and Hulu, the video streaming service, according to people with knowledge of those discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Tumblr brings something that Ms. Mayer has sought for some time: a full-fledged social network with a loyal following. The start-up claims more than 100 million blogs on its site, reaching 44 million people in the United States and 134 million around the world, according to Quantcast.

But in some ways, Yahoo isn’t pursuing users — it already claims 700 million, one of the biggest user bases on the Web — but products and services that would again make it a central destination. Once the biggest seller of display ads in the United States, Yahoo has lost market share to the likes of Google and Facebook. Its share of all digital ad revenue tumbled to 8.4 percent last year, from 15.5 percent in 2009, even as total advertising spending grew, according to eMarketer. Google now claims about 41 percent.

The company also missed the shift from the Web to smartphones and tablets. It waited a significantly long time to roll out apps for its most popular services, missing out on chances to harvest users to competitors like Google and Apple.

And while Yahoo has managed to grow internationally, it has struggled to make its familiar brand relevant again. Until a recent home page renovation, the company’s main page felt claustrophobic, with ads and content jumbled together.

Tumblr’s trove of users and pages could provide fertile new ground for Yahoo’s ad operations, with what industry experts say is a bounty of unsold ad inventory. Mr. Karp of Tumblr had eschewed advertising, favoring a minimalist policy, starting to serve users ads only last May.

Mr. Karp, the C.E.O., is expected to get nearly $250 million from the deal. Spark Capital, a venture firm in Boston, has been involved in five investment rounds of Tumblr’s financing and is expected to make tens of millions of dollars from the deal.

Yet it is not clear how much Tumblr can help Yahoo reach its goals. The blogging site burned through an estimated $25 million in cash last year, and struggled to raise additional money at an acceptable valuation, according to people briefed on the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly about it. That prompted Mr. Karp to begin deal discussions with a number of companies, including Facebook, Microsoft and Google, though nothing came of those talks.

Yahoo and Tumblr have been in serious talks since last week, culminating in the Yahoo board’s vote to approve the deal on Sunday morning.

The blogging site has been trying to create new ad efforts like interactive campaigns, rather than using standard clickable ads, with mixed success. It has set a revenue goal of $100 million for this year; the company reported only $13 million for the first quarter and reported $13 million for 2012.

Despite its ranking as the 24th most viewed Web site on the Internet, according to Quantcast, Tumblr has yet to translate that into success on mobile devices, something Yahoo needs.

Tumblr also bears a fair amount of unsavory content that may unsettle advertisers. Pornography represents a fraction of content on the site, but not a trivial amount for a site with 100 million blogs.

The search for profits isn’t unique to Tumblr, as free apps and services struggle to wring money from their users. Instagram famously generated no money when Facebook bought it.

Mr. Gillis of BGC said, “Either this management team is going to turn Yahoo around or be the ones who squandered its asset base.”


Andrew Ross Sorkin

and Jenna Wortham contributed reporting.

    Yahoo Is Planning to Buy Tumblr for $1.1 Billion, NYT, 19.5.2013,






Chinese Hackers

Resume Attacks on U.S. Targets


May 19, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Three months after hackers working for a cyberunit of China’s People’s Liberation Army went silent amid evidence that they had stolen data from scores of American companies and government agencies, they appear to have resumed their attacks using different techniques, according to computer industry security experts and American officials.

The Obama administration had bet that “naming and shaming” the groups, first in industry reports and then in the Pentagon’s own detailed survey of Chinese military capabilities, might prompt China’s new leadership to crack down on the military’s highly organized team of hackers — or at least urge them to become more subtle.

But Unit 61398, whose well-guarded 12-story white headquarters on the edges of Shanghai became the symbol of Chinese cyberpower, is back in business, according to American officials and security companies.

It is not clear precisely who has been affected by the latest attacks. Mandiant, a private security company that helps companies and government agencies defend themselves from hackers, said the attacks had resumed but would not identify the targets, citing agreements with its clients. But it did say the victims were many of the same ones the unit had attacked before.

The hackers were behind scores of thefts of intellectual property and government documents over the past five years, according to a report by Mandiant in February that was confirmed by American officials. They have stolen product blueprints, manufacturing plans, clinical trial results, pricing documents, negotiation strategies and other proprietary information from more than 100 of Mandiant’s clients, predominantly in the United States.

According to security experts, the cyberunit was responsible for a 2009 attack on the Coca-Cola Company that coincided with its failed attempt to acquire the China Huiyuan Juice Group. In 2011, it attacked RSA, a maker of data security products used by American government agencies and defense contractors, and used the information it collected from that attack to break into the computer systems of Lockheed Martin, the aerospace contractor.

More recently, security experts said, the group took aim at companies with access to the nation’s power grid. Last September, it broke into the Canadian arm of Telvent, now Schneider Electric, which keeps detailed blueprints on more than half the oil and gas pipelines in North America.

Representatives of Coca-Cola and Schneider Electric did not return requests for comment on Sunday. A Lockheed Martin spokesman said the company declined to comment.

In interviews, Obama administration officials said they were not surprised by the resumption of the hacking activity. One senior official said Friday that “this is something we are going to have to come back at time and again with the Chinese leadership,” who, he said, “have to be convinced there is a real cost to this kind of activity.”

Mandiant said that the Chinese hackers had stopped their attacks after they were exposed in February and removed their spying tools from the organizations they had infiltrated. But over the past two months, they have gradually begun attacking the same victims from new servers and have reinserted many of the tools that enable them to seek out data without detection. They are now operating at 60 percent to 70 percent of the level they were working at before, according to a study by Mandiant requested by The New York Times.

The Times hired Mandiant to investigate an attack that originated in China on its news operations last fall. Mandiant is not currently working for The New York Times Company.

Mandiant’s findings match those of Crowdstrike, another security company that has also been tracking the group. Adam Meyers, director of intelligence at Crowdstrike, said that apart from a few minor changes in tactics, it was “business as usual” for the Chinese hackers.

The subject of Chinese attacks is expected to be a central issue in an upcoming visit to China by President Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, who has said that dealing with China’s actions in cyberspace is now moving to the center of the complex security and economic relationship between the two countries.

But hopes for progress on the issue are limited. When the Pentagon released its report this month officially identifying the Chinese military as the source of years of attacks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied the accusation, and People’s Daily, which reflects the views of the Communist Party, called the United States “the real ‘hacking empire,’ ” saying it “has continued to strengthen its network tools for political subversion against other countries.” Other Chinese organizations and scholars cited American and Israeli cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities as evidence of American hypocrisy.

At the White House, Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Sunday that “what we have been seeking from China is for it to investigate our concerns and to start a dialogue with us on cyberissues.” She noted that China “agreed last month to start a new working group,” and that the administration hoped to win “longer-term changes in China’s behavior, including by working together to establish norms against the theft of trade secrets and confidential business information.”

In a report to be issued Wednesday, a private task force led by Mr. Obama’s former director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, and his former ambassador to China, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., lays out a series of proposed executive actions and Congressional legislation intended to raise the stakes for China.

“Jawboning alone won’t work,” Mr. Blair said Saturday. “Something has to change China’s calculus.”

The exposure of Unit 61398’s actions, which have long been well known to American intelligence agencies, did not accomplish that task.

One day after Mandiant and the United States government revealed the P.L.A. unit as the culprit behind hundreds of attacks on agencies and companies, the unit began a haphazard cleanup operation, Mandiant said.

Attack tools were unplugged from victims’ systems. Command and control servers went silent. And of the 3,000 technical indicators Mandiant identified in its initial report, only a sliver kept operating. Some of the unit’s most visible operatives, hackers with names like “DOTA,” “SuperHard” and “UglyGorilla,” disappeared, as cybersleuths scoured the Internet for clues to their real identities.

In the case of UglyGorilla, Web sleuths found digital evidence that linked him to a Chinese national named Wang Dong, who kept a blog about his experience as a P.L.A. hacker from 2006 to 2009, in which he lamented his low pay, long hours and instant ramen meals.

But in the weeks that followed, the group picked up where it had left off. From its Shanghai headquarters, the unit’s hackers set up new beachheads from compromised computers all over the world, many of them small Internet service providers and mom-and-pop shops whose owners do not realize that by failing to rigorously apply software patches for known threats, they are enabling state-sponsored espionage.

“They dialed it back for a little while, though other groups that also wear uniforms didn’t even bother to do that,” Kevin Mandia, the chief executive of Mandiant, said in an interview on Friday. “I think you have to view this as the new normal.”

The hackers now use the same malicious software they used to break into the same organizations in the past, only with minor modifications to the code.

While American officials and corporate executives say they are trying to persuade President Xi Jinping’s government that a pattern of theft by the P.L.A. will damage China’s growth prospects — and the willingness of companies to invest in China — their longer-term concern is that China may be trying to establish a new set of rules for Internet commerce, with more censorship and fewer penalties for the theft of intellectual property.

Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, said Friday that while there was evidence that inside China many citizens are using the Web to pressure the government to clean up industrial hazards or to complain about corruption, “so far there is no positive data on China’s dealings with the rest of the world” on cyberissues.

Google largely pulled out of China after repeated attacks on its systems in 2009 and 2010, and now has its Chinese operations in Hong Kong. But it remains, Mr. Schmidt said, a constant target for Chinese cyberattackers.


David E. Sanger reported from Washington,

and Nicole Perlroth from San Francisco.

    Chinese Hackers Resume Attacks on U.S. Targets, NYT, 19.5.2013,






Without Water, Revolution


May 18, 2013
The New York Times


TEL ABYAD, Syria — I just spent a day in this northeast Syrian town. It was terrifying — much more so than I anticipated — but not because we were threatened in any way by the Free Syrian Army soldiers who took us around or by the Islamist Jabhet al-Nusra fighters who stayed hidden in the shadows. It was the local school that shook me up.

As we were driving back to the Turkish border, I noticed a school and asked the driver to turn around so I could explore it. It was empty — of students. But war refugees had occupied the classrooms and little kids’ shirts and pants were drying on a line strung across the playground. The basketball backboard was rusted, and a local parent volunteered to give me a tour of the bathrooms, which he described as disgusting. Classes had not been held in two years. And that is what terrified me. Men with guns I’m used to. But kids without books, teachers or classes for a long time — that’s trouble. Big trouble.

They grow up to be teenagers with too many guns and too much free time, and I saw a lot of them in Tel Abyad. They are the law of the land here now, but no two of them wear the same uniform, and many are just in jeans. These boys bravely joined the adults of their town to liberate it from the murderous tyranny of Bashar al-Assad, but now the war has ground to a stalemate, so here, as in so many towns across Syria, life is frozen in a no-man’s land between order and chaos. There is just enough patched-up order for people to live — some families have even rigged up bootleg stills that refine crude oil into gasoline to keep cars running — but not enough order to really rebuild, to send kids to school or to start businesses.

So Syria as a whole is slowly bleeding to death of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. You can’t help but ask whether it will ever be a unified country again and what kind of human disaster will play out here if a whole generation grows up without school.

“Syria is becoming Somalia,” said Zakaria Zakaria, a 28-year-old Syrian who graduated from college with a major in English and who acted as our guide. “Students have now lost two years of school, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and if this goes on for two more years it will be like Somalia, a failed country. But Somalia is off somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Syria is the heart of the Middle East. I don’t want this to happen to my country. But the more it goes on, the worse it will be.”

This is the agony of Syria today. You can’t imagine the war here continuing for another year, let alone five. But when you feel the depth of the rage against the Assad government and contemplate the sporadic but barbaric sect-on-sect violence, you can’t imagine any peace deal happening or holding — not without international peacekeepers on the ground to enforce it. Eventually, we will all have to have that conversation, because this is no ordinary war.

THIS Syrian disaster is like a superstorm. It’s what happens when an extreme weather event, the worst drought in Syria’s modern history, combines with a fast-growing population and a repressive and corrupt regime and unleashes extreme sectarian and religious passions, fueled by money from rival outside powers — Iran and Hezbollah on one side, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on the other, each of which have an extreme interest in its Syrian allies’ defeating the other’s allies — all at a time when America, in its post-Iraq/Afghanistan phase, is extremely wary of getting involved.

I came here to write my column and work on a film for the Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the “Jafaf,” or drought, one of the key drivers of the Syrian war. In an age of climate change, we’re likely to see many more such conflicts.

“The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war,” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work.

Because of the population explosion that started here in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to better health care, those leaving the countryside came with huge families and settled in towns around cities like Aleppo. Some of those small towns swelled from 2,000 people to 400,000 in a decade or so. The government failed to provide proper schools, jobs or services for this youth bulge, which hit its teens and 20s right when the revolution erupted.

Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”

Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution. Just ask those who were here, starting with Faten, whom I met in her simple flat in Sanliurfa, a Turkish city near the Syrian border. Faten, 38, a Sunni, fled there with her son Mohammed, 19, a member of the Free Syrian Army, who was badly wounded in a firefight a few months ago. Raised in the northeastern Syrian farming village of Mohasen, Faten, who asked me not to use her last name, told me her story.

She and her husband “used to own farmland,” said Faten. “We tended annual crops. We had wheat, barley and everyday food — vegetables, cucumbers, anything we could plant instead of buying in the market. Thank God there were rains, and the harvests were very good before. And then suddenly, the drought happened.”

What did it look like? “To see the land made us very sad,” she said. “The land became like a desert, like salt.” Everything turned yellow.

Did Assad’s government help? “They didn’t do anything,” she said. “We asked for help, but they didn’t care. They didn’t care about this subject. Never, never. We had to solve our problems ourselves.”

So what did you do? “When the drought happened, we could handle it for two years, and then we said, ‘It’s enough.’ So we decided to move to the city. I got a government job as a nurse, and my husband opened a shop. It was hard. The majority of people left the village and went to the city to find jobs, anything to make a living to eat.” The drought was particularly hard on young men who wanted to study or marry but could no longer afford either, she added. Families married off daughters at earlier ages because they couldn’t support them.

Faten, her head conservatively covered in a black scarf, said the drought and the government’s total lack of response radicalized her. So when the first spark of revolutionary protest was ignited in the small southern Syrian town of Dara’a, in March 2011, Faten and other drought refugees couldn’t wait to sign on. “Since the first cry of ‘Allahu akbar,’ we all joined the revolution. Right away.” Was this about the drought? “Of course,” she said, “the drought and unemployment were important in pushing people toward revolution.”

ZAKARIA ZAKARIA was a teenager in nearby Hasakah Province when the drought hit and he recalled the way it turned proud farmers, masters of their own little plots of land, into humiliated day laborers, working for meager wages in the towns “just to get some money to eat.” What was most galling to many, said Zakaria, was that if you wanted a steady government job you had to bribe a bureaucrat or know someone in the state intelligence agency.

The best jobs in Hasakah Province, Syria’s oil-producing region, were with the oil companies. But drought refugees, virtually all of whom were Sunni Muslims, could only dream of getting hired there. “Most of those jobs went to Alawites from Tartous and Latakia,” said Zakaria, referring to the minority sect to which President Assad belongs and which is concentrated in these coastal cities. “It made people even more angry. The best jobs on our lands in our province were not for us, but for people who come from outside.”

Only in the spring of 2011, after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, did the Assad government start to worry about the drought refugees, said Zakaria, because on March 11 — a few days before the Syrian uprising would start in Dara’a — Assad visited Hasakah, a very rare event. “So I posted on my Facebook page, ‘Let him see how people are living,’ ” recalled Zakaria. “My friends said I should delete it right away, because it was dangerous. I wouldn’t. They didn’t care how people lived.”

Abu Khalil, 48, is one of those who didn’t just protest. A former cotton farmer who had to become a smuggler to make ends meet for his 16 children after the drought wiped out their farm, he is now the Free Syrian Army commander in the Tel Abyad area. We met at a crushed Syrian Army checkpoint. After being introduced by our Syrian go-between, Abu Khalil, who was built like a tough little boxer, introduced me to his fighting unit. He did not introduce them by rank but by blood, pointing to each of the armed men around him and saying: “My nephew, my cousin, my brother, my cousin, my nephew, my son, my cousin ...”

Free Syrian Army units are often family affairs. In a country where the government for decades wanted no one to trust anyone else, it’s no surprise.

“We could accept the drought because it was from Allah,” said Abu Khalil, “but we could not accept that the government would do nothing.” Before we parted, he pulled me aside to say that all that his men needed were anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons and they could finish Assad off. “Couldn’t Obama just let the Mafia send them to us?” he asked. “Don’t worry, we won’t use them against Israel.”

As part of our film we’ve been following a Syrian woman who is a political activist, Farah Nasif, a 27-year-old Damascus University graduate from Deir-az-Zour, whose family’s farm was also wiped out in the drought. Nasif typifies the secular, connected, newly urbanized young people who spearheaded the democracy uprisings here and in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. They all have two things in common: they no longer fear their governments or their parents, and they want to live like citizens, with equal rights — not as sects with equal fears. If this new generation had a motto, noted Aita, the Syrian economist, it would actually be the same one Syrians used in their 1925 war of independence from France: “Religion is for God, and the country is for everyone.”

But Nasif is torn right now. She wants Assad gone and all political prisoners released, but she knows that more war “will only destroy the rest of the country.” And her gut tells her that even once Assad is gone, there is no agreement on who or what should come next. So every option worries her — more war, a cease-fire, the present and the future. This is the agony of Syria today — and why the closer you get to it, the less certain you are how to fix it.

    Without Water, Revolution, NYT, 18.5.2013,






Hunting for Syrian Hackers’

Chain of Command


May 17, 2013
The New York Times


It’s the question of the moment inside the murky realm of cybersecurity: Just who — or what — is the Syrian Electronic Army?

The hacking group that calls itself the S.E.A. struck again on Friday, this time breaking into the Twitter accounts and blog headlines of The Financial Times. The attack was part of a crusade that has targeted dozens of media outlets as varied as The Associated Press and The Onion, the parody news site.

But just who is behind the S.E.A.’s cybervandalism remains a mystery. Paralleling the group’s boisterous, pro-Syrian government activity has been a much quieter Internet surveillance campaign aimed at revealing the identities, activities and whereabouts of the Syrian rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Now sleuths are trying to figure out how much overlap there is between the rowdy pranks playing out on Twitter and the silent spying that also increasingly includes the monitoring of foreign aid workers. It’s a high-stakes search. If researchers prove the Assad regime is closely tied to the group, foreign governments may choose to respond because the attacks have real-world consequences. The S.E.A. nearly crashed the stock market, for example, by planting false tales of White House explosions in a recent hijacking of The A.P.’s Twitter feed.

The mystery is made more curious by the belief among researchers that the hackers currently parading as the S.E.A. are not the same people who started the pro-Assad campaign two years ago.

Experts say the Assad regime benefits from the ambiguity. “They have created extra space between themselves and international law and international opinion,” said James A. Lewis, a security expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The S.E.A. emerged during the Syrian uprisings in May 2011, they said, to offer a pro-Assad counternarrative to news coming out of Syria. In speeches, Mr. Assad likened the S.E.A. to the government’s own online security corps, referring to the group as “a real army in a virtual reality.”

In its early incarnation, researchers said, the S.E.A. had a clearly defined hierarchy, with leaders, technical experts, a media arm and hundreds of volunteers. Several early members belonged to the Syrian Computer Society, a technical organization run by Mr. Assad before he became president. Until last month, digital records suggest, the Syrian Computer Society still ran much of the S.E.A.’s infrastructure. In April, a raid of S.E.A. Web domains revealed that the majority were still registered to the society.

S.E.A. members initially created pro-Assad Facebook pages and spammed popular pages like President Obama’s and Oprah Winfrey’s with pro-Syrian comments. But by the fall of 2011, S.E.A. activities had become more premeditated. They defaced prominent Web sites like Harvard University’s with pro-Assad messages, in an attack a spokesman characterized as sophisticated.

At some point, the S.E.A.’s crucial players disappeared and a second crop of hackers took over. The current group consists of roughly a dozen new actors led by hackers who call themselves “Th3 Pr0” and “The Shadow” and function more like Anonymous, the loose hacking collective, than a state-sponsored brigade. In interviews, people who now identify as the S.E.A. insist they operate independently from the Assad regime. But researchers who have been following the group’s digital trail aren’t convinced.

“The opportunity for collaboration between the S.E.A. and regime is clear, but what is missing is proof,” said Jacob West, a chief technology officer at Hewlett-Packard. As governments consider stronger responses to malicious cyberactivity, Mr. West said, “the motivation for Syria to maintain plausible deniability is very, very real.”

Long before the S.E.A’s apparent changing of the guard, security researchers unearthed a stealthier surveillance campaign targeting Syrian dissidents that has since grown to include foreign aid workers. Morgan Marquis-Boire, a researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, uncovered spyware with names like “Dark Comet” and “BlackShades” sending information back to a Syrian state-owned telecommunications company. The software — which tracked a target’s location, read e-mails and logged keystrokes — disguised itself as an encryption service for Skype, a program used by many Syrian activists.

Mr. Marquis-Boire has uncovered more than 200 Internet Protocol addresses running the spyware. Some were among the few kept online last week during an Internet disruption in Syria that the government blamed on a “technical malfunction,” but experts described as a systematic government shutdown.

S.E.A. members deny spying on Syrian civilians. “We didn’t do that and we will not,” the hacker who identifies himself as Th3 Pr0 wrote in an e-mail. “Our targets are known,” he wrote, referring to the group’s public Twitter attacks. Researchers have tracked several of those attacks — including that on The Onion and another against Human Rights Watch in March — to a server in Russia, which they believe is redirecting attacks from Syria. Last weekend, researchers traced one attack back to a Syrian I.P. address registered to Syriatel, a telecommunications company owned by Rami Makhlouf, Mr. Assad’s first cousin.

Dissidents say that connection is proof the S.E.A. is backed by the Assad regime and claim that the Twitter attacks are just the outward-facing component of a deeper surveillance campaign.

“There is no doubt they are the same,” said Dlshad Othman, a Syrian in Washington who helps dissidents get rid of the spyware.

The smoking gun, Mr. Othman and others say, was an S.E.A. attack last year on Burhan Ghalioun, a Syrian opposition leader. Shortly after Mr. Ghalioun’s Facebook page was hacked, it began serving spyware to fans. Mr. Ghalioun’s e-mails also showed up on a S.E.A. leak site.

The other potential link, they say, is a list of opposition leaders that surfaced in July, after S.E.A. members boasted they could help the regime quickly search for the names of opponents. Mr. Othman said the boasts were proof the S.E.A. worked with the regime and kept tabs on dissidents.

Ironically, that opposition search most likely led to the S.E.A.’s internal shake-up. Activists say encryption on the document was cracked, and in July it popped up on Pastebin, a Web site for anonymous postings.

“There was a view that the government blamed the S.E.A. for the leak,” said John Scott-Railton, a Citizen Lab research fellow.

In the days that followed, Facebook accounts for known S.E.A. members went dark. S.E.A. aliases that researchers had been tracking suddenly vanished. New members with different monikers assumed the group’s name. Researchers say the hackers behind the recent spate of Twitter hacks are far less organized.

Outside Syria, the Twitter attacks made people take note of the S.E.A. But inside Syria, they barely registered. Dissidents there are more concerned with the mounting spyware infections and imprisonments. And researchers have seen the spyware tracking a new target: aid workers.

“The Syrian opposition are quite paranoid and aware of the stakes,” Mr. Marquis-Boire said. “But then you get foreign aid workers who show up to do good work, but are not as paranoid about their operational security.”

“It’s a smart move if you think about it,” he added.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 17, 2013

An earlier version of this article based on previous reporting

referred incorrectly to a representative of The Financial Times,

Ryann Gastwirth. She is a spokeswoman, not a spokesman.

    Hunting for Syrian Hackers’ Chain of Command, NYT, 17.5.2013,






Can Obama Save Turkey

From a Syrian Quagmire?


May 16, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — WHEN Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met President Obama at the White House on Thursday, the most pressing topic was the war in Syria. Turkey has not faced a threat on this scale since Stalin demanded territory from the Turks in 1945.

In 2011, the Turkish government severed all diplomatic ties with the government of Bashar al-Assad and began to support the Syrian opposition groups seeking to oust him. But, thus far, this policy has failed, and it has exposed Turkey to growing risks, most recently two deadly bomb attacks in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli that were most likely planted by pro-Assad forces in retaliation for Turkish support of the Syrian rebels.

Turkey’s blessing over the past decade has been its reputation as a stable country in an otherwise unstable region. In November 2012, the global ratings agency Fitch rated Turkish bonds investment-grade for the first time since 1994. The country’s improved international reputation has alleviated a chronic economic problem: lack of capital. A steady infusion of foreign investment for over a decade has ushered in phenomenal growth, at some points exceeding 8 percent annually, and propelled Turkey into the Group of 20 industrialized nations.

Turkey has become a majority middle-class society for the first time in its history, helping Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party win three successive elections since 2002.

But the war in Syria threatens these gains, and Mr. Erdogan’s political future. Turkey will not be immune to the fallout from a Somalia-style failed state next door — or from a rump Assad regime seeking revenge against Turkey for supporting the rebels. Turkey grows because it attracts international investment; and Turkey attracts investment because it is deemed stable. A spillover of the mess in Syria risks ending the country’s economic miracle.

Turkey has a community of over 500,000 Arab Alawites, whose ethnic kin in Syria have, with few exceptions, supported the Assad regime against the Sunni-led rebels. This sectarian conflict threatens to seep across the border into Turkey, pitting Syrian rebel fighters and Sunni Turks against pro-Assad Alawites, especially in the country’s southernmost province, Hatay, where the Alawite community is concentrated. There is also a risk of chemical weapons’ being deployed and spreading toxic agents over Turkish territory; and the proximity of Qaeda fighters in Syria poses a serious threat to Turkey’s vaunted stability.

The Syrian war has also awakened Turkey’s once dormant Marxist militant groups. These groups vehemently oppose any government policies they see as serving American imperialist interests and have already launched a number of attacks, including one at the United States Embassy in Ankara on Feb. 2. Turkish media reports that these Marxist groups, in cooperation with elements of Mr. Assad’s regime, may have been behind the May 11 attack that killed 51 people in Reyhanli.

This is bad news for Mr. Erdogan’s bid to remake the Turkish political system with a strong French-style presidency. Mr. Erdogan has aligned all the domestic political stars to be elected president in 2014. He has even made peace with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the P.K.K., a move that would have been an unthinkable taboo just a few years ago. By entering a peace process with the P.K.K.’s reviled leader, the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan, Mr. Erdogan has effectively ensured the country’s domestic stability in the run-up to 2014 and secured himself at least some Kurdish support. Yet an economic downturn brought on by the war in Syria could upset his plans.

Mr. Erdogan is aware that unless he secures greater American assistance against the Assad regime, Turkey could become the big loser in Syria, and Mr. Erdogan the big loser at the ballot box if he can’t cobble together an absolute majority in 2014. This is also bad news for the United States, which sees Turkey as one of the few stable, strong pillars of Western values in the region.

Turkey’s government believes that unless the balance of power in Syria is tilted in favor of the rebels now, the Syrian conflict will turn into an interminable sectarian civil war that pulls Hatay Province, and with it the rest of Turkey, into turmoil.

Only Washington can change the equation. Following the May 16 summit meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Erdogan, two options seem to be on the table.

The infusion of American power, by arming the rebels or enforcing a no-fly zone, would change the military and regional dynamic and help unite the often squabbling “Friends of Syria” behind American leadership. Only direct American military engagement will rally the disparate parties that want to act against Mr. Assad into unified action.

The wars in Kuwait and Bosnia are cases in point in proving the value of American leadership. It would tilt the balance of power in favor of the rebels and provide diplomatic cover for Turkey as it faces the wrath of Iran and Russia. By presenting Moscow with a counter-incentive, threatening to act alone if Moscow does not use its influence to bring an end to the conflict, the United States could demonstrate that it is serious about engagement. This would also lighten the pressure on Turkey, which is hesitant to take further steps in Syria without at least tacit Russian consent. Russia is Turkey’s historic nemesis and the only country in the region with an economy and military larger than Turkey’s. The Turks fear the Russians and will not confront them alone.

If convincing the Russians proves impossible, Washington should consider creating a buffer zone in northern Syria along the Turkish border to protect rebel-captured areas. A buffer zone, protected by American airpower and an international coalition, would endow the rebels with a staging ground from which to launch operations against Mr. Assad and it would also help Turkey push the conflict back into Syria by transferring rebels and their headquarters into the buffer zones on Syrian territory rather than offering sanctuary to militants on Turkish soil. (There would most likely be regional support for such a policy, including from Jordan, which would also benefit from a buffer zone inside southern Syria.)

More decisive American engagement would simultaneously end doubts about the United States’ commitment to Syria and save Turkey from being pulled further into a conflict that threatens to squander its progress toward resolving the Kurdish conflict and undermine its impressive economic achievements.


Soner Cagaptay, the author of the forthcoming book

“The Rise of Turkey: The 21st Century’s First Muslim Power,”

is director of the Turkish Research Program

at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,

where James F. Jeffrey,

a former United States ambassador to Turkey and Iraq,

is a distinguished visiting fellow.

    Can Obama Save Turkey From a Syrian Quagmire?, NYT, 16.5.2013,






Car Bombings Kill Dozens

in Center of Turkish Town

Near the Syrian Border


May 11, 2013
The New York Times


REYHANLI, Turkey — Two powerful car bombs killed at least 43 people in this town near Turkey’s border with Syria on Saturday, transforming downtown office blocks into smoldering husks in one of the deadliest attacks on Turkish soil in at least a decade.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks, which came 15 minutes and barely a mile apart. Hours later, officials with Turkey’s government, which has backed the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, said they had identified the suspects in the bombing. The attackers, officials said, belonged to an organization linked to Mr. Assad’s intelligence services, though they did not name the organization or the suspects, or provide a detailed explanation of how they reached that conclusion.

Turkey’s swift accusation raised the possibility of an escalating conflict with Syria and the broadening of the war. A senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official said the government had not reached the point where it was considering a military retaliation, but added, “No crime will be left without a response.”

In blaming Mr. Assad’s government, Turkish officials seemed anxious to stave off any possible backlash against thousands of Syrian refugees in Reyhanli or its allies in the Syrian opposition for the bombing. The town is in a region of southern Turkey where some Turks have bristled at their government’s willingness to make Turkey a party to the war, putting it at risk.

After the bombings on Saturday, angry residents smashed the windows of cars from Syria, and a Turkish newspaper reported that protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later erupted in Reyhanli’s streets.

If connected to the Syrian war, the attack on Saturday would be the deadliest spillover since the beginning of the uprising against Mr. Assad in March 2011. In October, shells fired from Syria killed five people in Turkey, and the Turkish government blamed Mr. Assad’s forces. At least 14 people died in a separate episode when a car bomb exploded at a border crossing.

The attack on Saturday occurred as Mr. Erdogan was scheduled to visit Washington this week to meet President Obama and discuss the urgency for a resolution of the conflict in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement condemning the bombings and praising Turkey’s role as a “vital interlocutor.”

On Saturday afternoon, as news reports revealed the scale of the attacks, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey called for calm. He said the timing was not a coincidence, given what he called growing momentum toward resolving the Syrian crisis, apparently a reference to a proposed peace conference on Syria announced by the United States and Russia.

Mr. Erdogan also made a reference to the war in Syria, and raised the possibility that the attack was linked to his government’s talks with the P.K.K., the Kurdish separatist group, to end three decades of armed conflict. Mr. Erdogan suggested that groups who prefer that Turkey remain riven by conflict might be working together.

Besir Atalay, a deputy prime minister — one of the officials who suggested the attackers were linked to Syrian intelligence — said Saturday that the attack was carried out from inside Turkey with Turkish cars, saying that license plate numbers were part of the government’s evidence in the investigation.

Mr. Atalay said that more than 100 people were wounded in the attack. One of the bombs left a crater by Reyhanli’s yellow municipal headquarters, blasting out its windows and leaving files on aluminum shelves visible from the street. A nearby row of buildings, where apartments sat above stores, was destroyed.

The second bomb appeared to have been far more powerful, sheering the facade off office towers in downtown Reyhanli and sending the burned shells of cars and motorcycles crashing into stores. A cry went up as emergency workers pulled a body, wrapped in a black bag, from the rubble of a store. A woman stumbled through the wreckage, sobbing, near a car whose trunk was blown open to reveal a floral patterned baby seat.

Tensions surfaced quickly on Saturday in Reyhanli, as Syrian refugees who had been out that morning shopping at fruit and vegetable markets vanished from the rain-soaked streets, fearful that their neighbors would blame them for the attacks.

Munzir Khalil, a Syrian who sat in a cafe on the outskirts of town, said he saw residents smashing the windows of cars from Syria. “I think the rage will vanish in a few days,” he said. Other refugees echoed the sentiment, saying Reyhanli’s residents had shown sympathy for the Syrians’ plight.

But near the second blast site, as firefighters poured water on what had been a post office, residents suggested that there would be more anger to come.

“Now, we’re busy with this,” one man said. “Tonight, the problems will start.”

Turkish officials have been especially concerned with the possibility that sectarian tensions that have come to define the civil war in Syria will spill over the border, and trouble ethnically mixed regions of southern Turkey. There are also fears that the sheer numbers of Syrians in the country will stoke resentment: around Reyhanli, some 25,000 Syrian refugees live among 90,000 Turkish citizens, according to local officials.

Speaking at a news conference in the nearby town of Antakya, Turkey’s interior minister, Muammer Guler, defended the refugees and absolved Mr. Assad’s opponents of blame, saying, “This incident definitely has no relation with the opposition in Syria, and especially with Syrian refugees in Turkey.”


Kareem Fahim reported from Reyhanli,

and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.

Karam Shoumali contributed reporting from Reyhanli.

    Car Bombings Kill Dozens in Center of Turkish Town Near the Syrian Border,
    NYT, 11.5.2013,






Syria Blames Israel

for Fiery Attack in Damascus


May 5, 2013
The New York Times


BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Syrian government publicly condemned Israel for a powerful air assault on military targets near Damascus early Sunday, saying it “opened the door to all possibilities,” as fear spread throughout the region that the country’s civil war could expand beyond its borders.

The attack, which sent brightly lighted columns of smoke and ash high into the night sky above the Syrian capital, struck several critical military facilities in some of the country’s most tightly secured and strategic areas, killing dozens of elite troops stationed near the presidential palace, a high-ranking Syrian military official said in an interview.

Israel refused to confirm the attacks, the second in three days, and Israeli analysts said it was unlikely that Israel was seeking to intervene in the Syrian conflict. They said the attacks in all likelihood expanded and continued Israel’s campaign to prevent the Syrian government from transferring weapons to Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political party in neighboring Lebanon that is one of Israel’s most dangerous foes.

Rebels, opposition activists and residents said the strikes hit bases of the elite Republican Guard and storehouses of long-range missiles, in addition to a military research center that American officials have called the country’s main chemical weapons facility.

An American official said a more limited strike early Friday at Damascus International Airport was also meant to destroy weapons being sent from Iran to Hezbollah.

Concerns flared about whether Hezbollah might attack Israel in retaliation, possibly drawing Lebanon into the conflict. Israel deployed two of its Iron Dome missile-defense batteries in its northern cities. Iran’s IRNA news agency said Israel could expect a “crushing” retaliation from Syria or “the resistance,” meaning Hezbollah.

Analysts said Syria, weakened by the conflict, and Hezbollah, overstretched as it commits more forces to support the Syrian government, were unlikely to act, but they cautioned that a miscalculation by either side that set off an escalation could not be ruled out. And President Bashar al-Assad could choose to mount covert attacks on Israeli targets abroad, rather than engage its military directly.

One senior Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he did not think that Israel was entering a war with Syria and suggested that Syria was unlikely to respond. Mr. Assad “has his own problems,” the official noted. “He doesn’t need Israel in the mess.”

In Washington, the reported Israeli attacks stoked debate about whether American-led airstrikes were the logical next step to cripple the ability of the Syrian president to counter the rebel forces or use chemical weapons. That was already being discussed in secret by the United States, Britain and France in the days leading to the Israeli strikes, according to American and foreign officials involved in the discussions, with a model being the opening days of the attacks on Libya that ultimately drove Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power.

Lawmakers from both parties urged President Obama to move toward arming the rebels. “The idea of getting weapons in — if we know the right people to get them — my guess is we will give them to them,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The White House declined to say whether it believed Israel was responsible for the Damascus explosions, though other American officials said there was no plausible alternative, given the size and precision of the strikes. Josh Earnest, the deputy press secretary, echoed statements by Mr. Obama last week, saying “the Israelis are justifiably concerned about the threat posed by Hezbollah obtaining these advanced weapon systems.”

The Syrian deputy foreign minister, speaking on CNN, called the strikes “an act of war.” But the decision to blame Israel so publicly presented Mr. Assad with a difficult choice. He could retaliate against Israel and risk conflict with the region’s strongest military — an option analysts called unlikely. Or he could refrain, in which case he risks appearing further weakened and hypocritical to supporters and opponents alike, many of whom are united in their antipathy for Israel.

“Why does the regime attack the rebels with Scuds and warplanes while it takes no action on the Israeli raids?” Basil, 35, who lives near the military research center, in Jamraya, asked as he and his wife swept broken glass from their house on Monday.

Noureddin, 50, a lawyer, lives in the Doumar Project neighborhood, where the blasts knocked kitchen crockery from shelves and drove residents into basements for shelter. Noureddin said the attack would anger members of Mr. Assad’s Alawite sect, who make up the bulk of the military elite and his strongest base of support, already frustrated with their mounting death toll.

“Today, President Bashar al-Assad is in a very hard position with his Alawite community,” he said. In a play on Mr. Assad’s surname, which means lion in Arabic, he added, “Today, Israel kills the Alawite soldiers who are protecting the lion’s den.”

The airstrikes shocked residents of Damascus, a relative bubble of security, literally shaking some out of bed. It was a display of firepower far greater than any seen near the capital in two years of war.

At the military’s Tishreen Hospital on Monday, a doctor said that there were at least 100 dead soldiers and many dozens more wounded.

While much of the region debated the military and political impact, Damascus felt like a city on high alert.

Hassan Husseini, 41, said that at 4 a.m., two hours after the blasts, he drove a friend home from his house in Malki, at the foot of Mount Qasioun, where in safer times Mr. Assad lived in an apartment with his family. Mr. Husseini said he was still reeling from the blasts: “The walls were moving, and the ground was trembling under us.”

Soldiers at the city’s ubiquitous checkpoints inspected his car unusually carefully, he said.

“There was tension,” he said. “You could sense the alertness in the houses and among people; everybody was awake.”

Mr. Husseini saw people clustered at windows and on balconies. “Some lights were on,” he said, “but even when they were off I saw them moving behind windows like ghosts.”

The military impact, though, was less clear.

Within hours, the rebel Damascus Military Council declared that it would try to capitalize. The council issued a statement calling on all fighters in the area to work together, put aside rivalries and mount focused attacks on government forces.

But Louay Mekdad, a spokesman for the Supreme Military Council, considered Washington’s best option for a military ally among the rebels, said the strike by itself would not present an opportunity to tip the balance.

The elite Republican Guard units that the Syrian official said had been hit are currently believed to have little involvement in the fighting against Syria’s rebels, though they are a last-resort line of defense.

“Does this erode the regime’s long-term capability? Undoubtedly,” said Emile Hokayem, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Does this create a short-term opportunity for the opposition? It’s doubtful.”

The Syrian military official said he believed that Israel and the rebels had collaborated in a plan for opposition forces to advance after the strikes hit elite forces in one of the few areas on the outskirts of Damascus where rebels have made few inroads. But Israeli analysts suggested that any deaths of Republican Guards, who were guarding weapons stockpiles, were probably incidental.

Some analysts said Israel may have been sending a message to its main rival, Iran, that despite recent gains by Mr. Assad’s forces, the alliance between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah has waning power to check Israeli action.

Syrian state television said the explosions confirmed what the government has been contending all along: that the rebels are part of an American-Israeli conspiracy to target Mr. Assad for his support of Palestinians and opposition to Western policies in the Middle East.

But a longstanding refrain among fighters and activists has been that Mr. Assad’s anti-Israel stance was a sham. They say that while the government’s security forces and military failed to prevent the Israeli strikes — and for that matter have not clashed with Israel since 1973 — they have killed tens of thousands of Syrians and jailed many more to hold on to power.

Some rebels and activists say they consider Mr. Assad a far higher-priority target than Israel, though they still oppose it. The main exile Syrian opposition coalition walked that line carefully in a statement issued after the bombings, blaming the government for allowing attacks by “external occupying forces.”

Also, as the conflict takes on an increasingly sectarian cast, some rebel fighters say that for the Sunni-dominated rebellion, the greatest enemy is not Israel but Shiite-dominated Iran and Hezbollah, as well as the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism.

Mr. Mekdad of the Supreme Military Council said that the opposition had only one target: Mr. Assad’s government.

“The Assad regime has never focused on fighting the Israeli Army; it’s focus has only been on oppressing the Syrian people,” he said. “From the start our goal has been to topple the regime, and we will continue.”


Reporting was contributed by an employee

of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria,

Hala Droubi from Dubai, Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran,

Ben Hubbard from Cairo, Michael Schwirtz from New York

and Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad from Beirut.

    Syria Blames Israel for Fiery Attack in Damascus, NYT, 5.5.2013,






Mr. Obama, Don’t Draw That Line


May 4, 2013
The New York Times


“THE use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable,” President Obama warned Bashar al-Assad’s government last December. “If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.”

This threat followed the president’s earlier warning that “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” This red line has come to haunt Mr. Obama. Last week, the American intelligence community assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that the Syrians had used the chemical agent sarin in their attacks on the opposition.

The administration’s ultimatum now seems like cheap talk, and it illustrates the risks of carelessly drawing red lines and issuing highly public threats that won’t be enforced.

So far, at least, the Obama administration has put off both consequences and accountability and simply pushed for further investigation. Meanwhile, Mr. Assad has not blinked, and the president’s political opponents, like Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, argue that Iran and North Korea will draw the wrong lessons if the president lets Mr. Assad call his bluff.

Red lines can be attractive tools of foreign policy, deterring foes from ethnic cleansing, genocide or, in the case of Syria, using chemical weapons. Part of the reason to go public, as one administration official put it last year regarding Syria, is to have a “deterrent effect.” By threatening to act in advance of a problem, you stop the problem and don’t have to act. Issuing a red line can also reassure allies or placate domestic critics.

It may be irrational for a foreign leader to cross an American red line and risk a forceful response. But ambition, misperception or overwhelming internal threats may drive a leader like Mr. Assad to do so anyway.

Also, red lines may be crossed in unanticipated ways. When Mr. Obama issued his warning, American officials feared that the Syrian regime might pass chemical weapons to its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon or use them to kill tens of thousands of its own citizens. That hasn’t happened — American intelligence agencies note only “small scale” use so far — and it isn’t clear if such usage alone merits a change in policy. Enemies, of course, will exploit this ambiguity.

Such irrational and unexpected outcomes in the face of a looming threat are not found only abroad. In Washington, the architects of sequestration believed that both Democrats and Republicans would find the prescribed automatic spending cuts so painful that they would be forced to sign a budget deal. But sequestration happened anyway.

In the Syrian case, the red line on chemical weapons appears to have been issued without a decision as to how we might respond to a Syrian breach or even whether to escalate the situation. Politically this makes sense: it’s easier to agree that Syria should not use chemical weapons and issue a red line to advance deterrence than it is to decide what to do when Syria ignores the threat. But when deterrence fails, the United States looks weak and indecisive.

Moreover, not acting after issuing ultimatums harms America’s reputation. As Mr. Rogers and others have argued, inaction makes it more likely that American red lines elsewhere in the region will be questioned, especially in Iran, which is facing pressure on its nuclear weapons program and watching Syria closely.

Acting purely in the name of credibility, however, can be a mistake, moving the United States to unwisely increase its involvement in one crisis simply to avoid risking another. The United States extended its involvement in the Vietnam War because it feared that losing that war would damage its military credibility and thus embolden the Soviet Union and its allies.

In practice, red lines often create perverse incentives and encourage the enemy to continue aggression even as it avoids a red line. Declaring that the United States would act only if chemical weapons were used in Syria implied that we would tolerate other forms of violence. Indeed, Mr. Assad’s regime has killed over 80,000 of its own people, primarily using artillery and bullets, knowing that these forms of death are not covered by the specific public warning regarding chemical weapons.

Similarly, Israeli threats in the mid-1970s helped persuade Syria to stop its terrorist allies from launching attacks on Israel directly from Syrian soil. But that didn’t end Syria’s support for terrorism: it continued to host groups that launched attacks from outside Syria and encouraged several to use Lebanon as a base.

Finally, it is hard to anticipate every possible response to a public declaration. Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared in 1950 that South Korea was not included in the Asian Defense Perimeter that covered American allies like Japan and the Philippines. This worked: Moscow and its allies refrained from attacking these countries. But the red line’s wording helped convince North Korea and the Soviet Union that the United States would not intervene in South Korea if the North invaded. America intervened anyway.

Given these historical lessons, it is tempting to urge, in defiance of politics or allied demands, that the president should issue a red line only after a decision has been made to act if the line is crossed. But even this is problematic. After all, a red line might be issued months or even years in advance of the crisis. (President George Bush wrote a letter in 1992 telling Serbia not to intervene militarily in Kosovo, but it wasn’t until almost seven years later, under President Bill Clinton, that the United States decided Serbian attacks on Kosovo’s Albanians had gone too far and went to war against Serbia.)

Less time has passed since Mr. Obama issued his red line on Syria, but during the interim the opposition has become more fragmented and the jihadist presence has grown (in part because the United States did so little to help more moderate forces from the start), making intervention harder.

The muddle over the red line on Syria’s chemical weapons should make the Obama administration and its successors think twice before issuing similar public threats without considering what happens if the red line is breached or if an adversary continues committing atrocities that fall short of the line.

If they can’t learn this lesson, public embarrassment, reduced credibility and more dead civilians are the likely results.


Daniel Byman is a professor in the security studies program

at Georgetown and the research director

at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Mideast Policy.

    Mr. Obama, Don’t Draw That Line, NYT, 4.5.2013,






Syria’s War Has Once-Quiet Border Area

in Israel on Alert


May 3, 2013
The New York Times


MOUNT HAZEKA, Israel — Elite infantry and reconnaissance units have been moved into the long-quiet Golan Heights this spring. Bulldozers are making way for new military shelters. And at an Israeli Army outpost on a strategic hilltop here, a Merkava tank sits pointing toward Syria — poised to race up a dirt ramp at a moment’s notice.

The stepped-up military presence across the 43-mile border demonstrates the growing fear and anxiety among Israeli leaders over the Syrian civil war. Already there have been clashes at the border, with errant munitions landing in the Golan some 30 times, at least five prompting Israel to fire back.

An Obama administration official said Friday night that Israeli aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight on Thursday, and United States officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes.

But the concern in Israel runs deeper along what was for decades one border it did not have to worry much about. Many increasingly see no possible positive outcome of their neighbor’s bloody conflict, no clear solution for securing their interests in the meanwhile. Israel’s military leadership now views southern Syria as an “ungoverned area” that poses imminent danger.

“This is the new reality of the Golan Heights,” Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch, an active reservist who is deputy commander of a unit focused on long-range operations in enemy territory, said as he stood near the Merkava tank positioned here. “Inside the bush, we have units that are ready to jump and open fire. You can see here tanks, you can see forces — and there are many things you cannot see.”

For Israel, as for other nations, the Syrian civil war presents pressing security challenges, including the prospect of chemical and other sophisticated weapons falling into the hands of rogue groups, and radical Islamists ultimately coming to power. But speaking to members of Parliament from his faction this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled a new focus, saying, “The first and primary threat is an attack on our citizens and soldiers from the Golan Heights line.”

And so, as Israel is building up its defense here, the nation is debating a longer-term approach, a prospect complicated and made more urgent by recent troubles along the border with Egypt, which had also been relatively quiet, until the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

Some analysts in Israel and abroad have raised the possibility of Israel creating a buffer zone and arming a proxy force inside Syria, similar to what it did beginning in the 1970s with the South Lebanon Army. Though the Lebanese strategy was largely seen as having backfired by fomenting the emergence of Hezbollah, Mr. Netanyahu fueled that speculation when he declined in a recent interview with the BBC to confirm or deny whether Israel would arm Syrian rebels.

Others have suggested a force of Israeli citizens, perhaps made up of Druse who live in the Golan and are of Syrian origin, amassing in the buffer zone long patrolled by 1,000 United Nations peacekeepers. That force is itself in turmoil, with two nations having withdrawn their troops since December, and 21 Filipino soldiers having been kidnapped in March.

But top military and political officials in recent interviews said neither was on the table, revealing Israel’s quandary: despite what it considers mounting threats, Israel sees large-scale intervention as problematic. “In so many cases,” one Israeli general said in an interview last month, speaking on the condition he not be named, “we can be the sous chef, not the chef.”

Israel and Syria are in a technical state of war, but have maintained an uneasy calm since 1974 along the Golan Heights, which Israel seized in 1967 and much of the world considers occupied territory. With Syria now unraveling, Israelis are increasingly unclear about what outcome they are wishing for, with some privately suggesting the best circumstances might be for the conflict to continue so enemies including Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, are occupied elsewhere.

Israel is wary of many of the rebel groups challenging the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, because of their affiliations with Al Qaeda and jihadists, and worries that its vast neighbor will break up into fiefs far more likely to launch attacks than a centralized state.

Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, invoked what he said was a Hebrew saying to sum up Israel’s options: “Between cholera and the plague.” And Dore Gold, a longtime diplomat who now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said, “The choices facing Israel are not good.”

“All you can do,” Mr. Gold said, “is make sure you make clear to all parties around you that you’ll do what’s necessary to exercise your right to self-defense.”

The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported this week that a military post near the critical junction of Israel’s borders with Syria and Jordan was reopened after having been shuttered for years.

General Hirsch, leading a border tour for journalists through closed military zones on Thursday, said troops have not only multiplied across the Golan, but heightened their levels of alert. Late last year, Israel also began building a 16-foot steel obstacle equipped with sophisticated sensors and intelligence equipment behind the rusted, sagging, chest-high fence along the 43-mile border. It is scheduled to be completed in August.

“We want to make sure nobody will be able to penetrate from Syria to our territory for any purpose,” General Hirsch said as workers added circles of razor wire to the top two-thirds of the intimidating silver rebar wall and readied some areas for a concrete foundation.

“The tanks were always ready behind,” he added, “but now they are along the line, ready to fire.”

Despite the increased military activity and new soundtrack of Syrian bombing, life in the Golan Heights, a lush, hilly, 444-square-mile swath of vineyards and orchards that is home to 43,000 Israelis, about half of them Druse, has not changed much. The Golan Tourism Association said it has received numerous inquiries about the Syrian situation but has seen no drop-off in the three million annual visitors since the conflict began. Local Druse continue to export apples to Syria, some 7,000 tons so far in 2013, on pace with the 18,000 sent in recent years.

In Alonei Habashan, the community of 57 religious Jewish families just behind the Israeli military post here that has been hit by Syrian shells several times, children continue to go to school and roam freely, according to Yael Saperia, a lawyer and mother of seven who has lived there 25 years. They have grown used to the sounds of war.

“It’s sort of become the background noise; we don’t even pay attention to it anymore,” she said. “On Shabbat we hear it, mostly, because it’s quiet.”

    Syria’s War Has Once-Quiet Border Area in Israel on Alert, NYT, 3.5.2013,






Israel Bombs Syria

as the U.S. Considers

Its Own Military Options


May 3, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Israel aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight Thursday, an Obama administration official said Friday night, as United States officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes.

American officials did not provide details on the target of the Israeli strike. But in late January, Israel carried out airstrikes against SA-17 antiaircraft weapons, which the Israelis feared were about to be moved to the Hezbollah Shiite militia in Lebanon.

Israel has been worried that chemical weapons and advanced arms might be transferred to Hezbollah from Syria, and the Israeli military has made clear that it is prepared to take action to stop such shipments.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has long had a close relationship with Hezbollah, and Syria has been a gateway for shipping Iranian weapons to the militia.

Hezbollah has sent trainers and advisers to Syria to help Mr. Assad with his war against the Syrian opposition, American officials say, and Syrian opposition officials report that Hezbollah fighters are also involved in the conflict.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington declined on Friday night to comment on the Israeli attack, which was first reported by CNN, saying only in a statement, “Israel is determined to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry by the Syrian regime to terrorists, specially to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

The Israeli attack came as the Obama administration — as part of its examination of possible responses to obtaining conclusive proof that Mr. Assad has used chemical weapons — is considering military options with allies. Those options include attacking Syria’s antiaircraft systems, military aircraft and some of its missile fleet, according to senior officials from several countries.

Those officials say that attacking the chemical stockpiles directly has been all but ruled out. “You could cause exactly the disaster you are trying to prevent,” a senior Israeli military official said in an interview last week in Tel Aviv.

But attacking Mr. Assad’s main delivery systems, the officials say, would curtail his ability to transport those weapons any significant distance. “This wouldn’t stop him from using it on a village, or just releasing it on the ground, or handing something to Hezbollah,” said one European official who has been involved in the conversations. “But it would limit the damage greatly.”

The topic was alluded to on Thursday, when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with his British counterpart and talked about “the need for new options” if Mr. Assad used his chemical arsenal, the officials said. But while the military has been developing and refining options for the White House for months, the discussion appears to have taken a new turn, officials say, in the struggle to determine whether the suspected use of sarin gas near Aleppo and Damascus last month was a prelude to greater use of such weapons.

“There are a lot of options on the table, and they’re generally carrying equal weight at the moment,” a senior administration official said Friday. He declined to discuss the others, though Mr. Hagel talked on Thursday about arming rebel groups

So far, President Obama has been reluctant to get involved in the Syrian conflict. He has ruled out placing American forces on the ground, a stance he reiterated on Friday at a new conference in San José, Costa Rica, where he was meeting with Latin American leaders.

Mr. Obama told reporters he did not foresee a situation in which “American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America but also would be good for Syria,” adding that he had consulted with leaders in the Mideast who agree.

When asked in recent days whether recent evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria crossed the “red line” he set in August, Mr. Obama described questions he would need to have answered — including when and how chemical weapons were used — before he would take action. Even then, he made clear, he may choose something well short of military action.

By Israeli estimates, Syria has 15 to 20 major chemical weapons sites, many near airfields that would make transport by plane relatively easy. Military planners say they would want to avoid hitting the chemicals for fear of creating toxic sites that could injure or kill civilians.

Ideally, one American commander said, the stockpiles would be surrounded, protected and then incinerated, much as the United States has done with its chemical arsenal. But that takes years, and as one official said, “We don’t have years, and we can’t keep troops there.”

That is why attacking the delivery systems seems like the next best option to many in the administration. Israel was believed to be behind an attack on some Syrian missiles in February as they were about to be transported, presumably to Hezbollah. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers that a Hezbollah missile attack, using chemical weapons, was one of his chief concerns.

If Mr. Obama and his allies proceeded with an attack on air defenses, missiles and the Syrian Air Force, they would most likely use Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean and fighter jets that might be able to fire missiles without entering Syrian airspace. But it is unclear how effective those would be.

Mr. Obama has always made clear that any action should be taken with allies and neighbors. But NATO has been reluctant, and Russia, which keeps a naval base in Syria, has been opposed. Israeli officials have said that they do not want to go into Syria, fearing that any Israeli attack would fuel Mr. Assad’s argument that the civil war in his country is the result of foreign provocations. Some Israeli officials have argued that the Arab League should be in the vanguard of any attack, but it has shown little interest in direct military intervention in the Syrian conflict.

That has left the same trio that led the attack on Libya in 2011: the United States, Britain and France. There has been constant discussion among their militaries about “options of every kind,” one official involved in the talks said this week. “Clearly, an airstrike would be much more complex than in Libya,” the official said, noting that most of the targets there were in the desert.

The deliberations on how to respond militarily to any confirmed use of chemical weapons was taking place against the backdrop of some of the most intense conventional fighting in the two-year-old Syrian conflict, which has left more than 70,000 people dead.

Opposition activists and fighters in Syria accused Mr. Assad’s military of carrying out attacks for the second straight day on the Mediterranean seaport of Baniyas and the village of Bayda, where dozens of civilians, including children, were found dead Thursday, some stabbed and burned. The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main anti-Assad political group, said in a statement that the attacks constituted another war crime.

Syria’s official SANA news agency said nothing about civilian killings in Baniyas or Bayda in its dispatches on the fighting, asserting that its forces had “destroyed a number of terrorists’ dens and gatherings in several areas, killing and injuring many terrorists.” It also said insurgents had lobbed mortar shells at the Damascus airport.


Reporting was contributed by Alan Cowell from Paris;

Hania Mourtada and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon;

Rick Gladstone from New York;

and Michael D. Shear from San José, Costa Rica.

    Israel Bombs Syria as the U.S. Considers Its Own Military Options,
    NYT, 3.5.2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/world/middleeast/syria.html






North Korea

Imposes Term of 15 Years on American


May 2, 2013
The New York Times


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Thursday that its Supreme Court had sentenced an American citizen to 15 years of hard labor for committing hostile acts against its government.

The citizen, Kenneth Bae, 44, a Korean-American from Washington State who ran a tour business out of China, was arrested in the special economic zone of Rason in northeastern North Korea in November after leading a group of businessmen there from Yanji, China. On Saturday, the North said it was indicting him on charges that he tried to overthrow Pyongyang’s government.

On Thursday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the Supreme Court had sentenced Mr. Bae during a hearing Tuesday. The court convicted him of “hostile acts,” a charge less grave than the original charge that prosecutors pressed. The crime of trying to overthrow the government could have resulted in the death penalty.

Under North Korean law, Mr. Bae should be transferred to a labor camp within 10 days of the ruling.

The ruling came amid high tensions between Pyongyang and Washington and could complicate Washington’s diplomatic balancing act as it tries to hold a tough line with North Korea over its nuclear program.

South Korean human rights advocates have said that Mr. Bae not only ran tours to North Korea but also was interested in helping orphans there. They said security officials in the North may have been offended by pictures of orphans that Mr. Bae had taken and stored in his computer.

North Korea has often used the plight of detained Americans as a bargaining chip in its dealings with Washington. Some were freed only after former American presidents traveled to the North to seek their release.

In 2009, North Korea arrested two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who it said had entered illegally and committed “hostile acts.” They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, but were released five months later, after former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang, the North’s capital, and met with Kim Jong-il, the leader at the time.

The North has been locked in a standoff with the United States and South Korea since detonating a nuclear bomb in February. Some analysts say the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, may be chafing at his inability to shift those two countries, which have refused to offer the North aid in order to relieve tensions, from their tough stance.

In January, Bill Richardson, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, tried to see Mr. Bae during a private trip to the North, but he said the government had rebuffed him.

    North Korea Imposes Term of 15 Years on American, NYT, 2.5.2013,





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