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When Friday Dawns over Egypt’s Tahrir Square, Much Depends Upon the Army

February 3rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

“Side by side with the ugliest of humanity, you find the best.”

And so it was in Tahrir Square on Wednesday night, Thursday morning. The NY Times’ Nicholas Kristof gives one out of the many, many extraordinary and harrowing reports that have spilled out of Cairo in the last 24 historic hours while the rest of us continued to watch and hope.

Here’s a clip:

Pro-government thugs at Tahrir Square used clubs, machetes, swords and straight razors on Wednesday to try to crush Egypt’s democracy movement, but, for me, the most memorable moment of a sickening day was one of inspiration: watching two women stand up to a mob.

I was on Tahrir Square, watching armed young men pour in to scream in support of President Hosni Mubarak and to battle the pro-democracy protesters. Everybody, me included, tried to give them a wide berth, and the bodies of the injured being carried away added to the tension. Then along came two middle-age sisters, Amal and Minna, walking toward the square to join the pro-democracy movement. They had their heads covered in the conservative Muslim style, and they looked timid and frail as thugs surrounded them, jostled them, shouted at them.

Yet side by side with the ugliest of humanity, you find the best. The two sisters stood their ground. They explained calmly to the mob why they favored democratic reform and listened patiently to the screams of the pro-Mubarak mob. When the women refused to be cowed, the men lost interest and began to move on — and the two women continued to walk to the center of Tahrir Square…..

Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

Posted in International, international issues, International politics | No Comments »

As Day for Million Egyptian March Dawns, Gov’t Cuts Last Web Lifeline but Google & Twitter Offer Egyptians Tweets by Phone

January 31st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Here’s a clip.

When Egypt’s government took the dramatic step of shutting off the entire country’s Internet last Friday amidst nationwide protests, one strand of connectivity remained: the Internet service provider (ISP) Noor, which serves many of the country’s corporations, including its banks.

As of Monday evening, that remaining connection to the Internet seems to have been mostly severed. “It looks like our last terrestrial hope has been shut down,” writes Jacob Appelbaum, a spokesperson for the anonymity and anti-censorship organization Tor in his Twitter feed. “my connections to systems on Noor are all down.”


Cecilia King of the Washington Post has the story:

As Egypt moved Monday to shut down its sole operating Internet service provider, Google and Twitter teamed up to create a service for people to send tweets from the nation through a phone call.

Over the weekend, a small group of engineers from the companies got together to create the service that allows anyone with access to voice service — landline or mobile — to leave a messsage that automatically gets transmitted into a tweet, according to the Google blog. People cut off from Internet and mobile services in Egypt could call +16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855. Tweets from the call would be sent with the hashtag: #egypt.,,,,

Onward to the Million Egyptian March.

AlJazeera says that people are already streaming steadily to Tahrir Square for the march. Inshallah.

Posted in international issues, International politics | 1 Comment »

Monday Must Reads

January 31st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Be sure to read American University prof Scott MacLeod’s LA Times Op Ed. Here are some clips:

I’d been looking forward to greeting my Egyptian students Sunday, the first day of the spring semester at American University in Cairo. Instead, classes have been canceled and Egypt burns.

I am hunkered down in my apartment with the cat. Outside, gunshots ring out through the night. My local supermarket was looted and burned, and our landlord, Tareq, came by Saturday to say that he and other neighbors have barricaded our street and formed a private militia to protect us from the anarchy.

Yet I have never been more optimistic about Egypt’s future.
Whatever happens next — and there is still plenty of time for the government to do something stupid — this youth-led revolt on the Nile will somehow prevail….


This push to transform Egypt is coming from a broad nationalist movement. I know officials in the Mubarak regime whose sons are in the protests. My students have taken to the streets, as have the children of my friends. These are ordinary people, inspired by a simple desire for freedom. The best insurance of stability in relations between Egypt and the United States is a good relationship between our government and a democratic Egyptian government supported by the people….


Lauren Kelley writing for Alternet looks at the absurd and scary laws that can get you a 15-year prison jolt for openly recording the police. Here’s one example:

[Tiawanda] Moore, a 20-year-old Southside resident, did not know it was illegal to record a conversation she had with two police officers last August, and she too faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years for doing so. Moore’s case is especially troubling because she was in the process of filing a complaint with the two officers about a third officer, who Moore alleges sexually harassed her in her home. She told the Times that she “was only trying to make sure no other women suffered at the hands of the officer” by making the recording. Presumably, she was also trying to protect herself in case she faced another lewd advance. Instead, the officers tried to talk her out of filing her complaint and then slapped her with eavesdropping charges when they found out her Blackberry was recording.

It gets worse from here, so read the rest.


In 1942, 23-year old Fred Korematsu refused to go to the US government’s interment camps for Japanese Americans, and was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order. He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1944, arguing that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity. In 1983 a team of lawyers went to battle in Korematsu’s and the decision was overturned, cementing his place in civil rights history.

Now Korematsu’s accomplishment is being celebrated with a statewide holidayand the LA times has the a good column one story about it all.


Steve Kroft interviews Julian Assange. Love Assange or hate him, be sure to listen here if you didn’t see the interview Sunday night—both Part 1 and Part 2.

“We operated just like any U.S. publisher operates … and there has been no precedent that I’m aware of, in the past 50 years, of prosecuting a publisher for espionage,” Assange said. “It is just not done.”


Monday’s Washington Post has the story. Here’s a clip:

Sometimes the Supreme Court simply decides cases and sometimes it seems to have something bigger in mind. In the past two weeks, it has been in scold mode, and its target has been the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

In five straight cases, the court has rejected the work of the San Francisco-based court without a single affirmative vote from a justice.

Photo from AP

Posted in international issues, International politics, Must Reads | 3 Comments »

The Dangerous Profession: Reporters and Bloggers in Iran and Cuidad Juarez

September 24th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The frightening announcement came this week that Iran’s best known journalist/blogger
Hossein Derakhshan, who blogs under the name of “Hoder,” is likely going to be executed for his past criticism of the the Iranian government—or whatever charge his jailers have trumped up against him.

(The LA Times has more on Derakshan’s story here.)

The news cannot help but call to mind the other horror for journalists that continued to unfold, this week, in Ciudad Juarez, the most dangerous place for reporters in the Americas.

Last week a second journalist from the newspaper El Diario was killed , 21-year-old photographer Luis Carlos Santiago. (In 2008, the police reporter for El Diario, Armando Rodríguez Carreón, was shot dead in front of his 8-year-old daughter.)

In reaction, this past Sunday El Dario’s editor ran an open letter to the leaders of organized crime on its front page. The message was devastating and chilling. It read in part:

“We want you to explain to us what you want from us. What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by. You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling.

(More at the NY Times)

Journalists are not at all safe elsewhere in Mexico, as the AP reported late Thursday:

Imagen (is) a daily newspaper in the once-quiet state of Zacatecas where drug cartels have taken over in just the last few years. Then editor Patricia Mercado got a phone call ordering her to print a prepared article or she would be kidnapped.

Mercado ran the story — verbatim — of an innocent young man killed by the army, which was committing human rights abuse.

“If it’s a question of life or death, I have no trouble making a decision. The lives of my reporters are most important,” she said, after telling a group of Mexican journalists Thursday that traffickers from the Zetas cartel have “almost become the news editors.”

“All along the border,” writes the NY Times, “news organizations have silenced themselves out of fear and intimidation from drug trafficking organizations, but El Diario had a reputation for carrying on….”

Not any more.

Then on Wednesday another voice was muted when the editor of a leading online newspaper in Cuidad Juarez asked for and got asylum in the U.S. because of threats against his life.

On Thursday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon vowed to offer federal protection for reporters.

Let us hope and pray it does some good.

Photo by Alejandro Bringas / Reuters

Posted in international issues, International politics, media | No Comments »

Oscar Romero is Finally—Officially—Remembered

March 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Yesterday— 30 years ago—Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador,
was assassinated, sparking El Salvador’s 12-year civil war.

For the first time in all those 30 years, El Salvador has commemorated his murder—as the LA Times reports.

And for the first time, an El Salvadoran government leader-–in this case the president—apologized for the assassination. The WaPo has that part of the story.

(A SIDE NOTE: Romero, if you remember, was one of those objectionable characters whom the Texas textbook revisers recently scrubbed from the state’s school curriculum.)

Here is how Garrison Keillor writes about Romero’s importance for Writer’s Almanac.

Romero was appointed San Salvador’s archbishop three years before, in 1977, at a time when violence in El Salvador was rapidly escalating. The conflict was largely one of class warfare: the landed wealthy — who were aligned with the rightist government and paramilitary death squads — against the impoverished farm workers and other laborers who had begun to ally themselves with leftist guerilla groups looking to overthrow the government.

Romero had a reputation for being bookish, conservative, and even for discouraging priests from getting involved in political activism. But within weeks of becoming bishop, one of his good friends was killed by the death squads. His friend was an activist Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, who’d been devoted to educating peasants and trying to bring about economic reforms. He was gunned down on his way to a rural church, along with a young boy and elderly man he’d been traveling with. It was a clear moment of conversion for the previously apolitical Oscar Romero, who suddenly felt that he needed to take up the work his friend had been interrupted from doing.

Romero canceled Masses all around the country that week, and invited all to attend the funeral Mass on the steps of the National Cathedral, which he presided over along with 100 other priests. One hundred thousand people showed up at the cathedral for the funeral. He also broadcast his sermon over the radio, so that it could be heard throughout the country. He called for government investigation of the murders going on in rural areas, and he spoke of the reforms that needed to happen in El Salvador: an end to human rights violations, to the regime of terror, and to the huge disparity in wealth, with the landed classes getting rich from the labor of the poor. He announced to his congregation that he wanted to be a good pastor, but he needed everyone’s help to lead.

He was called to Rome. The Vatican didn’t approve of his activism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in international issues, International politics, social justice | No Comments »

Should Children Be Tried for War Crimes?

February 10th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Omar Khadr is the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He was 15 when he allegedly threw a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces medic in Afghanistan.

Wednesday’s Washington Post has the story:

…The struggle against al-Qaeda has thrown up few detainees with as baleful and unlikely a background as Khadr’s — a father who moved his family to Afghanistan and inside Osama bin Laden’s circle of intimates when Omar was 10; a mother and sister who said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were deserved; and a brother, the black sheep of the clan, who said he became a CIA asset after his capture in Afghanistan.

This background has convinced U.N. officials, human rights advocates and defense lawyers that Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was an indoctrinated child soldier and, in line with international practice in other conflicts, should be rehabilitated, not prosecuted.

Here also is a 2007 60 Minutes segment on Omar Khadr, who Bob Simon reminds is us theonly person in modern history to be charged for war crimes he allegedly committed while a minor.

This is a no brainer. What is Eric Holder thinking?

Posted in international issues, International politics, juvenile justice, Pakistan | 11 Comments »

Grieving for and Helping Haiti

January 13th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

If you wish to donate to a Haitian rescue effort I strongly recommend the Los Angeles-based International relief agency Operation USA
, run by my long-time friend Richard Walden. The Op USA folks are experts at efficiently getting the right stuff to the right places. (And with Op USA you can be sure that your donation will really be put toward helping the needs of the people of Haiti rather than being sucked into the black hole of administrative costs.)

Posted in international issues, Life in general | 12 Comments »

Bill Did It. Kim Jong-il pardons Euna Lee & Laura Ling -UPDATED

August 4th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Here’s the LA Times.

Here’s the NY Times.

And my smart pal Kevin Roderick already has a full, link-filled chronology of Lee and Ling’s ordeal up on LA Observed.

This is wonderful news!

Good slideshow at Huff Post.

(Is it me, or does Lil’ Kim look bizarrely ‘shopped, as my techie son would put it, into all but one of the photos? Oh, nevermind. Go, Bill!!!)



It is about 3 a.m. Wednesday. Laura Ling and Euna Lee are scheduled to arrive at Hangar 25 at the Bob Hope Airport in about an hour.

This morning’s New York Times details how both Clintons
—Hillary and Bill—had a role in the women’s release.

They also say that, out of a list of possible negotiators, that the Koreans picked Bill. Clinton had been slated to go to North Korea before the end of his own presidency, but other international issues pressed, and he never made it. Therefore this trip was looked on as a sort of completion of that interrupted presidential visit.

According to the Washington Post, Bill was not the Obama administration’s first choice for the job.

North Korea rejected the administration’s first choice for the trip — former vice president Al Gore, who co-founded the television channel that employs the journalists — and Bill Clinton left the United States only after North Korea provided assurances that the reporters would be released, the sources said.

The WaPo also had an interesting insight about how the White House managed to give the trip a sort of back door official status, which would please the North Koreans, while simultaneously truthfully denying that the trip had official status.

No government officials appeared to be aboard Clinton’s plane, but the nature of the delegation gave the mission a quasi-official status. It included John Podesta, Clinton’s White House chief of staff, who served as chief of Obama’s transition team and is president of the Center for American Progress. Also seen in photos released by the Korean media were David Straub, a former head of the Korea desk at the State Department who is now at Stanford University; longtime Clinton aide Douglas J. Band; and Justin Cooper, who has worked with the William J. Clinton Foundation.

Listen. Whatever worked. I think we’re all just glad that our local girls are nearly home. (And will be home by the time most of you wake up, have your coffee, and read this.)

Statements made by Lee and Ling’s very relieved and happy family members are posted at


Photo by Zhang Binyang/Xinhua, via Reuters

Posted in international issues, International politics, journalism | 47 Comments »

Obama, Truth-Telling & Gaza

January 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


As you’ll note, this time all the Sunday/Monday Must Reads (and a must see) are on the same topic:


As 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon pointed out in a segment on Sunday night, the situation in Gaza and the West Bank is so high up on Barack Obama’s To Do list that his first foreign calls on his first day in office were to Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

A day or two later, Obama reaffirmed his sense of urgency by appointing former senator George Mitchell, respected for his work in brokering peace in Northern Ireland, as the new administration’s special Middle East envoy.

But if Obama is to have even a ghost of a chance of brokering a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians—he will have to start from the facts as they really are, which has not exactly been the habit for the last two administrations when it came to the Middle East.

To that end, Barack would do well to begin by reading the article in this week’s London Review of books by Henry Siegman.

Siegman is the former head of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America, as well as the the current director of the US Middle East Project in New York. His piece is authoritative, well-sourced and harsh—and this week’s number 1 must read for anyone with an interest in the region.

Here’s how it opens:

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organization, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defense but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division…

As a follow-up, read Sunday’s Scott Macleod’s essay for Time Magazine in which he talks about why Obama is the last American president who might be able to help broker a two state solution. If he doesn’t manage it, the window will be gone.

And then watch the aforementioned 60 Minutes segment in which Bob Simon talks about how, for many on both sides of the conflict, the two-state solution may be already impossible.

Posted in international issues, International politics, Middle East, Obama | 8 Comments »

MUMBAI ONLINE: the Eyes and Ears for Millions

November 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Although I am still in the midst of a Tryptophanic haze,
I want to again link to some of the remarkable citizen journalists (and in some cases professional journalists using unconventional means) who have been eyes and ears for the rest of us who wanted to understand the human dimension of the events that unfolded with deadly force in Mumbai over the past three days.

There was for example Dina Meta , an ethnographer and social media consultant whose Twitter feed can be found here.

And then there are the harrowing accounts from Aran Shanbhag who lives near the Hotel Taj Mahal. (Scroll down to find his first post.) In words and photos, he talks about his best friend’s brother being killed, about the blood from a dead waiter he sees on the pavement in front of the barbershop where he gets his hair cut every week, about the shock at seeing a landmark that had known all his life becoming a flaming palace of death.

NPR did a wonderful story on an Indian journalist named Sreenath Sreenivasanwho is the dean of student affairs at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York. Within an hour of the attacks, Sreenivasan set up a call in radio show to aggregate and curate the observations of his fellow journalists who were on the ground in Mumbai and related areas.

“It was technology allowing us to do things we could never have done even a year ago…” he said.

Here’s a link to the first of the series of broadcasts he did as news of the situation was just beginning to filter out. (And here is the link to subsequent broadcasts.) It makes for remarkable listening.

And, of course, there are the collective Twitter feeds, with #MUMBAI the biggest one

Instead of conventional linear journalism, suddenly we had an Einsteinian explosion of reporting in which many pieces came together to form an dynamically-evolving whole.


(Photo of school children in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad taking part in a vigil for the victims of the Mumbai attacks, by Amit Dave for REUTERS)

Posted in India, international issues, International politics, Pakistan, South Asia | 15 Comments »

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