Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2/28/17 AT 6:40 AM

Somalia’s new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed sworn-in

A political newcomer, a regional director in a humanitarian organization and a senior official in an oil exploration company: Hassan Ali Khaire can now add the title of prime minister of Somalia to his résumé.

Somalia’s newly elected president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, appointed the 48-year-old Somali-Norwegian dual citizen on Thursday to be his right-hand man in transforming the Horn of Africa country. In a video statement reported by The New York Times, Khaire said he would accept the appointment—providing it was approved by the Somali parliament—and pledged to form a representative government.

The challenges facing Khaire, who has no political experience in Somalia, are vast: an impending famine; a destructive Islamist insurgency; and widespread allegations of government corruption.

Khaire was born in central Somalia and is a member of the Hawiye tribe, one of Somalia’s five principal clans. It is the same tribe as Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia’s previous president who was defeated by Mohamed in February’s election, and Khaire has close ties with Mohamud, according to pro-democracy Somali group Wakiil. Khaire was educated in Oslo and Edinburgh and has lived in the Scandinavian country since the late 1980s, when Somalia’s decades-long civil war began to boil over.

The new prime minister has extensive experience in the humanitarian field, having worked as a county and then regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)—a humanitarian organization that works in the Horn of Africa, among other regions. Khaire led the Council’s operations in East Africa and the Horn of Africa between 2011 and 2014, before taking up the position of executive director for Africa at Soma Oil & Gas, a U.K.-based company conducting oil exploration in Somalia, according to a copy of his CV seen by Newsweek.

Khaire encountered controversy at the oil and gas firm, which is chaired by the former leader of the Conservative Party in the U.K., Michael Howard. BuzzFeed News revealed in March 2016 that the U.N. Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) was investigating the activities of the company and, specifically, was looking into alleged connections between Khaire and East African militant groups, including al-Shabaab, which has been waging war on the federal government in Somalia since the early 2000s. Soma consistently denied the allegations against Khaire, and a U.N. panel cleared Khaire of any connections to al-Shabaab or other extremist groups.

The newly appointed Somali prime minister resigned from his role at Soma on Thursday as his new appointment was announced in order to avoid any possible conflict of interest. “Hassan Khaire has been a highly valued member of [Soma’s] management team but we fully understand his decision and wish him every success in his new role,” said a Soma statement.

Commentators in Somalia and abroad have welcomed Khaire’s appointment on social media. Fadumo Dayib, who was the first female presidential candidate in Somalia’s elections before dropping out of the race in December 2016 due to alleged corruption, praised the new prime minister, while his appointment was also hailed by the former deputy speaker of Kenya’s parliament, Farah Maalim.

In Norway, however, the anti-immigration Progress Party has called for Khaire to be stripped of his Norwegian passport. “A country’s prime minister cannot have multiple nationalities. If conflicts occur, where will their loyalties lie?” the party’s immigration spokesman Mazyar Keshvari told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Two-thirds of the presidential candidates in Somalia’s election were dual passport holders, according to Quartz. President Mohamed is a dual Somali-U.S. national.
Pentagon Seeks to Expand Fight Against Extremists in Somalia
February 26, 2017 at 9:57 pm
By Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon wants to expand the military’s ability to battle al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia, potentially putting U.S. forces closer to the fight against a stubborn extremist group that has plotted attacks against America, senior U.S. officials said.

The recommendations sent to the White House would allow U.S special operations forces to increase assistance to the Somali National Army in the struggle against al-Shabab militants in the fragile Horn of Africa nation, the officials said. They said the proposal would give the military greater flexibility to launch airstrikes against extremists that appear to be a threat.

Beefing up the military effort in Somalia fits with President Donald Trump’s broader request for a Pentagon plan to accelerate the U.S.-led battle against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and defeat other extremist groups, including al-Qaida and its affiliates. U.S. concerns about al-Shabab escalated in recent years as young Americans from Somali communities traveled to training camps in Somalia, raising fears they might return to the United States and conduct terror attacks.

Somalia was one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries included in Trump’s travel ban last month. The executive order has since been suspended by federal courts.

Somalia is “our most perplexing challenge,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The United States is “trying to take a look at Somalia from a fresh perspective in the way ahead,” he said, describing the need to weaken the decade-old al-Shabab insurgency so that the African nation’s military forces can defeat it.

Waldhauser declined to provide details of the new options that have been proposed.

But other officials said elements include giving U.S. special operations forces greater ability to accompany local troops on military operations against al-Shabab and easing restrictions on when the U.S. can conduct airstrikes against the group. The officials weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the confidential review and spoke on condition of anonymity

Currently there are about 50 U.S. commandos rotating in and out of Somalia to advise and assist the local troops. The new authorities could result in a small increase in the number of U.S. forces in Somalia, officials said.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has approved the recommendations and sent the plan to the White House earlier this month, they added. But no final decisions have been made, and the proposal could prove politically sensitive because of the disastrous downing of two U.S. helicopters over Mogadishu in 1993 that killed 18 American troops.

The White House declined to comment, deferring questions to the Defense Department.

Somalia has been without a truly functioning government for two-and-a-half decades. After warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre in 1991, they quickly turned on one another, making Somalia infamous for its extreme rates of violence and the proliferation of pirates operating off its coasts. Security has improved in recent years as international efforts against al-Shabab gained ground.

After the bodies of American soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu when the helicopters were shot down, the U.S. withdrew from the country. Since then, Islamist hard-liners have vied for power and al-Shabab’s attacks have spread to Uganda and Kenya.

Some of the U.S. officials with knowledge of the new military proposal said it is aimed at improving the U.S. advisory mission because the African Union is planning to pull out its 20,000 peacekeeping forces in Somalia in 2020. Observers say Somali troops are unprepared to fight the extremist threat on their own.

Currently, U.S. forces can transport and accompany local troops. But they must keep their distance from front lines and can only engage the enemy if they come under attack or if Somali forces are in danger of being defeated. The new proposal would give U.S. forces the ability to move along with Somali troops into the fight if needed.

While the American military right now can conduct airstrikes in self-defense or to protect Somali troops if they come under attack and request help, the new authorities would be broader.

Officials said that under the new recommendations, the military would be able to launch airstrikes against militants on a more pre-emptive basis. For example, the U.S. could target al-Shabab fighters gathering for an attack rather than waiting until friendly forces were under fire.

Al-Shabab has been ousted from most Somali cities and towns, but its suicide bombers continue to kill across large parts of the south and center of the country. That includes Mogadishu, the capital.

Somalia’s new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, inaugurated Wednesday, warned that it will take another two decades to “fix” his country. Mohamed, who also holds U.S. citizenship, won election earlier this month as Somalia tries to restore effective governance.

Waldhauser said the U.S. sees an opportunity to work with Mohamed to “train the Somalia national security forces to a level that they can take on al-Shabab on their own.”
Somalia Declares 'National Disaster' Over Drought
More than 6.2 million people in need of urgent humanitarian aid, including nearly three million who are going hungry.

There are worries that the drought is exacerbating the country's on-going humanitarian crisis [Karel Prinsloo/UNICEF]There are worries that the drought is exacerbating the country's on-going humanitarian crisis [Karel Prinsloo/UNICEF]

Somalia's new leader has declared a national disaster for a prolonged drought that has forced about half of the country's population to seek urgent food assistance and sparked fears of a potential famine.

The announcement on Tuesday by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's office came a day after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that Somalia was at risk of its third famine in 25 years - the last one in 2011 killed some 260,000 people.

"The president has appealed to the international community to urgently respond to the calamity in order to help families and individuals to recover from the effects of the drought disaster to avoid humanitarian tragedy," read a statement from the presidency.

According to WHO, more than 6.2 million people - half of Somalia's population - needed urgent humanitarian aid, including almost three million who are going hungry.

The agency said more than 363,000 acutely malnourished children and 70,000 severely malnourished children needed urgent, life-saving support.

Somalia is one of three countries, along with Yemen and Nigeria, on the verge of famine which has already been declared in South Sudan.

Last week, the UN said more than 20 million people face starvation in the four countries, adding it needed $4.4bn by the end of next month to prevent "a catastrophe" of hunger and famine.

Aid agencies are concerned that the drought is exacerbating the country's on-going humanitarian crisis, while there are reports that the ongoing conflict with the al-Shabab armed group is further blocking access to food.

Al Jazeera's Fahmida Miller, reporting from Dolow in southern Somalia, said she spoke to a number of refugees and internally displaced people.

"One woman we spoke to said it took her 11 days to find food and water. She said trying to get the assistance was near impossible because of threats from al-Shabab," she said.

"People here are losing livestock; rivers and water points have dried up; and there is a huge issue around internally displaced people and refugees moving through Somalia looking for food and water," Miller added.

"As the rainfall is expected to stay low, there have already been a number of failed crop seasons, and people can't grow their own food and have to move through the country looking for assistance."

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies
Countdown to AMISOM Withdrawal: Is Somalia Ready?
Samuel Okiror
IRIN contributor based in Kampala
KAMPALA, 28 February 2017

The swearing-in last week of Somalia’s new President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” was greeted with a surge of optimism on the streets of Mogadishu that a new era of stability was on its way.

He won by a landslide, on a wave of nationalist fervour. But the fact that the ceremony took place in a highly secured airport zone, under the control of African Union peacekeepers, in a city repeatedly bombed by the jihadist group al-Shabab, betrays how huge the task confronting him is.

The International Crisis Group’s latest report said Farmajo had benefited from being seen as the right leader “to build a robust Somali National Army (SNA), speed up the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)’s exit, stabilise security, curb interventions by neighbouring countries, and protect Somalia’s dignity and sovereignty.”

But this is an ambitious wish list and the path ahead is fraught with danger.


Central to Somalia’s security is the 22,000-strong AMISOM multinational force. It has been in Somalia for a decade, battling al-Shabab and helping slowly expand state authority.

AMISOM is due to start withdrawing its troops from October next year and is expected to be fully out of the country by December 2020, handing over to the SNA, which will probably number just 20,000.

“AMISOM alone cannot defeat al-Shabab,” said a report last year by Mogadishu’s Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS). “This can only happen if AMISOM can partner with a capable, legitimate and inclusive set of Somali security forces.”

But the Somali National Army is a force beset with problems, particularly over corruption, capacity and its acceptance in regions beyond Mogadishu. At the moment, there are doubts it will be able to stand up to a degraded, but still dangerous, insurgency.

Francisco Madeira, AU special representative to Somalia, is painfully aware of that challenge. “Building the capacity of the Somali National Security Forces is something that is central to the mandate of AMISOM, and we are doing this to the best of our ability and within the available resources,” he told IRIN.

Too soon?

Given this, and the historically weak and divided nature of the Somali state, experts fear AMISOM’s departure will be premature.

“It seems highly unlikely to me that the Somali army [and state institutions] would be ready in just three years, given the current state of the security situation,” said Nina Wilen, a research fellow at Université Libre de Bruxelles.

“A withdrawal of AMISOM in 2020 will be untimely,” agreed Christian Ani Ndubuisi, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. A more viable option, he believes, is for international donors to support a longer transition, of five to 10 years.

The challenge for AMISOM is that exiting Somalia with some honour hinges on several factors beyond its control. Crucially, it relies on international funding, and not enough has been forthcoming “to seriously degrade rather than simply displace al-Shabab”, said the HIPS report.

AMISOM draws its main fighting forces from Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Burundi. Allowances for the troops are paid by the EU, and logistical support – from food to medical supplies – is provided by the UN. The attack helicopters it desperately needs have not been available.

There is also now trouble in the ranks of the troop-contributing nations, which have threatened to withdraw ever since the EU cut the monthly allowance paid to soldiers by 20 percent in January 2016, from $1,028 to $822.

While the AU argues that its soldiers bleed and the West provides only money, the EU counters that there are other peace operations on the continent deserving of its support, including Central African Republic, Mali and the Lake Chad crisis.

“AMISOM will celebrate its 10th year this year, and the main funder [the EU] does not see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Thierry Vircoulon, ICG project director for Central Africa. “It is not ready to fund another never-ending peacekeeping mission as the UN usually does.”

Chicken and egg

AMISOM does not have the manpower or equipment to comprehensively defeat al-Shabab, yet cannot secure additional funding until it demonstrates greater battlefield success.

But defeating al-Shabab is not just a military undertaking. The Somali government has been unable to consolidate the territorial gains made by the AU troops, including providing much-needed services and security to the people.

That means the “ideological foundation of the group remains hard to dismantle within the local population,” said Ndubuisi of ISS.

Additionally, Somalia is a federal state with its autonomous regions in uneasy alliance with Mogadishu and at times testy relations with each other. These regional forces have greater local acceptance than the SNA.

“The state formation project in Somalia is still marred by ongoing disputes between autonomous regions,” explained Ndubuisi. “How can the different regions in the country collaborate for a common purpose?”

More troops?

The AU’s answer is a surge of troops to weaken al-Shabab before the 2018 draw down. On 16 January, it asked the UN Security Council to authorise an additional 4,500 soldiers for a non-renewable period of six months.

“We have concluded plans to recover the last strongholds that the al-Shabaab holds in Somalia, specifically in the Lower Juba region,” said Madeira, the AU representative. “To do this, however, we need additional troops, just for this assignment, after which the troop numbers will return to previous levels.”

But AMISOM may not be the perfect instrument for Somalia’s renewal, especially for nationalists in Mogadishu. For a start, there have always been question marks in Somalia over the AU intervention, especially when regional rivals – Ethiopia and Kenya – joined the mission.

“Initially, [AMISOM] did a lot, particularly pushing al-Shabab from urban centres,” said Abdirashid Hashi, one of the HIPS report’s authors. “Then Kenya and Ethiopia entered Somalia, pursuing their own national security interests, and were rehatted [as AMISOM] so the UN/EU can foot the bill.”

The critical piece in the puzzle, argues the HIPS report, is the need for a political settlement in Somalia that encompasses the federal government and the regional administrations.

“This settlement must include agreement on how to govern Somalia, a shared vision of the roles of the country’s security forces and a roadmap for integrating the numerous armed groups that currently proliferate,” it noted.

Hashi argued that “only a well-armed and well-trained Somali security apparatus can, in the long run, address the insecurity and instability enveloping the country.”

“Much could be achieved in three years if Somalis get their act together and seriously focus on fixing their ailing state, and if the international partners provide genuine support,” he added.

Farmajo’s mandate is indispensable to make progress on those multiple fronts, particularly reconciliation, addressing corruption and finalising the constitution, said the ICG report. The upcoming London conference in May, where donors will be present, could also help.

Al-Shabab, meanwhile, has vowed to fight Farmajo as an “apostate”. In a defiant message released earlier this month, a commander bragged: “We know how to eat cheese,” a reference to the president’s nickname, an approximation of the Italian word for “cheese”.

But there have been suggestions that the insurgency is worried by his popularity. Dissident commander Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur, who leads a “nationalist” wing of al-Shabab, has reportedly considered surrendering.

Any concrete signs of a splintering of the insurgency – there are none yet – would represent a real victory for Farmajo and his project to rebuild Somalia.
Detroit Church Leaders Call Drainage Fees ‘Unholy’
Christine Ferretti, The Detroit News 12:58 p.m. ET
Feb. 28, 2017

Detroit — A coalition of city churches is urging Mayor Mike Duggan to intervene and renegotiate what they contend are “unjust and unholy” drainage fees being imposed by the city’s water department.

Pastors of the Detroit Water Equity Coalition, comprised of about 300 faith-based groups, came together Tuesday to argue churches in Detroit are “being punished” by a Detroit Water and Sewerage Department policy unveiled last summer to transition all parcels in Detroit to a uniform and equitable system for drainage charges over several years.

“Mr. Mayor, we the church community appeal to you to rethink this unjust, unfair and unholy charge on those who live, run their businesses and worship in the city of Detroit,” said the Rev. Dr. Deedee Coleman, president of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit, during a news conference at New St. Paul Tabernacle Church of God in Christ. “Fight for us; be our champion. It’s the right thing to do.”

The city’s Board of Water Commissioners adopted the policy last September designed to transition all city parcels to a uniform billing system.

Since 1975, most in Detroit had paid for drainage as part of their water and sewer bills. Some paid on an outdated fixed-rate meter system, while others are were charged based on impervious acreage — a model that will be fully implemented when the transition period concludes. Some 22,000 customers had not been charged at all, water officials have said.

Most city churches are currently paying a fixed-rate for drainage each month based on their water meter size, some others previously had not been charged at all and a number of newer churches already are paying based on impervious acreage, water officials said.

The current rate is $750 per acre per month based on the acreage charge. Come January, the city’s churches will become the final group of DWSD customers charged under the new drainage rate. Additionally, church-owned properties that have never been billed for water and sewer services for vacant land or parking lots they own will also now be charged for under the impervious rate, water officials said.

Although the specific cost per acre for 2018 won’t be set until July.

The Tuesday gathering comes after the coalition sent a letter to Duggan’s office last week, demanding he meet with church representatives within the next 30 days to work out reforms that would make the system more equitable.

Coleman said the religious leaders want Duggan to “be our champion” for water equality. The current program, she contends, will harm the churches and leave them vulnerable to closure.

Alexis Wiley, the mayor’s chief of staff, said Tuesday that Duggan believes the concerns are legitimate and he is working to craft a “fair and equitable solution.”

“We have a responsibility to make sure we have a system where sewage isn’t backing up into people’s basements, but also have a responsibility to make sure charges are rolled out in a fair and equitable manner,” she said. “He is really diving into this to make sure that is getting done.”

Duggan, Wiley added, has attended at least a half-dozen meetings with faith-based groups and will continue to do so.

Bishop P.A. Brooks, chairman of the Michigan Council of Bishops of the Church of God in Christ, said the group’s opposition is “nothing personal, it’s about water.”

“This is not political,” said Brooks, adding he believes Duggan will be able to help resolve the concerns. “It’s about survival.”

The existing rates would mean the Cathedral of St. Anthony on Detroit’s east side will see its monthly water bill go from $165 on the metering system to about $1,200 per month for the 1.5-acre property, said Bishop Karl Rodig.

At that cost, Rodig said, the congregation’s clothes and food pantry for the surrounding community will suffer.

“That means we’re taking away from the poor,” said Rodig, adding the services of the church help about 8,000 people. “It affects the whole community.”

The coalition argued Detroit is bearing the cost for drainage on its own and that it should instead be “common to all” in the regional agreement forged during Detroit’s bankruptcy. The deal turned operation of its water and sewer system over to the Great Lakes Water Authority for 40 years.

DWSD Director Gary Brown countered the communities in the authority are contributing their fare share to the wet weather overflow costs. Even so, Brown said he does recognize the churches are struggling with the new costs.

“We’re going to sit down with them and try to figure out what method we can use that would best suit their needs as churches,” he said. “... We are trying to be fair and equitable to all of our customers.”

Duggan briefly addressed the drainage fees Thursday during a budget presentation to Detroit’s City Council in response to concerns raised by Councilman Scott Benson, who said he’s worried the move will push business out of Detroit.

Duggan said the city “did a poor job” of explaining the fee structure before notices went out and “we’re recovering from that now.”

“But I think at the end of the day, everybody’s rates on a per acre basis is going to be down in a few years,” Duggan told council members. “It’s going to be lower, and it’s going to be fair. But we’ve got 30 to 40 years of inequity that we’re trying to make up for now, and it’s got some emotion in it, and I’m well aware of it.”

Racist Assault At A Child's Birthday Party Yields Long Prison Terms In Georgia
February 28, 201710:23 AM ET

Photo; Jose "Joe" Torres (left) weeps in his seat during his sentencing at the Douglas County Courthouse in Douglasville, Ga., on Monday. Superior Court Judge William McClain sentenced Torres and Kayla Norton to lengthy prison terms Monday for their role in the disruption of a black child's birthday party through the use of Confederate battle flags, racial slurs and armed threats.
Henry P. Taylor/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

A Georgia judge has sentenced Kayla Norton, 25, and Jose "Joe" Torres, 26, to spend a combined 19 years in prison for their role in a group's racist rampage at an 8-year-old's birthday party — an assault that included shouting racial slurs, making armed threats and waving Confederate battle flags.

"I'm so sorry that happened to you," Norton told the family that endured the assault, weeping in the courtroom at Monday's sentencing. "I am so sorry."

After telling the court that she accepted responsibility for her actions, Norton turned to the area of the courtroom where families who attended the birthday party were seated.

"But I want you all to know that that is not me," Norton told them. "That is not me."

Norton and Torres, who are not married, have three children together. Prosecutors say they were part of a gang of white supremacists who targeted African-Americans with racist taunts and threatened to murder minorities.

In court Monday, both Norton and Torres sat hunched over and crying after Superior Court Judge William "Beau" McClain handed down his sentence: 13 years in prison and seven years' probation for Torres, and six years in prison with nine years' probation for Norton. Both of them are also banished from Douglas County, McClain said.

The sentencing comes weeks after a jury found Torres and Norton guilty of making terroristic threats and violating the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. The jury also convicted Torres of aggravated assault. Although Georgia doesn't have a law specifying a hate crime, that's the term both McClain and District Attorney Brian Fortner used to describe the group's behavior.

The assault occurred in July 2015, one month after a racist gunman killed nine worshippers at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. Prosecutors say Norton, Torres and other members of a group that called itself "Respect the Flag" went on an alcohol-fueled racist spree in Douglas and Paulding counties, west of Atlanta.

With Confederate battle flags affixed to the beds of their pickup trucks, the group gathered for a ride that was purportedly meant to celebrate the flag's heritage.

"However, Paulding County 911 began immediately receiving calls that members associated with this group were threatening African American citizens at various locations in Paulding County and hurling numerous racial slurs in the process as well," according to the Douglas County District Attorney's Office.

After threatening black motorists, the group headed to Douglasville, where they happened upon an outdoor birthday party that included a cookout and bouncy castle.

"Victims and witnesses from the party, who were predominantly African-American, testified to observing the group of trucks whose passengers were hurling a litany of racial slurs at them as they passed by," prosecutors said.

Several members of the group — some of whom are now serving prison terms of their own — got out of their trucks and approached the partygoers, threatening to kill them all. According to their fellow defendants and witnesses, it was Norton who retrieved Torres' shotgun — a tactical 12-gauge with a pistol grip — and loaded it before giving it to him.

Cellphone footage from the party shows police attempting to form a barrier in front of the families as the trucks drove off.

During his trial, Torres told the court he was carrying the shotgun for this own defense. But he then acknowledged lying to police about the gun — and to selling the weapon before he was arrested.

Months after the attack, the "Respect the Flag" group was indicted as a street gang by a Douglas County grand jury.

"They recognized that it was not about flying a flag but it was about pointing a shotgun at other people and threatening to kill them because of the color of their skin," Fortner said Monday.

Testifying for the victims at Monday's sentencing, Hyesha Bryant, who attended the party, said she forgave the couple.

"I never thought this would be something I'd have to endure in 2017," Bryant said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "As adults and parents, we have to instill in our children the values of right and wrong. That moment you had to choose to leave, you stayed."

"I forgive you. I forgive all of you," she said, as Torres and Norton sat weeping. "I don't have any hate in my heart. Life is too short for that."

The stiff punishment is being both celebrated and questioned, in a debate that touches on free speech and the nature of terrorism.

Some of those points are summed up in two top-rated responses to the district attorney's Facebook posting that announced the punishment.

One commenter writes:

"To all the people on here saying the punishment was unjust. Let's be real, if it had been any other terrorist group committing these felonies you guys wouldn't bat an eye if they went away for life.... but when the terrorist look like you all of a sudden you get a soft heart."
But another commenter says:

"Did they actually attack anyone or just guilty of being racists? Not condoning their actions by any means but I'm not sure the punishment fit the crime here. If they attacked the kids or something, let them rot, but just being ignorant racists shouldn't constitute a 20 year sentence. Does that not seem a little extreme?? What am I missing? If everyone in Douglas County that is ignorant and racist (on both sides of the fence) had to serve 20 years, they'd have to build many new jails."
Yemen SEAL Raid Has Yielded No Significant Intelligence: Officials
Yemen child killed in raid.
NBC News

Last month's deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News.

Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced "actionable intelligence," senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any, even as the father of the dead SEAL questioned the premise of the raid in an interview with the Miami Herald published Sunday.

"Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn't even barely a week into [President Trump's] administration?" Bill Owens, whose youngest son Ryan was killed during the raid, said. "For two years prior ... everything was missiles and drones (in Yemen)....Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?"

A senior Congressional official briefed on the matter said the Trump administration has yet to explain what prompted the rare use of American ground troops in Yemen, but he said he was not aware of any new threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda affiliate that was targeted.

The official, and others briefed on the matter who spoke to NBC News, echoed the remarks of Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., that the raid was designed to kill or capture one or more militants — something the military did not initially acknowledge.

Instead, Pentagon officials called it a "site exploitation mission" designed to gather intelligence. Defense officials later did not dispute McCain's characterization, saying they were hoping to kill or capture certain militants, though they declined to name them. NBC News and other media outlets have reported that Sheikh Abdel-Raouf al-Dhahab was among the dead. The Pentagon calls him an al Qaeda leader; the Yemeni government disagrees.

Plans for the raid were begun during the Obama administration, but Obama officials declined to sign off on what officials described as a significant escalation in Yemen. Just five days in, Trump greenlighted the mission.

"Certainly the Obama administration, particularly by the end of its eight-year run, was very cautious in moving forward with any kind of military activity," retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former NATO commander and current NBC News security analyst, said. "A new administration I think naturally is going to be spring-loaded to move out and demonstrate something."

The White House has repeatedly called the Yemen mission a success. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Feb. 8 that anyone "who undermines the success of that raid owes an apology and [does] a disservice to the life of Chief Owens."

"We gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil," said Spicer.

A Defense Department official also pushed back Monday afternoon, saying the raid has yielded "a significant amount" of intelligence.

But the only example the military has provided turned out to be an old bomb-making video that was of no current value.

On Monday, Spicer addressed the remarks of Bill Owens, whose son died.

"I can tell him that on behalf of the president, his son died a hero and the information that he was able to help obtain through that raid, as I said before, is going to save American lives," he said. "The mission was successful in helping prevent a future attack or attacks on this nation."

Multiple senior officials told NBC News they have not seen evidence to support that claim.

In addition to the death of Ryan Owens, six other U.S. service members were wounded. And at least 25 civilians were killed, including nine children under the age of 13, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. One of them was the 8-year-old daughter of U.S.-born al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

A Pentagon official told NBC News today the Pentagon does not dispute these numbers.

A $70 million U.S. aircraft also was destroyed. The Pentagon already has at least three investigations into the raid underway.

"When we look at evidently very little actual intelligence out, the loss of a high-performance aircraft and above all the loss of a highly trained special forces member of SEAL Team 6, I think we need to understand why this mission, why now, what happened, and what the actual output was," Stavridis said.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Trump to Seek $54 Billion Increase in Military Spending
New York Times
FEB. 27, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump put both political parties on notice Monday that he intends to slash spending on many of the federal government’s most politically sensitive programs — relating to education, the environment, science and poverty — to protect the economic security of retirees and to shift billions more to the armed forces.

The proposal to increase military spending by $54 billion and cut nonmilitary programs by the same amount was unveiled by White House officials as they prepare the president’s plans for next year’s federal budget. Aides to the president said final decisions about Medicare and Social Security would not be made until later in the year, when he announces his full budget. But Sean Spicer, his spokesman, cited Mr. Trump’s campaign commitments about protecting those programs and vowed that “he’s going to keep his word to the American people.”

In effect, Mr. Trump appears determined to take sides in a generational struggle between older, sicker Americans who depend on the entitlement programs, and their younger, poorer counterparts whose livelihoods are shaped by the domestic programs likely to see steep cuts.

He also set up a battle for control of Republican Party ideology with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who for years has staked his policy-making reputation on the argument that taming the budget deficit without tax increases would require that Congress change, and cut, the programs that swallow the bulk of the government’s spending — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“I don’t know how you take $54 billion out without wholesale taking out entire departments,” said Bill Hoagland, a longtime Republican budget aide in the Senate and now a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “You need to control it in the area of the entitlement programs, which he’s taken off the table. It is a proposal, I dare say, that will be dead on arrival even with a Republican Congress.”

Speaking to governors at the White House, Mr. Trump said his spending demands would be at the core of the speech he gives Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress. “This budget follows through on my promise to keep Americans safe,” he said, calling it a “public safety and national security” budget that will send a “message to the world in these dangerous times of American strength, security and resolve.”

In the first part of the speech, Mr. Trump will recount “promises made and promises kept,” said the aides, who requested anonymity during a briefing with reporters. The rest of the speech will focus on how he will help people with their problems and how he intends to protect the nation.

The president’s budget proposals — which were short on detail but are said to exempt not just Medicare and Social Security but also veterans’ benefits and law enforcement efforts — would lead to deep reductions in federal programs that touch millions of lives. The White House signaled that it would begin with agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and social safety-net programs.

A budget with no entitlement cuts and one that does not balance most likely has no chance of passing the House, and could be rejected by Senate Republicans as well. Mr. Trump’s proposals are too far to the right in terms of domestic cuts and too far to the left in terms of balance. Its failure could have practical implications for the White House.

If Congress fails to pass a budget blueprint for the fiscal year that begins in October, Mr. Trump’s promise to drastically rewrite the tax code could also die, since the president was counting on that budget resolution to include special parliamentary language that would shield his tax cuts from a Democratic filibuster. Without it, any tax legislation would have to be bipartisan enough to clear the Senate with 60 votes.

But beyond legislative considerations, the fate of Mr. Trump’s proposal will go a long way toward determining how significantly his brand of economic populism has changed Republican orthodoxy.

Mr. Trump repeatedly said during the campaign that Republican promises to transform Medicare, and slash entitlement spending, were the reason the party lost the White House in 2012, helpfully name-checking Mr. Ryan, who sat at the bottom of the ticket that year, in his analysis. Social Security, health care and net interest now comprise nearly 60 percent of all federal spending, and that figure is expected to soar to 82 percent over the next 10 years.

“Paul Ryan’s budget plans with cuts to Social Security and Medicare are not that popular with most voters, and what helped elect Donald Trump was the promise not to cut benefits and programs,” said Douglas Elmendorf, the recently departed director of the Congressional Budget Office and current dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “That is an unresolved tension.”

White House officials said the broad outlines of a spending plan represented the logical culmination of Mr. Trump’s efforts to make good on his campaign pledges to prune what he considers wasteful government spending even as he expands what he considers an underfunded military.

“It will show the president is keeping his promises and doing exactly what he said he was going to do,” said Mick Mulvaney, the president’s budget director. “We are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars.”

Mr. Trump’s advisers said aid to foreign governments, which makes up a tiny fraction of federal spending, was one such target.

The budget for the I.R.S., which was the target of Republican criticism during Barack Obama’s administration, would be slashed by 14 percent, according to documents obtained by The New York Times. The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which provides grants for community banks and local development, would be all but eliminated.

The White House blueprint calls for a 24 percent cut to the E.P.A.’s budget, according to a person who had seen the document but was not authorized to speak on the record. That would amount to a reduction of about $2 billion from the agency’s annual budget of about $8.1 billion, reducing its spending to levels not seen since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

But it is far from clear whether Congress will approve such steep cuts in popular programs.

While congressional Republicans have long targeted the E.P.A.’s regulatory authority, they are also aware that about half the agency’s annual budget is passed through to popular state-level programs, like converting abandoned industrial sites into sports stadiums and other public facilities, which lawmakers of both parties are loath to cut. And most of the agency’s federal office spending goes toward funding programs that are required by existing laws. Last year, even as congressional Republicans railed against the Obama administration’s E.P.A. regulations, they proposed cutting only $291 million from the agency’s budget.

Environmental advocates denounced the proposed cuts, saying they would devastate environmental protection and public health programs while doing little to increase national security.

“The assault on human health begins now with President Trump’s plan to slash the E.P.A.’s resources, which are vital to protecting Americans’ drinking water and air from pollution,” said Scott Faber, president of the Environmental Working Group.

But the information to emerge about the budget for the fiscal year that begins in October raises more questions than it answers.

Democrats, of course, will be no friend, either.

“Democrats will make crystal clear the misplaced priorities of the administration and the Republican majority,” said Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, “and we will fight tooth and nail to protect services and investments that are critical to hard-working American families and communities across the country.”

But the budget may be the most striking example in Mr. Trump’s young presidency of the ways in which he is challenging the orthodoxy of his own party. Since the start of his insurgent campaign, Mr. Trump has opposed the Republican Party’s long-held positions on a range of policies, including free trade, how to deal with Russia and the future of government entitlement programs.

Republicans in Congress had hoped that the influence of the two former Republican House members in Mr. Trump’s cabinet — Tom Price, head of health and human services, and Mr. Mulvaney — would have led to new conclusions about the need to address entitlement programs that are swelling drastically with baby boomers’ retirement.

Instead, Mr. Trump appears intent on extracting the savings he needs for military spending from the one part of the budget already most squeezed, domestic discretionary spending.

Coral Davenport, Helene Cooper and Matt Apuzzo contributed reporting.
Cuban Resistance to External Provocation Highlighted
The Cuban government’s response to OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro Lemes’ intention to travel to Havana, in order to receive a "prize" invented by an illegal grouplet, was met with various reactions from around the world

Granma | internet@granma.cu
February 24, 2017 14:02:38
Photo: Quintana Roo

The Cuban government’s response to OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro Lemes’ intention to travel to Havana, in order to receive a "prize" invented by an illegal grouplet, was met with various reactions from around the world.

Also implicated in the scheme were former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, and Chile’s ex Minister of Education, Mariana Aylwin.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales expressed his admiration for the Cuban people who prevented imperialist intervention in their country and frustrated a provocative scheme hatched by right wing organizations in the region.

“Thank you for upholding the dignity of the people of Latin America,” wrote the Bolivian leader on his Twitter account.

Meanwhile Nicaragua’s Friends of Cuba Association (AAC) condemned the actions intended to provoke the country, describing them as vicious.

We consider preposterous the plan to try and violate Cuba’s sovereignty under the ridiculous pretense of awarding Almagro a prize, noted the AAC in a statement cited by Prensa Latina.

The text also read: “Not satisfied with discrediting the Cuban government or with committing any kind of vile act against the Cuban people, they now wish to enter Cuban territory to honor an enemy of the people.”

The AAC condemned those wishing to provoke and interfere in Cuba affairs, noting that since 1959 the country, with its revolutionary government led by Comandante Fidel Castro, decided to never again be the victim of imperial violations, or suffer abuse or mistreatment at the hands of its lackeys.

The organization reiterated its rejection of this recent provocation, describing it as “stupid and crazy.”

The AAC noted that the Cuban government would never allow this disgraceful act of honoring the enemy, or be forced to ingratiate itself with the OAS, a body which has never served the peoples of the Third World, and to which the country has no need to belong to, highlighted the AAC.

The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) also expressed its solidarity with Cuba in the face of what it described as provocations and interventionist media maneuvers against the island.

In a statement, the progressive Salvadoran political party emphasized its rejection of the media show “against the sister Republic of Cuba, through the alleged organization of an awards event for people linked to destabilization groups.”

The FMLN noted that such media and political provocations represent another defamation campaign seeking to damage Cuba’s excellent relations with countries in the region.

“We reject any attempt to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and support Cuba’s decision, based on its right as recognized by international law, to decide who it does, and does not, allow into its territory,” read the organization’s statement.

The FMLN went on to reaffirm its “solidarity and support of the Cuban government and people, who continue fighting for a more just and equal society, and whose dignity, solidarity, and non-negotiable defense of their sovereignty and self-determination, have won them the respect and admiration of the peoples of the world.”

Meanwhile, the Cuban Embassy in Chile issued a declaration categorically rejecting the “serious international provocation” against the country’s government.

“The scheme, rejected by the people, was organized by an illegal anti-Cuban group acting in violation of constitutional order and with the support and financing of foreign politicians and institutions,” stated the country’s diplomatic mission in the Chilean capital.

“The Cuban Embassy in the Republic of Chile declares that the Cuban government, respecting the memory of former President Patricio Aylwin, in a discrete and constructive manner, did everything within its power to inform, dissuade, and prevent the consummation of the provocation, and deeply regrets its manipulation for internal political means within Chile,” noted the Cuban mission.

It likewise stressed that Cuba exercises its sovereign right to make decisions regarding the entrance of foreign citizens into national territory and defend itself against these types of interventionist acts, aimed at subverting the country’s current legal order.


The majority of comments posted on Granma’s webpage recognized Cuba’s position as one based on principles of sovereignty and respect.

“Fitting response ,Cuba, your people will never be humiliated,” wrote Roberto Llonch.

Meanwhile, a user named Francisco added that the whole episode was just a pretext to bring together the ultra-right in Latin America against Cuba in our own country.

“Not one step back in the face of right wing threats, out-dated imperialism and murderers,” stated José Luis Valdés Lozano.

Jesús Alquisira highlighted the dignity of the Cuban people, the product of a victorious revolution which no one will ever be able to destabilize, least of all the lackeys of the international right.

For her part, Efi Barrera praised Cuba’s integrity, describing the country as “noble and brave,” and posing the question: “When will they learn that Cuba must be respected? If democracy means the right of the majority to decide, then we Cubans have already decided on socialism.”

Likewise other users noted that the OAS continues to serve the interests of pro-U.S. oligarchs and imperialists.

Granma also received messages of solidarity from other countries across the world. Antonio Rodríguez from Paraguay for example, expressed his whole hearted support for the Cuban government’s actions.

“It would be stupid to allow someone into your house, with the express aim of generating conflicts with those who live there,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Bianca from Uruguay noted that “As an Uruguayan I’m ashamed of Almagro’s behavior. He is clearly a puppet serving imperialist interests.”

At the same time Iván Quintana, also from Uruguay, stated, “What can we expect of a traitor like Almagro, a lawyer whose only principle is money, unfortunately this lackey is from my country.”

On the other hand, Belén Araujo Díaz from Mexico noted, “I have always admired the dignity of the Cuban people;” while user Emiliano from Argentina posted, “A big salute to the Cuban people, an example of love for the homeland.”
Anti-Cuban Provocation Fails
Declaration by Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Relations

MINREX | internet@granma.cu
February 23, 2017 12:02:39
Photo: Molina, Vladimir Photo: MINREX

Over the last few weeks, international media have reported the intention of OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro Lemes to travel to Havana, in order to receive a "prize" invented by an illegal grouplet, which operates in concert with the ultra-right wing Foundation for Pan American Democracy, created in the days of the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama, to channel efforts and resources in opposition to legitimate, independent governments in Our America.

The plan, plotted during several trips to Washington and other capitals of the region, consisted of mounting a serious, open provocation against the Cuban government in Havana, generating internal instability, damaging the country's international image, and at the same time, affecting the positive development of Cuba's diplomatic relations with other states. Perhaps some calculated poorly and thought that Cuba would sacrifice its fundamental principles to maintain appearances.

Drawn into the spectacle were Almagro himself and other right wing figures who are members of the so-called Democratic Initiative for Spain and the Americas (IDEA), which has also behaved in an aggressive manner toward the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, over the last several years, as well as other Latin American and Caribbean countries with progressive and leftist governments.

Also conniving and supporting the attempted plan were other organizations with well established anti-Cuban credentials, such as the Democracy and Community Center; the Latin American Development Research and Management Center (CADAL); and the Inter-American Institute for Democracy, run by the terrorist CIA agent Carlos Alberto Montaner. Additionally, since 2015, well known are the ties which exist between these groups and the United States' National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which receives funding from the government of this country to implement its subversive programs against Cuba.

Aware of these plans, and enforcing laws which sustain the country's sovereignty, the Cuban government decided to deny entry into national territory to foreign citizens linked to the acts described.

In an irreproachable act of transparency, in accordance with the principles which govern diplomatic relations between states, Cuban authorities contacted the governments of countries from which these persons would be traveling, and informed them, attempted to dissuade those involved, and prevent the consummation of these acts.

As international civil aviation regulations stipulate, the airlines cancelled the reservations of these passengers upon learning that they would not be welcome. Some were rerouted. There were some who attempted to manipulate the facts to serve strictly political interests within their own countries, given internal processes taking place there.

Abounding were statements by defenders of those who falsely claimed to have been persecuted, associates of dictatorships and unemployed politicians disposed to allying themselves with common mercenaries, at the service of and paid by foreign interests, which do not enjoy any recognition in Cuba, live off unsubstantiated slander, pose as victims, and act against the interests of the Cuban people and the political, economic, and social system they freely chose and have defended heroically.

In regards to Almagro and the OAS, we are not surprised by his declarations and openly anti-Cuban acts. Within a very short period of time as head of this organization, he has drawn attention by generating, with no mandate whatsoever from member states, an ambitious plan of self-promotion with attacks on progressive governments such as those in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

At this time, imperialist and oligarchic attacks have been redoubled against Latin American and Caribbean integration, and against democratic institutionality in several of our countries. In a neoliberal offensive, millions of Latin Americans have returned to poverty, hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs, they have been forced to emigrate, or were murdered or disappeared by mafias and traffickers - while isolationist and protectionist ideas, environmental deterioration, deportations, religious and racial discrimination, insecurity, and brutal repression are expanding across the hemisphere.

Where has the OAS been? Remaining as always silent in the face of these realities. Why so silent? Only someone completely out of touch with the times would attempt to sell Cubans "the values and principles of the Inter-American system," given the harsh, anti-democratic reality created by this very system.

One must have a short memory to fail to recall that, in February of 1962, Cuba stood up alone before this "immoral conclave," as Fidel described it in the Second Declaration of Havana. Fifty-five years later, accompanied by peoples and governments from the entire world, it is worth reiterating that, as President Raúl Castro said, Cuba will never return to the OAS.

José Martí warned, "Neither peoples nor men respect those who do not demand respect… men and peoples travel the world poking a finger into the flesh of others to see if it is soft, or if it resists. We must make our flesh hard, to repel the insolent fingers."

In Cuba, we do not forget history's lessons.

Havana, February 22, 2017

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Remembering Ali Osman: Composer, Academic and Conductor of Egypt's Al Nour Wal Amal Orchestra
Ati Metwaly
Ahram Online
Saturday 25 Feb 2017

Egypt’s music scene lost Ali Osman, Sudanese composer, conductor, educator and a man whose work with Al Nour Wal Amal, the visually impaired and blind women orchestra was among his most precious accomplishments

On 16 February, Egypt’s music scene lost the renowned composer Ali Osman Al Haj (also known as Ali Osman). Born in 1958 in Omdurman, Sudan, Osman’s passion for music brought him to Cairo in 1978. Though at first he thought Egypt would be a stop on his way further, he made his second home here and founded a family. Adopted by Egypt, Ali Osman is considered among the third generation of Egyptian composers, listed beside names such as Baligh Hamdi (1932-1993), Rageh Daoud (born 1954) and Omar Khayrat (born 1949), among others.

Besides his compositions, Osman’s biography is rich in academic accomplishments, while as a dynamic artist he made a strong impact on the community, particularly through his work as artistic director and principal conductor of the Al Nour Wal Amal (or Light and Hope) Orchestra, an ensemble consisting of visually impaired and blind women musicians.

I had the chance to meet Ali Osman on several occasions in the context of his work with the Al Nour Wal Amal Orchestra, which even if it represented an important part of his activities, remains but a fraction of the musical depth and versatility he represents. In November last year, as I was interviewing Ali Osman for a project, he spoke mostly about his arrival to Egypt and work with the orchestra, revealing one side of his musical passion.

“In Sudan I was a self-taught musician, playing rock music on guitar and drums. I got to a stage when I needed more knowledge and skill. I felt that my self-teaching techniques started being a limitation. I realised that either I should start studying professionally or give up music altogether,” he spoke with his characteristic soft tonality.

Naturally, Osman could not give up music and, following his secondary education, he began looking for a conservatory oversees.

“At first I wanted to study in Canada, but there was no Canadian embassy in Sudan, so I had to come to Egypt to proceed with visa. I arrived in the late 1970s only to discover the daunting procedures required in order to get a student visa to Canada. This is when I thought of trying my luck at the Cairo Conservatory. I was accepted and began my formal musical education, giving up my Canada plan.”

This change of plan proved very rewarding for the young musician. At the Cairo Conservatory, he studied double bass with Rodney Slatford (USA) and then composition with a number of renowned Egyptian professors including Gamal Abdel-Rahim, and during his postgraduate studies with Awatif Abdel-Kerim. His professors also included Bertold Hummel (Germany) and Robert Woshborn (USA). As he graduated and matured academically, writing his thesis on traditional Sudanese and Arabic music, Osman began teaching composition, counterpoint and harmony at the Cairo Conservatory in 1990, and in 1999 at the Higher Institute of Arabic Music in Cairo.

“It was also in 1990 that one of the professors working with Al Nour Wal Amal Association had to travel abroad for his PhD. He asked me to replace him in teaching solfège at the association,” Osman recalled the days when he joined the team working with the visually impaired and blind women musicians. “I began working on many aspects of the orchestra, while the maestro Ahmed Abul Eid was their music director, conductor and main person responsible for their artistic development.”

Alongside his work at Al Nour Wal Amal and the conservatory, Osman kept making his mark in composition. In 2000, he was granted a four month scholarship as “composer in residence” by Prohelvetia Cairo, and travelled to Switzerland where he also recorded his first full CD by the Swiss Radio.

That same year, Ahmed Abul Eid began looking for an assistant. “He called me at midnight, I remember, and told me that since I’ve known and worked with the girls for many years, I should join him,” Osman explained, underlining that at that time, he was not sure if he was ready for the added responsibility. “But since he almost ordered me I could not say ‘no’.”

Following Abul Eid’s passing in 2004, Osman became fully in charge of the orchestra, a task he carried out with profound dedication until the last days of his life. Acting as a mentor, conductor and often a father, Osman shaped the musicians, patiently carved their understanding of the material and helped them create the most beautiful art. He was their conductor, artistic director and tutor, but also in many ways their friend.

Shocked by his passing, the girls from the Al Nour Wal Amal Orchestra shared the news on social media stating: “Today we have lost the smile, the joy and the great support of the orchestra, the brother and friend to all the people working in the Al Nour Wal Amal Association.”

And though the association relies on the expertise of a number of professional musicians, Osman was the orchestra’s solid artistic backbone. He chose the repertoire, deepened the delivery of already mastered compositions and pushed the musicians to learn new ones, often walking them through the work note by note. With all the challenges that can come with this ensemble, he not only embraced the work but also seemed to be enjoying it on the musical and human levels.

“It is a different kind of work from working with sighted musicians,” he told me during the interview.

“With the visually impaired orchestra, we have to go through each detail and help the musicians memorise the score. I would then work with each section of the orchestra separately, and in the final stage combine all the sections and begin to implement a musical vision. It is not an easy work and requires a lot of patience, but it is worth it,” he added with fatherly warmth before moving onto the topic of performing to an audience. “What you see on stage are the women playing alone. I no longer conduct. My work is completely within the rehearsal walls. If you are dedicated to your work during the rehearsals, you will have good results in the concert.”

On the very few occasions when I had the chance to watch him working with the girls, he would walk them through the score, making sure that each note is clean and well heard, and each motion well respected. At times, he would sit at the piano, with one or two musicians by his side duly following his instructions. During the final rehearsals the association’s hall was filled with musicians. Osman would walk in among the girls, whisper to them or tap them on the shoulder and then the music would take on a new, more vibrant shape.

During their performances, he often stood to the side of the stage, or at the back, watching and listening. As the orchestra received strong applause, time and again, in Egypt and abroad, Ali Osman was proud and happy for the musicians, but always very humble.

As a prolific composer Osman’s interest in traditional music and his formal conservatory education merged in a unique creative manner, translating into works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo instruments and voices. Representing the third generation of Egyptian composers, he remained deeply rooted in his origins, touching on the idioms of the south, only to create rich amalgams at the thematic and formal levels. He juggled Arabic musical modes and rhythmic patterns and Western harmonies; he explored and experimented, pushing the music towards a contemporary imagery of sound.

Always nurtured by traditional material, Osman would find in it inspiration for many of his compositions, from orchestral works such as a symphonic poem, A Day in the Life of a Shepherd in the Sudan or A Nile Trip from the South to the North, to chamber works. Many of Osman’s compositions featured the instruments in their original contexts and formats, such as El-Maqamat El-Masri (Modes of Egypt), a work that revives the solo harpsichord embedded in Arabic modes or El-Mohager, a short piece for flute, oboe and riq (Arabic tambourine).

On his blog, Osman explained his approach to music in those words: “My main principle is that music is a human activity and I would like to keep it that way. It does not mean that I do not like experimental or abstract music but I deal with these styles when I am dealing with something beyond imagination. I basically depend on national musical elements but I do not lock myself in them. I use the technique that I need to express myself, depending on the idea that I am trying to present.”

A number of Osman’s works were published by Oxford University Press and Peermusic in Germany. Many of his compositions have been performed in Egypt – at the Cairo Opera House, the American University in Cairo, among other venues – and internationally, in Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, China, the USA and the UK.

His Afromood for violin, piano and tambourine, was performed very recently, on 8 February 2017, by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, USA. Entitled “Music Beyond Borders: Voices from the Seven,” this series of free concerts was the orchestra’s project aiming to raise awareness of and give a platform to music from the countries (including Sudan) that are subject to Trump’s travel ban. A few months earlier, in September 2016, Osman’s compositions were featured by the Arab Youth Philharmonic Orchestra at the Young Euro Classic music festival in Berlin.

Osman also contributed to numerous publications, writing on folk and traditional music idioms and their contemporary contexts. He co-wrote with several scholars, including Samha El-Kholy, the series of books issued by the Culture Ministry: Egyptian Contemporary Music (2000–03). He was also on the musical jury of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture in 2012.

Whether working in academia, on his compositions or with the blind musicians, Osman made music his whole life; he turned it into the language in which he could best express himself. On his blog he notes, “If all aesthetics books identify music as completely abstract, how could it be an international language? This definition goes well with the modern abstract music of today, but conventional music is an international language, one that allows people to attend a concert and unite in the feelings that the musical style and the mood carry.”

As the creative field mourns the composer, conductor and educator, it seeks consolation in the strong mark he left on the music field – and in the many valuable offerings he leaves us with.

This obituary was first published in Al Ahram Weekly

For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at@AhramOnlineArtsand on Facebook atAhram Online: Arts & Culture

Egypt's Antiquities Ministry Restores Colossus of Ramsess II at Karnak Temples
Restoration began one month ago on a statue of the celebrated 19th dynasty pharaoh, which decorated the façade of the Karnak Temples' first pylon

Nevine El-Aref
Ahram Online
Tuesday 21 Feb 2017

The head of the colossus statue. Photo courtesy of restorer Abdel Razek Ali

Karnak Amun-Re statue not recently restored as claimed

Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities is conducting comprehensive restoration work on a colossus statue of king Ramsess II that once decorated the façade of the first pylon of the Karnak Temple Complex.
Mostafa Waziri, head of the ministry’s Luxor antiquities department, told Ahram Online that reconstruction of the statue began one month ago, and is expected to be completed within two months. The statue would then be erected in its original position, he said.

The colossus of Egypt's most celebrated pharaoh stood in front of Karnak's first pylon along with five others. Four of these colossi depict the king standing and the two others sitting.

During the fourth century AD, Waziri said, the colossi were subjected to damages by a destructive earthquake. Their blocks were selected and placed in wooden shelters on the first pylon's western side.

In 2016, the ministry decided to restore and reconstruct one of these statues. Luxor governorate has supported the project by providing the materials needed for restoration.

The statue is carved in gray granite, weighs 65 tons and stands 10.8 metres tall. 
UK's Continued Suspension of Flights to Sharm El-Sheikh 'Unjustified': FM Shoukry to Johnson
Ahram Online
Sunday 26 Feb 2017

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told his British counterpart on Saturday that the UK's continued suspension of direct flights to Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh resort city was “unjustified and incomprehensible.”

Shoukry made the comments during a meeting with the UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who visited Egypt for the first time as foreign secretary last week to boost Egypt-UK relations, and hold talks on several regional issues of common interest.

In an official statement by Egypt’s foreign ministry on Saturday, spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said Shoukry pointed to Cairo's major accomplishments in improving airport security, according to measures agreed on by the two countries and international standards of airport security.

“A continuation of flight suspension to Egyptian tourist destinations despite the progress made in airport security is unjustified and affects the core of the economy and the main source of living for millions of citizens who rely on the sector's revenues,” Shoukry said.

He described the British decision as inconsistent with Britain’s repeated promises to support Egypt.

The UK has repeatedly stated its support for Egypt, especially in the field of fighting terrorism. In statements ahead of his visit, Johnson described Britain as a “longstanding friend” and a “champion of a renewed Egypt."

Egyptian tourism, a pillar of the country's economy and a key source of hard currency, has taken a blow since the crash of a Russian passenger plane in Sinai October 2014, which left all 224 passengers dead.

Sharm El-Sheikh's economy is believed to have suffered the most, especially following Moscow's suspension of direct flights to Egypt in November 2015.

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for downing the plane.

Egyptian investigations into the cause of the crash are still on-going.

A number of European countries that had suspended flights to Sharm El-Sheikh in 2015 recently allowed direct flights to the South Sinai tourist hotspot to resume. The UK -- a major source of tourists for Egypt -- has yet to follow suit.

Egypt’s revenues from tourism dropped from $6.1 billion in 2015 to $3.4 billion in 2016, according to statements by Central Bank of Egypt Governor Tarek Amer in January.

Egypt FM Heads to Washington DC for Talks With US Officials 
Mahmoud Aziz
Sunday 26 Feb 2017

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed to the United States on Sunday for talks with US officials, state news agency MENA reported.

Shoukry is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Raymond McMaster, as well as some leading representatives from Congress.

During his visit, Shoukry will discuss preparations for President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's upcoming visit to the US to meet with President Donald Trump, which would be the first meeting between an Egyptian and US president in years.

The last official meeting in Washington between the countries' two presidents came between former presidents Hosni Mubarak and George W. Bush in 2004.

Cooperation between Egypt and the new U.S. administration is expected to deepen. Rhetoric from both sides since Trump's election has been warm, in contrast to relations under the administration of Barack Obama, which grew strained after the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.

In reaction to the ouster, which it described as a "military coup," the Obama administration temporariily suspended US military aid to Egypt. The administration,however,resumed it in 2015, amid growing threats of terrorism in the region.

El-Sisi was the first president to congratulate Trump on his election in November 2016.

The two leaders met in September last year on the sidelines of 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly held in New York, when Trump was running for the presidential post.

Trump described his meeting with El-Sisi as "productive and great.”

Britain Agrees $150 Million Loan Guarantee to Egypt on Visit
Sunday 26 Feb 2017

Britain on Saturday finalized a $150 million loan guarantee to Egypt, where Boris Johnson was on his first visit to the country as Foreign Secretary and as a human rights organization urged him to speak about what they described as "appalling" abuses.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said Johnson and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi discussed British support for Egypt's economy including joint work on aviation security, anti-terrorism efforts, and work to resolve regional conflicts especially in Libya and Syria, adding that human rights and the benefits of a free society to promote stability and economic growth were mentioned.

"The UK and Egypt have many shared interests, we are Egypt's top economic partner and strong allies against terrorism and extremist ideas," Johnson said in the statement. "I look forward to continuing to strengthen the close relationship between our two countries."

Earlier, the human rights organization Reprieve urged Johnson to speak about the abuses it described, including the case of Irish national Ibrahim Halawa, who was 17 when arrested and imprisoned in Cairo in 2013. Halawa was detained in a mosque near Ramses Square as the Muslim Brotherhood held a "day of rage" over the ouster of the Islamist Mohamed Morsi.

Reprieve's Harriet McCulloch had implored Johnson to "urge El-Sisi to end these appalling abuses, and free Ibrahim and the many like him." No mention of Halawa was made in Johnson's statement.

Before the visit, Johnson said "the U.K. is a champion of a renewed Egypt because stability, peace and growth in this region are the bedrock of opportunity and security."

Britain also pledged to boost university partnerships and teacher training, increase funding of economic development and social welfare programs, and increase funding new and existing social startups.

Egypt is undergoing painful economic adjustments as part of El-Sisi's economic reform measures, with inflation hitting 30 percent in January in a climate where state repression and mass arrests have blocked off most forms of dissent or opposition.

Johnson and his Egyptian counterparts did not make themselves available for questions by the media following the meeting.

*This story has been edited by Ahram Online

Tunisia Nears Political Crisis As Opposition to Cabinet Reshuffle Mounts 
Karem Yehia
Sunday 26 Feb 2017

Tunisia is on the verge of a political crisis -- the most dangerous since the formation of a national unity government last summer -- following a limited Saturday cabinet reshuffle that sacked a minister and a former leader of the country's prominent Tunisian General Labour Union.

Immediately after the sackings were announced, the union called an urgent meeting on Sunday -- an official holiday in Tunisia -- to discuss the conflict.

The union is one of the largest in the country and one of the most influential in domestic affairs.

The syndicate is a signatory to the Carthage Declaration, which sets out the policy priorities of the national unity government. The consensus document was suggested by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi last summer and led to the formation of the government.

As an organisation, the union generally rejects having direct representatives in any cabinet; however, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed's government has employed two of the union's leaders: Abid Briki, minister of public functions, who was removed from his post on Saturday, and Mohamed El-Tarabolsi, minister of social affairs.

The reshuffle can be traced to a demand on the part of the union's newly appointed Secretary-General Nour Eddin El-Tabouby calling for the resignation of the education minister, in solidarity with demands by the teachers syndicate and in response to the government’s refusal to negotiate on raising the wages of private sector workers.

In the hours following the reshuffle, the union leaders called for escalation against the government, while the widely circulated Shrouk newspaper ran the headline "fears of breakdown in national unity."

Expelled minister Briki appeared on a TV programme to attack El-Chahed's government policies, threatening to reveal corruption cases he said had been presented before the government but were all ignored.

Chahed has appointed Ahmed Adhoum and Khalil Ghariani, as ministers of religious affairs and public functions, respectively, following the sackings.

The reshuffle did not include the minister of education, despite calls to expel him in light of his latest dispute with the teachers syndicate.

Sources in the Tunisian General Labour Union considered the appointment of Ghariani, a prominent leader in the Businessmen Union, to succeed Briki as a provocative act.

Some Tunisia watchers have said the reshuffle could empower the country’s Ennahda Islamist party in the government, by also expelling Faisal El Hafyan, former deputy minister of trade.

Reports suggested this move favoured the Secretary-General of Ennahda Ziad El-Azari, with whom El-Hafyan had a recent political and media feud.

Imperialist States Which Destroyed Libya Issues Joint Statement 
From Government of France, Government of the United Kingdom, Government of Italy, Government of the United States of America, Government of Germany, Government of Spain Published on 25 Feb 2017 —View Original

The Ambassadors of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States reiterate our commitment to preserving the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and national cohesion of Libya and our support for the Libyan Political Agreement of 17 December 2015 as the basis for an inclusive political solution of the current conflicts. We continue to support the Presidency Council as the legitimate governing body, recognised as such by UNSCR 2259. We continue to stand by UNSMIL’s efforts to address the political, security, economic and institutional crises facing the country.‎

We condemn the clashes which took place in Tripoli on February 23 and 24, as well as the indiscriminate use of violence against the Libyan people across Libya.

We welcome the cease-fire reached between the forces on the ground in the Abu Selim neighbourhood of the Capital, thanks to the intervention by the Presidency Council, and we reiterate that the use of force is the sole prerogative of State institutions and its security forces.

We condemn the use of violence and any threat levelled against Prime Minister Sarraj and Libyan institutions, as was the case in the attack of February 20th 2017.

We further call on all parties to cease violent acts which result in the loss of civilian lives, and undermine the prospects for political and social reconciliation of the country.

We reaffirm our position that Libyans should decide their own future, and we stand ready to support their efforts to build a strong, prosperous, and unified Libya and implement the Libyan Political Agreement’s vision for a peaceful transition to a new, elected government.
Libya Neo-colonial Regimes Announces Ceasefire After Tripoli Clashes
2017-02-25 19:30

Tripoli - A ceasefire went into force early on Saturday in the Libyan capital after two days of fighting between rival gunmen injured nine people and forced residents to cower indoors, the government said.

The fighting between two rival armed groups in eastern Tripoli erupted on Thursday after one accused the other of kidnapping four of its members, the Tripoli-based news agency LANA reported.

It said families trapped in the conflict zone of Abu Slim appealed to the authorities to intervene to halt the violence which closed down the city centre.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) said it had successfully brokered a ceasefire between the two groups, with help from town elders from Tarhuna and Gharian south of Tripoli.

An agreement has been reached to set up three committees to follow up on the accord, the GNA said in a statement released overnight.

One committee will be tasked with enforcing the ceasefire, another consisting of health ministry officials will follow up the condition of those wounded and the third will assess damage, the statement said.

The Libyan Red Crescent on Friday said nine people had been injured in the fighting. There was no official casualty toll.

LANA said the fighting with heavy weapons in the centre of Tripoli erupted on Thursday and raged throughout the day. A truce was reached, but quickly collapsed and clashes continued on Friday.

Residents caught in the crossfire said their homes were shaken by the sound of exploding rockets, as columns of smoke rose from the zone of fighting while tanks and trucks mounted with heavy anti-aircraft guns moved in the zone.

"Two apartments in housing blocks on the airport road were hit by rockets. I can see columns of smoke," local resident Nuria al-Mosbahi told AFP on Friday.

A convoy carrying GNA chief Fayez al-Sarraj came under heavy gunfire near the Abu Slim sector on Monday, but he and other top officials with him survived unharmed.

Libya has been submerged in chaos since the Pentagon-NATO engineered overthrow of longtime Revolutionary Pan-Africanist leader Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Sarraj's fragile GNA, formed under a UN-backed deal signed in late 2015, has struggled to impose its authority, particularly in eastern Libya where a rival administration holds sway.

UN envoy German career diplomat Martin Kobler has deplored the fighting and called, in an online statement, for "calm, dialogue and the protection of civilians".