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John Rosenthal

John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook here.
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Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

At the conclusion of my recent piece proposing some questions for John McCain on Libya, I cited translations provided by the website Feby17.info of two Libyan rebel slogans: “oh Gaddafi king of the afro, you will now see the [real] Libyans” and “oh Living, oh Sustainer, the afro will die today.” Martin Kramer informs me that the term translated as “afro” – shafshoofa – is an allusion to Gaddafi’s frizzy hair. Does this mean that the term has no racial overtones in the local context (as Martin has suggested to me)?

Well, let us consider some additional elements of that context. Such, for instance, as the mural from Benghazi shown in the following widely reproduced AP photo.

According to the accompanying AP caption, the caricature is supposed to depict Muammar al-Gaddafi and the Arabic writing is “a reference to Qaddafi’s self-declared title ‘The King of Kings of Africa.’” In fact, as reported by the BBC here, the title was bestowed upon Gaddafi by a meeting of traditional African rulers in 2008. The meeting happens to have been held precisely in Benghazi. As the AP caption notes, the writing on the mural replaces the title “King of Kings of Africa” with the phrase “Monkey of Monkeys of Africa.”

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Libyan Rebel: There are No Civilians in Misrata

Monday, April 18th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

The weekend saw the publication of a slew of press reports accusing Libyan government forces of putting civilian lives at risk by using cluster bombs in their efforts to recapture the city of Misrata. The main sources given for the reports are the Libyan rebel forces, against which government forces are fighting, and the NGO Human Rights Watch.

Libya is not a member of the international convention banning the use of such munitions. Only 55 countries are. The United States, incidentally, is not a member of the convention either. Nonetheless, Libyan government spokespersons have denied using the weapons.

But, in any case, a report from Misrata in the weekend edition of the French newspaper Le Figaro inadvertently casts doubt on the claims of the rebel leadership and Human Rights Watch. Le Figaro reporter Adrien Jaulmes was, in effect, “embedded” with rebel forces. Speaking, so to say, “off-script,” a rebel fighter told him that there are no civilians in Misrata. Indeed, the rebel fighter expressly called on NATO to bomb the center of the city.

Here is the full quote:

The air strikes have helped us a lot and we thank Sarkozy. Tell him that. NATO was slow to resume the aerial bombardments, but now they are doing good work. The planes are attacking Gaddafi’s tanks and weapons convoys. Now, they need to attack directly those [Libyan government forces] who are in the center of Misrata. There aren’t any civilians. There are only combatants like us.

Referring to the city’s main thoroughfare, the rebel fighter added, “They can bomb Tripoli Street.”


Apropos comment #1 below, in a separate report published in the same edition of Le Figaro, Adrien Jaulmes addresses the issue of whether civilians are still present elsewhere “in” Misrata, if not in the city center. What he says on the matter is contradictory and whether they are or are not appears finally to be a matter of definition. On the one hand, he insists that most of the residents have stayed in the “besieged city.” On the other hand, he says that most of the residents have been evacuated to a neighborhood adjoining the port and that the port is “outside the city.” The so-called port of Misrata is also known as Gasr Ahmed.

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‘Gaddafi: Islam’s Enemy no. 1′: A document from the Libyan opposition

Friday, April 1st, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

On Tuesday, as international leaders met in London to discuss the future of Libya, the Libyan opposition’s Interim National Council published a statement unveiling its “Vision for a Democratic Libya.” The document enumerates the Council’s commitments to freedom and democracy, the separation of powers, “political pluralism,” the “supremacy of international humanitarian law,” the “empowerment of women,” the “denunciation” of terrorism, a “green environment,” and many other things. It makes no mention of Islam, except perhaps implicitly. As President Obama observed about the opposition leaders, “so far, they’re saying the right things.”

But before there was the Interim National Council, there was the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition (NCLO). It was the NCLO that called for the February 17 “Day of Rage” that would provide the spark for what the Interim National Council now calls the “February 17 Revolution.” As discussed in my PJM report here, the choice of date was not arbitrary. February 17 marked the anniversary of an earlier protest in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi: namely, a 2006 protest against the famous “Mohammed cartoons” that were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

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Head of African Union: UN blocked mediation efforts in Libya

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

In an interview with the French-language magazine of African affairs Jeune Afrique, the head of the Commission of the African Union, Jean Ping, has said that an African Union (AU) delegation attempting to mediate between the warring parties in Libya was denied authorization to visit the country by the UN Security Council. The five-member delegation was scheduled to visit the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 20 and Benghazi, the capital of the rebellion, on March 21. The bombing of Libya by coalition forces began on March 19.

Nonetheless, according to Ping, the members of the AU delegation requested permission from the UN Security Council to pursue their mission anyway and were refused. Ping told Jeune Afrique that the Security Council refused the request “because it [the trip] would have been too dangerous.”

More generally, on the AU’s opposition to the Western-led “humanitarian” intervention in Libya, Ping explained,

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Rebel Libya: “Brothers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, now is the time to defend your land!”

Monday, March 28th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

As I reported on Friday, Libyan rebel commander Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi has admitted to fighting in Afghanistan – namely, on the side of al-Qaeda and the Taliban – and even to recruiting Libyans to join al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Hasadi made these admissions in conversation with Roberto Bongiorni of the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Bongiorni’s report from al-Hasadi’s hometown of Darnah contains another interesting detail: one that suggests just how widespread the participation of the locals in the Afghan and Iraq “jihads” must have been.

Bongiorni describes his arrival in Darnah as follows:

One sees that Darnah is a conservative city from the religious fervor of its inhabitants, from the Islamic manner of dress, from the long beards. “Dear brothers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the announcer on the local radio exhorts…, “Now is the time to defend your land!”

Bongiorni specifies that the local radio is “one of the broadcasters created after 42 years of censorship in Libya.”

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Gaddafi and Corruption: WikiLeaks vs. WikiLeaks

Friday, March 25th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

The New York Times published an article yesterday accusing Muammar al-Gaddafi and the Libyan government of corruption in its dealings with foreign companies following the thawing of relations with the West in the mid-2010s. Apparently, if the American people are not buying “R2P” (the “Responsibility to Protect”), then R2CC, the “Responsibility to Combat Corruption,” might do the trick.

The sources for the Times article are for the most part unnamed industry insiders, unnamed “American officials,” and documents from the WikiLeaks cache of leaked State Department cables. One named source is a member of the as-Senussi royal family, which Gaddafi drove from power and which has its power-base precisely in the Cyrenaica region of eastern Libya that is currently rebelling against Gaddafi’s rule. Perhaps not the most neutral source imaginable… According to Praveen Swami of The Telegraph, by the way, the former American diplomat James Atkins has described the as-Senussi monarchy as “one of the most corrupt in the world.”

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French Interior Minister: Nicolas Sarkozy leading ‘crusade’ in Libya

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

Vladimir Putin’s description of the western military intervention in Libya as a sort of “crusade” has provoked much criticism, including here on the Tatler blog and including even criticism from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. But, yesterday, French Interior Minister Claude Guéant talked about the intervention in precisely these terms. On the French online political talk show Talk Orange – Le Figaro, Guéant said literally that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was “leading a crusade” to stop Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi.

French Interior Minister Claude Guéant on "Talk Orange – Le Figaro"

Asked about the intervention and its conformity with Security Council resolution 1973, Guéant took the opportunity to defend Sarkozy from his domestic critics. This is what he said:

Regarding the criticisms that have been made of the President…, now everyone realizes that we are fortunate that he [Sarkozy] was there. The whole world was getting ready to watch massacres committed by Gaddafi on the television. Fortunately, the President took the lead of the crusade, in order to mobilize the United Nations, and then also the Arab League, and the African Union.

The full interview is available here. The relevant passage is between 10:15 and 10:35 of the clip. Incidentally, as reported by France’s national wire service, the AFP, the African Union has called for an immediate stop to the joint Franco-British-American military action against Libya.

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Libyan rebels: “Now is the time of Jihad!”

Sunday, March 20th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

The journalist Marc de Chalvron was in Libya ten days ago. He accompanied rebel forces as they advanced to the oil-producing town of Ras Lanuf and then were turned back by Libyan government forces. On a broadcast today on the French news channel i-Télé, de Chalvron showed footage from his trip. The footage includes interviews with rebels on the back of a pick-up truck on the road to Ras Lanuf. The full report can be viewed here. The relevant portion is between 3:45 and 4:20 of the clip.

One rebel says: “We were at Benghazi with many other volunteers. From there, we are at Ajdabiya, the center of the Jihad.”

A second rebel, alluding to the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi, adds: “Forty-two years of a nightmare… Now the time of Jihad has arrived!”

A third yells “Allahu Akbar!” as other rebels fire their guns into the air.

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Save the Libyan rebels! (But do we know who they are?)

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

With Libyan government troops closing in on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, virtually all American commentators appear to be united in the conviction that America or “the West” should intervene to save the Libyan rebels. But one month after the unrest in Libya began, we still know almost nothing about them. This fact seems not to trouble the commentators or even certain heads of state.

Last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy famously recognized the rebels’ so-called National Council as the “legitimate representative of the Libyan people.” But a report in last weekend’s edition of the French daily Le Figaro notes that the full membership of the council is not even known. Reporting from Benghazi, Figaro correspondent Tanguy Berthemet writes, “Officially, it is supposed to have 31 members. But only seven names have been made public. …One does not know where its headquarters are or what its daily order of business is.”

More ominously, Berthemet’s report makes clear that the National Council is supported by local Islamists. Indeed, it might well contain some. Although Berthemet’s article cites “security concerns,” perhaps this is the reason that the names have not been released. In any case, Berthemet notes that the next step for the National Council is to put together “a veritable transitional government.” His report continues:

“It’s just a matter of time,” Mohammed Bosidra says, “It’s not a problem, and this government will be recognized by all countries, even in the West.” For Bosidra, a lawyer who is close to the Islamists and who was imprisoned for twenty years, radical Muslims are the only force capable of preventing the formation of a cabinet. But Abdul Hakim al-Hisasady, the voice of Libya’s Islamists, has given his go-ahead.

By “Abdul-Hakim al-Hisasady,” Berthemet appears to mean Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi, who reportedly declared an “Islamic Emirate” in eastern Libya shortly after the start of the Libyan unrest (and who landed a notably chummy interview with the New York Times earlier this month).

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Gaddafi’s Defense

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

The last edition of the French Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD) contains a long interview with Muammar Gaddafi. In the interview, Gaddafi challenges the accuracy of media reports about the Libyan unrest – which at the time had not yet developed into a full-fledged civil war – and he calls on the UN Security Council or the African Union to send an investigative commission to the country.

At one point, JDD reporter Laurent Valdiguié says, “Democracies don’t like regimes that fire on their own people….” This is Gaddafi’s response:

I have never fired on my own people! And you don’t think that the Algerian regime has been using force for years in combating Islamist extremism? And you don’t think that the Israelis bomb Gaza and civilian victims because of the armed groups that are there? And in Afghanistan or in Iraq, you don’t know that the American army regularly causes civilian victims? Does NATO never fire on civilians in Afghanistan? Here in Libya we have not fired on anybody. The investigative commission will show that. Half of the dead consist of police and soldiers; the other half consists of attackers [rebels]. I defy the international community to come here and prove the contrary.

Readers may judge for themselves the pertinence of Gaddafi’s allusions to civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the remark about Israel and Gaza is particularly interesting. It certainly seems to treat Israeli military actions in Gaza as legitimate: namely, in light of the “armed groups that are there.” What other leader of an Arab country or of a predominantly Muslim one would formulate matters in this way? Would, for instance, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan? The answer, of course, is no.

And here, incidentally, is a further picture of a portrait of Gaddafi that has been defaced by Libyan protestors with, among other things, a Star of David.

The picture comes from the French-language Belgian public television RTBF, where it appeared – uncommented – as the final shot in a documentary on Gaddafi. (Hat-tip: the Philosémitisme blog.) Note too the use of the black eye-patch. The eye-patch is also to be seen in many of the defaced images of Hosni Mubarak from the Egyptian protests. It appears to be an allusion to the former head of the Israeli armed forces Moshe Dayan.

For my earlier collection of similar images from the Libyan protests, see here.

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Libya: ‘Humanitarian’ intervention or military intervention?

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

If one is to judge by the tenor of reports in the western media, there is great urgency to establish a “no-fly zone” in Libya in order to prevent the Libyan air force from bombing the civilian population. But if one listens to the military leadership of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion, the source of the urgency lies elsewhere. A dispatch* from the strategic Libyan city of Ras Lanouf in today’s edition of the French daily Le Figaro cites colonel Messaoud Abdulahi. “The European Union has to establish a no-fly zone over Libya fast,” Colonel Abdulahi told Le Figaro, “Gaddafi’s planes are preventing us from maneuvering.”

The scenarios for establishing a “no-fly zone” over Libya that are currently under discussion strongly recall NATO’s establishment of a “no fly zone” over Bosnia in the 1990s. Although the ostensible logic of the latter operation was also “humanitarian,” American military analysts are perfectly clear about the fact that it amounted in practice to a military intervention in support of one of the warring parties in a civil war. (See Colonel Robert C. Owen, ed., Deliberate Force – in particular, Chapter 1 by Karl Mueller.)

On PJ Media, Ryan Mauro has expressed enthusiasm for European efforts to impose a “no-fly zone” over Libya. The title and sub-title to his piece – for which, he does not necessarily bear responsibility – even suggest that Europe is thereby “taking the lead” in combating “Islamic extremism.” But with all due respect to PJM headline-writers, not all Arabs are “Islamic extremists” and Muammar Gaddafi, whatever else he may be, is most definitely not one. Indeed, as I have pointed out here on the Tatler blog, actual Islamic extremists – namely, the North African branch of Al-Qaeda – are openly supporting the Libyan rebels in their struggle against Gaddafi.

Moreover, it is worth recalling in this connection that when the US and its European allies intervened in the Bosnian conflict by imposing a “no-fly zone,” they did so in support of the Islamist President of Bosnia Alija Izetbegovic and of Bosnian government forces that included thousands of foreign mujahideen. (Izetbegovic had authored a manifesto entitled “The Islamic Declaration.”) The whole story is told in grim detail and with extensive documentation by John R. Schindler in his Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad.

One of the foreign jihadists with whom NATO made common cause in Bosnia was none other than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the future “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks.

In short, the American fans of a “humanitarian” intervention in Libya ought perhaps to be careful what they wish for…

*“Dans l’Est, les combats avivent les rivalités tribales” (not available online).

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We are all Al-Qaeda now

Thursday, February 24th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

According to the SITE intelligence group, the North African branch of al-Qaeda – known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – has come out with a statement expressing its backing for the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Unfortunately, the full translation from SITE is only available to subscribers. But excerpts are available in reports from the AFP and Reuters here and here.

According to SITE, AQIM has assured the rebel forces that “[We] will do whatever we can to help you, with power from Allah, because your fight is the fight of every Muslim who loves Allah and His Messenger.” AQIM explains, furthermore, “We were pained by the carnage and the cowardly massacres carried out by the killer of innocents Gaddafi against our people and our unarmed Muslim brothers who only came to lift his oppression, his disbelief, his tyranny and his might.”

Note that AQIM’s interpretation of events is essentially indistinguishable from the interpretation of events to be found in almost all western media accounts – except that the latter tend to leave out the part about “his disbelief.” Note too that the statement is also said to cheer on the success of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

Not yet ten years after the 9/11 attacks, western commentators, on both the Left and the Right, are today virtually unanimously making common cause with al-Qaeda. One would hope that this realization would at least lead to a moment of reflection, if not self-doubt.

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Don’t ‘bomb Libya’

Thursday, February 24th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

In his last blog post, Michael Ledeen suggests that the United States should “bomb Libya” – or, more exactly, the planes comprising the Libyan air force – in order to bring an end to the bloodshed in the country. It is not clear – to me, at any rate – just how seriously Michael wants his suggestion to be taken.

But with all due respect, it strikes me that both the suggestion and the enthusiasm it has inspired are indicative of an alarming tendency for Americans to make snap judgments on foreign conflict situations based upon highly limited information coming from often highly dubious sources. If there is an intrinsic “fog of war,” as Robert McNamara famously emphasized, it is surrounded, in the meanwhile, by an even thicker “fog of media coverage” of war and other forms of conflict.

What is most astonishing as concerns the specific case of Libya is that much of the supposed information upon which Americans are relying to make their judgments comes from none other than Al-Jazeera: a media organization that only a few years ago was being widely denounced, especially by conservatives, as the propaganda arm of al-Qaeda.

Michael speculates that several NATO allies, including the Italians, would be “happy to participate” in an American-led attack. There is reason to doubt this. Since I believe Michael reads Italian, I can refer him to an interview with Foreign Minister Franco Frattini that was published in yesterday’s edition of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

In it, Frattini emphasizes the general state of ignorance of western observers concerning the nature of the opposition to Gaddafi, and he refers, in particular, to the self-proclaimed “Islamic Emirate of East Libya.” “We do not know more [about it],” Frattini says, “But we know that they are dangerous. There are elements of al-Qaeda there. As consequence, in 2006 we decided to close the Italian consulate in Cyrenaica.” Moreover, Frattini predicts that if the current political system in Libya collapses, it will set off an “exodus of biblical proportions,” notably towards Italy and other European countries.

I can also refer Michael to Lorenzo Cremonesi’s report in the same edition of the Corriere. Cremonesi’s article makes it clear that the opposition to Gaddafi in the eastern part of the country is itself armed. Cremonesi reports seeing former soldiers and police (i.e. who have defected to the rebels) opening up “massive wooden crates containing bazookas and ammunition of all sorts of calibers.”

And, btw, the first images of protesters holding pictures of Gaddafi with Stars of David scrawled on them have also begun to appear.

(source: Al Arabiya)

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All Democrats? A report from Libya

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

Gabriele Riedle is a reporter for the German magazine GEO who was on assignment in Libya when the anti-Gaddafi protests broke out last week. She returned to Germany on Friday. Asked by Die Berliner Zeitung, a German daily, what the protesters are after, Riedle responded:

Not democracy, in any case. It is about power struggle, accounts to be settled, revenge. I did not meet a single person who spoke about democracy….The protests have developed their own dynamic. It has nothing to do with political will. Someone opens fire, then there is rage and mourning, then there is more shooting – and the situation escalates. Now there are demands that Gaddafi has to go. Well, of course: he is the one that sent in the army. What is interesting is our reflexive reaction: protests are good and they lead to democracy. But this is nothing more than CNN-style wishful thinking.

Among other sources of the anti-Gaddafi movement, Riedle mentions the fundamentalist Islamic Fighting Force and “war-like tribes in the east of the country who consider Gaddafi a jerk, because they consider anybody a jerk who has power over them.”

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The Time of the Brothers?

Friday, February 18th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

Not every one is so sanguine about the future of post-revolutionary Egypt or so sure that the Muslim Brotherhood will not play a major role in it. Below is the cover of the current issue of Jeune Afrique [Young Africa], a French magazine dedicated to African politics. The headline reads: “Egypt: The Time of the Brothers.”

In general, reporting on the Egyptian events in the French media has been as mind-numbingly uniform as in the American media. But Jeune Afrique has long marched to the beat of a different drummer. It is, for instance, one of the only major French print media – perhaps indeed it is the only one – to have published an extensive and critical examination of the Mohammed Al-Dura affair, and it did so already in 2005.

This latter fact should, by the way, give cause to pause to those commentators – including some on PJ Media – who like to affirm that all Arabs are inveterate Jew-haters and that is just the way it is. Although Jeune Afrique has its headquarters in Paris, it was in fact founded in Tunisia by the journalist and businessman Béchir Ben Yahmed. Ben Yahmed remained the editor-in-chief of the publication until 2007, and he remains the publisher to this day. In short, prejudice is never a good substitute for knowledge.

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Egyptian Official Who Banned Anti-Semitic Media Placed Under House Arrest

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

In my article yesterday on “Mubarak and Anti-Semitism: A Boomerang Effect?”, I discussed the banning by the Egyptian government of several private religious channels in October 2010. The channels affected by the ban included Al-Nas and Al-Rahma: two Islamist channels that were well known for broadcasting anti-Semitic diatribes. The government accused the channels of “incitement to religious hatred.” The charge may also have referred to incitement against Egypt’s own Coptic Christian population.

Referring to the ban, as well as warnings issued to twenty other religious channels, the then Egyptian Minister of Information Anas al-Fiqi explained:

These corrective measures are intended to protect the Egyptian and Arab peoples from broadcasters determined to make calls for murder, degradation of religious groups, and the endangerment of people living with serious illnesses – all in pursuit of profit and extremist ideologies. (Source: Al-Masry Al-Youm)

Responding to al-Fiqi’s charges, a spokesman for Al-Nas insisted, “These are vague accusations. Words like ‘terrorism,’ ‘extremism’ and ‘violence’ are very loose and lack precision. There is no evidence to prove this.”

For western sensibilities, of course, the very existence of a so-called Minister of Information is suspect. But it should be noted that in banning the channels accused by it of incitement, the Egyptian government was doing nothing different than what French authorities have also done in banning Al-Rahma, as well as the Lebanese channel Al-Manar, from French satellite television.

Although the Egyptian government of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik is reportedly continuing to conduct the business of state, one member of Shafik’s government is reported not only to have resigned, but to have been placed under house arrest: namely, the now former Minister of Information Anas al-Fiqi. A group known as the Arabic Network for Human Rights has accused Al-Fiqi of committing “incitement” against Egyptians. It appears to be payback time for the minister who dared to silence the Islamist channels.

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A Tweet from the Egyptian Revolution: ‘US pundits r fools’

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 - by John Rosenthal

A tweet from the pro-revolution Egyptian blogger and tweeter Hossam el-Hamalawy:

US pundits on TV saying Israel was not an issue in #Jan25 protests r fools. Did u listen to the chants in Tahrir or saw the banners?

(Hat-tip: Martin Kramer.)

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