Who will win leadership of Egypt?

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Everything about Egypt’s revolution has been unexpected, and the first-round results in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election are no different. The rise of former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, General Ahmad Shafiq, who will enter the presidential runoff alongside the Muslim Brothers (MB) candidate Mohamed Morsi, has raised eyebrows across the political spectrum. So did the meteoric rise of the Nasserist candidate Hamdin Sabbahi to third place, and the fourth-place finish of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who was backed by liberals and hardline Salafi Islamists alike.

Egypt’s voters overwhelmingly chose the revolution over the old regime, and shattered the myth that the push for change is an urban, middle-class, Cairo-based phenomenon: the eight revolutionary candidates received more than 16.4 million votes. But their failure to unite on a single platform directly benefited Shafiq, who unexpectedly won 5.9 million votes…

…In Upper Egypt, “more than 60% of Copts voted for him,” a source close to the Coptic Orthodox Church said, and in Coptic-majority areas, the pro-Shafiq vote exceeded 95%, because he was widely perceived as a bulwark against Islamism.

Moreover, many state employees…and their families supported Shafiq, owing either to direct instructions from their bosses, or to the perceived threat of creeping MB influence on government bureaucracies. And Shafiq received financing and support from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP), as well as from business and security interests that benefited from the status quo…

Egypt’s Islamists – the strongest political force on the ground, and the most repressed under Mubarak – have serious stakes in this election. But, rather than uniting to improve their chances, their popular support was split among three candidates, two of whom – Morsi and Aboul Fotouh – placed among the four front-runners…

If anything, the first-round results revealed the power of the non-Islamist revolutionary bloc, as well as Egyptians’ willingness to punish Islamists for their weak job performance in the parliament. Indeed, six out of ten Egyptians voted for Islamists in the parliamentary elections. That dropped to four in ten in the presidential election…

Whoever wins Egypt’s presidency will face severe obstacles in challenging the status quo, owing to the dominance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The president’s mandate was outlined by a constitutional declaration in March 2011, but the SCAF has said that a more detailed one would be forthcoming after the election.

Many crystal balls are predicting what will happen after the election. They provide baseless conclusions swerving one way or the other depending upon fear levels about the military, who they supported in the first round of voting. All to be expected in the confused and confusing days following overthrow of the Mubarak government.

RTFA for details of Omar Ashour’s brief analysis of each of the major candidates, their parties, the failure of both progressive and reactionary forces to achieve any unity. If they make it through the next few years without civil disaster, they should learn better, learn more about coalition campaigning.

Indefensible marriage act ruled unconstitutional for the 3rd time

A federal judge has boosted the campaign for gay marriage by overturning a law which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples.

Claudia Wilken, a district court judge for the northern district of California, ruled on Thursday that congress acted unconstitutionally in discriminating against gay couples in the 1996 Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA)…

Gay rights campaigners welcomed the ruling. “This adds to the momentum for overturning this radical and discriminatory law,” said Evan Wolfson, of Freedom to Marry, an advocacy group.

Wilken, a Clinton-era appointee based in Oakland, a liberal bastion, was the third federal judge to find Doma unconstitutional following a ruling by judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts in 2010 and one by judge Jeffrey White in California earlier this year…

DOMA, which was championed by opponents of gay marriage, defines marriage as “a legal union of a one man and one woman as husband and wife”. It withholds multiple federal benefits, including joint tax filing and immigration sponsorship, from gay couples legally married under state law.

Wilken said gays and lesbians were constitutionally protected from “burdensome legislation that is the product of sheer antigay animus and devoid of any legitimate governmental purpose“…

Wilken also overturned another 1996 law withholding federal tax benefits to long-term health insurance plans for state employees if they included domestic partners.

That, like Doma, was based on “moral condemnation and social disapprobation of same-sex couples,” she said. The judge cited congressional debate transcripts that same-sex domestic partnership was “an attack on the family” and would “undermine the traditional moral values that are the bedrock of this nation”.

Overdue. Of course.

The sort of bigots stuck into denying civil rights to Americans couldn’t care less about the history or value of our Constitution. All that is important to their narrow minds is retaining the sense of privilege their superstition values. Whether they feel “chosen” or “forgiven” is unimportant. All that counts in their petty lives is feeling somehow superior to some other American.

Their peers may choose color or religion or ethnic background as their target. This particular crowd relies on homophobia to justify their fear and hatred. They are all equally invalid and unconstitutional.

Stray dog completes 1700km China race

A stray dog has completed a 1700km journey across China after joining a cycle race from Sichuan province to Tibet.

The dog, nicknamed “Xiaosa”, joined the cyclists after one of them gave him food.

He ran with them for 20 days, covering up to 60km a day, and climbing 12 mountains.

Cyclist Xiao Yong started a blog about Xiaosa’s adventures, which had attracted around 40,000 fans by the end of the race.

Yong now hopes to adopt Xiaosa.

Bravo, Xiaosa

Researchers identify the earliest music instruments ever found

Mammoth ivory flute

Researchers have identified what they say are the oldest-known musical instruments in the world.

The flutes, made from bird bone and mammoth ivory, come from a cave in southern Germany which contains early evidence for the occupation of Europe by modern humans – Homo sapiens.

Scientists used carbon dating to show that the flutes were between 42,000 and 43,000 years old…

A team led by Prof Tom Higham at Oxford University dated animal bones in the same ground layers as the flutes at Geissenkloesterle Cave in Germany’s Swabian Jura.

Prof Nick Conard, the Tuebingen University researcher who identified the previous record-holder for oldest instrument in 2009, was excavator at the site. He said: “These results are consistent with a hypothesis we made several years ago that the Danube River was a key corridor for the movement of humans and technological innovations into central Europe between 40,000-45,000 years ago.

“Geissenkloesterle is one of several caves in the region that has produced important examples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imagery and musical instruments…”

The researchers say the dating evidence from Geissenkloesterle suggests that modern humans entered the Upper Danube region before an extremely cold climatic phase at around 39,000-40,000 years ago.

Previously, researchers had argued that modern humans initially migrated up the Danube immediately after this event.

Making music seated around a fire feels so natural – it must be a deep seated experience in our species history. Telling stories, sharing music – sharing a culture and keeping away those things that go boomp in the night. 🙂

The film director who’s not allowed to go to the movies

Haifaa Al Mansour has just directed one of the first feature films ever to be made in Saudi Arabia. But she won’t be able to watch it at her local theater, because cinemas are banned in the kingdom.

The film, called “Wadjda,” after its protagonist, is billed as the first to be filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia with an all-Saudi cast. It is currently in post-production and being touted for worldwide sales at the Cannes Film Festival.

Al Mansour, 39, worked for an oil company until the age of 30, when she decided to give up her job to pursue her passion.

“When I turned 30, I really wanted to have a voice,” said Al Mansour. “People don’t listen to women in Saudi, they just jump to the next man to speak. I loved films and just decided to become a filmmaker.”

She studied film in Sydney, Australia, and has previously made three short films and a documentary. She is Saudi Arabia’s first female film director…

The film, written and directed by Al Mansour, tells the story of an 11-year-old girl growing up in traditional society in the suburbs of Riyadh and desperate for a bicycle, which she’s not allowed…

Al Mansour hopes that Wadjda will help to change attitudes to both women and films in Saudi Arabia. “I hope it will inspire many girls in Saudi to become filmmakers,” she said. “That makes me very proud.

“People have contacted me with death threats, but that doesn’t matter to me. Everyone in the media business in Saudi receives death threats…”

She added: “There are a lot of kids who want to make films. There’s a whole generation using cameras and mobile phones and they are not cut off from the world around them.

“Once films become a reality, movie theaters will become a reality.”

No one is ever surprised about learning of the restrictions on freedom, freedom denied women, freedom denied for reasons of ethnicity of belief, birth or culture – in theocracies. Yet, we have no shortage of True Believers in the United States who spend their whole lives fighting to reduce the freedoms our Constitution protects, diminish the freedom of women, the freedom of choice in ways that wouldn’t seem out of place in Saudi Arabia or Sudan.

I hope – as in Saudi Arabia according to Al Mansour – the children of many American fundamentalists realize how misshapen life in their special sect has been in comparison to what they might create and enjoy in the real world. And change their world.

Alaskan crews start the task of clearing Japan tsunami debris

Cleanup workers will soon attack a jumble of debris from Japan’s 2011 tsunami that litters an Alaskan island, as residents in the state gear up to scour their shores for everything from buoys to building material that has floated across the Pacific.

The cleansing project slated to start on Friday on Montague Island is expected to last a couple weeks, and organizers say it marks the first major project in Alaska to collect and dispose of debris from the tsunami.

The March 2011 tsunami, caused by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, killed nearly 16,000 people and left over 3,000 missing on Japan’s main island of Honshu, and precipitated a major radiation release at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant…

While debris from Japan is also floating toward other U.S. states along the West Coast, Alaska has a more extensive shoreline, much of it difficult to reach.

Montague is an uninhabited island at the entrance to Prince William Sound, southeast of Anchorage. About a dozen volunteers and employees from the environmental group Gulf of Alaska Keeper and the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies will handle the debris-removal project at the island.

“We’ll probably remove 30 to 40 tons from there. That’s just a start,” said Patrick Chandler, special programs coordinator for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies.

Japan has estimated 5 million tons of debris was swept out to sea, but that most of it sank, leaving 1.5 million tons floating. Still, those figures are rough estimates, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

With more debris headed for the West Coast, questions about cleanup costs remain unanswered. Those expenses could be high in Alaska because of geographic and weather challenges.

Beachcombing was part of my life for a reasonable spell back in New England. It’s hard for most folks to imagine what comes ashore – from where – in the normal course of time. An event like the Fukushima Tsunami blows everything normal way
out of proportion.