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#OBL est mort

Something tells me Osama bin Laden would be furious to be reduced to a Twitter acronym. He who wanted to drop-kick society back 1,400 years to the Caliphate…with him as the Caliph, of course.

Oh, plus the Imam Mahdi, The Prophesied Redeemer Awaited By Followers. (Remind you of anybody?)

I found out about bin Laden’s death the old-fashioned way: by listening to people gossip on the London tube.

I had a semi-legitimate reason: they were speaking Arabic and I was happy about how much I understood, being happy at present with 20%.

Two of the guys were probably Egyptian, I surmised, and the other guy was something else and was learning Arabic very slowly with Rosetta Stone. They were talking about some other guy “yadros” (studying) “al-handasa” (engineering) at some “jami3ah” (university) − remember what I wrote before about what the 3s mean − somewhere in “Misr” (Egypt), but they pronounced it “MAH-sr,” and also pronounced certain consonants in a strange way.

Strange only if your professor is a native speaker of Levantine Arabic, although at Stanford you learn Egyptian Arabic, too, if for no other reason than to sing pop lyrics accurately.

One of the guys took a call on his mobile phone from “my mother” (walidati).

No clue about the 3rd guy, who turned out to work for Hewlett-Packard, which made the previous conversation suddenly make perfect sense…which is how it usually works when you’re learning a new language.

Still trying not to be obvious here, which is really hard to do in a virtually empty car en route to the airport on a bank holiday.

But then they started talking about dead people.

So, something about Libya and the number 6 and “son of”…could it be Colonel Qaddafi? Seriously?

So, it had to be Saif, not the Saif al-Islam we know and love but haven’t heard from on the news lately, thankfully (which probably means he evaded the sanctions/travel ban and is drinking margaritas on a beach somewhere), but Saif al-Arab, Qaddafi’s unimportant younger son.

(How frustrating it must’ve been for Saif al-Arab, overshadowed all his life by his younger brother Khamis, whose elite military brigade is even named after him.)

Saif al-Arab was apparently living at or near a NATO military target. So, the UN Security Council resolution is finally starting to hit Qaddafi close to home, after over a month of air strikes.

But the Egyptian guys weren’t done. Then they started talking about…Osama bin Laden? Haven’t heard that name in awhile, since he’d taken a break from sending rambling videos to Al Jazeera. Isn’t that evil cowardly murderer still hiding out in some cave in Afghanistan?

Not even close, as it turns out.

Having exhausted my Arabic, I had to come clean about my blatant eavesdropping and get the full news report in English.

The 2 guys were indeed Egyptian, and laughed when I told them on what basis I decided that.

Before we tell you anything, though, you need to answer some questions about how you came to study Arabic in the first place. Looking at you…well, I guess you never know.

Right back at you.

So, they caught me up on the morning’s events, with some astute political commentary absolutely free.

The Egyptians had a lot to say about the Pakistanis, little of it complimentary. They didn’t believe for a moment that #OBL had been living for several years within shouting distance of a military base and nobody suspected a thing.

Either they should be fired, or they were in on it. We voted unanimously for the latter.

Keep in mind that Egypt overthrew its dictatorship only 3 months ago and has a long way to go “to cut off all the tentacles of the octopus.” Although the #jan25 movement was successful partly because of the faith Egyptian citizens place in their military’s neutrality, they’re oh so familiar with rampant, inbred police corruption.

“Somebody was paying” to keep bin Laden’s presence a secret. Simple as that.

Egyptians’ new-found taste of freedom seems to make young people who actively participated in the revolution hyper-aware, even hyper-critical, of other countries that aren’t there yet, and may never be. These guys attributed Pakistan’s apparently duplicitous behavior to the fact that the USA gives the Pakistani military billions of dollars per year to find bin Laden, so it’s in their best interest to keep not finding him and cashing those checks.

Fair enough. However, the Egyptian military gets billions per year from the USA, too. Just because Mubarak is gone doesn’t mean that cash flow ends, or are you prepared to give that money back?


By this time, we’re at Hounslow Central station, just 3 stops from Heathrow.

The wrap-up: what can be the significance of this one man, especially this bin Laden, who by the looks of him seemed most likely to inspire absolutely no-one?

In a positive sense, Egypt’s one man was Wael Ghonim. Someone who, while not officially in charge of anything, exemplified the goals of the peaceful revolution and articulated it perfectly.

Then, after Mubarak resigned, went back to his day job at Google. (He’s since taken a sabbatical to start a technology non-profit in Egypt.)

By contrast, the job description bin Laden really wanted was The One Who Is Worshipped By True Muslims (as defined by him) Everywhere 24×7.

“9/11” is self-explanatory. Bin Laden was the mastermind behind the most devastating terrorist attack in American history, an attack he didn’t answer for until almost 10 years later.

Ten years he was alive and well and his victims in the Twin Towers, on the 4 airplanes, and at the Pentagon were not.

I don’t wish anyone’s death, but sometimes the world needs to rid itself of certain people and I think #OBL qualifies. The Egyptians put it this way: we’re all better off that he’s gone, that despicable low-life killer and misguided embarrassment to Islam.

He wasn’t Egyptian, al-hamdu lillah (“thanks be to God”)!

However, the threat he represented isn’t over. The moment we think it’s over, we’re all in serious trouble.

Whether it’s the transition to a newly democratic government, or the fight against terrorism in an established democracy, there will always be dynamic personalities whose life’s work is to undermine those ambitions. Self-styled leaders who attract like magnets an easily recruited − and easily replenished − farm team of weak-minded fanatics to do their dirty work.

Although Osama was thousands of miles away when 9/11 took place, it was his brainchild and he made sure the whole world knew that, and gave him credit.

Bin Laden’s naïve foot soldiers didn’t just stop believing in him as of early Monday morning. Al Qaeda wannabe successors – Yemen’s “regional commander” Anwar al-Awlaki, for example, who’s on the CIA target list and probably looking for a new HQ right about now − would jump at the chance to fill that power vacuum.

Meanwhile, Egypt is finding out that democracies are hard work! Standing your ground in Tahrir Square was the easy part. There are so many things you don’t have to decide and deal with if somebody else has been deciding and dealing with them for you for 30 years.

It’s like starting a workout routine when you’ve never exercised before. It’s going to hurt for awhile. You’re going to fall off the wagon.

Dictators, terrorists, and other undermine-ers are counting on you, us, and everybody else to get lazy and frustrated, and to lose our nerve (or our will, or both).

Push through it.

Two of this week’s best quotes:

From Syria: “I want to be a citizen who is accountable, and can hold accountable.”

From Ground Zero: “Obama 1, Osama 0.”

Listening to Mothers

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad: here’s the latest of your daily democracy wake-up calls. It’s at your own peril, this not listening to mothers.

When Syrian mothers, wives, and daughters marched in the city of Banias, demanding the release of men in their families who’d been arrested during demonstrations, 100 of the men were released the next day.

Nice sound bite for the media, but you know perfectly well that’s not nearly all of those you imprisoned, maybe less than 10% (and you’ve arrested 8,000 people to date). If you thought this would appease us, you didn’t listen very well.

Had you’d asked us, here’s what we really wanted for Syrian Mother’s Day, March 21st:

No more killing. No more brutalizing. No more justifying.

Because you know better, Bashar. We’re ashamed of you.

(Some of these men were released with injuries worthy of this sober Facebook observation: “This (photos attached) is what can happen to you in custody of the Syrian secret police for less than 24 hours.”)

Mothers took to the streets of Damascus again on Monday (despite being attacked by Assad’s security forces in Arnon Square on Saturday). Because we know once Mom gets an idea in her head, there’s just no stopping her.

Particularly when it comes to protecting her loved ones and making sure they keep on the straight and narrow, goals that aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sometimes the worst threat you can make to criminals is not that they’ll go to jail. It’s that you’ll tell their mothers ‒ or grandmothers ‒ about the bad things they did.

Because, I’m telling you, Ma’am: that there is a fate worse than death.

Questions mothers ask, even if you’re in your 30s and 40s: are you dressing warmly (take an extra fleece)? taking your vitamins (here’s a year’s supply)? being careful when you go bungee jumping, night diving, and ice climbing? (please spare me the details)

I’m not going to stop you from building that kit airplane (and test-flying it afterwards with your equally worrisome brother), but I’m going to worry about you the whole time, and that’s my prerogative.

I told you a million times growing up: Because I’m The Mom.

When you’re the mom or dad, you’ll worry, too. My dearest wish for you is that you’ll have kids exactly like yourselves, and then you’ll see why all that worrying was justified.

Mom Herting, we love you for it, despite your dearest wish probably coming true. Starting soon.

Although there are people I’d rather be a little less related to than others, I know I’ll hear from readers who lost the family lottery and have chosen their own families from among friends, colleagues, and extended others.


Bravo to my mom, who was a “chosen mom” to 11 kids who were at our house for various periods and reasons over the past 35+ years. I counted: we’re still in touch with 7 of them.

Bravo to a friend of my sister’s and mine, who recently posted some new family photos on Facebook that included a teenage girl I’d never seen before. (She and her husband are parents of toddlers.) Turns out, this teenager is the child of a child our friend’s parents took in years ago.

They’d staged an intervention and the biological mother agreed it was the best thing.

Catching kids about to be casualties of adult-created disasters, and caring for kids almost grown up, having never learned the meaning of that word, continues in our friend’s family to a 2nd generation.

Which reminds me of another mother’s funeral I attended a few years ago. When I arrived, I was ushered up to one of the front rows. Since I wasn’t family, I couldn’t figure out why.

Until I looked at all the other people sitting in those rows and realized that none of them were family, either.

We were all friends of her children, and their children. Cousins many times removed. Kids she’d taught in elementary school. One boy who’d come over for a weekend sleepover and whose mother just never came to pick him up.

So he stayed. For the duration. Come to think of it, he gave one of the eulogies.

His mother, not in quotes, had specified this seating plan in her funeral arrangements.

Then there are some loving mothers who, tragically, have to bury their sons. Like Khaled Said’s mother, Laila Marzok.

Khaled Said, whose brutal, senseless murder at the hands of Egyptian police so enraged Egyptian youth that they launched a peaceful pro-democracy revolution that successfully ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak in February.

On the last night of his life, Khaled had encouraged his mother to go out and visit her sister, and she had. She came home around midnight to find him not there.

Uncharacteristically, he didn’t come home, or call. His mobile phone went directly to voice mail. Sensing something was wrong, she went down to the cafés along the seaside to look for him.

There she found his friends. She asked them whether they’d seen Khaled. They looked at her strangely.

You didn’t know? they said. He’s in the morgue.

…and she screamed and screamed, not believing.

The Egyptian police had dragged Khaled out of one of those cafés, beating him mercilessly before carrying him away. The business owners nearby had tried to intervene and in doing so had been attacked themselves.

Mrs. Marzok then went to the morgue to identify her son…and hardly recognized him. (Good news today: Dr. ElSibaei, Egypt’s top autopsy and forensic specialist, who fabricated the results of Khaled Said’s autopsy to favor the police version of events, has just been fired.)

It’s difficult to believe in a cause when you’re the one who has to lose a loved one in its defense, yet still she believes. She thinks of her son every day, and the life he could’ve had in a democratic Egypt, but she knows it’s what he would’ve wanted.

So, on Egyptian national TV, she put her arms around a young man her son’s age who will have that chance.

…and she demonstrated in Tahrir Square for 2 weeks with Khaled’s friends and peers. “I will stand with them,” she told BBC (with an English voice-over), “and be their mother.”

This is Mother’s Day season around the world. American kids, heads up: Sunday May 8th is this weekend. I’m bound to get testy emails from people whose mothers live far away and didn’t get those cards and flowers in the mail already.

Thanks for nothing, Jeanette, for posting this reminder too late.

Hey, I’m not your mother.

For expatriates in France, remember that Mother’s Day is May 29th this year and La Fête des Mères follows quickly afterward on June 7th.

No, a single gift, bouquet, and dinner will not cover both events. Do not offend your future French mother-in-law over this.

Then there are mothers who shouldn’t be mothers to anyone…like Ms. Mixon, name unknown. (There’s a good reason why she might want to be vague about that.)

In 2009, her son Lovelle shot and killed 4 Oakland, California police officers and injured a 5th…and raped 2 young women…all on the same day.

Afterwards, she marched in a vigil in his honor, at which he was called a “hero” and his killing “genocide.” Police shouldn’t have shot him because he was a good boy.

Face it, Ms. Mixon: your son was a monster. He was a one-man crime machine.

How fortunate he was stopped, permanently, before he hurt anybody else. (After his death, he was implicated by DNA for several other felonies.) Because he would’ve, and in your heart you know that.

And I think so did she.

My freshman year at university, this kindly older lady worked in the admissions office. A mothering type to students who needed help navigating the mysteries of enrollment, which turned out to be almost as difficult as getting a degree itself.

I heard that some of the staff had donated money to her son’s defense fund. He was in prison for some terrible crimes, but because everybody loved this secretary, as she called herself (although that job title had already served its time), they gave willingly.

No way could that sweet lady have a child who did any of the awful things he was accused of. Surely her son had been unfairly targeted in some cruel miscarriage of justice.

That lady was Louise Bundy. Her son’s name was Ted.

The Pharaonic Lost & Found

“Marhaba. Abdul here. Look, I have this hot merchandise…”

Antiquities are big business. Big tourism business. Big spoils-of-war business.

Scenario #1: After I crush you ‒ or “save” you, depending on my perspective ‒ I plan to rifle through your best museums and take whatever looks expensive and desirable. (Fortunately, some of the most priceless artifacts in any museum don’t look like much, unless you know what you’re looking at.)

Scenario #2: Since the Cairo police will be occupied elsewhere for awhile and the power is out all over town, which means museum security systems are down and museum guards are probably out demonstrating at Tahrir Square anyway, what could I casually carry away in a backpack that there might be a market for elsewhere?

Later. And I’m not talking about an auction at Christie’s.

My friend Hanan in Baghdad, whose specialty is Iraqi antiquities tourism, knows all too well that maybe a few people do steal antiquities and have a change of heart, or steal on a consignment that doesn’t work out, but often antiquities that are found later were probably stolen on impulse and had to be left behind when the thieves “left town in a hurry,” or were arrested or killed.

So, after the dust settles ‒ in one case, after a family moved back into their own home after it had been hijacked by bad guys for over a year ‒ did they discover, hey, the squatters left a bunch of their stuff! This thing looks like it should be…in a museum?

We’re not art historians and we don’t recall studying this specific artifact in school, but it must be important or somebody wouldn’t have bothered to steal it. Let’s call over to the National Museum and see if they’re missing anything.

Thus, over time, priceless stolen artifacts return for study by serious people, archeologists and academics, and for enjoyment ‒ no, thrill ‒ by Indiana Jones wannabes like myself.

(Some antiquities are gone forever, we know. Into the hands of selfish private collectors, some of whom, ironically, reside in the very same region from which the artifacts are stolen in the first place.)

I remember when the Tutankhamun exhibit first came to Los Angeles when I was a kid. My Grandma Bel, from whom I got my love of cooking and history, took me to see it.

I was mesmerized.

Go ahead, ask me anything about King Tut and his crazy family. Or about the myth of Isis and Osiris. Or about Hatshepsut, Egypt’s most famous woman Pharaoh.

Ramesses III is worth talking about again lately, too, given that he seems to be the first ruler in recorded history ever to experience a labor strike…over meager food supplies, which as is turned out was partially his fault, since he fed all his favorite people first, and partially the fault of a far-distant volcanic eruption.

We’re talking around 1200 BC. Not counting artifacts from Native American tribes ‒ I like the Canadian term, First Nations ‒ the best we can do in the USA is about 400 years old.

To Egyptians, that’s last week.

Newness works for us, though, and is one of the attitudes we’ve successfully ‒ and are sometimes proud to have ‒ exported. New ideas that everybody else thinks are ‒ and we’re being nice here ‒ weird (and sometimes they’re right, right up until one of them make a billion dollars), new technological and sociological trends, new ways of working around old problems.

Egyptian Freedom By Facebook, for example.

2011 AD technology might’ve won Egyptians independence, but it’s 2011 BC artifacts and Pharaonic sites that will drive tourism in the new Egyptian market economy.

As we’re observing these new democracies emerge, the best way we can help ‒ aside from keeping a lookout in VIP airport lounges for those missing museum pieces, an effort that just screams for its own podcast, “Artifacts Most Wanted” ‒ is to visit these countries ourselves.

See natural wonders you’ve seen only on the Discovery Channel. Meet the brave people who are changing the political landscape of North Africa and the Middle East. Visit in their rightful places the antiquities of those ancient civilizations, because one way to gain valuable insight into a society is by learning about what it considers precious, and why.

Egyptians on Facebook, who’ve take lately to signing off, “From Egypt With Love,” remind us daily that tourism in Egypt is a surprisingly good value right now. 50% off the sale price!

For inexperienced travelers, maybe wait a few months and see how things shake out with the secret police, but for those of us with a few more stamps in our passports, there’s just no excuse for not stopping by.

This week. Come on, it’s Spring Break!

Dr. Zahi Awass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, is the man on the mission to make Egyptian antiquities tourism worth your while.

According to him, on the first official day of demonstrations (January 25), 8 items were stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. 4 of them have since been recovered.

Probably the most recognizable of these: the limestone statue of King Akhenaten, the father of King Tut. This statue dates from the Amarna Period, which, if you’ve been out of school awhile, was in the mid 1300s BC.

One day at the demonstration, a teenage protestor in Tahrir Square found the statue of King Akhenaten and brought it home with him. His family immediately recognized it and organized its safe return.

Somebody give that kid a medal. And a scholarship in archeology.

Free Membership, Low-Tech Dictators Association

“Dear Libyana mobile phone customer, your account has been credited with 1 million rollover minutes.”

See, when you’re coordinating a revolution online and the regime blocks Facebook, you just can’t afford to run out of minutes during a critical “how to set up your own city council” conference call with a city 800 miles away that your fellow protesters just liberated overnight.

In this spirit of democratic change, everyone contributes what they can. So, if I’m an employee of a major cellular carrier in Libya, for example, I might just hack my own employer…and top up the minutes of every customer in the country…and then tell an Al Jazeera reporter I did that, so the whole world except Qaddafi knows that, while cell service in Libya is still painfully slow and intermittent, we’re back on the grid.

Please keep trying.

Qaddafi assumed that when he shut down Libyan telecommunications services, they stayed down. He should’ve subscribed to @telecomix on Twitter, in which a worldwide collaboration of hackers, who in their day jobs are probably cruising the MI-6 intranet, have been saying (modestly) for weeks: “We come in peace. Send us your blocked sites.”

Because there’s so much news and so little time.

In 2 short weeks, Libyans have achieved the impossible: they’ve turned a violent 42-year despot into a trapped and desperate has-been, ruler of a city-state, who’s lost basically every friend he ever had.

Facebook editorial: it’s actually Qaddafi who’s achieved the impossible. “He made Mubarak look dignified and Ben Ali look like a genius.”

Here’s 1 hour’s worth of news out of Libya: we’re in full control this city, we’ve captured this airport, and we now run these radio and TV stations, so tune in at these frequencies and channels.

(Benghazi Protest Radio, which was liberated on February 18 and I’ve been listening to ever since, initially suffered from “broadcast challenges.” Every time Qaddafi’s IT department brought it down, @telecomix brought it right back up. Dozens of times. To state the obvious: “US State Dept provides $30 million for Internet Freedom; why bother when @telecomix does it better for free?”)

Currently we’re broadcasting in Arabic only, but please pass the word to qualified candidates that we have job openings for multilingual on-air talent.

Our newest offering: listen on the Internet to recorded audio clips from Libyans themselves, thanks to the Feb 17 Voices Campaign.

Bottom line, from now on, you’ll be hearing real Libyan news, not some make-believe drivel fabricated out of thin air by people keen to keep their jobs, and presumably their heads.

Reports that Qaddafi took revenge on demonstrators by poisoning the water supply thankfully turned out to be false, but he’s been taking the lowest of the low roads in other despicable and well-documented ways, including hiring non-Libyan mercenaries to attack civilians and ordering live fire, from land and air, on peaceful protesters…

…because al-Qaeda is right over there on the grassy knoll, handing out hallucinogenic drugs and ready to invade us.

But here’s Qaddafi, like Mubarak a charter member of the Low-Tech Dictators Association, who imagines that if brute force doesn’t put the fear of Allah in people, threatening to shut down all kinds of basic services will for sure. ”Ya salaam, he really thinks after trying to KILL people, threatening that the gas stations will close will scare them.”

No electricity just means that your live-at-the-demonstration iPhone photos and videos don’t have very good color contrast after dark. (You can still get great audio, though.)

Assuming landlines might stay alive for awhile, somebody proactively posted on Facebook the phone number/password for a dial-up Internet workaround for Libya via Germany via France via wherever works at the moment and while you’re busy trying to cut us off, we’re creating more and more mirrors and mirrors of everything.

Democracy Social Networking version 2.0 for North Africa and the Middle East has been on the market for weeks, with the Yemen point release due shortly, and Qaddafi hasn’t even installed version 1.0 yet.

Gotta love these late adopters.

Libya had only a few days to mull over technology “lessons learned” from the Egyptian independence movement and its aftermath, and to tweak the system to work for them, but they have a huge tactical advantage: 80 million Egyptian cheerleaders, and Egypt’s 500 million cheerleaders, providing technical advice, encouraging words, and WIDE publicity of the Libyan pro-democracy movement among its loyal worldwide following.

Not to mention the field-tested “speak2tweet,” a slick Twitter/Google/SayNow solution developed for Egypt over a weekend to deal with exactly this situation and that has become the go-to app for those super-annoying-but-ultimately-ineffective social media blackouts.

Qaddafi, making people go to all that trouble motivates them to tweet even more about all the bad stuff you’re doing. Probably not quite what you had in mind.

To other card-carrying LTDA members: this pro-democracy social media thing is just going to keep getting better and better with each sequential overthrow (of you all).

So, heads of Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iran, Morocco, Oman, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen (plus Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Uganda, whose democracy-minded citizens are looking north and giving it serious thought): heads up. You’re just about to find this out the hard way, and there’s nothing much you can do about it except a) realize your time has passed, and step down gracefully, or b) try brutalizing your own people and get the “Qaddafi Treatment.”

Turns out, Egypt had been the tech hub of the Libyan revolution before anybody realized there was going to be one. Time reported last week that people had been driving over from Libya to hit Internet cafés on the Egyptian border.

Let’s upload some incriminating photos and videos. Hand off flash drives to friends and relatives who live in Cairo or Alexandria. Smuggle out a few SIM cards while we’re here. Our very own technology chain reaction to keep the protest news flowing.

“Bluetooth to Bluetooth.” No, Qaddafi, nothing to do with dentistry.

It must’ve been all those student exit visas I approved! I never realized a couple hundred Libyan graduates of MIT and Stanford Business School could turn out to be so problematic.

As much as the Libyan population hates Dictator Sr., it’s safe to say they hate Dictator Jr. just as much. Right as he’s saying on Libyan state TV, “I speak no lies, I speak truthfully, people are trying to create another Egypt, start a Facebook revolution.” his fellow Libyans are tweeting back: “D*mn straight!”

Besides recommending that he fire his ghostwriter before his next speech…

“in case you missed it cartoon channel is showing it again tomorrow morning.”

“In London Economics School they learnt to be so stupid as Saif is?”

“He is threatening tribalism, hunger, civil war, terrorism, foreign power, Islamist, drugs, foreigners…I think he is trying to be both a Mubarak and Ben Ali.”

…and how dare you insult our friends! “I’m afraid of the Libya Egypt conflict since he threatened the Egyptian sense of humor.”

Qaddafi & Son’s latest aggressions simply emboldened the demonstrators and convinced the UN Security Council to take unprecedented steps to protect them…and their right to kick out already the guys who really are taking hallucinogenic drugs!

Colonel: only a few of your fellow Low-Tech Dictators still sing your praises, while they’re secretly opening bank accounts in Barbados and booking open-date tickets to Nicaragua. Those foolish enough not to make other plans might end up in, demonstrators warn, “the Arab Dictator Zoo we’re planning to start later.”

Meanwhile, everyone else, keep sending the same message to Libya as you did to Egypt during those last crucial days before independence.

#libya #feb17: Yalla! You can do it!

Facebook Kids Post on Dictators Wall: You’re Next

An Egyptian guy, a distance acquaintance ‒ a friend of a friend of a colleague from Nigeria ‒ who read my post Mabruk Ya Misr! and no doubt realized he’d better use very simple sentences in Arabic, wrote, “I like your blog. Please write about torture.” How to stamp out police brutality and revenge against political activists and how to help all victims of atrocities.

I responded in English, “Believe me, I plan to write about torture in Egypt. But, fair warning: I’m going to write about ALL kinds of torture, not just political. Sexual violence, trafficking, honor killings, female circumcision, etc. ALL of it.”

“Yes, yes. Please start today.” (Can’t miss that.)

I hope to graduate from Arabic kindergarten soon, but I definitely understand an insult when I hear one.

Gamal Mubarak, son of former ‒ I love the sound of that ‒ Egyptian dictator Hosni, was immortalized on YouTube in what’s got to be some of the most pathetic, ironic statements ever made by a politician.

He laughed at and made fun of the Egyptian demonstrators, who he called the “Facebook Kids.”

A few hundred thousand “Facebook Kids” of all ages, from all over the world, who’d just helped boot Gamal’s dad out of office, posted on ‒ you guessed it ‒ Facebook: Who’s laughing now?

Since the Evening Standard kindly published your secret London address, Gamal, Facebook Kids are at this moment organizing a protest outside your house, demanding the return of their rightful billions. (Directions for demonstrators: Piccadilly line to Knightsbridge.)

Check your messages (by clicking the middle icon in your Facebook header, not the little people icon and not the globe icon), George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and Friends: “regime change” doesn’t require massive military brigades, we’re not really sure how many lives lost, and billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money frittered away on we’re not really sure what, over 8 long years and counting.

(There were casualties of war for Egypt’s freedom, too. Over 300 dead. More injured. An unknown number still in prison who must be released, or at least accounted for. Although it could’ve been much worse, that’s precious little comfort to those families.)

But ask Facebook Kids how to accomplish regime change in less than 1% of that time, with no cash, no backing (at their insistence), no official anything. All you need are voices, laptops, social media technology, Friends, and that critical skill about which President Obama was hassled endlessly during the 2008 election: community organizing.

The game-changer: young Egyptians, and the seamless folding in of citizens of different religions, backgrounds, social status, educations, even ethnicities, who believed change was possible.

(I found it interesting that when Iran congratulated the Muslim Brotherhood on their “Islamic Revolution,” exactly 32 years to the day after the overthrow of the Shah, they made it clear this was an Egyptian victory and the date was just a coincidence. We’ll see how they still feel about coincidences once they’re part of a coalition government.)

Here’s the nay-sayer’s view: OK, Facebook Kids, you did topple a long-entrenched dictator. We grudgingly respect your non-violent, expeditious method of accomplishing that. But what comes next? You don’t have the skills or experience to create and run a civil government in the Middle East.

You’re saying that you DO? Really?

Look at the hash you’ve made of Iraq. You guys, of all people, have no business telling Egyptians, Freedom + 1 Week, that it can’t be done.

Because Facebook Kids adore people who underestimate us, whether it be the former regime now trying unsuccessfully to find a safe place to land with their stolen billions, or a self-serving world power who screwed it up despite pretty much unlimited resources and will continue to do so until the American people and the “coalition of the (un)willing” have the nerve to yank your chain on your outrageous defense overspending in the 2011 budget that, let’s face it, a majority of which is going directly into the pockets of “the devils we know.”

Not to mention wearing out your welcome. You’re like the rude dinner guests who just won’t leave despite hints, subtle and blatant, and who think that just because you brought the biggest casserole means you get to decide when the party ends.

Tunisia gave Egypt more motivation than it probably realized at the time. Egypt’s stunning, lightning-speed success has kicked off an incredible pro-democracy domino effect that’s unfolding by the minute. Demonstrations in Yemen, Algeria, Iran, and Bahrain are leaving presidents, kings, emirs, and supreme leaders of such-and-such all over North Africa and the Middle East scrambling for cover.

Refer to the “Democracy Watch” links in my right sidebar for the latest news, video or live feed, and even annotated Google maps of where demonstrations are taking place at this very moment. Syria sentencing teenage blogger and Facebook Kid Tal al-Mallohi to 5 years in prison for writing social commentary, much like I write on this blog, could bring Syria into play shortly.


If I thought I had an iron grip on my “constituents,” I’d start looking over my shoulder to see how soon the Facebook Kids were coming for me.

For Egypt, now comes the hard part. Nobody, Egyptians least of all, questions that reality.

Not only are there political parties to be formed and a plethora of voices to be heard, there’s a lot of residual housekeeping on the to-do list. Institutionalized corruption is a hard habit to break, as is 30 years worth of cronyism. Plenty of people who Friended Mubarak are still in positions of authority and hoping to stay under the radar, although the “yes, you, too” arrests have begun.

The Egyptian police, jumping to the other side of the fence now and protesting themselves (for better pay and working conditions), still must be held to account for the innocent people they brutalized, imprisoned, and murdered pre-February 11th.

The other forms of torture I mentioned earlier, committed almost solely against women and children, will be even harder to end, since they involve much more than just law enforcement turning a blind eye.

Some persist because “Since there are never any legal consequences, I’ll do whatever I want,” same as I wrote about Kenya. Some are religiously justified and persist despite respected religious leaders saying they’re “prohibited, prohibited, prohibited” and no part of any doctrine. Some persist due to cultural norms and/or family pressure.

These problems are far bigger than today’s post, but here’s the bottom line: the ability to count on the police to call out and punish torturers ‒ whatever they’re doing, wherever they’re found ‒ will be proof that a truly democratic society is emerging in Egypt.

Facebook Kids will demand it.

Facebook Kids are pressing the caretaker military government to end torture ‒ not only those who do it with no fear of punishment, but those who stand by and watch it and do nothing ‒ and to end those despicable emergency laws. But it’s going to take a group effort ‒ Facebook Kids plus finally-with-the- democracy-program grownups ‒ to make sure those demands to end torture weren’t left behind, unresolved, in Tahrir Square.

Holding new leaders’ feet to the fire about torture in Egypt and in other emerging democracies in Africa and the Middle East is going to take everybody, everywhere. Friends of Friends of Friends times forever.

Starting today.

Mabruk Ya Misr!

(“Congratulations, Egypt!”) I knew I studied Arabic for a reason.

Yesterday, February 11, 2011: Egypt’s Independence Day.

On January 25th, an Egyptian-American former colleague forwarded me a link to a Facebook page. “This is going to be important,” her email said.

What an incredible, beautiful underestimation.

Here’s the English version of the Arabic Facebook page that kicked off the revolution in Egypt, called “We are all Khaled Said” and administered by a guy we now know as Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian and Google marketing exec based in Dubai, whose tearful interview on Egyptian TV − here’s the New York Times version with English subtitles − the day he was released from jail made me tear up, too, and breathed new life into the revolt.

Hundreds of thousands of us have been watching, and “liking,” this page for 3 weeks, thinking this was going to be a long, drawn-out thing and it would be just as important to keep the online momentum alive as to keep the streets and squares filled with people who just weren’t going to give up, period.

Mubarak tried every tactic in his outdated playbook to avoid losing the power that had allowed him to pocket billions in stolen cash, which he’d hid partially in Swiss banks. (The Swiss, quickly realizing they were on the losing side, quickly froze his accounts.)

First he said he’d give up a few powers. Then he said he’d increase salaries by 30%. In an 11th-hour Hail Mary pass, he’d had his VP tell everyone to go home.

No, it’s YOU who should be going home, somewhere far away from Egypt and we don’t really care where. !!!ارحل ارحل ارحل (“Leave, leave, leave!!!”)

OK, now you’ve gone beyond ridiculous. We’re not remotely afraid to tell you anymore that you’re out of touch and out of time. And Al Jazeera (English version) is going to be on the air 24×7 reminding you of that. (Who ever thought Al Jazeera would turn out to be one of the good guys in this story?)

Then, to the amazement of everyone, it was almost too easy.

The comments on Facebook, Twitter, and assorted other venues yesterday ranged from euphoric − “We are free! Thanks God!” (because in Arabic there’s no verb “to be”) − to hilarious − “Consensus emerges amongst top twitter hubs: 1 dictator a month please…” − to profane − “That was an awesome a** kicking knockout.”

To spiritual − “The lion rose up and roared!” − to fair warning − “To friends of Mubarak: step down, or we will step you down.”

To practical: “Egyptians now offer their services to all nations: Your dictator down in 3 weeks or your money back! ;-)”

Can’t you just see the Revolutions ‘R Us Social Media Marketing and Technology Workaround Toolkit (with multi-lingual user manual) back-ordered on

Some publicity-addicted, no-value-added American pundits, who are so geographically challenged that they don’t realize Egypt, while an Arab country, is on the African continent, immediately jumped to the conclusion that in the power vacuum of Egypt will arise an Islamic fundamentalist regime.

Folks, don’t forget this “stability” you’ve enjoyed for the past 3 decades came at a price you didn’t personally have to pay: the price of risking being hauled out of your bed in the middle of the night, any night at all, and “disappeared.”

(Or out of an Internet cafe, as Khaled Said was, and tortured and killed as he begged for mercy. Only if you have a really strong stomach should you look at the before and after photos of what the police did to him and realize why his brutal murder was what pushed the protesters over the edge.)

The price of never being able to start a business, or even to find meaningful work. The price of never having your vote count for anything.

As Wael famously said, you foreign powers have let − even encouraged − this to go on for 30 years. Please don’t start interfering now.

Sure, a radical Islamic regime is possible, and dangerous. You really think politically secular Egyptians haven’t already thought of that?

All they have to do is look over at Iran and see how and why NOT to let that happen. Facebook response to anyone with such ideas: “Warning: we can have 1 million people in Tahrir again within 1 day.”

Just like American voters said in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid.” There is a way to have a majority Muslim secular society. Look at Turkey. They’re on the 10-year plan to be considered for membership in the EU. Bloomberg noted in early February that if Egypt had a free market economy, it would take it only a few years to surpass Turkey.

Take a moment to ponder that potential.

Despite yesterday’s huge-by-anyone’s-standards win, democracy in Egypt is by no means guaranteed, and there as many pitfalls between here and there as there were demonstrators, and supporters of the movement, during these last 3 weeks. Activists risking their lives and livelihoods for the potential of a free Egypt.

But it’s important to remember that the world is vastly different than it was in 1979…

…because Facebook and Twitter and like-minded enterprises have engineers and marketers with skills to swerve around old-school, rent-a-thug tactics…

…and a generation of educated people who can’t find jobs saying, “I want the same opportunities as those other guys. What do I have to do to get that?”

We Are All Khaled Said: “We will build a new Egypt. A new fair, free & just Egypt for all.”

This Facebook page is staying alive − “with your permission,” posted the admin − to discuss how to help Egypt’s economy and victims of the regime, as well as transitioning to civil government. As I write this, in less than 24 hours, there are 768 comments, ideas, and offers of help.

Muammar Qaddafi must be feeling mighty uncomfortable right now, Libya squeezed between Egypt and Algeria, where they’re wasting no time making Abdelaziz Bouteflika mighty uncomfortable, too. Today, just 1 day after Mubarak’s resignation, is Algeria’s largest demonstration yet. Libya and Iran − no, that’s not a typo − plan to demonstrate on Monday.

Algeria and Yemen are competing for who’s next up to bat in the democracy game. If you guys did it in 18 days, we can do it in 17. Just watch us.

For all his religious education, Mubarak apparently neglected to memorize one critical verse in the Koran: “And he was arrogant, he and his soldiers, in the land, without right, and they thought that they would not be returned to Us. So We took him and his soldiers and threw them into the sea.

So see how was the end of the wrongdoers.”