Saddam's daughter and the woman behind her
Two days ago Saddam Hussein's trial resumed. The prosecution presented a summary of its case and demanded the death sentence. It has been a long and rather boring trial, with the result is known in advance. Judge Raouf Abd al-Rahman, short-tempered and blunt, informed the defense team that 28 defense witnesses were enough, because "if they cannot convince, then neither can 100 witnesses." We have to move on, there are dozens of other senior Ba'ath party figures awaiting trial, millions of documents from the Saddam era have yet to be read and historians want to start writing the new Iraq's historical memoirs. In the absence of any real innovations, this trial has in the meantime provided a few refreshing curiosities.
One of them is Attorney Bushra Khalil, the only woman on Saddam's defense team. Khalil is a Lebanese Shi'ite, which means she should be among the last of the attorneys willing to defend Saddam. However, Khalil, who receives death threats daily, is a family friend. Saddam's daughter Raghad asked Khalil to defend her father, after Khalil took part in demonstrations against the sanctions on Iraq. Khalil, along with Ramsey Clark and Holocaust-denier Michel Garaudy, was a member of the organization called the World Committee for the Removal of Sanctions Against Iraq. Twice she ran in the elections for the Lebanese parliament, in 1996 and 2000, and lost both times. The second time, Hezbollah preferred to support another Shi'ite candidate.
She was ejected from the Baghdad court three times for behavior the court president called insolent. Once she argued, "This court is American even though it refers to itself as Iraqi." The second time she waved a picture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison being humiliated and tortured by American soldiers, and the third time she claimed there was a Jew on the prosecution because those offering behind-the-scenes advice were American Jewish lawyers. Khalil says she was the first lawyer to volunteer to defend Saddam and that everyday she receives songs of praise from Iraqi citizens on her cellular phone. In the end, when Saddam is found guilty, she will probably be there to absorb some of the blame herself. Inadequate representation after all is an acceptable argument.
An Israeli computer
Last Friday a delegation of Druze dignitaries from the Lebanese town of Hasbiyeh came to see President Emile Lahoud. "We disassociate ourselves from any villager or Druze who betrayed the state," they told President Emile Lahoud and presented him with a small gift, the book "The Ansar Prison - the Great Challenge."
Hasbiyeh is a beautiful farming town known for its fine olive oil. Visitors to the town can choose from at least five restaurants on the banks of the Hasbani River, next to the Shihab Palace, which started off as a fortress in the 12th century. But apart from that, Hasbiyeh is not usually chronicled. Occasionally a Druze member of parliament complains that Lebanese governments have not looked after the town ever since the IDF withdrew, a senior government official shows up there and declares that from now on the situation will change, and then the town returns to its slumbering state.
Up until last Monday, when Hasbiyeh along with the rest of Lebanon, came alive upon hearing the shocking report that a spy ring that had worked for the Mossad was responsible for several killings in Lebanon. The last was on May 26 when the brothers Nadal and Mahmoud Majzoub, activists in the Islamic Jihad organization, were killed. The antagonist of the story, it turns out, is a Druze resident of Hasbiyeh, Mohammed Rafa. According to suspicions, he was working with Hussein Suleiman Hatab, who apparently fled to Israel, according to Lebanese intelligence.
"Only a few countries in the world accomplished such an important intelligence coup," the president congratulated the army commanders who exposed the spy ring. According to Lebanese weekend newspaper reports, there was no Lebanese official who did not sent congratulatory letters to the intelligence chiefs, the army or the government. The list of items found in Rafa's Hasbiyeh home is also impressive: a laptop computer that is "a product of Israel," an air conditioner concealing explosives, an amplifier, a cellular phone allegedly used to detonate the explosives in the Majzoub brothers car, Lebanese army uniforms used in previous assassinations, a television stand with a concealed drawer with communications equipment, two more desks with concealed drawers and communications devices, documents, a forged documents including a driver's license, and suitcases with hidden pockets where forged documents were uncovered.
With such convincing evidence alongside the confession of Rafa, who told his interrogators that the Mossad recruited him in 1994, there is little doubt that this is an Israeli operation, and it will now require a thorough investigation by the Mossad to ascertain what went wrong. Equally interesting are the reactions to the ring's exposure. These can be divided between supporters and opponents of Syria, between Hezbollah members and Druze and Christians. Thus, for example, "it is obvious" that the leader of the socialist party, Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, is a traitor because he is anti-Syrian and opposes Hezbollah's policy, and therefore he is "pro-Israel." After all "it has been proven" that a Druze headed the spy ring, and what could be easier than tying all the loose ends together and uniting all of the guilty parties under one political-ethnic banner?
But if Hezbollah and Syria supporters can weave a single braid of accusations, the same is also true of the Christians and supporters of the Hariri bloc in parliament. They have already argued that the rapid uncovering of the spy ring indicates the bad intentions of Lebanese intelligence. After all, how did they expose such a sophisticated network so quickly, yet were not able to uncover the preparations for Rafik Hariri's assassination and the murder of several Lebanese journalists?
There is an answer for this as well. According to pro-Syrian sources, it is not unreasonable to suspect that Israel was behind last year's assassinations of Lebanese journalists Samir Kasir and Jubran Twaini, in order to frame Syria and create a rift with Lebanon. Therein also lies the difficulty in uncovering the truth about these sophisticated killings. And if Israel was responsible for them, the speakers say, then perhaps the threat of sanctions against Syria should be lifted.
Best 22 years of my life
Rania Hussein Tawfiq has been registered for several years as a student at Bani Sawif University's law faculty in southern Egypt. The Egyptian "south" is not just a geographic reference. This area is considered the seat of conservatism, where many of the radical Islamic movements were born and where there have been violent clashes between Muslims and Copts.
Rania Hussein specifically chose this place to pursue her studies. There was nothing unusual about that, except that most people know Rania by her stage name, Ruby. Ruby is a commercial icon who appears in daring video clips in provocative poses and minimal dress, and uses racy language.
Last week Ruby came to take a law exam. She came dressed as usual in a tight fitting, short dress that prompted a long line of students to follow her and a sharp reprimand from the campus guards. But what does Ruby have to do with the campus? It turns out she is not an unusual phenomenon. Many artists have been enrolled in academic study programs for years in order to gain public recognition not just through their performances, but in what is still considered a more important accomplishment: academic studies.
So for example, the singer Sarihan has been a registered student in Cairo University's law faculty for more than 22 years, the actress Mona Zaki has been studying communications for 13 years, and Ranada Buhairi has been studying something at the faculty of humanities in Cairo. Perhaps as a result there will also b e an increase in the budget for higher education in Egypt, which has suffered from years of cutbacks, just after President Hosni Mubarak declared education a national priority.