The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘Negotiation’ Category

Assailants Loot Cairo Hotel Amid Chaos

Posted by vmsalama on January 30, 2013

Jan 30, 2013

By Vivian Salama

Daily Beast (click here for original link)

As Egypt’s chaos worsens amid protests against President Mohamed Morsi, masked assailants raided the Semiramis Intercontinental.

As the faceoff between Egyptian protesters and security forces escalated for a sixth day on Tuesday, masked assailants ransacked the Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel in Tahrir Square, looting money and sending dozens of guests there and at neighboring hotels fleeing for cover.

Tahrir ChaosThere were no injuries in the hotel siege but the incident exacerbated an increasingly hostile situation in Egypt as many protesters turned to violence as a means for voicing frustration over failing efforts to achieve a political consensus for the country. Cars burned and smoke plumes colored the sky around Cairo on Tuesday, as security forces intensified tear gas attacks to disperse the crowds in and around Tahrir Square. Egypt’s army chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, warned that the deterioration of law and order “could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations.”

The public prosecutor, meanwhile, ordered the arrest of the enigmatic “Black Bloc” protesters—a group that recently emerged in Egypt and are characterized by their uniform black masks—accusing them of participating in “terrorist attacks,” state-run media reported. The group denied its involvement in any violent or destructive protests.

Several opposition groups met with President Mohamed Morsi in the presidential palace late Monday, but the country’s secular coalition, the National Salvation Front, headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, shunned the talks. Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, ElBaradei warned that unless urgent measures are taken to uphold justice and achieve a balance of power, the political stalemate would continue.

“Without accepting his responsibility as a president for the latest bloody events, promising to form a government of national salvation and commissioning a balanced committee to amend the constitution, any dialogue will be a waste of time,” ElBaradei said. (click here to read more)


Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Islam, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Negotiation, Politics, Protests | Leave a Comment »

Americans Kidnapped as Islamist Violence in Mali Spills Into Algeria

Posted by vmsalama on January 16, 2013

Jan 16, 2013

By Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

An offshoot of al Qaeda in the Islamist Maghreb is claiming responsibility for the kidnapping of 41 foreign nationals at a gas field Wednesday, as the violence in northern Mali spread across the border. Vivian Salama reports.

As French troops step up their air campaign against Islamist rebels in Mali, a new kidnapping is intensifying fears that jihadists affiliated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have already penetrated parts of the vast Sahara Desert.

algeria hostageAt least seven Americans were among the 41 foreign nationals taken hostage Wednesday at the In Amenas gas field in the remote province of Illizi, Algerian state media reported, citing unnamed rebel leaders. A group known as Katibat Moulathamine—or the Masked Brigade, an offshoot of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—reportedly contacted the Mauritanian news outlet ANI and claimed responsibility for the attack.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed on Wednesday that Americans are among the captives but declined to give further details in an effort to protect their lives. “By all indications, this is a terrorist act,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a meeting with Italian government officials in Rome.

Algerian officials said the attackers threatened to blow up the site and kill the foreigners if their demands were not met. Japanese, British, Norwegian, and French nationals were among the kidnapped, and at least one Briton has been killed, according to state media. Some 300 Algerian workers also were captured but have since been released, according to the state-run Algérie Presse Service.

Algeria “will not meet the demands of terrorists and refuses any negotiation,” Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said in a nationally televised address.

Just over Algeria’s southern border, French and Malian troops have been targeting Islamist positions in northern Mali since Jan. 11, attempting to win back territory seized by rebels in April. Turmoil in Mali has intensified in recent years, after a handful of militant groups linking themselves to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, an ethnic nationalist group linked to the Tuareg tribe, made considerable gains against the government following a short-lived coup. Amid the confusion and chaos, the MNLA declared the independence of three of Mali’s northern regions, considered the Tuareg homeland, and declared sharia the official law of the land.

According to local reports, the militants have sent child soldiers to reinforce their positions in northern Mali, as well as using the local population as human shields from the French-Malian raids.

“The situation in Mali is in part driven by poverty and extremism, but also by weapons flows from Libya,” said Paul Sullivan, a North Africa expert and professor at the National Defense University. “The Tuareg and others who fought in Libya and then moved back to Mali are a hardened bunch and fairly well-trained. The Algerian government warned the French that it may spill over. It has.”

While Algeria has refused to take part in military action against Mali or any other foreign nation, it has taken precautions to protect its vast border with Mali, sending troops to guard against any cross-border incursions. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of the terrorist network, initially emerged as a radical opposition group in the days of the Algerian civil war of the 1990s but has since expanded its foothold in Mali’s vast ungoverned northern region. Its initial goal was to overthrow Algeria’s government and establish an Islamic state, but experts say its regional ambitions have since expanded to target much of North Africa, as well as Europe and the United States.

“AQIM exists in Algeria and in Libya,” said Sullivan. “They are looking for a safe zone. Mali looks most likely. Libya is pretty much the Wild West in the desert regions. Huge swaths of Algeria are open desert. The borders are porous.”

“The Obama administration needs to have a clear and focused policy on eliminating the threats that diverse, al Qaeda-affiliated groups pose to the United States and to Americans working abroad off of the usual battlefields,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The report in Mauritania’s ANI links Wednesday’s attack to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian-born radical jihadist who has been linked to some of the most dramatic and high-profile kidnappings of the past decade. In 2002, French intelligence called him “uncatchable.” In 2008, Algerian media reported that Belmokhtar and 15 of his men had surrendered to authorities, a claim later disputed by the group. Belmokhtar, who lost an eye in combat, also has been reported dead on more than one occasion. Experts on jihad note that Belmokhtar maintains allies in the Malian government and has won the support of various extremist elements in the region.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar

“Algeria is also home to Tuaregs, and any fire erupting in one corner of the Sahara involving a Tuareg tribe could ignite a reaction elsewhere,” said Arezki Daoud, an Algerian political analyst and editor of the North Africa Journal. “This is dream come true for al Qaeda. They want that regional instability.”

The In Amenas field is a joint venture of the Algerian national oil company Sonatrach, BP, and Statoil. In a statement on its website Wednesday, BP said that “contact with the site is extremely difficult, but we understand that armed individuals are still occupying the In Amenas operations site,” adding that there is no confirmed information available on the status of the workers.

—With reporting from Eli Lake


Posted in Al-Qaeda, Algeria, Egypt, Foreign Policy, France, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Jihad, Mali, Middle East, Negotiation, North Africa, Politics, Terrorism, United Kingdom, United States | Leave a Comment »

Bahrain: So far, yet so near

Posted by vmsalama on March 10, 2012

Here in NYC my eyes are on Bahrain this week as it commemorates one year since deadly protests rocked the tiny Gulf Kingdom, sparking a controversial decision by Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council troops to roll on in and save the day. Hundreds of doctors/medics/nurses were arrested that day and given harsh sentences by Bahraini courts for treating political dissidents, the courts ruling that it made them accomplices. Reuters reported today that the Bahraini courts are now looking to drop some of those sentences. All the while, streets are still patrolled by security forces, especially in the predominantly Shia villages, and many Sunnis across the country display photographs of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in offices, on their desks and at their homes, revering him as a hero for his decision to save them from Shia protesters, who Bahrain’s government claim are supported by Iran. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet so all eyes in Washington are eagerly hoping for a solution — preferably one that does not involve them. The US provides million in weapons and training to the Saudi Arabian government each year.

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Bahrain, Iran, Islam, Kuwait, Middle East, military, Negotiation, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, United States | Leave a Comment »

“The Protester”: A Photo Journal of the Egyptian Revolution

Posted by vmsalama on December 15, 2011

Thanks to TIME Magazine for recognizing the revolutionaries all over the world… I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time but only finding the chance to do it now.

A year ago when Mohammed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Tunisia, burned himself out of frustration from a political system that neglected him, I was en route to Beirut ahead of the Christmas holiday and writing, mainly, about the credit crunch in the Arab Gulf states and mounting concerns that the banking system would not soon recover from the blow. Days after I returned from Beirut, my host, Rania Abouzeid, came to stay with me in Dubai in a desperate attempt to fly to Tunisia, where flights were almost entirely grounded amid an uprising across the country. It was hard to imagine then that the desperate act of this young man not only set in motion a revolution in his country, but around across the region.

Jan. 27, 2011: me and Rania Abouzeid heading to Cairo (at 3am -- ughhh!!!)

On January 14, 2011, following a month of violent protests against his rule, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – Tunisia’s president since 1987 — was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia along with his wife and their three children.  A week later, Rania and I were on a flight to Cairo where calls for a revolution had begun to circulate on social media websites. They were days I will never forget, and with TIME Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year issue being dedicated this year to The Protester, I want to share with you all a few memories and photos of the protesters I met in Cairo this year. (Click here to read some of my stories on the Arab Spring)

On January 27, two days after the protests officially begun, Internet and mobile phone service was completely cut off in Egypt and we were left guessing where crowds were gathering. After trying a few spots around town, Rania and I decided to go toward the Mohendiseen neighborhood near the Moustafa Mahmoud mosque. It was a good guess! About 500 protesters had gathered after Friday prayers where they came face to face with riot police chanting slogans like “The people want the end of the regime” and “Hosni Mubarak: illegitimate.”

We began to march, with the intention of going toward Tahrir Square. (Rania and I were quickly separated in the crowd and were each forced to continue reporting on our own). Weaving through side streets and alleys in the Cairo neighborhood, people watched us from balconies, throwing bottles of water, garlic and onions, and bottles of vinegar – all simply remedies for tear gas inhalation, because everyone knew what lie ahead.  The longer we marched, the more the crowd swelled, with protesters called on those people in their homes not to be afraid.
Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama
Jan 27: Protesters Near Moustafa Mahmoud Mosque/Photo by Vivian SalamaS

Sure enough, we were quickly confronted by tanks and soldiers firing tear gas at the crowd. I’ve never seen so much camaraderie in my life. Soldiers at a nearby military hospital threw medical masks at the protesters and pharmacists handed them out to the crowds. At one point I felt quite ill from the tear gas. A man approached from behind me and pressed a vinegar-covered mask against my mouth and nose. A nearby vendor (who probably struggles to feed his own family with the pennies he earns) emptied his refrigerator, handing out water bottles and cans of soda to the fatigued protesters.

Every where I looked, people were helping each other, helping strangers tie their masks, sharing water bottles, aiding those who were most affected by the gas.

There was one point, marching with the crowd from Mohendiseen, when we approached a major intersection and I heard roaring cheers. I jumped up on a car to see what had happened and was personally overcome by emotion. From three different directions, massive groups of protesters were approaching the intersection – the other groups coming from as far as Giza and the Nasr City. They did this without Internet or mobile phones.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Groups of young men pushed to the front of the crowd and began to battle riot police, taking over their vehicles and chasing them away. Our group, now numbered in the hundreds of thousands, pushed slowly across the historic Qasr El Nil bridge in an attempt to move into Tahrir. There were moments when I worried that an attack by the military would trigger a stampede – we were stuffed tightly onto the bridge. But every time protesters began to push back, the young men in the crowd would grab the women in the crowd and push them against the bridge railing so to protect them from being knocked down.

photo by Vivian Salama

Some were more prepared than others!! Cairo Jan. 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

It was a long night with protesters burning the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters and battling with soldiers in Tahrir. Riot police trucks were set on fire (and the Semiramis Hotel, where many journalists took refuge) was partially on fire for part of the evening. I was trapped in Tahrir for the night and forced to take a last minute room at the Semiramis. I woke up early the next morning to a different Cairo, where charred military tanks stood in the middle of Tahrir Square and smoke billowed from the NDP headquarters and, sadly, from the adjacent National Museum. It would take another two weeks (only!) to overthrow Hosni Mubarak but that first Friday was by far the most memorable. There is an Arabic expression that often refers to the Egyptian people as being “light blooded” (light hearted/good senses of humor). They definitely showed their spirit throughout the frustrating 19 days (and 30 years) it took to shake up their political system.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Tahrir Square, January 28, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

Tahrir Square, January 28, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

me in Tahrir (late January 2011)

I visited Bahrain in the weeks that followed and I spent a lot of time covering the uprisings in Yemen and, less so, the ongoing crisis in Syria. After years of battling misguided stereotypes of terrorism and violence, these protesters have showed the world that they desire freedom and a decent standard of living and they have the right to demand it just as those in Europe and the US demand of their governments.

The Tunisians, Egyptians and all the other citizens around the world fighting for democracy have a very long and bumpy road ahead.  The TIME Magazine Person of the Year issue questions whether there is a global tipping point for frustration. I believe what happened this year is, in large part, because of overpopulation and because of the global economic slowdown touched societies rich and poor – but toppled those that were already on the brink before markets crash. The world is smaller than ever thanks to the Internet and various technologies that allow us to share experiences with people on opposite corners of the world. As we continue to get closer, and the world, smaller, it will become impossible to distance ourselves from even the most seemingly remote events.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Cairo, January 27, 2011/Photo by Vivian Salama

Posted in American, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bloggers, Cairo University, Censorship, Coptic, Culture, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Negotiation, Obama, Politics, Qaddafi, Qatar, Recession, Refugees, Religion, State of Emergency, Succession, Syria, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Nations, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Gaza Crisis; Mubarak-Olmert Meeting; Annapolis At Last

Posted by vmsalama on November 21, 2007

This is a rather moving interactive feature by Steven Erlanger, the New York Times correspondent in Israel, on the devastating economic crisis in Gaza.  I recommend it if you have a few minutes:


I did a story several years ago on the lack of foreign investment in Gaza.  Click here to read it. Also, just as my skepticism took on a new form, the invitations have been sent out and a date set for the Annapolis (Maryland) Palestinian-Israeli summit.  (Alas, I did not receive an invitation – it must be lost in the mail.  To find out who did, click here)  Ehud Olmert was in Egypt with President Hosni Mubarak and the two men (both of whose countries are the first and second highest recipients of US dollars, respectively) gave the thumbs-up to the conference. 

Here’s the story from the New  York Times:

Wanted: Participants for Mideast Talks

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 — The Bush administration finally acknowledged publicly on Tuesday that it had issued formal invitations to 40 countries and organizations that it hopes will attend a heavily anticipated Middle East peace conference scheduled for next week in Annapolis, Md. But the long, drawn-out route that State Department officials followed before making the acknowledgment reflected the high-stakes gamble that the administration is taking, as well as the unsettled nature of the outcome. Even late Tuesday afternoon, administration officials were still in negotiations with their Arab counterparts over whether Saudi Arabia and Syria would send their foreign ministers to the conference, or make do with lower-level envoys.

President Bush telephoned King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to enlist his support for the conference, and in particular to try to get an agreement from him that the Saud family would be represented at the conference by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, administration officials said.

The presence of Prince Saud is seen as critical to assure a certain level of Arab commitment to the peace process. But the Saudi royal family has been unwilling to give the Annapolis conference a high-level endorsement without assurances that the negotiations will be substantive, with real concessions from Israel, including a freeze on settlements that would lead to Israeli withdrawal from land that it seized in 1967.

Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, would say only that Mr. Bush and King Abdullah had “shared their views of the process that is under way between the Israelis, Palestinians and the international community.”

C. David Welch, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said in a news conference on Tuesday evening that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent an invitation to both Prince Saud and the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem. Mr. Welch said the decision to attend was up to the individual countries, but added, “I’m hopeful and expectant of a positive response.”

An Arab official with knowledge of the negotiations said it was likely that Prince Saud would attend the Annapolis conference. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic protocol.

Mr. Welch said “we won’t turn off the microphone” if Mr. Moallem, who rarely interacts with administration officials because of administration policy toward Syria, attends the conference and wishes to speak there. Israeli officials had asked that Syria be invited, and several State Department officials have said privately that it would be a mistake to exclude Syria from the meeting.

If Saudi officials sit down with the Israelis, it will be a rare event at public Israeli-Palestinian talks. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the Saudi ambassador to the United States, attended a peace conference in Madrid in the fall of 1991, but as an observer, not a formal participant.

Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, although Saudi officials have also urged the Bush administration to push hard to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli peace issue. There have been some unconfirmed reports of other contacts between Israeli and Saudi officials, including some earlier this year.

The conference, which will begin with a preliminary meeting in Washington on Nov. 26 and move to Annapolis on Nov. 27, is supposed to initiate final-status peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to settle the long-running, seemingly intractable issues that have bedeviled peace negotiators since 1979.

“This is the holy grail of diplomacy,” a senior administration official said. “We’re trying to rally the Arab world for support of this process, and they are master fence-sitters.”

Mr. Bush is expected to begin the Annapolis conference with a substantive speech, and part of the American effort to woo Arab leaders includes assurances to them that he will lay out an ambitious agenda that will pin all sides to firm negotiations on the status of Jerusalem, the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the contours of a Palestinian state.

“This is the point where the rubber meets the road,” said Martin Indyk, the former United States ambassador to Israel. “The United States really wants for Arab states to turn up, to bless the process.”

Until Tuesday evening, State Department officials would not officially confirm even the date of the conference.

“My hope and desire is that we can talk to you, in the not-too-distant future, about not only the list of invitees, but the date as well as the agenda for the Annapolis conference,” Sean D. McCormack, the department spokesman, said at a briefing early in the day, in language that was opaque even by diplomatic standards. “I anticipate there’s going to be a day that all the participants are going to be at Annapolis, and there are probably going to be events the day before and the day after.”

Appearing with the Israeli prime minister in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday gave his full endorsement to the scheduled gathering, and raised hopes among Israeli officials of wider Arab participation at the meeting.

“Obviously we would hope that Egypt’s position will be representative of a larger Arab position,” said Mark Regev, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman.

At a joint news conference at Sharm el Sheik, an Egyptian Red Sea resort, both leaders billed the Annapolis meeting as a springboard for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a final settlement of the conflict.

Israeli officials described Tuesday’s summit meeting as “covering bases” ahead of a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on Thursday. Israel sees Arab support for the budding Israel-Palestinian peace process as crucial, to give added legitimacy to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and Isabel Kershner from Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.

Posted in Egypt, Foreign Policy, Gaza, Israel, Mubarak, Negotiation, Palestinians | 3 Comments »

Give and Take Can Strengthen Moderates

Posted by vmsalama on September 6, 2007

Washington Post/Newsweek – PostGlobal   

by Vivian Salama

The question facing the South Korean government, like many governments before it, is simple: does negotiating with terrorists excuse – or even encourage – violence?

South Korean Hostages released by Taliban

(Above: South Korean hostages released by Taliban)

It is very difficult to call any negotiation “insensible” if it spares hostages’ lives, but the circumstances vary drastically in each case. To consolidate this response, I will treat all “terrorists” as one – though we can certainly break down the meaning of “terrorist” and further complicate a complex matter.

Western democracies’ logic is essentially never to bow down to violence, nor to reward terrorists for using it. But this is easier said than done. Governments have historically turned to terrorist organizations to further their political agendas. Israel signed the 1993 Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organization even though the PLO was considered a terrorist organization and refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Years earlier, the Jewish State also allowed Hamas to operate unhindered during the first Intifada in hopes that it would challenge, and weaken, the authority of Yasser Arafat. As a result, Israel faced a stronger Hamas during the Second Intifada.

More recently, Israel and the West have been criticized for resisting any kind of negotiation with Hamas after the group won an unprecedented victory in the January 2006 elections. This is a government democratically elected by the people of the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem. By refusing categorically to negotiate with that government, Western governments and Israel risk undermining the democratic process that they – particularly the Bush Administration – have worked to establish in the region.

Refusing any and all negotiation eliminates the chance of finding common ground. On the other hand, agreeing to negotiate is often a bargaining tool, one that can stem violence and will often lead to a ceasefire. A classic example of such fruitful negotiation is the IRA’s 2005 pledge to end violence in its fight for a united Ireland. It was a lesson in persistence and persuasion by a government actor – in this case, the British government – in helping a terrorist organization consider peaceful alternatives.

Such an option may seem overly optimistic given the current climate in the “War Against Terror.” But a categorical refusal to negotiate can cloud the real issues at hand, leaving room for terrorists and their supporters to accuse the opposing government of undemocratic, oppressive or dictatorial practices.

Agreeing to negotiate often means taking the much longer view toward the immediate issue. In a 1998 interview with the Paris-based news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski insisted that the Carter Administration should not regret supporting Afghanistan’s Islamic fundamentalists in the late 1970s. He asked, “What is more important to the history of the world – the Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

Or consider North Korea, which is reportedly coming off the list of “terrorist” countries. It will be interesting to see what effect that has on North Koreans’ attitudes toward the United States, and whether it helps to speed up denuclearization. Of course, none of this would have happened without negotiation.

There’s no question that negotiations are give-and-take; nothing is guaranteed. In Hamas’ case, there was no way to tell whether, given Hamas’ political inexperience, negotiating with Western leaders might have strengthened the group’s moderate wing. These terrorist groups often lack internal cohesion. Given the opportunity, governments that are willing to negotiate may make considerably more progress by getting a foot in the door than by completely shutting terrorists groups out.

Posted in Hamas, Israel, Negotiation, North Korea, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »