Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.
Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.
No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.
Cairo- I had one of those accidentally fantastic days in Cairo today. Spent most of the day lazing around Zamalek, shot a few phot’s of some killer post-revolutionary street murals, and all I ate were two heaping bowls of mega tasty kushari- Egypt’s national veg dish. One thing I have to say about Egypt is it is so easy to eat vegetarian here, especially when compared to Libya’s obsession with chicken. I’m a bit psyched that my Khalifa Haftar story which went out yesterday seems to have gotten some legs. Reuters did a story on my article today-Rebel army chief is veteran Gaddafi foe–think-tank as did The Telegraph-Libya: rebels send trained forces to the front, telling youth to stay back-(which I’m guessing picked up on the Reuters story) and I just concluded an interview with CNN down in Atlanta.
I did a funky trip out to Giza tonight and the local fellaheen were a bit freaked out my my unorthodox ways. I ended up tramping around this slum in the dark, pitch black, muddy, horse crap littered warrens full of the classic “hello mister” routine. The Egyptian government or maybe antiquities authority has built this gigantic separation wall cutting the slum off from the pyramids which I definitely do not remember on my last trip to Cairo in 1998. I felt like I was walking through the West Bank without the bifurcated olive groves and hundreds of cats crawling through mountains of rubbish instead. After a while I finally made it to the gate just in time to catch the French version of the sound & light show with a group of aged French couples. It was incredible. I expected some 1970s time warp laser show experience, and while there were vestiges of that, the whole deal was really well put together. One of those long, tiring days to where I wish I was not leaving tomorrow. But off to little Bahrain I go en route to Addis Ababa. More adventures before heading home and doing the Massachusetts Avenue shuffle in a few weeks. I’m starting to really like Cairo. Just wish the hotels were a bit better.
New York- An NBC News reporter is somehow texting (though he says there’s no cell service?) from the port city of Tobruk where an editor in London is posting the texts on Twitter. The border between Egypt’s Western desert and far eastern Libya is reportedly open and it is possible to drive to Tobruk, an ancient deep harbor port 150 kilometres from the Egyptian border that has existed since the Greco-Roman classical era. According to a Malian BBC journalist, fighters from Niger, Chad, and Mali, (al-Qaddafi’s ‘Islamic Legions???’) are fighting on behalf of al-Qaddafi against Libyan agitators. This scenario seems to happens to every permanently ‘revolutionary’ regime: it becomes the victim of another revolution, a demographic and economic one that the ‘revolutionary’ old man never saw coming. Al-Qaddafi evoked an image of Michael Jackson at a Santa Barbara courthouse rocking an umbrella for no apparent reason and in the dark of night no less. He gave a speech in a fully thrashed government building making him more mad than the gipper could have ever dreamed. The indigenously-led Arab revolutions are the true “cemetery of neocon dreams.” The rapid defection of the Libyan diplomatic corps is par for the course.
New York- My former editor and colleague at Asia Times Online, Charles McDermid, has an article today with local Suleimani-based reporter Rebaz Mahmood on the fourth and perhaps ultimate death sentence for “Chemical” Ali Hassan al-Majid, the most brutal enforcer of the al-Anfal campaign in northern Iraq in 1988. Charles is now working in Iraqi Kurdistan for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting and is gearing up for coverage of the Iraqi general elections to be held on March 7th by the Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (which is meant to coincide with the “Status of Forces Agreement” referendum on the future of U.S. troops in the Republic of Iraq). Almost seven years after the United States military and its allies tried to erase the legacy of Saddam Hussein by destroying Iraq in order to try and save it, or remake it into a pro-Israel, emasculated Arab client state of neoconservative folly, the legacy of Ba’athism and Halabja continue to haunt the politics of this shattered post-Ottoman successor state.
Abu Dhabi, UAE- I have a new piece in today’s Asia Times about the overall decline of the security environment in Kabul and the collective West’s political will to do something about it. Five more years of Karzai rule is a bitter pill to swallow for anyone who considers themselves to give a damn about Afghanistan. My friends Raymond Pagnucco and Spencer Mandell made an excellent film about the first imposed democratic experiment in 2004 and all the fraud that accompanied that mess entitled God’s Open Hand. Swap Yunus Qanooni for Dr. Abdullah (and figure in that Qanooni was one of Abdullah’s strongest backers in this year’s destined to be flawed contest) and the electoral mess of 2004 begins to resemble this year’s fiasco. One might even go so far as to make a comparison between the 2000 and the 2004 Bush “victories” in the United States. Democracy is imperfect everywhere but in Afghanistan these imperfections yield deadly consequences.
The Independent Election Commission held an arduous total of two (2) voting results announcements before they decided to take a well deserved break? The first event on Tuesday was pretty much a disaster and then yesterday independent candidate Ramazan Bashardost made dramatic outburst about what I can only assume was the IEC’s complicity in some level of fraud. Interestingly, for Tuesday briefing, it seemed like every expat in Kabul was there for the “Big News” and on Wednesday, I was the only Western journalist except for a few of the wire people who would have had to have been there even if this was a Kabul city council election. Bashardost apparently remembered me from a street interview I did with him a few weeks ago while he was campaigning in the bazaar and said he was happy to see me there. Maybe it’s just me but wouldn’t the second day of results be actually more newsworthy than the first (in that it gives us a bigger picture and more of a possible voting pattern)? So why the hell didn’t the other journos deem the event worthy of their presence? Ahh who cares…
My email from the IEC today said that they cancelled today and tomorrow’s polls results which is a little curious seeing as it puts Afghanistan a little deeper into this very dangerous limbo. Holbrooke is yelling at Karzai while Abdullah is yelling at the international media and all of this only leads to further intrigue here. Abdullah has described his opponent as “Conspiratorial” while a Karzai insider told me that Abdullah was making a “Media war.” Anyone smell another palace deal in the works???
Urgent Update: I finally made it into the NY Times….in someone else’s photo…in the far lower left.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission had a pathetic press conference today. The figures for the votes for the candidates counted thus far didn’t match up to the graphic they had projected next to the stage. And the Dari-English translator, where the hell did they find this guy? He’s like a very nervous, Persian Chris Farley. It would have been easier just to have either the whole thing in Dari and try to decipher it later or just have the head of the commission speak English himself (he interjected into English when I pointed out the mismatch in both the translation and the info-graphic on the screen). Twice I pointed this flub out and a group of VIP elders all sitting behind me chimed in that I was right that all the numbers didn’t line up while the bureaucrat at the podium insisted he didn’t know what I was talking about.
Abdullah had everyone over at his house today to show us evidence of fraud and he seems to be playing this situation really well. From the numbers called at the Intercon, he and Karzai are neck and neck from the apparent votes counted so far. The drama continues…
Went out to the Independent Election Commission warehouse out on Jalalabad road today to watch the ballots for Kabul Province come in via faded, clattering Pakistani lorries. Being ramadan, work went by at a snail’s pace. A few men and the odd woman stacked the clear plastic bins organized by district in two massive hangars. As I walked in the tally centre, it looked more like what I imagine an Indian outsourcing office in Bangalore to be than what one would expect in Afghanistan. Young, hip Afghans sat behind buzzing PC terminals doing rote data entry as votes were unfurled. A veteran photojournalist who also happened to be out there said it was nothing like what she witnessed in the 2004 election when everything was done by hand. The partial results are going to be announced tomorrow night here and no one seems to really have a handle on what’s going on. I asked my contact at the IEC if he could give me any “additional” information but he dutifully stuck to protocol and put me on the IEC’s email list. If Karzai is announced the “partial” victor tomorrow when the partial results are called, it will appear to be a defeat for democracy across the board for many. Even if Karzai were to win in a second round, the process would look to both Afghans and the international community as much more vigorous and genuine. Abdullah’s camp is claiming they’re winning outright as well. This could get a little awkward.