Pakistan Islamist parties call for protest rallies
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 7/22/2005 | 4:29 pm
Stung into action by Pakistani connections with the July 7 attacks on London that killed 56 people, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf ordered a crackdown on religious schools, known as madrasas on Wednesday.
Since revelations that three of the four London bombers were British Muslims of Pakistani origin who had visited the country before the attacks, more than 300 militant suspects have been detained across Pakistan.
In response, Pakistan's main alliance of Islamist parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, called for protest rallies after Friday prayers, when tens of millions of Pakistanis visit mosques.
Reuters reported today that like previous calls for demonstrations against President Pervez Musharraf's support for the US-led "war on terror", it failed to draw big crowds.
Up to 700 Islamists, most of them teenagers or in their 20s, chanted anti-Musharraf and anti-US slogans at Islamabad's Lal or Red Mosque, which was raided on Tuesday by security forces searching for militants.
Pakistani media reported that Pakistan's investigation into links with the London bombings has focused on Lahore and other cities, like Sargodha, in the eastern province of Punjab, where some 50 more people were arrested around Multan overnight.
In the southern province of Sindh, police have arrested 45 people, including Maulana Ali Sher Hyderi, a top leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a Sunni extremist group with a record of attacks on the country's minority Shi'ite Muslims.
Pakistan Tribune reported that British Prime Minister Tony Blair telephoned president Gen Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday, agreeing with the latter on further promoting Pakistan-UK support and cooperation in war on terror and exchanging information and intelligence against terrorists involved in recent London blasts.
Tony Blair said Wednesday he was considering calling an international conference on how to root out Islamic extremism, particularly in madrasas.
Meanwhile, British detectives continued to hunt for the masterminds of the attacks that killed 56 people, but a foreign media reported Wednesday that authorities remain uncertain whether an organizer slipped out of Britain just before the July 7 blasts on three Underground trains and a double-decker bus.
The Daily Telegraph has reported that the suspected Pakistani mastermind of the July 7 bombings is believed to have arrived by boat to trigger the four bombers, then left the country a day before the attack.
“The four July 7 bombers did not have to enroll in a Pakistani religious school or madrassa to learn about Islamic extremism, because it was available in Yorkshire,” argued The Daily Telegraph.
The paper added that Britain has allowed militant Muslim preachers freedom to preach their message of hate in the mosques, the meeting halls and the sitting rooms of British Muslims.
“Literature and videos promoting extremism have been allowed to spread deep into the Muslim community. Experts now think it unlikely that the three London bombers who came to Pakistan last year enrolled in a madrassa to become ideologised.
Instead, they arrived fully brainwashed and probably used their time making contact with al-Qaida and Pakistani militant groups to train in explosives,” the paper went on.
The Daily Telegraph also argued that British Muslims must share a great part of the blame for failing to speak out against the extremists living in their midst, refusing to integrate or agree to mixed marriages, and insisting upon bringing prayer leaders from their home villages - men who are either totally ignorant of the world or are extremists.
The Moroccan organization against hatred and racism has called on all Moroccan citizens to gather in front of the memorial for the May 16 victims in Casablanca, commemorating the second anniversary of the terror attacks that killed 45 people, including the 12 suicide bombers, and injured a hundred more in 2003.
Jamal Berraoui, head of the organization, which was created right after the attacks, told Morocco Times that “the risk of other terrorist attacks remains in Morocco since the police have been arresting several terrorist cells who plan similar attacks.”
Berraoui added that the state, the political parties, the intellectuals, and the media did not do their jobs properly in fighting terrorism.
Berraoui said that his organization is doing its best to fight fundamentalism, a major source of terrorism. He added that extremism has no place in the Moroccan society.
Parallel to the gathering which will take place on Monday at 6.30 pm, the organization had also organized on Sunday May 15 a special 'night for coexistence' devoted to children from different faiths (Muslims and Jews) at the Jewish Museum of Casablanca.
Abdelnabi Dachin, member of the Association of May 16 Victims, regretted that the May 16 commemoration had become an occasional event. Dachin said that in order for these attacks not to be repeated, the state and society should play a more vital role during the whole year – not just occasionally to fight terrorism. They should start from school and home to teach people the principles of tolerance, coexistence and peace.
Dachin also criticized those who spread extremist ideas among Moroccans through dirty politics.
Mohammed Darif, a Moroccan political analyst and expert in Islamist groups, told Morocco Times that terrorism is not a usual practice in Morocco.
“We should not forget that the suicide bombers in Casablanca were under the influence of the Salafia Jihadia that came from Gulf countries. This 'Self-sacrifice' concept has its origin in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia since 1991, in response to the presence of the US troops in the Arab Peninsula,” said Darif.
“I think we should not link terrorism with Morocco because terrorism is not an intrinsic part of the Moroccan society. However, there are some Moroccans who belong to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group that emerged in the late 1990s, apparently drawing on Moroccan jihadists who had fought or trained in Afghanistan. This group is trying to influence some desperate young people to sacrifice themselves in the name of Islam,” he added.
The GICM has allegedly been associated with major terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003 and in Madrid in 2004, respectively with its offshoot Salafia Jihadia being blamed for both.
“Most of its members are not Moroccans. Moroccans are used to implement the attacks, but the planners and the sponsors are usually from the Middle East,” said Darif.
On May 16, 2003, five sites in Casablanca were targeted, including the 'Cercle de l'Alliance Israelite', a Jewish community centre; 'El Positano' restaurant, owned by Jewish Moroccans; La Casa de España; Hotel Farah; and the Jewish cemetery.
On May 20, 2003, about two million Moroccans demonstrated to give a lesson to the world, condemning terrorism. Men and women, Muslims, Jews and Christians, Berbers and Arabs, children and the elderly marched to show how tolerance and coexistence are experienced in Morocco's daily life, saying with a loud voice No to Terrorism. It was one of the most momentous acts of courage Moroccans have shown in modern history.
Al-Qaida claims responsibility for Egypt's deadliest attack since 1997
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 7/23/2005 | 11:44 am
At least 88 people have been killed, and 200 others injured in Egypt's deadliest attacks since 1997. Three car bombs exploded in quick succession in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh early Saturday, ripping through a hotel and a coffee shop full of European and Egyptian tourists, reported the Egyptian news channel, NILE TV.
One of the explosives-laden cars smashed through security into the front driveway of the Ghazala Gardens and detonated. The second car bomb exploded in a parking area near the Movenpick Hotel, also in Naama Bay.
The third detonated at a minibus park in the Old Market, an area about 2.5 miles away where many Egyptians and others who work in the resorts live. The blast ripped through a nearby outdoor coffee shop, killing 17 people, believed to be Egyptians.
Speaking to the Nile News Channel, Egyptian Tourism Minister Ahmed al Maghrabi said the attacks were “meant to terrorise people and prevent them from moving and travelling”. He vowed they would not hurt Egypt's crucial tourism industry.
Thirteen Italians, eight British nationals, three Spaniards, three Saudis, a Ukrainian, a Russian, a Turk and an Israeli are among the wounded, but most of them are Egyptians, said Hala al-Khatib, a spokesman for Egypt's tourism ministry.
Today's bombings were Egypt's deadliest since 1997, when Islamic militants killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians at the Pharaonic Temple of Hatshepsut outside Luxor in southern Egypt.
Egypt's Interior Minister Habib al-Adly told MENA Agency that “the Saturday attacks may be connected to the bombings in other Red Sea resorts in October last year.”
Sharm El Sheikh bombings was the last major terror attack in Egypt for years, until last October's bombings at hotels in the Sinai resorts of Taba and Ras Shitan, about 100 miles northwest of Sharm on the Israel border.
Egyptian President inspects bombing scene
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has cut short his vacation to visit the scene of the attacks, which happened on a national holiday marking the 1952 Egyptian Revolution.
The president headed to Ghazala Hotel, one of the sites hit by the blasts in Naama Bay, the main strip where most of luxury hotels are located.
Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and Health Minister Mohamed Awad Tag Eddin briefed Mubarak on circumstances of the explosions and measures that have been taken so far to deal with the situation.
The Egyptian security authorities have stepped up security measures inside and outside Cairo International airport following the explosions.
Egyptian tourism at risk
Reuters quoted Egypt's tourism minister expressing his concern that the Sharm al-Sheikh blasts will have a negative impact on tourism in the short term.
Thousands of tourists are drawn to Sharm for its sun, clear blue water and coral reefs. It also has been a meeting place where world leaders have tried to hammer out a Mideast peace agreement.
Egypt's $6.6 billion tourism industry is based on Red Sea resorts. Tourism is a major source of revenue and employment. In 2004, the country received a record 8.1 million visitors and in the first three months of 2005, the number of tourist visitors grew in comparison to the same period last year.
According to Reuters, the tourism industry is Egypt's biggest private sector employer and took years to recover from the 1997 attack on Luxor which killed 58 tourists. However, the sector proved to be resilient following last October's bombings in the Sinai Peninsula which left 34 dead.
Al Qaida claiming responsibility
A group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, al Qaida, in Syria and Egypt, claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement posted on an Islamist Web site.
The group said that its “holy warriors targeted the Ghazala Gardens hotel and the Old Market in Sharm El Sheikh”. The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.
The brigades were one of two Islamist groups that claimed responsibility for the October 7 bombings at Sinai Peninsula Taba and Ras Shitan that killed 34 people.
“Your brothers, the holy warriors of the martyr Abdullah Azzam Brigades succeeded in launching a smashing attack on the Crusaders, Zionists and the renegade Egyptian regime in Sharm El Sheikh,” said the statement.
“We reaffirm that this operation was in response to the crimes committed by the forces of international evil, which are spilling the blood of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
“We declare it loud and clear that we will not be frightened by the whips of the Egyptian torturers and we will not tolerate violation of our brothers' land of Sinai,” the statement added in an apparent reference to tourists who travel from neighbouring Israel to Sinai Peninsula for holidays.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades are apparently named after Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian militant who led Islamic militants in Afghanistan and was killed in 1989 by a roadside bomb, and was regarded as the one-time “spiritual mentor” of al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.
By Karima Rhanem 11/21/2005 | 7:56 pm GMT Morocco Times
Marrakech---Known for his courage and sense of adventure, Kuwaiti filmmaker Walid al-Awadi is a man who knows a great deal about disaster and tragedy. Al-Awadi is not a journalist as many think, but rather a brave director who is no stranger to documenting the human spirit in times of conflict.
Walid al-Awadi's “A Moment in Time”, “Dreams Without Sleep”, "Silence of the Volcanoes" and “See you in Baghdad”, all recount stories of people affected by War or terrorism. The Kuwaiti filmmaker has shared 'a moment in time' with Morocco Times in Marrakech, discussing his films, future projects and his view of Arab cinema.
Al-Awadi, who is charmed by Morocco's red city (Marrakech), couldn't attend the first Marrakech International Film Festival (2001) as he was shooting his film “Dreams Without Sleep”, which describes the life of people affected by the atrocities of 9/11.
This time, albeit busy with his new film “See you in Baghdad”, al-Awadi could not resist coming to the festival to meet other film directors such as Martin Scorsese and Abbas Kiarostami, and to visit Morocco's new Hollywood', Ouarzazate.
The Marrakech International Film Festival was held on Nov 11-19 in the Moroccan southern city. It has attracted a fair smattering of European and Asian stars, including Catherine Deneuve, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp, Daniel Day-Lewis, Monica Bellucci, Yash Chopra, Martin Scorsese, Vincent Cassel, Maggie Cheung and Rebecca Miller.
“There is magic and huge potential for future projects in Morocco. That's why many Hollywood directors came to shoot here, particularly in Ouarzazate,” al-Awadi told Morocco Times.
He added: “I am here mainly to seek new opportunities to shoot in your beautiful country.”
Al-Awadi, who has had no previous contact with North African cinema professionals, expressed his willingness to exchange expertise with Moroccan directors.
“The Marrakech Film Festival was an opportunity for exchange and networking with Moroccan actors and film directors. I have met Nabil Ayouch and I was so much impressed by his film Ali Zaoua,” al-Awadi told Morocco Times.
“I have no idea about Moroccan cinema, and I came here to learn about it,” he added.
Al-Awadi said “he is so keen to shoot in Ouarzazate and that the southern Moroccan city, which attracted many Hollywood directors, could become one day an Arab “Ouarzahood”.
No real Cinema in the Arab World
As to the Arab film industry, al-Awadi said there is no real cinema industry in the MENA region.
“When we talk about film industry in the Arab world, we mainly refer to Egyptian or Iranian cinema, with a little mention to the Syrian, Moroccan or Tunisian one. As to the Golf, we are more TV-oriented countries. So there is no real cinema,” he stressed.
“When you go to any cinema theatre in the world, you see a huge concentration of Hollywood or bollywood movies subtitled to different languages. That shows that these cinema professionals know how to talk to the rest of the world,” he explained.
Al-Awadi dreams to see an Arab cinema that can be well represented in the other side of the world.
Journalist or filmmaker?
The 36-year old Kuwaiti director had its debut in the 1990's. After working with widely acclaimed German documentary director Werner Herzog, Al-Awadi began to document his own stories.
His first film, "A Moment in Time," is a true account from the Persian Gulf War. Released in 1995, the documentary played in film festivals worldwide, and won awards from both the Houston and Ohio International Film Festivals.
Al-Awadi, who divides his time between Kuwait, Los Angeles, London, and New York, told Morocco Times that 'A Moment in Time' with American actor Robert Guillaume was a turning point in his life.
“That film changed my life. I was in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion in 1990 and I worked with the underground resistance groups for 7 months. Since then, I became more known in the region as a serious young filmmaker from Kuwait,” he said.
Al-Awadi added that since then, he decided to be a full time filmmaker. In 1996, he graduated from New York Cinema Academy with a degree in cinema production. He continued to reveal stories from the Gulf in his 1997 film, "Silence of the Volcanoes", a documentary on Kuwaiti prisoners of war held in Iraq.
In 1999, the director lent his talents to Mobile Telecommunications Company (MTC) for a film tribute to the development of Kuwaiti telecommunications through the decades in "A Call From Kuwait," which won an award at the Chicago Film Festival.
In 2000 al-Awadi made his first feature film "Sedra”, which was shot entirely in Kuwait. It was nominated for best film at the Sienna International Film Festival.
In 2001, al-Awadi made "Dreams without sleep", which documents the life of people affected directly or indirectly by the World Trade Center attacks. In this documentary, al-Awadi sets out to weave a story of immigration, family history, and the meaning of the American dream through the narratives of five New Yorkers affected by the September 11 tragedy.
“On September 10, 2001, I was in Washington DC meeting with Pentagon officials to discuss possibilities of helping me on my film about the Golf War. I had to go to NYC that night for some other meetings, and due to bad weather, my plane was delayed. I arrived so late in NY that I went right to my hotel. At 8:00am, I left the hotel and went down to Canal St. I obviously realized that something big happened. I had my video camera with me and began filming, with no reason as to why, just that I needed to do it,” al-Awadi explained as he was recounting the atrocities of 9/11.
“I wish I could describe what I saw. But, only I could tell you the feeling was not new. It was as if my country was being invaded again, my people being slaughtered, my freedom taken. It reminded me of the invasion of Iraq. The exact feeling of being unable to control the surroundings, feeling like my life and liberty were being taken away without my permission again,” he added.
Through his film, al-Awadi said he wanted to explore why people come to New York and to juxtapose this with the emotions of 9/11. He said that as an Arab and Muslim and admirer of New York, he felt compelled to make a film "about hope and peace and bringing different cultures together".
"New York is the only city in the world that has all kinds of religions, backgrounds, ethnicities, colours. No one cares where you come from because there is opportunity for every single individual if they want to make it," he said.
Al-Awadi told Morocco Times that doing projects between 1995 and 2001 and working with John Alonzo, a famous director of photography back at Hollywood, he was able to see another side of filmmaking and learned how to work internationally and look at things in a very different way.
The Kuwaiti director is founder and Chief Executive Officer for Image Media Productions, a multimedia company based in Kuwait. Since 1997, Image Media has offered web design and architecture, as well as feature film and commercial production services.
Al-Awadi is about to finish his new film “See you in Baghdad”.
"When I rang the Pentagon and told them about my idea to make a film in Iraq, the guys said, 'Why? Do you want to die? I said it would be very hard for me as a filmmaker to watch the war on TV, and that I'd be the happiest man to be at the very front line and make a film about the change in Iraq."
But they would not help him, telling Awadi he was crazy. Eventually, when Fox News offered him one of their embedded spots, the Defense Department relented.
Soon after, he received news that his unit would be the first to push through to Baghdad.
"I thought: Wow. How could I be any luckier than this? I will be with the unit that frees Baghdad," he said. "But how could I have any worse luck? I was also going to be the first to die."
While re-thinking his focus, it emerged that there was a married lieutenant couple and a set of twins in neighbouring units, including his own. That touched off his idea to paint a story of love and companionship in the midst of war.
His portrait of these four characters, along with himself and his cameraman, was laced with plenty of trauma.
"War is ugly," he said. "I saw a young girl carrying her fingers in the middle of the road while her father was dying." Awadi recounts other horror stories. He manages this despite shooting footage of a commander in his unit dying, and of his cameraman wincing in a pool of blood after being sprayed with shrapnel.
Walid al-Awadi is not a journalist, but a brave filmmaker who has “dreams without sleep” and who shared pain and anguish with friends and families who are lost because of terrorism and war, a humanist before all who wants to see the world a better place to live, a world of peace and harmony.
Al-Awadi is currently the CEO of a new film production company called Desert Door Production (DDP). His USD 15-million business aims at developing the Arab cinema and produce quality films by supporting Arab directors and scriptwriters produce their film projects.
He has recently invited Arab filmmakers to cooperate with DDP and benefit from the company's financial support. The latter will soon open a new office in Dubai media city.
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 11/25/2005 | 5:43 pm
Marrakech---Moroccan actor Hamidou Benmassoud, alias Amidou, who was paid tribute at the Marrakech International Film Festival, held on Nov. 11-19, has called on the Moroccan officials to stamp out artistic piracy, which for him only contributes to the artists' brain drain. In an interview with Morocco Times, the actor talks about his tribute, career, and future projects.
MT: How did you see this tribute?
Amidou: This tribute comes to crown 37 years of career in the cinema. I was moved at receiving the trophy from my daughter Souad. It was really a great surprise. Through this honour, I returned to Morocco through a large door. I consider this as a real back up to what I did and what I have to do next.
MT: ... And what do you have to do next?
Amidou: There still too much to do. I should take part in more films, whether at the national or international level. I would always try to impose the image of the Moroccan artist abroad. To represent my country with dignity was always my goal. I prefer to project the image of my country abroad rather than here.
Amidou: I am not against working in Morocco. On the contrary, I have already said that I wish to devote the rest of my career to the Moroccan cinema and theatre. However, when you do a great work here and then you find it the next day pirated and sold for less than one dollar in Derb Ghallaf market in Casablanca, then you start questioning why you would stay in Morocco. When a filmmaker goes to the market and finds his film sold for nothing, how would you expect him to pay his debts, his actors...? That kills any artistic work, and can lead any director to bankruptcy. I hope that the Moroccan officials will do something to stop this phenomenon, because it will negatively contribute to the artists' brain drain.
MT: Actually many people have blamed you for not doing enough for your native country?
Amidou: Those who blame me are definitely wrong. This only proves that they are close-minded. I think they should open their windows, because today it is not enough to produce a film at the national level. I had a difficult and black life, and I have chosen to immigrate to learn a job. I have worked hard to make the name of Amidou known today. Communication with the other world is important. That's why I went to Europe to make my name. Today, when they talk of Amidou, they don't say the French, but rather the Moroccan, and I am proud of that.
MT: We can't talk about Amidou's career without thinking of Claude Lelouche. How do you see your relations with this talented film director?
Amidou: I explored the world of cinema thanks to French Director Claude Lelouch, who gave me major roles in many of his films.
I am his star actor. I consider him as a brother. We have worked together in almost 14 films. These include in 'La Vie, l'amour, la mort', 'Le Propre de L'Homme', 'And Now... Ladies and Gentlemen', 'Le Voyou', 'Une fille et des fusils'... etc.
Moreover, everyone will remember his film 'La Vie, l'amour, la mort' which opened the doors for me to enter world cinema.
I worked later overseas along with outstanding and famous Hollywood actors including Brad Pitt, Silvester Stalone, and Michael Caine. I was in the cast of Otto Preminger's 'Rosebud' (1975), of William Friedkin's 'Sorcerer' (1977) and 'Rules of engagement' (2000), in John Frankenheimer's 'Ronin' (1997) and in Tony Scott's 'Spy Game' (2001).
MT: What is the movie that marked you the most?
Amidou: Actually, two movies left a lasting impression on me. In 'La Vie, l'amour, la mort', seven times I put my head on a real guillotine. This leaves a mark. But the memory of the filming of the “Convoi de la peur” is acute. I was young and carefree, I had refused to have a substitute and I paid for it physically! These have become part of cinema history since one is in the French Cineclub and the other in the American Cineclub. It is crazy what the cinema can do of us!
MT: What is the role that you would like to play one day?
Amidou: There are striking people in history. I mentioned Ché Guevara, our King Hassan II...
MT: What are your future projects?
Amidou: I am happy because in two years I have made Moroccan films with Mohamed Ismaël, Hakim Nouri...And then the TV film "Poursuite" directed by Leila Triki , which Moroccans saw during Ramadan. I have some future projects with Moroccan directors. I prefer not to talk about them for the moment.