Mubarak Will Be Prosecuted

One day after Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak resigned on February 11, I asked in an article for The Huffington Post, “Will Mubarak Be Prosecuted?” Three months, 12 days, and many mixed signals later, we finally have an answer. Yes, he will.

Egypt’s state prosecutor today charged Mubarak, along with sons Gamal and Alaa, with murder in connection with the 18-day protests in February that toppled his regime and abuse of power. If convicted, Mubarak and his sons could face the death penalty.

As with most of the military council’s actions in the Mubarak case, the latest move comes in the face of unrelenting public pressure. Protesters have called for another round of mass demonstration later this week in Tahrir Square, epicenter of the original uprising, to push for a speedy prosecution as well as an end to the hated emergency laws the governing military has so far kept in place.

How the prosecution pans out remains to be seen. The military has been a begrudging enforcer of the demonstrators’ demands, having dragged its feet for months before arresting Mubarak several weeks ago. The latest move testifies to the remarkable durability of the protest movement, which has proven no more cowed by the army’s often heavy-handed efforts to wind down the demonstrations than by Mubarak’s camel-riding thugs.

More unclear still, and surely more important, is where this revolutionary core will train its sights next. Accountability for the top dogs in the ancien regime is no doubt a significant step in the nation’s democratic development, but its ultimate success will depend on the new leadership’s willingness and capacity to tackle new challenges. Crime is on the rise, long-suppressed sectarian hostilities are spilling over into violence and the economy is in the tank.

As I wrote before, the trajectory of the great Egyptian experiment in democracy will define the legacy of the Arab Spring more than anything else–the war in Libya included. Egypt has made history by toppling and holding to account one of the region’s most powerful strongmen. Now, it must make history again by forging the peaceful, democratic and prosperous model for the Arab world that Iraq never became.

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Badgering Students to Fork Over Alumni Donations

This article originally appeared at TheNation.com.

Whatever else you get out of the education, one thing you definitely learn in four years at Penn is that Amy Gutmann knows how to throw a party. As senior week began last night, the Penn president opened up her house (well, the backyard at least) to a Hollywood-themed bash for the soon-to-be-graduating seniors, replete with a red carpet, oversized Oscar statues and video monitors flashing images of assorted movie stars.

The star of this party, however, was unquestionably President Gutmann, who spent most of the time parked near the front of the yard as a steady stream of students approached her to make awkward small talk and get their pictures taken. A friend and I munched on hors d’oeuvres somewhat off to the side, debating the merits of being a university president. My friend thought it would be pretty cool to run an institution like Penn. I replied that I couldn’t imagine having to do all that glad-handing and money-scrounging.

As if on cue, Gutmann picked up a mic and began her toast to this year’s senior class. For the first minute, tops, she stuck to celebratory platitudes, asking us how it felt to be seniors (which was bizarre because that’s the line she uses to the juniors at Hey Day when they “officially” become seniors) and serenading us as “her favorite class ever.”

She then shifted gears to the real purpose of this little toast, which was—surprise, surprise—asking for money. She hailed the 1,300 or so members of the senior class who had so far given to Seniors for the Penn Fund and challenged us to break the donor record held by the Class of 2009 with a tone that suggested our status as her favorite class might be up for reconsideration if we didn’t.

Next, several seniors in their green Seniors for the Penn Fund T-shirts read statements about the importance of our contribution to the future of the university, the quality of the education, the availability of scholarships, etc., etc. By this point, though, just about everyone had stopped listening and returned to eating their hot dogs and talking amongst themselves.

But the solicitations weren’t over. A few minutes after the official presentation wrapped up, a woman (some administrator) came up to a group of us and, after politely inquiring into our plans for next year, asked if we had donated. We all nodded yes. I’m pretty sure none of us had. Satisfied nonetheless, she excused herself and moved onto the next group of potential donors.

By the end of the night, I vowed to myself that if another person asked me to give money before I graduate on Monday, I would never send a dollar in Penn’s direction. I suppose, though, that the “if” part of that statement is superfluous. After all, even before President Gutmann’s remarks, I’d been asked for money on the way into the party and earlier that day when I bought a ticket for the senior formal. I’ve also been receiving emails all semester on a near-weekly—and now even more frequent—basis from fellow seniors, imploring me to “Give Today!” Some of the appeals are absolutely priceless. “Nothing says class unity like contributing to Seniors for The Penn Fund,” reads one. Needless to say, I’m fairly certain I’ll find myself bombarded with more solicitations as soon as I step foot on campus today—or open my email.

I get that alumni contributions are part of the lifeblood of the modern university. But the constant pressure on often heavily-indebted students to donate and insinuations that not donating before you’ve even picked up your diploma makes you a less worthy graduate is more than a little unseemly. For a university that proudly proclaims its commitments to socioeconomic diversity and the liberal arts, it’s “give now!” campaign signals that richer students and those who have opted for high-paying jobs on Wall Street are more valued than poorer students and those who have pursued their passions into lower-wage professions.

I suppose that with time and a little more money in my bank account, I’ll get over my hang-up and donate to some worthy program at my alma mater. For now, I don’t need Penn to help “instill the idea of alumni support” in me. I can think of countless better ways to feel a sense of class unity this week.

Race Scandal Rocks French Soccer

Thirteen years ago, he captained his nation to its first ever World Cup championship in what was then hailed as a testament to the possibilities of French multiculturalism. Now as manager, Laurent Blanc has placed himself at the center of a firestorm over familiar French preoccupations of race, immigration and national identity.

Controversy struck last week when the investigative website Mediapart revealed that Blanc participated in a series of French Football Federation (FFF) discussions aimed at limiting the number of black and Arab players of in French youth academies via quotas. According to Mediapart, FFF technical director Francois Blaquart proposed secretly capping the number of black and Arab trainees at regional training centers at 30 percent.

One reason for the proposal was to limit the number of binational players in the French development pool, who could then go on to play for other national teams. But Mediapart’s transcript of a secretly-recorded meeting last November shows that Blanc’s concerns ran far deeper. Blanc allegedly complained that France’s abundance of black players had rendered French soccer more physical and less technical to the detriment of the national team.

“You have the feeling that we are producing really only one prototype of player: big, strong, fast … and who are the big, strong, fast players? The blacks. That’s the way it is. That’s the way things are today.” He suggested that current World Cup holders Spain don’t have such problems “because they don’t have any blacks.”

Blanc initially pled ignorance. He’s since issued an apology of sorts, saying in a statement, “I admit some remarks made during a work meeting, taken out of their context, may be misinterpreted. As far as I am concerned, I apologize if I have hurt some feelings. But I, who am against any form of discrimination, do not accept being accused of racism or xenophobia.”

The FFF has launched an investigation into the matter. Blanc and three other staff members involved in the conversations are expected to appear before a special commission this week.

The controversy has split France’s sporting and political elite, including the members of the 1998 side, largely along racial lines. Midfielder Patrick Vieira told Le Monde, “It’s outrageous. These are serious remarks.”  Retired defender Lilian Thuram told French TV, “Of course you feel hurt…You tell yourself that it’s a perpetual [cycle] to always cast doubt on people with regards to their color and religion.”

Blanc’s defenders, including Vieira and Thuram’s 1998 teammate Christophe Duggary, rushed to Blanc’s defense. “What annoys me about Lilian Thuram’s behavior, especially when I see him go up against Laurent Blanc in such a manner, is the way he wants to pass himself off as the judge of the Supreme Court,” Dugarry said to Infosport.

Duggary then upped the ante significantly, relating a story from the moments after France’s victory in the final over Brazil. “And then I hear Lilian Thuram — and I’m not the only one, Franck Leboeuf [heard it]as well — say: ‘Come on, let’s get a photo with all the blacks. And Franck Leboeuf gets up and says to him: ‘Lilian, what are you saying now? Imagine if we’d said, ‘Come on, let’s get a photo with all the whites.’ How would you have reacted?’

France’s most famous soccer player, retired icon Zinedine Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants, also defended Blanc after more than a week’s silence. Insisting that Blanc is no racist, Zidane explained, “Lolo [Blanc] is someone spontaneous, who talks openly and who doesn’t think for a second that his words could be misinterpreted.”

Leading French politicians have also weighed in. Sports minister Chantal Jouanno said, “Today, I have no reason to say that Laurent Blanc should be accused. Let us keep our head on our shoulders. I have never heard him say racist things and I have never seen him do things that makes one think he is [racist].” And according to Ouest-France, President Nicolas Sarkozy is planning to call Blanc to ask him to reconsider his reported decision to step down over the row.

This is but the latest in a series of race-based controversies to come out of French soccer in the last year. After France’s first-round exit from last summer’s World Cup—and disgraceful behavior off the field—the French right instantly offered up its diagnosis. Marine Le Pen, who recently succeeded her father as head of France’s ultra-right National Front Party explained, ”Most of these guys consider at one moment that they represent France at the World Cup, and at another they are a part of another nation or have another nationality in their heart.” She added, “I don’t see myself represented by this France team. Maybe things would change if they didn’t wrap themselves in the flags of other countries.”

Le Pen, who according to recent polls would beat Sarkozy in next year’s presidential race, reflects a rightward shift in French politics that has transformed the ultra-right from marginalized extremists to viable players, and while it’s difficult to gauge to what extent reaction to the most recent controversy reflects this trend, it’s impossible not to view it in that context. The invocations of the “black-blanc-beur” of 1998 as symbols of the new France were always more myth than reality. Yet today, one is hard-pressed to find even feel-good myths amid France’s desolate racial landscape. Soccer used to provide them. Not anymore.

On the Uses and Abuses of Patriotism

Studying for a midterm tomorrow, so I’m just going to comment briefly on Osama Bin Laden’s death. There are so many angles to approach this from, but probably the most striking for me was the reaction to the news by the crowds in front of the White House, at Ground Zero, at the Phillies game and here at Penn, where I just walked past a fraternity house blaring, “Proud to Be an American.” In the days after 9/11, the “rah-rah USA” impulse struck me as a peculiar response to a monumental human tragedy. People–average people from towns including my own, who worked just miles from where I went to school, with sons and daughters, husbands and wives–had been massacred, and it seemed a strange, and almost laughably hollow, act of memorial to stick an American flag in one’s front yard. To the extent that the flag-waving and “God Bless America” singing brought us together in support for the victims and solidarity to achieve justice on their behalf, I suppose some good could have come out of it. But alas, the chants of “USA!” became not so much a rallying cry to build a better society as a convenient excuse for a fraudulent war and the rape and pillage of the constitution.

I have no qualms with the people out there celebrating Bin Laden’s death. I’m even prepared to chalk up some of the more cringe-worthy and thoroughly frat-tastic displays by some of my fellow college students on national TV to youthful exuberance or cathartic euphoria. I personally have always had something of a revulsion toward death of any kind, so if I had to sum up my own feelings, Mark Twain’s pitch-perfect quote (helpfully tweeted last night) would work well: “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” I did read Bin Laden’s obit in the Times last night, and yes, I did so with considerable pleasure. As for the chest-thumping and flag-waving, I can only hope that this time it all amounts to more than empty jingoism. If patriotism is to serve any purpose, let it be in service of an America more just, more tolerant and more compassionate than the one before.