24 January 2011

Who placed the mic???

Some lucky guy placed the mic for Lebanese singer Elissa ;)

23 January 2011

First solar-generating plant in the world set up 1913 in Maadi - Egypt

First solar-generating plant in the world set up in 1913 in Egypt at Maadi by Frank Shuman, a US inventor from Philadelphia. Shuman used five 60-metre-long parabolic "troughs", mirror-lined heat absorbers aligned to track the sun's progress across the sky, to concentrate the rays onto five matte-black boilers, which then produced sufficient steam to pump almost 23,000 litres of water a minute. Shuman's plant successfully irrigated agricultural land alongside the Nile for two years.

In 1913 American engineer Frank Shuman constructed the world's first sun driven steam engine – for irrigation in Maadi, Egypt. If it hadn't been for the outbreak of WWI, maybe solar power would have been a major source of energy today.

The New York Times, Published: 2 July 1916
American Inventor Uses Egypt's Sun for Power - Appliance Concentrates the Heat Rays and Produces Steam

Algerians rally for democracy

Several injured as police break up protest seeking scrapping of draconian law


22 January 2011


Confrontation: A protester, angry over the suicide bombing of Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt throws an object at police during clashes between Coptic christian youths and authorities outside the church - (Ben Curtis - AP)

Just a Memory

The Shepherd Hotel is reflected on a window of a passing bus in east Jerusalem. Bulldozers demolished the historic hotel to make way for a new Israeli enclave - (Bernart Armangue - AP)


OUSTED: A poster of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is torn in the center of Tunis. The former president fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 when his iron-fisted control of the government collapsed (Christophe Ena - AP)

Sadat & Moshe Dayan - Look at Sadat's tie :) wicked LOL!!!

21 January 2011

Leila Ben Ali from the Hair Salon to the Palace of Carthage

Did Obama Dye His Hair?

Did the Ben Alis leave with 1.5 tonne of gold

The World Gold Council, based in London, said that the gold stock of Tunisia has decreased by 1,500 gold bars from December 2010. This confirms the rumor that the Ben Alis left Tunisia with 1.5 tonne of Gold

Did the ancient Egyptians know of pygmy mammoths?

One of the things that came up in the many comments appended to the article on Bob's painting of extinct Maltese animals was the famous Egyptian tomb painting of the 'pygmy mammoth'. You're likely already familiar with this (now well known) case: here's the image, as it appears on the beautifully decorated tomb wall of Rekhmire, 'Governor of the Town' of Thebes, and vizier of Egypt during the reigns of Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II (c. 1479 to 1401 BCE) during the XVIII dynasty...

In 1994, Baruch Rosen published a brief article in Nature in which he drew attention to the small, tusked, hairy elephant in the painting, shown as being waist-high to the accompanying people. The people next to the elephant seem to be Syrian traders, carrying objects that include tusks (note that a small bear is shown in the painting as well: that's very interesting but I don't have time to discuss it here). African elephants Loxodonta and the now extinct Middle Eastern population of the Asian elephant Elephas maximus were both known to the ancient Egyptians, but Rekhmire's elephant doesn't seem to be either. Its apparent hairiness, convex back and domed head make it look like a juvenile Asian elephant, but then why it is shown with huge tusks? It seems to have a fairly large ear [the best close-up I could get is shown below], though whether this ear is shaped more like that of Loxodonta or Elephas is difficult to say.

Inspired by the then-new discovery that a dwarfed population* of Woolly mammoths Mammuthus primigenius were still living as recently as 3700 years ago (albeit on Wrangel Island in the Siberian Arctic: Vartanyan et al. (1993), Guthrie (2004)), Rosen (1994) made the tentative suggestion that the elephant shown in Rekhmire's tomb might actually be a dwarf Woolly mammoth. If true, this would have radical implications. It would mean that the ancient Egyptians had a trading link of sorts with far eastern Siberia, and also that mammoths were captured and then transported alive to Africa!

* Richard Stone's 2002 book Mammoth: the Resurrection of an Ice Age Giant includes the claim that Dirk Jan Mol was able to discredit the idea that the Wrangel mammoths were dwarfs (or dwarves. Whatever). Apparently, the 'dwarf' ones were just small, old females. I haven't read this anywhere else - does anyone know if this is correct, and was it ever published anywhere in the technical literature?

However, Rosen (1994) also made the suggestion that the elephant in the painting might be a symbolic representation of an elephant rather than a 'real-life' depiction of one. The idea here is that, since the accompanying person is shown carrying tusks, the artist added a miniature elephant to signify the known origin of these tusks. The suggestion has also been made that Egyptian artists sometimes showed non-human animals as smaller than actual size in order that the animals didn't take up too much space in the illustrated procession (Davies N. de Garis, cited in Masseti 2001). But then some people say that Egyptian artists just didn't do things this way and, in any case, the elephant in the painting doesn't look stylized - it's depicted as a real, life-sized animal. Counting against the idea of the hairy dwarf elephant being a stylized miniature is the fact that a giraffe also featuring in Rekhmire's tomb was shown as tall as possible [the image of the tomb painting shown here is borrowed from this article on Rock Art Blog]. Doubtless some of you know much more about the habits of Egyptian artists than I do, so please tell us if any of this is or is not reasonable.

A late-surviving dwarf Mediterranean elephant?

As you may already have guessed, there is then a third possibility: this being that Rekhmire's elephant is neither a Siberian mammoth nor a wrongly-scaled 'symbolic' elephant, but perhaps a depiction of one of the pygmy Mediterranean island-dwelling species. Most of the dwarf Mediterranean elephants were Pleistocene animals that were long gone by the time of the Pharoahs, but Masseti (2001) noted that a population of dwarfed elephants seem to have lingered on in isolation on the Greek island of Tilos (located between Rhodes and Kos). The Tilos elephants apparently remain unnamed [UPDATE: not true, they are Elephas tiliensis Theodorou et al., 2007] but have often been compared to E. falconeri of Malta and Sicily. Incidentally, these Mediterranean dwarf elephants are still very frequently said to belong to Elephas, but is this right? Aren't they most likely part of Palaeoloxodon? The latter is frequently stated without ambiguity (e.g., Caloi & Palombo 2000), yet still we're stuck with an archaic taxonomy. Hopefully this will get sorted out eventually [adjacent illustration, showing a Tilos palaeoloxodontine to scale with the probable ancestor Palaeoloxodon antiquus, is by A. Mangione and borrowed from Masseti (2001). And Burian's classic painting of a Mediterranean pygmy elephant is shown below].

Anyway, radiocarbon dating of the Tilos dwarf elephants apparently puts some of them as recent as about 4300 years old (+/- 600 years), meaning that they overlapped with the presence of Bronze Age people on the island (Masseti 2001). The remote possibility exists, therefore, that Tilos elephants were captured by ancient Aegeans and then traded between Aegeans, Near Eastern people, and Egyptians - in fact, known trade did occur between these regions during the late Bronze Age at least.

There are a few other possibilities that could explain the look of the Rekhmire tomb elephant though. I said earlier that its large tusks demonstrate adult status, and hence show that it can't be a juvenile Asian elephant. But maybe, just maybe, the painting could depict a freak juvenile Elephas that precociously developed large tusks. We know that African forest elephants L. cyclotis can be precocious in terms of tusk growth (this may partly explain sightings of alleged Pygmy elephants)*. Any such individual would perhaps be regarded as an unusual thing of interest and value. And there's also the possibility that the animal depicts an individual from another late-surviving dwarf population that we don't know about. Some of the extinct Mediterranean dwarf elephants are now suspected of being dwarf mammoths (as in, members of Mammuthus) rather than species of Elephas/Palaeoloxodon and, in life, these animals might indeed have looked more like the hairy, dome-skulled animal in Rekhmire's tomb [the photo of the section of the painting below is by N. Douek Galante, from Masseti (2001)].

* Indeed White (1994) suggested that the Rekhmire tomb elephant could depict a miniature African elephant. At first site this looks unlikely to be right in view of the Rekhmire elephant's hairiness, highly convex back and domed head. But you could play devil's advocate: maybe the artist screwed up (after all, none of the features are as clear as we might like), and is the animal really shown as being hairy? Maybe those lines are meant to be wrinkles. And African elephants can be very brown-skinned.

As is so often the case with pieces of evidence like this, it's likely that we may never know the truth of the matter. But not only is it fun to speculate, our speculations can mean that we gradually winnow away the possibilities and perhaps get closer to the truth. The notion that ancient Egyptians could have gotten hold of dwarf Mediterranean elephants, for example, is more likely than the more incredible suggestion that they somehow had access to those from a Siberian island.

One more thing to note: at the time of writing I haven't seen Alexandra van der Geer et al.'s 2010 book Evolution of Island Mammals: Adaptation and Extinction of Placental Mammals on Islands. It may well contain some very relevant and interesting material on dwarf, island-endemic Mediterranean elephants that I should be noting and citing. Hey, if I had the book here, that's exactly what I would be doing. But I don't.

It's been suggested that other exotic animals were also depicted by the Egyptians.

by Darren Naish

17 January 2011

Demonstrations in Algeria

Demonstrations in Tunisia the president leaves the country, deomnstrations in Algeria the people leave the country :)

Tunisia belched out Ben Ali

16 January 2011

Uprising brings joy to Tunisia – and fear to the region's autocrats

Buildings burned, army snipers fired from rooftops, other gunfire sounded sporadically across the capital, and at least 42 were killed when a prison was torched, as Tunisia yesterday teetered between continued violent chaos and the first faltering steps towards a possible new start. Other regimes in North Africa and the Arab world looked on with some trepidation lest, as many predict, Tunisia's unrest should help foment a similar end to their lengthy and undemocratic rule.

The unseating by popular uprising of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years of repressive rule and pocket-filling is virtually unprecedented in a region where democracy is a concept rather than a reality, economic hopelessness is widespread, and militant Islam a potent force. Yesterday, in the wake of Mr Ben Ali's sudden departure, Arab activists celebrated, thousands of messages congratulating the Tunisian people flooded the internet on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and many people replaced their profile pictures with red Tunisian flags.

One Egyptian human rights activist, Hossam Bahgat, said he hoped that his countrymen could do the same some day. "I feel like we are a giant step closer to our own liberation. What's significant about Tunisia is that literally days ago the regime seemed unshakable, and then eventually democracy prevailed without a single Western state lifting a finger." On Friday, activists opposed to President Hosni Mubarak's three-decade regime in Cairo chanted a reference to the Tunisian's president's airborne exile: "Ben Ali, tell Mubarak a plane is waiting for him, too."

Analysts certainly saw Tunisia as potentially a trigger for uprising in other countries in the region. Jean-Paul Pigat, of Business Monitor International, said yesterday: "Looking at the conditions that are necessary for unrest, it becomes clear that Egypt certainly ticks many of the boxes. Food-price inflation in Egypt is among the highest in the entire region, and the impact of food-price inflation on possible unrest should never be downplayed."

And Dr Maha Azzam, an associate fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, at Chatham House, said: "Tunisia has started a momentum that is going to be difficult to hold back. Certainly we are going to see turmoil in Egypt. I think it will come to a head with the presidential elections in September, but something could occur before this. Obviously we have to keep in mind that the level of security is very, very high in Egypt."

Another factor there is the limited use of social and internet media, compared with Tunisia. According to Professor Emma Murphy, of the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University: "One quarter of Tunisians use Facebook. In Egypt there is a larger population, they are less well educated, they are not internet-connected, not watching Al Jazeera, they are watching state television. Whereas the Tunisians are very homogeneous, Egypt is a more complicated and diffuse place."

Some experts thought it telling that the Tunisian crisis was spontaneous and had no obvious architect or central guiding force. A Beirut-based commentator, Rami Khouri, said: "It marks the end of acquiescence and docility among masses of ordinary Arab citizens who had remained remarkably complacent for decades in the face of the mounting power of Western-backed Arab security states and police- and army-based ruling regimes."

The baton of revolution may take some time to be passed, particularly since, as Sir Richard Dalton, former British ambassador to Libya and Iran pointed out, other regimes "will not have the squeamishness about suppression with violence that the Tunisians showed". Tunisia's popular movement was being compared in several quarters yesterday to that in Poland, where a 1989 popular movement instigated freedom in Eastern Europe. But that process took many months, and was seeded in very different ground, as yesterday's chaotic events in Tunis demonstrated.

Soldiers and police exchanged fire with assailants in front of Tunisia's Interior Ministry, and snipers could be seen on the roof. The skirmish came soon after Tunisia swore in a new interim president. He is Fouad Mebazaa, the 77-year-old former president of the lower house of parliament, who swiftly ordered the creation of a unity government that could include the opposition, ignored under Mr Ben Ali's autocratic rule.

Mr Mebazaa, in his first move after being sworn in, seemed intent on reconciliation and calming tensions. In his first televised address, he said he had asked the Prime Minister to form a "national unity government in the country's best interests" in which all political parties will be consulted "without exception or exclusion".

The leadership changes came at a dizzying speed. Mr Ben Ali left abruptly on Friday night for Saudi Arabia, where he is now holed up in the small city of Abha, 310 miles south of Jeddah. Some of his family were said by the interim regime in Tunisia to be under arrest, and the French government says family members resident there "are not welcome in France and are leaving". None of these relatives was named.

Mr Ben Ali's long-time ally, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, then stepped in briefly with a vague assumption of power. But on Saturday, Constitutional Council President Fethi Abdennadher declared the President's departure was permanent and gave Mr Mebazaa 60 days in which to organise new elections. Hours later, Mr Mebazaa was sworn in.

It was unclear who might emerge as the main candidates for power in a post-Ben Ali Tunisia. The autocratic leader had utterly dominated politics for decades, placing his men in positions of power and sending opponents to jail or into exile. It was also not clear how far Mr Mebazaa would go in inviting the opposition into the government. He has been part of the ruling apparatus for years, including leading parliament for two decades.

Amid the official to-ings and fro-ings, a fire at a prison in the Mediterranean resort of Monastir killed 42 people, and inmates staged a mass breakout. Sporadic gunfire was also heard in Tunis. Black smoke billowed over a giant supermarket as looters torched and emptied it. Shops near the main bazaar were looted. There were also a number of drive-by shootings.

As night fell, suburban neighbourhoods were being guarded from looters by impromptu militias formed by residents armed with clubs and knives. Later, there were reports that Mr Ben Ali's head of security had been arrested. However matters turn out, yesterday there was a palpable air of achievement among the protesters. Hamdi Kriaa, an accountant from Tunis, told the BBC: "We are living through special days, historic days. Yesterday I was protesting in front of the Interior Ministry together with some 10,000 people. The sensation was incredible. We are very proud to be Tunisian because we showed the whole world that we want to live in freedom."

Tunisian airspace reopened yesterday, but some flights were cancelled and others left after delays. Thousands of tourists were still being evacuated from the Mediterranean nation, known for its sandy beaches, desert landscapes and ancient ruins. Most, if not all, of the 3,000-odd Britons holidaying in the country are now expected to have arrived home.

Tourism is vital to Tunisia and is one of the reasons why Mr Ben Ali's country did not seem especially vulnerable to uprising until very recently. He managed the economy of his small nation of 10 million better than many other Middle Eastern states, turning Tunisia into a beach haven for tourists. Growth last year was at 3.1 per cent, but unemployment was officially measured at 14 per cent, and was far higher – 52 per cent – among the young.

But there was a lack of civil rights and little or no freedom of speech, and all it took to ignite the unrest was an educated but jobless 26-year-old committing suicide in mid-December after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit. His desperate act hit a nerve, sparked copycat suicides and focused general anger against the regime into an outright revolt. He was the touch-paper for Tunisia. Will that country now be a fuse for other countries in the region?

Eyewitness accounts: 'Snipers pointed their guns down on us'

Lizzy Roe, 18, from Epping, Essex, is due to marry her Tunisian fiancé in two weeks: "They got my fiancé. He's in hospital now in a wheelchair. Where we live was safe, but in the towns there are people lying dead in the streets. There are people with half their heads missing. I didn't want to leave my fiancé, but I was told I had to come home."

Natasha Kent, in her 20s, from Wembley: "We wanted to stay but when we heard the petrol station go up, we wanted out. We hadn't left our hotel for four days. We were under curfew after dark. I went out once and was told by an army officer to go back. There was army everywhere."

Ross Wiseman, from Sunderland, was less than 36 hours into his holiday when he and his family were brought home: "On the journey to the airport there were armed soldiers on the streets, and that was intimidating. You could see the snipers on the top of buildings with their guns pointing down on us. But even though this has happened I would definitely go back. It was one of the nicest and most friendly places I have ever been to."

By Elaine Ganley, Bouazza Ben Bouazza, David Randall& Maryrose Fison - The Independent - 16 Jan 2011

Egypt Soars

Headlines of government owned Al Akhbar Newspaper:
Ben Ali leaves Tunisia
...and Egypt Soars
International Organizations: Mubarak achieved to his country the highest economic growth


Arab despots should heed events in Tunisia

The fall from power of Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine ben Ali is one of those widely unpredicted turns of events that hindsight quickly labels inevitable.

Corrupt authoritarian regimes are generally brittle and Mr Ben Ali's was no exception. But few anticipated how quickly a spate of angry demonstrations could become a regime-changing rebellion. Other governments across the region, with populations hardly less repressed than Tunisia's, will look on in fear.

Mr Ben Ali was considered by western diplomats to be a relatively reliable fixture. Under his 23-year rule, the country had the status of a minor player in North Africa – avoiding involvement in wider Middle East disputes and carving out an economic niche as a Mediterranean holiday destination.

Meanwhile, the president, his wife and their extended family built a lucrative commercial empire. Political dissent has been crushed and media stifled. In a dispatch sent in July 2009 – one of the secret cables published earlier this year by WikiLeaks – the US ambassador to Tunis described rising frustration among ordinary Tunisians as a result of "First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities". He also noted that major change would "have to wait for Ben Ali's departure".

Tunisians clearly shared that view.

The trigger was the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed student who set fire to himself in protest after police confiscated the vegetable stall that was his living. A wave of sympathetic protest then grew, becoming ever more determined in response to brutal attempts at suppression by police.

While the mass mobilisation was sudden, the frustration it expressed has been a generation in the making. This revolution is demographic as well as economic and political. One in five Tunisians is aged 15-24 (as compared with around 1 in 10 in Britain) and youth unemployment is at least 30%. Joblessness is particularly high among university graduates. That is a phenomenon common to many Arab countries as a growing graduate population combines with a decline in the state's ability to provide public sector jobs, while private sectors remain underdeveloped.

The result is a huge cohort of young people with too much time and not enough money. In Algeria, they are known as the "hittists", meaning the people who lean against walls – an emblem of bored, disaffected youth. Members of this generation also have ways of sharing information online that, while sometimes disrupted by state censorship, cannot be entirely silenced. They are potentially a vast source of political upheaval.

That is one reason why governments from Morocco and Algeria along the Mediterranean coast to Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Gulf will be watching Tunisia with alarm. These are diverse states, but with common features: ossified politics and corrupt elites, lacking any governing principle other than the urge to resist demands for change from liberals and Islamists. They also suffer from cultural and academic sterility – the suffocation of free thought that might seed political and social renewal.

Stability for such regimes relies on a combination of state force and public apathy. It is the latter that changed so markedly in Tunisia. Especially worrying for other Arab leaders will be the fearlessness of the crowd, prepared to confront riot police firing live rounds. Authoritarian regimes rarely survive for long once the illusion of invincibility is shattered.

In recent weeks, there have been angry protests over rising food prices and unemployment in Jordan and Algeria. There were riots in Egypt last November after disputed parliamentary elections.

The lack of legitimacy does not mean Arab regimes are about to topple. The experience of communist states in eastern Europe in the 1980s shows that bankrupt systems can cling on in protracted, decaying endgames. But ultimately, they do fall.

The comparison is revealing. During the cold war, western powers routinely supported the aspirations of captive citizens against their rulers. The west also cultivated dissident intellectuals, recognising the moral power that flows from the defence of open minds against closed systems. By contrast, the US and Europe have propped up blinkered, failing Arab regimes, judging them to be bulwarks against Islamist radicalism. It is a terribly misguided strategy, not least because it conforms to the jihadi narrative of a west hostile to the interests of ordinary Muslims.

In Tunisia, the opposition is not especially Islamic. Mr Ben Ali's attempts to label the demonstrators "terrorists" in the early days of the uprising was a sign of desperation. Presumably, he hoped to buy US sympathy. Much past American policy in the region gave him grounds to think such a tactic might work.

But there are signs of a more sophisticated approach coming from Washington. Last week, secretary of state Hillary Clinton spoke damningly of the failure by Arab states to modernise. Spreading opportunity to ordinary people, she said, was the surest guarantee against extremism.

Europe has been slower to speak out on behalf of disenfranchised Arabs. France, the former colonial power in Tunisia, supported Mr Ben Ali until the very last moment. One minster offered to send riot police to help shore up the regime.

The EU has an obvious interest in fostering political and economic regeneration on its Mediterranean border. The goal has often been discussed at regional summits, but progress is never made because modernisation means breaking up the power monopolies of corrupt elites. It takes a concerted effort of diplomatic and commercial power to encourage such regimes to change. The alternative, as has been proved in Tunisia, is violent change forced from below.

It is unclear whether the country will emerge from this tumult with better leaders. There is at least potential for progress without Mr Ben Ali. That is a warning to leaders across the region. But it also contains a lesson for Europe and the US. Presidents-for-life offering bogus protection against phantom terrorists are not reliable friends. The surest allies for the long term are the ordinary people in Arab countries whose aspirations are being systematically thwarted. It is their friendship the west must be conspicuously courting.

The Observer, Sunday 16 January 2011

15 January 2011

Could other Arab countries follow Tunisia's example?

Arabs everywhere identified with Mohamed Bouazizi.

When the 26-year-old Tunisian graduate - despairing of getting a decent job and abused by the police - set fire to himself in a public square, his story resonated far beyond his provincial town.

When he later died of his injuries, he became both a symbol and a martyr.

Now the unrest sparked by his self-immolation has led to the downfall of one of the region's longest-serving autocrats.

Unable to quell the unrest, despite making a string of televised concessions to the protesters, the 74-year-old President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali simply vanished from the scene.

While the impact of the unrest on Tunisia is uncertain, its impact on the region is already apparent.

Arabs identified with the young Tunisian because his problems - unemployment, corruption, autocracy, the absence of human rights - are their problems.

Throughout the region there is a dignity deficit.

What is more, in an age of globalisation, regimes can no longer cut their citizens off from news.

The Arab media - even in countries where they are constrained - could sense their audiences' thirst for news about Bouazizi's death and the extraordinary drama it triggered.

They could not keep silent, as they might have done in the past.

'Message to the West'

But if the Tunisian protesters have sent a message of defiance to Arab rulers, they have sent a rather different message to the West.

They turned a blind eye to President Ben Ali's harsh suppression of dissent - and ignored the fact that, while the elite prospered, ordinary Tunisians suffered.

In Washington, President Barack Obama has been quick to denounce the excesses of the Tunisian police, and voice the hope that the country will move towards a more democratic future.

As the riots continued in Tunis, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - at the end of a visit to the Gulf - delivered a blistering critique of corruption and political stagnation in the region.

The Obama administration - stung perhaps by criticism that it has been too timid on these issues - seems to have sensed that it has to speak out or lose credibility.

Several dangers lie ahead.

One is that Tunisia falls into chaos - a scenario that would convince Arab rulers to cling more tightly to power rather than sharing or relinquishing it.

Another is that the unrest may spread. It is already apparent - and for broadly similar reasons - in neighbouring Algeria.

In a string of Arab countries, succession issues loom as ageing autocrats confront the unmet aspirations of their youthful and rapidly growing populations.

Mohamed Bouazizi's life and death sum up the condition of the Arab world today

By Roger Hardy - Middle East analyst, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC published on BBC

Listen & Learn

Bye Bye Ben Ali.....

Jordanians protest against soaring food prices

More than 5,000 people staged protests across Jordan in "a day of rage" to protest against escalating food prices and unemployment on the same day as, in another part of the Arab world, Tunisia's president fled the north African state after weeks of violent demonstrations.

Amman, Jordan's capital is 1,500 miles (2,500km) from Tunis, but the reason for the protesters' anger was the same, and so too were the calls for the leader to resign.

Jordanian University students and Ba'athist party supporters also held rallies in Irbid, Karak, Salt and Maan, demanding that the prime minister, Samir Rifai, step down.

Official reports coming out of the country suggest that police successfully contained the demonstrators by forming circles around them, and no arrests were made.

Jordan slashed prices and taxes on some foods and fuels on the orders of King Abdullah II this week to help ease the burden on the poor.

The government has already allocated £141m in the 2011 budget to subsidise bread, on which many poor in the country of 7 million people depend, officials said.

The money will also be used to reduce the price of fuel as well as creating jobs, but protesters said that it was insufficient to tackle poverty caused by inflation.

Jordanian blog Ammon news reported that at the protest, called "the day of rage", people chanted: "United class, united government has sucked your blood," and waving posters with bread attached.

"We are protesting the policies of the government, high prices and repeated taxation that made the Jordanian people revolt," Tawfiq al-Batoush, a former head of Karak municipality, told Reuters.

The protests in Jordan, and indeed in Tunisia and Algeria, came after the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), published figures showing that prices are at their highest since the 2008 food crisis. The global average price of food – including cereals, cooking oil, meat and dairy products – was 25% higher in December 2010 than in December 2009.

And last week, petrol passed the $90-a-barrel-mark.

Jordan's budget deficit hit a record $2bn in 2009, 9% of GDP, as public finances came under strain after the global downturn.

Ammon added that the Muslim Brotherhood and the country's 14 trade unions say they will hold a sit-down protest outside parliament on Sunday to "denounce government economic policies".

Johnny McDevitt - The Guardian -15 January 2011

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali forced to flee Tunisia as protesters claim victory

Tunisia's president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has fled his country after weeks of mass protests culminated in a victory for people power over one of the Arab world's most repressive regimes.

Ben Ali had taken refuge in Saudi Arabia, at the end of an extraordinary day which had seen the declaration of a state of emergency, the evacuation of tourists of British and other nationalities, and an earthquake for the authoritarian politics of the Middle East and north Africa.

After hours of conflicting reports had him criss-crossing southern Europe by air, the Saudi state news agency confirmed he had arrived in the kingdom together with his family. Earlier, French media reported that Nicolas Sarkozy had refused Ben Ali refuge, although France denied that any request had been received.

In Tunisia, prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced that he had taken over as interim president, vowing to respect the constitution and restore stability for Tunisia's 10.5 million citizens. "I call on the sons and daughters of Tunisia, of all political and intellectual persuasions, to unite to allow our beloved country to overcome this difficult period and to return to stability," he said in a broadcast.

But there was confusion among protesters about what will happen next, and concern that Ben Ali might be able to return before elections could be held. "We must remain vigilant," warned an email from the Free Tunis group, monitoring developments to circumvent an official news blackout.

Ben Ali, 74, had been in power since 1987. On Thursday he announced he would not stand for another presidential term in 2014, but the move came after Tunisia had been radicalised by weeks of street clashes and the killings of scores of demonstrators. Today in the capital police fired teargas to disperse crowds unmoved by the president's concession and demanding his immediate resignation. A state of emergency and a 12-hour curfew did little to restore calm. Analysts said that the army would be crucial.

Last night, soldiers guarded ministries, public buildings and the state TV building. Public meetings were banned, and the security forces were authorised to fire live rounds.

Tunis's main avenues were deserted except for scores of soldiers. Protesters, some of whom had earlier been beaten and clubbed by police in the streets, still sheltered in apartment buildings. Army vehicles were stationed outside the interior ministry. Opposition leader Najib Chebbi, one of Ben Ali's fiercest critics, captured the sense of historic change. "This is a crucial moment. There is a change of regime under way. Now it's the succession," he said. He added: "It must lead to profound reforms, to reform the law and let the people choose."

Al-Jazeera television reported that a unnamed member of Ben Ali's wife's family had been detained by security forces at the airport in the capital, Tunis. Le Monde reported later that a plane carrying Ben Ali's daughter and grandaughter had landed near Paris. Hatred of the president's relatives, symbols of corruption and cronyism, has galvanised the opposition in recent weeks.

Tunisians had been riveted by revelations of US views of the Ben Ali regime in leaked WikiLeaks cables last month.

The US led international calls for calm and for the Tunisian people to be given a free choice of leaders.

"I condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens peacefully voicing their opinion in Tunisia, and I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people," said Barack Obama.

Angelique Chrisafis & Ian Black - The Guardian - 15 January 2011

14 January 2011

Tunisians protest against president - video

Thousands of Tunisians take to the streets calling on Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to go immediately despite his pledge not to seek re-election in 2014

guardian.co.uk, Friday 14 January 2011