From the Nation

Egypt Delivers ‘Some of the Biggest Death Sentence Rulings in World History’

In the past five weeks, 1,100 people have been sentenced to death in Egypt. Although a few hundred of these convictions have been commuted, and more are expected to be overturned on appeal, these sham trials signal a troubling turn for Egypt’s judiciary. And it’s not just the death sentences. Democracy Now! correspondent and Nation Institute fellow Sharif Abdel Kouddous ticks off a list of actions that shows a judiciary increasingly aligning itself with Egypt’s rulers: a group of police officers acquitted for the murder of seventeen protesters; Al Jazeera journalists on trial for espionage; a ban on the April 6 Youth movement, which has actively railed against Egypt’s despots since 2008. ‘More than any other time in recent history,’ says Kouddous, ‘the Egyptian judiciary seems to be a willing partner in state repression.’

Naturally… Egypt rejects criticism of Brotherhood mass death sentences

Moving along to Kerry’s Freudian slip…

As Haaretz wrote…

U.S., Jewish groups slam Kerry over ‘apartheid’ comment

AIPAC, ADL criticize remarks by Secretary of State; House majority leader Eric Cantor calls on him to apologize.

Jewish groups slammed Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday over his warning that without a two-state solution, Israel risks becoming an apartheid state.

The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC released a statement saying it was ‘deeply troubled’ by Kerry’s comments. ‘Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate. The Jewish state is a shining light for freedom and opportunity in a region plagued by terror, hate and oppression,’ the statement read.

Earlier on Monday, the Daily Beast reported on Kerry’s statements, which he made last Friday at a closed meeting in Washington before senior officials from the U.S., Europe, Russia and Japan.

AIPAC also said that is ‘shares President Obama’s perspective that while there is a political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians that needs to be resolved, the use of the term “apartheid” to characterize Israel is inaccurate and unhelpful.’

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Kerry was simply expressing his position, which is shared by many others, and that the two-state solution is the only way Israel could remain a Jewish state that lives in peace with the Palestinians. She added that similar positions have been expressed by Israeli leaders such as Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. Kerry believes Israel ‘is a vibrant democracy with equal right to all it citizens,’ she said…

Needless to say, the AIPAC crew made sure it was a Bipartisan affair…

Kerry declines to say Israel gives ‘equal rights for all citizens’

Last night US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a craven statement climbing down from his comments in a private meeting last Friday that Israel would become an ‘apartheid state’ without a ‘two-state solution.’

Faced with howls of outrage from extreme anti-Palestinian groups, objections from Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (California) and an outright call for his resignation from Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), the hapless Kerry may have felt he had no choice.

Sen. Barbara Boxer @SenatorBoxer

Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous.

…Yet with all Kerry’s abject willingness to appease, there is an interesting difference between his final published statement and the comments made on his behalf by State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki earlier in the day.

At the usual morning briefing, Psaki said ’the Secretary [Kerry] does not believe and did not state publicly or privately that Israel is an apartheid state, and there’s an important difference there. Israel is obviously a vibrant democracy with equal rights for all of its citizens.’

The press statement Kerry issued later in the day contains similar language: ‘First, Israel is a vibrant democracy and I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.’

But note that while Kerry repeated the claim that Israel is a ‘vibrant democracy,’ he pointedly did not repeat Psaki’s assertion from earlier in the day that Israel provides ‘equal rights for all of its citizens.’

As Consortium News described it… Kerry Grovels over Israeli ‘Apartheid’

Talk is cheap, Folks…! Israel Approved 14,000 New Settlement Units, Demolished 500 Palestinian Structures During Talks

A great TRNN clip on the Palestinian Unity bid…

Some more Electronic Intifada… Asked about Kerry, Tutu says Israel “mirror image” of apartheid

Meanwhile… Israel holding 9 Palestinian legislators without charge or trial

Looking at Iraq’s elections…

From Xinhua…

Iraqis vote for next parliament amid deadly attacks

With deadly attacks targeting polling centers and violence increasingly sweeping the Iraqi cities, millions of Iraqis voted Wednesday in their first national elections since the withdrawal of U.S. troops more than two years ago.

The polls kicked off at 7:00 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and closed at 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT), during these hours insurgents attacked many polling centers across the country, leaving a total of 22 people dead and 62 others wounded, mostly security members and voters who defiantly headed to cast their votes with the hope of bringing better life for their families. {…}

Polls closed at 6 p.m. local time, and the vote counting process has begun.

Despite the attacks, the country’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said that a preliminary estimate showed that Iraqi voters made about 60 percent turnout when more than 12 million eligible voters out of over 20 million fanned out to polling centers across the country on Wednesday.

In Iraq’s nationwide elections, over 21 million Iraqis are eligible to vote for more than 9,000 candidates from nearly 280 political entities who are vying for the 328 seats on offer.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon…

Lebanon fails to elect new president – again

Vote rescheduled for third time, after parliament fails to establish two-thirds quorum to elect country’s new president.

Lebanon’s parliament has failed to elect a president for the second time after narrowly missing the required quorum.

Wednesday’s 12pm parliamentary session was foiled when only 76 of 128 members of parliament entered the chambers. A two-thirds quorum – 86 MPs – is required for the vote to take place, and in the second round of voting, a candidate must obtain a simple majority (65 votes) to be declared president.

Speaker Nabih Berri set May 7 as the next date for lawmakers to try to elect a president for the third time. The term for current President Michel Suleiman, ends on May 25.

Here’s some great background on the Lebanese Prez race… Let Us Now Praise Murderous Men; Lebanese Presidential Candidates, Considered

In wrapping up with other MENA news and views…

Gunmen storm Libyan parliament, stop lawmakers’ vote on next PM

Syria gears up for presidential elections amid escalating violence

Finally, this is must-see TV…