I know I am a fool but then, I never pretend otherwise.


Ambiga between Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama
US first lady Michelle Obama (right) and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hand Ambiga the Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage, on 11 March 2009
Ambiga Sreenevasan is a colossus of intellect and integrity in the Malaysian legal fraternity. Ask any lawyer and they will tell you. Here is what Wikipedia has to say:
Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan (born 1956) is a Malaysian lawyer who served as the Malaysian Bar chairlady from 2007 to 2009.
In March 2009, she became one of the eight recipients for the 2009 Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage Awards. In the ceremony, the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented, “… Ambiga Sreenevasan, has a remarkable record of accomplishment in Malaysia. She has pursued judicial reform and good governance, she has stood up for religious tolerance, and she has been a resolute advocate of women’s equality and their full political participation. She is someone who is not only working in her own country, but whose influence is felt beyond the borders of Malaysia. And it is a great honor to recognize her and invite her to the podium.”
References: “Remarks by Clinton on International Women of Courage Awards”. America.gov. United States. 11 March. Retrieved 2 December 2009.
Courage has nothing to do with the absence of fear. Lexicons that describe courage as being fearless have actually got it wrong. Courage is about audacity, valour, daring, holding your own in difficult circumstances. I know people who are brave, very brave when it comes to facing real challenges but scared silly at the thought of little things. You may see a fat arthritic woman valiantly fighting diabetes do a record beating high jump to the top of the dining table to escape a tiny mouse. Or a huge man with rippling pectorals run out of the gym on seeing a roach emerge from under the weight rack. Fear is irrational and makes us the charmingly vulnerable people we all are. It also defines each one of us.
What scares me? Several things. Let me start with what is probably the worst of my fears. The fear of closed spaces, known as claustrophobia. When I see a coffin, it’s not the fear of dying which scares me, it’s the fear of being encased in it. One look at an MRI machine and I am out of the room like a shot. I have often contemplated on this fear and found that it stems from my childhood when I watched The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas’ amazing story about this guy who escaped from prison in a coffin thrown into the sea, and then managed to break free. He went back and destroyed all those who had conspired to put him away, knowing he was innocent. It’s possibly one of the most exciting revenge tales ever, one that the Mahatma would not have approved of, but for young, impressionistic me it was an iconic story of retribution. I loved it. No emotion is more sweeping in its impact as vendetta. It rushes the adrenaline in your blood watching a good man avenge himself against the wicked. 

What else scares me? Fear of meeting other people’s expectations. I remember dropping out of college for that reason. I do what I do in my life in search of that amazing but ephemeral O moment: A moment of extreme joy or incredible bliss. That’s my Holy Grail. Relationships that work best for me are those where neither person needs to climb Mount Everest to impress the other. For that’s exactly when fakery steps in, people begin to live out a lie. Any relationship withers under stress. I am happiest being me. In fact, I find solitude a charming companion even if I may not have enough time for her. So are women. They are smart, clever, beautiful, charming and can hunt down any man with the ease of a panther chasing a limping elk. Our horns are too big, our ego gets in the way. We are hapless when trapped in the headlights by a beautiful woman who has perfected the art of looking distraught.
Heightening the growing view that the Malaysian authorities were being intentionally unreasonable, police said they were no longer interested to discuss the July 9 Bersih 2.0 rally after organising chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan spurned its request to cancel, and suggested an alternative solution instead.
Ambiga, the former Bar Council president and receipient of the prestigious International Women of Courage Award, had assured the police that the rally would be peaceful, and they would walk along any route designated by the police. She said this after meeting Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar a day ago.
The Besrih committee, made up of 62 of the country’s top NGOs, had planned to march to the Palace to deliver a memorandum to the King, demanding that BN implement 8 reforms for free and fair elections before the next national polls.
Who’s boss
But newly-promoted and controversial Deputy Inspector-General of Police Khalid Bakar tried to show who was boss on Friday.
He told reporters that the police was no longer interested in negotiating or discussing the Bersih rally or the 2 other counter-marches planned by Bersih opponents – Perkasa and UMNO Youth.
Those who intend to take part in the event should expect action to be taken against them under the Police Act, Khalid was reported as saying.
“They still insist on carrying out their plans for the illegal rally, despite our meetings.  So we are done talking to them and will now act according to the law,” he told a press conference in Bukit Aman here Friday.
Khalid also said police would detain anyone wearing any clothing promoting the rally. He did not rule out the possibility of using the Internal Security Act on those caught at the march. He reiterated the threat of “preventive arrests”.
“Anyone wearing shirts inciting people to join the march will be arrested, regardless if the shirts are yellow, red or purple. We will use the full force of the law in upholding the peace and tranquility of this country,” he said.
So far, the police have received 2,136 reports against the proposed illegal march, while a total of 115 people have been detained in connection with the rally.
“This shows that the public is really against this rally but the organisers do not see that. There is no reason for them to continue with this demonstration,” he said.
Bersih members are waiting for Ismail’s reponse to Ambiga’s request for a specially marked-out route so as to facilitate the best crowd safety and make it easy for the police to control the marchers.
They have vowed to march on despite the threats and intimidation.

 The United States and fellow democracies on Thursday encouraged newly energized political activism in the Arab world and the older resistance movements in repressive corners of Europe, offering some practical tutorials on how to organize online and how to cover one’s tracks.
“I know some of you are here at great personal risk,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told participants in the “Community of Democracies” gathering in Lithuania’s capital. “But we come here for our common commitment to human rights and freedom.” The meeting was deliberately held only a short distance from Belarus, Europe’s last autocratic stronghold. Some participants traveled the approximately 20 miles from Belarus, where authorities are cracking down on demonstrators amid the country’s worst financial crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago.
Belarusian police violently dispersed a peaceful rally Wednesday by thousands of people protesting the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Police beat and detained dozens of people after crowds defied official warnings and torrential rain to march down a central street of the capital, clapping in unison.
Much of the democracy meeting’s opening day dealt with the new mechanics of protest, such as social media networks. At one event, civil society groups from Africa to Asia to Eastern Europe stepped up to tell America’s top diplomat that government repression is on the rise.
At another, bloggers, human rights activists and protest organizers were coached in techniques to get their messages past government censors and onto the Internet, while masking their electronic footprints so as to avoid reprisal.
Clinton told participants at a “tech camp” that governments were constantly coming up with new ways to curb Internet freedom.
“We need to add to our numbers and find new ways to get over, around and through the walls,” she said in a surprise appearance to a room full of young activists.
For Clinton, it was the second leg of a European swing to promote human rights and democracy. She visited Hungary earlier Thursday to inaugurate a human rights institute named after the late Rep. Tom Lantos of California. She will travel to Spain before returning home.
The choice of Hungary and Lithuania was symbolic. Both countries offer an example to peaceful demonstrators elsewhere, having shaken off the yoke of authoritarian regimes during the last great wave of liberal upheaval, when the Iron Curtain came down in 1989.
With protests persisting in Syria, Yemen and other countries of the Arab world, Clinton said emerging democracies from Europe to Latin America to Asia need to help other countries along the same path. And all should “show solidarity with those in the streets of Belarus, in Libya and around the world,” she added.
In a wide-ranging speech in Budapest, Clinton expressed veiled concerns about China, expressly rejecting the creed of those countries “trumpeting national economic growth over freedom and human rights.” And at a news conference afterward she cautiously chastised the host Hungarian government over constitutional changes and a new media law that have been criticized in Europe.
The Obama administration is alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Belarus, where Lukashenko’s iron fist has long been an asterisk to democratic change in eastern Europe. The U.S. and European governments have applied travel bans, asset freezes and other sanctions to officials culpable in human rights abuses, while directing funds toward economic development and travel opportunities for private Belarusian citizens.
Two Belarusian youth activists attending the conference in Lithuania said the Lukashenko government has relentlessly sought to stamp out dissent. They described the active opposition as largely limited to students and educated citizens. The movement needs the support of working class people, said the activists, who asked that their names not be used for fear of reprisals when they return home.

As Moroccans head to the polls to vote in a referendum on reforms offered by King Mohammed VI in the wake of the Arab Spring, the debate continues as to whether the proposed changes are merely cosmetic or will pave the way for a viable democracy.
Millions of Moroccans head to the polls July 1 to vote on a new proposed constitution, which was last amended in 1999 when the Arab world’s longest-standing dynasty seized power.
In an attempt to stifle the growing wave of democratic uprisings sweeping the Arab world from taking root in Morocco, the king appointed a commission to draft a new constitution in March, after facing the country’s largest pro-democracy protests in decades.
Among the proposed changes unveiled earlier this month is that the role of parliament would be strengthened with the task of providing oversight in matters relating to nationality, drafting and proposing laws as well as the ability to appoint interior ministry representatives.
A president, chosen from the largest party elected to parliament, would head the government and be granted authority to dissolve the lower house of parliament – which was a right formerly allotted to the king.
Constitutional monarchy
In addition, gender equality, increased personal freedom, an independent judiciary and investigations of corrupt officials have also been included in the draft constitution.
“I’m very impressed with the reform package because Morocco is very different than the republican regimes – either those where the leadership has been forced to resign like in Tunisia and Egypt, or those that have resisted ferociously like Libya, Yemen and Syria,” veteran Middle East journalist and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo, Abdallah Schleifer, said.
“The new reforms will turn Morocco into a constitutional monarchy because it will have an elected parliament with broad powers, and a monarchy limited by a new constitution much like that of the European democracies,” Schleifer said. “Regionally, Morocco is taking the lead because these reforms are coming from the centre of power, whereas in countries like Egypt an uprising forced the army to make a decision and inspired a soft coup d’état.”
Although several of the country’s largest political parties – including the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), the conservative Istiqlal Party and the Islamist Justice and Development Party – have urged their supporters to overwhelmingly support the reform, opposition groups like the youth-based February 20 movement, that have led street protests, are opting to boycott the vote due to the referendum being undemocratic.
“Despite the fact that the commission included highly respected personalities, professors, law experts, sociologists and invited all the political parties, trade unions, components of civil society and human right groups to offer suggestions, the February 20 movement along with three leftist groups, the banned Islamic Justice and Charity Party and the Unified Socialist Party, decided to boycott the referendum on grounds that the suggested draft is not made up by an elected commission, but rather by people nominated by the king,” Moroccan journalist, Abdellah Aoussar, said.
“The movement continues to organise marches and is engaging in door-to-door campaigns to convince people to join their boycott, since they believe that a low participation in the referendum will question the credibility of the new constitution,” Aoussar said.
‘Cosmetic reforms’
Under the new constitution, the king retains the right to grant amnesties, to appoint judges and approve Cabinet members, as well as authority over the security apparatus and the ability to overrule or dissolve parliament, which analysts say allows the king to continue calling the shots behind the scenes.
“Language semantics in this new constitution gives the illusion that the executive will gain more power. For example, by replacing the title of ‘Prime Minister’ with the ‘President of the Government’ sounds as if he is calling the shots but at the end of the day he doesn’t,” Arezki Daoud, publisher and editor of the North African Journal, said.
“The proposed changes are basically cosmetic because Article 19, which enshrines the guns of the king and grants him the title of Commander of the Faithful – meaning that he will become a Pope with power, allows him to retain his powers via a proxy because all new laws and appointments must have royal approval,” Daoud said.
Despite continued contention by opponents that say the reforms fail to meet the demands of establishing a parliamentary monarchy, releasing all political prisoners and granting dignity, social justice and freedom to the nearly 30 million citizens of Morocco, the new constitution is expected to pass with widespread public support.
“Morocco has a long history of free elections that has allowed opposition parties to come to power – which adds legitimacy to the monarchy,” says Schleifer. “I think the king’s response is a wise and judicious one and will be respected by the majority of th


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