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Nancy Pelosi and George Miller are in Egypt

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, are part of a Congressional delegation to Egypt that arrived in Cairo yesterday.

Pelosi & Tantawi 3-15-2012 (AP Photo)The delegation met today with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi – commander in chief of Egypt’s armed forces, and the nation’s de factor head of state since February 2011 – and will be seeing other high-ranking Egyptian government officials, as well as civil society and religious minority leaders.

After meeting yesterday with Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Wafaa Bassim, Pelosi said the U.S.-Egypt relationship “is an important one I believe to both our countries, I know to the U.S. We have always had a relationship with the people of Egypt and we hope to continue that in a very important way. The strength of Egypt, its stability, is important to the region and to world, and we want to be helpful in that regard.”

Other delegation members include Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.; Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.

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House passes Eshoo’s bill on religious minorities

The House today overwhelmingly approved a bill by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, to create a special State Department envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.

The bill, HR 440, was introduced in January in the wake of increasing violence, targeted attacks and heightened discrimination against Christians in Iraq and Egypt, and persistent concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other nations. The House voted 402-20 today to approve it and send it on to the Senate.

Wolf co-chairs Congress’ bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, named for the late congressman from San Mateo. Threats against religious minorities have been increasing in recent months, he said, and the United States has an obligation to speak out for the voiceless, to develop policies to protect and preserve these communities, and to prioritize these issues in broader U.S. foreign policy.

“The U.S. government needs an individual who can respond and focus on the critical situation of religious minorities in these countries whose basic human rights are increasingly under assault,” Wolf said in today’s news release. “If the international community fails to speak out, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance in the region are bleak.”

Eshoo, who co-founded and co-chairs the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus with Wolf, has long pressed the State Department to develop a comprehensive policy to address the unique needs of small, indigenous faith communities in Iraq that are being targeted for violence.

“In a time of partisanship and polarization, it’s gratifying when members from both parties can come together to address the humanitarian crisis that’s been unfolding in the Middle East, and has not been given the attention it deserves,” she said. “As the daughter of Assyrian and Armenian immigrants who fled the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East, it’s terrifying to see history repeating itself in today’s Iraq. I’m hopeful that the special envoy created by this legislation will elevate the crisis of the Middle East’s religious minorities, giving them the diplomatic attention they so badly need and deserve.”

Reps. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough – Lantos’ successor – are among the bill’s co-sponsors.

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A former San Franciscan’s trip to Cairo

Samuel Vengrinovich, a former San Francisco State University student, sent us this video of his experiences visiting Cairo, Egypt, one week after dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign by a popular, peaceful uprising.

From Vengrinovich, who currently lives in Israel:

“I get asked all the time why did I want to go to Tahrir Square? And I think, who wouldn’t? I’m sure there are millions of people around the world who would have loved to experience and witness what I saw. I made this documentary video to share that experience, to provide an opportunity for people who were less fortunate like me of being so close to Egypt, or daring enough like me to even go to Egypt, to experience the Egyptian revolution. I wanted to share what I saw, felt, and experienced. I wasn’t scared at all in Cairo. In fact, the minivan ride to Cairo was perhaps the scariest part of my trip. I could have sworn that a few times the driver was going to flip the minivan, as he was driving like a maniac around corners and turns. But I got used to his driving as we got closer to Cairo. In fact, I even edged him on a few times to go faster”

“Before my trip materialized, the Egyptian protests that were happening in Tahrir Square mesmerized me. I knew this was big. I was watching live footage morning and night, following the ebb and flow of the tug and pull between the regime and the people. I knew what they were going through in some ways. When I was 19 years old, I was at the WTO protests in Seattle dodging rubber bullets, tear gas, and armored carriers. I could relate.”

[snip]

“I witnessed the physical and emotional release of decades of pent up emotions by Egyptians under Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, their desire to guard and protect their revolution from being hijacked, and the sensitivity Egyptians displayed about their revolution being positively viewed by the international community.”

“I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a nation breathe democracy and freedom for the first time in their lives. I was so close, being here in Israel. I knew I had to get there.”

“I wanted to take the viewers on a journey, unlike the stale and often sometimes cold presentations major news networks display. I think I got some really cool shots. I was jumping into crowds, getting pushed and shoved, going under people, dodging cars and fireworks, to get some of the shots you see in the video. Before I got involved with politics, I was an artist, songwriter and musician. When I was filming and editing the video, I tried to do what I do when writing music—to make people experience through art, sound, and visuals the creative process of my mind. This time, it was experiencing the Egyptian revolution.”

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Bay Area human rights activists are in Cairo

Human rights activists with CODEPINK – including cofounder Medea Benjamin of San Francisco and San Jose Peace & Justice Center president Sharat Lin of Fremont – are amid the protestors on the streets of Cairo calling for the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Click here to see their photos.

From CODEPINK’s news release:

The activists report that Egyptians have been excited to see their message of solidarity from the American people. Many Egyptian protesters are carrying signs that say “My address is Tahrir square until Mubarak leaves” and they are holding firm. The activists also report that many Egyptian youth seem ecstatic that President Obama has acknowledged their voice in Egypt’s political affairs but they want him to put more pressure on Mubarak to step down. Women are in the streets and have played a major role in the grassroots movement for democracy in Egypt. Today, as violence towards peaceful demonstrators escalates, the activists said rumors have circulated that the pro-Mubarak agitators are paid supporters of the dictator.

CODEPINK is calling on President Barack Obama, the State Department, and Congress to stop funding the Mubarak regime, which now receives over $1.8 billion per year in military assistance from the United States.

CODEPINK says theirs is “perhaps the only international solidarity delegation on the ground in the country,” and plans to demonstrate at the U.S. Embassy tomorrow.
The delegation – CODEPINK’s ninth trip to Egypt and Gaza in the past two years, including people from the U.S. Canada, Australia, the U.K., Switzerland and India – had intended to travel through Egypt to Gaza, but was foiled by the closing of the Rafah border crossing; they now plan to stay in Cairo until safe passage to Gaza is possible.

CODEPINK and other groups plan a protest and march in solidarity with the people of Egypt and Tunisia at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5th at 1 pm in UN Plaza at Market and Eighth streets in San Francisco), and then a march across the Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday, Feb. 13.

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A whole lot of upcoming political events

First up: Me.

California Republican Party Vice Chairman Tom Del Beccaro was kind enough to invite me to participate in a panel discussion on California politics at 7 p.m. tomorrow night, Wednesday, March 18, along with Chronicle columnist Phil Matier, state GOP communications director Hector Barajas and Steve Frank, publisher of the conservative California Political News and Views site. It’s at the Contra Costa Country Club, 801 Golf Club Road in Pleasant Hill. Tickets are $25 each; email tom@politicalvanguard.com or director@contracostagop.com for reservations.

Lots more happening in coming days, after the jump…
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