Michael R. James writes: Re. “Egypt choosing its own leader is a cause for celebration” (yesterday, item 13). I agree with Charles Richardson that we need to hold off judgment and wait to see how the newly elected president of Egypt governs.

I note also that while the reference “the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi” is technically correct, Morsi resigned membership upon assuming the presidency. Remember too that he was never the Brotherhood’s top choice because several of the preferred candidates were ruled out by the military administration, which itself implies he passed whatever tests they apply. Because his background has not been detailed in any media that I have seen, here is an extract from his Wikipedia entry:

“He received a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in engineering from Cairo University in 1975 and 1978, respectively. He then went overseas and received his PhD in engineering from the University of Southern California in the U.S. in 1982. He was an Assistant Professor at California State University, Northridge from 1982 to 1985. In 1985, he returned to Egypt to teach at Zagazig University. Two of his five children were born in California and are U.S. citizens by birth.

Of course, a Western education and having lived in LA do not necessarily imply much. But USC is one of those impressive American universities with a graceful campus in the Spanish mission style (and the oldest in California) notable for producing many movers and shakers in southern California political and business life (and a veritable who’s who of film directors from its famous film school including George Lucas who donated $175 million to his alma mater). It also has the most multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan student body in all of the US, which we’ve got to hope impressed the young Morsi with the better aspects of a tolerant liberal democracy. (Then again, another Egyptian engineer, also a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and had a postgraduate education in the West (in Germany) Mohamed Atta, was leader of the terrorists responsible for 9/11.)

Dare I say Morsi’s election is more hopeful than the past roll call of generals, military dictators and royal rulers of North Africa and the Middle East, who were trained at Britain’s renowned Sandhurst military school (though they say the claims that Idi Amin and Colonel Gaddafi attended are untrue).

What I am wondering is, how many authoritarians have been academics compared to military-trained men? For example, many Queenslanders are increasingly concerned at the illiberal and undemocratic actions of our Duntroon-trained Premier (Major) Newman. As cited in Monday’s Crikey, this year’s Miles Franklin winner Anna Funder said, in commenting on our great leader’s arbitrary nixing of the Queensland Literary Awards:

“I have spent my professional life studying totalitarian regimes and the brave people who speak out against them,” Funder told ABC Radio. “And the first thing that someone with dictatorial inclinations does is to silence the writers and the journalists.”

Given the Premier’s reversing, at a great rate, of socially progressive legislation often against explicit election promises, at this point I think I have more optimism about the former professor in Egypt. What next? Maybe our Major Newman will elevate himself to Colonel and we’ll have to have Queensland declared a no-fly zone!

Darebin council:

Alison Donohue and David Redfearn, co-convenors, Darebin Municipal Forum, write: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). We write to request you correct an article published by you today titled “Grassroots Rooted.”

Contrary to the reporting in the article, the Sunday meeting was not cancelled nor was a cancellation ever considered. A letter from the state ALP office was sent to all ALP Batman branch members advising them of a municipal discussion. A follow-up email was later sent to the branch members. There was no last-minute phone calls or text messages to cancel the meeting so any suggestions this did occur is entirely untrue.

The meeting went ahead with the required quorum and it was not at all a disappointing meeting. In fact, it was quite the opposite where many members expressed their views and opinions. Martin Ferguson, from the outset, put an apology in as he would be overseas at the time. Four of the nine councillors attended.

Several details as reported and informed by their “insider” and “tipster” are completely false, misleading and offensive to those branch members who were in attendance, so perhaps it would be wise for Crikey to double-check its sources.

Julian Assange:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Greens back Assange asylum plea, but US has already won” (June 21, item 5). When Julian Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London recently, it was curious. The usual Assange supporters have being rather subdued, having oddly (from an ideological perspective) attacked Sweden for so long.

Ecuador, under President Rafael Correa, has an apparently authoritarian socialist government, that has shot and killed striking policeman, and jailed and fined critical journalists, and then sought to create a complaint media environment by creating new government-aligned media outlets. The range and number of abuses of power of late by Correa are becoming quite extensive.

For Assange, as a supposed advocate of free speech, etc, seeking asylum in Ecuador is bizarre, he might as well have sought asylum in Cuba or Venezuela, both of whose governments are allies of Correa.

Robert Manne:  

A story in Tips and Rumours yesterday said that La Trobe University politics professor Robert Manne currently works 0.1 FTE, or one day a fortnight.

Manne writes:  There was an error in Tips & Rumours (June 26). I have always been and am still a full-time employee of La Trobe University. Presently my time is divided equally between teaching and the convening of the university’s Ideas & Society Program.