|   December 11, 2013   11:22 AM ET

It's the most famous selfie ever snapped - where we haven't actually seen the picture.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, in between US President Barack Obama and David Cameron, with a glowering Michelle Obama off to the side.

And it made the front pages of almost all UK newspapers, many calling it disrespectful and selfish at Nelson Mandela's memorial.

selfie

The famous selfie and its famous components

Sky's Anushka Asthana called out the papers for the faux-outrafge: "The only thing that picture made me feel was that for a moment they did not look like the THREE world leaders (did I mention, she is the Danish Prime Minister?) that they are. They looked human; excited; in awe of their surroundings."

Still, at least by the time the front pages came out, newspapers were sure it was Thorning-Schmidt.

Fox News called her an ”an unidentified official”.

Andrea Mann   |   December 11, 2013    9:37 AM ET

The internet was shocked yesterday by a photograph taken at the memorial for Nelson Mandela.

helle thorning schmidt

The selfie revealed that the Prime Minister of Denmark is, in fact, a woman.

People took to Twitter to express their shock and outrage.

"I honestly had no idea she was a woman - let alone an attractive one," tweeted one.

"I am shocked and disappointed by my lack of knowledge about European politics," posted another.

It is not yet known how tweeters will react when they find out that Helle Thorning-Schmidt is Neil Kinnock's daughter-in-law.

SEE ALSO: Five Amazing Facts About Helle Thorning-Schmidt

MORE TOPICALOLS:

Mehdi Hasan   |   December 11, 2013    7:59 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Tuesday 10 December...

1) NOT SO FREE SCHOOLS

Yet another blow to Michael Gove's education 'reforms' - this time from the National Audit Office (NAO) and on the issue of 'free schools'. The Independent reports:

"Michael Gove’s free schools cost twice as much to build as the Government originally estimated and are failing to tackle the shortage of classroom places in many parts of the country, a damning report by the public spending watchdog will say today.

"An analysis of the scheme by the National Audit Office has revealed that each school costs £6.6m to set up and that by March the whole programme will have cost £1.1bn – £743m of which is capital costs.

"Half the districts with the most pressing need for extra places do not have a single application for a new free school, while the report also shows that the 64 free schools that responded have almost three times as many unqualified teaching staff as the average for the state sector."

Ouch.

2) DAVE VS DEMENTIA

From the BBC:

"The UK will aim to double its annual funding for dementia research to £132m by 2025, up from the 2015 target of £66m, David Cameron has said.

"The prime minister's announcement comes before a dementia summit which is part of Britain's presidency of the G8... The global number of dementia sufferers is expected to treble to 135m by 2050."

Cameron also asked charities and businesses to step up to the funding plate; however, the Alzheimer's Society - which has promised to spend at least £100m on research in the next decade - says his proposal doesn't go far enough and has called for an "injection of ambition".

3) THE PM'S 'LITTLE BLACK BOOK'

The Prime Minister has been speaking to the Spectator and reveals he has a 'little black book' - but, fear not, SamCam, it's not that kind of little black book. From the Mail:

"Mr Cameron said the coalition had been strong and radical, but added: ‘Because of what I see as the problems facing Britain - and what I want to do next as Prime Minister - I feel very passionately that I want single party government.

"‘I don’t believe that you succeed in government by sitting around whingeing about what you can’t do. But I’m happy to tell you... that there’s a good list of things I have put in my little black book that I haven’t been able to do which will form the next Tory manifesto.’"

Talking of future coalitions, the former Lib Dem cabinet minister Michael Moore has done an interview with my HuffPost UK colleague Ned Simons in which he says a Labour-Lib Dem deal post-2015 is still on the cards - despite the vitriolic abuse that the two sides have heaped on each other in recent months:

"Has anybody looked back to how David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown dealt with each other before the last election? Come on. This is robust politics... PMQs and other oral questions times are gladiatorial moments where you have to be out there, you have to make your case. That's the way our political system is."

"As all the parties demonstrated in the aftermath of the last general election, if the electorate deals a hand that says none of you has a majority, you have to make things work in the national interest."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this spoof video of Barack Obama singing 'Jingle Bells'.

4) FRACK YEAH

It was inevitable - from the Times splash:

"Britain should press ahead with fracking, the chairman of the Government's climate change advisory body said yesterday.

"Lord Deben dismissed claims by green groups that fracking would cause significant damage to the environment, adding that Britain needed to drill shale wells to reduce reliance on foreign imports of fossil fuel. Lord Deben, who as John Gummer served as Environment Secretary in John Major's Government, told The Times: 'It just isn't true that fracking is going to destroy the environment and the world is going to come to an end if you frack. And yet to listen to some people on the green end, that's what they say.'"

"Greenpeace argues that gas and toxic chemicals used in fracking could contaminate water supplies and that exploiting mineral reserves impairs efforts to cut emissions."

5) 'NO SELFIE RESPECT'

That's the splash headline on the Sun, attacking "disrespectful" David Cameron, as well as Barack Obama and Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, for posing and smiling for a cheesy snap on the latter's camera phone in the middle of the Mandela memorial in Soweto. The picture instantly went viral yesterday afternoon; the HuffPost UK splashed on it with the headline, "Selfie Centred". The Mirror this morning goes with the headline, "Idiotic", while the pic also appears on the front pages of the Times, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

As the Sun reports, the picture "came as VIPs from around the world flocked to the emotional ceremony for Mr Mandela in Soweto, South Africa. But Mr Obama's wife Michelle didn't look impressed — and was later seen glaring at her husband as he chatted with 46-year-old Helle."

"Snaps of the selfie soon went viral, with some Twitter users calling it 'tasteless'."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39
Conservatives 34
Ukip 12
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 60.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew Parris, writing in the Times, "No, I’m not mad. MPs should get their pay rise."

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Now Labour could become the party of marriage and the family."

Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, says: "Make no mistake: Iain Duncan Smith wants the end of social security."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

  |   December 10, 2013    4:34 PM ET

President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, and Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt have taken a selfie today at the memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela.

The eyebrow-raising candid snap, calls to mind the infamous "Selfies At Funerals" tumblr - being at a memorial service and all.

helle thorning schmidt

TOP STORIES TODAY

selfie

The awkwardness is intensified by Michelle Obama appearing to look into the distance furiously pensively as the world leaders lean in rather cosily for the picture.

The rest of the soap opera drama was captured in a series of photos that suggest Mr Obama will have to face a bit of truth and reconciliation when he gets back on Air Force One.

The images have already gone viral, with many remarking on the appropriateness of the picture being taken at the memorial event, as well as the First Lady's expression.

Jessica Elgot   |   December 10, 2013    3:41 PM ET

There were a few serendipitous meetings amongst some of the world's most powerful people at the memorial for Nelson Mandela in Soweto.

We've learnt a lot about the state of world diplomacy, that Barack Obama doesn't mind incurring the wrath of Fox News for shaking hands with Cuba's Raul Castro, and South Africans definitely don't give Jacob Zuma a day off criticism.

But also we learnt that Bono is pals with George Bush, and that the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt couldn't resist a selfie with Obama.

  |   December 10, 2013   11:36 AM ET

To Graça Machel and the Mandela family; to President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of state and government, past and present; distinguished guests - it is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life unlike any other. To the people of South Africa - people of every race and walk of life - the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.

It is hard to eulogize any man - to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person - their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.

barack obama

Barack Obama was met with huge cheers

Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe - Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century. Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement - a movement that at its start held little prospect of success. Like King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed, and the moral necessity of racial justice. He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War. Emerging from prison, without force of arms, he would - like Lincoln - hold his country together when it threatened to break apart. Like America’s founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations - a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.

Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men. But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. “I’m not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection - because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried - that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood - a son and husband, a father and a friend. That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what’s possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.

Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his father. Certainly he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments…a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”

But like other early giants of the ANC - the Sisulus and Tambos - Madiba disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand-up for their dignity. Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price. “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination,” he said at his 1964 trial. “I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

obama mandela speech

Obama said Mandela's example showed the world it can change


Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don’t. He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet. He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and passion, but also his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.

Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that, “prisoners cannot enter into contracts.” But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. And because he was not only a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy; true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.

Finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu - that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this was innate in him, or how much of was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small - introducing his jailors as honored guests at his inauguration; taking the pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS - that revealed the depth of his empathy and understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions to find that truth within themselves. It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.

For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe - Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate his heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life?

It is a question I ask myself - as a man and as a President. We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people - known and unknown - to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done. The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger, and disease; run-down schools, and few prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.

We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

The questions we face today - how to promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end conflict and sectarian war - do not have easy answers. But there were no easy answers in front of that child in Qunu. Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows us that is true. South Africa shows us we can change. We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.

We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world - you can make his life’s work your own. Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities - to others, and to myself - and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us. After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength - for his largeness of spirit - somewhere inside ourselves. And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach - think of Madiba, and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

What a great soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela. May God bless the people of South Africa.

  |   December 10, 2013    8:28 AM ET

The life of Nelson Mandela is being celebrated at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, where the former South African president made his last public appearance at the stadium at the closing ceremony of the 2010 football World Cup.

More than 60 heads of state are attending the day of speeches, music and celebration.

Follow our live updates below.

Mehdi Hasan   |   December 9, 2013   10:45 PM ET

The five things you need to know on Tuesday 10 December...

1) WERE TORIES 'COMPLICIT' WITH APARTHEID?

Don't mess with Peter Hain. Speaking in the Commons yesterday, during the MPs' tribute to Nelson Mandela, the former Labour cabinet minister and veteran anti-apartheid activist, slammed Tories who try to "rewrite" the history of their party's relationship with apartheid South Africa.

"I praise the Prime Minister for admitting his party's record, which I have to describe as craven indulgence to apartheid rulers," Hain said.

"And if Nelson Mandela can forgive his oppressors, who am I not to the same to our opponents the decades of the anti-apartheid struggle. But it really does stick in the craw, when Lord Tebbit, Charles Moore and others similar claim their complicity with apartheid, for that's what I think it was, somehow brought about its end."

He added: "I know that Nelson Mandela did not think so."

Ouch. Talking of forgiveness, and reconciliation, isn't it a fitting tribute to the unifying powers of Madiba that his memorial in South Africa later today will bring together historic enemies - in attendance will be President Barack Obama of the United States and presidents Raoul Castro and Hasan Rouhani of Iran. You don't see that everyday.

Meanwhile, the Mail reports:

"David Cameron.. hailed Nelson Mandela as a ‘towering figure’ as Parliament cleared its agenda for eight hours of tributes to the former South African president.

"But the Prime Minister’s moving homage to Mr Mandela’s ‘enduring place in history’ risked being undermined when he tweeted during the opening speeches.

"Just minutes after the Commons session began, Mr Cameron’s official account released a picture of himself, with ITV’s Little Ant and Dec admiring a reindeer."

2) IT WASN'T ME

IDS did his best impression of Shaggy yesterday. As my colleague Asa Bennett reports:

"Iain Duncan Smith has blamed Tory party headquarters, party chairman Grant Shapps, journalists from right-wing papers and Labour 'moaning' for causing 'fear and alarm' about his welfare reforms.

"In a tense grilling before the Work and Pensions committee, Duncan Smith rejected accusations that the coalition's abuse of statistics to misrepresent the welfare system caused 'fear and alarm'."

Basically: it wasn't me. Blame everyone else. Except me.

Meanwhile, as the Guardian's Patrick Wintour reports:

"The government has increased its initial write-off of a failed IT system for universal credit by £6m, to £40.1m, but acknowledged that a further £90m of software is likely to be written down in its value over the next five years.

"The precise loss to the taxpayer will depend on how much of the existing IT software is retained after it has been merged with a new IT system being developed by the Cabinet Office's Government Digital Service."

He adds:

"The latest statistics were given by the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, as he denied that the universal credit timetable was slipping or that it was losing control of its overall budget. Asked if further write-offs could be expected, he said: 'If anything goes wrong going further forward, that might be different.'"

Fingers crossed, eh?

3) 'WARP SPEED'? NO THANKS

Captain Mark Carney of the Starship Bank of England reporting for duty. From the Telegraph front page:

"The governor of the Bank of England has said he would act if needed to prevent the UK housing market growing at 'warp speed' but signalled that the Bank is unlikely to raise interest rates any time soon.

"Mark Carney said yesterday that the Bank was concerned about the 'potential' for a bubble in the UK real estate sector and that the Bank would consider tightening lending requirements if needed.

"'There is a history of things shifting in the UK and of the housing market moving from stall speed to warp speed and [of] underwriting standards slipping. We want to avoid that,' he said.

"The Bank has already scrapped its Funding for Lending scheme for mortgages and will pull other forms of support if it does not slow down sufficiently. 'The Bank [has] a broad range of additional tools if required,' Mr Carney said."

However:

"Although he left the door open for the Bank to increase interest rates 'soon', he said it would be a mistake 'to rush to a more extreme response' when the UK economy remains patchy."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of how NOT to move a car that's stuck in the snow.

4) NIGEL TO THE RESCUE

On Sunday, the Mail on Sunday splashed on a video of Ukip councillor Victoria Ayling in which, referring to immigrants to the UK, she said she would like to "send the lot back". On Monday, her party leader Nigel Farage came to the rescue.

From the Guardian:

"The Ukip leader condemned the report, first published in the Mail on Sunday, saying that Ayling's words on immigration appeared to have been 'deliberately distorted and taken out of context'. She has said the remarks refer just to illegal immigrants, and claims she is the victim of a set-up by her ex-husband..'I am sure many of you are aware of the attack by the Mail on Sunday on a Ukip councillor this weekend,' Farage wrote. 'I firstly want to reassure you that I believe this attack on Victoria Ayling to be unwarranted, and have the utmost sympathy with her. Her words on immigration, it would appear, were deliberately distorted and taken out of context in order to paint a very nasty picture ... This indicates very clearly to me the sort of tactics our political opponents will use in the runup to the European elections next year.'"

5) PROPS ON DISPLAY?

It was Gordon Brown who famously said in a conference speech: "Some people have been asking why I haven't served my children up for spreads in the papers. And my answer is simple. My children aren't props; they're people."

Well, perhaps he should have a word with his successor as PM and his successor as Labour leader - both Cameron and Miliband have revealed their personalised Christmas cards for 2013 and, as the BBC reports (and shows), "David and Samantha Cameron have chosen a black and white portrait of the couple and their youngest daughter Florence for their 2013 Christmas card... For their festive offering, Labour leader Ed Miliband and his wife Justine have chosen an image of the couple walking along the Brighton seafront with their two sons Sam and Daniel."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Guardian/ICM poll:

Labour 37
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 54.

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 38
Conservatives 33
Ukip 13
Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 58.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@Nigel_Farage He could at least have worn a jaunty santa hat or a tinsel bow tie....#cameronxmascard

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "The shambles over Universal Credit highlights a lack of accountability throughout the Civil Service."

Aditya Chakrabortty, writing in the Guardian, says: "Let's admit it: Britain is now a developing country."

Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "If we truly value democratic politics, then we must say MPs deserve their pay rise."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

From South Africa to Palestine and the MENA Region!

Dr Harry Hagopian   |   December 9, 2013   12:30 PM ET

There is a huge gap between black and white. The rainbow nation is a dream, not a reality! Mamello Tlakeli who has worked as a waitress in South Africa

I am proud to aver that a few tears welled up in my eyes last week when I heard that Nelson Mandela had passed away at the grand old age of 95. Why, some readers might perhaps ask, since Madiba (or Tata, a less familiar term of endearment for him) was not a young man who had abruptly been felled down by a massive stroke or heart attack. Besides, I have no South African genes or connections in my own life and have only visited the country once many moons ago.

The reason is simply because I respect this leader for his human endurance, perseverance, vision, humility and lack of bitterness - let alone his shrewd political ability to hold his country together when he came out of gaol and espoused truth and reconciliation rather than vengeance and score-settling. In a world of political pygmies, he stands out tall for me.

But despite my deep admiration for Nelson Mandela, I also know that this Nobel Prize laureate was no more than a charismatic and largely symbolic figure during the last decade of his life. As a lawyer who together with Oliver Tambo had opened the first black law firm in South Africa, his real political career was annealed in prison (mainly on Robben Island) and then during his self-limiting one term as president of a new black-rule South Africa. His successors have lapsed into the mediocre and allegedly corruptible practices and are not many miles ahead of fellow African (or Asian, or Middle Eastern, or other) politicians worldwide today. This is why I shed a few tears for this caring 'grandfather' whilst also understanding the statement last Sunday by Mamello Tlakeli in The New York Times.

But the death of Mandela also sparked the imagination of Palestinians and other Arab citizens from the MENA region. This was quite evident to me first-hand on Twitter and other social media tools where many messages exclaimed the sad dearth of a similar Arab Mandela who could extricate the region from its many crises. My own immediate contribution to Twitter reiterated that, "Madiba was much more than a simple leader. He was also the metaphor for a friend."

I suppose the Palestinian enthusiasm for Mandela stems from his now-famous statement at The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in Pretoria on 4 December 1997. Mind you, he also spoke about East Timor, Sudan and Yitzhak Rabin in the same speech, but the quotation that fired up Palestinian imaginations was his statement that, "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."

The excitement of the rest of the Arab World is in part also a result of the bloody attempts to put down the aspirations of all those men and women seeking their own dignity, freedom and real citizenship across parts of the MENA region.

But let me be a tad critical here. On the one hand, I do not like it when Palestinians - or other peoples for that matter - indulge in a sense of victimhood or glory by proxy for their cause. The Palestinian cause is one of the longest festering conflicts and its root causes as much as contemporary manifestations are quite clear to most people. Do we need a Mandela or an Obama or even a Dalai Lama to tell us about them? I would rather Palestinians stood up for their own rights by reaching out to others in a pragmatic way that does not constantly bemoan the past but looks instead boldly toward the future. And I would rather that Arab World leaders stopped their duplicitous use of the Palestinian political sobriquet for their own domestic or international purposes. This applies as much to the final parameters of a solution as it does to the attitudes adopted by, say, Hamas as it lobs off fireworks it labels as rockets into Israel or as it does to the endemic corruption across the political board. Israel colonises more and more Palestinian - Arab - Muslim and Christian - lands and what is the regional reaction? Words, sighs and fiery statements accompanied by requests for financial aid.

As for the whole MENA region in quest of a Mandela-like man or woman, I would opine that there surely are one or two men (I cannot sadly include women here) in the ordinary wakes of Arab society who possess his skills and leadership? But they are perhaps unable or else disallowed to raise their heads above the parapet. The MENA has to look inward and apply the axiomatic advice for 'physician, heal thyself' before expecting much more from others. Yet, sadly, many Arabs - non-citizens within their own states - find it necessary to recall their past glories, persecute each other on confessional or sectarian grounds, be indifferent to their national solidarity and depend on inapt leaders inside or outside their borders.

In his eulogy to Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama described him as "a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice." This is true for his times, but the truth in South Africa as much as in Palestine or the MENA region is that more men and women should take history in their hands and bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. Mind you, natural justice precludes unfettered corruption or unbridled nepotism as it does an obsequious and rights-unfriendly over-dependence on others. But will they truly be allowed to do so?

Mandela, in his long road toward freedom, opposed white domination as much as he opposed black domination. This was one of his strengths as he applied it in his policies in the early 1990's. One legacy he leaves with me - and hopefully with others too - is a more acute awareness that apartheid comes in different shapes, colours and also situations!

Elliot Wagland   |   December 9, 2013   11:19 AM ET

As the year draws to an end, we've witnessed some incredible and truly powerful pictures during the last 12 months.

The Huffington Post's own picture editors have searched through thousands of images and we've hand-picked the 12 most defining pictures of 2013.


JANUARY

fireworks over the london eye

Fireworks over the London Eye, in central London, as part of the New Year celebrations.

FEBRUARY

oscar pistorius court

Oscar Pistorius enters the court room during the second day of Oscar Pistorius bail application at Pretoria Magistrates Court, Pretoria, South Africa.


MARCH

pope francis march

Newly elected Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Vatican. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.


APRIL

war on terror

Police officers with their guns drawn hear the second explosion down the street. The first explosion knocked down 78-year-old US marathon runner Bill Iffrig at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon.


MAY

plaza towers elementary

A woman carries a child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. A tornado as much as half a mile wide with winds up to 200 mph roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighbourhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.


JUNE

andy murray wimbledon trophy

Britain's Andy Murray kisses the winner's trophy during the presentation after beating Serbia's Novak Djokovic in the men's singles final on day thirteen of the 2013 Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament at the All England Club in Wimbledon.


JULY

prince george hospital

Prince William and Kate Middleton, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital with their new born baby boy, Paddington, London.


AUGUST

robin thicke miley cyrus

Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus perform at the MTV Video Music Awards at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York.


SEPTEMBER

costa concordia

This combination made on September 17, 2013 shows a file picture taken on June 23, 2012 showing the Costa Concordia near the harbour of Giglio Porto (top) and a picture of the Concordia after being pulled upright (bottom) in the biggest ever project of its kind on September 17, 2013.


OCTOBER

wave portugal surfer

Brazilian surfer Carlos Burle rides a big wave at the Praia do Norte, north beach, outside the fishing village of Nazare in Portugal's Atlantic coast Monday, Oct. 28 2013. Surf media suggest it could be the biggest wave ever surfed.


NOVEMBER

typhoon haiyan

Destroyed houses lie in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines. The city remains littered with debris from damaged homes as many complain of shortages of food and water and no electricity since Typhoon Haiyan slammed into their province. Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, slammed into six central Philippine islands.


DECEMBER

selfie

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a 'selfie' picture with Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt (C) next to US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) during the memorial service of South African former president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.


A Regime Implicated in War Crimes Must Not Be Involved in the Rebuilding of Syria

Nehad Ismail   |   December 7, 2013    4:35 PM ET

Can we trust Bashar al Assad and his regime, which systematically destroyed the country over nearly three years, with the re-building of Syria? Thanks to Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, Bashar al Assad is staying on until at least the summer of 2014 under a dubious deal to dismantle and destroy al-Assad's stockpiles of chemicals and gases. Recent UN Human Rights reports stated that 11,420 children were killed in Syria between March 2011 and August 2013. Among them, 389 were killed by snipers, 764, executed and 100, tortured. Another UN report claimed that a growing body of evidence collected by UN investigators points to the responsibility of senior Syrian officials, including President Assad himself, in crimes against humanity and war crimes. So far the death toll in Syria's civil war has risen to at least 126,000. Yet the world is powerless to act because of the "Russia-US Deal to remove Syria's chemical stockpile".

The huge task of rebuilding Syria in future is going to be fraught with problems, hurdles and obstacles. The biggest problem is the tyrant Bashar al Assad himself. If he remains in power, the rebuilding would fail.

In Kuwait on Friday 6th December British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad must stand down to allow for any peaceful settlement to the 33-month-old conflict in his country. He said to a press conference:
"It is impossible to imagine after so many deaths, so much destruction, and a regime oppressing and murdering its own people on this scale" should remain in power Hague told a press conference.

In London on October 23rd CNN reported that Syrian opposition leaders and the "Friends of Syria" group agreed that planned peace talks in Geneva will aim to bring about a democratic transition for Syria in which President Bashar al-Assad plays no part. The US Secretary of State said: "We are clear that Syrian President Assad has no role in a peaceful and democratic Syria".
There we have it from the American horse's mouth; there is no role for al Assad in a peaceful democratic Syria. This can be translated to mean there is no role for Bashar al Assad in the rebuilding of Syria. It is inconceivable that Western donors and oil rich Arab countries will rush to make generous contributions for the rebuilding of Syria if Bashar al Assad is still in power.

A Plan must be in place:

Some would argue it is too early to talk about economic reconstruction of Syria whilst the civil war still rages on. I believe an economic rebuilding plan should be in place ready for implementation as soon as the conflict ends. Essential services must be restored and emergency programmes must be started to help during the transitional period.
The immediate challenge in Syria is dealing with the destruction and how to proceed. How to impose authority over all the militias who are fighting in Syria, and how to handle the humanitarian aspects to ensure the place is working again with law and order established and quickly. Breakdown of law and order is of real concern to the Syrian people.
The fabric of Syrian society is being torn apart under the pressure of escalating sectarian fighting. Over 50% of infrastructure has been destroyed. The longer the war continues, more infrastructure will be degraded.
The biggest challenge is how to contain the foreign jihadists and Islamic fighters whose ultimate objective is not a stable secular prosperous Syria, but a theocratic state applying the draconian Sharia Law on a population that does not want it. Amid the destruction, it is important for the transitional authority to consider how to piece back together the delicate ethnic and religious mosaic which was shattered by the violence. It is imperative that minorities are protected and must be included in the new political structure. The entire world would be watching.

A year ago it was estimated that the Syrian economy had lost 50 billion US dollars since the eruption of the protests in March 2011. Recent estimates put the loss at 100 billion US Dollars. Unemployment is above 70%. There are severe shortages in fuel and essential supplies. The agricultural sector has been decimated. One in three Syrians relies on relief aid to exist. Tourism has evaporated. Oil revenues dried up as the rebels have seized the biggest oil wells. In November 2013 rebels led by al Qaeda-linked fighters had seized Syria's largest oilfield, cutting off President Bashar al-Assad's access to almost all local crude reserves.

Last year Syrian official sources said that the war in Syria had cost its economy up to £60 billion and a more than a quarter of all homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. Recent estimates put the number of houses destroyed or severely damaged at 2 million. The true figures are much higher by now.

Syria's vicious civil war, in which the regime has relied on air power to crush the rebels, has destroyed infrastructure and residential areas. Even factories, workshops and hospitals have not been spared. Schools and mosques were targeted.
If reconstruction is to commence, the fighting must stop and Bashar al Assad must go.
Western sources estimate that 80 to 100 billion US dollars would be needed. An immense task that would require international effort involving the UN, the US, the EU and the Arab Gulf States. It is most unlikely that the Arab Gulf states, EU and the USA would be willing to provide tangible assistance if Bashar al Assad remains in power.

Learning from the Iraqi experience:

Poor Planning, lack of accurate information, unreliable data about costs and priorities are recipes for failure. Politically motivated policies based on ideological or religious grounds will not work as the Iraqi experience had shown. For example dismissing workers and dissolving the security apparatus can lead to chaos. The De-Baathification in Iraq which is the cleansing of the previous regime's employees, workers and worst of all the dismantling of the army and police forces was catastrophic. Iraq is still paying the price of such misguided policies. Ten years after the fall of the former Saddam regime, Iraq is still suffering from violence, shortages, corruption and poor public services.

In the final analysis, for reconstruction to commence, the conflict must end and the fighting must stop. The top priority is the removal of the regime which is responsible for the wholesale destruction of the country.

A regime that brought death and destruction to its own people and caused the displacement of millions of Syrian just to stay in power, does not deserve to take part in the rehabilitation of the devastated country.

Ned Simons   |   December 5, 2013   10:24 PM ET

"He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages." President Obama paid tribute to Nelson Mandela on Thursday evening following the news the iconic South African leader had died.

Speaking in the White House, Obama said Mandela's mark on the world was made "through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others".

"He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today he has gone home. We have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth."

Obama, the first black president of a country that shares with South Africa a history of racial division, added: "His journey from a prisoner to a president embodies the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives."

"The fact that he did it all with grace and good humour and an ability recognise his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable."

In Britain David Cameron led tributes Mandela tonight, saying "a great light has gone out in the world". The flag at No 10 will be flown at half-mast in honour of the former leader, who was a "hero of our time", the prime minister said.

He wrote on Twitter: "A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I've asked for the flag at No10 to be flown at half mast."

In a more detailed statement put out by Downing Street, Cameron said: "A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death - a true global hero.

"Across the country he loved they will be mourning a man who was the embodiment of grace. Meeting him was one of the great honours of my life. My heart goes out to his family - and to all in South Africa and around the world whose lives were changed through his courage."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "The world has lost the global hero of our age. Nelson Mandela showed us the true meaning of courage, hope, and reconciliation."

SEE ALSO:


  |   December 5, 2013   10:00 PM ET

David Cameron has announced Downing Street's flag will fly at half-mast on Friday as world leaders paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, the revolutionary South African president, who died on Thursday aged 95.

Mandela, who died peacefully with family alongside him, was a "hero of our time", the prime minister wrote on Twitter shortly after the confirmation of Mandela's death by the incumbent president Jacob Zuma.

Cameron was joined by a number of world leaders including the US president Barack Obama, European Commission leader Jose Manuel Barroso and ex-Australian prime minister Julia Gillard in offering their condolences to the family of Mandela and his countrymen on the site.

The Labour leader Ed Miliband later wrote that "Nelson Mandela showed us the true meaning of courage, hope, and reconciliation".

Bill Clinton, president in the United States during Mandela's time in office, tweeted that he "would never forget his friend Madiba", accompanied by a picture of the two close friends.

Click through the slides below to read world leaders' reactions to the death of the legendary man.


SEE ALSO:

  |   December 5, 2013   11:16 AM ET

Michelle Obama welcomed the 2013 holidays into the White House on Wednesday with military families, hot cider, hand-decorated cookies, a 300-pound gingerbread White House and… a toddler takedown with the family pet.

Sunny, the 1-year-old Portuguese water dog the Obamas got during the summer, excitedly bounded into a State Dining Room full of children dressed in sparkly shoes and lacy dresses and headed right for Ashtyn Gardner, 2, of Mobile, Ala.

But far from being a violent and bloodthirsty beast, it appears that Sunny merely startled the little girl, causing her to step backwards and trip over another visiting child's walker.

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michelle obama

michelle obama

michelle obama

michelle obama

michelle obama

There was no cause for alarm as the little girl was up on her feet in seconds with Sunny licking her face.

Obama's new dog took down a two-year-old and other anima... on Twitpic

Other animals seem more vindictive in their takedown of toddlers (although some of these children may not be entirely innocent themselves)...


Animals Who Hate Children: