FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Thursday:  July 24, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Bahrain (11)

Sunday
Jun032012

Current Revolutions Will Unleash Enormous Energy (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: The Arab Spring, Documentary, RT)

By Khalifa Rashid Al Shaali

Youth in the Arab world inherited false values from older generation but refused to accept them. Despite the lapse of a year-and-a-half since the eruption of the popular revolutions in many Arab countries - including Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria among others - some still cast doubts that these revolutions are driven by foreign forces and are not spontaneous reactions by Arab masses, who revolted against tyrannical regimes.

These doubts are baseless and amount to conspiracy theories. They reflect disbelief in the ability of Arab masses to revolt against their autocratic regimes. Not only ordinary people but also some highly educated people believe in conspiracy theories that the Arabs’ enemy is behind these revolutions, trying to wreak havoc in the region. This theory undoubtedly belittles the Arab masses and limits their role to being mere tools in the hands of western powers, which seek to destabilize the Arab region.

(PHOTO: Flags of the Arab World/CARNEGIE)Those who cast doubts can’t believe that the young people are the ones behind mass demonstrations that have swept the Arab world, and that they are still demanding change.

But it is not surprising that the youth, who have the modern tools of communication and networking with the outside world, have managed to achieve what the older generations failed to.  

They succeeded in leading masses in many Arab countries and, moreover, they have gone beyond all our expectations.

They made the use of technology to organize street protests and address the outside world in the language it understands.

We must acknowledge the superiority of today’s generation, which inherited our false values but refused to accept them after realizing they would only lead to more humiliations.

The Arab youth sought to realize their dreams of dignity, freedom and social justice. They went further by demanding the end of their ruling regimes and a comprehensive restructuring of the old system. Most revolutions began peacefully, with the young protestors adopting a peaceful revolutionary approach and only demanding reforms. Yet, the stubbornness of ruling regimes, which denied their demands, prompted the revolutionaries to ask for more.

(PHOTO: Arab Youth make their voice heard/DAILYSTAR)There were many reasons behind the outbreak of the revolutions. The youth have been suffering from unemployment, injustice, oppression, and this led many of them to immigrate from their countries in “coffin boats”, sailing across the Mediterranean Sea to an unknown world, risking their lives in the course of the journey.

Those who were not able to immigrate tried to bring about change under the banner of reform. But their demands were denied and the prevailing political and social culture across most Arab countries prohibited them from expressing themselves in public, and engaging meaningfully in civic and political activity.

Young Arab talent has been wasted for the most part in recent history. But this is now starting to change, after people took the initiative to change their status.

The explosion of youth anger and determination to change their world were the impetus for the revolutions across the Arab world.

(PHOTO: Arab youth unemployment is some of highest in the world/BikyaMasr)The current revolutions will undoubtedly unleash enormous energy and talent that have been bottled up in the minds, bodies and spirits of the youth across the region.

Arab youth initiated this historic transformation across the Middle East because they had always carried within them the determination to break free of the constraints that their societies and their governments had imposed on them for so many decades.

(PHOTO: Young people learning technology/ASHOKAARAB)The young people are the ones who lead today’s battle and will definitely win it since they have the will and determination, while the older generations must acknowledge the superiority of the young and accept their leadership in this battle for change.

We, the older generation, should admit our mistakes and give way to the youth before it is too late and give the younger generation their right to lead Arab societies towards a better future and catch up with the modern world.

It is true that the senior generation do not have the tools and the will for change that can help advance the Arab nation. History reminds us that they earlier failed, and do not have the ability to do it now.

Hence, the older generation must pass the torch on to the youth.

--- Dr Khalifa Rashid Al Sha’ali is an Emirati writer who specialises in legal affairs. This commentary originally appeared in GulfNews.

Tuesday
Mar272012

With US Health Law Debate at Supreme Court, A Look at the State Of Global Health Care (REPORT) 

(Video BNBalenda)

(HN, March 27, 2012) - As the US Supreme Court takes up a controversial healthcare reform bill - the signature campaign issue of President Barack Obama's 2008 election promises - the fate of US citizens healthcare system remains in the hands of just 9 people.  

After two days of hearings at the high court where lawyers on both sides are presenting arguments, the Justices appear closely divided along ideological lines with the majority of questions to the Obama administration's lawyer being about whether Congress had the power to require people to buy medical insurance; the main sticking point of the law.

The court will hear a third and final day of arguments on Wednesday. 26 of the 50 states and a small-business trade group are challenging a law they say would essentially define where the limits would be on US federal power if people opposed to insurance were forced to buy coverage.

The court's ruling on the insurance requirement, which takes effect in 2014 according to current law passed by the US Congress in 2010, could decide the fate of the massive multi-part healthcare overhaul meant to improve access to medical care and extend insurance to more than 30 million Americans.

Outside the venerable Washington, DC courthouse, thousands of people demonstrated for and against the law which many in US politics call "Obamacare".  After the three day presentations, the Court is scheduled to take some time, and release its decision on whether or not the law is constitutional sometime in late summer; making the healthcare issue a central campaign theme again in November 2012 US presidential election

A hard fought US Republican candidate race has been playing out for months between former US state of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, former US Senator Rick Santorum, and US Congressman Ron Paul - all of whom have significant professional experience with the healthcare issue.

But for the US public, the physicians community, and the American insurance industry the delay in deciding where the healthcare system is going is troubling and for many, means the - expensive - difference between life and death. 

(GRAPH: NatGeo 2007 table showing relationship between health care costs, life expectancy) The United States spends more on medical care per person than any country, yet life expectancy is shorter than in most other developed nations and many developing ones. Annual U.S. healthcare spending totals $2.6 trillion, about 18% of the annual GDP, or $8,402 per person according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

A New York Times/CBS News poll showed that a narrow majority of Americans oppose the individual mandate, 51% to 45%, but strongly supported other provisions of the law covering pre-existing medical conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents' health insurance plans. Roughly 15% of Americans lack insurance coverage, a factor in life span which contributes to an estimated 45,000 deaths a year.

HEALTHCARE IN OTHER COUNTRIES

In other countries, the decision to create a universal or government supported health care system has been an easier one, long decided upon.

32 of the 33 developed nations of the world have universal health care, with the United States being the lone exception. The following list, compiled from World Health Organization sources, shows the start date and type of  system used to implement universal health care in each developed country; and a `universal health care plan' can mean having both public and private insurance and medical providers.

(GRAPH: Blue countries have a government health system, green going there, orange 2-tier/WHO)These are in order of date of system:  Norway, 1912, Single Payer; New Zealand, 1938, Two Tier; Japan, 1938, Single Payer; Germany, 1941, Insurance Mandate; Belgium, 1945, Insurance Mandate; United Kingdom, 1948, Single Payer; Kuwait, 1950, Single Payer; Sweden, 1955, Single Payer; Bahrain, 1957, Single Payer;  Brunei, 1958, Single Payer; Canada, 1966, Single Payer; Netherlands, 1966, Two-Tier; Austria, 1967, Insurance Mandate; United Arab Emirates, 1971, Single Payer; Finland, 1972, Single Payer; Slovenia, 1972, Single Payer; Denmark, 1973, Two-Tier; Luxembourg, 1973, Insurance Mandate; France, 1974, Two-Tier; Australia, 1975, Two Tier; Ireland, 1977, Two-Tier; Italy, 1978, Single Payer; Portugal, 1979, Single Payer; Cyprus, 1980, Single Payer; Greece, 1983, Insurance Mandate; Spain, 1986, Single Payer; South Korea, 1988, Insurance Mandate; Iceland, 1990, Single Payer; Hong Kong, 1993, Two-Tier; Singapore, 1993, Two-Tier; Switzerland, 1994, Insurance Mandate; Israel, 1995, Two-Tier.

System Types:

Single Payer: The government provides insurance for all residents (or citizens) and pays all health care expenses except for copays and coinsurance. Providers may be public, private, or a combination of both.

Two-Tier: The government provides or mandates catastrophic or minimum insurance coverage for all residents (or citizens), while allowing the purchase of additional voluntary insurance or fee-for service care when desired. In Singapore all residents receive a catastrophic policy from the government coupled with a health savings account that they use to pay for routine care. In other countries like Ireland and Israel, the government provides a core policy which the majority of the population supplement with private insurance.

Insurance Mandate: The government mandates that all citizens purchase insurance, whether from private, public, or non-profit insurers. In some cases the insurer list is quite restrictive, while in others a healthy private market for insurance is simply regulated and standardized by the government. In this kind of system insurers are barred from rejecting sick individuals, and individuals are required to purchase insurance, in order to prevent typical health care market failures from arising.

---HUMNEWS, with research from WHO, Wikipedia, NatGeo.

Sunday
Jan152012

(UPDATED) International Films at Tonight's Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe Awards

(PHOTO: Ricky Gervais, JUST JARED) Tonight in Hollywood, the 69th annual Golden Globe awards put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) will take place.  Hosted, as it has been for the past three years, British comedian Ricky Gervais will be back even though in his past appearances he has caused controversy by taking aim at Mel Gibson and Sir Paul McCartney in 2010; and again in 2011 when he openly questioned the sexuality of "some famous Scientologists" before revisiting the troubled past of actor Robert Downey Jr.

Gervais has tweeted about his Globes game plan in the days leading up to the show: "I keep having to write new jokes as I pick my victims, I mean targets, I mean presenters to introduce. Some great people have confirmed." He even told Twitter followers that he'll be drinking lager, ad-libbing and speaking his mind.

The HFPA origins stem from a group of journalists' desire “to efficiently and accurately cover all aspects of the world of entertainment”.  According to the group’s website, “today's organization has its roots in the early 1940s when Pearl Harbor had drawn America into World War II. Audiences, hungry for diversion, were seeking out films offering escape, inspiration and entertainment.  Amid the turmoil of war and the difficulties with communications, a handful of Los Angeles-based overseas journalists banded together to share contacts, information and material.”

   

(Ricky Gervais 2011 Golden Globe Opening Monologue, Courtesy Golden Globe Awards)

In 1943 the journalists, led by the correspondent for Britain's Daily Mail, formed the HFPA and conceived the motto “Unity Without Discrimination of Religion or Race.”  The group’s first special event was a luncheon in December 1947, at which a plaque was awarded to Harry M. Warner, president of Warner Bros., in recognition of his humanitarian work as the principal sponsor of the “Friendship Train,” which left Hollywood with food, clothing and medical supplies for the needy of Europe.

 

(THE FLOWER OF WAR, CHINA)

During its early years the HFPA established itself with the studios by innovations such as its World Favorites awards, which it came up with by polling more than 900 newspapers, magazines and radio stations around the world. The group also came up with the idea of "bon voyage" interview lunches with actors and actresses who were leaving to make films in countries represented by the members.

At first awards were only given for films, but in 1955 the Golden Globes began honoring achievements in television too. Today, the Golden Globes recognize achievements in 25 categories; 14 in motion pictures and 11 in television. Dick Clark Productions has produced the Golden Globes ceremony since 1983. 

 

(THE KID WITH A BIKE, BELGIUM)

Today the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association represent some 55 countries with a combined readership of more than 250 million. Their publications include leading newspapers and magazines in Europe, Asia, Australasia and Latin America, ranging from the Daily Telegraph in England to Le Figaro in France, L'Espresso in Italy and Vogue in Germany as well as the China Times and the pan-Arabic magazine Kul Al Osra.

However, despite the group’s international beginnings, only one of the twenty six categories for awards features `International Films”.  This year from China, Belgium, Iran, Spain and the United States.

The Flowers Of War (China) features Christian Bale and Ni Ni tells the story of a Westerner who finds refuge with a group of women in a church during Japan's rape of Nanking in 1937. Posing as a priest, he attempts to lead the women to safety.

 

(A SEPARATION, IRAN)

The Kid With A Bike (Belgium) directed by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, starring Cécile de France and Thomas Doret.  Set in Seraing, it tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who turns to a woman after his father has abandoned him. The film was produced through companies in Belgium, France and Italy.

A Separation (Iran) tells the story of a married couple who are faced with a difficult decision, to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimers. The film stars Peyman Moadi, Leila Hatami and Sareh Bayat.

 

(THE SKIN I LIVE IN, SPAIN)

The Skin I Live In (Spain) features the story of a brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, who creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession. The film stars Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Jan Cornet.

And Angelina Jolie’s recently released film In The Land Of Blood And Honey (United States) which tells a story which took place during the Bosnian War, in which Danijel, a soldier fighting for the Serbs, re-encounters Ajla, a Bosnian who's now a captive in his camp he oversees. Their once promising connection has become ambiguous as their motives have changed.  Directed and written by Jolie the film stars Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic and Rade Serbedzija.

The 68th Golden Globes will be seen LIVE around the world on local broadcasters from Brazil to Botswana to Bahrain and beyond.

---HUMNEWS

Saturday
Jan142012

One year on, Tunisia and the Arab Spring (Perspective) 

Interview with Gilbert Achcar, professor of political science at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

One year after the start of a revolutionary process in Tunisia which swept through the Arab region and continues today, International Viewpoint asked Gilbert Achcar to look at the current state of play throughout the region. This interview was conducted on December 14, 2011.

We are approaching the first anniversary of the outbreak of the "Arab Spring", in Tunisia. The overthrow of Ben Ali opened the way to the mass mobilisations in Egypt and the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, the mobilisations in Yemen and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the mobilisations in the Gulf States and in Syria in favour of democracy. How can we characterise these movements?

These are effectively movements which have as their common point the demand for democracy: they take place in countries with despotic regimes and they demand a change of regime, a change in the form of government and the democratisation of political life. This dimension is common to the movements cited, and it also gives them their strength because the democratic demand allows unification of a broad mass of people of different views, when it combines with a potential for social revolt that is very strong in the region. It should not be forgotten that in Tunisia the movement began with a social explosion. Young Mohamed Bouazizi, who set fire to himself, protested against his conditions of existence and did not advance political demands. His case highlighted the problem of endemic unemployment in the countries of the region, notably youth unemployment, the economic crisis, the absence of social perspectives. These are the basic ingredients. But when they combine with the opposition to a despotic regime, it takes on considerable proportions, as we can see in the countries mentioned. In contrast, in the countries where the despotic question has not been posed with the same acuteness, or the regime is more liberal and more tolerant of political diversity — Morocco for example — we find a movement built on social questions, but which has not yet acquired the breadth rapidly attained in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.

How do you see the evolution of US policy and that of the European countries in the region? Do the elections in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, or the military intervention in Libya, constitute a recovery of the initiative on the part of imperialism or the comprador national bourgeoisies?

In your question, there are two actors: the bourgeoisies and imperialism. These are not exactly the same thing. Moreover, this is a part of the world where those who now work in concert with the Western powers, with the US in particular, are not all governments that one could characterise as bourgeois — I am talking about the Gulf oil monarchies, which have a pre-capitalist dimension, which are rentier castes, exploiting the oil rent. In these countries, it is not the local bourgeoisie — whether comprador or not — which is in command. One should make the necessary distinctions.

As for the United States — the main imperialist force in the region — one could say that they have restored the balance a little after the very difficult situation in which the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings had put them, but to speak of a “recovery of the initiative” seems exaggerated to me. They have been able to regain a little credit by intervening in Libya, at relatively little cost for them, and by presenting themselves as being “on the side of the uprisings”. They combine this with a general discourse on democracy and — contrary to what some claim — this hypocritical discourse extends also to the Gulf monarchies, although they do not in their case combine it with any action. The US is trying to present itself as the repository of the values of liberty which they brandished as an ideological weapon for several decades, notably during the Cold War. In Syria, they do this with a certain ease, because it is a regime allied to Iran, for which they have no particular affection, any more than they had for the Libyan regime. But to say that they have recovered their hegemonic position in the region would be extremely exaggerated. In fact the events underway signal a significant decline in US hegemony. We see this in particular in the cases of Syria and of Libya.

In Libya the Western intervention was essentially an intervention from a distance, without troops on the ground. The influence that the US can have on the process underway is very limited. In fact, nobody controls the situation in this country where there are increasingly developments which are not at all to the taste of the United States, including a growing protest against the Transitional National Council and against its attempts — very timid, incidentally — to undertake a reconstruction of the state.

In Egypt, we see that Washington’s military allies still have a grip on the situation, but their rule is very much contested by the street, by a popular movement which continues — notably at the social level, where it is reflected by tough ongoing struggles. The emergence in force at the electoral level of the Islamic currents attests to a new regional factor: even if these currents do not represent a threat to US imperialism, they are not an instrument or ally as docile as the military for it. There are tensions in the alliance, in the cooperation, between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not comparable to what the Mubarak regime was for the US.

This also explains why the US has had very extensively to redefine their policy in the region since their traditional allies have very little popular legitimacy — something on which they did not have too many illusions as the Wikileaks revelations show. Now that the affirmation of popular sovereignty is in the street, the US must find allies with a real social base. That is why they are turning to the Muslim Brotherhood, who, after having been demonised in recent years, are now presented as “moderate Muslims” in contrast to the Salafists. The Muslim Brotherhood is present in the whole region. The US needs them, as in the good old days of the alliance with them against Nasser, against Arab nationalism, against the Soviet Union and its influence in the region from the 1950s to 1980s.

The Gulf monarchies — in particular two among them who play a very significant role in the Arab world today, the Saudi kingdom and the emirate of Qatar — are also trying to retake the initiative. These two monarchies do not necessarily have the same policy, they have a tradition of rivalry with sometimes even tensions between them, but they have made common cause alongside the US in the effort to orient the events in a direction which does not threaten their own interests and which allows them to stabilise the region in the short term. Qatar, in particular has seen its influence increase considerably with the uprisings, unlike the Saudi kingdom which like the US is experiencing a decline and ebbing of its influence. The emirate of Qatar has betted for several years on its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, becoming its main financial backer, creating the satellite television channel Al-Jazeera — a political tool of considerable power, which is at the same time at the disposal of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have a significant presence among its staff. Qatar has played these cards for a long time now and the events have turned them into strategic advantages. The emirate has thus become a very valuable and significant ally for the US, with whom it has had very close relations for a long time, sheltering on its soil the main US military base in the region. But it has also for a time cultivated relations with Iran, with the Lebanese Hezbollah, and so on, to “spread the risks” — this is the mentality of the rentier consolidating their investment portfolio. Today, Qatar can fully play upon its regional influence in the eyes of the US.

All this combines also with Turkey’s regional role. There, we can speak truly of the bourgeoisie being in power, of a country where the government is certainly the expression of local capitalism above all. The Turkish government is the ally of the US — Turkey is a member of NATO — but it also intervenes with the perspective of the specific interests of Turkish capitalism, whose trade and investment offensive in the region has in the course of the years taken on a growing importance.

There are some of the big players at the state level in the region. But the biggest player today is the mass movement. Even in the countries where semi-victories have been achieved, like Tunisia or Egypt, the mass movement continues.

How do you analyse the electoral success of the Islamist parties in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt? Can these successes be interpreted as a repetition of the bringing to heel of the Iranian revolution of 1979-1981 or do they amount to another phenomenon?

It’s different according to the country. In Morocco it isn’t the same thing as in Egypt or in Tunisia. In Morocco, the success of the Islamic party is very relative, first because the elections were massively boycotted. According to the official figures, participation was less than the half of registered voters, the number of which had, moreover, curiously fallen since the previous election. This happened on the background of an energetic campaign in favour of the boycott from the forces of the real opposition grouped in the February 20th Movement. I should say, to correct the impression, that these opposition forces also include a significant Islamic component, radically opposed to the regime. The success of the Islamic party of the "loyal opposition" in Morocco is then very relative. It has probably been much welcomed, if not supported, by the monarchy with the aim of giving the impression that Morocco has thus experienced, under peaceful and constitutional forms, the same process as elsewhere. The party in question has links with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Tunisia and in Egypt, the electoral victories of the Islamic parties are more impressive, but there is nothing surprising about them. In the case of Egypt — here again we should highlight the differences between countries — these elections came after decades during which the Muslim Brotherhood were the sole mass opposition that existed, whereas the Salafists enjoyed a freedom of manœuvre because Mubarak considered them as useful to his regime, since they preached apoliticism. These two components of the Islamic movement were able to develop themselves over the years, despite the repression that the Muslim Brotherhood has had to suffer. Although they did not initiate the mass movement (they rallied to it en route), when this movement succeeded in imposing a relative democratisation of the institutions, these forces were better placed than anyone to benefit from it. It should not be forgotten that Mubarak only resigned last February, and that there were only a few months to prepare for the elections. This is not a lot of time to build an alternative force of credible opposition capable of triumphing at the electoral level. The mass movement broke the party of the regime — which was the main electoral machine in the country — but this was a broadly decentralised uprising in its form of organisation, multiple networks rather than a “leading party”. The Muslim Brotherhood was then the only organised force with material resources in the movement.

The case of Tunisia is different, because Ennahda — the Islamic party — was persecuted and banned under Ben Ali. But the repressive regime of Ben Ali also prevented the emergence of left or even democratic forces. These forces did not have the breadth that Ennahda acquired in the early 1990s before its repression, and which has allowed it to appear in the course of the years as the strongest and most radical force of opposition to Ben Ali, with the aid of Al-Jazeera notably. Ennahda again did not initiate the uprising in its country, but given the short period for the preparation of the elections, it was in a much better position than the other political forces.

The Islamic parties in Egypt and Tunisia had money, which is essential for an electoral campaign. If in the past left forces in the Arab world could benefit from the material support of the Soviet Union or of this or that nationalist regime, all that ended a long time ago. On the contrary, for the Islamic parties, we even observe a competition between their backers: Qatar, Iran, and the Saudi kingdom. The role of Qatar is very important in this respect. Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader, went to Qatar before returning to Tunisia. The new Ennahda headquarter in Tunis, several stories high, is not within the normal means of an organisation emerging from decades of repression. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has not stopped opening new offices in every corner of the country, with a profusion of resources, since last February when they were legalised. We have seen the considerable funds that they have deployed during the electoral campaign. The money factor then operates fully, it adds to their symbolic capital as main force of opposition, and, in the case of Egypt, to their implantation as a religious political force which knew how to draw together a significant network by carrying out social and charity works. It is not surprising that these forces emerged as the principal winners of the elections.

In the longer term, could the Islamic parties be replaced by other forces which will build themselves?

The main problem for the moment is the absence of a credible alternative. There it is not only time which matters, but also the capacity, the existence of a credible political and organisational project. The sole force which, in my view, could counterbalance the Islamic parties in the region, is not the liberals of all stripes who have by their nature a limited social base, but the workers’ movement. In countries like Tunisia and Egypt it represents a considerable force — a force which has popular roots, unlike the liberals. The workers’ movement is the sole force capable of building an alternative to the religious fundamentalists in the countries concerned. Indeed the crucial problem is the absence of political representation of the workers’ movement.

A strong workers’ movement exists both in Tunisia and Egypt: the UGTT in Tunisia, which has been a decisive factor in the overthrow of Ben Ali, and the new Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Egypt. The latter is not a marginal force; it already claims a million and a half members. The EFITU was set up after the overthrow of Mubarak on the basis of the strike movement which preceded it and followed it. This strike movement played a decisive role in the overthrow of Mubarak. In a sense the EFITU resembles the opposition trade unions created against the dictatorships in Korea, Poland or Brazil.

The problem is that that there is no political representation of the workers’ movement in Tunisia and Egypt, and unhappily I must say also that the radical left in the countries concerned has not given priority to such an orientation. It thinks that by self proclamation and building itself politically it can play a major role in the events, whereas their rhythm demands a politics oriented much more directly to the promotion of the social movement itself. One can give priority to the construction of political organisations during slow periods, in the periods of crossing the desert, but when one is in situation of upheaval self-construction is not enough — I do not say that it is not necessary, but it is not sufficient. We need initiatives seeking to create a broad movement. In my opinion, in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, the classic idea of the mass workers’ party based on the trade union movement should be central, but it is unfortunately not prominent in the political thinking of the radical left in these countries.

Why do the monarchies (Morocco, Jordan, and the Arabian Peninsula) seem to be “holding”? For Morocco, you mentioned the elements of “tolerance” of the current regime, but this is not really the case for the monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula.

Here again we need to make distinctions. I should say first that Jordan is more like Morocco than certain Gulf monarchies. It also presents a façade of “liberal despotism”, “liberal absolutism”. These are absolute monarchies where there is no popular sovereignty, but they have granted constitutions and a certain measure of political liberalism, with a political pluralism which is not illusory. There is also a social base for the monarchy, a retrograde base, rural or of rural origin that the monarchies cultivate. This is combined of course with a selective repression.

But the current social situation differs between Morocco and Jordan. In Morocco, there is a strong social movement. The February 20th Movement has succeeded in organising significant mobilisations and until now, it has shown a remarkable perseverance. This movement made a mistake, in my view, in starting on the constitutional question, on the democratic question which, in Morocco, has no great acuity, whereas the social question is very much sharper. But there has been an evolution over the months and today the social is emphasised much more. Nonetheless, in the present conditions, there could be a popular uprising in Morocco of the type of those in Tunisia or Egypt only on social questions, and not on the democratic question, because the regime is intelligent enough not to show its teeth on the latter. There has been very little repression in Morocco compared with other countries of the uprising, Ben Ali’s Tunisia or Mubarak’s Egypt, not to speak of Libya or Syria.

There are common elements between Morocco and Jordan, where the regime allows a controlled freedom, it opens the safety valve and lets the steam out. At the same time it plays on the ethnic factor. In Jordan too, there are mobilisations which are not negligible and which continue. Thus in these two countries — Morocco and Jordan — there is a real movement, even if it does not have the impressive scope of what we have seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, or Syria. But the highly artificial ethnic cleavage in Jordan between “native Jordanians” and Palestinians (that is people originating from the exodus from the other bank of the river Jordan) is exploited by the regime. Knowing that the Palestinians originating from the West Bank are in the majority in the country, the Jordanian monarchy cultivates a fear of “native Jordanians”, of being in the minority. It’s the classic “divide and rule” recipe.

If we turn to the Gulf monarchies, the situation is different. There have also been popular movements where it is possible. In Oman, there has been a social movement, we now see the development of a political movement in Kuwait, there have been protest movements and riots — harshly repressed — in the Saudi kingdom. And there is of course Bahrain, the only Gulf monarchy to have been confronted with an uprising of great breadth.

The exceptions have been the eminently artificial micro-states — Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — where 80 to 90% of the inhabitants are "foreigners", that is have no rights and can be deported at any time. These then are states that do not fear too much the social movements and that benefit from the direct protection of Western powers — the US, Britain or France (which has important link with the UAE in particular, notably at the military level). Everywhere else, there have been movements — even in Kuwait, where the native population is a little more significant, although here again limited.

And above all there has been the uprising in Bahrain, which the local monarchy and the Saudis have tried to present as a strictly sectarian Shiite movement — the Shiites constitute the great majority of the island’s population — against the Sunni monarchy. The sectarian dimension exists, certainly, and it is strong in the region: the Shiites are persecuted in Bahrain as well as in the Saudi kingdom (where they are a minority). The regimes in power use the most abject sectarianism to prevent the coming together of a mass movement, and cultivate in their own social base hostility against the Shiites. Of course, they also use their financial resources to buy off those who they can. In Bahrain, we have seen a considerable democratic movement, given the relationship of forces. Without external intervention, this movement would have been able to — and could still — overthrow the monarchy. The external intervention took the form of troops from the Gulf countries, above all Saudi, hurried to the island to supplement the local forces so that they could devote themselves to the repression of the movement. But the movement continues in Bahrain, and it is not ready to collapse.

Finally there is Yemen, which is not among the Gulf monarchies, but belongs to the same region. It is — with Sudan and Mauritania — one of the poorest Arab countries. Two thirds of the population there live below the poverty threshold. Yemen has experienced an absolutely extraordinary mobilisation for months. There it is the tribal factor which is exploited fully by the regime, as well as the regional factor, in such a way that the events have taken on aspects of what we could call “cold civil war” between two fractions of the population with imposing mobilisations on both sides. It is the only one of the countries concerned where the regime has succeeded in organising considerable authentic mobilisations, contrary to those which Gaddafi organised in Tripoli or which Assad organises in Syria, which are partly artificial. Yemen is a country whose situation directly affects the Saudi kingdom, and this explains why the Saudis are so directly involved there: they support Saleh, they are behind his “resignation” — which is a masquerade which fools nobody, above all not the radical opposition which continues the struggle.

The Algerian regime has not up to now been shaken by popular mobilisations, how do you explain this?

We can say the same of Iraq or Sudan, as well as Lebanon. These are countries which have known prolonged phases of civil war. In such conditions, it is understandable and natural that the people are not very inclined to destabilise the situation. There is a fear of the unknown, a fear of the resurgence of the most extremist fundamentalist forces, a fear of renewal, including by manipulation of the regime, of the dirty war that Algeria has known and for which the people have paid the price. This background is very important. It should not be forgotten that Algeria is a country which has already experienced a popular uprising in 1988, which certainly did not have the same breadth, or the same forms of organisation as what we have seen this year, but which nonetheless led to political liberalisation. The electoral rise of the Front islamique du salut (FIS - Islamic Salvation Front), which followed, was ended by the coup d’état as we know, and the civil war. It is natural and normal that the people do not wish a repetition of this scenario. This is a stumbling block in Algeria, in the absence of forces capable of organising a horizontal social convergence on a class basis, which could be the base of a new uprising. There have been attempts at mobilisation in Algeria, but they have had little resonance. The perspectives seem rather blocked for the moment. That could change if the regional movement, which began in December 2010 in Tunisia, continues to broaden. We should also take account of the fact that neighbouring Tunisia and Libya are experiencing democratisations which benefit in both cases Islamic forces resembling the former FIS, repressed in Algeria. Ultimately that can have direct consequences on the Algerian situation and that worries the ruling military.

Do you think the revolutionaries can win in Syria? And who are these revolutionaries?

The mass uprising in Syria is above all an uprising of the popular base, of which the youth are the spearhead. It is the expression of exasperation faced with a family dictatorship which has ruled for 41 years. Hafez el-Assad took power in 1970 and died in 2000, after thirty years in power and since then, for eleven years, his son Bashar, promoted to this post when he was only 34, has ruled. There is then a very understandable exasperation, all the more in that the social dimension, ever-present in the background and as part of the infrastructure of the uprisings, is very present in Syria. It is a country which has been subjected for decades to economic liberalization reforms, which have accelerated in recent years and which are reflected in a dizzying rise in the cost of living, a very difficult social situation and considerable poverty (with 30% of the population living below the poverty level). This combines with the minority, confessional character of the regime, the ruling clique belonging mainly to the Alawite minority. All this explains why, when the inspiration came from the Tunisian example, then Egypt and finally Libya — including the international intervention in the latter country, which encouraged the Syrians to enter into action, hoping that it would dissuade their regime from repressing violently — we have seen the explosion of this movement that no political force can claim to control and still less to have initiated. Youth networks in particular — as we have seen everywhere from Morocco to Syria, using the new technologies of communication (like Facebook, of which much has been said) — have initiated and organised these uprisings under the form of “local coordination committees” now federated, which continue to propel the movement. They have no political affiliation.

But there are also political forces which are coalescing so as to “represent” the movement. We have seen two forces emerge, two competing groupings. One basically includes left forces, some of whom were not in the radical opposition to the regime and have ambiguous attitudes with respect to it, after having called for dialogue with it, believing they could act as mediators between the popular uprising and the regime and convince the latter to make reforms. They have quickly seen that this would not work and since then most have rallied around the objective of overthrowing the regime.

The other includes parties which are more radical in their opposition to the regime, a variety of forces going from the Muslim Brotherhood (who, here also, play a central role) to the Democratic Peoples’ Party (originating from a split in the Syrian Communist Party), which has evolved ideologically in an “Italian” manner, but remains a left opposition to the regime, as well as the Kurdish parties. These forces have formed the Syrian National Council, which has been accepted by a good part of the rank and file of the Syrian popular movement as their representative, although this doesn’t mean that the movement is controlled by political networks. It is then a peculiar situation which is reflected in the fact that they have chosen to entrust the presidency of the SNC to Burhan Ghalioun, an independent who is rather to the left. We see him now participate increasingly in a diplomatic game led by the Muslim Brotherhood in agreement with Turkey and the USA. This is a dangerous dynamic.

Finally, there are the army dissidents. After several months of repression, what should have happened did happen. Even in the absence of an organisation capable of organising the passage of soldiers to the side of the popular revolt, the discontent of the soldiers has led to defections, initially completely unorganised. Since August they have set up a Free Syrian Army, against a backdrop of the beginnings of a civil war, with confrontations between army dissidents and the Praetorian guard of the regime.

There is then in Syria a spectrum of forces. Because the country has not known any political life for decades — although the regime here is less totalitarian than was the case in Libya — it is impossible to know what the relative weight is of one or the other. We need to await the overthrow of the regime, if it happens, and free elections to see the relative force of the organised political currents.

To return to Libya, does the fall of Gaddafi mean the end of the civil war or could we see the re-emergence of armed confrontations and if so, who are the protagonists?

First, it should be stressed that in Libya, more than forty years of totalitarian regime had suppressed any form of political life. Libya appears then an uncharted land in political terms, and nobody knows what political landscape will emerge there, or what will emerge from the elections in this country, if they take place.

If by civil war, you mean the war which culminated in the arrest and liquidation of Gaddafi, then the arrest of his son, this is essentially over for the moment. What there is currently is rather a chaotic situation, a little like Lebanon in the first years of the civil war after 1975, or, to take an extreme case, as in Somalia. There is a government, but there is no state. If we define the state first and foremost by its armed spinal column, there is no longer an army in Libya (even if there are attempts to reconstitute one): there is a plurality of militias, structured on various bases, regional, tribal, political-ideological and so on. The regional factor, in the narrowest sense — Misrata or Zintan, for example — is determinant. Each region has its own armed militias.

That testifies to the popular character of the war that brought the regime down. What we have seen in Libya is without a shadow of a doubt a popular insurrection and even a popular war, in the most classic form: civilians of all professions metamorphosised into combatants, who threw themselves into the battle against the regime.

Those who believed that the NATO intervention meant the end of the popular character of the rebellion and transformed the rebels into NATO puppets made a serious error. Besides, most of those who said this sought to justify their support for Gaddafi’s regime against the Libyan revolution. We have seen attitudes of every kind and an indescribable confusion in the international left. To believe that NATO would have control over the situation in Libya after the overthrow of Gaddafi was to entertain great illusions. The US has not succeeded in controlling Iraq with a massive deployment of troops in this country, so how could anyone believe that they can control Libya without even having troops on the ground.

The potential of popular protest liberated by the uprising against Gaddafi is still present in Libya. Witness for example the demonstrations which took place on December 12th in Benghazi against the Transitional National Council and against the fact that it seeks to co-opt personalities linked to the old regime. NATO has not ceased to advice the TNC to integrate members of the Gaddafi regime, saying that these are the lessons learned from the Iraqi fiasco. Well, that is rejected by the people; there are popular movements which oppose it. Witness also the organisation of women — for the first time in Libya, an autonomous movement of women has emerged and is mobilising whether it is on the question of rape or around the issue of political representation. There are also protests by civilians who wish to get rid of the militias. Libya is a country where the situation is exploding in all directions, where the potential awakened by the uprising is being strongly expressed.

To be sure, the perspectives there are handicapped by the absence of a left, given what the regime has been and what it has done to any form of political opposition. But there has been some small progress nonetheless — for example, the constitution of a Federation of Independent Trade Unions which has established links with its Egyptian equivalent. We shall see what will happen.

For the moment in any case, from the very fact of the uprising and the armed overthrow of the regime, and in spite of the imperialist intervention in the conflict, Libya is, of all the countries in the region, the one that has experienced the most radical change up until now. The Gaddafi regime has been radically destroyed, even if there are remnants of it which provoke popular mobilisations. But the fundamental structures of the regime have fallen — which is very different from Tunisia, Egypt, not to mention Yemen. In Egypt, still more than in Tunisia, the basic structures of the regime are still in place, and a military junta is even in power in Cairo.

Of all Arab countries, Tunisia is the one where the organisations of the workers’ movement — trades unionism — have the longest tradition and strongest organisation. But the workers’ movement was marginalised in the electoral process for the Constituent Assembly. Do you think that we are witnessing the beginning of a stabilisation, or simply an electoral interlude?

Tunisia is a country where there is a real bourgeoisie, which tolerated or profited from the regime of Ben Ali. This bourgeoisie has had recourse to the remnants of the Bourguiba regime — that is, the regime which preceded Ben Ali’s seizure of power — represented by Béji Caïd Essebsi, who was prime minister until the elections. Today, the Tunisian bourgeoisie tries to co-opt the new majority — the Ennahda party, the Congress for the Republic led by the new president Moncef Marzouki and so on. These forces are assimilable by the bourgeoisie because they do not have an anti-capitalist social or economic programme. On the contrary, they are either more or less progressive liberal democrats, like Marzouki, or an Islamic current of fundamentalist origin, Ennahda, to which the new prime minister, Hamadi Jabali, belongs, and which claims to have transcended its fundamentalist character and to have become a Tunisian equivalent of the ruling AKP party in Turkey. Just as Turkish big capital has perfectly well accommodated to the AKP party, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has today even become its best representative, the Tunisian bourgeoisie seeks to co-opt Ennahda.

At the same time, the movement continues at the grassroots level. Hardly were the elections over than we saw an uprising in the Gafsa mining basin — whose struggles, in 2008 in particular, preceded the revolution which broke out in December 2010. The protest this time, as in 2008, concerned the social question, the demand for the right to work and for jobs. And this will continue, because the movement in Tunisia began around the social question and the coalition now in power has no response to this question.

So in Tunisia there is a favourable terrain for the construction of a political force based on the workers’ movement, provided that the left forces take the initiative in this direction.

How are the mobilisations in Yemen developing after the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh?

The movement continues in Yemen also. A significant part of the opposition understands perfectly that the resignation of Saleh is only an attempt to change the façade, without modifying the base.

Separatist demands are also gathering momentum in South Yemen, faced with this unconvincing compromise. It should not be forgotten that Yemen was only unified in 1994, after a long division into two states. The southern state had the only regime identifying with Marxism in the region, with a social experience which is little known, but remarkable. After a bureaucratic degeneration that was facilitated by its dependency on the Soviet Union, the regime collapsed in the wake of the collapse of its tutelary power. But we are now seeing once again a separatist movement in the South which sees itself as socially more advanced than the North where pre-capitalist, tribal and other structures are more decisive.

There is also in Yemen a sectarian war with a minority that has been the subject of attacks from the Saleh regime, and there is also Al-Qaida — Yemen is today the Arab country where the Al-Qaida network is the strongest at the military level. Yemen then is a considerable powder keg.

What do you think of the difficulty in Europe in leading solidarity campaigns with the revolutions in the Arab region?

Contrary to the implication of the question, I believe that there has been a very strong sympathy, even in the USA, with the uprising in Tunisia and still more with the uprising in Egypt.

The fact that it did not lead to mobilisations, it seems to me, is because people have not seen a particular reason to mobilise. I am not going to engage in counterfactual history, but I think that if there had been any attempt at a repressive intervention by Western governments against the revolution in Tunisia or in Egypt, a significant solidarity movement would have emerged. In the case of Libya, the Western governments intervened on the right side, in appearance at least, in the eyes of public opinion. In the Libyan case, it is generally the opposite question that is posed: why was there no mobilisation against this Western military intervention? In the case of Syria, people hear contradictory assessments, and they see that the attitude of their governments is “cautious”, a fact that does not incite them to mobilise.

I see things otherwise. The echo of the Arab uprisings is very strong among the peoples of the world. We have already seen the mobilisations of February 2011 in Wisconsin, in the US, which took Egypt as a reference point, and we have seen the big trade union demonstration in March in London, where many placards referred to Egypt, or again the movements of the indignant in Spain and Greece, then more recently the Occupy movement which has spread through the US and elsewhere. Everywhere we find references to what happened in the Arab world, and in particular to the Egyptian uprising — because there was much more significant media focus on the events in Egypt than on all the rest. People say “We will do the same as them”, “They dared to do it, we will do it”! Of course, there should be no exaggeration in the other direction. In saying that, I am perfectly aware of the limits of all this, even where the movements have taken on a considerable breadth, as in Spain. In no European country is there currently a situation similar to that in the Arab world; that is, a combination of sharp social crisis and of illegitimate despotic government. In Europe, with bourgeois democratic regimes, things do not have this sharpness, and recurrent resort to the ballot box helps dampen the level of explosiveness.

It is not so much about organising solidarity, in my view, since for the moment there is no Western intervention against the uprisings in the region — if that should take place, it would of course be necessary to mobilise against it. But for now, what is more important is to take inspiration from the regional example, which shows that a mass movement can bring about radical changes in the situation of a country. This is the lesson that is snowballing today, and what seems to me the most important

Don’t you think that in the historic, traditional left, which is quite decayed now, there is a loss of bearings which holds back mobilisations? You mentioned the movement of the indignant, but it is also a movement which says “no party, no union represents us”, which means that it does not feel itself linked to this traditional left, or at least not in the same way as in the past...

I believe, more fundamentally, that we have for some years been confronted with a historic transformation of the political forms of the left, the forms of the workers’ movement, the forms of class struggle. It seems to me that this transformation is very unevenly understood in what remains of the left. There are still too many people who continue to think within the frame of thought inherited from the 20th century. And yet the experience of the 20th century left, which has tragically ended in bankruptcy, is today completely obsolete. It is necessary to renew with conceptions of class struggle which are much more horizontal, much less vertical and centralised than the model that imposed itself within the left since the Bolshevik victory in 1917. Today the technological revolution allows much more democratic forms of organisation, more horizontal, in networks… This is what young people are doing; it is what we see at work in the movements underway in the Arab world. Without entertaining illusions though: to believe that Facebook will be the equivalent for the 21st century of the Leninist party would be to entertain big illusions. But between the two, there is room for an inventive combination of much more democratic political organisation, using these technologies, capable of linking to social and citizen networks, capable of appealing to the new generations. The new generations are practically born in these technologies, we see how they use them, how they insert them into their lives. That sketches a future, which necessitates a political, ideological, organisational rearmament of the left at the world scale. That is the challenge which is posed, as shown also by what is happening in the Arab world. This challenge had already been illustrated by the Zapatista revolt, which was a strong attempt at reinventing the forms of expression of the radical left; then with the movement for global justice and in the thinking of components of this movement; and today between the uprisings in the Arab world, the indignant, Occupy, and so on, we see an explosion of mobilisations, in particular of the youth, but not only them, who use these methods of action. The radical left needs to recharge its batteries; it is essential to try to combine the radical left’s programmatic and theoretical legacy, the Marxist legacy, with these modern forms, this radical renewal of the forms of organisation and expression, in order to build a revolutionary left of the 21st century.

----Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon and teaches political science at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. His best-selling book ’The Clash of Barbarisms’ came out in a second expanded edition in 2006, alongside a book of his dialogues with Noam Chomsky on the Middle East, “Perilous Power“. He is co-author of “The 33-Day War: Israel’s War on Hezbollah in Lebanon and Its Consequences“. His most recent book is “The Arabs and the Holocaust: the Arab-Israeli War of Narratives“, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2010. (REPRINTED FROM INTERNATIONAL VIEWPOINT MAGAZINE, January 2012)

Tuesday
Nov222011

'We back the people, not dictators' (BLOG/REPORT) 

By Teymoor Nabili in the Middle East 

On the day the White House announced yet another blow in its 30-year campaign against Iran, former State Department official and Middle East expert Martin Indyk was in Doha to argue that US policy in the region has undergone something of a transformation.

(On the same day, veteran CBS correspondent Bob Simon was visiting the Al Jazeera newsroom. “I’ve known Martin for 20 years “ he told me, adding with a wry smile “Ask him if he still uses the phrase “peace process.”  I did. He doesn’t.)

Indyk says he plays no real part in policymaking these days, or even advising anyone in the Obama administration, but the thesis he confidently expounded at the Brookings Doha HQ was that the entire calculation of US interests and values has been fundamentally recalibrated as a consequence of the uprisings across the Middle East.

An Obama administration was always likely to step away from President Bush’s focus on democracy promotion to a certain extent, he said, but it was the Arab awakening that really made the difference.

 “It’s very clear the US is on the side of the people now, and not the dictators.”

It was an interesting proposition, and one that was tested by members of the audience.

One mentioned Saudi Arabia. That, it seems, is an exception. The strategic interests are paramount in the case of Saudi, but the US is applying pressure for "values" reform behind the scenes.

What about Bahrain? Well, the problem there was that President Obama was so diverted by the events of Libya that he momentarily took his eye off Bahrain, and so he missed the narrow window of opportunity to make a difference.

And yes, perhaps the response to events in Tunisia was a little behind the curve; but certainly we can expect the new policy to be demonstrated soon with regards to Egypt, and President Obama will surely stand behind the latest uprising against the military coup leaders that are now once again killing people on the streets. America had been naive in thinking the military would be custodians of a transition to real democracy.

And the reason why the Israel/Palestine issue is now off the Obama agenda is because of the polls in Israel.

Bibi eats poll numbers for breakfast, Indyk said, and as soon as he realised that Obama was polling badly in Israel, he knew he could challenge the US president with impunity.

It was all interesting stuff, delivered in the moderate and calming tones of the seasoned diplomat; but I’m not sure the audience went home believing that there has indeed been a fundamental change in the way Washington conducts its relationship with the Middle East.

A short while before his presentation, I sat down with Indyk in the Al Jazeera studio to talk about how this new approach might translate into action now, in Syria, Egypt and Iran.

He told me he thinks military action in Syria is a strong possibility, with Turkey best   placed to intervene. Obama, he says, is in “constant contact” with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and that’s the best way the US can “exercise leadership” over Syria.

As for Iran, well, there’s no doubt in his mind that the IAEA report is a “smoking gun”. Obama’s done what he can, Iran has been utterly intransigent, and it was even Tehran that scuppered the Turkey/Brazil swap deal, not Washington.

Here’s the full thing.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing

Monday
Jun202011

On World Refugee Day, UNHCR Reports Highest Number of Refugees Worldwide in Fifteen Years 

(CREDIT: UNHCR, World Refugee Day 2011) (HN, June 20, 2011) - June 20th is always the United Nations globally recognized `World Refugee Day’.  But this year the day holds significance for more people on the planet than in the last 15 years. 

That’s because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that as of last year, 43.7 million people around the world have been displaced from their countries by war, conflict or persecution.  

Adding insult to injury, eighty percent of those refugees fleeing the safety of their own homes are being kept safe with food, shelter and water by some of the world’s poorest nations, and UNHCR is warning that these countries cannot continue to afford this cost alone.

This past weekend António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, spent time with the actress Angelina Jolie meeting with some of the refugees who most recently fled  Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain and other Middle East nations currently experiencing internal turmoil which has forced thousands to stream across their nations borders for other countries such as Turkey and Malta.  

(CREDIT: UNHCR, Gooodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie at a camp for Syrian refugees in the southern Turkish town of Altinozu.)In a statement reflecting `World Refugee Day’, Guterres says, “Fears about supposed floods of refugees in industrialized countries are being vastly overblown or mistakenly conflated with issues of migration. It’s poorer countries that are left having to pick up the burden.”

UNHCR’s 2010 Global Trends report, flags Pakistan, Iran and Syria as the world’s biggest hosts of refugees by amount of people who have fled there – totaling three million collectively that the countries have taken in; 1.9 million refugees are being housed in Pakistan alone.

And the world’s refugee populations are only expected to grow as predicted by UNHCR, next year and beyond.  In 2010, the refugee agency projected that 747,000 locations places were needed to resettle the global flow of refugees, and the 22 countries that accept such displaced people, led by the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Norway, took in only 98,000 people. In 2011, UNHCR estimates that 805,000 locations for refugees to be resettled will be needed.  

The developed nation housing the largest refugee population is Germany, hosting 594,000 people.  Guterres urged industrialized nations to increase the number of people they accept who are seeking asylum, lessening the burden on already poor and overwhelmed countries, some whom, like Syria, are going through their own internal strife and seeing its own people flee to Turkey.

Civilians fleeing the fighting in north-west Syria has picked up significantly in the last two weeks with more than 9,600 people now living in four camps managed by Turkey and the Turkish Red Crescent.

(CREDIT: IGEO, a camp for Darfur, Sudan refugees in Chad.)Not only are there more refugees in the world today but more people are staying in a `refugee state’ much longer than ever before.  Some like those in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere spend their whole life in refugee camps. 

In 2010 for instance, 7.2 million people, the highest number in ten years, had been exiled from their home countries for five years or more; mostly due to the length of the conflict they were fleeing from, which prevented people from returning to their homes. Only 197,600 refugees, were able to return to their homes in 2010, the lowest number since 1990.

UNHCR puts the official number of refugees who registered with it last year, along with the agency for Palestinian refugees at 15.4 million in 2010; with another 27.5 million people – the highest level in ten years - having been displaced by conflict within their own home countries’ borders.

--- HUMNEWS staff

Wednesday
May112011

What's "Normal" For Bahrain? (NEWS BRIEF/BLOG)

-by Teymoor Nabili (May 11, 2011)

(Credit: Teapartytribune) Monday's edition of the Gulf Daily News("The Voice of Bahrain")  led with the surpising declaration that everything is "Back to Normal", (or will be by next month).

"His Majesty King Hamad yesterday ordered an end to the State of National Safety from June 1. The State of National Safety is to be lifted by June 1 across the Kingdom of Bahrain."

Surprising because McClatchy news service has a sharply differing take on the state of the Kingdom.

Apparently un-noticed by the US, McClatchy reports, Bahrain's government has been systematically targeting any and all dissenting voices, most of them part of the Shia majority.

For example, 27 of the country's Shia mosques have been demolished without warning or explanation.

"The demolitions are carried out daily, Shia leaders say, with work crews often arriving in the dead of night, accompanied by police and military escorts. In many cases, the workers have hauled away the rubble, leaving no trace, before townspeople awake."

Al Jazeera sources also confirm that demolitions have been taking place.

Perhaps most chillingly, the news service also points to an example of what it calls "hate speech of the sort that preceded the 1994 Rwandan genocide", highlighting as evidence this letter printed by the Gulf Daily News.

The author, identified only as "Sana PS", labels the Shia February 14th movement as "termites", and recommends their extermination.

- originally published by Al-Jazeera on May 9, 2011 under Creative Commons Licensing 

Sunday
Mar132011

Bahrain in Turmoil (NEWS BRIEF)

(HN, March 13, 2011) - Protesters in Bahrain were fired upon today by riot police using tear gas and rubber bullets, according to reports coming out of the tiny Gulf nation.

The force was apparently used in an attempt to dislodge protesters from Manama's financial district.

A video posted on YouTube showed one protester being hit at close range by tear gas canisters. There were also reports of a major highway being blocked.

Al Jazeera reported that "hundreds of protesters" are heading to the Pearl Roundabout - Manama'sversion of Tahrir Square - to join the others. It is one of the most violent confrontations since the military killed seven protesters on February 1.

Meanwhile, Twitter postings from several sources suggest a now ongoing or imminent intervention by the powerful Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes neighbouring Saudi Arabia, as well as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Last week the GCC approved a $20 billion economic aid package over 10 years for development projects in Bahrain and Oman, which has also seen protests.

These latest developments will be greeted with alarm in Washington - which recently gave into pressure from the Pentagon - as well as intense lobbying from Gulf states - to side with the ruling family and back a course of dialogue with the opposition, according to published reports.

The kingdom is home to the US Fifth Fleet.

HUMNEWS staff, wires

Tuesday
Feb222011

Pulling the Revolutionary Trigger - Via Facebook (PERSPECTIVE)

by Alina Vrejoiu

“Whatever the future may have in store for us, one thing is certain — this new revolution in human thought will never go backward.” --- Fredrick Douglas

(HN, February 21, 2011) -- As Libyan cities continue to fall into the hands of anti-Gaddafi supporters, many people are once again speculating on the root cause of the upheavals in the Middle East and Northern Africa.Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was so terrified of social media he ordered the Internet shut for several days. CREDIT: Al-Ahram

As an educator, and having lived through the revolution in Eastern Europe, I can tell you that if you peel away all the layers one thing becomes clear: the lack of an educational foundation is at the top of the list for revolutionary triggers.

It’s no accident that in this information age, social networking is leading the North African and Middle Eastern leap to modernity. This - combined with a high population of youth and a poor economy - makes a very potent recipe for revolution.

Who would have imagined that social networking sites - such as Twitter, Facebook and others like them - once thought to be playful diversions, are now helping to thread together the fabrics of the revolution? And who would have thought that the technology embraced by so many millions could pose a threat to strongmen like Muammar al-Gadaffi, one of the nastiest in the region, Hosni Mubarak and long-standing regimes in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and elsewhere?

Protesters in Benghazi demonstrate against Colonel Gaddafi Photo: FLICKRYoung men and women of these long-closed societies - such as Google marketing executive Wael Ghonim in Egypt - have formed online communities of like-minded individuals who have been disenfranchised by their governments of economic dignity and freedom for so many decades.

Something had to give and the timing is no accident: food prices are sky-rocketing, joblessness is at an all-time high and promises of reform from long-serving strongmen in the region have produced nothing more than hollow results.

In this information age everyone is connected but no one is in charge - this is what is leading to a breakdown in the dictatorships.
The rotted out governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East are a clear example of how being out of touch with technology and the huge generational gap have become huge liabilities.

These are the two main propellant forces that will fuel more and more protests in countries all over region.

In the region, about 60% of people are under the age of thirty and they all want to be free and have economic stability like all human beings do.  

As a presidential contender, Barack Obama knew how to reach America’s youth like no other politician running for office. His hypnotic “Yes We Can” campaign slogan resonated not only with the youth in this country, but all over the world. He had the savvy to connect with and engage college students for the first time in the United States through the Internet.

Overthrowing a regime and making a change will require massive investment in infrastructure and social programs in order for change to be successful and sustainable.

According to the United Nations the countries in this region have not only avoided badly-needed investment in their people but they have also kept them in the dark - through tactics ranging from limiting access to Internet sites to keeping tight reigns on state-owned media outlets.

Expect this astonishing wave of change to wash across virgin territory. Iran’s regime is vulnerable to the same break down as the countries in Northern Africa are faced with. The Mullahs and the Islamic element are minor in comparison to the population of youth they must face. The regime will put up a lot of resistance but its chances of surviving are slim. I am making the bold prediction that the Iranian regime will collapse within a year’s time, at the latest, and will change the geopolitics in the Middle East.

People all across the Middle East and North Africa are willing to sacrifice their lives for a common cause. The reality is promising and - these days - the trigger seems just a click away.

---Alina Vrejoiu is a faculty member of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York and has taught international students for the last four years.

Sunday
Feb202011

Social Media Huge Challenge to Authoritarian Governments (UPDATED FEB 21 1740GMT)

Protesters in Cairo demanding a return of Internet access(HN, February 21, 2011) - Across the Middle East and North Africa, social media channels are being used widely to mobilize protesters, feed news to media agencies and to broadcast thoughts that were once a ticket for imprisonment.

The use of such social media channels as Facebook, Skype and Twitter - and more recently Speak2Tweet - in Tunisia and Egypt has highlighted their importance as tools for circumventing government dominance of the media sector and restrictive freedom of association laws.

As major cities in Libya appeared to fall today into opposition hands, supporters overseas Tweeted ISP phone numbers in Europe which could be used by Libyans with dial-up modems to continue broadcasting updates. (The same tactic was used by overseas supporters of protesters in Tahrir Square: an ISP dial-in number in France was passed around - complete with user names and passwords).

The ability of protesters to communicate and mobilise via social media raises questions as to whether such tools have brought about a permanent shift in the balance of power away from authoritarian governments. Activists in Tunisia and Egypt used social media to good effect as part of their efforts to challenge the reign of authoritarian throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Further protests are being organised via social media, including in Bahrain, Yemen and - most recently - Libya and Morocco.

The region has one of the most youthful populations in the world, with people under 25 making up between 35-45% of the population in each country. They make up the majority of social media users, though users over 40 are the fastest growing segment on Facebook.

Internet penetration hovers around 20-30% outside the Gulf region, whereas mobile penetration is approaching nearly 100% in many countries. Many young people are accessing the Internet and social media channels via their mobile phones and smart phones. Falling handset prices and the widespread available of prepaid credit has allowed even those from lower wealth quintiles to access mobile phone services.

In the region there are about 17 million Facebook users, 25,000 Twitter accounts and 40,000 active blogs, according to the Arab Advisors Group. However exact figures are almost impossible to calculate.

YouTube is extremely popular, with an average of 24 hours of video uploaded from the region every minute, including accounts devoted to tracking human rights abuses.

In Saudi Arabia, Internet use is spreading like wildfire, although sites deemed a threat to the regime are routinely blocked. Saudi Arabia’s Internet users spent around US$ 3 billion in 2010 on buying products and services through e-commerce, according to the Arab Advisors Group.

Egypt's shutdown of all access to the internet and pressure on mobile phone operators to block SMS services was unprecedented. The country has among the highest Internet penetration on the continent.

Although Burma and Iran attempted to do the same, the widespread nature of Egypt's blockages in such an economically important country were a wake-up call to experts and officials who thought such a possibility was off the table.

Just yesterday, a HUMNEWS correspondent in the capital of Yemen, Sana'a, reported that access to Skype had been cut again.

In Bahrain social media also played a big role in mobilizing protesters. (Kuwait Times)However, on another level, the digital blackout was a powerful reminder of the power of older technologies, and innovative solutions emerged to merge the best of both. Landlines continued to be available, people in Egypt were encouraged to leave their wireless connections unlocked, and wireless internet relays to neighbouring countries were created by stringing together access points. Protesters also shared mobile phone credit amongst each other.

In Bahrain, makeshift charging stations for mobile phones have been established in Pearl Square - underlining the importance of these devices.

Social media are not purely of benefit to activists. They also enable government surveillance. Semi-public fora such as Facebook are relatively easy for government operatives to infiltrate.

In Sudan, which has also seen some protests in the capital, activists claim that authorities have used faux protests publicised on social media to entrap and arrest them; Blackberry's maker, Research in Motion, in recent months has caved to demands by the United Arab Emirates, followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India and others, to make its data streams accessible to host governments (although the data likely remains encrypted).

The UAE's request came just days after youth attempted to organise a peaceful protest against rising oil prices using Blackberry's messenger service, known as BBM.

Social media put powerful information and communication tools into the hands of individuals, but also facilitate state surveillance.

Sensing the power of social media in the region, the US State Department has opened Twitter accounts in Farsi and Arabic.

However, for the moment the scales are tipped in favour of activists because publicity and popularity can provide a level of protection to many of the more well-know digital activists, and protesters so far appear to be a step ahead of governments in terms of utilising social media and circumventing censorship.

- HUMNEWS staff, Oxford Analytica

Thursday
Feb172011

Authorities in Bahrain, Elsewhere Intensify Crackdown on Foreign Journalists (UPDATED FEB 19 1255GMT)

(HN, February 19, 2011) --- Across the Middle East and North Africa - journalists continue to find themselves in the line of fire.

Just yesterday in the Bahraini capital, Manama, Michael Slackman and Sean Patrick Farrell of The New York Times were recording video when a helicopter began firing in their direction. The two were amoing the few foreign journalists allowed into the tiny Gulf kingdom -  more than a dozen were detained for hours upon arrival at Bahrain International Airport.

Commenting on the targeting of his colleagues in Bahrain, Times colunist Nicholas Kristof said: "It was another example of Bahrain targeting journalists, as King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa attempts to intimidate or keep out witnesses to his repression."

 

Nancy Yousseff, a journalist with McClatchy news agency has been held at least 15 hours at Bahrain's airport. Other detained journalists are said to be from Reuters, Time, BBC, France 24 and several Japanese news outlets.

The crackdown on journalists in recent weeks in countries in the Middle East and North Africa ranging from Egypt to Lybia to Syria underscores a growing risk being faced by working journalists covering widening street protests in the region, says the New York-based watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists (see report below).

In Yemen, where protests are also gaining momentum - according to a HUMNEWS correspondent on the scene - the CPJ says at least four photojournalists were attacked, beaten, and had their cameras confiscated.

A CBS News crew arrived in Bahrain on Friday morning but some members were held at the airport by security officials, along with as many as 15 other foreign journalists, according to the Associated Press and other sources.

(The HUMNEWS correspondent reported at 1130GMT today that snipers have been stationed in the centre of Sana'a and that Skype has been blocked).

Also this afternoon, as Bahrani authorities were moving for a second time against protesters with live fire, Al Jazeera reported a journalist for the Daily Telegraph has also been shot.

In Iraq, Hemin Latif, a journalist working for the Sulaimaniya-based Destur news website (بینیتز ) was shot and injured yesterday while covering anti-government protests against unemployment and corruption, the CPJ says.

"Governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa cannot deny their citizens coverage of these momentous events across the region," Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator said today. "Local and international media must be allowed to cover the news."

In the CPJ report released yesterday, Attacks on the Press 2010, street protests were identified as a growing risk for journalists.

"Deaths in combat-related crossfire and in dangerous assignments such as street protests constituted a larger portion of the 2010 toll than usual," the report said.

In the street protests in Cairo, Egypt this month at least one journalist was killed and several injured and detained.

The CPJ report cites Bahrain as a country where "authorities have used harassment, threats, and restrictions on movement to limit independent coverage on sensitive issues."

It added: "The effect has been to conceal controversial activities and flawed policies, suppress political opposition, and settle scored with critics."

The CPJ says authorities in Bahrain have used the excuse of anti-terrorism to arrest hundreds of people - including at least two journalistic bloggers "who has been critical of government policies that marginalize the country's Shiite majority."

---HUMNEWS staff