FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Monday:  October 6, 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 Middle East (10)

Tuesday
Mar202012

Iraq and the Limits of US Power (COMMENTARY) 

By Paul Mutter

Malaki and Obama 

 “Washington has lost a valuable opportunity to nurture and support a key counterweight to Iranian influence among Shiites in the Arab world,” lament Danielle Pletka and Gary Schmitt of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in an op-ed for the Washington Post. They subsequently call on the Obama administration to bulk up its already grossly overloaded staff at the gigantic U.S. embassy in Baghdad. But in these few words, the two writers fleshed out a more fundamental concern for hawkish pundits in the Middle East: the fear of a “Shia Crescent” of Iranian-backed regimes in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Indeed, with Iran now able to meddle in Iraq in ways it never could have with Saddam Hussein in power, the country will be more able to contest US-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. The grim irony, notes Ted Galen Carpenter, is that by invading Iraq in 2003, “the United States has paid a terrible cost - some $850 billion and more than 4,400 dead American soldiers – to make Iran the most influential power in Iraq.” Few, if any, of the war’s architects and boosters will now concede this, even as they raise alarm over Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Looking East

But where today’s neoconservatives see an encroaching Iranian Islamist threat in the Middle East, an older guard has reached back to the not-so-distant Cold War past for parallels. Notably, many leading neoconservative lights hold out hope that Iraq can be turned into an Arabian version of postwar South Korea and Japan.

Prominent neoconservatives draw heavily on the memory of America’s seizure of Japanese hegemony in Asia after 1945. The United States worked steadfastly with postwar Japanese and South Korean governments to build the two countries up as buffers to Soviet and Chinese influence during the Cold War — efforts that were, by Washington’s standards at least, quite successful. Despite challenges from a resurgent China, the Pacific Ocean was (and still is) an American lake.

In a 2010 op-ed for the New York Times, leading Iraq war agitator Paul Wolfowitz invoked this history explicitly, treading breezily past US support for authoritarian South Korean regimes. “The United States stuck with South Korea even though the country was then ruled by a dictator and the prospects for its war-devastated economy looked dim,” he wrote. Wolfowitz noted that Iraq’s struggling democracy and central location were not unlike South Korea’s during the Cold War.

However unseemly, there is some truth to Wolfowitz’s recollection. It may be impossible to imagine a fifth column of South Korean agitators helping Pyongyang take over Seoul today, but during the Cold War this was a real concern for the United States. So Washington chose to prop up feudalistic landlords and former Japanese collaborators as Seoul’s ruling class, stiffening South Korea’s sinews against the appeal of the North Korean model with a glut of military and economic support. Today, Japan and South Korea remain firmly within the US fold.

Moreover, these alliances continue despite the brutal wars that spawned them. U.S.-led forces laid waste to the Korean peninsula with saturation bombing in the 1950s, but Washington could always count thereafter on “our men in Seoul.” Japan is an even more extreme case. After several years of firebombing and blockading the country, the United States annihilated two of the Japan’s cities with nuclear weapons. And yet Japan plays host to U.S. troops even today.

Those who fear that the United States “lost Iraq” because Barack Obama went through with the U.S. withdrawal schedule negotiated by President Bush are clearly thinking about longer-term issues of American hegemony (see Mitt Romney’s foreign policy white paper and list of advisors for good examples of this kind of thinking). It's simple logic, really: everything with Iraq keeps coming back to the dual-track policy of containment and rollback the United States has pursued against Iran. Iraq is a vital piece of this strategy; Juan Cole’s map of American bases around Iran is unimpeachable evidence of this.

American neoconservatives may hope that a U.S.-buttressed military-political establishment in Iraq could form a bulwark against a potential “Shia Crescent” led by Iran, just as South Korea and Japan helped stem the red tide spreading through East Asia during the Cold War. They may even have some reason to hope that Iraqis will overlook their resentment over the immensely destructive US war on the country.

Wishful Thinking

Just as in South Korea and Japan, there are Iraqis who see the United States as a partner — or at least as a cash cow that can be milked by exploiting US jitters about Iran. In contrast to most Iraqi politicians, who have been almost uniformly opposed to an ongoing US military presence in Iraq, there are Iraqi military officers who wanted to maintain ties with the US military because they doubted their own forces could keep the peace.

There are always people within a country's security establishment who can be made into agents of American influence. But in Iraq, the United States is confronting a much less homogeneous society than in South Korea or Japan, and it faces a much better equipped rival for hegemonic influence in Iran. As Washington’s influence in Baghdad recedes, Tehran’s hidden hands in Iraq are coming to the fore.

It’s not that Iran doesn’t have its own baggage to contend with in Iraq as it vies with the United States for influence—Iran wasn’t winning Iraqi hearts and minds, after all, when the two countries were busy destroying each other in the 1980s. But a key distinction for Iraqis between that war and the U.S. invasion was that the Iran-Iraq War was launched by their own Saddam Hussein, driving thousands of Iraqi Shia refugees into Iran by the end of the 1980s. By all appearances, America’s war on Iraq was purely voluntary and imposed on Iraqis from the outside. Moreover, Iran has from at least 1982 on been working to build up its own agents of influence in Iraq's security and religious establishments.

Most importantly, an Iraqi alignment with Iran is the result not only of two decades of Iranian intrigue, but also of two decades of US sanctions, war, and occupation. Especially since the US occupation, Iraqis have viewed Iranian machinations in Iraq—and even Iran’s quiet participation in Iraq’s horrific sectarian violence—as just another symptom of a plague brought by the US invasion. 

A Lack of Options

Suppose Obama came into office determined to overturn the withdrawal agreement and keep US troops in Iraq. What tools would he have to force Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reverse himself in the face of an angry Iraqi public and threats by some Shia groups to take up their arms again if the U.S. military presence continued? What could Obama do to "reclaim the partnership with Maliki," as Danielle Pletka and Gary Schmitt ask?

The answer is surprisingly little, mainly because the US-Iraqi relationship was never a partnership to begin with. It was, from the start, an occupation. The US presence in Iraq – where it tried not just to police the country but at times even had Provincial Reconstruction Teams stand in for civil society – meant that Maliki had little agency of his own. Additionally, holdouts like the Sadrists, Sunni tribal militias, and the Badr Brigades had little reason to lay down their arms; it was fight or collaborate, and they chose to fight.

But ever since the United States enabled Maliki to build his own security forces, electoral bloc, and bureaucracy – and thus achieve an understanding with members of the “insurgency” – he has found other people he can depend on to bolster his rule. He doesn't need US forces to intimidate, capture, or kill people for him; his own people are quite capable of doing that.

Far from being run out of the country after detaining hundreds of former Ba’athist officials this winter, Maliki has apparently managed to use such heavy-handed actions to his advantage. As paper by the neoconservative Institute for the Study of War recently noted, “It is clear that Maliki has come out as the winner . . . He has made it more difficult for his Shia rivals to dissent while simultaneously confining his Sunni opponents in a position suitable for exerting pressure and exploiting divisions within their ranks.” For all of the rampant disunity and criminality of the Iraqi government, its leadership has been able to achieve ever-greater independence from its U.S. backers.  

Most importantly, Iraq has little reason to sully an important relationship with its Iranian neighbor just to please Washington. Moreover, it’s uneasy about having such a long border with a regime change target and has no wish to get involved with the nuclear question that so preoccupies Israel and the United States. “Iraqis," Adil Shamoo notes, "can tell the difference between mutually beneficial programs and those that create the impression that the U.S. is powerful and can do what it wants in Iraq."

Out of Cards

Even "our man in Iraq" Ahmed Chalabi – who swept back into the country by way of Langley, Virginia after a decade of agitating for U.S.-led regime change in exile – wanted the United States out of Iraq because he thought it would be political suicide to keep associating with the country that paid his organization $335,000 a month during the first year of the occupation.

If the United States could not secure gratitude from a man who spent over a decade working with the CIA to overthrow Saddam Hussein, then from whom in Iraq can it call in any favors? Short of sectarian violence reaching the level it did in 2005, gratitude is the only thing that would compel Iraqi officials to reverse course, let U.S. troops back in, and focus their foreign policy efforts on a dual-track policy of rollback and containment against Iran.

Unfortunately for neoconservatives, Iraq is no South Korea or Japan, and “gratitude” seems to be in short supply.

-- Paul Mutter is a fellow at Truthout.org, as well as a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, Mondoweiss, The Arabist, and Salon. He is currently on leave from NYU’s graduate program in journalism and international affairs.  This work by Institute for Policy Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Sunday
Jan292012

A Look Back at Last Year's Uprising and the Latest Headlines from Egypt 

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
Oct242011

Powder in the Eyes in Algeria (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Wided Khadraoui

Algerian newspapersThe endgame unfolding in Libya is having profound effects throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The revolution still rages on as Gaddafi’s relatives pour into Algeria, where the implications of the last battle in Sirte have profoundly impacted the political situation. Algeria and Morocco are the only states in North Africa where the leadership remains intact. Algeria has certainly felt the pressure of the revolutionary wave and has taken several measures to counter any challenge that might emerge from its conflict-weary nationals.

There are three main factors preventing Algeria from joining the Arab Spring. The first is a lack of support from the intellectual and academic elites of the nation, making protests like the ones called for this past September 17 irrelevant. This lack of support is tied to the second reason, which is the lack of an authentic substitute for the current government. Opposition parties in Algeria have all failed to present better political prospects. Finally, Algeria is essentially a diffuse “mafia state” with widespread corruption, bribery, and protection rackets. Algeria does not have one leader that can be targeted for removal, but rather an entire establishment that needs complete restructuring. The military junta that runs Algeria maintains its support by exploiting security threats in the region and offering token reforms in an attempt to quell protests.

The most recent of these reforms is the opening up of the country’s media. Algeria has 45 independent French and Arabic publications alongside four government-owned newspapers. There are currently five television channels in Algeria, all publicly owned and used solely for the regime’s propaganda. But on September 12, the government announced that it would relinquish its monopoly on the airwaves, which it has enjoyed since 1962.

Communication Minister Nacer Mehal, in an interview with the newspaperL’Expression on September 21, promised that such reforms were sincere, although it would take some time to implement them. However, the minister also warned would-be broadcasters of “excesses that might undermine [Algeria’s] unity and sovereignty.” A careful reading of the draft bill shows that additional limitations have been inserted under the guise of protecting national media. Despite somewhat liberalizing the audio-visual sector, the bill also proposes numerous restrictions on the freedom of association, once again under the guise of national safety.

The government’s timeworn refrain that restrictions and control are necessiary to protect Algerian nationals from instability and insecurity no longer holds water. It only reinforces societywide symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the recent civil war, and severely limits socio-economic progress.

Censorship in Algeria

Censorship in Algeria has always been somewhat indirect. Insults to the president, an MP, a judge, or the army are usually prosecuted under defamation laws. It is not necessarily treated as sedition, but unfavorable media coverage can still result in prison terms or fines.

Journalists such as Mohammad Benchicou, for example, director of the newspaper Le Matin and author of a critical biography, Bouteflika: An Algerian Impostor, was sentenced to two years in prison in 2004 after the release of his book. Omar Belhouchet of the opposition El Watan has been under constant judicial attack since 2008, when he accused a supposed faith healer with close ties to the government of being a fraud. Despite the harassment, Algerian newspapers have survived constant government attempts to scrutinize and control.

Still, although Algerian journalists have generally had somewhat greater liberty to express their opinions compared to others in the region, many journalists essentially practice a form of self-censorship, avoiding certain sensitive topics altogether.

Powder in the Eyes

Meager “political reforms” to assuage public frustration have been slowly trickling out of Bouteflika’s cabinet since February. Mehal promised that consultations to open  the audio-visual sector would be initiated as early as this October. The minister has repeatedly declared that the latest draft reforms are not simply “de la poudre aux yeux,” an expression that literally means “powder in the eyes,” referring to appearances that are appealing but misleading.

Ending the government’s monopoly on broadcasting has been a long-standing demand of the opposition. The authenticity of the proposed reforms, however, is another story, especially considering the regime’s history of dealing in “powder.” Democratic reforms offered by an oligarchy, after all, are an oxymoron. Accordingly, the statement released on September 12 by the Algérie Presse Service (the state-run news agency) contained an ominous caveat: the liberalization of media outlets would be dependent on broadcasters’ willingness to show “respect for the Constitution and legislation [currently] in force.”

The shortcomings of these proposals are not lost on either the press or the opposition. An op-ed from El Watan stated it most concisely: “there is nothing new, or virtually nothing [in the draft bills]. … The President of the Republic and his ministers have failed to revolutionise Algerian legislation on political practice, the way that associations work, or media conduct.”

Constitutional Failings

The requirement that broadcasters show “respect for the Constitution” begs the question: which constitution will new players in the sector have to “respect” — the current one, or the one to be amended at the end of this month? Any revisions to current laws promised by the government have to be discussed and adopted by Parliament. To make the matter more complicated, the criteria for what allows particular laws to be passed and others dismissed are not clear, and the order in which reforms will be made is just as ambiguous.

In order for any reform to be feasible, the current constitution cannot continue to serve the purposes of the president and his cache of generals alone. It must clearly delineate powers, processes, and limitations, and just as importantly, it must be respected. Algeria cannot continue to put the cart in front of the horse; no reform proposed by the current regime can be viable without first eradicating the country’s political cronyism.

Algeria and the Arab Spring

Although the Arab Spring has not yet come to Algeria in full force, the country remains ripe for social unrest. Not only is poverty is widespread and unemployment high (especially among youth), but pervasive government corruption and deficient public services are persistent sources of significant popular dissatisfaction. And despite the “repeal” of the 1992 emergency laws in response to the major protests of January 2011, where two people were killed in clashes with security forces, the Algerian regime has continued to find ways to maintain the same level of control.

In an interview with Maison des journalistes, when asked about the reason for high levels of censorship in Algeria, exiled Algerian journalist Djamledine Benchenouf eloquently answered that “the leaders, who have their hands on the riches of the country…cannot afford to allow the emergence of a democratic system.” This inability to embrace the foundations of a democratic system makes it impossible for viable change to emerge under the current regime.

This is no less true elsewhere in the region. From Bahrain to Syria, Jordan to Saudi Arabia, authoritarian regimes across the Middle East resist any tangible change.

The push for democratic reform will not cease now that the initial passion of the Arab Spring is over. The seasonal nomenclature unrealistically restricted the movement to a specific time; in reality it is a continuous process. The Algerian government treats democratic reform as some kind of impossible brainteaser, when in reality all it requires is a basic overhaul of the current regime and the introduction of new and able-bodied players. Whether the current archaic leaders recognize it or not, “Out with the old, in with the new” is the only solution. 

- Wided Khadraoui graduated from the London School of Economics with an MSc in conflict studies. She is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and writes on issues on the Middle East and North Africa, especially the Maghreb, at www.livefromthecasbah.com

-  Originally published by Institute for Policy Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Monday
Jul042011

Unrest Simmers as Egypt Awaits Change (REPORT)

by Nejeed Kassam and Alesha Porisky

(Cairo, Egypt - HN, July 4, 2011) -- The sound of rocks hitting the pavement reverberated off the walls of the Egyptian museum.  Voices were loud and horns blaring, even more than usual for Cairo’s busy streets. The change in the usual Cairo drone brought us to the balcony, overlooking Merit Basha Street, mere meters from the square.

PHOTO CREDIT: Alesha Porisky 7/3/2011

The street had mysteriously emptied of cars, and those on the far side towards the bridge were making u-turns as fast as possible.  Young revolutionaries surged forward from the square, carrying rocks, sharpened sticks and crates; the Egyptian flag tied around many a neck.  Their targets, we later learned, were Mubarak supporters, who tried to stand their ground.  Rocks were being tossed by both sides; chunks of concrete breaking on the pavement.  Crates were being used as shields; words were another weapon of choice. 

After a brief skirmish, the two sides separated.  The Mubarak supporters disappearing, as the revolutionaries made their way back to Tahrir Square, supporting a man who was bleeding heavily from the head and limping.  It was clear, even from five stories up, that neither side had gotten away without injuries. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Alesha Porisky 7/3/2011

Since Friday various political activist groups have been staging a sit-in in Tahrir Square; waiting.  This afternoon violence erupted when Mubarak supporters reportedly set fire to protestors’ tents.  When we ventured down to Tahrir Square, the smell of smoke hung thickly in the air.  The number of protestors had grown substantially since the morning, and tensions were high.  People lined the traffic barricades surrounding the square, watching with anticipation as protestors chanted in demonstration.

PHOTO CREDIT: Alesha Porisky 7/3/2011

When we interviewed a local student and self-proclaimed revolutionary he speculated that tensions would remain high over the next few hours, as both Mubarak supporters and the revolutionaries remained in the surrounding areas.  He estimated that close to a million people would show up on July 8th, for the planned citywide protest.  

Saturday
Jul022011

Even With Mubarak Gone in Egypt, Cairo Remains a City of Protests (Report) 

Protesters carry Egypt flag on Friday in Tahrir Sq, Cairo, Egypt (CREDIT Alesha Porisky)(Cairo, Egypt. HN, July 2, 2011)  - On Saturday around 200 protestors were still in Cairo’s Tahrir Square following demonstrations on Friday in this city and others, such as Alexandria and Suez, which called for swift justice for the perpetrators of police brutality in clashes on June 28 and 29th.

More than 1,000 people were injured this week when police in and around Tahrir Square tangled with protestors from families of those killed in the January 25 Revolution, and the situation turned violent.  Many criticized the police for using “excessive force” in dealing with the activists.

According to official records forty-nine protesters were arrested on June 28-29 and were detained for 15 days pending investigations by Egypt’s military authority – now in charge of running the day to day operations of the country.  

Protesters called for reforming all state media outlets, the resignation of Egypt’s Minister of Interior Mansour El-Essawy and the reform of the Central Security Forces (CSF).

The military tried to quell opposition by saying it has every intention of following through on parliamentary elections scheduled for September.

Protest organizers speak in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt. 7.1.11 (CREDIT Nejeed Kassam)Egypt's former President, Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted on February 11 by an 18-day popular uprising, has been hospitalized since April in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with heart troubles; and some reports say he is also suffering from stomach cancer.  He is scheduled to stand trial on August 3rd on charges of corruption and ordering the killing of citizens during February’s protests.  If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

In recent protests, citizens who first took to the streets to demand the overthrow of Mubarak have begun shifting their anger towards the ruling military council, accusing it of using violent tactics to stifle dissent.

Tents continue to be pitched in the middle of Tahrir Square – and a major mass protest planned more than a month ago, is called for July 8. 

"No to the return of police terror," read one sign left over from Friday's protest, when 5,000 converged on the square.

Protest barricades in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday 7.1.11 (CREDIT Nejeed Kassam)Among the key demands are the trial of officials and police officers in abuse cases before and after the January 25 revolt, an end to military trials of civilians, an inclusive political process and freedom of expression and media.

The biggest public debate in Egypt now, is whether to postpone September's elections, and a new constitution be drawn up first. A number of human rights groups, including the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services, recently put out a statement calling for Egypt to follow the example of Tunisia, and ‘put the horse before the cart’, creating a new constitution first.

---HUMNEWS staff

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
Mar232011

Wave of Political Unrest Reaches Syria (News Brief) 

photo courtesy of CNSNews(HN, March 23, 2011) -- It may be too early to call the demonstrations in the small city of Daraa a “revolution”. However, it is clear that the wave of political unrest in the Middle East has reached this southern Syrian city.

For nearly a week now protests have been ongoing there with demonstrators calling for freedom and for the end of corruption - the protests have been met with violence from security forces that have so far claimed the lives of five innocent civilians.  

Rights activists in Syria say security forces carried out a deadly attack near a mosque where anti-government protesters have gathered opening fire near the mosque where demonstrators have gathered. However state media said "an armed gang" was behind violence in the southern city of Daraa early Wednesday.

Syria's state news agency SANA quotes an official source as saying the gang attacked an ambulance near the city's Omari mosque, killing a doctor, a paramedic and a driver. The report says security forces confronted the attackers and "hit and arrested" some of them. A member of the security forces was also reported killed in the incident.

HUMNews has not been able to immediately reconcile the conflicting reports.  

Security forces killed four demonstrators in Daraa when protests erupted on Friday. Another demonstrator was killed on Sunday, and an 11-year-old boy died Monday after suffering tear gas inhalation.

In an attempt to contain the unrest, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Tuesday fired the governor of Daraa Province. But his dismissal failed to quell popular anger as protests reached several neighboring towns.

Authorities have also ramped up detentions across the country. A Syrian rights organization said police arrested a prominent activist Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Loay Hussein, a former political prisoner who had spoken out in favor of the protests, was taken from his home near the capital, Damascus. Rights groups have reported dozens more "arbitrary and random arrests."

Protesters are demanding Assad end Syria's emergency law, which has been in place since 1963 when the Baath party took power, banning any opposition to its rule. In addition protesters are demanding Syria curb its pervasive security apparatus, free thousands of political prisoners and allow freedom of expression. Activists have so far not called for the end of his government.

Assad was popularly elected by 97% of all votes in 2000. He pledged to fight corruption, guarantee his people more freedom of expression and would adopt a more liberal market policy.

It became clear a few years into his rule that he has failed miserably on the first two and partially succeeded on the later pledge.

Last year, Human Rights Watch published an extensive report about the human rights situation in Syria in which the organization concluded that Assad's decade in power was marked by repression.

Assad belongs to the ruling Alawite minority party whose members have full control over military and intelligence posts. The rest of the Syrian population is made up of a Sunni majority, Christians, Kurds, Ismailis and Duruz. There are also over 1 million Palestinian immigrants and more recently over 1 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria.

The United States and the United Nations have called for an independent investigation into the recent violence.

- HUMNews staff 

Thursday
Feb032011

World food prices at an historic high (Report) 

photo courtesy UN News(HN, February 3, 2011) --  World food prices have surged, for the seventh consecutive month, to a new historic peak in January, according to the updated FAO Food Price Index, a commodity basket that regularly tracks monthly changes in global food prices.

The index averaged 231 points in January and was up 3.4 percent from December – the highest level since the FAO started to measure in 1990 and higher than in June 2008 when the cost of food sparked violent protests in countries including Egypt, Haiti and Cameroon.

“These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come, FAO economist Abdolreza Abbassian said.

The individual group components of the index, apart from meat, all registered rises in January.

The Cereal Price Index averaged 245 points in January reflecting rises in the price of wheat and grain which had already gone up due to poor weather conditions this past year in countries such as Russia and the Ukraine and was driven higher by flooding in Australia, which is a major wheat exporter.

Political unrest

The high price of food seems to have been the spark that has unleashed a series of anti-government demonstrations, protests in several countries in the Middle East, beginning in Tunisia, where a young man set himself on fire after being prevented from selling fruits and vegetables, and spreading to Algeria, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt.

The Middle East and North Africa are the two regions that import the largest amount of cereal and countries in the area have been hit especially hard by the harvest shortages in Russia and the Ukraine this year.

Today the Moldovan government has decided to ban all wheat exports until the next harvest in an effort to prevent a large increase in the price of bread. The Prime Minister stated that the order should have been made earlier to avoid the “panic” that he says has already taken hold of the population.

wheat, file photoChallenges

Surging global food prices are just one of the many challenges that people face throughout the world. Climate change, growing population, and water sources are also affecting the overall food production and availability. As many countries grow increasingly dependent on food imports, they grow more vulnerable to natural disaster and market fluctuations taking place half-way around the world from them.

In India, The Financial Times reported earlier this week that food prices have hit their highest point in more than a year. Food prices are up by at least 18 percent from last year in a country where millions are spending more than 50 percent of their total income on food.

Rises are particularly high for dairy products, up 6.2% from December. Prices were driven higher by a combination of lower supply and increasing demand in emerging economies such as China and India.

The demand for food is expected to continue to grow as a result both of population grown and rising incomes according the FAO. Demand for cereals (for food and animal feed) is projected to reach some 3 billion tons by 2050. Annual cereal production will have to grow by almost a billion tons (2.1 billion tons today), and meat production by over 200 million tons to reach a total of 470 million tons in 2050, 72 percent of which will be consumed in developing countries, up from the 58 percent today.

The production of biofuels could also increase the demand for agricultural commodities, depending on energy prices and government policies.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick has asked global leaders to “put food first” and tackle the problem of price volatility.

“We are going to be facing a broader trend of increasing commodity prices, including food commodity prices”, he said.

Commodities prices have been on the rise generally with copper hitting a record high of $10,000 a ton.

Oil was also up on Thursday with Brent crude rising to $103.37 a barrel.

- HUMNews Staff

Wednesday
Feb022011

Hunger fuels discontent in the Middle East (Opinion) 

Weeks of street protests across Tunisia culminated in the dramatic ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ali after 23 years in power. photo courtesy PressTVby Joel Brinkley

(HN, February 2, 2011) When the Middle East tumult began in Tunisia two months ago, demonstrators had barely a thought in their heads about throwing their president out of office. No, they had a larger problem. They were hungry.

Next door in Algeria, meantime, youths were setting government buildings afire and shouting "Bring us Sugar!" And after people first took to the streets in Jordan, Finance Minister Mohammad Abu-Hammour promised to lower commodity prices to "help the poor and middle class cope as global food prices rise."

The world is heading into a food crisis again, barely three years after the last one in 2008. That, not political reform, animated the riots and demonstrations across the Arab world and beyond -- until Tunisia's president fell from power on Jan. 14. After that, hungry demonstrators aimed higher.

Now, whatever the final results in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and other states that have been under siege, millions of people in these places still will not be able to afford enough food for their families.

The United Nations office that monitors global food supplies announced last month that world prices for rice, wheat, sugar, barley and meat have reached record levels and will probably continue to rise in the months ahead. That list of affected foods is far broader than last time. In 2008, the demonstrations were called "bread riots" because of the high price of grains.

Late last month, the World Bank warned that Yemen was "particularly vulnerable" to food-price shocks because the country is desperately poor and imports most of its food. A few days later, thousands of protestors took to the streets, and the government finally announced it would institute price controls. But Middle Eastern nations aren't the only victims.

Thirteen people were killed in Mozambique last fall during riots over the price of bread. Sri Lanka's president warned his people that they couldn't import food to mitigate the crisis because so many other nations are in serious trouble, too. In Kenya, five people actually starved to death, local media reported.

Around the world, the U.N. reports, nearly one billion people live at the edge of starvation. These are the people who live on something like a dollar a day, and when the prices of staples, like rice and corn and wheat, shoot up, they can no longer afford to buy any.

In Sri Lanka, for example, prices for those staples rose by 30 percent in recent months. Already, 15 percent of Sri Lanka's infants suffer from "wasting," Unicef says. That means they are starving to death.

Who's to blame for all of this? America and other wealthy nations, in large part. When commodity prices begin to rise, Western speculators start buying commodity shares, driving prices even higher. After hearing about poor wheat crops in Russia and Ukraine last August, speculators drove the wheat price up by 80 percent.

At the same time, when gasoline prices are high, as they are now, demand for ethanol increases. Ethanol is made from corn, and Washington offers subsidies for corn's use as fuel. The U.S. is the world's largest corn producer, but now 40 percent of the crop is converted to ethanol. As a result, corn prices have risen by 66 percent.

Unusually violent weather also played a role. Floods, droughts, storms and wildfires in Australia, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine and South America, among other places, reduced crop yields. Agronomists blame climate change and predict worse in the years ahead.

But other villains hold responsibility, too. They are the past and current leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and others of their ilk. They've had little control over global food prices. But they've wielded imperial control of their nations.

The Egyptian president lives in one of the world's most sumptuous palaces, once a luxury hotel with 400 rooms and a 6,340-square-foot ceremonial hall. Living there for nearly three decades, Hosni Mubarak knew full well that his people were hungry and desperate; 30 percent of the state's children grow up "stunted" because of malnutrition during the first years of life.

Regularly, union members and others held angry demonstrations over low wages, hundreds of them. To mollify them, sometimes Mubarak raised salaries a few pennies. But as successive food crises devastated his people, Mubarak, like his fellow dictators throughout the region, did little if anything to alleviate his peoples' misery -- watching their suffering from high windows in his grand manse. During the 2008 food crisis, his government actually cut bread rations.

Mubarak and the others brought this on themselves.

Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times.

This article first appeared on StAugustine.com