FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Monday:  July 28, 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 Saudi Arabia (9)

Wednesday
Sep192012

Globalization and its Discontents (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: WissensWerte)

By Abdulaziz H. Al-Fahad

The recent eruption of violence in various Muslim capitals directed at the U.S. (and other Western) embassies, with tragic losses in life and property, is a predictable, if sad, consequence of globalization. The world is increasingly pulled together by the relentless push of modern technology and integrated economic systems on the one hand, and simmering conflicts periodically manifested on the cultural realm, on the other. The occasion for the latest uproar, the anti-Muslim "movie" denigrating the Prophet of Islam, is the latest chapter in an ongoing conflict that appears to become more aggravated over time, in no small measure due to growing Islamophobia in the West. The conflict is also helped now by the weakening security apparatus in the various Arab states experiencing mass uprisings, and the ability of various groups to exploit this vacuum to further their own political goals.

A few decades ago, this movie, or a preacher threatening to burn the Quran in Florida, or a cartoon published in a Danish newspaper would have passed, in all likelihood, unnoticed (at least by the offended parties), let alone cause major violent protests spanning continents. But in our globalized present, with the various tools of instant communication and social networking available to large swathes of humanity, what happens in a faraway place is immediately splashed everywhere, often with deadly results as we are witnessing today. Within this diverse yet networked humanity, where marginal figures are empowered, someone invariably takes offense at perceived insults emanating from distant lands. Despite all the energetic and well-meaning condemnations by sensible parties on both sides, it is unlikely that we will see an end to this cycle anytime soon.

(PHOTO: BSR) With its rich tradition of freedom of expression and secularization, denigration of religious figures, even when controversial, is protected speech in America. For many Muslims, in contrast, any transgressions on the cherished symbols of their beliefs have nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with a hegemonic West intent on willful and reckless disregard of Muslim sensibilities. For some in the Islamic world, this is the latest manifestation of the longstanding hostility of western Christianity reaching back to the early days of Islam, the Crusades, the colonial legacy, and the establishment of Israel in the heart of the Arab world, not to mention more recent American armed forays in various Muslim territories. This vicious circle of mutual miscomprehension is further compounded by the fixed, if inaccurate, belief within Muslim societies, that whatever happens within the western media must be at least tacitly approved by the relevant governments. In many Muslim countries, freedom of expression within the media barely exists.

Thus the conflict is viewed in starkly different, clashing perspectives. The West appears to frame the issue as a conflict between freedom of expression and censorship, whereas for many in the Islamic world it is a willful insult by a powerful West intent on maintaining its dominance in Muslim lands. If these differences continue to be viewed through these conflicting prisms, there is little hope for an accommodation to ameliorate, let alone stop, these periodic, violent flare-ups.

But Western insistence on framing the issue in terms of freedom of speech versus censorship risks missing a larger point, and borders on disingenuous. Western societies had to grapple with their own sense of balance between permissible and impermissible speech, and not all strike the same balance. While the United States maintains a robust and expansive view of such freedom through its First Amendment jurisprudence, some European societies (and Canada) have opted to carve out a "hate speech" exception criminalizing certain categories of expression. This divergence between the two approaches could be seen, for example, in the treatment of the Holocaust in their respective legal systems. While several countries would view denial of the Holocaust as a crime not protected by freedom of expression and would sanction the perpetrators, U.S. legal tradition would not allow the outright criminalization of such expression but would deal with it essentially by extralegal means, through marginalization and condemnation of transgressors and ensuring that certain matters are taboo and not acceptable in general discourse. 

(PHOTO: File/Foreign Policy) Americans remain faithful to the requirements of the First Amendment while simultaneously banishing offensive language, as determined by domestic American sensibilities, from the public sphere, and by severely delegitimizing those who resort to them and relegating them to the margins of society. In addition to Holocaust denial, the "N" word is perhaps the clearest example of the practical accommodation between free speech and curtailment of the same through non-legal means in the U.S. for the sake of social peace. No one denies anyone's right to use the racist word, but effective social mechanisms ensure that those inclined towards deployment of this offensive language are consigned to the fringe, invariably described as "lunatic."

As admirable as this western tradition of freedom of expression might be in the eyes of many Muslims, they remain unimpressed by a West that finds mocking God, Jesus, Moses or Muhammad to be protected speech but worthy at best of muted condemnation, while denigration of the Holocaust or uttering an offensive racist epithet are either criminalized or rendered into untouchable taboos. From that perspective, the West is not truly wedded to an absolute notion of freedom of expression but instead accommodates its own prejudices with regards to what is "offensive" through both legal and extralegal means. The underlying logic, of course, is grounded in specific cultures and histories, as opposed to universalist ideas, and deference to Muslim sensibilities has certainly not been part of that heritage.

Western societies have come a long way from its early days of crude prejudice and racism - except towards Muslims, one of the last frontiers of acceptable bigotry. The incessant rise in Islamophobia, not just as a fringe phenomenon but within the mainstream, belies Western claims to universalist values. The West has achieved remarkable success in combating its own demons of (anti-black) racism and anti-Semitism, to mention only two salient examples. While many in the West, like the rest of humanity, are not innocent of harboring such hateful sentiments, those who choose to display them are quickly condemned and banished from respectable circles or jailed. But when prejudice and hate is directed against Muslims, the guardians of the boundaries of acceptable speech are either absent or complicit.

Thus the outlawing of minarets in Switzerland is stamped with popular approval; the full veil is rendered into a crime in some European countries (although acknowledged to be a fringe practice, hardly deserving of any attention, let alone the full weight of the law); and opportunistic U.S. politicians hold anti-Muslim hearings and shamelessly peddle the phantom dangers of sharia, calculating that there is only an upside to the matter: classic solutions in search of actual problems. Equally disheartening, well-known Islamophobes are ensconced in mainstream institutions with influence over decision-makers, instead of being treated as outcasts. And Hollywood is still busy doing its best demonizing Muslims typically (with rare exceptions) cast as villains, stereotyping in ways it would not dare do with other groups.

(PHOTO: Tower)The permissive public atmosphere towards Islamophobia has allowed haters to spew their vitriol far and wide without paying any discernible price as would be the case if other communities were involved. A recent advertisement in an American city dubbed Muslims as savages; Muslims very well know if the identity of the target were to be changed to another community (e.g., blacks) the resulting uproar would have been substantial and free speech would have been an irrelevant argument. Inversely, until recently Aljazeera English failed to find cable distributors in the U.S. who had reportedly deferred to the wishes of the State Department.

Rightly or wrongly, there is strong suspicion in many Muslim countries that US bombings of Aljazeera's offices in Afghanistan and Baghdad were more intentional than inadvertent mistakes. It is within this overall unhealthy atmosphere that Muslims' perceptions of the West are formed and informed. The movie is not an isolated incident but a particularly vile version of what is acceptable (as opposed to free) speech in the West.

This is not to absolve Muslims who share the same sin of allowing a permissive atmosphere of intolerance towards others. The West, particularly the U.S., has been vociferously expressing views, especially since 9/11, about anti-western sentiments in the Muslim world. School curricula in many Islamic countries have been revised both in deference to a powerful West making its wishes known, and also in recognition that in an integrated world, such an atmosphere is not only wrong as a matter of principle, but decidedly dangerous. The same applies to intolerant preachers, many of whom had to go through "re-education" and many of whom were purged. No one can claim the Islamic countries work of combating such hate is done, but the trend so far has been in the positive direction, something that cannot be said about many societies in the West.

Yet notwithstanding this move in the right direction within some Islamic societies, the ethos of civil protest is still wanting, despite encouraging signs during the Arab Spring. To express outrage at actions or sayings that are offensive is one thing; to cause death and destruction has to be a red line that Muslim societies have to rigorously impose, a task that is now even more urgent with the removal of authoritarian enforcers and the advent of representative government. The unqualified reaction of condemnation by Libyan citizens (joined by the majority of political, social, and religious leaders throughout the Arab world) against those involved in the murder of personnel in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi is one encouraging sign that violence has become unacceptable as a mode of expression. In contrast, Mitt Romney got it exactly wrong in his hasty denunciation of the condemnation of the "film" by the staff of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Traditions of free expression preclude banning of speech but provocative bile should be labeled as such.

What is clear in these times is that Muslim sensibilities have not been incorporated by Western societies, and vice versa, and perhaps at this stage in history it is ambitious to expect otherwise. But in this shrinking world, indifference to the sensibilities of others comes with a price. Unfortunately, the comparison of the attacks against the Prophet, seen as deeply offensive by many Muslims, to criticisms of his Biblical counterparts, which is accepted speech in western societies, is a misdiagnosis. Most non-westerners would probably fail to understand why the Holocaust and the "N" word are more sacred and protected than God in the West and why transgressing against them is not tolerated, free speech notwithstanding. Perhaps the West could view some Muslim sensibilities as product of their own specific histories deserving of the same respect accorded to others.

The scenes we are witnessing today are horrifying. People of goodwill must draw the right lessons and work to help bring about an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and respect for matters that may not be readily understandable by everyone. For the West, that means the permissiveness (indeed tolerance) of Islamophobia within respectable circles should no longer be accepted. For Muslim societies, a better appreciation of free speech and the adoption of peaceful protests (including economic boycotts if need be) must replace the mob mentality characteristic of many of the responses over the last several years. The mob mentality is exploited by the more odious elements within Islamic countries who are espousing clearly dangerous and unacceptable notions of permanent war with the rest of the world, which in turn provide fodder for the Islamophobes the world over.

Alas, there is no magic wand to transform ours into a world of sufficient mutual tolerance and respect. But all people of goodwill must do what they can to bring it about where Islamophobia and unbridled anti-western sentiments, if not totally banished, are at least consigned to the margins of civilized discourse and conduct.

--This article, written by Abdulaziz H. Al-Fahad is the Principal in the Law Office of Abdulaziz H. Fahad, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and first appeared in Foreign Policy.

Thursday
Apr192012

Preventing Full-Scale War between Sudan and South Sudan (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video AlJazeera)

Brussels - Sudan and South Sudan are teetering on the brink of all-out war from which neither would benefit. Increasingly angry rhetoric, support for each other's rebels, poor command and control, and brinkmanship, risk escalating limited and contained conflict into a full-scale confrontation between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA).

Diplomatic pressure to cease hostilities and return to negotiations must be exerted on both governments by the region and the United Nations (UN) Security Council, as well as such partners as the US, China and key Gulf states. The immediate priority needs to be a ceasefire and security deal between North and South, as well as in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. But equally important, for the longer-term, are solutions to unresolved post-referendum issues, unimplemented provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (that ended the civil war in 2005), and domestic reforms in both countries.

(PHOTO: Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir/Wikipedia) The most recent fighting between the SAF and SPLA arose amid a murky mix of armed actors and interests in the contested borderlands, including a variety of northern opposition forces and proxy militias. The exact cause is vigorously disputed, but the flare-up is the predictable outcome of negative trends: conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile; lack of agreement on transitional economic and financial arrangements between the two countries; Khartoum's seizure of Southern oil; South Sudan's decision to stop oil production; and sporadic cross-border attacks and bombings.

It occurs amid mutual recriminations: of Khartoum arming Southern rebels and the SPLA providing material support to its former brothers-in-arms now fighting for the Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as political support to members of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) seeking to topple President Bashir.

In part to prevent the resupply of the SPLM-N, the SAF has also bombed refugee camps and towns in South Sudan and recently attacked Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. Complicating matters are divergent views within the capitals and hardliners seemingly working to undermine negotiated settlements, as demonstrated by the scuttling of the much anticipated North-South presidential summit on 3 April.

The end result is that, following renewed clashes, the SPLA has taken control of the disputed Heglig oil fields and stopped about half of Sudan's 115,000 barrels-per-day oil output. This has dealt a further blow to Khartoum's economy, already reeling from separation and the additional fall in revenue that resulted from Juba's decision in January to stop exporting oil through Sudan's pipelines. The beleaguered Khartoum regime, which is under pressure on political, economic, and multiple military fronts and increasingly concerned about the prospects of an Arab Spring uprising, cannot afford to sustain such losses.

RISKY STRATEGIES 

A game of "chicken" appears to be underway, in which both sides embark on risky strategies in the hope that the other will blink first. If neither does, the outcome will be disastrous for both.

(PHOTO: South Sudan President Salva Kiir/Wikipedia)Some suspect that President Kiir's tactics are intended to provoke a popular uprising in the North -- that he is gambling the attack on Heglig may be the proverbial straw that breaks the back of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). However, little thought seems to have been given to the consequences if President Bashir is removed from power. Unlike Egypt, Sudan lacks a single, legitimate institution that could manage a peaceful transfer of power.

Bashir, who became president following a 1989 military coup, and his close associates have fragmented the security services and rely on personal loyalty and increasingly expensive patronage to retain control. He and security hardliners continue to pursue divide and rule tactics to prevent the emergence of a unified counterweight to NCP dominance of the centre. Bashir's fall could trigger a wild scramble by multiple armed actors for control of Khartoum and other parts of the country that would be hard, if not impossible, to restrain.

Kiir and the SPLM are also dangerously exposed. With South Sudan's decision to stop oil production, 98 per cent of its governmental revenue has disappeared. Reserves and other stop-gap measures can only tide Juba over for some months, after which the SPLM would have to impose draconian budget cuts, including on the SPLA, which is a fractious force that includes many former foes. Khartoum has a long history of supporting its enemy's enemies. At relatively little cost it could continue to support Juba's opponents and compound domestic instability for a government already plagued by weak institutions, limited reach and increasingly untenable financial circumstances.

Khartoum and Juba need to exercise restraint and consider carefully the consequences of their actions. The decision to abandon negotiations and resort to increasingly bellicose posturing can only hurt both. Each government, with its own domestic challenges, may reap short-term political benefit from externalizing its problems, but there is no military solution, and both sides would suffer from all-out war. The destruction of oil infrastructure would have long-term economic consequences. Stability is necessary in both the North and the South for either to develop and prosper and, in turn, enjoy long-term stability.

(PHOTO: South Sudanese refugees at a camp in Unity State/UNHCR)DECADES OF MISTRUST

Decades of mutual distrust prevent either side from making good-will gestures and pursuing win-win negotiations. In such a febrile environment, the UN Security Council must reassert itself to preserve international peace and security. It should mobilize all possible leverage to bring the parties back to negotiations and agreement on the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), as well as encourage implementation of the border monitoring tasks outlined for the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) in Resolution 2024 (2011), particularly near Heglig and Jau.

The parties and UNISFA must operationalize the JBVMM to investigate and verify claims either side is undermining peace or violating existing and future agreements, including for the necessary withdrawal of SPLA forces from the Heglig area and cessation of SAF bombing of South Sudanese territory. The monitoring mechanism needs to be flexible with high mobility. Lessons should be drawn from previous monitoring missions in Sudan, during which building confidence among Sudanese parties and supporting mutually-agreed arrangements were at least as important as verifying and reporting on legal obligations.

UNIMPLEMENTED CPA PROVISIONS, POST REFERENDUM ISSUES

Fundamentally, the current conflict is rooted in the CPA's unimplemented provisions, such as the status of Abyei, the cancelled popular consultations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and disputed borders, as well as unresolved issues stemming from separation. While they have acknowledged their interdependence, the two countries must still reach detailed agreements on many divisive issues, such as the joint exploitation of oil, transitional financial arrangements, citizenship, security and trade. The time for posturing and brinkmanship is past; they must return to the table promptly and sustain the focus and commitment necessary to hammer out and implement deals. Otherwise, if these critical issues are allowed to fester, they will undermine any ceasefire or limited peace deal.

Absent the democratic transformation long overdue in Khartoum, Sudan remains unstable as power, resources and development continue to be overly concentrated in the centre. A "new South" has emerged in Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile that - along with Darfur, the East and other marginal areas - chafes under NCP domination. Because of historic ties, and despite South Sudan's separation, the North's centre-periphery wars continue to draw in Juba.

The call by the North's opposition parties for a national dialogue in the context of a wider constitutional review conference suggests a way forward. Such a conference should be seen as a more extensive national consultative process, to accommodate the stymied popular consultations in the transitional areas and the Darfur people-to-people dialogue.

Those latter two processes, if run separately, will not lead to political stability and lasting peace in the whole country.

A NEW UNIFIED INTERNATIONAL STRATEGY

With developments increasingly appearing to be spiraling out of control, a new strategy is needed to avert an even bigger crisis. As Crisis Group noted in its September 26, 2011 Conflict Alert, any solution must be comprehensive. The international community must focus not only on North-South issues or the situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, but also require the NCP to agree to an immediate, inclusive, national reform process. The first priority needs to be for a security deal that stops both the fighting between the North and the South, as well as Khartoum and the SRF, but for this to hold it must also be clearly linked to binding commitments to discuss and implement political reforms.

(PHOTO: Taken March 28, 2012 shows destruction in Sudan's southern oil centre of Heglig after South Sudanese troops & government forces clashed along the border, sparking international alarm/AFP)The UN - the Security Council - should exert pressure on the two presidents to meet and negotiate an immediate ceasefire. This should be based on the June 29, 2011 Agreement on Border Security and the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, as well as the February 10, 2012 Memorandum of Understanding on Non-Aggression and Cooperation. They also need to reach common ground on a security deal for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile based on the June 24, 2011 Framework Agreement, to be monitored by an enhanced JBVMM.

To encourage reforms in Khartoum, a united international community, particularly the African Union (AU), Arab League and UN, should put pressure on the NCP to accept a free and unhindered national dialogue aimed at creating a national stabilization program that includes defined principles for establishing an inclusive constitutional arrangement accepted by all. A national reform agenda should include a program that accommodates all the people of Sudan and supports inclusive governance.

The NCP must make genuine efforts to end impunity in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access, as well as support the efforts of the AU-UN Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and UNISFA to protect civilians.

If the NCP commits seriously to such a national reform agenda, regional actors and the wider international community should offer assistance.

Major players like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the Arab League, China, the US, EU and AU must recognize that reform is necessary for stability and requires their support. If the NCP accepts an inclusive reform process, for example, the U.S. should provide incentives under its normalization package to bolster that process. These could include easing debts, lifting economic sanctions and removing Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Meanwhile, North-South relations may also be improved by greater domestic stability in South Sudan.  Building institutions, extending service delivery, bolstering economic growth, and calming inter-communal tensions are among the priorities, and will be served in part by advancing promised political reforms. This includes an opening of political space inside and outside the SPLM, and an inclusive constitution-making process, that should be supported by partners and donors.

--- Editorial originally published by the International Crisis Group, HERE.

Monday
Apr162012

Nigeria: World Bank Presidency - US vs the World? (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Yemi Ajayi

(PHOTO: Dr. Jim Yong Kim, new World Bank President/Dartmouth College) *Since this article posted on Monday, the World Bank board voted to confirm Jim Yong Kim as the next World Bank President. He will start his tenure on June 30 when Robert Zoellick steps down from this same post.

The race for the World Bank presidency will enter the homestretch Monday when the bank's 25-member executive board votes on who succeeds its outgoing president, Robert Zoellick.

It is a defining race for the Bretton Woods institution (comprising the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) founded in 1944. It is also a race that has assumed the character of a clash between an arcane tradition and the quest for change in the way the international finance institution with the official goal of fighting poverty picks its president.

In the race for the World Bank presidency were initially three candidates: Nigeria's Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Colombian Minister of Finance, Jose Antonio Ocampo and a public health expert and president of Dartmouth College in the United States, Jim Yong Kim. The number was reduced to two last Friday with Ocampo's withdrawal for the post.

However, the candidates are merely instruments in a proxy war between Washington and its European allies, which has traditionally produced the president and the rest of the world that is clamouring for a paradigm shift in how the leadership of the World Bank emerges.

The clamour has pitted the rest of the world against the US, which is out to defend its tradition of producing the World Bank president since foundation.

(PHOTO: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria/NigeriaMailOnline)For US President Barack Obama, he cannot afford to fail where his predecessors had succeeded. Losing out in the jostling for the post, especially in a crucial election year, is to hand the Republicans the ammunition to make a bid at undoing his attempt to renew his tenancy at the White House.

Withdrawing from the race last Friday, Ocampo, in a letter to the World Bank, said he was doing so because "it is clear that this is becoming no longer a competition on the merits of the candidates, but a political exercise."

"For me, as an economist and as a Colombian, it has been a great honour to participate in this first open competition for the presidency of the World Bank... to facilitate the desired unity of the emerging and developing economies around a candidate, today (last Friday) I am retiring from the race to support the minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who I wish the best of luck in this final stage."

If it were going to be a straight fight based on merit on a level playing field for the candidates, Okonjo-Iweala could start preparing her handover notes for her successor in Nigeria and return to the organization where she was managing director before her call to national duty last year.

Even though she was reluctant to join the race some weeks ago, her candidacy has gathered rave endorsements from the media at home and abroad, 35 former World Bank economists and managers, Africa and other developing nations since she threw her traditional headgear into the ring.

She is the official candidate of Africa and its allies who have canvassed the argument that someone with high-flying credentials and requisite experience like hers is better placed to make the World Bank deliver on its goals of helping developing nations to improve on their peoples' wellbeing.

Since March when Obama picked him as the US candidate for the post, Kim has come under global scrutiny. Despite his credentials and achievements, especially in public health, including his stint as a director of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, he is considered as one who lacks the "appropriate finance and economic credentials" to lead the World Bank.

(PHOTO: Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia/Columbia Univ) In contrast, Okonjo-Iweala has institutional knowledge, hands-on experience in development economics and public finance and has proven to be reform minded. In her first appointment as Nigeria's Minister of Finance, she superintended over the country's historical debt relief, an exercise that earned her global accolades; spearheaded the reform of the public sector in Nigeria leading to greater transparency and the monetization policy of the federal government; and championed the creation of the Excess Crude Account that largely provided a buffer for Nigeria during the global economic crisis between 2008 and 2009.

Notwithstanding his diminished credentials, Kim, by some quixotic arrangement, is most likely to succeed Zoellick who bows out on June 30 after a five-year term during which the bank provided over $247 billion to help developing countries boost growth and overcome poverty. His being the US candidate, which some analysts have described as a "wrong call," guarantees him victory under the weighted voting system that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are calling for a review.

Under the voting system, the US, which is the bank's largest shareholder, Europe and Japan control 54 per cent of the votes. The trio has formed an alliance which ensures that the bloc votes are delivered to the US' candidate. Europe is under obligation to back the US as repayment for its support in always ensuring that the headship of the International Monetary Fund, is held by the continent under an informal pact.

According to reports at the weekend, so far, US, Russia, Canada and Japan are lining up behind Kim alongside Spain, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. This follows a move last Friday by the US members on the World Bank executive board to block the board from transparently assessing the outcome of the interviews of the three candidates, which took place earlier last week.

With Ocampo's withdrawal for Okonjo-Iweala, his backers - Brazil and Argentina - may team up with the three African constituencies to vote for the Nigerian minister.

However, the straw poll held by the bank's board last Friday before Ocampo's withdrawal, showed that Kim was guaranteed 36 per cent of the votes, Okonjo-Iweala about five per cent and six per cent for Ocampo. The votes reflect the voting rights of the countries or regions backing each of the candidates.

The undecided were the European Union with 29.2 per cent; India, 4.6 per cent; China, 3.4 per cent; Switzerland, 3.0 per cent; Saudi Arabia, 2.4 per cent; and Asia, 9.5 per cent bloc votes.

Monday's decision by the bank's executive board was some three weeks ago clearly encapsulated for the members by the Financial Times. The newspaper in an editorial on March 27, in which it endorsed the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala, said: "In this less than ideal world, Mr. Kim's appointment seems inevitable. But if the Bank's shareholders wanted the best president, they would opt for Ms. Okonjo-Iweala."

Will the board heed the voice of reason as the World Bank, for the first time in its 68 years of existence, chooses between candidates?

Well, if the Nigerian minister loses, as that fact cannot be discounted, given the high stakes politics, she can take solace in the immortal word of American journalist and writer, Damon Runyon, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong...."

--- This editorial originally appeared in AllAfrica HERE

Friday
Feb242012

Fighting the drugs menace in Saudi Arabia (PERSPECTIVE) 

(PHOTO: Saudi Arabia Police train to find undercover drugs/ARABNEWS)From the Arab News

The latest figures relating to drug abuse in the Saudi Arabia Kingdom make appalling reading. In the last three years, 119,000 people of different nationalities have been arrested for drugs offenses. What is worse, it is reported that some 400 police and anti-narcotics officials have been killed fighting the traffickers.

The full extent of this great evil can be gauged by the astonishing fact that the total value of the drugs seized exceeded SR18 billion. The Department for Combating Drugs this week listed their haul as including 181 million Captagon tablets, 222 kilos of heroin, 61 tons of hashish and 2,206 tons of qat. 

Working on the basis that, as with anti-drug enforcement campaigns worldwide, narcotics seizures represent only a relatively small proportion of the actual amount of illegal substances in circulation, these figures are truly frightening.

What are our young people — and drug abusers are all too often the young — what are they thinking about? It is of course the nature of youth to rebel. Every new generation throughout history has sought to find its feet by establishing its own identity. Only with increasing age comes wisdom and an acceptance of established values. Yet the use of narcotics by the young, to somehow differentiate themselves from their elders is dangerous, foolish and deeply wrong.

Drugs do not just endanger the people who use them. They threaten the very fabric of society.

As the police have pointed out this week, fully 60 percent of the crimes in the Kingdom were drugs-related. Put simply, once users have become addicted to a narcotic, their competence in the workplace, their ability even to maintain natural relationships with friends and family, are steadily destroyed. Without income and support, only theft will enable them to sustain their body’s increasing demand for more narcotics. The result is squalor, loneliness and self-destruction.

Yet while society is the victim of drug users, so too are the users themselves victims of the cynical peddlers of death who grow, refine and otherwise manufacture narcotics and as a result, worldwide, rake in hundreds of billions of dollars in profits every year.

Young people can be educated about the dangers and evils of narcotics, as the Kingdom has been seeking to do in an ongoing campaign in schools and colleges. But this is clearly not enough. Moreover, it could be argued that this program should be harder hitting, with graphic and alarming displays of the horrors, degradation and ugly deaths to which addiction eventually leads. Maybe also, young people should be shown the bodies and surviving family members of some of the 400 brave security officers who gave their lives here in the Kingdom, so that these same young people could live safe, decent and productive lives.

Yet the harsh reality is that such campaigns will never be enough. The only way to stop the wicked destructiveness of narcotics use is to attack it at its source, to assault the merchants of death and smash the mafia-networks that run the international trade in illegal drugs.

This requires real coordination between anti-narcotics forces worldwide. Next week the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which is mandated by the United Nations to oversee the implementation of the UN’s drug control conventions, will release its latest annual report.

It is unlikely to make comfortable reading. The drugs barons arguably have larger financial resources at their disposal than the forces of law and order that are seeking to destroy them.

Nor do these mafias have to work within any legal framework. Yet they must be crushed, for the sake of young people around the world, not just here in the Kingdom, who take the foolish and fatal first step of experimenting with narcotics.

In a prosperous country like Saudi Arabia, where  the younger generation has so much to live for, the joy and security of work, family and eventually children of their own have to conquer the false lure of drug-induced well-being.

---- You can read more here from the Arab News

Thursday
Feb232012

The Slide Towards War (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Conn Hallinan

Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their interests to fight them. World War I was not started over the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, nor was it triggered by the alliance system. An “incident” may set the stage for war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it’s a good idea. The Great War started because the countries involved decided they would profit by it, delusional as that conclusion was.

It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure out whether the United States or Israel will go to war with Iran. In short, what are the interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of battle?

Israel’s Political Problem

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran is building nuclear weapons that pose an “existential” threat to Israel. But virtually no one believes this, including the bulk of Tel Aviv’s military and intelligence communities. As former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said recently, Iran “is not an existential” threat to Israel. There is no evidence that Iran is building a bomb, and all its facilities are currently under a 24-hour United Nations inspection regime.

So from a strictly security perspective, Israel has little reason to go to war with Iran. But Israel does have an interest in keeping the Middle East a fragmented place, driven by sectarian divisions and dominated by authoritarian governments and feudal monarchies. If there is one lesson Israel has learned from its former British overlords, it is “divide and conquer.” Among its closest allies were the former dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. It now finds itself on the same page as the reactionary monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.

Iran is not a military threat to Israel, but it is a political problem: Tel Aviv sees Tehran’s fierce nationalism and independence from the West as a wildcard. Iran is also allied to Israel’s major regional enemy, Syria—with which Israel is still officially at war—as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

In the Netanyahu government’s analysis, beating up on Iran would weaken Israel’s local enemies at little cost. Tel Aviv’s scenario features a shock-and-awe attack followed by a UN-mandated ceasefire, with a maximum of 500 Israeli casualties. The Iranians have little capacity to strike back, and if they did attack Israeli civilian centers or tried to close the Strait of Hormuz, it would bring in the Americans.

Of course, that rose-colored scenario is little more than wishful thinking. Iran is not likely to agree to a rapid ceasefire; it fought for eight long years against Iraq, and war has a habit of derailing the best-laid plans. A war between Israel and Iran would be long and bloody and might well spread to the entire region.

Iran’s leaders dispense a lot of bombast about punishing Israel if it attacks, but in the short run there is not a lot they could do, particularly given the red lines Washington has drawn. The Iranian air force is obsolete, and the Israelis have the technology to blank out most of Tehran’s radar and anti-aircraft sites. Iran could do little to stop Tel Aviv’s mixture of air attacks, submarine-fired cruise missiles, and Jericho ballistic missiles.

The United States and Its Allies

For all its talk about how “all options are on the table,” the Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid a war. But with the 2012 elections looming, could Washington remain on the sidelines? Polls indicate that Americans would not look with favor on a new Middle East war, but a united front of Republicans, neoconservatives, and the American Israeli Political Action Committee is pressing for a confrontation with Iran.

Israeli sources suggest that Netanyahu may calculate that an election-season Israeli attack might force the Obama administration to back a war and/or damage Obama’s re-election chances. It is no secret that there is no love lost between the two leaders.

But the United States also has a dog in this fight. American hostility to Iran dates back to Tehran’s seizure of its oil assets from Britain in 1951. The CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 and install the dictatorial Shah. The United States also backed Saddam Hussein’s war on Iran, has had a longstanding antagonistic relationship with Syria, and will not talk with Hezbollah or Hamas. Tel Aviv’s local enemies are Washington’s local enemies.

When the Gulf monarchs formed the GCC in 1981, its primary purpose was to oppose Iranian influence in the Middle East. Using religious division as a wedge, the GCC has encouraged Sunni fundamentalists to fight Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, and largely blocked the spread of the “Arab Spring” to its own turf. When Shiites in Bahrain began protesting over a lack of democracy and low wages, the GCC invaded and crushed the demonstrations. The GCC does not see eye-to-eye with the United States and Israel on the Palestinians—although it is careful not to annoy Washington and Tel Aviv—but the GCC is on the same page as both capitals concerning Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.

The European Union (EU) has joined the sanctions, although France andGermany have explicitly rejected the use of force. Motivations in the EU range from France’s desire to reclaim its former influence in Lebanon to Europe’s need to keep its finger on the world’s energy jugular.

Setting the Stage for Tragedy

In brief, it isn’t all about oil and gas, but a whole lot of it is — and, as CounterPunch’s Alexander Cockburn points out, oil companies would like to see production cut and prices rise. Another war in the Persian Gulf would accomplish both.

Iran will be the victim here, but elements within the regime will take advantage of any war to consolidate their power. An attack would unify the country around what is now a rather unpopular government. It would allow the Revolutionary Guard to crush its opposition and give cover to the Ahmadinejad government’s drive to cut subsidies for transportation, housing, and food. A war would cement the power of the most reactionary elements of the current regime.

There are other actors in this drama—China, Russia, India, Turkey, and Pakistan for starters, none of whom supports a war—but whether they can influence events is an open question. In the end, Israel may just decide that its interests are best served by starting a war and that the United States will go along.

Or maybe this is all sound and fury signifying nothing?

Israel, the West, and the Gulf Cooperation Council share many of the same interests. Unfortunately, they also share the belief that force is an effective way to achieve one’s goals.

On such illusions are tragedies built.

Conn Hallinan is a columnist with Foreign Policy In Focus. His work can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries@wordpress.com

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

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)

Monday
Jan022012

THE HUM - WORLD HEADLINES - January 3, 2012

Afghanistan 

(PHOTO: Uzbekistan's railway leading from Afghanistan to Mazar-e-Sharif. TOLO News) Afghan traders are to be hit with high extra fee to transport goods to Mazar-e-Sharif via Uzbekistan's railway

Algeria 

Report: Algerian troops kill leader of N. African al-Qaeda offshoot

Algeria sentences Qaeda leader to life

Angola 

First prison for young offenders starts functioning this year 

Argentina 

Pilot Project in Argentina Assists Victims in Reporting Rape

Dakar rider dies on home stage

Daily Dakar Diary | Day 1 - Comeback kid takes first stage

Azerbaijan 

Fairmont hotels goes for expansion to Azerbaijan

(PHOTO: Economist Dambisa Moyo. One of 5 Zambian women to watch in 2012. UKZAMBIANS) Bangladesh

Bangladesh out of piracy-prone nations' list 

Barbados

Barbadians win in Commonwealth short story contest

Legendary Barbados cinema closes

Benin 

Benin Metropolis Requires N200bn To Fix

Bhutan 

Internal audit on teacher nominations

Bolivia

Bolivia Officially Withdrawn from UN Drug Convention

Bosnia-Herzegovinia

Bosnia approves 2011 state budget to avoid collapse

Brunei Darussalam

iPad-wielded waiters will serve you

Burundi

Fish catches from Lake Tanganyika, Burundi going down

Cambodia

Asean Presidency a Chance for Improved Credibility for Cambodia: Analysts

Aquatic action ushers in the new year

Chinese firms eye $500m rice investment

Chile

Four of six wildfires in Chile reported to be under control

(PHOTO: British actor who played Darth Vader in Star Wars, Bob Anderson, dies. GALATIA FILMS)Christmas Island 

Carrot and stick to control refugees (Video)

Cocos Islands

Papers show: king had to go

Colombia 

Colombia, Followed by Mexico Lead in Number of Religious Workers Killed in 2011

Colombian law on victim compensation takes effect

Congo (DRC)

DR Congo beefs up security after deadly jail violence

UN report calls for action to clean up Congo’s minerals trade and end impunity

DRC Senate Chief Hospitalized in Paris After New Years Eve Attack

Croatia 

Croatia to withdraw genocide lawsuit - FM

(PHOTO: Textile makers are in the same turbulent boat as many other local exporters in Vietnam. VIETNAM INVESTMENT REVIEW)Cuba

Cuba, an Inspiration to LatAm, Says Nicaraguan President 

Cyprus

Cyprus Health Ministry to tackle faulty breast implants

Dumped baby shocks Cyprus 

Denmark

Danish monarchy polls as Europe’s most popular

Denmark takes up EU presidency with little sway on crisis

Ecuador

Ecuador vows to push Yasuni jungle protection plan

Egypt

Mubarak trial adjourns 

(PHOTO: World Record Ring set in Ukraine. SHRENUJ & CO.) El Salvador

U.S. Ambassador Leaves El Salvador

Eritrea

Role of Handicraft in Familiarizing Nation's Tourism Resources Stressed

Chinese group to pay $80m-plus for Chalice's Eritrean gold project

AfDB invests $19.2m into Eritrea’s education sector

Estonia

Forests are the key to Estonian growth (Perspective)

Ethiopia

Ethiopia, Japan sign water project agreement

Fiji

PM heeds call for education

France

French women groups protest FIFA decision to endorse hijab 

(PHOTO: Nicaragua Plans to Extend the San Juan River Dredging Operations on border with Costa Rica. DREDGING TODAY)French Polynesia

Progress in eradicating Elephantaisis

Gambia

Government to meeting with citizens in Diaspora

Gaza and West Bank

Prospects for Palestine in 2012 (Perspective)  

Germany

European Supervolcano Showing Signs of Life

Ghana

Ghana Removes Fuel Subsidy

Greece

Greece's recession refugees show it's time for a debate about good breeding (Perspective)

Guam

Guam collision rate twice US average

(PHOTO: Bootleggers in UAE who are supplying liquor to labour camps. SUPPLIED) Guatemala

Sinaloa Cartel Shifting Meth Production to Guatemala

Guinea-Bissau

UN Gen. Sec. Condemns Use of Force in Guinea-Bissau 

Guyana 

Pres. Ramotar makes stirring appeal for "genuine" govt-opposition cooperation

Guyana, Germany ink deal to protect Amazon  

Honduras

Holding Honduras accountable (Perspective)

India

A global university rises in one of India’s most remote corners

Made-in-India coffees are ‘instant' hit abroad

Landfill in Uran wetlands affecting migratory birds

India is the world's spam central

The Dalai Lama begins ten-day Kalachakra teachings

(PHOTO: A nurse at Mulago hospital, Uganda speaks to MPs about the countrys shortage of nurses. UGANDA HEALTH NEWS) Indonesia

New Skills Help Build a Better Life in West Java

Protesters chase parishioners over ‘friendly Islam’ sticker

Indonesian garbage helps save environment

Iran

Drilling 30 oil wells in Turkmenistan earns Iran $300 million 

Iraq

Iraq's Sunni muslim finance minister survives car bombing

Ireland

Internet freedom will be priority of Ireland’s OSCE leadership

Ivory Coast

TV Presenter Freed Conditionally After Being Held for Five Months

Jamaica

Jamaican Women to Watch in 2012

National development challenges facing the incoming government in Jamaica (Perspective)

(PHOTO: The musician Alison Andrews performs in Dubai. ALICE JOHNSON)Jordan

Oil will keep GCC warm if the world freezes over (Perspective)

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan launches environmental initiatives (Video)

Kenya

Ivory poaching on the rise thanks to Asian demand and a legal loophole

Kenya boat capsize near Lamu 'kills six'

Kyrgyzstan

1st VP congratulates Kyrgyz Prime Minister on election win

Macau

Macau assured of safe produce during Spring Festival  

Macedonia

Kiro Gligorov, architect of Macedonian independence, dies at 94

(PHOTO: A rural village in Zambia, struggling with urbanisation. MIRAM ZIMBA, TIMES OF ZAMBIA) Malawi

TransWorld Radio Malawi tagline changes

Malaysia

Malaysia preps for new Pinewood studio

Maldives

Green Muslims have been nominated as some of the most influential Muslim leaders of 2011

Malta

Maltese delegation to visit Saudi Arabia

Mauritania

Over one million Mauritanians could face severe food crisis - IFRC 

Mexico

Same-Sex Marriages Legal in Cancun

Micronesia

Micronesian college names new president

(PHOTO: From the `Light from Life' exhibition opening in the UAE. GULFTODAY) Mongolia

Second Mongolian-language TV Channel Begins Broadcast 

Boxers in Mongolia training

Morocco

Morocco still without cabinet, row over Islamist minister

Mozambique

Malawi to save millions from Mozambique railway line

Nepal

High alert sounded on Indo-Nepal border

UP district in India bans poultry imports from Nepal

Netherlands Antilles

(PHOTO: Rare sea turtles sightings around the island of St. Eustatius are at risk with new oil terminal planned. GOOGLE EARTH) New Worries About Oil Terminal Risks on St. Eustatius Island

Nicaragua

Nicaragua Plans to Extend San Juan Dredging Operations

Nigeria

Protests as fuel prices soar in Nigeria

Northern Mariana Islands

Crossed fingers for 2012 

Oman

Oman daily vows to appeal journalists’ jail terms

Palau

Palau enters race against climate change

Palau gets Solar Powered Airport

Panama

Differing views on repair time for Bridge of the Americas

Tourism boss wants extra $1 million for Carnaval

Panama Prepares Jazz Festival 

(PHOTO: UNICEF Nutrition Officer Dr. Rajia Sharhan holds a young child at a therapeutic feeding centre in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital . UNICEF) UNICEF Yemen 2011 HalldorssonPeru

Peru doubled organic exports over last 4 years

Weak Environmental Impact Studies for Mines

Philippines

Philippines to release funds for infrastructure projects

Tuberculosis in the Philippines: 10 things you should know 

Poland

EU champions Poland's space project

Puerto Rico

Not Yet a State, Puerto Rico Practices Good Governance (Perspective)

Qatar

Environmental Protest in Front of Qatari Embassy

Romania

The healthcare system in Romania is gravely ill

Poll: Romanians watch TV for business news, only 3% read newspapers and magazines

Amazing photos of Ice Hotel in Romania

(PHOTO: Mekong Delta Ports Need Dredging say authorities. DREDGING TODAY) Russia

Moscow to rank among world's ten biggest megalopolises in 2012

Rwanda

Rwandans Welcome HPV Vaccine Program

Saint Kitts & Nevis

Saint Kitts and Nevis Moves Closer to Wind Energy and Solar Power Goals

Samoa

Bad timing for some Samoans

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia to apply law for women only to sell lingerie

Serbia

Serbian drivers facing problems entering Croatia

Seychelles

The Seychelles Adds Guernsey TIEA

(PHOTO: A man works at a steel factory in Que Vo District, outside Hanoi . THAN NIEN DAILY)Slovakia

President Gašparovič says Slovakia will face difficult times ahead

South Africa

Thousands expected at ANC's 100th bash

South Sudan

UN: Up to 50,000 flee South Sudan tribal turmoil

Spain

Unemployed Spaniards set their sights on South America

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka plans to earn One Billion U.S. Dollars from tourism this year

Suriname

Suriname starts stabilization fund

Sweden

(PHOTO: Swedes choose social media over texting, FLICKR) Swedes choose social media over texting

Swaziland

Coca-Cola accused of propping up notorious Swaziland dictator

Syria

Assad cousin denied entry to Switzerland

Syria sought nuclear know-how from Pakistan's Khan in 1980, 2002

Comedy amidst Syrian tragedy

How is Syria affecting Arab business? (Perspective)

Taiwan

Runway at Taiwan's biggest airport set to re-open after repairs

Nuclear concerns dominate Taiwan environmental poll

Vice presidential candidates exchange fire over ability to govern

Gender equality department launched in Taiwan

Taiwan cuts compulsory military service to 4 months

(PHOTO: Kulwa Saimon (23), an aids patient in Tanzania and sucessful entrepreneur. IPP MEDIA) Lung cancer study makes gain

Taiwan cyclists set world record for mass bike ride

Tanzania

Farmers want compensation for crops affected by oil spill

Growers plan grand mango show in Dar Es Salaam

After admission, Kulwa lives well with HIV-Aids

Thailand

Global Chip Sales Down on Thailand Flooding

Thailand: 165 killed on roads over first three days

Honda scraps 1,000 flood-ravaged cars in Thailand

Mobile world gets ready for breakout year in Thailand

Poll: Corruption a major problem

The Arctic

Arctic mystery: What killed the ozone, and will it strike again?

Tonga

Tonga is worlds fattest country

(PHOTO: At left, ozone in Earth's stratosphere at an altitude of about 20 kilometers in mid-March 2011, near the peak of the Arctic ozone loss. At right, chlorine monoxide — the primary agent of chemical ozone destruction in the cold polar lower stratosphere — for the same day and altitude. NASA) Trinidad and Tobago

TV6 raid 'disappoints' press institute

Transparency body: Top cop must explain show of force at TV6

Tunisia

Tunisian Border Patrol Exchanges Fire with Armed Libyans

560 French PIP Breast Implants Implanted in Tunisian Women

Tunisia Celebrates Its Sense of Humor With Comedy Festival

Tunisia Repossesses Property of Ben Ali’s Son-in-Law in Canada

Turkey

Turkey's first hydrogen boat produced 

Number of Chinese tourists expected to increase in Chinese Culture Year in Turkey

Uganda

Government urged to recruit more nurses

Universities urged to emphasize marketable courses

Govt to develop a special needs education policy

Lower food prices push down inflation

Crime syndicate busted in Western Uganda

(PHOTO: Mysterious disease strikes Uganda. "The major symptom of the disease is the continuous nodding of the head")World Bank mineral development support to Uganda ends

Warid Telecom launches mobile money service (Uganda)

Mysterious disease hits Uganda

Ukraine

Ukraine foreign minister calls for more Saudi investments

Record Number of Diamonds Set in One Ring

United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi residents face threat of severe water shortage

UAE bands are finding their voice

Bootleggers active again in UAE labour camps

Interview: On a mission to conserve the environment

New Porsche Design BlackBerry in UAE

YahLive, Etisalat partner on satellite uplink services

No ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ for UAE movie fans

Plastic industry set to grow rapidly in Gulf countries

Emirates Steel eyes more expansion to reach 6.5 mln tpa

‘Light from life’ exhibition opens 

United Kingdom

UK prime minister tells country 2012 will be tough, promises to tackle financial excess

UK hopes for feel-good Games in austere age

Renewable energy boosts UK economy by £2.5bn

Facebook Blamed In A Third Of UK Divorces

Former Great Britain Olympic fencer and Star Wars actor `Darth Vader’ Anderson dies

UK: East Yorkshire farm benefits from sprouts bonanza

United States

Mosque Attack Stuns US Muslims

Three arrested in U.S. for selling stem cell ‘miracle cures’ for terminal diseases

The FDA Fast Tracks a Vaccine to Fight Pneumonia in Older Adults

Short Sales of Homes Increasing

IT companies feel the pinch as US holds back L-1 visas

Survey Declares Boston As America’s Drunkest City

Tennessee claims title of U.S. prescription drug capital

Americans deserve the deficit facts (Perspective)

New App Predicts Next U.S. President (Press release)

US Virgin Islands

(PHOTO: Remnants of an original sugar mill at the entrance to the Cruzan Rum Distillery. LAINE DOSS)oss Rum Diary: Touring the Cruzan Rum Distillery (Pictures)

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan in 2012, will increase funding for the construction of roads by 60.8%

Child 12 years old in Uzbekistan embarrass soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo (Video)

President of Uzbekistan Provides Tax Preferences to Media

Vanuatu

Vanuatu PM Reiterates Stand Against Corruption

Venezuela

Venezuela in debt no matter higher oil prices

MOVIES: Gustavo Dudamel returns to theaters

Vietnam

Vietnam private sector squeezed by rising costs 

Vietnam garment industry urged to focus on green energy

Exports braced to take hit in 2012

Vietnam: Plenty of good fruit but low prices

Vietnam imposes tariff on petrol imports

Vehicular fires continue in Vietnam, still puzzling

Mekong Delta Ports Need Dredging Program

Journalist arrested on bribery charges in Vietnam metro 

Vietnam levies environment tax on five product groups

The highlights of the Vietnamese games market in 2011 

Charity TV programme raises 6.6 trillion VND for the poor

Central Vietnam boast the most beautiful beaches in the country

Yemen

Eleven Yemeni coastguards drowned

Yemen to take part in GCC health ministers meeting

New island born in Red Sea

Interview: Rajia Sharhan of UNICEF Yemen on malnutrition

Zambia

Zambia releases Czech ‘spies’

5 Zambian Women to watch in 2012

NHA to build affordable houses countrywide

Jealous hubby to hang

Blast at Zambia steel factory injures 11

Support small-scale women miners urge banks for support

'Education key to curbing drug abuse'

Women's movement against death penalty

Freedom of Information law a reality - Lubinda (Perspective)

Challenges of urbanisation in Zambia (Perspective)

Music has transformed politics - Dr Kaseba (Perspective)

Zimbabwe

Media activist Moyse charged with undermining Mugabe

Zimbabwe's Health Ministry Targets Diarrheal Diseases in New Year

Armed Robbers Steal Diamond Ore from Marange Resources

ZRP calls for review of the Criminal Law, consider women as potential rapists

Govt needs to assists farmers to increase yield for wheat and maize: ZFU (Perspective)

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

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