FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Wednesday: April 2, 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 Syria (14)

Sunday
Jun032012

Current Revolutions Will Unleash Enormous Energy (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: The Arab Spring, Documentary, RT)

By Khalifa Rashid Al Shaali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday
Apr052012

The Dangers of Journalism (REPORT) 

(Video 25 years of Reporters Without Borders)

(HN, 4/5/12) - Yesterday's suicide bombing at the newly opened National Theater of Somalia is now believed to have killed four people, including the nation's Olympics chief and FIFA head among them; just as a ceremony began in celebration of the Somali National Television's one-year anniversary.

It was meant  to be a moment of lightness in the much darkness Somalia has experienced in 25-plus years of unrest, famine, and chaos.

It also - again - highlighted the dangerous situations global journalists contend with - even at an afternoon cultural event - to tell the story.

(PHOTO: Advocates in Sri Lanka/JNEWS) Journalism, on any stage, is never safe.

Various reports say that at least 10 journalists - four of them women - were seriously injured when the blast ripped through the  theater 5 minutes into a speech by the Somali Prime Minister, Abdiwelli Mohamed.

Witnesses said they believed the bomber had been a female who mingled with the crowd before detonating. The explosion killed 4 people.  The nation's Olympics chief and FIFA head among them.

The Al-Shabaab militant group has taken responsibility.

The hurt reporters are named as (SEE PHOTOS HERE):  Said Shire Warsame of Shabelle TV, Ahmed Ali Kahiye of Radio Kulmiye; Ayaan Abdi (female) of S24 TV/Somalie 24  and Hamdi Mohamed Hassan Hiis (female) of Somali Channel TV; Deeqa Mohamed (female) of the state-run Radio Mogadishu/ Radio Mogadiscio; Mohamed Noor and Mohamed Sharif of Radio Bar-kulan; Somali National Television staffers and Abdulkadir Mohamed Hassan, and freelance journalists Suleiman Sheikh Ismail and Mulki Hassan Haile (female) of Royal TV.

Reporters Without Borders in Paris said, “We condemn this despicable attack in the strongest possible terms and our thoughts are with the many victims,”

By all accounts, being `on assignment' can sometimes mean life or death for a journalist - and not always glamorous. 

DEATH AND IMPRISONMENT

In its annual "Attacks on the Press" report, the New York-based Committee  to Protect Journalists (CPJ) detailed intimidation and deaths to journalists. 

Imprisonments of reporters worldwide shot up more than 20% to its highest level since the mid-1990s in 2011, according to the annual survey - an increase driven largely by widespread jailings across the Middle East and North Africa;  finding, 179 writers, editors, and photojournalists behind bars on December 1.  More than 34 higher than in 2010.

Additionally Iran was the world’s worst jailer, with 42 journalists behind bars. Eritrea, China, Burma, Vietnam, Syria, and Turkey also ranked among the world’s worst.

Losing their lives in 2011 were 46 journalists who were killed in the line of work around the world - undertaking dangerous assignments such as covering street protests and civil strife which reached a record level last year (2 more than 2010) as political unrest swept the Arab world. 

Reporters Without Borders puts that number at 66; and a tally by Switzerland Press Emblem Campaign says the total is as high as 106.

Photographers and camera operators made up about 40% of the overall death toll and noted an increase in the deaths of Internet journalists - who rarely have appeared in the totals before - with nine killed last year.

(Video of the moment of blast in Somalia yesterday, captured - via The Guardian)

BY  GEOGRAPHY 

Country-by-country, in 2011, Pakistan had the most deaths with seven, while Libya and Iraq followed with five each, and Mexico had three.

So far in 2012, the most hazardous duty ranks are:  Syria- 7, Somalia-3, India-2, Nigeria-2, Thailand-1, Pakistan-1, Brazil-2, Bangladesh-2, Afghanistan-1, Philippines-1

By all accounts approximately 22 journalists have died this year alone.  

They are:

Ali Ahmed Abdi, Radio Galkayo, Puntlandi - 3/4/12 in Galkayo, Somalia

Rajesh Mishra, Media Raj - 3/4/12 in Rewa, India

Abukar Hassan Mohamoud, Somaliweyn Radio - 2/28/12 in Mogadishu, Somalia

Anas al-Tarsha, Freelance - 2/24/12 in Homs, Syria

Rémi Ochlik, Freelance - 2/22/12 in Homs, Syria

Marie Colvin, Sunday Times - 2/22/12 in Homs, Syria

Rami al-Sayed, Freelance - 2/21/12 in Homs, Syria

Mario Randolfo Lopes, Vassouras na Net - 2/9/12 in Barra do Piraí, Brazil

Mazhar Tayyara, Freelance - 2/4/12 in Homs, Syria

Hassan Osman Abdi, Shabelle Media Network - 1/28/12 in Mogadishu, Somalia

Enenche Akogwu, Channels TV - 1/20/12 in Kano, Nigeria

Mukarram Khan Aatif, Freelance - 1/17/12 in Shabqadar, Pakistan

Wisut "Ae" Tangwittayaporn, Inside Phuket - 1/12/12 in Phuket, Thailand

Gilles Jacquier, France 2  - 1/11/12 in Homs, Syria

Samid Khan Bahadarzai, Melma Radio - 2/21/12  in Orgun, Afghanistan

Chandrika Rai, Navbharat, The Hitavada - 2/18/12 in Umaria, India

Paulo Roberto Rodrigues, Jornal Da Praça, Mercosul - 2/12/12 in Ponta Porá, Brazil

Meherun Runi, ATN Bangla Television - 2/1112 in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Golam Mustofa Sarowar, Maasranga Television - 2/11/12 in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Nansok Sallah, Highland FM - 1/18/12 in Jos, Nigeria

Christopher Guarin, Radyo Mo Nationwide/Tatak - 1/5/12 in General Santos City, Philippines

Shukri Abu al-Burghul, Al-Thawra/Radio Damascus - 1/3/12 in Damascus, Syria

-- HUMNEWS

Friday
Mar302012

BRICS 4th Meeting: `Non-West, Not Anti-West' (REPORT)  

(Video via IBTIMES)

Top emerging economies, coming under the banner of BRICS, on Thursday criticized the West for financial mismanagement, called for a "merit-based" selection of the next World Bank chief, rued the slow pace of reforms in the International Monetary Fund, declared that dialogue was the only way to a peaceful resolution in Syria and Iran, but failed to go beyond motherhood statements and give the bloc a meaningful push.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries took baby steps towards facilitating intra-BRICS trade and investment in local currency, but failed to reach any agreement on a BRICS development bank. They signed an agreement to extend credits in local currencies under the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism.

However, the suggestion for a BRICS Development Bank was pushed to a later date, since there were major differences among the members.

Spreading themselves beyond economics, the BRICS members articulated an alternative political vision with regard to current international issues.

(PHOTO: BRICS summit handout of leader photo op; l to r, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, Russia's Dmitry Medvedev, India's Manmohan Singh, China's Hu Jintao, South Africa's Jacob Zuma) "The views were more non-West, than anti-West", explained an official. While these were mainly broad-brush positions on current events, their importance lay in the fact that five emerging global leaders actually sat across the table to agree on these points.

In a statement at the end of the plenary session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "The world is passing through uncertain times. The rapid recovery of the BRICS economies from the financial crisis highlighted their role as growth drivers of the global economy. Our cooperation is intended to explore meaningful partnerships for common development, address global challenges together and contribute to furthering world peace, stability and security."

In its Delhi Declaration, BRICS members opposed violence as a way of resolving political crises in other countries. "Global interests would best be served by dealing with the crisis through peaceful means that encourage broad national dialogues..." On Syria, BRICS supported the Arab League and special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

On Iran, they observed, "We recognize Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned, including between the IAEA and Iran and in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions."

The BRICS nations put their might behind Afghanistan, saying it needed "time, development assistance and cooperation, preferential access to world markets, foreign investment and a clear end-state strategy."  Israel was rapped on the knuckles for its settlement policy, but BRICS advocated direct negotiations with the Palestinians. The underlying theme was a repudiation of the western developed countries' approach, without actually getting into the details.

In an action plan, BRICS leaders agreed to meet before United Nations General Assembly meeting every September, much like the Non-Aligned Movement and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meetings; regular gatherings of finance ministers, central bank governors, trade ministers, national security advisers, etc.

(PHOTO: BRICS handout of finance ministers shaking hands in cooperation)But underneath the camaraderie and the determination to strike a different path, serious differences exist. On the economic front, it would be a tussle between India and China, while Russia is pushing the political agenda, particularly on Iran and Syria, where BRICS supported the Russian viewpoint. India and Brazil pushed through their joint pitch for reform of the UN Security Council, which China has not been enthusiastic about, although Russia supports it.

While the BRICS joint statement blamed the Eurozone crisis for the state of the global economy, Indian officials saw this as a way of deflecting criticism of China manipulating its own currency, which also leads to a lot of distortions.

The BRICS development bank too has been kicked down the road, because India still has many reservations. The PM, in fact, preferred to focus on improving the World Bank rather than creating a new institution, as China does.

"We must address the important issue of expanding the capital base of the World Bank and other multinational development banks to enable these institutions to perform their appropriate role in financing infrastructure development," the declaration read.

Indian finance officials see the BRICS Bank idea primarily as a way of legitimizing the use of Chinese currency overseas. Second, they feel that any BRICS bank would essentially be a Chinese bank, because none of the other countries have the financial depth to fuel such an institution. India wants the global financial architecture to change, but at a much slower pace. South Africa supports the Bank, but Brazil cannot, because it already funds the Latin American development bank.

On the election of the next chief of the World Bank, the five countries did not even attempt to find a consensus candidate that could have been an alternative to the Korean-American chosen by the US.

The G20 received a unanimous thumbs-up as a forum for global financial governance and agreed to coordinate positions at the body. Russian president Medvedev said, "We confirmed all agreements on our cooperation in updating the international currency and financial system. One of the goals here is to renovate the IMF. We analyzed the situation in the world economics and came to an agreement on a further coordination of actions within our organization, including preparation for the next G20 summit."

South African president Jacob Zuma made a spirited call for including the development concerns of sub-Saharan Africa in the BRICS development plans. "We feel that Africa is being treated with respect. There is no feeling that people are looking down on our continent."

--- This article first appeared in the Times of India

Related:          BRICS nations stepping up innovation to improve healthcare: Study

Related:          BRICS: Not bound by ‘unilateral’ sanctions on Iran

Related:          BRICS countries call for World Bank Presidency voting review

Related:          Protests outside Hu Jintao's hotel

Monday
Mar122012

Inside Idlib: Assad Crackdown Grows in Ferocity (REPORT) 

By Anita McNaught 

Image grab taken from a YouTube video, allegedly shows a house on fire after shelling by government forces in Idlib.
Winter still clings to the ancient cultivated hillsides of the northern Syrian province of Idlib. Nights are chillingly cold; mornings alternate between mist and feeble sun. Under the gnarled olive trees, the soil is naked and neatly raked.
Tens of thousands of trees in rows follow the contours of the hills to the horizon and beyond. Around here, the olives are usually harvested in November, but some local families have only just begun to try to take their crop. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen to the harvest this year.
All the old rhythms and routines have been disrupted. People don’t venture out, most shops are shuttered. Petrol for transport and heating is running short. Cell phones no longer work, there is no internet and locals warn the old landlines are monitored. Families listen carefully to traffic on the roads, alert to anything unusual, to anything that sounds "military".
The anxiety, and the fear, is palpable.  Grainy YouTube videos on the television show Syrian army tanks heading for the provincial capital of Idlib City.  The government has dug trenches around some of the towns. Military bases are being reinforced.  The people of this area are all too aware of what is coming.

This, they say, is going to be the "next Homs". 

For months now, Idlib has breathed a thin air of defiance and bravado.  The hope was that a "Syrian Benghazi" was in the making here - an area that had succeeded in keeping President Bashar al-Assad’s forces at bay.  But the fragility of that hope is clear now to everyone.

"We cannot go back, because going back is more dangerous", one activist explains to me, as we hide together in a safe house in a border village close to Turkey.  "I know I will be killed", says another, "I just don't know when. Many Syrians feel the same way."

We know, but cannot publish these activists’ names, for their safety. 

After an initial military operation on the border town of Jisr al Shughour in June last year sent more than 10,000 refugees running for their lives into Turkey, the nascent Free Syrian Army waged enough of a guerilla campaign to stretch Assad’s forces. A decision appeared to have been taken to leave Idlib alone while the government crushed rebellions in Deraa, in the provinces around Damascus and Hama…and dealt with the outspoken and well-documented resistance in Homs.

But, as the Assad crackdown has grown in ferocity - its actions, unrestrained by international condemnation - the attention of Damascus has returned to the Northern region.  Locals in Idlib cannot believe that the tragedy of Homs has failed to mobilise the international community. Now they are bracing for something as bad, if not worse.

Off the record

The most senior commander of the Free Syrian Army in the province sits sweating in front of an olive wood-fired stove. He’s come to meet us, but verifies our identities forensically before revealing his own.  He’s young, smart, and close to despair.

"We have no weapons - we have nothing to fight the Syrian army," he says. 

The black market price for a Kalashnikov is now $1,300, a single bullet is $3. He tells us that most of their rifles have come from Iraq, but even there Damascus has staged an intervention – he believes Assad has an "under the table agreement" with the Iraqi government to allow only old weapons through the smuggling network. When they unwrap their consignments, the weapons are worn out, the ammunition past its expiry date.    

We had heard that the Free Syrian Army was "strong and organised" in this provincial town but these terms are relative. The commander won't give us an interview on-camera - let alone tell us his real name - because he's a fugitive from the regular army and fears for the fate of his wider family if identified as a resistance leader. He's relying on his former commanders believing he's been killed as cover for the new role he has taken on.  

In the town itself (which we also cannot name), anti-Assad graffiti decorates the walls and most shops are shut ."It’s been like this for weeks," a local tells us.  

Middle-aged men keep watch on the streets, behind a few token sandbags.

People from the area like to boast that they "drove out Assad’s army" on December 19 and that they have a "truce" with the military.  In reality, the town feels terribly vulnerable.  The Free Syrian Army (FSA) leaders are torn between wanting to tell the world about their brave stance, and wanting to avoid provoking the regime into an early punitive strike.

'We are alone'

"We know it is coming," the FSA commander tells me. "But," he says, "we don’t want to make it come more quickly."

Coded threats of military retaliation on the Assad regime-sponsored Dounia TV have rattled everyone.

And hanging above it all, incredulity that the world stood back and watched the destruction of the Sunni districts of Homs. "We are alone. We face this alone," says the FSA leader from Idlib province "No-one is helping us".

Every single person we meet - from the roughest-handed farmers in the smallest villages, to the softest-handed young activists back home from their suspended universities – tell us the resistance in Syria needs weapons. "We can do this revolution on our own – we don't need the West to fight it for us – one young man explains to me "but we can't do it without weapons".

They want modern rifles, RPGs and shoulder-launched missiles. They want to destroy Assad’s tanks and bring down his attack helicopters. No-one talks about non-violent resistance any more.

The FSA tells me all that has reached them so far is some small cash donations – but you can’t fight with cash if no-one will sell you the weapons, and so far none of Syria’s neighbours have allowed any significant rise in cross-border smuggling, let alone a legitimate weapons trade.  It has bred a weary cynicism.

"Turkey talks, but does nothing to help," he says.

"Qatar, Saudi Arabia? More talking, only," he says.

Safe area

They desperately want a "Safe Area" enforced by the United Nations, reminiscent of the protected enclaves of the former Yugoslavian war.

If they had that, activists and FSA alike tell us, defections from the regime and the military would increase exponentially. All that is preventing many senior leaders from walking away from the Assad regime, is the fate of their families if they do. Give them a sanctuary, they say, and the balance of power will shift dramatically.

But, it seems too late for that. Idlib province is now cross-hatched by Assad’s army lines.

Checkpoints are on every major route, and appear without warning on many minor ones. Travelling any distance without careful preparation and a route scout is impossible. Communication is hard, personal appearances hazardous. We hunker down in safe houses for days, waiting for the next short ride to another location. We are asked not to go outside. Curtains are drawn. 

Seemingly every day, another town or village in the province is cut off by Assad’s security forces.  The mountain area of Jabel Al-Zawiyah is the only place where some freedom of movement remains and the Free Syrian Army does not have to lurk in the shadows. But, getting there is almost impossible. 

Turkey - once considered a supporter and ally of the revolution - is now merely regarded as a refuge of last resort. If the military crackdown on the province reaches the severity of Homs, then tens of thousands more refugees will flood across, say villagers we talk to.  Perhaps the arrival of more than 100,000 families fleeing Assad will prompt Turkey to do more, but the people of Idlib have given up on their dream of Turkey leading a peacekeeping force into Syria to rescue them. 

An eerie quiet has descended on many of Idlib’s towns.  Field hospitals are being set up in secret locations. Nervous rebel fighters are gathering. There is no talk of capitulation.

"We prefer death to more humiliation", an activist tells me. "We don't want bread and fuel, although we need them. This is a revolution of ideals and principles. It's a revolution of human beings who have been deprived of their humanity. We have tasted freedom and we can't go back again." 

-Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 

Tuesday
Mar062012

The World Reacts to Vladimir Putin's Victory 

By Barnaby Phillips

Here's a quick round-up of global reactions to Vladimir Putin's not-so surprising triumph in the Russian presidential elections:

First prize for effusiveness goes to ... Syria, where the official news agency said President Bashar al-Assad "offered in his name and that of the Syrian people his sincere congratulations for his remarkable election".

Another happy man was Hugo Chavez, the Venezuela president, who sent his personal congratulations to Moscow, saying that Vladimir Putin had "initiated a strategic relationship of co-operation between Venezuela and Russia, connected by a very strong bond of friendship".

There was also a warm reaction from Beijing.

President Hu Jintao sent a congratulatory message, and the Chinese foreign ministry said the election had been "a success".

West's reaction

In contrast, Western reactions have been almost uniformly tepid. The EU, according to the foreign affairs head, Catherine Ashton, "took note" of the election.  In this context, "took note" would appear to be diplomacy speak for "we recognise it happened, but we are not overly delighted by it".

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, registered a similar rection. "I take note that President Putin is our interlocutor for years to come ... The election was not exemplary ... [but] ... there was no brutal repression during the campaign, as might have been the case in other times," he said.

Talk about damning with faint praise.

The reaction from the US meanwhile, was even more restrained.

The official statement from Washington DC did not mention Vladimir Putin by name. It said that the US “looks forward to working with the president-elect after the results are certified and he is sworn in”.

US statement

The US statement noted concerns about “the conditions under which the campaign was conducted, the partisan use of government resources and procedural irregularities on election day”.

However, it also recognised the Russian government's efforts to reform the system, including the reintroduction of direct elections for governors and the simplification of registration procedures for parties and presidential candidates.

Lastly, the award for sarcasm goes to US senator and former presidential candidate, John McCain, who, after watching Putin's surprisingly weepy appearance at a victory rally, tweeted: "Dear Vlad, Surprise! Surprise! You won. The Russian people are crying too!"

Mind you, Senator McCain has form when it comes to taunting Vladimir Putin. When protests broke out in Russia after December's disputed parliamentary elections, he tweeted: “Dear Vlad, The #ArabSpring is coming to a neighborhood near you".

Putin responded by describing McCain as "nuts".

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 

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
Jan282012

Syria: A Call to Arms 

By Zeina Khodr in the Middle East 

Their calls were not heard - or more accurately a divided international community could not agree on a tough UN resolution that would lead to such action.

This Friday the slogan was: "We have the right to defend ourselves". It was a clear message to the world that they are ready to fight this battle, "with or without your help",  activists told me. 

Omar, who is originally from Homs but who is living in exile in Istanbul told me: "This is our right ... It is our right to take up arms and we are not going to shy away from this any longer. We are being killed. We waited for any action from the Arab League and the United Nations and none was forthcoming. All they have been doing is stalling and that has given the regime time to crush the revolution." 

Omar explained that military councils are now being set up in governorates across Syria. It is part of efforts to organise a command structure. Councils that will be made up of civilians as well as army defectors. "Yes, civilians who want to hold weapons are joining our struggle," he said.

And, it seems they now have the full backing of the main political opposition, the Syrian National Council. "The SNC is now mapping who the groups are on the ground in Syria and Turkey," council spokeswoman Bassma Kodmani said, adding that the SNC is ready to give money and equipment to the fighters in Syria

It is a change in policy especially since it was only this month when the SNC decided to cooperate more closely with the Free Syrian Army command to reorganise loosely-structured units fighting under its umbrella.

I asked Omar how they intend to wage war against a stronger and more sophisticated army. His answer was blunt: "Even if it requires us to smuggle weapons into the country we will do this. We are being killed. Whatever action we take to defend ourselves is justifiable."

As a divided world debates on what to do next in Syria, many in the opposition seem to have already made their decision - a decision not supported by all groups who fear that taking up arms would only give the state an excuse to hit harder.

Haytham Manna, a leading opposition figure, is wary of militarising the conflict. He advised the Arab League to hold talks with Russia before turning to the United Nations for intervention. "Russia would stand by Assad even more staunchly if it feels sidelined," he said.

There are fears miltiarising the conflict would lead to Syria sliding towards civil war. 

"The threshold has not yet been passed to speak of an armed conflict," Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, head of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) operations for the Near and Middle East, said. 

The ICRC's legal criteria for civil war include an opposition that clearly controls territory and has a military structure with a clear chain of command. 

There may be many definitions for "civil war". But the actions on the ground show Syria is close to all-out war.

Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License  

Wednesday
Jan252012

Collectively Failing Syrian Society (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Peter Harling

Protesters in Syria - Poster reads:“My brother and I stand against my cousin, my cousin and I stand against the stranger, the stranger and I stand against the House of Assad.” Photo taken by an activist in Syria from AlJazeera.com/liveblog/syriaFor months, neither the Syrian regime, the international community, nor the opposition in exile have offered much hope in a dangerously deteriorating crisis. Increasingly, they seem to be unintentionally conniving in bringing about a civil war although it will serve no one's interests, destabilize Syria for years, and suck in the rest of the region.

Their enduring pursuit of maximalist demands may sabotage what chance still exists for a negotiated transition.

The regime's vision consists in cracking down decisively against residual pockets of foreign-backed trouble-makers, then opening up politically within sensible boundaries -- similar to Jordan's or Bahrain's promise of limited reforms.

Outside players currently bent on its demise, it wagers, ultimately will realize it cannot be destroyed; already hesitant for lack of good options and fear of ensuing chaos, they will grudgingly move to softer forms of pressure and, in time, even resume engagement.

The regime's sympathizers and allies are all too keen to believe that it is strong, that the reach of the protest movement is wildly exaggerated by hostile media, that the foreign conspiracy is both all-encompassing and impotent, and that Syrian society is so disease-ridden -- a hodgepodge of fundamentalists, thugs, and third party proxies -- that it cannot but deserve the security services' tough medicine.

This narrative is flawed in more ways than one. For ten months, the regime has been collapsing in slow-motion, and it is showing. Its political structures, weak at the outset, have eroded beyond repair; the executive has lost any ability it once had to implement policy and the ruling party is an empty shell. The security services remain largely cohesive and ready to fight, but in many places they increasingly resemble at best an occupying force cut off from society, at worst a collection of sectarian militias on a rampage.The military is fragmenting, slowly but surely. The regime's territorial control depended on the protest movement remaining largely peaceful.Now that an insurgency is spreading, it is losing its grip.

Arguably, the regime has refrained from using much of the firepower at its disposal, for fear of tilting the balance decisively against it within the international community.

It could easily muster enough troops to put down resistance in any specific area, but at the expense of letting things slip elsewhere in a losing game of whack-a-mole; other rebellious areas would go for broke, knowing their turn would soon come if the regime was allowed to deal with them sequentially. Meanwhile, the economy's collapse is accelerating.

Because none of this is lost on a majority of Syrians, once spectacular demonstrations of loyalists have narrowed to the point where official footage prefers close-ups to aerial photography. The "silent majority" the regime claimed to have on its side is now angry and scared: it both blames the country's leadership for spelling disaster and distrusts the protest movement, exiled opposition, and outside world for offering no clear prospect for the future other than growing chaos. 

On a popular level, the picture also differs from what the regime, its sympathizers, and allies would like to believe.

The protest movement, which to this day remains conspicuously absent from the official narrative, is remarkably broad-based, intuitively cohesive, and in many ways sophisticated.

Until now, it has effectively contained the more thuggish, criminal, sectarian, and fundamentalist strands that clearly exist within society. In fact, the protest movement's better sides are the only bulwark against such demons, at a time when the regime's course of action -- exacerbating communal tensions as a divide-and-rule tactic, targeting non-violent activists, and compartmentalizing its territory while losing control within screened-off areas -- is making things worse by the day.

Unlike the case of Libya, it took months of bullying, disruption, and despair for Syrians to call for international intervention (which they ordinarily would loath), to pick up arms on a large scale (an option the vast majority agreed should be kept as the last resort), and to allow a political struggle to give way insidiously to civil strife (as is occurring in some parts of central Syria).

If chaos deepens further, criminals, foreign volunteers, and home-grown fundamentalists are bound to become more striking features of this crisis -- a self-fulfilling prophecy come true.

The conspiracy theory also has its limits. True, the protest movement may not have survived, let alone thrived, without a sympathetic -- and in some cases deeply biased and unprofessional -- international media, as well as considerable logistical support from abroad, notably from within an expansive and mobilized diaspora. But even taking such factors into account, realities on the ground don't come anywhere close to the regime's narrative.

Bloodthirsty Islamist terrorists sponsored from abroad are hard to find in a sea of angry ordinary citizens motivated by local grievances, and above all the brutal, unaccountable behavior of the security services (which by now is all that a large proportion of Syrian society sees of the regime). Emerging armed groups complain bitterly about inadequate weapons and shortage of ammunition, suggesting for the time being a dearth of strategic depth. 

The international community, powerless and deeply divided, has so far not been acting decisively. The West, which initially hoped the regime would do a better job at managing the crisis -- and thus spare it from a risky adventure in a sensitive part of the world -- has come full circle: although the practicalities remain unclear, the consensus now favors regime-change, with dreams of regional change lurking in the background giving a hoped-for domino effect on Hezbollah in Lebanon and a besieged leadership in Iran.

Russia appears concerned about heightened instability in the area at large, the prospect of further empowering Islamists, and the West's typically cavalier attempts to push its agenda under the guise of noble moral values.

The Arab League has been engaged constructively, sending observers that may have failed to solve the crisis but which have staved off the escalation in violence on all sides one could have expected in their absence.

Unfortunately, its more assertive members are those with the least credibility to take the lead -- Gulf monarchies that united to put down popular protests in Bahrain tend to adopt a sectarian perspective on regional events, and have paid only lip service to reforms at home.

Other Arab countries are essentially in disarray, bogged down by domestic tensions, fearful of more regional instability, and distrustful of the West, given its track record of making things worse, not better, in this part of the world.

The result has been a slow-moving but determined effort to lock the regime into a set of constraints that could force it to recognize the reality of its domestic crisis and negotiate an exit, while fending off any risk of hands-on Western involvement.

Thus the transition plan announced this week, involving a caretaker role for the Syrian vice-president, the establishment of a national unity government, the election of a constitutional committee, and reforming the security apparatus, offers a mechanism that can be built upon and consolidated. If support for a negotiated transition comes from all quarters, critical pressure will be brought to bear on a regime whose primary asset now consists in playing Russian support and Western brinkmanship off each other. 

Part of the problem has been the dismal performance of the opposition in exile. Its members, even as they repeatedly talk on satellite channels about the sufferings of their kin back home, have in fact spent the better part of their energy squabbling over personal rivalries, lobbying for international recognition, and debating a foreign intervention that -- whether it is desirable or not -- simply will not happen in the foreseeable future.

Focused on following the mood on the Syrian street rather than leading the way forward, they have shut the door on any negotiated transition, decried the Arab League's initiative instead of suggesting ways to optimize it, and failed to articulate a credible, workable strategy.

Even the more obvious political imperatives, such as offering the prospect of a reconciliation process with those who, although carrying out the repression have not ordered it, have run up against the opposition's preference for echoing the frustration felt by ordinary citizens after months of escalating regime violence. However, key to any resolution of the deep social divide that has emerged within Syria will be a firm but smooth process to overhaul the existing security apparatus, as the lessons of the Iraqi disaster make clear.

All sides have been incapable of agreeing on what would be a reasonable U.N. Security Council resolution: making clear it does not endorse foreign military intervention, both to reassure Russia and because within the current parameters of the conflict it is not in the cards anyway; calling all parties to cease fire; blaming the regime for bringing the country to the brink; holding it fully accountable for seeking a solution; demanding it implements the Arab League's transition plan; and insisting it respects peaceful protests under a reinforced observers mission, with the additional deployment of Arab monitors embedded within the security apparatus where required in the face of armed groups.

The regime may choose to ignore what some would describe as a toothless resolution. In fact, what has enabled it to shun international pressure until now is the sense that key players like Russia and others condoned its approach, a decisive factor of self-confidence within its own ranks.

A Security Council resolution is the one available lever that could be brought to bear on a Syrian leadership that feels sheltered by the prevailing divisions on the international scene, and would rather take the country down the road to civil war than negotiate in order to obtain what still can be achieved (not least guarantees for the Alawite community, a phased hand-over of power, and the assurance of institutional continuity) at the cost of giving up on the hope that hunkering down and making reforms that only satisfy its supporters somehow will enable it to stay in power.

It should come as no surprise that in the absence of any glimmer of hope, despair has been taking hold of Syrian society.

It is already expressed in multiple forms, all of them disturbing, but things are poised to get worse. As more Syrians come to believe that their collective efforts are in vain, that the world has forsaken them, and that the regime can only be fought with its own methods, the nature of the struggle could be transformed into something more fragmented, narrow-minded, and brutal.

Those who have given up on everything but God will be easy recruits for the Islamists. The logistical needs of armed groups will offer opportunities for whoever is willing to sustain them. Communal rifts may further deepen. Violence predictably will serve as a vehicle for the advancement of the more thuggish components within each community.

The creative, responsible, and forward-looking activists within the protest movement could soon feel overpowered -- many already do. That feeling, combined with unrelenting pressure from the security services, is gradually pushing some to give up or even flee abroad.

Until now, the regime and a majority of its supporters, allies, critics, and foes appear to have been operating under the same assumption: that the deadly stalemate the crisis is locked in will endure a while longer, until the other side gives way. This could still be true, but within the current parameters, it is becoming increasingly improbable that the power structure will suddenly unravel, that it will succeed in regaining lost ground, or that its opponents will accommodate it in any way.

If this impasse endures any longer, the struggle could quickly mutate into an open-ended civil war.

Although the regime bears most of the responsibility for bringing the situation up to this point, the international community and exiled opposition have no excuse for moving it further along this terrifying path.

Peter Harling is Project Director for Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon with the International Crisis Group

This article was orignally published in Foreign Policy magazine 

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)

Wednesday
Jan112012

THE HUM - WORLD HEADLINES - JANUARY 11, 2012

(PHOTO: Queen Beatrix, Prince Willem-Alexander; Princess Maxima of the Netherlands visit the Sheikh Al Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE, 8 January 2012. Patrick van Katwijk) Afghanistan 

A rare sign of hope in Afghanistan

Afghanistan signs oil contract with Chinese giant

Antigua & Barbuda 

Lovell Says No Early Elections

Argentina 

Little relief in sight for Argentina due to climate

American Samoa 

Hospital woes top American Samoa legislature agenda

Australia

Council struggles to lure more doctors-town's only doctor threatens to leave

Reports of doctors blaming Australian women's behaviour for rupturing breast implants

Bahrain 

Bahrain Court Cases Resume For Doctors, Anti-Government Protesters

(PHOTO: In Venezuela a jail riot leaves 5 people dead. EPA)Belarus

Belarus Erects New Online Barriers

Belarusian Activist, Journalist Jailed

Belgium

Belgium Satellite Services and Intersat Announce Strategic Tie-in to Expand into the Middle East and Africa (Press Release)

Belize

Wholesale vendors get their own market

Bolivia

More than 85% of Bolivia's bilateral debt is held by Venezuela

Indigenous People in Bolivia Resume March for Tipnis

Bosnia-Herzegovinia

Witness in Karadzic trial describes killing of 1,000 Muslims

(PHOTO: Islam and Christianity - Young Muslims, many from Somalia, walk the streets of Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood near the meeting place of a Church of Christ. ERIK TRYGGESTAD)Botswana

'Loop' usage by women explodes - Ministry of Health

Brazil

Southern Brazil's Drought Dings Corn, Threatens Beans

Brunei Darussalam

Brunei Prince on official visit to Sinpagore 

Cameroon

Cameroonians returning to Nature’s packaging

Canada

Canada welcomes Cuban reforms on eve of tour by Harper's Latin America minister

Under 16 too young for snowmobiles, doctors say (Video)

China

China, US to Discuss Iran, Trade Imbalance

China's Wen to visit key Mideast energy powers, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates & Qatar this weekend

How the West is wholly missing China's geopolitical focus (Perspective)

Colombia

Bolivian crowned Colombia's new Coffee Queen

Congo (DRC)

(PHOTO: The three-part documentary “Fleeing Carthage” recounts the dramatic moments that led to the ouster of former Tunisian president Zine El Abedine Ben Ali. AL ARABIYA) Jillian Michaels: I’ve Been Matched with a Little Girl

Croatia

Croatia gets third biggest private hospital in Europe

Cuba

Fidel Castro’s Reflections: The Best President For The United States (Is a Quantum Computing Robot)

US satisfied with Cuban oil platform safety in Gulf of Mexico  

Ten years of Guantanamo - and no end in sight (Perspective)

Cyprus

Doctors in court for Legionnaires’ baby deaths

Dominican Republic

Haiti president prioritizes balance in Hispaniola 

Egypt

Egypt presents food and logistic assistance to Djibouti

El Salvador

Election Campaign Starts in El Salvador

UN investigator who revealed Iran's "Baha'i Question" memorandum dies aged 93

Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea President Makes Visit To Zimbabwe

(PHOTO: Fidel Castro offers his idea of a US Presidential pick. GIZMODO) Estonia

Estonia Foreign Minister to Visit Tajikistan

Ethiopia

Diageo buys Ethiopian brewer Meta Abo for £146m

Falkland Islands

Malvinas recovery for Argentina must become a “Chilean cause”, says former minister

Fiji

Russia’s Lavrov expected in Fiji next month

Extra hours for doctors

Finland

Putting foreign doctors to work (Perspective)

Germany

Hospital doctors ready to strike for better pay

Grenada

Grenada "days away" from national strike

Grenada PM among attendees at Toronto man's funeral

Guatemala

Guatemalans' STD lawsuit invalid, U.S. argue

Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau opposition reject interim president 

Haiti

President Declares January 12th 2012 National Holiday

India

(PHOTO: Polar Bear Clubs in Uzbekistan shut down. RFE) Sailors back home after 11 months in captivity

U.S. Shelves H-1B Visa Talks With India

Thailand PM to be India's chief guest at Republic day parade 

Three fake doctors arrested

Over 350 doctors attend medical meet

Kore wins at Chennai Open chess to join leaders

Indonesia

Doctors turn away bird flu victim

Third Man Dies From Bird Flu in Indonesia

(PHOTO: In Indonesia, Xia Aimei’ tells the story of a Chinese girl’s escape from sexual slavery in Jakarta. Falcon Pictures) Jakarta’s Dark Underbelly, Through Foreign Eyes (Film)

Iran

Iranian nuke scientist killed by magnetic bomb

163 Iranian nationals held in Thailand’s prisons

Iraq

Fallujah babies: Under a new kind of siege (Video)  

Ireland

Minister for Children travels to Vietnam for adoption talks

System of recruiting foreign doctors defended

Irish Minister in UAE business talks

Israel

Israel, Cyprus sign defense agreements - reports

Ivory Coast

France 24:  First-ever video proof documenting murder of suspected Gbagbo militants (Video)

Japan

First Korean member in Japan's Cabinet

Bulk of tsunami debris from Japan expected in 2013; multiple fields of wreckage reported in Pacific Ocean 

Kenya

Al Shabaab sold Doctors Without Borders hostages to pirates?

Fear and faith: As Kenya battles terrorists, church looks to take the Gospel to its increasingly Muslim neighborhood

(PHOTO: In Nairobi, he African Heritage House overlooking the great, still plain of Nairobi National Park, is both a trove of a continent’s aesthetic richness & a mausoleum of its extinct wonders. KUWAIT TIMES)Keeper of Africa’s lost art

Kosovo

Women in Politics, Women in Public Service: Kosovo has the youngest female President in the world

Kuwait

Kuwaiti Amir Receives Letter from Tunisian President

Kuwait’s students to solve world’s problems using Microsoft technology

Kyrgyzstan

Turkey first official trip abroad for Kyrgyz leader

Human right defender Azimzhan Askarov goes on termless hunger strike in Kyrgyzstan

Laos

Lao leader urges stronger relations with Vietnam

Laos upgrades golf course to economic zone  

Liberia

$24.9 Million IFAD Loan to Liberia to Revitalize Cocoa and Coffee Production Sectors

China Promises More Support for Educational Sector

(PHOTO: In Pakistan, Bill Gates offers to help with Microsoft prodigy's healthcare costs. MICROSOFT) Libya

Zambia reneges on Libya’s LAP Green Network deal

Madagascar

Madagascar: the challenge of child-friendly schools

Malawi

Malawi judicial strike shuts down courts

Shake-up at Reserve Bank of Malawi

Malaysia

Kazakhstan Keen On More Trade With Malaysia In Promising Sectors

Mexico

Guatemalan refugees cleared out of camp in Mexico, NGOs say

Mongolia

Mongolian music conquers the world 

Morocco

Maroc Telecom begins Morocco-Spain cable laying

Namibia

Namibia Lose Legal Battle to Oust Burkina Faso from Africa Cup of Nations

New Zealand

Machine turns doctors into surgeons

Doctors face tighter rules in bid for recertification

(PHOTO: Iconic photo taken June 8, 1972, shows Kim Phuc, running down a road near Trang Bang after a South Vietnamese Air Force napalm attack. Phuc will be at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California 1/19. Nick Ut/AP)Nicaragua

Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega begins new presidential term

Ahmadinejad travels to Nicaragua after defending Iran’s nuclear program in Venezuela

Nigeria

Finding Solution to Clashes Between Herdsmen and Farmers

Doctors take medicare to protest ground in Lagos

Pakistan

Dr. Jamal’s killing in Peshawar:  Provincial Doctors Association protest enters second of three day strike

Doctors trying their best to save Pakistani Microsoft child prodigy

Bill Gates offers to bear Aarifa’s medical expenses in US

Ready to rule Pakistan again: Pervez Musharraf (Video)  

Peru

Peru fire leaves hundreds homeless (Video)

Philippines

'It's not fun in Switzerland' (or why new Philippines DOT slogan works)

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico governor approves proposed referendum on cutting size of island legislature

(PHOTO: Rahul Puranic, Indian crew member of hijacked Italian oil tanker Savina Caylyn is greeted by his 4 yr-old daughter & wife on his arrival at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai on Tuesday. Vivek Bendre)Qatar

Royal Princess of Thailand tours Qatar Foundation

Russia

Venezuela: Country of Great social missions (Perspective)

Rwanda

“We Are At a Critical Moment in our Economy” says private sector

Samoa

Samoa and the question of Tokelau 

Saudi Arabia

Turkey: 6-year Ban Lifted On Exports Of Poultry Products To Saudi Arabia

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone set to deregulate international telecom gateway

Rebranding Sierra Leone: The Nation’s Saving Grace

Somalia

TV journalist held without charge in Somaliland

South Africa

Giant Footprint of God Video

Suriname

Suriname President Mr Bouterse wrong choice for Caricom chairman (Perspective)

Swaziland

Lack of bandwidth causes problems for MTN 3G network

Over 34,000 Swazi men circumcised

HIV+patients in a dilemma

Woman accused of poisoning in-laws

Switzerland

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is in Geneva, Switzerland Today for a Fundraiser

Occupy the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (Perspective)

Syria

United States awaits new draft resolution on Syria from Russia at UN

(PHOTO: Syrian Art Exhibition showcasing art from the uprising opens at the British Museum) British Museum showcases Syrian artists’ take on art, politics and brutality

Observing the Observers (Perspective)

Taiwan

Nuclear power a key issue for Taiwan polls

Taiwan needs to step up electoral reforms: foreign observers

Young Taiwan Voters Concerned about Economy (Video)

Beijing takes Taiwan off watch list after food scare

Taiwan's investment environment 3rd in world: BERI

Snarky Tofu Rob Schneider Love’s Taiwan

Joseph Ambro

Tajikistan

Uzbekistan Cuts Gas Supplies to Tajikistan

Tajikistan Considers Iran as Strategic Partner

Tanzania

Rural telecom market holds the key to growth in Tanzania

48 Tanzanian Microfinance Institutions Adopt Code of Conduct

Regional Commissioner underlines Dar, Beijing bilateral ties

Iran, Tanzania sign cultural cooperation agreement

(PHOTO: Funny man US Comedian Rob Schneiders stumps for Taiwan. Joseph Ambro)Thailand

Thailand's 32 provinces declared cold disaster zones, say officials

Active year ahead for Thai bonds

Chinese brewers Tsingtao to open plant in Thailand

The Netherlands

Khat banned in the Netherlands

Togo

Fuel crisis in Togo?

Tobacco taxes up in Togo

Tokelau

Phishing economy: Why tiny Tokelau is 3rd largest country domain

Tonga

Tonga's king blocks arms amendment act

Tonga police seek three men over armed robbery

Apple CEO Tim Cook Made More Than Twitter Last Year and tied the GDP for Tonga

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago PM to visit Kolkata

Tunisia 

Another Tunisian dies of self-immolation in employment protest, 1 year after Ben Ali ouster after a fruit-seller's self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring 

Prime Minister's New Media Appointments Cause Controversy

Tunisia - FM meets German counterpart

Tunisia joins UN Democracy Fund

(PHOTO: Tunisian singer Amani Al Suwaisi who was attacked in Tunisia. Albawaba)Singer Amani Al Suwaisi assaulted in the streets of Tunisia

Al Arabiya’s ‘Fleeing Carthage’ recounts last hours of former Tunisian regime

Turks and Caicos

Turks and Caicos Government Appoints Five New Permanent Secretaries

Turkey

Turkey angry after Danish court leaves Kurd TV on air

Imprisoned journalists publish own newspaper

Turkey vows to thwart Syrian civil war

Turkey will continue to impose its 8-point sanctions against France – Turkish PM 

Tunisian FM Abdessalam to visit Turkey 

Turkmenistan

Incumbent President Vows To Make Turkmenistan 'Industrial Power'

Turkmen Schoolteacher Says Presidential Candidacy Rejected

Empty TV broadcast centre

Tuvalu

As Tuvalu Readies for King Tide Season, a Swell is an Unwelcome Harbinger

Uganda

Uganda: Police Shut Down Three More Broadcast Stations

Ugandan journalist committed to High Court for treason

Officials Meet On Food Insecurity

Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) To Strike over Interest Rates

Uganda is left with fewer than 5000 doctors and no strategic plan to retain them

Male Organ Size: Homosexuality, Economy and Uganda's Domestic Relations Bill (Perspective)

Ukraine

Ukraine mulling revision of tariffs for some goods with WTO

Ukraine angered by Russia’s Onishchenko remarks over quality of produce

Expert: UAH 40-50Billion needed for development of agricultural market in 2012

(PHOTO: Chinese brewers Tsingtao to open plant in Thailand. TSINGTAO) Ukraine continues healthcare reform

Ukraine to start commercial production of shale gas by 2015

Implementation of innovative technologies starts in Ukrainian schools

United Arab Emirates

Dubai announces solar park for clean energy

UAE clarifies citizenship rules for children of naturalized Emiratis

UAE second top performing economy in Arab world

Emirates in expansion mode

UAE banks may refinance rather than repay debt

Queen Beatrix, princess Maxima put on headscarf for mosque visit

UAE: Dutch Queen Tours Jebel Ali Port

Man arrested with 5kg of crystal meth in hotel room

Parents urged to use car seats for children

Start-up hopes to help UAE businesses lost in translation

Used computers from Emirates Post to be refurbished for underprivileged

Abu Dhabi blasts rumours it is to axe UAE horror film

(PHOTO: The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at Abu Dhabi, UAE. Mohan Padmanabhan THE HINDU)Taj of the Abu Dhabi — It doesn’t get grander than this

United Kingdom

New 101 police number rolled out

UK To Grant Scotland Binding Independence Vote

Scottish supermarkets should be banned from selling alcohol, says top doctor

UK Recommends Two Drink-Free Days Per Week

Study: UK Nurses Lack Compassion, Skills

Intel exploring ways to help Stephen Hawking speak

British Embassy in Vietnam hoists Olympic flag

Most U.K consumers go online to buy holiday gifts

UK's Two Main Political Parties Back GMOs And The US Agenda

Migration IS killing off jobs: 160,000 Britons have missed out on employment because work was taken by foreigners (Perspective)

United States

Iranian-American death sentence confirmed: US

Fannie Mae CEO to resign

Middle TN doctors, researchers, activists pursue the end of AIDS

US Seriously Concerned Over Tibetan Self-Immolations

US probes alleged hacking by India spy unit

(PHOTO: British Ambassador Antony Stokes & Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports & Tourism Ho Anh Tuan at the flag hoisting ceremony in Vietnam. Vietnam Net) Hollywood's Tunisian Film Festival marks Arab Spring anniversary

University of Wyoming Offers Reduced Tuition to Tunisian Students

Social media and the US presidential race (VIDEO)

US firm KKR seeks to bond with Pacific Brands

A New Race of Mercy to Nome, This Time Without Sled Dogs

Uruguay

New Records Set by Heatwave in Uruguay

Uruguay Increases Minimum Wage Next Year

Uzbekistan

Uzbek Fun Police Shut Down Winter Swimming Club

Vanuatu

Vanuatu joins the World Trade Organization

Vanuatu sets up fish processing plant in joint venture with China

Vanuatu Government to establish new industrial zone

Concern over infant formula use in Vanuatu

(PHOTO: Transparency Vanuatu says payments based on aid funds should be made public. Phillip Capper]Spotlight on Vanuatu's ambassadors over aid deals

Vanuatu government profile

Vanuatu Roving Ambassadors Contract Leaked

Vanuatu women's soccer coaches learn the ropes

Vatican City

Vatican receives final report on US women religious lives 

Venezuela

Venezuela closes chapter on compensation to Exxon Mobil

5 dead in Venezuela jail riot

Vietnam

Vietnam prepares to better protect its S. China Sea claims

Vietnam police confiscate wild tiger carcass from Hanoi restaurant where it was being boiled

Vietnam women with massive tumors recover after surgeries 

Made in Vietnam wind towers face anti-dumping lawsuit

Vietnam's First Weapon Museum Opens To Public

Vietnam trial begins of teen accused of killing to play video games

Inside The Vietnam ETF (VNM) - Leveraged ETFs

City of Hanoi Selects Echelon and ElcomTek to Deploy Vietnam's First Smart City Street Light Control System

Vietnam Napalm Survivor Kim Phuc to Speak at Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, California

Western Sahara

US Congressional Action Spurs State Dept to Break Western Sahara Deadlock (Perspective)

Yemen

Yemen’s Government Approves Expanded Amnesty Deal for Saleh

Explosion stops output at small Yemen oil field

Yemen unearths Paleolithic sites

Institution Revolution Expanding in Yemen

Zambia

Zambia: Former Diplomat Calls on West to Engage Iran Through IAEA

State to open up airwaves for private investment

Cabinet to meet over Online publications

China buy vehicles for Zambia

U.S Calls for More Grant Applications

Africard arrives in Zambia #payments

MTN goes green in Zambia

Zimbabwe

India to offer Zimbabwe $100m credit

Zimbabwe teachers strike for more pay

(PHOTO: Infectious: More than 165 wild animals including 88 hippopotamuses have died amid an outbreak of anthrax in Zimbabwe. DAILY MAIL) Anthrax outbreak claims lives of more than 165 wild animals in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Utility Moves to Expand Pre-Paid Consumer Meter Program

Chinese have become unwelcome guests in Zimbabwe because of bad labour practices (Perspective)

WORLD:

Battle set for internet domain names

Meet the Heroic Women Who Sparked the Arab Spring 

UN Ratifies Zero Tolerance for Blue Helmets

Why Latin America Calls on Philosophers (Perspective)

At the Crossroads of Sustainability: A Conversation with Bill Ryerson

A Solar Solution for Africa’s Mobile Problem

SA assumes UN Security Council presidency; Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo start two-year terms on the council

(PHOTO: Meet the heroic women of the Arab Spring. PALESTINE NOTES)

Wednesday
Oct052011

Rights Group: Syrian Expats Bullied by Mukhabarat (NEWS BRIEF) 

By D. Parvaz in the Middle East 

Amnesty International has just released a report on how Syrian security forces are targeting expat Syrians who have spoken out against the Syrian government, in hopes of silencing them.

The report, titled "Mukhabaraat: Violence and harassment against Syrians abroad and their relatives back home" details just how far reaching the tentacles of the regime are.

Even the parents of expat activists aren't spared. The report details how the parents of one activist [his father is 73 years old, his mother 66] were beaten, left bloody and bruised in Homs because he attended a pro-reform demonstration in front of the White House.

The rights group details the Mukhabarat's activities in North America, Europe and Latin America, documenting over 30 cases of expats being targeted by Syrian security forces, who employ surveillance and open threats in an effort to maintain control over anti-government activists living overseas:

Many have been filmed and orally intimidated while taking part in protests outside Syrian embassies, while some have been threatened, including with death threats, or physically attacked by individuals believed to be connected with the Syrian regime.

The report includes a couple of cases from Canada, where Syrian expats have been quite active in trying to mobilise n their own community as well as spurring the Canadian government into taking diplomatic action against Syria.

reported on their activities in August, when several activists told me of being threatened, filmed, photographed and intimidated by the Syrian government.  In fact, the Syrian government even sought informants before the uprising. One expat, who went by Saleem, told me:

Two years ago, before the revolution, his friend was contacted by someone from the Syrian embassy in Canada, who, he said, approached 'as a friend.' But it was immediately clear that the embassy representative wanted to pressure his friend to inform on other Syrian nationals.

'It's the way they do it. They Syrian embassy gets every one of us to spy on each other. This way, we don't trust each other and we live in fear,' he said.

One activists even told me that there were Lebanese nationals in Canada co-operating with the Syrian government in collecting information on activists in Syria, and that the expat community there was creating a "shame list" of these informants.

You can read Amnesty International's full report here.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing  

Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: @DParvaz

Monday
Jun202011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--- HUMNEWS staff

Saturday
Apr302011

Syria Crackdown Reaches Critical Phase: Over 70 Killed on Weekend (NEWS BRIEF)

Assad, pictured here with his wife, Asma, in a government file photo, has chosen "repression over concession," says one analyst.(HN, April 30, 2011) - UPDATED MAY 1 1520GMT - In some of the worst fighting to date in the ongoing, seven-week battle between pro-democracy demonstrators and Government forces in Syria, live fire and heavy artillery is being used in an attempt to quell defiant protesters.

News agencies report that more than 70 people have been killed nationwide this weekend - including 70 in Deraa (درع), the besieged town that has become the symbol of the uprising, alone. Eyewitnesses have been quoted as saying that tanks are shelling parts of the southwestern city near the border with Jordan, and that its main mosque has been stormed by government forces.

An estimated 46 people will killed Friday and Saturday in Deraa alone. Since the conflict began, as many as 700 people have been killed.

The Shaam News Network (SNN) reports that Deraa is totally blockaded and that snipers are picking off protesters from rooftops. " Killing is random in the city from the security forces and the Fourth Battalion," SNN said.

According to one account, as many as 7,000 have been arrested since the uprising began.

On Sunday, CBC News broadcast unsourced, amateur video from two days earlier showing several people dead and injured on a road near Deraa. Shooting could be heard in the background and several motorcycles strewn on the road.

Opposition websites are showing footage said to be of a soldier who says he deserted after being ordered to fire on unarmed protesters in Damascus, the BBC reported.

Said Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor of London's Guardian newspaper, in a commentary today: "Bashar al-Assad has opted for repression rather than concession."

"...For Assad, the survival of the police state founded by his father is a very personal affair which he has dressed up as a national necessity to "prevent" his country from slipping into civil war."

Farid Ghadry, the Syrian-born head of the US-based Reform Party of Syria, told The Jerusalem Post he believes that Syria is descending into a sectarian civil war, and that President Bashar al-Assad's days are numbered.

Even if Assad survives a bit longer, Ghadry wrote in an email to the newspaper from Washington, “he will be a dead man walking. It is hard to put humpty dumpty back together. I cannot ever imagine anyone visiting with him or dealing with him after what he has done.”

Assad has been president since 2000, having succeeded his authoritarian father Hafez al-Assad. OIver the weekend, Syria's neighbour, Turkey, urged Assad to end the bloody crackdown but also said western nations should avoid an intervention like the one in Libya.

Obtaining reliable information out of Syria is extremely difficult given the paucity of accredited journalists and a crackdown on freedom-of-speech and Internet communications. While Al Jazeera is one of the few accredited media organization still allowed to report, its staff have been accused by government loyalists of "lies' and "exaggeration" in its reporting.

Al Jazeera reported today that land lines, the Internet and mobile phone networks have all been cut in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus.

- HUMNEWS staff

 

Wednesday
Mar232011

Wave of Political Unrest Reaches Syria (News Brief) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- HUMNews staff