FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Wednesday:  December 17, 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 Tunisia (16)

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.

Saturday
Jan142012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday
Jan032012

THE HUM - WORLD HEADLINES - JANUARY 4, 2012

Afghanistan 

Triple bombing targets Kandahar police 

Antarctica 

(PHOTO: British scientists have discovered huge colonies of a new species of yeti crab on the sea floor near Antarctica. OXFORD UNIVERSITY)Yeti Crabs & Ghost Octopus! Unique Life Found at 1st Antarctic Deep-Sea Vents

Argentina 

Leaders' illnesses cloud South America's newfound stability

Mistakes cost dear in Third Stage of Dakar Rally

Australia

Clipper Round the World Race - Geraldton Western Australia takes lead 

Bangladesh

Dhaka calls Kathmandu for power 

Brazil

Brazil buys three BAE Ocean Patrol Vessels

(PHOTO: 'Geraldton Western Australia-Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race'. ONEDITION)Burundi

IRRI Releases Two New Rice Varieties In Burundi

Cameroon

Cameroon Villagers Pin Hopes on Diamond Mine

Cambodia 

Ancient City of Angkor may have been ruined by drought

Canada

More than 700 Canadians ‘brrrrrrave’ the cold for charity

Colombia

Colombian team to be disqualified from Dakar Rally

(PHOTO: Czechs held in Zambia Michal Vébr, Jiří Cetel, Jan Coufal. CZECH TELEVISION)Czech Republic

Czechs detained in Zambia return home (Audio)

El Salvador

El Salvador Murder Rate Highest Since End of Civil War

Ethiopia

Ethiopia discovers largest ever gold reserves 

Shell plans oil pipeline construction from South Sudan to Ethiopia 

France

Latin America leads Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Gabon

45 challenges to Gabon's poll results

(PHOTO: In Haiti, some of the Hands Across the Sea students returning to school in 2012. HANDS ACROSS THE SEA) Gaza and West Bank

New bid to broker Middle East talks takes place

Guam

Humanities Council to hold film series on the Micronesian experience on Guam

Guatemala

Violent deaths in Guatemala down in 2011 

Guinea

Donor Assistance Will Reduce Contract Non-Payment Risks Despite Continued Risks of Sporadic Violence

Guinea-Bissau

Navy chief held in Guinea-Bissau after alleged coup attempt

Guyana

Guyanese cargo vessel goes missing after leaving T&T

Haiti

Haiti still recovering from deadly 2010 earthquake

(PHOTO: In the UAE new ID cards are being issued online, rather than at centers. UAE GOV) Iceland

Icelandic President decides not to run for re-election

India 

Chennai youth devises a new method to curb movie piracy

Coal India looks to buy coal assets in South Africa 

Detained Indian traders in Chinese hub are “fearing for their lives”

Indonesia

Indonesia sailors detained for killing Taiwan skipper

Indonesia Leads Southeast Asia With 6.5% Expansion In Q4

Indonesia sees 2012 unmilled rice output up

Iran 

Oil prices soar as Iran warns US aircraft carrier away from Persian Gulf

Iranian currency falls against U.S. dollar on fresh sanctions

(PHOTO: Iran's currency falls on fresh sanctions. GANT DAILY)Ireland

'Undocumented' are being forced to live in fear on margins of Irish society

Israel

Israel and Taiwan ink aviation agreement

Taiwan airlines have no immediate plans to run flights to Israel 

Jerusalem Marathon 2012: A race of nations (Press release)

Ivory Coast

Dry, windy weather darkens Ivorian cocoa outlook

Jamaica

OAS Secretary General Congratulates New Prime Minister of Jamaica 

Jordan

RefugeeLives program establishes mobile network in Jordan

Kazakhstan

South Kazakhstan companies pursue CSR policy

(PHOTO: The Communication Commission of Kenya headquarters along Waiyaki way in Nairobi. ANTHONY KAMAU) Kenya

Kenya Trailblazes in Mobile Money Transfer Services

Kenya to miss June date for digital switch over

Kuwait

New, social media ‘the tool’ of 2012 Assembly elections

Kuwait to build first-ever solar power station

Laos

Passenger Services Restored on Mekong River 

Latvia

Referendum to determine the status of Russian language in Latvia

Lebanon

(PHOTO: In Niger, the RAIN foundation is building community gardens. RAIN) aram, Niger.Lebanon to host U.N. conference on reform in Arab world

Libya

Libya seeks to boost tourism industry (Video)  

Malaysia

More flood victims evacuated in Pasir Puteh, Malaysia

LivingSocial enters Malaysia online shopping market

Maldives

Hotels forced to shut down spas across Maldives

Mali

Mali to give 40,000 tonnes of food to drought victims 

Malta

Malta Airport achieves record 3.5 million passengers in 2011

(PHOTO: New Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, (left, in white), is escorted by NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil on his arrival at Tripoli International Airport, Libya. TRIPOLI POST) Marshall Islands

Former senator elected Marshall Islands president

Mexico

Mexico tries to rally its expatriates to vote

Mexico, war crimes and a slippery slope  (Perspective)

Mongolia

President talks past, present, and future at honor assembly 

Morocco

Moroccan king unveils Islamist-led government 

Mozambique

Mozambique to take up production of ARVs

New Mayors Sworn in

Myanmar

Burmese company to launch cheap mobile phone service

In Burmese Chanukah celebration, signs of Myanmar’s openness to the West

(PHOTO: In Uruguay, abortion decriminalization passes in Uruguay Senate LIFESITENEWS)Namibia

Tractor Shortage Delays Ploughing

Nepal

Darfur hearing begins

ADB to provide loan for six water projects in Nepal

New Zealand

New Zealand's "Solar Promise" Becomes Solar Policy

Passport checks find surge in fakes

Niger

Niger's anti-corruption files burn

Charitable trust invests in sustainable agriculture in Niger with RAIN

Nigeria

Fuel subsidy protests spread to Lagos

Reversing the Terrorist Tide in Nigeria: The Need for Smart Power (Perspective)

(PHOTO: Omani adventurer Nabil 'Nabs' Al Busaidi became the first Arab to walk to the magnetic North Pole. AL ARABIYA)Northern Mariana Islands

Election Dispute Brewing in Northern Mariana Islands

Norway

Bible becomes 2011 bestseller in Norway

Oman

Sultanate of Oman hosts GCC Health Ministers meeting tomorrow

New civil identity cards

Oman warns over illegal surveys

Seeb project to enhance greenery in Oman

Omani explorer's North Pole trek hits big screen

Pakistan

Pak-Tajik intertwined in bonds of religion says Pakistan National Speaker

Pakistan, India to start power, petro trade

Nimoo-Bazgo project: Pakistan to take dam dispute to world court

An unforgiveable sin (Perspective)

(PHOTO: The North Face of the Jungfrau Mountain in Switzerland, illuminated to celebrate 100 years. JUNGFRAUBAHN)Panama

Panama's president lambasts media owners for publishing about corruption scandals

Paraguay

Paraguay confirms new foot-and-mouth outbreak 

Peru

Peru to celebrate National Chocolate and Cocoa Day every October 1

Controversy in Peru for Possible Junk Food Tax

Peru’s Central Bank: Poverty Rate Could Drop to 17 Percent by 2016

Philippines

Disease Outbreak in Philippines after floods

Hackers attack Philippine vice president's website

Gov't plans to produce Panama disease-free banana seedlings soon

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico: status vote set as crime, unemployment rise

Violence Continues in Puerto Rico After Close of Deadliest Year

Solar energy project in Puerto Rico completes financing, receives modules

(PHOTO: February Vogue 2011, who profiled first lady of Syria Asma al-Assad as a bright light in the Middle East. FROM THE ATLANTIC WIRE) Qatar

Taliban says it will open Qatar office for talks with U.S.

Federer trounces Davydenko in Qatar Open

Romania

Romania catches up on building highways

The number of active operators in Romania's organic farming sector has tripled this year

Romania to Resume Privatization of State-Owned Energy Companies

Rwanda

Rwandan President Visits UAE

A New Kid On the Block Within Telecoms

Innovative Businesses to Instill Entrepreneurship Spirit

Young Motorcyclists Still Cause Most Traffic Accidents

(PHOTO: In Africa kickboxers demonstrate their tactics at their training centre in Nimera Talaata in Juba, South Sudan where the East Africa Kickboxing Championships will take place. GURTONG)Saint Kitts & Nevis 

Solar Power Industries completes new solar installation

Saint Vincent & The Grenadines

Azerbaijani President receives Premier of Saint Vincent and Grenadines (VIDEO) 

Samoa

Samoa begins celebrating 50 years of independence

Samoa paper names PM as Person of Decade

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia arrests foreigner for celebrating New Year’s with balloons

Libya, Saudi Arabia to Restore Full Relations

Saudi Arabia/Islam-Media: 70% of new media related to Youth, according to Saudi Vice Minister of Culture and Information

Saudi healthcare grads snub private sector jobs

Senegal

Africa's 'most famous' singer N'Dour eyes Senegal presidency

Serbia

Serbian Princess to visit Halifax

(PHOTO: In Kremenchug, Ukraine’s new synagogue suffered its 2nd firebombing in as many months. CHABAD.ORG)Singapore

Greying Singapore taps robots, games in rehab

Singapore Press accuses Yahoo of plagiarism in copyright suit

Singapore's counter-terror success (Perspective)  

Slovakia

Slovaks made 12.5 million mobile phone calls and messages on December 31

South Africa

IMF head set for South Africa visit

Supercomputing: SA back in top 500

South Africa's holiday road death toll exceeds 1000

Controversy Over S. African Rhino Hunting

South Africa Seed Centre to Provide More, Cheaper Varieties

(PHOTO: In Taiwan, a convenience store every 500 meters. TAIWAN NEWS CHANNEL) South Korea

South Korea Lifts Ban On Travel To The North

South Korea hopes for 'new era' for Koreas

Korean mobile app Kakao Talk now sees 1 billion texts sent every day

South Sudan

South Sudanese 'massacred' after fleeing Pibor say reports

Shell eyes possible South Sudan opportunities

South Sudan To Host East African Kickboxing Championship

Spain

Spain selects site for nuclear waste storage

Spain's house prices 'have fallen significantly'

Spain: New Year brings end to bullfighting in Catalonia

New Year tradition of the 12 grapes

Sri Lanka

Lotus Tower will be South Asia’s tallest built in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka brimming with promise (Perspective)

(PHOTO: To these children in Nghe An, Vietnam, schooling is a risky adventure every day. TUOITRENEWS)Sudan

NHRI Condemns Shutting Down Ray Elsha'b Newspaper and Confiscating Its Assets

Sudan upgrading airbase in North Kordofan

Sudan Women's Advisory board 'seeks to improve health among females'

Malaria, bilharzia and filariasis endemic in South Darfur

Sweden

Swine flu victim tells of six-month fight for life

Swaziland

Aggrieved soldiers want to see the king

Security guard threatens ATM users with knife

Some contract teachers not paid in full

Paving Paradise (Perspective)

(PHOTO: Mt Cleveland, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, USA could be a problem in 2012) Switzerland

Boss of World's Largest Container Shipping Line Maersk, Taken Ill

Chunk of Swiss peak breaks off in massive rockslide

Jungfrau illuminated to celebrate mountain railway centenary

Syria

Syria and Iran Discuss Agricultural Cooperation

Philippine Government seeks Syria’s help with labor trafficking

Syrian state journalist, videographer killed

The Only Remaining Online Copy of Vogue's Asma al-Assad Profile

Taiwan

One convenience store every 500 meters in Taiwan

Taiwan, Germany Ink Agreement to Avoid Double Taxation 

Funds to be raised for East Africa famine relief 

Tanzania

Number of Tanzania Internet users is 5m

Hopes dashed as fuel prices go up

Financial constraints hamper Tanzania's London 2012 Olympic preparation

Lake Zone regions capitalise on sisal growing

(PHOTO: The African ECO-Challenge is taking place in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. MOTORSPORTS.COM)Thailand

Bangkok floods, reducing urban risk in a changing climate

Public debt forecast to rise rapidly on big borrowing

Thailand switches to Euro IV standard for gasoil, gasoline

Logistics sector needs to be prepared for emergencies (Perspective)

The Arctic

Solar charging panel generates call time for test team

The Netherlands

Dutch pension fund puts Walmart, PetroChina on investment blacklist

Tonga

Sending money home crucial for many immigrants

Trinidad and Tobago

Facebook and Trini life

Sabga pleads for efficient importation of pain medication for cancer patients

Former Chamber head backs removal of fuel subsidy in Trinidad and Tobago (Perspective)

Tunisia

Tunisian President on First State Trip Abroad Visits Libya

Tunisia is keen to strengthen relationship with India

Mother Plans Rally to Demand Return of Her Children

'Rouge Parole' by Tunisian director Baccar opens in Theaters On January 4th

Turks and Caicos

Expectation high for new tourism season

Turkey

GCC, Turkey to discuss investment

Tuberculosis still prevalent in Turkey

Tuvalu

DO highlights island migration

Uganda

Gay Activists Lash Out At Nsaba Buturo

Ugandans Abroad Want to Get More Involved in Business

Minister Storms Radio Station, Orders Arrests

Ukraine

Ukraine Synagogue Firebombed a Second Time in Two Months

Activ Solar completes Europe’s largest solar power plant

United Arab Emirates

Emirates Airline buys UK travel agent

UAE Facebook penetration rates among highest globally, while female use in the region lags

Seven new rules in UAE as new year starts

UAE’s Abu Dhabi facing water shortages

Young Future Energy Leaders Program

UAE camel festival features beauty contests, races

Volvo Ocean Race: Telefonica resumes Leg 2 tomorrow

Forecasts differ on the Dubai real estate market

UAE National ID card application and renewal can now be done online

Dubai gets own fog monitoring stations

United Kingdom

Mesothelioma Kills Over 150 Residents of Gwent, England

UK Faces Private Sector Pensions 'Collapse' (Video)

United States

Backgrounder: U.S. presidential nomination process and Iowa caucuses

Latest US military drone features 1.8 gigapixel camera

There's a New Volcano to Worry About, and This Time It's in the USA

Marines fighting mold problem at Parris Island

Congressman Ron Paul on Autism in America

US: Harsh Conditions for Young Lifers (Human Rights Watch report)

30 Statistics That Show The Middle Class Is Dying Right In Front Of Our Eyes (Perspective)

Uruguay 

Abortion decriminalization passes in Uruguay Senate

Uruguay’s citrus industry in the dumps due to rising costs

Uzbekistan 

Armenian Grigoryan to open boxing school in Uzbekistan 

Vanuatu 

Vanuatu’s President to be medi-vacced to Australia

Young players off to Vanuatu

Vatican City 

Vatican agency says at least 26 church workers killed in 2011

Venezuela 

Investment remains stagnant in 2011

Venezuelan TV shows will make it in Hollywood, a firm hopes

Vietnam 

Schooling in Vietnam: a stark contrast (Photos)

Vietnam has fewer than 50 wild tigers left 

Vietnam handbag exports cross US$1bn-mark

Search for missing Vinalines Queen Ship continues, Four days on

Falling home prices in Vietnam a positive development: ministry   

Western Sahara 

CCR: Schlesser keeps Africa Eco Race lead after stage 5

Yemen

Yemen PM to visit GCC countries Saturday to seek support

Yemen: On the Permaculture Map

Zambia 

Soya bean shortage concerns Zambian poultry industry

Diarrhea second leading cause of death in Zambia

Zimbabwe

Workers at Zimbabwe's Shabanie Mine Paid for First Time in Three Years

Growing risk of waterborne diseases in rural areas

Air Zimbabwe suspends flights to London after one of its planes is impounded over unpaid debts

2011 Art Year in Retrospect

China Pledge to Develop Martial Arts Wushu in Zimbabwe

WORLD

Where film is a risky biz

How mobile is reshaping the globe

Meeting food demands

Maggie Padlewska One-Woman Mission to Document Global Voices(PHOTO: Maggie Padlewska interviews Chief Antillano Flaco of Embera Quera Village, Panama, for the pilot documentary of her "One Year One World" project. (Elvin Flaco) EPOCH TIMES)

Sunday
Dec252011

THE HUM - HEADLINES FROM THE GEOGRAPHIC GAP - 12/25/2011

Angola 

(PHOTO: In Botswana, taking an exhilarating ride among zebra in the Okavango Delta - Mail Online) Angola's energy sector to gain wind power station

Angola to have new digital television system by 2012

Media Watchdog Slams State-Run Radio and Television

Botswana 

Hard up Botswana consumers brace for thrift holidays

Safari in the saddle: Riding with giraffes and chasing zebra in buzzing Botswana

Brazil 

(PHOTO: The Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon is the site of the world's third largest hydroelectric dam, Belo Monte. FORBES)Over A Million People Sign Petition Against Brazil's 'Pandora Dam'

Brazil Outshines Other BRIC Economies

Burkina Faso 

Cotton picked by children found in 'fair trade' garments, reporter finds

Burundi 

Burundian child kidnappers jailed 

Cameroon 

African Swine Fever poses wider food security risk

Cameroon Doubles Down on Gays

Canada 

Canada to Begin Testing HIV Vaccine

Cape Verde

The season of good cheer overcast by economic gloom (Perspective)

Central African Republic 

(PHOTO: Collecting blood samples of swine flu from a warthog. STOCK JOURNAL) Is this a bad dream? (Perspective)

China 

Chinese Embassy Donates to Orphanage, Disabled Homes in Liberia

Congo (DRC)

Kabila rival takes presidential oath

UN Troops to Launch Operation against Militia in DR Congo's Ituri District

Congo’s Deaf Community Struggling in Wake of Government SMS Ban

Djibouti

First Djibouti troops join AU Somalia force

Ecuador 

Ecuador for Membership in MERCOSUR 

Equatorial Guinea 

Dictator Obiang collects an award once given to Clinton, Bush

Ethiopia

An embarrassing meeting in Addis Ababa (Perspective)

Analysis: 'Commission must stand up for human rights in Ethiopia'

Gabon 

Gabon coalition takes 95% of election seats

Gambia 

Country Water Partnership Launched

Ghana 

(PHOTO: Clarissa Child Laborer. NY Amsterdam News)Poverty Reduction and Oil Revenue: The Case of Ghana

Greece 

Asylum-Seekers Can't Be Forced Back to Greece

Guinea-Bissau 

It’s all-round festivity at CARNIRIV

Haiti 

$1.5 million to aid Haiti's post-quake business recovery

EU commission awards Haiti extra aid, warns of "significant" needs

Haiti Constitution to be Officially Published by Year's End, says Interior Minister

Haiti: Sporting Complex Opens in Gressier

India 

Floating hotel service on Ganga in Bihar

Iran

Iran denies trade finance ban for UAE imports 

Ireland 

Ireland among top ‘luxury tourism’ locations

Italy 

Algeria-Italy natural gas pipeline Galsi not expected online before 2015

Ivory Coast 

Gbagbo supporters stage Hague protest

Ivory Coast to prepare Cup of Nations in Abu Dhabi

Kool & the Gang celebrate peace in Ivory Coast

Jordan 

(PHOTO: The Taj mall in Amman, Jordan. GREEN PROPHET)Amman’s New Mega-Mall is Antithesis of Sustainable Development (Perspective)

Kenya

Ministry allays fears of Ebola outbreak

IBM Helps Sweeten Earnings for Kenyan Sugar Cane Cutters

Lebanon

UN calls on Israel to compensate Lebanon for 2006 oil spill

Lesotho

Unearth the hidden gems of ‘soul country’

Liberia

Liberia: Giving Back, Health Worker Cares for Displaced Ivorians

Libya

Opec agrees to accommodate Libya oil production

Malawi

Malawi MPs to inspect grain reserves

Malawi court convicts 90 Ethiopians

Mali

A Photographer Documents Life In A Country Where 75% Of People Can't Read Or Write

Mali, Algeria boost efforts to contain Qaeda spread

Marshall Islands

WHO calls for increased surveillance of dengue fever in Pacific

Mauritania

Mauritanian public employees deep in debt, study shows

Morocco

Morocco shaping up as an oil producer

Mozambique

Work On Maputo Domestic Terminal Ahead of Schedule

Government Praises Community Radios

Mozambique negotiates funding from Chinese bank for Maputo-Katembe bridge

Namibia

‘Mysterious’ space ball drops on Namibia — nothing mysterious about it

More Crop Farmers to Use Govt Tractors

Telecom Namibia deploying first DWDM network

Nepal

Nepal’s Migrants Lured By Empty Promises, Trapped by Bosses Abroad

Nigeria

Video: Nigeria hit by wave of Christmas day church bombings

Nigeria clashes kill at least 68, say officials

Nigerian Oil Spill Stretches 900 Square Kilometers, says Environmental Group

North Korea

North Korea’s Hunger

North Korea's country risk score falls after leader's death

Pakistan

Pakistan can play vital role in promoting regional trade (Perspective)

Peru

(PHOTO: Air traffic controller at Jorge Chavez International Airport Photo Andina Archive PERUTHISWEEK)Peru declares air traffic state of emergency

UN: Peru’s Economy to Have Grown by 7 Percent in 2011

Philippines

Philippines slips in 2011 global democracy index rankings

A new ethic on climate change (Perspective)

Portugal

Portugal won't extradite fugitive killer George Wright to U.S.

Rwanda

Rwandan rebel leader held in Paris after release

Rwanda: More Refugees Flock in

Sao Tome and Principe

Energy Group Holds Third GMD Conference in Sao Tome

Senegal

Senegal president to run for 3rd term

Music-Piracy: Top Senegalese musician advises colleagues on piracy

Restive Senegal region seeks Catholic group's mediation

Singapore

World's orchid growers gather in Singapore

South Africa

New African Elephant Fund Approves First Set of Projects

Sudan

(PHOTO: New Port Sudan Terminal Able to House Up to 800,000 Containers - Sudan Vision)New Port Sudan Terminal Able to House Up to 800,000 Containers

Africa Should Adopt an Idea of not Handing over Any Citizen to the ICC (Interview)

Thailand

Thailand sets Committees to restore Foreign Investor confidence

The Netherlands

The Netherlands: Court Upholds Fine for Dumping Waste in Africa

Togo

Ghana Seizes  Smuggled Goods From Togo

Tunisia

Tunisian Fashion Designers Shine Abroad

Turkey

Turkey Blocks Web Pages Touting Darwin's Evolution Theory

Uganda

No Sex For Soldiers

United Arab Emirates

Awafi Festival revs up the excitement in RAK

Students delve into UAE's past to make sense of present

Nuclear regulator wins accolades from review team

United Kingdom

Gifts: 12 British Books for the Holidays

United States

Lori Berenson returns to the US

Uruguay

Malvinas: (Falkland Islands) UK requests access to Uruguay's ports

Vanuatu

Vanuatu signs development cooperation agreement with Indonesia

Venezuela

We will Turn Venezuelan into a Gas Exporter, Ramirez Says

Vietnam

Vietnam Top Choice For Nike Footwear

Vietnam metro seeks to improve its image

Zuckerberg's Vietnam holiday is chance to get Facebook unblocked there (Perspective)

Western Sahara

UN Envoy Christopher Ross to visit Western Sahara and Morocco before April 2012

Yemen

Yemen interim government priorities are electricity and oil derivatives

Yemen ruling party threatens to change mind about GCC deal

Zambia

Cops manning Zambia-DRC border in allowances arrears

Zimbabwe

New Zimbabwe Constitution: problems mount

Friday
Aug262011

Three Questions on Libya (COMMENTARY) 

Libya's 1951 Independence FlagBy Marwan Bishara 

A six month NATO-aided rebellion in Libya has advanced on the capital, Tripoli, in an effort to oust 42-year leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst, comments on three key issues.

What's next for Libya and the national council?

It is time for the Libyan people to celebrate the end of a four-decade dictatorship. Once they sober up from the jubilations of their well-deserved victory, however, they will discover this is only the beginning.

Gaddafi has undermined, marginalised or obliterated many of the state institutions, including the military, and destroyed the political parties - indeed, political life in the country. There is much to restore and more to build from scratch.

Security, reconstruction and political transition are only a few of the challenges they will face sooner rather than later. More importantly, they will need to manage expectations of those who have given their all for liberty, freedom and prosperity.

Having said that, there is no need for alarm. Not yet any way. It's easy, even clichéd, to be pessimistic, even negative, about the post-revolutionary challenge. What is needed is optimism anchored in reality.

And judging from what we have seen over the past five months, there is much to celebrate in terms of building a steering council and creating locally based revolutionary groups from the bottom up that have been well coordinated and largely disciplined.

There have been disagreements and suspicion over the past several weeks, and the full story of the assassination of Abdul Fatah Younis is yet to emerge. And yes, there have been certain violations and acts of revenge, but considering the pent-up tensions and violence after decades of dictatorship and its terribly criminal behaviour throughout the past few months, these have been the exceptions to the rule.

The revolution has been a pluralistic, all-encompassing coalition of people from all walks of life. They paid attention to local and tribal sensitivities and established an excellent coordination strategy between the local revolutionaries and the national steering committee.

Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia where pillars of the regime, notably the military, remain in power, the Libyan revolution is set to wipe the slate clean and begin anew. Democracy is its only way to success.

The transitional council must remember its role is just that – transitional - and avoid all tactics that prolong its unchecked authority.

You mentioned Egypt and Tunisia. What do the Libyan developments mean for the Arab Spring?

Libya is much smaller and relatively less developed than its neighbours Egypt and Tunisia. It also has much on its plate and will be preoccupied with its own internal affairs for years, even decades, to come. That's why one doesn't expect the new leaders in Tripoli to play any major regional role in the near future.

However, the revolutionary contagion will only accelerate after the success of the revolution in Libya. The Assad and Saleh regimes should have much more to worry about today than last week as the latest revolutionary domino falls.

Under pressure from their people, the Arab regimes are going to have to act. Yemen is next, and Syria, while more complicated, will have to follow suit.

The same is true for the rest of North Africa. As a necessary bridge between Egypt and Tunisia, oil-rich Libya could play an important role in coordinating the three countries' future reconstruction strategies and their relations with the rest of the region and with the West.

What about the Western powers - notably France, Britain and the US - where does the 'success' in Libya take them?

First and foremost Western leaders need to wipe that smug look from their faces and make sure not to gloat about doing the Arabs any favours.

Certainly the NATO aerial bombardment did help, but this was a revolutionaries' victory par excellence. The battle was won first and foremost in the hearts of the Libyans, just as with the Egyptians and Tunisians before them.

Besides, after decades of complicity with Arab dictators, Western powers have much to make up for: They inserted themselves in the Libyan revolution after Gaddafi made genocidal threats against his people, but their interference was not necessarily motivated by humanitarian ends, rather more of the same geopolitics that led to befriending Gaddafi, Ben Ali and Mubarak in the first place.

Syria is far more complicated and Britain and France will need to keep out of it militarily.

That's not to say that the Libyans should be unappreciative for the extended helping hand. Better to have Western powers on the right side of Arab history for a change. And there is much room for cooperation and coordination in the future, but it should be done on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest, especially that of the Arabs who are in every need of affirmative action.

Western leaders must also steer away from driving a wedge between those whom they consider moderates and others deemed "Islamists", as Libya will need cooperation among all its citizens.

- Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst. He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.

Originally published by Al Jazeera under Creative Commons Licensing 

Monday
Jun202011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--- HUMNEWS staff

Wednesday
Apr202011

As IOM Rescue Operation for Migrants Stranded in Misrata Continue, Many Thousands More Migrants Need Urgent Help Elsewhere (NEWS BRIEF)

(April 20,2011) A third IOM-chartered boat bringing more humanitarian aid into the besieged city of Misrata is due to arrive in the port later today with the aim of rescuing more stranded migrants.

The boat, the Ionian Spirit, left Benghazi on Tuesday night carrying 500 tons of food, medical supplies, hygiene kits and non-food items donated mainly by the Libyan private sector with some aid provided by Qatar and the U.A.E. Red Crescent. 

A Libyan non-governmental organization Libaid has donated the hygiene kits, medical supplies, hospital wheelchairs and four generators for hospital use.

Also on board are a team of 13 doctors with differing specializations. Two of the doctors who will relieve colleagues working in the hospital in Misrata will also refer critical but stable cases to IOM for evacuation to Benghazi.

"The presence of a large group of doctors with different specializations means greater capacity and more flexibility to assist those critically wounded or sick on board for the return journey to Benghazi," said IOM operational leader Jeremy Haslam as the boat departed.

However, the main focus of this third IOM operation to rescue stranded migrants in Misrata is to bring as many migrants as possible to safety.

In particular, the Organization is hoping to target a large number of migrants from Niger. Of the estimated 5,000 migrants around the port area, more than 3,200 are believed to be Nigeriens. 

"We don't know whether we will be able to reach them, however. If they are not close to the port, then it will be extremely hard to access them given the security conditions in the city," Haslam added. 

In two previous missions funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Office (ECHO), IOM has rescued more than 2,100 people from Misrata, nearly 100 of them Libyans. 

New funding of one million Euros from the German government and £1.5 million (US$2.4m) from Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) will allow IOM to continue its rescue operations from Misrata where about 5,000 migrants are still believed to be stranded, to the eastern port city of Benghazi.

However, a critical shortage of funds means that while the migrants are brought to relative safety in Benghazi, they will remain stranded there without additional means.

"Taking the migrants out of the line of fire is life-saving, but by not being able to take them out of Libya and safely home means their plight has simply been transplanted to another location," says IOM Director of Operations and Emergencies, Mohammed Abdiker. 

"This is true for all the migrants who we need to help inside Libya and for those who have managed to cross Libya's borders with its neighbours."

More than 5,000 migrants on the Egyptian, Tunisian and Nigerien borders with Libya are still in need of evacuation to their home countries.

Among the many identified groups of migrants needing urgent evacuation from inside Libya are a group of nearly 30,000 Chadians, including women and children, marooned in Gatroun. IOM is in discussions with the Libyan and Chadian authorities on accessing the group.

It comes as the number of Chadians crossing into Chad from Libya has dramatically increased with a growing number of the migrants stranded in northern towns such as Faya and Kaliyit. The migrants are all dehydrated, extremely tired and in need of food.

An IOM transit centre at Faya, where UNHCR has provided tents to accommodate arrivals, which has a capacity of 750 people is now overflowing.  

"An airlift to Ndjamena is the only option. But again this is a costly operation," Abdiker states. "We are in a position where we have beefed up our operational presence at the Chadian border points to cope with the number of arrivals but we have no money to evacuate the migrants from these isolated desert areas to the Chadian capital."

Working with various Embassies, an IOM operation begun some weeks ago to evacuate stranded migrants in Tripoli by bus to the Tunisian border will be difficult to continue.

Only yesterday, 19 April, IOM evacuated a group of 100 Beninois migrants from the Libyan capital, including women and infants. 

IOM appealed for about US$160 million dollars for its response to the Libyan crisis with much of the funding to provide evacuation assistance from both inside and outside Libya. The Organization has received to date US$65 million, all of it except the new funding spent on operations that have helped return more than 115,000 migrants return to their home countries and evacuate many thousands from inside Libya to Egypt and Tunisia.

- Source:  International Organization for Migration 

Thursday
Mar102011

Amid Intimidation, Growing Numbers of Sub-Saharan Africans Escaping Libya (REPORT)

(HN, March 10, 2011) - As attention focuses on the widening and increasingly-viscious civil war raging in Libya, growing numbers of Sub-Saharan African migrants are still managing to escape and reach border crossings - to the relief of aid officials and governments.

 

The good news comes amid reports that Libyan troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi are rounding up black African migrants to force them to fight opposition forces. Western news agencies are quoting young African men who managed to flee to Tunisia.

They said they were raided in their homes by soldiers, beaten and robbed of their savings and identity papers, then detained and finally offered money to take up arms for Gaddafi. Those who refused were told they would never leave, said Fergo Fevomoye, a 23-year-old who crossed the border on Sunday.

"They will give you a gun and train you like a soldier. Then you fight the war of Libya. As I am talking to you now there is many blacks in training who say they are going to fight this war. They have prized (paid) them with lots of money," he told Reuters.

Said UNHCR  spokesperson Sybella Wilkes: “African refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea have told us that just being a Black face in Libya is very dangerous at the moment."

There are more than 20,000 migrants still stranded in Tunisia and Egypt, awaiting evacuation assistance with an average of 6,000 still arriving at the two borders alone on a daily basis. 

According to relief officials there are few countries in the region that are not represented within the steady stream of those fleeing: although the majority of those being evacuated today are Bangladeshis -who still represent the largest group of migrants stranded at both the Egyptian and Tunisian borders - 349 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Malians, Mauritanians, Guineans, Nigeriens, Senegalese, Togolese, Sierra Leonian, Beninese and Cameroonians, are also on flights home.

In the past three weeks, more than 252,000 people have crossed into Tunisia, Egypt, Niger and Algeria.

"Although the numbers of Africans fleeing to the borders still remain comparatively small, they are mounting. This is an encouraging sign given our strong concerns over the targeting of Sub-Saharan Africans inside Libya," says Mohamed Abdiker, Director of Operations for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The UN agency is today evacuating 1,052 Bangladeshi, Sub-Saharan Africans and Filipino migrants from Tunisia, Egypt and Malta. Among the 1,713 migrants evacuated by IOM on Wednesday were a group of 295 Ghanaians as well as a Sudanese.

As the UN and other agencies work to ensure that all the migrants stranded are helped as quickly as possible with particular focus having been given to first the Egyptians and then the Bangladeshis, with large numbers of the latter still awaiting assistance, charter and commercial flights are being used simultaneously to assist African migrants home as fast as possible. 

Donor governments include the British, Belgian, French, Italian, Austrians, Irish, Swiss, Swedish and the US as well as UNHCR, IOM will have helped nearly 21,000 migrants from many countries to return safely home to their countries by today. Recent efforts have focused on securing support for long-haul charter flights to enable the return home of thousands of Bangladeshis in particular.

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Friday
Mar042011

Horror Stories Emerge as Migrants Fleeing Libya Reach Safety (Report)

(HN, March 5, 2011) - UPDATED 0930GMT - As migrants attempt to flee an increasingly dangerous Libya, horror stories are beginning to filter out about desperate measures taken to escape the carnage.

It was previously believed that most of the exodus of more than 100,000 people in the last 10 days consisted of fit young men - but there are also many vulnerable women and children, it has emerged.

On Thursday, 40 particularly vulnerable West African migrants - fearing for their lives given the targeting of Sub-Saharan Africans and desperate to leave Libya - said they had paid a human smuggler to take them to Egypt in a sealed and refrigerated truck.

For African migrants - many from poor, small countries that lack the ability or desire to repatriate their nationals - there are countless bitter tales of targeted treatment in Libya.

Some Eritreans said that in the 160 kms from Tripoli to the Tunisian border, they had been stopped 20 times and totally dispossessed of all their money and belongings.

A Chadian migrant recounted the increasing violence at night-time in Tripoli that had led to great terror among him and others.

Many arrive at border crossing with just a blanket and few belongings. Aid agencies say that as the migrants flee, employers refuse to pay them weeks or months of owed back wages.

"The problem is that there are a number of them arriving at the border without proper documents and without a visa to enter Egypt," said UN  official Roberto Piteo.

But the most horrifying account is that of Ike Emanuel, a 35-year-old Nigerian migrant, who interrupted his journey to bury his 6-month-old baby girl in the desert last week after she died of exposure on a desperate trek to escape Libya.

"I lost my baby. She died and we buried her in the desert," Emanuel told Reuters. "We spent three days in the desert and she was a little baby of six months and she could not endure the cold," he said. "I am going home with nothing, going home again without my baby which can be my future."

Reports also quote many Bangladeshi migrant workers complaining harshly about the lack of any response from their government. In an appeal written on a bed sheet, they urged Tunisia and the world to "save the lives of 30,000 Bangladeshis".

Some returnees have been quoted in the Bangladeshi media as saying that they faced starvation due to the lack of consular assistance.

Shaheed Uddin, a Bangladeshi migrant worker from a camp in Tripoli, said Libyans set fire to a labour camp and looted valuables Thursday night. The camp housed around 1,000 Bangladeshi workers. One Bangladeshi was killed and some others got injured, he claimed.

"Those Bangladeshis then fled wherever they could," he told The Daily Star of Dhaka, adding that such incidents have become regular and his camp housing 300 workers could be next.

In response to an official request from the Government of Bangladesh, the UN has had to step in to fill the lack of responsiveness from Dhaka. There were at least 60,000 Bangladeshis in Libya prior to the uprising.

More than 640 Bangladeshi migrants were evacuated from the Libyan port city of Benghazi Thursday via a road convoy by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and escorted by the Libyan Red Crescent to the Egyptian border crossing at Salum. IOM will then organize for their return home to Bangladesh in the days to come.

Sadly, some African migrants have no hope of assistance from their governments. Giovanni Martinelli—a Catholic bishop and the vicar of Tripoli—says hundreds of Eritreans showed up at St. Francis Catholic Church in Tripoli last Sunday seeking help, according to one published report. Many of the Eritreans are Christians that fled persecution in their home country.

Even for Egypt, which had an estimated 1.5 million of its nationals working in Libya, the sudden burden of hosting the returnees is not an easy task for the interim military governments. What is more, the flow of remittances from these migrants will come to a sudden halt - creating a knock-on effect for vulnerable families back home.

In the past few days, IOM staff had located several thousand migrant workers from many nationalities in the port at Benghazi and the surrounding warehouses with the largest groups comprising Bangladeshi, Indian and Sudanese migrants. This morning, another 500 Bangladeshi migrants arrived at the port compound in a two-hour period.

IOM staff in Ras Ajdir report that an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshis already on the Tunisian side of the border, decided to walk the 8km distance to a UNHCR camp today. In a five kms long column, the migrants carried their luggage as best they they can. Some of them, all young men, say they had walked from Tripoli to the Tunisian border.

In Egypt, where IOM is also providing registration and humanitarian assistance to migrants at the Salum border crossing, has so far evacuated 1,079 migrants, mostly Bangladeshi but also including

Ghanaian, Malians and Filipinos.

IOM staff in Ras Ajdir report that an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshis already on the Tunisian side of the border, decided to walk the 8km distance to a UNHCR camp today. In a five kms long column, the migrants carried their luggage as best they they can. Some of them, all young men, say they had walked from Tripoli to the Tunisian border.

- HUMNEWS staff, IOM

Thursday
Mar032011

African Asylum-Seekers Among 1000s Stranded in North Africa (Report)

Source: ReliefWeb(HN, March 3 2011) - As distressed migrants, most of them from developing Middle Eastern and Sub-Saharan African countries, flee to Libya's border crossings, the numbers entering neighbouring countries is reaching close to 200,000.

However some African officials admit that many of those they have been forced to repatriate are nationals who entered Libya illegally and are undocumented - in effect, a vulnerable sub-class of migrants who are at extreme risk.

Officials and evacuees interviewed by the regional media say that they were in Libya in the process of seeking passage to Europe.

Some quoted in Nigerian newspapers said they have variously spent between four and 17 years in Libya.

The Ghana News Agency said many of the 10,000 or so Ghanians stranded in Libya were "illegal immigrants and undocumented."

Indicative of the diversity of those fleeing Libya is that one of the people evacuated was professional boxer Bash Ali, who said he was in Tripoli for medical treatment.

Upon returning to Nigeria he was quoted by the Daily Trust Newspaper as saying: “I am proud to be a Nigerian… I am proud of this encouraging exercise. Home is home… and home is sweet. Nothing is more comforting than to be among your people at home."

Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said yesterday that over 1,000  Nigerians are still stranded in Libya, with the same figure already evacuated.

The rescued Nigerians hinted at some surprise of having their government step up to the plate in this crisis.

A spokesman for the repatriated Nigerians, Chief Festus Koiki said: "For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the Federal Government has demonstrated its ability and capability to address the plights of distressed Nigerians in the Diaspora, which is unprecedented.”

Nigeria has had strained relations with Libya for the past decade.

Aid agencies say they are worried for thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers, and irregular migrants still inside Libya and in circumstances of considerable danger of reprisal attacks.

According to a report from the Ghana Embassy in Libya, a number of Nigerian nationals suffered such reprisal attacks, the Ghana News Agency reported.

At least two sub-Saharan Africans are already reported to have been lynched in Benghazi on suspicion of being mercenaries for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, others fear being hunted down by insurgents, a report by UN OCHA released today said.

Actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie"With these new waves of uprising and conflict, there is and will continue to be massive new displacement. The world needs to address this moment. We have to give people safe passage, evacuation if needed, and ensure they have asylum. We don't want to look back and find their deaths are on our hands," UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie said.

Meanwhile, transit camps operated by relief agencies are said to be bursting at the seams as an endless stream of migrants heads towards border crossings in the East with Egypt, in the West with Tunisia, in the South with Niger and towards the port in Benghazi.

The UN said today about 100,000 Africans may try to cross from Libya into poverty-stricken Niger in coming weeks, placing a huge strain on the land-locked country.

Reports indicate more than 50 flights, using commercial and military aircraft from a handful of countries, will be operated today to evacuate the migrants.

Separately, The Eldershave called on the international community to maintain pressure on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to step down as the only way to end the bloodshed in Libya.

Welcoming the strong resolution adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council to try to halt the violent repression in Libya, they urged the rapid implementation of agreed measures including an arms embargo, targeted financial sanctions and travel bans.

The Elders also underlined the need for swift humanitarian assistance to those in need, including people fleeing the violence.

Ultimately, the Elders say, it is Gaddafi's departure from power, along with that of key members of his regime, that will forestall further bloodshed.

The Chair of The Elders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said: “This is a moral universe – the Libyan people have right on their side and I am confident that they will succeed in their quest for freedom. I admire their courage in facing up to a leader who has in effect declared a brutal war on his own people to cling onto power. Gaddafi must recognise the truth – that the people of Libya are demanding change and he cannot stand in their way.”

- HUMNEWS staff, files

 

Wednesday
Mar022011

Displacement of Migrants From Libya Now Full-Blown Humanitarian Crisis (Report)

(HN, March 2, 2011) - UPDATED 1440 GMT - The situation at the Libya-Tunisia border is at a crisis point, with as many as 15,000 people crossing a day from Libya.

"We can see acres of people waiting to cross the border. Many have been waiting for three to four days in the freezing cold, with no shelter or food," said Ayman Gharaibeh, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) emergency response team at the border. "Usually the first three days of the crisis are the worst. This seems to be getting worse by the day," he added.

More than 75,000 people have crossed the Tunisian border since 19 February, the vast majority Egyptian nationals. An estimated 40,000 more are waiting to enter from the Libyan side of the border. The majority are from developing countries such as Niger, Chad, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, and Vietnam.

There are also sizeable populations of migrant workers stuck in Tripoli, which is becoming increasingly tense and dangerous.

Some 2,500 Somali migrants are holed up in the violence-affected city and unsure what to do, say Somali migrants there.

“We have not left our house in the last 12 days. If we go out we are liable to be attacked," one of the Somalis, Mohamed Aweys, told IRIN by phone from Tripoli. "A friend who went out on 1 March to get some supplies has not returned. We have not seen or heard of him since; his mobile is switched off."

Humanitarian presence in Libya as well as numbers of people crossing into neighbouring countries. CREDIT: ReliefWebThere are also another 500 Somali migrants in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, Aweys said, had been targeted as suspected pro-Gaddafi mercenaries. "We spoke to some of them on the phone in Benghazi and they are hiding in their homes."

Another Somali in Tripoli, Mahamud Ahmed, told IRIN: "We have nothing to do with their [Libyans'] problems. Most of us came here to escape our own problems and look for a better life and now we are caught up in a life-and-death situation."

In a sign of the increasing scope of the humanitarian crisis on the borders, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR are urgently appealing to governments for a massive humanitarian evacuation of tens of thousands of Egyptians and other third country nationals who have fled Libya. They want a supply of massive financial and logistical assets to a joint humanitarian programme they established today - including planes, boats and expert personnel.

With tens of thousands of them stuck at the border, and more expected, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva that it was "becoming critically important that onwards transport becomes quickly available to avoid a humanitarian crisis."

Many of the people fleeing Libya are vulnerable women and children according to UNICEFBy last night, shelter with tents was expected to have been given to a total of about 12,000 people. Two airlifts are planned for Thursday with tents and supplies for up to 10,000 people.

The water and hygiene situation at the border remains precarious. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has been asked to help with improving these facilities - providing relief to over-stretched Tunisian civilians, the Tunisian Red Crescent and the military.

There are huge numbers of migrants stranded on the Libyan side. Fleming in Geneva said the refugee agency was particularly concerned "that a large number of sub-Saharan Africans are not being allowed entry into Tunisia at this point. UNHCR is in negotiations with self-appointed volunteers from the local community who are guarding the border."

The emergency response leader Gharaibeh said most of those crossing the border were fit young men. "This is the only reason why the situation has not degenerated into a huge crisis so far."

Migrants from sub-Sahara Africa are seen as particularly vulnerable, as they may be targeted as suspected mercenaries. "We have heard several accounts from refugees who tell us their compatriots have been targeted and killed. Others tell us about forced evictions and attacks on their homes," Fleming said in Geneva.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Libya, the Egyptian government reported that some 69,000 people had crossed into Egypt from Libya since February 19.Lack of public facilities are border crossing makes the transit excruciating

"The majority of those who have crossed are Egyptians, most of whom have already been transported to other towns and cities. Around 3,000 people remain in the arrival/departure area awaiting onward transportation," Fleming said.

Today, the Egyptian Red Crescent was due to transport a consignment of UNHCR medical supplies and food into eastern Libya. The food and medicine is being sent in response to requests from tribal leaders who UNHCR met over the weekend, and is expected to arrive tomorrow. Further convoys are being prepared.

On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for immediate and safe access to western Libya.

It has an emergency team that includes surgeons and nurses, as well as medical supplies, on the Tunisian border waiting to enter western Libya as soon as security conditions permit.

Another emergency team, which also includes medical staff, is already at work in hospitals in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

"This crisis has been going on for 14 days. It's high time, and absolutely vital, that the needs of people affected are met. We call on everyone taking part in the violence to respect the right of the wounded and sick to seek medical care, and to ensure that humanitarian assistance is able to reach those in need," said the ICRC's director general, Yves Daccord.

"Right now, the situation is far too unstable and insecure to enable much-needed help to enter western parts of the country," he added. "Health and aid workers must be allowed to do their jobs safely. Patients must not be attacked, and ambulances and hospitals must not be misused. It's a matter of life and death."

- HUMNEWS staff, UN

Sunday
Feb202011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- HUMNEWS staff, Oxford Analytica

Tuesday
Feb152011

Revolution Comes Like a Thief in the Night (Perspective)

By Richard Pithouse

(HN, February 15, 2011) - Life, ordinary life, is meant to follow certain rhythms. We grow, seasons change and we assume new positions in the world. When you have finished being a child you put away childish things and move on to the next stage of life.A protester in Cairo walks by an ad for Business Class seats. Pithouse says the widening gulf between rich and poor is a powder keg waiting to explode. Credit: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

But there is a multitude of people in this world who cannot build a home, marry and care for their children and aging parents. There is a multitude of people who are growing older as they remain stuck in an exhausting limbo, perhaps just managing to scrape together the rent for a backyard shack by selling tomatoes or cell phone chargers on some street.

Mohamed Bouazizi was one person amongst that multitude. He was born in 1984 in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. His father died on a Libyan construction site when Mohamed was three. He went to a one roomed village school but had to start working from the age of ten and abandoned school altogether in his late teens.

In a city with an unemployment rate of 30% he couldn’t find work and began, like so many others, selling fruit and vegetables in the street. With the thousand rand that he made each month he looked after his mother, his uncle and his younger siblings. He was, incredibly, managing to pay for his sister, Samia, to study at university.

Since he was a child he had been harassed by the police who regularly confiscated his wheelbarrow and his wares. On the 17th of December last year he had just laid out one thousand and five hundred Rand to buy stock when a municipal official asked him for a bribe to keep his place on the street. He couldn’t pay it and so they turned his cart over, confiscated his scales, spat at him and slapped him. He went to the municipal offices to complain but no one would see him.  He went outside, bought some petrol, poured it all over his body and set himself alight outside the municipal offices. Mohammed’s mother told a journalist that he didn’t kill himself because he was poor but because he had been humiliated. "It got to him deep inside, it hurt his pride."

In 1961 Frantz Fanon wrote, from Tunisia, “The colonial world is a world cut into two....The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the Negro village, the medina, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not how or where.”

Fifty years later cities are still divided into separate zones for those who count and those who don't count. These days what distinguishes those who count from those who don’t is usually the possession of wealth. But the people spurned by society continue to be taken as a threat to society. Jacques Depelchin, the Congolese historian, writes, “the poor in Africa have replaced the Dark Continent as the symbolic conceptual definition of the obstacle to civilization.”

But of course Mohamed Bouzazi didn’t die the invisible death of the average poor person. When he set his own body alight he ignited the uprising that drove Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power in Tunisia, toppled Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and then spread like a prairie fire to Algeria, Yemen, Iran and beyond. Revolt is leaping across the borders that are supposed to contain people while money is moved, dissidents rendered and intelligence exchanged.

These revolts may, like the European Revolutions of 1848 or the revolts against Stalinism in 1989, remake the world order in ways that we cannot yet predict.

Popular anger can be mobilised against innocent scapegoats like gay people in Uganda, Muslims in parts of India or migrants in South Africa. Revolutions are often rolled back, co-opted or even used to strengthen oppression by modernising it.  The future of Tunisia, Egypt and all the other countries where people are now taking to the streets against the police and party thugs has yet to be written. Local elites and imperialism will certainly aim to do more of that writing than the ordinary people that have already brought down two dictatorships.

But whatever the eventual fate of the struggles in North Africa and the Middle East something has been done that cannot be undone. That something is the fact that the refusal of a street vendor to continue to tolerate indignity and the sheer sadism of so much bureaucratic power was heard and acted on in a way that eventually brought down a brutal dictator and ally of imperialism and, for a moment at least, seized the initiative from the dictators, the officials, the experts, the police and the NGOs and put it, firmly and gloriously, in the hands of the people.

This is not the first time that the agency of people that don’t count has, like the proverbial thief in the night, suddenly appeared at the centre of the world stage without warning.

The Christian story is just one of many in which a poor man from some village in the provinces assumes a tremendous historical consequence that far outweighs that of his tormentors. And from the Haitian Revolution of 1804 to the Paris Commune of 1871 to the anti-colonial movements of the 50s and 60s that ignited a global rebellion in 1968 the modern world has periodically been remade by the intelligence and courage of the women and men it has most denigrated.

There are many lessons to be drawn from the drama unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East. One of them is that we should not assume that South Africans will continue to trudge through life without work, without homes and without dignity forever.

If we carry on as we are, the day will come when a fire will be lit in Grahamstown or Harrismith or Ermelo, or on some farm or in some school or shack settlement whose name we don’t yet know, and neither the rubber bullets, party thugs, offers of jobs and money to leaders or senior politicians arriving in helicopters with smiles and big promises will put it out.

Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University. This first appeared on the website of The South African Civil Society Information Service - SACSIS

Saturday
Feb122011

Could The Spirit of Tahrir Square Infect Cameroon, West Africa? (Report)

(HN, February 12, 2011) - Cameroonian Presidential candidate and women's rights activist Kah Walla has warned incumbent President Paul Biya that the wave of passion for democratic change that has swept through Tunisia and Egypt could travel as far as West Africa - especially Cameroon, where presidential elections are due in October.

Cameroonian presidential candidate Kah Walla

In a letter to Biya sent to HUMNEWS, Kah Walla writes: "Mr. President, I am certain you are observing with great interest along with the rest of us Cameroonians, the wind of change that is gaining incredible momentum throughout Africa and in the Middle East. It is an incredible season for people who have been oppressed for decades and who have decided to take their destiny into their own hands. They are not only winning battles, but are actually coming out victorious in the struggles for independence, freedom and human dignity which they have been waging against their leaders.

"It is a very bad season for presidents who have been in power for over 20 years, maintaining their power through dubious, ritualistic elections, which have credibility neither with their own people nor with the global community."

In Cameroon the president is elected by plurality vote to serve a seven-year term. However opposition leaders say the election commission has "colossal weaknesses" and lacks the credibility to manage free and fair elections in Cameroon."

Biya came to power in the oil-producing nation in 1982. Like Nigeria, Cameroon's prospects for development were initially promising, with oil and pipeline projects generating revenue. But Biya changed the constitution in 2008, allowing him to run for president for a third time this year. Protests erupted and the opposition termed the change "a constitutional coup".

The parallels between Egypt and Cameroon are striking: both have had a president in power for about three decades, enjoy significant oil wealth, have huge populations of young people, suffer from massive unemployment and widespread corruption. Like the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Biya is in is close to 80-years-old (he turns 78 tomorrow). It therefore comes as little surprise that Kah Walla is putting Biya on notice in the sternly-worded letter.

She says it is impossible for Cameroonians not to take notice of the popular stand against rigged elections in Egypt.

"Cameroonians are not only sitting on the edges of their seats observing this, but we are communing with these people in mind and spirit. We understand them in our very core, we admire the steps they have taken to control their own destinies, we are humbled by the courage they are showing in daring to invent their own futures, we are collecting information, analyzing it and drawing lessons from their victories."

Citing the tumultuous events in Tunisia, Kah Walla said: "We have learned from the Tunisians, that unlike us in 1992, it is necessary to maintain the pressure until the ultimate goal is attained. We have learned from the Tunisians, that unlike us in 1992, it is necessary to maintain the pressure until the ultimate goal is attained."

There are more than 15 elections across Africa this year. Many of these countries share similar traits with other countries in North Africa that have witnessed unrest - a high percentage of under 30-year-olds, high joblessness, sky-rocketing food prices and rampant corruption. In April, Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, will see Presidential elections that have already been tainted by a troublesome voter registration process.

Richard Moncrieff, West Africa Project Director for International Crisis Group, has said Cameroon's future is blighted by the threat of conflict. "The threat really comes from the frustration of the population, both for economic reasons – high unemployment, widespread poverty – and also for political reasons."

He added: "The very poor governance, the widespread corruption, the politicization of the justice system, the politicization of the electoral system is in fact a danger for the country and could eventually lead to conflict."

In her letter, Kah Walla, emboldened by what she has seen in North Africa, appeared to be issuing an ultimatum: "A world is collapsing, the world of dictators. The wind of change which is blowing, will only gather steam and momentum as the months go by and as we hurtle towards September/October 2011. Cameroonians are determined in this year to take their destiny into their own hands...We will willingly do this through a structured transition, through an election...on condition. On condition that the minimum requirements for a free and fair election are met. On condition that the political will for a democratic transition is unambiguously demonstrated. On condition that no one, absolutely no one, stops us in any way shape or form, impedes us from exercising our free will and our voters’ rights as Cameroonian citizens."

At 45, Kah Walla is an internationally management consultant and entrepreneur. She was recognized in 2008 by the World Bank as one of seven women entrepreneurs in Africa. In 2009 she spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative summit in New York.

- HUMNEWS staff

 

Wednesday
Feb022011

Hunger fuels discontent in the Middle East (Opinion) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mubarak and the others brought this on themselves.

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

This article first appeared on StAugustine.com