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Cameron threatens to 'temporarily withdraw' from the European Convention on Human Rights in order to expedite radical cleric's deportation. The worst kind of populist politics drives Britain towards international outlawry.
Home Secretary Theresa May was thwarted again last week in her battle to deport the radical preacher Abu Qatada. This time, the court of appeal turned down her attempt to take the case to the supreme court.
The government's next move? "David Cameron is considering temporarily withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights so that Abu Qatada can finally be removed from Britain," proclaimed the Daily Telegraph.
A few years ago, that would have provoked incredulous laughter. Not so now. The possibility of leaving the Convention – whether temporarily, as the PM reportedly discussed with his home secretary, justice minister and attorney-general, or permanently – can no longer be dismissed as unthinkable or absurd.
Because of the government’s populist response to a troublesome cleric whom it cannot deport, we are at risk of losing the human rights framework painstakingly erected after the second world war to protect us from state oppression and illegality, unwarranted intrusion and arbitrary interference in freedoms fought for over centuries – a framework the justice ministry describes on its website as "fundamentally important in maintaining a fair and civilised society" (PDF).
The Eastleigh effect
Some of the Tories’ recent proposals are clearly a response to UKIP’s showing at the Eastleigh by-election in February on an explicitly anti-EU, anti-immigration platform.
Populist measures announced since then include removing prisoners’ ability (through legal aid) to challenge the conditions of their incarceration; checking the immigration status of children at school, stopping migrants getting social housing; and restricting access to benefits and the NHS for EU nationals, to stop ‘benefit tourism’ (targeting in particular the Romanians and Bulgarians who, Cameron claimed in March, are preparing to swarm in and sign on as soon as restrictions on their employment in the UK are lifted on 1 January 2014).
EU employment commissioner László Andor warned Cameron his claims were ‘unintelligent’ and risked pandering to "knee-jerk xenophobia", and Nils Muižnieks, Europe’s human rights commissioner, accused him of "shameful rhetoric" which was "fuelling stereotypes and hostility towards migrants". But in the context of the increasingly naked attacks on the rights and living standards of demonised groups – a category which seems to be ever expanding to include all poor people – the possibility of leaving Europe’s human rights system no longer seems so remote.
Greece under the colonels
The Convention allows signatory states to withdraw on six months’ notice, but the only precedent is Greece, which withdrew from the Convention and from the Council of Europe (the 47-state group of states which oversees human rights in Europe) from 1970 to 1974, under the dictatorship of the colonels.
The UK would probably have to withdraw from the Council of Europe too, as all members are expected to comply with the human rights standards set out in the Convention. When justice minister Chris Grayling advocated repeal of the Human Rights Act and a radical reduction in the influence of the European Court, the attorney-general warned him that Britain could become a pariah state like Belarus, the only European country currently outside the Convention and the Council of Europe.
But the implications go further. Senior lawyers and judges have pointed out that deporting Abu Qatada would put into question Britain’s membership of the European Union, which requires adherence to its values by member states (some Eurosceptics would welcome leaving the EU, having pushed Cameron into pledging a referendum on the issue in a majority Tory government), and of the United Nations, whose Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Convention Against Torture both prohibit exposing someone to a trial tainted by torture evidence. And of course, the Human Rights Act, which requires Britain’s laws and decisions to be compatible with the human rights set out in the Convention, would have to go.
Attack on universality
Abu Qatada represents the hard case, the most demonised demon in the Right’s campaign against the universality of human rights, but not the only one. In January 2013, human rights commissioner Muižnieks singled out the UK for special criticism over its continuing refusal to comply with the court’s 2005 ruling on votes for prisoners, "openly challenging the essence of the European human rights system" of which it was a founding member. (See Hirst v. the United Kingdom (no. 2) (74025/01), 6.10.05.)
The only other states singled out in the Commissioner’s survey of the state of human rights protection in Europe were Azerbaijan, Hungary, Russia and Greece.
Cameron said in November 2012 that the thought of prisoners voting made him "physically sick", a stance in keeping with a divisive, punitive polity which is content to cast prisoners – along with foreign offenders, asylum seekers, Muslims, Romanians, Bulgarians and welfare ‘scroungers’ – as outcasts and non-persons.
So although a new bill on prisoner voting presented to parliament later that month offered MPs three options: a voting ban for prisoners serving four years or more; for those serving six months or more; or for all serving prisoners (ie, maintaining the status quo, which the European Court has said is illegal), Grayling and Cameron made no bones about their preference, which is the third option. (The bill has gone to a parliamentary committee; MPs will vote on it later. Meanwhile over 2,500 complaints by prisoners are awaiting hearing at the European Court, which has adjourned them until September to see what the British government will do.)
Foreign offenders’ ability to avoid deportation by the invocation of rights to family life is another issue that ignites the Right’s fury. Last year, May and justice minister Ken Clarke (since removed as too liberal) sought to renegotiate the European human rights system to reduce the Human Rights Court’s scrutiny of deportation decisions, and their Brighton Declaration, adopted in April 2012, promised to make complaints to the Court more difficult to initiate and harder to win.
But without waiting for these changes to be implemented, May brought in new immigration rules in July 2012, seeking to limit British judges’ ability to take family life into account in deportation appeals. The judges (who are not soft touches when it comes to the human rights of foreign national offenders) rebuked her. The Convention, not her new rules, determined what would and would not violate deportees’ family life rights under the Convention, they reminded her, and moreover her rules ignored children’s rights, in breach of the UK’s obligations under the UN Children’s Rights Convention. (See MF (Nigeria) v SSHD  UKUT 393 (IAC), 31.10.12, and Ogundimu v SSHD  UKUT 60 (IAC), 18.2.13).
Despite the drop both in crime and in the proportion of offenders who are foreign, May now proposes primary legislation further limiting foreign deportees’ family life rights. But as long as Britain subscribes to the European human rights court, anyone facing deportation can go there to complain that British law penalises them disproportionately. That is why, in March, she rejected as counter-productive Dominic Raab’s legislative proposal to effectively abolish family life rights for those facing deportation, incurring the wrath of right-wingers in her own party. (See "The strange case of the Raab amendment", The Justice Gap, and Mark Reckless's blog "Home secretary falls at first hurdle").
Cameron notoriously described the Court as a "small claims court" when it stopped Abu Qatada’s deportation, but it is this individual right of petition direct to the Strasbourg court which has made Europe’s system so (relatively) effective in human rights protection.
The commissioner’s and the judges’ intervention in the debate are an indication of just how worrying is the government’s assertion of a nineteenth-century view of British sovereignty and its rhetorical denunciation of the universality of human rights and the institutions designed to protect them, in its frantic pursuit of the right-wing vote.Abu Qatada, British justice and human rights Two fingers to the court: why right-wing criticism of the ECtHR is misguided Re-thinking detention without trial Time to end exceptional security policies targeting Muslims: they don't work
Our Proposal for Changing the System and not the Climate
The capitalist system has exploited and abused nature, pushing the planet to its limits, so much so that the system has accelerated dangerous and fundamental changes in the climate.
Today, the severity and multiplicity of weather changes – characterized by droughts, desertification, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, forest fires and the melting of glaciers and sea ice – indicate that the planet is burning. These extreme changes have direct impacts on humans through the loss of lives, livelihoods, crops and homes, all of which have led to human displacement in the form of forced migration and climate refugees on a massive and unprecedented scale.
Humanity and nature are now standing at a precipice. We can stand idle and continue the march into an abysmal future too dire to imagine, or we can take action and reclaim a future that we have all hoped for.
We will not stand idle. We will not allow the capitalist system to burn us all. We will take action and address the root causes of climate change by changing the system. The time has come to stop talking and to take action.
We must nurture, support, strengthen and increase the scale of grassroots organizing in all places, but in particular in frontline battlegrounds where the stakes are the highest.
System Change means:
• Leave more than two thirds of fossil fuel reserves under the soil, as well as beneath the ocean floor, in order to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change.
• Ban all new exploration and exploitation of oil, tar sands, oil shale, coal, uranium, and natural gas.
• Support a just transition for workers and communities away from the extreme energy economy and into resilient local economies based on social, economic and environmental justice.
• Decentralize the generation and ownership of energy under local community control using renewable sources of energy. Invest in community-based, small-scale, local energy infrastructure.
• Stop building mega and unnecessary infrastructure projects that do not benefit the population and are net contributors to greenhouse gasses like, mega-dams, excessive huge highways, large-scale centralized energy projects, and superfluous massive airports.
• End the dominance of export-based industrial forms of food production, (including in the livestock sector), and promote small-scale integrated and ecologically sound farming and an agriculture system that ensures food sovereignty, and that locally grown crops meet the nutritional and cultural needs of the local community. These measures will help to cool the planet.
• Adopt Zero Waste approaches through promoting comprehensive recycling and composting programs that end the use of greenhouse gas emitting incinerators – including new generation hi-tech incinerators – and landfills.
• Stop land grabbing and respect the rights of small farmers, peasants and women. Recognize the collective rights of indigenous and tribal peoples consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including their rights to their lands and territories.
• Develop economic strategies that create new kinds of ‘climate jobs' - decent paying jobs that directly contribute to carbon reductions - in such sectors as renewable energy, agriculture, public transportation and building retrofits.
• Recover the control of the public sources to finance projects for people and nature like health, education, food, employment, housing, restoration of water sheds, conservation and restoration of forest and other ecosystems and others and stop the subsidies to dirty industries, agribusiness and military industry.
• Take cars off the roads by building clean public transport infrastructure that is adaptive to local, non-combustion energy sources, and make it accessible and affordable to everyone.
• Promote local production and consumption of durable goods to satisfy the fundamental needs of the people and avoid the transport of goods that can be produced locally.
• Stop and reverse corporate driven free trade and investments agreements that promote trade for profit and destroy the labour force, nature and the capacity of nations to define their own policies.
• Stop the corporate capture of the economy and natural resources for the profit of Transnational Corporations.
• Dismantle the war industry and military infrastructure in order to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of warfare, and divert war budgets to promote genuine peace.
With these measures we will be able to achieve comprehensive employment for all because built into this systemic change there will be more and better quality jobs than currently exist within the capitalist system. With these measures we will be able to build an economy that serves the people and not the capitalists. We will stop the endless degradation of the earth's land, air, and water and preserve the health of humans and the vital cycles of nature. We will avoid forced migration and millions of climate refugees.
System change requires an end to the global empire of transnational corporations and banks. Only a society that has the type of democratic control over resources which is based on workers (including migrant workers), indigenous and women's rights and respects the sovereignty of the people will be able to guarantee economic, social and environmental justice. System Change requires a break from the patriarchal society in order to guarantee women's rights in all aspects of life. Feminism and ecology are key components of the new society that we are fighting for.
We need a new system that seeks harmony between humans and nature and not an endless growth model that the capitalist system promotes in order to make more and more profit. Mother Earth and her natural resources cannot sustain the consumption and production needs of this modern industrialized society. We require a new system that addresses the needs of the majority and not of the few. We need a redistribution of the wealth that is now controlled by the 1%. And we also need a new definition of wellbeing and prosperity for all life on the planet under the limits of our Mother Earth.
While there will still be a battle inside the international UN climate negotiations, the main battlegrounds will be outside and will be rooted in the places where there are frontline struggles against the fossil fuel industry, industrial agriculture, deforestation, industrial pollution, carbon offsets schemes, and REDD-type carbon offsets projects, all resulting in land and water grabbing and displacements taking place all over the world.
The United States, Europe, Japan, Russia and other industrialized countries, as the main historical carbon emitters, should implement the biggest emissions reductions. China, India, Brazil, South Africa and other emerging economies should also have targets for emission reductions based on the principles of common but differentiated responsibility. We do not accept that on behalf of the right to development several projects for more unsustainable consumption and exploitation of nature are being promoted in developing countries only to benefit the profits of the 1%.
The fight for a new system is also the struggle against false solutions to climate change. If we don't stop them they will disrupt the Earth's System and deeply affect the health of nature and all life. We therefore reject techno-fix “solutions” like geo-engineering, genetically modified organisms, agrofuels, industrial bioenergy, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, hydraulic fracturation (fracking), nuclear projects, waste-to-energy generation based on incineration, and others.
We are also in opposition to those proposals that want to expand the commodification, financialization and privatization of the functions of nature through the so-called “green economy” which places a price on nature and creates new derivative markets that will only increase inequality and expedite the destruction of nature. We cannot put the future of nature and humanity in the hands of financial speculative mechanisms like carbon trading and REDD. We echo and amplify the many voices that are urging the European Union to scrap the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), like Clean Development Mechanisms, is not a solution to climate change and is a new form of colonialism. In defense of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and the environment, we reject REDD+ and the grabbing of the forests, farmlands, soils, mangroves, marine algae and oceans of the world which act as sponges for greenhouse gas pollution. REDD and its potential expansion constitutes a worldwide counter-agrarian reform which perverts and twists the task of growing food into a process of “farming carbon” called Climate Smart Agriculture.
We must link social and environmental struggles, bring together rural and urban communities, and combine local and global initiatives so that we can unite together in a common struggle. We must use all diverse forms of resistance. We must build a movement that is based on the daily life of people that guarantees democracy at all stages of societies.
Many proposals already contain key elements needed to build new systemic alternatives. Some examples include, Buen Vivir, defending the commons, respecting Indigenous territories and community conserved areas, the rights of Mother Earth – rights of Nature, food sovereignty, prosperity without growth, de-globalization, the happiness index, the duties to and rights of future generations, the Peoples Agreement of Cochabamba and others.
We have all long hoped for the possibility of another world. Today, we take that hope and turn it into courage, strength and action - that together, we can change the system. If there is to be a future for humanity, we need to fight for it right now.
Signed by the facilitators of the Climate Space
Alliance of Progressive Labor, Philippines
Ecologistas en Acción
Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria
Focus on the Global South
Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power and end TNCs' impunity
Global Forest Coalition
Grassroots Global Justice Alliance
Grupo de Reflexão e Apoio ao Processo do Fórum Social Mundial
Indigenous Environmental Network
La Via Campesina
No-REDD Africa Network
Migrants Rights International
China has been anything but immune to environmental criticisms in the past: from Melamine-tainted milk powder, to exploding watermelons, to pesticide-riddled vegetables and antibiotic-induced chickens; the country has already gained a negative environmental track record.
The newest alarming and strange episode involves thousands of pig, dog and duck carcasses found throughout Mainland China. Most recently, in early April, a total of 410 pig and 122 dog carcasses have been found in homes and farms in the village of Dongtun in Yanshi city, central Henan province.
This event occurred very shortly after more than 11,000 pigs were pulled from the Huangpu river in early March and then another 5,600 carcasses were discovered in neighbouring province, Jiaxing. Around 1,000 dead ducks were also found in the Southwestern province of Sichuan in the Nanhe River.
The government received copious amounts of criticism from bloggers for its slow response and explanations for the cause of the mass deaths.
It was first thought that the animals may have died of fumes radiating from nearby chemical factories. Though, after the factories were shut down for thorough investigation, it was revealed that this was not the cause of death. According to state media, it was determined by early lab results to be a specific brand of swine flu known as “porcine cicovirus” that killed the pigs in Huangpu. However, officials reassured that humans could not contract it and that the water had not been contaminated, as the Huangpu river supplies twenty percent of Shanghai's twenty-three million residents with tap water.
They explained that this phenomenon was due to increased regulation of the meat market, rather than its opposite. farmers selling dead animals that are later sold for consumption was common practice, now discontinued due to the intensification of regulations on the quality of meat.
On March 23, the state-run China Central Television (CCTV) revealed how illegally processed animals—notably pigs—have been sold on the black market for years. Instead of sending animals that die of disease to processing pits—as the law states—black market dealers buy the carcasses off of farmers and sell them for consumption. Forty-six people in Eastern Zhejiang province were arrested earlier in March for processing and selling meat from diseased animals. It was reported that the main instigator for illegally purchasing, slaughtering and selling the meat was charged with six and a half years of prison and fined 800,000 Yuan.
It is because of this crackdown that people have resorted to dumping the carcasses into the nearest body of water. Officials have been asserting that this is a sign that food regulations are improving.
Because an outbreak of a new avian flu strain deemed H7N9 surged suspiciously in tangent with these events, it had been thought that the two were possibly related. Officials have denied this relationship, stating that neither had anything to do with the other.
The H7N9 virus has killed around 23 people and infected 110 in Mainland China, but no evidence thus far has shown that it has spread between humans. Most of the cases were detected in eastern China, though there was also one case in Taiwan. Officials confirmed another outbreak in the central province of Hunan, and another in southern China. A diagnostic test and clinical trials to identify the virus are underway and due in July and August.
Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has praised the government for the manner in which it has handled this outbreak in contrast to when it was accused of denying the severity of the scale of the acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis in 2002-2003. “I am quite satisfied with the Chinese response” he has said, adding that the transparency has been “excellent.”
Whether or not the disposal of diseased carcasses and the virus outbreak were connected, the scandal arose amid growing concerns over the country's environment such as recent record smog levels in Beijing, and water and air pollution affecting nearby villages. It also aggravates the severe water quality issues, as Greenpeace East Asia estimated that 320 million people in the country lack access to clean drinking water. Out of a possible 118 cities, 64 were considered to have a “seriously contaminated” groundwater supply according to a 2011 study by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
Any attempt to organize protests over the event's environmental consequences has been quelled over the months since the first discovery of carcasses was made. A Shanghai poet, Pan Ting, posting a call online for a mass walk along the Huangpu river. Soon after, she was called and detained for questioning by the police. She later posted, “I feel very disappointed. You even shut out a voice concerned about local pollution and your own lives.”
It is left to be known what effect the H7N9 outbreak will ultimately have However, what is certain is that thousands of diseased carcasses in China's rivers can do nothing but harm the country's water supply.
Earlier this month the United Kingdom laid its longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century to R.I.P. However, the nation is divided over whether this stands for Rest In Peace, or Rest In Pieces.
Rejected from a job (long before her premiership) for being ‘dangerously self-opinionated', it isn't surprising that the severe policies Margaret Thatcher implemented during her reign as Prime Minister are as fiercely divisive now as they were twenty years ago.
What is surprising, however, is that the first – and only – female Prime Minister of a country can be such a controversial feminist role model. Whether it's because she was not womanly enough, or unsympathetic to women's rights, many are unhappy with the inclusion of Thatcher in any sort of feminist agenda. On some level, this feminist backlash is understandable – the woman being remembered as the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is also the same woman who will be remembered for saying “The feminists hate me, don't they? And I don't blame them. For I hate feminism.”
Upon hearing the news of her death, more than a few U.K. cities held parties in celebration. To many, Thatcher's policies are a bitter memory that people would rather forget than commemorate. Trade unions were crippled during her time in power, costing entire communities tens of thousands of jobs, and her opposition to sanctions on South Africa and refusal to recognize the African National Congress as anything other than a terrorist organization are just a few reasons to regard her political legacy negatively.
Even David Cameron's attempt at a parliamentary debate on Thatcher's legacy did not turn out to be quite the tribute he had in mind, with many left-wing MPs criticizing her policies more vehemently than he expected. As Labour MP David Winnick said, her policies “caused immense pain and suffering to ordinary people.”
During the debate, Labour MP Glenda Jackson's 7-minute speech began with a tirade against the late Prime Minister's policies. Given Jackson's position on the left of the U.K. political spectrum, the reasons for her condemnation of ‘Thatcherism' were clear. However, her speech ended with the conclusion: “The first Prime Minister of female gender, OK. But a woman? Not on my terms.” The relevance of Thatcher's ‘womanliness' to the debate was less easy to understand.
If a woman does a bad job as Prime Minister, does she simply not count as a legitimate woman or politician? If she doesn't live up to society's expectations, should society wait and hope that, next time, the woman elected to govern the nation is a better embodiment of what we expect from a pioneering political female – a more likeable, strident supporter of the feminist cause?
If so, Thatcher can be consigned to history as a disappointing first draft of what a female Prime Minister is expected to be.
However, the fact that poor policy decisions are still being equated with the gender of the person deciding them shows that the feminist movement still has a lot left to fight for. In Thatcher's early years, women fighting for gender equality were quick to condemn the misogynistic ‘Ditch the Bitch' anti-Thatcher campaign, despite a firm hatred for her policies. Yet in the week following her death, the song ‘Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead' claimed a top five position in the UK music charts, without strong objection to its misogynistic undertones.
The attacks on Thatcher's gender are coming from both sides. Feminists have written about her legacy as one that was disappointing and contributed little to the struggle for gender equality, when it had the potential to contribute so much. The metaphor of ‘smashing the glass ceiling' has been modified to suit Thatcher specifically: she climbed through it and pulled the ladder up with her. To many, her gender and achievements matter less than her attitude and beliefs. They would contend that a woman who described feminism as ‘poison' simply can't be counted as a feminist role model – not even an unwitting one.
A final tension arises between Thatcher's position as head of the Tory Conservative party and feminism. From a theoretical perspective, it is hard to reconcile feminism with conservative political values and policies. A classic example of this tension is that Thatcher herself was unsupportive of ‘workplace crèches' – day-care facilities in the office – that would help women work and raise children at the same time.
When she was 26 years old, Thatcher published an article entitled Wake Up, Women. It expressed her optimism that Queen Elizabeth II's reign could ‘remove the last shreds of prejudice against women aspiring to the highest places'. She went on to say that she hoped women could start to combine careers and marriages – it just wasn't the state's responsibility to help them with it.
Margaret Thatcher was an ambitious and powerful woman, a self-professed hater of feminism, a Prime Minister, and a Conservative. The United Kingdom chose, albeit with some protests, to commemorate her with a full military honors funeral. Her case forces feminists to ask themselves: does feminism support the achievements of all women, or only fellow feminists?
In either case, Margaret Thatcher is still the only female Prime Minister of the UK to date. Hopefully, this fact will change in the near future.
Since the beginning of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, a total of 189,000 people have died as a direct cause of the war. The numbers include American and allied troops, opposition forces, journalists, humanitarian workers, and American contractors. Most significantly, 134,000 of the 189,000 deaths are Iraqi civilians. These are the findings of the Brown University Costs of War study, foreboding that the number of civilian deaths is likely to double when a more accurate count is attained.
Further, indirect causes of death, such as the devastation of the health care and water utility systems, will remain for Iraqis long after the violence ceases. The overall picture of Iraq is one of a humanitarian crisis for several reasons, many of which are described below. This is but a snapshot of Iraq now that the US has pulled its military occupation out of the country, and left the population with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's authoritarian regime.
The Cancer Epidemic
The cancer rate has dramatically increased in Iraq as a result of the chemicals used by the U.S. army during warfare, such as depleted uranium and white phosphorous. The rate of registered cancer cases went from 40 to 800 people out of 100,000 following the First Gulf War. During the second U.S. invasion in 2005, the rate astonishingly doubled to 1,600 registered cases out of 100,000 people, which is considered to be an underestimate.
Even more astonishing are the cases of terrible congenital malformations, taking place in Fallujah, where in 2004 both white phosphorous and depleted uranium were used in two separate attacks. The most disturbing defects include babies born with one eye in the centre of their face, with internal organs on the outside of their body, with two heads, and born dead. Others include babies born with severe immune system, central nervous system, skeletal and heart dysfunctions, as well as cases that are yet to be assigned medical terms.
To put it into perspective, between 2007 and 2010, over fifty percentof the babies born in Fallujah had a congenital malformation, in contrast with a rate of under two per cent in 2000. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, author of a study on the epidemic of congenital malformations in Iraq, explains that "as long as the environment is not cleaned, as long as the source of this public contamination is not found and as long as people are exposed to it periodically on a daily basis, ... [the epidemic of rare congenital birth defects] will persist. And what we can see is that they are actually increasing." It follows that the US should clean the environment of the metals they have contaminated Iraqi soil with.
Imprisonment, Torture and Executions
Under the notorious Article Four, Maliki's security forces canarrest and detain people merely suspected of terrorism. "Maliki's jails" are known for torturing their detainees. Among the methods used is the repeated rape of men and women, sometimes with objects like bottles and brooms. Prisoners can be tortured until confession of their alleged crimes, which in some cases is broadcast on national television in order to instill fear in and thus silence the population. This is especially significant given the current protests against Maliki's Shia dominated militia, particularly among the repressed Sunni population.
Not only does Article Four make it all too easy for government security officials to arrest civilians without a fair trial, but with the reinstatement of capital punishment in 2005, Iraq is the world's leading country in executions. Human Rights Watch's Joe Stork maintains that "the Iraqi authorities' insistence on carrying out this outrageous string of executions, while unwilling to reveal all but the barest of information, underlines the opaque and troubling nature of Iraq's justice system." The execution rate is so high because it can be applied to a variety of about fifty crimes. Combined with the vague nature of what it means to be suspected of terrorism, government forces have grounds to arrest and detain virtually anyone they please.
Women's Rights Take a Left Turn
Journalist Rania Khalek argues that the extremist Islamist parties empowered by the Bush administration (i.e. Maliki's party) and the ensuing sectarian violence have attacked women's rights. The conflict during the invasion led to the kidnapping of 4,000 women and girls to be sold into the sex trade, often trafficked into neighboring countries. The US took down Iraq's security structures along with Saddam Hussein, leaving large numbers of widowed women and orphaned children still vulnerable to the sex trade. Moreover, Islamic militants have carried out mass killings of sex workers, imposing a catch-22 on women and girls forced into the sex trade by violence in the first place.
The situation is absolutely deplorable considering women's rights in pre-war Iraq were amid the most advanced in the region, comparable to North American women's quality of life. With women's rights enshrined into the Iraqi constitution in 1970 and Saddam's adamant stance on quality education and eradicating illiteracy, women were holding high professional positions and running for office. Rania's overall point is that Iraqi women are worse off today than under Saddam's regime, women's rights having been repealed some seventy years.
Refugees and IDPs
Brown University's study indicates that there are 1.3 million internally displaced people (IDPs) within Iraq, and 1.4 million Iraqis who have sought refuge in neighboring and Western countries. Iraqi refugees within the Middle-East: Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Iran, are enduring their worsening situation as the resources in those countries are being stretched.
Within Iraq, Maliki endeavours to bring down the IDP numbers, though not with a sustainable solution to the problem. Maliki wants to buy his way into closing IDP files. The government is offering a cash sum of $3,430 for IDPs to resettle in their homes, or $2,145 to settle in their current location. Not only is this a band-aid solution to the IDP crisis, but it is not even viable in terms of the current budget. Further, the number of IDPs, and thus the extent of the problem, is likely underestimated since many are not registered. Many Iraqis do not want to move back to their homes because they have nothing to draw them there, or because the sectarian violence does not permit them to.
The Resulting Picture
Many Iraqis who supported the taking down of Saddam feel like their security is in more danger post-invasion, that their situation is worse than under Saddam's Ba'ath regime. The US seems to have created a mess it is not willing to clean up, after having declared war on Iraq under false pretenses. As such, the global picture of Iraq today illustrates countless human rights abuses, one which the public largely does not see because it is not at the forefront of mainstream media.
CNN and Fox News together have reported but three hours and twenty-six minutes dedicated to the ten year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (counting throughout March 18 to 20), less than MSNBC's alone, which spent four hours and thirty five minutes on the topic. Mediamatters.org, which gathered the data, stresses that the quality of the information reported is just as worrisome as the lack of time spent covering the topic. They hint that the opinions were often defending the war or questioning the validity of arguments skeptical of the war. As such, the image that is being disseminated by the ubiquitous corporate mainstream news outlets is inaccurate since it severely understates the gravity of the damage caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq. Maybe the US will take responsibility for these injustices the day the American public and the international community will hold them accountable.
In considering the growing threats of climate change, and the exploitation and mismanagement of natural resources' impact on the phenomenon, water as a natural resource is often overlooked. While the global community shares a collective interest in preserving sustainable access to fresh water, many governments and corporations continue to take one of our most essential resources for granted in the name of development and profit.
The international community's tendency to take water as a human right for granted is reflected in the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes no mention of water. This important omission was somewhat remedied through a decade-long campaign by the Council of Canadians and its Blue Planet Project to formally establish water and sanitation as a human right. On July 28, 2010 the UN General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that these are essential to the realization of all human rights (Resolution 64/292). Elaborating on this recognition, the UN asserts that these rights consist of having a sufficient, safe and acceptable supply of water that is accessible as well as affordable. Though recognizing these rights may be essential to the realization of all human rights, it can also serve to clearly identify those states that may be violating human rights as well.
Meera Karunananthan is a water campaigner with the Council of Canadians and Blue Planet Project, and spoke with Alternatives International Journal about water and sanitation as a human right in the context of Canadian governance. While acknowledging the victory in having the UN recognize the human right to water and sanitation, Karunananthan also asserts that, “we are in a context where we need to push for the implementation of the human right to water and sanitation.” Implementation means that water should be recognized in constitutions around the world and that these rights should be reflected in governance approaches to domestic policy.
Karunananthan also warns against corporations jumping on the water and sanitation bandwagon to protect and further their own interests; “we're in a place where corporations are adopting and co-opting that language in order to redefine the human right to water in a manner that fits with the neoliberal project. Be it privatization of water and sanitation services, or mechanisms to distribute water resources that are market-based so that corporations have greater access to water resources.” Opposing such attempts at redefining the right to water, she stresses that “water is not only a human right, it is a commons. It cannot be privatized, it cannot be sold for profit, nor can it be turned into a commodity. It belongs equally to all as a common resource.”
With the importance of transitioning from recognizing to implementing water and sanitation as a human right in mind, a delegation of Canadian groups, including the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Council of Canadians' Blue Planet Project, traveled to Geneva at the end of April to meet with UN representatives to “draw international attention to Canada's violations of the human right to water”. The delegation's trip coincided with Canada's Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council on April 26 and hopes to shed light on both the domestic and global impacts of Canada's negligence toward the human right to water and sanitation. Karunananthan pointed out that “Canada has traditionally blocked the recognition of water as a human right and has not supported the recognition of water as human right internationally until very recently. Canada is required to implement a national action plan on the human right to water and has failed to do so.”
One of the points of emphasis the delegation wants to bring to the UN's attention deals with the First Nations of Canada. “The condition in First Nations communities across the country is deplorable, a very high number of First Nations communities are living without access to drinking water and sanitation.” The Harper Conservatives are trying to remedy this by privatizing water services in some First Nations communities, which usually equates to inferior service and public access, as well as higher water rates.
Aside from this immediate violation of human rights toward a traditionally marginalized group of Canadians, Karunananthan also notes that, “Canada is also destroying water resources (undermining environmental regulations both in Canada and abroad) in aggressively promoting trade agreements and investment protection agreements. It is also undermining the capacity of governments abroad to protect their water resources.”
Canada's disregard for the human right to water and sanitation is somewhat blatant when one considers the direction the Harper Conservatives are taking with regard to the Canadian economy. The Alberta Tar Sands require enormous amounts of water for extraction operations and threaten vast supplies of fresh water through tailing ponds and pipeline transportation. Furthermore, the various trade agreements that Canada is party to put it in a position where corporations can sue the Canadian government if they feel environmental regulations are imposing on potential profits, meaning Canadians will have to foot the bill to keep their own fresh water clean. Also, Canadian mining companies have been left to self-regulate, which means that corners are cut abroad when it comes to environmental regulations getting in the way of profits, greatly affecting water supplies around the world. These realities reflect the fact that wealth and abundance, when mismanaged for short-term gain, can impose on and adversely affect the rights and freedoms of present and future generations.
The impact of the delegation that traveled to Geneva to expose Canada's human rights violations remains to be seen. However, acknowledging water and sanitation as a human right and accountability toward international commitments needs a much more immediate response.
From March 26-30, an estimated 50,000 people flocked to Tunisia to participate in the first World Social Forum to take place in the Arab world. The theme was dignity — a term that had become a battle cry during the revolutionary protests that took place throughout the region in 2010 and 2011.
Organizations working on water issues gathered a day earlier to hold discussions on the central role of water in the fight for human dignity. During the December 2010 protests in Tunisia that sparked the wave of revolutions in the Arab World, thousands had marched chanting, "Yes to bread and water! No to Ben Ali!" It was a clear message that the people would no longer tolerate a regime that denied them their basic rights.
Now, more than two years later, Ben Ali is gone, but the water and bread crisis is deepening as the interim government led by the right-wing Ennahda party prepares to sell off remaining public assets to multinational corporations, including a much coveted public water and sanitation system.
Until the revolution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had promoted the authoritarian state as a structural adjustment poster child. It was ranked first in the Arab World by the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index for having liberalized its economy by reducing tariffs and other trade barriers, privatized public assets, eliminated key food subsidies, repressed wages and adopted an investment code friendly to foreign capital.
When the revolution erupted, it told an entirely different story about the alienation of poor and working class Tunisians on whose backs the country had become "globally competitive".
When the revolution erupted, Ben Ali, who had already privatized 160 state-owned enterprises since the late '80s, was about to start selling off the country's water and sanitation services, SONEDE. According to Fourti Ridha, a representative of SONEDE who spoke at the water gathering, the public utility is one of the country's few success stories. The national public utility provides drinking water to 100 per cent of those living in urban areas and more than 90 per cent of rural Tunisia, achieving the highest access rate in the entire MENA region. As result, it is coveted by multinational water companies who would be able to walk in and claim the market with little investment.
It appears that what Ben Ali failed at, Ennahda would pursue. Despite the well-document evidence that water privatization has led to steep rate hikes, the loss of democratic control and often lower quality services enabling private corporations to maintain profit margins in other parts of the world — one need only look at the experiences in the Maghrebian cities of Rabat, Casablanca Tanger/Tetouan to see how privatization in this sector has affected the region — the Tunisian government appears to be pursuing the privatization of the water and sanitation utility.
Like elsewhere in the world, proponents of privatization use a discourse of water scarcity to argue that public management and lower tariffs are enabling Tunisians to be wasteful of their water resources. A French language newspaper recently ran an article arguing that years of subsidized water had made Tunisians wasteful and unaware of their plight within one of the world's most water -scarce regions.
Tunisia is the ninth most water-stressed country in the world according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Severe water shortages plague the entire Mediterranean region. 115 million people (close to a third of the population) live below the water poverty line of 1000 m3/year per capita, and 28 million people in the Mediterranean live in conditions of absolute water scarcity of less than 500 m3/year per capita.
But making Tunisians cede control of their water services to foreign multinationals who would charge them a higher price for water does not address the reality of Tunisia's water -guzzling industries that are the real culprit in the country's water crisis.
Phosphate, one of Tunisia's main exports, requires three cubic metres for every ton of phosphate concentrate mined. Gafsa, the region where phosphate is mined, has gone from oasis to a highly water-stressed region. The industry is now competing directly with the basic needs of the people of Gafsa. Recently, angered by water cuts, people took to the streets and clashed with police. Locals claim that tap water has also been contaminated by chemicals used by the phosphate industry forcing them to drink bottled water.
Now the Tunisian government is entertaining a highly contested proposal from Shell to explore for shale gas in the Kairouan region using hydraulic fracturing technology, which has been rejected throughout Europe and protested across North America for its impacts on groundwater. A growing number of communities in North America have documented contamination of drinking water by the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process.
Though Ben Ali has been ousted, his economic vision continues to be pursued by other actors who, much like their predecessor, have found strong external alliances. The EU has just signed a privileged partnership agreement with Tunisia to ensure continued market access and protection for its investments in the region.
For Tunisians demanding dignity, the battle continues. For communities to live without control of their water — whether we are talking about drinking water and sanitation services, or water supplies required to maintain food production and livelihoods — is the greatest attack on human dignity. It is why water is as central in the struggle for democracy in Tunisia as it is elsewhere in the world.
One Palestinian prisoner writes that the bravery in the Oscar-nominated documentary, denounced by the Israeli government as slander, affected even militant inmates, suggesting they could benefit from exposure to nonviolent literature.
The Palestinian security prisoners incarcerated in Hadarim Prison in Even Yehuda recently had the opportunity to watch the Oscar-nominated documentary “5 Broken Cameras,” about the protests against the separation fence in the West Bank town of Bil'in, not once but twice: on Israel's Channel 2 as well as on the Palestinian television station.
One of those prisoners did in fact watch the movie on both channels. Walid Daqa a 52-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel from Baaqa al-Gharbiyeh, followed, somewhat amused, the discussion over whether the documentary – which was co-directed by an Israeli and a Palestinian and criticized by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat as slandering Israel – qualified as an Israeli or Palestinian. But most of all, he was interested in the reactions of his fellow prisoners, as he wrote in a letter to his friend Anat Matar, a philosophy lecturer at Tel Aviv University and his pen pal of several years.
At a time when Palestinian prisoners are in the headlines for their deaths, whether during interrogation or due to cancer, hunger strikes, protests or stone throwing, Daqa's letter to Matar (written in Hebrew) offers a glimpse of the world of Palestinian prisoners from a different angle.
“The prisoners are a masculine society or subculture that praises and glorifies the values of aggressiveness and sees nonviolence as feminine,” wrote Daqa. “If a man espouses nonviolence, he is thought of almost as gay, as someone whose place is not among the freedom fighters. And of course, they don't see any contradiction between being freedom fighters and [supporting] the repression of a man's right to live how he wants, whether it's a gay man or anyone else.”
He continued, “The film has exposed the prisoners to something new. They suddenly discovered that the struggle of these ‘yuppies,' these ‘spineless' people from Bil'in and Na'alin, isn't simple at all, but demands faith and sacrifice, and bears with it not a little risk. And suddenly they discovered that standing exposed to the barrel of a rifle, without any means of defense, reflects courage and bravery that are far greater than the bravery required to stand behind a rifle. And I would add that in order to stand behind that rifle and be a good gunman, all you need is to be a coward and a person who lacks ethics and values.”
Daqa has been in jail for 27 years, since March 1986. In 1987, a military tribunal in Lod gave him a life sentence for his membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine cell that killed an Israel Defense Forces soldier, Moshe Tamam, in 1984.
Daqa has admitted to belonging to the cell, but continues to deny any connection to the murder. A fellow member of the cell who incriminated Daqa during questioning by the Shin Bet security service has since retracted this part of his statement, but the military tribunal dismissed Daqa's request for a retrial.
Over the years, Daqa has reached the conclusion that his social and national aspirations can be best expressed through membership in a group that is active in Israel – the Balad political party. He won a legal battle to get the Israel Prison Service to remove his classification as a member of the Popular Front, and his sentence was recently commuted to 37 years.
An “elder” who has been imprisoned for almost three decades, Daqa noted, “The movie changed the minds of many of the prisoners regarding the nonviolent popular struggle. From my perspective, the movie could be Israeli or Czech; what's important is that it shook up the prisoners' macho culture and militaristic outlook.”
“The question that remains unanswered and that prevents people from adopting the concept of a nonviolent struggle is whether such a struggle can advance [their] objectives and reach [their] goals,” he wrote. “There is a ton of literature in the jails that explains and glorifies armed struggle, but there aren't any books about Mahatma Gandhi, for instance, or the struggle of African-American citizens – Martin Luther King and others.
“If I were in the shoes of the Israeli culture minister, instead of condemning and attacking the movie and the directors, I would fund the purchase of books and studies about nonviolent struggle and flood the libraries of Israeli jails with that literature,” Daqa continued. “This movie can help prevent killing and fresh graves [from being dug] in this land.”
Israeli TV programs are one of the windows through which Daqa keeps up to date on Israeli society. On March 4, he wrote to Matar about watching the evening news, clicking between channels 2 and 10.
“Over the course of the news broadcast, during half an hour, incidents of racism were reported that, taken individually, were not sensational stories, but the mass [of such reports] on its own is frightening,” he wrote.
Daqa listed several news items: the attack on an Arab woman in Jerusalem by passersby; the attack on an Arab laborer in Tel Aviv; the similar attack two days prior on an Arab sanitation worker from Jaffa; the walkout of hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans from a soccer stadium when the team's Chechen Muslim player scored a goal, and the separate public transportations for settlers and Palestinian workers from the West Bank to Israel.
“If that's what made it into the headlines, it's reasonable to assume there are hundreds of incidents of racism that aren't reported, not to mention the demolition of homes in Jerusalem or the settlers' attacks on West Bank residents,” wrote Daqa. “This is a situation that requires urgent Arab-Jewish efforts. Not to come out with joint statements of condemnation and certainly not to use these incidents for political taunts, but to find the most practical ways of reducing the level of violence and making the majority see it as something contemptible.”
“This kind of discourse should not define the Israeli-Arab conflict,” he wrote. “Such a discourse is very popular among and welcomed by religious forces on both sides. Through such wordings, an extreme religious discourse is being imposed, and it overrides common sense and repels every possibility of resolution. Fascism, all fascism, thrives on hatred and the absence of rational thought and rational politics.”
I'm just going to come out and say it: North Korea is bad.
It's true. They're really bad. Like trouble making children.
But they're not the bully in the playground. They're much more like the child that tortures insects. The kid bullies avoid because they don't want to encounter that world of strange and bizarre. Plus, who knows what kind of filth could be picked up?
No, North Korea isn't threatening despite the gory, poetic insults they hurl at the South and the US. They aren't afraid of discipline or international sanctions, because quite frankly the people are already starving, and only physical confrontation with the elite and their yachts could register as punishment.
So they continue with their empty threats, and a foreign policy as internally damaging as their domestic one.
They have a nuclear test and launch a missile into the sea, all to gain attention for the new leader Kim Jong-un, and maybe because they haven't done that in a few years.
And then Western mass media hires graphic designers to draw circles on maps that demonstrate North Korea's missile launch radius, but the infograph doesn't accurately indicate how flawed a hostile missile launch from the North would be.
Consider US/South Korean war games and how they fly stealth nuclear bombers from Kansas high above the Korean peninsula dropping faux-bombs on fixed targets for aiming practice. And this isn't provocation, this is anticipating a defence. Just like how patriot missiles, missiles that seek and destroy other missiles, bombs essentially that blow up other bombs mid air, are defensive weapons and can't be used in an act of aggression.
Just like nuclear weapons.
The concept of nuclear deterrence is what makes North Korea strive for the nuclear bomb, not for the sake of carrying out nuclear kamikaze missions. It doesn't take a PhD in conflict resolution studies to realize that the only country to ever drop the atom bomb, which they did without any direct provocation or military threat, wouldn't bat an eyelash at retaliating against an act of nuclear war carried out by North Korea on one of its allies.
North Korea wants the bomb for the same reason that everyone else does: so no one can bomb them with impunity.
During the current 2013 Korean Crisis, the one head of state using the most common sense is Russia's Vladimir Putin with this quote alluding to a tangible concern.
"I would make no secret about it: we are worried about the escalation on the Korean peninsula, because we are neighbours. And if, God forbid, something happens, Chernobyl, which we all know a lot about, may seem like a child's fairy tale.”
The worst-case scenario for anyone who is reasonably minded – or as poli-sci students like to say, realists – is that while North Korea is building up its military for self-preservation they have an accident and self-inflict their own nuclear disaster.
In Fukushima, the world witnessed one of the most technologically advanced states experience a nuclear disaster due to mismanagement. A tsunami triggered it, but all the information was there that it should have been anticipated and planed accordingly. Fukushima was a human error, not a natural disaster.
Mark Hibbs, a senior associate in Carnegie's Nuclear Policy Program, explained in a press conference in Beijing last year that the Fukushima disaster was completely preventable, and it was human negligence for regulations and international safety standards, and ignoring past history of floods in the geographic area, that were the main causes of the disaster, and not the tsunami or nuclear energy in itself.
He didn't want to comment about North Korea's own nuclear ambitions, only to say that they are doing it alone without help from the international community (even Iran has Russian generators), and that North Korea's nuclear program is terrifying from the perspective of developing nuclear energy safely.
Whereas South Korea has nuclear energy powering a third of their grid with help from the US, politicians in the wake of Kim Jong-un's rhetoric are now considering developing their own nuclear weapons.
International cooperation is important for development, and North Korea's stubborn policy of juche (self-reliance) and isolationism is a self-inflicting wound.
Closing the Kaesong Industrial Region – where South Korean companies exploit the poverty of the north by employing them to one-fifth the minimum wage of South Korea – was a step backwards, and will cost millions of dollars a year for North Korean citizens. One of the few symbols of cooperation on the Korean Peninsula has been shelved.
Though China remains an ally, it should be troubling when a Chinese editor openly writes that reunification of the Korean peninsula may be in the region's best interest. He was fired from his job over those words: he strayed too far from the Communist party's views for the legalist regime - based on strict adherence to the order bestowed upon society- to let slide.
But China, North Korea's solution for obtaining agricultural produce and energy, is losing patience with their self-destructive nature. Kim Jong-un should go pay his due diligence to Beijing before he disrespects his most powerful asset and has to face the international community alone.
Snubbing China is just another, albeit less headline catching, imprudent mistake North Korea has made since Kim Jong-un came into power. China, the Kaesong industrial region, threatening their enemies: all of these actions are harming an already shell-shocked economy, and could eventually force a full on sell off of their collectables in the International Friendship Exhibition on Taobao (Chinese eBay).
Propaganda and cults of personality don't have a place in a free and prosperous society, even if they're prevalent to unhindered governing. We should all be able to make our own decisions regardless of what our courageous, god-fearing leaders would have us believe. But in the case of North Korea, it's more saddening to read the reports of what happens within the country than to see how they can manipulate a circus response out of the likes of the US, South Korea, and Japan.
Kim Jong-un is trying to make his own way, seemingly forgetting what his father and grandfather had accomplished. Kim Jong-un really wants to showcase his own unique style of despotism, however unheralded and miscalculated it may be.
Be that as it may, he still isn't insane or suicidal. He's rich, and hasn't experienced anything but a life of luxury. He wasn't a guerrilla fighter like his grandfather. He's a spoiled brat, and besides inflating his ego and creating his own chapter in North Korea's paternal totalitarian regime, he won't do anything that risks his luxurious lifestyle.
Let the kid with the magnifying glass burn ants by himself.
This verse is taken from Nnimmo Bassey's poem, I Will Not Dance To Your Beat (1), which he read at the opening ceremony of the World People's Conference on Climate Change, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on April 20, 2010.
The movement for climate justice recently met with some success, thanks to a small group of Nigerians whose country is the site of frequent environmental disasters (at least 300 oil spills per year). Supported by world-renowned environmental activist, Nnimmo Bassey, and the NGO Friends of the Earth, small farmers from the Niger Delta won a lawsuit on January 30th in the Hague Netherlands against Shell Oil Nigeria for pollution of soils and waterways in their home country(2). In addition to payment of legal fees, the judgment stipulated a scheduled cleanup of soils and waterways, which was at best sloppy in the past, as well as technical adjustments to the infrastructure.
This victory is the result of a long battle that, according to Bassey, sets an important precedent for future lawsuits against oil companies and the pollution they cause. Henceforth, multinational corporations may be liable in their countries of origin for the mismanagement of their foreign subsidiaries. The fact that Royal Dutch Shell, headquartered in The Hague, was convicted by a Dutch court of environmentally harmful conduct committed by its subsidiary in Nigeria is a breakthrough of great importance. It opens new legal avenues for Nigerian villagers faced with criminal negligence committed by major oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon, Total, and particularly Shell, which wield enormous influence over the Nigerian government and its military. Previous victories in Nigerian courts were poorly enforced by the local authorities letting oil multinationals off the hook. However, shirking legal decisions in their country of origin, is a much more difficult proposition for Big Oil.
Bassey has been involved in various social and environmental movements for over 30 years, and his career has been highlighted by a great many achievements. He was particularly active in denouncing the serious pollution caused by Shell in the Niger Delta. He helped internationalize this issue by launching Oilwatch Africa in 1996 to support local struggles against the oil companies in Nigeria, Chad, Congo, and Ghana. In 2005, he began one of his most important battles, which resulted in a decision by the Constitutional Court of his native Nigeria to ban flaring, a highly polluting technique used by oil companies for burning natural gas produced at oil extraction sites.
In 2010, he was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize, and in 2012, he published his highly-regarded book, To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa (3). In this book, Bassey demonstrates that the issues surrounding the exploitation of natural resources and climate change in Africa cannot be divorced from the neo-liberal logic of seeking maximum profit. According to Bassey, this predatory logic must be overcome in order to correct environmental depredation and cure the ills of today's civilization.
His work as Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria, as founder of Africa Oilwatch and president of Friends of the Earth International from 2008 to January 2013, has made Bassey one of the best-known figures in the international movement for climate justice (4) and a leading activist for human and environmental rights.
Nnimmo Bassey will be in Montreal to participate in the Festival of Solidarity on June 15, 2013. During the festival, he will discuss his ongoing struggle against big oil companies and ways to combat climate change in order to ensure environmental and social justice for the world's poorest people.
Register Now (http://crm.alternatives.ca/en/civicrm/event/info) to be at the event on June 15 at Usine C, 1345 Avenue Lalonde, Montreal
1) To read the complete version of the poem: http://oilsandstruth.org/i-will-not-dance-your-beat-poem-nnimmo-bassey
Also available in the collection of poems I Will Not Dance to Your Beat, published in 2011 by Kraft Books, Nigeria.
2) See Dutch court says Shell responsible for Nigeria spills from Reuters website, January 30, 2013: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/30/us-shell-nigeria-lawsuit-idUSBRE90S16X20130130
3) To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa, Nnimmo Bassey, Pambazuka Books, Cape Town, 2011
4) See Nnimmo Bassey, un écologiste contre les pétroliers, By Hervé Kempf, Le Monde, September 28, 2012: http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2012/09/28/nnimmo-bassey-un-ecologiste-contre-les-petroliers_1767332_3244.html
The Western ideal of democracy has been put in jeopardy since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, especially in the European Union. The World has learned, that when the capitalist system is endangered, everything will be done—even in the democratic European model—in order to achieve stability and economic growth. What the leaders seem to forget are the consequences of this crisis management for ordinary citizens, and the resulting lack of resources to make their voices heard and to keep their governments accountable.
Greece, Italy and Spain, for instance, have been forced to implement economic and social reforms, struggling to get by their huge debts and mismanagement of public funds. Domestically, their governments are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Before the crisis in Spain, the government reduced corporate taxes (among others), optimistic about the economic growth, confident that the market would regulate itself and that lower taxes were the solution. However, when the economy collapsed, it chose to reduce social expenditures instead of reinstituting enterprise taxation. As a consequence, Spaniards' economic and social situation worsened. Unemployment reached a record of 6 million since 2008.
The housing bubble also brought terrible social consequences. There have been nearly 400,000 evictions since 2008; suicide rates increased and families are living in unacceptable precarious situations. In fact, the Spanish mortgage law allows the bank to seize property as soon as the borrower defaults on his payments, permitting thereby very speedy evictions. Moreover, even if the buyer has been evicted, they must still pay their mortgage back to the bank. Thus, in addition to being evicted and having to find a housing solution, Spaniards also have to deal with their mortgage debt through the Bank. The European Court of Justice itself recognized on March 14, 2013 that the country's legislation regarding mortgage was “abusive and violated the directive on consumer protection”.
Given the dramatic situation, many social organizations pressured the Spanish government. They asked Parliament to solve the housing/mortgage problematic by allowing a house's value to cancel the outstanding borrower's debt, by stopping residential evictions and by providing adequate social housing and reasonable rents.
The government refused to even allow the motion in Parliament!
In a supposed democratic country, this decision did not make any sense, considering that more than 80 percent of the Spanish population supported it. This refusal threatened the nature itself of the democratic concept in Spain. What can the people do if the government in power does not even allow Parliament to consider the proposed changes that are massively supported? Is it right that a large sum of people are suffering from a regulation that is profoundly unfair, and are condemned to silence in our so-called advanced model of democratic governance?
The answer is obvious.
And, then, Spaniards decided that the slogan used by Argentines against the direct violence of the State in the early 2000s was good enough for them: Si no justicia, hay escrache!
The Escrache concept refers to popular, autonomous and ethical justice. The word means: to expose, to uncover, and to bring to light. Escraches were initially social protests in Argentina used to denounce and condemn military and civilians that committed crimes during Argentina's dark period of dictatorship (1976-1983). Even if those individuals were prosecuted within the official justice system, there have been no real consequences to their crimes and many received official forgiveness from President Menem in October 1989 and December 1990. Feeling that official justice was failing to condemn those crimes, Argentines started Escraches as a peaceful public demonstration meant to inform and denounce the targeted individual's crimes. “After singing and shouting, the crowd disperses peacefully- mission achieved-the repressor is no longer living in peace.”
Finding no other solution, Spaniards are adapting and using Escraches to denounce the structural violence of the mortgage law and to hold their MPs accountable. Activists are following and harassing MPs, especially those of the Popular Party (PP;the conservative ruling party) even to their homes, shouting in their anger and dismay at a system they do not seem to influence: Yes, it can be done! (referring to the change of the mortgage law) but they don't want to (referring to politicians).
And it bothers them. A lot.
Some MPs have already threatened those activists, condemning their actions, taxing their activities as undemocratic. Isn't it ironic that this government, refusing to even consider a request massively supported by Spaniards, are taxing protesters' Escraches of undemocratic actions? They should certainly revisit the meaning of democracy.
The State also initiated new rules, ordering the police to keep the protestors at a distance of 300 meters to protect senior members of the PP. The PP is trying to criminalize Escraches, thereby limiting their actions and their right to ask for justice.
In a sense, it is true that Escraches could become a double-edged sword: individual attacks, even peaceful, could easily get out of control and become risky if they are too personal. However, truth is that there is actually a discontent about governance across the globe: the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street movement, and riots are all indicators of this malaise démocratique.
Are elections and freedom of speech sufficient means to provide democratic governance? Obviously not. Escraches in Spain demonstrates that citizens want to have their say on issues when it really matters, not only during the election period. Leaders should, by now, realize that power comes with a duty; to represent their people. And as long as Spaniards will not be heard, they will continue reminding leaders of their democratic duties.
Last November a law was passed in Russia requiring foreign-funded NGOs to register as ‘foreign agents’. This triggered a massive and unwieldy inspection programme, which has hit everyone from human rights activists to rescuers of stray dogs.
At a meeting with FSB leaders on 14 February, Vladimir Putin put an end to any doubts about his intention to implement his controversial ‘foreign agents’ bill. ‘We have a law’, he announced. ‘And we need to enforce it.’ With this instruction, Putin turned a poor law into a conspicuous and ugly witch-hunt. The heat (if you’ll excuse the pun) is now on, as the first ‘agents’ are paraded before the Russian public (and it is by no means just human rights organisations that are feeling it). The worst thing is that this law has set in motion yet another mechanism for the repression and harassment of anyone involved, however marginally, in civil activism.What to expect from an inspection
Russian NGOs are already very familiar with so-called ‘inspections’ by regulatory authorities. For many years now, they have submitted comprehensive and regular reports of their activities and finances to the Justice Ministry and other bodies. With a fraction of the resources, the voluntary sector is subject to as much paperwork and monitoring as the business world, if not more. Just imagine, then, to also, suddenly be subjected to inspection in connection with the ‘foreign agents’ law, to be accused of ‘extremism’ in your activity, and to be investigated under another such pretext - possibly all at the same time? That’s exactly the situation in which hundreds of Russian NGOs have been finding themselves since February.
Across Russia, small and understaffed organisations have become the subjects of inspection commissions. Led by officials from the Prosecutor’s Office, the commissions usually include representatives of the Justice Ministry and Tax authorities, and less frequently from the FSB, the Police, the Federal Migration Service (FMS), the Fire Service and so on. Some Moscow based organisations have also found a film crew from the NTV channel on their doorsteps. This happened, for example, at ‘Memorial’, when staff had to eject ‘reporters’ illegally attempting to film the inspection process.
One inspector spied something suspicious on a bookshelf – a volume whose title started with the words, ‘Polemical questions...’. ‘What’s this?’ he asked. ‘Polemical sounds almost like ‘political’’.
Here are just a few examples of what has been going on, memorable for their farciality (although of course there was little amusing about them).
In St Petersburg inspectors asked staff of NGOs to produce such arcane documents as a rat control certificate and proof that they had all undergone chest x-rays. At the St Petersburg Human Rights Resource Centre employees were asked about their rubbish disposal arrangements, and at the NGO Development Centre the inspectors assiduously photographed the spines of all books with titles in foreign languages.
In a Moscow organisation that runs academic exchange programmes, one of the inspectors also spied something suspicious on a bookshelf. It was a volume whose title started with the words ‘Polemical questions...’. ‘What’s this?’, asked the inspector. ‘Polemical sounds almost like ‘political’’.
One member of the auditing group visiting the Moscow office of an international NGO quietly asked its staff, in a moment of empathy, ‘You wouldn’t on the off chance know what we’re supposed to be finding here?’
The Russian Foreign Agents Law (an amendment to the Law on NGOs) came into force on 21st November 2012. It requires all foreign-funded NGOs involved in ‘political activity’ to register at the Russian Ministry of Justice as ‘foreign agents’. Organisations engaged in ‘activities relating to science, culture, the arts, health, social support, support for the disabled, environmental protection and philanthropy’ are, theoretically at least, not subject to the new law.
The law has attracted widespread criticism as being discriminatory, unlawful and unconstitutional. Most have noted that the phrase ‘political activity’ is ambiguous and can be used to encompass any activities that protect public interests. With its MI6 and James Bond undertones, many NGOs also find the ‘foreign agent’ label ethically unacceptable. The law represents a significant tightening of the screws on NGOs, and provides for the criminal prosecution of people working in the sector. Organisations that refuse to register as ‘foreign agents’ face various sanctions, up to and including closure.
In an interview on German television on 5 April, Vladimir Putin stated that ‘654 non-governmental organisations operating in the Russian Federation between January and April received a total of 28.3 billion roubles from abroad, almost $1 billion [£580 million], and 855 million roubles of that was channelled via diplomatic missions.’ Listening to the president, many people working in the Russian voluntary sector probably imagined that his aides had accidentally given him the wrong figures, and were confusing NGO funding with deposits by Russians in Cypriot bank accounts. No one has confirmed this, of course, and meanwhile the second half of April has seen a new wave of inspections, some of them repeats of earlier ones.
On 22 April, for example, inspectors returned to the Moscow offices of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, a well known NGO working with migrants. The reason for the visit was ‘information’ passed on to them from Georgy Fyodorov, a member of Russia’s Public Chamber. Officials from the Prosecutor’s Office and the FMS checked the IDs of everyone on the premises, given that Mr Fyodorov had claimed that the Forum was involved in ‘organising illegal immigration and the legalisation of illegal immigrants’. A day later other members of the Public Chamber passed a motion in support of Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of the Forum, but tellingly only nine of the Public Chamber’s 126 members signed the motion.
Inspections do not, of course, stop with human rights organisations. Judging by the growing number of NGOs who have been subjected to one, the main qualification for this honour is simply the receipt of foreign funding. ‘Perspectiva’, for example, an organisation working with disabled people and one of Russia’s leading NGOs, received a letter from its local Prosecutor’s Office in Moscow on 22 April. Just the day before, it had organised a grand dance marathon for people with disabilities, which included a collection towards funding for its support projects. Now it was faced with an administrative marathon: it was required to produce, within 20 hours, a huge list of documents going back three years, including everything relating to funding and any media publications.
‘In normal countries support [for disabled people] is provided by the state, whereas here all the state does is run checks on the people who provide the support.’ (NGO director)
You only have to call in at Perspectiva’s offices to see that there are no agents here, and that the organisation does immensely valuable work supporting disabled people in Russia. ’Perspectiva is a very important and professional organisation' agrees Natalya Taubina, director of‘Obshchestvenny Verdikt’ (Public Verdict), an organisation that provides free legal aid for victims of unlawful actions by the law enforcement authorities (of course, Public Verdict has not escaped inspection either). ‘In normal countries this support is provided by the state, whereas here all the state does is run checks on the people who provide the support’.
In the second phase of its inspection, ‘Memorial’ was asked to, produce, in the space of 24 hours, documents adding up to 8766 pages – the equivalent of ten copies of Tolstoy’s massive ‘War and Peace’. Although, frankly, the absurdities of the present situation are perhaps more reminiscent of writers such as Gogol or Kafka.
There is only one topic of conversation in Russia’s voluntary sector these days — who has been audited and who not. Those who haven’t yet had an inspection are preparing for one; those who have, for another one. In these circumstances it is very difficult to actually get on with the work the organisation was set up for in the first place.Only obeying orders
‘Today I was planning to visit Boris Yeltsin’s grave’, Georgy Satanov, head of the INDEM Foundation wrote on his Facebook page a couple of days ago. ‘But I, like others, had a second visitation from the inspectors, and had to go to work. Forgive them, Boris Nikolaevich; they are only obeying orders.’
Voluntary organisations are not, in fact, the only hostages to this situation. The authorities themselves have seen their workloads increase exponentially, forced to drop what they were doing and race around the country inspecting NGOs.
Igor Kalyapin, director of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee against Torture sympathises with the bureaucrats who were forced to inspect his organisation. ‘In Nizhny Novgorod’s central district alone there are 40 NGOs to be inspected over three years. The office of the local public prosecutor, who is responsible for the process, is simply disappearing under piles of documents. When she asked me to come for an interview, she said, ‘Come whenever you like – the weekend, in the evening, at night – whenever suits you.’ Her staff are being asked to get their heads round the totally unfamiliar activities of very specific organisations: among the NGOs on the list are the Hari Krishna group, the Jewish Cultural Centre, the environmental lot and the people who rescue stray dogs. I asked her why she hadn’t asked the Ministry of Justice for information about them – after all we all have to lodge our annual reports and accounts with them. Her answer? ‘We were told to get on with it ourselves.’Sign up as an agent
According to Tatyana Vagina, deputy director of the Justice Ministry’s NGO department, as of 15 April 528 inspections had taken place in 49 regions. None of them had been registered as a foreign agent; none of them had been judged to be involved in political activity. In the two weeks since then, however, the situation has changed considerably. NGOs have been receiving ‘warnings’ about the dire consequences of breaking the law and recommendations that they register as foreign agents.
On 25th April, Ms Vagina was in court for the first case brought against an NGO under the new law. The charge placed before the election watchdog Golos was that it had failed to register as a foreign agent. The organisation presented a convincing case that since the law came into force it had not received a penny of foreign funding, that its activities had nothing to do with politics, and so on. It was all to no avail - the organisation was fined 300,000 roubles (£6000) and its director Liliya Shibanova 100,000 roubles (£2000). Shibanova summed it up: ‘today was a test-drive for a plan to destroy every NGO in Russia.’
The most surprising thing about how the ‘foreign agent law’ has worked thus far is the indecent haste with which the authorities are ‘flushing out’ agents who do not even formally meet the definition of what is very controversial legislation. The sledgehammer seems to be working in a very hit-and-miss manner, forced to stretch the law in unbelievable directions. ‘People and the Law’, an NGO working in the Mari El Republic, has been advised to register as a foreign agent because its constitution includes a clause about ‘holding to account officials who infringe human rights’, a phrase interpreted to indicate ‘political activity’. ‘Help for people with Cystic Fibrosis’, meanwhile, has been taken to task by the Moscow region prosecutor’s office for having an founding objective to ‘promote the rights and legal interests of people with cystic fibrosis with the statutory authorities’.
'Even if your organisation has been cleared of ‘agent’ status, this doesn’t mean it’s off the hook. You can be fined if your office’s electrical wiring is too old, if you haven’t installed soundproofing or if you don’t have a sign advertising your opening hours.'
The Kostroma Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee has also fallen foul of the law because its members acted, in a private capacity, as election observers (again, before the law came in to force), while several environmental organisations (the Baikal Environmental Wave in Irkutsk; the ‘Green House’ in Khabarovsk, etc.) have also been told to register, even though it is difficult to classify their remit as political in the broad and amorphous definition used in the new law.
Even if an organisation has been cleared of ‘agent’ status, this doesn’t mean it’s off the hook. You can be fined, for example, if your office’s electrical wiring is too old, if you haven’t installed soundproofing or if you don’t have a sign advertising your opening hours. One regional organisation has just been fined a total of over 600,000 roubles (£12000) – more than many Russian NGOs’ annual turnover.
Clearly, some of these unlawful and impulsive decisions will be challenged and some will be overturned. There may even be an acknowledgement of officials acting in an overzealous fashion. Might we even dare to imagine that under a principle of ‘one step forward, two steps back’, this discriminatory law might even be repealed?
Alas, even if all this happens, it will be next to impossible to undo the harm caused by these few months of mudslinging and harassment. It has simply become very difficult for the Russian public to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ NGOs.
In the speech to FSB leaders that I quoted at the beginning of this article, Vladimir Putin stated that it is his government’s intention to support the development in Russia of a strong, competent and mature civil society. The process he had in mind will presumably begin only once Russia’s fledgling, self-reliant and self-nurturing civil society has been conclusively inspected and neutralised.Sideboxes Related stories: Russian NGOs: the funding realities Funding Russian NGOs: opportunity in a crisis? Russian government declares ‘cold war’ on civil society What do Russians think of their ‘foreign agents’? Why domestic philanthropy isn’t enough for Russian NGOs Country or region: Russia Topics: Civil society
Last month, I attended my first World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. I study social movements and teach about the WSF and the very different and more established annual scrum of the powerful in Davos: the World Economic Forum. I was eager to attend the 2013 WSF (26-30 March) because of its location, chosen by activists during the February 2011 World Social Forum in Dakar to honor the Tunisian Jasmine revolution that overthrew the Ben Ali regime. The WSF slogan, “Another World is Possible,” seemed especially meaningful.
Tunisians had inspired millions around the world, but especially people in the Arab countries of North Africa and west Asia. Their revolution sparked the hopes and energies of veteran and young activists in the region. It also helped produce tens of thousands of new activists who understood the Jasmine revolution as an invitation and opportunity to transform their lives and societies.
I went to Tunisia intending to blog each day of the WSF 2013. I was prepared with my excellent H2 digital fieldwork recorder, as well as a camera and laptop. I had also launched a new website that had taken many precious hours to create while only having two week prior to the WSF to familiarize myself with its use. I very early on recognized that attending the WSF would pose more than the usual fieldwork challenges. Nevertheless, there was a liberating aspect to approaching the event as a conference-festival combination rather than strictly a research trip. I knew from the beginning that the WSF experience would differ for me in comparison to most participants, since I attended as a curious academic observer rather than a representative of an activist organization or a longtime participant. In addition, it was not my intention to initiate a deep ethnography of the WSF (which is impossible for one scholar to accomplish).
In the time preceding the conference, I had to prime myself to get over my usual ethical discomfort with taking photographs, as well as my resistance to drawing unnecessary attention to myself while on research trips. However, I ultimately found the camera to be a crucial documentary and memory aid. This was particularly so given the noise level at the forum, the many languages and dialects spoken, the movement that marked even meetings and panels, and the multiplicity of agendas, messages, people, and images.
My best-laid plans to blog fell by the wayside as a result of the weak and spatially delimited Wi-Fi connection available at al-Manar University, where WSF-Tunis was held. My Tunisian hotel room as similarly plagued by an intermittent internet cable connection.
More significantly, it seemed impossible to determine “representative” people to speak with or focus on. Outside of panels I attended—wherein I took extensive notes—my camera became the most important tool. It allowed me a mechanism for quick visual documentation, which I sifted through and captioned every night without necessarily understanding (or pretending to understand) any given image or event in its full context. (Click here to access these photos and their captions.)
The People at the WSF 2013 Want Many Different Things…
As is well known, the first WSF was primarily organized by Brazilian leftists and held in January 2001 in Porto Alegre. The WSF, according to the Charter of Principles published in June 2002, gathered “from around the world groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth.”
The WSF has convened every year since 2001 in some form, at least six times of which were in Porto Alegre. Although, in some years the forum has been decentralized into a number of fora occurring in multiple settings in one time period to facilitate the participation of people in different parts of the world. Over the years, regional networks such as the US Social Forum, the Asian Social Forum, and the African Social Forum were built. These, not surprisingly, reflect the positional dynamics and priorities of their political fields and the activists themselves.
The WSF slogan, “another world is possible,” continues to indicate the importance of alternative, albeit internally plural and contested, articulations of living in a transnational world. This plurality and contestation is nevertheless explicitly non-violent, relying on words, images, passionate body language, and the constitution of space within the larger space—including dedicated tents, rooms, meetings at outdoor café tables, and impromptu marches, dances, and music-making that temporarily reconfigure the shared and between-spaces of the WSF. Clearly, the WSF remains a space of proximal, heterogeneous, and unruly gathering for multiply-oriented activists. In an article in the March-April 2002 issue of the New Left Review, Michael Hardt characterized the 2001 WSF as having “overflowing enormity … in the number of events, encounters and happenings."  In the April 2007 issue of the Journal of International Women's Studies Ara Wilson similarly described the 2005 Porto Alegre WSF as having a “cacophony of progressive agendas, …disparate spatiality, and … open-ended politics.” In WSF 2013 in Tunis, the unruly multiplicity included young anarchists from Africa, Europe, and elsewhere, who I witnessed erupt in joyous-angry chants and marches in open spaces at various points. I also photographed their anti-state, anti-police, and anti-capitalist graffiti on the walls of the forum space, and observed as they interrupted the anyway raucous Global Assembly of Movements on Friday night for being “capitaliste” and not radical enough.
Hardt observed that while the 2001 WSF was “populated” by a “multitude of protagonists,” the “most visible” political activities called for reinforcing “the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and global capital.” Given the sophistication and polish of the “Brazil” tent at the WSF 2013, which was the only space I observed that explicitly represented a state, I suspect that this orientation is particularly prominent when the WSF is held in Brazil. Although I cannot say for sure.
I would broadly and unsystematically categorize the events and discourses as divided between local, in-between, and transnational orientations: “Local” captures opposition to policies, laws, and practices of governments or corporations at the scale of town, city or country; “In-between” captures the appeals and projects of migratory, non-citizen, citizen-less, paperless, or refugee (recognized or not) individuals and groups; “Transnational” captures opposition to the practices and policies of multinational corporations, the UN, state-sponsors of imperialism or colonialism, and the national, international and regional capitalist banking and financial organizations that have so much power over all forms of life and livelihoods. Given the open and emergent spatial nature of the WSF, it required minimal attention for all these projects and activists to be exposed to each other.
For me, the WSF Tunis was a clamorous discursive and symbolic space of profuse messages that included a number of dynamics: challenges to the violence of capitalism and “world orders” built by imperialism, war, and economic and environmental theft; demands for national, ethnic, or indigenous recognition; and urgent appeals for a post-statist world of global citizenship, freedom, and mobility for millions who live precariously and often clandestinely in and between the world's geographic and legal margins, borders, refugee camps and prisons. Given the forum's location at the heart of the ongoing Arab revolutions, and my knowledge of Arabic, I paid particular attention in my photography and choice of panels to claims-making focused on economic, political, social, expressive, as well as embodied justice, freedom, and dignity in the region.
The WSF Tunis was a space where matters I was well-aware of in the Arab region were prominent: the intensifying life struggles by the laboring classes and the poor; continuing ethnic cleansing against Palestinians and expropriation of their resources by Israelis; violence and repression by authoritarian governments that continue to hold on in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, the UAE, and elsewhere; and the repressive geo-political, military, and economic practices of the United States and regional power-players such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In addition, Arab feminists focused on the continuation in some cases, and the rise in others, of physical, rhetorical, and legal assaults on women and women's rights—much of which but by no means all from religious fundamentalists, the latter called the “Ikhwanji” (Muslim Brotherhood), even in Tunisia.
Indeed, the multiple political and social realities of Tunisia itself really came into focus on the very last day of the forum. It was at that time that tens of thousands of Tunisians and other WSF participants were attending the closing concert of the forum, and a subsequent march to mark Palestinian Land Day on Rue Habib Bourghiba. I left these events early to purchase sweets from a local shop about three kilometres away (near the zoo) to gift a Tunisian colleague who had invited me to dinner that evening. From where I stood, every Tunisian within a two-block radius, including the disapproving owners of the sweets shop, could hear an imam lecturing Tunisian zoo attendees about women and culture using language that would be familiar to any listener from Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar, as well as to consumers of conservative Islamic radio and television programs focused on these very matters.
Absences and Presences
The WSF Tunis was a space of multigenerational presence, but boys, girls, young women, and young men—particularly from the Arab world and Tunisia—were especially conspicuous. There were less Black participants than I would have anticipated given the WSF's location in Tunisia (from where the moniker “Africa” emerged as a colonial label for the continent). In addition, there were few attendees from Iran as well as South or East Asia.
I surmised from various conversations that many activists who would wanted to attend did not do so out of fear of not being able to return where they would have left from. I heard of others who were excluded from entry by the Tunisian government. While women were certainly ubiquitous at the WSF, feminism was not a major focus, and even seemed marginalized rather than “uneven[ly]” integrated—as Wilson noticed was the case at the 2005 WSF. A scheduled women's tent searched for by many feminists at WSF Tunis was either never erected or taken down for reasons that were never clarified. One Tunisian woman I asked in the green tent area on the second day called it “discrimination,” and another elsewhere at the forum cited technical reasons that made no sense given the dominance of tents at the forum.
Co-existing with such marginalization was insistent inclusion of language challenging “patriarchy” and “retrograde and conservative forces” in WSF positions, banners, and chants, especially at the Global Assembly of Movements. The Social Movements Assembly Declaration does not use the words feminist or feminism, although it mentions the “overload of women's care work,” “the traffic of women, girls and boys,” and “violence against women … because they are considered objects or goods, because the sovereignty of their bodies and minds is not acknowledged.” The final sentence in the same point states: “We defend sexual diversity, the right to gender self-determination and we oppose all homophobia and sexist violence.”
In addition to observing the flows and patterns of the WSF as a whole, I attended a number of panels focused on the Arab revolutions. Here I will share some of what I learned from these events, which I organized by three evocative phrases: “Women first on the chopping block,” “Language is the avenue of exclusion,” and “Syrians do not want pity.”
Women First on the Chopping Block
At a panel on gendering constitutions, a Syrian feminist at the WSF argued that “women's rights were first on the agenda and chopping block” for many of the revolutionary militias that emerged with the uprising against the rule of Bashar al-Asad. This was so even when the revolutionaries were self-identified leftist or Marxist. In a similar vein, a Libyan woman new to political activism shared that Libyan women of all backgrounds have quickly realized that many men rhetorically resort to claims of “protection of the family” in response to women's demands for rights, but resist any restrictions on non-judicial divorce or plural marriage by men, which empirically “threaten the family” in Libya. Thus many Libyan women have become cynical about discourses that rationalize restricted rights for women on the basis of valorizing family life. They believe, rather, that the main motivation is to “consolidate male domination” in the new Libya.
There was a widespread sense among the Tunisian women I met that many Islamists and Salafists in the new Tunisia are obsessed with imposing family and gender norms that conform to a “complementarity” (takamul) logic of gendered dependence. Some conservatives, feminists contend, have questioned the very nature of women's humanity and seek to naturalize the idea that women are inferior to men (takrees duniyyat al-nisa). Tunisians activists I met reported that operatives of the al-Nahdha (ruling) party have accused professional activist women of being lesbians in order to delegitimize their engagement in public life, committed rape and other sexual violence against women and girls active in public spaces, and used racist discourse against dark-skinned feminist activists. In an al-Maghreb al-Youm op-ed discussing the situation in Tunisia after the revolution, Dr. Amel Grami—a feminist and professor of Islamic Studies at Manouba University in Tunis—characterized the Nahdha ruling party's conservative orientations to gender relations and rights as “patriarchal” and reflective of their “Islamawiyya ideology,” in accord with the instructions of their “brothers in the Gulf.” 
In an informal interview I conducted with Grami, she reinforced sentiments that other Tunisian women of different ages, ideologies, and classes also noted over the six days of my visit: male religious conservatives are arguing for legalization of plural marriage and an end to abortion rights, and some describe circumcision of girls as “an operation of beautification.” These developments have produced a slogan that “sharia is the rule of men, not the rule of God,” and led to feminist demands that sharia not influence law and policy in the new Tunisia.
Tunisian women reported a more general discourse among some men that regaining masculinity in a post-Ben Ali Tunisia requires restricting women's participation and leadership in all aspects of life. Tunisian feminists insist, however, that the “dignity and freedom” slogans of the 14 January Revolution apply as well to the desires and lives of girls and women of all backgrounds, and are meaningless if they reproduce gendered and other forms of subordination.
Language is the Avenue of Exclusion
While conflict continues in hot and cold battles at many levels in across Arab countries, I was struck by the degree to which words are significant sites of contestation in constitutional and legislative processes discussed at the WSF. These words are freighted with the historical weight of the context from which they emerge, although sometimes the struggles seem to be over subtle differences.
One WSF panel I attended was composed of activists (two men and a woman) from the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights (ECSER) who discussed a grassroots educational campaign on constitution-making. There were about twelve attendees, half Egyptian and the rest from Europe, Tunisia, and the United States. The meaning of words emerged as crucial during the question and answer period, when it became clear that “social” rights as strategically used by these leftist activists excludes “women's” rights. This exclusion is designed to avoid conflict among the over 120 independent labor unions involved in the campaign, whose ideologies on matters beyond class and workers' rights were divergent. The campaign involved a first stage of popular drafting of a new Egyptian constitution, article by article, and a second stage where experts helped articulate the details of particular rights (e.g., health or labor). The organization relied on “new institutional” constitutional writing trends, and especially the Brazilian experience, where every “right is explained in detail” in order to avoid manipulation. Workers and unions (and certainly feminists) were not represented on the constitutional committee of conservatives appointed by the government of Muhammad Morsi.
Ultimately, the Egyptian activists' constitutional campaign did not influence the constitution that was drafted and ratified in a “cartoonishly” quick process in December 2012. Preceding the vote, Egyptians were threatened with going to hell if they voted “no” and assured that going to heaven was attached to voting “yes.” The ECSER activists at the WSF 2013 meeting believe that the situation continues to shift and the
political scene in Egypt is ready for rethinking the constitution now that people see that the political ideology sold by Islamists is not concerned with people's rights but uses political discourse to maintain its power. Ultimately, the constitution violates the values of justice.
The panel on “gendering constitutions” since the Arab revolutions was composed of feminists from Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, and Lebanon, with about thirty-five other activists in the audience. Tunisian panellists discussed how conservatives and feminists argue about “complete equality before the law” versus “complete equality in the law.” Feminists argued for both after realizing the parsing strategies in government proposals that prima facie appear to support women's “dignity” and “freedom,” but in fact intend to violate and delimit them.
In Morocco, activists insisted on the principle of “no democracy without equality” in the new constitution, with feminists developing detailed language that would leave “no room for violation.” Feminists argued for words such as “male citizen” and “female citizen” rather than “men” and “women” in the Moroccan constitution, to stress women's status as citizens rather than women. The so-called “19 Group” in Morocco, a committee of nineteen people appointed by the King to draft the constitution, had in contrast argued that it would accept equality only “if it does not violate Moroccan traditions and laws.” As the Moroccan activist on the panel noted, “they play with words to try to take women's rights away.”
The Syrian feminist on the panel similarly pointed to the importance of words among feminist revolutionaries in Syria, who call for a “democratic and civil” Syria, choosing the word “civil” over their initial inclination to use “secular,” and developing strategies informed by Arab women's experiences, socialist experiences, and international norms. Among their slogans is “religion is for God and the nation is for everyone” (al-din li-allah wa-al-watan li-al-jami). They are nevertheless not naïve about words, recognizing that while “complete equality” between men and women is stated in Syrian law, equality has never been the reality.
In keeping with pre-revolutionary gendered discourses, a number of Arab governments have said they will follow the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) “unless a CEDAW principle violates constitutional principles,” strategically begging the question of the troubling constitutional principles themselves.
Syrians Do Not Want Pity
I attended a panel on the “Global Campaign in Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution,” which included four Syrian activists who were in the room: two men and two women, among them the blogger Razan Ghazzawi, and two male revolutionary council activists in Syria who were eventually able to communicate with the audience through brief Skype presentations. The solidarity campaign is part of a strategy to “build a democratic and progressive Syria after the revolution” and aims to bypass governments, since—as one activist stated—they “do not care about the Syrian revolution and do not like revolutions generally.” The campaign is designed to make effective connections between progressive social movements around the world and Syrian revolutionaries, especially those active in “revolutionary local councils.”
The revolutionary councils are the main bodies addressing Syrians' daily needs and “emerged from need,” according to the activists. “Abu Walid,” who connected from the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp via Skype, noted that daily life is marked by the absence of state institutions because they are either not functioning or the councils exist in liberated areas, so the activists view themselves as providing much-needed services. He and others noted differences between different revolutionary local councils, which “cannot be reduced to one type” and are not “equally experienced or skilled.” Sometimes, these councils “are led by less than mature” men who are appointed or impose themselves by coercion or violence rather than being elected by a deliberative community. Most of the councils, however, are democratic and represent the communities who entrust them with leadership positions.
“Thair,” a male Palestinian activist in his twenties from the Yarmouk refugee camp, reported that many internally displaced Syrians now live in Palestinian refugee camps, with strong solidarity between the two groups. “If you are for justice for Palestinians, you must be for justice and freedom for Syrians because the sufferings are like one.” More than that, he added, “the suffering in Syria is familiar, with checkpoints, assassination, torture, and prison, and a shared struggle against dictatorships.”
Syrians who are injured by bombs or projectiles do not go to state hospitals in fear of being killed, tortured, or imprisoned. In response, Syrian civilian revolutionaries developed field hospitals throughout the country. Activists noted that rather than being non-sectarian, external “rescue” and “relief” efforts in Syria are often concerned with helping specific “minorities,” a dynamic they reported to be true of US and Qatari-sponsored projects, among others. The revolutionary councils avoid the language of “minorities,” even as the Asad regime describes the revolution as a sectarian Sunni-initiated civil war. Many of the health and other professionals involved in treating the injured and under siege are Christians and other so-called minorities. They reported that the suffering in Syria is great across sects, ethnicities, and religions, and the regime does not distinguish when it attacks neighborhoods.
An ethnically Kurdish physician on a revolutionary council in Homs (who requested that the screen was turned to allow him to see the audience, who in turn collectively waved at him) similarly insisted that this is not a civil war between Sunni and Shia Syrians. Their own council has hidden Sunnis, as well as Alawis, Christians, and Druze, he reported. While the regime encourages sectarianism and appeals to Alawi fears, he attested that “we absolutely want no future life except together.” “Our problems are with the regime,” he insisted, “and not each other.”
Panelists in Tunis and those who connected from Syria discussed the many challenges faced by civilians and revolutionary local councils, of which three were prominent: (1) A lack of financial support, which limits the services the councils are able to provide; 2) The basic needs of people are dire because many Syrians live in areas that are isolated by regime embargos which prevent the entry of goods, bread, vegetables, and medical and other supplies; and (3) Syrians in different communities feel disconnected from each other and people outside Syria.
Razan Ghazzawi, the blogger, activist, and former prisoner who left Syria three months ago noted that many Syrians could not leave to attend the WSF because they are “wanted” by the regime and thus “cannot speak directly to you; we wish they could.” She stressed that the regime will not release any prisoner viewed to be technically significant to the revolution, such as doctors, photographers, journalists, and filmmakers. She noted how her imprisonment as a privileged and educated person was much easier and shorter than the brutality experienced by women activists from lower social classes who do “not have the powerful social networks” that Ghazzawi's friends used for a major media campaign that led to her release. Syrians, Ghazzawi insisted, “do not want pity.” Rather, they want support in the liberated areas and they want fellow revolutionaries from all over the world, “not necessarily to aid them directly but to help them survive existentially and politically with moral and political support until they can all sit at a democratic table and be involved in a democratic process.”
[This is an edited version of an article that was originally published on 23 April 2013 in ISLAMiCommentary. The author's participation in the WSF 2013 in Tunis was made possible by the Duke Islamic Studies Center's Transcultural Islam Project, supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.]
 Hardt, Michael, “Today's Bandung?” New Left Review 14, (March-April 2002), 112-113.
 Grami, Amel, “Op-Ed: Release Tunisian Women from [Male] Custodianship,” Al-Maghreb Al-Youm (30 March 2013), 2 [Arabic].
The controversy over Alasdair Gray’s contribution to a recent collection of essays on Scottish independence points to the often fraught and false relationship between the arts and politics. This is the fourth piece in the ‘Restating Scotland’ debate series.
Last December saw the publication of a collection of essays on independence by a number of well-known Scottish writers. The writers’ contributions were diverse, reflecting the plurality of contemporary literature in Scotland. However, one contributor was the subject of almost all media response to the collection: the writer and artist Alasdair Gray. Much of this was hostile, premature and gave the impression not only of certain critics’ ignorance of Scottish culture, but of the actual content of Gray’s essay, which was accused of promoting nationalism alongside hostility and anti-English sentiment.
The Booker Prize winning novelist James Kelman has eloquently defended Gray, pointing out that sixty years of seminal artistic activity, from the great 1980 novel Lanark to the large murals visible in various locations throughout the West End of Glasgow, emphasise his profound opposition to all forms of racism and cultural inequality. The polymath Gray, who will publish a larger work of non-fiction discussing Scottish independence in summer 2014, is undoubtedly a great many things, but bigot is not one of them.
The events surrounding the publication of Unstated highlighted a far broader lack of comprehension between politicians, the media and artists in Scotland. For at least three centuries, Scottish artists, musicians and writers seem to have anticipated political events, laying the cultural foundations for certain political sentiments that were then realised years, sometimes many years, later. Two key instances from the recent past are the Scottish Renaissance’s crystallisation around Hugh MacDiarmid in the 1930s and the process of radical cultural re-imagination following the failed 1979 referendum. In the 1980s and 90s, writers like Kelman, Gray and the poet Edwin Morgan, alongside a talented generation of visual artists including Ken Currie, Peter Howson and Adrian Wisniewski, were integral to the formation of alternative political narratives to those promoted by Westminster. Some of these narratives may have been partially realised in 1997 and 2011. Some of them may yet be realised further.
But this view of artworks, which temporarily limits them to the sphere of political sentiments, omits a great deal. Political and cultural feeling may be important to the impetus driving artistic production, but they are arguably subservient to more aesthetic imperatives. In their discussions of literature and art, inevitably predicated on the ultimate political results of such discourse, politicians tend to forget this. One of the functions of art would seem to be the broadening of meaning, or the multiplication of potential narratives. Deployed politically, much of this is lost.
The alternative position is that political action is concerned with the realisation of human potentiality and creating the material conditions in which this can take place, and therefore justly sublimates artistic production to this greater end. This might be an extreme formulation, but is implicit to varying degrees in most of our politicians, who are rarely willing to discuss art on its own terms. Clearly, most serious artists are equally unable to meet politicians halfway.
MacDiarmid’s greatest poem, ‘On a Raised Beach’, presents a good example of this sort of paradox. Employing the language of geology and words derived from the extinct Shetland Norn, it is undoubtedly a challenging work. It would be very difficult to use it politically in the way the SNP, for instance, have deployed other poems by MacDiarmid, Burns and Norman MacCaig – to add cultural or emotional significance to an apparently materialist argument. However, the central symbol of ‘On a Raised Beach’, the unfeeling stones with which the speaker attempts to align and infuse his consciousness, is political at its core. The stones on the Shetland beach are presented in absolute terms, as unconscious entities against which human thought and societies must measure themselves. Such extremity pushes MacDiarmid’s argument far beyond what might be generally acceptable or credible in the political sphere, but makes for an enormously powerful statement of opposition towards material injustice. It is also, crucially, an argument against intellectual complacency, since the poem’s complexity militates against precisely the sorts of easy, superficial reading which characterised the media backlash against Gray’s essay.
Edwin Morgan’s 1984 sequence ‘Sonnets from Scotland’ is another work which broadens, rather than constrains, the Scottish vocabulary of response to unsatisfactory political conditions. A long poem comprising fifty-one sonnets, Morgan employs the traditional form with great skill and sensitivity, marrying science and historical fiction with his personal experiences of life as a gay man and university lecturer in twentieth century Glasgow. Such breadth defies paraphrase, but one of the better known sonnets, ‘The Coin’, is emblematic of the range of imaginative possibilities contained in Morgan’s work. The poem takes the form of a fourteen line dramatic monologue, in which an unknown speaker relates the discovery, on a strange, marshy planet, of a one pound coin of unclear provenance. The obverse shows Scotland, the reverse the head and antlers of a red deer. Most importantly, the alien archaeologist can make out a Latin inscription round the edge which reads Respublica Scotorum. The fate of this republic is left, as with so many things, unstated. Nevertheless, the image of the coin persists, an imagined trace of a state which might have been – and might yet be.
We brushed the dirt off, held it to the light.
The obverse showed us Scotland, and the head
of a red deer; the antler-glint had fled
but the fine cut could still be felt. All right:
we turned it over, read easily One Pound,
but then the shock of Latin, like a gloss,
Respublica Scotorum, sent across
such ages as we guessed but never found
at the worn edge where once the date had been
and where as many fingers had gripped hard
as hopes their silent race had lost or gained.
The marshy scurf crept up to our machine,
sucked at our boots. Yet nothing seemed ill-starred.
And least of all the realm the coin contained.
‘Sonnets from Scotland’, like many other works by twentieth and twenty-first century Scottish writers, projects a vision of the nation which goes beyond the merely national boundaries of much contemporary political discourse. As with most great literature, the sequence resists attempts to reduce it to a single, utilitarian narrative. It would be foolish, however, to claim that it entirely subverts the promulgation of political sentiments. On the contrary, its main argumentative thrusts have the direct and intended effect of enabling them. Explicitly, Morgan was in favour of political actions which would lead to a Scottish Republic’s realisation in actuality, however unlikely that eventuality often seemed. Explicitly, he was in favour of the restatement of gender politics in an independent Scotland, and for putting an end to the old patriarchal inequalities which continue to blight so many of our people’s lives. His poetry is virtually a machine for the production of political sentiments. What it is not is a body of text to be mined for independence-friendly slogans, while glossing over those parts of it which seek to problematize or otherwise draw attention to its own emotional and sentimental mediation.
The same can be said of Alasdair Gray’s work. Since the 1950s, Gray has been a tireless and ingenious inventor in prose, poetry and the visual arts. The scantiest acquaintance with the sentiments expressed in his painting and novels would render absurd any accusations of anti-English racism. But absurdity emerges from politics as a matter of course. A deeper acquaintance with his work make plain the deeper absurdities ingrained in every level of contemporary political discourse. It is fortunate for the political class of this country that Gray’s art is less well-known than it should be!
There are many good arguments for enabling Scottish children to study Scottish Literature at school. There are just as many equally good ones for encouraging Scottish adults to absorb, criticise and most of all enjoy the real and important works of art which their country has given the world. They all go beyond the purely national, with the emphasis on locating Scotland in geographical relation to the international, supra-national realm of human expression. For example, an engaged reading of MacDiarmid naturally leads to an interest in the productions of Yeats, Eliot, Joyce and Pound, since the Scottish Renaissance remains unthinkable without the backdrop of international Modernism. Studying Morgan leads, through his myriad translations from many languages, to the poets of dozens of countries, many of whom faced similar problems of cultural marginality.
Scottish writers and those who attempt to make their works available to the wider public are often accused of blind nationalism. On closer acquaintance with these works and the individuals who produce and teach them these accusations seem misdirected. Blind nationalists (and blind unionists) do exist, but the engaged study of literature is one of the best ways of reducing their numbers and allowing more productive and enlightened political sentiments to replace reductive and reactionary impulses.Country or region: Scotland Topics: Culture Democracy and government Ideas
The Novara radio show discusses the crisis of nominally left social democratic parties in Europe since 2008. For more Novara radio episodes, go to the Novara Media website.
On April 29th Egypt’s diplomats walked out of the NPT Conference in protest at the lack of progress in establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, thereby putting the NPT regime on notice. Reporting from Geneva, Rebecca Johnson analyses the reasons
In a dramatic act that signalled its frustration with the “unilateral postponement” of an agreed 2012 Conference on the Middle East, Ambassador Hisham Badr announced his delegation’s walk-out “to protest this unacceptable and continuous failure to implement the 1995 Middle East Resolution” and “send a strong message of dissatisfaction with the lack of seriousness in dealing with the issue of establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons, a central component of regional, Arab and Egyptian national security, which impacts directly international peace and security”.
Amid mounting frustration, the walk-out occurred towards the end of the debate on the Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (MEWMDFZ) on Monday afternoon, 29 April 2013. Though diplomats from the Arab States were initially as taken aback as the rest of the Conference, the walk-out did not come as a big surprise. Badr had reminded delegates that the Arab Group had seriously considered “whether we should be attending this meeting in the first place”.
At issue is not only an important commitment for a regional conference that has not been convened at the designated time; there are deep differences of view about the nature of the regional challenges and how to utilise such a conference. Different stakeholders seem to want it to be a stick, a catch-all solution, a confidence-building tool, a one-off meeting, part of an ongoing process, a step towards negotiations, or even a reluctantly agreed nuisance to be cleared out of the way as soon as possible. In this volatile mix there are national security interests and domestic expectations; regional human rights and security challenges; real worries and a great deal of covert obstructionism and political grand-standing.
For many Arab and Non-Aligned states, Israel is the main problem, with its “undeclared” nuclear arsenal outside the NPT. Iran’s nuclear programme is also a major anxiety but one they seldom admit to openly. For the Americans and most of the Western allies, Iran is the NPT’s biggest problem, while Syria’s non accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and suspected chemical weapons use has been ratcheted up the agenda by the raging, bloody war. Though they seldom acknowledge it publicly, many Western officials also regard Israel’s opaque nuclear policies as an intractable problem that undermines the NPT, and many also think that Israel’s occupation of Palestine and treatment of the Palestinians is a major obstacle to its own peace and security in the region.
Iran of course tries to blame Israel for everything and divert attention from its own uranium enrichment programme, which raises persistent international concerns that Tehran wants to have a nuclear weapons option for the future. Apart from the familiar tirade against Israel, Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh sought to reassure by highlighting the words of Ayatollah Khamenei to NAM heads of state in August 2012: “Nuclear Weapons neither ensure security, nor do they consolidate political power, rather they are a threat to both security and political power…. The Islamic republic of Iran considers the use of nuclear, chemical and similar weapons as a great and unforgivable sin.”
With all sides in the NPT blaming each other, and a nuclear-armed state outside the room free-riding on the nonproliferation regime as long as its Western allies provide sufficient cover, the proposal for the 2012 Conference has so far failed in its primary purpose - to provide a practical mechanism for regional dialogue and to pave the way for a WMD free zone in the Middle East.
First to speak was Ambassador Jaakko Laajava, the Finnish Facilitator appointed after much wrangling, 18 months after the NPT decision. He had scheduled the conference for Helsinki in December 2012, but after a year of indefatigable consultations with individual governments and various groups and combinations, he was unable to get all states to the table. Though Iran announced its participation late in the day, Israel remained reluctant, so the designated convenors (the UN Secretary General and the NPT depositary states, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States) decided to postpone. While acknowledging that many states had asked for a new date to be set in 2013, Laajava had little to offer except “multilateral consultations” and further “preparations”. UK Ambassador Jo Adamson read a brief statement on behalf of the co-convenors, which did little more than express repeated confidence in Laajava. Indeed, the praise was so fulsome in some speeches that it began to sound a little hollow.
The reasons for Egypt’s walk out were underpinned in this and other statements, particularly from the United States. Thomas Countryman, US Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, acknowledged that postponing the Conference constituted a “major disappointment” but stressed that “this was not a breach of the  Action Plan as some suggest”. Most Arab states disagree, sharing Egypt’s assertion that “the breach of the 2010 Action Plan's clear decision to hold a Conference in 2012 is yet another failure to implement a key NPT commitment”. Reiterating the history of the 2010 commitment, Badr characterised the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East as "an essential element of the 1995 Conference and of the basis on which the Treaty was indefinitely extended without a vote in 1995" and declared “we cannot wait forever for this resolution to be implemented”.
For many in the Middle East, Countryman’s playing down of the failure to hold the 2012 conference uncomfortably echoed the way some nuclear-armed states have treated obligations on themselves as “political commitments” that are somehow less binding and important than the obligations undertaken by the NPT’s non-nuclear states parties. Since Egypt persuaded the remaining Arab states to join the NPT following adoption of the 1995 Resolution, many were incensed by Countryman’s lecture on how “leadership must also come from the states of the region”, with references to their responsibility for “creating the political and security conditions” to achieve a WMD free zone. Having called on the regional states to back “the big idea”, he then urged them to show “creative thinking that is smaller, but big enough to get us to the first step, to Helsinki”. He caused further irritation by criticising those that “impose preconditions”, apparently directing this at NPT states, with no mention of Israel, which has sought guarantees in advance of indicating its participation in the Helsinki conference (if one ever takes place).
To avoid a total impasse, the UK, Russia and the US back Laajava’s efforts to convene multilateral “preparatory consultations” among regional states. The hope is that Israel would be prepared to join such consultations (earmarked for Geneva), which could build agreement on issues like the conference agenda and next steps for inclusion in an outcome document. This may be a “positive track” forward, as Russia’s Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov hoped. But it was clear many Arab states remain to be convinced. Some want clear guarantees that they won’t be side-lined into talks with no conference, steps or outcome. Russia did its best to reassure them that the “proposed consultations do not at all substitute the idea of convening the Conference”. Russia’s support at this stage appears crucial. When arguing that “the convenors had no authority to postpone” the 2012 conference, Egypt singled out Russia to “appreciate”.
With the walk out and Badr’s statement, Egypt was issuing warning signals in a way that needs to be understood for the future. In particular, the NPT is important, but support will not be unconditional. In Badr’s words, “Egypt strongly supports the NPT regime. It has always championed the cause of a nuclear weapon free world. However, the establishment of a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone is essential for our national interest. We cannot wait forever for the launching of a process that would lead to the establishment of this zone, a process that was repeatedly committed to within the NPT. We cannot continue to attend meetings and agree on outcomes that do not get implemented, yet to be expected to abide by the concessions we gave for this outcome.”
Egypt’s walk-out must be understood as a strong signal that patience is wearing thin. Despite earlier discussions about a collective boycott of the NPT meeting, Egypt did not seek to take the others with them, which would have made the stakes much higher (and could also have backfired and exposed divisions). Rather than a collective non-appearance that might have served as a de facto gag, removing Arab voices from the meeting, Egypt chose to engage fully in the opening plenaries, nuclear disarmament, safeguards and Middle East debates. Its walk-out was timed to enhance its political visibility and transmit a carefully calibrated strategic warning. When a collective Arab boycott was being mooted earlier this year, some reasoned that only by leaving (or threatening to leave) the NPT would their regional concerns be taken seriously. They pointed out that the US and others pay far more attention to Israel, which is not a member of the NPT, than to the security concerns of 22 Arab states that are NPT states parties.
Egypt’s action is not the sabre-rattling of a state that wants to leave the NPT and develop nuclear weapons. It is a strong signal from a non-nuclear-armed regional leader that it is losing confidence that this treaty will ever become fit for purpose in regional and disarmament terms. As with the 1995 Resolution and its role in bringing the remaining Arab states into the NPT, Cairo has expended considerable political capital in trying to make the NPT deliver its core security objectives. Egypt worked with New Agenda Coalition partners to negotiate with the nuclear-weapon states on a comprehensive step by step disarmament process (the so-called ‘thirteen steps’) which were adopted in 2000 to international fanfare – and then largely ignored and reneged on. Egypt was unfairly blamed for the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference after refusing to accept an agenda that – due to pressure from the Bush administration’s UN ambassador John Bolton – omitted the importance of the 1995 and 2000 agreements. And in 2010 Egypt was the prime mover – as coordinator of the 120-something Non-Aligned states in the NPT – in crafting and achieving adoption of the key elements of the NPT Action Plan, of which the commitment to hold the 2012 Conference on the Middle East was its priority objective. That is a very large political investment in the NPT, with little to show for it.
Egypt has many domestic as well as regional security challenges. For those that follow such events at home, the walk-out is reportedly popular. Some NPT diplomats were dismissing it as “gesture politics”. Gesture it may have been, but it would be a strategic error to dismiss this as something trivial. In the history of the NPT, this walk out was a first, and not lightly undertaken. Egypt chose this time not to ask others to join in. But make no mistake: one of its staunchest advocates has put the NPT regime on notice.NPT and risks to human survival: the inside story North Korea and Trident: challenging the nuclear non-proliferation regime Summoning political will to rid the Middle East of WMD Jody Williams: The true path to nuclear non-proliferation Standing on the threshold: banning nuclear weapons From banning nuclear tests to banning nuclear weapons From Fukushima to Hinkley Point Facing up to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear policies and mistakes The fetishists of nuclear power projection have had their day Non-Proliferation Treaty: the ground is shifting Is the nuclear non-proliferation regime fit for purpose? India and the NPT: what next? NPT: challenging the nuclear powers' fiefdom NPT: the gulf between the nuclear haves and have-nots Banning nuclear weapons: this time lip service will not be enough Topics: Civil society Conflict Democracy and government
Looking for signs of life and the difference that was made, surely that dreary grey oblong could not have been the spiritual home of the 99%? But it was and it did.
“The goodness is in the work as much as in the benefits – so it doesn't matter if the work goes on and on, as it does. It is important and worthwhile work because of its mutuality, because of the talents and capacities it calls forth, and because of the moral value it embodies. That work is socialism-in-the-making, and that is the only socialism we will ever know.”
I read that final clause on the F Train back to Queens, NY last week, and immediately felt a bit sick. It was an answer to the question I've been asking myself a lot since the English student riots and occupations in 2010: what happens when the music stops? Did we experience just a moment of liberating exception to the relentless misery of capitalism's crisis, or was it a permanent rupture in the psyche, a tantalising foretaste of the socialism (with a determinedly small 's') we can and will make in the future?
I was in New York visiting friends and relatives for the first time in a couple of years, in which time, I had missed both the highs and lows of Occupy Wall Street. I had a nagging sensation that I needed to see its infamous base, Zuccotti Park, for myself – even though it was 18 months since the movement's high point and there would be nothing ostensibly there. So I took the subway to downtown Manhattan, to Bowling Green, and walked up Broadway, knowing it was somewhere up there, on the left. I walked past the Amalgamated Bank, Chase Bank, HSBC, Citibank, and a rather nice, utterly incongruous old church nestled amidst the skyscrapers. After ten minutes the narrow gauntlet of high finance opened out to my left to reveal a dreary grey oblong that surely – surely! – could not have been home to a global movement to reclaim the streets and end capitalism, the spiritual home of the 99%?
I knew it was supposed to be small, and I knew it wasn't really a park, but really? I checked my Google Maps cache against the road-signs, and checked it again. It was Zuccotti Park.
It was early afternoon, and chilly for late April, and only a few bored-looking office lunchers sat scattered on the park's hard, flat, granite benches, the skeletal trees above their heads in shadow, still unsprung. The square is so tiny that it is entirely overpowered by the giant dark glass obelisks drawn up and up into the blank skies above. When they cleared the park in mid-November 2011, oh how they cleared it. Not a single sign of Occupy's tents, propaganda, working groups, or... humanity remains: no fragment, no faded graffiti, no half-torn stickers or posters. Occupy Wall Street's physical presence is now erased from history, and year zero is watched over by this extra from War of the Worlds, the NYPD's articulated panopticon robot:
Inadvertently, I spent a lot of my time in New York talking to people about Occupy; their memories, their sense of what was no longer there, and what still remained. As with any moment of popular rebellious fervour, the vital question – from enemies and friends alike – is how you historicise that moment, and what you do next. Whether under duress or through exhaustion, if you're dispersing, where are you dispersing to, and with whom?
Talking to New York friends new and old about what they'd been through, I recognised that same feeling of resignation over recent failures to maintain the energy. Ahead of today's general strike there was a weary acceptance that it was to be a very un-general attempt at struggle, with no formal trade union involvement: though the attempt to organise those Americans with the most unstable, badly paid and exploitative jobs into Precarious and Service Workers Assemblies is at least in the right spirit – addressing post-Fordist capitalism with a post-Fordist solution, like Sussex University's new pop-up union.
The forging of these tangible connections with organisations new and old are the most identifiable afterlife of a street movement. “Things are all very ‘molecular’ right now”, a friend in Barcelona wrote to me yesterday, about the legacy of the 8 million-strong indignados/15M movement – and there's no inherent problem in things being molecular, far from it; the work goes on, and it brings meaningful change for people at a local level. The greatest of the indignados' molecular achievements is perhaps the Corralas movement in Andalusia, where people evicted by their banks are moved – permanently, and against the efforts of the authorities – into large de facto squats of empty buildings abandoned in the housing crash.
In New York this year, the so-called 'hackathon' for Occupy Sandy established vital architecture for information gathering and management, saving lives and livelihoods faster and more effectively than FEMA or the Red Cross could manage, and doing so thanks to the collective talents, sense of mutuality and social networks established at Occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Sandy was, another friend pointed out kindly, not an example of an emergent post-Occupy politics, however: it wasn't mutual aid (the replacement of capitalism with demonetised exchange), just aid. Philanthropy. And a very good thing too – but let's not overstate it.
The psychological legacy of Occupy on its participants (indeed, all its supporters) should not be underestimated either. Latent solidarity, we could call it.
Beyond the depression of a moment passed, a revolution unrealised, I encountered in New York a familiar desire to get back that high, especially what was perhaps Occupy Wall Street's most spectacular moment, the occupation of the Brooklyn Bridge. That ineffable, transcendental sense of empowerment doesn't die, that moment of experiencing socialism-in-the-making – it stays with people, an undying half-life still glowing under the surface of the skin.
One friend emotionally lamented Occupy and Zuccotti Park, before turning to the moment where she realised they had actually shut down the 13,300 tonne Brooklyn Bridge, and that they weren't leaving, unless it was through arrest (as it turned out to be - for 700 of them). It made her sad eyes light up. She grabbed my arm, in a now-listen-here sort of way, as she tried to find the words to express what she had felt in that moment.
“I just didn't... I didn't want to go home.”
And once you've experienced socialism-in-the-making, perhaps you can't ever really go home again? Your sense of what is possible has been irreversibly reconfigured. The greatest claims made for Occupy: in Wall Street, in St Paul's in London, in Oakland, California – hell, everywhere – was that it 'changed the conversation' about banking, about capitalism, about the financial crisis. But maybe it changed us, too?Sideboxes Related stories: Clearing Zuccotti Park: the strange resilience of democracy with a thin skin How Occupy Wall Street must adapt its strategy after the Zuccotti Park eviction The movement moves on: what happens after Zuccotti Park Uniting States of Americans: Are we the 99%? Liberty Park can be anywhere On playing by the rules – the strange success of #OccupyWallStreet Batman in Wall Street Country or region: United States Topics: Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Ideas International politics
Last year, the Philippine government struck a historic peace deal with the Islamist rebels. But the devil is in the details, which have yet to be agreed upon. Who will make sure they create a just and lasting peace, and how?
Protesters call for continued peace talks in Davao City, Southern Philippines.Demotix/Eli Ritchie Tongo. All rights reserved.
It has been about seven months since the signing of the peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF or ‘Islamic Front’), and while both sides continue to work through details, it is reassuring that peace has held. In the context of some personal insights on the People Power Revolution, and recent events in Malaysia, I hope to offer suggestions on how this peace agreement can reach its full potential.Initial suspicion
When I first heard the news of the agreement, I naïvely rejoiced and immediately told my parents. My parents however, received the news with suspicion.
‘This is not news; this peace agreement is always on and off. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is broken yet again’, my father immediately replied. I am a second-generation Philippine-American, and my parents, having both lived most of their lives in the Philippines, knew the situation much better than I did. They have seen how peace between the Philippine government and various incarnations of the MILF has been attempted and lost numerous times. They have become desensitised by the seemingly hopeless project.
The MILF was formally established in 1984, but its primary motives – that is, greater autonomy for the Bangsamoro (‘Moro’) people of southern Philippines and parts of Sabah in Malaysia – began as early as the sixties. Then, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) formed as a response to a mass killing of Moro people, supposedly by the Philippine government. The details of the events of this mass killing, known as the Jabidah Massacre, continues to be widely debated, but nevertheless is a narrative that continues to be told to explain the violence in the geographical regions of the Moro people. Since the sixties, numerous agreements have been attempted by the Philippine government and various incarnations of Moro militia, including offers of autonomy, but none of them being completely successful or lasting.
Going back to my parents, it is good to note that they are not your ordinary citizens; they were a couple of the very first civilians who helped the rebel soldiers at Camp Aguinaldo during the People Power Revolution of 1986. To this day, my parents remain social and political activists in the Philippines as well as the United States. So to hear these two people – figures I look up to for their socio-political idealism – express suspicion towards the new peace agreement opened my eyes to the complexity of the current situation."This one is different"
Tim Wallis, Executive Director of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, which has played a role in the agreement, is more hopeful. ‘This is different’, he says in his piece in October entitled ‘Philippines Peace Agreement—Why This One is Different’, because of the presence of the Nonviolent Peaceforce on Mindanao.
The Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) is a group of international unarmed civil society personnel trained in peacekeeping at a grassroots level. Wallis explains that leading up to the peace agreement,
"[NP] had been quietly working away on the island, building relationships with both sides of the conflict, establishing their credentials as a neutral, independent, impartial actor willing to help both parties to find solutions to practical problems they faced on the ground—like how to avoid unnecessary bloodshed without appearing to be weak or to be seen to be backing down; how to ensure safe passage for civilians caught in the crossfire without losing ground militarily; how to maintain contact with the “enemy” and avoid misunderstandings while at the same waging a war against them; how to put out feelers for a ceasefire without appearing to give in…"
"[NP] helped both sides of this war to be more civilised and more respectful of civilians and as a result, when a ceasefire was finally agreed, both sides asked NP to play an official role in the ceasefire mechanism that would hold both sides to their commitments and obligations under the ceasefire. It is not that unusual for two sides to appoint an intermediary to monitor a ceasefire. Often the United Nations plays that role, other times another country or set of countries will be invited to do it. But never before in the history of war has a non-governmental organisation made up of unarmed civilians from civil society been asked to play a role quite like this. This was – and is – historic, and is why the peace agreement just signed in the Philippines is also historic."
Wallis argues that this agreement is different not just for the Philippines, but for the world, because NP involves peacekeeping at a grassroots level, where all parties involved are willing participants. Historic and different it is indeed, but is it enough?Peace movements in the Philippines
The People Power Revolution, though it may have been a completely different situation from that of the government and the MILF still provides insight into maintaining the success of the agreement in the latter context. Two things bear inspection: (1) what made it successful, and (2) what were its shortcomings.
From the perspective of my parents, what made the People Power Revolution ‘work’ was the religious nature of the Philippine culture. (Note that this is a culture where the Angelus is broadcasted and prayed collectively in public metropolitan spaces, like shopping centres.) Led by Jaime Cardinal Sin, the people were encouraged to engage in Christian altruism by supporting the military rebels—the focus was peace, not politics. What started off as just the few like my parents and their friends then multiplied into a mass movement all over EDSA and throughout the nation. The masses also prayed together. Additionally, my mother would often recall that the soldiers from Marcos’ military were so inspired by the religiosity of the masses that they could not find it in their hearts to shoot or trample or bulldoze their tanks over them, despite their orders.
Because religion is such an imperative aspect of at least one side of the current peace agreement, and because the Philippine culture in general is such a religious one, the spiritual component should be made more explicit for the maintenance of peace. Religious leaders on both sides, of all religions, should engage in leadership like that of Cardinal Sin’s, encouraging the people towards continuous collaboration toward the goal of peace. They could, for example, engage in interfaith dialogue among themselves, and lead their constituents by example.
Critics of the People Power Revolution point out that although it was successful in overthrowing Marcos’ dictatorship, it was unsuccessful in overthrowing the corruption of the government in general, and the nation still struggles to establish a working democracy. The People Power Revolution was too fixated on overthrowing Marcos and thus failed to address the underlying problems: a culture that allowed corruption in the government. This is where I see a blind spot in my parents’ ideology: they, like many Philippine citizens, still see the People Power Revolution as a success story, and fail to see that there could have been an opportunity in the revolution to end government corruption.
Now because NP works at a grassroots level, it is better able to stave off the potential for a break of the agreement. Civilians, military leaders, and government leaders alike are all involved in the process of peacekeeping. Yet, at the end of the day, I hold a similar position to my parents on the current events. In the same way that the People Power Revolution was actually a limited success, I see a potential danger that the signing of the peace agreement might be perceived as an end-all task that will by itself solve all the political issues between the Philippine government and the MILF. I suggest that civilians, military leaders, and government leaders maintain diligence with the current collaborations for peace until both sides reach a level of unity—the day that both sides can almost forget there was even two sides to begin with is the day the peace agreement has fully found it success.
Last month, a standoff in Malaysia has shed light on an even more complex layer regarding the peace agreement. Up until this point, the peace discussions were only between the MILF and the Philippine government, but not the Malaysian. What the people behind the peace agreement failed to recognise were that the Moro people are not only inhabitants of southern Philippines, but also Malaysia, and that the peace agreement would also be beneficial for this extended population. Fortunately, these events have brought Malaysia into the discussions on peace. Unfortunately, the casualties that did happen during the standoff might have been prevented if these considerations were taken alongside the initial discussions last autumn. This event in Malaysia only shows to prove that though the peace agreement is a positive step forward for relationships with the MILF, there is still much work to do.It is different, but it’s not over yet
The current peace agreement, as Wallis had pointed out, is an historic one for the Philippines as well as the world. It is also different, specifically in its application of methods like NP. However, seven months since the signing of the agreement is nowhere near time for celebration. Religious leaders, in addition to the already active and involved population of civilians, military leaders, and government leaders, should offer their explicit support and encouragement towards a lasting peace. Other extended relationships connected to the MILF should also be considered. People in general should remain diligent in seeking even more creative ways to make this peace agreement a lasting one.Sideboxes Related stories: Philippines Peace Agreement – why this one is different What now for the Philippines' Communist insurgency? Country or region: Philippines Topics: Conflict
The TUC’s new General Secretary seems to represent real change in the 'pale, male, stale' world of British unions. But can she shake them up in policy terms, and draw in the energy of a disparate anti-austerity movement?
What is the future for trade unions in Britain? Last Friday, forty or fifty of us jammed into an Oxford college seminar room to hear that question answered. It was the annual Clement Attlee Memorial Lecture, at University College where the Prime Minister of the post-war settlement spent his student years. Less to remember the great man, we were there to hear Frances O'Grady, the new TUC General Secretary and the first woman to occupy this most pivotal office for the British labour movement.
O'Grady was little known outside the movement until her appointment late last year, but popular within it. She was the only candidate nominated for the post, with 32 of the 54 affiliated unions putting her name forward. Since then, her sex has been the obvious talking point. So many hopes are pinned on her. Billed as the face to break the 'pale, male, stale' stereotype, she is suited to head a federation whose six million plus members are now almost half women. Numbers aside, it is women who are bearing the brunt of austerity. Disproportionately hit by the privatisation of the public sector, last year female unemployment reached a 25-year high, while cuts in vital services are tying women back to the kitchen sink, to do the caring once provided by the state. There has never been a better time to have a woman at the head of the Trades Union Congress.
I was looking forward to encountering O’Grady in person. Not only to know more about her views, but literally to hear her speak. However much this degrades our politics, her ‘manner’ and ‘image’ will prove crucial. For a decade in the role, Brendan Barber had confronted a press machine set on demonising union 'chiefs' as power-hungry militants, lording over an authoritarian and paternalistic movement. It will be harder to likewise brand O’Grady. Opening with a personal anecdote – how she first joined a union at Oxford after “a disastrous experience of serving at table in a college” – she is personal and relaxed, with friendly gusto. This year, the spending cuts will truly bite, and the thirst for industrial unrest is not likely to be slaked by the action planned for 20 October. The scene is set for confrontation, and if O’Grady is able to evade stereotyping, she may stand a chance of beginning to win public approval.
It is important, then, that in the ‘Attlee to Miliband’ history set out in her lecture, O’Grady fixed on the failure to compromise, co-operate and adapt as behind the long-term decline of the union movement. She bemoaned the “strategic error” in the ‘70s of “failing to seize the opportunity of the European model of co-determination and industrial democracy.” Instead of going the way of the Germans, embracing collective ownership, Britain took the "easy option" of relying purely on shop floor power. It was this error, O’Grady believes, that led eventually to the “breakdown of the social contract, the subsequent Winter of Discontent and the Thatcherite counter-revolution.” Hers is a 'better late than never' proposal: economic strength in Britain built on economic democracy. Let’s grasp now what we squandered then. She wants a "recalibration of the relationship between capital and labour", supported by new models of corporate governance and new institutions to facilitate collective bargaining.
Wait a minute. Isn’t this simply the Labour line? Her words on "a new set of socialist relationships in the workplace” could well have been spoken by Miliband adviser Jon Cruddas, who delivered last year’s Atlee lecture. The difference is that O’Grady could be in a position to deliver – both in shaking up the unions and bringing the public with her. She sees her role as transforming the intellectual heavy lifting begun in Labour circles around responsible capitalism into a populist agenda. Talking about pre-distribution, a favourite Milibandism, she slips in an aside – "otherwise known as collective bargaining" – with a cheeky grin that draws titters from the audience. Milibot and the straight-talking lady. She clearly believes they’ll make a good pair.
Perhaps she’s right. O’Grady’s commitment to economic democracy is welcome, as is her ability to act as a figurehead for women and the struggle against a feminized recession. In slamming her forebears’ refusal to abandon their adversarial stance, she has distanced herself from the still live memory of a male-dominated trade union culture of pride, power and (some might argue) perversity.
Yet O’Grady has not yet acknowledged the influence and importance of her potential allies. She said on her appointment that she wants to build "a mass movement, a social movement as well as a trade union movement and, particularly for young people, I think we have to offer a home". Yet when I asked for her perspective on pop-up unions, she appeared not to have heard of them. Faced with a bemused smile, I explained. I gave Sussex University as an example, where the struggle against outsourcing has led students and workers to establish a single-issue union to represent their demands. The Sussex Against Privatisation Campaign originally sought support from the existing union branches on campus – Unite, Unison and UCU – but were rebuffed by what they see as a conservative leadership presiding over an ossified system. In its short life, the pop-up union, which is certified and can take legal industrial action, has recruited a membership exceeding that of all three official unions.
Hopes that pop-up unions could help deliver a responsive, flexible, 21st century union movement are premature. What the development is doing is getting activists and young people previously switched off from member-led politics engaged with unionisation. That O’Grady hadn’t heard of them speaks volumes. Her speech on Friday began with a challenge, "if we are to build a future that works for all, then both sides of the labour movement need to change." But the struggle for rights, equality and democracy for working people, everyday citizens of Britain, is no longer held in the balance of that well-worn coin – with Unions on one side and Labour on the other.
This point was put by the youngest audience member to speak from the floor. She touched on activists, students, the wider anti-austerity movement, the desire for co-ordinated strikes, direct action. It was incoherent, rambling, like a fart in a church in that rarified air dedicated to Labour’s sainted PM. It was a statement, not a question: “You need to do more”. O’Grady should take heed. She has grasped that the role of the unions must expand beyond securing better terms and conditions for workers – the long-term survival of the movement demands it. To help reshape the banking system, break shareholder supremacy and place workers at the heart of decision-making, requires a commensurate broadening of alliances. The lion’s share of this work has not begun. O’Grady may have charisma, she may have a few policies up her sleeve (the commitment to union membership for the unemployed is promising) but an attitude shift is needed if the unions are to draw in the energy of the disparate anti-austerity movement. Since the lecture, has O’Grady done her research on pop-up unions? Let me believe that she has. It’s still early days, and time for hope.Country or region: UK Topics: Democracy and government Economics Equality
Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week, Attack on the French Embassy in Tripoli: what now for Libya?
On April 23, a car bomb exploded at 7am outside the French Embassy in Tripoli. The powerful explosion ripped through the outer walls of the embassy, as well as neighbouring houses, causing part of the building to collapse. Two French security guards were present when the bomb went off and one was seriously injured. Fortunately however most embassy staff were yet to arrive at the time of the blast so casualties were minimal. This was little consolation however for Tripoli's residents.
This was the first direct attack on a foreign embassy in Tripoli since Gaddafi was ousted from power and it has sent shockwaves through the capital. Although the overall security situation in Libya is far from stable especially in the eastern and southern parts of the country, life in Tripoli is relatively calm and peaceful. Attacks on the American Consulate in Benghazi back in September 2012 shocked and saddened the nation but few thought that such an attack could take place in Libya's capital, the seat of central government. The state has already been coming under fire in recent weeks for its perceived weakness and lack of control over powerful militias and unfortunately this bombing is likely to compound concerns that the Libyan government is failing in its attempts to maintain peace and stability.
At the date of writing, no one has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack but there is speculation that it could have been orchestrated by AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in retaliation for French involvement in Mali. Another theory is that Gaddafi loyalists were behind the attack as it was France that spearheaded the NATO intervention which ultimately helped remove the old regime from power. A joint commission between Libya and France has been set up to investigate the attack, and Libya has announced that it will do everything in its power to bring the culprits to justice. However, various sources have claimed that Libyan security forces took up to 2 hours to arrive on the scene after the explosion, once more throwing doubt on the capacity of the Libyan authorities to actively manage law and order.
The mood in Tripoli after the attack was one of shock, depression and frustration. The French are popular across Libya for the role they played in supporting the rebels during the revolution. Libyans posting on social media were quick to condemn the attacks, expressing their condolences to those who were injured and question why Libyans would attack a nation whose support was vital to the success of the February 17 revolution. Others expressed their anger at the Libyan authorities for their apparent incapacity to rein in militias and Islamist groups.
Many feel that this attack was a taunt to the Libyan authorities as well as perhaps a warning to the French. The bomb was set off at 7am when few people would be around, yet the implication is that had they wanted to, the attackers could have set the bomb off in the middle of the day and caused a great deal more destruction and devastation. Many are pessimistic about the chances of catching those responsible. There have been demands for the Chief of Staff Yousef Mangoush to stand down given the inefficiency of the police and army, but so far these calls appear not to have been heeded.
For their part, the French seem determined not to let these attacks disrupt their work in Libya and both embassy staff and French companies currently operating in Libya have no plans to leave. The same applies to other foreigners living in Tripoli. Although the bombing was a shock, it is seen more as a regrettable incident rather than a sign that the overall security situation in Tripoli is deteriorating. Other embassies are upping their security but have no plans to suspend operations.
However, this attack will undoubtedly have a negative effect on Libya's economic and political progress. Foreign companies and investors already unsure about returning to Libya will be further dissuaded by this targeting of a foreign embassy in the heart of Tripoli. Companies in Libya will probably increase their security, limiting operations and increasing the perception that Libya is a country on the edge of anarchy.
Libyan authorities need to turn this attack to their advantage. If they can show the Libyan public and the international community that they are actively and efficiently pursuing the perpetrators and strengthening security around the city then this could be a turning point for the better for Libya. However if the government and security forces continue to display the lacklustre, ineffective approach that they have done in recent weeks and months then Libya's short term future will look a lot less secure.Final draft of Tunisia’s new constitution released
By Sana Ajmi
After long heated debates, a final draft of Tunisia’s new constitution was released last week by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA). The draft is to be submitted to the speaker of the NCA, the Prime Minister and the President. An absolute majority 109 out of 217 assembly members must vote in favour of the constitution, article by article, before the final draft becomes law.
The NCA have been charged since the October 23 elections with drafting Tunisia’s new constitution. Even though the governing Islamist party Ennahdha, which won 89 out of 217 seats in Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly rejected the conservatives’ demand that Sharia law should provide the main source of legislation in the new constitution, they chose instead to retain the first article of the 1959 constitution, which states that, “Tunisia is a free, sovereign and independent state, whose religion is Islam and language is Arabic.” Ennahdha has been criticized on many occasions for proposing articles that could limit freedoms especially those of women.
Women’s rights have proved a pivotal issue in the first draft of the constitution released last August. The draft included the controversial article 28, which describes women as men’s “partners” and asserts that “their roles complement one another within the family”. Many secularists and feminists have argued that the article contradicts Tunisia’s personal status code, a landmark piece of legislation enacted in 1956 that continues to set Tunisia apart as the most progressive Arab country regarding women’s rights. The Personal Status Code banned polygamy and gave women the right to file for divorce. Civil society activists objected to the proposed article and put pressure on the NCA which led to the article being removed.
Another proposed article in August called for the criminalization of religious offenses, stating that “The state guarantees freedom of religious belief and practice and criminalizes all attacks on that which is sacred.” Many criticized the blasphemy article and said that it may be used as a convenient vehicle for political and social repression. Such an article was not proposed in the final draft, which only stated that, “the state preserves religion and ensures the freedom of religious belief and practice”.
There has been debate in Tunisia over the structure of the emergent
political system, and whether it should a presidential, parliamentary or mixed
system. While the Ennahdha party has called for a parliamentary system, many
other opposition parties call for a presidential one. However, no consensus has
yet been reached.
Unlike the constitution draft that was released on August, this final draft does not seem to hold many surprises. However, opposition politicians have accused the parliamentary committee charged with drafting the constitution of modifying articles relating to the right to strike and freedom of expression without having the authority to do so.
Amidst the tragic devastation in Syria and the general turbulence engulfing the region, the recent football turmoil in the Middle East may seem trivial. Yet the intermingling of sports, politics and identity in the region makes it too important to be overlooked.
As ‘the football war’ amongst the Egyptian football clubs al-Ahly, al-Masry and the police continues to simmer following another round of riots last month upon the confirmation of verdicts over the 2012 fatal stadium riot, a match-fixing scandal has emerged in Lebanon.
In a country where sports - at least on the national level - has temporarily united a deeply divided nation, the treachery committed by some football officials alongside those who bribed them must not go unnoticed. The anguished statements made by Lebanon’s football national coach Theo Bucker after the team literally gifted their chance to advance to the 2014 World Cup in exchange for cash gifts resonated widely. “I am really destroyed”, he said in an interview, “not only [did they] sell the game, [they sold] a country”, he added.
FIFA last week issued an international ban against 24 players and officials in line with the sanctions imposed by the Lebanese Football Association. The key culprits, striker Mahmoud al-Ali and defender Ramez Dayoub, were handed life bans and fines. Dayoub had deliberately made several backpasses last year in a World Cup qualifier against Qatar, which gave the Gulf state a victory and spoilt Lebanon’s chances of qualifying for the first time.
Yet while the players and one official have been penalised, those behind the match-fixing operation remain unnamed and unpunished.
In another blow to Lebanese football, three referees are facing trial in the city-state of Singapore for allegedly accepting sexual bribes in exchange for influencing an Asian Cup game. The officials will face trial early June and have been refused bail.
Meanwhile Qatar, which acquired French football club Paris Saint-Germain last year, has also faced allegations of corruption regarding its successful World Cup bid. Its former Asian Football Confederation president, FIFA Executive Committee member and presidential candidate Mohammed Ben Hammam has been banned for life for breaching the FIFA code of ethics pertaining to conflict of interest.
In addition to the potential of moving the competition to winter, the most recent controversy surrounding the 2022 competition relates to Qatar’s treatment of its workforce. The International Trade Union Confederation last week demanded that FIFA revoke the World Cup hosting rights due to Qatar’s infamous Kafala system, the low wages and cramped living conditions it offers foreign labourers who are erecting its stadiums and infrastructure. In what seems a response to these criticisms, Qatar Foundation and the 2022 organising committee released the worker’s charter which aims to ameliorate living conditions and curb exploitation. The proof, however, is in the pudding.
While violence, racism and corruption in sports is a rampant phenomenon as the recent Europol investigation in Europe and the racist chants by some Beitar Jerusalem fans reveal, the state of sports in the region, its governance bodies as well as the labourers behind the scenes, should be seriously addressed. While rooting out the cheaters, racists and exploiters is a tall order, naming and shaming them, at the very least, is a necessary first step.No-go areas and arms deals
By Rori Donaghy
The President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, is due to arrive in the UK on Monday for a two day state visit when he will meet with the Queen at Windsor Castle and David Cameron at No. 10. With a traditional carriage procession planned for his visit to Windsor, Sheikh Khalifa will be shown the red carpet treatment; when the President meets with David Cameron a long-mooted arms deal worth several billion pounds will be central to discussions. Yet, with a worsening human rights record that includes the alleged torture of both British and Emirati citizens, shouldn’t this visit also be a chance to raise issues of concern?
Londoners Grant Cameron, Karl Williams and Suneet Jeerh have been in a Dubai prison since July 2012. They were arrested on suspicion of possessing a synthetic form of cannabis known as ‘spice’ and have accused Emirati authorities of torturing them. The three men have told lawyers at Reprieve, a UK-based human rights group, that they have been subjected to regular beatings, had guns held to their head and suffered electric shocks to their testicles. A report by torture expert Dr. Frank Arnold has stated that, based on the available evidence, their injuries are consistent with acts of torture.
Authorities have also been accused of torturing defendants in the ongoing trial of 94 Emirati citizens who have been charged with setting up an organization aimed at ‘overthrowing the government’. Although foreign media and international observers have been banned from trial sessions, family members have reported that defendants have accused authorities of forced confessions, beatings and harrowing acts of torture.
The trial of the 94 has been a landmark case in the reaction from authorities to increased calls for meaningful political form in the autocratic state. The defendants, which include high-profile human rights lawyers, judges, academics and student leaders, say that they are being persecuted due to their calls for reform that began with petitioning the President for a wholly elected parliament in March 2011. Many of those held are members of the Reform and Social Guidance Association, which is a peaceful Islamic civil society group that has been active in the education and charity sectors since its legal establishment in 1974. Leading human rights expert Geoffrey Robertson QC, who attempted to observe trial proceedings as part of an international delegation, has called on UAE authorities to ‘open this trial up to international observation so justice can be seen to be done’ in a report that describes the violations of fair trial standards thus far.
When David Cameron sits down with Sheikh Khalifa he should be wary about the lure of lucrative arms deals for two reasons. The first is that Cameron should be cautious about further arming a country with a worsening human rights record and whose Crown Prince was exposed as having set up a private mercenary army made up of Columbian mercenaries to, among other reasons, take charge of ‘civil uprisings’. The second is that the UAE appear to be using the attraction of multi-billion pound arms deals to shield themselves from criticism: they have been in discussions with the UK, France and the USA for several years, all involving similar deals yet to materialize.
With credible and uninvestigated claims of torture against both British and Emirati citizens David Cameron should break his silence on UAE abuses. When he visited the Emirates in November 2012 Cameron said that on human rights there are ‘no no-go areas in this relationship’. During this state visit the grave concerns of torture in the UAE must be one area that is explored in detail.Qatar and the US have a working relationship
Qatar and the United States seem to have reaffirmed their friendship in a very chummy session held between Qatar’s Emir and President Obama in which the conversation was wide-ranging but ofcourse focused heavily on Syria.
Certainly in front of the cameras all appeared well, and both the President and the Emir spoke with surprising frankness about the region’s problems. The Emir made his stance clear; Qatar sought the removal of Bashar from Syria and supported the ‘peace process’ between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The former a clear statement of intent, the latter more paying lip service to a moribund and discredited endeavour, no doubt done to keep the administration happy and paint Qatar in a positive light for a questioning American public.
The relationship is multi-faceted, and currently the US possesses the widest footprint of any nation in Qatar in business and defence relationships; but it was not always so. The work of the Americans to try and bring Qatar into their orbit has been sustained and well planned. The previous US Ambassador to Doha James Le Baron was a tour de force of diplomatic endeavour and did much to cement a growing relationship between the two nations over the past five years.
But relationships are more deeply intertwined than that, and Qatar has moved from being seen in US eyes as a recalcitrant pest to being a crucial player in the region. The Al Jazeera network and Qatar’s close ties to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal have always presented a headache for the US, whose policy towards Hamas was largely governed by its need to align close-to-Israeli thinking on the subject. Famously former Senator, now Secretary of State John Kerry claimed in 2009 “Qatar can’t continue to be an American ally on Monday that sends money to Hamas on Tuesday.” Qatar went ahead and sent the money, and the Americans remained allies.
Strategically, the Al Udeid military base (the headquarters of US CENTCOM) and the increasing importance of Qatar as a regional actor and financial investor in just about everything, have made the relationship closer in recent years. Thus the differences concerning Israel, the occasionally troublesome Al Jazeera network, and Qatar’s hosting and funding of hard-line Islamists have been papered over in favour of larger strategic visions which ensure the interests of both parties.
On the issue of regional security the relationship is more important for the Qataris than it is the Americans. Whilst Qatar requires external protection in order to survive in a world surrounded by much larger states, the US could likely find another partner to help host their regional bases and establish a forward post to deter Iran. However Qatar has acted in a manner since 2011 that has made it a key player in the conversation on regional security.
Three of the region’s most unstable countries Egypt, Libya and Syria have all seen heavy Qatari interference, be it in the form of funding militant groups, direct deployment of forces or huge injections of liquidity. Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al Thani recently claimed that in all three cases Qatar did not seek leadership, but sought to work within a multilateral framework. This is only partly true. Yes - Qatar was hesitant to take the lead in Libya, but has been more than happy to drag unwilling Arab states forward to action in Syria and has taken a strategic choice to prop up Egypt’s failing Muslim Brotherhood led government almost single-handed. Furthermore on the Palestine question, Qatar inserted itself into the conversation with the tool it uses best, money, $450m of it, becoming part of the Israeli Palestinian discussion, much to the chagrin of the US, Israel or the PA.
The concomitant of Qatar taking these positions is that it has become a regional partner for the United States, whether the US wants it to or not. There is little the Americans can do in terms of telling Qatar how it should behave, but the conversation is frank and robust. Qatar’s shoddy handling and control of arms transfers to the rebels in Syria met with American ire and the Qataris understood and took note of the fact that they were causing as much harm as they were good.
Regarding US suspicion concerning Qatar’s sponsorship of Islamists - most informed Americans I have spoken to understand that Qatar, through a mixture of naivety and poor conflict management, got itself stuck in situations that made its actions look very suspicious indeed, particularly in Syria and Libya. There is however much still to be explained regarding its support for some Islamist groups that the US is firmly against, and sees as counter to its interests. I suspect that there will never be a full rapprochement between the US and Qatar on this particular issue, and both will simply have to agree to disagree.
The key in this relationship moving forward is for both countries to remain close, but not too close. An openly tight alliance serves the interests of neither, certainly not if regional perceptions are anything to go by. Qatar appearing an American stooge discredits its ability to work with regional actors, especially Islamists, and for the USA being too close to Qatar upsets those on the right who see Qatar’s interests as counter to democracy and threatening to the State of Israel. A quiet working relationship in which both sides have to look the other way when they annoy each other is the key.Syrians deserting the FSA: Faust wants his soul back
In 1915 under Ottoman occupation, villages and towns across Syria suffered from one of the harshest famines in its history. Death and grief overwhelmed the country. The precarious political situation in the region: the First World War, locust invasion and drought all came together at this juncture in space and time – and it seemed things must continue to go from bad to worse.
According to my grandmother, in one of the villages to the east of Hama city by the encroaching desert, little grew in this barren land save a poisonous plant called "loof" – a local variety of wild arum. On the brink of starvation, loof was the remaining glimmer of hope for the embattled villagers. Boiling loof for ten hours removes the toxins, and the people of that village survived to tell the story. Nowadays, loof cooked with hummus and sumac is considered a popular dish in this part of Syria, where it is prepared by households as part of a collective rite – a remembrance of how previous generations survived death and famine.
Today, Syria is experiencing a much harsher situation than that of a century ago. Today, in Syria, the causes of death are numerous and difficult to predict.
Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, "the black stone" neighbourhood to the south of Damascus, has been under siege for more than five months. No food or medication is allowed to enter. FSA fighters have been able to find ways to bring in supplies, but getting aid into al-Hajar al-Aswad still remains an arduous and dangerous task – taking weeks to reach the besieged. Under these difficult conditions, a group of journalists and reporters were trapped in a building in the reach of the regime’s mortars. After three days with not a morsel to put in their mouths, it was the loof plant growing weed-like at the entrance to the building which saved them from starving, as it did so many years ago in Hama.An addiction to war and fear of life
Matar was once a promising poet, but now he is a media spokesperson for the Ahfad al-Rasoul brigade in al-Hajar al-Aswad. Although he was seriously injured by mortar fragments in the midst of this siege, he refused to leave his place with the fighters for treatment:
"I don't want to hear the pulse of normal life while we are getting killed; I don't want to feel grief for seeing markets full of all kinds of food while we eat poisonous herbs to keep alive. I don't want to get back to ‘a normal’ life, because this will just weaken [my resolve] and make me take a cowardly decision not to go back to the front line once more. It is very difficult for those of us who have lived the harsh and difficult life of an FSA soldier to make this choice – it’s not a real choice ".
Matar is no exception. Lots of FSA members suffer from this same deep sorrow. The majority of them have lost their jobs, families and way of life, until nothing is left but a gun and a bloody battle which has no end in sight. At this point, the reader might say that this was the fighter's choice and this is the nature of wars and armed conflicts. However, I would like to highlight here the tense and delicate moment in which a fighter may decide to desert from their post with the FSA and abandon the war to come back to life.A prolonged conflict
Most Syrians never expected that the conflict would last this long. Those opposing the regime have been taken aback by the regime's steadfastness and this has frustrated them – particularly the continuous support from Iran and Russia. The media-war continues to be stoked by announcements of victorious battles and the liberation of towns by both sides of the conflict.
However, the reality is that opposition militias and the official army have reached a military stalemate – one step forward and one step back as progress on one front is checked by loss and retreat on another. While the FSA celebrated taking control of Raqqa in the North, the regime was consolidating its hold over Damascus and Homs. This tug of war reflects the battle on the international stage where America, Europe, Russia and regional players are jostling for influence in Syria, with no-one willing to find a solution to the crisis.A fighter's story
Adam volunteered to fight for the FSA with the Mujahidi Harasta battalion in the east of the capital a year ago. After being seriously hit in the leg, he came to Damascus city carrying fake ID to get treatment and recover. My concern when I visited him was not his physical injury, but the extent to which he was clearly suffering from a severe depression – having spent a year in an environment wholly foreign to him:
"I was killing people and watching others die. I couldn't make friendships and this was driving me crazy. I wasn't even able to talk about my sexual desires and I even had to pretend to pray in front of the other fighters - I’m not religious - because I didn't want to be an outsider", he told me.
As a fighter in an Islamist brigade it is difficult – almost impossible – for young men to do what young men like doing most: thinking about girls. Propriety around gender relations means that voicing such thoughts is viewed as unbecoming for a fighter ‘in the way of the faith’.
Adam stayed in Damascus to recuperate and decided not to go back to his battalion. He wanted to start his life once again, but picking up from where one has left off is never as simple as that. A fear of being followed, being arrested and tortured has marked his every living moment to the extent that he can’t help but look nervously around him while walking or talking in public – even when conversations are of the mundane variety.
This feeling of dread wasn't only fear of the regime's security forces, but more of the battalion members themselves! Each battalion has an intelligence section entrusted with the mission of watching fighters and ensuring that they are not spies or collaborating with the regime. Adam told me anecdotal stories concerning incidents of some FSA members being executed because they wanted to quit. The reason cited by the militia hierarchy was that they represented a ‘security risk’ and could divulge sensitive information.
The FSA is largely made up of civilian combatants with no military experience and a smaller number of soldiers who defected from the official army. Few of them have sufficient training to deal with being in the type of guerrilla war being waged by battalions up and down Syria, thus their complicated psychological status has pushed some of them to thinking about leaving their positions and abandoning the FSA for a new life or an attempt at piecing together what remains of their old life.
Nour al-Din is a field commander in the Ali Bin Abi Talib battalion fighting in the southern districts of Damascus. I asked him about the phenomenon of fighters deserting the FSA:
"a real fighter, a true believer in the revolution and Islam never leaves the battle ground. Only opportunists and chancers who joined the FSA to steal and get benefits may do this. Whoever volunteered in the FSA for the sake of a free Syria and any real Muslim will stay steadfast until the end – for the Syria he dreams of".
In the midst of this harsh war, Syrians have found themselves at a crossroads: obliged to choose between either their personal interest and life or the country's freedom. A question occurs to me here – Is it possible for fighters who quit the FSA to go back to their old lives? It seems highly improbable, given that Syria has been ripped into so many different pieces with different authorities holding sway over particular areas – here the regime, there such and such battalion.
The country is now a hotch-potch of hot and cool areas. Families have been displaced across the country in their millions. Most fighters are wanted by intelligence forces and they can't go back to their original villages and towns, nor can they meet their families who were forced to flee. This is how our lives – and not just that of FSA fighters – have been trapped, in the eye of a tornado that is hurtling at breakneck speed. Where and how we get off is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure – it won’t be an emerald city.Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox:
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