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Posts Tagged ‘Arab

A Bombay of parti-coloured turbans red and yellow

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The Bombay I saw, as a boy, a shadow of, for there was still a dusty if tattered drapery of the great city’s history to be found, if one peered closely enough and had an ear for lore.

This lambent passage is from the chapter on Bombay in ‘Cities of India’, by G W Forrest (ex-Director of Records, Government of India), Westminster, Archibald Constable and Co Ltd, 2 Whitehall Gardens, 1903.

Bombay_native_bazaar

quotes-greenBut we must not loiter long at Byculla, for we have to dine in the Fort. We leave London club life, and plunge into the native city, a paradise of luxury and splendour, stench and squalor. The richness and variety of the out-lines of the narrow and curving, but not crooked streets, take hold of the imagination. The many-tinted houses, the colours white, yellow, and red, the luxurious or wild carving lavished on the pillars of wood, the balconies, rosettes of the windows, and the architraves of the roofs, give an air of refinement, of subtle grace which defies description or criticism. The Hindu temple with its gaudy-coloured mythological subjects, and the Mussulmans’ simple white mosque, are vividly contrasted. It is a world of wonder.

Here all races have met: Persians in huge shaggy hats, and British sailors in white; the strong, lithe, coal-black Afreedee seaman, tall martial Rajpoots, peaceful Parsees in cherry-coloured silk trousers, Chinamen with the traditional pig-tail, swaggering Mussulmans in turbans of green, sleek Marwarees with high-fitting parti-coloured turbans of red and yellow. This tide of human life rolls down the centre of the street, unruffled by the vehicles from all quarters of the earth ploughing their way through it. There is the tramcar from New York drawn by walers from Australia, with pith helmets to protect them from the rays of the sun; the phaeton from Long Acre drawn by high-stepping Arabs; the rude vehicle of the land, innocent of springs, with a single square seat, drawn by handsome sleek bullocks. With much trouble and much shouting the driver works his way through the enchanted street, and we see the immortal eunuch, the porter, and the veiled lady standing near a shop filled with gold and silver stuff. Each trade has its own locale.

Cities_of_India_1903There are rows of bakers’ shops, with large ovens, and vast round loaves of unleavened bread. There are long lines of confectioners’, in which the sweetmeats are piled up in all sorts of fantastic shapes, and behind his pile sits the fat, greasy, half-naked confectioner. Then come the shops of the bunias, which are crowded with baskets filled with pulse and grain; and the Oriental grocer kindly chatters to three or four women as he weighs their flour in a pair of primitive scales, and after much bargaining they purchase for a farthing a lump of salt and two green chillies, which are their sole luxuries in life. Long and sharp is the ting-ting that proceeds from the shops where Javan, Tubal, and Meshech trade “their vessels of brass in thy market.” They are filled from floor to roof with large pots and small pots; for as the Hindu eats and drinks only from vessels made of brass, the brazier’s art is an important one in the land.

There are the shops of the money-changers, who are seated square-legged on their carpet, with heaps of rupees and shells before them. In a small hovel is a lean old man who, with a blowpipe and small hammer and a pair of pincers, is manufacturing “the chains and the bracelets, the ear-rings, the rings and the nose jewels.” Sable eve spreads swiftly, and the great brass lamps hanging from the roof are lighted, and the earthenware cressets before the dark shrines are illuminated.

Written by makanaka

March 31, 2013 at 12:03

Syria in 2013 and the opposition to war

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The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

The mother of a Free Syrian Army fighter mourns as his body brought home during his funeral in Aleppo December 21, 2012. Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadalla

A newly elected government in the USA is as intent as its predecessors were on deepening war and conflict where it already exists, and on embarking on new campaigns of state aggression and violence. The conflict in Syria has been converted by the United States of America and its partner western aggressors from a civil movement for democratic rights into a bitter and bloody civil war that has killed more than 20,000 and has made refugees of more than half a million people.

Unnoticed almost in the clamour for war that resounds in the capitals of USA and its western allies is new evidence from a United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry which has stated, finally and plainly, that a sectarian civil war is raging in Syria. Its findings are based upon extensive investigations and interviews between September 28 to December 16, 2012. The Commission has detailed massacres and gross violations of human rights that have polarised Syria.

Investigators, headed by Carla del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, have interviewed more than 1,200 victims and refugees. The report produced is a devastating indictment of the United States and other western powers – said International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) – who have worked with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to depose of Bashar al-Assad by recruiting and aiding a Sunni insurgency overwhelmingly made up of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, Salafist and Al Qaeda-style groups.

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

Map of the conflict areas and zones of uprising in Syria from Political Geography Now

“The UN independent panel finds more breaches of human rights law by parties to Syrian conflict,” said the UN news service. The Commission has been mandated by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law in Syria, where at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. The conflict is now in its 22nd month and apart from the enormous number of refugees has left an estimated 4 million people inside Syria needing urgent humanitarian assistance. “The Syrian Government has yet to allow the Commission to undertake investigations inside the country,” said the UN news report.

That lack of access may change in early 2013 if the movement Peace In Syria is successful. This initiative consists in calling a delegation of high-ranking personalities of the international public to go to Syria with the aim of opening a national dialogue between the main political and social forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict to pave a way for a political solution.

As highlighted by Monthly Review’s MRZine, the peace initiative has said: “We are highly concerned not only because the conflict has been acquiring a dangerous geo-political dimension. The legitimate and at the beginning also peaceful movement of the Syrian people – along with their Arab brothers – for democratic rights is also in danger of being converted into a sectarian civil war with massive regional and international involvement.”

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Quick tabulation of the anti-war survey results from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Utterly unmindful of the calls for peace within the Middle East and outside, the government of the USA is just as brazenly ignoring the anti-war movement at home. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a survey whose finding is that the American public continues to say that the USA does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting there.

“And there continues to be substantial opposition to sending arms to anti-government forces in Syria,” said the survey report. “Only about quarter of Americans (27%) say the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria; more than twice as many (63%) say it does not. These views are virtually unchanged from March. Similarly, just 24% favor the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria, while 65% are opposed.”

Far more bluntly, Veterans For Peace has urgently called on the United States and NATO “to cease all military activity in Syria, halt all U.S. and NATO shipments of weapons, and abandon all threats to further escalate the violence under which the people of Syria are suffering. NATO troops and missiles should be withdrawn from Turkey and other surrounding nations. U.S. ships should exit the Mediterranean”.

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

A fire burns after what activist said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad at Ain Terma area in Ghouta, east of Damascus December 18, 2012. Picture taken December 18, 2012. Photo: Reuters/ Karm Seif/ Shaam News Network

The organisation draws upon the experiences of military veterans in working for the abolition of war. “We have not entered into this work without consideration of many situations similar to the current one in Syria,” said the organisation, and added, “No good can come from U.S. military intervention in Syria. The people of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and dozens of other nations in Latin America and around the world have not been made better off by U.S. military intervention.”

But the USA, its aggressor western allies and NATO are intent on prosecuting war in Syria and gathering for greater, bloodier conflict. On December 17, Israel’s Haaretz reported that US cargo airplanes carrying military equipment landed in Jordanian airports over several days and that US military forces in the country have been significantly built up. The USA, Germany and the Netherlands have dispatched Patriot anti-missile systems and hundreds of troops to Turkey’s border and are seeking a pretext to use them. Hence last week, US officials accused the Syrian government of firing Scud missiles against opposition groups near Maara, north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, a claim Syria denied as “untrue rumours”. [See Al Jazeera’s live diary of events in Syria for more.]

It is now left to the citizens of the USA and its western allies – citizens who are no less bludgeoned daily by the austerity measures imposed by their governments while their criminally-minded banking and corporate elite frame and set policy both national and international – to derail the war machine. A number of good reasons for doing so can be found in the work of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry, whose new 10-page update – the latest in a series of reports and updates produced by the Commission since it began its work in August 2011 – paints a bleak picture of the devastating conflict and continuing international human rights and humanitarian law violations taking place in Syria.

The full 10-page update can be viewed here – it describes the unrelenting violence resulting in many thousands of dead and wounded, and also focuses on arbitrary detention and disappearances, huge displacement and the massive physical destruction in Syria. It describes how World Heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed, as well as entire neighbourhoods of several of the country’s biggest cities. Civilians continue to bear the brunt as the front lines between Government forces and the armed opposition have moved deeper into urban areas. The Commission of Inquiry will present its fourth report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013.

A time before the pillage – what North Africa should mean to us

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The ugly triumphalism of the decade of 2000-10 is being held aloft again, as the fighting in Libya continues. As before, it is the scandalous regimes conventionally called western liberal democracies which are blaring out their triumphal tattoos, all over the media and across the Internet. The bankers, financiers, arms dealers, oil barons, fuel traders, commodity speculators, land grabbers and their cronies in government (many governments) are already counting their superprofits.

L'Afrique, ou Lybie ulterieure - This map of Africa by Nicolas Sanson, royal geographer to Kings Louis XIII and XIV, and commonly known as the father of French cartography, was published by Sanson’s own house in 1679 in Paris. The map was based, according to Sanson, on a composite of information drawn from other maps as well as “upon the observations of Samuel Blomart.” It also may have drawn on the Dutch writer Olfert Dapper’s work of 1668, Naukeurige Beschrijvingen der Afrikaensche gewesten (Description of Africa). The continent is presented as “Greater Libya” and the map concentrates on the Saharan region of north Africa and the surrounding land of west Africa, stretching from Guinea and the black coast to Nubia in the east <http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.wdl/dlc.142&gt;.

The Maghrib that is North Africa is being readied for an even more intense period of plunder and pillage, of that there is no doubt. The very idea of ‘rebel’ had been perverted, as it has been the past year from Morocco to Syria. Amidst this savage celebrating, there is a need to turn to history and its many threads, to rediscover and hear again of the luminous nature of that which is now being ridden under, to reflect on the carefully constructed fruits of civilisations that inspired and instructed the thinkers and doers of western Europe.

From ‘The spread of civilization in the Maghrib and its impact on western civilization’, by M Talbi, extracted from ‘Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century’, Volume 4 in UNESCO’s General History of Africa, Heinemann-California-UNESCO, 1984.

The century of the Almohads – It is hard to decide just when a civilization reaches its peak, when its influence is greatest. For the Maghrib, was it under the Aghlabids in the ninth century, when the armed might of Ifnkiya threatened Rome and ruled the Mediterranean? Or in the tenth, when the Fatimids made Mahdiyya the seat of a caliphate which rivalled that of Baghdad? Or should we opt for the Almohad era (i 147-1269), when for the first time, under a local, authentically Berber dynasty, a vast empire was united which extended from Tripoli to Seville? We have to recognize that there were several peaks, and among all those peaks that of the twelfth century was certainly not the least.

And Spain? It had certainly fallen from the political greatness it had known of old under ‘Abd al-Rahmän II (912-61) or under the ‘reign’ of the dictator, al-Mansür b. Abï cAmir, the redoubtable Almanzor of the Christian chronicles. But the case of Spain and the Maghrib was comparable with that of Greece and Rome : Spain conquered its uncouth Berber conquerors, Almoravid or Almohad, twice over, and by giving them the age-old treasures of its artistic and cultural traditions made them into builders of a civilization. So from the twelfth century onwards, the civilization of the Muslim West was a fusion of the culture of Spain and the Maghrib, even more than it had been in the past.

This photograph of a street scene in Tripoli, Libya, is from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress. Although little information about this photograph has survived, it most likely was acquired and distributed by Bain in connection with news of the 1911-12 Italo-Turkish War in which Italy wrested control of Libya from the Ottoman Empire <http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.wdl/dlc.2444&gt;.

It was a civilization built in part — although how great a part is difficult to say – by blacks who came from the regions south of the Sahara. They were to be found in large numbers in Morocco and throughout the whole of the Maghrib. Intermarriage, against which there was no prejudice whatsoever, was common and naturally had some biocultural influence, the nature of which, however, is difficult to determine with any degree of certainty or accuracy. There were also blacks to be found in Spain, principally in Seville and Granada. As slaves for a time, or as free men, they played a considerable role in the army and the economy, and they also brought with them certain customs of their native country. Some of them, such as Jean Latin, a university professor in Spain, attained the highest levels of the intellectual world and gave a stronger African flavour to the Spanish Maghrib.

Art and architecture – In the period that we are interested in, this civilization was centred in the western half of the Maghrib. Kayrawän had declined greatly and Ifnkiya had lost its primacy. We should note that the century of the Almohads was also that of the Almoravids (1061-1147). Apart from the religious aspects, which do not concern us here, there was no break between the two dynasties as regards their civilization. Almohad art, in particular, was merely the flowering culmination of processes which had been developed or introduced from Spain under the Almoravids.

The Almoravids were great builders. Few vestiges remain of their civil architecture, more exposed to the fury of men and the ravages of time and weather. Of the palaces they erected at Marrakesh and Tagrart, nothing is left; of their fortresses, very little; nor do we know much about their public engineering works, in particular their irrigation. But some of the finest religious monuments are still there for us to admire. The most characteristic of those extant today are in Algeria. The Great Mosque of Marrakesh, unfortunately, disappeared under the tidal wave of Almohadism. At Fez, the mosque of al-Karawiyyïn is not entirely Almoravid, but a building of the mid-ninth century, altered and enlarged.

This treatise by the prominent Shafi’i theologian Muhammad al-Amidi (died 1233) deals with questions of original existence and mental existence. The manuscript copy shown here was made in 1805 by an unknown scribe. It is from the Bašagic' Collection of Islamic Manuscripts in the University Library of Bratislava, Slovakia.

On the other hand, the Great Mosque at Algiers, built around 1096, is a genuinely Almoravid foundation which has not suffered unduly from the alterations made in the fourteenth century and again during the Turkish period. There is also the mosque of Nedroma. But the most beautiful building is undeniably the Great Mosque of Tlemcen, an imposing monument measuring 50 m by 60 m, begun about 1082 and completed in 1136. It united the vigour and majesty of the Saharans with the refinement and delicacy of Andalusian art. Marcáis writes: ‘There is no need to emphasize the importance of the Great Mosque of Tlemcen. The peculiarities of its design, and still more the juxtaposition, even the close association, of the Andalusian ribbed dome with the Iranian-inspired corbels [projections] in the form of mukarnas [stalactites]… give it an eminent place among Muslim works.’

Literature – The twelfth century was also notable for brilliant literary activity. The initial reservations of the Almoravids and Almohads concerning poets and profane works in general soon dissolved under the hot sun of Spain. The princes of both dynasties lived up to the tradition that an Arab sovereign should also be an interested and enlightened patron. They encouraged culture and gave their patronage to men of letters.

Here, too, the western part of the Spanish Maghrib held the place of honour. Ifrîkiya did not make much of a showing. Almost the only writer to be mentioned during this period is Ibn Hamdïs (c. 1055-1133), who was a genuine poet with a widespread reputation – and he was born in Sicily. As a youth he had to leave ‘his Sicilian fatherland’, which had been conquered by the Normans, and ever afterwards he dwelt on his memories of it with an engaging nostalgia. After a short stay at the court of al-Muctamid ‘ala ‘lläh (more properly called Muhammad b. ‘Abbäd al-Mu’tadid) at Seville, he spent the greater part of his life in Ifrîkiya. The Muses were cultivated more successfully in the far Maghrib and above all in Spain. Among the more talented practitioners of the art were Ibn ‘Abdün (who died at Evora in 1134); Ibn al-Zakkâk al-Balansî (d. c. 1133); Ibn Bakï (d. 1150), who spent his life journeying back and forth between Spain and Morocco and whose muwashshah (a genre in which he excelled) ended in a Khardja in the Romance tongue; Abu Bahr Safwän b. Idrîs (d. 1222); Abu ‘1-Hasan ‘Abï b. Harïk (d. 1225); Muhammad b. Idrïs Mardj al-Kul (d. 1236); Ibn Dihya, who left Spain, travelled all through the Maghrib, living for a while in Tunis, and died in Cairo; Ibn Sahl (d. 1251), a native of Seville, of Jewish origin and great poetic sensibility, who entered the service of the Governor of Ceuta after his native city fell to Ferdinand III (1248); and Abu ‘1-Mutarrif b. ‘Amïra (d. c. 1258), who was born at Valencia, served the last Almohads in various cities of Morocco and ended his life in the service of the Hafsids of Tunis.

In this constellation two stars shone with particular brilliance: Ibn Khafadja (1058-1139), uncle of the Ibn al-Zakkâk mentioned earlier, and above all Ibn Kuzmän (b. after 1086, d. 1160). The former, without quite being a court poet (he came from a well-to-do family from Alcira, in the province of Valencia), did the conventional thing and eulogized the important men of the day, among them the Almoravid prince Abu Ishäk Ibrahim b. Tâshfin. But it is mainly as an inimitable poet of nature that Ibn Khafadja has come down to posterity. In his sensuous and romantic verse he sings of the joy of living, the water of rivers and ponds, gardens and flowers, fruits and the pleasures of existence. He was called al-Djannän (the gardener) and there is no anthology old or new that does not offer a selection of his poems. He is one of the classic Arabic poets.

A dying empire is a dangerous empire

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US and western news agencies tell us that the news of bin Laden's death brought many to the streets in US cities. What are they celebrating? The end of a 10-year-old war that has eviscerated middle-class America? Photo: Al Jazeera/AFP

After the triumphalism of the Abbottabad strike, the cold reality of overshoot – In recent months the signals from what America sometimes calls its heartland have been worrying, downright alarming. Manufacturing in the USA is down to a shadow, as a percentage of GDP, of what it used to be 25 years ago. The services economy – which the Bretton Woods twins, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have prescribed to developing countries and then arm-twisted them for it – creates few new jobs and negligible new savings in the USA. First under George Bush the younger, and then under Barack Obama, social sector spending and support has been dwindling.

Working class America, burdened by a decade of wars their government has pursued all around the world, has been brought to its knees with a new round of cuts imposed by the latest in a growing line of war-mongering US presidents. For them, whether Obama is Republican or Democrat makes little difference. Why this is so can be seen from news reports found in the local and independent-minded newspapers (those that still exist) in that country: “Tennessee’s legislative onslaught against teachers”, “Wisconsin Senate rams through anti-worker bill”, “Idaho students walk out over education cuts”, “Momentum builds for austerity budget in California”, “Several thousand demonstrate in Columbus, Ohio” and “Ten thousand attend protest at Indiana statehouse”. These tell the tale of the effect at home of long years of warring abroad.

Today, apart from automobiles, aircraft jet engines and weapons (and, yes, nuclear reactors) there are few material goods the USA gives the world. It gives the world a great deal of weapons to kill, annihilate, destroy and burn, and it pursues this export of death-dealing with heavy-handed foreign policy and ham-fisted trade ‘negotiations’. But Americans, those who want to pursue humble professions and vocations that have nothing to do with their country’s export priorities, must buy some basics for their survival. That is when they contribute to the most visible symbol of imperial overstretch – the USA’s trade balance with its biggest trading partner, China. Rising steadily over 20 years, the US-China trade imbalance (when viewed with American eyes) dipped only slightly after 11 September 2001. In 2008-09, the dip was far greater, but the graph was much higher then, and stands today at just under US$300 billion.

Osama bin Laden, a picture from the Gulf News Archive

It is not a sight to soothe the riled and roiled states of today’s American heartland. Nor does it help the average American that the monetarily unhinged policies of Bush the younger, wherein he forgave the rich their taxes in order to submit the poor to more of them, have been enshrined as principle by his democrat successor, a man whose forefathers were Kenyan. It does not help, as the magazine Mother Jones says, that a New York janitor making slightly more than US$33,000 a year pays an effective tax rate of nearly 25%, but the effective tax rate for a resident of a Park Avenue building, earning an average of US$1.2 million annually, must complain about a 14.7% tax burden.

Perhaps the last word in cold spending logic should come from the Swedes. Two months ago the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its latest report on international military expenditures. World military spending rose only 1.3% in 2010 to US$1.63 trillion, after average annual growth of 5.1% between 2001 and 2009, said SIPRI. The USA remained by far the biggest defence spender in the world – US$698 billion – and accounted for almost all of global growth in military expenditure in 2010, an increase of US$19.6 billion out of the US$20.6 billion global increase. Today, the USA’s defence budget is 4.8% of its GDP, its budget has increased 81% since 2001 and is six times greater than that of China, the next biggest spender. In contrast, in Europe, military spending fell by 2.8% as governments cut costs to address soaring budget deficits.

A man watches television news on the death of Osama bin Laden in Peshawar, Pakistan. Photo: Al Jazeera/EPA

This is the tenth year since the ‘war on terror’ was declared by No 43, Bush the younger, and it tells us much that all of them, from No 32 during World War Two, have begun or continued wars and military campaigns. No 44, the current president, claimed righteously that the USA “went to war against Al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies”. This is the same claim made by NATO in and about Libya. It has been repeated wherever, in the last half-century, imperial America has wanted to seize economic resources or prevent others from doing so. That is why US armed forces in Afghanistan have tripled since Obama took office. After Abbottabad, nothing in the remarks made by No 44 and his staff and generals have suggested in any way that the killing of bin Laden will lead to a significant change in American foreign policy, let alone an end to the relentless expansion of military interventions.

The announcment of the killing of Osama bin Laden is being underlined by the US Department of State as a milestone in America’s ‘war on terror’. In a campaign that is now in the last half of its tenth year, the costs of this ‘war’ have dwarfed most modern reckoning of conflict. Independent estimates place the cost of the US military engagement in Iraq at over US$780 billion since 2001, and at over US$400 billion for its deployment in Afghanistan over the same period. At more than US$1.1 trillion the sober question that is certainly being asked by those at home in middle America is: has it been worth it to reach this milestone? Perhaps a more accurate question will be: if the death of bin Laden indeed signals the final demise of the al-Qaeda network, what will it take to wind down these wars until the last American soldier goes home?

It will be some time before either of these are answered with some degree of belief, or or trust in Washington’s governance of its military-industrial complex. The US and its allies will enjoy a self-congratulatory glow in the short-term future but, far to the west of Abbottabad, the long-term future of northern Africa is being determined by means no less violent than those which removed forever bin Laden. We would like, as rational and peaceable folk, to agree that war and economic stability, that protracted conflict and human development do not and cannot coexist. Yet for the last decade, the world’s richest countries and most militarily ambitious have done their best to tell us the opposite.

A key influence on bin Laden was Dr Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian professor and member of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. Photo: Al Jazeera

In the aftermath of the Abbottabad strike, which is the truer reflection of our times? Agencies of the United Nations, those primarily concerned with helping people live better, healthier, safer lives, have spared no effort in telling us that more, not less, needs to be done for the world’s poor and vulnerable. If the death of bin laden is also a signal that obscenely enormous military spending will now be used to feed the hungry, teach the young and give them a greener future, then perhaps we can indeed call it a milestone.

Any rendering of separatist groups, of insurgencies, of terror networks and their anarchist ideologies however informs us that a milestone, even one as important as this, is only a milestone. While for most governments in the Middle East the al-Qaeda and its allied organisations was a persistent and highly dangerous group under a bin Laden alive, without him it is hardly likely to be less so. The decade since the 11 September attacks has been as remarkable for the new insights into ideology-based armed insurrectionists as it has been for the huge resources it has required to tackle them, not always successfully.

Less than 24 hours after the Abbottabad strike, geo-political analysts and experts on extremist networks were already providing their immediate reaction: be cautious in assuming the damage done to al-Qaeda and be circumspect when predicting the strategic and security consequences of bin Laden’s death. For those entrusted with providing security to their country’s citizens in the face of extremism, the first assessment will be whether bin Laden is considered a martyr whose methods are to be emulated, or whether those who are influenced by al-Qaeda will value economic opportunity more than taking to the gun. It is a difficult assessment to attempt for in the Arab region, as the Arab Human Development Report 2009 underlined forcefully, human insecurity is reflected in the economic vulnerability of one-fifth of the people in some Arab states, and more than half in others, people whose lives are impoverished and cut short by hunger and want.

It is likely, although such a likelihood flies in the face of sanity, that the US regime does not recognise the problems facing us all, many of which have been central to campaigns by United Nations agencies and development organisations, including USAID. Less than two months ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded world leaders: “Millions of people have been pushed into poverty by the latest food price rises. I am especially concerned about the poorest households that often spend three-quarters of their income on food. When prices go up, they go hungry.”

And yet the World Food Programme late last year had to make hard decisions about who to abandon to starvation for lack of money to buy food aid with. Nor is that the only concern. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has set up a new fund aimed at mobilising resources to help developing countries mitigate the impact of global warming, to help the transition to low-carbon futures – a seventh of the US annual defence budget will keep it on course for five years, benefiting millions. These are the greater challenges, solved not by attack drones and aircraft carriers, but by co-operation and sharing of ideas in a climate of peace. But No. 44, true to presidential form, will have none of it, just as he won’t from the people of Wisconsin, Idaho and Ohio.

Neither with the West nor against it, and not ‘Arab street’

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Map of the social uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, for Le Monde Diplomatique by Philippe Rekacewicz

Map of the social uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, for Le Monde Diplomatique by Philippe Rekacewicz

In the ever thoughtful Le Monde Diplomatique, senior commentators Alain Gresh and Serge Halimi consider aspects of ‘The New Arab Awakening’, which is the theme for the 2011 March edition.

“The fantasy that the Arabs are passive and unsuited to democracy has evaporated in weeks. Arabs have overthrown hated authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt” – Gresh has written in his commentary, ‘Neither with the West, nor against it’.

In Libya, they have fought a sclerotic regime in power for 42 years that has refused to listen to their demands, facing extraordinary violence, hundreds of deaths, untold injuries, mass exodus and generalised chaos. In Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Iraqi Kurdistan, the West Bank and Oman, Arabs have taken to the streets in vast numbers. This defiance has spread even to non-Arab Iran.

And where promises of reform have been made but were then found wanting, people have simply returned to the streets. In Egypt, protesters have demanded faster and further-reaching reform. In Tunisia, renewed demonstrations on 25-27 February led to five deaths but won a change of prime minister (Mohamed Ghannouchi stepped down in favour of Beji Caid-Essebsi). In Iraq, renewed protests led to a promise to sack unsatisfactory ministers. In Algeria, the 19-year emergency law was repealed amid continuing protests. The demands are growing throughout the region, and will not be silenced.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the uprising in Libya, and all the other popular movements that have shaken the region are not just about how people want to live and develop, but about regional politics. For the first time since the 1970s, geopolitics cannot be analysed without taking into account, at least in part, the aspirations of people who have retaken control of their destinies.

“Governments of very different shades find common ground in the same disinformation. Iran has claimed that the Arabs’ democratic revolt heralded an Islamic revival, inspired by the 1979 Iranian revolution” – Halimi has written, in ‘Could Iran be next?’

Israel repeated this claim, and pretended to be alarmed. But when the Iranian opposition gathered to celebrate the demonstrations in Cairo, the ruling theocracy opened fire on the crowd. The Israeli army does not massacre unarmed civilians – unless they are Palestinian (1,400 dead in Gaza two years ago) – but Binyamin Netanyahu does not welcome young Arabs’ demands for freedom any more than Iran does. Israel fears it might lose excellent partners in power, autocratic but pro-American. Its only recourse then would be to cry wolf against Iran.

But tensions with Israel and international sanctions enable the Iranian regime, emboldened by the weakening of regional rivals Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to play the nationalist card. It sees this as useful, since the 2009 Green Movement has not succumbed to ceaseless repression. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hoped the vaccine of hanging and torture had eradicated the virus of opposition. Sadly for him, the Arab revolt and the humiliating contrast between a highly educated population and an archaic political system undermine the dubious legitimacy of his regime.

Rather than follow the Libyan example and order the air force to machinegun the crowd, the ruling elite has unleashed the murderous demands of its followers. When the opposition mustered its forces, 222 of the 290 members of the Iranian parliament called for Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, former government dignitaries under house arrest for opposing the Supreme Leader, to be brought to trial.

In Cairo, a roar for reform

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Cartoon in Al-Ahram by Fathi Abul Ezz.

Al Jazeera stands out as the news group with the most comprehensive coverage of the unfolding situation in Egypt. It has given readers a frontline taste of the atmosphere on the street in Cairo through the reportage of Ahmed Moor, a Palestinian-American freelance journalist based in the city, and who was born in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.

Moor’s ‘A day with Egypt’s protesters’ can be read here. This is a sample:

“I milled about for a half-hour trying to surreptitiously snap pictures of the scene when I heard the first dim shouts to my right. I shot across the street to get a look and saw a large group of riot guards forming a two-man thick cordon around a group of about 30 demonstrators.

“They were tightening their human noose when some of the protesters pushed back and broke through. Fifty of us joined in and within minutes 300 people were marching down the street away from the square.

“A chant went up: Hurriya! Hurriya! Hurriya! – Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!

“The riot police approached from the rear and formed a barrier several men deep. Ahead of us, a group of sour-looking Mukhabarat men tried to block the group of several hundred protesters in – but we pushed and overwhelmed them.

“Someone holding a cellphone to my left yelled in a heated voice that there were more protesters by the museum. The men at the head of the protest, the ones leading the chants, began to run breathlessly around the corner and we followed, also breathless. I panted as I ran, disbelieving what was happening. Rounding the corner, I came face to face with a crowd of more than 1,000 demonstrators and my heart swelled and my head spun.

“Within 20 minutes there were several thousand of us on the streets, and by the end of the hour several more thousand. The police decided to try to take control at that point and personnel carrier armed with a water cannon tore through the crowd. We split in two and demonstrators began to attack the vehicle. Hundreds of men chased after the truck but rejoined the main protest minutes later.”

Egypt’s veteran and somewhat stodgy Al-Ahram reported that since Wednesday (January 26) morning “police trucks and state security forces could be seen in several areas throughout Egypt, after Tuesday’s unprecedented demonstrations calling for radical political and economic reforms. Spots expecting demonstrations have been guarded by state security after the ministry of interior declared that no demonstrations of any kind will be tolerated”.

“Despite official warnings,” Al-Ahram said, “several demonstrations calls or rumours of some have been spreading on social media sites. Although the government has cracked down on activists’ Internet tools, blocking Twitter, Facebook and a number of Egyptian news websites, online activists have been able to post and discuss possible meeting points as the “Day of Anger” looked set to continue for several more days.”

Al Jazeera has also reported that prime minister Ahmed Nazif made what may have been the government’s first concession to protesters. In a statement to a state news agency, he pledged that the country’s leadership was committed to allowing freedom of expression “by legitimate means.” But his statement came as the interior ministry said that 500 protesters had been arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to clamp down on the public unrest. The ministry had said earlier on Wednesday that new demonstrations would not be allowed. Thousands of armoured police had been deployed at key locations around the capital in anticipation of renewed demonstrations on Wednesday, which some have called the most significant in Egypt since massive riots over the price of bread in the 1970s.

The new protests over living conditions and an autocratic government have broken out in Cairo a day after large and deadly demonstrations, calling for the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, swept across the country. More than 500 protesters were arrested by security forces as the government vowed to crackdown on them. On Wednesday evening, thousands of demonstrators were spread throughout downtown Cairo after being dispersed by security forces. Many had gathered on Gelaa Street, near central Tahrir Square – the site of a violent early morning confrontation between security forces and protesters who had been planning to sleep the night in defiance of the government.

Written by makanaka

January 26, 2011 at 23:40