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Posts Tagged ‘North Africa

Beating the drums of war early in 2013

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The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

Little noticed by the world’s media, the Munich Security Conference has in 2013 has just concluded. Its organisers and sponsors call it “the major security policy conference worldwide”. In this year’s conference – attended by about 400 participants from nearly 90 countries – a speech was delivered by the Vice President of the USA, Joseph Biden.

Biden mixed deception with aggression. This is what he said about current conflict the USA is prosecuting:

Today, we’re in the process of turning the page on more than a decade of conflict following the September 11, 2001 attack, and we ended the war in Iraq responsibly. And together we’re responsibly drawing down in Afghanistan, and by the end of next year, the transition will be complete.”

And here is what Biden has threatened:

… we took the fight to core Al Qaeda in the FATA, we were cognizant of an evolving threat posed by affiliates like AQAP in Yemen, al-Shabaab in Somalia, AQI in Iraq and Syria and AQIM in North Africa.”

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

At the Munich Security Conference leading political, military and defence industry representatives of the major powers, along with invited officials from other nations, met to discuss current and future military operations and geo-strategic issues.

That’s the sanitised version. The unsanitised version is plain to see in the speeches, such as Biden’s, and the statements. What this perverse gathering of war-mongers demonstrated is the consensus that exists among the countries of western Europe, amongst the USA and its allies, for an expanded political and military drive to install puppet governments and seize control of land, water and energy in the Middle East, in Central Asia and in the African continent. [See the map of US military bases, courtesy of the New Humanist.]

Biden in his speech revealed the growing darkness of widening conflict planned by this group:

As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment – it is is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations …”

And:

“The United States is taking difficult but critical steps to put ourselves on a sounder economic footing. And I might add, it’s never been a real good bet to bet against America.”

The American vice president then went on to allege that “Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation”.

Who in truth is responsible for that deprivation, what is the human cost of that designed deprivation and isolation?

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011.  Photo: White House

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011. Photo: White House

Less than a week before this Munich Security Conference began, Iranian Mothers for Peace in an open letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Heath Organization, alerted them to the critical shortage of vital medication due to the US/EU-led sanctions on Iran and their deadly impact on the lives and health of the Iranian population.

Excerpts from the letter written by the Iranian Mothers for Peace:

Dear Dr. Margaret Chan
As you know, the illegal and inhumane actions led by the US and the EU, targeting the country and the population of Iran, with the stated intention to put pressure on the government of Iran, have intensified in the past two years and increasingly harsher sanctions are imposed almost on a monthly basis. The regulations governing these inhumane and arbitrary sanctions are executed with such strict inflexibility that Iran is now excluded from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) and the sanctions on banking transactions are preventing Iran from even purchasing its needed medical supplies and instruments. On the other hand, to avoid suspicion for dealing with Iran, the European banks are fearful not to engage in any kind of financial transactions with Iran and, therefore, in practice, refuse any transfer of payment for medical and health-related items and raw materials needed for the production of domestic pharmaceutical drugs, even payment for well-recognized drugs for the treatment of Special Diseases, which are not of dual use.”

We ask you: What could possibly be the intended target of the wealthy and powerful US and European statesmen’s ‘targeted’ and ‘smart’ sanctions but to destroy the physical and psychological health of the population through the increase of disease and disability? The right to health and access to medical treatment and medication is one of the fundamental human rights anywhere in the world. Please do not allow the killing of our sick children, beloved families, and fellow Iranians from the lack of medicine, caught in instrumental policies of coercion and power.”

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

Unheeding of the clamour for peace worldwide and blind to the appalling cost in life, the gathering of war-mongers in Munich listened to Biden:

“That’s why the United States applauds and stands with France and other partners in Mali, and why we are providing intelligence support, transportation for the French and African troops and refueling capability for French aircraft. The fight against AQIM may be far from America’s borders, but it is fundamentally in America’s interest.”

Representatives of the countries of western Europe – of the same governments bent on now impoverishing their own people just as surely as they have wreaked havoc in the countries of the South with neo-liberal mutations of the ‘structural adjustment’ doctrine of the 1980s – made clear that they were only too willing to participate in the re-colonialisation of the Middle East and North Africa in cooperation with the USA. The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere stressed the importance of cooperation with the US and their support for the Western intervention in Syria, as well as the war in Mali.

Scholar Horace Campbell in his new book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya‘, has argued that the military organisation is the instrument through which the capitalist class of North America and Europe seeks to impose its political will on the rest of the world, “warped by the increasingly outmoded neoliberal form of capitalism”. The intervention in Libya, he said, characterised by bombing campaigns, military information operations, third party countries, and private contractors, exemplifies this new model.

At the time, they called it ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya, they tolerated suppression in Bahrain and Yemen, and then they supported civil war incitement and escalation of violence in Syria. The results have been: dangerous new urban geopolitics and the militarisation of city spaces as can be seen in Aleppo, Benghazi, Cairo and Manama; the privatisation of state violence through private security firms and mercenaries; the overuse of the democratic carrot and the economic sticks of debt, fiscal discipline, and international investment; the violence with which new forms of political and social participation, organisation, and representation (which include women, the unemployed, the urban poor) are met. This is the militarised world that has been described anew by the Biden speech.

The Damascus fork in the Middle East road

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The much abused label of a “humanitarian” intervention has been brought out again, for Syria, by the USA and its allies in western Europe. After the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the UN Security Council vote (meaning the vetoes by China and Russia) as a “travesty” and having said “we will work with the friends of a democratic Syria around the world to support the opposition’s peaceful political plans for change”, the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé called the vetoes a “stain” on the UN, adding that French President Nicolas Sarkozy would soon present further initiatives against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

These clumsy but belligerent posturings are aimed at lending some kind of moral legitimacy to a violent intervention in Syria and ignoring the profound opposition these policies provoke amongst the working class in USA and in Europe, and opposition in the Middle East and Asia to a new zone of war. Even in the Western media it has been widely reported that pro-US powers, including Turkey and France, are providing arms and aid to Syrian opposition forces – methods that have become typical of the topplings pursued in the Middle East and North Africa regions during the decade of 2000-2010.

[See ‘When China and Russia use the veto’ posted a few days earlier.] Here is a selection of recent developments, statements and responses:

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) issued a communiqué on 2012 February 05 from Caracas. This said: “The heads of state and government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) reiterate their condemnation of the systematic policy of interference in and destabilization of the brother Syrian Arab Republic, the aim of which is to impose, by force, regime change on the Syrian people.”

“The ALBA member states condemn the acts of armed violence that irregular groups supported by foreign powers have unleashed against the Syrian people.  The member states hope that the Syrian society will return to calm and develop in peace. The ALBA countries reiterate their support for the policy of reforms and national dialogue promoted by the government of President Bashar al Assad, seeking to find a political solution to the current crisis, respecting the sovereignty of the Syrian people and the territorial integrity of that brother Arab country.”

The original communiqué “Alba ratifica su apoyo a Siria” can be read at the website of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry (translation by Yoshie Furuhashi).

An editorial in the People’s Daily, China has said: “The US and Europe are likely to move against Syria without UN backing. China and Russia are acting within the UN framework, but the US and Europe are trying to set their own rules. In the 2003 Iraq war, France and Germany shared the same stance as China and Russia. During the Bosnia-Herzegovina war in the 1990s, the UK and France sided with Russia.”

“It is far different now. Shared values are bonding Europe and the US again diplomatically. They both adopt this value diplomacy as a powerful tool in the current global competition. With their declining technologic advantage, values are being applied to widen the gap between the West and the developing countries. The US still enjoys dominant military power, which helped it win the Cold War and smash the Milosevic and Saddam regimes. But now it faces economic competition from emerging countries, where military power cannot help directly.”

The Voice of Russia has reported that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and foreign intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov arrived in Damascus on Tuesday  (2012 February 07) to have talks with the country’s leader Bashar Assad and give him a letter from President Dmitry Medvedev. The VoR`s Olga Denisova reports from Damascus. On their arrival at Damascus airport, Sergei Lavrov and Mikhail Fradkov were greeted by a top-ranking delegation. When the Russian officials were taken to the center of the city, they could see crowds of pro-Assad supporters, some of them holding Russian flags. People were chanting ‘thank you, Russia!’ At some moment, police officers found it hard to keep people at a necessary distance from the Russian car procession as too many of them wanted to welcome the envoys.

Speaking during a press-briefing after the talks, Mr. Lavrov said that the Russian message was accepted in Syria: “We confirmed our readiness to help Syria overcome the ongoing political crisis relying on three principles outlined in the Arab League`s initiative on November 2, 2011. The Syrian leader, on his part, confirmed his adherence to the policy of non-violence.”

According to Voice of Russia, Bashar Assad said that Syria is interested in the Arab League`s mission to be resumed and even expanded. He believes that the Arab League monitors should watch the situation in all restive districts of the country and report all violations, no matter on which of the opposing sides. Mr. Lavrov told journalists that Mr. Assad confirmed his government`s readiness to start an interethnic dialogue as suggested by the League. Mr. Assad is also expected to have talks with a commission that deals with preparing a draft constitution for Syria. After the draft is ready, a national referendum on the new constitution will be held, to be followed by parliamentary elections, which Assad described as “not offering any privileges to the ruling Ba`ath party”.

Reuters has reported that Russia has won a promise from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to bring an end to bloodshed in Syria, but Western and Arab states acted to isolate Assad further after activists and rebels said his forces killed over 100 in the city of Homs. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, representing a rare ally on a trip to the Syrian capital that other states are shunning, said both countries wanted revive a monitoring effort by the Arab League, whose plan to resolve Syria’s crisis Moscow and Beijing vetoed in the U.N. Security Council.

According to the Reuters report, there was an indication from Lavrov’s comments that the issue of Assad eventually giving up power – a central element of the Arab proposal that failed in the Council – had been raised. Assad said he would cooperate with any plan that stabilised Syria, but made clear that only included an earlier Arab League proposal that called for dialogue, release of prisoners and withdrawing the army from protest centres. Russia’s mediation failed to slow a rush by countries that denounced the Russian-Chinese veto three days ago to corner Syria diplomatically and cripple Assad with sanctions in hopes of toppling him.

A perspective from the World Socialist Web Site has said that the supposed “principles” underlying the US initiative – that the major imperialist powers have the right to intervene and depose the governments of former colonial countries they deem guilty of violating human rights – stand in complete contradiction to international law. As in everything else, the American financial aristocracy makes up the rules as it goes along.

The reasoning of the Russian and the Chinese governments is fairly straight-forward. They see the US posturing once again as the champion of democracy and human rights as it carries out a relentless campaign of aggression aimed at transforming Iran and Syria – both key trading and strategic partners with Moscow and Beijing – into neo-colonial puppet states of American imperialism. The modus operandi in pursuing these imperialist aims is now all too familiar. A targeted regime is denounced with hypocritical invocations of human rights violations after the US and its allies promote civil war in the country and then utilize the inevitable repression as the pretext for intervention.

This was the formula employed successfully in Libya, after Russia and China abstained, failing to exercise their veto, on a resolution authorizing a “no-fly zone,” supposedly to protect the civilian population. This resolution was then exploited as a pseudo-legal fig leaf for a US-NATO war of colonial aggression involving non-stop bombardment of Libya. Special forces and intelligence assets led the so-called rebels in the toppling and ultimate assassination of Muammar Gaddafi.

Jorge Insunza, a leader of the Communist Party of Chile and a member of its Central Committee and Political Commission, has in an interview said: “The Communist Party of Syria, which is a great, serious, and responsible Communist Party and which is not part of the Syrian government, says that it is necessary for Syria to make progress in the deepening of the real exercise of democratic rights. That there have been flaws and errors is an objective fact. However, North American intervention would not solve any democratic problem. On the contrary, it would result in the establishment of a power that would be much more repressive than the current government which allows the existence of parties that are not part of it and have a critical perspective as in the case of the Communist Party of Syria.” This interview was released by TeleSur on 2012 February 03.

Eighty years after Umar al-Mukhtar’s execution, western Europe’s rulers announce the Libyan plunder

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Umar al-Mukhtär (b. c. 1862), a leader of Sanüsi resistance to Italian colonisation until his execution in 1931. Photo: General History of Africa, Vol VII, UNESCO 1985

We do not know if the president of France and the prime minister of Britain were aware of the historic signifiance of the timing of their joint visit to Libya last week. Either David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy had been informed of what had happened there, exactly 80 years before, and chose the date as a symbol of the military might that occupying colonial powers have had in North Africa; or they did not, their presence at the time being coincidence. Whichever the explanation, the Libyans who watched the two western European political leaders in their country could not have failed to have observed the anniversary of the execution of Umar al-Mukhtär, Libya’s legenary freedom fighter and the ‘Lion of the Desert’. It had taken place exactly 80 years ago, on 16 September 1931.

The Cameron-Sarkozy visit recalled all the sordid and bloody traditions of imperialism: untrammelled hypocrisy, rank economic plunder and the ruthless use of force to secure such plunder. They were feted by the leaders of NATO’s local client, the National Transitional Council (TNC), under heavy security in Tripoli. Delivering the ghastly charade, Cameron hailed “free Libya” to the cheers of the assembled crowds. “France, Great Britain, Europe, will always stand by the side of the Libyan people,” his counterpart Sarkozy declared.

A comment in The Guardian has explained that in Libya the long decades of oppression could not be forgotten so easily. The Italians had devastated the old pastoral economy, and depopulated much of the land: the very term Siziliani (many of the settlers had come from Sicily) remained a term of loathing. Memories of anti-colonial resistance helped to legitimise Libya’s new British-backed king, Idris, who as head of the Sanusi order had been a figurehead for the struggle against the Italians. But such memories also helped bolster the 27-year-old Colonel Gaddafi when he accused the king of selling out to latter-day imperialism, toppled him in a coup and set up the republic.

Poster for the file, 'Lion of the Desert' (1981)

This year that republic became the pretext for NATO’s neo-colonial adventure — to protect Libyan lives from the regime of Muammar Gaddafi — one that has almost completely been dispensed with. Based on a blatant illegality [‘Is the resolution on Libya legal under international law?‘], NATO warplanes continue to pound targets around the remaining pro-Gaddafi towns of Sirte and Bani Walid with scant regard for civilian lives as the TNC and its NATO backers push to bring the entire country under their control. The World Socialist Web Site has explained that all the hypocritical claims that the war for “regime change” in Libya was all about saving human lives notwithstanding, the aims of British and French imperialism in Libya, North Africa and the Middle East are no more humanitarian today that they have been for the past 200 years.

Earlier that week, the CEO of Italy’s energy giant ENI, Paolo Scaroni, was in Tripoli to discuss the resumption of Libyan gas exports. ENI was Libya’s largest energy producer before this economic war was illegally launced the energy company wants to defend its dominant position. Libya has the largest proven energy reserves in Africa: 46.4 billion barrels of oil and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Libyan officials reported to the “Friends of Libya” gathering in Paris on September 2 that five major foreign energy corporations were back in the country.

To compare better the bloody and tragic history of ‘regime change’ carried out under colonial domination then and now, here is an extract that describes the events leading up to 16 September 1931.

“To worsen the situation even further, on 21 December 1922, Emir Idrïs al-Sanusï, the Union’s spiritual leader and supreme commander, went into voluntary exile to Egypt. His unexplained and sudden departure, which is still being debated among historians, completely demoralized the people and caused many of the warriors either to leave the country or surrender to the Italians. However, before leaving, al-Sanusï appointed his brother Al-Ridä as his deputy, and Umar al-Mukhtär as commander of the National Forces in the Green Mountains, and it was under his leadership and because of the efficient guerrilla warfare that he developed that the resistance continued until 1931. He divided his forces into three major mobile companies (adwär) and camped in the mountainous area south of al-Mardj at Jardas. The series of attacks launched against him in the summer of 1923 were all repelled. Another army sent against his camp in March was routed.”

Partie de Tunis et de Tripoli. Afrique no. 3. (Dresse par Ph. Vandermaelen, lithographie par H. Ode. Troisieme partie. - Afrique. Bruxelles. 1827). Cartographer: Vandermaelen, Philippe, 1795-1869. Date: 1827. Collection: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

“It was Tripolitania that fell first. By June 1924, all arable land was occupied. But aware of their weakness as long as they did not control the desert, the Italians began a long campaign to control the desert and finally Fazzän. This was not marked by success despite the use of aerial bombing and poison gas. Several Italian advances were stopped. As late as 1928 the Libyans blocked the main Italian force at Faqhrift south of Surt. But by the end of 1929 and the beginning of 1930, Fazzän was finally occupied and the Libyan resistance in the west and south collapsed.”

“Meanwhile, the resistance in Cyrenaica continued and succeeded in inflicting heavy defeats on the Italians. When the Fascists failed to suppress the revolution of Umar al-Mukhtär in Cyrenaica through direct military attack, they resorted to some measures unprecedented in the history of colonial wars in Africa. They first erected a 300 km-long wire fence along the Tripoli-Egyptian border to prevent any aid coming from Egypt. Secondly, continually enforced, they occupied the oases of Djalo, Djaghabüb and Kufra to encircle and isolate the warriors in Cyrenaica. Finally, they evacuated all the rural population of Cyrenaica to the desert of Sirt where they kept them in fenced concentration camps. This measure was meant to deprive al-Mukhtär’s forces of any local assistance. Other mass prisons and concentration camps were established at al-Makrfln, Sulük, al-Aghayla and al-Barayka. Conditions in these camps were so bad that it is believed that more than a hundred thousand people died of starvation and diseases, not to mention their animals which were confiscated. In al-Barayka prison camp alone, there were 80,000 persons of whom 30,000 are said to have died between 1930 and 1932, according to the Italians’ own statistics.”

“Despite these wicked measures, the revolt continued and hit-and-run tactics were resorted to. The Italians again offered to negotiate with al-Mukhtâr. A series of meetings were held between the two sides. Among them was the one held near al-Mardj on 19 July 1929, attended by Governor Badoglio. At this meeting, the Italians offered to bribe al-Mukhtlr who turned down the offer and insisted on liberating his country.”

One for you, two for me. French President Nicolas Sarkozy (right) greets British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday at the Elysee Palace. Photo: Der Spiegel/DPA

“Later, when al-Mukhtär discovered that the Italians were trying to apply the policy of ‘divide and rule’ among his followers, he broke the talks with the Italians and resumed his tactics of guerrilla warfare which included skirmishes, raids, ambushes, surprise attacks and incursions spread all over the country. In the last twenty-one months before his capture, he fought 277 battles with the Italians as Graziani himself admits. In September 1931, however, al-Mukhtär was captured and taken to Benghazi. He was then court-martialed and executed before thousands of Libyans at the town of Sulük on 16 September 1931.”

[Extract from the chapter, ‘African initiatives and resistance in North Africa and the Sahara’, by A. Laroui, in Volume VII of ‘General History of Africa – Africa under Colonial Domination 1880-1935’, UNESCO-Heinemann, 1985]

From the very start of the Gaddafi regime, the Guardian comment observes, present and past merged as the anti-colonialist Gaddafi ordered British and American air bases to close and kicked out the 20,000 Italians still living in the country, nationalising their property. As his regime became more and more unpopular, so it found new uses in Libya’s history of oppression. Even as it razed the monuments of the Sanusi leadership, now seen by regime propagandists as feudal usurpers of a popular nationalist movement, so it sent researchers into the countryside as part of a vast oral history project to collect memories of the guerrilla war and Italian atrocities.

Such moves not only wrapped the regime in the heroic mantle of the anti-Italian jihad, they served geopolitical purposes too. Two years after forcing the Italians to leave, the socialist Gaddafi was inviting Italian corporations back in, turning the former colonial oppressor into Libya’s chief European business partner. And when in 2004 he sought new respectability in Europe, Italy became a crucial ally and history was part of the deal: Berlusconi apologized publicly for Italy’s past crimes, and in return, Gaddafi promised to keep Italy’s unwanted illegal migrants locked up in camps inside Libya.

There is more on Libya here: The bloody cost of ‘democratic transition’ in Libya ; A time before the pillage – what North Africa should mean to us ; Mussolini and Ethiopia, Italy and Libya, the mill of history ; Libya, the economic reasons for invasion ; Nato’s fascist war and the Black Code of the West ; So, why did the powers now attacking Libya easily tolerate Gaddafi for the last 10 years? ; The West’s Libya campaign has begun

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.

North Africa to Lampedusa, the terrible voyage that Europe ignores

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'NATO: Bah! It's just African immigrants dying of hunger' Cartoon by Victor Nieto, Venezuela. Nieto's cartoons frequently appear in Aporrea and Rebelión among other sites. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi

“According to the refugees, when water ran out people drank sea water and their own urine. They ate toothpaste. One by one people started to die. After waiting a day or so, they decided they had to drop the bodies into the sea.”

That is the account of Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to a Geneva news briefing. In a UNHCR camp in Tunisia, agency workers interviewed three Ethiopian men who said they were among nine survivors from a boat that left Tripoli on March 25 carrying 72 people.

Their boat is the one that NATO warships ignored.

One of the Ethiopians interviewed said the boat ran out of fuel, water and food, then drifted for more than two weeks before reaching a beach back in Libya. Military vessels had twice passed the 12-meter-long boat, crowded to the point there was barely standing room, without stopping, he said. The first boat refused a request to board and the second just took photos, although he could not say where the vessels had come from.

Fleming said that the boat was among many believed to have left Libya without a captain, leaving the migrants to do the navigation themselves. “I have heard accounts that perhaps there has been a captain for the first 100 meters or so and then a small boat will take the captain back to shore. They provide the passengers with a compass and say ‘Lampedusa is in that direction. Best of luck’,” said Fleming, referring to the small southern Italian island where many refugees have headed.

One in 10 migrants fleeing conflict in Libya by sea is likely to drown or die from hunger and exhaustion in appalling conditions during the crossing, the UN refugee agency said Friday. Around 12,000 migrants have arrived at reception centers in Malta and Italy. An estimated 1,200 are missing and presumed dead, adding a further human tragedy to the thousands killed in three months of fighting to topple leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Written by makanaka

May 16, 2011 at 16:11

Libya, the economic reasons for invasion

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Libyan artists work on revolutionary posters at press center for the new interim government on February 28, 2011 in Benghazi, Libya. Officials have set up a transitional council to run day to day affairs in the eastern half of the country controlled by the opposition to the Gaddafi regime. Photo: Al Jazeera/John Moore/Getty Images

Two hard-hitting analyses from Pambazuka help refute the lies pouring out of the corporate-military-oligopolist western mainstream news media about Libya. In ‘Five Principles Of War Propaganda’ the Pambazuka comment has pointed out that calling Libya a ‘failed state’ is like the kettle calling the pot black. Libya has the highest standard of living in Africa and unlike the US or UK, it has a high standard of healthcare, education and social infrastructure. As Noam Chomsky comments, the US is fast becoming a failed state – a danger to its own people – as the 45 million Americans living in poverty will attest to. Even in those countries where the US and its allies have claimed to support the uprisings such as Egypt and Tunisia, it is notable that to date, although the dictators have gone, the regimes remain in charge – so for the US little has changed. In a recent interview, Michel Collon of InvestigAction discusses US strategies in Africa. One of those strategies is the military occupation of Africa through AFRICOM. From this position it is clear that the propaganda of the ‘theatre of Libya’ has huge significance, as it offers access to a country that intersects with Europe [NATO], the Middle East and Africa – and one that has oil.

There is evidence of the use of depleted uranium by the neo-colonial forces attempting to invade Libya, according to this Pambazuka analysis. “Disturbingly, depleted uranium weapons have been used in Libya, both by the USA and subsequently by NATO upon assuming command and control of the NFZ responsibilities. The United States Pentagon’s denial of use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons has been met with scepticism, especially considering USAF A-10 warthog tank-buster aircraft deployed over Libya and given that the United States has a long history of only admitting to deploying DU radioactive material months or years after it has been used.” Based on news video footage, it is more than likely that depleted uranium has been used more widely than originally thought since the USA has launched shells, bombs and cruise missiles containing depleted uranium in the past in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement that the Libyan armed forces had used cluster bombs in Misrata. The Libyan government has denied these charges and challenged HRW to prove them; most interestingly no casualties from cluster bombs have been confirmed in Misrata.

A wounded Libyan rebel flashes the victory sign as he is carried into a hospital in Misurata. Photo: Al Jazeera/AFP

The bodies of sub-Saharan refugees who tried to escape Libya by boat have been found in the sea with gunshot wounds according to an Eritrean priest who tracks migrants as they make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Father Mussie Zerai, a Catholic cleric based in Rome, told The Independent that his contacts in Tripoli have seen five bodies in a hospital that were recently washed back onto the Libyan coast. Human rights groups have called on the international community to investigate the killings and have blamed Nato for not doing more to try and locate boats that have gone missing in a corner of the Mediterranean that is now bristling with international vessels.

Despite widespread opposition, France’s Parliament has approved a law which seeks to ensure that refugees from the unrest in North Africa stay outside of the republic. Under EU laws, the country of arrival is responsible for dealing with any asylum seekers, but nearly all of the migrants are Tunisians who wish to join the 600,000-strong Tunisian community in France. France has responded by unveiling plans for barely-legal border checks and new sea patrols, which have already turned back more than 1,000 exiles.

In the centre of Benghazi, the main square has sprouted new flags and new martyr memorials. The bloody combat in western Misurata has provided ample fodder for the latter. Photo: Evan Hill/Al Jazeera

Calls for democracy, economic reforms, employment opportunities and greater accountability require us to question the development model pursued in the region by institutions like the World Bank and the underlying assumptions that may have led to the failure of this model, says this article from the Bank Information Centre. In ‘North Africa: Economic Failures, Revolutions And The Role Of The World Bank’ Bicusa has said that the recent uprisings that have affected almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa region are indicative of deep structural issues that are facing societies in these countries.

IPS news has reported that the exodus out of Libya has reduced the flow of remittances to poorer countries in the region. “The exodus of migrants streaming out of Libya due to ongoing unrest has highlighted the heavy dependence of some countries on remittances from their citizens working abroad,” said the IPS report. In several countries this flow has now become choked. ‘With thousands returning home the economic impact of the unrest in Libya is that remittances will be reduced,’ Dr Mizanur Rahman, economist and research fellow at the National University of Singapore told IPS. Recent World Bank statistics indicate that developing countries got more than 325 billion dollars last year from migrant worker remittances, outstripping foreign direct investment and development assistance combined.

Written by makanaka

April 24, 2011 at 13:19

Three conclusions for agricultural commodities, says European Commission

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A Syrian family receives food aid at a WFP distribution point. Photo: WFP/John Wreford

A Syrian family receives food aid at a WFP distribution point. Photo: WFP/John Wreford

Here’s the latest punditry from the European Commission.

“Despite remaining uncertainties, based on the outlook for agricultural commodities established by several organisations, including the latest Commission medium term projections, three conclusions are clear for agricultural commodities:

  • Agricultural commodity prices  are expected to stay higher than their historical averages, reversing their long-term downward trend, at least for the foreseeable future.
  • Price volatility is also expected to remain high, although uncertainties with respect to its causes and duration persist.
  • The level of input prices used in agriculture is also likely to remain higher than its historical trends.”

These three conclusions are contained in the document, ‘Tackling the Challenges in Commodity Markets and on Raw Materials’, issued as a Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. (These Eurocrats need urgent lessons in how to be brief and clear.)

The ‘Communication’ has also said:

“While higher global prices could stimulate  agricultural production, price transmission mechanisms are often imperfect. In many developing countries, commodity markets are often disconnected from world markets or, at best, world price signals are transmitted to domestic markets with considerable lags so that a domestic supply response is often delayed. Several analyses by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, OECD, Commission and others have focused on supply and demand developments, exacerbated by short-term economic and policy factors (including restrictions on exports) that explain part of the observed extreme price volatility, including factors specific to financial markets that may have amplified price changes.”

A food crisis in northern Burundi’s Kirundo province – the result of failed rains – has prompted many women to make a long daily commute to neighbouring Rwanda, where a day’s work in a field earns them just enough money to feed their family for a day. Photo: IRIN/Judith Basutama

A food crisis in northern Burundi’s Kirundo province – the result of failed rains – has prompted many women to make a long daily commute to neighbouring Rwanda, where a day’s work in a field earns them just enough money to feed their family for a day. Photo: IRIN/Judith Basutama

There are several errors in this statement. One, in many developing countries, commodity markets are extremely closely tied to world markets quite simply because they are buying staple foodgrain from world markets. Two, domestic supply responses are not delayed – the structural adjustment in agriculture is preventing them from taking place. Three, the “restrictions on exports” mantra is being repeated as often as possible by all multilateral development banks (World Bank, IMF, ADB, IADB, AfDB) and by financial markets and commodities analysts who collaborate to spread this misinformation. Four, why are the “factors specific to financial markets” not spelt out?

“The combination of the above factors implies that higher prices for agricultural commodities will not necessarily result in higher incomes for farmers, especially if their margins are squeezed by increased costs. In addition, potential problems for net food importing countries and more generally for the most vulnerable  consumers are evident, stemming from price impacts on food inflation. While a certain degree  of variability is an intrinsic part of agricultural markets, excessive volatility does not benefit producers neither users.”

The contradictions between what the EU thinks it ought to say to the finance + markets constituency and what it thinks it ought to say to critics of neo-lineral economics at home is clear from this paragraph. The EU is admitting there is a profiterring taking place between the higher prices for agri commodities and the “not necessarily” higher incomes for farmers. Higher costs are mentioned too. Food importing countries have “potential problems’! (Seriously, are the people who wrote this completely unaware of the events in North Africa and the reasons behind them?)

‘Get out’ Friday nears for Egypt’s Mubarak

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A musician performs in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square in Cairo. Tens of thousands of people filled the square as a call for a million protesters was answered by the largest demonstration in a week for President Hosni Mubarak to leave. Photo: AP

A musician performs in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square in Cairo. Tens of thousands of people filled the square as a call for a million protesters was answered by the largest demonstration in a week for President Hosni Mubarak to leave. Photo: AP

Newslinks, snippets and sources for the fast-moving events in Egypt.

President Hosni Mubarak announced Tuesday he will not run for a new term in September elections but rejected protesters’ demands he step down immediately and leave the country, vowing to die on Egypt’s soil, after a dramatic day in which a quarter-million Egyptians staged their biggest protest yet calling on him to go.

Although internet is not ordinarily accessible from Egypt, there’s a variety of alternatives available. Go to egypt.alive.in to explore links to a variety of tweets and audio content.

Al Jazeera’s special section, ‘Revolt on the Nile’, has a large and growing number of videos, tweets, messages, comments, opinions and reportage from Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere.

Jordan’s King Abdallah II, bowing to public pressure, fired his government on Tuesday and tasked a new prime minister with quickly boosting economic opportunities and giving Jordanians a greater say in politics.

Gulf News reports that at Cairo’s Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, focus of protests for a week, young professionals in their 20s were unimpressed. “The speech is useless and only inflames our anger,” said Shadi Morkos. “We will continue to protest.”

Anti-government protesters pray during a rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Photo: EPA

Anti-government protesters pray during a rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Photo: EPA

In Alexandria, the second city, troops in tanks fired shots in the air to keep order after skirmishes between anti-government and pro-Mubarak groups. But there was no sign that the army was trying to halt anti-government protests. It has said it will protect marchers and called their demands “legitimate”.

But some analysts said tensions could rise even within the army if Mubarak were to hang on too long, and if senior officers were seen to be protecting a leader who had lost legitimacy. “The longer this goes on, the more people will associate the military top brass with Mubarak. That is very dangerous,” said Faysal Itani, deputy head of Middle East and North Africa Forecasting at Exclusive Analysis.

An analysis in The News, Pakistan, has said that Air Marshal Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak has been the President of Jumhuriyah Misr al-Arabiyah for 30 years. At 82, the president has plans of gifting the presidency to Gamal Al Din Mohammed Hosni Sayed Mubarak, his younger son, as if the Arab Republic of Egypt is the president’s personal estate. An uprising spurting from within the centre of power clearly indicates that a powerful faction from within the leadership is either guiding or managing the outbreak. It isn’t a revolution but a war of succession. In all probability, a powerful faction very close to the centre of power disagrees with Hosni Mubarak’s plans of gifting the presidency to Gamal and the entire upheaval is being stage managed to bring about the desired result.

The Egyptian theatre now has four key players — Lt Gen Sami Annan, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Army, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Defence Minister, Air Marshal Ahmed Shafiq, Minister for Civil Aviation, and Lt Gen Omar Suleiman, the intelligence chief. Of the four, Lt Gen Annan commands 468,000 troops, Field Marshal Tantawi oversees 60,000 Republican Guards while Lt Gen Suleiman is rumoured to be ailing. President Mubarak is playing out the last of his tricks. If protests continue even after the dissolution of the parliament, chances are Mubarak would be eased out. Lt Gen Sami Annan will have the last word and Air Marshal Ahmed Shafiq may be a good compromise candidate to replace Mubarak.

Written by makanaka

February 2, 2011 at 11:26