Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 31 Jan 2015 14:18:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 U.S. Ally Yemen in Danger of Splitting into Two – Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:23:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138868 Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival."This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease." -- Vijay Prashad

But the current political chaos – with the president, prime minister and the cabinet forced to resign en masse last week – has threatened to turn the country into a failed state.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Looking Two Steps Ahead into Saudi Arabia’s Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:08:41 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138838 King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

Much has been written about King Abdullah’s legacy and what Saudi Arabia accomplished or failed to accomplish during his reign in terms of reform and human rights. Very little has been written about the role that Muhammad bin Nayef, the newly appointed deputy to the crown prince, could play in the new Saudi Arabia under King Salman.

King Salman is 79 years old and has reportedly suffered one stroke in the past that has affected his left arm. The next in succession, Crown Prince Muqrin, is 69 years old.The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family.

Muhammad bin Nayef—or MBN as he is often referred to in some Western capitals—is only 55. As age and ill health incapacitate his elders, MBN could play a pivotal role as a future crown prince and a potential king in the domestic politics of Saudi Arabia, but more importantly in the kingdom’s regional politics.

The uncomfortable truth is that under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia maintained a terrible human rights record, undermined the democratic ideals of Arab Spring, and supported dictatorships in Egypt and Bahrain. It also promoted ugly sectarianism, preaching an ideology that gave rise to the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and other terrorist organisations. The kingdom supposedly did all of these things in the name of fighting Iran.

The equally inconvenient truth is that the Obama administration in the past four years has barely objected to Saudi Arabia’s undemocratic, corrupt, and repressive policies. The Saudi noose around the American neck should no longer be tolerated. MBN, two kings down the line after Salman and Muqrin, could reset Saudi Arabia’s domestic and regional policies and free Washington of Riyadh’s burden.

As king, MBN would be the first such monarch of the second generation of al-Saud. As a relatively young ruler, he would be comfortable in entertaining new ideas and communicating credibly to Saudi youth. I base this analysis on interactions I had with him during my government service several years back.

I discerned several characteristics in MBN that could help him as a future king of Saudi Arabia to nudge the country forward and perhaps usher in a period of real reform. He has a sophisticated knowledge of the root causes of terrorism and radicalisation and how to combat them. He also has a pragmatic approach to regional politics, especially Iran’s role as a regional power, and the linkage between regional stability and Saudi security.

Counterterrorism and deradicalisation

According to media reports, MBN started a comprehensive deradicalisation programme in Saudi Arabia with an eye toward persuading Saudi youth to recant radicalism and terrorism. His two-pronged strategy has exposed youth to moderate Islamic teachings and provided them with jobs and financial support to buy a house and get married.

MBN believes that extremist ideology, economic deprivation, and hopelessness drive young people to become radicalised. Despite the relative success of his programme, however, more and more Saudi youth have joined the ranks of radical groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and IS.

MBN must have realised by now that the roots of radical Sunni ideology come from the mosque sermons and religious fatwas of Salafi-Wahhabi Saudi clerics. Even as he receives hundreds of thousands of dollars to get settled in a home as a married man with a job, a young Saudi continues to be exposed to the poisonous ideology spewed by some religious leaders just outside the walls of the deradicalisation “school.”

Lacking a position of national authority beyond his counterterrorism portfolio, MBN could not really address the source of radical ideology without bringing the wrath of the Saudi religious establishment down on his head. As king, however, he might be able to tackle this sensitive issue.

MBN will face huge obstacles if he decides to address this issue—politically, historically, and culturally. Conservative, intolerant radical Sunni ideology has existed in Saudi Arabia for a long time and can be traced back to the 18th-century teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Since then Saudi culture has been imbued with this interpretation of Islam.

However, as a king representing a younger, Western-educated generation of royals and cognizant of the growing desires of Arab youth for freedom, MBN might feel more empowered to face down the religious establishment in the country.

Furthermore, he might feel less bound by the generations-old agreement between the founder of Saudi Arabia and the al-Shaykh family, which gave al-Saud greater leeway to rule and reserved to the Salafi religious establishment the authority to act as the moral guardian of Saudi society.

Domestic and regional politics

Significant segments of the Saudi people want economic and political reform. They have expressed these views in petitions, on social media, and in action. Shia activists have protested systemic regime discrimination for years. The Saudi government has illegally jailed these activists, convicted them in sham trials, tortured them with impunity, and even killed them.

The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family. In order to avoid a “Saudi Spring,” which is destined to erupt if current policies continue, MBN will have to inject large amounts of money into job creation projects.

He will also have to provide a new kind of education, which would allow Saudi job seekers to compete for employment in the technology-driven, 21st-century global economy. Despite the astronomical wealth Saudi Arabia has accumulated in the past half-century, Saudi education still produces school graduates unqualified to compete in the global economy. As a modernising king, MBN will have to change that.

Regionally, MBN realises that Gulf stability is integral to Saudi security. For Gulf security to endure, he will have to accept Iran as a significant Gulf power and search for ways to develop a mutually beneficial partnership with his Persian neighbour. Iran could be a helpful partner in helping settle the conflicts in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and other spots in the region.

If the P5+1 bloc concludes a nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States and Iran would embark on a new relationship, with which Saudi Arabia will have to come to terms.

MBN will also realise, for example, that continued conflict in Bahrain will ultimately destabilise the Gulf region, which will harm Saudi interests. As such, he would have to push al-Khalifa to institute genuine political reform in Bahrain, end systemic discrimination against the Shia majority, and include them in the economic and political process. As a first step, he would have to withdraw Saudi troops from Bahrain, where they have failed to quell anti-regime protests.

Will MBN be able to do it?

Based on MBN’s knowledge of the region and of the terrorist threat to his country, the chances of instituting real political and religious reform during his future reign are 60-40 at best. As a prerequisite for success, he will have to consolidate his power vis a vis the conservative and powerful elements within the royal family. Most importantly, he will have to overcome the opposition of the religious establishment.

His success could be historic. But his failure would be catastrophic for the future of Saudi Arabia. Al-Saud and other Gulf ruling families would not be able to maintain control forever over a population that is increasingly alienated, unemployed, and constantly yearning for a more hopeful future.

The United States should also pay close attention to MBN’s chances of success and should tacitly encourage him to move forward with courage. Regardless of the party controlling the White House, Washington can’t remain oblivious to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Renewables Can Benefit Water, Energy and Food Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:48:33 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138830 The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
ABU DHABI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

With global energy needs projected to increase by 35 percent by 2035, a new report says meeting this demand could increase water withdrawals in the energy sector unless more cost effective renewable energy sources are deployed in power, water and food production.

The report, titled Renewable Energy in the Water, Energy & Food Nexusby the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), says that integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability.

The  report, launched at the International Water Summit (Jan. 18-21) in Abu Dhabi, examines how adopting renewables can ease trade-offs by providing less resource-intensive energy services compared with conventional energy technologies. Integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability

“Globally, an energy system with substantial shares of renewables, in particular solar photovoltaics and wind power, would save significant amounts of water, thereby reducing strains on limited water resources,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin.

Unfortunately, he said, detailed knowledge on the role of renewable energy at the intersection of energy, food and water has so far been limited.

In addition to the water-saving potential of renewable energy, the report also shows that renewable energy-based desalination technologies could play an increasing role in providing clean drinking water for people around the world.

Amin said although renewable desalination may still be relatively expensive, decreasing renewable energy costs, technology advancements and increasing scales of deployment make it a cost-effective and sustainable solution in the long term.

Dr Rabia Ferroukhi, Deputy Director of IRENA’s Knowledge, Policy and Finance division, told IPS that “water, energy and food systems are inextricably linked: water and energy are needed to produce food; water is needed for most power generation; and energy is required to treat and transport water in what is known as ‘the water-energy-food nexus’.”

She said deployment of renewable energy is already showing positive results in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with an over 50 percent cost share of global desalination capacity.

Some 120 kilometres southwest of Abu Dhabi lies the Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, which generates over 100 MW of electricity for the United Arab Emirates national grid.

Shams 1, which was designed and developed by Shams Power Company, a joint venture among Masdar (60 percent), Total (20 percent) and Abengoa Solar (20 percent), accounts for almost 68 percent of the Gulf’s renewable energy capacity and close to 10 percent of the world’s installed CSP capacity.

Abdulaziz Albaidli, Sham’s Plant Manager, told IPS during a visit to the plant that the project reduces the UAE’s carbon emissions, displacing approximately 175,000 tonnes of CO₂ per year.

Located in the middle of the desert and covering an area of 2.5 km² – or 285 football fields – Shams 1 incorporates the latest in parabolic trough technology and features more than 258,000 mirrors mounted on 768 tracking parabolic trough collectors.

By concentrating heat from direct sunlight onto oil-filled pipes, Shams 1 produces steam, which drives a turbine and generates electricity. Shams 1 also features a dry-cooling system that significantly reduces water consumption – a critical advantage in the arid desert.

“This plant has been built to be a hybrid plant which allows us to produce electricity at very high efficiency, as well as allowing us to produce electricity when there is no sun. Also the use of an air-cooled condenser allows us to save two hundred million gallons of water. That is a very important feature in a country where water is scarce,” said.

In addition, he continued, “the electricity we produce is able to provide twenty thousand homes with a steady supply of electricity for refrigeration, air conditioning, lighting and so on.”

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar – the majority shareholder in Shams 1 – told delegates at the just concluded Abu Dhabi World Future Energy Summit (Jan. 18-21) that “through Masdar, we are redefining the role our country will play in delivering energy to the world.”

“From precious hydrocarbons exports to commercially viable renewable energy projects,” he said, “we are extending our legacy for future generations.”

Morocco is another country aiming to become a world-class renewable energy producer and is eyeing the chance to export clean electricity to nearby Europe through the water, energy and food nexus.

Its first CSP plant located in the southern desert city of Ouarzazate, which is now operational, is part of a major plan to produce over 2,000 megawatts (MW) at an estimated cost of nine billion dollars with funding from the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Meanwhile, South Africa is taking advantage of a solar-powered dry cooling system to generate power. In collaboration with Spanish-based CSP technology giant Abengoa Solar, the country is installing two plants – Khi Solar One and KaXu Solar One – that will generate up to 17,800 MW of renewable energy by 2030 and reduce its dependence on oil and natural gas.

Dr Linus Mafor, an analyst with the IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre, told IPS that there is an encouraging trend across the globe with countries implementing projects that aim to account for the interdependencies and trade-offs among the water, energy and food sectors.

He said that the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) is one of the promoters of the water, energy and food nexus in six Asian countries which are integrating the approach into development processes.  According to Mafor, such initiatives will see more affordable and sustainable renewable energy deployed in water, energy and food production in the near future.

The Austria-based Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) is one of the supporters of the nexus among clean energy, food production and water provision. Its Director-General, Martin Hiller, told IPS that understanding the inter-linkages among water resources, energy production and food security and managing them holistically is critical to global sustainability.

The agrifood industry, he said, accounts for over 80 percent of total freshwater use, 30 percent of total energy demand, and 12 to 30 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

REEEP is supporting countries like Kenya, Indonesia, Kenya and Burkina Faso, among others, in developing solar-powered pumps for irrigation, with the aim of improving energy efficiency.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Escape Route Towards Social Inclusion for War-Disabled Gazan Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/escape-route-towards-social-inclusion-for-war-disabled-gazan-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=escape-route-towards-social-inclusion-for-war-disabled-gazan-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/escape-route-towards-social-inclusion-for-war-disabled-gazan-youth/#comments Sat, 17 Jan 2015 19:50:54 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138686 Samah Shaheen (right), one of Gaza’s many disabled young people, joined the Irada programme to acquire expertise, learn computerised wood carving and escape social marginalisation. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Samah Shaheen (right), one of Gaza’s many disabled young people, joined the Irada programme to acquire expertise, learn computerised wood carving and escape social marginalisation. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Jan 17 2015 (IPS)

The Israeli attacks that the Gaza Strip has suffered in recent years have left in their wake a large number of young people who have come up against a further barrier to their creative energies – physical disability caused by military aggression.

Institutions here are increasingly facing the challenge of developing rehabilitation programmes to help support these physically disabled Gazan youth cope with living under the existing harsh political, economic and social conditions.

One of these programmes – known as “Irada” (“will” in Arabic) – is providing young people who have been disabled by war with vocational training with the ultimate objective of helping them earn their own livelihoods.

Launched by the Islamic University of Gaza, the Irada programme aims to support, train and reintegrate physically challenged young people in social and economic terms and boost community trust in the abilities of this so far marginalised group. More than 400 persons with all types of disabilities have already received rehabilitation and training.“After I joined the [Irada] programme and learnt computer skills for carving and decoration on wood, I now have a career, earn well and I am seriously thinking of opening a workshop” – Samah Shaheen, a 33-year-old physically disabled woman from Al-Bureij refugee camp

Irada project director Emad Al Masri told IPS that the project concept was initially developed for the massive number of young people who became disabled as a result of the Israeli war against Gaza in 2008. The project received support from the government of Turkey for the building construction to house Irada’s academic and vocational training programmes.

“The basic idea of the project is to help disabled people and reintegrate them into the community and help them to be productive instead of being seen as a burden,” Al Masri said.

Samah Shaheen, a 33-year-old from Al-Bureij refugee camp, has a physical disability that makes it difficult for her to engage in community activities. She joined the Irada programme in an attempt to acquire expertise and learn computerised wood carving. She spent more than six months in training before moving on to practice her new skills within the community under Irada supervision.

“I spent several years of my life jobless due to my disability, and also because I had no experience,” Samah told IPS. “After I joined the [Irada] programme and learnt computer skills for carving and decoration on wood, I now have a career, earn well and I am seriously thinking of opening a workshop because of the overwhelming response to the ornate wood furniture products that I have made.”

Central to the Irada rehabilitation programme is to follow up with the disabled people who have received training after leaving the programme in order to ensure their integration and participation in the labour market.  Part of this follow-up strategy also includes monitoring their progress in the workshops and factories where they are employed, and offering professional support if needed.

Because of its success, the Irada programme has been awarded funding by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help programme graduates start up small business projects, develop their economic independence and enhance their production profile.

Tariq Sha’at, NGO Coordinator for UNDP, told IPS that “UNDP allocated 150,000 dollars to establish centres for the production of home furniture throughout the governorates of the Gaza Strip and help 90 disabled trainees to manage their own businesses, continue their lives and reintegrate into the society naturally.”

Adding further success to the promising and successful Irada programme, three female information technology (IT) students from the Islamic University of Gaza have designed the first application to enable visually impaired people to write in Braille language on smart phones in Arabic.

Seen as a major breakthrough, visually impaired people can now download and install the application for performing all operations, including calls and text messaging. It also allows physically impaired people to use smart phones with high efficacy and facilitates communications with people in the wider society.

Dr. Tawfiq Barhom,  Dean of the Faculty of Information Technology, explained to IPS that “this group of female students was able to provide a great service to the community of visually impaired people, in addition to winning a global competition in which the application was selected as one of the five best projects for developers from among 2500 projects.”

Students are now trying to develop this application even further by increasing the number of languages supported to facilitate use by larger groups worldwide. Israa Al Ashqar, one of the students on the project team told IPS that the project came about because of the marginalisation experienced by visually impaired people in society and their increased isolation as a result of their inability to use social media and smart phone applications.

“The application will provide a Braille keyboard for every programme used by visually impaired people on mobile phones which will allow them to use social media and communicate with their community naturally. This will in turn increase the chances for this marginalised group to integrate into local and global society,” she said.

Together, the Irada programme and the Braille smart phone application represent a serious attempt by universities and students in Gaza to support an important section of the community that has not only suffered from wars and traumas but also hopelessness and isolation within Gazan society.

They are a tangible demonstration that the people of Gaza have the will and the talent to work together and develop opportunities, where possible, for an inclusive society.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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U.N. Helpless as Saudi Flogging Flouts Torture Conventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 21:16:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138673 Raif Badawi.

Raif Badawi.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Flogging a dead horse, as the old idiom goes, is far removed from flogging a live Saudi blogger.

But the latest cruel punishment meted out by the rigidly conservative and authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia has triggered widespread condemnation.“His flogging and 10-year sentence are testament to the extreme lengths to which the Saudi Arabian authorities will go in order to crush dissent.” -- Sevag Kechichian of Amnesty International

The strongest criticism came Thursday from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations, who said: “Flogging is, in my view, at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment.

“Such punishment,” he said, “is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified.”

The Saudi decision makes a mockery of the international convention, as do other violations, including torture of terrorist suspects by U.S. intelligence agencies.

But the United Nations remains helpless and is unable to hold these countries accountable for violations or punish them for infractions because member states reign supreme in the world body – except when penalised by the Security Council.

The Saudi punishment was meted out to Raif Badawi, who was publicly flogged 50 times last Friday and is reportedly due to be flogged every Friday, the holy Sabbath for Muslims, until his sentence of 1,000 lashes has been fully carried out.

Sevag Kechichian, Amnesty International’s (AI) Saudi Arabia researcher on the case, told IPS, “Raif Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, and he was simply trying to uphold his right to freedom of expression and he is being punished for it in a horrifying manner.

“His flogging and 10-year sentence are testament to the extreme lengths to which the Saudi Arabian authorities will go in order to crush dissent.”

Instead of announcing a second round of brutal floggings, the Saudi Arabian authorities must heed the international outcry over his case and order his immediate and unconditional release, he added.

Amnesty also noted that Saudi Arabia had condemned last week’s attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris as ‘cowardly’.

“The next day, they flogged Raif Badawi for exercising his right to free expression. We need to expose this hypocrisy. We need to embarrass them into action, now.”

Adam Coogle, Middle East Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the statement by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) correctly labels the flogging punishment as torture and calls on Saudi Arabia to abolish the practice.

“We welcome OHCHR’s press statement but call on him [Zeid] and the United Nations to continue to monitor and publicly criticise Saudi Arabia when they impose harsh and draconian punishments on peaceful activists and dissidents,” he added.

In what was described as an “unusual diplomatic rebuke,” the United States last week lashed out at Saudi Arabia, one of its closest allies in the Middle East, and urged the government to rescind its sentencing and review the case.

The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of freedom of expression and religion, and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, told reporters.

Javier El-Hage, general counsel of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS the government of Saudi Arabia is making a mockery of that country’s obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

He said “the U.N. Committee against Torture should call on Saudi Arabia’s government to immediately cease flogging Mr. Badawi, as that type of punishment constitutes a clear violation of Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the Convention against Torture.”

According to Article 20 of this Convention, he said, the U.N. Committee Against Torture has the power to carry out “ex officio investigations if it receives reliable information that appears to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practiced in the territory of a State Party.”

While they don’t have the coercive power to force Saudi Arabia to stop the flogging, as is the case with most international law obligations, the committee can certainly report on the topic, condemn Saudi Arabia and issue recommendations, he noted.

In a statement released Thursday, Zeid appealed to the King of Saudi Arabia to exercise his power to halt the public flogging by pardoning Badawi, and also to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty.

Badawi, an online blogger and activist, was convicted for exercising his right to freedom of opinion and expression on a website he founded called Free Saudi Liberals. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, 1,000 lashes and a fine of one million riyals (266,000 dollars).

Badawi’s case was just one of a succession of prosecutions of civil society activists, said the statement.

On Monday, an appeals court upheld the conviction of Badawi’s lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abu Al-Khair on charges that include offending the judiciary and founding an unlicensed organisation. Al-Khair’s sentence was extended from 10 to 15 years on appeal.

The U.N. Committee against Torture has repeatedly voiced concerns about states’ use of flogging and have called for its abolition.

Saudi Arabia’s report on its implementation of the Convention is up for review by the Committee against Torture next year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Islamic Reformation, the Antidote to Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 15:02:55 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138639

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The horrific terrorist attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo has once again raised the question about violence and Islam. Why is it, some ask, that so much terrorism has been committed in the name of Islam, and why do violent jihadists seek justification of their actions in their religion?

Regardless of whether or not Said and Cherif Kouachi, the two brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo, were pious or engaged in un-Islamic behavior in their personal lives, the fact remains they used Islamic idioms, such as “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great,” to celebrate their bloody violence. Other Islamic terrorists have invoked similar idioms during previous terrorist operations.“Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

Although many Muslim leaders and theologians worldwide have denounced the assault on the Paris-based magazine, many Muslim autocrats continue to exploit Islam for selfish reasons. For example, during the same week of the attacks in France, Saudi Arabia convicted one of its citizen bloggers and sentenced him to a lengthy jail term, a huge fine, and one thousand floggings. His “crime:” calling for liberal reforms of the Saudi regime.

Since Sep. 11, 2001, scholars of Islam have explored the factors that drive Islamic radicalism and the reasons why radical activists have “hijacked” or “stolen” mainstream Islam. Based on public opinion polls and expert analysis, most observers assess that two key factors have contributed to radicalisation and terrorism: a regime’s domestic and foreign policy, and the conservative, intolerant Salafi-Wahhabi Islamic ideology coming mostly out of Saudi Arabia.

For the past decade and half, reasoned analysis has suggested that Arab Islamic states, Muslim scholars, and Western countries could take specific steps in order to neutralise these factors. This analysis concedes, however, that the desired results would require time, resources, courage, and above all, vision and commitment.

What drives domestic terrorism?

In the domestic policy arena, economic, political, and social issues have framed the radical narrative and empowered extremist activists. These include: dictatorship, repression, corruption, unemployment, inadequate education, poverty, scarcity of clean water, food, and electricity, and poor sanitary conditions.

High unemployment, which ranges from 25-50 percent among the 15-29 cohort in most Arab and Muslim countries, has created a poor, alienated, angry, and inadequately educated youthful generation that does not identify with the state.  Many turn to violence and terrorism and end up serving as foot soldier “jihadists” in terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and others.

Autocratic regimes in several Arab and Islamic countries have ignored these conditions and the ensuing grievances for years while maintaining their hold on power. “Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

In the foreign policy arena, public opinion polls in Arab and Muslim countries have shown that specific American policies toward Arabs and Muslims have created a serious rift between the United States and the Islamic world.

These include a perceived U.S. war on Islam, the continued detention of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, unwavering support for the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, on-going violations of Muslims’ human rights in the name of the war on terrorism, and the coddling of Arab Muslim dictators.

Islamic radicals have propagated the claim, which has resonated with many Muslims, that their rulers, or the “near enemy,” are propped up, financed, and armed by the United States and other Western powers or the “far enemy.” Therefore, “jihad” becomes a “duty” against both of these “enemies.”

Although many mainstream Muslims saw some validity in the radicals’ argument that domestic and foreign policy often underpin and justify jihad, they attribute much of the violence and terrorism to radical, intolerant ideological interpretations of Sunni Islam, mostly found in the teachings of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence adhered to by Saudi state and religious establishment.

Some contemporary Islamic thinkers have accordingly argued that Islam must undergo a process of reformation. The basic premise of such reformation is to transport Islam from 7th Century Arabia, where the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, to a globalised 21st century world that transcends Arabia and the traditional “abode of Islam.”

Calls for Islamic Reformation

Reformist Islamic thinkers—including Syrian Muhammad Shahrur, Iranians Abdul Karim Soroush and Mohsen Kadivar, Swiss-Egyptian Tariq Ramadan, Egyptian-American Khaled Abu El Fadl, Sudanese-American Abdullahi Ahmad An-Naim, Egyptian Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, and Malaysians Anwar Ibrahim and Farish Noor—have advocated taking a new look at Islam.

Although their work is based on different religious and cultural narratives, these thinkers generally agree on four key fundamental points:

1. Islam was revealed at a specific time in a specific place and in a response to specific conditions and situations. For example, certain chapters or suras were revealed to Muhammad in Medina while he was fighting several battles and struggling to create his umma-based “Islamic State.”

2. If Islam desires to be accepted as a global religion with universal principles, Muslim theologians should adapt Islam to the modern world where millions of Muslims live as minorities in non-Muslim countries—from India and China to the Americas and Europe. The communal theological concept of the umma that was central to Muhammad’s Islamic State in Medina is no longer valid in a complex, multicultural and multi-religious world.

3. If the millions of Muslims living outside the “heartland” of Islam aspire to become productive citizens in their adopted countries, they would need to view their religion as a personal connection between them and their God, not a communal body of belief that dictates their social interaction with non-Muslims or with their status as a minority. If they want to live in peace with fellow citizens in secular Western countries, they must abide by the principles of tolerance of the “other,” compromise, and peaceful co-existence with other religions.

4. Radical and intolerant Islamic ideology does not represent the mainstream body of Muslim theology. Whereas radicals and terrorists, from Osama Bin Ladin to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have often quoted the war-like Medina Koranic suras, Islamic reformation should focus on the suras revealed to Muhammad in Mecca, which advocate universalist principles akin to those of Christianity and Judaism. These suras also recognise Moses and Jesus as prophets and messengers of God.

Reformist thinkers also agree that Muslim theologians and scholars all over the world should preach to radicals in particular that Islam does not condone terrorism and should not be invoked to justify violence. Although in recent years would-be terrorists invariably sought a religious justification or a fatwa from a religious cleric to justify their terrorist operation, a “reformed” Islam would ban the issuance of such fatwas.

Failed reformation attempts

Regimes have yet to address the domestic policies that have fueled radicalism and terrorism.

In terms of the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology, Saudi Arabia continues to teach the Hanbali driven doctrine in its schools and export it to other countries. It’s not therefore surprising that the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) bases its government and social “philosophy” on the Saudi religious ideology. According to media reports, some Saudi textbooks are currently being taught in schools in Iraqi and Syrian territory controlled by IS.

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the "jihad" in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the “jihad” in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Calls for reformation have not taken root in the Sunni Muslim world because once the four schools jurisprudence—Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanafi—were accepted in the 10th century as representing the complete doctrine of Sunni Islam, the door of reasoning or ijtihad was closed shut. Muslim theologians and leaders would not allow any new doctrinal thinking and would readily brand any such thought or thinkers as seditious.

An important reason why the calls for reformation have fallen on deaf ears is because in the past two decades, many of the reformist thinkers have lived outside the Muslim heartland, taught in Western universities, and wrote in foreign languages. Their academic arguments were rarely translated into Arabic and other “Islamic” languages.

Even if some of the articles advocating reformation were translated, the average Muslim in Muslim countries with a high school or college education barely understood or comprehended the reformists’ theological arguments renouncing violence and terrorism.

How to defeat Islamic terrorism

If Arab Islamic rulers are sincere in their fight against terrorism, they need to implement drastically different economic, political, and social policies. They must reform their educational systems, fund massive entrepreneurial projects that aim at job creation, institute transitions to democracy, and empower their people to become creative citizens.

Dictatorship, autocracy, and family rule without popular support or legitimacy will not survive for long in the 21st century. Arab and Muslim youth are connected to the outside world and wired into massive global networks of social media. Many of them believe that their regimes are anachronistic and ossified. To gain their rights and freedoms, these youth, men and women have come to believe their political systems must be replaced and their 7th century religion must be reformed.

Until this happens, terrorism in the name of Islam, whether in Paris or Baghdad, will remain a menace for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Field Operations Deadlier Every Yearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 03:56:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138631 United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The widespread field operations of the United Nations – primarily in conflict zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – continue to be some of the world’s deadliest.

The hazards are so predictable that the United Nations – and its agencies – subtly encourage staffers to write their last will before leaving home.

And working for the United Nations proved especially deadly in 2014 as its personnel “continued to be subject to deliberate attacks and exposed to hazardous environments”, according to the Staff Union’s Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” - Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough to protect its staff in these overseas operations, Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union, told IPS:  “This is a tricky question, because in principle the responsibility for the protection belongs primarily to the host country, i.e., the country where the staff member is working/living”.

“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” she asked.

At least, 61 United Nations and associated personnel were killed in 2014, including 33 peacekeepers, 16 civilians, nine contractors and three consultants, compared to 58 in 2013, including 33 peacekeepers and 25 civilians and associated personnel.

In 2012, 37 U.N. personnel, including 20 civilians and 17 peacekeepers, two of them police officers, were killed in the line of duty.

According to the Staff Union Standing Committee, the incident with the most casualties took place in Northern Mali, where nine peacekeepers were killed last October when their convoy was
ambushed.

Northern Mali was the most deadly place for U.N. personnel: 28 peacekeepers were killed there between June and October. And Gaza was the most deadly place for civilian personnel, with 11 killed in
July and August.

The killings, some of them described as “deliberate”, took place in Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Cambodia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, North Darfur, Central African Republic and Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a memorial ceremony last week to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, he said, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions, said: “We are asked to work in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places.”

He said the work is fulfilling and “we do it willingly.”  “But all we ask in return is that the Organisation do its best to protect us, look after our families, and hold those who attack us, including governments, responsible for their actions.”

In a statement released Tuesday, the Staff Union Standing Committee said South Sudan was the country with the highest number of national staff members detained or abducted.

In May, there were allegations that members of South Sudan’s security forces assaulted and illegally detained two staff members in separate incidents in Juba.

In August, South Sudan’s National Security Service detained two national staff.  And in October, eight armed men wearing plain clothes seized a World Food Programme staff member who was waiting in line for a flight from Malakal airport and drove him to an unknown location.

Scores of United Nations staff and associated personnel were also subject
to hostage-taking, kidnapping and abductions, the statement said.

The worst incidents took place in the Golan Heights, where 44 Fijian peacekeepers were detained by armed opposition elements between 28 August and 11 September last year.

Meanwhile, U.N. personnel were abducted in Yemen, the Sudan’s Darfur region, Pakistan and in South Sudan.

An international contractor from India working for the U.N Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was released on 12 June after 94 days of captivity.

Asked about “hazard pay” for staffers in overseas operations, Tavora-Jainchill told IPS staff members do get hazard/danger pay depending on conditions of the individual duty station.

She said, “Each duty station is a unique duty station and receives unique consideration for hazard/danger pay, so your question cannot be answered in a general manner.”

United Nations staff members participate in a Pension Fund and there are provisions in that pension related to their death and the payment of pension/indemnities to their survivors, she added.

Asked about the will, she said: “That question is very interesting because I also heard that and some time ago asked someone from the U.N. Administration if it was really the case.”

The response was that those staff members are asked to consider “putting their business and paperwork in order”.

“My understanding from the answer is that the paperwork might include a will, she added.”

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OPINION: The Paris Killings – A Fatal Trap for Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:35:46 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138602

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

It is sad to see how a continent that was one cradle of civilisation is running blindly into a trap, the trap of a holy war with Islam – and that six Muslim terrorists were sufficient to bring that about.

It is time to get out of the comprehensible “We are All Charlie Hebdo” wave, to look into facts, and to understand that we are playing into the hands of a few extremists, and equating ourselves with them. The radicalisation of the conflict between the West and Islam is going to carry with it terrible consequences

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The first fact is that Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.6 billion practitioners, that Muslims are the majority in 49 countries of the world and that they account for 23 percent of humankind. Of these 1.6 billion, only 317 million are Arabs. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) live in the Asia-Pacific region; in fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined). Indonesia alone has 209 million.

A Pew Research Center report on the Muslim world also inform us that it is in South Asia that Muslims are more radical in terms of observance and views. In that region, those in favour of severe corporal punishment for criminals are 81 percent, compared with 57 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, while those in favour of executing those who leave Islam are 76 percent in South Asia, compared with 56 percent in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is obvious that it is the history of the Middle East which brings the specificity of the Arabs to the conflict with the West. And here are the main four reasons.“We are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms … instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation”

First, all the Arab countries are artificial creations. In May 1916, Monsieur François Georges-Picot for France and Sir Mark Sykes for Britain met and agreed on a secret treaty, with the support of the Russian Empire and the Italian Kingdom, on how to carve up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Thus the Arab countries of today were born as the result of a division by France and Britain with no consideration for ethnic and religious realities or for history. A few of those countries, like Egypt, had an historical identity, but countries like Iraq, Arabia Saudi, Jordan, or even the Arab Emirates, lacked even that. It is worth remembering that the Kurdish issue of 30 million people divided among four countries was created by European powers.

As a consequence, the second reason. The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required. So, from the very beginning, there was a total lack of participation of the people, with a political system which was totally out of sync with the process of democracy which was happening in Europe. With European blessing, these countries were frozen in feudal times.

As for the third reason, the European powers never made any investment in industrial development, or real development. The exploitation of petrol was in the hands of foreign companies and only after the end of the Second World War, and the ensuing process of decolonisation, did oil revenues really come into local hands.

When the colonial powers left, the Arab countries had no modern political system, no modern infrastructure, no local management.

Finally, the fourth reason, which is closer to our days. In states which did not provide education and health for their citizens, Muslim piety took on the task of providing what the state was not providing. So large networks of religious schools and hospital were created and, when elections were finally permitted, these became the basis for legitimacy and the vote for Muslim parties.

This is why, just taking the example of two important countries, Islamist parties won in Egypt and Algeria, and how with the acquiescence of the West, military coups were the only resort to stopping them.

This compression of so many decades into a few lines is of course superficial and leaves out many other issues. But this brutally abridged historical process is useful for understanding how anger and frustration is now all over the Middle East, and how this leads to the attraction to the Islamic State (IS) in poor sectors.

We should not forget that this historical background, even if remote for young people, is kept alive by Israel’s domination of the Palestinian people. The blind support of the West, especially of the United States, for Israel is seen by Arabs as a permanent humiliation, and Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements clearly eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian State.

The July-August bombing of Gaza, with just some noises of protest from the West but no real action, is for the Arab world clear proof that the intention is to keep Arabs down and seek alliances only with corrupt and delegitimised rulers who should be swept away. And the continuous Western intervention in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the drones bombing everywhere, are widely perceived among the 1.6 billion that the West is historically engaged in keeping Islam down, as the Pew report noted.

We should also remember that Islam has several internal divisions, of which the Sunni-Shiite divide is just the largest. But while in the Arab region at least 40 percent of Sunni do not recognise a Shiite as a fellow Muslim, outside the region this tends to disappear, In Indonesia only 26 percent identify themselves as Sunni, with 56 percent identifying themselves as “just Muslim”.

In the Arab world, only in Iraq and Lebanon, where the two communities lived side by side, does a large majority of Sunni recognise Shiites as fellow Muslims. The fact that Shiites, who account for just 13 percent of Muslims, are the large majority in Iran, and the Sunni the large majority in Saudi Arabia explains the ongoing internal conflict in the region, which is being stirred by the two respective leaders.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006), successfully deployed a policy of polarisation in Iraq, continuing attacks on Shiites and provoking an ethnic cleansing of one million Sunnis from Baghdad. Now IS, the radical caliphate which is challenging the entire Arab world besides the West, is able to attract many Sunnis from Iraq which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals, that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately provoked the Shiites.

The fact it is that every day hundreds of Arabs die because of the internal conflict, a fate that does not affect the much larger Muslim community.

Now, all terrorist attacks in the West that have happened in Ottawa, in London, and now in Paris, have the same profile: a young man from the country in question, not someone from the Arab region, who was not at all religious during his teenage years, someone who somehow drifted, did not find a job, and was a loner. In nearly all cases, someone who had already had something to do with the judicial system.

Only in the last few years had he become converted to Islam and accepted the calls from IS for killing infidels. He felt that with this he would find a justification to his life, he would become a martyr, a somebody in another world, removed from a life in which there was no real bright future.

The reaction to all this has been a campaign in the West against Islam. The latest number of the New Yorker published a strong article defining Islam not as a religion but as an ideology. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Lega Nord has publicly condemned the Pope for engaging Islam in dialogue, and conservative Italian pundit Giuliano Ferrara declared on TV that ”we are in a Holy War”.

The overall European (and U.S.) reaction has been to denounce the Paris killings as the result of a “deadly ideology”, as President François Hollande called it.

It is certainly a sign of the anti-Muslim tide that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was obliged to take a position against the recent marches in Dresden (Muslim population 2 percent), organised by the populist movement Pegida (the German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”). The marches were basically directed against the 200,000 asylum seekers, most of them from Iraq and Syria, whose primary intention, according to Pegida, was not to escape war.

Studies from all over Europe show that the immense majority of immigrants have successfully integrated with their host economies. United Nations studies also show that Europe, with its demographic decline, requires at least 20 million immigrants by 2050 if it wants to remain viable in welfare practices, and competitive in the world. Yet, what are we getting everywhere?

Xenophobic, right-wing parties in every country of Europe, able to make the Swedish government resign, conditioning the governments of United Kingdom, Denmark and Nederland, and looking poised to win the next elections in France.

It should be added that, while what happened in Paris was of course a heinous crime, and while expression of any opinion is essential for democracy, very few have ever seen Charlie Hebdo and its level of provocation. Especially because in 2008, as Tariq Ramadan pointed out in The Guardian of Jan. 10, Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist who had joke about a Jewish link to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son.

Charlie Hebdo was a voice defending the superiority of France and its cultural supremacy in the world, and had a small readership, which it obtained by selling provocation – exactly the opposite of the view of a world based on respect and cooperation among different cultures and religions.

So now we are all Charlie, as everybody is saying. But to radicalise the clash between the two largest religions of the world is not a minor affair. We should fight terrorism, be it Muslim or not (let us not forget that a Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who wanted to keep his country free of Muslim penetration, killed 91 of his co-citizens).

But we are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms.

The fact that European right-wing parties will reap the benefit of this radicalisation goes down very well for the radical Muslims. They dream of a world fight, in which they will make Islam – and not just any Islam, but their interpretation of Sunnism – the sole religion. Instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation.

And, apart from September 11 in New York, the losses of life have been miniscule compared with what is going on in the Arab world, where just in one country – Syria – 50,000 people lost their lives last year.

How can we so blindly fall into the trap without realising that we are creating a terrible clash all over the world? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Video Games, Poverty and Conflict in Bab Al-Tabbanehhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh/#comments Sat, 10 Jan 2015 15:38:01 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138583 Ahmad (right), a 19-year-old student of engineering and one of Bab Al-Tabbaneh’s fortunate young people, chatting with a friend. He has been able to go to university, thanks to a grant from the Ruwwad Al Tanmeya NGO. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Ahmad (right), a 19-year-old student of engineering and one of Bab Al-Tabbaneh’s fortunate young people, chatting with a friend. He has been able to go to university, thanks to a grant from the Ruwwad Al Tanmeya NGO. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
TRIPOLI, Lebanon, Jan 10 2015 (IPS)

“People get used to war. During the last battle, children were still coming to play. Can you imagine, a seven-year-old boy running through the bullets just to play video games,” says Mohammad Darwish, a calm man with a curled beard framing his face.

Sitting behind the counter of his cybercafé, located in one of the main streets of the Bab Al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood in this northern Lebanese city, Darwish says that his young customers have resigned themselves to the persistence of armed conflicts.“People get used to war. During the last battle, children were still coming to play. Can you imagine, a seven-year-old boy running through the bullets just to play video games” – Mohammad Darwish, owner of a cybercafé in the Bab Al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood of Tripoli

Despite their age, they are pretty sure that clashes – which have become routine here over the past six years – will erupt again sooner or later. Even when calm reigns, the shelled and bullet-riddled buildings in Tabbaneh stand as a reminder of previous clashes.

The last eruption of violence was in late October 2014. Clashes between the army and local Sunni gunmen paralysed Tripoli for three days and destroyed part of the historic old city, leaving at least eight civilians, 11 soldiers and 22 militants dead. The army now controls Tabbaneh, with soldiers and tanks deployed on every street corner.

Curiously, flags and posters of the Islamic State (IS) can be seen displayed in houses and shops.

“I support IS [Islamic State] and the [Al-Qaeda-affiliated] Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN)”, says 19-year-old unemployed Hassan with a smile, explaining that he thinks IS will give him rights “to have a job, to live peacefully according to Islamic precepts, to move freely.”

Tabbaneh is probably the hardest neighbourhood to grow up in the whole of Tripoli. Despite being the second largest city in Lebanon, barely 80 kilometres north of Beirut, policy neglect by various central governments has left this Sunni-majority city suffering from alarming poverty, unemployment and social exclusion, and Tabbaneh is one of its poorest and most marginalised areas.

Seventy-six percent of Tabbaneh inhabitants live below the poverty line, according to a study on ‘Urban Poverty in Tripoli’, published in 2012 by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

These circumstances, aggravated by the political exploitation of sectarianism within a very conservative society, have fuelled the frequent rounds of violence, mainly between Tabbaneh and the neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen.

A giant poster on a balcony in Bab Al-Tabbaneh in memory of a young boy killed during clashes in the neighbourhood. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

A giant poster on a balcony in Bab Al-Tabbaneh in memory of a young boy killed during clashes in the neighbourhood. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Both neighbourhoods are separated just by one street, but while Bab Al-Tabbaneh inhabitants are mostly Sunni (like the main Syrian rebel groups), most of Jabal Mohsen’s inhabitants are Alawites (the same sect as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad).

This sectarianism has determined a rivalry that dates back to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon which began in 1976 and ended in 2005, but which has turned violent again since 2008, and especially since the beginning of Syrian civil war in 2011. During the last three years, more than 20 rounds of fights have broken out in Tripoli, most of them between Tabbaneh and Mohsen militias.

“We fight to defend our people, to achieve peace,” says 19-year-old Khaled, who usually works in a bakery but also belongs to a local militia. But Ahmad, who is of the same age, is sceptical: “People fight because they don’t have money or work.”

Ahmad is studying engineering, thanks to a grant provided by Ruwwad Al Tanmeya, a regional NGO that works in the area through youth activism, civic engagement and education. Because his father served in the army, the state paid the major part of his school fees when he was younger and he was able to study in private schools outside Tabbaneh.

Hoda Al-Rifai, a Ruwwad youth officer, agrees with Ahmad: “Many families don’t have incomes. Whenever the conflict starts, the fighters get paid. And these fighters also give money to children to fulfil specific tasks. They can have three dollars a day and this is better than going to school. Their parents also think this way.”

Stereotypes also contribute to make things hard for Tabbaneh’s youth – including finding a job outside the neighbourhood – and shape their personality, explains Hoda. “When we started, the youth had no self-confidence. The media do not produce an image of these neighbourhoods as areas where you can find brilliant young men, willing to study. They just underline the clashes and all kinds of negatives things.”

“There are no members of JN or IS here,” Darwish tells IPS, adding that many in Tabbaneh see the IS flags as a way of showing dissatisfaction over the government’s alleged abandonment of the Sunni community and specifically of Tabbaneh.

“This is not a religious conflict but political. When politicians want to send a message to each other, they pay for clashes here,” adds Darwish’s 49-year-old aunt, veiled and dressed completely in black. “In this city, you can give 20 dollars to a boy so he starts a war,” explains Darwish.

Nevertheless, various studies have found that only a small percentage of the estimated up to 80,000 Tabbaneh inhabitants take part in combats, and Sarah Al-Charif, Lebanon director of Ruwwad, stresses the immediate improvements observed in Tabbaneh and Mohsen youths who participate in the NGO’s projects.

“They become aware of their shared interests, values and pain,” she says. “They became more open-minded, especially the girls.”

For Sarah, in addition to public investment and job opportunities, any solution must include awareness and education, to which Hoda adds: “First of all, citizens need to understand why the clashes take place.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Political Islam and U.S. Policy in 2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 18:16:46 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138538 President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

This year, Arab political Islam will be greatly influenced by U.S. regional policy, as it has been since the Obama administration came into office six years ago. Indeed, as the U.S. standing in the region rose with Obama’s presidency beginning in January 2009, so did the fortunes of Arab political Islam.

But when Arab autocrats perceived U.S. regional policy to have floundered and Washington’s leverage to have diminished, they proceeded to repress domestic Islamic political parties with impunity, American protestations notwithstanding.Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

This policy linkage, expected to prevail in the coming year, will not bode well for political Islam. Like last year, the U.S. will in 2015 pay more attention to securing Arab autocrats’ support in the fight against Islamic State forces than to the mistreatment of mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which will have severe consequences in the long run.

Since the middle of 2013, the Obama administration’s focus on the tactical need to woo dictators in the fight against terrorist groups has trumped its commitment to the engagement objective. America’s growing support for Arab dictators meant that Arab political Islam would be sacrificed.

For example, Washington seems oblivious to the thousands of mainstream Islamists and other opposition activists languishing in Egyptian jails.

What is political Islam?

Several assumptions underpin this judgment. First, “political Islam” applies to mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which have rejected violence and made a strategic shift toward participatory and coalition politics through free elections.

Arab political Islam generally includes the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, al-Nahda in Tunisia, and al-Wefaq in Bahrain.

The term “political Islam” does not include radical and terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or IS), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Iraq, and Syria, or armed opposition groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Nor does it apply to terrorist groups in Africa such as Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and others.

Unfortunately, in the past three years, many policy makers in the West, and curiously in several Arab countries, have equated mainstream political Islam with radical and terrorist groups. This erroneous and self-serving linkage has provided Washington with a fig leaf to justify its cozy relations with Arab autocrats and tolerance of their bloody repression of their citizens.

Repression breeds radicalism

It has also given these autocrats an excuse to suppress their Islamic parties and exclude them from the political process. In a press interview late last month, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcefully denounced the Muslim Brotherhood and pledged the movement would not enter the Egyptian parliament.

Egypt’s recent terrorism laws, which Sisi and other Arab autocrats have approved, provide them with a pseudo-legal cover to silence the opposition, including mainstream political Islam.

They have used the expansive and vague definitions of terrorism included in these decrees to incarcerate any person or group that is “harmful to national unity.” Any criticism of the regime or the ruler is now viewed as a “terrorist” act, punishable by lengthy imprisonment.

The Dec. 28 arrest of the Bahraini Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of al-Wefaq, is yet another example of draconian measures against peaceful mainstream opposition leaders and parties in the region. Regime repression of these groups is expected to prevail in 2015.

Second, whereas terrorist organisations are a threat to the region and to Western countries, including mainstream political Islam in the governance of their countries in the long run is good for domestic stability and regional security. It also serves the interests of Western powers in the region.

Recent history tells U.S. that exclusion and repression often lead to radicalisation.  Some youth in these parties have given up on participatory politics in favour of confrontational politics and violence. This phenomenon is expected to increase in 2015, as suppression of political Islam becomes more pervasive and institutionalised.

Third, the serious mistakes the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda made in their first time ever as governing parties should not be surprising since they lacked the experience of governance. Such poor performance, however, is not unique to them.  Nor should it be used as an excuse to depose them illegally and to void the democratic process, as the Sisi-led military coup did in Egypt in 2013.

Although Islamic political parties tend to win the first election after the toppling of dictators, the litmus test of their popular support lies in succeeding elections. The recent post-Arab Spring election in Tunisia is a case in point.

When Arab citizens are provided with the opportunity to participate in fair and free elections, they are capable of electing the party that best serves their interests, regardless of whether the party is Islamic or secular.

Had Field Marshall Sisi in 2013 allowed the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi to stay in power until the following election, they would have been voted out, according to public opinion polls at the time.

But Sisi and his military junta were not truly committed to a genuine democratic transition in Egypt. Now, according to Human Rights Watch reports, the current state of human rights in Egypt is much worse than it was under former President Hosni Mubarak.

The U.S. and Political Islam

Upon taking office, President Obama understood that disagreements between the United States and the Muslim world, especially political Islam, were driven by specific policies, not values of good governance. A key factor driving these disagreements was the widely held Muslim perception that America’s war on terror was a war on Islam.

The Obama administration also realised that while a very small percentage of Muslims engaged in violence and terrorism, the United States must find ways to engage the other 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. That drove President Obama early on in his administration to grant media interviews to Arab broadcasters and give his historic Cairo speech in June 2009.

However, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, and as drone strikes caused more civilian casualties in Yemen, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, many Muslims became more sceptical of Washington’s commitment to sincere engagement with the Muslim world.

The Arab uprisings beginning in 2011 known as the Arab Spring and the toppling of dictators prompted the United States to support calls for freedom, political reform, dignity, and democracy.

Washington announced it would work with Islamic political parties, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda, as long as these parties were committed to peaceful change and to the principles of pluralism, elections, and democracy.

That unprecedented opening boosted the fortunes of Arab political Islam and inclusive politics in the Arab world. American rapprochement with political Islam, however, did not last beyond two years.

The way forward

Much as one might disagree with Islamic political ideology, it’s the height of folly to think that long-term domestic stability and economic security in Egypt, Bahrain, Palestine, or Lebanon could be achieved without including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Wefaq, Hamas, and Hezbollah in governance.

Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

The Arab countries that witnessed the fall of dictators, especially Egypt, will with Washington’s acquiescence revert back to repression and autocracy, as if the Arab Spring never happened.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Doubling Down on Dictatorship in the Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 21:14:31 +0000 Amanda Ufheil-Somers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138510 At Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

At Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Amanda Ufheil-Somers
WASHINGTON, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

For a moment, four years ago, it seemed that dictators in the Middle East would soon be a thing of the past.

Back then, it looked like the United States would have to make good on its declared support for democracy, as millions of Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemenis, and others rose up to reject their repressive leaders. Many of these autocrats enjoyed support from Washington in return for providing “stability.”

Amanda_Ufheil_Somers-113x140Yet even the collapse of multiple governments failed to upend the decades-long U.S. policy of backing friendly dictators. Washington has doubled down on maintaining a steady supply of weapons and funding to governments willing to support U.S. strategic interests, regardless of how they treat their citizens.

Four years after Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, for example, the country once again has a president with a military pedigree and an even lower tolerance for political opposition than his predecessor.With a new year upon us, it’s our turn to face down fear and insist that another path is possible.

Mass arrests and hasty convictions of political activists — over 1,000 of whom have been sentenced to death — have reawakened the fear that Egyptians thought had vanished for good after Mubarak was ousted and democratic elections were held.

When the Egyptian military — led by now-president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi — deposed the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the Obama administration wavered about whether it would suspend military aid to Egypt, which U.S. law requires in the case of a coup. Yet despite some partial and temporary suspensions, the U.S. government continued to send military hardware.

Now that Sisi heads a nominally civilian government — installed in a sham election by a small minority of voters — all restrictions on U.S. aid have been lifted, including for military helicopters that are used to intimidate and attack protesters. As Secretary of State John Kerry promised a month after Sisi’s election, “The Apaches will come, and they will come very, very soon.”

In the tiny kingdom of Bahrain, meanwhile, the demonstrations for constitutional reform that began in February 2011 continue, despite the government’s attempts to silence the opposition with everything at its disposal — from bird shot to life imprisonment.

Throughout it all, Washington has treated Bahrain like a respectable ally.

Back in 2011, for instance, just days after Bahraini security forces fired live ammunition at protesters in Manama — an attack that killed four and wounded many others — President Barack Obama praised King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s “commitment to reform.” Neither did the White House object when it was notified in advance that 1,200 troops from Saudi Arabia would enter Bahrain to clear the protests in March 2011.

Since then, there’s been a steady drip of troubling news. A State Department report from 2013 acknowledged that Bahrain revokes the citizenship of prominent activists, arrests people on vague charges, tortures prisoners, and engages in “arbitrary deprivation of life.” (That’s bureaucratese for killing people.)

And what have the consequences been?

Back in 2012, international pressure forced the United States to ban the sale of American-made tear gas to Bahraini security forces. And last August, some U.S. military aid was cut off after the regime expelled an American diplomat for meeting with members of an opposition party.

But that’s it.

Delaying shipments of tanks, jets, and tear gas amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist when the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy remains headquartered outside Bahrain’s capital. And Bahrain’s participation in air raids against the Islamic State has only strengthened the bond between the regime and the White House.

Indeed, the crisis in Iraq and Syria has breathed new life into the military-first approach that has long dominated Washington’s thinking about the Middle East. Any government willing to join this new front in the “War on Terror” is primed to benefit both from American largesse and a free pass on repression.

People power in the Middle East must be matched by popular demand here in the United States to shake the foundations of our foreign policy. With a new year upon us, it’s our turn to face down fear and insist that another path is possible.

This story originally appeared on Otherwords.orgThe views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Quo Vadis? Post-Benghazi Libyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 17:38:16 +0000 Christopher Occhicone http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138501

Christopher Occhicone is a New York-based U.S. photojournalist who recently returned from Libya.

By Christopher Occhicone
NEW YORK, Jan 4 2015 (IPS)

A concerted disinformation campaign is being conducted to manufacture consent for military action against the government in Tripoli and the town of Misrata, which has been at the forefront of toppling the despotic Gaddafi dictatorship.

It is ironic that the very same people who called in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) led airstrikes on satellite phones in 2011 are now being labeled as dangerous ‘Islamist militants’.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

chris o 300It looks like Western policymakers and legislators in the U.S. and Europe, and the United Nations may all be misinformed, which in turn could unleash catastrophic consequences for the people of Libya.  Undoubtedly a protracted civil war in Libya will swell the numbers of refugees fleeing to Europe manifold.

Impact of Benghazi

To understand the difference between fact and fiction, I spent several days interviewing senior members of the government of Libya and Fajr Libya known in English as Libya Dawn (LD).  My main subject on the side of the government was Mustafa Noah, director of the Intelligence Service of Libya.

What was very clear throughout the interview is that both Noah and his supporters in the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn are very much pro-U.S. and pro-NATO who they say are “the saviors of Libya”.The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.

They are genuinely upset at the murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his three colleagues in Benghazi.  Ambassador Stevens is considered “an honourary Libyan who loved the country and its peoples” and who was “above all, a guest whose murder is sacrilege”.

Noah said that the “perpetrators have been paying a heavy price for their crime that is being slowly but surely being exacted upon them”.  He stated categorically for the record that “extremist Takfiri Islamists are clearly rejected by Libya Dawn and the government in Tripoli”.

In my four-hour interview, Noah made it clear that he was happy to talk about any issue, but did not want to be the focus or want it to appear as though he may be vying for power. This was something he came back to later on in the recorded conversation.

In fact, he spoke little about himself and his role despite several attempts to steer the conversation in that direction.

The major point Mustafa Noah made is that the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn (as it stands now) is/are in the process of trying to set up an inclusive government for all Libyans.  His opinion is that opponents – specifically retired Libyan General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar – were “concerned about consolidating their own personal power base”.

There is mounting evidence that Hafter’s power-grab is being carried out with support of Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al Sisi and his Saudi and Emirati backers. For example: the MiG-21 bombing runs from across the border, which are tantamount to a war crime for unprovoked and undeclared bombing of a neighbouring country.

And the recent purchase of six Sukhoi Su-30 warplanes delivered to Tobruk by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military (i.e. paid for allegedly by Egypt with funds that most probably originated from the Arab Gulf).

Mustafa Noah seemed genuine insofar as he always had a humble, well-composed, and thoughtful approach to any subject discussed.

He never framed anything in terms of his own accomplishments or involvement but in terms of the people and the revolution for change, stability and prosperity for all Libyans.

Noah was genuinely upset at the thought that someone-like Haftar, who is “working for his narrow personal interests and self-aggrandizement”, could be successful in building a personal power base without regard for the people.

He said Haftar was “using the divisive methods he learned from his time as a crony in the Gaddafi dictatorship”.  Noah found the “thought of a ‘strong man’ coming to power particularly offensive and abhorrent in light of recent history in Libya”.

Mustafa Noah clearly has put a lot of trust in the ability of Libya Dawn, however he is not blindly committed to them.  When I read a list of different militias, brigades, groups that composed Libya Dawn and asked about the character of specific militias, he painted them as all equally for the revolution and composed of good people.

Noah said any group that was not focused on the spirit of the revolution (i.e. anti-corruption, against arbitrary political violence, etc.) would not be a part of the future of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Libya.

His main focus is the Libyan people, creating better institutions, employment opportunities, social services, education, health services, etc.

Mustafa Noah talked about an “inclusive future” for Libya.  He described the “old system of tribalism and manipulation by Gaddafi” and how the “mentality has to change in order for the country to progress”.  Regarding inclusivity in the future, Noah said that they are “open to people from the Gaddafi regime returning to public life once stability is created”.

In fact, Mustafa Noah’s senior advisor on Anti-Terrorism Operations, who joined the conversation halfway through, was in the Gaddafi regime for 37 years.  For Mustafa Noah, the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn, “there is a place for people from the Gaddafi regime who could prove they were not stealing from the Libyan people or … involved in atrocities against the people”.

Quo vadis Libya 2015?

What I discerned from my recent visit to Tripoli and Misrata is that the power-grab spearheaded by Haftar has more to do with Libya’s oil and gas resources, which are coveted by their neighbours, rather than the red herring of ‘Islamist militants in Tripoli and Misrata’ that is being trumpeted in the news media.

The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.  What will the U.S. and the Europeans do?

Will they play along in the new ‘Great Game’ or stop another Syria-like imbroglio unfolding where extremist Takfiri militant organisations like the Islamist State (ISIS or ISIL) can feed off and emerge to threaten peace and stability in the Mediterranean and beyond?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Syrian Refugees Between Containers and Tents in Turkeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 15:31:33 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138495 The Harran camp for Syrian refugees was one of the last to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Harran camp for Syrian refugees was one of the last to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
HARRAN and NIZIP, Turkey, Jan 4 2015 (IPS)

“We ran as if we were ants fleeing out of the nest. I moved to three different cities in Syria to try to be away from the conflict, but there was no safe place left in my country so we decided to move out.”

For Professor Helit – who was describing what he called the indiscriminate bombing of cities and burning of civilian houses by the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad when he fled his country two years ago – this “moving out” meant taking refuge across the border in Turkey in one of the so-called “accommodation camps” provided by the Turkish government.

Helit and his 10 children – five daughters and five sons – fled on December 31, 2012, hitch-hiked a lift in a truck to the border with Turkey, and then made their way to the refugee camp in Harran, 20 kilometres from the Syrian border.The Syrians refugees living in Harran have tried to reproduce the lifestyle they had in their homeland, but every family has a sad story to tell – many have lost relatives in the conflict and others still have members in the battlefields fighting the regime

The camp in Harran was one of the last camps to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers.

For more than thirty years Helit had been the headmaster of a school in Syria before the outbreak of the armed conflict in Syria in March 2011. He now runs the camp school for 4,700 Syrian children of all ages.

Harran is divided into small neighbourhood-like communities with names such as Peace, Brotherhood and Fraternity, alluding to universal values. Seen from outside, the camp seems like a prison, but the gates of the Harran camp are always open so that families can leave and visit shopping centres nearby.

The Syrians refugees living in Harran have tried to reproduce the lifestyle they had in their homeland, but every family has a sad story to tell – many have lost relatives in the conflict and others still have members in the battlefields fighting the regime.

Professor Helit showed IPS the classrooms and common areas frequented by Syrian students aged between 13 and 16, the walls decorated with paintings by the students which, he said, are an “expression of their feelings and pain.”

“We will never stop fighting for our independence,” he added. “We will resist until the end.”

Stories like that of Professor Helit can be found everywhere in refugee communities along the border, although not all have the “luxury” of container housing.

Syrian children going to school on a cold morning in the tent refugee camp in Nizip, Turkey, near the border with Syria. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Syrian children going to school on a cold morning in the tent refugee camp in Nizip, Turkey, near the border with Syria. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

In most camps, like the one in Nizip in the province of Gaziantep – an important industrial city in eastern Turkey – families of up to eight people live in tents.

Nizip lodges 10,700 Arabic Syrians, mostly from Aleppo and Idlib – both towns which were targeted by the al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda.

But the Nizip camp is also the setting for an interesting initiative in which its residents are being given the chance of electing their own neighbourhood community representatives. This pioneering initiative is now in its second year.

“This was the first time I ever voted. I don’t understand much about how it works but in Syria there was only one candidate and didn’t matter if we voted or not because the result was already defined”, Mustafa Kerkuz, a 57-year-old Syrian refugee from Aleppo, told IPS.

According to Demir Celal, assistant director of the Nizip camp, this is the first time that Syrians have able to vote freely. “We aim to teach them what a free election looks like,” he said.

The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey now stands at two million, according to Veysel Dalmaz, head of the Prime Ministry’s General Coordination for Syrian Asylum Seekers, who warns that the country has nearly reached full capacity for humanitarian assistance even though Turkey has “an open door-policy in which no one coming from Syria is refused and we do not even discriminate which side they are on.”

So far, the Turkish government has allocated more than five billion dollars to humanitarian aid through the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority of Turkey (AFAD).

According to Dalmaz, there has never in history been a case of mass migration from one country to another in such a short period of time as the migration from Syria to Turkey, and “there is no country that has managed to absorb so many people in so little time.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Oil Price Plunge Could Take a Bite from Arms Budgetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-price-plunge-could-take-a-bite-from-arms-budgets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-price-plunge-could-take-a-bite-from-arms-budgets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-price-plunge-could-take-a-bite-from-arms-budgets/#comments Fri, 02 Jan 2015 20:38:20 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138473 The continuing decline  in oil prices has already reduced purchasing power and impacted negatively on some of the world's currencies. Credit/Justin R/cc by 2.0

The continuing decline in oil prices has already reduced purchasing power and impacted negatively on some of the world's currencies. Credit/Justin R/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 2 2015 (IPS)

In a satirical piece titled ‘An Unserious Look at the Year Ahead’ in the Wall Street Journal last week, Hugo Rifkind predicts the price of a barrel of oil will fall so low that people across the world would start buying oil for the barrel – and throw the oil out.

The journalistic spoof about the oil market may be an improbable scenario, but in reality the sharp decline in prices has generated both good and bad news – mostly bad.If Middle Eastern sales flatten out or decrease, arms companies may fight harder for contracts in other parts of the world where military expenditure is still on the increase and less dependent on oil prices, such as in North, South East and South Asia.

In the United States, the fall in oil prices is being viewed as an unexpected – but welcome – stimulus to the country’s recession-struck economy.

As one U.S. newspaper headline read: ‘For (U.S. President Barack) Obama, Low Oil Prices Bring Hope’

The London Economist points out that a 40-dollar price cut would shift about 1.3 trillions dollars from oil producers to consumers.

But in the developing world, the current plunge is threatening to undermine oil-dependent economies in Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Middle East.

The continuing decline – from around 107 dollars per barrel last June to less than 70 dollars last month – has already reduced purchasing power and impacted negatively on some of the world’s currencies, including the ruble (Russia), real (Brazil), rupiah (Indonesia), bolivar (Venezuela), naira (Nigeria), peso (Chile), lira (Turkey) and ringgit (Malaysia).

But sooner or later the fall in oil prices is also likely to have a negative impact on both military spending and the thriving multi-billion-dollar arms market in the Middle East.

Perhaps for peace activists, this may be a positive sign in the global campaign for disarmament – mostly in conventional arms.

Arms buying by the six Gulf monarchies alone – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain – have been traditionally fueled by rising oil incomes: more incomes, more state-of-the art weapons.

The exceptions in the Middle East are Israel and Egypt, which depend heavily on U.S. military grants that are gratis and non-repayable.

Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Arms Transfers and Arms Production Programme, at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS lower oil revenues will undoubtedly put pressure on the military expenditure of Middle Eastern states, as in the past.

Saudi Arabia’s arms imports peaked in the 1990s, he said, but then fell rapidly, partly because of oil price-related lower government revenues.

“However, for 2013, we estimated Saudi Arabia will be the world’s fourth largest military spender [about 67 billion dollars] and the UAE the fifteenth largest [19 billion dollars],” said Wezeman, who closely tracks the Middle Eastern arms market.

The world’s three largest military spenders are the United States (640 billion dollars), China (188 billion) and Russia (88 billion), according to 2013 figures released by SIPRI.

Striking a cautionary note, Wezeman said it is, however, too early to say anything about this with certainty, as the arms procuring states in question tend to be highly secretive and undemocratic about military matters and arms procurement programmes and plans.

“They may very well decide to cut spending in other sectors instead, if lower oil prices force them to cut overall government spending,” he declared.

Unveiling its 2015 budget last week, Saudi Arabia said it was “rationalising” its expenditure, but did not specify any details.

According to estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Saudi Arabia’s total foreign exchange reserves amount to about 750 billion dollars.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst covering the Middle East and Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS a projected five-year defence spending (2015-2019) for the Middle East region shows the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) at approximately 3.48 percent.

This number is lower than the past five years’ CAGR (2010-2014), which was 8.45 percent.

“I do credit some of this decline to the anticipated fall in oil prices,” she said.

For Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE, this trend will only serve as a nuisance they can comfortably withstand for a few years – “so I do not expect any significant changes in their defence spending tendencies.”

These markets are huge, and they all spend lavishly on building up their defence capabilities, she said.

Saudi Arabia alone has the world’s fourth-largest military budget and will continue to dominate the Middle East arms market, with a defence budget nearly four times the size of the next closest Middle East military investor, she noted.

“I don’t see a major change in Iran and Iraq’s defence spending trends, even though they stand to be the most hurt by this.”

Auger said due to other regional and internal fractures, these two neighbours will have to maintain their defence spending levels as a cautionary measure.

Even though Iran is already suffering from international sanctions with its unresolved nuclear issue, it still feels it is being threatened, and therefore lower defence spending will only make it more vulnerable from its own perspective, she added.

“With Iraq, you may see them lean more heavily on its allies,” Auger said.

SIPRI’s Wezeman told IPS the importance of the Middle Eastern market for arms producing companies is the fact that sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia alone accounted for 20 percent of sales in 2013 for the third largest arms producer in the world, BAE systems.

And the second largest arms producer, Boeing, sees declining sales of combat aircraft to its main client the United States, and is increasingly dependent on exports, he added.

At the same time, Wezeman said, there are signs the military industry in the region is growing too, though it is still small compared to arms industries in the traditional arms producing countries.

If Middle Eastern sales will flatten out or decrease, he predicted, arms companies will have to fight harder for contracts in other parts of the world where military expenditure is still on the increase and less dependent on oil prices, such as in North, South East and South Asia.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.S. Twists Arms to Help Defeat Resolution on Palestinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 21:02:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138462 Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 31 2014 (IPS)

The United States re-asserted its political and economic clout – and its ability to twist arms and perhaps metaphorically break kneecaps – when it successfully lobbied to help defeat a crucial Security Council resolution on the future of Palestine this week.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS, “Did [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry manage to pull the rug out from under Palestine by convincing supportive Nigeria to abstain during the 13 calls he made to world leaders to torpedo the resolution?"Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena - it just has not yet been effective at using it." -- Nadia Hijab

“Or did the U.S. pressure Palestine to go to a vote now, [in order] to ensure failure, since the Jan. 1 change in Security Council composition favours the Palestinians?”

If so, what promises of future support did it make? asked Hijab.

The resolution failed because it did not receive the required nine votes for adoption by the Security Council. Even if it had, it likely would have still failed, because the United States had threatened to cast its veto.

But this time around, Washington did not have to wield its veto power – and avoid political embarrassment.

The eight countries voting for the resolution, which called for the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories by the end of 2017, were France, China, Russia, Luxembourg, Argentina, Chad, Chile and Jordan.

The two negative votes came from the United States and Australia, while the five countries that abstained were the UK, South Korea, Rwanda, Nigeria and Lithuania.

A single positive vote, perhaps from Nigeria, would have made a difference in the adoption of the resolution.

Days before the vote, Kerry was working the phones, calling on dozens of officials, who were members of the Security Council, pressing them for a vote against the resolution or an abstention.

According to State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke, one such call was to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, which ensured an abstention from Nigeria, a country which was earlier expected to vote for the resolution.

After the vote, there were three lingering questions unanswered: Did the United States put pressure on Palestine to force the vote on the draft resolution on Tuesday since the re-composition of the Security Council would have been more favourable to the Palestinians, come Jan. 1?

And why didn’t Palestine wait for another week to garner those votes and ensure success?

Or did they misjudge the vote count?

Beginning Jan. 1, the composition of the Security Council would have changed with three new non-permanent members favourable to Palestine: Malaysia, Venezuela and Spain.

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general who keeps track of Middle East politics, told IPS it is beyond a misjudgment of the vote count or miscalculation of the timing when in only a few days there would have been more likely positive votes by Malaysia, Spain and Venezuela.

“The actual intent of the Palestinian Administrative Authority from that failed move – and with whom it coordinated discreetly – remains to be politically observed,” he said.

“It is a tactical and strategic retreat at the expense of the universally supported inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, as stipulated in a succession of clearly assertive resolutions (including on statehood; right of return/or compensation; Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories; inalienable people’s rights).”

These rights, he said, have been endorsed by an overwhelming majority when the Palestinian cause was predominant in U.N. deliberations, and when Palestinian leadership was united in its quest and all Arab states, let alone most of the international community, were solidly behind it.

Sanbar said political logic would suggest maintaining what was gained during a positive period because any new resolution in the current weak status within a tragically fragmented Arab world will obviously entail a substantive retreat.

“It may be more helpful if efforts were mobilised to sharpen the focus on implementation of already existing resolutions and gain wider alliances to accomplish practical steps based on an enlightened knowledge of working through the United Nations rather than merely resorting to it on occasions when other options fail,” Sanbar declared.

Still, Hijab told IPS, whatever the case, many Palestinians breathed a sigh of relief that the resolution did not pass because it would have given a U.N. imprimatur to a lower bar on Palestinian rights.

The resolution implicitly accepted settlements with talk of land swaps and watered down refugee rights with reference to an agreed solution, effectively handing Israel a veto over Palestinian rights.

She said the Palestine Liberation Organization/Palestine will now be forced to take some meaningful action to maintain what little credibility it has with the Palestinian people.

“Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena – it just has not yet been effective at using it,” she said. “It must urgently do so in 2015 – the 2335th Palestinian was killed by Israel this week as it colonises the West Bank and besieges Gaza – while Palestinian refugees suffer in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.”

Hijab said the Palestinian people need respite from this cruel reality, and they need their rights.

After the vote, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, told the Council: “We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”

But she warned Israel, a close U.S. ally, that continued “settlement activity” will undermine the chances of peace.

Riyad Mansour, U.N. ambassador to Palestine, told the Council, “Our effort was a serious effort, genuine effort, to open the door for peace. Unfortunately, the Security Council is not ready to listen to that message.”

On the heels of the failed resolution, Palestine took steps Wednesday to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague – specifically to bring charges of war crimes against Israel – even though the U.S. Congress, which is virulently pro-Israel, has warned that any such move would result in severe economic sanctions.

“There is aggression practiced against our land and our country, and the Security Council has let us down — where shall we go?” Abbas said Wednesday, as reported by the New York Times, as he signed onto the court’s charter, along with 17 other international treaties and conventions.

“We want to complain to this organisation,” he said, referring to the ICC. “As long as there is no peace, and the world doesn’t prioritise peace in this region, this region will live in constant conflict. The Palestinian cause is the key issue to be settled.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Guantánamo Paradoxes Tested in Uruguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/guantanamo-paradoxes-tested-in-uruguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guantanamo-paradoxes-tested-in-uruguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/guantanamo-paradoxes-tested-in-uruguay/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 16:08:54 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138459 The six freed Guantánamo detainees line up to hold a Uruguayan baby. In this picture, Tunisian Abdul Bin Mohammed Abis Ourgy holds up the infant while Syrian Ali Hussein Muhammed Shaaban watches. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

The six freed Guantánamo detainees line up to hold a Uruguayan baby. In this picture, Tunisian Abdul Bin Mohammed Abis Ourgy holds up the infant while Syrian Ali Hussein Muhammed Shaaban watches. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Dec 31 2014 (IPS)

In the summery afternoon of a beachside neighbourhood not far from the Uruguayan capital, nothing could sound more unusual than the Muslim call to prayer chanted by Tunisian Abdul Bin Mohammed Ourgy, a few days after being freed from the United States military prison in Guantánamo, Cuba.

One of the first acts of Ourgy and the five others who arrived in Uruguay Dec. 7, after 12 years behind bars, was to figure out their new coordinates and find the orientation to Mecca, the Saudi city faced by the Muslim world during prayer.Political perversities have placed on their shoulders the burden of demonstrating that prisoners at Guantánamo can be freed without the risk of turning into what, according to Washington's latest version, they never were: terrorists.

It is not surprising that anybody subjected to Guantánamo’s living conditions would find a lifeline in religion, homeland traditions and family memories.

But religion has lost none of its relevance for these men since they were suddenly introduced to a strange culture – Western but not U.S. or European— with a language different from both their native Arabic and from the English they were forced to speak with their jailers in Guantánamo.

The group of four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian is still bound by the silence imposed by Washington regarding their experiences in the prison. IPS met with them for the second time Dec. 30 in the house where the Syrians are living in downtown Montevideo. A few are already speaking some Spanish and struggling to adjust to their new reality.

Contacts with relatives have been established and the men are now looking for ways to reunite with their families, with the support of the Uruguayan government.

Syrian Jihad Deyab – well known because he protested his detention for years through hunger strikes and litigated against the U.S. force-feedings— is gaining strength and hoping to join his wife and three children soon.

His lawyer, Cori Crider, told IPS that “we had appealed Judge Gladys Kessler’s decision denying us relief from various force-feeding practices, when he was released. We have now asked the Court of Appeals to vacate that judgment on the basis that the government ceased its illegal conduct by transferring him, but that request hasn’t been decided.”

Yet “Deyab is still part of the case in which we say the video-tapes of his force-feedings should be made public,” led by 16 media organisations under the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution, and “he very much supports what the media are trying to do,” she said.

After the shock of liberation, the six men are still struggling to fully understand where they are and to match as much as possible their beliefs and expectations for a new life with Uruguay’s social norms.

Difficult, but necessary, is to reconcile the diverse social and political expectations and interests surrounding the group since the government of José Mujica decided to host them as refugees on humanitarian grounds.

With just 3.3 million people, Uruguay is “almost empty,” Palestinian Mohammed Tahamatan told IPS. He finds this is a wonderful fact.

This country was made by successive migratory waves, but it didn’t receive many new immigrants for a long time. On the contrary, it has tended to lose its own population, particularly through young people chasing better opportunities abroad.

However, the economic prosperity of the last decade attracted a modest but constant influx of foreigners: Spaniards, Peruvians, Dominicans, Indians and Pakistanis. This is something new for a society which has become excessively homogenous and whose representations of the Middle East and the Muslim world are still heavy loaded with exoticism.

“Exoticism is not good… and it comes with a certain degree of fear of Islam,” Javier Miranda, human rights director for the Presidency of Uruguay, told IPS. Awareness of this “is part of our own development as a society,” he added.

Social expressions of solidarity with the 42 refugees from the Syrian civil war who arrived in Uruguay last October, and those shown to Guantánamo’s former inmates while they were visiting a street market, are genuine.

But it is yet to be seen how much of it is determined by this sense of exoticism or by the international attention this country has gained for adopting these policies. Furthermore, as the beneficiaries are a small group of people, such solidarity entails a very low economic and social cost.

Such a reception is absent for the Peruvian, Bolivian or Dominican immigrants who escape from poverty in their countries and are not flagged by any governmental campaign. Some of them have even been victims of labour exploitation and trafficking.

For the governing party, the centre-left coalition Frente Amplio, it is vital to ensure the success of the resettlement schemes of the Syrian conflict refugees and the former Guantánamo inmates.

In both cases, Mujica cited the goal of “setting an example” for neighbouring countries. A successful integration would silence critics and ease fears of perceived or real risks. Thus controlling developments and avoiding outbursts become crucial.

Since the release earlier this month of four inmates who were repatriated to Afghanistan, there are now 132 prisoners in Guantánamo, 63 of them cleared for release. Out of the remaining 69, 10 are currently or have been on trial and 59 are labelled as dangerous by authorities who, nevertheless, recognise there is inadequate evidence to prosecute them in court.

At least one of the six men transferred to Uruguay is willing to advocate for more South American countries hosting Guantánamo’s inmates, IPS learned.

The Uruguayan experiment is also subject to U.S. expectations. The most paradoxical is to avoid the outcome that persons unfairly imprisoned for many years become, once free, active enemies of the U.S.

The same government who produced their criminal files declared in 2009 there was no evidence against them and they could be released.

The same government which forced them to fly to Montevideo shackled and blindfolded sent to the Uruguayan authorities a letter ensuring that “there is no information that the above-mentioned individuals were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or allies.”

The same government campaigning for the hosting of further Guantánamo inmates by third countries has a Congress which has banned this possibility in its territory.

Some local analysts in Uruguay have questioned which of the two versions should be believed. If Washington lied in the files, it could be lying now again, they argue.

This analysis ignores a basic guarantee of the rule of law: that it is guilt, not innocence, which must be proven.

The “war against terror” led by the U.S. since 2001 is seriously discredited in Uruguay. But its narrative has coloured public opinion. People have not expressed outright rejection of the six freed men, but opinion polls carried out this year show support of just 20 per cent for their arrival.

Washington insisted on banning any image of the release. Yet the world has already seen the first pictures of these men in the street, at the beach or holding a baby, as featured in this story.

These photos counterbalance the only produced so far by the U.S. military apparatus: the exasperated faces of the inmates with shaved heads and long beards.

Dressed like any Uruguayan men, it would be so easy for them to just blend into the crowd and live their lives in privacy. But they are media celebrities and subjects of surveillance for the intelligence services of a number of countries.

Under all these circumstances, nobody should expect 100 per cent success, not the least because they are traumatised. However, political perversities have placed on their shoulders the burden of demonstrating that prisoners at Guantánamo can be freed without the risk of turning into what, according to Washington’s latest version, they never were: terrorists.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pakistan’s “Other” Insurgents Face IShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pakistans-other-insurgents-face-is/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-other-insurgents-face-is http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pakistans-other-insurgents-face-is/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 07:21:17 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138396 Balochistan Liberation Army commander Baloch Khan checks his rifle alongside his three escorts, somewhere in the Sarlat Mountains on the Afghan-Pakistani border. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Balochistan Liberation Army commander Baloch Khan checks his rifle alongside his three escorts, somewhere in the Sarlat Mountains on the Afghan-Pakistani border. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
SARLAT MOUNTAINS, Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Dec 24 2014 (IPS)

The media tend to portray Balochistan as “troubled”, or “restive”, but it would be more accurate to say that there´s actually a war going on in this part of the world.

Balochistan is the land of the Baloch, who today see their land divided by the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is a vast swathe of land the size of France which boasts enormous deposits of gas, gold and copper, untapped sources of oil and uranium, as well as a thousand-kilometre coastline near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.

In August 1947, the Baloch from Pakistan declared independence, but nine months later the Pakistani army marched into Balochistan and annexed it, sparking an insurgency that has lasted, intermittently, to this day.

Now senior Baloch rebel commanders say that Islamabad is training Islamic State (IS) fighters in Pakistan´s southern province of Balochistan.

IPS met Baloch fighters at an undisclosed location in the Sarlat Mountains, a rocky massif, right on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and equidistant from two Taliban strongholds: Kandahar in south-eastern Afghanistan and Quetta in southwest Pakistan."Today we speak of seven Baloch armed movements fighting for freedom but all share a common goal: independence for Balochistan" – Baloch Khan, commander of the Balochistan Liberation Army

The fighters claimed to have marched for twelve hours from their camp to meet this IPS reporter.

They are four: Baloch Khan, commander of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), and Mama, Hayder and Mohamed, his three escorts, who do not want to disclose their full names.

“This is an area of ​​high Taliban presence but they use their own routes and we stick to ours so we hardly ever come across them,” explains commander Khan, adding that he wants to make it clear from the beginning that the Baloch liberation movement is “at the antipodes of fundamentalism”.

“Today we speak of seven Baloch armed movements fighting for freedom but all share a common goal: independence for Balochistan,” says Khan. At 41, he has spent half of his life as a guerrilla fighter. “I joined as a student,” he recalls.

The senior commander refuses to disclose the number of fighters in the BLA’s ranks but he does say that they are deployed in 25 camps throughout “East Balochistan [under the control of Pakistan]”.

Khan admits parallelisms between his group and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), also a “secular group fighting for their national rights,” as he puts it

“We feel very close to the Kurds. One could say they are our cousins, and their land is also stolen by their neighbours,” says the commander, referring to the common origin of Baloch and Kurds, and the division of the latter into four states: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

Historically a nomadic people, the Baloch have had a moderate vision of Islam. However, Khan accuses Islamabad of pushing the conflict into a sectarian one.

The Baloch insurgent groups in Pakistan are markedly secular and share a common agenda focusing on the independence of Balochistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Baloch insurgent groups in Pakistan are markedly secular and share a common agenda focusing on the independence of Balochistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“Until 2000 not a single Shia was killed in Balochistan. Today Pakistan is funnelling all sorts of fundamentalist groups, many of them linked to the Taliban, into Balochistan, to quell the Baloch liberation movement,” claims the guerrilla fighter, adding that target killings and enforced disappearances are a common currency in his homeland.

The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, a group advocating peaceful protest founded by some of the families of the disappeared, puts the number of people from Balochistan since 2000 at more than 19,000, although exact figures are impossible to verify because no independent investigation has yet been conducted.

However, in August this year, the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Pakistan’s government “to stop the deplorable practice of state agencies abducting hundreds of people throughout the country without providing information about their fate or whereabouts.”

Baloch insurgent groups, however, have also been accused of murdering civilians. In August 2013, the BLA took responsibility for the killing of 13 people after the two buses they were travelling in were stopped by fighters in Mach area, about 50km (31 miles) south-east of the provincial capital, Quetta.

Pakistani officials said they were civilians returning home to Punjab to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Commander Khan shares another version:

“There were 40 people in two buses. We arrested and investigated 25 of them and we finally executed 13, all of whom belonged to the Pakistani Security Forces,” assures Khan, lamenting that a majority of the foreign media “relies solely on Pakistani government official sources.”

Could an independence referendum like the one held in Scotland possibly help to unlock the Baloch conflict? Khan looks sceptical:

“Before such a step, we´d need to settle down both the national and geographic borders as many parts of our land lie in Sindh and Punjab – the neighbouring provinces. Besides, there´s a growing number of settlers and the army is in full control of the country, election processes included,” the commander claims bluntly.

Instead of a consultation, the rebel fighter openly asks for a full intervention, “not just moral support but also a military and economic intervention.”

“The civilised world should support us, not Pakistan. Why help a country that is struggling to feed fundamentalist groups across the world?” asks the guerrilla commander before he and his men resume the long way back to their base.

Balochistan and beyond

The meeting with the BLA leader was only possible via Afghanistan, because Pakistan’s south-western province remains a “no go” area due to a veto enforced by Islamabad.

“The province has the worst record in Pakistan for journalists being killed so local journalists usually censor themselves to avoid being harassed, jailed or worse. Meanwhile, foreigner journalists are deported if they try to access the area,” Ahmed Rashid, a best-selling Pakistani writer and renowned Central Asia commentator, who was an activist on behalf of Balochistan in his youth, told IPS.

The visa ban over this reporter after working undercover in the region was no hurdle to get the viewpoint of Allah Nazar, commander in chief of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF).

Through a satellite phone, this former medical doctor from Quetta corroborates commander Khan´s statements on a “common goal for the entire Baloch insurgency movement”. He also endorses the BLA commander´s analysis of Islamabad’s alleged backing of fundamentalist groups.

“Pakistan is breeding fundamentalists to counter the Baloch nationalist movement but it has entirely failed. Now they are trying to use the instrument of religion in order to distract attention from the Baloch freedom movement,” Nazar explains from an unspecified location in Makran – southern Balochistan province – where the BLF has its strongholds.

According to the movement´s leader, such threat could well transcend the boundaries of this inhospitable region. Commander Nazar gave the coordinates of “at least four training camps” where members of the Islamic State would reportedly be receiving instruction before being transferred to the Middle East:

“There´s one is in Makran, and another one in Wadh, 990 and 315 km south of Quetta respectively,” says the guerrilla fighter. “A third one is in the Mishk area of Zehri – 200 km south of Quetta – and there are more than 100 armed men there: Arabs, Pashtuns, Punjabis and others who are based there with the help of Sardar Sanaullah Zehri [a local tribal leader]. The fourth camp is near Chiltan, in Quetta.”

Nazar adds that Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) is “both activating and patronising the Islamic State.”

“The Islamic State is overwhelmingly present among us. They even throw pamphlets in our streets to advocate their view of Islam and get new recruits,” denounces Nazar.

In October 2014, six key Pakistani Taliban commanders, including the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban – a Pakistan conglomerate of several Pakistani insurgent groups – announced their allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“IS is simply an upgraded version of the Talibans and finds sympathy with the ruling establishment in Pakistan,” human rights activist Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur told IPS.

Talpur, who has been challenged and attacked repeatedly for writing about such uncomfortable issues for Islamabad, claims that creating the Taliban is “the core of state policy which has not yet given up on this megalomaniacal scheme of Islam ruling the world.”

Despite repeated calls and e-mails, Pakistani officials refused to talk to IPS. However, the issue is seemingly a well-known secret after the Minister of Interior himself, Nisar Ali Khan, recently told Parliament that even in the naval base in Karachi –Pakistan´s main port and commercial city – there is support for the activities of radical religious groups.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Searching for Evidence of a Nuclear Testhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/searching-for-evidence-of-a-nuclear-test/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=searching-for-evidence-of-a-nuclear-test http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/searching-for-evidence-of-a-nuclear-test/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 21:25:13 +0000 CTBTO http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138374 CTBTO Head Lassina Zerbo overseeing the equipment in use during IFE14. Photo Courtesy of CTBTO

CTBTO Head Lassina Zerbo overseeing the equipment in use during IFE14. Photo Courtesy of CTBTO

By CTBTO
VIENNA, Dec 22 2014 (IPS)

The most sophisticated on-site inspection exercise conducted to date by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) formally concluded this month.

The Integrated Field Exercise IFE14 in Jordan from Nov. 3 to Dec. 9 involved four years of preparation, 150 tonnes of specialised equipment and over 200 international experts.“IFE08 was only a test drive around the block – now we’ve been on the Autobahn.” -- IFE14 Exercise Manager Gordon MacLeod

According to CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, “Through this exercise, we have shown the world that it is absolutely hopeless to try to hide a nuclear explosion from us. We have now mastered all components of the verification regime, and brought our on-site inspection capabilities to the same high level as the other two components, the 90 percent complete network of monitoring stations and the International Data Centre.”

During the five-week long simulation exercise, the inspection team searched an area of nearly 1,000 square kilometres using 15 of the 17 techniques permissible under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Some of these state-of-the-art techniques were used for the first time in an on-site inspection context, including equipment to detect traces of relevant radioactive noble gases on and beneath the ground as well as from the air. Other techniques scanned the ground in frequencies invisible to the human eye.

Key pieces of equipment were provided by CTBTO member states as voluntary and in-kind contributions.

Throughout the inspection, the team narrowed down the regions of interest to one limited area where relevant features including traces of relevant radionuclides were successfully found.

Inspection team leader Gregor Malich said, “We started off with the 1,000 square kilometres specified in the inspection request, using all available information provided. We also used satellite imagery and archive information for planning the initial inspection activities.

“Once in the field, the team conducted overflights, put out a seismic network and undertook wide area ground-based visual observation as well as radiation measurements. This helped us narrow down the areas of interest to more than 20 polygons which we then inspected in more detail.

“In the end, we detected radionuclides relevant for the on-site inspection and indicative of a nuclear explosion. At this location, the team also applied geophysical methods to find signatures (tell-tale signs) consistent with a recent underground nuclear explosion.”

The exercise also tested the CTBTO’s elaborate logistics system, which features specially developed airfreight-compatible containers that allow for field equipment, sensors or generators to be used straight from the containers. Thanks to a strict safety and security regime, not a single health or security incident occurred throughout the exercise.

IFE14 Exercise Manager Gordon MacLeod explained the need to test the on-site inspection regime in a comprehensive way: “Think of a car: all of the parts can be designed and built separately (engine, wheels, brakes, gearbox etc.) but if they are not put together and tested in an integrated manner, there is no guarantee that the car will function correctly and safely.

“For an On-Site Inspection, an additional layer of complexity derives from the human interaction and interpretations of the Treaty, Protocol, and Operations Manual as well as the perceptions, interpretations and actions of the individual inspectors.”

Praise for the host country

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo thanked host country Jordan for its outstanding hospitality and support.

He said: “Jordan was chosen by CTBTO member states for its generosity in supporting the exercise and because of the special geological features of the Dead Sea region. By hosting IFE14, Jordan is reconfirming its role as an anchor of peace and stability in the region.

“I am inspired by the fact that His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan has generously placed the exercise under his royal patronage and grateful for the outstanding cooperation and hospitality from all branches of the Jordanian government.”

Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour described the proliferation of nuclear weapons as “a threat of nightmarish proportions for regional and global security” and stressed Jordan’s active support for the CTBT and its organisation by hosting IFE14.

“It fills me with pride that the other 182 CTBTO member states chose Jordan to host IFE14 in a competitive process. The Dead Sea provided the perfect topography and geology for a realistic and challenging on-site inspection simulation.”

Over the coming year, the CTBTO and its member states will analyse the lessons learnt from IFE14 and identify possible gaps.

In a preliminary assessment, the head of the evaluation team, John Walker said: “It is very clear that on its own terms, the exercise has been successful, and has also clearly shown improvements on IFE08 [the previous Integrated Field Exercise held in Kazakhstan in 2008] as well as the three build up exercises that we’ve run over the two preceding years before we ran this one.”

MacLeod added: “IFE08 was only a test drive around the block – now we’ve been on the Autobahn.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The CTBTO can be found on the web, Facebook and Twitter.

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Release of Senate Torture Report Insufficient, Say Rights Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:24:05 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138185 Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Tuesday’s release by the Senate Intelligence Committee of its long-awaited report on the torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of detainees in the so-called “war on terror” does not go far enough, according to major U.S. human rights groups.

While welcoming the report’s release, the subject of months of intensive negotiations and sometimes furious negotiations between the Senate Committee’s majority and both the CIA and the administration of President Barack Obama, the groups said additional steps were needed to ensure that U.S. officials never again engage in the kind of torture detailed in the report."Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability." -- Donna McKay of PHR

“This should be the beginning of a process, not the end,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again.”

He called, among other steps, for the appointment of a special prosecutor to hold the “architects and perpetrators” of what the George W. Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) accountable and for Congress to assert its control over the CIA, “which in this report sounds more like a rogue paramilitary group than the intelligence gathering agency that it’s supposed to be.”

He was joined by London-based Amnesty International which noted that the declassified information provided in the report constituted “a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorised and used torture and other ill-treatment.

“This is a wake-up call to the USA; they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims,” said Amnesty’s Latin America director, Erika Guevara.

The Senate Committee’s report, actually a 524-page, partially-redacted summary of a still-classified 6,300-page report on the treatment of at least 119 terrorist suspects detained in secret locations overseas, accused the CIA not only of engaging in torture that was “brutal and far worse” than has previously been reported, but also of regularly misleading the White House and Congress both about what it was doing and the purported value of the intelligence it derived from those practices.

Water-boarding, for example, was used against detainees more often and in more of the CIA’s “black sites” than previously known; sleep deprivation was used for up to a week at a time against some suspects; others received “rectal feeding” or “hydration'; and still others were forced to stand on broken feet or legs.

In at least one case, a detainee was frozen to death; in the case of Abu Zubayda, an alleged “high-value” Al Qaeda detainee who was subject to dozens of water-boardings, the treatment was so brutal, several CIA officers asked to be transferred if it did not stop.

While the CIA officers and former Bush administration officials, notably former Vice President Dick Cheney, have long insisted that key information – including intelligence that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden — was obtained from EITs, the report concluded that these techniques were ineffective.

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive EITs provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report, which relied on the CIA’s own cables and reports.

In some cases, detainees subjected to EITs gave misinformation about “terrorist threats” which did not actually exist, the report found. Of the 119 known detainees subject to EITs, at least 26 should never have been held, it said.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, who fought hard for months to release the report over the CIA’s fierce objections, wrote in its Forward that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, “she could understand the CIA’s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and CIA was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack.”

“Nevertheless, such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security,” according to Feinstein.

For his part, CIA director John Brennan, a career CIA officer appointed by Obama whose role in the Bush administration’s detention programme remains cloudy, “acknowledge(d) that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes.”

“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists.”

But he also defended the EITs, insisting that “interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.” A fact sheet released by the CIA claimed, as an example, that one detainee, after undergoing EITs, identified bin Laden’s courier, which subsequently led the CIA to the Al Qaeda chief’s location.

With several notable exceptions, Republicans also defended the CIA and the Bush administration’s orders to permit EITs. Indeed, the Intelligence Committee’s Republican members released a minority report that noted that the majority of staff had not interviewed any CIA officers directly involved in the programme.

“There is no reason whatsoever for this report to ever be published,” said the Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “This is purely a partisan tactic” which he said was designed to attack the Bush administration. Republicans also warned that the report’s release would endanger U.S. service personnel and citizens abroad by fuelling anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world.

But Sen. John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam war, defended the report, calling it “a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose …but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”

McCain has championed efforts to pass legislation outlawing torture, particularly because Obama’s 2009 executive orders prohibiting such practices could be reversed by a future president.

Passage of such a law – whose prospects appear virtually nil in light of Republican control of both houses of Congress for the next two years – is one of the demands, along with release of the full report, of most human-rights groups here.

“The Obama administration and Congress should work together to build a durable consensus against torture by pursuing legislation that demonstrates bipartisan unity and fidelity to our ideals,” said Elisa Massimino, director of Human Rights First.

Many groups, however, want Obama to go further by prosecuting those responsible for the EIT programme, a step that his administration made clear from the outset it was loathe to do.

“We renew our demand for accountability for those individuals responsible for the CIA torture programme,” said Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented a number of detainees at Guantanamo, including Abu Zubaydah, in U.S. courts. “They should be prosecuted in U.S. courts; and, if our government continues to refuse to hold them accountable, they must be pursued internationally under principles of universal jurisdiction.”

“The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction,” according to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. “Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of the officials responsible, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

Noting that health professionals, including doctors and psychologists also played a role in the EITs, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) also called for legal accountability. “For more than a decade, the U.S. government has been lying about its use of torture,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director.

“The report confirms that health professionals used their skills to break the minds and bodies of detainees. Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability,” she said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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War Knocks on Door of Youth Centre in Zwarahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 09:05:05 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138103 Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZWARA, Libya, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

“The house belonged to a former member of the secret services of [Muammar] Gaddafi so we decided to squat it for the local youth in Zwara [an Amazigh enclave 120 km west of Tripoli, on the border with Tunisia],” Fadel Farhad, an electrician who combines his work with the local militia, tells IPS.It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

The centre is called “Tifinagh” after the name given to the Amazigh alphabet. Also called Berbers, the Amazigh are native inhabitants of North Africa.

The arrival of the Arabs in the region in the seventh century was the beginning of a slow yet gradual process of Arabisation which was sharply boosted during the four decades in which Muammar Gaddafi (1969-2011) remained in power. Unofficial estimates put the number of Amazighs in this country at around 600,000 – about 10 percent of the total population

Like most of the youngsters at the centre, Farhad knows he can be mobilised at any time. The latest attack on Zwara took place less than a kilometre from here a little over a week ago, when an airstrike hit a warehouse killing two Libyans and six sub-Saharan migrants.

Three years after Gaddafi was toppled, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital.

Several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

“Here in Zwara we rely on around 5000 men grouped into different militias,” Younis, a militia fighter who prefers not to give his full name, tells IPS. “We never wanted this to happen but the problem is that all our enemies are fighting on Tobruk´s side,” adds the 30-year-old by the pickups lining up at the entrance of the building.

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The polarisation of the conflict in Libya has pushed several Amazigh militias to fight sporadically alongside the coalition led by Misrata, which includes Islamist groups among its ranks.

However, the atmosphere in this squat house seems at odds with religious orthodoxy of any kind, with an unlikely fusion between Amazigh traditional music and death metal blasting from two loudspeakers. This is the work of 30-year-old Bondok Hassem, a well-known local musician who is also an Amazigh language teacher as well as one of the commanders of the Tamazgha militia.

“Both Misrata and Tobruk are striving to become the alpha male in this war. We are all fully aware that, whoever wins this war, they will attack us immediately afterwards so we are forced to defend our land by any means necessary,” laments Hassem between sips of boja, the local firewater.

But can it be international partnerships that hamper an already difficult agreement between both sides?

Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and France are backing Tobruk and Misrata relies mainly on Qatar and Turkey. Meanwhile, NATO officials are seemingly torn between wanting to stay out of the war, and watching anxiously as the violence goes out of control. Today, most of the diplomatic missions have left Tripoli, except for those of Italy and Hungary.

A fragile balance

Moussa Harim is among the Amazigh who seem to feel not too uncomfortable siding with the government in Tripoli. Born in Jadu, in the Amazigh stronghold of the Nafusa mountain range – 100 km south of Tripoli – Harim was exiled in France during Gaddafi’s time but he became Deputy Minister of Culture in March 2012.

Although he admits that Islamists pose a real threat, he clarifies that in Misrata there are also people “from all walks of life and very diverse affiliations, communists included.”

It is the geographical location itself which, according to Harim, inexorably pushes the Libyan Amazigh towards Misrata.

“Except for a small enclave in the east, our people live in the west of the country, and a majority of them here, in Tripoli,” the senior official tells IPS.

But there are discordant voices, like that of Fathi Ben Khalifa. A native of Zwara and a political dissident for decades, Ben Khalifa was the president of the World Amazigh Congress between 2011 and 2013.

The Congress is an international organisation based in Paris since 1995 that aims to protect the Amazigh identity. Today Ben Khalifa remains as an executive member of this umbrella organisation for this North African people.

“This is not our war, it’s just a conflict between Arab nationalists and Islamists, none of which will ever recognise our rights,” Ben Khalifa tells IPS over the phone from Morocco. Although the senior political activist defends the right of his people to defend themselves from outside aggressions, he gives a deadline to take a clearer position:

“If Libya´s Constitution – to be released on December 24 – does not grant our legitimate rights, then it will be the time to take up arms,” Ben Khalifa bluntly claims.

At dusk, and after another day marked by exhausting shifts at checkpoints and patrols around the city, the local militiamen cool down after swapping their rifles for a harmonica and a guitar at the squat house. This time they play the songs of Matloub Lounes, a singer from Kabylia, Algeria´s Amazigh stronghold.

“I can´t hardly wait for the war to end. I´ll burn my uniform and get back to my work,” says Anwar Darir, an Amazigh language teacher since 2011. That was the year in which Gaddafi was killed, yet a solution to the conflict among Libyans is still nowhere near.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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