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'The oppression is brutal’: Morocco breaks up Western Sahara protest ahead of UN talks

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 08:17:24 +0000

The confrontation highlights the Moroccan routine response towards self-determination and human rights activists in the occupied territory of Western Sahara. Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. Flickr/UN Photo/Martine PerretMoroccan police forcibly broke up a pro-independence demonstration in El-Aaiun on April 15, beating dozens of activists. Saharawi demonstrators from all walks of life took to the streets to protest occupation and demonstrate solidarity with political prisoners languishing in Moroccan jails. The protesters were responding to a call launched by local NGOs, with demonstrators chanting self-determination slogans and denouncing the plundering of Saharawi natural resources. Members from the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) were patrolling the city, but didn’t intervene. Rumour has it there was a visiting American diplomatic delegation in town. The demonstration was not an anomaly. Protest is a permanent feature of Saharawi life, taking place despite constant police siege and an embargo imposed on all activity advocating independence and the respect of Saharawi rights. Saharawis cling to peaceful demonstrations as a tool to raise awareness about their plight and the endless quest to bring justice to the people of Western Sahara. Life under Moroccan occupation “My wife was badly hit and severely beaten up by the Moroccan police. They used severe violence against all demonstrators. The police were very violent,” Saleh Zaygham, a former victim of enforced disappearance and the husband of leading resistance figure Mbarka Alina Baali, told an eyewitness. “It’s the same every week. The oppression is very high.” Many who helped organize the campaign predicted what was to come as they addressed observers before the protest. “I have been arrested, imprisoned, beaten up and hit more than 50 times in the past years, since 1975,” Ahmed Salem Fahim said. “The police have broken my body but could not break my willThe police have broken my body but could not break my will. There are many secret police and plain clothes policemen surrounding us all the times. But we want to send a clear message to the Moroccan regime and to the whole world. We need to show the reality we are living in.” The protesters carried banners, proclaiming: “Free all Saharawi political prisoners! No to violations of human rights!” Others chanted, “Morocco out! Down with Occupation: a free Western Sahara without Morocco!” “I’ve been brutalized and beaten countless times,” said Bamba Lafqir, an activist who showed up during the peaceful demonstrations despite his old age. The elderly activist always comforts demonstrators who protest peacefully along Smara Avenue each week in protest at the lack of freedom of expression, self-determination, lack of opportunities, and the plundering of the resources, along with other rights guaranteed by international charts and conventions. “I have no hope at all of progress as a result of the annual Security Council’s meetings and resolutions on Western Sahara. Security Council members do not know what it is like to live in an occupied country,” he added. The local authorities and the police tend to accuse protestors of being liars, mercenaries and ingrates who fail to recognize the benefits of Moroccan society, including free education and healthcare among other privileges they claim are bestowed on the Saharawis. Saharawi media groups are not exempt. No one is spared if caught by enraged police seeking to disperse the resilient Saharawi crowds. Many cameras were confiscated from regular citizens who stood by to document the event using their cell phones. A young Saharawi media activist named Bousoula was caught filming. After the beating he endured, his camera was confiscated. Roots of the Saharawi struggle The confrontation highlights the regular way the Moroccan government deals with Sahrawis supporting self-determination in[...]

Reflections on Western Sahara's struggle for self-determination

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 07:03:19 +0000

Some reflections about the Sahrawi struggle for self determination on the 41st anniversary of the proclamation of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). A shot of the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf. In the picture, girls can be seen going home after leaving school. Picture by Hamza Hamouchene. All rights reserved. In these few lines, inspired by my thwarted attempt to go to the occupied territories of Western Sahara in November 2016 as well as my recent visit to the Saharawi refugee camps in southern Algeria in December 2016, I would like to give a brief account of the Saharawi struggle for self-determination and also offer some reflections on my visit The plight of Western Sahara and the military occupation by the Moroccan monarchy cannot be dissociated from the history of western colonialism and from the fact that Saharawis continue to pay the price for this legacy. During the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885, Spain was recognised as the colonial power ruling over present-day Western Sahara, and by 1936, Generalissimo Franco instituted full colonial rule and split the region into two territories, Rio de Oro and Saguia el Hamra. When high-quality phosphate was discovered in the late 1930s, the Spanish built the city of Laayoune near the Atlantic and linked the Bou Craa mine to the port with a conveyor belt around a hundred kilometres long. The plight of Western Sahara and the military occupation by the Moroccan monarchy cannot be dissociated from the history of western colonialism.By the 1960s, decolonisation efforts in Africa and around the Global South were gaining momentum and like other European powers, Spain realised that its time as a formal colonial power on the African continent was coming to an end. In 1966, the UN General Assembly requested Spain to organise, under UN supervision, a referendum on self-determination, but Spain was in no hurry to implement it. Emboldened by their neighbours who liberated themselves from the shackles of colonialism, Saharawis began to organise themselves in order to liberate their land in 1967. The brutal repression by Franco's Spain of their huge demonstrations and mobilisations paved the way for armed struggle and the formation in 1973 of the Frente Popular de Liberacion de Saguia el Hamra y Rio de Oro - the Polisario Front. In neighbouring Morocco, the brutal dictator, King Hassan II was facing internal trouble: attempted bloody coups, popular discontent with his rule, and protests for bread and justice. So, sticking to the modus operandi of any other dictator who faces popular unrest and a crisis of legitimacy, Hassan II needed to distract his subjects from their own misery by shifting their attention to the desert. He claimed therefore that Western Sahara historically belonged to Greater Morocco. Bolstered by reports of Franco dying, he launched on 6th November 1975 the "Green March" where around 350,000 Moroccans crossed the border into the territory, claiming it as part of Morocco. A week later, Spain, Mauritania and Morocco signed a deathbed document dividing the Spanish Sahara between Mauritania and Morocco. Outraged by this, the Polisario declares war with both Morocco and Mauritania and proclaims the independent state of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on 27th February 1976. By 1979, the Polisario succeeded in forcing the Mauritanians to declare Saharawi sovereignty over the southern territory but the heroic fighting against Moroccan troops (superior in numbers and weaponry) continued. In a context of losing the war against the daring Saharawi guerrilla operations, the Moroccan monarchy - aided by France, Israel and the United States - devised a new strategy based on desert walls or berms (built of sand and stone and lined with millions of land mines) in order to secure the territories they gain on the eastern front. By the time the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, six walls had been built and only the last one, the longest, still remains relevant and [...]

Legalising occupation: Netanyahu's Trump card

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 14:10:40 +0000

The new law passed by the Israeli Knesset can be a dangerous precedent for the expansion and legalization of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and the eventual annexation of large swathes of the occupied West Bank. Construction underway in the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim near Jerusalem. Picture by Xinhua SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. The recent resolution passed by the Israeli parliament (Knesset), which seeks to introduce an amnesty for some 50 Israeli outposts built illegally in the West Bank, is likely to further exacerbate relations between Israel and the European partners, but succeeds in conveying a clear message to Donald Trump, whose administration, recently established, has not yet outlined its policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Voted with a narrow majority (60 to 52 out of a total of 120 members), the parliamentary decision retroactively legalizes the homes of about 4,000 settlers, whose residences were erected on private Palestinian land and are considered illegal even under Israeli law. The law was strongly supported by the religious nationalist right-wing party Jewish Home (HaBayit Hayehudi) - today in a joint government with Netanyahu’s Likud- and was presented to parliament by the rising star of the settler movement, Shuli Moalem Refaeli. Many believe the law could be a dangerous precedent for the expansion and legalization of Israeli settlements on Palestinian landMany believe the law could be a dangerous precedent for the expansion and legalization of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and the eventual annexation of large swathes of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Executive Committee of the PLO expressed anger over the bill, with Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat both openly labelling it "legalized theft". Leading non-governmental organizations such as the Israeli B'Tselem and the American PeaceNow, the liberal voice of the American Jewish community and a sworn enemy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, aired their indignation and disappointment, as did many European chancelleries. British prime minister Theresa May, during a private meeting with Netanyahu a few days after it was passed, labelled the law - according to reports from Haaretz - "harmful", adding that it "could make the relations between Israel and its friends in the world more difficult". French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called on Israel to "withdraw the law by honouring its commitments", saying it dealt "a further blow to the two-state solution." The head of European diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, also criticised the law, arguing that it crossed “a new and dangerous threshold that by legalizing the seizure of Palestinian properties and effectively authorizing the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land in occupied territory”. “Should it be implemented”, added Mogherini, “the law would further entrench a one-state reality of unequal rights, perpetual occupation and conflict. The EU urges the Israeli leadership to refrain from implementing the law and to avoid measures that further raise tensions and endanger the prospects for a peaceful solution to the conflict." The new legislation seems to be specifically aimed at counter balancing the Security Council resolution 2334The European Union concerns were epitomized by the postponement, until further notice, of the bilateral meeting between European countries and Israel –allegedly set to push further the moribund peace process- scheduled for February 28. But the final strike, and perhaps the most unexpected, came from one of the staunchest supporters of Israel behind the US, Angela Merkel's Germany. A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the new legislation "disappointed" the German people and has "shaken our confidence in the commitment of the Israeli government for the two-state solution”. According to the recently appointed UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres,[...]

Morocco's admission to the African Union: a Pyrrhus victory for Rabat

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 09:58:30 +0000

Morocco’s admission to the African Union after decades of absence was received as a victory, but what does it mean for the Western Sahara? King Mohammed VI of Morocco attends the closing ceremony of the 28th African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Jan. 31, 2017. Picture by Xinhua SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. “Historic: Morocco is admitted to the Union”; “Morocco’s victorious return to the African Union”. These are some of many headlines following Morocco’s admission to the African Union (AU). Moroccans were quick to show their joy and satisfaction with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Salaheddine Mezouar and his team of diplomats, by celebrating and chanting Morocco’s national anthem in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Addis Ababa. But, with the enthusiasm over, is Morocco’s admission to the AU really a victory? A glass half full, or half empty? Morocco’s joining of the AU can be seen through two different perspectives, but it is, after all, nothing but a natural move. Some even say that Morocco’s absence from the Pan-African family since 1984 has been an anomaly. It would be presumptuous to believe that things will go smoothly for Rabat and its allies from now on.In order to join the AU, Rabat had to fulfill the conditions of admission, in particular the recognition of the intangibility of national borders inherited from colonialism. Most importantly, as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Salem Ould Salek underlined, not only did “Morocco not impose conditions, but its presence ‘in the same room’ would allow the SADR to pressure Moroccans into fulfilling their obligations, thus allowing a referendum in accordance with a 1975 decision by the International Court of Justice.” It would be presumptuous to believe that things will go smoothly for Rabat and its allies from now on. Indeed, there are clear signs indicating that Morocco will be closely watched and bound to abide by AU’s rules. In fact, Morocco did not get the support of the continental powers, namely Nigeria, Algeria, and South Africa (as well as other nations such as Zimbabwe, Namibia and Uganda). In South Africa, Morocco’s admission has even been a real disappointment. The African National congress (ANC) issued a communiqué stating that “it regrets the decision of the AU to readmit Morocco to the organisation”. Similarly, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe said that “the vote to readmit Morocco to the AU shows a lack of ideology by some African leaders […] who have not had the same revolutionary experience as all of us, and who are too reliant on their erstwhile colonisers.” Moreover, Morocco was hoping to see the Senegalese Abdoulaye Bathily, elected as Chairperson of the AU. A historical ally and strong advocate for Morocco’s integration, Senegal, through Abdoulaye Bathily would have continued its lobbying with the AU and the United Nations, for a lasting solution in favour of Rabat over the Western Sahara conflict. But instead, it was the Chadian Moussa Faki Mahamat that was elected, a more consensual candidate who is in favour of self-determination for the Sahrawis. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer Morocco will undeniably be able to work from within the AU to rally more support to its cause, but it will be closely watched and scrutinised by Sahrawis and other AU members, always reminding Rabat of its obligations as a member State of the AU. Additionally, in a clear sign of its eagerness to find a lasting solution to the Western Sahara conflict, immediately after Morocco's admission, the AU called for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to “assume its responsibilities and restore the ‘full operation’ of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which is essential for the supervision of the ceasefire and the organisation of a sel[...]

No revolution this year: Sudan’s October Revolution and the Arab Spring

Sun, 01 Nov 2015 13:34:17 +0000

Sudan's 1964 revolution brought a military regime to an end. The reasons for the revolt were similar to those of the Arab Spring, and they persist—so why are there no protests? Demotix/Rajput Yasir. All rights reserved.On 21 October 1964, the people of Sudan took to the streets in mass demonstrations and strikes that brought the military regime led by General Ibrahim Abbud to an end; this year marks the fifity-first anniversary of the 'October Revolution'.When the wave of revolutions flooded the Arab region in 2011, the Sudanese people rose up in protest against military rule once again. This time it was against the Revolutionary Command Council of National Salvation, led by Omar Al-Bashir, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1981. This coup was later presented as the 'Salvation Revolution' (thawrat al-inqaz), a tactical move that aimed to evoke the legacy of the October Revolution and create a sense of popular support for leadership by the national hero, Al-Bashir. Using the rhetoric of the Salvation Revolution gave legitimacy and further power consolidation to Al-Bashir and his party, the National Congress Party.During the Arab Spring others across the region, like the people of Sudan, were deeply dissatisfied by the impoverishment caused by high level of corruption, devastating unemployment rates and austerity measures imposed by the government. In Sudan's case, this was while the governing elite, and their close acquaintances, had—and continue to have—exclusive rights to wealth. Even though Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, these elites continue to pursue their lavish life styles, widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Yet there has been a general lack of involvement by political opposition parties in the protests. Opposition parties condemned the government's use of excessive force against the people and its decision to lift fuel subsidies in 2012. However, the leaders of these opposition parties were hesitant to express their stance in support of the protests, which weakened the political weight of the protests. For example, Sadiq al-Mahdi, a leader of the National Umma Party, made no statement supporting the protests, yet some news agencies reported that hundreds of his supporters joined the protests following a speech he delivered at a mosque in Omdurman near his residence. Later on, the Popular Congress Party and its leader Hassan al-Turabi called on their supporters to participate in Arab Spring protests.In response, the government mobilised riot police at all protests, whether peaceful or violent, and the police did not hesitate to shoot live bullets at the protestors, and used tear gas even inside university campuses. They succeeded in dispursing protestors, and those who were caught were detained for indefinite periods, often without trials. Reports of torture and harassment by the government were made by many protestors. The government also cracked down on opposition parties by issuing a decree that bans political parties from meeting without permission. This decree was announced only a week after President Al-Bashir met with opposition party leaders promising a deal that would ensure their freedom to operate and compete in the national elections of 2015, which Omar Al-Bashir won with an unprecedented 94 percent. This state of general oppression has also reached cyber space, with the National Intelligence Secret Service's (NISS) creation of the so-called "Electronic Army", an internet-based body that looks for anti-government political activists and threatens them. Some have been prosecuted for their anti-government online activity.So, how did Al-Bashir’s regime manage to consolidate power for 26 years? Al-Inqaz regime is led by an elite that is distant from the population and that has complete and exclusive contro[...]

Enquanto o mundo assiste há 59,5 milhões de deslocados internos na terra

Fri, 23 Oct 2015 11:33:20 +0000

Uns 6 milhões de Colombianos fazem com que o segundo país do mundo com mais deslocados internos (DIs) por motivos de violência não esteja no Médio-Oriente, mas sim na América Latina. Español. English. Acampamento de deslocados internos em Bogotá, Colômbia, em 2006. Flickr / UNHCR. Some rights reservedAs notícias que dia traz dia se sucedem sobre um sem-fim de refugiados que atravessam a Europa em procura de auxilia e amparo, e as notícias sobre os milhões que se amontoam às portas da Europa na Turquia, Jordânia e Líbano, não precisam de apresentação. Somente a Síria gera quase 4 milhões de refugiados, e o Iraque e a Somália outros 3 milhões. A estes devemos somar centenas de milhares que provêm do Afeganistão, da Líbia, da Eritreia e da Nigéria. São números alarmantes, mas que já deixaram de nos surpreender porque os meios de comunicação encarregaram-se de familiarizar-nos com eles. O que está menos documentado e é menos conhecido—quiçá ignorado, porque as sus repercussões quase não afetam o Primeiro Mundo—é que o número de pessoas que perderam ou tiveram que fugir das sus casas é muito maior. A ACNUR (Alto Comissariado da Nações Unidas para os Refugiados) estima que o número de pessoas deslocadas atualmente no mundo é de 59.5 milhões, dos quais “somente” 19.3 milhões constam como refugiados ou solicitantes de asilo. [I]. Na linguagem oficial, os deslocados que não são refugiados conhecem-se como Deslocados Internos (DIs). Refugiados e DIs Um refugiado é aquela pessoa que fugiu do seu pais de origem por um medo fundamentado a ser perseguido por razões de raça, religião, nacionalidade, pertença ou afiliação a um determinado grupo social ou opinião política e que não pode obter proteção em dito pais [II]. Esta definição, redigida depois da Segunda Guerra Mundial e adoptada formalmente em 1951 com a aprovação da Convenção das Nações Unidas sobre o Estatuto dos Refugiados, era o fruto da história bélica vivida e restringia o termo a esta experiência recente. Provavelmente aos redatores da Convenção de Genebra não lhes passou pela cabeça que o termo podia aplicar-se também aquelas pessoas que foram expulsas das sus casas, mas que carecem de recursos para empreender a fuga, ou que se encontram com o facto de que não há países que queiram aceitá-los, ou que desconheçam a existência de ditos países. Se uma pessoa está a fugir para salvar a vida no Darfur, independentemente da distância que tenha recorrido ou o motivo da fuga, só será refugiado quando atravesse uma fronteira internacional; até lá, será simplesmente um deslocado interno. Quase 80% dos 13.9 milhões de pessoas deslocada em 2014 como consequência dum conflito ou perseguição eram e continuam a ser DIs. A preocupação são os refugiados, que merecem a proteção da comunidade internacional—ao menos em teoria. Os DIs, ainda que reconhecidos e apoiados pela ACNUR, ocupam um lugar muito menos relevante na consciência mundial. E, como veremos, inclusivamente a perspectiva da ACNUR sofre de graves limitações. Os dois principais impulsores de deslocamentos internos são a violência e a perseguição, e os desastres naturais. Deslocados internos— devido a violência e perseguição Não é nenhuma surpresa que a Síria conte atualmente com o maior número de DIs por motivo de violência: o número estimado está entre 6.5 milhões e 7.6 milhões—esta variação deve-se à dificuldade em congregar dados precisos nas zonas em conflito a à dinâmica incessante própria dos movimentos humanos. Também nenhum consumidor dos media ocidentais se surpreenderá ao saber que se estima que os deslocados internos no Iraque são mais de 3.5 milhões, ou que há uns 1.5 milhões de sudaneses do Sul e um milhão de afegãos deslocados nos seus próprios países. O[...]

Mientras el mundo anda mirando, hay 59,5 millones de desplazados internos en la tierra

Thu, 22 Oct 2015 10:37:34 +0000

Unos 6 millones de colombianos hacen que el segundo país del mundo con más desplazados internos (DIs) por motivos de violencia no esté en Oriente Medio, sino en América Latina. Português. English. Asentamiento de desplazados internos en Bogotá, Colombia, en 2006. Flickr / UNHCR. Some rights reservedLas noticias que día tras día se suceden sobre un sinnúmero de refugiados atravesando Europa en busca de auxilio y amparo, y sobre los millones que se amontonan a las puertas de Europa en Turquía, Jordania y Líbano, no necesitan mayor explicación. Sólo Siria genera casi 4 millones de refugiados, e Irak y Somalia otros 3 millones. A estos se añaden cientos de miles que provienen de Afganistán, Libia, Eritrea, Nigeria. Son cifras alarmantes, pero que han dejado de sorprendernos porque los medios de comunicación se han encargado de familiarizarnos con ellas. Lo que ya está menos documentado y es menos conocido – ignorado, quizás, porque sus repercusiones apenas alcanzan el Primer Mundo – es que el número de personas que han perdido o han tenido que huir de sus hogares es mucho mayor. ACNUR (el Alto Comisionado de Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados) estima que el número de personas desplazadas actualmente en el mundo es de 59.5 millones, de los que ‘sólo’ 19.3 millones constan como refugiados o solicitantes de asilo.[i] En lenguaje oficial, los desplazados que no son refugiados se conocen como DIs (Desplazados Internos). Refugiados y DIs Un refugiado es alguien que ha huido de su país de origen por temor fundado a ser perseguido por razón de raza, religión, nacionalidad, pertenencia o afiliación a determinado grupo social u opinión política y que no puede obtener protección en dicho país.[ii] Esta definición, redactada tras la Segunda Guerra Mundial y adoptada formalmente en 1951 con la aprobación de la Convención de Naciones Unidas sobre el Estatuto de los Refugiados, era fruto de la historia bélica vivida y restringía el término a esta experiencia reciente. Probablemente a los redactores de la Convención de Ginebra no se les ocurrió que el término podía aplicarse también a aquellas personas que han sido expulsadas de sus hogares pero carecen de recursos para emprender la huida, o que se encuentran con que no hay países que quieran aceptarles, o que desconocen si estos países existen. Si uno está huyendo para salvar la vida en Darfur, independientemente de la distancia que haya recorrido o del motivo de la huida, sólo es un refugiado cuando traspasa una frontera internacional; mientras, es meramente un DI. Casi el 80 por ciento de los 13.9 millones de personas desplazadas en el año 2014 a consecuencia de un conflicto o persecución eran y continúan siendo DIs. La preocupación son los refugiados, que merecen la protección de la comunidad internacional – al menos en teoría. Los DIs, aunque reconocidos y apoyados por ACNUR, ocupan un lugar mucho menor en la conciencia mundial. Y, como veremos, incluso la perspectiva de ACNUR adolece de graves limitaciones. Los dos principales impulsores de desplazamientos internos son la violencia y persecución, y los desastres naturales. DIs – por violencia y persecución No es ninguna sorpresa que Siria cuente actualmente con el mayor número de DIs por motivos de violencia: su número estimado es de entre 6.5 millones y 7.6 millones — la horquilla se debe a la dificultad de recopilar datos precisos en las zonas en conflicto y a la dinámica incesante característica de los movimientos humanos. Tampoco ningún consumidor de medios de comunicación occidentales se sorprenderá al saber que se calcula que los DIs en Irak son más de 3.5 millones, o que hay unos 1.5 millones de sudaneses del sur y un millón de afganos desplazados en sus propios países. Lo que quizás se conozca menos es que e[...]

La tragedia interminable del Día de Colón

Thu, 15 Oct 2015 19:21:25 +0000

La celebración del Día de Colón no es de recibo. La colonización trajo consigo una inmensa tragedia que hay que empezar a recordar. English, Português. El 12 de octubre se celebra el Columbus Day (Día de Colón) en la mayor parte de Estados Unidos, aunque no en todos lados. En California, Oregón, Nevada y Hawái no es día festivo y varios son los estados que lo mantienen, aunque cambiando el motivo de la celebración y rebautizándolo como “Día de los nativos americanos”, sin percatarse por lo visto de la inmensa ironía de que los Caucasianos (es decir, los descendientes de europeos) celebren este día la existencia de los habitantes indígenas. Es como si los alemanes celebrasen cada año el Putsch de la Cervecería el día del Yom Kippur. A algunos sin duda les parecerá una exageración: siendo obviamente Hitler el epítome del mal, ¿cómo puede comparársele alguien que no lleve por nombre Gengis or Atila? En cualquier caso, no Cristóbal Colón, que se parece más a un abuelo que no a un asesino de masas. Pero aunque no arrojó a nadie al horno ni les gaseó con Zyklon-B, Colón sería sin embargo responsable de la muerte de entre 15 y 100 millones de personas [1], y de la ruina total de las civilizaciones desde Alaska a la Tierra del Fuego. Todas las crónicas de los primeros exploradores europeos describen un territorio con muchas ciudades, agricultura a gran escala y población abundante. Cuando Hernán Cortés invadió México, el imperio azteca controlaba un caudillaje de aproximadamente 6 millones de personas, algo menos que la población de España en aquella época. Durante la expedición, Bernal Díaz del Castillo escribió: “Cuando vimos tantas ciudades y pueblos construidos sobre el agua y otras grandes ciudades en tierra firme, nos asombramos y nos dijimos que parecían fruto de embrujos…” Cuando los españoles llegaron finalmente a la capital azteca, se encontraron en Tenochtitlán con una ciudad-isla llena de canales, como Venecia, cuya extensión superaba la de cualquier ciudad europea excepto París y Constantinopla. En 1539, Hernando de Soto intentó emular a Cortés y conquistar su propio imperio americano. Reunió a 600 conquistadores y recorrió durante cuatro años lo que más tarde sería el sudeste de los Estados Unidos, desde Florida hasta Carolina del Norte, Tennessee, Arkansas y Texas. Consiguió culminar su proeza no por ser un genio de la logística, sino porque las tierras por las que transitó estaban “muy pobladas con grandes ciidades”, lo que le permitió incautarse de todo lo necesario para alimentar y cobijar a sus hombres. Sin embargo, algo hay de verdad en el relato que describe “unas tierras escasamente pobladas” por cazadores-recolectores cuando llegaron los ingleses, 70 años después de la expedición de Soto. Por entonces, la gente había desaparecido. Muchos murieron a causa de enfermedades europeas; muchos más por las hambrunas, como consecuencia de la desatención del campo y el colapso de una civilización compleja. Una expedición francesa que remontó el río Mississippi en 1682 dirigida por el Sieur de la Salle no halló casi ningún nativo en toda una región que los españoles habían encontrado densamente poblada. Los Coosa, los Caddo, los Cahokian, los Plaquemine: la gente, sus ciudades y sus monumentos fueron barridos por una gran ola de enfermedades. Desastres parecidos no eran desconocidos para los europeos: brotes epidémicos provocaron la crisis del siglo III del imperio romano, el colapso parcial de los imperios romano oriental y de los Sasánidas en el siglo VII y el derrumbe de la civilización de la Alta Edad Media en el siglo XIII. Pero las poblaciones europeas no sufrieron nunca un conjunto de plagas tan numerosas y mortíferas como las que los exploradores y conquist[...]

Khomeini to IS: paths of revolution

Sun, 23 Nov 2014 05:21:09 +0000

The Middle East's political map survived decades of tumult. Its long-term unravelling began with Iran's uprising in 1979. In 1948, the establishment of Israel caused a major shock in the Middle East. But, alien state as it was, its impact was also limited. It did not destroy the region's state system, and the maps that had been drawn following the first world war continued to be usable and recognisable. Thus, despite mutual hostility and several wars, Israel integrated - albeit antagonistically - within the region’s geopolitics.  In 1958, Egypt and Syria declared their unification in a single state. This was two years after the Suez conflict, at the high tide of Gamal Abdel Nasser's influence. But this unity - intended to remove borders between brotherly Arab states and reverse the “partitioned map” across the Arab world, itself collapsed before it could celebrate its fourth anniversary.The borders, after all, turned out to be much more strongly rooted than they appeared. Soon, a vicious conflict - the “first Arab civil war,” as some called it, broke out in Yemen. There too, borders were left unchanged, and - at least at that stage - north Yemen did not split.  In 1967, an event of seismic magnitude occurred: three Arab countries, including Egypt under Nasser, were routed by the Jewish state. It took only six days for the West Bank, Sinai, and the Golan heights to be conquered. Again, however,  the borders and the map did not collapse. The world agreed that the ensuing occupation of captured territory was an anomaly, and that normality would be its restoration in accordance with the initial map. In 1975, after five years of a short-lived Palestinian-Jordanian rehearsal, the Lebanese and Palestinians ushered in the era of open-ended civil wars in the region. This lured in countless belligerents, occupation armies, cash, weapons, and intelligence services. Even all this could not divide Lebanon. From 1982-2000, its people sat waiting for the restoration of its occupied territories to its official map. The survival of existing Arab states and their borders during these decades resulted not from any underlying cohesion or desire for coexistence. No, it was the cold war that above all ensured that a "happy ending" would arrive before the Arab states drew too close to the abyss. Both sides in the east-west geopolitical divide wanted change to affect regimes only, not borders. Thus, the just causes of the Kurdish and Palestinian peoples could not guarantee them a state - could not penetrate the infallible map. This principle applied beyond the region too:  the Biafran war of 1967-70 did not lead to secession from Nigeria, and the de facto partition of Cyprus in 1974 was prevented from becoming de jure.In 1990, with the end of the cold war - and shortly before small and primordial identities exploded spectacularly - Saddam Hussein tried his luck by invading Kuwait. The disastrous attempt had disastrous results. It seemed to confirm that even in the new era, much more than a dictator's adventurism would be needed to amend the regional map. Instead, Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution in Iran in 1979 turned out to be - albeit belatedly - the most important response to the “stability” of the cold war. A slow explosionThe fervent Khomeini revolution, claiming that it would carve out a “third way” for the region, did slice with unprecedented sharpness at the region’s map. Saddam responded by invading Iran in 1980, launching a war that lasted eight years. This only inflamed the Khomeinists' efforts to export the revolution, which merged with and amplified the sectarian (Shi'a-Sunni) and communal tensions in the wider region. The combined long-term effects were manifold. Lebanon profoundly changed under the tutelage of th[...]

Yemenis on the Houthi ascent to power

Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:04:52 +0000

The Houthis took control of Sana’a on 21 September, striking a deal with the government after weeks of protests. Yemenis have mixed feelings about their rising power. When we visited the Military Museum on Jamal Abdul Nasi street in Sana’a, late Friday evening, we were greeted by the Houthis at the gates. “It’s closed, come tomorrow,” said 20-year-old Atul Hassan, manning the entrance door. Atul Hassan guarding the military museum. Image: Amal Shaybani. All rights reserved. These days, it’s not unusual to see buildings that were once guarded by government security forces occupied by the rebel militia. They also man key security checkpoints and government institutions in the capital. Donned in Yemeni clothing, a thawb, and carrying a jambiya (Yemeni sword) and rifles, the group were recently seen sporting new military uniforms at a security check point on Haddah street. The Houthis or ‘Ansar Allah’ (Partisans of God) as they prefer to be called, are like many Yemenis Zaidi Shi’a. After several uprisings in the last decade, the Houthis have managed to gain control over Saa’da, parts of Amran, Al Jawf and Hajjah provinces in Yemen. Hassan joined the rebel group after finishing high school, during his year off. “We are with the people, we want what the people want. With Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, we can be assured of a stable and powerful government,” he said, adding, “Before the Houthis, people were voiceless, and lacking rights.” This was late on the evening of 10 October–the evening following the suicide bomb explosion in Tahrir square, which killed nearly 47 civilians, including many children. The odour of dead bodies lingered in the air, and sandals and scarves drenched in blood were still strewn on the streets. A group of witnesses standing in the area pointed to the dents in the asphalt, marking where the explosion had occurred just as hundreds of people arrived in Tahrir Square for a demonstration called by the Houthis. Like Hassan, Mohammed Al-Anesi, who runs a construction business in Sana’a, sees the group’s political appeal. “Houthis have gained the trust and support of the majority of Yemeni people because they know how to fulfil the people’s demands,” he said. “A very telling example is how they got the government to reduce the fuel prices not once, but twice,” said 29-year-old Maryam Al-Junaid, a Hospital Administration student at the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a. However, unlike Hassan, Al-Anesi did not join the Houthi movement because he is strongly opposed to the rebel group’s ideology and slogans. Zakariya Dhaman, a presenter with a local radio station in Sana’a who dreamed of becoming a film director after finishing university said, “Since 2011, I have been going backwards. I’m afraid, in the midst of this unending crisis, we young people are stuck. With the Houthis in control, I don’t see political stability anytime soon. It’s becoming just like Iran.” The Houthis’ ascent in the capitalMonths of political strife and a lack of government have paved the way for the Houthis’ dominance in the capital since 21 September. When asked about the group’s rise to power, Al-Junaid remarked, “In the past people didn’t follow the Houthis. But ever since they took over government buildings in the capital, people trust them.” Al-Anesi, however, refutes the idea that the rebels are in control of the government, saying they only control the streets. Commuters travelling by dhabab (local bus) said it’s not uncommon to hear conversations on why many Yemenis support the rebels. “The Houthis are gaining more power on the ground, they have Hashemite support and they are pushing the new government as much as they ca[...]

On structural violence in Palestine

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:53:15 +0000

The structural violence, economic inequalities, and pervasive injustice that characterise Palestinian society under occupation have created a crisis of the spirit. Flying out of our cages "I used to fly, but you broke my wings and locked me back in my cage.”  This was the reproach of a patient who had just recovered from a manic episode during which he jumped from the top of the four-metre high Israeli separation wall and broke both legs. His mania had been a temporary release from the social inhibitions, economic frustrations and political obstructions symbolised by the wall itself. The pills I had given him ended his colourful euphoric experience and thrust him back into a gloomy reality. No wonder he was dissatisfied with my interventions. In a two-week period in May, seven murders were committed in Palestine. The victims were women, children and a mentally disabled youth. In my capacity as a psychiatrist, I have interviewed some of the accused perpetrators. To my surprise, they do not resemble the antisocial psychopaths who typically commit such ugly crimes. Most of those I interviewed suffer from enduring humiliation and an injured sense of manhood. They live in conditions of mounting stress, experiencing the pressure of poverty in a society increasingly obsessed with material possessions and wealth. Such men lose their sense of honour and respect when they are unable to provide for their families; they struggle to regain the illusion of control through misogyny and acts of domestic violence as expressions of their manhood. Humiliation, poverty and low social status have made some people in Palestine feel like losers and failures at life. They often attempt to medicate their frustration and anger with alcohol and drugs. And, just as many seek an altered state of mind through these routes, some try to soothe their injured dignity by projecting and externalising their sense of powerlessness onto members of their families. Such people become abusive and some commit violent crimes. The structural violence, economic inequalities, and pervasive injustice that characterise Palestinian society under occupation have created a fertile psychological environment for sociopathy to grow. We don’t yet have organised crime and gangs, but there has been a dramatic upsurge in violations of the law and in domestic violence. But policing Palestine more intensively and expanding security forces are not the answer to a phenomenon brought about mainly by a crisis of the spirit. Structural violence The establishment of a ruling class, binding social structures, and oppressive institutions exclude many people from sharing the fruits of nationhood. These exclusions establish criteria—at once widely recognised and covertly concealed—that determine who is heard and who is silenced, who is favoured and who deprived. One example is membership in the right political party. If you belong to the proper political party and begin work in the proper type of job, your years of party loyalty will be counted as years of “professional experience.” This illegitimate arithmetic automatically conveys an advantage in employment and in promotions compared to those who actually have better credentials and work harder. The same system that greases loyal wheels will put sticks in the wheels of anyone who expresses opposition to or protests such a system. Strange voices are liable to be heard in support of direct violence and structural violence, attempting to legitimise it and render it socially acceptable. We are informed, for example, that a murdered woman was disloyal to her husband; lawyers might say, “Of course, you are right—but you don’t want to get in trouble with the political elite.” Our[...]

Tony Blair, a crusader for peace

Mon, 16 Jun 2014 00:19:01 +0000

The shadow of the United States-Israel military relationship looms over Tony Blair's peace-envoy role in the middle east. [This article was first published on 28 June 2007] Tony Blair's departure from office after ten years as Britain's prime minister on 27 June 2007 was swiftly followed by his appointment as peace envoy in the middle east, representing the Quartet powers (United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations). The decision will be welcomed with great satisfaction by the US and Israeli governments; some of the region's authoritarian regimes (not least Egypt and Jordan) will quietly accept it; and several senior Fatah figures may be content to see a foe of Hamas and Hizbollah acquiring this role. But probably the warmest welcome will come from al-Qaida and its propagandists. In their eyes it is a gift: the projection into the Muslim and Arab heartland of a high-profile figure with the closest of links to the "far enemy" in Washington, and clear evidence that the west is both resolute in support for Israel and has little real interest in a genuine peace settlement with the Palestinians. This view may be unfair, in light of Blair's track-record in helping to bring peace between bitterly opposed factions in Northern Ireland and his professed interest in all three "religions of the book"; but there is no doubt that its adherents will depict the appointment as a validation of al-Qaida's claim of a western war against Islam. Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001 The special relationship Al-Qaida's satisfaction at this turn of events lies partly in its ability to connect it by proxy with the deep-rooted relationship between the United States and Israel. Two aspects of this are notable. First, there may be more criticism of Israel in the US than a decade or more ago, including among leading Jewish organisations and individuals; but more important is that zealous pro-Israel sentiment has been appropriated by a "Christian Zionist" tendency that represents a pool of support six times larger in voting terms than the American Jewish community (see "Christian Zionists and neocons: a heavenly marriage", 3 February 2005). Second, and even more significant, is the evolving relationship between the US and Israeli defence forces. The history of this relationship is characterised by substantial US arms sales to Israel, abundant military aid, and numerous joint projects such as the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system (several columns in this series have dissected the US-Israel bond; see, for example, "Israel, the US and the world: a conflict of perceptions" [24 July 2002] and "The US and Israel: a marriage under pressure", [7 August 2006]). In the last four years, as the US army and marine corps have become mired in the bitter counterinsurgency war in Iraq, the bonds have become closer still. The process started within a few months of the termination of the Saddam Hussein regime, when the insurgency began to develop and the US ground forces found themselves increasingly out of their depth. Vietnam was long in the past and was, in any case, a largely rural war. The United States had special forces, some of them even trained in urban counterinsurgency, but their numbers were far too small to have much effect in Iraq. Thus a US military whose regular army and marine-corps units were floundering, quickly turned for advice from the one country that had been fighting insurgents in the region, both in Lebanon and in the occupied territories. This led to the rapid[...]

To eliminate WMD we need to disarm patriarchy

Fri, 30 Aug 2013 08:10:39 +0000

Civil society must stop the use of chemical weapons being used as a pretext for US-led bombing in Syria. A gendered understanding demonstrates that the only sustainable strategy is to pursue disarmament and strengthen international humanitarian law. Before the poison gas attacks killed families in a Damascus suburb last week, Syria upheld its right to retain chemical weapons as a counterweight to nuclear arsenals held by the US and Israel. Syria therefore refused to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), one of only a handful of states to reject this multilateral treaty. Before the CWC was opened for signature in 1993, many countries had been producing and stockpiling these inhumane weapons, viewing them as legal. They were even given legitimacy as the “poor man’s deterrent”. The gendered comparison with nuclear weapons is chillingly revealing.  Now a state outside the CWC has used poison gas weapons banned by the treaty. The humanitarian consequences have been appalling, but should not be used as a pretext for the UK or others to intervene with bombs of our own.We have to look carefully at what caused this chemical attack, and consider how best to demonstrate international revulsion, prevent further attacks, and recognise the consequences of UK policy responses for other conflicts and weapons. The case for establishing a zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, as repeatedly proposed by the League of Arab States and supported by the United Nations and Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) members, including Syria, is stronger than ever. Even before this regional zone is achieved, Syria and the remaining hold-outs must accede to the CWC now. This treaty, the UN and the International Criminal Court can already provide the tools to identify the criminals – whether state or non-state – compile the necessary evidence and bring the perpetrators to justice. This would reinforce international law and do far more to deter further uses and promote political solutions than the airstrikes that are being demanded by gung ho advocates in the US, UK and France.Syria’s arguments for retaining its chemical arsenal uncomfortably echo British government arguments for replacing Trident and refusing to join multilateral efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. David Cameron’s public pronouncements on the Syrian gas attacks have veered between sanctimoniously claiming that US-UK military actions are required to “punish” Bashar al-Assad’s government and pontificating that military strikes will “deter” future chemical weapons use. How is this supposed to work? Who do they plan to target? The US and UK claim (but haven’t produced) evidence that the Assad regime is responsible for crossing the “red line” that President Obama set two years ago. Assad’s spokespeople point the finger at opposition groups, arguing that the red-line threat provided unscrupulous terrorists with the incentive to stage a chemical attack to bring the US military into the war. We don’t yet know for certain what was used and who ordered and carried out this crime against humanity. For that reason alone the rush to military action is wrong-headed. But let’s look more closely at why some group or faction in the Syrian war apparently thought that using chemical weapons would bring military or strategic gains. The perpetrators – on behalf of the government or the opposition – were certainly not deterred by red lines or military threats; these may even have backfired and provided unintended motivations for gassing thousands of civilians, including children who had been asleep in their beds.If given adequate[...]

State-building vs intervention, or how not to help

Tue, 02 Jul 2013 11:27:40 +0000

Together, distorted understanding and flawed policy have compounded the problems of weak states in the global south. A different approach to state-building is needed, says Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou The most insightful intellectual or literary works can always cast valuable light on a world in movement. Just as Edward Said’s Orientalism is revealing of persistent dystrophies in coverage of the Muslim regions in the wake of the Arab uprisings, Chinua Achebe's trilogy (Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, The Arrow of God) remains crucial to understanding the socio-political dynamics of post-colonial Africa. Even after many narratives of social transformation in the global south, even the articulation of many yearnings for democracy, the work of the Palestinian scholar and the Nigerian novelist highlight anew an enduring reality: the inability of the state in the Arab world and sub-Saharan Africa to achieve normality in its relationship with its own society and with the world at large. These writers' imaginative perspectives may at times even be a more penetrating guide to understanding this reality than dominant social-scientific frameworks such as "terrorism", ‘the Arab spring", the "crisis in the Sahel", or "armed rebellion in central Africa". The latter tend to generate prisms that oscillate between ahistorical and excessively optimistic narratives of overnight rupture (e.g., "the Arab world will never be the same") and paternalistic fatalism about the inevitability of conflict in traditional societies (e.g., "Africa's political units, not drawn on the nation-state model, are artificial entities"). When dynamic, complex events begin to unfold in these "trouble-spots", the effect of such arguments both is to encourage interventionism and public fatigue towards them, neither of which proves conducive to the thing they need most: state-building.The normalising of interventionThe unceasing conflict in Africa, and near-permanent social strife in large parts of the Arab world, can all too easily be depicted as inevitable - as if the "Arab spring" was always destined to turn into a "winter", and rebellions were endemic to African political culture. The problem with this "naturalising" assumption is that reordering these states and societies then becomes a proper, indeed legitimate way of defusing “threats to international peace and security” (as United Nations Security Council phraseology would have it). In turn this entails a sort of stealthy recodification of  the grammar of international relations, as the successive post-cold war, post-9/11 and post-Arab spring worlds are repackaged as the ground for a new alarmism.  The language of "weak", "failing" (or "failed"), "collapsed", "fragile" and "unstable" states began to emerge with some insistence in the wake of the cold war (Robert Kaplan's warning in 1994 of a "coming anarchy" was typical). In the 1990s, though, the development of these states was understood through a relatively benign outlook that stressed human rights, good governance and political liberalisation, whereas in the 2000s a newfound emphasis on security reoriented the discourse towards control, order and discipline. A telling indicator of is the transition from Gerald B Helman and Steven R Ratner’s 1992 article “Saving Failed States”, based on democratic purposes, and Seth Kaplan’s 2008 book Fixing Fragile States, focusing on neutralising security threats. The road travelled can also be charted in some eleven interventions in twenty-one years: Somalia 1992 (United States), Rwanda 1994 (Franc[...]

Young Afghans in the UK: deportations in the dead of night to a war-zone

Mon, 24 Jun 2013 09:03:33 +0000

Each year around 400 children forced by war to leave their families and homes in Afghanistan seek sanctuary in the UK. Lisa Matthews writes for Young People Seeking Safety Week on the young adults who, having rebuilt their lives, are now at threat of return.  ‘You want to send me back to a country that does not know me, to a country that will hurt me. I only know my life now. Nothing else. In Afghanistan they are not in life. That's not life. I have no family. I have no home. My life was torn apart. I was a child when I came here. I am not an adult now. Oh, these are not the answers you wanted? What more can I say? I want a bright life. More than this.'These are the words of Asef, the young Afghan protagonist in a new play called Mazloom. Mazloom is a portrait of a young asylum seeker, alone in London, whose life is being torn apart by the impending prospect of deportation to Afghanistan, where indiscriminate violence and Taliban intimidation await.Each year around 400 children are forced by war to leave their family and home in Afghanistan to seek safety in the UK. Mazloom draws on original testimony to explore the experiences of those who, having arrived as children and spent several years in the UK, are now at risk of deportation. The script was written by Sara Masters, after working with young people who attend Merton and Wandsworth Asylum Welcome, and directed by Kieran Sheehan for several shows around London last year. This year, Mazloom is being taken on tour to six cities around the UK by the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) and film-maker Sue Clayton as part of Young People Seeking Safety Week, which begins on 24 June. Young People Seeking Safety Week, which is organised by the national YPSS network, aims to bring positive attention to the issues of young asylum seekers; to encourage conversation and action across the nation; to provide a platform for young people to share their experiences and express their concerns; and to act as a showcase for the talents, creativity and diversity of young people seeking safety and those that support them. Mazloom. Photo: Themba LewisLives shattered simply by turning 18Several audience members at a public rehearsal of Mazloom have looked after young people in a situation not dissimilar to that of Asef. They spoke of the cruelty of lives shattered simply by turning 18.If a young person's asylum claim has been refused but there are not adequate 'reception arrangements' allowing them to be returned to their home country, they are given a short period of leave to remain in the UK and are usually looked after by foster carers or social services. These young people have been sent from their homes (sometimes as young as twelve and thirteen, or even younger) by their families for their own safety. Many have made perilous journeys lasting months and even years to reach the 'sanctuary' of the UK. They are then faced with a hostile asylum system, and find themselves disbelieved about their age, about their past, about the dangers they have been through.Alone in the UK, unaccompanied asylum seekers often forge very strong bonds with their foster carers. They become their new family with whom they can start to heal and attempt to move on from the dangers in their country of origin, the traumas of the journey and the separation from home, family, friends and all that they know.Once they are 18, all of this protection is taken away from them; they are at risk of detention, deportation and destitution. Having lost so much already, they now face losing their new homes and families too. As the British fam[...]

"We want peace. We’re tired of war"

Wed, 29 May 2013 09:24:24 +0000

"If we live violence every day, how can we work for the development of our country so that we can benefit from human rights like other countries and like other women?"  - Julienne Lusenge speaking about her work as a women's human rights defender in the DRC Jennifer Allsopp: Julienne, could you begin by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about your work and the context in which you operate?Julienne Lusenge: My name is Julienne Lusenge and I’m an activist for women’s rights in the DRC. We are an organisation that fights against the impunity of crimes, against war crimes in our region, and for the rights of victims of sexual violence and war. For the last 16 years we’ve been living in a state of war in the east of our country. It’s a war of aggression with neighbouring countries. There are national armed groups and there are foreign groups who pillage our region. We want the armed groups to return to Uganda and Rwanda and we want our government to deal with the national groups. But many armed groups are being manipulated and impunity reigns. The war is sustained by companies of war who mercilessly exploit the resources of our country.   Since 2002 the Congolese government has been organising a dialogue between the Congolese people. We asked the government to include all of the militias and the heads of the militias in the dialogue, but in spite of this people think that the only way that they can obtain power is through arms. When there are negotiations which involve rebel forces each person makes a rebel group and heads to the negotiations in the hope of gaining power. But we want peace. We’re tired of war. It’s women’s bodies who are used as battlefields in this war. When armed groups confront one another it’s women who pay the price. Thousands of women are raped with atrocious violence, children are recruited and young women are detained as sexual slaves by the armed groups. If we live violence every day, how can we work for the development of our country so that we can benefit from human rights like other countries and like other women? We want all of the violence to stop and we want the international community to work effectively and concretely. There are lots of resolutions that have been adopted by the UN. There are lots of accords that have been signed too. We’ve also now got a UN mission in our country. But what are all these people, all these soldiers going to do in Congo so that women feel protected when they are currently raped next to UN bases? When women are abducted from outside their bases? We want there to be more evaluation of this mission. We don’t want it to be like the Congolese army and for it to do the same thing. The brigades need to be properly trained before they are deployed, trained in respect for democratic values and democracy. They need to be properly trained to work for peace so that they don’t sit back and watch women get raped. JA: Can you tell me a bit about your day to day work as a peace activist? JL: (laughs) Day to day ! We work all day and night. We have no rest, because each day we have women coming to us who have been attacked and raped. There are so many victims of sexual violence, so many problems of security and human rights violations that we always have victims at our door. So we have to take care of them; we have to take them to the hospital, organise counselling for the women and accompany them at each stage of the pursuit of justice. We help them to find a lawyer and then we pay the legal fees, hospital fees etc. That’s what we do, every day. In additio[...]

Women of Senegal: agents of peace

Mon, 27 May 2013 09:39:40 +0000

The physical and moral suffering undergone by the valiant people of Casamance is incalculable and, as usual, it is the women and children who pay the highest price. From their position as victims, women have decided to become committed agents of peace, says Ndeye Marie Thiam. Read this article in French. There was once a region, tucked in the southern part of Senegal, tranquil and beautiful, gifted with a rich cultural diversity and immense agricultural resources, fisheries and tourism. It was commonly known as ‘la verte Casamance’ (‘Green Casamance’). Sadly, this is the Casamance that has been the theatre of an armed fratricidal conflict between the Senegalese state and members of the pro-independence Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFCD). We’ve now witnessed thirty years of conflict! It stands out as one of the longest conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, bringing with it a long history of tragedies: thousands of mines buried into the soil, raids, carjackings and an economy of war in full expansion. This has seriously harmed the agricultural and tourist economy, which have been bled-dry. According to Jean François Lepetit, chief of the Handicap International mission in Casamance, at least 90% of mined land still needs to be cleared.  ‘Green Casmance’ experiences this conflict through the loss of human lives (more than 3,000 deaths directly linked to the conflict) and constraints on economic and social development. The physical and moral suffering undergone by the valiant people of Casamance are incalculable, and, as usual, it is the women and children who pay the highest price. Women may not fight, but they the carry the weight of the suffering; they bear the mental and physical scars of the horrors of war. Faithful guardians of traditional values, they undergo all sorts of ills which are given names like rape, abductions, mutilations... Whole villages have been emptied of their peaceful inhabitants, leaving total desolation in their place. The village of Oulampane, on the edge of the border between Senegal and Gambia, was suspected of welcoming and housing rebels. It was set on fire by the Senegalese army’s military forces. The women in the region lost all their goods. They were forced to abandon their village against their will and to seek refuge on Gambian soil. Women from the rural community of Boutoupa suffered a similar fate. Out in a truck in search of cashew nuts, they fell upon a mine...Many others have been victims of rape as they return from the rice fields where they work in rice cultivation or market gardening. I could talk endlessly about the abuses undergone by women.  And what of the immense cohort of displaced men, women and children? We have seen more than 150,000 displaced persons and/or refugees in our region, more than a hundred villages abandoned in the last fifteen years, with lands polluted with mines. And this is without mentioning, of course, the material deprivation that continues to rise. And this is why we say with force and determination: STOP! All of this has to stop. Women: committed agents of peace From their position as victims, women have decided to become committed agents of peace. In this vein, on September 21st 2011, women’s organisations from the regions of Kolda, Sédhiou and Ziguinchor united their forces in creating the Platform of Women for Peace in Casamance (PFPC). At first an informal structure of consultation and dialogue, the PFPC, strong with its 170 member organisations and operations across the whole of Casamance, quickly becam[...]

The Egyptian opposition: from protestors to revolutionaries?

Mon, 22 Apr 2013 10:59:06 +0000

The failure to translate the momentum of the heady days of the January 2011 protests in Egypt into an effective revolutionary force is closely related to the organisational forms adopted by oppositional movements. This poses broader questions for social movements worldwide, argues Maha Abdelrahman Except for shy enthusiasm within small circles of activists on social media, the first annual conferences of the Strong Egypt  and the Socialist Popular Alliance parties in March 2013 went almost unnoticed. The enthusiasm was mostly focused on the rise of young members of the parties into the ranks through the first party elections. By contrast, the dismal failure of the National Salvation Front to stand up to Morsi’s infamous constitutional reforms weeks earlier was met with a wide public debate and condemnation. Between the struggling efforts of young political hopefuls and the total irrelevance of the performance of old guard opposition figures lies the fundamental question at the heart of Egypt’s revolutionary process since January 2011: what kind of organisation(s) will lead into the post-Mubarak era? Mass-based organisations led by young activists with roots going back to social movements which swept Egypt for a decade leading up to downfall of Mubarak?  Broad-based coalitions of seasoned political figures? Traditional political parties working along the same old authoritarian style? A hybrid of these or something completely different? More importantly, will a radical transformative project in Egypt emerge from within the narrowly defined realm of electoral politics or should we be keeping an eye on new possibilities for  more innovative initiatives? These questions become more daunting against the background of Morsi’s ill-conceived constitution, which is yet another addition to a wide array of tools and measures, ranging from legal manipulation to regimes of co-optation and naked violence, used by Egypt’s rulers over the course of the twentieth century to arrest the development of mass-based, autonomous, political or civil organisations. By contrast, the rising popularity of new forms of activism which swept the world from Seattle to Milan, and from Thailand to Moscow, at the dawn of the new millennium provided activists in Egypt and elsewhere with alternative organisational structures and new tools for mobilisation. In the first decade of the 21st century, Egyptian activists within blossoming yet embryonic labour and prodemocracy movements, participated in groups and networks that were characterised by decentralised and fluid organisational structures, diffuse boundaries and dependence on members rather than a centralised leadership - all features typical of new social movements. Such features not only served Egyptian activists to elude the repressive Mubarak regime, but even to bring down its chief altogether.  In a matter of days during the uprisings of  January 2011, these same activists found their status transformed from protestors, demonstrators and strikers, who were members of loosely structured networks, to that of ‘revolutionaries’. These newly-minted revolutionaries were now suddenly confronted with the expectation that they would either capture or renegotiate state power, provide a vision for the future emanating from the iconic image of Tahrir square, and transform both polity and society. The activists/revolutionaries, however, had no ready plan, grand or otherwise, for the day after. Despite their fearless efforts to challenge the regime and[...]

Kenya, between hope and fear

Fri, 01 Mar 2013 03:24:52 +0000

The violent aftermath of Kenya's previous election is present in everyone's minds as Kenyans elect a successor to Mwai Kibaki. But the past five years have brought many other issues to the fore, says Daniel Branch. Many Kenyans will go to the polls on 4 March 2013 with a sense of trepidation. Three of the country's four elections since 1992 have been accompanied by significant violence, with 2002 the exception. On each occasion politicians used local grievances over land and inequality to label supporters of rival candidates as ethnic “outsiders”. Militias were then used to force those same voters from their homes. Thousands of people were killed in violence around the 1992, 1997 and 2007 elections and tens of thousands more fled. Some of these supposed “outsiders” never returned to places where their families had lived for decades. No wonder, then, that many Kenyans see elections as something to endure rather than to celebrate.In light of this history, anyone of a nervous disposition might have hoped that this would be a straightforward election with a clear result. That looks unlikely, as on the eve of the vote the final result is too close to call. President Mwai Kibaki is retiring after two terms in office, and prime minister Raila Odinga is the frontrunner. But Odinga's lead in the opinion polls is narrow, and he will almost certainly be denied an outright majority; in that case a run-off will be held in a few weeks’ time. Odinga’s main rival is Uhuru Kenyatta, who, if successful, faces the prospect of governing the country while mounting his defence at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. He and his running mate, William Ruto, are accused of orchestrating the violence that followed the December 2007 election. Rather than standing aside, both decided to exercise their right - confirmed recently by the Kenyan courts - to contest the election, apparently in order to gain a position of greater strength vis-à-vis the ICC. They promise they can run the country and mount their court defences remotely, by using technology.           The rest of the world only began to notice the 2007 election when violence broke out during the suspiciously prolonged counting process, and quickly escalated. In the first two months of 2008, nearly 1,200 people lost their lives. An effect of those tragic events is that this time, Kenya has held foreign attention for months before voters go to the polls. But both foreign and local observers are nagged by a simple question: has enough been done over the past five years to avoid a repeat of the eruption? There are some good signs, most notably independent inquiries into the management of the election and the subsequent violence, a new constitution and an ongoing reform of the judiciary. But it is hard to escape the conclusion that these reforms are not enough to guarantee a peaceful election. A collective psychosis has therefore gripped many, if by no means all, local and foreign commentators. An array of figures, from President Obama and Kofi Annan down to the local diplomatic corps, has felt the need to advise Kenyans on how to vote - most likely to no or ill effect.  Many fear further instability should Uhuru Kenyatta win, and threaten Kenya with diplomatic isolation should that happen. Uganda, whose businesses are still waiting for compensation for goods destroyed during the 2007-08 violence, has made contingency plans in case of disruption to vital imports being [...]

International courts: justice vs politics

Wed, 27 Feb 2013 01:43:40 +0000

The tribunals judging crimes in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia were intended to deliver justice for victims of genocide. But several recent cases suggest that politics may be getting in the way, says Andrew Wallis in Kigali. The genocide in Rwanda that claimed up to one million lives in summer 1994 is today far from the top concerns of the international community. But for many thousands of still grieving survivors, it is impossible to forget. The same goes for those in the states of former Yugoslavia who, also in the 1990s, suffered the loss of their relatives in genocidal crimes.A degree of forgetting may be understandable if not welcome. But far more disturbing is the possibility that political influences or judicial agendas are interfering with the application of justice over the violations of those years. Monitors from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania were expected in the Rwandan capital Kiagli in the third week of February 2013. The ICTR has handed over a number of genocide suspects to Rwandan jurisdiction, and the monitors' mandate is to assess whether the Rwandan justice system is working effectively with due process in the matter. In fact, Rwanda has within months of the prisoners' arrival finished legal investigations, prepared cases and begun trials.But this very efficiency contributes to the anger of the Kigali authorities at the United Nations monitors' visit, for – according to Rwanda's prosecutor-general Martin Ngoga - it contrasts greatly with the record of France, where two suspects accused of genocide, extermination and multiple rape were transferred for trial in 2008. There, the investigations have made almost no progress. Moreover, the ICTR decided that the French justice system was "competent" and did not need monitors to oversee the cases of former prefect Laurent Bucyibaruta and Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, who continue to enjoy their freedom pending any trial. Why should Rwanda's justice system be subject to monitoring when it is working smoothly in these cases, while France's is endorsed when it is not?Speaking before the monitors' arrival in Kigali, Ngoga was clear. "If these monitors turn up I’ll tell them clearly it is their last time. They are not welcome here. We have done all the ICTR required yet they still send monitors. France has done nothing - and yet is not required to host these people. It seems a clear case of politics, with the poor African country yet again being treated differently despite abiding by rules the western states flout."This new hard stance seems to have paid off in the short term, at least with the ICTR registrar, Bongani Majora. On his own three-day visit to Rwanda in February 2013, he promised that monitors would now be sent to Paris – and that they would be in place before their colleagues are next in Rwanda. It is a victory of sorts for Ngoga; but there is still a suspicion that when it comes to actions, the ICTR is very often found wanting as politics blocks its judicial remit.A question of impunity The charge of hypocrisy over these two alleged genocidaire is part of a far wider malaise at the heart of international justice. Laurent Bucyibaruta and Wenceslas Munyeshyaka were first brought before the French courts in 1995, having fled Rwanda after the genocide. In 2004, the European Court of Human Rights - reacting to a complaint from survivors - condemned the French judiciary's slowness in bringing their cases to trial. The ICTR had cons[...]

Syria's war, Israel's trap

Thu, 21 Feb 2013 12:30:52 +0000

The prospect of a chaotic endgame in Syria and more instability in Egypt is leading Israel further in the direction of a "fortress-state". This military entrenchment reflects not strength but vulnerability. The worsening of the civil war in Syria is further diminishing the options open to Barack Obama's team. Neither side has much prospect of victory, and as the violence intensifies so do war crimes. International divisions, with the United States and Saudi Arabia wanting Bashar al-Assad's regime to fall and Iran and Russia continuing to support it, make the conflict even more intractable. Amid the imbroglio, Washington has a particular problem: it is inhibited from supplying arms to Syria's rebels, which they need to have any chance of ending the Damascus regime, by the increasing power of Islamist factions within the opposition. Among the most significant of these are Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, each of which has made considerable gains (the former in northern Syria, the latter in other areas of the country) (see Jeremy Binnie, “Islamist group grows into major force in Syria”, Jane's Defence Weekly, 20 February 2013).The strength of both militias is aided by skilled commanders whose powers of leadership attracts other paramilitaries to their cause. The result is that jihadists are increasingly leading groups of mixed affiliations. This factor reinforces Washington's caution about supplying armaments: for the rise of jihadist groups makes it more likely that this current will wield substantial influence in post-Assad Syria, whether in a unified regime or amid a situation in Syria that resembles Lebanon during its civil war from 1975-90 (see Mark Landler & Michael R Gordon, “Options dwindle on easing Assad from power”, New York Times, 19 February 2013).But if this outcome is worrying for the Americans, it is an even greater problem for the Israelis. The Syrian war has unfolded since 2011 at a time of subtle deterioration in Israel's security predicament, which is producing contradictory responses: strenuous efforts to make Israel even more of a "fortress-state", but also remarkable advocacy of serious negotiations with the Palestinians from some of the country's hawkish voices.A border upgradeIsrael has two immediate and simultaneous concerns of its own: the prospect of Islamists gaining real influence in southern Syria, and Egypt being unwilling or unable to stem insecurity in the Sinai peninsula. Israel, in the period before the Syrian conflict erupted, had no particular problems in dealing with Assad's regime - nor indeed with Jordan and Egypt's. In great part because these autocratic regimes recognised their own weaknesses in the face of Israel's conventional and nuclear superiority, Israel found them easy enough to handle. Now, Syria poses a major difficulty for Israel. It worries that Damascus's chemical and biological weapons could be seized by radical Islamists or Hizbollah, and that the chaos of a post-Assad Syria could spill over into Lebanon. For the moment, Israel is strengthening its military forces adjacent to its borders with Lebanon and Syria, including a move of three batteries of the Iron Dome anti-missile system from the south (near to Gaza). It is also preparing for a war with Hizbollah, with plans for civilian evacuation from southern Lebanon being made (see Barbara Opall-Rome, “Israel Hones Contingency Plans for Lebanon War”, Defense News, 11 February 2013).The Israeli Defence [...]

Militarising Education

Tue, 27 Nov 2012 11:01:26 +0000

The incursion of the military into the British education system will mean that alternatives to war and peaceful ways of resolving conflict will be more difficult for young people to explore. In the long term we will all pay a heavy price, says Emma Sangster. The UK government is on a drive to integrate 'military ethos and skills' into the structure of education, echoing developments in the US and founded on an ideology that says that everything military is good.  According to an unpublished 2007 report by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the UK military already has substantial involvement in education, visiting thousands of schools and colleges each year and having contact with a minimum of around 900,000 children aged 8 -18. Figures obtained link under the Freedom of Information Act suggest that in many areas most secondary level state schools and colleges are being visited, often numerous times. The three aims of this involvement were outlined in the Youth Engagement Review 2011: recruitment, to raise awareness of the armed forces “in order to ensure the continued support of the population” and to encourage personal and social development. The first two are Defence outcomes, the third chimes neatly with the Government's agenda in other areas in which military input into young people's lives is being seen as a solution to wider issues of social dysfunction. A more vivid interpretation of the agenda behind the military's 'engagement' with youngsters was given by the head of army recruitment in 2007, “Our new model is about raising awareness, and that takes a ten-year span. It starts with a seven-year-old boy seeing a parachutist at an air show and thinking, 'That looks great.' From then the army is trying to build interest by drip, drip, drip." Ready access to hundreds of thousands of school children each year provides the contact that the forces need to win over young hearts and minds to military ideals and to engage them in pre-recruitment activities for those who will eventually enlist. However, in addition to the careers talks and presentations, free curricular resources, displays, alternative curricular activities, visits to bases, mentoring individuals and cadets forces, there is currently an ideological push, which has gained momentum this year, to integrate military attitudes into the structure of national education policy. The Department for Education's (DfE) 'military skills and ethos programme' encompasses a number of schemes including expanded cadet provision within state schools, the Troops to Teachers scheme and alternative provision for pupils at risk of becoming disengaged, including the Military to Mentors and Challenger Troop, a full time uniformed programme for 10-16 year olds. The Government chose Armed Forces Day this year to announce their aim of creating 100 new cadet units in English state schools. ‘Military ethos’ - who benefits? The DfE state that their objective of bringing military ethos into education “to help raise standards and tackle issues such as behaviour” is based on positive values associated with the military, “loyalty, resilience, courage and teamwork, to name but a few.” However, they do not provide a rounded examination of 'military ethos' or why a military framework is an appropriate one in which to develop these values within education. The military operates in an environment of conflict and its hierarchical structure, d[...]

The war between the president’s men

Tue, 06 Nov 2012 20:41:19 +0000

The Russian regime may present a united front to the world, but behind the scenes the cracks are beginning to show. In the week when Putin fired a senior government member, Dmitry Travin looks at the people and the issues that divide them. On 6 November Vladimir Putin abruptly dismissed Russia’s Minister of Defence, and one of his own political appointees, Anatoly Serdyukov. He was immediately replaced by Moscow regional governor Sergey Shoigu, but given that Shoigu was only recently appointed governor, it seems unlikely that this was part of a presidential plan. It points instead to a sudden crisis in the Kremlin.  Serdyukov’s fall is ostensibly linked to a corruption scandal in the Defence Ministry, but his nemesis was most probably his own father-in-law Viktor Zubkov, a former deputy prime minister and current chairman of the state-owned gas giant Gazprom. And behind Zubkov is Putin’s close friend Igor Sechin, CEO of oil company Rosneft, a man of enormous influence with Russia’s law enforcement agencies. 'Serdyukov’s story is one of many described by the phrase: ‘war between the Kremlin’s towers’: the fact that the apparently united front that is the country’s government is in fact mired in internal conflict.' Serdyukov’s career was built on his marriage to Zubkov’s daughter, but the couple’s relationship has now broken down and there has evidently been talk of divorce, which has rather spoilt Zubkov and Sechin’s relations with their protégé. Serdyukov also managed to antagonise many important generals, who claim that the reforms he was carrying out were detrimental to Russia’s army. Serdyukov’s story is one of many in Russian political life that are described by the phrase: ‘war between the Kremlin’s towers’. What it means is that the apparently united front that is the country’s government is in fact mired in internal conflict. Vladimir Putin’s close political associates are at loggerheads with one another, fighting for influence over the president and control of resources (financial, natural, information), and in some cases for the achievement of their political aims. Official Kremlin sources present the same closed ranks as Putin’s team and never talk about these internal divisions, but in fact the situation at the top is becoming ever more problematic. Putin’s personal authority, and the immense power which he has concentrated in his own hands, have until now made it possible to suppress these conflicts, or at least keep a lid on them, but should the president falter for a moment, it will all blow up in an instant. One can indeed say that the problem of internal conflict within the Putin regime is at a new high. If in the past it was a question of the odd ‘dissident’ who could easily be got rid of, we now see a situation where politicians in open disagreement with one another remain in their jobs and wage a cold war among themselves. The three major clashes of the past involved the economist Andrey Illarionov, the FSB general Viktor Cherkessov and Moscow’s former mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Illarionov was an advisor to Putin, but his liberal views brought him into conflict with Russia’s whole governmental system, based as it is on state corruption, and he therefore turned into a strong opponent of the present regime. Cherkessov, whose ideas were more left than liberal, was also opposed to the high le[...]

The least bad: the US elections from Israel-Palestine

Wed, 31 Oct 2012 09:31:59 +0000

For Palestinians and Israelis, a Democrat victory would be bad and a Republican victory worse. While Obama continues to seduce the deluded among us, Romney is making lethal calculations I live in Israel, a state that is part of the United States of America in more senses than one.  And so the unfolding of the US election campaigns affects me in a very real way. Far-fetched as it may seem, my immediate plans (my work prospects, the school my kids can go to, whether or not we can buy an apartment) all depend not just on my wife and me but also – and much more than we’d like – on Messrs Obama and Romney. Much as we might not like it the candidates have granted themselves the power to decide how reality will play out on the ground, in these distant lands. They have already told us, for example, that wars await. They have told us what arms they will be fought with, and how fast. They’ve been more specific, too, when it’s suited them. They have established which people will be able to live in the city of Jerusalem, and which people won’t. They have established whether or not armed colonists can continue stealing land in the West Bank. They’ve even decided whether or not the Palestinians will be able to have a state. For my family, as for Palestinians and for Israelis, a Democrat victory would be bad and a Republican victory worse. There’s one thing that won’t change in these promised lands after 6 November: the Israeli government’s policy towards its Palestinian subjects. Let’s imagine for a moment that Obama wins. His victory won’t prevent another four years of Israeli expansion into the West Bank. Nor will it prevent indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population like the bombardment of Gaza in 2008. On the ground, basic injustices will follow their usual course. In the intangible realm of words and gestures, though, those of us who feel the creation of a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one is an act of common sense and elemental justice, as well as a necessary step for the survival of both peoples, will feel less alone. If Obama wins, we, the deluded, will continue urging ourselves to think – like children suspending our disbelief in a game, or adults high on our illusions – that Obama is on our side. That we’re not swimming alone, against the current. That at long last the Israelis will let the Palestinians be. Yes we can. We know all too well that it won’t happen, but thanks to the great Democratic rhetoric, we dreamers aren’t about to let go of our illusions. The idea of a Romney victory, on the other hand, leaves no room for doubt. It would be lethal for the Jewish state and for Palestinians on both sides of the border. Netanyahu’s government is publicly making calculations and concluding that it is worth attacking Iran now, while it doesn’t have a nuclear bomb. That attack, the prime minister has said, would mean the deaths of a quarter of Israel’s population in the war that would immediately be triggered – a number that sounds to him like good news. The bad news, he has stated, is that if the attack does not go ahead now, Iran will develop a nuclar bomb and Israel would be condemned irreversibly to annihilation. In the ruthless equation of the far Right (Netanyahu is further to the Right than the bosses of the army and Mossad, both of whom are against the attack), there is no room f[...]

Can rancour in the south Caucasus go beyond tit for tat?

Tue, 02 Oct 2012 17:05:16 +0000

For close on a millennium Azeris and Armenians co-existed reasonably peaceably. At the end of the Soviet period tensions erupted and they have been bubbling ever since. No need, thinks William Gourlay, because they are actually quite similar. Is it just a case of ‘must try harder’? At the end of August, Ramil Safarov, the Azeri soldier convicted of murdering a sleeping Armenian at a NATO training camp, was released from prison in Hungary, returning home to Azerbaijan to be pardoned immediately by the president and to receive a hero’s welcome.  There is concern that this turn of events could reignite hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia, with tensions kept barely at simmering point since the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict ended in 1994. Fears are compounded by the possibility of any renewed conflict drawing in other regional players, including Turkey, Russia and Iran. Attempts at forging peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia are now stumbling.  In the meantime, the blogosphere and other social networks are buzzing with claim and counter claim, accusation and counter accusation, evidence of the all-consuming nationalism that grips so many Azeris and Armenians. Armenians are outraged not only by the fact that Safarov received an immediate pardon, but that he should be lauded by so many of his countrymen. Some Azeris, to their credit, agree.  'Politically straitjacketed by an oppressive regime today, Azerbaijan was, during the early years of the 20th century, at the forefront of civil activism and reform in the Russian empire.'But many more Azeris point to the case of Varoujan Garabedian, a member of ASALA (the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia), who after serving 17 years in a French prison for his role in the bombing of a Turkish check-in desk at Orly airport, was released and returned home to Armenia, in 2001, similarly receiving a hero’s welcome. From the Azeris side at least, the prevailing chorus appears to be, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander… Past history Yet, while the nationalist impulses of both peoples seem set to rage, the irony is that the Armenians and the Azeris have much more in common than they like to admit, not least cohabiting, largely peacefully, in the south Caucasus and eastern Anatolia, for close to a millennium. As Caucasus analyst Thomas de Waal points out, the downplaying of long-standing economic and cultural links in the rush to define separate identities and territories in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet region has been to the detriment of all the countries of the south Caucasus. Politically straitjacketed by an oppressive regime today, Azerbaijan was, during the early years of the 20th century, at the forefront of civil activism and reform in the Russian empire. The great Azeri satirical magazine Molla Nasreddin, published from 1906 until 1931, pushed a progressive agenda of women’s rights, educational reform, and the privileging of ‘reason’ over ‘superstition’ while skewering local officials, clerics and colonial powers alike for corruption, political interference and sundry venalities.  The magazine received plaudits and established a broad readership largely on the basis of its extrordinary artwork and bitingly parodic cartoons. One Molla Nasreddin cartoon, particularly topical sinc[...]

America's military: a far-right threat

Tue, 25 Sep 2012 04:19:40 +0000

A lax recruitment policy has allowed neo-Nazi and other extremists to enter the United States army. The violent consequences are increasingly being felt in the domestic arena, says Matt Kennard. A tragic incident in August 2012 at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin left six innocent worshippers murdered in cold blood. The killings were hideous and mindless acts of murder motivated by hate and racism. Unfortunately, for those of us who have been watching and investigating the rise of the far-right in the United States, particularly the mushrooming problem within its armed forces, there was nothing random about it. Many have been predicting for years that something like this would happen. The recent unearthing of a violent militia operating at Fort Stewart in Georgia, which was allegedly planning to assassinate the US president, has emphasised the threat.The Wisconsin shooter, neo-Nazi army veteran Wade Michael Page, was merely one of many far-right radicals who have used the US military over the past two decades to gain access to the highest-grade weaponry in the world, alongside attendant training. The Springfield semi-automatic 9mm handgun used by Page in Oak Creek is very similar to the Beretta M9 which is the civilian version of the pistol issued by the US military. And neo-Nazi veterans, like Page, are explicit about wanting to use their new military skills in the coming race war - often called “Rahowa” in extremist circles - which they believe (and hope) will ignite in the US in the near future. Page’s heavy-metal white-power band, called End Apathy, was itself a call to arms.The most shocking part of Page’s story is that he was completely open about his neo-Nazi views while serving in the army during the 1990s. Page was no rookie army private either - he was assigned to the esteemed psychological operations (“psych-ops”) branch, a kind of offensive intelligence service.  But despite this senior status, the independent American military newspaper Stars & Stripes, writes that Page was “steeped in white supremacy during his army days and spouted his racist views on the job as a soldier.” This is especially worrying considering Page served from 1992-98. The latter part of this period putatively witnessed the US military taking a strong stand against white supremacism within the ranks after neo-Nazi and active-duty paratrooper James Burmeister murdered an African-American couple near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1995. It is doubtful that much changed in reality.What is certain, however, is that the impunity afforded to violent neo-Nazis and white supremacists by the US military hit a new high during the “war on terror”. My new book Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror (Verso, 2012) includes extensive interviews with neo-Nazi veterans as well and leaders of the far-right movement, all of whom reported to me that the US military was basically running an open-door policy on far-right radicals during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. An internal Pentagon report I dug up noted that by 2005, “The military [had] a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy pertaining to extremism.” In reality there was not even any need for secrecy: it could be more accurately described as an “ask, tel[...]

Reconsidering war with Iran

Tue, 18 Sep 2012 11:39:09 +0000

Short and long term human, political and economic consequences of any war require innovative approaches to prevent the crisis becoming war: such a case clearly exists with Iran and her nuclear ambitions.   There is considerable international discussion about a potential confrontation between Iran and the international community over its nuclear programme.  Conventional wisdom is that the US is unable to, or unwilling to risk, a pre-emptive attack and that Tehran is calling all the shots.  The US military, and likely political, readiness for a war using minimum ground forces indicates that the current seeming inaction surrounding Iran is misleading. The United States retains the ability – despite commitments to Afghanistan – to undertake no notice major military operations against Iran that could remove Iran’s ability to retaliate and remove the regime’s ability to function at all. This article (drawing on open source material) will challenge the notion that America will not attack first, and demonstrate that the US has the wherewithal to destroy the Iranian military capability.  It will detail the capability of the forces within the US services concluding that the most likely attack option (air power) would be highly successful, and then examine the political repercussions of mounting such an attack – and those of not doing so – before arguing in the conclusion that such an attack is more likely than the majority of commentators suggest, and that attack plans are highly likely to be ready to implement on the orders of the President.  While we are assuming that the primary, twin military objectives of the attack would be to remove the Iranian nuclear potential and to downgrade Iranian wider military capabilities to limit their counter-attack options this would, almost inevitably, lead to regime change. Before examining in detail the options that the US has at its disposal, why have most commentators appeared so reluctant to suggest that America has the ability to launch a debilitating attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, and could do so at any moment?  It strikes us that the concentration over the last decade on counter-terrorism, small-wars and asymmetric combat has blunted the appreciation that America remains the world’s only global, military superpower and retains more than sufficient ability to remove the Iranian nuclear research and production capabilities.  This conventional thinking that the US would not attack is based primarily on assumptions - that we believe are flawed – surrounding the Iranian counter-attack options.  Standard responses include that Iran will be able to (among many other options): seriously interfere with the Straits of Hormuz and oil flows; destroy Gulf oil industry infrastructure; fire missiles at Gulf States, Iraq and Israel; induce insurrection in Iraq; order attacks by Hizbollah and Hamas on Israel; sponsor an uprising in Afghanistan; carry out attacks in the Gulf, Europe and the US by the use of sleeper cells; and destabilise the Gulf states with large Shi’a populations.  But this analysis is not convincing for two reasons.  First, elementary military strategy requires the prevention of anticipated enemy counter-attacks. Iranian Air Force, Navy, Surfac[...]

DR Congo: the politics of suffering

Wed, 05 Sep 2012 14:57:22 +0000

A rise in violent tension in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, across the border from Rwanda, is the latest phase of a conflict unresolved since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The wider story it tells is one of state failure in the DRC, says Andrew Wallis. The crisis in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has continued for much of summer 2012, a recent month-long ceasefire notwithstanding. Claim and counter-claim about responsibility for the situation have increasingly added to the tension. A worrying by-product, almost entirely unreported in the media, is that the hostility has spread to Europe as diaspora communities become involved in the violence. The international community may have produced numerous stern speeches and articles, but seems to have decided that the DRC crisis is one to live with and manage, rather than push for radical solutions. Yet it is the latter, which take account of the underlying historic and structural issues, that are needed for lasting peace to be achieved. The recent report by the United Nations Group of Experts, backed by other sources - western media, Human Rights Watch, Congolese politicians - have put the blame solidly on neighbouring Rwanda for the current problems. They allege that the government of President Paul Kagame has armed and recruited soldiers for the newly formed M-23 militia, whose rebellion against the state has in turn destabilised the neighbouring DRC provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu.  Rwanda has hit back by producing an in-depth point-by-point rebuttal of every charge, and accusing Kinshasa of seeking to shift the blame for its own internal security and governance failures. Rwanda’s foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo addressed the UN Security Council on 29 August, when she strongly rebutted accusations that Kigali was fuelling the current unrest. “Rwanda’s national interest is served by peace and sustainable security in the eastern DRC”, she argued, saying that continued violence harms Rwanda’s economic and social development. It’s true that the summer revolt by Bosco Ntaganda’s M-23 militia is a symptom of a much deeper underlying disorder. In this respect it resembles the equally well-publicised Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (National Congress for the Defence of the People / CNDP) campaign by Laurent Nkunda in 2006-07. M-23 has in many ways become (as did Nkunda) a convenient short-term target on which politicians can focus. By doing so, they accuse outside actors of responsibility and evade confronting the real source: intrinsic, intra-state problems. For at heart, this crisis is about belonging, about inclusivity, about insecurity and about a failure of governance.The regional context For more than a century, Rwandans have settled in the two Kivu provinces. In the late 1880s, they were welcomed by the Belgian colonial government because they increased the local labour-supply. More Rwandan immigrants arrived in the Kivus in the first decades of the 20th century. Such Rwandaphones - or “Banyarwanda” - have survived decades of attempted integration into the DRC state and society. Their fight for land-rights and citizenship in what they regard as their home has been a major cause and accelerant of unre[...]

We Are Fed Up! The power of a new generation of Sudanese youth activists

Fri, 31 Aug 2012 07:32:15 +0000

The recent protests in Sudan attest to the rise of a new generation of Sudanese youth activists. At the heart of this emerging political force is Girifna, a youth-led movement which has been using internet power, confrontational street tactics, and advocacy to stand up to the regime of Omar al-Bashir. On Saturday June 16th, 2012, a group of students at the University of Khartoum in Sudan began a march from their dorms, in protest against austerity measures imposed by the government that have led to a staggering rise in the price of basic goods and services. During the subsequent wave of protests – which quickly grew to include calls for the toppling of the government – ordinary Sudanese citizens took to the streets in the capital Khartoum and in cities such as Kassala, Gedaref, and Sennar. These protests attest to the rise of a new generation of youth activists who are quickly emerging as a primary political force in Sudan. At the heart of this struggle is a movement by the name of Girifna, which was instrumental in broadening the revolt by mobilizing protesters, coordinating demonstrations and marches, and publicizing human rights violations perpetrated against demonstrators and activists. Girifna, which translates from Arabic as “we are fed up” or “we are disgusted,” was founded by a group of university students in October of 2009 in order to encourage citizens to vote in the run-up to the May 2010 elections. These elections – which were the first to be held in 21 years – were seen as a way to bring about nonviolent political change. However, they failed to achieve their goal. The ruling National Congress Party, which came to power in a military coup in 1989 and which is headed by Omar al-Bashir (who is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court for his role in the war in Darfur) remained in power despite allegations of corruption, intimidation and vote rigging by opposition parties. In the aftermath of the elections Girifna continued to push forward and organize for regime change. A Girifna activist who has chosen to remain anonymous (she will be referred to as Heba for the purposes of this article), explains, “We feel that the [NCP’s] ideology is the root cause of all [our] problems. We are a country of multiple cultures, multiple religions, multiple languages. We need to be governed in a way that accepts this diversity. These people are unable to accept diversity. Their ideology is imposing a supremacy of Arabism, Islamism…[it’s] an ideology of discrimination, of racism, and of manipulating religion to marginalize a lot of people in Sudan.” Heba insists that the secession of South Sudan in July of last year has done nothing to resolve Sudan’s problems. Even after secession, the country continues to be ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse, and thus the regime’s ideology continues to be the main source of oppression. “This was one of our first demands, and it is still one of our first demands, that the NCP goes.” The movement is representative of today’s discontented Sudanese youth, who are “fed up” not only with the NCP’s brutal rule but also with the politics of the traditional opposition groups and parties. Th[...]

Bitterlemons, the next stage

Tue, 28 Aug 2012 04:38:27 +0000

An innovative Israeli-Palestinian collaboration offering regular analysis of middle-east affairs is ending regular publication after eleven years. Its co-editors, Yossi Alpher and Ghassan Khatib, explain why. Yossi AlpherWhy we are closing We are closing bitterlemons' two weekly e-magazines. The publications that you, our readers, have known for the past eleven years will, with this special edition, cease to exist. You deserve an explanation as to why this is happening. It is not disconnected from what is transpiring around us in the middle east and globally. First, for those not wholly familiar with the details of our operation, here is a brief summary of what we have produced and published. From November 2001, presented a weekly web-magazine of Israeli and Palestinian views, including those of myself and Ghassan Khatib, on a selected topic. Beginning in July 2003, circulated a second weekly collection of analyses on a broader middle-east topic, written by commentators from throughout the region and beyond. By the by, in 2010-11 we briefly published, a series on the Arab Peace Initiative. In 2002-03, was published in Arabic and Hebrew. We published two virtual books and created iPad and iPhone apps. We attracted hundreds of thousands of readers and witnessed our articles re-circulated by hundreds of web-based and print publications. We welcomed writers from nearly every country in the region. Everything we published will remain available at of this cost money, received over the years from generous foundations, one individual, and donor countries, led first and foremost by the European Union. The donors welcomed our aspiration to involve the region's influential figures, along with interested parties from beyond the region, in a high-level and civilised discussion of our differences. They supported the readiness of an Israeli and a Palestinian to undertake this task. You, the reader, were never asked to support us financially. Indeed, we never even asked you to identify yourself to us, on the assumption that reader anonymity would increase the circulation of a controversial publication produced by Israelis and Palestinians.We never aspired to make "virtual" peace and never presented a "bitterlemons plan". Rather, we sought to debate our differences and raise the level of dialogue. Over the years, our internet and email publishing operation, based in Israel and Palestine, weathered an intifada, suicide-bombings and an Israeli invasion of the Palestinian Authority. Throughout, we never missed an edition except for holidays. Until recently.We are ceasing publication for reasons involving fatigue - on a number of fronts. First, there is donor fatigue. Why, donors ask, should we continue to support a middle-east dialogue project that not only has not made peace, but cannot "prove" to our satisfaction - especially at a time of revolution and violence throughout the region - that it has indeed raised the level of civilised discussion? Why fight the Israeli right-wing campaign against European and American state funding and the Palestinian campaign against "normalisation"?These last t[...]

False syllogisms, troublesome combinations and Primo Levi’s political positioning on Israel and Palestine

Thu, 23 Aug 2012 17:55:17 +0000

Twenty-five years after his death, Primo Levi's legacy has been the object of many debates and reinterpretations. Distinguishing his true words from those forcibly put into his mouth is a crucial step towards understanding the thought of a major witness of the horrors of the twentieth century. Flickr/TheNose. Some rights reserved.'The centre is in the diaspora'- Primo Levi[1] Primo Levi (1919-1987) was an Italian Holocaust survivor whose accounts of the 'reality' of concentration camps have received international attention and diffusion. His books are studied in schools in Italy and throughout Europe and have generated wide debates about the possibility of being both a victim and a witness of political violence and dehumanisation. His critique of violence goes beyond bearing witness to the concentration camp, touching also on the national and international events he experienced during the rest of his life as a survivor. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Israeli massacres in Lebanon at the beginning of the 1980s are particularly noteworthy among the topics that provoked Levi to engage in a complex reflection on the articulated relationship between Holocaust, memory, new episodes of political violence and political positioning. Our article is an attempt to identify the valuable elements of this reflection – and what we call its 'combinations' – on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Levi’s death.     Last April, two Italian researchers of the International Primo Levi Studies Centre in Turin published an article in the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Domenico Scarpa and Irene Soave analysed the emergence of a syllogism falsely attributed to Primo Levi: 'Everybody is somebody’s Jew. Palestinians are Israel’s Jews'.  After noticing a high degree of recurrence of this sentence on Google, the two researchers aimed to dismantle the history of what proved to be a falsely-attributed syllogism. Their main evidence comes from the comparison of an interview with Levi published in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in 1982 and another article in the same year, published in Il Manifesto : in the latter, the journalist Filippo Gentiloni, reporting a sentence by the clockmaker Mendel (one of the protagonists in Levi’s If not now, when?), added a personal comment right after the quote: 'And the Palestinians are Israel’s Jews'. For a good while now, Levi’s words and the legacy of his political thought have not only been the subject of invocation, ad hoc adaptations, and cut and paste operations within the so-called international pro-Palestine front, but also of attacks and accusations of betrayal – we should remember how coldly Levi’s work was received in Israel, similarly to the reception of other inconvenient authors such as Hannah Arendt. Since the misinterpretation of Levi’s words have resulted in thousands of web pages and quotations on different social networks[2], we feel it is necessary to reflect on some of the combinations – what in Italian we call accostamenti – put together by Levi within the framework that ultimately led to the false syllogism anal[...]

With its firm support for Assad, Tehran is running a great risk

Tue, 21 Aug 2012 11:07:42 +0000

It is no easy thing to let your best friend go. But Iran needs to change its attitude towards the Syrian regime if it wants to stay a relevant player in the Middle East. An activist masquerades as Ali Khamenei during a protest - Demotix/Thorsten Strasas. All rights reserved.At a moment when the fall of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad seems to be only a matter of time, Iran’s support for its embattled ally is unwavering. On August 7, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, told Syrian state television in Damascus that Iran would not allow the 'enemies' to break the 'axis of resistance', of which Syria is an 'integral part'. Iran’s support for Assad is not merely verbal: western secret services assume that Tehran provides Assad with intelligence, communication, and advice. And a UN report from June accuses Iran of sending weapons to Syria, thus violating a UN ban on arm sales by the Islamic Republic. Iran has some good reasons to stand by Assad: Syria is Iran’s most important – in fact its only true – state ally in the Middle East. The alliance dates back to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when Syria was the first Arab state to recognize Iran’s interim government after the Shah’s fall. The two countries cooperated in the early years of the Lebanese civil war and later, from the early 1990s onwards, in supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. Today, this alliance safeguards Iran from regional isolation; and Iran needs Syria for the transit of weapon shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This is why Iran wants to save the alliance with Assad at all costs. Yet this strategy carries great risks. Firstly, Iran is antagonizing the Syrian rebels. On August 4, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) abducted 48 Iranians near Damascus, accused them of being soldiers helping Assad and declared: 'We promise Iran and all those who support this regime... we will attack all (Iranian) targets in Syria.' Iran denied having any soldiers in Syria and claimed the abducted Iranians were pilgrims. It doesn't matter who is right: the fact that the rebels identify Iran as their enemy means that, if Assad falls, any future Syrian government will take a highly suspicious, if not outright hostile, attitude vis-à-vis Tehran. This would make Iran’s geopolitical position much more difficult. Secondly, by fighting against the Syrian rebels, Iran is also fighting against Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are supplying the FSA with weapons. The rivalry between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arab states dates from before the Arab Spring: since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has supported insurgent Shiite groups throughout the region, a pursuit autocratically-ruled Sunni Arab states with Shiite minorities (such as Saudi Arabia) perceive as a threat to their rule. In 2010, Wikileaks revealed that the Saudi King had even called on the US to attack Iran. On Syrian soil this Sunni-Shiite rivalry is now being transformed into a proxy war, a proxy war Iran is likely to lose. Thirdly, Iran is also ruining its relations with Turkey. Relations between the two countries had greatly improved after the Islamist Jus[...]

China’s veto on Syria: what interests are at play?

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 12:26:40 +0000

China's motivations regarding how to deal with Syria differ from those of Russia, and constitute a new, more assertive foreign policy. However, engaging the government and its opposition on equal terms might come back to haunt China in the future. Though widely interpreted as the anti-western duo in the UN Security Council, China and Russia in fact have different calculations for casting their respective vetoes on the UN resolution for Syria. With little stakes involved in Syria, Chinese vetoes are a performative move, announcing to the world that the country will take a more proactive approach in future international conflicts. On paper, Russia and China do appear to act as a bloc. The two countries contest the validity of the use of the UN Charter’s Chapter VII, quoted in the British-drafted plan. The west insists the resolution will only authorize further non-military economic sanctions. Russia instead claims that this plan will open the path to “external military involvement in Syrian domestic affairs.” China’s UN ambassador Li Baodong agrees, adding that the “unbalanced” content of the drafted resolution will only spread violence to other parts of the region. There are a number of plausible explanations regarding Russian interests in Syria. Russia continues to supply the Syrian government with arms, and has reportedly dispatched warships to Tartus. The Syrian port city is the location of Russia’s only military facility outside of ex-Soviet space, though it has been pointed out that the base is actually of minimal military value. Some commentators turn to the symbolic nature of Russian presence, said to be crucial for maintaining its influence in the Middle East peace process. Another might say that protecting Syria is about reassuring authoritarian presidents in the post-Soviet space. The reasoning on the Chinese side is not as obvious. There are certainly tight economic ties; a few years ago China became Syria’s largest supplier of imported products. China invested in Syria’s oil sector a few years ago, and as late as March China reportedly continued to buy oil to support the Syrian regime's survival amid UN sanctions. However, given the scale of the Syrian economy and oil production, such economic interests are not significant enough for China to protect Assad’s government. Given that China imposes strict internet censorship, a review of discourse among Chinese netizens and political commentary on official state media might nevertheless reveal the true nature of Chinese foreign policy towards Syria. A widely circulated realist viewpoint suggests that China’s support for Syria is an act to protect its strategic interests in the Middle East. The logic goes as follows: since Syria is a close ally of Iran, by keeping the Syrian regime intact, or more importantly, preventing a pro-western replacement, China is in fact ensuring that Iran retains its regional support and will not fall prey to another western-led invasion. One forum even erroneously cited Syria to be a major oil-producing country in the region. The underlying message in such assumptions is hinting [...]

Bulgaria, the end of innocence

Sun, 22 Jul 2012 23:17:20 +0000

The bombing of Israeli tourists in the resort of Burgas suggests that Bulgaria's strategic choices have made it vulnerable to terrorist attack, says John O'Brennan. The pattern of events is depressingly familiar. An Israeli tourist group is targeted for attack by an extremist cell. The bomber blows himself up using at least three kilogrammes of TNT and succeeds in killing five Israelis and their bus-driver. Israeli leaders are quick to blame Hizbollah and the movement's Iranian sponsors. But the thing that made this attack different was that it was perpetrated not in the middle east but in Bulgaria, a member-state of the European Union. This particular incident took place on 18 July 2012 in Burgas, a resort on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, which claimed seven lives and injured thirty-three. It has profoundly shocked Bulgarians, for it is the first terrorist atrocity of this kind on their soil since 1945. A country which is both friendly and open to visitors and peaceable toward its neighbours will now have to reckon with a significantly more challenging security equation. Although the attack seemed to come out of the blue, there were at least some indications that Bulgaria could be a target for such a strike. Indeed, commentators have been warning for many years of the vulnerability of the Black Sea coast to such attacks from either violent jihadists or state-sponsored terror units. There are two main reasons for this. The international dimension First, Israeli citizens have long pursued a love-affair with Bulgaria's coastal resorts. Burgas is a two-hour flight from Tel Aviv, thus easily within reach of Israeli travellers. The Black Sea coast is blessed with wonderful stretches of sandy beach, good food, a reliably warm climate, and an increasingly sophisticated and modern range of shopping options. The tourist infrastructure has rapidly developed over the last decade, and though prices have increased considerably the region (and Bulgaria generally) still represent an economical destination. For Israelis, these positive features of the Bulgarian tourist environment are amplified by an important historical connection. The close links between Bulgaria and Israel date the second world war, during which almost all Bulgaria's Jewish population was saved from annihilation by the Nazi death-machine. The popular folk-memory of the period includes the often-stated view that Bulgaria’s King Boris III "saved the Jews". This is not quite true. Boris was a rather weak leader and in the unhappy position of being a supplicant to the Nazis, even if he managed to avoid a direct Nazi invasion. When confronted with multiple and ever more insistent "requests" to surrender Bulgaria’s Jewish population for "transport" to Poland, Boris steadfastly refused to comply. The king’s reasons may have had as much to do with Bulgaria’s domestic politics; and scholarly work demonstrates that it was at local level and through the sustained efforts of parliamentarians that the "salvation of the Bulgarian Jews" took place (local officials simply refused to surrender "their[...]

Bulgaria, terror and aftershock

Fri, 20 Jul 2012 15:57:30 +0000

An attack on Israeli tourists in the Black Sea resort of Burgas is a moment of profound alarm for Bulgaria. It also highlights changes in the country’s international profile, says Dimitar Bechev in Sofia. A bus full of Israeli tourists was blown up on 18 July 2012 at the airport of Burgas, a Bulgarian town on the Black Sea coast. From the evidence so far available, the attack was carried out by a suicide-bomber carrying a backpack laden with explosives. The shock here is profound – the news from Burgas overshadowed the European commission’s regular report monitoring judicial reforms and anti-corruption released a few hours earlier. There were six fatalities in addition to the bomber himself, five Israelis and their Bulgarian coach-driver; tens of injured were taken to local hospitals. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, was quick to blame the attack on Iran and the Hizbollah movement it supports. He warned that Israel’s reaction would be “powerful”.  It is too early to speculate whether such claims are substantiated, and how far the hawkish talk in Israel after the tragedy at Burgas will go. But from the viewpoint of Bulgaria, two points are worth noting.First, the 36-year-old Bulgarian casualty, Mustafa Kyosov, was in fact a member of the country’s (Bulgarian-speaking) Muslim minority called Pomaks. Thus the victims of this atrocity were Jews and a Muslim (who compose up to 12% of Bulgaria’s population, the highest share of any European Union member). For his part the suspected perpetrator, as captured on security-cameras, hardly matches the stereotype of a darker-skinned middle-easterner. It seems he was carrying a forged United States driver’s license. Second, there is an important international dimension. Bulgaria’s relations with Israel have been developing rapidly for years. The influx of Israeli tourists, especially after the Mavi Marmara crisis with Turkey in 2010, has been remarkable too.  The figure for 2012 is 260,000, with 30,000 arriving in Burgas alone in July (many are bound for large resorts such as Sunny Beach). Whether Israelis are a “soft target” or not is now hotly disputed. But whoever takes the blame for failing to avert the attack, it is clear that the Bulgarian security services will have to deepen cooperation with their Israeli counterparts as well as with the US (President Obama, not usually known as a keen follower of Bulgarian affairs, produced an almost instant condemnation of the attack). When that process gets underway, the resulting intensified international contacts are bound to expose policy deficits, reform blind-spots and all kinds of dirty laundry in Bulgaria. It can only be hoped that the outcome will be a push to make security agencies here more efficient and transparent, and thus begin to cure what has since 1989 been a sore spot in Bulgaria’s politics.Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox:  European Council on Foreign RelationsNoviniteSofia Echo Sidebox:  [...]