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 Revolution is in the air

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تاريخ التسجيل : 07/10/2009
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مُساهمةموضوع: Revolution is in the air    السبت 29 يناير 2011, 01:45

Revolution is in the air

Events in the Middle East are moving too fast for the Obama administration to think it can get away with Plan A and Plan B reaction strategies according to the regimes or leaders it wants to keep in and out of power.

Consider the response of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Hezbollah tightening its grip on power in Lebanon this week - Washington might have to pull its funding worth hundreds of millions for Lebanon, her office warned.

But as democracy demonstrators were confronted by thousands of baton-wielding policemen in the streets in Cairo, there was no mention of pulling the $US2 billion-plus cheque that Washington writes for the octogenarian President, Hosni Mubarak, each year.

Instead, a rhetorical nugget that Mubarak's mouthpieces would use in their defence - ''our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable'' and then some namby-pamby words about how Mubarak was ''looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people''.

That response came on Wednesday - more thugs in and out of uniform in the streets, more tear-gas and 860 more young Egyptians banged up in prison because, Oliver-like, they had the audacity to stand in the streets and to ask for more. Such is stability.

Undaunted, Clinton tried again on Wednesday, when she called on the Egyptian authorities to cease blocking the communications on which the demonstrators relied. But on Thursday the Twitter and Facebook websites were inaccessible and mobile-phone users in Cairo said that it was difficult or impossible to sent text messages.

Clinton uttered the ''stability'' line early in the week - before the seriousness of what is unfolding in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria came in to focus. Consider how it might be interpreted by ordinary Egyptians - the human rights of 80 million people have been trampled for 30 years but what the US Secretary of State is most concerned about is the stability of the state.

And, even as the focus sharpened, the administration refused to tell the truth about the despot upon whom Washington relies - ''Egypt is a strong ally,'' the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, replied when asked if the administration still supported Mubarak.

And, in a week in which the Middle East's historic self-started wave of democracy protests came to a head, Barack Obama might have used his State of the Union address to cheer along all the protesters; and perhaps to warn all the leaders, country by country, of the fate that awaits them.

Instead he confined his specific remarks to Tunisia, saying: ''The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.'' So, in a region of 333 million people, where to varying degrees a good 325 million are under the heel of unelected leaders, the US President addressed only little Tunisia.

The lame excuse offered to reporters was that Cairo erupted late in the drafting process of the speech but that last ''aspirations of all people'' phrase was a recognition that ''what happens in Tunisia resonates around the world''.

By current American thinking it would never do to have Islamists in power in the Palestinian Occupied Territories or in Lebanon and therefore they heed every despot's warning that the Islamists are waiting in the wings across North Africa and the Middle East.

But lost in the lunge to protect US strategic and commercial interests by propping up the region's dictator class is any realisation that that support is what leaves the youth of the region under-educated and under-employed and, thereby, ripe for the picking by Islamist and other underground movements.

In Tunisia the revolutionaries are still searching for a leader who can articulate their demands. And this week a leader flew in to Cairo - searching for a revolution. That was the former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, whose return to Egypt underscores a challenge brought on across the region as much by the local community as the international community - the grooming of those who might form a half-decent opposition.

Tracing an arc through Obama's approach to the Middle East, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies professor Fouad Ajami described the President's foreign policy pragmatism as ''a break of faith with democracy''.

Alluding to the suppression of demonstrations in Tehran after the contested 2009 presidential election, he wrote in Lebanon's Daily Star: ''American diplomacy was not likely to alter the raw balance of power between the regime and its democratic oppositionists. But the timidity of American power and the refusal of the Obama administration to embrace the cause of the opposition must be reckoned one of American foreign policy's great moral embarrassments.''

The Mubarak machine's contempt for popular aspirations and whatever the US might think of them was on full display yesterday when Safwat el-Sherif, the head of the ruling National Democratic Party, feigned obliviousness to the reality of political power in Egypt as he lectured the protesters - ''democracy has its rules and process - the minority does not force its will on the majority''.

Abdel Moneim Said, a stooge government-appointed publisher, echoed Hillary Clinton's midweek ''stability'' comment when he told reporters: ''I can't think of anybody that I know that has any concern about the stability of the regime.''

Finding the right policy mix to influence events without being accused of interfering is a fine balance that some observers have concluded eludes the Obama administration.

''It's about identifying the US too closely with these changes and thereby undermining them; and not finding ways to nurture them enough,'' Aaron David Miller, of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, told The New York Times.

Meanwhile, observers on the ground in the region shake their heads. ''People want moral support,'' said Shadi Hamid, of the Brookings Doha Centre. ''They want to hear words of encouragement - right now they don't have that. They feel the world doesn't care and is working against them.''

His point seems to be this: it is time Washington thought in terms of investing in people in the region, not in dictators.

Paul McGeough,
The Sydney Morning Herald

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The Arab worlds convulsing

THE popular unrest sweeping across the Middle East has sent thousands of protesters into the streets of Yemen, Algeria and Jordan, as questions mounted over who will benefit from the convulsions in the Arab world.

Thousands marched through the Yemeni capital Sanaa yesterday, in one of the largest protests seen in the autocratic nation in years. Secularist and Islamist protesters intermingled to shout for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key US ally in the global fight against terrorism, whose government has long been criticised domestically for repression and corruption.

The government of Algeria was considering a broad government shuffle amid two weeks of sporadic rioting there.In Jordan, the Islamist opposition has called for protests and warned that it would continue campaigning to force political and economic reform in the kingdom.

And in Tunisia, where it all began and where protesters continue to call for the removal of officials associated with the old regime, the caretaker government dropped two cabinet officials who were close to freshly ousted president Zine El Abedine Ben Ali.

Suddenly, Arab regimes long viewed as invulnerable are being challenged. The prominence of Islamists in the opposition movements varies. Yemen is host to an active al-Qa'ida affiliate, and the unrest there has a strong Islamist element.Algeria's secular military has at times fought brutal campaigns against Islamists since the military took control in the early 1990s before an election Islamists were expected to win.

Islamist forces are barely perceptible in Tunisia, purged from the country in a wave of crackdowns in the 1990s, but are expected to make a comeback.The Obama administration cautioned yesterday against drawing parallels across the region but pushed broadly for governments to respond.

"The status quo in the Middle East and North Africa is not sustainable," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. "They have young populations that are looking for more than their respective countries and governments are currently giving them."US President Barack Obama pushed the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to open up his country's political system.

"I've always said to him that making sure that they're moving forward on reform - political reform and economic reform - is absolutely critical to the long-term wellbeing of Egypt," he said in an interview broadcast on YouTube. "You can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets."

Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party said yesterday it was willing to talk to protesters and widen political participation, especially among Egypt's youth."All of our activities and policies are focused on the future of the youth," Safwat al-Sherif, NDP secretary-general and Speaker of the Senate, told reporters. He said widespread economic hardship and a rising cost of living were "all items on the agenda" of the party.

Egyptian dissident and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei landed in Cairo yesterday to join the protests. The 68-year-old former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is seen by a broad range of opposition leaders as a rare secular liberal with the stature to challenge the political establishment. "It is a critical time in the life of Egypt," he said upon arrival. "I wish we didn't have to go into the streets to impress upon the regime that they have to change."

The architects of the rallies are members of the National Association for Change, a group of opposition movements Dr ElBaradei assembled around him last year. His political ambitions remain unclear, with presidential elections due within months.

The Australian

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Jordanians join protests

Thousands of Jordanians have taken part in anti-government protests in Amman and other towns, demanding political reform, better economic conditions and the resignation of the country's unpopular prime minister.

The demonstrations were supported by a large number of political and social groups, including the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition party.

The protests have so far remained largely peaceful, and have yet to reach the same scale of mass unrest witnessed recently in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. Crucially, the protesters have also refrained from openly challenging Abdullah II, the Jordanian king.

However, local analysts said discontent was now spreading to smaller cities across the country, suggesting the situation may yet escalate. While the biggest demonstration was once again held in the capital Amman, there were also reports of protests in a large number of provincial cities, including Zarqa, Irbid and Kerak.

According to agency reports from Amman, protesters called on Abdullah II to sack Samir Rifai, the current prime minister, and replace his cabinet with a “national salvation” government. Mr Rifai is blamed by many Jordanians for the country's economic woes, which include high unemployment and soaring prices for fuel, electricity and food staples.

Christoph Wilcke, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch who covers Jordan, said the demonstrations were motivated largely by domestic economic issues. “The clear message is for the king to get rid of the current government.”

However, there was also a political edge to the Jordanian protests, with several reports saying that demonstrators in Amman chanted support for their fellow protesters in Tunisia and Egypt. There were repeated calls for the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

"Egypt, the Arab nation salutes you. We urge your men to get rid of Mubarak," the crowd shouted at one point, according to a report by AFP, the French news agency.

By Tobias Buck,
The Financial Times

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The Rise of the People

The Arab world is in a state of flux. After decades of paralysis Arab societies are awakening with a fury that autocratic regimes hiding under the guise of republicanism have never seen before.

The Tunisian people’s overthrow of Ben Ali (facilitated by the military’s non-participation in the repression of the uprising) opened the floodgates to popular expressions of the people’s frustrations.

The Arab world’s most populous nation, Egypt, teeming with some 80 million people is witnessing massive street demonstrations whose anger is not aimed at a rise in the price of bread or fuel. Rather, the target is the political system first brought into existence by President Nasser some 60 years ago and kept in a state of suspended animation by President Mubarak for the last 29 plus years.

There have also been demonstrations in Yemen calling for President Saleh to quit after 32 years in power, street anger expressed in Libya (whose president Gaddafi – holding onto the reins for over 40 years – denounced the overthrow of Ben Ali) and loud outbursts of protest in both Jordan and Algeria at the state of the economy and consequent suffering of the people.

What I find heartening is the new generation of protestors who are coming to the fore, the youth and the young at heart who are using the 21st Century’s powerful tools of new media to organize, spread the word and display a brave, highly organized and civilized face of protest.

No longer are anti-regime demonstrations organized and led by the traditional forces of opposition, usually Islamist. There’s a new face of protest emerging in the Arab world, and the world-at-large should take note.

I find all of this very promising and yet I’m under no illusion that regimes will topple in a domino effect. But I trust that what we are witnessing is the beginning of the end of the age of mediocrity that has plagued the Arab world since the end of World War II.

The Arab world has regressed considerably since the Arab awakening of the late 19th-early 20th Centuries. It makes me wonder where it all went wrong when I consider that Egyptian women were granted the right to vote before British women.

What happened was the end of colonialism and toppling of the traditional monarchies were replaced by so-called revolutionary, nationalistic regimes that set about disassembling all the facets of a properly functioning society and state. And all this was done with the tacit approval of Western governments more interested in preserving stability than progress in a crucial region. Well, the chickens have come home to roost.

The Arab regimes, unbeknownst to them, were nurturing through their convoluted form of government a form of extremism unseen in modern times. Then, also unbeknownst to them, they started exporting it. When the liberation of Palestine became a lost cause, secretly admitted yet never publicly acknowledged by the Arab leaders, there was an inward focus. Torture became a sadistic art form. Repression a byword for government. Development and education took a distant backseat to the sole aim of regime longevity.

And so Arab societies regressed, cowered in fear, husbands whispered political protests to wives while looking over their shoulders and children were taught never to repeat what’s said at home about the infallible leadership.

For years I’ve observed with great sadness and frustration, nations of Arabs who glorified the achievements of a distant past while offering nothing in a bankrupt present for a challenging future. I watched as the art movement floundered, literature take a dive, educational systems produce graduates inadequately equipped for a rapidly changing world, sports teams take humiliating beatings on the world stage and creativity and freedom of expression being stifled. Fear. That is the overwhelming emotion in the Arab world. Fear of government, fear of uniforms. And as long as the West got its oil everything was fine. Well obviously it wasn’t.

Arab governments are now trying to block access to social networks. What they don’t understand is that if you close the door people go in through a window.

A few years ago I bought a T-shirt from a Zendik commune member on a street corner in Washington, DC. Emblazoned on the front is the slogan: “Stop bitching. Start a revolution”. Indeed.I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the age of mediocrity. For the good of the world I sincerely I hope I am not proven wrong.

Written by
Omar al-Issawi

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One war criminal amongst many

Former British prime minister Tony Blair’s second appearance last week before the Chilcot inquiry into the lessons of the Iraq war again branded him as a war criminal.

Blair was asked to return to the inquiry due to discrepancies between his earlier testimony, the documentary record, and other testimony such as that of his attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, as to when the prime minister had committed Britain to war, and what advice he had received as to its legality.

Previously, Blair had insisted that Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council in November 2002, authorised military action and that he had received advice to this effect from Goldsmith. In fact, when sponsoring the resolution, US and British officials had stressed that the resolution contained no "hidden triggers" or "automaticity" with regards to the use of force against Iraq, which must be discussed by the Security Council.

Resolution 1441 was made the supposed "legal" basis for the invasion only after it became clear that a second UN resolution could not be obtained. On March 7, 2003, Goldsmith sent a memo to Blair in which he concluded that "a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation [of the use of force] in Resolution 678 without a further resolution".

Goldsmith’s testimony before the inquiry, headed by Sir John Chilcot, focused upon the events leading him to reverse his original advice in a January 30, 2003, memo to Blair, which argued that Resolution 1441 did not sanction the use of force and a further resolution would be required. He stated that during the intervening period, Blair had made clear to President George W. Bush his support for an illegal war with the aim of regime change.

It is well known that Blair assured Bush of his commitment to regime change in February 2002. In 2005, a secret March 2002 Foreign Office document was leaked to the Sunday Times. The "Downing Street Memo" stated, "When the prime minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met".

Documents obtained by the Sunday Telegraph and published in 2009 reveal that planning for a military attack on Iraq to effect regime change was underway from early 2002, while Blair was publicly denying any such plans. One document notes that "Formation-level planning for a [British] deployment [to Iraq] took place from February 2002", and cites Major General Graeme Lamb, director of special forces during the war, stating, "I had been working the war up since early 2002".

These issues were explored, very politely, by the inquiry.

It established that in June 2002, US Central Command held a special Iraq planning conference involving Britain and Australia, while in August of the same year, discussions took place on British troops invading Iraq through Turkey. But in July 2002, Blair informed parliament, "There are no decisions which have been taken about military action".

In September 2002, he repeated to parliament, "In respect of any military options, we are not at the stage of deciding those options".Crucial notes sent by Blair to Bush, which Chilcot argued provided "important and often unique insights into Mr. Blair’s thinking and the commitments he made to President Bush", were withheld by Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, after consulting Blair.

One note has been leaked, however, relating to a two-hour Blair-Bush meeting at the White House on January 31, 2003. Sir David Manning, Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser, states that Bush was determined to invade Iraq without a new UN resolution and that "Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning…. The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled in for 10 March.... This was when the bombing would begin…the prime minister said he was solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam".

A previously unpublished personal memo written by Blair to his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, on March 17, 2002, explains that "the immediate WMD ["weapons of mass destruction"] problems [posed by Iraq] don’t seem obviously worse than three years ago. So we have to re-order our story and message".

But war preparations continued apace, on the basis of repeated US and UK government claims that Iraqi WMD represented a real and growing danger.

Blair’s March 17 memo complains that the Labour Party, having gone to war in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone "and is prepared to change regimes on the merits should be gung-ho about Saddam".He continues, "I do not have a proper worked-out strategy on how we would do it.… I will need a meeting on this with military folk".

In regard to the legality of the war, Blair told parliament on January 15, 2003, that if France blocked a second UN resolution, Britain could still legally join an invasion. At the inquiry, Goldsmith made clear that he did not hold this view at the time, that Blair knew this and ignored his opinion—making him [Goldsmith] "uncomfortable" over the prime minister’s statements. Goldsmith told Blair in a draft legal opinion in January 2003 that Resolution 1441 was not enough to justify an invasion.

During questioning, Blair stated, "Regime change was their (US) policy so regime change was part of the discussion". He admitted he had told Bush by telephone in December 2001 that "if [regime change] became the only way of dealing with this issue, we were going to be up for that".

He felt entitled to ignore initial advice from Goldsmith that the war would be illegal because it was provisional: "I had not yet got to the stage of a formal request for advice and neither had he got to the point of formally giving it. So I was continuing to hold to the position that another resolution was not necessary".

Blair offered as explanation for not making public Goldsmith’s reservations the damaging impact it would have had on relations with Washington. But in any case, when Goldsmith "saw the Americans it moved him over the line, to the position where he said, 'on balance it is lawful’ ".

The revelations from the Chilcot inquiry fill out the picture already painted of Blair’s manoeuvres with Washington to prepare the way for a previously agreed and illegal war of aggression against Iraq, using the pretext of a WMD danger the prime minister knew to be spurious. But the proceedings again throw into focus why Blair feels able to make such extraordinary admissions.

First, Blair understands that the Chilcot inquiry is a fraud—one in a long succession of similar frauds, such as the Hutton inquiry into the death of whistleblower David Kelly. The parameters set by the previous Gordon Brown Labour government gave Chilcot a remit of establishing the "lessons that can be learned" from British involvement in the Iraq war. All those testifying were assured that no prosecutions or legal proceedings would arise as a result.

As was made clear with regard to Blair’s notes, government figures retain the power of veto over what documents can be made public or handed over. The inquiry cannot disclose matters considered "essential to our national security", or "likely" to "cause harm" to "defence interests or international relations". The inquiry’s final report will also be vetted, allowing any government agency or department to remove any sections they wish.

Just as importantly, Blair knows that those others whose testimony is being taken are as culpable as he—no matter how they attempt to portray themselves as victims of his machinations and subterfuges. The suggestion that Blair almost single-handedly bamboozled parliament and the security services into supporting war is patently absurd. He is only the first among equals in the ranks of the guilty.

They include Sir John Scarlett, the former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who complains of "being bulldozed...by the military timetable".

And they include Goldsmith. He admits that he knew in October 2002 that Blair had "indicated to President Bush that he would join the US" in a war without a UN resolution, and that when Blair told the Commons in January 2003 that a fresh UN resolution was not necessary, he "thought that such action by the UK would be unlawful". This only underscores the dubious character of his "conversion" to Bush and Blair’s position in the second March 7, 2003, memo.

The same is true of every member of the Blair Labour cabinet who signed off on the war and the MPs who then voted for it. When questioned as to whether it was understood in cabinet that military preparations were under way, Blair replied, "Yes". He "would be astonished" if the Cabinet did not know military preparations were underway.

Asked, "Did they take collective responsibility for the policy", Blair again replied in the affirmative. It defied "common sense and logic" to suggest that there were people in the cabinet who did not know what the consequences would be.

On this score there is no reason to contradict Blair. The Labour government and the then Conservative opposition voted to support a war they knew to be illegal on the basis of "dodgy dossiers" that everyone knew to be a pack of lies and used Goldsmith’s "advice" to cover their exposed rears.

Parliament would do the same again. Blair knows this and put the political elite on notice. Warning of "a looming and coming challenge" from Iran, he declared, "At some point—and I say this to you with all the passion I possibly can—the West has got to get out of what I think is this wretched policy, or posture, of apology for believing that we are causing what the Iranians are doing, or what these extremists are doing. The fact is we are not. The fact is they are doing it because they disagree fundamentally with our way of life and they will carry on doing it unless they are met with the requisite determination and, if necessary, force".

By Chris Marsden,

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Revolution is in the air
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