Showing posts with label Islamic World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Islamic World. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Islamic World Digest: Change too fast?

    August 28, 2012   No comments

The month of August has been an eventful one for the Islamic world and the Middle East. Chang in that part of the world is happening so fast that the media could hardly keep pace with it.

NAM member and observers states
The crisis in Syria remains the top issue. Headlines about the conflict there are present in almost every national, regional, and international media outlet. Kofi Annan’s resignation and the termination of the mission of the U.N. monitors opened the door wide open for new initiatives. On the ground, more people lost their lives this month than any other since the start of the uprising in Syria 18 months ago.
The U.N. has appointed a new diplomat to troubleshoot the crisis but very few world leaders are convinced that he will be able to put an end to the bloodletting. Faced with this widespread pessimism, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, France, and Turkey are trying hard to fill the void.

Earlier this month, the Saudi kind called for an emergency meeting the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The heads of State Summit in Mecca failed to agree on a practical plan to end the crisis. They managed to issue a resolution suspending Syria’s membership in the intergovernmental organization—hardly a solution given the meaninglessness of membership in such a club controlled mostly by the Saudi rulers. On the sidelines on this meeting, Egypt launched its own initiative calling for a regional “Contact Group” (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran). France is campaigning hard to keep the Syrian National Council relevant in the face of disunity, promising them that if they manage to establish a provisional government, France would recognize it. Revealing the disunity among the opposition groups, the National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change, or National Coordination Board (NCC or NCB), consisting mainly of opposition groups inside Syria, are holding a national conference next month.

Before the OIC summit, Iran convened its own conference about Syria to stress that military intervention in that country is a redline. The meeting was so hastily organized that even the most enthusiastic countries to such meetings like Russia and China could not participate at a high level given the short notice. Apparently, the Iranians wanted to flood the scene with alternative initiatives given the void left by Annan’s resignation and Western disinterest in a political solution to the crisis.

Iran is ending this month with a bang. They are hosting the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit. Iran will preside over the 120 nation organization. The meeting’s statement will most likely make a number of declarations about key issues including the crisis in Syria, nuclear technology, Palestinian statehood, and Arab Spring.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Policy and politics of the first democratic government in Tunisia

    January 02, 2012   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Exactly two months after Tunisia’s October 23 elections, a peaceful transfer of power took place—a rarity in the Arab world. The outgoing prime minister, Beji Caid el Sebsi, handed the reins to Hamadi Jebali, one of the founding leaders of al-Nahda movement and a former political prisoner. The latter introduced his cabinet to the constituency assembly, which voted largely along political party lines to approve it. Forming a coalition government was understandably a struggle for a group of novices, many of whom had spent more time in prison than in government. But in the end, the parties put forth a respectable coalition of 30 ministers and 11 secretaries of state. Three political parties (Nahda, Mu’tamar, and Takattul) and some independents are represented in this coalition government. Several appointments in particular stand out.

The most controversial appointment concerns the foreign ministry, which was entrusted to Rafiq Abdessalam, a former politics and international relations student at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London. The 43-year-old academic has no practical experience that would allow him to navigate the complex world of diplomacy, except his personal connections to some of the rulers of the Gulf States. It is believed that his appointment was meant to reward the historical leader of al-Nahda: Rachid Ghannouchi, his father-in-law. But this very fact did not please many Tunisians who had suffered from the actions of Ben Ali’s in-laws. Appointing the son-in-law of the leader of the winning party to a powerful position despite his lack of experience is a painful reminder of the corruption, cronyism, and abuse of power under the old regime. Nahda might suffer politically in next year’s elections because of this insensitive and probably foolish move.

Nahda leaders may have a saving grace in the new chief of the interior ministry. For most Tunisians, the interior ministry is a euphemism for police brutality. Under Presidents Bourguiba and Ben Ali, the ministry was used to eliminate political opponents, torture political prisoners, intimidate citizens, and spread fear—it was the tyrants’ favorite tool for subjugating peoples. One of the victims of this institution was Ali Laaridh, who was imprisoned for 15 years—13 years of them in solitary confinement—during Ben Ali’s rule. He was sentenced to death under Bourguiba’s regime. It is highly unlikely that a victim of torture and abuse would subject others to the same brutality. Consequently, Laaridh might well be the right person to rehabilitate the security forces and reform the institution.

Another reassuring face in the new government is that of Noureddine Bhiri. The 53-year-old lawyer is a moderate who spent years defending political prisoners. He, too, was imprisoned for his political activities. Many Tunisians, and other human rights activists, hope that his struggles for civil and political rights will serve him well as he leads the critically important ministry of justice.

Governing a country that has suffered years of mismanagement, corruption, and abuses of power is never easy. Forming a coalition government was the right choice. The three political parties seem to trust one another, and they all stand to lose a great deal if the coalition fails. They have months, not years, to deliver on three critical issues: unemployment, political reform, and economic growth. Even more importantly, they have the responsibility of setting new standards for the rest of the Arab world. The new standards must reflect transparency, compassion, and just use of power that demonstrates respect for human dignity
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Libyan and European rulers’ treatment of Blacks and immigrant workers: Apathy in the face of Cruelty

    December 14, 2011   No comments
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*


Since the start of the Libyan uprising, mainstream news outlets have reported that African and even Eastern European mercenaries were fighting with Qaddafi’s forces. The Libyan rebels, eager to minimize any support for Qaddafi among the Libyan population, have fed western media horror stories of mass murder carried out by Black Africans. Consequently, many immigrant workers were caught between the ire of a regime that did not care much for them and a new wave of prejudice and discrimination fueled by the media and rebel propaganda. The fact that some foreigners fought for the regime does not tell the full story. Most African immigrants were unwilling participants in a war that no one had anticipated.


In order to understand the presence of so many Africans and non-Africans in Libya, one must understand the role played by the former dictator.



Using Libya’s large oil revenues as if they constituted his personal fortune, Qaddafi engaged in meddling in the affairs of his neighbors, supporting nationalist movements, and conspiring to overthrow regimes he did not like. He also used immigrant workers to blackmail his neighbors. In the 1980s and 1990s Qaddafi gave hundreds of thousands of Tunisian workers hours, not days, to leave the country empty-handed. The sudden “dumping” of workers without their earnings was meant to create economic and social crisis for neighboring governments. That was his way of punishing the Tunisian authoritarians Bourguiba and Ben Ali. He used the same tactic with the Egyptians. But Qaddafi’s most bizarre achievement was coaxing some European leaders to use him as a gatekeeper, in charge of preventing Africans from reaching the shores of Europe.
Speaking at a ceremony in Rome on August 31, 2010 and standing next to (then) Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Qaddafi declared:

Tomorrow Europe might no longer be European, and even black, as there are millions who want to come in. We don't know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Black Africans. We don't know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.


European leaders did not object to these words, despite their abhorrently racist nature. In fact, even after the Libyan people began their revolution in early 2011, Berlusconi claimed that his personal friendship with Qaddafi prevented him from taking an active role in NATO’s mission in Libya.
What was never asked is the obvious question: why would Africans demeaned, insulted, and belittled by the dictator risk their lives for him? Why would “ignorant Black Africans” pay with their blood and sweat for a dictator who called them so?
According to reports, Qaddafi asked the EU to pay him about $6.3 billion a year to stop illegal African immigration. It is evident that since the Italy-Libya friendship agreement, Qaddafi became very effective in stopping the flow of African immigrants to Europe through Italy. According to European Commission figures, the number of people caught trying to enter Italy illegally fell from 32,052 in 2008 to 7,300 in 2009. These figures do not include the number of young men who perished at sea trying to find different escape routes. They drowned when their makeshift rafts fell apart. Those who reached the EU shores were immediately returned to the brutal regimes of North Africa. On numerous occasions, Italy intercepted immigrants and handed them over to Libyan authorities without screening and without the due process required by human rights treaties.
Unemployed Africans, like unemployed Latin Americans, go north to make a living and to feed their families, not to fight ideological wars. Immigrants cannot choose their line of work. In the case of Libya, Qaddafi used European money to hire some of these immigrants, and to deport others. Given his distrust of his own people, he hired many of these immigrants in the security sector before the uprising began.
Like in the U.S., the rights of immigrant workers are not part of the national conversation until there are national economic implications. In the U.S., a national need for seasonal migrant workers meant that the government eased border controls to allow up to 12 million people to cross. When the unemployment rate went up and the economy slowed down, all political parties developed slogans to deal with immigration issues. In Libya, Qaddafi used immigrant workers as bargaining chip to blackmail other states.
In Europe, former colonial powers wanted to limit migration from Africa. They relied on the southern rim countries to keep sub-Saharan Africans from reaching Africa’s northern shores. Then, in 2008, the French president and several other European leaders pushed for the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean, consisting of over 40 nations with the actual (but unstated) aims of offering Turkey an alternative to the EU and creating a buffer zone in North Africa. Naturally, these efforts failed given the dissonance between its stated goals and intended aims.
The former Libyan dictator’s words and European attitudes towards the people from the south is more than economic and social policies. They stem from latent racism and cruel indifference to the plight of millions of people who have been disadvantaged by unfair economic trade, political corruption, and natural disasters. While the latter cannot be blamed on anyone, the former two causes of unemployment and poverty in the south can easily be traced to Western complicity. Western leaders’ support of corrupt dictators and unfair trade practices contributed to the harsh conditions these people want to escape. Both sides-- African and European--would be better served by an honest commitment to respecting human dignity irrespective of national origin and citizenship status. The powerful North ought to adopt an international relations system founded on shared humanity, not on artificial borders.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

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