Posts Tagged ‘Tunisia’

Why are street riots in the UK a “bad thing” but a “good thing” in Egypt or Syria?

August 9, 2011

The scenes from Tottenham and other parts of London were distressing and the looting and vandalism is – I think – despicable.

It has been depressing to watch.

But I found similar scenes not so long ago – though perhaps without the same level of mindless vandalism but with much more severe loss of life – in Egypt and Tunisia were actually uplifting and I took these as a “demonstration” of democratic forces at work”. The ruthless putting down of protests in Syria is also distressing and all my sympathies are very clearly with those protesting.

I am still trying to reconcile my own “double standards” in my own mind.

Was the level of hopelessness and despair in Egypt and Tunisia which forced ordinary people onto the streets and caused governments to fall so different from the hopelessness and powerlessness felt by the crowds in Tottenham or Brixton? Is the feeling of being oppressed in Syria any different from that felt by some in the UK?

Opportunists and hooligans and plain criminals were surely present in all of these scenes.

But I am still struggling to clarify the differences in my own reactions to myself.

Arab spring withering into autumn

June 23, 2011

The prospects and hopes and expectations of the Arab spring spreading throughout the Arab world are now becoming uncertain. In Tunisia and Egypt the military is firmly in control and whether a real shift of power to the people will now take place remains in doubt. There is still hope and the change itself is irreversible but how far the change will go remains to be seen. It will only be by attacking the high unemployment and endemic corruption that a measure of success can be achieved.

But the fires lit by the events in Tunisia and Libya are struggling to stay alight in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. In Saudi Arabia the government has so far managed to douse even the smallest sparks that were flickering.

In Bahrain the King with the help of the Saudis is suppressing all opposition from the Shia majority:

The sentencing of 21 men to prison terms ranging from two years to life has sent waves of anger through the majority Shia community in Bahrain. Family members say they have already experienced weeks and months of anxiety about loved ones, to whom they have been given little access.

They say the men have been tortured, denied appropriate legal representation, and are now being sentenced harshly for crimes they did not commit in a bid to silence opposition calls for reform.

In Yemen:

Opposition figures blamed pro-government military officials for allowing more than 60 suspected members of al-Qaida to escape Wednesday from a Yemeni prison. The mass escape from the prison occurred Wednesday in the southern city of Mukalla.

Opposition leaders blamed senior military officials loyal to embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh for the prison break. They said it was an effort to get financial support from Washington and prop up the regime of the Yemeni president, the Yemen Post reports.

As the Hindu puts it:

Yemen, in many ways, is the most complicated situation. It is infested with the maximum external interference — Saudi Arabia, U.S., Iran, GCC and assorted countries. At one time, its long-serving President had accepted the principle of resigning and leaving, but since seems to have changed his mind. The injuries he suffered in an attack on his compound and consequent flight to Saudi Arabia have paradoxically given him time to consolidate his position and strengthen his support base in Yemen. The south wants to secede and parts of north want to merge with the big northern neighbour, but the latter is not interested, it seems. The Shia-Sunni act is also being played out there. Al-Qaeda was reported to have captured a town, Zinjibar, in the south, but it was suspected to be a diabolical move of the President who, thereby, calculated to win the sympathy of the Americans. The latter are exploiting the situation and relentlessly bombing suspected concentrations of the al-Qaeda, hoping to eliminate its leadership.

In Libya things are getting very messy and the NATO efforts sans the US is less than impressive:

Libya has turned out to be the cry of despair for those who have committed their armed personnel, scarce financial resources and, more importantly, prestige in the outcome of the situation there. The conflict has gone on for longer than anyone expected and is costing the western nations more than they would really care to spend. Having pushed through Resolution 1973 with the help of the Arab League, they had calculated a quick and low-cost operation. Like in Afghanistan, Nato cannot afford to pull out without being able to claim victory. Two or three factors have frustrated their plans — Muammar Qadhafi’s stubborn refusal to disappear from the scene, the absence of an identifiable and credible alternative leadership, and the continued loyalty of many African states to Mr. Qadhafi. Mr. Qadhafi is no doubt counting on the fatigue — financial and military — factor weakening public support for the Nato operation. Nato strikes killing civilians will further erode support and provide more propaganda ammunition to Mr. Qadhafi.

And in Syria an embattled Assad is balancing between cosmetic reforms and a ruthless and bloody repression of his opponents:

Tens of thousands of Syrians are demonstrating in support of the president a day after pro-democracy protesters rejected his speech. President Bashar Assad vowed reform in a speech Monday that was only his third public appearance since the revolt against his family’s 40-year-rule erupted in March.

But his vague overtures to a pro-democracy uprising fell flat with the opposition, and anti-government protesters took to the streets shouting “Liar!” and demanding his ouster. Thousands of people carrying Assad’s pictures took to the streets of Damascus on Tuesday, pledging allegiance to the president.

….  The opposition estimates more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as Assad unleashed his military and security forces to crush the protest movement that erupted in March, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and that spread to region after region.

There is now a real possibility that the  fresh green  Arab Spring which promised so much just a few months ago may wither into an Arab Autumn and millions may have to withstand a dormant and repressive period before a new Spring finally arrives.

But this new season will surely come.

Political earthquake spreading and claims Tunisian PM and French Foreign Minister

February 27, 2011

The earthquakes that are ripping across the political foundations of North Africa and the Middle East are producing an uncharted landscape which is still changing everyday. The after-shocks continue in Tunisia where it all started and new shocks were felt in Oman today. In Libya, Gaddafi is increasingly isolated and further shocks will no doubt be felt. The speed of propagation is stunning and beyond anything predicted by “domino theories” and the directions of movement are quite unpredictable. That Egypt’s Mubarak would fall in 18 days is hard to believe. That his departure did not produce a long period of chaos is even more remarkable. That Saudi Arabia could be vulnerable at all seems ridiculous on the surface but the events in Bahrain and today in Oman suggest that the sand under the House of Saud is highly unstable and could be susceptible to very sudden shifts.

The consequences will be felt far outside the immediate region and not least in the old colonial powers of France and Italy and the UK. All the so-called defenders of freedom and democracy who -on the grounds of stability – continued to support the string of repressive dictators will have to devise new policies. The new found revolt against the corruption in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula will create new stresses in Europe and the US where the “establishments” have all been complicit in the corrupt practices and especially in the sale of defence equipment and in the extraction and refining of oil. How to continue supporting absolute monarchs and dictators in some countries while supporting the establishment of democratic institutions in others is going to be particularly challenging for the US.

French Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie quits over Tunisia

Embattled French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has announced her resignation after weeks of criticism over her contacts with the former Tunisian regime. But in announcing her resignation, she said she had committed no wrongdoing.

A veteran conservative politician and cabinet minister, she had been in her new job for just three months. She was heavily criticised for initially offering French help to quell the uprising in Tunisia. Subsequent revelations about her and her family’s links to the regime of former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, and the fact that she had taken a Christmas holiday in Tunisia during the uprising made her position increasingly untenable.

Tunisians celebrate prime minister’s ouster

Less than a minute after Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned Sunday in a speech on national television, the massive crowd filling this city’s Casbah Square suddenly halted the angry chants that had continued around the clock for days. There was silence, and then cheers, chants and circles of ecstatic dancing.

For the second time in as many months, the people of Tunisia had toppled their government, and now their chant changed to “the act is done, the rest is yet to come.”

Ghannouchi, 69, quit because he had been unable to overcome his past as part of fallen president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s government, and the peaceful demonstrations that forced Ben Ali out had turned violent and police seemed unable to control the crowds, according to activists in several newly formed political parties.

Libya protesters control Zawiyah

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have surrounded the city of Zawiyah, where anti-government protesters are bracing for an attack. Men opposed to Gaddafi were patrolling the streets of the city 50km from the capital on Sunday, saying they had seized weapons and even tanks which they would use to defend themselves.

Ezeldina, a Zawiyah resident, told Al Jazeera that people in the city had raided some military camps.

“We are expecting an attack at any moment,” he said. “We are forming rotating watchgroups, guarding the neighbourhood.” Police stations and government offices inside the city have been torched and anti-Gaddafi graffiti painted of walls. Hundreds of protesters in the city centre chanted “Gaddafi Out”. Some stood on top of a captured tank, while others crowded around an anti-aircraft gun. Women stood on top of buildings cheering on the men in the crowd below.

An effigy of Gaddafi hung from a light pole in the main square.

A group of foreign journalists were driven to Zawiyah by Libyan authorities on Sunday to show that forces loyal to Gaddafi still held the town. But once there, it was evident that the protesters were in control.

Protests turn violent in Oman port

Thousands of Omani youths confronted police in the industrial port of Sohar on Sunday after witnesses reported that two protesters had been killed in clashes with the security forces. The small Gulf state, a close ally of the UK, is the latest country to be rocked by the wave of youth-driven democracy movements that have spread through the region since the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian leaders.

Unprecedented unrest in northern Oman marks an escalation of civil protest in the oil-rich Gulf, sparking fears of further contagion in a region whose oil reserves are vital to the global economy.

The flare-up follows rising tensions in Bahrain, where pro-democracy protests have shaken the country for the past two weeks, prompting other states such as Saudi Arabia to offer citizens billions of dollars worth of benefits in an attempt to ward off unrest.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said, Oman’s ruler, reshuffled the cabinet at the weekend. But this failed to placate the protesters in central Sohar. “We want all these ministers to go,” said one demonstrator. “They are thieves.”

Protest marches fill Bahrain capital as pressure mounts on rulers

Thousands of protesters streamed through Bahrain’s diplomatic area and other sites Sunday, chanting against the country’s king and rejecting his appeals for talks to end the tiny Gulf nation’s nearly two-week-old crisis.

At least three processions paralyzed parts of the capital, Manama, and appeared to reflect a growing defiance of calls by Bahrain’s rulers to hold talks to ease the increasingly bitter showdown in the strategic island nation, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

“No dialogue until the regime is gone,” marchers chanted as they moved through the highly protected zone of embassies and diplomatic compounds. No violence was reported.

Other marchers shouted slogans to oust Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and plastered fences with flyers denouncing security forces for attacks that have killed seven people since the first protests Feb. 14 inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.


The abuse of privilege: French Ministers and their “perks”

February 16, 2011
File:Michèle Alliot-Marie.JPG

Michèle Alliot-Marie: image wikipedia

That corruption and ethics do not place very high in the French scale of values is at least very true for Government ministers. Exploiting the privileges of position is a tradition which is not only maintained but is staunchly defended. Not only did the French Prime Minister have an all expenses paid holiday at the expense of Mubarak (before he left) including the use of Mabarak’s plane, but the Foreign Minister also happily flew around in the plane of a friend of the deposed Tunisian dictator. Now it is also revealed that her parents (in their nineties) have made lucrative  real estate deals with one of the dictator’s Tunisian associates.

If nothing else their choice of benefactors brings their judgements into question. And the French Foreign Minister actually being in Tunisia during the protests does not say much for the the intelligence or anticipation of her staff. She even spoke to Ben Ali on the phone during her vacation!!!!!! No doubt she wished him Bon Voyage.

Perhaps the best way to predict when the next Middle East dictator will topple is to study who is treating a French Minister to a holiday.

File:UMP regional elections Paris 2010-01-21 n13.jpg

François Fillon: image wikipedia

The BBC reports:

French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has defended a property deal between her parents and an associate of the ousted Tunisian president. ….. Earlier Ms Alliot-Marie was criticised for having flown twice on a jet owned by Aziz Miled, who was close to ex-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. She was on holiday in Tunisia during anti-government protests in December. ….

Speaking on Wednesday on the French radio station Europe 1, her father Bernard Marie said Aziz Miled was a long-standing personal friend and “my wife and I are the only ones involved” in the business deal. Le Canard Enchaine reported that Ms Alliot-Marie’s parents, both in their 90s, already owned part of a property company, SCI Ikram, and bought the rest of the shares from Mr Miled while in Tunisia with their daughter. An aide to Ms Alliot-Marie said the minister had had “a brief telephone conversation” with Mr Ben Ali during her holiday. The aide did not elaborate further.

Meanwhile, the French government expressed its “total support” for Ms Alliot-Marie on Wednesday.

Last week French President Nicolas Sarkozy told his government to holiday at home in future. He was responding to the revelations about Ms Alliot-Marie and Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who was criticised for having enjoyed hospitality in Egypt provided by former President Hosni Mubarak. Mr Fillon admitted he took a new year break in Egypt, paid for by Mr Mubarak. The prime minister and his family were given lodgings, used an Egyptian plane for an internal flight and took a boat trip on the Nile, all at Egyptian expense.

Neither has offered to repay the costs of their holidays to the people of Egypt or of Tunisia.

Oil price drops as Mubarak steps down – will Saudi Arabia follow?

February 12, 2011

We are in for a period with very volatile oil prices as the Middle East enters the age of “people power”. It is quite unlikely that this wave of popular “revolt” will stop with Tunisia and Egypt. Yemen is already showing signs and Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and the Gulf States are all regimes with a potential for revolution. Saudi Arabia is the big one though for oil price.

But the events in Egypt with no clear political leader and with no retaliatory violence to deliberate provocation are both amazing and encouraging. There is a widespread political maturity that is quite fantastic after 30 years of authoritarian rule.

The Hindu reports:

Besides Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s stepping down, the rising dollar index and rally of U.S. stocks triggered oil selling and sent the price to a 10-week low. …

… Light, sweet crude for March delivery dropped 1.15 dollars to 85.58 dollars a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its lowest settlement since Nov. 30, 2010. The crude oil price went up and down following Egypt’s fears and joys. The commodity had experienced an approximately 6 percent price increase since the crisis began on Jan. 25. Much of that move pertained to the uncertainty surrounding the leadership of Egypt. Although Egypt is not a main oil producer, it controls the Suez Canal, which is an important transportation route for oil from the Middle East.


The short term consequences for oil price when (and it has to be “when” and not “if”) the Saudis finally dismantle the anachronistic regime they have cannot be predicted. But the long-term consequences will probably be a reduction of the base price.

The key is when. It is also amazing in this information and “spying” dominated world that the entire intelligence community had no inkling  of what was coming in Tunisia and Egypt. Information was probably available but clearly no one made the correct analysis or drew the right conclusions.


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