Those City Lights

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Dance Club The party capital of the Middle East has long since been Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon. The tiny gulf emirate of Dubai has tried, but miserably failed, to win the hearts and minds of the jet set and party-hungry consumers. The wide open consumer market for clubbing in some parts of the Middle East is enticing and could be very lucrative, as the region was barely scathed by the current credit crisis affecting much of Europe and North America.

A new contender has thrown their hat in the ring to vie for tourists looking to spend their leisure time partying in the windswept deserts of the Middle East. And that country is Jordan. Most famous for its rose-colored city of Petra, one of the 7 new wonders of the world, Jordan is slowly emerging from its well-known lethargic  conservative atmosphere and morphing into a clubber’s paradise. Nowhere is this transformation more prevalent than in the capital city of Amman.

The city of Amman has undergone a total makeover thanks to a younger workforce of skilled workers with extra money to spend. As a result, an affluent class of partiers has surfaced, fully willing and able to party the nights away. Unlike most countries in the Middle East, alcohol is not illegal in Jordan and flows freely in Jordanian restaurants, dance clubs and bars. With names like, ‘Wild Jordan’, ‘Canvas’ and ‘Upstairs’ there are an abundance of high-end party venues for locals and tourists alike. Even conservative Muslims have found a comfortable niche within the party scene while not overstepping the bounds of Islam, opting for a round of Shisha or piping hot mugs of steamy Arabic coffee instead of alcoholic drinks that are forbidden for Muslims.

Quite notably there is also a dark side to the new party atmosphere in Amman, which is an increase in crimes of morality. Promiscuity and adultery are particularly on the rise in Amman. It is not uncommon for men and women partying together to engage in a ‘dangerous liaison’ for a couple of hours. There is even an underground network of clever businessman capitalizing on the need for privacy in this newly found culture in Amman, providing secret rooms for rent by the hour. Even married people are getting in on the indiscriminate action, as a popular steakhouse in Amman called ‘Whispers’ has become a popular meeting place for cheating spouses.

Not to be outdone by their heterosexual counterparts, there is also a thriving homosexual party scene in Amman, a city that often turns a blind eye to homosexual activity. Homosexuals are treated less severely in Jordan than in other Middle Eastern countries. Well-known and openly gay establishments are littered between the ones specifically created for heterosexual clientele. Two of the most famous gay hangouts in Amman are called ‘Fame’ and ‘Books@Café’. However, it’s not uncommon to find people from all sexual persuasions partying together in Amman regardless of the theme of the venue.

And while there have not been any fatwas condemning the newly forged party ethos in Amman, several businesses seeking to serve alcohol have struggled with governmental ‘red tape’ in obtaining the necessary permits. Many business owners have complained that the slowing down of the permit process or denying permits altogether, has been a major and purposeful tactic of some devout Muslims city officials, who are against the whole party culture in Amman, seeking to put a damper on the celebratory scene.

12-9

ACCESS Expands Medical Network in Middle East

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By ACCESS

adnanhammad Over the past two weeks, Senior Director of the Community Health & Research Center, Dr. Adnan Hammad, embarked on a trip to the Middle East to spread ACCESS’ medical research knowledge to universities and institutions in Jordan and Morocco. The trip served to educate others as well as expand and strengthen ACCESS’ existing networks with health professionals and medical establishments around the world.

Highlights of the trip included a new partnership with the School of Medicine in Fez, Morocco, which could include potential research collaboration and the establishment of a national cancer screening initiative with the Moroccan National Institute of Public Health (MNIPH). Thanks to ACCESS, MNIPH will also be linked with the American Cancer Society and the National Institute of Cancer.

In Amman, Jordan, Dr. Hammad and other professionals provided a one-day workshop at the King Hussein Cancer Center. The workshop included discussions on cancer control and prevention based on extensive research. Also, after meeting with the leadership of Jordan University of Science and Technology, ACCESS has agreed to help them plan a regional public health conference slated for June 2010. This conference will focus on comparative research between Arab and Arab American health outcomes, such as diabetes, cancer, tobacco use, and environment.

Finally, Dr. Hammad met with Questscope and ANERA, organizations whose mission is to educate and help Middle Eastern youth overcome poverty, abuse, and injustice. Discussions are now ongoing over the establishment of a “Train the Trainers” program for the 5,000-6,000 Iraqi children whose parents have been victims of torture. ACCESS has committed to sending some of it mental health care professionals to provide training workshops this fall.

“ACCESS was proud to contribute its knowledge, experience, and talents in helping the well-being of our community overseas,” said Dr. Hammad “I am a believer that epidemiology does not recognize borders and I am glad I had this opportunity to serve ACCESS and the Arab American Community.”

11-31

Did Abbas, Dahlan Conspire to Murder Arafat?

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank

arafat2 In an impromptu news conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on 12 July, Fatah Secretary-General Farouk Kaddumi revealed that Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas and former Gaza strongman Muhammed Dahlan conspired to murder Yasser Arafat in connivance with Israel and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Kaddumi disclosed that Arafat had confided to him the transcript of a secret meeting involving Abbas, Dahlan , US intelligence officials as well as former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The meeting allegedly took place in March 22, 2004.

According to the document, whose authenticity couldn’t be verified independently, Sharon told Abbas and Dahlan during the meeting that Arafat should be killed by way of poisoning.

The transcript showed that Abbas protested, saying that murdering Arafat could complicate things and cause serious difficulties.

The Arabic version of the transcript showed Sharon saying the following to Abbas and Dahlan: ‘To start with, we should kill all the military and political leaders of Hamas, Jihad, al-Aqsa Brigades and the Popular Front in order to create chaos within their ranks which would make it easier for you to finish them off.’

Sharon then allegedly responded to a suggestion by Dahlan to first abide by a ‘period of calm’ by saying:

‘As long as Arafat is still sitting in the Muqata’a in Ramallah, you will definitely fail, because this cunning fox will surprise you all, as he has done in the past, because he knows exactly what you want to do and he will work to make it fail.’

Sharon then added the following: ‘The first step therefore should be to poison Arafat and to kill him. I don’t want to send him into exile unless there are guarantees from the country that will take him to place him under house arrest…’

Later on in the transcript, Sharon allegedly mentions the names of senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders to be assassinated, including Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who was murdered by Israel on April 17, 2004.

The document presented by Kaddumi doesn’t spell out the ultimate Israeli-American goal behind the liquidation of Arafat and the top leaders of the resistance. However, it is probably safe to deduce that endgame envisaged behind the alleged conspiracy was the creation of a collaborationist Palestinian regime whose central mission and raison d’etre would be to bully the Palestinian masses into accepting a “peace deal” with Israel that would allow the latter to impose its will and conditions on the Palestinians.

Kaddumi is an important figure in Fatah, and it is difficult to dismiss his revelations as hallucinations as his opponents have done.

Nonetheless, it is hard to indict Abbas based on these revelations. However, it is also difficult to grant him a certificate of innocence, because Abbas is not beyond suspicion and is certainly not an impeccable figure.

I remember I spoke with Sakhr Habash, a close confidante of Yasser Arafat, two days before the latter’s death, who told me that he was 100% sure that “they killed him.”

I pressed him to identify the killers, the people he was referring to. He said “you know them, these people around him, the agents of Israel .”

Dahlan

While one is prompted to speak cautiously about Abbas’s alleged role in poisoning Arafat, that is if indeed the late Palestinian leader died of poisoning, one feels freer and more confident to speak about Dahlan’s not-so-secret treacherous dealings with the Israelis and the Americans.

A few years ago, I remember I listened to a secret audio-taped briefing by Dahlan to some of his supporters at the al-Hurriya Radio in Gaza.

In the briefing, Dahlan was heard swearing to make Hamas regret the day it decided to take part in the elections of 2006.
“I will make them eat..expletive.., and if any Fatah guy dares participate in the Hamas government, I will know how to deal with him.”

Dahlan made more horrifying remarks which one would prefer not mentioning because of their poor taste.

In 2008, the American magazine “Vanity Fair” published an extensive investigative report titled “How the Bush Administration Lied to Congress and Armed Fatah to Provoke Palestinian Civil War Aiming to overthrow Hamas.”

The report pointed out that the White House tried to organize the armed overthrow of the Hamas-led government after the Islamic liberation group swept Palestinian elections in 2006.

Obviously, Dahlan was the would-be coup leader whose job was to destroy Hamas, arrest or kill its leaders in collaboration with Israel.

According to the report, the Bush administration lied to Congress and boosted military support for Fatah in the aim of provoking a Palestinian civil war they thought Hamas would lose.

Vanity Fair dubbed the episode “Iran Contra 2”-a reference to the Reagan administration’s funding of the Nicaraguan Contras by covertly selling arms to Iran.

David Wurmser, a Bush administration official, was quoted in the report as saying that he believed that “Hamas’s seizure of power in Gaza last year might have likely been a preemptive measure against the anticipated US-backed coup.”

In light, there is overwhelming evidence that Dahlan brazenly collaborated with the Israeli and American intelligence services against his own people just as it is amply clear that the current regime in Ramallah is collaborating, coordinating and conspiring with Israel to liquidate the resistance in the West Bank.

True, Abbas might argue that he played no part in plotting to murder Yasser Arafat. However, he and his regime in Ramallah can’t deny the fact that their security agencies, now trained and armed under the supervision of the American intelligence officer Keith Dayton, have been closely collaborating with Israel for the purpose of eradicating all resistance activists in the West Bank.

Indeed, the recent killings in Qalqilya recently was a damning proof, if a proof were needed, that the PA regime is just another layer of the Israeli occupation.

This, coupled with the unmitigated inquisition of hounding, repression, arrest, dismissal from jobs, seizure and closure of institutions as well as the rampancy of torture which in many instances lead to cruel death demonstrates that the PA is working in concert with Israel to harm and undermine national Palestinian interests.

This alone, and irrespective of who poisoned Arafat, is sufficient to indict the present leadership in Ramallah for collaboration with Israel and treason.

11-31

It’s All Spelled Out in Unpublicized Agreement–Total Defeat for U.S. in Iraq

December 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Patrick Cockburn

2008-12-10T165648Z_01_BAG310_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ-FEAST

On November 27 the Iraqi parliament voted by a large majority in favor of a security agreement with the US under which the 150,000 American troops in Iraq will withdraw from cities, towns and villages by June 30, 2009 and from all of Iraq by December 31, 2011. The Iraqi government will take over military responsibility for the Green Zone in Baghdad, the heart of American power in Iraq, in a few weeks time. Private security companies will lose their legal immunity. US military operations and the arrest of Iraqis will only be carried out with Iraqi consent. There will be no US military bases left behind when the last US troops leave in three years time and the US military is banned in the interim from carrying out attacks on other countries from Iraq.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed after eight months of rancorous negotiations, is categorical and unconditional. America’s bid to act as the world’s only super-power and to establish quasi-colonial control of Iraq, an attempt which began with the invasion of 2003, has ended in failure. There will be a national referendum on the new agreement next July, but the accord is to be implemented immediately so the poll will be largely irrelevant. Even Iran, which had furiously denounced the first drafts of the SOFA saying that they would establish a permanent US presence in Iraq, now says blithely that it will officially back the new security pact after the referendum. This is a sure sign that Iran, as America’s main rival in the Middle East, sees the pact as marking the final end of the US occupation and as a launching pad for military assaults on neighbours such as Iran.

Astonishingly, this momentous agreement has been greeted with little surprise or interest outside Iraq. On the same day that it was finally passed by the Iraqi parliament international attention was wholly focused on the murderous terrorist attack in Mumbai. For some months polls in the US showed that the economic crisis had replaced the Iraqi war as the main issue facing America in the eyes of voters. So many spurious milestones in Iraq have been declared by President Bush over the years that when a real turning point occurs people are naturally sceptical about its significance. The White House was so keen to limit understanding of what it had agreed in Iraq that it did not even to publish a copy of the SOFA in English. Some senior officials in the Pentagon are privately criticizing President Bush for conceding so much to the Iraqis, but the American media are fixated on the incoming Obama administration and no longer pays much attention to the doings of the expiring Bush administration.

The last minute delays to the accord were not really about the terms agreed with the Americans. It was rather that the leaders of the Sunni Arab minority, seeing the Shia-Kurdish government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki about to fill the vacuum created by the US departure, wanted to barter their support for the accord in return for as many last minute concessions as they could extract. Some three quarters of the 17,000 prisoners held by the Americans are Sunni and they wanted them released or at least not mistreated by the Iraqi security forces. They asked for an end to de-Baathication which is directed primarily at the Sunni community. Only the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held out against the accord to the end, declaring it a betrayal of independent Iraq. The ultra-patriotic opposition of the Sadrists to the accord has been important because it has made it difficult for the other Shia parties to agree to anything less than a complete American withdrawal. If they did so they risked being portrayed as US puppets in the upcoming provincial elections at the end of January 2009 or the parliamentary elections later in the year.

The SOFA finally agreed is almost the opposite of the one which US started to negotiate in March. This is why Iran, with its strong links to the Shia parties inside Iraq, ended its previous rejection of it. The first US draft was largely an attempt to continue the occupation without much change from the UN mandate which expired at the end of the year. Washington overplayed its hand. The Iraqi government was growing stronger as the Sunni Arabs ended their uprising against the occupation. The Iranians helped restrain the Mehdi Army, Muqtada’s powerful militia, so the government regained control of Basra, Iraq’s second biggest city, and Sadr City, almost half Baghdad, from the Shia militias. The prime minister Nouri al-Maliki became more confident, realizing his military enemies were dispersing and, in any case, the Americans had no real alternative but to support him. The US has always been politically weak in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein because it has few real friends in the country aside from the Kurds. The leaders of the Iraqi Shia, 60 per cent of the total population, might ally themselves to Washington to gain power, but they never intended to share power with the US in the long term.

The occupation has always been unpopular in Iraq. Foreign observers and some Iraqis are often misled by the hatred with which different Iraqi communities regard each other into underestimating the strength of Iraqi nationalism. Once Maliki came to believe that he could survive without US military support then he was able to spurn US proposals until an unconditional withdrawal was conceded. He could also see that Barack Obama, whose withdrawal timetable was not so different from his own, was going to be the next American president. Come the provincial and parliamentary elections of 2009, Maliki can present himself as the man who ended the occupation. Critics of the prime minister, notably the Kurds, think that success has gone to his head, but there is no doubt that the new security agreement has strengthened him politically.

It may be that, living in the heart of the Green Zone, that Maliki has an exaggerated idea of what his government has achieved. In the Zone there is access to clean water and electricity while in the rest of Baghdad people have been getting only three or four hours electricity a day. Security in Iraq is certainly better than it was during the sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia in 2006-7 but the improvement is wholly comparative. The monthly death toll has dropped from 3,000 a month at its worst to 360 Iraqi civilians and security personnel killed this November, though these figures may understate the casualty toll as not all the bodies are found. Iraq is still one of the most dangerous places in the world. On December 1, the day I started writing this article, two suicide bombers killed 33 people and wounded dozens more in Baghdad and Mosul. Iraqis in the street are cynical about the government’s claim to have restored order. “We are used to the government always saying that things have become good and the security situation improved,” says Salman Mohammed Jumah, a primary school teacher in Baghdad. “It is true security is a little better but the government leaders live behind concrete barriers and do not know what is happening on the ground. They only go out in their armoured convoys. We no longer have sectarian killings by ID cards [revealing that a person is Sunni or Shia by their name] but Sunni are still afraid to go to Shia areas and Shia to Sunni.”

Security has improved with police and military checkpoints everywhere but sectarian killers have also upgraded their tactics. There are less suicide bombings but there are many more small ‘sticky bombs’ placed underneath vehicles. Everybody checks underneath their car before they get into it. I try to keep away from notorious choke points in Baghdad, such as Tahrir Square or the entrances to the Green Zone, where a bomber for can wait for a target to get stuck in traffic before making an attack. The checkpoints and the walls, the measures taken to reduce the violence, bring Baghdad close to paralysis even when there are no bombs. It can take two or three hours to travel a few miles. The bridges over the Tigris are often blocked and this has got worse recently because soldiers and police have a new toy in the shape of a box which looks like a transistor radio with a short aerial sticking out horizontally. When pointed at the car this device is supposed to detect vapor from explosives and may well do so, but since it also responds to vapor from alcohol or perfume it is worse than useless as a security aid.

Iraqi state television and government backed newspapers make ceaseless claims that life in Iraq is improving by the day. To be convincing this should mean not just improving security but providing more electricity, clean water and jobs. “The economic situation is still very bad,” says Salman Mohammed Jumah, the teacher. “Unemployment affects everybody and you can’t get a job unless you pay a bribe. There is no electricity and nowadays we have cholera again so people have to buy expensive bottled water and only use the water that comes out of the tap for washing.” Not everybody has the same grim vision but life in Iraq is still extraordinarily hard. The best barometer for how far Iraq is ‘better’ is the willingness of the 4.7 million refugees, one in five Iraqis who have fled their homes and are now living inside or outside Iraq, to go home. By October only 150,000 had returned and some do so only to look at the situation and then go back to Damascus or Amman. One middle aged Sunni businessman who came back from Syria for two or three weeks, said: “I don’t like to be here. In Syria I can go out in the evening to meet friends in a coffe bar. It is safe. Here I am forced to stay in my home after 7pm.”

The degree of optimism or pessimism felt by Iraqis depends very much on whether they have a job, whether or not that job is with the government, which community they belong to, their social class and the area they live in. All these factors are interlinked. Most jobs are with the state that reputedly employs some two million people. The private sector is very feeble. Despite talk of reconstruction there are almost no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline. Since the Shia and Kurds control of the government, it is difficult for a Sunni to get a job and probably impossible unless he has a letter recommending him from a political party in the government. Optimism is greater among the Shia. “There is progress in our life, says Jafar Sadiq, a Shia businessman married to a Sunni in the Shia-dominated Iskan area of Baghdad. “People are cooperating with the security forces. I am glad the army is fighting the Mehdi Army though they still are not finished. Four Sunni have reopened their shops in my area. It is safe for my wife’s Sunni relatives to come here. The only things we need badly are electricity, clean water and municipal services.” But his wife Jana admitted privately that she had warned her Sunni relatives from coming to Iskan “because the security situation is unstable.” She teaches at Mustansariyah University in central Baghdad which a year ago was controlled by the Mehdi Army and Sunni students had fled. “Now the Sunni students are coming back,” she says, “though they are still afraid.”

They have reason to fear. Baghdad is divided into Shia and Sunni enclaves defended by high concrete blast walls often with a single entrance and exit. The sectarian slaughter is much less than it was but it is still dangerous for returning refugees to try to reclaim their old house in an area in which they are a minority. In one case in a Sunni district in west Baghdad, as I reported here some weeks ago, a Shia husband and wife with their two daughters went back to their house to find it gutted, with furniture gone and electric sockets and water pipes torn out. They decided to sleep on the roof. A Sunni gang reached them from a neighboring building, cut off the husband’s head and threw it into the street. They said to his wife and daughters: “The same will happen to any other Shia who comes back.” But even without these recent atrocities Baghdad would still be divided because the memory of the mass killings of 2006-7 is too fresh and there is still an underlying fear that it could happen again.

Iraqis have a low opinion of their elected representatives, frequently denouncing them as an incompetent kleptocracy. The government administration is dysfunctional. “Despite the fact,” said independent member of parliament Qassim Daoud, “that the Labor and Social Affairs is meant to help the millions of poor Iraqis I discovered that they had spent only 10 per cent of their budget.” Not all of this is the government’s fault. Iraqi society, administration and economy have been shattered by 28 years of war and sanctions. Few other countries have been put under such intense and prolonged pressure. First there was the eight year Iran- Iraq war starting in 1980, then the disastrous Gulf war of `1991, thirteen years of sanctions and then the five-and-a-half years of conflict since the US invasion. Ten years ago UN officials were already saying they could not repair the faltering power stations because they were so old that spare parts were no longer made for them.

Iraq is full of signs of the gap between the rulers and the ruled. The few planes using Baghdad international airport are full foreign contractors and Iraqi government officials. Talking to people on the streets in Baghdad in October many of them brought up fear of cholera which had just started to spread from Hilla province south of Baghdad. Forty per cent of people in the capital do not have access to clean drinking water. The origin of the epidemic was the purchase of out of date chemicals for water purification from Iran by corrupt officials. Everybody talked about the cholera except in the Green Zone where people had scarcely heard of the epidemic. .

The Iraqi government will become stronger as the Americans depart. It will also be forced to take full responsibility for the failings of the Iraqi state. This will be happening at a bad moment since the price of oil, the state’s only source of revenue, has fallen to $50 a barrel when the budget assumed it would be $80. Many state salaries, such as those of teachers, were doubled on the strength of this, something the government may now regret. Communal differences are still largely unresolved. Friction between Sunni and Shia, bad though it is, is less than two years ago, though hostility between Arabs and Kurds is deepening. The departure of the US military frightens many Sunni on the grounds that they will be at the mercy of the majority Shia. But it is also an incentive for the three main communities in Iraq to agree about what their future relations should be when there are no Americans to stand between them. As for the US, its moment in Iraq is coming to an end as its troops depart, leaving a ruined country behind them.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq’, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006. His new book ‘Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq’ is published by Scribner.

10-52, reprint