Lurking Dangers to the Arab Spring

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ramzy Baroud, Gulf News

Arab revolutions are currently facing real dangers, which vacillate between lack of prioritisation, stagnation and foreign intervention.

In Egypt, there have been deliberate attempts to divide the objectives of the revolution into blurred ideological classifications. A chasm is already growing between ‘liberal’ and Islamic forces regarding the identity of the state. Endless debates have ensued regarding the best course of action pertaining to elections, the constitution and more.

The trial of former president Hosni Mubarak has been marketed as a major victory for the revolution. Undoubtedly this is a historic event with great psychological impact. Many in Egypt were suspicious that the military was trying to co-opt the revolution, and some believed that Mubarak was continuing to run the country from his Sharm Al Shaikh mansion. With the world having now seen Mubarak in prison garb, some of these rumours are being quelled.

Still, it must not be forgotten that Egypt’s problems are multi-faceted, running deep into the very fabric of its political and social structures. Its already threadbare economy was also further devastated by recent events.

Presenting Mubarak on a stretcher for ‘conspiring to kill protesters’, and then falling into the trap of disputes around political semantics will not resolve the country’s many problems.
The Yemeni people persist between clear objectives and unclear strategy. Yemen was already teetering on the brink of ‘failed state’ status before the February revolt. The opposition is clearly failing to unify the revolutionary efforts of the people. The aim has been to create a meaningful political platform capable of translating the just demands of millions into a clear roadmap.
This has no room for Ali Abdullah Saleh and his discredited government. A delay of nearly six months has allowed regional and international forces to impede the popular process aimed at democratic reforms. Frustrated by the ineptness of the opposition, and worried about the devious role played by outsiders, the ‘youth of the revolution’ moved to establish their own transitional political body.
This move seemed to create more confusion rather than actually address the challenge of political centrality. Saleh and his ruling party are feeling emboldened once again and are bargaining politically with a nearly-starved population. As for Libya, it has turned into a battlefield. Although the people’s original demands for democracy are as genuine as ever, linking the heart of the revolution to Nato’s central command has more than tainted the uprising.

It has also raised the spectre of western intervention in Libya. The billions of dollars spent to ‘liberate’ Libya will be recovered through political and economic leverages later on. This will prove very costly for any new Libyan government.

Three Principles

The Syrian revolution has been most inspiring. Despite the extremely violent behaviour of the army in its attempts to subdue the uprising, the people remain committed to three major principles: the rightful demands of their revolution, the non-violent nature of their efforts, and non-interventionism. That said, foreign intervention does not seek people’s permission; it seeks opportunities.
It is guided by a straightforward cost-benefit analysis. As for violence, even noble revolutions with noble demands have limits. How long will the Syrian people endure before resorting to arms, at least to defend themselves against the government’s thugs?

There are other Arab countries that are also experiencing their own upheavals. These are divided between betrayed revolutions (for example, Bahrain), revolutions in the making, and bashful reform movements (Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and others).

True, each revolutionary experience remains unique. The socio-economic specificities of a wealthy Gulf country are different from those of a poverty-stricken country like Morocco. Still, Arab countries have much in common. Aside from shared histories, religions, language and a collective sense of belonging, they also share experiences of oppression, alienation, injustice and inequality.
The third UN Arab Development Report, published in 2005, surmised that in a modern Arab state, “the executive apparatus resembles a black hole which converts its surrounding social environment into a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes.”

Things didn’t fare much better for Arab states in 2009, when the fifth volume in the series claimed: “While the state is expected to guarantee human security, it has been, in several Arab countries, a source of threat undermining both international charters and national constitutional provisions.”

It is this shared fate that makes an Egyptian woman protest the violence carried out by the Syrian regime, and which drives a Tunisian man to celebrate the trial of Mubarak.

Coupled with a joint understanding of their history — which includes the struggle against colonialism and continued oppression in the neo-colonialist era — the Arab sense of solidarity is almost innate.

There is no question that in a post-revolutionary Arab world, a new collective sense of identity will emerge, this time without the manipulation of a single charismatic leader.

Revolution is a process, a progression of realisations borne out of experience. It seeks real and lasting change. It spans in its outreach from the realm of politics into the specificity of identity and self-perception. Because Arab revolutions are real, they also represent a real danger to foreign powers and their local alliances.

The self-seeking concoctions will use all their power to impede the process of change and reforms in the Arab world. This helps to explain the shedding of doubts on the authenticity of the youth movement in Egypt; the collective punishment of Yemenis; the brutalising of revolting masses in Syria.

Arab revolutionaries must be wary of all of these challenges. They must prepare for all grim possibilities. With unity being their greatest weapon, the revolutionaries need to remember that a victory in Egypt or Tunisia is an important step in the quest for freedom in Yemen, Syria — and everywhere else.

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A Dream For Palestine

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The focus of humanitarian concern through out the world is on Palestine. That beleaguered land has been called the world’s largest outdoor prison as its population continues to suffer under the boot of Israeli oppression. This oppression was qualitatively increased during the recent Operation Cast Lead assault by Israel. Visitors to have invariably been impressed by the courage and grit of the residents who live under conditions that would have destroyed the spirit of many.

Often ideas can be better conveyed by an example than by dealing with a whole. This is tragedy and triumph writ small.

The Samouni family of Palestine lost 29 of its members during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. Dozens more were injured, many severely. Family members, including young children and the elderly, were forced to survive for days amidst the rubble with medical help forcibly kept away. It is unknown whether many of the initial survivors died slowly awaiting aid.

Ken O’Keefe is a long time human rights activist. He is one of the survivors of the attack last year by Israeli pirates on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. Recently Ken met the Samouni family, and a magnificent idea was born, not only for the Samouni family, but for all of Palestine.

“Spending time with the Samouni family and literally becoming a member of this family is beyond a blessing, their cause is the Palestinian cause and together we are going to shatter this blockade once and for all and the proud people of Palestine will once again stand on their own two feet with dignity and freedom.”  

Herewith their story.

Samouni Intertrade Palestine is a commercial and social enterprise which will present the Palestinian people with an opportunity to end their dependence on the charity of others and the negative psychological impact such dependence confers. It will be trade not aid.

People and goods will be transported through the Rafah crossing going in both directions with the eventual goal of a Palestine that is rebuilt and independently functioning.

On the second day of July a convoy will leave London with the goal of arriving in Rafah three weeks later. Members of the Samouni family will be among the drivers. The convoy will carry raw materials for re building the infrastructure of Palestine; they will also carry industrial equipment necessary to economic development.

There are two primary partners: Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Project. The former was created by Ken O’Keefe and Lauren Booth (the sister in law of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair) and grew out of their voyage to Gaza in the late summer of 2008 when two boats broke the decades long Israeli siege of coastal Gaza.

The Samouni Project seeks to provide long term quality education to the more than 200 family members as well as to the surrounding community of Zeitun.

The Samouni family has planted 29 olive trees, one for each family member killed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. They have obtained a community/classroom center with an adjoining playground. The teaching staff has been assembled and is currently preparing a curriculum. The infrastructure of the classroom is in place, and the Samouni family is awaiting the delivery of educational materials to make the classroom a reality. Aloha Palestine has the task of delivering the relevant classroom materials. The supplies are modest by Western standards. In addition to supplies, teaching and administrative costs must be secured. An investment in education is an investment in the future of Palestine.

Many in the West underestimate the effect of dependence on the mind set of those who are the recipients of charity, when that charity becomes a way of life; when independent action to improve one’s future is literally forbidden by an occupying power. It is as if the United States government said to the residents of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that the help they received would be permanent, and that the government would act as if there was a devastating hurricane in perpetuity.

Under Israeli occupation parents are helpless to rebuild their devastated homes and the infrastructure of their towns. This causes them to lose self respect and to lose the respect of those dependent on them. The world knows the physical losses suffered by Palestine under the boot of Israel. What the world does not acknowledge is the greatest loss Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians: the loss of dignity.

The goals of Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Project is to transform Palestine from a prison to a thriving Mediterranean city.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, also known as the Barcelona Process, began in 1995 with the stated purpose on the part of the European Union (EU) to “strengthen its relations with the countries in the Mashriq and Maghreb regions”. The Partnership today comprises 44 members. It was created to establish a common area of peace and stability; a zone of shared prosperity, and a rapprochement between peoples on a social, cultural and humanitarian level.

The state of Israel has done remarkably well with its membership in this partnership. Palestine, on the contrary, has conducted a miniscule amount of trade. Palestinians, in addition, are forced to buy the products of their captor.

Free trade is the linch pin of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, and surely Israel has benefited greatly from this. Now it is time for Palestine to take its place in the nations of the region by exercising its acknowledged right to free trade through Egypt. Before the forced resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, access between Gaza and Egypt was severely limited. The current Egyptian Foreign Minister has  stated that it is time to end the blockade.

Both Aloha Palestine and the Samouni Mission are EU based and will hold the EU to its stated obligation to protect its members when such members are practicing safe trade. Safe trade is defined as follows:

The commercial exchange of non-hazardous items that pose no danger to society. Trade conducted transparently and fairly that develops prosperity while fostering stability and building security in the region where it is conducted.

Should there be an attempt to interfere with this lawful process attorneys for these two groups will be prepared to challenge such attempts with immediate legal action.

A Samouni family web site is in progress, and soon the world will be able to see the rise of a Palestinian nation through this family. Soon we will all be members of the Samouni family.

The head of the Samouni family has consented to answer questions posed by The Muslim Observer. The respondent is called Mukhtar which means head of family.

TMO: We are so impressed by what you have suffered and what you have done to turn tragedy into triumph. To begin with, how did you meet Ken O’Keefe?

Mukhtar: Ken O’keefe first came with Noor Al-Harazeen in January 2010, who we already knew as she used to help by giving food-clothes packages, Ken made a video report with us and then he started to come back every week and in order to talk about building a playground and planting an Olive Tree orchard, then we began working together to create the Samouni Project and building a classroom as well.

TMO: Are there NGO’s in Palestine that you will partner with?

Mukhtar: NGO’s no, but we are partnering with Ken O’Keefe in the Samouni Project. But other Societies have helped us with re-building our homes, like Alkitaab Wl Sunna Society.

TMO: Could you share with our readers the strengths that you and your family possess that permitted you to endure Operation Cast Lead and its aftermath and emerge as strong as you are?

Mukhtar:Sure , What happen to us was one of the biggest Gaza massacres in Operation Cast Lead.  During this operation they entered our neighbourhood, shooting at us and taking over our homes, they then put 100 members of our family in one room and started shelling it.  We lost our families, kids were murdered, many were lost.  How we could not share our story!  We want all the world to know what has happened to us and the Palestinians as a whole, we want all the world to know the real Israel.

TMO: Could you tell us some of the proposed curriculum for your school?

Mukhtar: We plan for a full curriculum including Arabic ( Elaab Wa Taalm ), so the kids can read and write, also we will have adult education for the parents who cannot read and write.  We will teach the Quran, also English ( Headway ) so our kids have the ability to connect with the world and act as ambassadors of Palestine.  

To access more information about this project please use the following sites: For Ken O’Keefe: ken.okeefe@alohapalestine.com and http://AlohaPalestine.com.

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