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Africa

Commemoration and counter-memory of the Algerian liberation and civil war: calls for an inclusive approach

Commemoration and counter-memory of the Algerian liberation and civil war: calls for an inclusive approach

Anissa Daoudi*

When ‘Algeria’ is mentioned, some people might have heard of the book Djamila and Picasso, others might have seen the film The Battle of Algiers depicting Algerian women playing an active role in the revolution. In the Arab collective memory, Algeria is known as the country of the three Djamilas, an Arabic name, meaning ‘beautiful’ in referrence to three Algerian women war veterans: Djamila Bouheird, Djamila Boupasha and Djamila Bouazza, symbols in the fight against the coloniser during the Liberation War (1954-1962).

What unites these memories is the Algerian Revolution of the 1st of November 1954. However, Algeria has witnessed another traumatic phase during which more than 200 000 Algerians lost their lives. This historical period is what is known as the ‘Black Decade’ of the 1990s. Despite the atrocities of that period, little is known about what happened and above all, victims and activists struggle to keep the memory of their loved ones alive and bring the perpetrators to justice. In an effort to break the official and public silence, activists and survivors are attempting to appropriate the symbolic signification of the 1st of November to all Algerian victims and survivors of both periods: the Algerian Revolution and the Civil War of the 1990s.  

To that end, the Association Djazairouna (our Algeria), directed by Ms. Cherifa Keddar, one of the victims of terrorism, who witnessed the assassination of her brother and sister at her family home in Blida, organised a two-day conference titled Our memory, our fight: for the memory of our victims. The conference was held on the 1st and 2nd of November 2016 at Riyadh al Fateh, Algiers and Blida.  It was to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Civil War in the 1990s and to remind the Algerians of the atrocities which took place in what is known as the ‘Black Decade’. The theme of the conference falls within the context of my current research project on the 1990s. 

The 1st of November was chosen consciously to remember the eruption of the Algerian revolution against French colonialism in 1954. It symbolises the will of Algerians to fight against French brutalities and inhuman way in which they were subjugated. The date also coincides with the International Remembrance Day, as Cherifa Keddar explains. 

For Zahira Guenifi, a mother who lost her twenty year-old son, Hisham:

the 1st of November is chosen on purpose…I have all the right to use this day as I want and in the way I want…I was seven years old when the French killed my father…he is a martyr…that was not the end of that, 296 members of the Mehsen family, from Al Sitara, Beni Staih, near El Melia (Jijel) were assassinated in one afternoon by the French. This date is chosen not to steal the lime light out of the 1st November (Algerian revolution)…It is a date for all Algerians, except the Harkis. The 1st of November belongs to all Algerians…therefore; we said it is a date to send a strong warning to our government …to commemorate our victims…a date for the memory of our sons, husbands, brothers, sisters, all of those who were hurt, a date to remind us that we are not alone, a date that might help (not sure of that) us come to terms with our pain, a date that narrates stories of those who died…a date exactly like the 1st of November.

Three films were specifically chosen for the event. The first was l’Heroine (the heroine) by Cherif Agoune. The story goes back to the 1990s and takes place in a remote village, few kilometres away from Algiers, where Ashour and his two brothers lived on a farm. The men of the family are killed either in clashes between the security forces and the terrorists or by the terrorists. Two women are kidnapped. Houria, Ashour’s widow and the heroine of the story, was able to escape and save the children. She is received in Algiers by her family, but conflicts re-emerge and she finds herself facing another harsh reality of life. No longer willing to accept her status in her family, she decides to roll up her sleeves to meet the needs of her children. She becomes a professional photographer specializing in wedding ceremonies. She also joins the association of women victims of terrorists. The story is about survival and the strong will of the heroine to live for her children and overcome the obstacles of her society.  After the screening of the film, an actor who played the role of the officer, gave a short interview in which he said that the film was based on the true story of one of his patients, when he was the doctor in that town.

In Memoire de Scènes by Abderrahim Laloui, again, the story takes place in the 1990s. Azzedine, a professional journalist, prepares an adaptation of the play Tartuffe by Molière which he wants to stage in the municipal theatre. The story depicts the daily life of Algerian intellectuals in the 1990s. Throughout the story, intellectuals like Tahar Djaout, the francophone writer, as well asmany others are remembered. At the end, the playwright is killed but the group of actors swear to perform the play as an act of defiance against the terrorists.

The third film was El Manara by Belkacem Hadjadj. The film revolves around three characters, namely: Fawzi, Ramdan and Asma, who have been friends since childhood. The two men and the woman lead a happy life in the old city of Cherchell. Their relationship is complex; it includes a combination of friendship and romantic love. Their world is shaken and slowly torn apart as they become overwhelmed by events around them: the popular riots of 1988, the military heavy-handed response to the riots, the initiation of the democratic process and its abrupt dissolution, and then the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The abduction of two female characters and their rape constitute the climax of the story and reveal the systematic sexual violence against women. Alongside the theme of violence, the film tackles the issue of the ‘new’ Islamic concepts which started to make their way in the Algerian society, such as the abolition of festivities such as the celebration of the prophet’s birthday, known as El Manara festivity, aiming to highlight the foreignness of this ‘new Islam’.

The audience was mostly victims/survivors of terrorism, who were crying and shouting out phrases in approval throughout the films. “Yes, it was like that during the nineties!” would be heard in the room. The survivors were happy that those films were produced. “These films say what we cannot express, they document to the coming generation what we have seen and above all, help us feel a sense of belonging to a group, particularly that the official narratives do not recognise that the 1990s existed,” one of the survivors said. During the debate, the film makers said that their works were not shown on national television. Similar voices were heard on the second day of the conference. Voices which called for remembering of victims and, most importantly, calling for justice to take place.  All of the survivors, with no exception, stressed that they were against the Amnesty Law (1999, 2005) and that they want to bring to justice the perpetrators.

Mr. Ali Bouguettaya, President of the National Coordination of Resistance, talked about their role in restoring security, particularly in the villages most badly hit by terrorism. He mentioned that 5000 paramilitary men (patriotes, also called Civil Defence) died and 11000 were left handicapped. In his testimony, Mr. Farid Asslaoui, a retired official who worked closely with the victims of terrorism, referred to nine magistrates killed on the same day, as well as intellectuals (he cites Djilali El Yabes), journalists (e.g., Tahar Djaout) and many others. He adds that it was not possible to go to their families to pay tributes for fear of being identified by the terrorists.  As for rape, he classifies it in terms of space and time, in other words, where and when it happened.

Dr. Amira Bouraoui, a doctor and an activist discussed how she lived the Black Decade as a child and as a daughter of a doctor who worked in the military hospital of Ain Naadja. She described the daily atrocities she and many of her generation had witnessed. Prof. Cherifa Bouatta, an academic and a psychologist worked closely with survivors throughout the Black Decade, and explained her role as someone who had not only witnessed the atrocities but also as a professional known to most of the survivors in the room.  In a moving testimony, Fatima Zahra Keddar described how her brother, sister and mother were shot in the family home. Similalry, Ms Nadjia Bouzeghrane, a journalist who was exiled to France described her feeling of being away from her loved ones and hearing news about the death of colleagues and people she left behind.  Prof. Fadhila Boumendjel-Chitour, founding member of Réseau Wassila, and niece of the martyr Boumendjel, stressed the need to mend the social linkages and rebuild the collective memory. Mr. Mohamed Boudiaf, the son of the late president Boudiaf also talked bitterly about the assassination of his father and condemned the terrorists who “have no relation to Islam” as he says.  

What was clear from the event is the determination of the participants to continue their battle towards justice. Moreover, it shows the strong bonds between survivors, professionals such as psychologists, jurists, activists and doctors as a product of a long lasting combat by people who share similar memories. These men and women from different backgrounds and political opinions came together in opposition to the president’s charter for peace and reconciliation. Djazairouna represents the place to remember, to mourn and to get support. Through it they launch their call to make the 1st of November their day of remembrance too, a day that unites all Algerians and symbolises the fight against colonialism and terrorism at the same time, a day which denounces violence and puts forward notions of humanism.
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Anissa Daoudi is a lecturer in Arabic and Translation Studies at the University of Birmingham. She is head of the Arabic section and specialist in the Translation Studies (Arabic-English-Arabic) programme. She recently won the Leverhulme Fellowship for her project: narrating and translating sexual violence in Algeria in the 1990s.

US, NATO and the destruction of Libya: The Western front of a widening war

US, NATO and the destruction of Libya: The Western front of a widening war

by Horace G. Campbell *
General Khalifah Hifter and his men
NATO claimed that its intervention in Libya was a historic success. But three years later, Libya is in complete chaos. Some 1700 militias have a combined total of 250,000 men under arms. Another external intervention seems necessary to stabilize the country. But the US and NATO must never be involved.
INTRODUCTION
Most western embassies evacuated their personnel from Tripoli over the past few weeks as the fighting between rival armed militias creates a nightmare of violence, insecurity and death for millions of Libyans. The United States used its military presence in the Mediterranean to escort its embassy personnel and Marine guards to travel by road over the last weekend to Tunisia. The evacuation of western diplomats leaving the millions of Libyans to an uncertain fate has brought to the fore the Libyan dimensions of a wider theater of warfare from Tripoli through Benghazi to Cairo, Alexandria and Gaza and from Aleppo in Syria to Mosul in Iraq. The former allies of NATO such as Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now connected to differing factions of the Libyan civil war. In Libya, the war and bloodletting between the US supported General Khalifah Hifter (sometimes spelt Haftar) and the militias supported by Qatar is one indication of former allies falling out. Citizens of the West have little understanding of the depth of the sufferings unleashed on the peoples of North Africa, Palestine, Syria and Iraq since the United States and NATO launched wars against the peoples of this region. The battles in Libya are merging with the criminal war against the people of Palestine, especially the peoples of Gaza.

It was three years ago when NATO declared the end of the NATO mission, loudly announcing that the NATO mission to Libya had been ‘one of the most successful in NATO history.’ Despite this declaration of success there were clear signs of the remnants of the NATO suborned militias fighting for control of Libya. Today, that fighting has engulfed all of Libyan society to the point that the militias that had been deployed by NATO are now out of control while the funders of the militias are caught in the wider disputations over the future of Africa, Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula. Calls for the United Nations and for the African Union to militarily intervene in Libya must now be accompanied by the call for ensuring that none of the current members of the UN Security Council who were participants in the NATO intervention can be part of any UN force to demilitarize Libya to disarm the out of control militias.
THE CURRENT CIVIL WAR IN LIBYA
News of the current civil war in Libya remains confusing because the western news agencies have a vested interest in keeping the issues unclear so as to keep Libya destabilized and destroyed. Since the NATO destruction of Libya in 2011 there have been over 50,000 Libyans who have lost their lives. This is in a society where the United Nations had gone in with a mandate of Responsibility to Protect. Instead of protecting Libyan civilians, the NATO forces killed tens of thousands, built up militias and then left the country under differing factions who have unleashed a reign of terror in the society. Despite the best efforts of the United States’ State Department and NATO to present a so called ‘transition’ process with the procedural democratic rituals such as elections, the role of the militias has been the dominant feature of the warfare and destruction. When prominent Libyan human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis was slain in Benghazi last month, both Samantha Powers (US Permanent Representative to the United Nations) and Hilary Clinton (former Secretary of State) issued statements denouncing her murder but these two architects of the destruction of Libya remain indicted in the court of public opinion for their roles in creating the present conflagration. What has been kept from the citizens of the USA is the role of financial enterprises such as Goldman Sachs, Tradition Financial Services of Switzerland, French bank Société Générale SA, hedge-fund firm Och-Ziff Capital Management Group and private-equity firm Blackstone Group in their dealings with the Libyan Investment Authority. The more informed will have to read the financial press to follow the many lawsuits that are ongoing in the scrutiny in wide-ranging U.S. and British corruption probes that are examining the lengths to which some Western financial firms went to gain a piece of Libya’s oil wealth.
A close scrutiny of the current probe of Goldman Sachs dealings with the Libyan Investment Authority by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of American anti-corruption laws will help shed light on the powerful forces in the United States that pushed the war against the peoples of Libya in 2011. Because of the propaganda war about fighting terrorism in Africa, western citizens cannot easily understand how the government of the United States supported the Jihadists in Benghazi. Thus far, the US Congress has muddled the information about the relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the most extreme militia groups because representatives such as Congressman Darrel Issa from California have been deliberately creating confusion to disguise the complicity of the US military and intelligence forces in their dealings with the most extreme militias.
From time to time the US public is diverted from the civil war by the USA seemingly mounting operations to seize ‘terrorists’ such as Ahmed Abu Khattala (in 2014) for the killings of US officials in Benghazi) or the capture of Abu Anas al-Libi in 2013. However, the twists and turns of the web of western intelligence and military operations in North Africa have come into full integration with the wider war against the peoples of Palestine and North Africa. General Hifter now represents the public face of the US supported forces in the western edge of the present wars in North Africa.
THE UNITED STATES AND GENERAL HIFTER
When NATO intervened in Libya, the North Atlantic militarists were experimenting with a new kind of warfare because the citizens of the West had been opposed to the intervention based on the mobilizations and demonstrations of the peace and social justice movements. In order to make the NATO intervention acceptable to US citizens, the Obama administration claimed that there would be no deployment of massive troops, even though early in the campaign the US Africa Command was taking credit for the NATO Operation. This kind of warfare went to great lengths to avoid the deployment of ground troops from the USA or the other NATO invaders; instead there was reliance on incessant bombing from the air, the deployment of armed militias, the mobilization of third party countries (in this case Qatar), the mobilization of Special Forces and the use of the western media for disinformation, propaganda and psychological warfare. When NATO declared its mission a success it was part of an internal debate within the corridors of the militarists because as we learnt from the book, ‘Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War,’ by former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, there were deep divisions over the prosecution of this NATO bombardment and destruction of Libya. With his own eyes on history, Robert Gates said that he was about to resign over this NATO intervention and war in Libya.
Now that the world is witnessing the full blowback of this war against Libya with the death of John Christopher Stevens (former US ambassador) in Benghazi and the present evacuation of the US mission from Tripoli, it is instructive to grasp the role of some of the US supported forces such as General Khalifah Hifter. (See Russ Baker (April 22, 2011). “Is General Khalifa Hifter The CIA’s Man In Libya?” ) Hifter, now 71, had been in the Libyan military from the time of the military coup in 1969, but after 1987 he defected from the Gadaffi government. When the West had imposed sanctions on Libya, Hifter was associated with opposition National Salvation Front of Libya (NSFL). In 1988 he relocated to the United States and lived well in that notorious suburb of Washington, DC, – Langley, Virginia. When the NATO bombings started in March 2011, Hifter returned to Libya and joined in with the numerous factions.
It is most important here to state for readers that the CIA recruited elements in Libya who had been earlier designated as terrorists. In the many books about Libya under Gaddafi the names of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and Abdelhakim Belhadj featured prominently. Eastern Libya was a base for subversion and the laziness of the Congressional representatives of the USA prevents the full exposure of how the US Africa Command and the CIA recruited Jihadists such as Abdelhakim Belhadj. It is this alliance with Jihadists that General Hifter returned to in 2011 but in his search for dominance in the anti-Gaddafi forces, there was another general who was seeking to place his stamp on the rebellion. General Abdul Fattah Younis had been a senior military officer under Gaddafi who had reached the position of Minister of Interior. He resigned from the Gaddafi government in February 2011 to join the ‘rebellion. ‘
The abduction and assassination of General Younis in July 2011 removed the only other senior military person who could compete for the position as a military strongman in the post-Gaddafi era. After the assassination and humiliation of Gaddafi in October 2011, Hifter became leader of one of the 1700 militias with over 250,000 persons under arms. Abdelhakim Belhadj became the most powerful person in Tripoli after the NATO ‘victory’ when he installed himself as the head of the Tripoli Military Council. When the United States undertook its transition program for Libya, Belhadj dropped his military title and contested elections as a civilian leader. Hifter could not openly challenge the LIFG forces in Tripoli so he worked to build relations with the Zintan militias working hard to emerge as the new military strongman of Libya.
Since 2014 Hifter has been involved in a number of high profile military actions (first a declared military takeover in a failed coup attempt of February 2014 and later in May in a prolonged war to defeat the Misrata forces and those supported by Qatar). From the western platforms and those who have interviewed Hifter, this general claims the allegiance of over 70,000 troops along with the Zintan militia forces.
On Friday, February 14, Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hifter announced a coup in Libya. ‘The national command of the Libyan Army is declaring a movement for a new road map’ (to rescue the country), Hifter declared through a video post. Even the New York Times ridiculed this coup attempt with the story by David Kirkpatrick who reported on the coup from Cairo. In his report, ‘In Libya, a Coup. Or Perhaps Not,’ Kirkpatrick drew attention to the colorful career of Hifter without explaining to his audience the close relationships between Hifter and the US web of military and intelligence operatives in North Africa. In May 2014, Hifter reappeared in the international headlines with his bravado report that he was fighting to root out terrorists from Benghazi.
There are numerous militias in Benghazi but the two well-known ones were the February 17 Martyrs Brigade and the Ansar al-Sharia militias. While the forces that came to be called Ansar al-Sharia had been mobilized by the NATO planners to join the war to remove Gadaffi, by September 2012 these varying militia forces had disagreed among themselves and this particular militia was blamed for the attack on the CIA facility in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 when four US operatives were engulfed in the intra militia warfare.
One indication of the levels of external support for Hifter came from the fact that his military wing that is called the National Army was able to use aerial bombardment against his opponents. Hifter launched Operation Libyan Dignity on May 16, saying his mission was to dissolve the General National Congress, which he labelled Islamist, and to destroy ‘terrorists.’ In order to ingratiate himself with western propaganda forces, Hifter labelled his opponents in Benghazi as terrorists and claimed that these ‘terrorists ‘had been allowed to establish bases in Libya. This was clear double talk because it was the Central Intelligence Agency under General Petraeus as we learnt from the biography by Paula Broadwell who had been recruiting Islamists from Eastern Libya to fight in Syria.
The other evidence of collaboration between Hifter and western intelligence forces came when in the midst of the fighting between Hifter and his opponents in Benghazi, the US Special Operations forces carried out their mission to ’capture’ Ahmed Abu Khattala. This US operation exposed the close cooperation between Hifter and the USA. When Libyan citizens complained about the military campaign of Hifter, the US ambassador to Libya refused to ‘condemn’ the killings of innocent citizens in Benghazi by Hifter and his ‘National Army’. Hifter’s avowed aim to dissolve the General National Congress exposed deeper disagreements between the United States and Qatar over the future of Libya and the politics of North Africa.
Although Hifter was fighting with his ‘National Army,’ the divisions between the varying militias led to big battles between Hifter and other militia forces. Media reports claim that Hifter is supported by external forces in the USA, Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. It is significant that in this line up of support there was no mention of Turkey and Qatar. One of the strongest militia forces in Libya from the time of the NATO intervention had been the Misrata fighters. As we documented in our book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya’, it was from Misrata where the forces of Qatar had been landed in order to carry out the takeover of Tripoli in July/August 2011. We know from media reports from Al Jazeera that there are forces sympathetic to the MIsrata militias in Qatar. In the Al Jazeera typology of the varying militias in Libya we are told that the ‘235 militia brigades are collectively the most powerful single force in Libya, fighting through a six-month siege during the uprising. They are equipped with heavy weapons, tanks and truck-launched rockets and have the power to be a decisive force in any struggle between Haftar and Islamist forces.’ One can distinguish between this report and those of other western forces such as the BBC or Voice of America on the nature of the Libyan militias.
When certain western media outlets were hailing General Hifter as a savior and comparing him to General Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi of Egypt, this was part of the propaganda war to sell Hifter to the citizens of Benghazi who had stood up to the bombardment by his forces. The Misrata factions were the military wing of that section of the political forces that dominated the General National Congress. Hifter was in a struggle to consolidate the varying militia forces under his leadership and there were many glowing reports of how Hifter was the savior of Libya. However, from Qatar one writer, Ibrahim Sharqieh, noted in an article in the New York Times that the world should ‘Beware Libya’s ‘Fair Dictator’. Ibrahim Sharquieh stated that ‘Over the past two years many of them have profited from – and developed an interest in maintaining – the chaos that engulfs the country. Warlords, Islamist groups and other committed revolutionaries who truly fought against the Qaddafi government will not surrender to General Hifter’s movement – and that poses a grave threat to Libya’s prospects for stability.’ Washington’s tolerance of General Hifter’s movement has made things much worse. Deborah Jones, the United States ambassador to Libya, was quoted as saying, ‘I am not going to come out and condemn blanketly what he did’ because, she added, General Hifter’s forces were going after groups on Washington’s terrorist list.
This article brought out the clear divisions between Doha and Washington which was a reflection of deeper divisions in North Africa and Palestine. In the war against the peoples of Syria, the Qatar regime had been very active along with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in providing finance and weaponry to the zealots who have now proclaimed themselves ‘The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ or (ISIL or ISIS) . However, relations between Qatar and Washington frayed over the path of the political process in Egypt. The military forces who had killed and incarcerated hundreds of thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are not supported by the current leadership in Qatar. Qatar and Saudi Arabia broke ranks over the military takeover by General Sisi and the counter revolutionary forces of the Egyptian military.
In this new disagreement between the political leadership of Qatar and the generals in Cairo, the news outlets and NGOs supported by Qatar have been harassed. Qatari Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt were harassed and arrested. In June 2014, two Al Jazeera English journalists were sentenced to seven years in jail and one to 10 years. These journalists were sentenced by an Egyptian court on charges including aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and reporting false news.
EXPANSION OF THE WAR AND BATTLE FOR THE AIRPORT IN TRIPOLI
Of the 1700 militias in Libya the dominant forces are represented by the militias from Zintan (The Al-Zintan Revolutionaries’ Military Council was formed in 2011), bringing together 23 militias from Zintan and the Nafusa Mountains in western Libya, the militias from Misrata and the militias from Benghazi. In the case of the capital Tripoli, the competing militias controlled differing neighborhoods with the militias from Zintan and the militias from Misrata, two of the dominant forces, claiming legitimacy. As there was no central command over the use of force, from time to time different factions of the military vied for military supremacy. In the case of the expanding wars in the East, the Misrata forces have intensified their battles to gain the upper hand in Tripoli. For the past few weeks this battle for supremacy has taken the form of a deadly battle where hundreds have been killed and aircraft worth more than US$1.5billion destroyed. Since the NATO declaration of success in 2011, the Tripoli airport area has been under the control of former fighters from the western town of Zintan. Rival Islamist-leaning militias from Misrata along with their allies fought with the Zintanis in recent days, but failed to dislodge them.
Recently, the Zintan militia group which has controlled the airport since the end of the revolution, claimed victory over the Misrata-led Operation Dawn force that tried to dislodge them from the airport. Future information will bring out whether this battle is an extension of the battles between the USA and Qatar since the forces seeking to dislodge the Zintan forces from the airport are the Misrata militias. For the past three years under the so called transition plans by the USA Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) there were efforts to pay off hundreds of thousands of youths in the militias hoping to silence some of the guns. The US legation and the other western Embassies have been caught in this new round of intense fighting, hence the evacuation by road to Tunisia. Thousands of residents of Tripoli are fleeing the capital while third country nationals are being evacuated. None of the armed groups are listening to the calls by the United Nations for a ceasefire.
The destruction of aircraft in the fighting, which began on 13 July, has cost an estimated US$1.5 billion. The battles around the airport are by no means tame battles of armed men with side weapons. The Misrata forces after failing to dislodge the Zintan forces have been taking over residential areas adjacent to the airport, using tanks to pound the Zintanis, who in turn respond with shells and anti-aircraft fire. Hifter’s calculation that his forces and allies would ‘mop’ up the other militias has now backfired as the Libyan theater of war merges with the wider battles that are raging in Palestine and in Syria and Iraq. With the criminal assault on the peoples of Gaza the sympathies have now increased for those in Libya allied to the faction of the Palestinian movement resisting the Israeli occupation and bombardment. At the same time the massive demonstrations by the Palestinian peoples in the West Bank and the sterling resistance of the Palestinians in Gaza have deep consequences for the political leadership in Egypt. It is very clear that the present political leadership of Egypt is an ally of the conservatives ruling Israel who have inflicted collective punishment on the people of Gaza. Even the New York Times boasted of this alliance between the counterrevolutionaries in Egypt and the neo-conservative militarists in Israel on July 30, the Times noted,
‘After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated ceasefire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.’
What the strategic planners in Washington and Tel a Viv forget is that the 80 million citizens of Egypt are also aware of this alliance between Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. When NATO intervened in Libya in 2011, one of the unspoken goals was to develop a rear base for western interventionist forces in case the Egyptian revolution was radicalized to the point where the popular forces started to dismantle the institutions of oppression and exploitation. Benghazi was crucial for the forward planning of the West, hence the intense battles for Benghazi since 2011 and the efforts to manipulate the youths by the Central Intelligence Agency. Now, in the midst of the war in Gaza and Syria there is increased attention on the role of Egypt as an ally of Israel in keeping the people of Gaza under lockdown by keeping the Rafa crossing closed. Since the intensified wars against the citizens of Gaza there have been new attacks on the Egyptian border posts in the West. In July, there was a bold attack on the western border post of Egypt where 22 troops including three officers were killed.
UNITED NATIONS AND INTERVENTION AGAIN?
The killing of Libyans who were supposed to be protected has led to calls from within Africa and the nonaligned world for a thorough investigation of the NATO intervention in Libya. Since that call the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has been a silent bystander as hundreds of Libyans are killed and displaced. Now these UN personnel have joined with the other western powers that are being evacuated from Tripoli.
The killing of human rights workers and the killing of activist women of Libya such as former member of the Libyan General National Congress, Fariha Barkawi, and Salwa Bugaighis have brought out statements from western elements that have been destabilizing Libya. Muhammad Abdul Aziz the Libyan Foreign Minister has asked the UN Security Council to send military advisers to bolster state forces guarding ports, airports and other strategic locations. These calls are a manifestation of the complete breakdown of control over violence in Libya. The African Union and the nonaligned bloc within the United Nations will have to make a firmer stand on western militarism in North Africa and Palestine. The peace movements in the West also have a major responsibility to oppose NATO, oppose the deployment of western forces and expand the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in clear solidarity with the peoples of Palestine.
This month as the world remembers how slowly humanity slipped into the massive bloodletting of World War 1 in 1914, it is worth reminding citizens of the West how the working peoples were manipulated to support the Generals and the Bankers. The peace and social justice movement must popularize the cases against Goldman Sachs, the Blackstone Group, the French bank Société Générale SA, and Tradition Financial Services of Switzerland. Progressive forces ought to follow closely the present case in the London High Court against Goldman Sachs and work to ensure that as a result of the dark markets that the Intercontinental Exchange are involved with, that the corporate elements will face the same demise as their academic spokespersons who had operated through the Monitor Group of Cambridge Massachusetts.
The peace and social justice forces must intensify their organization at this point so that there can be clarity on the role of General Hifter and the Central intelligence Agency in Libya. Progressive forces cannot accept the packaging of lies and disinformation that sold the war against the people of Libya as part of Responsibility to Protect. Today, the western media is attempting to package the bloody assault on the peoples of Palestine as a defensive war by the hawks in Israel. There is need for broad solidarity by peace and social justice forces internationally so that the current wars end and the west end their support for corrupt bankers and militarists.
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* Horace G. Campbell is a Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya, Monthly Review Press, 2013.

To preview Syria’s future, consider Algeria today

To preview Syria’s future, consider Algeria today


Algeria was destined to become an African powerhouse. The largest country in the continent, it is populated by only 39 million people but endowed with huge natural resources: 159 trillion cubic feet (tcf) and 12.2 billion barrels of proven natural gas and oil reserves, respectively, and vast expanses of land, desert, and mountains. A country rich with such resources should not have a problem building a sustainable economy. However, corruption and a brutal civil war similar to the one going on in Syria transformed Algeria into Africa’s most disappointing state. How and why did such a promising country sink so low?


The first reason is systemic corruption and gross mismanagement. Since independence, Algeria embraced a state-managed economy and political system. The government confiscated private land, nationalized natural resources and exerted a monopoly on economic institutions. By mid-1980s, the government was essentially bankrupt. To stimulate economic growth, President Chedli Ben Djedid liberalized the economy, privatized some economic sectors, returned some land to its original owners, and democratized the political system, allowing political parties to challenge the ruling party that had monopolized power since independence.

In a series of elections that started in 1989 and continued through 1991, the Islamic Front for Salvation (FIS) won overwhelming majorities, which upset France—its former colonial occupier—and France’s Algerian allies, prompting the Algerian military to sideline the president, cancel the second round of elections (scheduled for early 1992), and establish a governing military junta. These actions started a 10-year intense civil war that killed an estimated 200,000 people and devastated the economy. When first elected in 1999, Abdelaziz Boutaflika issued an amnesty that encouraged some fighters to lay down their arms, but low-intensity confrontation continued until this day.

On April 17, 2014, Algerians, perhaps still traumatized by the civil war, voted for a president who is too ill to deliver a single campaign speech let alone run the country. The scene of Bouteflika being wheeled into a polling station to cast his vote for himself as did 82% of eligible voters (unverifiable government figures) indicates that Algeria has lost hope and is clinging to the past. The psychology of Algerians voting for an ailing president may explain the desire of many Syrians to stick with President Bashar Assad.

Although Assad is in much better health and control over a better military, governing during and after the civil war will be a herculean task for many reasons.

First, Syria never had and never will have the natural resources Algeria has enjoyed. Second, unlike the Algerian rebel fighters who fought from the mountains, Syrian rebels occupied cities and towns turning civilian areas into war zones. Third, while Algerian rebels were Sunni Islamists fighting secular Sunni Muslims, Syrian rebels are extremist Sunnis fighting moderate Sunni Muslims, Shi`ites, Nusayris, Druze, Christians, and anyone else who is not on their side.

The Algerian conflict was, to some extent, a national one. The conflict in Syria is a proxy war involving regional and global powers. Moreover, the Syrian war has turned into a religious war authorized by the spiritual guides of the global Muslim Brotherhood movement, like Qaradawi, and of the fighting Salafi groups. Algeria was not declared “land of Jihad”; and Western powers did not join al-Qaeda in an effort to overthrow the government of Algeria the way they have been doing in Syria.

Given these key differences, it is unlikely that the Syrian war will be shorter than the Algerian one. Ending Syria’s a war must involve more actors and more governments, an unlikely scenario at this time. This means that Syria’s war will likely last more than a decade, will kill more than 500,000 people, will displace more than 10 million people, and will cost at least one trillion dollars—a huge cost not only for Syria but for the world. This much we can project based on what we have learned from Algeria’s civil war. Preventing this from happening depends on all actors to change their calculus immediately and do all that is in their power to stop the war in Syria.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, perhaps learning from the crises of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and AKP in Turkey, compromises to remain relevant

Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, perhaps learning from the crises of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and AKP in Turkey, compromises to remain relevant


On January 14, Tunisians will celebrate their revolution, which ignited a wave of protest that swept most of the Arab world. For this third anniversary, the Salvation Front, representing key leaders from political parties and civil society, gave the Tunisian people and the Arab masses a set of rare gifts: another peaceful transfer of power, a new constitution that protects the life and dignity of all Tunisians, and roadmap to a stable future.


Ennahda, the party that won the first post-revolution elections in Tunisia, handed over power to a non-partisan government last week so that it would remain relevant. This decision was the only path that could allow Ennahda to maintain its edge in the coming elections and avert disastrous outcomes similar to those experienced by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the likely diminished power of AKP in Turkey. Importantly, the resignation fosters a promising culture of peaceful transfer of power–a first in the Arab world. Before stepping down, however, Ennahda’s leaders–working with leaders from two secular-leaning political parties, al-Mu’tamar and al-Takattul–managed to reduce the level of violence in the country, stabilize the economy, draft a new constitution, and set the course for a transition to a permanent government though the ballet, not the bullet.

It should be noted, however, that Ennahda did not voluntarily cede power. It took several political crises, many strikes and low-level uprisings, two assassinations of key opposition figures, and active participation of key civil society institutions (notably labor unions and NGOs) for Ennahda and its allies to give in to public pressure. Additionally, the troika (Ennahda, al-Mu’tamar, and al-Takattul) spent too much time drafting the constitution, which is crucial for holding elections that would move the country past the transition phase.

Nonetheless, Ennahda should be given credit for its willingness to be inclusive, for compromising to preserve the dignity of all Tunisians, and for enshrining social justice norms in the new constitution. For instance, while leaders of the movement insisted that Islam be privileged, they nonetheless accepted the codification of the civil state, the supremacy of the rule of law, and the proscription on takfir (branding dissenters infidels or non-believers). The new constitution, drafted under their watch, explicitly protects women as equal citizens, codifies women’s equal participation in public and political life, and highlights the abhorrence of violence against women.

Senior Ennahda leaders have always favored a parliamentarian system of governance, but they signed off on a constitution that defines Tunisia as being a republic: where the president is the top executive, where the people (not some interpretation of religious texts) has the ultimate authority, and where representatives of the people share governing responsibilities with the president. The new constitution emphasizes the principle of separation of powers, sets an absolute term limit for holding the presidency, and establishes a judicial system that is both independent and reflective of the will of the people (the composition of the constitutional court is determined by both the executive and the legislature branches).

In short, the new constitution lays the foundation for a pluralistic system that could empower all Tunisians and end the era of authoritarianism. Ennahda’s relative flexibility and willingness to step away from power at this juncture might be the only and best opportunity for the movement to avoid the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood and preserve public support, which it will need in the critically important elections ahead.

Of course, like any other constitution, Tunisia’s new constitution is not perfect. For instance, the language associated with the first two articles, the most important and most controversial in entire document, seems to confuse two critical concepts: nation and state. That problem could be avoided if the first and second articles are interpreted like so: (1) Tunisia is a free nation (watan/ummah; not dawlah), independent, sovereign, Islam is its national religion, Arabic is its national language, and republicanism is its form of governance; (2) the Tunisian state is civil, founded on citizenship, the will of the people, and the supremacy of the law.

The distinction between state and nation would rectify some of the misconceptions about the place of religion in society and in state institutions. Many Western interpreters of Arab constitutions contend that Islam is codified as the “state” religion. The language and use of the term “dawlah” perpetuates that misunderstanding, which if taken to be true, would make Article 1 and Article 2 contradictory: how can an Islamic state also be a civil state and treat all citizens—Muslims and non-Muslims—equally?

Distinguishing between state and nation means that there is no contradiction in holding that Islam is the religion of the country/nation (given that the majority are indeed Muslim), but the state with all its governing institutions is civil and treats all citizens equally regardless of religious affiliation. This interpretation would soften any harmful interpretations of Article 6, which states that “the state looks after (ra`yah) religion, fosters freedom of belief and conscience and the practice of religious rites, protects the sacred, and guarantees the status of mosques and places of worship as neutral space–free from partisan politics.” It would also make sure that the state does not define orthodoxy or discriminate on sectarian or religious grounds. However, failure to distinguish between making Islam the national religion and making Islam the state religion could empower the government to determine orthodoxy and use that authority to suppress freedom of thought and expression. The state can conceivably privilege a particular religion as part of collective national identity without harm, but that privilege must be balanced by strong safeguards for freedom of thought and expression.

The amendment clauses, too, are ambiguous and leave room for an interpretation that could create two separate paths for amending the constitution. Specifically, it seems that amendments could either pass through the parliament or occur by popular referendum. If the latter, the president could put an amendment directly to the voters and then ask the parliament to approve it by a simple majority, whereas an amendment originating in parliament would require a two-thirds majority. It is not clear whether these different thresholds are the intended result, or whether these clauses represent a poorly-considered balance of power that could result in careless amendments to this foundational document.

These are decisive times for Tunisia. Once again, the people and their representatives have a chance to prove that the Arab Spring was not a fluke, that non-violence is the only constructive path for social change, that Islam is compatible with representative governance, and that authoritarianism is not the only guarantor of security and stability. Tunisians can provide a hopeful model for Arab societies that is worthy of the Arab peoples’ past sacrifices and honors those who struggled for social justice and suffered torture, exile, imprisonment, and death.

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

News Analysis: Is France now fighting the same kind of groups it armed and assisted in Libya?

News Analysis: Is France now fighting the same kind of groups it armed and assisted in Libya?

It may be a long while before we know the details about France’s sudden intervention in Mali. After all, Mali’s armed forces lost control of parts of the country many years ago. Mali’s political leaders have asked for help many months ago. Yet, suddenly, France, with little warning, launched an aerial bombing campaign to push back armed Salafi groups, Ansar al-Din, who were seen (by satellite and surveillance airplanes) rapidly moving south, possibly towards the capital, Bamako. When the bombing failed to dislodge the Ansar, France decided to insert ground troops which would mean that this intervention will be a long one.
The surprise intervention might have a military value, but it also risked the lives of many civilians since it did not give governments any time to upgrade security around vulnerable facilities. The workers taken hostage in Algeria is just one example.

The French intervention highlights another problem. The west does not seem to have a principled strategy to deal with the changes taking place in the Arab world. First most western governments hesitated to support the peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Additionally, western governments continue to support the Arab authoritarian rulers of the Gulf States (French president was visiting UAE when his forces launched the  attacks). Still, the same governments provided unlimited support to armed, violent rebels in Libya and Syria. Without doubt, the groups France is fighting in Mali are not that different from the groups it supported in Libya and is supporting now in Syria.
The most alarming thing is that the Jihadi Salafis western governments are now fighting come from the same generation of fighters they trained in Afghanistan. That means that they are yet to deal with the generation of Libya and Syria Jihadi fighters they have sponsored, which means that the west’s conflict with violent Salafi groups is made perpetual.
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News Analysis: French intervention in Mali and the paradox of foe-ally militant Salafism

News Analysis: French intervention in Mali and the paradox of foe-ally militant Salafism

Based on recent events, observers might be mystified by the seemingly unprincipled French involvement in regional and world crises. When the Tunisian uprising that jump-started the Arab Spring began, French leaders sided with the regime and prominent French politicians fell from grace after the revolution succeeded in removing Ben Ali. Then, France did not take any public role in the Egyptian uprising. 
When the Arab Spring reached Libya, France was the most enthusiastic western country for starting military action that resulted in the killing of Qaddafi and the establishment of the new regime. At that time, most observers thought that the Libyan oil was the primary motive that pushed France to take the lead in NATO’s operations in Libya. Former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, admitted that much when he said, after the fall of Qaddafi, that France should have the lions’ share in the oil business in Libya. However, despite his success overseas, the French people were not happy and fired Sarkozy.
When the new president, Francois Hollande, took over, many expected a more measured response to world crises. His first test was Syria. He initially kept his distance from the opposition that was represented in the Syrian National Council. That might have been a cautious move to keep Turkey’s influence under control since that group was seen as being too close to Turkey. When the U.S. and Qatar engineered the dismantling of the Syrian National Council and replacing it with the Syrian National Coalition, France was the first country in the world to recognize it as “the sole and legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” Whatever strategy they have had in mind, it does not seem that it worked since the Syrian Coalition is just as incompetent as its predecessor in terms of having real influence inside Syria.

Moreover, the Syrian Coalition was unable to control extremist groups like Jabhat al-Nusrah, which the U.S. placed on the list of terrorist organizations. The U.S.’s move was criticized by the president of Syrian Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-khatib,  and that was enough for western countries to become more skeptical of the ability  of the Syrian Coalition to meet its obligations. Minimally, western countries wanted secular groups within the Syrian opposition to have a bigger role. That did not happen and the fear of al-Qaeda taking over a leading role in Syria overrode the west’s desire to overthrow an unfriendly authoritarian.
Late last week (on Friday), France, again, surprised the world by starting a military campaign against militant Salafis in northern Mali. Over the weekend, France bombed positions of Ansar al-Din and stationed over 700 French troops inside Mali to stop Ansar al-Din’s advances. Another 2,000 French troops will be sent to Mali soon, according to French authorities. This is happening while French citizens were killed in Somalia on the hands of another al-Qaeda affiliate, Shabab al-Islam (aka Ash-shabab).
Seeking more support, the French president visited the Gulf States where he declared from the United Arab Emirates that he expects these states to provide military and financial help.
Mali has been in turmoil for years and very few paid attention. Previously, some of the natives of this Saharan country, the Touereg, have been fighting to end discrimination, marginalization, and neglect. But in recently years, Salafi groups became more and more active in the region. Relying on the discipline of their members and the generosity of their private and state sponsors from the Gulf region, the Salafis were able to achieve in months what the Touereg rebels could not achieve in years. With the chaos in Libya, more weapons and personnel made their way to northern Mali. Last summer, a military coup paralyzed the central government and Ansar al-Din used that opportunity to expand their control and influence. 
France’s intervention, then, can be explained by its fear over threats to its interest in western Africa in general and the prospect of one of Africa’s mineral rich countries falling in  the hands of al-Qaeda affiliates. Mali has huge untapped gold mines as well as other natural resources. Gold, especially, is proven to be the preferred currency for countries and groups that are facing scrutiny from the west. Mali, therefore, became the epicenter of convergence of conflicting interests.
Despite the distance, France’s intervention in Mali may create a new reality in Syria. After all, the similarities (and links) between Ansar al-Din in Mali, Ansar al-Shari`a in Libya and Tunisia, and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria make it very hard for western countries to explain why they are waging war on these related groups in Africa but providing them, via their Gulf allies, with support, military and otherwise, in Syria.

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Egyptian military and Brotherhood in high stakes game of brinkmanship

Egyptian military and Brotherhood in high stakes game of brinkmanship

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Before his ouster, Hosni Mubarak fired a desperate, last shot. He handed over all his authorities to the military, from whose ranks he rose to power. He reasoned that if he cannot keep power, he should preserve influence. Since then, the military has walked a tight line between appeasing the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and protecting the old regime. The Muslim Brotherhood, too, practiced smart politicking by standing at an equal distance between the revolutionary youth who wanted a total break with the old regime (including the military). Both sides, the military and the Brotherhood, managed the transition like skillful chess masters. 


The military did not move a single step forward unless necessitated by events in Tahrir Square. From drafting the blueprint to electing new legislature to commencing Mubarak’s trial, the military never initiated actions to speed the transition to civilian rule, which the generals promised will take place within six months, or punish those guilty of corruption and murdering protesters. 

The parliamentarian and consultative elections finally happened (late last year and early this one) and the result was alarming for the military and the old guard. Over seventy percent of the seats went to various Islamist parties, Mubaraks’ most formidable nemesis. However, since the military was able to preserve some of the old institutions such as the media and the courts, it was able to manage the events in ways that preserved its interests despite Islamists’ gains.
When the first round of presidential elections produced a head-to-head contest between a representative of Mubarak’s regime and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the old guard, represented in the constitutional high court, effectively launched an Algerian style coup, dissolving an elected institution. The court also allowed the last prime minister under Mubarak to compete for the presidency. Potentially, the court’s ruling could result in incalculable results for all sides. For this reason, contradicting statements were released by key players and nervous quiet followed the event.

Immediately after the release of the ruling, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Beltagy, described it to be a coup. The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate however, Mohamed Morsi, denied that there was a coup and insisted that he is moving forward with his campaign. He insisted, nonetheless, that elections’ results could be falsified and threatened a second revolution should that happen. Many activists and revolutionaries were simply too stunned by the ruling to react.

Apparently, on Saturday and Sunday, Egyptians will use the ballot box to create a new form of dictatorship, given the absence of a legislature and a constitution. If they elect Morsi, he may dissolve the court and reinstate the parliament which would serve to rubber stamp his decisions. Should he do so, the military may challenge the will of an elected president to preserve the ruling of a court from the era of a de-legitimized regime and that could produce protracted chaos. If Ahmed Shafik wins, he would likely support the court’s ruling and recreate the old regime with the consent and assistance of the military.  Either way, due to the failure of the revolution to purge the country of the old regime’s leaders and institutions, a new form of dictatorship could be in the making and the military and Mubarak are responsible for it, again.

Related articles:

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. 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.

What is on the mind of Arab media

What is on the mind of Arab media

Tunisia’ new leaders wanted to celebrate the revolution that deposed the old regime and ushered in representative governance. So they invited other Arab heads of state, but only several showed up. Of course, this is not a normal gathering. It is one that reminded the Arab rulers that they will all go unless they reform. Reportedly, the new Tunisian leaders sent invitations but only the leaders of Algeria, Libya, Qatar, and Mauritanian showed up. The rest of the countries sent low level representatives just to be polite. Tunisian media noticed this awkward party moment.

Although Tunisia and Egypt have more or less moved to representative governance with bloodless revolutions that removed the strong regimes of Ben Ali and Mubarak, the Libyan uprising was bloody and cruel. Nearly 50,000 people are said to have lost their lives and there are daily reports of gun battles between competing rebel factions. The instability in Libya did not go unnoticed in other Arab countries. Consequently, enthusiasm for revolutions is brought under check especially in places like Yemen and Syria. Arab media took notice of the change in attitude. 
Here are some of the other themes discussed in several influential Arab news outlets recently.
Russia moves to limit its losses, editorialized the pan-Arab newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi:

“If you want to know the odds of a war taking place in the Middle East, just keep track of the statements out of Moscow and Washington and the movements of their respective vessels and aircraft carriers – especially now that Russia is waking up from a period of hibernation and is coming back strongly in the region to protect its interests.”

The newspaper argued that Russia will not lose another Arab ally to the West. “Having taken stock of such a major loss, Russia is now determined to counter forcefully any US attempts to topple the Syrian and Iranian regimes,” the newspaper concluded.
The newspaper pointed to the Russian ship loaded with weapons reportedly sent to Syria as evidence of this shift in policy adding that the “Russian aircraft carrier and other warships arrived in Syria’s Tartous port” are a show of force aimed at reassuring Asad that military intervention will be met with military resistance:

“By dispatching an aircraft carrier and shiploads of weapons and other hazardous materials, Russia wants to send out a strong and unequivocal message to Arab governments and the United States, that it will not let down its Syrian and Iranian allies, after it has already lost Qaddafi’s Libya and Saddam’s Iraq.”

To make matters very clear, Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian envoy to Nato since 2008, who was appointed in December as his country’s vice premier for defense industries, said last week that “any military intervention having to do with Iran’s nuclear program will be considered a threat to Russia’s national security.”
U.S. image in the Arab world: “soldiers abusing Muslims is a pattern” 
Another issue that was picked by the Arab media is the US soldiers’ scandal. Sharjah-based newspaper al-Khaleej editorialized that U.S. soldiers violating their own laws, like urinating on dead bodies, are not isolated cases; they are patterns of behavior. The paper referred to the humiliating treatment of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison several years ago and said that that “showed how US soldiers were having fun dehumanizing prisoners in unimaginable ways.” The paper contended that other cases, such as “al-Nisour Square incident in Baghdad in 2007, when US soldiers killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians for no reason.”  Guantanamo Bay, the newspaper argued “is yet another flagrant example of the violation of basic human rights.” The latest incident in Afghanistan is not “isolated or individual”, the newspaper said. “It is a function of the usual method adopted by the US forces in Afghanistan and previously in Iraq.”

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

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

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.

A Middle East run by Islamists: Should Western Powers Freak Out?

A Middle East run by Islamists: Should Western Powers Freak Out?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

In 39 days, three Arab countries held critical elections, Tunisia (October 23), Morocco (November 25), and Egypt (November 28-9). Although the elections in these countries have different contexts and implications, the three events have several things in common. First, the elections were made possible directly or indirectly by the Arab Awakening of early 2011. Second, before the Awakening, Western powers had labeled these three countries as “moderate,” a euphemism for undemocratic regimes run by a westernized elite. Last, these elections brought to power Islamist parties and groups that the west has labeled “extremists.” So should western governments now freak out?
In the short run, maybe. In the long run, not at all. Here is why.


1. Extremists are more dangerous when they are outside the political system than when they are inside it.

Some radical extremists choose to stay outside the system because they don’t believe in it or perceive it as illegitimate, whether for political or religious reasons. So they stay outside the system and in some cases they undertake work to overthrow it by any means necessary. In contrast, there are other groups and movements that were kept outside the system against their wish. Those groups are likely to adopt radical ways to make their voice heard or until they are invited in. The Islamist and nationalist groups that participated in the recent elections belong to the latter category. Members of these groups have been exiled, imprisoned, and demonized by the Arab regimes since their countries became independent. The Arab Awakening offered them a chance to be part of the political system and they are taking advantage of it. Will it change their extremist ways? Absolutely. Many cases from around the world support this view.

2. Almost all extremist leaders and groups tone down their rhetoric and actions once they are in power

As soon the preliminary results were announced, al-Nahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi made a number of reconciliatory announcements telling western governments that his party will honor all previous commitments to foreign governments. He also told Tunisians who voted for his party that his government will not scale back personal freedoms. 

To take another example, Hamas was a group shunned by western powers as a terrorist organization until it won the 2006 elections and took charge of Gaza. At that point, it completely stopped the bombings carried out by its members. The movement managed to maintain an unofficial truce with Israel, reducing the number of cross-border rocket attacks. Recently, its political leaders have announced that the movement will give “popular resistance” a chance, signaling shift in military strategy and an acceptance of a political settlement.  

3. Even extremists must respect the rules of the game that brought them to power

The Islamist parties are coming to power through the ballot boxes, not bullets. They are taking over the reins after popular uprisings that ousted authoritarian, corrupt regimes. Their success and their rise to power testify to the fact that oppression does not last and that people eventually win over tyranny. Islamist leaders are aware that their ability to hold on to power depends on their ability to earn and maintain the trust of the voters. Moreover, it is unlikely that former political prisoners who were tortured and exiled could easily turn into torturers of political dissenters—their old selves.

4. The people will not tolerate new dictatorships
Despite their impressive electoral accomplishments, Islamist parties cannot take full credit for ending tyrannical rule. The three elections’ results show that voters trust them to lead but not control. In fact, in Tunisia and Morocco, Islamist parties cannot form a government on their own and must enter into alliances with other political parties to secure a governing majority. That political circumstance is a resounding rejection of tyranny, whether in the form of one individual ruling in the name of God or a political party ruling in the name of the voters. Consequently, the new Islamist leaders cannot use religion as a cover, or culture as an excuse to extend their rule beyond the mandate given them by the voters. God did not vote.

5. The new Middle East is not run by the “friends” of the West
In western discourse, extremism has been portrayed as an Arab or Islamic phenomenon. Some went as far as to suggest that Islam is not compatible with representative governance. Consequently, western powers were content with a foreign policy that supported “friendly” and “moderate” leaders who oppressed their peoples. Israel especially, showered Mubarak and other friendly rulers with praise, while poking fun at their societies as undemocratic and prone to extremism. Some Israeli leaders criticized the U.S. for not supporting Mubarak, on the basis that fair elections would bring extremists like the Muslim Brethren to power (Here is a sample). This line of reasoning came from a governing coalition that is–by all accounts–the most conservative and extreme in the history of that country. True, all indications show that the new Arab world will be run by conservative Islamist and nationalist parties (albeit democratically elected). But how is that different from the current Israeli governing coalition that consists of the staunchly religious United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Home parties, and the super-conservative Likud party. In fact, the current ruling regime is so extreme that many lifelong Jewish activists have voiced their dissatisfaction with its radical agenda: 

When, however, laws are passed that stifle free expression, seek to undermine the independence of the judiciary and, in the name of defending a Jewish state, seek to undermine the rights of Arabs and other minorities, then the very democratic character of the state is being eroded. [Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Huffington Post, 11/30, 2011]

So, if western powers are not freaking out about a right wing government in Israel, why should they freak out about Islamist-run emerging democracies in the Arab world? In fact, elected governments in the Middle East might advance the cause of peace and stability—assuming the theory that democracies don’t go to war with each other hold true. 

6. Western regimes overestimated the influence of the liberal elite and underestimated the popularity of Islamist and nationalist movements
Reacting to the results of the elections in Egypt, an Egypt expert told the Washington Post (on December 1) that “in the end, the liberal groups are not popular and not organized.” For years, western commentators argued that in fair and transparent elections, Islamists would not fare well. Although that theory was debunked twice in Iraq under the watch of American troops when Sunni and Shi`i parties outlasted the well-funded secular ones led by Allawi and Chalebi, many continue to argue that the Islamists’ gains can be explained by the fact that the secular parties did not have enough time to prepare. Western politicians (from the left and right) have a curious expectation of the Islamic world. In their eyes, Muslims must all embrace liberal and secular ideas, to the exclusion of religious ideals. Domestically, however, these Western liberals and conservatives are not alarmed by the rise of religious and conservative politicians. The “shellacking” the Democrats received in 2010 U.S. midterm elections when they lost the House to conservative Republicans can be easily explained away. But the persistence of conservatism in Islamic society alarms them.

The elections in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt ought to humble those who hold this double standard. They ought to admit that their attitude is partly to blame for the lack of popularity of liberal and secular groups in Islamic societies. They must have faith in the transformative power of choice that people exert after being faced with brute force that strips them of their dignity and self-respect. The Tunisian, Moroccan, and Egyptian voters are giving the Islamists and centrists a chance to restore their hope in a dignified future. If they work for that, we all ought to support it.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of Politics of Appearances. 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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