Writing in recent days about the siege of Madaya in Syria, where 28 people were deliberately allowed to starve to death, made me ponder on the dark shadow of human cruelty that always hangs over our daily lives.
What is it that makes a presumably intelligent, well educated couple like President Assad and London-born wife Asma, who have 2 healthy children of their own, stand back and let other people’s children 30 miles away die from malnutrition and lack of food?
The Assads had the power to change that in an instant.
They could have supplied medical assistance that would have kept the starving alive, but chose not to do that either, because of politics and religion – the victims all belonged to wrong (Sunni) sect.
By contrast Alawite/Shia, supporters of the regime, trapped by an opposition siege in Kefraya and Al Fuah have received fairly regular airdrops of food and other supplies.
Similarly, what makes members of the Islamic State in sickening acts of cruelty, behead people, burn them alive or suicide bomb innocent tourists to death?
The acts of cruelty in war are endless. It’s as though the state of war “gives permission” for common humanity to be completely and illegally suspended – though the boundary between war combatants and non-combatants is becoming increasingly blurred.
And it is not just in war that cruelty manifests, we see it around us almost every day.
Take the cases of acid attack victims. More than 200 in the UK over the last 2 years and an estimated 1,000 a year in India, many of them there never officially reported or treated.
They also occur in the USA and South America and across Europa and Asia. In Bangladesh there have been 3,512 people attacked with acid between 1999 and 2013 alone, though annual numbers are at last reducing.
Acid attacks melt distinctive facial features like noses and ears that most of us take for granted, disfigures bodies, take away sight, cause deafness and ruin lives. The emotional and psychological damage is immeasurable.
Iqbal in Pakistan, a very handsome young man, was just 15 years old when he was attacked with acid.
He was a passionate dancer and danced professionally with his parents in wedding processions.
One night, Iqbal was approached by another man who sexually propositioned him but Iqbal said he wasn’t interested.
While sleeping at home along with his family, Iqbal had acid poured over his head.
He was left blind in both eyes by the attack and his lips and neck burned so badly that eating and drinking are extremely painful.
Iqbal is from a family of poor wood cutters, who dance to earn extra income.
Now aged 20 he is at last receiving treatment for the first time in 5 years. (You can read more and/or donate at Acid Survivors Trust International)
It is not just our fellow humans that human beings are cruel to. It is also animals.
The reports of animals starved and beaten to death are endless on the Internet, including many animals that were supposedly “pets” or destined for our dinner plates.
And then you have the bizarre phenomena of people who lovingly care for their pets but starve or are cruel to their children.
All of which goes contrary to our natural instincts.
From a biological point of view, newly born and young children and animals are “cute”, innocent and appealing precisely to trigger an affectionate and protective bonding response from those around them, particularly their parents.
We have all probably done cruel things to people, animals or insects at some time in our lives, however “good” we try to be.
I have to confess that I once worked in a zoo where we had to feed the owls and other birds of prey with day-old-chicks.
If we had put live chicks into the cages for the birds to kill there would have rightly been a public outcry, so every week a box of freshly hatched little miracles would arrive at the zoo – and one by one we killed them by breaking their necks and storing them in the fridge.
After a short while, a friend and I could no longer do it – every death felt like an emotional knife wound and eventually such cruel actions became impossible.
Human cruelty and lack of care, which in regard to the young or the elderly can also be cruel, is a result of a disconnect with our feelings to one degree or another. The less we truly feel, the more we can separate ourselves from and ignore what goes on around us.
And we stop feeling of course when we are so full of pain and distress ourselves that feeling it threatens our functioning. Depression, is precisely that, pressing down our painful feelings, but those suffering depression are more likely to harm themselves than be cruel to others.
The dangerous ones are those that are so disconnected from their feelings that they act them out without taking responsibility for those actions. Rage, jealousy, rejection, fear, feelings of inadequacy or other strong emotions can trigger acts of cruelty, often on the weaker and most vulnerable.
Facing up to cruelty of many kinds in our world is not an easy thing to do. It is noticeable with my blog that when I write about people “starving to death” for example, the views of the site immediately go down and when I write about “battles and victories”, the number of views goes up! (It will be interesting to see how this article fares)
Extraordinarily, at the other side of the human coin, sometimes out of cruelty, pain and suffering some good things come.
Laxmi Saa, one of the acid victims mentioned above, was attacked when she was 15 years old merely because she rejected an offer of marriage. Her attacker got just 3 years for disfiguring her for life.
Despite her injuries, Laxmi is well known in India for her campaign to get the sale of acid regulated, because it is far too easy to buy and misuse it.
Now a designer clothes company in India, Viva N Diva, is employing and empowering her as a model for its latest range. Kudos and respect to the company and to Laxmi for her bravery and determination. (You can read more at the BBC)
Finally, what can we do in our own lives to lift the dark shadow of human cruelty hanging over the world?
We can certainly challenge, report and remove cruelty from our own life in whichever form it appears.
As I always say, if you can’t be right, be kind. No-one, animal or human, deserves cruelty.
Firstly, I wish all my readers a Happy New Year plus good health, prosperity and lots of love and kindness throughout 2016. Many thanks to all of you who visited my blog throughout 2015 – 719,764 times to be precise! Which is a phenomenal increase on the previous year (244,133).
I started this blog on January 1st 2011, so today is my 5th anniversary. In those 5 years the blog has had in excess of 1.29 million visitors and was read by an average of 1,972 people a day from 198 countries in 2015.
For many though, will it be a happier new year in 2016?
Across the world there are now thousands affected by extreme climate change phenomena. In the US hurricanes and tornadoes have destroyed homes and killed householders, in the UK some people had their homes flooded for the 3rd time in a month and it will be months before they can get back in, and in South America tens of thousands are displaced after rivers 6 metres above their normal levels burst their banks. And that was only December.
There will, unfortunately, be a lot worse to come unless we get to grips with what we are collectively doing to the planet.
For Syria and Iraq, about which I have written extensively, things still look grim. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, and more than 10 million have been displaced from their homes. Tens of thousands more have fled to Europe or eke out a desperate existence in a refugee camp. Thousands have died, including many children, trying to make it across the Mediterranean “to a better life” in the EU.
And it does not look to get better any day soon. While politicians and diplomats endlessly talk, on the ground the fighting continues all day, every day and thousands more needlessly die or are seriously maimed or injured. Add to that the appalling, unfeeling and devilish actions of the Islamic State, and there does not seem a great deal to be optimistic about.
But optimistic I am. Every bad and hateful action leaves a residue of energy which eventually builds to a good reaction against it. The worse things get, the greater the demand for a positive response.
Too often we feel helpless and that there is little we can do. But there is. If you have spare cash donate to those groups that are making a difference. If you don’t, give some time or energy to those groups. If you do not have those either, support the petitions of human rights groups across the world who fight against the false imprisonment of individuals and for suppressed and threatened communities irrespective of their race, sex or religion. There is no shortage of causes.
For my part, I will continue to highlight events which mainstream media often ignore once the ratings start to sag and do my best to angle everything towards human rights and an appreciation that we are all equally human ( unless, of course, like the Islamic State and other barbarians, people descend into inhumanity and madness). Plus, in the darkness, the odd spark of humour and stories to uplift and inspire.
I also hope to produce some other work to personally help and grow the confidence of everyone not functioning to their full capacity. Watch this space.
In the mean time, if you can’t be right – be kind. Stand up and be counted when its appropriate and right, and stand back and observe when it is not. And we will see if the world is a better place in 2017. But until then I wish you all ….
Peter Clifford 1st January 2016
Frankly, the world has little choice but to fight the Islamic State. So as 2015 ends I offer 7 strategies to defeat the Islamic State in 2016.
It is a movement that is violent, cruel, irreligious and without compassion and it cannot be left to dominate and destroy social structures in the Middle East or elsewhere.
Modern society in either the West or the East is not perfect. It is riven with failed attempts at equality, plurality, democracy and inclusivity – but it has progressed and most of us benefit to one degree or another from this stuttering progress.
I can write this blog because I live in a society which protects my right, by and large, to express my views.
Still not so in many countries in the world where some significant powers have poor human rights and lock up bloggers because they dare to expose an attitude that is contrary to that of the ruling elite.
But unless all of us stand up against the Islamic State (IS), then any rights we currently enjoy, however tentative, will be swept away.
IS administers by rules of its own creation, fear and demonstrations of violence to subdue opposition. It is not interested in negotiating compromise.
Personally, I am against war and violence and I hate bombs and guns. But when your family is threatened do you hold to those feelings as “inviolate principles” or do you defend your family?
Although it clearly may take more than a year, I therefore put forward (in no particular order) these 7 strategies to defeat the Islamic State in 2016.
1. Moslems – Stand Up For the Society in Which You Live:
All those Moslems who oppose the actions of the Islamic State need to stand up for the countries and society’s in which they live.
It is not enough just to condemn the dreadful actions of IS and their misguided adherents in Paris, Tunisia, the US and across the world. It is necessary for Moslems to shun fear of persecution and stand up and say, “We oppose this obscenity. We support and are part of this community and will defend its right to exist and its values”.
And be willing to question Islamic attitudes to violence and religious beliefs.
In the Tennessee town of Chattanooga in the US they have set an example by doing just that.
Last July four Marines and a Sailor were killed in Chattanooga, recently described as America’s “most bible-minded city”, by a young Moslem who grew up there and who went on a mindless rampage.
Mindful of President Obama’s call for Moslems to both condemn violence and build stronger ties to their non-Moslem neighbours, Bassam Issa, the president of the “Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga”, has been giving talks in local schools and colleges.
In them Mr Issa tells students that “What’s happening right now is not religious, even though IS and Al Qaeda are covered as a religious thing. In reality, it’s political.”
And he is right. It’s the politics of domination through control, violence and murder rather than the ballot box.
Dr. Mohsin Ali, a child psychiatrist and another member of the Chattanooga Islamic Society, said “We can’t ignore the fact that violent extremists use an interpretation of the very same books and texts that we use. I feel like the Muslim community does need to do more”.
The day after the killings in Chattanooga at a memorial service for the killed servicemen, Dr Ali told the congregation that he and other Moslems in the city were grieving alongside everyone else.
He then asked the Moslems in the Baptist Church to stand as a sign of the allegiance to Chattanooga and to peace. When dozens of Moslems stood, the rest of the congregation applauded loudly.
That’s the way forward. Coming together rather than tearing apart.
We are all in this – our religious or non-religious beliefs are irrelevant.
2. THE REST OF US – STAND UP FOR MOSLEMS:
Using the events of IS and its followers to justify anti-Moslem beliefs, actions and opinions is just ignorance and blind stupidity.
It’s a sign of the immature using their inadequacy and personal anger (whatever the origins) to dump on others. If you feel that way, look deep inside yourself – not at scapegoats.
Apart from which Moslems are not hereditarily more violent than the rest of us.
The whole history of Christianity is full of violence against “non-believers” and non-conforming sects. Buddhists (the supposedly “peaceful religion”) are accused of dreadful atrocities against the Rohingya in northern Myanmar (Burma). “Spreading atheist thought” is a crime punishable by imprisonment in Saudi Arabia.
At the end of the day we are all fellow human beings put on this planet presumably to exercise our individuality and creativity. Therefore, our diversity should be celebrated and respected as our community’s strength – not undermined or attacked and made into its weakness.
3. OPPOSE SECTARIANISM:
Sectarianism, the belief that my sect (of the same religion) is better than your sect, is about as bright as the stupidity of anti-Moslem feelings described above.
And it is probably the biggest problem affecting the Middle East today, polarising the Sunnis, led by Saudi Arabia, on one side and the Shiites (Shia), led by Iran, on the other.
In fact, the rise of the Islamic State can be traced back to Sunni suppression and sectarianism in Iraq. After the fall of Saddam Hussain, a Sunni who had persecuted the Shia (and Kurds) for years, Shiite politicians gained power in Iraq and excluded the Sunni.
Some of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq were taken over by former Sunni military officers in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, who fanned the flames of Sunni dissent, and hey presto the Islamic State emerges with an extreme Sunni orientated philosophy.
Considering the difference between Sunnis and Shiites is based on who they revere as the family leaders of Prophet Mohammad’s legacy and all the clashes, deaths and abuses that have followed, it’s up there with the Inquisition which the Roman Catholic Church imposed on others in various forms in Europe between the 12th and 19th Centuries, killing and torturing tens of thousands.
Pointless abuse which seeks to impose thought control on others.
4. KEEP ATTACKING ISLAMIC STATE FINANCE:
According to research at the beginning of December, the Islamic State rakes in about $80 million a month, $1.1 million a day coming from oil sales alone. The rest of their income comes from emptying banks, selling antiquities, ransoms and local taxation (“zakat”).
According to the report an IS “Emir” known as Abu Fatima Al-Tunisi ran off with $25,000 worth of “zakat”, leaving a note on Twitter for his “comrades” saying, “What state? What caliphate? You idiots.”
Then there is the problem of “50,000 ghost soldiers”, with commanders drawing salaries for say 250 men a month, when in fact they only have 150 in their brigade.
To deal with the problem IS sent round administrators who paid the salaries in person, but then they made deals with the commanders to get a cut, with the same result.
In other words, corruption within the Islamic State is rife, again saying much about the spiritual nature of the organisation – or lack of spirituality in general.
At the same time, the Coalition and Russia should continue dismantling IS oil processing plants, tankers and well heads, making them unusable, and the world’s financial markets should block any attempts to do business with them or seize any transferred funds where they are identified.
Turkey, Israel and Assad have all been accused of buying IS oil and it is probably true as it comes through middle-men who ship it around the Middle East for a profit until its origins are obscure.
Easy to say that people should stop paying ransom bribes – but more difficult to adhere to when members of your family and community are imprisoned and brutalised by members of this loathsome organisation.
5. CONTINUE PRECISION BOMBING ON THE ISLAMIC STATE:
As I said at the beginning, I am no lover of military solutions – but sometimes there is no choice because IS and their followers are bloodily killing anyone they can.
Precision bombing by Coalition aircraft has done a remarkably good job with few collateral civilian deaths, hitting IS military targets time after time and empowering groups like the Kurds to advance and take territory away from the Jihadists.
Preferably there should be no civilian deaths at all but clearly IS hangers-on do know by now what they are in for if they stay.
By contrast, random and indiscriminate bombing by the Assad regime and now the Russian Air force too, has killed thousands of innocent civilians in the last 4 years and Assad’s Air Force are by far and away the biggest killers of civilians in Syria, far more than IS.
6. BATTLE THE ISLAMIC STATE ON MANY FRONTS:
In 2015 the Kurds in northern Syria have nearly tripled the territory they control, while at the same time they have helped to reduce the size of the IS caliphate by 14%.
One of the reasons that the Kurds (YPG/YPJ) in Syria have been so successful, apart from their innate determination and passion to survive, is that IS have found themselves stretched on too many fronts fighting too many battles and the Kurds have taken advantage of that.
According to analysis by the security company IHS Jane’s, IS activity in areas it controls has recently been most intense around Baghdad in Iraq and Damascus in Syria and much less near Kurdish controlled areas, suggesting they were overstretched.
When the Kurdish YPG for instance launched a campaign to retake Tal Abyad in northern Syria near the Turkish border, the forces of the Islamic State were widely spread elsewhere fighting battles in central and western Syria and in Iraq.
“The remaining forces in Tal Abyad were so depleted that they had to be re-enforced with… religious police units from Raqqa,” says IHS Jane’s.
While IS will continue no doubt to use the strategy of surprise, popping up unexpectedly in the most unlikely places, all other sides battling them on multiple fronts will put their fighters and their command and control structures under severe strain. That tension can’t be maintained indefinitely.
Along with this, arm, train and equip those who are most effective against IS and send in special forces not only to guide and help forces like the Kurds with air support but to conduct raids to take out the IS leadership.
7. GIVE IT TIME TO SELF DESTRUCT:
As long as everyone keeps up the pressure, time itself will see the Islamic State degrade and self-destruct.
Firstly, disillusion will set in, with the foreigners in particular discovering the caliphate is not the “earthly paradise” it was cracked-up to be. Living in dirty, and uncomfortable, dangerous conditions with bombs raining down and expensive food and electricity in short supply is probably not what they signed up for.
Escaping is not so easy either. A 17 year old Austrian girl who travelled to Syria to join IS last year, Sabra Kesinovic, is thought to have been beaten to death as she tried to escape in November. Many other potential escapees have been caught near the Turkish border and shot.
Secondly, a number of Sunni tribes who originally gave their allegiance to IS have also changed their mind and some have paid a terrible price for their “disloyalty” – around 900 members of the Al-Shaitat tribe in eastern Syria are believed to have been executed, crucified and beheaded.
The Islamic State’s aim with this is to spread terror and prevent further physical desertions, but it won’t prevent the loss of hearts and minds, it will only accelerate it.
Thirdly, the Islamic State is also riddled with corruption, as mentioned earlier. That will only increase as those in a position to take advantage of it will recognise a “sinking ship” when the see it and get out with their booty while they can.
Fourthly, IS was very successful in winning hearts and minds initially in areas it went into by providing food handouts and community services including financial support. With time that will become more and more difficult to sustain and be outweighed by its cruel and unjust treatment of those it believes have transgressed their rules.
And with time, those who were attracted to IS for “spiritual” reasons will eventually see that the whole organisation was cynically built around a religious philosophy to justify its actions, when in fact almost everything it does is against all modern definitions of decency and humanity and decidely “unspiritual”.
Can the Islamic State be eliminated completely? Probably not. Like Al Qaeda it will linger on in the warped minds and heads of those with vengeful personal agendas looking for an excuse to justify themselves.
But like Al Qaeda, it can be contained.
There is no shortage of problems in the world that need solutions, but this is the most pressing and like the Nazi threat of World War ll it must be met head on. Implementing the above 7 strategies to defeat the Islamic State in 2016 will go a long way to make that happen.
What is the anatomy of an Islamic State Jihadist?
I don’t mean physically – they come in all shapes and sizes just like the rest of us – male and female.
I mean, what emotional and psychological state turns people, often with a mild, quiet background, into fanatical, ruthless, cold-blooded killers?
After almost 35 years working as a counsellor and psychotherapist I guess I know a little about why people behave the way they do, though I have worked mainly with the victims of extreme behaviour, rather than the extremists themselves.
What I am certain of though is that no baby is born as an extremist, a torturer or a murderer with no regard for the value of their own life or anyone else’s.
All of that is learnt behaviour and the big questions are how, why and where?
It is not straightforward, there are at least 6 different types of Jihadists.
1. First there are the religious fanatics. These must be distinguished from the genuine religiously pious who can be found in all faiths, not just Islam.
It’s one thing to be believe deeply in your God, your faith and its religious practices and try to live a good and honest life even if others do not share or understand the depth of your commitment.
It’s very much another, when you start to believe that anyone who does not share your God, your beliefs and your commitment is an “infidel”, opposed to you and your faith and “God” or “your prophet” commands that they be converted to your faith or destroyed.
There are plenty of examples of cults in the West that have almost gone that far, regarding “outsiders”, non-believers as less worthy human beings and a threat to the core structure of the “faith” or organisation.
2. Secondly there is a large body of people who feel disregarded, rejected by their family and those around them and the society in which they live, and for whom feeling lost and of little value is a prospect that is likely to haunt them for the rest of their lives.
People like this can be found in all cultures, within all religions or with none and in all countries. It comes mainly from poor child rearing, the breakdown of family support and structures and a lack of love, attention genuine support and guidance.
Children who are loved, respected, nurtured and encouraged to be themselves and to find and explore their abilities, do not become mass murderers.
Mass murderers are made from people with a grudge, a giant flaw in their being left after years of unloving or neglect, humiliation or suppression and a feeling of powerlessness.
It has nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, the more intelligent a mass murderer is, the more dangerous he is.
Many of these may have similar backgrounds to Group 2, but they also may be have been emotionally and psychological damaged while growing up (or even physically damaged at birth), resulting in an immaturity, a lack of awareness and/or an inability to think for themselves, and difficulty in independently distinguishing right from wrong and make balanced value judgements.
Normally such people would be cared for, shielded and guarded by family members or by professionals who will look out for their needs.
However, in the hands of manipulative fanatics who quickly recognise their vulnerability and know how to use this and “befriend” them, they quickly become cannon fodder.
A recent example was seen in a video a few months back of an Islamic State suicide bomber, probably 17 or less, who was persuaded to drive his vehicle bomb into the opposition lines.
Despite “encouragement” and promises of some mysterious and unprovable heavenly reward to come, he was in tears and clearly afraid and unsure.
But there was no way out and he carried out the task anyway.
4. The fourth group is perhaps in many ways the most dangerous.
It consists of the disillusioned and the morally lost, who can both be well integrated into society seemingly leading useful lives or at the other end of the spectrum are jobless, hopeless and turning to drugs, alcohol and petty crime to get by.
Either way, they are deeply disappointed with the society/world they see around them and with their role in it. They do not see that they have the power to change it and are drawn to a religious philosophy that says they can live in a different world and raise their families and children in it.
For the jobless and those who have turned to crime, or alcohol or drugs as a way of coping and feeling a smattering of control and “power”, the Islamic State’s strict philosophy of living offers a path to redemption and forgiveness tied to their childhood religious roots.
The wealthy, more middle-class recruits perhaps are disappointed with extreme materialism and the corruption it often engenders. IS offers another solution.
“Follow the rules and we will give you authority, respect and rewards both in this life and the afterlife to come”.
Many foreigners and converts to Islam coming from outside Syria and Iraq will fall into this category. They are given free housing and money when they arrive in the Middle East and as we have seen in Paris, the UK, the USA and elsewhere they wreck murderous havoc on a large scale.
This group may well include intelligent foreign women who are attracted by the “glamour” of following a cause, marrying Jihadists and escaping perhaps the “restrictions” of their own family life back home. They are undoubtedly in for a rude awakening.
5. The fifth group are the politically and tribally motivated, especially Sunnis who see the Sunni aligned Islamic State (IS) as some sort of bulwark against the Shiite dominated government in Iraq and the Shiite associated Alawite sect of President Assad in Syria.
One of the reasons the Islamic State was able to spread across Syria and Iraq so quickly was because of these tribal alliances – IS knew how to tap into resentments and perceived injustices inflicted, as the locals saw it, by Iran sponsored Shia policies.
Indeed, the very core of the Islamic State when it started in Iraq was probably created by ex-Saddam Hussein military officers, Sunnis, who had lost their status, power and jobs after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Some tribes are now regretting their allegiance to the Islamic State – but backing out has turned out to be a bloody and vengeful business both for the tribes and individuals who have changed their minds.
6. And lastly, the sixth group is perhaps the most disturbing – the large number of children that the Islamic State is “educating” and indoctrinating in their awful world view.
Children who will grow up believing that executing people for having the “wrong” faith, world view or sexual preference, or who have transgressed IS rules in some way, is normal.
According to a recent video, IS children were engaged in a gruesome hide and seek game in a castle in Deir Ez-Zour province, hunting for shackled prisoners. Those children who did best were given, literally, “execution privileges”.
One of the young boys involved was a Yezidi, a “slave” taken prisoner when IS invaded northern Iraq, killing thousands of his Yezidi brethren and imprisoning thousands more women as sexual concubines. It shows how quickly young minds can be turned and warped. You can read more about the so-called “Caliphate Cubs”, HERE:
There may well be other groups of potential Islamic State Jihadists that we can describe, but what these individuals all have in common is that they are in need of “new family”.
When your own family, for whatever reason in your view, has “let you down” in childhood then psychologically and emotionally you are programmed to search for another one to which you can belong and become part of. (The only exception to this are those that successfully work through that hurt therapeutically.)
Cults – and IS is nothing more than a cult, if a deadly one – work on that basis. There is usually a charismatic paternal leader and provided you as an individual “follow the rules”, accept and promote the mantra or philosophy and wear the uniform where there is one, then you will be “loved” and accepted.
The Islamic State craftily justifies its actions with the authority of the Koran, Prophet Mohammed and the promise of entry into Paradise if you die fighting for the “cause”.
For many that will be a no-lose situation which makes the Islamic State, along with its stated ambition to conquer most of the developed and developing world, the largest threat to civilisation since World War ll.
That the Islamic State is medieval – as well as just plain evil – is without doubt. They would love to get thousands of US and other western troops to fight them on the ground to recreate another “Crusade” in which they can finally “defeat the infidel invaders” (which is why President Obama is wisely resisting that move).
But this is not 1098 when starving “Christian” Crusaders slaughtered 8,000 inhabitants in Ma’arat Al Numan (currently an Opposition-held town in Syria’s Idlib province) and ate them after pot-boiling the adults and spit-roasting the children – Islamic fighters would have some justification in wanting revenge for that.
This is the 21st Century, when the rights of all individuals and religions that reciprocally respect others must also be respected.
The Islamic State, and the individual Jihadists that choose to make it their home, ignorantly fail to do that, leaving us no choice but to fight them to destruction.
REGULAR NEWS UPDATES ON SYRIA AND IRAQ CAN BE FOUND, HERE:
TIMELINE – 11th FEBRUARY 2015 14.03 GMT:
FOR MORE SYRIA AND IRAQ NEWS CLICK: HERE
In an interview with BBC TV News, President Bashar Assad, completely contradicting all available evidence, has said that his army “does not use barrel-bombs”.
Sickeningly, despite some tough questioning from the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, he also tried to turn the accusation into a joke.
“We don’t have barrels. Again, it’s like talking about cooking pots. So, we don’t have cooking pots.
We only have, like any regular army, we have bombs, we have missiles, we have bullets, and etc”.
He also dismissed a reports by Human Rights Watch about the regime’s repeated use of barrel-bombs as “a childish story”.
This Syrian helicopter aircrew is using one of the first crude #NotBarrelBombs, back in 2012 and thousands have been dropped since, here:
On a similar line of questioning on the use of chlorine gas, when asked to confirm his army was not using it, he said, “No, definitely not”.
Assad also claims that, while there is no direct co-ordination, his military get information about attacks on the Islamic State through “a third party”, presumed to be Iraq.
Bowen: “And is that a continuing dialogue that you have through third parties?”
President Assad: “There’s no dialogue. There’s, let’s say, information. But not dialogue”.
Bowen: “They tell you things?” President Assad: “Something like this”. Bowen: “Do you tell them things?” President Assad: “No”.
Despite thorough and persistent questioning in the interview, Assad is tricky, manipulative and evasive. As one Twitter user asked, “Is there a more coldly mendacious ruler in the world than Bashar?”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has documented 1009 air raids carried out by Assad’s helicopters and jets since the beginning of February in 12 out of Syria’s 14 provinces.
Not only has Assad upped the number of attacks in recent months, but cynically taken advantage of the world’s attention on the historic battle by the Kurds to defend Kobane.
According to SOHR the helicopters have dropped 537 barrel-bombs in February, killing 270 civilians including 48 women and 49 children. Another 1200 have been injured, some of them critically.
Or, if you can stomach it (“We are defending civilians and making dialogue”), the full transcript is on the Syrian state media site, SANA, HERE:
CLICK FOR MORE SYRIA NEWS
TIMELINE – 22nd JANUARY 2012 14.55 GMT:
The war came yet closer to the regime’s supporters in Damascus over the weekend when for the first time the electricity went out for a prolonged period in the upmarket areas in the centre of the capital, including affecting properties owned by the Assad family and the President’s businessman cousin Rami Maklouf.
The power failed on Sunday night and was out for at least 22 hours. The Electricity Minister, Imad Khamis, blamed the outage on “terrorists”, saying that they had brought down high-voltage power lines and it had affected sub-stations and generators.
He expected power to be fully restored to the capital by this morning, Tuesday.
For President Assad’s supporters it was, despite all the Government’s desperate reassurances, another sign that war closes in on Damascus and the end is approaching. Opposition fighters are reported fighting within 800 metres of Damascus Old City, once a tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
One local resident said, “Inside Damascus’ Old City, you can’t escape the muffled sounds of shelling and fighter jets and even machine guns fired off nearby”.
To add to the misery and desperation, the Syrian Government yesterday raised the prices of petrol, wheat and flour. 95-octane gasoline (petrol) went up to 60 Syrian pounds ($0.75) per litre, flour from the equivalent price of $419 per ton to $434 and soft wheat, needed to make bread which is already in short supply,to the equivalent of $337, up from $321.
Last week the Government increased the price of diesel and heating oil by 40% to 35 Syrian pounds ($0.43) per litre, but on the black market it is already being valued at 115 Syrian pounds ($1.15) per litre.
The extent of the queues for fuel in the capital can be seen in Khalid Bin Waleed Street, filmed, HERE:
The increased price announcements were followed by another explosion on Monday in the wealthy area of Dumar in Damascus causing an unknown number of deaths.
Not surprising then that Jordan has reported another huge influx of 12,000 Syrian refugees in just the last 6 days, over 25,000 having crossed the border since January 1st.
Jordan says it is hosting 300,000 refugees, 176,000 of whom are registered with UNHCR, the UN refugee organisation. The UN is predicting 1.1 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries by June if the war does not end soon.
Two shells from an unknown source landed near the Russian embassy in Damascus on Saturday, perhaps prompting the airlift of “100” Russian citizens announced yesterday. As heavy fighting continues along the road to the International Airport and it remains closed to civilian aircraft, the Russians said they would bus their citizens to Beirut in Lebanon, where “2 planes” would be waiting to take them to Moscow.
(EDITOR: Quite why “2 planes” is unclear. Either the Russians have very small aircraft or they are moving all the fat people first!)
In the event, reports from Russian diplomats say that as many as 150 people were being bussed from Damascus this morning, Tuesday, and more will be moved “as and when required”.
Russian naval ships are currently carrying out exercises in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, which include the use of landing craft and removing people from the shore.
Yet again there are also renewed reports from Dubai (reported on this blog some time ago) that Assad’s Mother, Anisa Makhlouf, has taken up residence there with other members of the Assad family.
Bushra Al -Assad, who has broken with the President, Bashar Al-Assad, several times, moved to Dubai in September and enrolled her 5 children in a private school after her husband was killed in a FSA bomb explosion in Damascus.
And in yet another desperate move the Assad Government has also formed a paramilitary force called the “National Defense Army” which will made up of men and women who were formally members of the “popular local committees”, most of whom are loyal members of the ruling Ba’ath Party and from all sects in Syrian society.
According to reports the members of the new armed militia are being trained in guerrilla warfare techniques to defend their own neighbourhoods by “advisers” from Iran and members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed militants.
The new force is already reported to be active in Homs province, supposedly leaving the Syrian Army free to fight elsewhere.
Similarly, the FSA is busy also training its recruits in urban warfare. This Al Jazeera video report, filmed at a captured army base on the outskirts of Damascus, shows the realistic training exercises, HERE:
Heavy fighting continues around Damascus, the regime sending yet more reinforcements to attack the Opposition held suburb of Daraya and even pounding it with ground to ground Grad missiles, not caring who they kill. Continuous airstrikes are also being reported on Douma and the East Ghouta region, another centre of Opposition strength, with successive rocket attacks on an area between Hamouriyeh and Jisreen.
Further north in Idlib province, the FSA has announced a campaign to free Idlib city from Assad regime control and on Monday launched attacks against 7 heavily armed Government checkpoints on the outskirts of the provincial capital.
A ground attack on Ma’arrat al-Numan has been repelled, HERE: and 3 tanks and an armoured vehicle sent there to reinforce the assault were destroyed.
In addition a checkpoint between Ma’arrat al-Numan and Khan Shaykhoun has been freed from government forces, opening another route towards Latakia, which many consider will be the Assad regime’s last stronghold.
However, the FSA is already well entrenched in Latakia province, local fighters using their extensive knowledge of the mountains to their advantage and holding large areas of territory. An excellent article on the looming fight for Latakia, HERE:
In Aleppo province heavy fighting continues in all areas, but particularly around Quwayres airbase, HERE: Within Aleppo city itself, the water supply suddenly came on again, causing citizens to rush around filling containers of drinking water before it was shut off again.
In Hama province on Monday at the Alawite town of Salamiya, east of the provincial capital, a suicide bomber blew up a car outside the local headquarters of the popular committee and the Shabiha. At least 30 people were reported killed, including a number of leading members of the local and regional Ba’ath Party.
Regime forces plus Shabiha accompanied by Hezbollah fighters have continued a major onslaught on the neighbourhoods of Jobar and Sultaniya and the village of Kafara’aya near Homs and heavy attacks are reported on Opposition positions near Deraa in the south and at Deir el-Zoiur and Raqqa.
In the extreme north-east clashes are also continuing between Jihadists and the Kurdish Popular Protection Units in Ras al-Ayn near the Turkish border, killing at least 56 fighters on both sides over the last 6 days.
In Istanbul, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) meeting over the weekend failed to reach consensus on the make-up of a “transitional government” and an attempt to elect former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab as leader of the new administration-in-exile did not come to fruition.
Instead, the President of the SNC, Moaz Alkhatib, left the meeting early to fly to Qatar to try and garner financial guarantees for a new government, if and when it comes into power. The Opposition politicians are due to meet in Paris on 28th January to discuss their plans with 20 supporter countries.
Yesterday also saw the arrival by sea and the unloading of the first NATO Patriot Missile systems from Germany in the Turkish port of İskenderun. They will now be transported by road to their positions near the Turkish – Syrian border and be fully operational early in February. The BBC has a video report, HERE:
FOR MORE SYRIA NEWS CLICK HERE:
TIMELINE – 20th JANUARY 2012 14.25 GMT:
Perhaps signalling a sign of its desperation, the Assad regime’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, said yesterday that the “nationalistic Opposition” could join a Cabinet, if they agreed to “lay down their arms” and rejected foreign intervention.
Appearing completely delusional, he also said that any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad’s future was “unacceptable”, knowing full well that the Opposition will hold no talks with Government until Assad has stood down. The main Opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, also welcome foreign intervention and there is therefore no chance of Muallem’s offer becoming a reality.
Seemingly acknowledging though that Assad is presiding over a “sinking ship”, Muallem said, “The US continues to have the president’s departure as a condition of regime change, ignoring the fact that the captain of a capsized ship does not jump into the first boat”.
That he should make such suggestions at this time is interesting, as clearly the Syrian Army are unable to push back the Opposition fighters and the Free Syrian Army and their independent allies continue to chip away at territory around Aleppo, in the rural areas and in the suburbs of Damascus.
The Army has been trying to retake the capital suburb of Daraya for 2 months but has not succeeded, despite bombarding it continuously.
Daraya was the subject of rocket and jet attacks again yesterday and today, Sunday, and dozens are reported killed or injured. 80 explosions were heard in Daraya on Saturday morning alone and Government tanks continue to shell the area indiscriminately as can be seen in this video footage, HERE:
The strain is also being felt in central Damascus where many people from the suburbs have now moved and been taken in by relatives or friends. Some houses are reported to be accommodating as many as 30 to 50 people and bread queues are starting to stretch into waits that last hours.
Inside the “Damascus Bubble”, citizens still drink hot chocolate inside cafes and civil servants still get on public transport to go to work, but the petrol queues now snake around the block and talk is of “high energy biscuits”, food normally reserved for countries in famine.
The BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports from Damascus, HERE:
In more rural areas, local residents have now taken to illegally cutting down trees in order to provide fuel for cooking and to keep warm. Al Jazeera has a video report, HERE:
Lyse Doucet has also now filed a video report and an updated article on the massacre at Hasawiya. What has emerged is that this was the work of the Alawite militia, the Shabiha, and latest reports suggest that as many as 150 died in the village.
Off camera women talk of how they were stripped naked and 44 were raped. Up to 100 men may have been kidnapped and the BBC saw of evidence of executed bodies that had been burnt in an attempt to destroy the evidence. The BBC has an article and video report (moderately gruesome), HERE:
This latest outrage prompted Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to plead with the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation, but Russia and China remain intransigent, continuing to block any move that criticises President Assad. Syria has never signed up to be an ICC member and the Security Council is the only body that can order such an investigation.
Pillay’s plea followed hard on a letter sponsored by Switzerland and now signed by 58 countries to the Security Council making a similar request.
Muallem, Syria’s Foreign Minister, accused some of the signatories of using “deceit and double standards”, requesting a human rights investigation on one hand and supplying weapons and ammunition to the Opposition on the other.
In Aleppo this morning, Sunday, it is reported from the FSA that Opposition forces have taken Base 599, one of the military emplacements defending Aleppo International Airport and there are heavy clashes around the Muhallab military barracks in the Sabeel district.
At the Menegh helicopter base, Opposition forces are able to freely survey the airfield and are within shooting distance of the aircraft remaining, HERE:
Russia, in another sign of the increasing isolation of Syria’s largest city, has suspended the operation of its consulate in Aleppo.
In the extreme north-east in Ras Al Ayn, the Kurdish National Council has called on the Syrian Opposition to stop Jihadists shelling Kurdish militia positions with tanks and heavy machine guns. Several hundred Jihadists crossed from Turkey earlier in the week and there is some suspicion that the Turkish authorities, in support of their own campaign against Kurdish militants both inside and outside Turkey, are encouraging the conflict between the two sides.
In Hasaka province, clashes between the Syrian Army and Kurdish Defence Units are being reported around the village of Karzero, just east of Al-Rmeilan city, Syria’s oil capital. The Syrian Army reportedly retreated under fire and 24 soldiers are said to have defected.
Lastly, on the “unconfirmed report” front there is one that the head of the police in Latakia has defected and another that a defected MIG pilot has attacked Assad military sites in the mainly Alawite neighbourhood of the mixed sect town of Moadamiyat al-Sham near Damascus.
At first Opposition activists thought the plane was attacking Opposition targets, but after several rocket strikes and the activation of Syrian Government air-defence systems, they concluded that the pilot had turned against the Assad regime. What happened to him or the plane is not know.
FOR MORE SYRIA NEWS CLICK HERE:
LIBYA HOLDS FIRST FULLY FREE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS SINCE 1952 WITH HUGE FEMALE PARTICIPATION:
TUNISIA’S NEW “DEMOCRATIC” GOVERNMENT ALREADY SEEKING TO CONTROL STATE OWNED MEDIA OUTLETS:
EGYPT’S ARMY, WITH VAST BUSINESS INTERESTS, IN NO HURRY TO HAND POWER TO DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED PRESIDENT:
YEMEN, FOLLOWING ONE–CANDIDATE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, FACING HUGE PROBLEMS OF POVERTY, INSURGENCY AND STARVATION:
BAHRAIN AND GULF STATES STILL CONTROLLED BY BACKWARD FACING FAMILY AUTOCRACIES AND NO REAL DEMOCRACY YET IN SIGHT:
TIMELINE – 8th JULY 2012 14.08 GMT:
Congratulations to Libya on holding yesterday its first fully free parliamentary election since 1952.
Turnout was thought to be around 60% and notable for the large number of women who were voting for the first time.
At some polling stations women easily out-numbered men.
The election will select a 200 member General National Congress (GNC) from the 2,600 individual candidates and 400 political organisations who stood in the poll.
The most significant party to emerge so far is the Justice and Construction Party, consisting mainly of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The GNC when elected will pick a prime minister and cabinet. The GNC was also meant to choose 60 members to make up a committee to write a new Libyan constitution which will be voted on in a referendum next year, but the National Transitional Council (NTC), which will stand down as soon as a new government has been formed, has said the the constitutional committee will now be the subject of a separate national vote.
However, as elsewhere in the “Arab Spring” revolutions, the transition to the democratic process continues to be very rocky.
In Libya, especially in the east around Benghazi, some polling stations were burnt to the ground or election material and voting papers destroyed and a helicopter carrying elections workers was shot at with heavy calibre bullets on Friday killing one of the occupants and forcing the aircraft to make an emergency landing.
Armed groups opposed to the election and wanting autonomy for oil-rich eastern Libya, also surrounded and closed the oil refineries at Ras Lanouf, Brega and Ajdabiya. In a separate incident another person was killed near a polling station in Ajdabiya.
In the current election of the 200 available seats, in a system devised by the NTC, the west of Libya will have 100, 40 will come from the south and 60 from the east. Many from the east think that the parliament will therefore be too “Tripoli orientated”, a sentiment which many in Benghazi province shared under Gaddafi as well. The BBC has a video report of the election, HERE:
Hopes for an effective and solid democracy in Libya also remain on shaky ground with the recent detention for 26 days of International Criminal Court (ICC) defence lawyers for Saif Gaddafi and their leading counsel, Melinda Taylor’s assertion since her release that it will be impossible for Saif to get a fair trial in Libya. You can see a video of her statement, HERE:
Further worries for Libya’s progress are the huge tribal divisions and rivalries that still exist throughout the country, in some cases relating to disputes over killings or land that go back generations.
Two weeks ago, more than 100 people were killed following a clash between the Zintani and Mishasha tribes around the desert town of Misdah, both sides using weapons obtained from the former Gaddafi military. (Further background, HERE:)
TUNISIA’S NEW “DEMOCRATIC” GOVERNMENT ALREADY SEEKING TO CONTROL STATE OWNED MEDIA OUTLETS:
In Tunisia, the first of the “successful” Arab Spring revolutions, the entire membership of a commission set up to reform the country’s media, resigned this week, citing interference and censorship from the newly elected government.
Kamel Labidi, the head of the The National Authority for the Reform of Information and Communication, said that the commission did “not see the point of continuing to work”.
The democratically elected majority Islamist government recently dismissed the senior executives of state-owned radio and TV channels and in another case fined the owner of a privately-run TV station for showing an animated film that the Government deemed blasphemous.
In reaction to these moves, Reporters Without Borders, the international media watchdog, said, “In the absence of clear legislation respecting international standards, senior public broadcasting personnel are being appointed in a way reminiscent of the old regime’s methods.”
The Tunisian Government has also failed to implement decrees protecting the rights of journalists and regulating new audio-visual media.
EGYPT’S ARMY, WITH VAST BUSINESS INTERESTS, IN NO HURRY TO HAND POWER TO DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED PRESIDENT:
In Egypt, newly elected President Mohammed Mursi, from the Muslim Brotherhood (a banned organisation for years under Mubarak), promised massive crowds in Tahrir Square, the centre of the revolution, that he would represent all Egyptians of all faiths, but whether the Army Council that effectively still controls the country will actually allow him any real power remains to be seen. The BBC has a video report of the event, HERE:
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scarf) that has been running Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, delayed the announcement of the winning candidate in the election and gave itself sweeping new powers just a few days before the presidential vote.
Scarf not only dissolved the newly elected parliamentary assembly but gave itself new authority to enact legislation, control the state budget and appoint a panel that will draft the new constitution.
The army, which controls vast sections of the Egyptian economy, including manufacturing of consumer goods, food, mineral water, construction, mining, land reclamation and even tourism (while its accounts are held secretly), is clearly not going to let go of its controlling reins without another fight.
YEMEN, FOLLOWING ONE-CANDIDATE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, FACING HUGE PROBLEMS OF POVERTY, INSURGENCY AND STARVATION:
In Yemen, where another Arab Spring revolution of sorts, saw the departure of longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh in February after ruling for 33 years and the unopposed election of his deputy President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, chaos still reigns, especially in the south where Al Qaeda insurgents have tried to take control.
Government forces have made gains during recent months, recapturing the insurgent held towns of Shuqra, Zinjibar and Jaar, but things came to a halt in the middle of June when a suicide bomber killed General Salem Ali Qatan who was both leading the battle in the south and moves to reform the army.
Another suicide bomber killed 100 soldiers in May while they were rehearsing for a parade for “National Unity Day” in the capital Sannaa.
Apart from that Yemen has massive problems with unemployment, malnutrition, poverty, lack of water and electricity and starvation on a huge scale.
And additionally many of Saleh’s family members have yet to relinquish power over key positions in the air force, Republican Guard, Presidential Guard and security services. (Further background on Yemen, HERE:)
A new democracy? That remains to be seen.
But at least all the above have made some sort of move forward.
BAHRAIN AND GULF STATES STILL CONTROLLED BY BACKWARD FACING FAMILY AUTOCRACIES AND NO REAL DEMOCRACY YET IN SIGHT:
In Syria the “jury is still out” on the likely result in the bloody battle between President Assad and the pro-democracy Opposition, that has so far claimed more than 16,500 lives, but recent signs seem to indicate that the rebel fighters are making progress.
In Bahrain however, where the pro-democracy movement has been demonstrating almost daily against the Government for 17 months now, things at times seem to be going backwards.
A sly, Al Khalifa family-controlled and King Hamad led autocracy, constantly bleats about how “liberal and open” it is and trumpets its “march towards democracy”.
Yet behind closed doors, for example, people who criticise the Government get arrested without warrant and despite the installation of recording equipment in police interview rooms, detainees are routinely beaten in unfinished building lots before being taken to police stations.
Fahed Al-Sumait wrote on EA Worldview recently:
“For now, it is clear that the current political system is neither monarchical nor democratic enough to exploit the benefits of either. The lesson appears to be that a country cannot balance power effectively between an appointed cabinet and an elected parliament.
In an absolute monarchy, the king calls the shots and appoints who he wants to help him govern. By contrast, in a fully democratic system, competing ideologies vie for political dominance through various electoral systems, and the government branches function as a system of checks and balances. But …. where the systems are mixed, the executive and legislative branches are inherently locked in a power struggle.
This almost guarantees perpetual confrontation rather than some degree of symbiosis. The hybrid approach does not appear to be a formula for effective governance, but may instead be a structural defect that will continue to foster the kind of political chaos for which ……. is increasingly known.
It could be argued that the real question going forward is not how ……. will navigate through the current storm, but rather when (or if) it will be able to effectively repair its sinking ship.”
Filling in the gaps in the passage above you would see that Fahed was actually writing about Kuwait, where the elected parliament is in conflict with the upper chamber appointed by the Emir and has been suspended, but he could have just as well been writing about Bahrain.
Much the same system exists in Bahrain and throughout the Gulf area where family monarchies and sheikhdoms control their oil and gas producing fiefdoms. (Further background on Bahrain, HERE:
In my view, the “Arab Spring” revolutions will eventually reach these countries too – modern media, communications and “an idea whose time has come” will ensure that – but when and how nobody knows.
To those fighters for democracy, human rights and freedom across the Gulf – “Sumood” (Remain Steadfast) – your time will come, history is on your side.
31/3/11 Peter Clifford –
Democracy and Human Rights l Update
Over the last 3 months I have highlighted Democracy and Human Rights issues in the Ivory Coast, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China and elsewhere, so I thought it was time for an update. (See my previous post Democracy on the March)
LIBYA: At the time of writing the Libya story struggles on as battles continue between the forces loyal to Gaddafi and the armed revolutionaries ranged against him. Clearly much of the world wants Gaddafi to go and many stories of human rights abuse by his troops have emerged and will continue to come out in the future.
One disturbing story this week was told by a young woman lawyer, Iman al-Obeidi, who got through into the hotel where all the foreign journalists in Tripoli are based. She told the journalists that she had been gang – raped by 15 of Gaddafi’s troops but was quickly bundled away by officials and hotel staff before getting to tell her story in full.
At first called a “prostitute” by Libyan officials it later emerged that the Libyan Government had offered her family a house and money to keep her quiet. She has not been seen since.
UPDATE 18th May 2011: Iman al-Obeidi apparently crossed into Tunisia earlier this month in the company of some defecting Libyan army officers and has since flown to Qatar and is safe.
To give you an idea of Gaddafi’s profound understanding of the human condition, here are a couple of extracts from his famed Green Book, the philosophical basis of the “revolution” that brought him to power:
“Freedom of expression is the right of every natural person, even if a person chooses to behave irrationally, to express his or her insanity”
“Women, like men, are human beings. This is an incontestable truth… Women are different from men in form because they are females, just as all females in the kingdom of plants and animals differ from the male of their species… According to gynaecologists women, unlike men, menstruate each month… Since men cannot be impregnated they do not experience the ailments that women do”
Yes….er…..well .!!. I think the sooner Gaddafi gives up the day job the better for all concerned in Libya, especially women!
Meanwhile, do we know exactly who the opposition forces are and what are their future intentions? “A Vision of a Democratic Libya”, just published by the Libyan Interim Transitional Council in Benghazi looks promising and there is also a useful map (though not always up to date in this fast moving situation!) on the progress of the revolution on their website too.
Moussa Koussa’s (Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister) “defection” to London is also interesting – just whose side is he on?
IVORY COAST: 11/04/11 Breaking News Update: Following overnight attacks on the heavy weapons around his compound, Laurent Gbagbo this afternoon surrendered to Ouattara’s forces and has been taken to the Golf Hotel, Ouattara’s UN defended HQ, under arrest.
If you read my previous post Prevent War With Chocolate, you will know that the conflict in the Ivory Coast has been caused by the former president Laurent Gbagbo refusing to stand down after losing the election to his democratically elected opponent Alassane Ouattara.
AVAAZ, the pressure group, organised a campaign to get the world’s major chocolate manufacturers to, temporarily at least, boycott purchases of cocoa from the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer, so that Gbagbo could not fund his army.
Clearly this has not worked as hostilities have now broken out between the two parties and their supporting groups and armed professionals are involved.
Ouattara’s New Forces have swept down from the North and taken over several towns, while Gbagbo, supported by the army has imported mercenaries from Liberia and shelled Ouattara supporters in Abidjan, the capital. Atrocities are being reported on both sides.
The people of the Ivory Coast have been here before, having suffered years of civil war prior to a ceasefire in 2007. UNHCR estimates that a million people have already fled their homes this time and a UN peacekeeping force of 9,000 stands by helplessly, under equipped and with no proper mandate to intervene.
Neighbouring countries such as Mali, Liberia and Ghana are being swamped with refugees and at least 800 people have already been killed since December. In the latest developments Ouattara’s New Forces have taken Yamoussoukro, a regional centre, and the key cocoa exporting port of San Pedro. Gbagbo is left only with parts of Abidjan.
The United Nations has just past a UN resolution imposing sanctions on Gbagbo and his family until his sources of revenue dry up and he is forced to stand down.
Unfortunately this conflict does not have the high profile of Gaddafi and Libya, despite the fact that just as many civilians will suffer in the long run and another, once very prosperous country, will be wrecked.
TUNISIA: Mohamed Bouazizi – Remember that name. Mohamed was a Tunisian street seller of fruit and vegetables who, sick to the teeth of corruption, harassment and humiliation by local officials and the police, set himself on fire on December 17th 2010 and sparked the demonstrations that led to the overthrow of the Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled the country for 23 years.
From that one act everything in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and right across the Middle East has followed and still continues.
While the interim President Fouad Mebazaa has announced the date of an election in July for representatives who will rewrite the constitution, unrest still continues and arrest warrants have been issued for the former president and his family who are believed to have fled to Saudi Arabia.
BAHRAIN: Democracy and Human Rights have been a hotly debated issue in this tiny Gulf State (100 times smaller than the Irish Republic!) since the events in Tunisia and Egypt. Every revolution has its own particular flavour and ingredients and Bahrain is no exception.
Here there is an enormous division between the minority, ruling Sunni elite and the majority Shia population who feel dispossessed and under represented. Median age in Bahrain is 30, while youth unemployment is almost 20%. At the same time literacy rates run at 91% – all part of the potent mix for revolution in the modern age.
The root of the problems here is that almost 70% of the population is Shia Muslim, while the nearly 30% Sunni Muslim self appointed ruling class have 90% of the power and most of the wealth and virtually all of the most valuable land.
Gerrymandered electoral districts have always ensured that the Shia electorate ended up with a minority of seats in the legislative body. Women do have the vote but very few get elected.
The ruling Al – Khalifa family has been in power since 1820 and its members still hold most of the most important government positions. Indeed, Sheik Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifah, the uncle of the Crown Prince, has been Prime Minister of Bahrain for 40 years! (Thank God that could never happen in the UK!).
The ruling family also contains such leading lights as Sheikh Abdulrahman Mubarak Hamad Al Khalifa who, according to the London Telegraph has been taken to court in both London and Bahrain for the repayment of gambling debts owed to the betting firm Spreadex for the princely sum of £270,000. No doubt he worked really hard to be able to gamble away such wealth.
On February 14th 2011 the pot finally boiled over when protesters marched through the capital Manama and a month of unrest followed with more than 20 killed and 100’s wounded, many of whom declined to seek treatment as many doctors and staff at the world renowned Salmaniya Hospital, according to media reports, were threatened, arrested or prevented from treating protesters.
The protests are also embarassing for the US Navy as the island is also the home of its Fifth Fleet.
The Bahrain government’s answer to all this was to import 1,000 soldiers from its neighbour Saudi Arabia, suppress all further demonstration and to demolish the monument at the Pearl Roundabout which had been the focus of rebellion.
I doubt if any of that will solve the underlying problem, which is a pity as Bahrain has a reputation as one of the more “open minded” Gulf States.
YEMEN: What started as a protest by students has now escalated into a full scale insurrection. It has also, significantly, the support of a large number of women, in what has been until now a very conservative society.
On March 13th snipers killed 52 people and their families have since been offered money by the government to keep quiet.
The protesters are demanding that President Saleh, who has been in power for more than 30 years, stands down, along with 25 members of his family – the usual cosy family arrangement exploiting the people they control. Another more sinister factor is that Al -Quaeda certainly have a presence in the country as well.
After six weeks of protest, many people want the President put on trial, especially after the fatal sniper incident. At the moment there is stalemate – but there is certainly more to come.
EGYPT: Egypt, though coming after the revolution in Tunisia, has undoubtedly set the standard for protesters to maintain their peaceful stance and use the sheer force of numbers to promote change.
Nevertheless and estimated 685 people were killed in the revolution here and an uneasy truce remains between the protesters and what remains of the security services and police.
Police officers are slowly returning to the streets but many are unwelcome and a number of former ministers and security officials are to stand trial for killing protesters during the unrest.
It remains to be seen whether the controlling Army Council will carry through its promises or whether it is just going through the motions in order to protect its own interests. They can expect an angry backlash if they don’t give the people what they want.
Parliamentary elections will take place in September and the presidential election within two months after. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose more extreme elements many fear, has said it will not field a presidential candidate.
In my previous post, I commented on democracy and human rights in relation to Egyptian Women. I see this as the “heart” of the Arab revolution.
Unless the rights of women change, then in reality nothing changes, the Muslim world will still be locked in the past and wasting 50% of their human resource.
Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com
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