Unrest in the Middle East

Picture Source: harleyk.com

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

[…]

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them.

George W. Bush: Second Inaugural Address 2005

Nice.

Now the people in the Maghreb and the Middle East are demanding their liberty. Is George W. Bush’s professed agenda for bringing democracy to the region working out after all?

Tunisia:

For decades, Tunisia has promoted itself as an Arab world success story, a place where the economy is stronger than in neighboring countries, women’s rights are respected, unrest is rare and European tourists can take stress-free vacations at beach resorts.

But the recent protests have exposed a side of Tunisia that the country has long tried to hide: the poverty of the countryside, poor job prospects for youths and seething resentment at the government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has ruled Tunisia with an iron fist since 1987. (read more)

Egypt:

Weeks of unrest in Tunisia eventually toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali earlier this month.

Egypt has many of the same social and political problems that brought about the unrest in Tunisia – rising food prices, high unemployment and anger at official corruption. (read more)

Yemen:

“We will not accept anything less than the president leaving,” said independent parliamentarian Ahmed Hashid. “We’ll only be happy when we hear the words ‘I understand you’ from the president,” invoking a statement issued by Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali before he fled the country.

Nearly half of Yemen’s population lives below the poverty line of $2 a day and doesn’t have access to proper sanitation. Less than a tenth of the roads are paved. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes by conflict, flooding the cities. (read more)

Algeria:

The riots are widely seen as drawing on deep frustrations with the ruling elite and a lack of political freedom, as well as more immediate concerns about the cost of living, housing, and jobs.

The prices of flour, cooking oil and sugar have doubled in the past few months.
(read more)

Jordan:

Demonstrators in Jordan say they are preparing for more protests. Massive demonstrations inspired by unrest in Tunisia have shaken what historically has been one of the most stable nations in the Middle East and raised questions about the future role of the country’s popular monarch.

Some protesters in last Friday’s demonstration waved pieces of bread. (read more)

Oman, has had some bouts of protestestation, really unusual for the country. The Saudi King has issued a statement today about the situation in Egypt:

“No Arab or Muslim can tolerate any meddling in the security and stability of Arab and Muslim Egypt by those who infiltrated the people in the name of freedom of expression, exploiting it to inject their destructive hatred.”[…]
“As they condemn this, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its people and government declares it stands with all its resources with the government of Egypt and its people,”

The Saudis and most of our other “friends” in the region are none too happy, of course, to see what was basically widespread food revolts turn into a movement for democracy across the region.  The words of G.W. Bush may have inadvertently come true. Not as a result of  his  “Freedom Agenda”, but because his administration’s disastrous economic policies, which have triggered the latest economic crisis, which has triggered the social unrest and which may well trigger the fall of the former President’s Middle East pet despots.

But will they really be replaced by democratic  governments? I have my doubts. The Middle East is not a monolithic cultural area. Yemen and Tunisia are worlds apart. There  are marked differences in the societies of Egypt and Algeria. Just look at the pictures in the news. While in Tunisia you could see many young women joining in the protests, you see mostly men in Egypt and a still more marked difference in Yemen. In the end there may be just more bloodshed and instability in the region and no marked improvement for the people of the countries involved.

Want to read more on this? See:

Rupert Cornwell

Robert Fisk

Soumaya Ghanousshi

The Guardian: Live Updates on Egypt

 

The Watering Hole: August 12 – Chernobyl reloaded

It never stops. For thousands of years still nature will have to cope with the effects of mankind’s hubris. The Chernobyl accident left thousands of humans dead and maimed and nature virtually uninhabitable in the vicinity of the accident site. Now the (man made?) Russian heat wave has caused massive forest- and even worse – peat fires that ravage the country and the crops and have stretched into the most badly contaminated area of Chernobyl and not Chernobyl only. Now what happens? The fires cause material from the scorched earth to be displaced, the extent and range depends on temperature and wind.

As a result of failure on the Chernobyl nuclear power plant a total of six million hectares (ha) of forest lands were polluted by radionuclides. The most polluted forest area covers over 2 million ha in Gomel and Mogilev regions of Byelorussia (Belarus), in Kiev region of the Ukraine and in Bryansk region of the Russian Federation. The main contaminator is caesium-137 (137Cs); in the core zones of contamination strontium-90 (90Sr) and plutonium-239 (239Pu) are found in high concentrations. Radioactive emissions from wildfires occurring in contaminated vegetation represent a high risk for firefighters. In addition populations are affected by radioactive smoke particles transported over long distances.(read more)

The new catastrophe is a stark reminder that a technology which will have detrimental lingering effects for thousands of years, is hardly a good idea to solve immediate military or energy needs.

This is our open thread. Go ahead and tell it like it is.

Afghanistan is Lost!

source:www.defense.gov

This is one major scoop of investigative journalism, just right next to The Pentagon Papers.

Wikileaks has produced over 90’000 partly classified documents covering a six year stretch of the Afghan mission. The Guardian in the UK, Der Spiegel in Germany and The New York Times have each received the documents a while ago for review and released their findings today. As I am writing this I cannot reach the wikileaks webpage, which must be overwhelmed with traffic, I suspect, so I give you a gist of what the three news outlets are making of the documents.

Der Spiegel:

The documents offer a window into the war in the Hindu Kush — one which promises to change the way we think about the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. They will also be indispensible for anyone seeking to inform themselves about the war in the future. (read article)

The newspaper then highlights five issues, one of them the situation in the North where German forces are stationed:

The Germans thought that the northern provinces where their soldiers are stationed would be more peaceful compared to other provinces and that the situation would remain that way.

They were wrong. (read more)

In an interview with the weekly Julian Assange, founder of Wikipedia, says:

Assange: These files are the most comprehensive description of a war to be published during the course of a war — in other words, at a time when they still have a chance of doing some good. They cover more than 90,000 different incidents, together with precise geographical locations. They cover the small and the large. A single body of information, they eclipse all that has been previously said about Afghanistan. They will change our perspective on not only the war in Afghanistan, but on all modern wars. (read full interview)

The Guardian obviously eyes the British side of the conflict:

Questionable shootings of civilians by UK troops also figure. The US compilers detail an unusual cluster of four British shootings in Kabul in the space of barely a month, in October/November 2007, culminating in the death of the son of an Afghan general. Of one shooting, they wrote: “Investigation controlled by the British. We are not able to get [sic] complete story.” (read all)

and more here

The US army’s archives contain descriptions of at least 21 separate occasions in which British troops are said to have shot or bombed Afghan civilians, including women and children.

The logs identify at least 26 people killed and another 20 wounded as a result. Some casualties were accidentally caused by air strikes, but many also are said to involve British troops firing on unarmed drivers or motorcyclists who come “too close” to convoys or patrols. Their injuries result from what are described as “warning shots” or “disabling shots” fired into the engine block, as required by the military’s “escalation of force” regulations.

They explain how they came by the data:

The Afghanistan war logs series of reports on the war in Afghanistan published by the Guardian is based on the US military’s internal logs of the conflict between January 2004 and December 2009. The material, largely classified by the US as secret, was obtained by the whistleblower website Wikileaks, which has published the full archive. The Guardian, along with the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, was given access to the logs before publication to verify their authenticity and assess their significance. (read all and watch video)

The New York Times explains to its readers:

Deciding whether to publish secret information is always difficult, and after weighing the risks and public interest, we sometimes chose not to publish. But there are times when the information is of significant public interest, and this is one of those times. The documents illuminate the extraordinary difficulty of what the United States and its allies have undertaken in a way that other accounts have not. (read more)

The role of Pakistan in the Afghan war is of special interest to the NYT:

Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with Al Qaeda is difficult.

[…]

Such accusations are usually met with angry denials, particularly by the Pakistani military, which insists that the ISI severed its remaining ties to the groups years ago. An ISI spokesman in Islamabad said Sunday that the agency would have no comment until it saw the documents. Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said, “The documents circulated by WikiLeaks do not reflect the current on-ground realities.”

[…]

On June 19, 2006, ISI operatives allegedly met with the Taliban leaders in Quetta, the city in southern Pakistan where American and other Western officials have long believed top Taliban leaders have been given refuge by the Pakistani authorities. At the meeting, according to the report, they pressed the Taliban to mount attacks on Maruf, a district of Kandahar that lies along the Pakistani border. (read more)

There is heaps more in all three newspapers and this story is going to be hot for weeks to come, due to the vast expanse of the information made available. This may well be the final nail into the coffin of the Afghanistan war. There already is growing opposition against the mission and seeing the stark truth will further convince people, that the fight is not worth it. The documents cover the time from January 2004 to December 2009 after Iraq has been attacked on March 20th 2003 and the focus shifted away from the Afghan mission. The leaked documents don’t say anything about the time between October 2001 and 2004. I do hold on to the belief, however, that the Afghanistan mission wasn’t doomed from the beginning. But absolutely after the decision was made to attack Iraq. And again, as it is with most conflicts, the people of Afghanistan have suffered before the war, during the war and will continue to suffer after the international troops have long left.

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Support Bernard Rappaz

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Hemp pioneer and rebel  Bernard Rappaz is on hunger strike for more than 100 days now  and in seriously weakened condition.

Rappaz has been sentenced to 5 years and 8 months in jail for the production of hemp and on other charges. Swiss Authorities have now decided to transfer Rappaz to Berne’s Inselspital (sorry no english link available)  in order to “persuade him to stop his hunger strike”. Releasing him and finally stopping this ridiculous judicial farce seems, however, out of the question.

Hemp is not just THC and not only used to do a little recreational smoking, but one of the oldest cultivated plants mainly used for its durable fibre. It has been cultivated since the stone age. Why it is of the utmost importance to Switzerland to keep Rappaz in jail, even at the risk of his losing his life, just totally escapes me. Especially since the use of cannabis is more of a misdemeanor here in Switzerland than a crime and gets you a fine instead of a sentencing. (again sorry no english link found)

Obviously child abuse is a far less serious crime than growing weed. Director Roman Polanski was released in Switzerland yesterday.