Monday, April 29, 2013

Failure to Launch

President Jalal Talabani
2013 has proved to be a rough start for Iraq thus far.  Sectarian animosities are still present, however, they are starting to take new form.  They are now playing out without some of the players that were once very influential in enforcing the rules.  While the majority of Iraqis grew very tired of U.S. presence, the reality was that the U.S. was the only actor capable of bridging sectarian divisions before they spiraled into violence.  Now with the U.S. gone, and President Jalal Talabani’s heath decreasing, charges of political dominance and sectarian discrimination among Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s opponents have left most wondering if Iraq is about to face the year’s first open confrontation.  
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

A few months ago, Iraqi police invaded the Finance Ministry 
Rafa al-Issawi
building and detained around 150 bodyguards who worked 
for Rafa al-Issawi, the chief minister for financial affairs and 
one of the government’s top Sunni officials.  Shortly after, 
news broke out that the Shia led government was targeting 
the staff of a top Sunni politician.  Upon hearing this, 
thousands of Iraqis from the Sunni heartland flocked 
to the streets in protest.  These were so large that 
the major highway connecting Baghdad to Jordan 
and Syria was completely shut down.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi
This, however, wasn’t anything new for the Sunni population.  Last year, they experienced something similar to this when Iraqi security forces arrested several guards who worked for the Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.  After the confession of plotting terrorist attacks, Hashimi fled the country to Turkey in order to avoid the death sentence.  Whether or not he was actually guilty is irrelevant, though.  What is important is that a huge majority of the Sunni population viewed these arrests as a carefully planned vendetta by a Shia led premier against the Sunni rival.  The marginalization and alienation felt by the Sunni’s when Saddam Hussein was overthrown was now being relived and reinforced.

In the past, the U.S. and President Talabani were able to suppress those feelings until that current crisis needed intervention.  With the U.S. no longer present and Talabani recovering from his stroke in a German hospital, Iraq must find someone who can perform this difficult task.  I think in an ideal world, al-Maliki would fill the spot himself, however, with protests continuing and the prime minister reluctant to back down, it is quite unlikely this will actually happen.

Tunisia-A bright future, or a return to the past?


      In recent months, we have seen tremendous strides made in Tunisia for equality and freedom. Just last month, tens of thousands of activists from around the globe converged on Tunisia for the World Social Forum, the "annual counter-hegemonic meet where opponents of neo-liberalism, free trade and austerity rally together".

       The slogan of this year's forum, which ran from March 26th to 30th, in keeping with the spirit of Tunisia's January 2011 uprising, was dignity. After all, the Jasmine Revolution began only after Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old Tunisian street vendor, set himself afire on December 17th 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the humiliation that was inflicted on him by a municipal official. All Mohamed wanted was dignity, and his cries for it can still be heard across Tunisia, echoed by most of the countries citizens.  Most Tunisians describe their uprising as a struggle for dignity – the term "Jasmine Revolution" was only ever used by foreign journalists. They have been demanding affordable basic necessities, the right to employment and to a more just and equitable society. 

   Romdhane Ben Amor, a spokesperson for the WSF organising team, told Al Jazeera that organisers had initially hoped to hold the event in Egypt, but had opted for Tunisia due to its comparative stability.

It's the first time the forum was held in an Arab country.

   The issue of public debt was one of the main topics on the forum's agenda."It's a leading dilemma in Tunisia," said Ben Amor. "There's no work, prices are rising, the government isn't able to invest in society, and it's all because of the debt."

       According to Al Jazeera, "Tunisia is currently negotiating a $1.78 billion dollar loan from the IMF to help keep its economy afloat, and the newly-formed government may sign the agreement this month. Yet the reforms the IMF is pushing the government to accept would, according to some economists, make life even harder for a population that so recently rose up in revolt over economic misery." We can only hope that this is not the case, especially after the tremendous strides Tunisia has made as a nation in recent months. 

    It is estimated as many as 50,000 visitors from 128 countries gathered at the World Social Forum to discuss shared economic and social problems. The forum began with all these participants marching down the streets of Tunis, the capital. For the Tunisian citizens who attended, I am sure there was a feeling of dejavu from when their protests initially began several years ago. However, this time they were marching in a different Tunisia, a changed Tunisia. 

     The debt has not kept Tunisia from making great strides in efforts to promote freedom and equality. Just last week, guarded by armed Tunisian police, Jewish revelers chanted and danced in a three-day pilgrimage to the El Ghriba synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Africa, located on an island resort 500 kilometers south of Tunis.

Jewish men pray inside the blue-tiled El Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba following a wedding ceremony May 10, 2012. REUTERS/Anis Mili

       In 2011, after the uprising that toppled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the annual celebration was canceled. In 2002 militants linked to al Qaeda attacked the synagogue with a truck bomb killing 21 Western tourists. In 2012 only a few dozen Jews attended out of fear of possible attacks by hard line Islamists.

Security for this year's pilgrimage was tight, with hundreds of police on duty.
   "The strong presence of security is a positive step and sends a message to the Jews in the world that Tunisia protects us even if its leaders are Islamists", Perez Trabelsi, the head of the Jewish community in Djerba, told

       Hosting both the World Social Forum, as well as offering high levels of police protection for an ancient Jewish pilgrimage? This does not sound like the Tunisia we know and have learned about in class.  So we must ask ourselves, have we truly seen progress in Tunisia? Is the Tunisia we see now different from the Tunisia of a year ago? Two years ago? Or even of 10 years ago? It is hard to argue that Tunisia has not changed. Hosting the World Social Forum and the recent return of an ancient Jewish pilgrimage under military protection seem far from possible under the regime of Ben Ali. Perhaps Tunisia has yet to reach its goals of dignity for all, but the country where the Arab Spring started is setting a wonderful example for it's neighboring countries to follow. 

Tunisians protest outside the gates of the French Embassy after remarks made by the French ambassador that were perceived as insulting. Such a public display of expression by Tunisians would have been unheard of during the Ben Ali reign.

    This is not the Tunisia we have learned about in class. It is a new Tunisia; one striding for freedom, equality, and of course, dignity. It is nearly impossible to say Tunisia has not changed, and is not continuing to change and transform from the country it once was to a more democratic nation. Prior to the revolution, Tunisia was plagued by government censorship, a lack of civic life, corruption, and vast human rights violations. Since the revolution, non-governmental organizations have reconstituted themselves and hundreds of new ones have emerged. For instance, the Tunisian Human Rights League, the first human rights organization in Africa and the Arab world, which operated under restrictions and state intrusion for over half of its existence, is now completely free to operate. 

    Tunisia is a shining beacon of future possibilities in an area of the world ravaged by war and revolution. Tunisia has proven that through the chaos, we can find peace and new democratic ideals. Although Tunisia still faces tremendous debt as well as other more complicated social issues, if the nation continues in the direction it is currently moving, we can only expect to see a once corrupt,authoritarian state, become a budding democracy and a role model for other nations within the Middle East and North Africa.

Works Cited:

Amara, Tarek, "Jews revive annual pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue",,, last updated Saturday April 27th, 2013

Yasmine, Ryan, "Tunisia World Social Forum to blast austerity",,, last updated March 26th, 2013

More Protesters Apprehended by Police in Bahrain

Bahrain remains in full of protests and riots, as the government tries to crack down they have taken many new suspects into custody.

Protesters wave Bahraini flags during an anti-government demonstration in the village of Diraz, west of Manama, late on April 27, 2013 (AFP Photo / Mohammed Al-Shaikh)
       It was announced this past weekend that police have arrested 22 suspects who have allegedly been part of the civil protests and unrest within Bahrain. Some have been accused of participating in what the Bahraini police are calling, a terrorist attack, police forces in a small village outside of Manama as that took place on March 7th. Others are being arrested for their part in the Formula One Riots that just recently took place. Still some are being arrested on charges of blockading roads and burning tires. The majority of the suspects were picked up in Shiite neighborhoods.  It is estimated by human rights groups that since the start of these demonstrations in 2011, at least 80 people have been killed and thousands arrested.

       This comes after the indefinite postponement of the UN torture reporter Mr. Juan Mendez meeting in Bahrain. The cancellation was a unilateral decision made by Bahraini officials. This event had been in the making for a year and a half yet after recent events, Bahrain was not willing to oblige.
     As these two stories come out within a week of each other, the cancelled visit impacts the way we view the new suspects, that have been apprehended. Is this something the UN should be watching more closely? With this meeting cancelled does this imply Bahrain is using various methods of torture and not willing to stop? That is what it seems like to me, while there isn’t any hard evidence the connections seem too strong. As we have discussed in class due to the threat felt by the regime, they are more likely to use repression to try and control their population, torture is part of that.


Elections without the US

April 20th, 2013 was the first Iraqi election without security help from the US. This election replaced 18 local councils elected in 2009 with 18 new governorates. The campaign for this 2013 election has been violent but not as violent as many thought it would be. Leading up to the election there were 14 candidates killed.  The Iraqi government implemented many security measures leading up to the elections in order to keep citizens and candidates safe. These measures included a car ban and a curfew on Election Day. Three providences, Anbar, Kirkuk and Nineveh, did not hold elections because of insecurity in the region. The security measures produced a major problem with the elections, by making the polling centers very difficult to get to. Many Iraqis claimed that the voting centers were too far away without the use of cars and therefore they were not able to vote in this election.


The violence leading up to this election has been the same violence that has overcome Iraq and the Middle East; racial disputes between the Sunni’s and Shiites. The fourteen candidates that have been killed in this election were all Sunni. It is reported that some assassinations were by political opposition but others were by Sunni radicals associated with Al Qaeda. It may seem odd that radical Sunnis would attack other Sunnis when they want more representation I the Shiite controlled government, but the targets have been more moderate Sunnis that look to work with the Shiites for equality. The deterrence of voters due to curfew and car bans is not the reason people are not appearing at the polls to vote. The problem is fear. The violence between the Sunnis and Shiites is deterring both voters and viable candidates.

A political science professor at a Bagdad university explains, “Killing candidates means instilling fear and that is why I think it will affect voter participation, because I don’t think people will want to risk their lives again.” Many believed that the violence leading up to this election was mild compared to what it could have been. However, next year Iraq will hold general elections for the first time without US security forces. This is the main concern in Iraq right now. If this amount of fear is being provoked for eighteen local councils, what will happen in a general election in Iraq?


Mubarak's Appeal Granted by Judge who Recused Himself

President Mubarak held power over Egypt for 30 years. The revolution that took place in several cities in Egypt took Mubarak out of office and later made Morsi the new president. During this revolution, many nonviolent protesters were killed, and Mubarak faced a trial in which he was charged over these killings. Mubarak appealed to these charges and on April 13th his appeal was granted, “technically freeing him in the case involving the killing of nonviolent protesters.” Nonetheless, Mubarak was to
remain behind bars due to new charges that we added to the other allegations.

Mubarak waving at his supporters during trial
The retrial that was to take place on Saturday “was delayed after the judge recused himself and walked out, leaving the court without leadership.” The court requires that a new judge must be found within the next 60 days. The reasons behind the judge’s recusing were to health reasons, as stated by Mubarak’s lawyer. Needless to say, relatives of the victims that died during the revolution were outraged. One of the victims explains, "the government is not giving us the moral support we need, and they're allowing this circus of a trial to continue. We were hoping for a death sentence, but the way it's going, we may see Mubarak free, and his sons free, which means my brother died for nothing.”

Mubarak’s trials are of extreme importance, not only to the relatives of those who died, but also to the international community. Many human rights crimes were committed during these event and need to be punished with the weight of justice. The delays occurring during Mubarak’s trials are antagonizing those who opposed his regime and are making the situation prolong. These issues could proliferate the conflict trap theory that seems to be happening in Egypt. Although, president Morsi is the new leader of Egypt, a large control from the military can still be felt and the sense of clear victory is lost. If the trials continue to prolong, the people affected might take matters into their hands and oppose to the current court system.

What needs to be done by policymakers in this process is to move quickly and find a judge replacement. It is imperative to provide information to citizens of all the steps that are taking place leading to Mubarak’s trial. In order to mitigate the conflict, the government has to show that the situation has not stagnated and it is in the process of coming to its end. 

  • Brumfield, Ben, Reza Sayah, and Journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy. "Egypt's Mubarak Wins Petition but Will Stay Detained." CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

Tactics of The Unfriendly Opposition

Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi
According to Syrian state-rum media, an explosion in downtown Damascus nearly claimed the life of Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi.

Although there are few details about the attack at the time of this posting, it seems that this is the latest attempt by the Syrian rebels to disrupt Bashar al-Assad’s regime.  Human rights organizations report that Halqi’s bodyguard and five civilians were killed in the bombing.

The bombing in Damascus this morning highlights an interesting development in the Syrian civil war.  Rebel groups increasingly turn to guerrilla, asymmetrical type attacks against the Syrian regime.  Suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices have become common instruments in the fight to overthrow the government.

These tactics also reflect the large influx of militant fundamentalist organizations to Syria since the war began.   Groups like al-Nusra Front, an organization with ties to al-Qaeda, provide weapons, ammunition, and other supplies to segments of the Syrian opposition.  As such organizations join the fight against the al-Assad regime, Syrian rebels’ tactics have changed also.

The militant groups’ support for the Syrian opposition movement has provided much support as the international community largely refrains to intervene.  Their participation in the conflict, however, will further limit the chances of international intervention in Syria.  Muddling the message and motivations of the opposition, these organizations will cause the West to further hesitate before supporting the opposition.

What’s more?  This could make the conflict in Syria even more deadly.  Because of the support the Syrian opposition receives from terrorist organizations, the international community may be less likely to act even if the Assad regime resorts to widespread use of chemical weapons, which President Obama has referred to as a “red line.”

 A fighter from Jabhat al-Nusra runs as the group's base is shelled in Raqqa province, eastern Syria, in March 14, 2013

"Syria's Al-Nusra Front 'Part of Al-Qaeda'."  BBC. Published electronically 10 April 2013.

"Syria Crisis: Pm Halqi Survives Damascus Car Bombing."  BBC. Published electronically 29 April 2013.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Chemical Warfare in Syria

The conflict in Syria has faded slightly from our spotlight media in recent months and has been pushed completely from our minds understandably due to threats much closer to home but nonetheless the conflict rages on.  This conflict was pushed to a new level when it was suspected that government troops used some type of chemical weapon against the rebel forces in the month of April. The use of chemical weapons of any kind brings great concern to the region as well as to the US and NATO for their allies in the region and also to the UN who would like to prevent anymore humanitarian tragedies.

Israeli General Itai Brun announced this week that he highly suspected the use of chemical weapons, most likely the nerve gas Sarin, due to the physical symptoms the victims suffered before death. These statements have yet to be verified by the Israeli or US governments. (Aljazeera) If these claims turn out to be true then that definitely turns up the pressure on the international community to intervene. The international community has held back even in the face of claims of large massacres and resorted to supplying only non-lethal aid leaving them in a moral gray area on how to prevent human rights violations. President Obama has declared that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line for the United States and that it would lead to further US action in the conflict. (NY Times) He was diplomatically very vague in describing what these actions could consist of.

As of today the United States has officially announced their suspicion of the use of chemical weapons by the government on Syrian rebels. President Obama stated that if found out to be accurate it would be a game changer in the US’s approach to the conflict in Syria.

Work Cited

  • "US Urges NATO to Consider Role in Syria." N.p., 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.

  • Rudoren, David E. Sanger And Jodi. "Syria Has Used Chemical Weapons, Israel Says." The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.

Bahrain’s Eventful Week: Protests, International Races, Human Rights Abuses, and Promising Economic Opportunities

Photo credit: Hasan Jamali/AP Photo
Bahrain’s indefinite postponement of Juan Mendez’s planned May 8th-15th visit to the small island nation on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council sparks international concern. The Bahraini government’s decision to cancel this visit, for the second year in a row, follows a spike in national protests and flying rumors of torturing of torture within Bahraini prisons. It also falls on the heels of the internally controversial Formula One Race that was held just a few days ago on April 21st in the coastal region of al-Manamah, nearby the University of Bahrain.
                The Formula 1 race had to be cancelled in 2011 due to the political unrest unfolding in Bahrain that year, but the race continued on as planned last year and this year with increased security despite the mass political protests of the people. During this year’s April 12th protests of the race where demonstrators carried signs with slogans like “Stop Racing on Our Blood” and carried signs of solidarity for jailed Bahraini human rights activist father-daughter duo Abdulhadi and  Zainab al-Khawaja as well as the activist Nabeel Rajab. To the credit of the Bahraini government, the April 12th protests were officially approved by the recently enacted laws cracking down on large protests, which is at least a small step towards allowing its people to have larger political voices.
Photo credit: Mohammed al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images
It was reported by the Saudi Arabian online news organization, Arab News, that two Bahraini girls were arrested for plotting a terrorist attack at the race track. The unnamed girls were claimed to have been arrested while doing a “dry run” in which one girl had concealed a pillow under her clothes to test the thoroughness of the track’s security. The Arab News article continued on to that the Bahraini police claims to have seized 1000 petroleum based bombs, 72 fire extinguishers intended to be used as bombs, and 137 tires that protestors were intending to set fire to. While the protesters in Bahrain are known for low scale violent acts such as setting tires ablaze at demonstrations, I think we must question the numbers and possible validity of the rest of the claims in this article. Not only are there a reason for the Bahraini government to exaggerate the scale of violence of the protestors, but the Saudi-run paper also has reasons to vilify these protestors in Bahrain. It is a well-known fact that the Saudi Arabian government and the Bahraini government have very close ties, close enough that Saudi forces were deployed onto the small island during the 2011 protests to help the Bahraini government quell protesters.   
Increased protests aren’t the only concerns of the Bahraini government this past week. In the Bahrain News Agency an article was published April 24th with Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab, the Minister of State for Information Affairs and Government’s Official Spokesperson, making a statement in response to the United States’ State Department’s 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Her statement contained the expected reaction of a country of Bahrain’s limited political freedoms, as well as a claim that the State Department’s report lacked objectivity and “totally” sided with “terrorists who seek to sow chaos in the region.” The official statement included a commitment to comply with human rights principles and standards while confronting terrorist threats to Bahrain. The statement also called out the United States’ contradictory stance in the global war on terror, with its own questionable security measures, while it continues to “deny” the “right” of other countries to do the same. Frankly, this is a fair, albeit indirect, way for Bahrain to call out the US for its activities in places like Guantanamo Bay, and raises equally troubling questions to the US’s validity in calling out other nations for Human Rights abuses. However, the US doesn’t restrict the press, free speech, or professional and civilian journalists the same way that nations like Bahrain do.
Despite these two major events this past week or so, the Bahraini government is decidedly optimistic about its economic and socio-political future. With the boastful headline “Bahrain Ideal for Doing Business” The Gulf Daily News: the Voice of Bahrain published a pat-on-the-back style article on April 25th in no real news was relayed, but a few statistics and vague statements about economic prosperity and possibilities for future growth. Quotes from Industry and Commerce Minister Dr. Hassan Fakhro following the Bahrain-United Kingdom Business Forum in London filled the article, stating facts such as Bahrain’s $28k GDP/capita and its historically strong relationship with Britain in many economic sectors. This relatively mundane article isn’t the only article within the last week or so discussing growing and new economic opportunities within Bahrain. A snippet of an article announced an agreement Bahrain signed with the Islamic Development Bank on April 24th to help support the countries small agricultural sector. The projects supported by this agreement are hoped to create new jobs for young people in the nation to help combat the high youth unemployment.
 But what is probably the most exciting—and politically controversial— economic announcement this week was from Bernie Ecclestone, the head hauncho of  Formula One. He is quoted as having said that Bahrain has done a “super job” in hosting the race and hinted at extending Formula One’s racing contract with the nation for an additional five years. An extension to the contract could possibly become a point of political contention in the upcoming few years. Already the Formula One race is a sore spot amongst protesters as they see their political issues ignored or downplayed in the light of this international race. Since peace talks between the Bahraini government and al-Wefeq have stalled, it will undoubtedly be an interesting series of events to watch unfold over the next few years.   

Photo Credit: Hasan Jamali/AP Photo


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Qatar faces backlash among Syrian opposition groups for outsized role in Syria

           As conflict continues in Syria and rebel groups are fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, Qatar continues to give support to opposition groups and holds a big role in the civil war but they limit their financial and physical support to only groups that they like.  Many smaller groups are complaining that Qatar is not providing the necessary amount of ammunition, guns, and supplies to them because they are not Islamic enough or do not have a obvious Islamic ideology.  Qatar has too much power in post Assad Syria buy buying up outsized influence and giving support only to groups who are Islamic minded.  Many opposition groups and group members are dispersing from their groups or disbanding because they will not stand for the exploitation of Qatar in the Syrian revolution because they see it as personal gain for Qatar and is allowing them too much control of the area which makes many believe that Qatar is trying to shape the new government of Syria.  Even more of a problem is the back that certain rebel groups that are backed by Qatar contain fundamentalists such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

            The Syrian National Coalition was hurt by Qatar's involvement as many members left after Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood used their pressure to get their candidate to become prime minister of the coalition which has weakened the group.  What rebels are seeing is the government of Qatar composing most of the new interim government in Syria which is an outrage to many rebel groups.  Even worse Qatar continues to provide weapons to only religious ideological rebel groups and is not supporting militant or ultraconservative rebel groups, hurting the chance of those groups to be successful and ultimately making people grow further apart from each other due to due to the deliberate lack of support from some but not others. Islamic brigades do not share ammunition, guns, or supplies to nationalist brigades.  The groups that are not receiving support from Qatar and other countries offering support are beginning to mistrust Qatar because they feel that ultimately Qatar is only interested in ruling Syria and is hoping for the entire regime to topple. 

            We should care about this issue because if Qatar and other involved countries are giving unfair support by only helping certain religious regimes in the fight and putting Qatari people in charge of large groups, we should worry that Qatar is exerting too much power in the fight and that it has other interests besides helping.  If Qatar is secretly trying to take over Syria and ruin its rebuilding by supporting only certain groups whom have different views that normal militant or nationalist groups, then the United States will be faced with losing Syria to Qatar and destroying all the work that has been done to try to fix the problems in Syria.  This article in whole was trying to say that we should be suspicious of Qatar and its huge support in the opposing group fight in Syria because it may have another hidden agenda that might cause more damage in the middle east before anyone even realized what has happened.  If Qatar was supporting all groups with equal shares of supplies and money and it wasn't putting its own leaders in charge, then there would be nothing suspicious.

            After analyzing the entire situation and evidence stated in the article, the future of Syria and Qatar is quite clear.  Using theories learned in class, I have come to the conclusion that if Qatar continues to take more and more charge of Syria and focusing on only rebels that they favor, eventually all other rebel groups will disappear, Qatar will put its own people in charge of Syria, and slowly the rebel groups will be taken out while Qatar takes quiet rule of the country, effectively destroying the interim government there right now and ending the opposition forces.  This would ruin all chances for saving and rebuilding Syria after its intial fall and start making Qatar more powerful and more influential which in turn can make Qatar more power hungry and have it start going after other problematic countries as long as Qataris know they can just use their money to give off the idea of fake support.  I think policymakers and rebel groups in Syria should take an active role in removing Qatari officials from the head of rebel groups and find another source of money and support so Qatar loses its influence and trust.

Sources Cited: