Friday, February 28, 2014

A new (order) Ukraine? Assessing the relevance of Ukraine’s far right in an EU perspective

    Friday, February 28, 2014   No comments
by Cas Mudde

The Euromaidan ‘revolution’ will undoubtedly remain one of the key political events of 2014. Most domestic and foreign observers were completely taken by surprise by the events that followed President Viktor Yanukovych’ decision not to sign an integration treaty with the European Union (EU) in November 2013. While the initial demonstrations in downtown Kiev were somewhat expected, few had ever thought that they could spiral so out of control that, just 3 months later, a democratically elected government with one of the most popular politicians in the country was forced out of power.

Euromaidan has also been interesting in terms of the propaganda battle that has been fought in the traditional and social media. As is now standard for ‘revolutions’ in the twenty first century, activists were quick to set up several Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and other websites to provide their own positive view of the ‘revolution,’ countering the negative reports from the official Ukrainian media and, particularly, the largely Kremlin-controlled Russian media. They were very successful in disseminating their message, in part through networks of sympathizers in the west (including Ukrainian émigré communities in North America and post-Soviet scholars across the globe).

One of the main struggles has been over the importance of ‘fascists’ in the Euromaidan. Almost from the beginning the pro-Kremlin media emphasized the importance of ‘Ukrainian fascists’ among the anti-government demonstrators, and within days the whole uprising was to be portrayed as ‘fascist.’ This was to be expected, as both Soviet and post-Soviet Russian elites have tended to equate Ukrainian nationalism with fascism, linking any and every anti-Soviet or anti-Russian movement to the infamous Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) of Stepan Bandera, which (temporarily) collaborated with Nazi Germany in a misguided attempt to gain Ukrainian independence from Stalin’s brutal Soviet regime.

At the same time, most domestic and foreign sympathizers of ‘Euromaidan’ have minimalized the importance of the far right, arguing that Euromaidan was a genuine democratic and pro-European uprising in which far right elements were insignificant.

Euromaidan became the latest cause of western celebrities, from Archbishop of New York Cardinal Dolan to actor George Clooney, and academics, from Andrew Arato to the inevitable Slavoj Žižek. Much more surprising, however, was that some of the same scholars who had been warning us against the rise of the far right in pre-Euromaidan Ukraine, were now scolding us for exaggerating the importance of the far right in Euromaidan.

Even worse, any specific emphasis on far right elements within Euromaidan would lead to “Russian imperialism-serving effects.” Arguing by and large that they should be the only ones to judge the situation in Ukraine, given that they were the (only) “experts on Ukrainian nationalism,” these scholars declared Euromaidan “a liberationist and not extremist mass action of civil disobedience.”

Now that the ‘revolution’ is supposedly won, and the EU is ready to embrace the new Ukrainian government, and invest at least one billion euros in the ‘revolutionized’ country, it is time to reinvestigate the question of far right influence in Ukraine. After all, the EU has always been an outspoken critic of far right parties and politicians. In fact, only last month EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström declared publically: “The biggest threat [for the EU] right now comes from violent right-wing extremism.”

We can get rid of Assad or fight al-Qaeda, but we can’t do both

    Friday, February 28, 2014   No comments
For the past three years, when seeking enlightenment about the Syrian crisis, I have often talked to Alastair Crooke, a former MI6 officer. Mr Crooke, who left government service a decade ago after a long career, now runs a think tank called Conflicts Forum, which maintains contact with organisations such as Hizbollah and governments such as Iran, when official contact has been broken off.


I have learnt to respect and trust Mr Crooke, who has the invaluable habit of being right. When the British and American governments both claimed that President Assad of Syria would fall within weeks, he told me this was wishful thinking. When Western governments hailed the Syrian rebels as a democratic movement of national liberation, he said: hang on a moment. At the heart of the rebellion, he pointed out, was a group of armed gangs funded by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, dedicated to the establishment of a militant Sunni caliphate across the Middle East. He uttered this warning right at the start of the Syrian conflict, and at last the penny is (ever so painfully) beginning to drop in Whitehall and Washington.
So when Conflicts Forum invited me to a seminar in Beirut, I accepted with alacrity. It was over the weekend in an otherwise deserted seaside hotel. Lebanon, so prosperous and thriving when I was here four years ago, now conveys an air of desolate menace, as the country struggles to accommodate more than a million Syrian refugees. Parts of the country, including the second city of Tripoli, are increasingly dominated by jihadists.

At the seminar, there was a different world view to the one normally presented in the British media, and a more exotic cast of characters. Mr Crooke had assembled an adviser to President Putin, several Iranian diplomats, as well as representatives from Hizbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad – all three organisations labelled as terrorists by Western governments.

To many Telegraph readers, this might sound like a rogues’ gallery. But what they had to say was very interesting. Everyone there took for granted that President Assad has won the war, though they admitted that there may be some time to go before it ends. In the north, they said, the rebels have turned on each other. A crucial battle is now being fought at Qalamoun, in the west. The Syrian army and rebel forces are engaged in a ferocious battle for this strategic ridge, which controls the all-important supply line between Lebanon and rebel territory. We were told that the Battle of Qalamoun was all over bar the shouting, and that it will fall to Assad’s forces quite soon.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Iran’s Rouhani Puts U.S.-Saudi Ties to the Test

    Thursday, February 27, 2014   No comments
by David Ottaway

The opening of a dialogue between the United States and Iran has stirred  deep-seated fears in Saudi Arabia that the Obama administration may be headed for a “grand bargain” with Tehran at the Saudis’ expense, raising further doubts about Saudi dependence on Washington for its security. The Saudis have already sensed flagging U.S. support in their confrontation with Iran over Iraq and Syria as they wage a bitter battle with the Iranians for Arab and Muslim world leadership.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denied the authenticity of the latest wiretap recording incriminating him of corruption during a Feb. 25 parliamentary group speech

    Tuesday, February 25, 2014   No comments

“Yesterday they published a play that they have montaged and dubbed themselves. What has been done is a vile attack against the prime minister of Turkey,” he said.

The fresh wiretap leaked into the Internet Feb. 24 containing four phone conversations between Erdoğan and his son dating back to Dec. 17, the day when massive graft raids were conducted by the police.


“I was making calls for weeks. I said: Publish everything you have, disclose whatever you’ve got. And they go and make an immoral montage and publish it. But even fabricating has morals and decency,” Erdoğan said, announcing that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would use the same technology and publish similar tapes featuring opposition leaders.

He also accused the opposition of opportunism after both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) held extraordinary meetings over the leaked recordings. “Both the executive board of the CHP and MHP held extraordinary meetings. Why? Because they [are thinking] about how to take advantage of the montage. We can’t get it from the ballot box, and no coup is happening. Maybe we can do it thanks to [the help] from across the ocean,” he said, visibly referring to U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whom he has repeatedly accused of orchestrating the probes.

The voice recordings have sent shockwaves through Turkish politics, prompting the Prime Minister’s Office to issue a statement denouncing a "manipulation" and calls from the main opposition CHP for resignation.

On Feb. 25, the MHP joined the CHP’s call for the government’s resignation, with its leader Devlet Bahçeli describing the recordings as “mindblowing.”

“It has been reported that Prime Minister Erdoğan called his son Bilal asking him to gather with his brother Burak, uncle Mustafa and brother-in-law Berat to get rid of all the stolen money as soon as possible from his house. It is understood that the prime minister urgently and insistently asked for 2.2 billion [Turkish Lira] of dirty money hidden in different addresses to be dispersed,” Bahçeli said during his party’s group meeting in Ankara.

“If those conversations are true and nothing has been added, then it will be impossible to speak about the credibility, the humanity and, worse, the morality of the person in the position of prime minister,” he added.

read more >>

Monday, February 24, 2014

The ‘Islam is different’ argument

    Monday, February 24, 2014   No comments
BY EUGENE VOLOKH

[This is my last post serializing my just-published article, Religious Law (Especially Islamic Law) in American Courts, 66 Okla. L. Rev. 431 (2014); you can see the posts so far here.]

I have argued that many (though not all) of the things that are condemned as intrusions of Islamic law into American law are actually the applications of traditional American legal principles. Those who believe in equal treatment without regard to religion, I have argued, should extend to Muslims the benefits of those principles just as Christians, Jews and others can take advantage of those principles.
Some, however, have argued that Islam should not be treated the same as those other religions. One line of argument goes so far as to say (in the words of noted televangelist and political figure Pat Robertson) that “Islam is not a religion. It is a political system bent on world domination.”[111]


It’s hard to figure out exactly what the first part of this means. What constitutes a religion for legal purposes can be fuzzy around the edges,[112] but surely Islam — a prominent system of beliefs about God and God’s supposed commands to mankind — must qualify.[113] The argument, I assume, must be that Islam, though it is a religion, is not simply a religion but is also a political ideology and therefore loses its status as a religion for, say, religious accommodation purposes.
But that can’t be right. Many religions, especially many strands of Christianity, are “political system[s]” in the sense that they create an agenda for political action. The conservative Christian political program of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others is one example.[114] The “liberation theology” followed by some liberal Catholics is another.[115]

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Unanimously approved, Security Council resolution demands aid access in Syria

    Saturday, February 22, 2014   No comments
22 February 2014 – The United Nations Security Council today unanimously approved a resolution to boost humanitarian aid access in Syria, a move Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said can ease some civilian suffering, if it is implemented quickly and in good faith.

Through Resolution 2139 (2014), the Council demanded "that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders".

The 15-member Council also called for an immediate end to all forms of violence in the country and strongly condemned the rise of Al Qaida-affiliated terror.

Members insisted that all parties cease attacking civilians, including through the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas, such as shelling and aerial bombardment with barrel bombs, whose use has been condemned by senior UN officials.

Mr. Ban, who participated in the rare Saturday meeting, welcomed the resolution but added that it "should not have been necessary" as humanitarian assistance is not something to be negotiated but allowed by virtue of international law.

He expressed profound shock that both sides are besieging civilians as a tactic of war, and noted that reports of human rights violations continue, including massacres, as well as sexual and gender-based violence against children.

In the resolution, the Council strongly condemned the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, and urged all parties involved in the conflict to lift sieges of populated areas, including in Aleppo, Damascus and Rural Damascus, and Homs.

They also underscored the importance of medical neutrality and demanded the demilitarization of medical facilities, schools and other civilian facilities.

After the Security Council meeting, the authors of the adopted text, Ambassador Gary Quinlan from Australia, Luxembourgs Sylvie Lucas, and Prince Zeid Raad Zeid Al-Hussein, Permanent Representative of Jordan, highlighted the Council's commitment to take further steps in case of non-compliance with the resolution.

The Council has asked that Mr. Ban submit a report to the members every 30 days from today specifying progress made towards the resolution's implementation.

Today's text builds on the Presidential Statement adopted four months ago, which stressed the need for immediate action to protect civilians and give access to people in need.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said she hopes the passing of the resolution will facilitate delivery of aid. In a statement after the adoption, she underscored the importance of protecting ordinary people who have been bearing the brunt of the violence, particularly children.

Earlier this month, Ms. Amos noted that despite modest progress on the humanitarian front, the UN and partners have not been able to reach the most vulnerable people in the country.

She underscored her plea to Council members to do everything they can to use their influence over the parties to this appalling conflict, to ensure that they abide by humanitarian pauses and ceasefires, give humanitarian actors sustained and regular access, commit, in writing, to upholding international humanitarian law, allow systematic cross-line access, and prevent UN relief teams from being shot at while delivering aid to people in need.

Well over 100,000 people have been killed and an estimated 9 million others driven from their homes since the conflict erupted between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and various groups seeking his ouster nearly three years ago.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are currently more than 2.4 million refugees registered in the region: some 932,000 in Lebanon; 574,000 in Jordan; some 613,000 in Turkey; 223,000 in Iraq; and about 134,000 in Egypt.

In today's resolution, the Council emphasized that the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate in the absence of a political solution and expressed support for the UN-sponsored direct talks between Government and opposition representatives.

At the end of the second round of talks last week, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative, expressed regret that only modest cooperation between the sides was reached on humanitarian effort.

Mr. Brahimi, who is scheduled to be at the UN Headquarters next week, said the parties had agreed that a new round of talks would focus on violence and terrorism, a transitional governing body, national institutions and national reconciliation.



Source: UNSC news

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The vicious schism between Sunni and Shia has been poisoning Islam for 1,400 years - and it's getting worse

    Thursday, February 20, 2014   No comments
Rendering of Imam Hussain after Karbala
The war in Syria began much earlier than is generally recognised. The conflict actually began in the year 632 with the death of the Prophet Mohamed. The same is true of the violence, tension or oppression currently gripping the Muslim world from Iraq and Iran, though Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A single problem lies behind all that friction and hostility. On Tuesday, Britain's leading Muslim politician, the Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi, obliquely addressed it in a speech she made in Oman, the Arab state at the south-east corner of the Arabian Peninsula strategically positioned at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The religious tolerance of the Sultanate, she suggested, offered a model for the whole of the Islamic world. It certainly needs such an exemplar of openness and acceptance.

What most of the crucibles of conflict in the Middle East have in common is that Sunni Muslims are on one side of the disagreement and Shia Muslims on the other. Oman is unusual because its Sunni and Shia residents are outnumbered by a third sect, the Ibadis, who constitute more than half the population. In many countries, the Sunni and the Shia are today head-to-head.

The rift between the two great Islamic denominations runs like a tectonic fault-line along what is known as the Shia Crescent, starting in Lebanon in the north and curving through Syria and Iraq to the Gulf and to Iran and further east.


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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Word As Image: Contextualizing “Calligraffiti: 1984-2013″ with French-Tunisian Street Artist eL Seed

    Wednesday, February 19, 2014   No comments
BY RUSTIN ZARKAR

“Calligraffiti:1984-2013,” runs from September 5th to October 5th, 2013 at New York’s Leila Heller Gallery. As an updated version of the original show in 1984, the current exhibition features nearly fifty artists from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and North America. The article below also contains segments of an interview with French-Tunisian street artist eL Seed.


The interplay between word and image– of language and visual representation– has become complexly intertwined in the cultural productions of contemporary societies. The art gallery combines text and image; most installations are accompanied by a placard revealing information about the piece such as the name of the artist, the materials used, as well as the name of the work and when it was created. Here, the word becomes a conveyor of meaning, which elucidates the content of the visual material. The textual is treated just as an instrument in the service of the visual. However, in the cases of calligraphy and graffiti– two separate but undeniably related art forms– text itself is the object of beauty. The word merges with the image itself and the dichotomy between the two is nullified; no one can say when the letters end and the image begins, or vice versa.

This synthesis of linguistic signs and visual representation is explored by New York’s Leila Heller Gallery in their new exhibition entitled “Calligraffitti: 1984-2013.” The show features a substantial collection of text-based visual art created by artists such as eL Seed, Parviz Tanavoli, Hassan Massoudy, Hossein Zenderoudi, Shirin Neshat, and many more. The show’s titular portmanteau points to another unification: that between graffiti and calligraphy. With the majority of the featured artists originating from the Arab world and Iran, the allusion to the regions’ traditional calligraphic practice is prominently displayed. The influence of early Islamicate styles such as floriated Kufic and Nasta’liq’s siah mashq are clearly visible in the innovative works.

What Nicholas Kristof gets wrong about public intellectuals

    Wednesday, February 19, 2014   No comments
In the not so distant past, Politico reporter Dylan Byers engaged into a rather public spat with The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates’ contention that Melissa Harris-Perry is “America’s most foremost public intellectual.” Byers offered a list of intellectuals to counter Coates’ claim made up entirely of white men and a singular (deceased) white woman, provoking yet another proper sonning from the Twitterverse. It was telling that Byers couldn’t imagine or embrace the idea that an African-American woman could be a public intellectual. His default model returned to white and male.

A similar myopia resurfaced this past Sunday in a NYT column penned by Nicholas Kristof bemoaning the “absence” of academics in the public square.

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Syria conflict and reconciliation: Enemies cross the front lines in Damascus. But will the truce hold?

    Wednesday, February 19, 2014   No comments
Trading laughter instead of bullets
It is a surprising sight but one that may become more common in Damascus. Under the terms of a local ceasefire in the outlying district of Babbila in the south of the capital, armed members of the rebel Free Syrian Army mingle with Syrian soldiers and appear on friendly terms. The images show fighters from both sides talking and joking together.

Residents of the neighbourhood were said to be “overjoyed” by the truce. According to the AFP news agency, a group began chanting: “One, one, one! The Syrian people are one!”

The inside of the district, long under siege and bombarded by the army, will be policed by the FSA. Inhabitants who appear on the streets look overjoyed that for the moment the danger is over.

The terms of the truce in Babbila, assuming it is similar to that negotiated in other former rebel strongholds like Barzeh and Muadamiyat, provide for the FSA to hand over heavy weapons, but its fighters will stay in Babbila or can join the army. There will be a mixed FSA/army checkpoint at the entrance to Babbila and the army will not enter the district where the FSA will retain some of its positions in case the truce is broken. The government guarantees a rebuilding programme.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Reason Behind All Wars Is Egoism

    Tuesday, February 18, 2014   No comments
American academic and peace advocate Prof. Michael Nagler believes that non-violent activism is the best means to challenge the hegemonic powers and hold responsible those who commit acts of violence against the defenseless civilians or restrict their personal freedoms.

According to Prof. Michael Nagler, the Occupy Wall Street movement was a popular uprising against the greediness and materialism of the influential 1 percent that controls and runs the media, multinational corporations and interest groups.


Regarding the future of the peaceful, non-violent movements in the United States and other parts of the world, Prof. Nagler said, “I can’t predict what will actually happen, but I can predict with certainty that to the extent these movements learn and practice nonviolence in the right spirit, they will succeed to exactly that extent. And I can say with equal certainty that there is no other way. Governments that recognize this reality and have the courage and dignity to respond to such nonviolent movements will save themselves and the rest of the world enormous suffering.”

Prof. Michael N. Nagler is a prominent American peace activist and a Professor Emeritus at University of California, Berkeley. Since 2008, he has served as the co-chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. Currently, he is the president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence Education, a public organization which is dedicated to raising public awareness of nonviolence and keeping activists informed. Nagler is a proponent of the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and has won the 2007 Jamnalal Bajaj International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India. Nagler is the author of 2001 book “The Search For A Nonviolent Future.”

Fars News Agency had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with Prof. Nagler regarding the importance of nonviolence and peaceful resistance, the Occupy Wall Street movement as one of the significant nonviolent endeavors of the recent years in the United States and the military expeditions of the Western powers in the Middle East. What follows is the text of the interview.

Q: Why do you think the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged and turned from a nationwide protest against the economic policies of the administration into a movement that challenged the different aspects of the US governance, including its foreign policy and military expeditions in the Middle East?

Monday, February 17, 2014

The role of academics and public debates

    Monday, February 17, 2014   No comments
By As'ad AbuKhalil

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an article for the New York Times in which he implored academics to play a bigger role in public life and debates. Kristof is right about that although I disagree with all his other diagnoses and prescriptions. It is remarkable that academics in the US have no connection or interactions with the public at large. In fact, academics are increasingly trained and socialized to disdain communication and interaction with the masses. Academics pride themselves on perfecting academic jargon to such a degree that style and form become more important than substance. There are social science fields that are more guilty than others: political science maybe the worst as the the field becomes more and more quantitative and the illusion of “science” in politics (something that Hannah Arendt frowned upon) has led to borrowing theories and paradigms from economics to attain more academic respectability.

Academia is now more detached and conservative than ever. Academics in previous decades were able to speak to one another and also to the public at large. C.Wright Mills wrote for the academic field in which he was a part of at Columbia while being able to provide the public with powerful tools to understand the American political system away from the assumptions and presuppositions of the government and its extensions in the various establishments of public life. One can’t think of another example like Herbert Marcuse when his book, One Dimensional Man, electrified youths around the world. Today, academics rise in their ability to speak to the government and to appease the government. Academics who argued that George W. Bush was doing a great job in Iraq all along—like Fouad Ajami and Kenaan Makiyya (although the latter is not an academic despite being rewarded with an academic chair for his political stances that were in synch with American Zionists)—received wide platforms to speak to the public at large but not to challenge or stimulate. They spoke to the public to serve the propaganda cause of a sitting president. Similarly, Robert Putnam (with his Bowling Alone—the article than the book) received tremendous attention and receptivity in government circles.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gradual reforms fail in Morocco

    Sunday, February 16, 2014   No comments
by Nagham Assaad 
 
Morocco was not immune to the popular movement witnessed in the Arab region following the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution in December 2010. At this time three years ago, the February 20 Movement was leading mass demonstrations in various cities in Morocco. During these demonstrations, they raised slogans that varied between constitutional, political, social and economic priorities.

In an attempt to protect his throne from the winds of what has become known as the "Arab Spring," King Mohammed VI pre-empted any attempt at a revolution. Thus, he gave a now famous speech on March 9, 2011, a month after the start of the popular movement, in which he put in place an agenda for reform, including the adoption of constitutional amendments.

Yet, three years after the start of the popular movement, it seems that the idea of "gradual reform" has fallen, and perhaps this is why the February 20 movement has intensified its work to restore its spirit.

The issue of reform was not something new to Moroccan society, and it was not the product of the popular movement in February 2011. The wave of change was present between late 2009 and early 2010, which constituted a period of resentment at the popular level. This was not because of rampant corruption and the supremacy of the "Makhzen" (the ruling elite) alone, but also because 2009 was the year of the 10-year evaluation of the king coming to power. This evaluation was shocking, given the hopes that were pinned on the political will of the new king in the process of building democracy.

Thus, the discussions that followed the Feb. 20 protests in 2011, and the previous changes in other Arab countries, had strongly pushed the issue of reform to the forefront and contributed to raising the ceiling of demands and accelerating the pace of the popular movement.

The "famous" speech

The constitutional amendments of 2011, which were put to a popular referendum, would not have been done at the same speed or with the same formula had it not been for regional conditions and the popular movement that began with the emergence of the February 20 movement.

Mohammed VI was able to absorb the anger of the street through the "proactive reform model," in which he announced significant reforms and gave people hope through the use of resonating words such as change, democracy, reform, institutions and accountability. The approved constitutional amendments led to early legislative elections on Nov. 25, 2011. These elections resulted in a big win for the Islamic Justice and Development Party, which presided over a new coalition government.

Despite the above, the regime later demonstrated that it would not stop its traditional authoritarian practices in terms of dealing with both the press and the demonstrations, which continued strongly in almost all major cities of Morocco. The peak of these demonstrations occurred on the "National Day of Protest" in April 2011, when more than 800,000 Moroccans demonstrated in 106 cities and villages. This was in addition to demonstrations in 10 European and US cities, according to statistics from the National Council to Support the February 20 movement.

Hovering

Do the new constitutional reforms in Morocco represent a real change, or are they just "hovering" in the same place?

The former director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Institute, British researcher Marina Ottaway, confirms that the constitution that was drafted "falls into the category of constitutions granted to the nation by the king, rather than those crafted by a representative organization embodying popular sovereignty." This is because it was drafted by a commission of experts appointed by the king, rather than an elected constituent assembly or another representative body.

Ottaway, however, stressed that the constitution "undoubtedly broadens the power of parliament, allowing it to pass laws on most issues; it takes steps toward protecting the independence of the judiciary; and it increases the role of a number of independent commissions."

Yet she also noted, "What it fails to do clearly and unequivocally is reduce the power of the king." On the contrary, "the new constitution reserves for the king three areas as his exclusive domain: religion, security issues and strategic major policy choices. In addition, the king will remain the supreme arbiter among political forces. Under those rubrics, the king could very well control all important decisions, if he so chooses."

The royal palace regains its iron fist

On July 1, 2011, a referendum was held on the new Moroccan constitution, amid calls by the February 20 movement for a boycott, claiming that it enhances the absolute rule [of the king] and would not eliminate corruption. Nevertheless, the constitution passed with 98% of the vote.

Moroccan researcher Said Salmi said that the referendum "was disappointing. The state did not stand on the sidelines, and the king called on the people to vote 'yes.' He also gave orders to imams of mosques to dedicate a sermon to calling on the people to vote in favor of the constitution. Chapters of the constitution were changed the night before the referendum, and the king committed violations multiple times."

Shortly after the referendum, on Nov. 25, 2011, legislative elections were held in Morocco. The Justice and Development Party, which gives priority to Islamic reference in its work, won a large number of seats, enabling it to lead the government — headed by Abdelilah Benkirane — and receive 12 ministerial portfolios.

However, according to Salmi, the Benkirane government "quickly succumbed to corrupt lobbies and, instead of confrontation, preferred to take the easier route, adopting a demagogic populist rhetoric." He noted, "Under these circumstances, the royal palace regained its iron fist over all institutions."

Given that the Benkirane government had adopted a policy of "a deaf ear toward suggestions, solutions and alternatives," the Istiqlal Party withdrew from the government and moved to the ranks of the opposition. They considered the government to be "the worst in the history of modern Morocco," especially given that Morocco dropped three places in the rankings released by Transparency International in the field of fighting bribery.

"Pleasure marriage" between "Islamists" and "liberals"

The Benkirane government was appointed to a second term in 2013, following an alliance that observers described as a "pleasure marriage" between the Islamic Justice and Development Party and the National Rally of Independents, which is close to the authorities. During the Benkirane government's monthly accountability meeting on Jan. 4, there was a storm of accusations and counteraccusations between the government and opposition parties. Benkirane accused members of the Istiqlal Party, which had resigned from the government, of smuggling large sums of money out of Morocco.

In a precedent, the secretary-general of the Istiqlal Party, Hamid Chabat, announced that his party had decided to file a lawsuit against the head of the government, with the aim of [making the judiciary] reconsider the [Justice and Development] Party and its leaders. Chabat stressed that the goal of the lawsuit was to push Benkirane to act as a "real" head of state in the future.

Chabat stressed that the leaderships of the Istiqlal and Socialist Union parties are thinking about filing a lawsuit against anyone who mixes politics with Islamic preaching. He called on the Justice and Development Party to abandon its links to the Unity and Reform movement, and said that if it does not do this the state must dissolve the party, given its links to one of the Muslim Brotherhood's international associations.

Heavy criticism … and Benkirane acknowledges inability

In late 2013, King Mohammed VI strongly criticized the Benkirane government's management, holding it responsible for the decline in the reform of the education sector. The leader of the opposition Socialist Union of Popular Forces Party, Driss Lachgar, criticized the performance of the Moroccan government nearly two years after its formation, calling on it to open an investigation into the money smuggling and corruption cases.

On Jan. 12, activists from the Amazigh Youda movement organized the largest march in the movement's history, condemning the policy of procrastination that the state has been using in dealing with Amazigh demands. The movement also called for trying those involved in cases of corruption, abuse of power and looting of public money, as well as for enabling all citizens to have access to social services and improving these services. Moreover, activists said that [the government] should ensure a decent life for citizens by reducing the cost of living and increasing the minimum wage.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of the movements, which pushed Benkirane to acknowledge — albeit belatedly — the [government's] inability to address rampant bribery and corruption, blaming unnamed parties "that defend some corrupt people affiliated with them."

The dynamism of Feb. 20

In the midst of these developments and transformations, the February 20 movement had lost its vitality and entered into a phase of "intensive care," waiting for the announcement of its final death, as some researchers noted. But that did not prevent observers from stressing that the reform process initiated by Morocco was thanks to this bold protest movement.

Hamza Mahfouz, a February 20 activist, told As-Safir that what Morocco witnessed was a "popular uprising" and it will continue as long as the demands raised by the movement have not been achieved. He added the movement will continue to protest "despite the violent attacks it has been subjected to from official authorities, and despite the fall of 11 martyrs and the arrest of 58 members."

"Some Moroccans have hesitated in supporting the movement — affected by the bloody events that occurred in Libya, Yemen and Syria — and some supported the reforms that were offered, for fear of slipping toward a democratic transition through violence. But, if we look at the dynamism of the movement, there is no doubt that the February 20 movement is still strongly active in the various events happening in Morocco, both on the political and cultural levels. And the movement is still capable of being prepared in certain moments," he added.

Mahfouz concludes by saying, "On February 20, the third anniversary of the establishment of the movement, every city will take action in a way it deems appropriate. Many cities have decided to hold marches to revive demands and remind [the people] that the solution to most of Morocco's problems is a true democracy and the re-adoption of the constituent movement."
________

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Iowa Flattened Literature: With CIA help, writers were enlisted to battle both Communism and eggheaded abstraction. The damage to writing lingers

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014   No comments
By Eric Bennett
Did the CIA fund creative writing in America? The idea seems like the invention of a creative writer. Yet once upon a time (1967, to be exact), Paul Engle, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, received money from the Farfield Foundation to support international writing at the University of Iowa. The Farfield Foundation was not really a foundation; it was a CIA front that supported cultural operations, mostly in Europe, through an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom.


Seven years earlier, Engle had approached the Rockefeller Foundation with big fears and grand plans. "I trust you have seen the recent announcement that the Soviet Union is founding a University at Moscow for students coming from outside the country," he wrote. This could mean only that "thousands of young people of intelligence, many of whom could never get University training in their own countries, will receive education … along with the expected ideological indoctrination." Engle denounced rounding up students in "one easily supervised place" as a "typical Soviet tactic." He believed that the United States must "compete with that, hard and by long time planning"—by, well, rounding up foreign students in an easily supervised place called Iowa City. Through the University of Iowa, Engle received $10,000 to travel in Asia and Europe to recruit young writers—left-leaning intellectuals—to send to the United States on fellowship.

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop emerged in the 1930s and powerfully influenced the creative-writing programs that followed. More than half of the second-wave programs, about 50 of which appeared by 1970, were founded by Iowa graduates. Third- and fourth- and fifth-wave programs, also Iowa scions, have kept coming ever since. So the conventional wisdom that Iowa kicked off the boom in M.F.A. programs is true enough.

But it’s also an accepted part of the story that creative-writing programs arose spontaneously: Creative writing was an idea whose time had come. Writers wanted jobs, and students wanted fun classes. In the 1960s, with Soviet satellites orbiting, American baby boomers matriculating, and federal dollars flooding into higher education, colleges and universities marveled at Iowa’s success and followed its lead. To judge by the bellwether, creative-writing programs worked. Iowa looked great: Famous writers taught there, graduated from there, gave readings there, and drank, philandered, and enriched themselves and others there.

Yet what drew writers to Iowa was not the innate splendor of a spontaneously good idea. What drew writers to Iowa is what draws writers anywhere: money and hype, which tend to be less spontaneous than ideas.

So where did the money and the hype come from?

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Liberal Academics and Ivory Tower Radicals Make Poor Revolutionaries

    Tuesday, February 11, 2014   No comments
by Nicole Ouimette
The revolution will not be cited. It will not have a bibliography, or a title page. The revolution will never happen in the seclusion of the ivory tower built by racist, sexist, and classist institutions. Professional academic researchers in the social sciences of many colleges and universities exploit the struggles of oppressed peoples. Oppressed peoples are left stranded with little to no resources after researchers leave their communities high and dry.

Researchers steal value from oppressed peoples by making them the subjects of theoretical research without lending them access to information that could better help their communities. Articles, books, and dissertations written about marginalized populations are written for academics, not working people, and as such have little impact on the people whose lives are the subject of this research. Liberal academics and social scientists are more concerned about developing the wealth of academic literature than addressing the immediate material concerns of the communities they research.

Penelope Herideen is a Sociology researcher in Western Massachusetts (MA) and a professor of Sociology at the local community college from which I recently graduated. Herideen has written about the importance of critical pedagogy in community colleges. “Policy, Pedagogy, and Social Inequality: Community College Student Realities In Post-Industrial America” was the title of Herideen’s research discussing the realities that community college students face as they navigate their social and academic worlds. Herideen’s research is important, and yet, she was hardly involved in student organizing campaigns against budget cuts that affect low-income students. Community college students need resources developed through research like Herideen’s. This is a major flaw in academic research in the social sciences.

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Six Lessons from Iran’s Revolution

    Tuesday, February 11, 2014   No comments
by Henry Precht

Thirty-five years since the Iranian revolution should be adequate time for aspiring Iran hands to turn a deaf ear to the “Death to America” chants from Tehran and the more polite “They can’t be trusted “ pundit wisdom from Washington. Perhaps, modestly and cautiously, we can draw a few lessons from those bad days for the present moment of hope.


First, what we didn’t know back then was a lot and it did hurt us. Our ignorance was profound. We didn’t know the Shah was condemned by cancer. Had we known, we might have treated him more as we did Marcos and less like, say, our toleration of the Greek colonels. Today’s question relates to President Hassan Rouhani’s political health, his physical health seemingly OK. Should we be nervous, i.e., should we act as if he were politically vulnerable? Or should we consider him in adequate shape to engage with our demands? If he faces trouble, can he be saved by respectful attention? Or should we write him off as a foredoomed aberration? The signs from Tehran incline me to believe that he is worthy of considerable political risk on our part.

We knew nothing about dealing with such a massive movement of millions of people in support of the revolution — a phenomenon rarely if even seen before on the globe. Nor did we have a clue about an Islamic government — another development never before achieved on earth. Today, Iran remains a dark zone. We can’t accurately assess the strength of the reform or conservative movements in Iran. How strong is Rouhani and how wide can he maneuver? I expect the White House is better at evaluating its American support for an agreement with Iran. But can it match Rouhani’s willingness to confront critics? We can only hope that authentic, balanced expertise on Iran is available and listened to in the White House.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

New treatment for diabetes that could lead to cure

    Sunday, February 09, 2014   No comments
Scientists experimenting with stem cell approaches to alternative organ cell development have discovered a potential breakthrough in the way type 1 diabetes is treated, a new study reports.

In the sibling rivalry between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, in sheer popularity alone, type 2 would be the decisively cooler older sibling. Roughly 90 percent of all diabetes cases are type 2, characterized by a deficiency in the pancreas to produce the hormone insulin, which regulates blood glucose levels. But type 1’s remaining market share of 10 percent is actually far more lethal than type 2, as type 1 diabetics don’t simply have an insulin deficiency, which can be controlled through diet and exercise, but a total lack of insulin production.

Both forms demand the regulation of blood glucose levels, but the consequences of ignoring that demand are far more severe in type 1 patients. For years, this has motivated researchers to develop effective treatment options that jumpstart the production of insulin. They’ve known, for instance, that halted production of insulin was a result of destroyed ß-cells, which also live in the pancreas and typically disappear during childhood. (Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as juvenile diabetes.) While diabetics can stay healthy with regular insulin injections, the ideal solution would be to replace the missing ß-cells — something scientists don’t yet have the tools to do, but, with the current study, is on the horizon.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Iran Sends Warships to US Maritime Borders

    Saturday, February 08, 2014   No comments
"The Iranian Army's naval fleets have already started their voyage towards the Atlantic Ocean via the waters near South Africa," Commander of Iran's Northern Navy Fleet Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad announced on Saturday.

The admiral, who is also the commander of the Iranian Army's 4th Naval Zone said, "Iran's military fleet is approaching the United States' maritime borders, and this move has a message."

In September 2012, Iran's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari reiterated Iran's plans for sailing off the US coasts to counter the US presence in its waters in the Persian Gulf.

Sayyari had earlier informed of Tehran's plans to send its naval forces to the Atlantic to deploy along the US marine borders, and in September 2012 he said that this would happen "in the next few years".

The plan is part of Iran's response to Washington's beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf. The US Navy's 5th fleet is based in Bahrain - across the Persian Gulf from Iran - and the US has conducted two major maritime war games in the last two years.

Academic ideals are being crushed to suit private-sector style management

    Saturday, February 08, 2014   No comments
As an early-career lecturer in a post-1992 university, I often feel like a rare bird in an ornate cage struggling to maintain its dignity in a discount superstore filled with pets. This bird knows it could have been a proud representative of a noble lineage and chirrups dolefully as it ruffles its plumes, but the song is drowned out by the bustling sale of cheap, plastic imitation bird-objects around it.

The British higher education sector is in full-on crisis mode and those chosen or imposed to oversee this crisis are, in the main, non-academics and are recruited from the private sector. Academic ideals are being crushed by the visions of middle-management bureaucrats who view the progress and survival of higher education as requiring its surrender to private sector ideals. The changes in higher education over the past few years have been dramatic, with £9,000 a year tuition fees only the latest and most public step in what appears to be a wholesale corporatisation of the sector.

Along with this "progress" comes inevitable inequality. The University and Colleges Union (UCU) have recently joined forces with Unison, Unite and EIS to organise a series of strikes by members over unfair pay. According to UCU figures, last year the Universities and College Employers Association offered university staff a paltry 1% pay rise, which actually amounts to a 13% pay cut since 2009.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

L'Arabie saoudite s'en prend aux djihadistes

    Thursday, February 06, 2014   No comments
Craignant un dangereux retour de flammes, le roi Abdallah vient d'adopter un décret qui prévoit des peines de trois à vingt ans de prison pour les Saoudiens qui participent à des conflits à l'étranger. Ce durcissement est d'abord destiné à tarir le flot des candidats à la guerre sainte en Syrie, où les ressortissants du royaume wahhabite sont les plus nombreux parmi les djihadistes qui luttent pour renverser le régime de Bachar el-Assad.
Dans le passé, l'Arabie, patrie d'un islam ultrarigoriste, a souffert du retour de ses ressortissants d'Irak après l'invasion américaine de 2003. La branche locale d'al-Qaida en avait alors profité pour perpétrer de nombreux et sanglants attentats, jurant même de faire tomber la famille régnante, qui vécut de difficiles «années de sang» entre 2003 et 2005.
Selon ce décret, les Saoudiens qui rejoignent ou soutiennent des organisations considérées comme terroristes, à l'intérieur comme à l'extérieur du pays, s'exposeront pour leur part à des peines allant de cinq à trente ans d'emprisonnement.

250 Saoudiens morts en Syrie
...

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Susan Rice blasts Israel for criticizing Kerry

    Tuesday, February 04, 2014   No comments
U.S. national security advisor says 'personal attacks' against Kerry are 'totally unfounded and unacceptable.'

Susan Rice — the national security adviser who rocked headlines by repeating the White House message that Benghazi’s fatal terror attack was started by an anti-Muslim video — has now jumped to the administration’s defense once again.
This time with a series of tweets perceived by some as unnecessary public criticisms of Israel, Breitbart.com reported.


Her defense comes as Israeli leaders have openly denounced what they perceived as a veiled threat from Mr. Kerry to boycott the nation if peace talks with Palestinians fail.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Shia fighter beheaded by Syrian rebels,Video shows footage of public execution of a man believed to have been a pro-government Shia fighter

    Sunday, February 02, 2014   No comments
Rebels in Syria with ties to al-Qaida have decapitated a man believed to have been a pro-government Shia fighter, an amateur video of the public [executions] posted to the internet on Saturday showed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group which posted the video, said the [war crime] was conducted by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), a foreign-led group fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and establish an Islamic emirate in Syria.

The footage shows armed men in black standing outdoors in a circle around a man who is lying on the grass. One of the militants leans over the victim and appears to


 [ ... ] 

The remainder of the three-minute video shows the crowd, which includes several children, talking, laughing and taking photographs of the scene.

The Britain-based Observatory, which opposes Assad and has an extensive network of sources across Syria, said the video was taken in the central province of Homs. Its authenticity could not be independently verified.

Hard-line Islamist rebels with links to al-Qaida have come to dominate the largely [Salafi] Muslim insurgency against Assad, who is supported by members of his minority Alawite sect – an offshoot of Shia Islam – as well as Shia fighters from Iraq and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Both sides in Syria's nearly three-year conflict have been implicated in torture, killings and other war crimes.


Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/02/shia-fighter-beheaded-syrian-rebels-video?CMP=twt_fd

Saturday, February 01, 2014

President Abdullah Gül: Damascus ‘got upper hand thanks to Iran’

    Saturday, February 01, 2014   No comments
Damascus is in a much better position today vis-à-vis its opponents in Syria thanks to the help it has received from Iran, President Abdullah Gül has said.

“For Iran, Syria is a matter of life and death. For us, it is a humanitarian issue. For Russia, it is a matter of warm seas, the only stronghold issue. It keeps saying ‘I will end the war.’ I had said earlier that the rhetoric of the Western world was strong but that would not be reflected on the field; it was only valor,” he said while returning to Turkey from a trip to Rome.


“[Today], it is Damascus which has the stronger hand. How did it come to Geneva?” he said.

Speaking about Turkey’s security risks in Syria, Gül said: “There is no [place] to be very optimistic about Syria’s future. If a transitional government with power had come out of Geneva, maybe that could have fuelled hope for the future. That didn’t happen. The next aspect we need to focus on are the threats and risks for Turkey that are being created in the environment that has emerged. Many groups have emerged in this uncertain environment,” he said.

“The issue there is not the clash of the regime and the opponents. There are so many groups among the opposition that there are clashes among themselves,” he said, noting that this was also happening right along Turkey’s 900-kilometer border with Syria. “You never know where this will lead you. These kinds of situations instigate and create radicalism, extremism.”

‘A threat similar to Afghanistan’

Ankara alarmed over Qaeda threat in Syria: Ankara has woken up to the threat posed by al-Qaeda in Syria, reportedly taking measures against potential suicide bombing inside Turkey

    Saturday, February 01, 2014   No comments
With no end in sight to the civil war in neighboring Syria, Turkey is expressing increasing alarm over al-Qaeda threat amid the growing presence of the group in northern Syria and skirmishes with Turkey’s army this week along the frontier.

A report prepared jointly by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT), the gendarmerie and the Police Department indicated that al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was preparing to attack targets inside Turkey using car bombs and assassinations.

The report and necessary measures were discussed during the weekly meeting of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel in Ankara.

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said Jan. 29 that it had opened fire on a convoy of vehicles in northern Syria belonging to the ISIL jihadist group. The army said the attack, carried out Jan. 28, came after two Turkish military vehicles had been fired upon at the Çobanbey border post.

“A pick-up, a truck and a bus in an ISIL convoy were destroyed,” read the statement.


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