Showing posts with label Civil society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Civil society. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A simple question about Saudi Arabia and Democracy causes brain-freeze of Senior State Department official

    Wednesday, May 31, 2017   No comments
Acting Assistant Secretary of State Stuart Jones, who accompanied President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Saudi Arabia last week, was holding a press briefing about the trip’s achievements. Then he was asked a simple question:

While you were over there, the secretary criticized the conduct of the Iranian elections and Iran’s record on democracy. He did so standing next to Saudi officials. How do you characterize Saudi Arabia’s commitment to democracy? And does the administration believe that democracy is a buffer or barrier against extremism?

Jones paused for 20 long seconds to collect his thoughts, then he answered:

I think what we would say is, that at this meeting, we were able to make significant progress with Saudi and GCC [Persian Gulf Cooperation Council] partners in both making a strong statement against extremism and also putting in place certain measures through this GCC mechanism where we can combat extremism. Clearly one source of extremism – one terrorism threat – is coming from Iran. And that’s coming from a part of the Iranian apparatus that is not at all responsive to its electorate.

The moment spells out the difficulty US officials face when they try to explain their alliances with regimes that have no respect for representative governance--such as the Saudi regime.

Watch the clip:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Academics, jurists and students support colleagues targeted by Turkish government

    Monday, January 18, 2016   No comments
The discussion over a petition signed by 1,128 academics that calls for the restoration of peace in the conflict-torn Southeast has heated up with additional declarations from more academics, student groups, jurists and intellectuals.

In another declaration opened for signature on Sunday, hundreds of academics, politicians, members of civil society groups, jurists and representatives from labor unions declared their support for the 1,128 academics, some of whom have undergone investigation for their call demanding a stop to the military campaign and a return to the negotiating table to seek a peaceful solution to the country's Kurdish problem.

"Turkey has been turned into a country where academics are faced with explicit threats [from politicians], where provinces are kept under long-term curfews and where bombs are detonated in [public] squares. We declare our solidarity with those academics who have faced pressure and undergone investigations [for pointing out the chaotic environment]," the declaration called "Academics cannot be silenced" read.

The petition includes among its signatories academics Aziz Konukman, Feti Açıkel, Galip Yalman, Gamze Yücesan Özdemir, Hayri Kozanoğlu, Korkut Boratav, Raşit Kaya, Taner Timur, Tülin Öngen, along with many others.

One of the signatories, Professor Boratav, said at a press conference in Ankara on Sunday that the current operations of the [government] are no different from the military coup and mindset of Kenan Evren [in 1980].”

In addition, 137 student groups from various universities across the country launched a campaign called "Universities want peace" in order to show their support for the academics who have been subjected to investigations and detentions as well as criticism by the pro-government media, Justice and Development Party (AK Party) politicians and pro-government academics.

The number of signatures for the campaign launched on website has reached over 35,000.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Losing my religion for equality

    Wednesday, April 22, 2015   No comments
I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.


Friday, December 06, 2013

Don’t Sanitize Nelson Mandela: He’s Honored Now, But Was Hated Then: If we turn the late South African leader into a nonthreatening moral icon, we’ll forget a key lesson from his life: America isn’t always a force for freedom

    Friday, December 06, 2013   No comments
Now that he’s dead, and can cause no more trouble, Nelson Mandela is being mourned across the ideological spectrum as a saint. But not long ago, in Washington’s highest circles, he was considered an enemy of the United States. Unless we remember why, we won’t truly honor his legacy.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan placed Mandela’s African National Congress on America’s official list of “terrorist” groups. In 1985, then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a resolution urging that he be released from jail. In 2004, after Mandela criticized the Iraq War, an article in National Review said his “vicious anti-Americanism and support for Saddam Hussein should come as no surprise, given his longstanding dedication to communism and praise for terrorists.” As late as 2008, the ANC remained on America’s terrorism watch list, thus requiring the 89-year-old Mandela to receive a special waiver from the secretary of State to visit the U.S.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Turkish Shias in fear of life on the edge: Sectarian hatred is moving from Syria into the mainstream of Turkey’s political life

    Monday, October 07, 2013   No comments
The poison of sectarian hatred is spreading to Turkey from Syria as a result of the Turkish government giving full support to militant Sunni Muslims in the Syrian civil war.

The Alevi, a long-persecuted Shia sect to which 10-20 million Turks belong, say they feel menaced by the government’s pro-Sunni stance in the Shia-Sunni struggle that is taking place across the Muslim world.

Nevzat Altun, an Alevi leader in the Gazi quarter in Istanbul, says: “People here are scared that if those who support sharia come to power in Syria, the same thing could happen in Turkey.” He says that the Alevi of Turkey feel sympathy for the Syrian Alawites, both communities holding similar, though distinct, Shia beliefs and the Alevi oppose Turkey’s support for rebels fighting to overthrow Syria’s Alawite-dominated government.

Sectarian faultlines between the Sunni majority and the Alevi, Turkey’s largest religious minority, have always existed but are becoming deeper, more embittered and openly expressed. Atilla Yeshilada, a political and economic commentator, says that “anything [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan says against the Alawites of Syria is full of sectarian innuendoes for the Alevi”.

Alawites who have fled to Turkey to escape the violence in Syria often find they are little safer after they have crossed the Turkish border. They say they dare not enter government-organised refugee camps because they are frightened of being attacked by the rebel Free Syrian Army as soon as it is discovered they are not Sunni.


Monday, July 29, 2013


    Monday, July 29, 2013   No comments
In Libya, political civil society is a novelty. Mostly banned under Muammar Gaddafi, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have mushroomed in post-2011 Libya thanks to newly acquired freedoms. The influx of foreign donors to the previously isolated country, providing technical and financial assistance, has contributed to building up the capacities of the Libyan NGO sector. Having been subjected to propaganda about foreign ‘conspiracies’ for decades, Libyan society is slowly adapting to the idea of development assistance from abroad as a friendly means to help the country’s democratic transition. A highly politicised issue in Egypt and Tunisia, the topic of ‘foreign funding’ and how it is addressed in Libyan public debate differs from its neighbouring countries in several ways. Libya’s economic wealth, while not yet mobilised to build up civil society capacities as such, sets the stage for popular attitudes regarding external support to building Libya’s new order. Unlike in Egypt (where the Muslim Brotherhood has suffered a major reversal with the removal of President Morsi by the army following massive street protests, but remains a strong political movement and contender for power) and Tunisia, Libya’s Islamist parties are relatively weak. It follows that the anti-Gulf sentiments on the rise in several North African countries – motivated mainly by the Gulf’s alleged backing of Islamic forces – are less widespread in Libya. The great importance that tribal structures and decentralised governing models could have in the future is already  affecting the impact potential of donors based in Tripoli. At the same time, the country’s fragile security situation significantly limits the scope for both domestic and external actors to venture beyond the big cities. Based on a series of interviews carried out in Libya in early 2013, this paper examines how the issue of foreign funding is perceived by donors and local stakeholders, focusing on how local attitudes have changed in the post-Gaddafi era.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Civil Society Under Attack Around the World

    Thursday, May 23, 2013   No comments
In December 2011, 159 governments and major international organisations recognised the central role of civil society in development and promised to create an “enabling” operating environment for the non-profit sector.
Despite the tall talk at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid and Development Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, today NGOs, trade unions, faith based groups, social movements and community based organisations working to expose rights violations and corruption remain in a state of siege in many parts of the world.

Reports by U.N. officials and respected civil society organisations show that false prosecutions and murderous attacks on activists are rife and threatening to derail international development objectives even as we debate a new framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015.

In fact, moves are being championed by some governments to limit civil society participation at high-level meetings of the U.N. General Assembly through a process whereby states can issue politically motivated objections to the inclusion of particular NGOs in key discussions.

Unfortunately, legal restrictions on free speech, formation of civic organisations and the right to protest peacefully appear to be on the rise despite the rhetoric of engaging civil society in global decision making forums.

In many countries civil society groups are being prevented from accessing funding from international sources, as highlighted by the U.N.’s special expert on freedom of assembly and association in his latest report.

In Russia, non-profit advocacy groups receiving international funding are being subjected to intrusive inspections to ensure compliance with a controversial law that requires NGOs to register under the highly offensive nomenclature of “foreign agents”, or face sanctions.


Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Prohibition & Humanism

    Tuesday, March 05, 2013   No comments

“Pot’s Legal!” declared the Seattle Times in large print on November 7, 2012, while that same day the Denver Post ran the headline: “FIRED UP.” As two states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, an ancient debate is slowly rekindling. The term prohibition seems to be a remnant of an age long past, when mobsters wearing slick suits and fedoras sipped moonshine in speakeasies. However, as marijuana legalization enters onto the national stage, the word is quickly becoming associated with a new intoxicant. The religious and non-religious alike find themselves once again faced with a moral question that has haunted humanity since the first caveman stumbled across fermenting fruit: Should drugs be allowed?
For as long as drugs and alcohol have existed, society and religion have weighed judgment on their consumption. In ancient Egypt beer was a gift from Osiris, while in ancient Greece many praises were sung to Dionysus, god of the grape harvest and life of the party. However, many of the world’s younger religions have not been so friendly toward intoxicants. Buddhists, Muslims, and Mormons generally condemn drugs and alcohol as a form of evil, while Christians can’t seem to agree on whether intoxicants are a gift from God or a tool of Satan.
Christianity’s indecision on drug and alcohol policy is directly related to a number of contradictions in the Bible. In the beginning, it seems as if God tacitly accepts the consumption of booze. In Genesis, God’s right-hand man on earth, Noah, loves the stuff. Following the flood, he immediately plants a vineyard and lolls about naked and drunk once his wine has fermented (Genesis 9:20-25). As humanity repopulates, God’s people continue to sing praises for this apparent gift to man. The Song of Solomon contains beautiful poetry comparing the joys of love to the intoxication of wine (Song of Solomon 1:2, 7:9). Later, when the wine runs out at a wedding, God’s own son goes on a celestial booze-run, reinvigorating the party (John 2:1-11). Given that precedent, one would think that Christians would host keggers every Sunday. However, as Alcoholics Anonymous will tell you, there are many other Bible verses that simultaneously condemn the consumption of intoxicating beverages.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The quiet war in Saudi Arabia

    Monday, January 16, 2012   No comments

by Joshua Jacobs*
Demonstrators in Qatif, eastern Saudi Arabia.
While western powers have been happy to use Saudi Arabia as an ally to ratchet up the pressure on Assad's beleaguered regime in Syria, it has not caught a whiff of the silent crackdown occurring within the kingdom. Since late November the protest movement which was largely snuffed out last spring has returned to the streets in force, largely centered on the oil rich and largely Shia Eastern Province.

The Saudi response was both brutal and predictable. Security forces shot and killed three protesters and wounded many more over several days of crackdowns in the eastern city of Qatif. Clashes continued throughout December as demonstrators battled security forces who routinely utilized live ammunition. In a series of retaliatory raids on the homes and districts of protest sympathizers hundreds were arrested and wounded. The killings along with the continued discrimination and mistreatment of the Shia of the Eastern Province has formed the basis of the current protest movement - a protest movement that has suffered heavily like its neighbour in Bahrain, but with little in the way of a headline.

Today, while attention was focused on the Strait of Hormuz, on Syria, and on the rising tensions in Bahrain, Saudi security forces launched an assault on the city of Awamiyah killing at least one and wounding half a dozen more. Eye witnesses have stated that soldiers on trucks opened fire on demonstrators, hitting many as they fled. The attack bears all the hallmarks of a planned operation with electricity being cut to the area prior to the assault. The area at the time of writing is apparently still under military lock-down and reflects a state of siege with clashes continuing to occur and gunfire being heard.

This attack was almost certainly condoned by the royal family and comes on the heels of a series of indictments against demonstrators and high profile invectives against the protest movement. Despite this attack and others like it, the rumblings and tremors of protest and crackdown show no sign of abatement. Indeed in the past few months they have once again reared their head in the south west in Najran and Jazan, compounded with protests over women’s rights in Riyadh and Buraydah.

These protests bear all the hallmarks of a movement which could coalesce and burst anew from the ashes of the disjointed and largely suppressed protests of last spring. They also come at an extremely troubling time for the kingdom. The death of Crown Prince Sultan highlighted the geriatric character of the upper echelons of the ruling family, and the potential uncertainty and disquiet surrounding the issue of succession. Meanwhile, continuing tensions in the Strait of Hormuz and rising furor on the streets of Bahrain open up the risk of unrest spreading to the kingdom in a domino effect. Indeed the extremely aggressive Saudi position on Bahrain and the continued quartering of troops in the tiny island monarchy has a direct relationship to their fears of domestic instability. The possibility of Saudi Shia rallying on behalf of their co-religionists in Bahrain, or vice versa is a looming threat that the Saudis are taking great pains to neutralize.

Though the protests currently centre on a single province, the Eastern Province is home to the majority of Saudi energy reserves, terminals, and processing facilities. Disruption and upheaval in this province has a disproportionate impact on Saudi Arabia. A protracted and visible uprising would not only weaken the Saudi government internally but could have a tumultuous impact on the global energy market. This is all the more reason for not only the media, but for western governments to begin taking an active interest in the ongoing street conflict.

Saudi rulers certainly understand the threat posed by the protesters and the risk of an expanding movement: their actions are a testament to that fact. So why is the world’s media apparently incapable of recognizing the same thing? Arab media has been noticeably silent, with the two largest Arab media entities the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya and the Qatari-owned al-Jazeera having said almost nothing. However there is little excuse for western media. Saudi Arabia is probably America's most important Arab ally, the world’s most important single energy node, and one of the most influential countries in the region. It's also experiencing its worst domestic upheavals since its rebellions of the early 1980's. Taken in a vacuum this is a significant news story. When set against the context of the unfolding drama in the Gulf and the wider contours of the Arab Spring, it is incredible.

The past year was a bad one for Saudi Arabia: the coming year augurs to be even worse. The time has come to slice through the veil Saudi Arabia has kept around its crackdown and recognize that the Arab Spring at least in limited form has hit the kingdom. What comes next is difficult to say, but with the rapidity of change that the Arab Spring has introduced us to, it would be wise to pay close attention to the warning signs as they appear. It is entirely possible that we will see a very, very, warm spring in Saudi Arabia.
*Joshua Jacobs is a Gulf Policy Analyst and published columnist at the Institute for Gulf Affairs.


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