The American Bear


Tunisia and Egypt need the Arab revolutions to spread | Seumas Milne

From the first eruption of the Arab revolutions in Tunisia, it was clear that powerful forces would do everything possible to make sure they were brought to heel, or failed. Those included domestic interests which had lost out from the overthrow of the old regimes, Gulf states that feared the contagion would spread to their shores and western powers that had lost strategic clients – and didn’t like the idea of losing any more.

So after Tunisia and Egypt had fallen in quick succession, later uprisings were hijacked, as in Libya, or crushed, as in Bahrain, while sectarian toxins were pumped throughout the region, escalating the bloodshed in Syria in particular, and cash was poured into destabilising or co-opting the post-revolutionary states. [continue]


Tunisia’s biggest protest since the Arab Spring
March 18, 2013

Thousands of people took to the streets of the Tunisian capital demanding to end the rule of the Islamist government, which they accuse of assassinating prominent secular politician, Chokri Belaid.

The March 16 demonstration is the biggest in a series of protest events, which took place in the country after Belaid was shot dead outside his home exactly 40 days ago.

The rallies already lead to Tunisian Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali, resigning from his position on March 14. Fellow member of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, Ali Larayedh, who came in as a replacement, has formed a new coalition government with independents in key ministries.

But the move wasn’t enough to calm the people as they chanted “Ennahda go”, “The people want a new revolution” and “The people want to bring down the regime” during their demonstration on Saturday.

Belaid’s family accuse Ennahda of murder, but the ruling Tunisian party denies any involvement. With nobody claiming responsibility for the crime, police are saying that the assassin was a radical Salafist Islamist.

They killed Chokri but they cannot kill the values of freedom defended by him,” Belaid’s widow Basma said in front of her husband’s grave on Saturday.

Belaid’s liberal nine-party Popular Front bloc has only three seats in Tunisia’s parliament, but it speaks for many people, who fear that the religious radicals would deprive them of freedoms won in the Arab spring.

Despite not playing a major role in the Jasmine Revolution, which toppled president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, it’s the Islamists, who took power in the country though a general election.

The protests didn’t prevent Ennahda party chairman, Rashid Ghannouchi, from holding talks with a visiting European Union delegation, headed by the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, Stefan Fule.

“Ennahda Movement supports the deepening of relations with the European Union on the basis of common interests and mutual respect,” Ghannouchi is cited as saying on the Muslim Brotherhood’s official website. “Ennahda Movement wants to take Tunisia out of this transitional period in the shortest time, after the approval of the country’s new Constitution which should establish democracy, uphold the rule of law and guarantee freedoms.”

For his part, Fule insisted that the EU are also ready for cooperation with Tunisia, adding that it supports the democratic transition process and legitimacy in the North-African country.

“The European Union (EU) remains confident in the capacity of the Tunisian political leaders to find efficient solutions to the political, economic and social challenges faced by Tunisia in this transition period”, he said.

Good relations with Europe are essential for Tunisia, which – unlike neighboring Libya and Algeria – lacks vast oil and gas resources, relying on tourism as one of the main sources of income.


(Source: thepeoplesrecord, via randomactsofchaos)

How will Gaza arm? | Richard Seymour

Because one can’t discuss the Israeli assault on Gaza as if nothing has happened. As if between Cast Lead and Pillar of Smoke there hasn’t been a tumultuous rupture in Middle East politics. One whose main effect has been to weaken Israel’s regional position and destroy many of the certainties upon which Zionist statecraft has been conducted for some decades. Israel had already been weakened by its defeat at Hezbollah’s hands, but the loss of its ally Mubarak, the uprising in Syria, the revolt in Bahrain, even the germinal tremors in Jordan and Kuwait, all make Israel’s future bargaining position uncertain.

Israeli politicians warn about an “Islamist winter”, of “Tehran 1979” all over again. But as when American and European politicians fulminate about ‘Al Qaida’, one gets the sense that ‘Islamism’ is just a convenient name for all their fears - Arab democracy, Palestinian liberation, that sort of thing. Israeli officials claim that it may take decades for democracy to ‘set in’ and thus allow Arabs to accept Israel. Translation: it may take decades for the effects of democratic revolt to be neutralised and contained, and thus for Arabs to be forced to accept the apartheid state. In that time, who knows, Israel might actually lose its privileged alliances with Egypt and Jordan. Saudi Arabia may implode. The Gulf States may be transformed.

This is a serious fear, and Egypt is the sharp end of this fear. When the Muslim Brothers were winning in the polls against the SCAF candidate, Ehud Barak deemed it “very, very disturbing” - probably not because he sees the Muslim Brothers as anything but a conservative, cautious force, but rather because he fears the erosion of SCAF’s traditional power to control the Egyptian population. As pathetic as Morsi’s response has been to the Israeli assault thus far, the fact is that the Egyptian masses have proven themselves to be a serious historical force, capable of transforming the whole future of the region. The Egyptian military, for so long the exclusive ruling bureaucracy, has been forced to accept a parliamentary system and a limited degree of popular government. If it is characteristic of the Muslim Brothers to seek a quietist, compromising path with the imperialist states (and one can add that this tendency will be reinforced many times over by the demands of running a capitalist state), they also have a tendency to vacillate under pressure due to their popular roots. The protests already taking place in Egypt are capable of being the start of a movement to force the Morsi government to move beyond calling for arbitration, and start to give material assistance to the Palestinians.

It is predictable that Morsi will fight to avoid losing the grants from the US that adhering to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel entails. And SCAF will fight to ensure he doesn’t deviate from that path. But the fact is that there are other paths that Egyptian capitalism could take, other alliances. It isn’t bound to the US in perpetuity, even for $1bn a year. Sufficient popular struggle could change the strategic calculus of the ruling class. And if that happens, Egypt is a major industrial state in the region, a ‘natural’ regional leader, which is capable of transforming the whole dynamics of the conflict. Israel’s panic at this prospect is palpable.

Bahrain bans all protests in crackdown on Shia opposition movement |

Bahrain banned all protest gatherings on Tuesday and threatened legal action against groups said to be backing escalating demonstrations and clashes.

The interior ministry order is the most sweeping attempt to quash the anti-government uprising in the Sunni-ruled kingdom since martial law was imposed during the early months of unrest last year.

It sharply increases pressure on political groups from Bahrain’s Shia majority, which has led the protests in support of a greater political voice.

A crackdown on opposition groups could raise complications for Washington and other western allies that have stood by Bahrain’s monarchy during more than 20 months of unrest. The US has important military ties with Bahrain, which hosts the US navy’s 5th Fleet, but it also has called for increased dialogue to ease the tensions.

Shias make up around 70% of Bahrain’s 525,000 citizens, and claim they face systematic discrimination such as being denied top political and security posts. The Sunni monarchy has made a series of concessions – including giving more powers to the elected parliament – but opposition groups say the reforms do little to loosen the ruling family’s grip on power.

Bahrain Sought to Divide and Conquer Protestors by Blaming Shias | Paul Mutter

Justin Gengler: [T]he uprising proper has ended. Or, rather, it was made to end by the sweeping security response initiated with the State of National Security and subsequently entrenched via Bahrain’s effective “sectarianism as security” political strategy. In this sense, the actual rebellion has long been over, and “major combat operations,” as some like to say, essentially were concluded with the second clearing (and for good measure razing) of the former Pearl Roundabout.

… To reference the “failed February 14 uprising” is seen as insulting the very memory of those who died, and who continue to die and risk bodily harm, in their pursuit of basic societal and political reform. In fact, however, it is simply to admit the overwhelming material and tactical superiority of one side over the other, a military dominance that students of insurgency and civil war have long noted.

… With its sustained deployment of police and military units along with a labyrinthine edifice of security checkpoints, the state has largely succeeded in penning demonstrators into their respective villages, now isolated even more than they were prior to February 2011 (which is saying a lot). (More recently, the state has shifted to allow protests in finite areas, namely along al-Budaiyi’ Road, while blocking them elsewhere.) Such an effort, combined with the decades-long exclusion of Shi’a from those professions that entail the use of weapons, has created a sort of double defense.

… Bahrain has also seemingly won its other war on the international front. Having done its diplomatic duty in allowing the BICI to investigate the uprising, it has successfully resisted pressure to do anything more. On the contrary, since December 2011 political change has been in the opposition direction. Aswitnessed once more only days ago, protesters continue to be met with deadly force in confrontations with police. Activists, including Nabeel Rajab and most recently Zaynab al-Khawajah, have been sentenced to prison for no more than insulting the prime minister and King Hamad, respectively. One political society (’Amal) has been dissolved, while another (al-Wifaq) may be on the brink.

Paul Mutter: Looks like those PR Newswire plants and anti-Iranian tirades paid off. Of course, such massaging of the facts on the ground don’t alone account for this. The US’s overriding concern was its 5th Fleet, but even the US saw no such thing as an Iranian hand in the protests. It wasn’t inclined to take anything but the most tepid of steps in support of the protestors, regardless, having “lost” Egypt and Tunisia already. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, was willing to throw thousands of security officers across the border, terrified of what might happen in its Shia-heavy Eastern Province should dangerous thoughts like constitutional reform spill over, as the Washington Post reported recently, outlining how Shia activists and (Wahhabi) security officers are trading bards (and according to both sides, gunfire) in the key, but impoverished, oil producing region.

While some demonstrators have resorted to violence and sectarianism, Gengler has shown how the regime used disproportionate force against the opposition and worked to make the atmosphere as sectarian as possible to discredit the predominantly Shia initiators of the protests. Not unlike how Assad wants the world to think that his fight can be reduced to a narrative of cosmopolitan Syria versus angry Sunni peasants (beards!) and foaming-at-the-mouth jihadists (even thicker beards!) being armed by a neo-Ottoman Empire.

Morocco: Brutality Against the February 20 Movement


Younes Benkhdim, a political detainee and poet, will today enter his third week on hunger strike in an attempt to levy rights for imprisoned political activists in Morocco. Nicknamed the “Poet of the People”, Benkhdim was handed a two-year sentence and a 5,000 dirham ($1400) fine earlier this year for his political dissent as part of the February 20 Movement (Feb20), the Moroccan pro-reform group.

Dignity or death

From his cell in Oukacha, Casablanca, Benkhdim issued a clear set of demands. He first requested “the release of all prisoners of conscience, first and foremost those activists from the Mouvement du 20 Février” – a number estimated to be around 70 by Moroccan human rights groups. Next Benkhdim demanded “the opening of a judicial inquiry into the torture to which these activists were subjected and the implementation of legal actions against their torturers”.

His requests reflect the indignation felt by many over the government’s increased suppression of free speech and peaceful protest during the last twelve months. Indeed, state surveillance coupled with disproportionate punishment for political and anti-monarchy dissent is manifestly on the rise in Morocco.

In May, the rapper Mouad Belghouate, known as El Haqed (“The Indignant One”), was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment and given a 1,000 dirham ($300) fine for “insulting a police officer in the exercise of his duties”, after a video of him was uploaded to YouTube and deemed inflammatory by authorities. Occupying a neighboring cell to Benkhdim in Oukacha, in July Belghouate also attempted a hunger strike (subsequently aborted) to protest the conditions of his detention.

More sobering still is the account offered by five activists arrested at the July 22 demonstration in Casablanca. In an open letter, the five members of the Feb 20 Movement detailed the abuse they were subjected to in police custody - signed confessions were obtained through torture, they had objects inserted into their anus, and fingernails and eyelashes were ripped out.

Read more

Check out this piece I was interviewed for. Glad this is getting more coverage in anglophone press.

(via sharquaouia-deactivated20121015)

Terror and Teargas on the Streets of Bahrain | Jen Marlowe

"Perhaps the lack of coverage of the predominantly Shi’a uprising against an increasingly repressive Sunni monarchy can be explained, in part, by this: Washington considers that monarchy its close ally; Bahrain is the home of the Navy’s 5th Fleet, and the beneficiary of U.S. arms sales. Perhaps it has to do with the U.S.-Saudi friendship, and the increasing tension between the U.S. and Iran. Bahrain has been portrayed as a battleground for influence between neighboring Saudi Arabia (a supporter of the monarchy) and nearby majority Shi’a Iran."

Jihan had not started out as an activist. She had been an investment banker, shopping in Bahrain’s high-end malls and socializing with friends. Demonstrations erupted at the Pearl Roundabout — with its imposing 300-foot monument of six arches holding a pearl aloft — in the capital city, Manama, on February 14, 2011, and only grew larger by the day as casualties and fatalities mounted. Still, she did not participate.

She had been largely ignorant of the protesters’ complaints: the same prime minister had governed for 42 years; the majority Shi’a community faced discrimination from the ruling Sunnis, evidenced most clearly by the fact that they couldn’t join the country’s military or its police. Instead, the government was importing foreigners from Pakistan, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria, among other countries, to fill the ranks of the security services, often offering them Bahraini citizenship (which also threatened to alter Sunni-Shi’a demographics). The royal family had taken large swathes of public land for private benefit.

Jihan instead believed the version of the uprising being offered on state-controlled television. In that narrative, the protesters were not peaceful, but armed and dangerous. They had, the government claimed, stolen blood-bags from the hospital and were pouring that blood on themselves to feign injuries for the media. Force was being applied by the regime rarely and only when it was absolutely necessary to disperse those demonstrating. Government spokespeople claimed Shi’a doctors at Salmaniya Hospital were taking patients and co-workers hostage.

On the morning of March 13th, Jihan received a few text messages on her way to her office, appealing for people’s presence at the Pearl Roundabout because government forces were attacking. She decided to go and see for herself what was taking place.

What she saw shook her to the core: unarmed protesters — women and children among them — chanting for democracy, freedom, and equality as riot police fired bullets, birdshot, and tear gas canisters directly into the crowd. Jihan stood to the side, crying, as women around her wailed and read aloud from Qur’an.

Then, in the distance, she noticed bodies being loaded into cars. She couldn’t tell if they were dead or wounded, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away either as the cars were filled and each drove towards nearby Salmaniya Hospital.

It was there that Jihan drove next, and found more wounded patients than available beds. Protesters who were injured by birdshot or overcome by tear gas were lying on white sheets spread across the parking lot, awaiting treatment from overburdened doctors and nurses.

The following day, 1,000 Saudi troops entered Bahrain at the request of the regime, backed by 500 police from the United Arab Emirates. The troops drove the protesters out of the Pearl Roundabout, destroyed the iconic Pearl Monument, and Bahrain’s King Hamad declared a state of emergency.

Soon after, house raids leading to mass arrests began. Most of the opposition leaders were jailed, along with thousands of protesters. Journalists were targeted, as were teachers, health-care professionals, and star Bahraini athletes. Hundreds of cases of torture (some to the death) were reported, and thousands were fired from government jobs for demonstrating, or, in many cases, merely because they were Shi’a.

Jihan realized that continuing with her former life was inconceivable. She visited Nabeel Rajab, co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, to ask how she could help. Hard as it had been to come to him, Jihan told Nabeel, she could no longer stay silent and on the sidelines.

A colleague of Nabeel’s trained Jihan in how to document human rights violations. Soon, she began doing so in cases involving medical professionals who had been imprisoned and tortured by the regime for treating injured protesters — and for speaking out about the injuries they were seeing.

By the time I met Jihan, she was an experienced activist with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and the founding vice president of the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO), which seeks to aid in the treatment and rehabilitation of torture victims.

Seasoned as she was, Jihan was thoroughly shaken by the time we left an underground clinic late one night. There, nurses had secretly stitched up the gaping head wound of 13-year-old “Hussein,” shot with a tear gas canister after a march that had, ironically, been called to protest the excessive use of tear gas.

[read on]

"Was the Arab Spring Really Worth It?": The Fascinating Arrogance of Power | Bassam Haddad

"Was the civil rights movement really worth it? Was the movement for women’s rights really worth it? Was ending slavery really worth it? If dismantling authoritarian rule and its correlates ends up being, well, not worth it, what should we do? The callousness of considering such alternatives is more appropriate for deciding whether a switch from AT&T to Verizon was worth it. If some of the consequences are ugly, do we write off the entire process?"

Bassam Haddad proving, once again, that he is one of the most important voices countering the Western MENA narrative:

This is just the beginning.

As we were boarding a flight from Washington to Istanbul, [an] image appeared on the screen at the gate, with the CNN headline “Was The Arab Spring Worth It?”

Generally, one is used to seeing and hearing very “special” commentary about the region from the mainstream media. But every once in a while, something spectacular rears its head and continues to amaze. This headline—which captures the tenor of some of the mainstream reporting beyond CNN after the violent responses to a film that insulted the Muslim prophet—is one of them.

Surely the film was insulting and deplorable, and surely the violent responses and the killing that ensued are lunatic and deplorable as well (whatever the alternative explanation for the motive). These are matters on which most reasonable/learned observers agree. But then comes this brilliant off the cuff, from the hip, and casually barbaric headline: “Was the Arab Spring Worth It?”

The manners in which this is problematic are too numerous to count. And though there might be a good six or seven thousand reasons to address, the flight allows for listing only a few reactions, lest one misses more zoological headlines. Hear are some of the possible reactions in order of viscerality:


The First and Last Straw

After nearly a 100,000 deaths since January 2011 when the uprisings started, and after decades of brutal repression that were steadfastly supported and partly funded by western powers (namely the United States), we wonder about the value of breaking from such shackles, as though it was a bad investment in Facebook stock. “Maybe we should keep supporting these lovely dictatorship.”

All About Power

But this is just academic to many. What is significant here is “who” can actually produce these thoughts, and actually be able to do something about it. The arrogance of power from which such thoughts and words can be uttered is really the main event. Casually, the ability to dismiss history, culpability, and rationality in favor of an emotionally immature, intellectually narrow, historically amnesiac, and morally myopic compass can only come from a place of brute power. And only from such a place, can the claim be made aptly, as though that particular power initiated the Arab uprisings (when in reality, the Arab uprisings proceeded against US clients, despite US power, with the exception of Syria, which proves the rule). And only from such a place, can the claim be made aptly, as though that particular power initiated the Arab uprisings (when in reality, the Arab uprisings proceeded against US clients, despite US power, with the exception of the Syrian uprising which proves the rule).

Market Demand

The corollary of the previous point dawned on me when I realized that just in the waiting area hundreds of passengers were looking (or could have glanced) at the screen—and would have legitimately entertained the statement’s flippancy. If CNN and other mainstream media are good at one thing, they are good at understanding their audience and market demand.


The voyeuristic perspective ought not be missed either. The Arab “Spring” (a misnomer to begin with for reasons that require their own list) is like a spectacle. But not any spectacle. It is a spectacle in which “we” the democrats and “developed” world watch the “others” trying to catch up, despite so many efforts to support their oppressors. Until last week, the voyeurism was sympathetic, even if patrimonial or patronizing. But after the recent events, the voyeurism and subsequent reactions to the violence that killed a US Ambassador in Libya turned into something else. It recast the entire spectacle in terms and imagery reminiscent of what we are used to observing in the center’s gaze towards the periphery: a sense of amazement and intrigue that can under certain circumstances quickly turn into something associated with zoology. Was it really worth it to let these creatures out of their cages? After all, look at what they are doing. Only now do we know that fighting for one’s dignity may not have been worthwhile because a bunch of fanatics did what they did.

Such approaches remind us how insignificant the people of the region can be regarded with a switch of a button, and how insignificant history is in the minds of so many in powerful places.

Read the whole piece

Americans are reacting to events with the same fake innocence that characterize American reactions to acts of hostility against the US worldwide. Americans don’t know that the attackers on the US consulate in Benghazi probably received US cash and weapons. Americans don’t even know that prior to the ‘liberation’ of Libya, the US enjoyed close relations with the dictatorship of Gaddafi. Americans don’t know that the US is also supporting al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria and that the war there is destined to increase the numbers of heavily armed militants who are bent on fighting Americans where they find them. It is only ironic that the US consulate was not attacked during the reign of Gaddafi, but during the reign of a regime sponsored by the US (and NATO). As’ad AbuKhalil, Muslim Outrage and Western shock