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Moral Bankruptcy of the Arab World

Moral Bankruptcy of the Arab World

After a recent visit, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, declared: “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.” – BBC

What started as hope for change for the better, hope for a better future, hope for democracy and human rights, soon descended into calculated chaos. None of the countries afflicted by that spark have faired well. None. Heavy handedness in dealing with popular demands, deep mistrust between the ruled and the ruling elite, the view of the demand for change as an existential threat and prioritising myopic tribal or familial aspirations mandated the crushing of that hope.

What’s happened and continues happening in the Middle East will be rich text-book case studies for a plethora of topics. Sociologists and other scientists will have ample fodder for their consideration in the not too distant future. They will most probably look back and reflect on the central issue of how the rejection of dialogue and compromise disintegrated nations and directly contributed to their demise.

Back to the present, I cannot help but feel completely helpless as an individual when I witness various conflicts, civil wars, and an almost complete absence of democracy and human rights in this dystopian Middle East. What irks me more, actually, is the complete disregard of the plight of our fellow human beings affected directly by these situations.

Let’s take just two places where fighting is at its peak; Syria, with over 220,000 fellow human beings killed and over 11 million people displaced; 4 million fled the country and 7.6 million have been internally displaced. Over 12 million including 5.4 million children currently require humanitarian aid. With a population of 22 million, those should be very sobering numbers. [BBC / Wikipedia]

syria-suffering

Yemen has an even scarier tally as far as the displaced is concerned. Out of a population of 26.7 million, 21 million require immediate humanitarian assistance, 20 million are without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and 12.9 million have an insecure food supply. In a country were 90% of food is imported, the naval and air blockade has devastated human beings, let alone the country. [BBC]

malnourished-yemeni-child

I say all this from a humanitarian perspective, not a military or political one, and I fully realise that both Yemen and Syria – even before the conflicts – were failed states suffering from bad governance, instability, absence of the rule of law, cronyism and widespread poverty. War has amplified those ills by several factors.

Reading up on both the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts, it’s hard to decipher who’s fighting who. The gullible will side with one sectarian faction or another depending on their own confessionalism or political affiliation. The reality of the situations is much more complex. I don’t believe these are simple proxy wars in which regional powers are just duking it out. That’s partly the case to be sure, but you would be remiss if you didn’t factor in the dissatisfaction of the people with the current rule and social injustice. These alone have given the necessary fodder for ISIS, Alqaeda and various other non-state actors who readily promise the creation of a better, more just society where Sharia rules supreme to establish a just society. In theory this is all good, and this is one of the main reasons why these groups receive the sympathy and support they need from a desperate populace to propagate and sustain their rule. However, in practice we’ve seen that it doesn’t work. That cloak of religiosity simply hides and also justifies their avarice, throne grabbing and terrorism they revel in.

How are these conflicts going to be resolved? History has taught us that political differences cannot be resolved through the use of force. In fact, the use of force should be expedient to get those who can influence change to the table; however, here, it seems to be used in vengeance, purely and simply. Decision makers conveniently forget that the only victory they will realise ultimately is a Pyrrhic one.

How these conflicts must be resolved is through dialogue and incremental victories for all sides. War is not and never has been the answer. It just doesn’t work. At best, war distracts governments from the real challenges that if not addressed immediately will ensure that the whole Middle East will not be habitable in just 25 years. Wars will just accelerate that eventuality. The challenges we face include the acute dearth of water, despicably bad education, unemployment, over population, an undiversified income and bad investments, the finite availability of oil, cronyism, and of course political and human rights ills. With these critical shortcomings, why add war into the mix? Isn’t it just another energy depleting factor sidetracking us from what we actually need to take care of? Aren’t the challenges we face not existential enough? Is war really necessary in the first place?

Let me add one more thing to that despicable list. We are morally bankrupt.

How can our countries see all the suffering of the people of Syria and Yemen and not open their doors wide to receive the refugees and the destitute to lessen their suffering, even if temporarily?

Why are our governments appear to be sitting idle while our Arab brothers and sisters put themselves in peril crossing seas and walking vast distances to seek safety, just to be rejected at borders?

Isn’t it our moral obligation to receive them and ease their suffering? Why are we leaving it to European countries to offer them succour and help in the name of human rights and we shun them completely as if they don’t exist? Didn’t we play a role in their destitution in the first place? While the conflicts didn’t just start because of terrorist parasites, they definitely greatly contribute to the conflicts now. Where did those fighters in Iraq, Syria and Yemen come from in the first place? Did they descend from space? No, they were bred and raised in our own countries only to now wreak havoc all over the world. Yes, we need to defeat them. But we also need to accept those who need our help and open our borders to them while we mount operations to crush the terrorists. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Our countries are a mess, but solutions are staring us in the face!

How about starting with respecting human rights and apply fair and universally accepted laws across the board without favouritism? How about introducing real democracy in order for the rights of everyone be protected and establish a more just society in which the individual regardless of affiliation is respected and protected? It can’t be that difficult. All that is required is political will to allow these changes to be adopted over time.

Remember though, we just have 35 or so years to real peril. Now that a timeline has been set in stone, we need to work toward those sustainable goals. Goals of peace and democracy.

We really have to give peace and democracy a chance. For our children’s sake.

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Wall of WHAT?

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I know I know, I’m a glutton for punishment. That’s why even while on holiday, I can’t help but follow the news in Bahrain; but then I give myself a break and some hilarity by reading the Bahraini local papers online and chief amongst those providing me of some merriment of course are the sycophantic Gulf Daily News and the incredibly unimaginative and obsequious Daily Tribune. I tend to not look at Akhbar Alkhaleej, Alwatan or Alayam unless I feel that my blood pressure is on a low side that particular day, leaving my edification of all things news about my little spit of a country to international online sources of repute.

As to the “noos”, it’s no surprise that all local papers are leading with something or another about the forthcoming by-elections, with a continuous articles and bylines “encouraging” the electorate to go to the ballot boxes and submit their votes. The areas affected of course are those vacated by the Al-Wefaq 18 who were responsible for over 187,000 voters accounting for 48% – 65% of the eligible electorate, depending on who you talk to.

I use the term “encouraging” with poetic license here of course, because all I’ve read so far does not entice voters to participate, but threaten them almost with ex-communication if they don’t! The regime, not unsurprisingly, wants this “political experiment” to succeed, or at least give the impression of success; hence, they seem to be using their usual mouth-pieces and threat of arms – as in police protection to voters – to do so.

The “encouragement” is somewhat contradictory though. Consider this from the Al-Mahmood who intriguingly called for the dismissal of the reigning prime minister – one of the ubiquitous red lines the country is filled with – only to now make concerted and continuous efforts to retract those statements by espousing even more extreme – and sometimes farcical – positions, like this one for instance, to probably compensate for his error in judgement, ehm, sorry, the Washington Times misrepresenting his statements:

A total of 187,080 people will be eligible to cast their ballots during the September 24 election being held to fill seats vacated by members of opposition group Al Wefaq. Authorities have pledged to do their utmost to safeguard voters and candidates after several candidates said they were threatened by groups opposed to the process.

Dr Al Mahmood condemned those who were seeking to pressurise Bahrain’s silent majority in the name of religion or sect.

Okay… strange that a cleric opposes using religion for anything, it’s their stock-in-trade and the reason for their existence in any case.

Quoting the Quran, he said Muslims must cherish the values of uprightness and probity while assuming their duties towards their well-being and that of humanity. [source]

Ah, that’s better! He’s quoting the Quran. So it’s okay for him but not for the others. I understand.

I don’t particularly care what any cleric says in regards to pluralism and democracy because we already know their positions intimately. What I do care about is the position of the state in this; if it censures one cleric for meddling in politics, why doesn’t it for this guy as well? Or is censure only reserved to those who oppose it?

As to participation in any elections, isn’t my decision whether to vote my democratic right? Why then all these shenanigans with ministers, other officials and paid-for journalists continuously harping on, threatening, urging and cajoling us to do so? My suggestion to all of them is to simply leave us alone to practice the democracy they’re so hung up on and be prepared to accept the free and unfettered result of our actions.

Getting people to believe in the democratic process and be active participants in it do not require all these machinations. All it does, is having a fair and equitable platform off of which we can leverage the powers of democracy to better ours and the country’s lot. Those don’t include threats and a concerted effort to lay the blame of your failures on your opposition.

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EIU: Bahrain more democratic

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In a GDN report entitled “Democracy Is Taking Root” this morning, it shows that Bahrain’s democracy has climbed fully eight ranks from 130 in 2008 to 122 this year according to an EIU report:

BAHRAIN is more democratic now than it was two years ago, according to a report by a leading research and analysis organisation.

The country climbed eight places in the Democracy Index 2010, which is compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit and covers 162 countries.

Bahrain was ranked as the 122nd most democratic country in the report, up from 130 in 2008, and scored 3.49 out of 10 on the report’s democracy scale.

However, if you read the actual report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, you will notice a few things that the GDN piece chose not to highlight; the first is the actual title of the report: “Democracy Index 2010: Democracy in Retreat“. The second is that the report should have investigated as to the reason for this benevolence while they and I certainly know that happenings over the past two years especially did not do democracy nor the promised reforms any favours. The recent corruption report is just one single case in point.

They should – if they used any journalistic ethics, that is – should have highlighted that this “improvement” is because other countries in the region having regressed even more than we have and that the general trend in this region continues to be authoritarian with the vestiges of democracy being minimal at best:

The average score of countries in the region declined from an already very low 3.54 in 2008 to 3.43 in 2010, almost a point below the next lowest-scoring region, Sub-Saharan Africa. The only improvement of any note between 2008 and 2010 occurred in Kuwait, which rose by 15 places in the global rankings to 114th. Kuwait improved as its parliamentary system—the most advanced in the Gulf, although still not able to check seriously the emir’s executive power—continued to mature and press freedoms also strengthened.

One of the reasons for democracy actually NOT taking root in our countries is specifically because journalists and the media refuse to rise up and do their duties in highlighting corruption, taking the government to task, demand access to information and the inculcation of transparency.

What we actually have here, and the GDN is one of those to blame in this country, is putting advertising revenues and subscriptions first and foremost rather than the attendance to noble journalistic calling. What they do as a matter of course is blindly drum up support for corruption and shy from reporting anything which might affect their revenues rather than fight it in every way possible; hence, the propagation of paper-bag journalism. So much so that the rallying cry of these so called journalists and media organisations has become: “Do you want an article with that, sir?”.

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RIOT!

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athens-fire_1538660iQuick! Where do you think this took place? Duraz? Bani Jamra? Sehla? Hamad Town? Muharraq?

No? Can’t guess? Well let me put your mind at ease. These were the riots which paralyzed Athens to commemorate the death of 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos. Fatally shot by a police officer after a minor altercation. Once the news spread of this incident, within the first hour of the young man’s death, demonstrations took place in his neighbourhood; these escalated to full riots which lasted several days. During that time youths engaged police and private property with stones, sticks, furniture, firecrackers, molotov cocktails and whatever else they could lay their hands on (see pictures here).

Those riots were not contained within the boy’s neighbourhood, but spread very quickly to Athens which was paralyzed for several weeks, then to many other European cities in solidarity against police brutality. The Greek prime minister and many other officials came out to offer not only their condolences to Alexandros’ family, but clearly and unequivocally condemned the police for this loss of life. While there is no doubt that some extremist/anarchist elements took advantage of the situation and escalated the violence, but the fact is that the protesting majority were not maligned by the government for their “unpatriotic” behaviour. They – shockingly for us – seem to have done the opposite and stood by them and by their democratic right to demonstrate against the killing, police brutality, corruption, unemployment and other grievances.

Over the following few weeks, Bahrain will celebrate it’s 39th Day of Independence. The betting, judging by the past few years, various people will take to the streets to demonstrate their grievances; all the way from the forgotten sufferers from torture in the past through to families of allegedly wrongfully accused and imprisoned youth due to their political activities – normally demonstrating here and there for various causes and to those who will want to celebrate the various martyrs of this great country. I suspect that again based on recent history, these will be dealt with severely by the state security apparatus.

Wouldn’t it be great if the government this year adopted a more benevolent approach? How about allowing those people with grievances to express them publicly, demonstrate and use that as a celebration of our democracy within our national celebrations? Sure, if demonstrations do turn violent and threaten life and damage property the perpetrators must be dealt with within the spirit of the law, but for goodness’ sake don’t preempt events by lobbing tens of tear-gas cannisters and shoot the crowd/demonstrators with bird-shot!

Bahrainis normally are quite docile, not choosing confrontation by default. I don’t think that the majority of us want a regime change, what the vast majority want I suspect is just for their voice to be heard and their grievances attended to. We all know that the parliament is incapable of relaying these matters, let alone work to resolve them. Parliamentarians not only lack legislative teeth, but are busying themselves and are mired in their own sectarian and divisive practices. They are beyond useless. Maybe the demonstrations and other peaceful methods of dissent should be tolerated by the leadership in order for them to actually hear the voices and use the presented opportunity to quickly and courageously addressing them for the better of this country. I’m sure that they’re striving for social justice, equality and good living for the citizens of Bahrain as explained and encapsulated in the Vision 2030, so let’s just be a bit more patient with each other this December. Listen. And enter into a good national dialogue.

Where else do we have to call home by this good country? Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, sit, and talk. It can’t be that complicated.

I wish everyone in Bahrain and fantastic National Day and I hope the attendant celebrations be peaceful and much fun.

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Shame on you Pakistan!

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How dare you have a person in your midst now that you can legally call “former president?” Have you absolutely no shame? What happened to your Holy Muslim Values which insist that you should acquiesce to God’s chosen leader on earth? Did you not hear that oft repeated Aya “Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you? Whasswrongwijooo? Have you descended into Kufr now? AstaGHFirullah!

Former President Musharraf felt the heat and skedaddled
Former President Musharraf felt the heat and skedaddled
How can you let an independent judiciary be? How can you even threaten those who are charged with authority among you with impeachment? And you are just Pakistani? You certainly now rise to the level of those Indians who also now live under a democracy. All we need now is for you to emulate those neighbours that you fought and separated from all those years ago and increase the level of middle-class families, raise your education levels and generally live a better life!

What is this world coming to? All thank to Allah SWT that we, true Arabs still live by the Quran, especially the respect and deference we afford to His representatives on Earth, the kings, shaikhs and malalwah for we value and yearn for Heaven and shall not stray off this ancient path of kowtowing to Allah’s words regardless of how they get retooledinterpreted.

For Godness’ sake, who is going to come to the rescue of Former President Musharraf now that he was dropped like a hot potato by those infernal Americans once they saw that the people of Pakistan simply didn’t want him? Us Arabs of course! The pad is ready for him in any of our open countries for the rest of his life to live the life of luxury, living honourably amongst us to value the words of God and abide by them.

Long live our rulers, the true and only ones charged with authority among us. Allah’s chosen. May they live comfortably for ever!

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Nepal, a harbinger of things to come

Nepalese republic bornCongratulations to the Nepalese nation on their joining the modern democracies voluntarily. Congratulations on declaring themselves a republic, one in which the promise is held for a better and more inclusive way of life.

239 years under absolute monarchist rule came to an end yesterday and Nepal became yet another of the Himalayan countries to eschew monarchist rule to one of the people. Even the last country which prides itself by measuring their success by happiness rather than the more usual product has instigated democratic rule by parliament.

If these are not indications that due to the whole world opening up and for people to realise that windows of opportunities are passing them by as they are beholden to undemocratic and despotic rule, and for those despots also to realise that their days are numbered regardless of the futile machinations they adopt to subjugate their people, the better it will be for everyone concerned and the more peaceful the transition will be.

We in the Gulf – and the larger Arab world too – constitute the last bastion of absolute rule. I predict that within this generation we shall see intrinsic changes to how our countries are governed by the sustained introduction of democratic systems in which the populace will have the ultimate say in how our countries are run. If the current rulers do not make plans themselves to inaugurate that change, I am fairly sure that plans will be made for them to exit the scene of power, instituted not only by their very own people, but by world opinion and pressure too.

It is the cusp of a new era, one with its own dynamic which is unwitnessed in human history. If not handled properly, there will be a lot of chaos which will whittle away our energies needlessly.

It’s time for responsible governance.

Will our people rise to the challenge and grasp at this opportunity, or will we continue to descend into the nothingness we have so far existed in? Or should we just wait for yet another promised saviour who will remove our shackles and lead us to nirvana, while we ourselves make further excuses to condone our continued incarceration.

Congratulations to the people of the Democratic Republic of Nepal. May you live for ever.

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The Assassination of Barack Obama

No he’s not. Yet. And I hope that he never falls as a victim of violence of any sort, as I wish the rest of humanity. This is just a hypothetical question as I have heard it repeated over the last few days as it seems people are flabbergasted at the possibility of a black man becoming the most powerful man in the world. Above all of that, is the hint that that person has a relationship to Islam, distant and tenuous I grant you, but a thin familial and cultural connection to the fastest growing religion in the world, or at least, the one that was supposedly responsible to the downing of the twin World Trade towers in New York and and countless other atrocities.

I don’t particularly care for Hilary as I do not have a shred of respect for Bush – both of them – as they both have stumbled into their position, the Bushes that is, yet, they were chosen by their people; hence, I have no qualms at all with that process.

Although I believe that Hilary would actually be better for the Middle East than Barack would – simply because I have a feeling that he would be “more royal than the king” in that he will have to go over-the-top in proving that he is distant from our culture and religion – I am opposed to Hilary taking the mantle because she would create a hereditary relationship so far absent from the United States but much prevalent on our shores. Bush – Clinton – Bush – Clinton will not be a good precedence for the nation which should be emulated for their respect of their citizens and which their enemies fear. Should she actually win the toss, America would become much closer to the ways of our beloved Arab world, and that is not something I look forward to.

So it’s a toss: I am more in favour of Obama than I am for Clinton? The other way around? I must confess that I am not very sure yet. Looking at my own selfish motives; I would have either rather than that foot-in-the-grave-not-committed-to-anything-whiny-voice McCain! But what if I think that all three are bad for the world?

I guess I would vote for Obama if I could. At least he is much more charismatic than Hilary could ever be. And I would not descend to the level of others who suggested that as she couldn’t satisfy her husband, how could she satisfy a nation?

Good luck America whoever you eventually choose. But for goodness’ sake choose wisely, the person you are choosing to lead will lead the whole world and not just your own patch.

Good luck.

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MtvSM time

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It’s that time again.. I’m in the airport awaiting my flight to Jordan and it suddenly hit me that I didn’t announce the traditional Mahmood’s Den Scapegoat of the Moment! Silly me.

Alrighty then… I don’t think there is anything nor anyone more deserving of very valid blame other than…

The Parliament!

If I were to be generous, I would happily share the MtvSM privilege with the CIO or eGov or whatever you want to call those brainiacs who think that being transparent means embarrassing a whole swathe of our countrymen by publishing their names without consent and displaying them as paupers awaiting a measly handout of BD50, rather than deserving human beings who should very well share the wealth of their country. But I’m not in a very generous mood at the moment.

Therefore, please do blame all the ills of the world generally, and ours specifically on this joke of a parliament. One that is diligently trying to reduce its efficacy even more than what it is at the moment and one that is thinking in nothing more than a narrow and short-sighted sectarian way to further encumber itself – and by inference our whole country and society – with restrictions and completely voiding itself from the limited responsibility they have been given.

All this without paying heed to what is happening in the world around us. Even Nepal and Bhutan will deservedly pass us by as they develop their democratic, social and economic systems and we’re still in this sectarian and tribal mentality, thanks to this parliament, its bylaws and our constitution.

Someone should look into the Bhutan situation; a country that measures itself not by Gross National Product, but by a hippy-like Gross National Happiness. Even with that, their far-sighted king imposes democracy by changing his country from an absolute monarchy through to a constitutional one.

Enough rants for now, they are about to call me to the plane… in any case, you have the MtvSM has been announced and I invite you – my friends – to go ahead and give them several pieces of your minds.

Au revoir

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Winograd, from another perspective

The following cartoon appeared in Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper (thanks to Jaddwilliam for the heads-up) reflecting an alternate perspective on the findings of the Winograd Commission. However, it failed to stop me in my tracks.

Winograd cartoon in Al-Quds newspaper

The bubble says: “They admit their defeat and they hold their negligent accountable!! God curse the Zionist fads which intrude on our genuine Arab traditions!

I am unfortunately very familiar with this situation, as is the case with almost every other Arab, I suspect. Our situation is that if we do identify grave negligence or even culpability in nefarious initiatives which could destroy whole societies and puts whole countries in turmoil, is elevate those implicated and pretend that the situation never actually happened. We just continue to spout useless platitudes about our “true Arab heritage” and that “those fads are not of our make-up”. What’s more is that the very people who were elected to ensure the application of proper oversight actually become tenacious defenders of the offenders! They methodically destroy any chance at our progress as a responsible human race.

Sweeping things under the carpet is an age-old tradition.

Maybe it’s high time that we did away with old and completely bankrupt ways and learnt to face our problems head-on in order to learn from experiences and get on to a better future. If that lesson comes from whom we call enemies, then so be it. But for God’s sake let us be courageous enough to at least attempt to solve our problems.

Without accepting and recognising failures, success will continue to be elusive.

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The West’s Acquiescence to Autocracy

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Download the HRW Report 2008
pdf – 5.5MB

The US, EU and other democracies are accepting flawed and unfair elections out of political expediency, Human Rights Watch says in its annual report.

Allowing autocrats to pose as democrats without demanding they uphold civil and political rights risked undermining human rights worldwide, it warned.

HRW said Pakistan, Thailand, Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya and Russia had been falsely claiming to be democratic.
BBC News

Will this report wake them up?

Doubtful.

Have a wonderful, if very windy, Friday!

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