Tag Archives Politics

Saying NO to the Shock Doctrine

Saying NO to the Shock Doctrine

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My friend Doug Doulton shared this on his Facebook timeline:

 

In it, Naomi Klein states:

Shock. It’s a word that has come up a lot since November— for obvious reasons.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about shock. Ten years ago, I published “The Shock Doctrine,” an investigation that spanned four decades from Pinochet’s U.S.-backed coup in 1970s Chile to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I noticed a brutal and recurring tactic by right wing governments. After a shocking event – a war, coup, terrorist attack, market crash or natural disaster – exploit the public’s disorientation. Suspend democracy.  Push through radical “free market” policies that enrich the 1 percent at the expense of the poor and middle class.

The administration is creating chaos. Daily. Of course many of the scandals are the result of the president’s ignorance and blunders – not some nefarious strategy.

But there is also no doubt that some savvy people around Trump are using the daily shocks as cover to advance wildly pro-corporate policies that bear little resemblance to what Trump pledged on the campaign trail.

And the worst part? This is likely just the warm up.

Click here to read the full article.

 

Yes. We have and are living this in the Middle East. We have endured this kind of strategy for millennia. What we lack, I believe, is the implementation of points two through five of what Ms Klein proposes. Tunisia is the only country so far which has pushed through and we see them somewhat succeed.

The remaining countries have a few millennia to catch up it seems.

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Is the #DurazSiege at an end?

Is the #DurazSiege at an end?

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I woke up with a start two or three times last night and couldn’t figure out why….

Then it dawned on me.

The quiet.

No police helicopters buzzing overhead at low altitude.

In the vicinity of Duraz, we see and hear helicopters flying at relatively low altitude day and night. Every single day since the Duraz Siege started almost a year ago exactly. Last night, I think, was the first time in a year that we didn’t see or hear a helicopter overhead. Their noise, after a while, is maddening.

The #DurazSiege is more than “inconvenient” checkpoints. The state of mind it creates and the terror it permeates through the community it is imposed upon will take a very long time to heal.

Is it over then? I’m not sure.

People were not harassed yesterday and cars were left to pass without drivers being stopped to show their IDs at checkpoints, but police presence at all the traditional locations is still very much apparent. I know that what is happening inside the village is much worse than simple checkpoints. My thoughts and feelings continues to be with them.

One day, there will be forgiveness and we will move on. Hopefully. Though we should never forget the terror that such inhuman measures create.

This could all have been resolved with dialogue. And the results of that dialogue would have been much more palatable to all, and much longer lasting and provide for more stability than any imposed police or military measures.

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False starts are common. Is this another one?

False starts are common. Is this another one?

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Something’s up.

I – like the majority of Bahrainis – have become pessimistic and always looking for hidden meanings.

This latest feeling descended on me when I heard that a staunch loyalist MP invited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad Alhussein to come to Bahrain to personally investigate the situation here and thus be assured that everything is good and that reports of repression are exaggerated.

This was swiftly followed up by the speaker of the house of representatives to affirm the invitation.

I can’t help but think that this is not real.

If they open themselves up for even cursory examination by international bodies, a hell of a lot of skeletons will come out of closets that will forever change this country from the core. This would be a good thing of course.

We as a country are facing a lot of challenges none of which will be resolved without real political will and recognising our deficiencies and doing something concrete to address them. And sycophants and their ways will simply not do.

Is this the reconciliation and rapprochement that we all have been dreaming of for the last few years?

I truly hope so.

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#JohnKerry in Bahrain

#JohnKerry in Bahrain

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John KerryAs I type this, there is a joint press conference by the foreign secretaries of the US of A and Bahrain.

Here’s what I expect #JohnKerry to state. Ready? Here goes:

Blaaah blah blah bla. Blaah bla bla bla bla bla bla blaaaaah bl #IRAN blablablablabla bla blaaaaah bla bla bl blaha blahhhhh #ISIS bla bla blaaaaaaah bla bla #IRAN bl #SYRIA #bla bla bla blaaaaaah bla #YEMEN bla (human rights) bla bla blaaaab ablallaballbalbabhhh bla blaaaaa #IRAN!

#lunch? ehm, yeah, sure. ehm, let’s go!

Thank you for your visit. Bye bye.

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“This is Bahrain” group signs MoU with Israeli MEMRI organisation

“This is Bahrain” group signs MoU with Israeli MEMRI organisation

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this is bahrain group signs with memri
Ms Mathieson, third from left, Mr Fernandez, fourth from left, with clergymen, Shura Council members and delegates at the MoU signing.

What exactly is this “This is Bahrain” group? Who are they? And who gave them any authority to speak for and on behalf of us Bahrainis and the Bahraini government?

From what I could find, this group is an “initiative” emanating from The Federation of Expat Associations who lists Ms Betsy Mathieson as its secretary general. Ms Mathieson’s LinkedIn profile confirms that she is also This is Bahrain’s organiser. There is no independent website for either the Federation nor the Group in order for us to determine how they are financed and who their boards of directors are. The opaqueness surrounding these groups is one disturbing factor, of course.

The other, and as far as I’m concerned, much more nefarious activity undertaken by them is that they are jetting all over the world, holding conferences and talking on our behalf without any legal authority to do so. And now, they’re even supposedly signing memorandums of understanding with organisations like MEMRI, a partisan and deeply pro-Israeli research institute headed by ex-Israeli intelligence agencies’ personnel whose mission it seems is to translate the worst that Arab media publishes which it then sends out to opinion formers and decision makers in the Western world to increase anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments.

The This is Bahrain group seem to have been given a completely free hand to do whatever they want, no oversight necessary, simply because they promised someone that they’re going to “improve” Bahrain’s reputation. If this is true, then we’ve reached a very sad state of affairs indeed. However, gullibility is of course soon exposed.

MEMRI in response to them supposedly signing a PR MoU with This is Bahrain said in a brief they’ve just released entitled “Bahrain And The Politics Of Deceit”:

It would be easy to chalk this farcical incident up to the frantic efforts of an expat businesswoman clumsily and dishonestly trying to correct the extremely negative image of her adopted homeland.[7]  But it is clear that the “This is Bahrain” roadshow is an attempt at public diplomacy embraced by the Manama government.[8]  The problem it reveals is a larger one not limited to this particular island kingdom in the Middle East.

The crisis of authority in the Middle East, the great shaking and unraveling in the Middle East supposedly unleashed by the Arab Spring but actually long in coming has terrified dynasties to their core.  The rise of the Islamic State, the increased tempo of Iranian-supported military action and terrorism, and the seemingly near complete abdication by the United States of its leading role in the region have all worked on the calculations of existing regimes. Elites rally around authority in such times.

Gone are, in all too many cases, the faltering steps at much needed reform and openness.  Regimes feel threatened existentially and intimately and respond, not by prioritizing reform or change, but by increasing repression and, in the world of the media, by making the lie and the gap between reality and the truth greater rather than lesser.  This is a dangerous, high-stakes, short-term, and even reckless strategy, in Bahrain and beyond.

read full brief

Does this look like an improvement of Bahrain’s reputation? I would say it’s actually anything but. This is what you get when you use band aids to attempt to cure cancer. This is what you get when you trust a bunch of sycophants to try to burnish a tarnished reputation.

I hope that this incident will wake up whomever is providing Ms Mathieson and her groups the cover to operate that this is not the way to do things. People have wised up and are much more informed. Groups like these will do nothing but damage the remaining good graces that this country might still have.

What Bahrain desperately needs is staring it in the face and is so easily accomplished; what it needs is the political will and courage to have an encompassing comprehensive dialogue with the authority to enact its own resolutions. Those need to be put through a national referendum to receive the necessary public backing and to achieve the required consensus to get this country out of its self-imposed quagmire.

What we don’t need is equally as obvious. We don’t need groups of sycophants and social climbers running rough-shod around the world obfuscating our problems and prolonging our genuine quest to resolve them.

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You want meat?

You want meat?

The controversial removal of meat subsidies in Bahrain will be lifted starting from tomorrow and parliament has given up the fight to have the subsidy reinstated. Had they done their job properly as they are sworn to do, they would have had a serious look at all the subsidies offered by the government to various sectors when they were reviewing the government plan for the next few years. They should have also combed through the budget professionally and raised flags of objection, or at least call for better clarifications and expenditure; thus, pretend at least to exercise their oversight role. What Bahrain did get from this parliament; however, was a white flag of surrender – as expected – allowing the government to disregard their thundering tantrums and promises of resignations, which of course will never materialise. Why give up a cushy job?

Like other Gulf Arab oil exporters, Bahrain subsidises goods and utilities including meat, fuel, electricity and water, keeping prices ultra-low to buy social peace.

But since oil prices plunged last year, slashing state revenues, the subsidies have become increasingly hard for governments to afford – especially in Bahrain, which has smaller oil and financial reserves than its neighbours.

So the government announced last month that it would remove subsidies on meat from Sept. 1, allowing domestic prices to rise and compensating Bahraini citizens – but not foreigners, who comprise about half of the population of roughly 1.3 million – with cash payments.

Reuters

What are the subsidies offered by the government I hear you ask? Well, here’s an overview (pdf) of those scheduled in the 2015/2016 budget and I also provide a comparative look at the 2011/2012 budgeted subsidies.

Bahrain 2011/2012 Subsidies Table
2011/2012 Subsidies Table
Bahrain 2015/2016 Subsidies Table
2015/2016 Subsidies Table

If you look at the food subsidy in Bahrain, the government is looking to save approximately BD24 million (US$ 63m) by 2016; however the electricity and water subsidy will increase to approximately BD65 million by then too. Apart from that not making sense to my simple brain, I’d like to know how the biggest subsidy in that schedule is actually apportioned? My understanding is a good chunk of that directly supports industry in natural gas subsidies that presumably goes to ALBA, the aluminium smelter, and other industries like it.

Of course I understand that the government must react to the appreciable drop of oil prices which is its main source of income, and I appreciate that it has put in mechanism to defray the cost increase on meats by offering citizens alone a monthly stipend and of course I thank them for their generosity, but I wonder if other subsidies should have been lifted first? Unless of course this is an initial foray into the lifting of other subsidies in the years to come, and the removal of subsidies on meat is to prepare the populace? Will the government ultimately be removing of all subsidies and even introduce of taxation to meet the increasing budgetary deficit?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m willing to put in a bet that this scenario is actually closer than many people think. It’s because of this that we need much better oversight with a parliament whose members are much more aware of fiscal requirements, have the necessary understanding of budgets and fiscal policies, and also have the necessary tools to exercise proper oversight on government and its spending. Ultimately, we need a parliament which is much more accountable to those who elected them. However, had I that same crystal ball, it might well tell me that the latter just won’t happen.

In the mean time, register here to receive the subsidy if you’re a Bahraini, and here’s some meat to fill you up in the mean time.

Dig in!

camel feast for one - Camel feast in (presumably) Saudi. The upside of the removal of meat subsidies is that we'll never have this sort of excess in Bahrain.
Camel feast in (presumably) Saudi. The upside of the removal of meat subsidies is that we’ll hopefully never have this sort of excess in Bahrain. Ever.

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The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

The Hostility of the Middle East to Freedom of Expression

Here’s a riddle: if you heard the following, which country of region or the world would immediately jump up at you?

A female artist and activist serving a 12-year prison sentence is facing additional charges, including “indecent conduct,” after shaking her male lawyer’s hand.

South America?
China?
Belarus?
Georgia?
USA?

No. I bet the region that popped up in your mind was the Middle East. As to the specific country, it most probably was either Saudi Arabia or Iran. Okay, I’ll throw in Afghanistan in there too.

Atena Farghadani

The correct answer, of course in this case, is Iran.

Why is this region so afflicted with this disease of needing to control everyone and mould them into unthinking and unfeeling automatons beyond their own officially sanctified propriety? Aren’t the perpetually descending freedom indices enough to jolt the region’s officials to a state of utter alarm coupled with a clear realisation that the people of this region have had enough Big Brotherly oversight and repression and they’re rebelling against the chains? Don’t they realise that peoples’ aspirations have now changed beyond their recognition and broke out of their moulds? That what people now want is the plentiful bounty of choice that is available to their fellow human beings elsewhere? And that the continued application of unfair and unjust laws that curtail personal freedoms will achieve nothing but an all out ugly rebellion that might well lead to civil wars?

The Middle East is by almost any reckoning the world’s worst region for freedom of expression. Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom lobby, puts war-torn Syria 177th out of 180 countries on its latest annual ranking, in 2014. Iran is 173rd, Sudan 172nd, Yemen 167th, Saudi Arabia 164th. The highest any of the region’s countries make it is 91st, with Kuwait, which has a democracy of sorts. According to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, as of 2012, 14 of 20 Middle Eastern countries criminalise blasphemy and 12 of 20 make apostasy—leaving Islam—an offence. [Unholy Silence – The Economist]

Almost every country in the Middle East imprisons political activists, artists, journalists, writers, bloggers, and anyone else who dares to oppose official views or simply criticises any official body using draconian and malleable laws that will ensure their silencing and also make them examples to deter others from treading their paths.

The ludicrous story of the Iranian artist Atena Farghadani embodies all that ails this region of the world. She expressed her opinion of the political situation in her country by drawing Iranian parliamentarians as animals. That opinion got her more than twelve years behind bars in the country’s top security prison. When she shook the hand of her male lawyer, they slapped an additional prison sentence for public indecency and they both can receive over 70 lashes for their courtesy on top of the prison sentence.

“The laws on the books in Iran are a kind of arsenal or tool kit always available for use by the authorities in their efforts to suppress any form of expression they don’t approve of,” Elise Auerbach, Iran country specialist at Amnesty International, told The Huffington Post.

How are these laws allowed to be legislated in the first place? How can parliamentarians continue to have any respect for themselves after allowing such legislation to pass? Don’t their conscience and honour question their actions or lack thereof?

Of course, the practical effects of this suppression are manifold; chief amongst them is the killing of innovation and creativity. People cannot be creative and innovative if they’re continuously looking over their shoulders and censoring themselves. This creates such a corrosive and unproductive environment which enforces subservience to foreign products, workforce and talent. This situation will ultimately unbalance the very foundations of a sustainable society and put whole countries at the mercy of the external powers they are beholden to. The local disenfranchised population will of course lose hope, lose their kinship with their own country of birth and might well stand on the sidelines while its resources continue to be plundered because they would be unsure whether they are empowered to act to protect the resources. Under these conditions, there is no doubt that governments will ultimately lose the support of their own people and chaos will ensue.

The great Mark Twain once said that “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it”.  Judging by the acceleration in arbitrary arrests, the fashioning of even more opaque laws whose sole purpose is for their use against any form of opposition or dissent, the further choking of freedoms of expression and penalising almost any form of criticism, that governmental support across the Middle East is declining to a level that open rebellion – small as it may currently be – is begining to be witnessed on a daily basis.

There is a way out of this, of course. Paradoxically, Bahrain once provided the guiding light for how things can be reversed and corrected. Just look at what its RSF Press Freedom Index was in 2002 and compare it to every year since. What did Bahrain do in 2001 that warranted that huge increase in its press freedom ranking and all other freedom of expression indices?

Here’s a brief, courtesy of 2002 report from Freedom House:

Bahrain’s political rights rating improved from 7 to 6, and its civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5, because of political reforms that set the stage for the establishment of an elected legislature, abolished emergency laws and courts, released political prisoners and allowed exiles to return, granted nationality to bidoon (stateless peoples), and improved political debate and freedom of association.

Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa ended almost a decade of civil unrest in February 2001, when he presented Bahrainis with the opportunity to vote in a referendum on a new national charter. The charter, which calls for the establishment of a partially elected legislature, an independent judiciary, political rights for women, equality for all citizens, and a body to investigate public complaints, addresses the key grievances of Shiite-led opposition groups. Ninety percent of Bahrainis turned out to vote in the referendum, and 98 percent of them approved the new charter.

Although the 2002 Freedom House index for Bahrain rates it as “Not Free”, it does recognise that some solid steps have taken place that warranted that upward change in ranking. In fact, the effect of those changes were clearly seen from 2003 – 2009 when the country’s status changed to “Partly Free”, which is a big achievement.

From a practical level, I remember the heady days of 2001 when people stood up straighter, looked each other in the eye, had fruitful debates without resorting to hushed tones and continuously looking over their shoulders and political lectures and workshops were aplenty. We actually started to understand what “debate” actually was rather than resort to the usual accusations of treason, or lobbying choice epithets at people we disagree with. The whole country was abuzz and business was booming. Everyone had an air of accomplishment and a sense of worth and pride.

That feeling is a universal requirement for a healthy and effective Middle East. Unfortunately it has disappeared, or at least, it got lost in the interim. For our own survival and our much needed growth as effective nations, we need to get that sense of self-worth back.

How the people of this region might go about this will not be easy. The road will require sacrifices to re-establish trust between all parties. Shared goals need to be set that have national interest fully in sight and which transcend personal aggrandisement and selfish benefit. I personally believe that this can and must be achieved. I can’t give up on more than 400 million people and neither can the world for that matter.

We all individually have a part to play, no matter how small, to achieve that much required correction to rejoin a world, without terrorism, wars or strife. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to try.

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Hey there. How’s it going?

Hey there. How’s it going?

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The thing that truly disturbs me about attempting to write anything, in my blog here or elsewhere, is the necessity to censor myself, and thinking twice, thrice or more about just about everything I write. The environment in Bahrain at the moment isn’t conducive to free thought or speech. Everything – it seems – is construed as traitorous, or at least unpatriotic. The political views are so far apart now that there is no hope of rapprochement. It’s a zero-sum game; for a side to win, the other has to lose. It’s absolutely ridiculous. You open any paper now and what you read are threats and exclusionary politics.

Until when? I’m tired of this situation. Both sides are waiting for the other to give up and until then, they will use whatever tool available to pressure the other side without any regard to the people caught in the middle. The only winners here are the brown-nosers; selfish twats who’s only way to gain anything is by feeding on the misery of others.

How should this situation be resolved? Here are my thoughts:

  • The common denominator must be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Inculcate social justice. Yes it’s difficult, but this is something that must be set at a very high priority to get us out of the quagmire we’re currently in.
  • Evolution rather than revolution. As we’ve seen in other places around the world (Iraq, Iran, Syria, and other locations) abrupt change to the status quo is very painful for all concerned and is unrealistic. Methodic change anchored to clear goals and timeframes is a much better option.
  • The way to arrive at resolution must be through a meaningful dialogue whose outcome must be binding on everyone.
  • The method of governing must change; the current iteration was a good experiment but obviously the experiment did isn’t a complete success by any means. There is vast room for improvement.
  • Call things by their name. We can reach a better future together by stopping the practice of idolising individuals and by identifying wrongs. Create a proper accountable structure and reward and penalise on merit, rather than allegiance or any other criteria.
  • Don’t take criticism personally and don’t demonise those who you disagree with. You only succeed in belittling yourself if you do.

I’m sure there are other factors to consider. However, this short list might go a long way in finding an equitable solution that everyone aspires to.

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The Sand and Ice Bucket Challenges

The Sand and Ice Bucket Challenges

You must have heard of the #icebucketchallenge by now, or you had been challenged to do it and got yourself drenched. Other than the feeling of shock that you have experienced – I know I have – you must have also wondered how this particular challenge started and hopefully you went online to find out more about the disease it is helping raise awareness and funds for.

How it started is in contention, apparently; however, CTV News relates this which seams plausible:

For months now, several groups, from athletes to Christian groups have been pouring ice-cold water over themselves and filming it, sometimes simply for fun. The challenge grew in popularity this spring among both pro and amateur golfers, but it wasn’t until former pro golfer Greg Norman challenged NBC anchor Matt Lauer to the challenge that it hit the mainstream.

Back then, the idea was to either take the bucket of cold water on your head or donate $100 to a charity of your choice. A minor-league golfer in Florida named Chris Kennedy may have been the first to dedicate his ice bucket challenge to ALS research, but ALS Canada says it was really Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who has ALS himself, who really got the challenge going back on July 29.

Since that date, millions of videos of ice bucket challenges have been uploaded to Facebook and Twitter in the last month, growing exponentially in popularity in recent weeks, and creating what many could argue has been one of the most viral fundraising campaigns in years.

Here’s a link to the Wikipedia page which has more information too.

I did my part and got drenched in ice cold water this afternoon. Yes it’s still sweltering in Bahrain, but the shock of having that ice-cold water is still something!


Mahmood does the #icebucketchallenge
Quite refreshing. I hope that I’ve contributed a bit to the disease’s awareness through this, and raised more money for the research into its hopeful cure.

Some people though, must divert even a good thing by politicising it. Over the past few weeks, we started to see “Sand Bucket Challenge” which hopes through its participants to raise awareness of the situation in Gaza. Like this one:

I don’t have any issue with people raising awareness of the terrible situation in Palestine in general and Gaza in particular, but what possible reason is there to denigrate people who championed medical research by trying to raise funds for ALS research? I feel sick watching these Sand Bucket Challenges. To me, this is just taking the very Palestinian cause and hijacking it by trying to force people into shame for their good actions. “How can you live while children in Gaza die?”, “How can you smile while people in Gaza are destitute?” and all the other similar messages.

I abhor what has happened in Gaza. I don’t think for a minute it was called for and it is as far away from fairness as can be. There is no question in my mind about that. But trying to constantly guilt trip people isn’t that great for your cause either. People have to live and life has to go on. There is no reason whatsoever not to be creative enough to start one’s own viral campaign if they can. In fact, a viral campaign for Palestine and Gaza has been successful and is still going on in various cities around the world. Please don’t destroy the good will those campaigns created with such a narrow-minded stunt like this.

I do not agree with the premise of this Sand Bucket politics and its emotional hijacking.

Now go pour some ice-cold water over yourself and donate to ALS research.

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