Archive for the ‘Arab Spring’ Category

As Syria Continues To Simmer, Lebanon Remains in Limbo

January 16, 2013

Pat_BeirPatrick Henningsen
21stCentury Wire
Jan 16, 2012

BEIRUT – On arrival to Lebanon’s capital city, all seems very functional and normal on the surface, as the city runs business as usual.

Below the surface however, there is a feeling of trepidation, an unspoken collective worry that a city and country who has gradually managed to pick up the pieces from the decades-long conflict which stretched through the 70’s and 80’s, an Israeli occupation of its south, followed by a brief, albeit destructive, ‘33 Day War’ with Israel in 2006 – might once again be dragged into another sub-regional conflict. It goes without saying that police and security services in Lebanon are on high alert.

Tourism Hit Hard

The neighboring conflict has also had a very negative impact on Lebanon’s tourism, keeping away the much-needed outside currency for which many jobs, independent hotels and other SMEs are dependent for their economic survival. But despite the recent problems, Beirut is still moving ahead, still attracting some foreign investment made visible by the hundreds of new building projects springing up all over the city. And as expected, the restaurants seem busy and the cafes are still buzzing.

Already there is a tangible presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and in the capital Beirut, who have fled from the fighting and breakdown of society currently unfolding next door. The impact of the Syrian conflict on its neighbor Lebanon in such a short space of time is substantial.

Latest reports put the number of Syrian refugees recently accumulated in Lebanon at 300,000. This figure is contrasted by the number of Palestinian refugees whose ancestors fled Israel’s ethnic cleanings in 1947-48, still housed in Lebanon today – which is currently estimated at 500,000.

The Issue of Sectarianism

Lebanon is, more than ever, a demonstration of sectarianism par excellence. In of country of 4 million, there is differentiation within the Christian community – Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Melkite, Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic, as well as within and the Muslim community – Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Druze.  In addition to this, there is a substantial Armenian community, a large community of foreign nationals from the US and Europe, Asian and African migrant workers, and a small Jewish community. One might also note that the internal rifts between Christian and Muslim factions are almost as great as the polarity separating Christians and Muslim as a whole.

That said, it is also the only society in the region where contrasting religions and cultures are completely intermingled and where tolerance has evolved into a virtue.

Xmas

Co-existance: A scene from a recent Christmas illustrates the country’s diversity (PHOTO: Mary Henningsen)

In its totality, Lebanon consists of some of 19 religions and dozens more ethnic , groups. Many a thesis and book have sought to chronicle (and will continue to argue no doubt) this strive towards cultural détente in the Levant. One such writer is Lebanese-American Professor Walid Phares, who sums up the country’s current alignment as follows:

“Although multi-ethic and multi-religious, Lebanon was viewed by the political establishment as a unitary republic which can only have a majority and a minority. Therefore, and without a mechanism of decentralization, Federation or simply pluralism, that establishment was vying over who really represents the “majority” of all Lebanese, and who reduced to a “minority.” The debate was then about numbers, census, demographic changes, communities who have allegedly increased in numbers because of poverty versus communities who have decreased in numbers because of emigration. But that was a false problem.”

Much of the country’s political energy has been expended over the course of the last half century in determining who is the majority and who is the minority, and although the intention was to present a fair solution to representation in its central government, it has also been the source of internal power-politics, which some believe laid down a fertile soil for the sharp upheaval Lebanon experienced from 1975 onward.

Nowhere is the nation’s simmering ‘political ratio’ reflected more than in its own constitution – a document which goes to extraordinary lengths to secure some form of socio-religious balance. The Lebanese constitution mandates that the office President should be held by a Maronite Christian, the Speaker of the House held by a Shi’ite Muslim, and the post of Prime Minister held by a Sunni Muslim.

IMG_1457

Beirut shoulders a diverse collection of ethnic groups, along with their corresponding political issues (PHOTO: Patrick Henningsen)

Many academics such as Phares, feel that the future would be brighter if Lebanon would embrace its multicultural reality and take a feather out of Belgium’s or Canada’s cap, and consider phasing out its historical obsession with ethnic and religious minorities and majorities. In other words, if Lebanon could embrace ‘multiculturalism’, it wouldn’t need the old system. This idea is easier said than done, as vested political interests and blood spilled over decades has, to a large degree, cemented traditional political and social paradigms into place.

Syria Simmering Next Door

What’s foremost on the minds of Lebanese in 2013 is what will happen with Syria, and will Lebanon we dragged to their war. Alongside this, many are left questioning whether or not Lebanon will ever achieve some form of long-term peace with its southern neighbor Israel. The former is the key to its short-term prosperity, while the latter is the key to healing wounds still festering from the wars, as well as the influx of Palestinians it has had to shoulder since 1948.

The situation in Syria is made even more complex by the fact that a number of foreign powers with vested interests in Damascus regime change are supplying fighters, arms, logistics, money and mass media support – which has always been a recipe for chaos throughout history. Among these foreign actors vying for position in Syria are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, US, UK and France (somehow, it’s all beginning to look more and more like pre-WWI power-politics).

Syria has long played an overshadowing role in the stability – and destiny of its smaller neighbor Lebanon. The scares still run deep from Syria’s obtuse and often disjointed alliances with different factions over the course of Lebanon’s Civil Wars in the 70’s and 1980’s. The result of Syria’s hand in those affairs has been a dysfunctional, and often times confusing relationship between Damascus and Beirut, as well as the cause for political dysfunction within Beirut itself.

In 2013, however, the alignments are markedly different from previous decades. For starters, Syria, itself, is now a major piece on the global chessboard, not least of all because of its three major allies, all of whom seem to run contrary tocentral planning in the West – namely, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran and now Russia. All interested parties see Syria as the key domino, and this, rightly so, is the cause for much worry right now.

IMG_1323

Stunning countryside: Sunset over the historic Chouf mountain range in southern Lebanon (PHOTO: Patrick Henningsen)

Lebanon has a number of internal issues I’m sure it would prefer to sort out first before being dragged into another sub-regional conflagration – like it’s own central government, its economy, its potentially massive tourism trade, and of course, the Palestinian refugee issue.

Yesterday, I was able to travel south the ancient city of Tyre, some 16km from the the Israeli border. The ruins are stunning, but so are the Palestinian refugee camp which runs alongside it. It’s was a little tragic, if not amusing to discover there that some Palestinians in need of rock for building their homes had permanently borrowed some of the antiquity ruins next door. In a certain way, some five millennia of history puts the current protracted upheaval into some perspective.

IMG_1366

Ancient city of Tyre in Lebanon (PHOTO: Patrick Henningsen)

The recent past certainly has pulled Lebanon down in a spiral of social tension and extreme economic strife, but set against the larger backdrop of successive empires and cultures who have been overlaid on to this small, but historically pivotal region, it’s merely the latest chapter in a much larger epic novel. Many people outside of Lebanon – academics, archeologists, tourists – all long to see Lebanon achieve stability and one day showcase its incredible cultural and historical wealth to the world.

In essence, making the difficult transition from a fractured state, to one of stability and eventual prosperity. I talked about this to one long-term Beirut resident, named Jamal, who put it simply, “To do all this, first we need to have peace.”

It’s that simple. On paper anyway.

….

Writer Patrick Henningsen is a roving correspondent for the UK Column, as well as host of 21st Century Wire TV programme airing Thursdays at 6pm on PSTV SKY channel 191 in the UK.

….

Is Al – Jazeera Fair And Balanced ?

January 6, 2013

Washington Post
Micheal Peel

ABU DHABI — Qatar’s al-Jazeera television station provided a great ringside seat for the “day of rage” in Cairo almost two years ago that offered the first clear sign of the threat to the rule of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

While many western media organizations were scrambling to ramp up coverage of Egypt’s nascent revolution, al-Jazeera had gripping reports of an extraordinary protest that ended with the ruling party headquarters ablaze and the army on the streets.

Yet, mirroring the progress of the Arab uprising itself, the 16-year-old Doha-based broadcaster’s Cairo triumph has since given way to a more complicated life, as it seeks to extend its international influence by buying into the U.S. television market.

Long recognized in the Middle East for its daring and sometimes groundbreaking reporting in a politically repressive region, al-Jazeera described its purchase this week of former vice president Al Gore’s Current TV network as a “historic development” in a market where it has long coveted expansion. The station, which has a respected English language arm and is already seen in more than 260 million homes in 130 countries, plans to start a U.S.-based news channel available to 40 million American households.

While al-Jazeera is celebrating its U.S. plans, it faces tough questions about its coverage and whether it is as independent of Qatar’s autocratic ruling monarchy as it claims to be. The broadcaster is partly funded by the government of Qatar, and the country’s increasingly prominent political role in the region’s turmoils has intensified scrutiny of al-Jazeera’s coverage.

“With the Arab Spring, al-Jazeera’s reach and credibility have grown in the West,” said Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow in the Middle East division of Chatham House, the London-based think tank. “But certainly, it has become more criticized in the Arab world – or, at least, become seen as more politicized.”

Although the popular revolts that swept the Arab world and brought down regimes from Tunisia to Yemen have presented al-Jazeera with an extraordinary opportunity to expand its audience, they have thrown up growing problems of perception.

And while the English channel is seen as enjoying a high degree of leeway, some analysts say Doha’s foreign policy positions — including support for armed rebels in Libya and Syria — are reflected in the tone of coverage, particularly on the flagship Arabic channel. Critics say Islamist movements with which Qatar has tried to achieve good relations have received over-sympathetic attention, with airtime given to wild allegations that opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, are agents of foreign powers.

Some observers say al-Jazeera is cautious about reporting sensitive stories in Qatar, such as the fire at a Doha nursery last year that killed 13 children and six adults, although the channel denies it was slow to cover the tragedy.

“Al-Jazeera is generally a free network, but it works within the political constraints as understood in Qatar,” said Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute Qatar think tank.

Al-Jazeera dismisses suggestions its coverage shows any bias, including toward fellow Persian Gulf states allied to Qatar. The broadcaster says that, far from following official agendas, it often sets them. “We were covering Syria, for example, long before outside governments took great interest,” it said.

It says that — while it takes a “good portion” of its funding from the Qatari state — it is a private not-for-profit company with other sources of income, such as advertising. And though Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim al Thani, al-Jazeera’s director-general, is a member of Qatar’s ruling clan, the broadcaster says he has “no definable relationship” to the country’s ruler and is part of a “professional management who have steered Al Jazeera to success regardless of their nationalities or surnames”.

Perhaps the most unpredictable tension now facing al-Jazeera springs from Qatar’s political scene, which appears increasingly at odds with the broadcaster’s preferred image as a fearless network “dedicated to telling the real stories from the Arab street.” The Qatari authorities sentenced a poet to life imprisonment in November for insulting the emir in a widely-circulated work about the Arab Spring that criticized the “repressive elite”.

But al-Jazeera gives short shrift to the notion that its reputation might be threatened by the Qatar government’s intolerance of opposition at home. “Our journalists have never been told to cover or not cover a story due to pressure from outside this organization,” the broadcaster said.

Abeer Allam of the Financial Times in Cairo contributed to this story.

Best of 2012 Double Standards with Afshin Rattansi

January 1, 2013

One of the best current affairs shows on TV bar none, but sadly shut-down by the the EU and the UK government agencies for purely political reasons…

….

New Petition: Ensure Sec of State Clinton Testifies to Events 9/11/2012 in Benghazi, Libya

December 29, 2012

To all Senators, Congressmen and Governors of these United States:

Ensure Sec of State Clinton testimony to Events 9/11/2012, Benghazi Libya…

TO SIGN PETITION, CLICK HERE

It is important for several reasons:

1. For truth and justice to prevail.

2. To maintain transparency and accountability, two hallmarks of good government.

3. To protect our good name and remind us all that we all want to maintain one, including that of our nation.

….

Surprise: UK Minister Accuses Israel of ‘War Crimes’ Over Planned Settlement Expansions

December 28, 2012

Dec 28, 2012

Conservative British Minister has suggested that the Israeli regime is a war criminal for planning expansion of illegal settlements in East al-Quds (Jerusalem) and conferring university status to a college in the illegal settlement of Ariel.

The regime announced on December 24 that it is planning new illegal settlements in the Mordot Gilo South adding Ariel College will be upgraded to university status effectively creating the first university in an illegal settlement.

A positive step: British Foreign Minister for Middle East Alistair Burt breaks ranks condemning Israeli policy.

“Last week Foreign Secretary William Hague made clear our condemnation and deep disappointment at the approval of the East Jerusalem Ramat Shlomo plan. We also condemn the Jerusalem District Planning Board’s approvals for over 3150 units in Givaat Hamatos and 1242 units in Mordot Gilo South,” British Foreign Minister for Middle East Alistair Burt said.

“These are further profoundly provocative actions that run contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention,” he added.

Burt also said that the Ariel College decision is “deeply disappointing” and called on Tel Aviv to stop such measures.

“We reiterate our call on Israel urgently to reverse these decisions and take no further steps aimed at expanding or entrenching settlement activity,” he said.

Burt’s remarks are and the reference to breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention are yet the harshest tone employed by a British official against the Zionist regime.

The Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, commonly referred to as the Fourth Geneva Convention require all occupiers to avoid transferring parts of their population into occupied territories.

Burt’s comments expose the growing international unease against the Israeli regime’s illegal settlement-building in Palestinian lands to the point that a western government has been forced to admit what human rights activists have been long trying to highlight, that is the Israeli regime’s settlement-building is a war crime.

Source: Press TV

Chris Hedges on Obama’s NDAA: ‘The Final Battle’

December 27, 2012

Chris Hedges
Truth Dig
Dec 27, 2012

Over the past year I and other plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg have pressed a lawsuit in the federal courts to nullify Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

This egregious section, which permits the government to use the military to detain U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers, could have been easily fixed by Congress. The Senate and House had the opportunity this month to include in the 2013 version of the NDAA an unequivocal statement that all U.S. citizens would be exempt from 1021(b)(2), leaving the section to apply only to foreigners. But restoring due process for citizens was something the Republicans and the Democrats, along with the White House, refused to do. The fate of some of our most basic and important rights—ones enshrined in the Bill of Rights as well as the Fourth and Fifth amendments of the Constitution—will be decided in the next few months in the courts. If the courts fail us, a gulag state will be cemented into place.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, pushed through the Senate an amendment to the 2013 version of the NDAA. The amendment, although deeply flawed, at least made a symbolic attempt to restore the right to due process and trial by jury. A House-Senate conference committee led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., however, removed the amendment from the bill last week.

“I was saddened and disappointed that we could not take a step forward to ensure at the very least American citizens and legal residents could not be held in detention without charge or trial,” Feinstein said in a statement issued by her office. “To me that was a no-brainer.”

The House approved the $633 billion NDAA for 2013 in a 315-107 vote late Thursday night. It will now go before the Senate. Several opponents of the NDAA in the House, including Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., cited Congress’ refusal to guarantee due process and trial by jury to all citizens as his reason for voting against the bill. He wrote in a statement after the vote that “American citizens may fear being arrested and indefinitely detained by the military without knowing what they have done wrong.”

The Feinstein-Lee amendment was woefully inadequate. It was probably proposed mainly for its public relations value, but nonetheless it resisted the concerted assault on our rights and sought to calm nervous voters objecting to the destruction of the rule of law. The amendment failed to emphatically state that citizens could never be placed in military custody. Rather, it said citizens could not be placed in indefinite military custody without “trial.” But this could have been a trial by military tribunals. Citizens, under the amendment, could have been barred from receiving due process in a civil court. Still, it was better than nothing. And now we have nothing.

“Congressional moves concerning the NDAA make it clear that Congress as a whole has no stomach for the protection of civil liberties,” said attorney Bruce Afran, who along with attorney Carl Mayer has brought the lawsuit against President Obama in which we are attempting to block Section 1021(b)(2).

The only hero so far in this story is U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the Southern District Court of New York. Forrest in September accepted all of our challenges to the law. She issued a permanent injunction invalidating Section 1021(b)(2). Government lawyers asked Forrest for a “stay pending appeal”—meaning the law would go back into effect until the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling in the case. She refused. The government then went directly to the Court of Appeals and asked it for a temporary stay while promising not to detain the plaintiffs or other U.S. citizens under the provision. The Court of Appeals, which will hear oral arguments in January, granted the government’s request for a temporary stay. The law went back into effect. If the Court of Appeals upholds Forrest’s ruling, the case will most likely be before the Supreme Court within weeks.

“President Obama should never have appealed this watershed civil rights ruling,” Mayer said. “But now that he has, the fight may well go all the way to the Supreme Court. At stake is whether America will slide more toward authoritarianism or whether the judicial branch of government will stem the decade-long erosion of our civil liberties. Since 9/11 Americans have been systematically stripped of their freedoms: Their phone calls are monitored under [George W.] Bush and Obama’s warrantless wiretapping program, they are videotaped relentlessly in public places, there are drones over American soil and the police control protesters and dissenters with paramilitary gear and tactics. As long as Obama and the leadership of both parties want the military to police our streets, we will fight. This is unacceptable, un-American and unconstitutional.”

Read more here

The Quality of Washington’s Plan to Drag Iran Into a Third World War

December 27, 2012

Fraternity Boy gone wrong: where did Patrick Clawson harvest all of his neo-conservative ideas?

21st Century Wire

They’re like school kids playing war games.

Listen to this supposedly qualified academic talking head, Patrick Clawson of the influential neo-con think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Studies – muse on about what underhanded stunts the US could hope for in kicking off WW3 in Iran.

Shameful, yet, someone is paying this guy good money to degraded American credibility abroad.

This is the quality of the garbage currently spewing out of most prestigious Washington think tanks. Clearly, they have lost touch with reality and should be treated as extensions of the international criminal class.

Q: How many other psychopaths are currently nibbling away at our liberties in these so-called ‘think tanks’?

….

Henningsen on RT: ‘Iran in crosshairs’: UK may deploy more troops to Gulf

December 24, 2012

The United Arab Emirates is said to be close to ordering some 60 combat jets from the UK, and may be getting a contingent of British troops to sweeten the deal. British PM David Cameron told soldiers that they may be headed to the Gulf state as they pull out of Afghanistan. Rights groups though aren’t happy – saying dealing with the Emirates, which the EU called on to stop the mass torture of political dissidents, sends all the wrong messages. Geopolitical analyst Patrick Henningsen says there’s an ulterior motive behind the sale.

….

Morsi Backs Down: Revokes Power Grab,Referendum On Constitution Still Up

December 10, 2012

Egypt’s President has scrapped the decree that gave him sweeping new powers and effectively put him above the law of the land. But the opposition says that’s not enough

“Western Leaders Are Encouraging Terrorist Blood Bath in Syria” says Henningsen

December 3, 2012

Pat3_color21st Century Wire’s analyst Patrick Henningsen talks with RT News about the West and their Gulf state proxies’ backing of terrorist groups in Syria in order to accelerate regime change in Syria and to further destabilize the Middle East region. Washington and Britain are actively supporting al Qaeda and other FSA-related foreign fighters in Syria, a policy which is an international war crime and is costing thousands of innocent lives, and billions of dollars to western taxpayers and to the people in Syria.

http://www.21stcenturywire.com

….