The heavyweight guide to Ukraine
It has been fifteen months since the death in The Hague of Slobodan Milosevic, the last of the 20th-century Balkan strongmen. The former leader of Serbia had been sent from Belgrade to face trial for war crimes on 28 June 2001, twelve years to the day after his speech at Gazimestan in Kosovo (on the 600th anniversary of the myth-encrusted battle of 1389) which formed the prelude to the decade of wars and the disintegration of Yugoslavia that followed.
If 28 June, St Vitus's day, thus constitutes a key symbolic date in the history of Serbia and the Balkans, the demise of Milosevic in March 2006 - with his trial unfinished and amid a swirl of rumour - has its own symbolic significance for the region. For it gave new life to a long-standing debate concerning the nature of political leadership in the Balkans, which in recent centuries has experienced more than its share of strongmen - from kings to generals to nationalist demagogues and communist-era tyrants. Pessimistic observers have suggested that we have not seen the last of the likes of Slobodan Milosevic, Nicolae Ceausescu, Enver Hoxha and Todor Zhivkov; that their political style is so thoroughly engrained in the Balkan psyche that it is only a matter of time before their successors reappear to drag the region back into political darkness.
Tony Blair's departure from office after ten years as Britain's prime minister on 27 June 2007 was swiftly followed by his appointment as peace envoy in the middle east, representing the Quartet powers (United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations). The decision will be welcomed with great satisfaction by the US and Israeli governments; some of the region's authoritarian regimes (not least Egypt and Jordan) will quietly accept it; and several senior Fatah figures may be content to see a foe of Hamas and Hizbollah acquiring this role.
Talk to people intimately familiar with Egypt, and you'll find two views dominating how they perceive the country today. The first is a romantic, nostalgic view of a glorious history, ancient and recent; a country whose potential is dramatic in terms of its intellectual capital, reservoir of talent, geographic location, and aptitude for leadership. In that perspective, Egypt remains an unfulfilled promise, hampered only by poor management and regional circumstances.
The second viewpoint is less sanguine. It sees Egypt as structurally failing, with disenchanted, poorly educated, bitter youths; fundamental problems in the socio-economic dynamics; crushing, humiliating living standards for a majority of its citizens; and pervasive corruption, passiveness and sullenness.
For two generations, the economic performance of the Arab countries of the middle east has been middling. It has been worse than east Asia, better than sub-Saharan Africa, and about the same as Latin America and south Asia. Yet while there has been no crisis in the past - indeed, on some social indicators progress has been spectacular - the region now faces an imminent challenge: how to create jobs for the large cohort of young people reaching working age. The task is immense and the stakes are high: over the next decade or so, the region may experience population growth of 150 million people - the equivalent of adding two Egypts. Rising labour-force participation by women only increases the pressure. The region is a demographic time-bomb.
In the last few weeks Lebanon and Palestine have been the scene of dramatic and most unsettling events, from the outbreak on 20 May 2007 of heavy fighting between the Lebanese army and the Palestinian faction Fatah al-Islam near the northern city of Tripoli to the eruption of internecine Fatah-Hamas violence in Gaza which led to the effective partition of Palestine on 15 June. These two proximate conflicts may seem to have different causes, but they closely linked: for they mark the culmination of a process, aimed at undermining the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its then leader Yasser Arafat, which has its origin in the early 1980s.
The decision to knight Salman Rushdie, announced in Queen Elizabeth II's birthday honours list on 15 June 2007 has provoked a vigorous reaction in Pakistan. As protests continue, they are descending from the genuine to the self-serving. While there no more public demonstrations, politicians are jumping on the bandwagon in an attempt to out-fatwa each other.
The two months from 17 April - 19 June 2007 at openDemocracy have been the occasion of a strong body of accumulating work on several editorial fronts. The regular output of commissioned articles and columns has been accompanied by diversifying material in the shape of the evolving "federative" elements (or "sub-domains"), the weekly podcast, and customised blogs reflecting the editorial priorities and partnerships of the moment.
All this took place against the backdrop of the patient, detailed work by the technical team - led by Felix Cohen and Hamza Khan-Cheema - to create the new, long-awaited openDemocracy site. Now, editorial initiatives must fuse with the creative potential of the revamped site and the input of our valued community of authors, readers, partners, and supporters to begin to serve openDemocracy's emerging imperatives of self-sustenance and growth.
Two towns are currently taking shape, more or less at the opposite ends of Africa, although one is just into Asia. About as far south as you can go, and a few miles to the east of Cape Town lies Heritage Park. Development started here in 1996 and a decade later there are 1,500 residents in 650 new houses, as well as two churches, two schools and quite a substantial complex of factories and other businesses.
Another 800 houses will be built on the 500 acres of what was originally a farm and vineyard, where there will soon be 6,000 residents. The development is expected to be very popular with buyers, situated as it is close to the beach and with a backdrop of attractive mountain scenery. Indeed, some of the business premises were resold within six months of purchase with 45% mark-ups. As the developers put it: "The natural beauty of the area will not suffer as existing woodlands and mountain streams will be retained while landscaping and beautification around the developments will ensure a pleasing environment."
Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001.
Elsewhere in the marketing literature the developers enthuse about that environment: "Throughout the town there are several clear mountain streams which have been left to provide a major feature of the town. In the centre of Heritage Park a dam has been stocked with trout and hundreds of water birds have adopted the lake as their sanctuary". The internal environment of Heritage Park is matched by its location: "Added to the beauty of the immediate surroundings are the vast and stunning views of blue tinged mountains with wine farms nestling into their folds and the soft golden beaches of False Bay only a few kilometres away."
A key part of the Heritage Park concept is the provision of enlightened schooling centred on an international school located within the development. This will take 3-year old children into a nursery school which will feed into a primary school, in turn leading on to a high school through to the age of 18, the whole complex eventually having 900 students. Residents of Heritage Park could see their children educated entirely within the town, and the character of the school is expected to be hugely attractive to those prospective parents:
"The unique blend of the School's philosophy of internationalism; the ethos of Christian love and care which underpins its discipline and relationships; the internationally respected and recognized broad and balanced curriculum based on the UK National Curriculum and leading to University of Cambridge IGCSE and A level certification has proved to be a recipe attractive to both citizens and overseas visitors alike."
It is clear that Heritage Park is intended to be something pretty close to a utopia.
A model community
Several thousand miles to the north, just across Sinai and into the heart of the middle east, another town is fast taking shape. This is Baladia, and - as it nears completion by the end of 2007 - it is already looking remarkably like a typical Arab town of the region. Like Heritage Park, it is being built entirely from scratch, although on desert scrub rather than a former vineyard. It is also similar in size to its South African counterpart, with 1,100 buildings when complete, and is costing about $45 million.
Baladia will have all the features typical of the region, with a town centre, shops, a grand mosque and hospital and even an old-style casbah quarter with five-foot thick walls. Miles of paved main streets, narrow side-streets and a sports field will all help make the inhabitants feel at home. Indeed, one could almost imagine people from some of the refugee camps in the neighbourhood moving straight into Baladia and seeing it as a blessed relief from their poverty and deprivation. In a few months time, there really will be plenty of people around, including young women in their keffiyeh, shopkeepers, humanitarian aid-workers and even the media.What sort of heritage?
In practice, neither Heritage Park nor Baladia are quite what they seem. Each, in its own way, could even be seen as a metaphor for the wider world. Take Heritage Park first. It certainly is intended to be a haven of peace and tranquillity, not least because of one key feature - the entire development is surrounded by what is described as a six-foot high fence with "an attractive palisade style" - except that it is less than attractive to potential intruders, being electrified to 33,000 volts. The Heritage Park website says proudly: "We have taken a leaf or two out of the medieval past and placed it in our future. To be precise, we have stolen the concept of whole-town fortification to create a crime-free state."
That "crime-free state" has additional features. Heritage Park has just four entry and exit points, each with security personnel on duty, and residents must have a smart card to pass through, with visitors requiring security clearance. The electrified fence has armed guards on duty every 200 yards, there are optional extra security features in the houses and the whole of the development has surveillance cameras.
Heritage Park is not restricted to any particular ethnic group, although all but fifty of the first 1,500 residents are white. The developers also point out that part of the intention is to improve the economic situation for the many thousands of people who live in overcrowded townships close to the complex. The park itself requires numerous people to work as labourers, maids, cooks, gardeners and security guards, and the developers have even built accommodation for many of these potential employees, although they live beyond the barrier and must have security clearance to get to work.
Nevertheless, Heritage Park is an example, by no means uncommon, of the retreat from disorder and the fear of "the other". It is perhaps unfair to cite this particular example, as the South African government is involved in numerous poverty-reduction initiatives across the country. Instead, it is best to see Heritage Park as one of the results of an economic system that is producing an extraordinary socio-economic divide across the world as the globalised free market produces growth without emancipation.
The extent of that divide is startling and remains largely unrecognised, as does the fact that it has increased markedly in recent decades. The period from 1965 to 1990 was particularly acute - in 1960 the average GNP per capita for the richest 20% of the world's population was thirty times that of the poorest 20%. By 1995 this had widened to sixty times.
More recently, a detailed study from the World Institute for Development Economics Research (Wider), a research and training centre of the United Nations University, has published an analysis of the global distribution of household wealth. By 2000, the richest 10% of the world owned 85% of household wealth whereas the poorest 50% owned barely 1% of the wealth (see James Davies, Susanna Sandstrom, Anthony Shorrocks and Edward N Wolff, "The Global Distribution of Household Wealth", WIDER Angle, 2/2006, World Institute for Development Economics Research, Helsinki).
This "elite" community is both very substantial and not rigidly concentrated in a few geographical areas. While most of the populations of many north Atlantic and west Pacific states belong to it, there are substantial wealthy components of this elite in India, China and Brazil; and most southern countries have smaller numbers of people who belong in the same category. The most immediate effect of these brutal divisions of wealth and poverty is continual marginalisation, ill-health and suffering; but it also leads to insecurity in the form of petty crime and, frequently, a desire to migrate in the hope of an improved standard of living.
Heritage Park may be a local response, but the same pattern is seen on a far larger scale in the fencing off of much of the United States/Mexico border, the Indian proposal to erect barriers along the border with Bangladesh, the European fear of north African migrants, the Australian actions against boat people, and a host of other examples. It is a vain attempt to close the castle gates, but can all too easily lead to desperation and radicalisation - whether this be the Naxalites in India, the Maoists in Nepal or numerous other radical social movements. It even relates to much of the support for movements such as al-Qaida, and it is here that the other town, Baladia, is all too relevant.Reality bites in the desert
When completed in a few months' time, Baladia really will look like any ordinary Arab town, although it might seem strange to recreate as much as a casbah in a brand new development. The reality is that Baladia will be a town entirely without Arabs, for its full name is the National Urban Training Centre (NUTC) for the Israeli Defence Forces (see Barbara Opall-Rome, "Fake, Flexible City Rises in the Negev", Defense News, 11 June 2006 [subscription only]). All the "Arabs" will actually be Israeli soldiers, even down to the young women in their keffiyeh who will be Arabic-speaking Jewish graduates from Israel's universities; members of the international media and even Red Cross personnel will be played by Israeli soldiers. The entire centre is designed to improve the training of combat troops engaged in urban warfare (see Shelly Paz, "IDF builds fake Muslim city to prepare for war", Jerusalem Post, 22 January 2007).
Moreover, Baladia is not just intended to mirror the West Bank or Gaza, but has a purpose extending across the middle east. The whole scheme is designed with maximum flexibility; and while Baladia is in a landscape akin to that of Gaza, even the hill villages of southern Lebanon or Syria can be recreated there. As the NUTC commander, Brigadier-General Uzi Moskovitch says:
"We have the capabilities to create a realistic representation of where we're most likely to fight. Give me seventy or eighty tractors for a month and I'll recreate the hills and topography of a Lebanese village. It won't be identical but it will be enough to provide the type of realistic training our forces require. It might not be politically correct but we're not pretending here. What looks like a mosque is a mosque. And our people will impersonate Arabs, not the Swiss. We need them to act the way our enemies are likely to fight on their own home turf."
There is one other feature of Baladia which might give further pause for thought. Although it is located in the Negev desert in Israel and will be used initially by the Israeli Defence Forces, it is actually an American project. The entire "town" has been constructed by the United States army corps of engineers and paid for mainly through US military aid to Israel. It will, in due course, become a training centre for the US army and marine corps, readying them for deployment in Iraq or anywhere else in the middle east that US security policy takes them. As General Moskovitch puts it: "This is something developed by us in cooperation with the US Army; we intend for it to become a valuable centre of knowledge that will also benefit our American allies and other friends."
In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click here.
Paul Rogers's latest book is Global Security and the War on Terror: Elite Power and the Illusion of Control (Routledge, July 2007). This is a collection of papers and essays written over the last twenty years, with two new essays on the current global predicament.
In the way that Heritage Park is a defence against disorder and crime, with its enlightened schooling rooted in the Christian ethos of love and care and helpfully protected by 33,000 volts, so Baladia represents a more aggressive response of taking the war to the enemy. Create your enemy's town, and train your troops to attack with much greater effect.
It seems to occur to no one in the US military that just one effect of its commitment to the Baladia project will be to confirm in the minds of people right across the region that the war really is a joint US-Israeli operation. The crude al-Qaida propaganda of the "crusader/Zionist war against Islam" will be so much easier to confirm in the minds of millions. For that reason alone, Baladia is likely to prove as deeply counterproductive as so many other aspects of George W Bush's disastrous war on terror.
Both towns - Heritage Park and Baladia - are symbolic of the elite attitudes of the early 21st century. Heritage Park protects the few from the many and Baladia is yet another example of the imperative to maintain control. In their fundamental superficiality, they are grand evasions of the deeper issues of violence and radicalisation that they are ostensibly designed to address.
Ed Husain's autobiography The Islamist: why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left (Penguin, 2007) is a remarkably candid account of the life of a British-born Muslim who was initially seduced by radicalism but gradually came to his senses to return to the more spiritual and devotional Islam that had defined his early years. It is also an important work, in that it both carefully grounds the issue of radicalisation that has so dominated recent intellectual and political discussion of Muslim communities in Britain, and points to potential solutions.
It's no secret that Lebanon is a country full of contradictions, and the fighting that recently broke out in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli in the north of the country has served to re-emphasise that point. Three days after hostilities began on 19 May 2007, a group of young professionals working in the centre of Beirut were quick to tell me that the camp should be stormed as soon as possible and that the priority should be to eradicate the terrorists. If some Palestinians were killed in the process, then that would be a price worth paying, they said. A few hours later, I spoke with a young man who had been visiting the tent city erected in the middle of the downtown area in protest over the Lebanese government's policies. He was wearing a Palestinian scarf, and so I enquired about his nationality. "I'm Lebanese", he said, "but it would be an honour for me on this day to be Palestinian".
By taking over Gaza by force, Hamas has successfully completed the process that Israel started of separating the Gaza strip from the West Bank.
Ghassan Khatib is co-editor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
This article was first published in bitterlemons.
Also by Ghassan Khatib in openDemocracy:
"The view from Palestine"
(15 October 2001)
"The view from two analysts - one Israeli, one Palestinian"
(11 April 2002) - with Yossi Alpher
"An international solution?"
(9 May 2002) - with Yossi Alpher
"The Arab League summit: two challenges"
(28 March 2007)
"Palestine: this occupation will end"
(7 June 2007)
What happened in Gaza last week was a revolution in more ways than one. The Hamas takeover was a coup d'etat at the internal Palestinian level which also generated a broader revolutionary situation in this part of the middle east. It demolished more than a few fundamental or historic assumptions about the nature and future of Israeli-Palestinian, Palestinian-Palestinian and Palestinian-Arab relations.
Yossi Alpher is co-editor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former senior adviser to Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak.
The violence in Iraq and a renewed call for attacks on Iran continues to take most of the space in the western media's coverage of George W Bush's war on terror. These priorities mean that the persistent problems in Afghanistan tend to be neglected. The higher profile of Iraq can even, as if by default, tempt reporting of Afghanistan into a wary optimism; this is reinforced by the apparent failure of the expected Taliban spring offensive to materialise, giving some hope of an easing of the insurgency.
Three events on consecutive days in the past week have punctured such hopes. The first is the latest assassination attempt against Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai. This took place on 10 June 2007, in the form of a rocket fired when Karzai was making a speech in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul.
"Go back where you started, or as far back as you can, examine all of it, travel your road again and tell the truth about it. Sing or shout or testify or keep it to yourself: but know whence you came.'' - James Baldwin
Better that we, Arabs and Muslims, should surrender than continue as we are.
Japan's experience in the aftermath of the second world war offers an example of unusual courage. In the first place, the country had two atomic bombs dropped on it, and then General MacArthur imposed a new constitution which shook Japan's traditional way of life to its very foundations. The reaction of Japanese society was to concede defeat unequivocally, recognising that as the losers they must pay the price for their loss. But the Japanese elite went one step further, arguing that Japan should actually "embrace defeat", reconciling itself to its loss and learning from the occupying power that had vanquished it. For it had to be possible to learn from the causes of America's strength, without necessarily accepting the justice of its cause. And the loser in a conflict as complex and protracted as the second world war surely had much to learn.Among openDemocracy's many articles on the politics of the Arab world:
Stephen Howe, "The death of Arafat and the end of national liberation"
(18 November 2004)
Tarek Osman, "Can the Arabs love their land?" (22 May 2005)
Fred Halliday, "Democractic reform in the Arab world: mirages and realities"
Patrick Seale, "What hope for Arab democracy?"
(7 June 2005)
David Govrin, "Arabs' democracy dialogue: an assessment"
(16 November 2005)
Nadim Shehadi, "Riviera vs Citadel: the battle for Lebanon"
(22 August 2006)
Khaled Hroub, "Hamas's path to reinvention" (10 October 2006)
Fred Halliday, "Palestinians and Israelis: a political impasse" (4 June 2007)
Tony Klug, "Israel-Palestine: how peace broke out"
(5 June 2007)
The approach to the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Heiligendamm, Germany from 6-8 June 2007 has been characterised by a forceful rhetoric exchange between the United States and Russia over the former's plans to establish a new military capacity in east-central Europe. The plan to defend against incoming missiles, first announced in 2006, was and is justified by the US with reference to a possible threat from Iran and even North Korea.
Russia has scorned this explanation from the start, seeing the plan as clearly targeted against its own interests in the region. More recently, its vehement criticism of the proposal has been matched by the Kremlin's announcement of its intention to take military counter-measures. All this is serious enough in the present febrile geopolitical climate, but public discussion of the issue has focused too much on Vladimir Putin's political bite and too little on deeper Russian strategic concerns. To understand what is at stake in this argument it is necessary to put the current dispute in the context of the history of missile-defence during the cold war.
Suppose in June 1967, after the smoke had cleared from the war, Israel, citing its reluctance to rule over a large Palestinian population, had decided to withdraw from the Gaza strip and the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem except the Jewish quarter in the old city and the wailing wall. What new reality would it have then confronted?
We can assume that Jordan's King Hussein, fortified by this decision, would have returned with his army and security services to rule the West Bank. The Gaza strip, cut off from Egypt by the Israeli occupation of Sinai, might have come under the rule of a few prominent families and remained dependent on United Nations support to feed its huge refugee population.
It has now been forty years since the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza started, and it seems as if it happened yesterday. In all those years, one thing has never changed and that is the Palestinian insistence on a total rejection of and continued resistance to this occupation.
For the fortieth anniversary of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories as a result of the six-day war of June 1967, the international secretariat of Amnesty International has compiled a hauntingly illustrated and scrupulously documented audit of the human-rights violations arising from the hundreds of checkpoints, closures and blockades, the 700-kilometre wall and the burgeoning settlements or "Israeli colonies" that now pervade the West Bank.
Also in openDemocracy on the predicament of the Palestinians:
Eyal Weizman, "The politics of verticality" (April-May 2002) - an eleven-part project mapping Israel's three-dimensional control of the West Bank
Eyal Weizman, "Ariel Sharon and the geometry of occupation" (September 2003) - a three-part series on the architecture of power embodied in the separation barrier
Stephen Howe, "The death of Arafat and the end of national liberation" (18 November 2004)
Eyad Sarraj, "The campaign that should never stop" (13 November 2006)
Mary Kaldor & Mient Jan Faber, "Palestine's human insecurity: a Gaza report" (21 May 2007
Tariq Modood is clearly correct in pointing out that common citizenship and nationhood do not depend on cultural uniformity or ideological consensus - which are, in any case, impossible to create in a complex society.
Pessimism dominates discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet the idea that the time is not ripe for peace implies that some more auspicious moment will arise - at some future unspecified date. In reality, continuing on the well-trodden path of irredeemable despair simply postpones peace indefinitely and promises interminable ferment. The contours of the only equitable settlement are well known (see Fred Halliday, "Palestinians and Israelis: a political impasse", 4 June 2007).
The kidnapping of a British financial specialist and four bodyguards on 29 May 2007 would not have been unusual at this juncture in Baghdad except for two aspects.
The first is that this was close to the centre of the city nearly four months into a "surge" in United States forces that was expected to bring a degree of stability.
The second was the ability of the kidnappers to use large numbers of police vehicles to cordon off the streets around the finance ministry and then to walk in past the guards and abduct the five expatriates. This indicates either a remarkable ability of insurgents to acquire official vehicles or that the operation was the work of a renegade police unit most likely linked to a militia.
In 1999, my sister Naela was killed in the streets of Jerusalem. Naela was a public-health consultant who dedicated her career to the rights to life and justice. But her death, as much as it devastated and distressed me, opened a tiny window of hope.
"And the twelve points go to Serbia". The announcement of the representative of Bosnian television at the Eurovision song contest in Helsinki on 12 May 2007 may have echoed the voting choices of the citizens of many other European states, but the moment was still astounding for those who recalled the bitter enmity between the two countries in the wars of Yugoslav succession in the 1990s.
Equally striking was what followed. As the Finnish television cameras focused on the beaming young Serbian singer Marija Serifovic, bringing her closer to eventual victory in the competition, she delightedly responded by proffering a three-fingered salute. It was the very same salute that had been the trademark of the Serbian nationalist upsurge of the Slobodan Milosevic era, and thus a prominent symbol (for many Serbs as well as non-Serbs) of xenophobia and intolerance.