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This week's window on the Middle East - August 13, 2012

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week: diary of an Egyptian schizo

Arab Awakening
13 August 2012
  • Diary of an Egyptian Schizo
  • Rapid remedies to calm down an Egyptian public after the Sinai attacks
  • Tunisia’s Pirate Party
  • Christianity in the Gulf
  • Still foreign powers?
  • Tripoli one year on
  • What happened when the February 20 Movement lost momentum?
  • Diary of an Egyptian Schizo

    By Karim Adel 

    Day 1:

    I'm so happy we finally have a leader that WE chose having had proper elections. Everyone I sat talking with today is so happy, Ahmed, Mohammed, Omar everyone. We were very optimistic about this victory for the revolution and for our generation…

    Now we can actually choose a new sect, or person or political party once every four years. So if any of them fail we can start over again with someone else…

    I know, I know. There are a great many sects here in Egypt including the anti-Islamists, and the Christians are worried that the Muslim Brotherhood will hold onto power whatever it takes after Morsi and will try to infiltrate all the areas of free speech and media as well as all the other government sects and take control over everything and leave not the slightest chance of anyone else entering the election race or having any political power in the future, in other words exactly what Mubarak’s Watany Party did in our inglorious past….  

    Well, we will see, and whoever thinks this generation will be easy to control, has no idea what our revolutionary contemporaries are capable of. They were probably asleep for the past two years and must have missed out on the whole thing…. 

    I am optimistic!

    Day 2:

    This is nonsense!! Didn’t I tell you?? You should listen to me!! I always trust my feelings and I was skeptical since the day that Morsi got into office and since his speech in Tahrir Square!! Those Islamists cannot be trusted an inch!!! Now they are all over Egypt spreading fear amongst people: telling people that they will soon be forced into complying with their version of Sharia Law and that women will be forced to be covered!!! Says who? The Quran and Prophet Mohammed say “No compulsion in Religion”!! It's against Sharia Law itself to force someone into anything…besides a lot of the matters on which we differ with the Islamists have been subject to debate in Islam itself amongst its greatest scholars for 1400 years now - and they are not actually mentioned in the Quran… if God didn’t ask me to do this then YOU can’t force me to do it!! See? That’s what voting for Morsi brought down on our heads !! A great deal of rank ignorance!!

    Day 3:

    See? I always knew it was not true, all along!! Now we know for sure that it wasn’t the Islamists who were walking around threatening and scaring people. That was the bunch we refer to here as ‘the Folool’, the old supporters and members of Mubarak’s ancien regime who over and over again come out of the shadows and ruin anything good that comes out of this revolution….

    Thank God the truth came out! God Protect you Morsi!!

    And now Morsi has a 100 day plan where he promised to solve 67 major problems in Egypt including the traffic problem. We have access to a website now, called the Morsi Meter, that will show us when each these demands have been met..

    Thank God we have someone like you in Office Morsi!!! Hamdullilah!

    Day 4:

    There has been no water supply to my area, which is considered an upper class area, in Heliopolis, for a day and a half now. And electricity still cuts out between 1 and 2 hours a day in my area. But I hear that lower class areas and other cities in Egypt have to put up with more than 5 hours a day of no power… leaving them sometimes to have power only for one hour to break fast and another late at night to have sohoor (the meal Muslims have late at night just before dawn which is when fasting starts in Ramadan)

    It’s been more than 40 days and so far Morsi has not solved a single problem out of the 67 he said he would solve, and has actually added two more problems to them now, and not minor additions either – but  two necessities in which there was a better service available before the revolution, water and electricity!

    The power cuts have been so ridiculous and frustrating that one occurred right in the middle of the new government's acceptance oath in the joint presence of Morsi and SCAF leader, Tantawi. The power cut them dead on live TV! And less than a week later there was a power cut on the entire metro system, forcing passengers to break their way out of train carriages and to file in large numbers from the tunnel and into the outside world again in the middle of a hot Egyptian August while fasting in Ramadan!

    And to top all this, a huge disaster has happened in Sinai. The border guards there were attacked by unknown armed people and the power cut out over the whole border area… the attack used Israeli vehicles which the Israeli authorities claim were stolen from them. But who knows? And this left in its wake more than 15 Egyptian guards killed right after breaking their fast and praying at dusk… At this point we just don’t know what's going on…

    When it comes to the electricity problem, Morsi's Government says the usage of electricity in Egypt is way too extensive and that it has to be reduced until this problem can be resolved by building more power plants. Well if this is true, how come this austerity problem didn’t exist during Mubarak's Era or even during the transitional period that followed the revolution?? There were no power cuts back then when we DIDN’T have a president in charge…

    And in the Sinai attacks - I do accept the action Morsi took in firing the head of Egyptian Intelligence as well as the Mayors of Sinai, and (surprisingly) Cairo as well as others…. If anything this was a necessary step to calm things down.

    Although as people we NEED to know why those people got fired, and if they had any involvement in what happened, as some people are suggesting that this must have had some insiders in on the plan as well as outsider foreign interference… We need to know what's going on since it is our own flesh and blood that keep getting killed at demonstrations, football games and even on border patrol now, and no one is ever punished for those murders!

    And to top all this, Morsi's Government has hired most of its ministers from a list of Muslim Brotherhood members and affiliates, some of whom have never worked on such largescale projects before and have taken up positions they have no qualifications for… and to make things even more scary, the Brotherhood members in Parliament are in charge of the constitution as well as heading up the major newspaper and media outlets in Egypt which are now wholly in the hands of the Brotherhood and their circle of affiliates, they having fired all the old media heads who were in charge up to Morsi's election… And those who were not within their immediate reach were attacked in Media City as the Brotherhood’s main speakers  - people like Sheikh Safwat Hegazy – called upon the mass of the people to go out and hunt down all the "corrupt" media people who keep on trying to turn the people against Morsi… As one famous show host, Amr Adeeb, described it on air that day – this was a power move made by the Brotherhood to scare off all the opposition media. Thousands of Brotherhood members duly camped in front of Media City, not allowing any of the show hosts and studio workers in and out, and from time to time, physically attacking them and wrecking their cars…

    By now I think you will have got the hang of this state of schizophrenia in which we dwell. When a leader runs after his sect’s goals only, marginalizing his own nation’s demands and needs at such a critical time, then there is a big problem… When a sect tries to eliminate all the opposing voices around them by force…  When a political party tries to be the only party around that has power…  this signals the beginning of a slippery slope. Arguably it took Mubarak more than 20 years to make that mistake but once he did… it was all over. This time our generation, which waited 30 years, is not willing to wait 30 months.

    All in all we are telling ourselves to watch and wait till the 100 days have passed and let’s hope from our hearts that this is all paranoia and that Morsi can overcome this, our schizophrenia, with good actions. Although, developments so far seem all too clear in what they indicate; but for a last time, let’s hope.

    Rapid remedies to calm down an Egyptian public after the Sinai attacks

    By Dina El Sharnouby

    Egypt is mourning its soldiers and even more so Egypt’s future and the possible political implications. On August 6, 2012, sixteen Egyptian soldiers were killed and seven wounded in Rafah while breaking their fast. The attack has brought two important issues to the surface: first whom to hold responsible and secondly how Egypt’s government should deal with Egypt’s internal and external issues.

    While they wait to find out who was responsible for this deadly attack, the Egyptian public has voiced all sorts of different theories and opinions. For some it was Hamas, others, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, suggest the Israeli Mossad, and still others believe it could have been Hizbullah. The media since then has reports on terrorist attacks by organized groups in Sinai.  Within the many assumptions and theories flying around, however, the issue of terrorism, how it is bred, and bigger notions related to the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict seem rather absent from our public discourse. Finding an immediate enemy to deal with seems easier than getting to grips with these deeper problems.

    The reaction of the Egyptian Government with President Mohamed Morsi as its president has been highly criticized. Immediately after the incident the Egyptian Government used their familiar strategies of ‘control’. Instead of finding new means of dealing with the problem, Egyptian airports were immediately ordered to have all Palestinians entering Egypt returned, not allowing them to enter the country. Secondly, the Rafah crossing was closed. Various means of finding and destroying tunnels between Egypt and Gaza are being investigated, and meanwhile Egyptian armed forces are meant to be strengthened in number and equipment at these borders.

    As if such “terrorist” attacks never happened before, and the Egyptian public, let alone the government, were not aware of any such tunnels! Dealing with these issues have been the cause of many ambiguities, especially for activists. While many Egyptians do not seem to question what it means to close the Rafah borders, just assuming that it is something to do with “controlling the terrorist flow” into Egypt, these borders have always been controlled. Unlike the tunnels, as the name suggests, a border between two countries is regulated by certain rules and checkpoints. So within the context of the attacks one has to ask exactly what the closing of the Rafah border means, other than giving the Egyptian public a feeling of immediate security. The problem, however, will not be resolved by closing borders, burying tunnels, or preventing Palestinians from entering Egypt.

    The problem of Israel is a much bigger one. The Egyptian public in general  - whether we are talking  about activists, liberals, socialists, or members of the Muslim Brotherhood - all tread very carefully when it comes to finding possibilities to resolve the Egypt/ Israel/ Palestine issues. The means attempted is usually a peaceful approach, as can be seen for example in the case of the Camp David agreement. After the attacks, many have suggested that the agreement must be modified by allowing Egyptian soldiers to have a stronger presence on the borders, so that they might be better protected. The peace agreement is strongly agreed upon among the general public and no one pushes for nor assumes that Egypt should break its peace with Israel.

    However, Israel is a country many Egyptians are very cautious in dealing with, precisely because of the unpredictability of its moves. It is no surprise that it has been suggested that Israeli intelligence, Mossad, was responsible for the attacks, so that they might claim that Egypt’s Government is not doing a good job in protecting the borders in Egypt. They fear that Israel might then propose to control the Egyptian borders themselves. People make these assumptions. But neither activists nor the government are calling for a re-negotiation of the peace treaty with Israel.

    The death of the soldiers on the Rafah crossing has unearthed major outstanding problems and ambiguities within Egyptian society. Sadly, these issues are not dealt with as fundamentally democratic problems but rather as occasions which necessitate calming mechanisms to be deployed to control the Egyptian public. But the questions remain: how do these “terrorists” come about? how should they be dealt with? -  especially when you take into account the injustice of the lives of many Palestinians in Gaza and as a result of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.       

    Tunisia’s Pirate Party

    By Meriem Dhaouadi

    A new, globally recognized political entity has found its way to Tunisia before the revolution and went legal just last March. The Tunisian Pirate Party combines cyber-revolution with egalitarian politics, a mix that you will never come across elsewhere in over one hundred classical parties that sprung up lately in Tunisia. I met 26-year-old Sleh Edine Kchouk, the president of the PP, a student activist and an active member of the General Union of Tunisian Students (UGET), originally from and based in Bizerte (60km from the capital, Tunis.)

    MD: Why did you choose to found the Pirate Party rather than joining an already established political party?

    Growing up as a frustrated Tunisian, not represented either by the ruling party or by an opposition helpless in changing the status quo. I got involved with a youth network who named themselves ‘TAKRIZ’ / ‘balls’ (Tunisian cyber think-tank & street resistance network in Tunisia since 1998). This movement has voiced the dissatisfaction of students, activists, young professionals and marginalized youth who have been struggling online and offline for freedom and human rights since the late 90s. In 2010, the international day of youth, we launched the Pirates Party as a present for Tunisian youth. But it was clearly not one appreciated by the government: we were denied visas and we had to work underground. We wanted to launch this party partly because we were inspired by the Swedish initiative of 2006. We were impressed by the role of technology in creating a society where access to information is widely available and culture and ideas can thrive without the interference of any kind of censorship.

    MD: What makes the Tunisian party different from say the European Pirate Parties?

    Access to information in Tunisia has always been really difficult especially in Ben Ali‘s era. I remember back in 2000, when I fell in love with the internet which was then a luxury, I would spend hours and hours in front of the screen discovering and reading through articles and documents that literally enlightened me about the real situation in Tunisia, the truth behind the glittering image of the dictator and his clan. But little by little, censorship from the government‘s Ministry of Information mounted an incredible offense that outraged me. This is what pushed me to fight for my right to access to information. I realized that a lot of Tunisian youth share my experience and we have started working together since 2010. We offer support to activists who are working to promote freedom of speech both online and in real life.

    Adherents of the Pirate Party come from all walks of life in Tunisia - most of them youth under 30, currently students and higher education diploma holders. People who comprise our party dream of change, a positive one. They want a fairer Tunisia. They feel overlooked, suffocating, struggling to get involved in decision-making and influence the future of their country.  

    MD: So what do you want to change now? After the revolution?

    Frankly speaking, I don’t feel that Tunisia has gone through a revolution. I’d rather call it an uprising since the dictatorship is intact, and people took to the streets asking for job opportunities, freedom and national dignity. Have we got some of these demands? Definitely not. We are still deprived of our freedoms, since we have witnessed many cases of police force abuse of peaceful protests even after the so-called ‘revolution’; and those who killed our martyrs and injured so many young people still go completely unpunished.  

    I believe that we should topple this government too since it is no more legitimate in representing the aspirations of the people. The ‘troika’ works hand in hand with the remnants of the old regime (RCD) which is a terrible let-down. Corrupt businessmen are still influencing politics in Tunisia and following in the footsteps of the mafia of Ben Ali.

    MD: Do you expect that the Pirate Party will do well in the forthcoming elections?

    First of all, we boycotted the recent elections and I think we will not stand in the next ones as long as they are being run by the agents of Ben Ali, the media of Ben Ali, the police forces of Ben Ali, the judges of Ben Ali. The recent elections were not transparent and did not usher in a new era in Tunisia since the landscape of the Tunisian politics is still poisoned by the icons of the old regime.

    MD: The Tunisian Pirate Party‘s popularity Is growing. What motivates people to join your party rather than other parties?

    We speak the same language as young people, and are able to target them in our events and activities. Moreover, we believe in their capacities to rebuild and reconstruct our country. We support them and we are holding training sessions to develop their skills as leaders who will contribute to active citizenship and social change. We have found out that young people feel disillusioned with political parties led by old people with old mentalities and traditional ways of doing things.

    Christianity in the Gulf

    By Sacha Robehmed

    In the UAE, I’m never asked about religion, and find it’s rarely a topic that comes up in conversation. In Europe this summer, meeting new people and explaining my British/Lebanese background subsequently raises questions. A few politely refrain, although curious, but it’s interesting how many directly inquire as to whether I’m Muslim or Christian. This invariably leads to a discussion about religion in the UAE, with people often presuming, “There are no churches there, right?”

    Whilst churches are not allowed in Saudi Arabia, there are several churches from countless denominations in the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and most recently, Qatar. Construction on the first church in Abu Dhabi was begun in 1962. Land is typically donated by rulers so that churches can be constructed. There are no bells ringing out, no crosses on tall spires, no ancient stone or stunning Gothic architecture. But contrary to many expectations, churches in the Gulf do exist. 

    On Friday, the Catholic church announced that it would be shifting its Northern Arabian headquarters from Kuwait to Bahrain. The apostolic vicariate represents an estimated two million Catholics in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The reasons given were geographical and logistical, such as the comparative centrality of Bahrain and the ease of obtaining visas to enter the country. But the decision may have more to do with recent hostility to churches in Kuwait. 

    In February this year, Kuwaiti MP Osama al-Munawar called to remove all churches from Kuwait. He later clarified his comments, stating he had meant that new churches should not be constructed. Whether al-Munawar will actually submit the proposed draft law remains to be seen, given the problems of the boycott-stricken Kuwaiti parliament whose dissolution followed by another election is now expected.

    But a month after al-Munawar’s comments, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdulla said to a Kuwaiti delegation that churches in the Arabian Peninsula needed to be destroyed, sparking indignation from church groups. In April, there was resistance from parliament over giving land for an Armenian church, although the project had support from the ruling family.

    The Vatican’s decision to relocate their headquarters to Bahrain may have had more to with politics than they are letting on. 

    The Gulf countries are so frequently lumped together, in regional analysis and through their own GCC union. However, I am occasionally reminded about the vast differences between them.

    Looking back, I’m amazed at how many occasions were held in the Anglican church next to my Abu Dhabi primary school. Harvest festival (in Autumn, despite the UAE lacking the four seasons of more northern climates), Mothering Sunday, and the Christmas Nativity were all held in the church. Muslim students were excused if they wished, but as far as I can remember everyone participated, not wanting to miss out.

    In retrospect, what I appreciate most is the international congregation of the UAE’s churches. There are services in multiple languages, and different churches are normally grouped together. A large plot of land in Jebel Ali on the outskirts of Dubai, has church complexes including Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Mar Thoma and Evangelical. The communities found at churches are far more equitable and equalising than most other interactions between expatriate nationalities. French, Indian, Irish, Arab, Filipino, and American can be found at the same packed Christmas Eve service, side by side.

    Still foreign powers?

    By Ali Gokpinar

    Last week, Turkey’s focus was on the Olympic Games, the ongoing Syrian civil war and the annual meeting of the Supreme Military Council. From this vantage point, everything seemed peaceful enough, as if this country had no problems. Even the appointments of new generals and the retirement of some 40 arrested generals did not attract much attention from ordinary people and newspapers that used to cover such decisions with caution.

    However, an intense fight did break out between the insurgent PKK and the Turkish Armed Forces in Hakkari, a mountainous and  remote province bordering Northern Iraq and Iran, between July 23 and August 5, that resulted in the deaths of more than six Turkish soldiers and 115 insurgents. Prime Minister Erdogan stated that Syria was behind the PKK’s recent attacks and the government will continue with its counter-terrorism strategy. Not only the government but also many columnists agree on the relationship between Syria and the PKK, but nobody has questioned the discourse of ‘foreign powers’, the effectiveness of counter-terrorism and its impact on ordinary Kurdish people.

    Since its establishment in the 1980s, the PKK has led many operations both in urban and rural areas of Turkey, compelling the Turkish state to spend millions of dollars on counter-terrorism and military spending. Until the early 2000s, the Turkish state denied the existence of a Kurdish identity and argued that the PKK was a puppet of the ‘foreign powers’ that wanted to divide the Turkish nation. It seems, after ten years of ruling the country, the AKP Government is stuck with the same rhetoric, not only because of its belief that “only the AKP can resolve the Kurdish question” but also as a result of the new entente with the Turkish Armed Forces, which has brought a new nationalist impulse to the fore. And yet, such a discourse will not bear significant fruit except for increasing Turkish nationalist sentiments that show there is a “Turkish question” in this country, proved last week by the many Turkish tweets and Facebook posts that responded to these announcements. 

    How can we believe that the Assad regime, at the brink of falling in his own country, supported the PKK to lead such an attack? Even if we think irrationally and believe the government, how can we deny the existence of the Kurdish question, whether it is championed by the PKK or not, which requires certain political, economic and legal initiatives?  A ‘foreign powers’ discourse is inherent in Turkish political parties, and it always works to deny the Kurdish question. Employing a low intensity conflict tactic since the early 1990s, Turkish governments have achieved little but adding to the number of Kurdish people supporting the Kurdish cause.

    Indeed, these last operations in Hakkari have not only succeeded in destroying the environment as they did before in the 1990’s, but they have also shown people that political violence as an everyday phenomenon is not confined to Hakkari, but has spread to the western parts of Turkey, as the PKK has started to lead operations in major cities using a selective violence tactic.

    Nevertheless, a friend of mine, whose father works for Hakkari University, told me that they watched the Turkish Armed Forces’ recent operation against the insurgents from their balcony as if they were watching a movie in the theater. Some other people found themselves caught between two fires, forced to cooperate with the security forces during the day and the PKK at night. Migration (forced or not) has neither weakened the PKK nor resolved the Kurdish question. It is not expected to do so if the Turkish government maintains sticks to its guns and the PKK does not hesitate even to attack civilians.

    Tripoli one year on

    By Rhiannon Smith

    Last year on 20th Ramadan (the holy Islamic month where Muslims fast during daylight hours) which fell on August 20, 2011, Libya’s capital was finally liberated from Gaddafi’s iron grip. This year, 20th Ramadan fell on August 8 and it felt like the entire city had turned out to celebrate the one year anniversary of Tripoli’s liberation. Even before the sun went down, Tripoli’s streets were full of smiling people, excited children, beeping cars and hundreds of Libyan flags. After sunset, the sky was a riot of reds, greens and blues as fireworks were launched from all corners of the city and whole families came out onto the streets to eat, dance and celebrate together. Strangers greeted each other as neighbours and a spirit of jubilation and optimism was palpable right across the capital.

    It’s easy to see why. This time last year Tripoli residents and rebels fought a swift, successful battle against Gaddafi’s military and finally freed Libya’s capital city six months after the first uprisings in February 2011. Although many were killed and countless injured, the fight for Tripoli lasted less than three days and was hailed as a significant turning point in the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi. Two months later, Libya’s late leader was captured and killed, and the North African state was officially declared liberated by its transitional leaders, the NTC. The months that followed were turbulent to say the least. There were weapons everywhere, power struggles between armed factions and transitional leaders, and issues of transparency, corruption and revenge to be overcome. Many predicted that the country would spiral into outright civil war, and that elections scheduled for summer 2012 would never take place.

    Yet one year on, Libya has proved the pessimists wrong. As law and order has gradually been restored and people have gone back to their normal lives, new Libya has blossomed. Local media outlets have grown exponentially with citizens finally able to say what they really think without fear of reprisals. A host of Libyan NGOs and charities have sprung up ready to help build the future of their country. Most importantly free, fair elections were held in Libya less than a year after the old regime was ousted from power.

    It is therefore fitting that on this day when Tripoli celebrated its achievements of the last 12 months, the chairman of the National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdul Jalil officially handed over power to the newly elected General National Congress in a symbolic transition which marks a new chapter in post-Gaddafi Libya. The elected members of the Congress were sworn in and Mohammed Magarief, leader of the National Front party, chosen as its president. Over the coming days and weeks a government will be selected and political wrangling will begin as independents align themselves with parties and the full weight of writing a constitution and leading Libya through its final transition stage is transferred to the shoulders of these congress members.

    This is a momentous occasion in Libyan history, yet read about Libya in the international media and you might find this hard to believe. Reports describing armed militias, terrorist attacks and corrupt leaders are prolific and paint a picture of a country on the edge of the abyss, the new Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Admittedly Libya still has a long way to go and there are still many wrongs to be righted, not least Libya’s justice system and the fate of thousands of Internally Displaced People who are still unable to return to their homes. However to focus on these aspects without putting them into the context of everyday life and the gains that have been made is alarmist and irresponsible. When speaking to friends and family in the UK I spend much of my time explaining that I actually lead a normal life in Tripoli. I don’t have a curfew, I don’t fear for my life and I actually feel safer walking around after dark here than I would in many British cities.

    Libya is a conservative, Muslim country whose people fought for freedom in all its forms and the next few months will be crucial in determining just how that freedom is preserved. The relationship between tradition and modernity must be discussed and all sides of the argument heard as Libya seeks to forge its new identity. Libya has come through civil war, held free elections and now has an elected body of representatives who are able to openly debate their country’s future and can build the foundations for generations to come. Given the wildly different situation little more than a year ago, it’s no wonder Tripoli was so alive with joy and jubilation on 20th Ramadan, a day which held so much significance for so many.

    What happened when the February 20 Movement lost momentum?

    By Jamal Elabiad

    There is no question that many regimes across the Arab world lost much of the veneration accorded them when the Arab Spring reached countries they had ruled for decades. They found themselves unable to do what they were doing before the coming of the Arab Spring: ordering their oppression machines to attack anyone who shouted slogans or wrote articles ‘disrespectful’ of the ruling elite; sending to prison anyone who had the guts to criticize them. However, when pro-democracy protesters began to take to the streets, many Arab kings and presidents had no other choice but to turn a blind eye to their critics for several obvious reasons.

    One of the reasons why they were tolerant of this criticism during the Arab Spring was that they were afraid that bringing to court their critics would surely result in a sharp rise in the number of pro-change demonstrators.  

    For most Arab regimes, the growing number of anti-regime protest marches was a clear sign of the fact that their collapse would sooner or later take place. That’s why they relied on several measures to dissuade people from joining the wave of pro-democracy protests that many Arab countries witnessed after the fall of the Tunisian president, Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali. An example of those procedures was ignoring the criticism that Arab Spring activists directed against them. 

    There are slogans most Arab rulers would have never tolerated if the Arab Spring hadn’t reached their palaces. For instance, they didn’t take any punitive measures against the protesters who raised the famous slogan: “The people want the fall of the regime.” Needless to say, before the Arab Spring, many Arab political activists were tortured to death for shouting slogans similar to this one.

    My point is, for the Arab people whose pro-democracy demonstrations ended with the fall of the regime or at least its head, they never regretted criticizing the regime or chanting the slogans they avoided chanting before the outbreak of the Arab Spring for fear of being arrested and sent to prison. 

    However, for the Arab people whose revolution was like too much noise for nothing, and which failed to achieve most of its key demands, they wouldn’t have responded to the calls for protest had they suspected that their pro-change protests would keep the status quo as it was and would also lead a large number of protesters straight to prison.

    In other words, when they became quite sure of the fact that the anti-regime protests no longer posed a real threat to their existence, many of the ruling establishments around the Arab world started to conduct a campaign of arrests against the pro-democracy activists who chanted slogans or gave speeches that were considered critical of the regime.

    Take Moroccans as an example in point. They have every reason to regret thinking the Arab Spring had torn down their barriers of fear, including the fear of criticizing the ruling elite. One reason is that the latter took several measures to regain the veneration and respect it lost during the days the Arab Spring spent in Morocco. It didn’t turn to those measures till it managed to weather the storms of the Arab Spring. One result was the trial of almost all the activists of the Moroccan Spring who leveled criticism at the regime.

    Abdessamad El Hidour is an example of the many youths of the February 20th movement who were not arrested for being respectful of king Mohamed VI until the regime managed to survive the dangers of the Arab Spring. He was sentenced to three years in prison for sharply criticizing the monarchy on a YouTube video.

    Like many others, Abdessamad El Hidour had the courage to criticize the North African kingdom simply because he thought the February 20th movement had marked the birth of a Morocco totally different from that of yesteryear, particularly when it came to Moroccans’ right to express what was in their minds without restriction.

    There is no doubt that he would had avoided hitting out at the king if he had been aware of the fact that allowing Moroccans to trespass the red-lines shortly after the outbreak of pro-change protests around Morocco was just a tactic the regime employed to stay alive.

    Many reasons lie behind the loss of momentum of the February 20th movement. One is that its leaders and strong supporters were unaware of methods the Moroccan regime would take to contain the movement’s nation-wide protests. That, of course, includes the fact that the regime let Moroccan Spring protesters trespass the red-lines, not as a choice, but as a tactic for survival. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have jailed many of them after it succeeded in weathering the Arab Spring’s storms.

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    Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


    To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

    We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

    We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

    The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

    And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

    The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

    Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

    The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


    By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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