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Francesc Badia i Dalmases is Editor and Director of democraciaAbierta.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

On Friday 13 July, 250,000 people with vibrant banners and costumes marched through central London to send a message to Donald Trump: that the US President, currently on an official visit to the UK, is not welcome here.

Among other targets, many marched against racism, xenophobia, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that have marked Trump’s presidency. We asked some about the parallels with anti-immigrant politics in UK.

“The worst thing is that every time you look to America smugly and think, shaking your head, that’s just terrible, the same stuff is going on here,” said one of the demonstrators.

Trump’s 2016 election campaign included the promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico. His 2017 ‘Muslim ban,’ barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, led to the immediate detention of 700 travellers and the withdrawal of 60,000 visas.

Recently, it surfaced that more than 2,300 parents and children have been separated from each other by US authorities at the US-Mexico border. Heartbreaking images of families torn apart and migrant children detained have been seen around the world.

These measures have sparked global outrage. But the UK government’s own track-record for brutal anti-immigrant policies is not so different – and it predates Trump’s presidency.

"The UK government’s own track-record for brutal anti-immigrant policies is not so different – and it predates Trump’s presidency."

In 2010, then Home Secretary (and current Prime Minister) Theresa May said the goal was “to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.”

Home Office vans have driven around neighbourhoods carrying the intimidating message: 'Go home or face arrest’. The 2014 Immigration Act required the NHS, charities, banks and landlords to carry-out ID checks, turning ordinary people into proxy border patrol.

Protesters outside Yarl’s Wood detention centre, Bedfordshire 2015. Protesters outside Yarl’s Wood detention centre, Bedfordshire 2015. Photo: Flickr/iDJ Photography. Some rights reserved. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.Like the US, the UK denies around half of all asylum applications. The UK is also the only country in the EU that detains migrants indefinitely. Earlier this year, prison inspectors found that torture survivors are among those being held in a privately-run detention centre near Heathrow.

Around 70% of women in the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre have experienced sexual violence in their home country, while countless cases have emerged of sexual abuse within the detention centre at the hands of private security guards.

“The UK government also separates parents from their children for the purpose of immigration control by sending the parent into immigration detention,” said Celia Clarke, director of the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, which advises parents in around 170 such cases a year.

This state-sanctioned backlash against migrant rights is transatlantic.

16 March 2018
From: 50.50

"Corporate abuse disproportionately impacts women" still from video.“There’s more money now in the world than ever before in history. We have that wealth, it’s about redistributing it,” says Sanam Amin from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development.

Amin is one of several feminist activists who are speaking up about the impacts of corporate power abuses on women, and mobilising behind a proposed binding treaty to hold multinational corporations accountable for their activities’ impacts around the world.

In this video we also hear from Taina Hedman from the International Indian Treaty Council organisation of indigenous peoples; Eugenia Lopez Uribe from the Latin American regional NGO Project on Organising, Development, Education, and Research (PODER); and Hakima Abbas and Felogene Anumo from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID).

A Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations has been the subject of discussions at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva since 2014. Negotiations on a draft treaty text are expected later this year.

For too long we’ve been left with few options other than to rely on the ‘good will’ of giant companies, and have seen lands and waters destroyed, and resources plundered from local communities offered very little in return. Follow #Feminists4BindingTreaty for updates on the campaign.

Apply for a 50.50 women’s rights and corporate power reporting fellowship

From: 50.50

“2017 should be marked as another victory in women’s rights, women’s fights and feminism in general,” says feminist activist Inna Shevchenko. Finally, people have been forced “to turn their heads and look," she said, about the sexual abuse scandals and #MeToo protests that have erupted in recent weeks.

Why didn’t women speak up about their experiences of abuse before? Shevchenko said she was “shocked” to hear people ask such questions. “Society’s ears that were ignorant and closed towards our issues,” she said.

Shevchenko’s activist group Femen is best known for its controversial use of nudity as a form of feminist protest. She spoke about #MeToo on the sidelines of last week’s World Forum for Democracy (WFD) in Strasbourg.

Women have been speaking up about sexual harassment and abuse "forever," though few have been listening, said Shevchenko. It’s time for shame and fear to “switch sides,” she argued, from survivors to perpetrators.

Moana Genevey (left) and Inna Shevchenko. Moana Genevey (left) and Inna Shevchenko. Photo: Lara Whyte.Shevchenko said growing attention to women’s experiences of abuse has made 2017 a year of feminist victory. She also talked about a recent Roman Polanski celebration in France, and why it was “an insult to all women."

Polanski fled statutory rape charges in the US in the 1970s and has lived in France since. Last month new allegations emerged against the film director (which he has denied).

Originally from Ukraine, Shevchenko also lives in France. She was one of dozens of speakers at the WFD, hosted by the Council of Europe and focused on the question: is populism a problem?

Shevchenko was interviewed by Moana Genevey, a French youth delegate at the forum. Genevey is a co-creator of the website "Allons Contre" which aims to counter populist hate speech in France, online and offline.

5 November 2016

Daniel Ortega, candidato a la presidencia de Nicaragua, y Rosario Murillo, su mujer, candidata a la vice-presidencia. 6 noviembre 2016. Managua, Nicaragua. AP Photo/Esteban Felix. Todos los derechos reservados.

Señor Luis Almagro

Secretario General de la Organización de Estados Americanos

Washington D.C.

 Estimado Señor Secretario General:

Los medios de comunicación publicaron un acuerdo entre la Secretaría General de la OEA, a su digno cargo, y el gobierno de Nicaragua que preside Daniel Ortega Saavedra. Mediante dicho acuerdo se establece “una mesa de conversación e intercambio constructivo” con el propósito de abordar de forma conjunta el informe presentado a consideración del gobierno de Nicaragua.

A pesar de que desconocemos el contenido de dicho informe, debemos reconocer la importancia de sus gestiones, las cuales están posibilitando abrir un espacio de diálogo que, hasta ahora, el régimen impuesto en Nicaragua ha negado a los nacionales. Sin duda, constituye un primer paso esperanzador que, confiamos, contribuya a nuestro empeño por restablecer la democracia, el respeto a los derechos y libertades ciudadanas, y la realización de elecciones auténticas.

  • Los nicaragüenses tenemos firmemente grabado en nuestra memoria que el doloroso conflicto bélico que padecimos en la década de los ochenta fue superado gracias al respeto a la voluntad popular expresada en las urnas, el cumplimiento de los acuerdos de Esquipulas I y II y el apoyo generoso de la comunidad internacional, que incluyó la participación de la OEA en la Comisión de Verificación y Seguimiento (CIAV). No podemos olvidar que Nicaragua es todavía una sociedad de postguerra. Como es de conocimiento público, bajo el gobierno de Daniel Ortega se demolieron uno a uno los pilares fundamentales de la democracia representativa: Se ha eliminado el Estado de Derecho; se ha confiscado el derecho a elegir y ser electo; se destituyó arbitrariamente de sus cargos a representantes electos (diputados, alcaldes y concejales); se vulneran los derechos y libertades ciudadanas tal como lo documentan organizaciones promotoras de los derechos humanos; se ha ilegalizado a organizaciones políticas y se anuló la independencia de los poderes del estado. Estas acciones violentan los principios y propósitos fundamentales de la Carta Democrática Interamericana. 

La inmensa mayoría de los nicaragüenses, incluyendo a los más fervientes partidarios del régimen, estamos claros que el 6 de noviembre no habrá elecciones en Nicaragua sino una farsa electoral en la que los resultados, desde el porcentaje de supuestos votantes, hasta las asignaciones para los partidos participantes están ya determinados. Por consiguiente carecen de toda legitimidad.

En paralelo a los atropellos a la institucionalidad democrática, el régimen se aprovecha de los instrumentos de poder del Estado para amasar de manera fraudulenta una gigantesca fortuna, que incluye la apropiación privada por el grupo gobernante de los recursos de la cooperación venezolana.

Frente a esta situación tan grave, de la manera más atenta le alentamos a profundizar las acciones tendientes a acompañar los esfuerzos que realizamos los nicaragüenses por rescatar la democracia y determinar nuestro futuro en paz y libertad. En ese ánimo le solicitamos tener en consideración los siguientes elementos esenciales:

- La realización, en el plazo máximo de un año, de elecciones generales auténticas, incluyentes, gestionadas por árbitros imparciales, con derecho a voto de los nicaragüenses residentes en el exterior y con observación independiente, nacional e internacional.

- El restablecimiento de la democracia representativa, sobre la base de los principios y normas establecidos en la Carta Democrática Interamericana y la Constitución Política de Nicaragua.

- El establecimiento de una comisión internacional tendiente a favorecer el combate a la corrupción y la impunidad, teniendo en cuenta las positivas realizaciones de estos mecanismos en países vecinos.

- La participación de organizaciones políticas despojadas de su personalidad jurídica y de expresiones organizadas de la sociedad civil en el marco del proceso de diálogo acordado, incluyendo la visita a Nicaragua programada por el Secretario General.

Sin más a que referirnos le saludamos,

 Grupo de los 27

Ernesto Cardenal, Adolfo Bonilla, Fabio Gadea Mantilla, Gioconda Belli, Enrique Zelaya (Doctor Henry), Carlos Tunnermann Bernheim, Edmundo Jarquín, Sofía Montenegro, Gabriel Álvarez Arguello, Sergio Boffelli, Cirilo Antonio Otero, Julio Icaza Gallard, Edipcia Dubón, Monique Ninette Blanco Sarria, Frank Lanzas, Róger Arteaga, Enrique Sáenz, José Luis Velásquez Pereira, Azahalea Solís, Ana Margarita Abaunza Sedda, Carlos Langrand Hernández, Moisés Julián Castillo Soza, Michel Najlis, José Antonio Peraza Collado, Octavio Ortega.

Managua, 25 de Octubre del 2016

2 October 2016

See all our coverage of Cities of Wecome, Cities of Transit here.

21 September 2016

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden speaks via video conference in February 2016. Credit: Juliet Linderman Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden speaks via video conference in February 2016. Credit: Juliet Linderman/ AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Three  of the four media outlets that received and published large numbers of secret NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden — The Guardian, the New York Times, and The Intercept –– have called for the US government to allow the NSA whistleblower to return to the US with no charges. That’s the normal course for a news organization, which owes its sources duties of protection, and which — by virtue of accepting the source’s materials and then publishing them — implicitly declares the source’s information to be in the public interest.

This highlights a chronic cowardice that often arises when establishment figures want to denounce Snowden

But not the Washington PostIn the face of a growing ACLU and Amnesty-led campaign to secure a pardon for Snowden, timed to this weekend’s release of the Oliver Stone biopic “Snowden,” the Post editorial page not only argued in opposition to a pardon, but explicitly demanded that Snowden — the paper’s own source — stand trial on espionage charges or, as a “second-best solution,” accept “a measure of criminal responsibility for his excesses and the U.S. government offers a measure of leniency.”

READ MORE: 'Are you a traitor?' BBC's interview with Snowden

In doing so, the Washington Post has achieved an ignominious feat in US media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own source — one on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. But even more staggering than this act of journalistic treachery against the paper’s own source are the claims made to justify it.

READ MORE: NSA whistleblower 'We had to wait for Snowden for proof.' 

The Post editors concede that one — and only one — of the programs that Snowden enabled to be revealed was justifiably exposed — namely, the domestic metadata program, because it “was a stretch, if not an outright violation, of federal surveillance law, and posed risks to privacy.” Regarding the “corrective legislation” that followed its exposure, the Post acknowledges: “We owe these necessary reforms to Mr. Snowden.” But that metadata program wasn’t revealed by the Post, but rather by The Guardian.

Even more staggering than this act of journalistic treachery against the paper’s own source are the claims made to justify it

Other than that initial Snowden revelation, the Post suggests, there was no public interest whatsoever in revealing any of the other programs. In fact, the editors say, real harm was done by their exposure. That includes PRISM, about which the Post says this:

The complication is that Mr. Snowden did more than that. He also pilfered, and leaked, information about a separate overseas NSA Internet-monitoring program, PRISM, that was both clearly legal and not clearly threatening to privacy. (It was also not permanent; the law authorizing it expires next year.)

In arguing that no public interest was served by exposing PRISM, what did the Post editors forget to mention? That the newspaper that (simultaneous with The Guardian) made the choice to expose the PRISM program by spreading its operational details and top-secret manual all over its front page is called … the Washington Post. Then, once they made the choice to do so, they explicitly heralded their exposure of the PRISM program (along with other revelations) when they asked to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.


If the Post editorial page editors really believe that PRISM was a totally legitimate program and no public interest was served by its exposure, shouldn’t they be attacking their own paper’s news editors for having chosen to make it public, apologizing to the public for harming their security, and agitating for a return of the Pulitzer? If the Post editorial page editors had any intellectual honesty at all, this is what they would be doing — accepting institutional responsibility for what they apparently regard as a grievous error that endangered the public — rather than pretending that it was all the doing of their source as a means of advocating for his criminal prosecution.

READ MORE: Surveillance of activists shows Snowden revelations undigested

Worse than the intellectual dishonesty of this editorial is its towering cowardice. After denouncing their own paper’s PRISM revelation, the editors proclaim: “Worse — far worse — he also leaked details of basically defensible international intelligence operations.” But what they inexcusably omit is that it was not Edward Snowden, but the top editors of the Washington Post who decided to make these programs public. Again, just look at the stories for which the Post was cited when receiving a Pulitzer Prize:


Almost every one of those stories entailed the exposure of what the Post editors today call “details of international intelligence operations.” I personally think there were very solid justifications for the Post’s decision to reveal those. As Snowden explained in the first online interview with readers I conducted, in July 2013, he was not only concerned about privacy infringement of Americans but of all human beings, because — in his words — “suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it’s only victimizing 95 percent of the world instead of 100 percent. Our founders did not write that ‘We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all U.S. Persons are created equal.’”

So I support the decision of the Post back then to publish documents exposing “international intelligence operations.” That’s because I agree with what Post Executive Editor Marty Baron said in 2014, in an article in the Washington Post where they celebrated their own Pulitzer:

Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said Monday that the reporting exposed a national policy “with profound implications for American citizens’ constitutional rights” and the rights of individuals around the world (emphasis added). “Disclosing the massive expansion of the NSA’s surveillance network absolutely was a public service,” Baron said. “In constructing a surveillance system of breathtaking scope and intrusiveness, our government also sharply eroded individual privacy. All of this was done in secret, without public debate, and with clear weaknesses in oversight.”

The editorial page is separate from the news organization and does not speak for the latter; I seriously doubt the journalists or editors at the Post who worked on these news stories would agree with any of that editorial. But still, if the Post editorial page editors now want to denounce these revelations, and even call for the imprisonment of their paper’s own source on this ground, then they should at least have the courage to acknowledge that it was the Washington Post — not Edward Snowden — who made the editorial and institutional choice to expose those programs to the public. They might want to denounce their own paper and even possibly call for its prosecution for revealing top-secret programs they now are bizarrely claiming should never have been revealed to the public in the first place.

It was the Washington Post — not Edward Snowden — who made the editorial and institutional choice to expose those programs to the public 

But this highlights a chronic cowardice that often arises when establishment figures want to denounce Snowden. As has been amply documented, and as all newspapers involved in this reporting (including the Post) have made clear, Snowden himself played no role in deciding which of these programs would be exposed (beyond providing the materials to newspapers in the first place). He did not trust himself to make those journalistic determinations, and so he left it to the newspapers to decide which revelations would and would not serve the public interest. If a program ended up being revealed, one can argue that Snowden bears some responsibility (because he provided the documents in the first place), but the ultimate responsibility lies with the editors of the paper that made the choice to reveal it, presumably because they concluded that the public interest was served by doing so.

Yet over and over, Snowden critics — such as Slate’s Fred Kaplan and today’s Post editorial — omit this crucial fact, and are thus profoundly misleading. In attacking Snowden this week, for instance, Kaplan again makes the same point he has made over and over: that Snowden’s revelations extended beyond privacy infringements of Americans.

Snowden himself never publicly disclosed a single document

Leave aside the narcissistic and jingoistic view that whistleblowers and media outlets should only care about privacy infringements of American citizens, but not the 95 percent of the rest of the planet called “non-Americans.” And let’s also set to the side the fact that many of the most celebrated news stories in US media history were devoted to revealing secret foreign operations that had nothing to do with infringing the constitutional rights of US citizens (such as the Pentagon Papers, Abu Ghraib, and the Post’s revelations of CIA black sites).

What’s critical here is that Kaplan’s list of Bad Snowden Revelations (just like the Post’s) invariably involves stories published not by Snowden (or even by The Intercept or The Guardian), but by the New York Times and the Washington Post. But like the Post editorial page editors, Kaplan is too much of a coward to accuse the nation’s top editors at those two papers of treason, helping terrorists, or endangering national security, so he pretends that it was Snowden, and Snowden alone, who made the choice to reveal these programs to the public. If Kaplan and the Post editors truly believe that all of these stories ought to have remained secret and have endangered people’s safety, why are they not attacking the editors and newspapers that made the ultimate decision to expose them? Snowden himself never publicly disclosed a single document, so any programs that were revealed were the ultimate doing of news organizations.

One’s loyalty to US government officials has to be slavish in the extreme in order to consider oneself a journalist while simultaneously advocating the criminalization of...leaks 

Whatever else may be true, one’s loyalty to US government officials has to be slavish in the extreme in order to consider oneself a journalist while simultaneously advocating the criminalization of transparency, leaks, sources, and public debates. But that’s not new: There has long been in the US a large group that ought to call itself US Journalists Against Transparency: journalists whose loyalty lies far more with the US government than with the ostensible objectives of their own profession, and thus routinely take the side of those keeping official secrets rather than those who reveal them, even to the point of wanting to see sources imprisoned.

But what makes today’s Washington Post editorial so remarkable, such a tour de force, is that the editors are literally calling for the criminal prosecution of one of the most important sources in their own newspaper’s history. Having basked in the glory of awards and accolades, and benefited from untold millions of clicks, the editorial page editors of the Post now want to see the source who enabled all of that be put in an American cage and branded a felon. That is warped beyond anything that can be described.


This article was originally published on The Intercept on September 18 2016. It is republished with permission. 

3 August 2015

Image: Nazli Tarzi. All rights reserved.

Zaatari refugee camp, Mafraq, Jordan - clusters of new entrants wade through the tropical heat hanging heavily over the desolate plane, where the encampment was founded three years ago.  

On 30 July 2012 the Zaatari camp officially opened its doors to Syrian refugees. Its exponential growth makes it the largest refugee camp in the wider region, and Jordan's fourth largest city.

Long before it was home to an estimated 81,000 displaced persons, the arid desert was a functional Jordanian military airbase. Transformations in Mafraq now speak to a new local history, inseparable from the interminable civil war raging on in Syria.

Since its formation, the site has not only witnessed an unprecedented growth in its inhabitants, it has also blossomed into a city that exudes a disquieting sense of permanency for Syrians longing to return home. What stands in Mafraq today, despite having arisen from fairly modest origins, now boasts an infrastructure no different to that visible across other Jordanian cities.

The pop-up town is not quite a concrete city yet, however, permanent housing, water and electricity structures remain a hotly debated topic. Though it has been rumoured that there is a push towards this, the backlash from local populations make it an undesirable option for King Abdullah of Jordan.

In spite of external funding flooding into the Hashemite Kingdom, the burden weighs heavily on the country's political elite, who can no longer ignore the civilian led movement towards urbanisation.

Image: Nazli Tarzi. All rights reserved.

Beyond the camp’s dusty gates, newcomers are greeted by a long sandy road, where they pass by an imposing stone wall that offers a narrow strip of shade from the blinding desert sun; adorned by time-worn images of seemingly joyous refugees, and topped-off with coiled barbed wire.

At the end of the tract, refugees enter into a barren desert island, brimming with prefab caravan homes that have long replaced the camp’s original canvas tents. Upon this unfamiliar site, uprooted families have little choice other than to live out their days indefinitely.

Uncertainty may still colour the daily lives and thoughts of residents, but this has not prevented dwellers from carving out new spaces and uses for their camp. Their desperately needed sense of normalcy is the very force that has transformed the campsite into a semi-autonomous oasis—with its own shadow economy, market spaces, and communal leisure areas.

As former camp manager Kleinschmidt remarked, "we design refugee camps; refugees build cities".

Their ability to remake the camp animates a posture of defiance, driven by distaste towards the governance of humanitarian organisations and solidified by a "do-it-yourself" ethos, in rebellion against the old and new power hierarchies characterising political and social order inside the camp.

Frustration is directed not only at humanitarian relief agencies and their self-appointed managers, but 'community' leaders too, who control a corrupt underworld gutted with criminality, corruption and exploitation.

I learnt this during a recent visit to the camp, where I encountered an elderly man venting abuse at what he described as unprincipled Syrians. Pacing up and down the Champs-Élysées, Zaatari's main commercial strip, he screamed, "these dogs have it all, capitalising on the quiet suffering of refugees".

In contrast to power thirsty community leaders, the majority of residents lead a simple life reflected in their principle demand—to live a dignified life that offers stability to their children.

Image: Nazli Tarzi. All rights reserved.

Twenty-six year old Ahmed, a former Arabic language student at the University of Damascus, described his departure from Syria as necessary to avoid seeing his children becoming additional numbers of Syria's war dead:

"My journey into exile was unplanned; my village became the target of random regime shelling. Even after arriving to the camp, I was sure that it'd be a matter of days before I would be reunited with my family in Deraa. Days soon turned into months, and months turned into years, but we just have to wait a little longer before we can return back home."

Ahmed clearly refused to accept the truth of his protracted stay in Zaatari, giving voice to a social perception quite different to his lived reality.

Return to Syria for thirty year-old Muhannad, an agricultural systems management graduate, held a different meaning. "If it were to happen, we'd be living in hell on earth. We remove Bashar, then what? Would we be able to distinguish the good from the bad? How will we know who's fighting who, who's exploiting who, and who's butchering who?" he asked dejectedly.

During my tour of the camp it became glaringly apparent that the site’s evolution from 'camp' to 'home' stirs varied feelings among residents.

The city oasis in some sense serves as a memory bank where refugees solidify their identities—formulating a political consciousness that keeps them embedded in their past. The camp’s proximity to Deraa, where the majority of Zaatari's refugees are from, acts as a constant reminder of this lost past.

A former Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighter, Mohammad, spoke keenly about his short-lived life as a soldier. He joined the FSA at the tender age of seventeen, but as the youngest male in his family his mother forbade him from continuing fighting, urging him to seek refuge in Zaatari.

Image: Nazli Tarzi. All rights reserved.

Having reluctantly fulfilled his mother’s wishes, Mohammad immerses himself in the past—watching videos of himself in battle and montages dedicated to those he witnessed die at the hands of the Syrian army. This has become a daily ritual for Muhammad, confined to his trailer camp, where he bides his time by teleporting himself back to an unreachable past.

Zaatari's permanency, while not accepted by all, is a truth that is transforming lives and attitudes inside the informal city. As time passes, families feel more settled, while others flee for urban sites in neighbouring Jordanian towns.

In the words of twenty-seven year old Farid, "there is no single case in the entire history of the Arab world where a refugee camp has opened and eventually closed down".

Video: Nazli Tarzi. All rights reserved.

24 May 2015

Diwane is more than just a music genre; it is a socio-cultural practice, a form of music therapy and redemption. It emerged many centuries ago, following the arrival in the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) of the first waves of black slaves brought in by the slave trading caravans travelling through Ghana, Timbuktu, Abalessa, Mali, Guinea and Sudan.

The origins of a black African community in the Maghreb can be traced back as far as Sultan Ahmad al Mansur of Morocco’s conquest of the Songhai Empire in western Sahel in 1590. The sultan took advantage of civil strife in the empire and dispatched his army across the Sahara to conquer and pillage, bringing north several thousand men and women as slaves and servants.

Great pain and suffering was the inevitable result of the uprooting and enslavement of these diverse populations, who in exile took on a collective identity that gave birth to a new form of expression. Like any art, it was used to exteriorise feelings, voicing the torments of slavery and exile and serving as a reminder of motherland, ancestors, and prevailing social injustice. It gave birth to the Diwane in Algeria, the Gnawa in Morocco and the Stambali in Tunisia, all of which have more similarities than differences.

A Diwane musician of Algeria with his guembri, around 1901. Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

Tamara Turner, a doctoral researcher in ethnomusicology, specifically the musical repertoire and history of Diwane, says that this musical conglomeration of the many ethno-linguistic groups who were brought to North Africa—Bambara, Hausa, Songhai, Fulani/Peul, Bornou, and Boussou—shows mostly Hausa and Songhai influences.

Diwane became deeply rooted in the culture of the Algerian southwest and some circles in the southeast. Its practice remains exclusive and is reserved for connoisseurs of its rituals and spiritual dimension.

Over almost five centuries, the practices metamorphosed through the adoption of Islam as a religion and through close contact with the Berber-Arab culture of the Maghreb. This gave way to a new form of congregation, in the form of brotherhoods and zaouias (institutions) dispersed throughout the region, which perform healing rituals for Diwane followers and those who seek healing and spiritual guidance. The rituals are considered sacred and their methods are diligently kept secret.

Diwane in the family - Oran, west Algeria. Algiers Archives/Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

Diwane is part of a system of secret knowledge much like Sufism, and for a long time it was accessible only to the privileged few who had earned the knowledge. The master (ma’alem) conducts ceremonies known as hadra, or lila, an entire night of rich song, music, dance, costume, and incense, ending around dawn. The ritual enables partakers to enter the trance state of jadba for therapeutic and healing purposes, although there are those who believe it has supernatural power.

These ritual songs and lyrics were passed down for generations, transmitted orally from the ma’alem to the guendouz (disciple), never transcribed or translated. Composed in the different dialects of the Sahel region, they relate stories and legends of the past, of their slave ancestors, of separation from the land, abduction and ultimately redemption.

With Islamic influence, the lyrics shifted to invocations of God, the Prophet Mohammed and various Muslim saints, moving closer to strands of Sufism. Diwane is always performed following the minimalist melodies of a guembri, the looped rhythms of the metallic karkabou, or the beat of the bendir.

A Diwane night in Béchar, the capital of Diwane

Modernisation of Diwane

Although Diwane remains protected and exclusive to private ceremonies in certain regions of southern Algeria, where zaouias and Sufi-inspired brotherhoods prosper, this is inevitably changing. The rise of the ‘world music’ scene has meant the fusion and commercialisation of the music, which is frowned upon by the older generation and by the ma’alems. They strongly believe that the purpose of Diwane is healing, and find it upsetting that the younger generations vulgarise this music by playing it on stage “for money" and "glory," ignoring ancestral traditions.

However, some ma’alems have come to terms with the popularity of the genre and have found a middle ground where they recognise both dimensions, the musical and the spiritual, and separate between the Diwane of the stage and that for healing/ritualistic purposes. One ma’alem explained that in the latter, the followers follow a structure where the ritual takes precedence, whereas on stage it is the music that trumps, played for a public that becomes the master of the lila.

In recent years, Diwane has become a very prominent genre on the Algerian music scene (much like gnawa in Morocco), with several national festivals dedicated to it and a lot more attention from the government. This does not, however, reflect any real change in the social status of the Afro-Maghrebi population.

In the last years, it has become a much tapped source for the Algerian musicians inspired by its rhythms and lyrics, such as Gnawa Diffusion and Gaâda Diwane Béchar. Their repertoires assert solidarity with other revolutionary music of the African diaspora, such as Gnawa and reggae, which also evoke the struggle for emancipation and freedom and suggest the possibility of redemption.

Diwane has to be experienced and not just listened to; Gaâda Diwane Béchar, one of the veteran Algerian Diwane groups, will be performing at Rich Mix on Thursday 28 May, bringing to east London a spiritual ceremony to heal all ills. Although they do not replicate the vivid healing ceremonies, they very much reflect the feel of the lila and perfectly exude the essence of the tradition. Gaâda Diwane Béchar’s musically induced trance and moving sound is accessible and enjoyable, and the late veteran world music DJ Charlie Gillett said of them in the Telegraph that they are as good as anything he’s heard in years.

Gaâda Diwane de Bechar performing Ya Chafi Ya Afi

16 March 2015

Syria has gone dark. Not figuratively—although an argument could be made for that too—but literally. Satellite imagery shows that in the four years since the crisis in Syria began, 83 percent of the lights visible over the country have gone out.

The images underline the destruction that has been wrought on Syria and its people, by Assad’s government, armed groups and Da’esh. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed and millions forced to flee, while others are illegally detained and tortured.

An international campaign launched by the #withSyria coalition stands in solidarity with those caught in the conflict. The coalition is a movement of 130 humanitarian and human rights organisations from around the world, including Amnesty International, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The coalition, which analysed the satellite images with scientists at Wuhan University in China, has launched a global petition at, and a video, Afraid of the Dark. 

The petition calls on world leaders to ‘turn the lights back on in Syria’ by prioritising a political solution with human rights at its heart; boosting the humanitarian response both for those inside Syria and refugees; and insisting that all parties put an end to attacks on civilians and stop blocking aid. The video was created by BAFTA-winning agency Don’t Panic and production partners UNIT9, to mark the four-year anniversary of this conflict and shine light on one of its most under-reported repercussions. As Richard Beer, Creative Director of Don't Panic, says,

"It is a literal truth that 83 percent of Syria's lights have gone out since the start of the war, but the darkness that afflicts them has a metaphorical truth that goes deeper. We wanted to use this shocking statistic to tell the story of just how far Syria has fallen into darkness, in every conceivable way, despite UN resolutions and international outcry. The hero of our film, Khalid, could afford to be afraid of the dark four years ago; now he faces far worse every day, despite his own bravery. He, and all Syrians like him, need our help."

Despite the UN Security Council adopting three resolutions demanding protection and assistance for civilians in Syria in 2014, more Syrians are being killed and displaced or are in need of help than ever before. A new Oxfam report released today, Failing Syria, accuses warring parties and powerful states of failing to implement these resolutions. Human rights organisations have unanimously condemned the failure of the international community to respond to the crisis.

Philip Luther, director of the MENA programme at Amnesty International, says, "the international community’s failure to unite to address one of the defining human rights crises of our times sends the signal that it is wantonly indifferent to the devastating impact of the conflict on civilians in Syria. Such indifference must end."

The world's attention has been focused on Syria, but the "rise of terrorist groups...has distracted governments from the suffering of ordinary Syrians," says Dr Zaher Sahoul, President of the Syrian American Medical Society. "Every day Syrian medics, aid workers and teachers are taking enormous risks to help their neighbours and loved ones, while the international community continuously fails to pursue a political solution and an end to the violence and suffering."

Last year, 2014, had been the worst year yet according to Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. "Civilians are not protected as the Security Council promised they would be, their access to relief has not improved and humanitarian funding is declining compared to the needs. It is an outrage how we are failing Syrians."

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, says that "Syrians deserve much better from the international community—it is past time to show that we have not given up and will work with them to turn the lights back on."

See the video on the website, withSyria.comYouTube, and Facebook.