Category: Domestic Affairs

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Endless battle: Fighting systemic corruption in Iraq (Al Jazeera)

August 11, 2015

By Ibrahim Al-Marashi  

The recent protests against the government act as poignant rejoinders to Iraq’s systemic corruption and discrimination.

Over the last two weeks

anti-government protests

have erupted in several Iraqi cities, including the capital Baghdad, Basra in the south, and the predominantly Shia heartland towns of Najaf, Karbala, and Hilla – the constituencies of Iraq’s major political parties.

The protests are primarily aimed at corruption in the government, which resulted in electricity cuts and

salty tap water



Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi felt


from these protests, they also served as a major embarrassment.

RELATED: Iraqi parliament votes overwhelmingly for reforms

Iraq’s anti-state, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), boasts of delivering services like reliable electricity in the sprawling Iraqi city of Mosul.

The latest protests against the government’s failure to deliver services act as poignant rejoinders to the engrained notions of Iraq’s Shia Muslims, constituting a monolithic sectarian population.

The demonstrations have proven that a s

hared Shia adherence between political elites and the Shia population is only skin deep, especially when one’s skin is burning in Iraq’s 50 degree Celsius heat and there’s no electricity for air conditioning.

Establishing a High Commission

In response to the protests, Abbadi responded by calling for the establishment of a High Commission to combat corruption and a campaign to streamline the executive branch, eliminating several posts, including those of Iraq’s

three vice presidents.

The politicians who held these vice presidencies include former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iyad Allawi, the leader of the former Iraqiya List, and Osama al-Nujaifi from Mosul.

The redundant number of vice presidencies, which are ceremonial roles, are a symptom of Iraq’s

patronage politics, where government posts are handed out not to reward a leader’s acumen in governing Iraq, but as part of the bargain with the myriad of ethnosectarian parties that form Iraq’s post-2003 political landscape.

Posts like these are also rewarded to generate a sense of inclusiveness.

Maliki and Allawi are Shia, while Nujaifi is Sunni. Awarding Nujaifi this position in the past was an attempt to bridge differences with

Iraq’s disenfranchised Sunnis.

Abbadi’s recent moves are attempts to reshuffle Iraq’s politicians, who have made a career of playing “musical chairs” in various political posts since 2003.

What remains to be seen is whether the prime minister can tackle the insurmountable structural challenge of reforming a political system that’s based on rewarding Iraqi politicians posts solely due to their ethnic and sectarian backgrounds.

Keeping the peace

For Abbadi to sustainably tackle corruption and ensure stable governance, he would have to overhaul an Iraqi state akin to the

sectarian quota system

in Lebanon, a recipe that maintained peace after its civil war, but has not translated into efficient governance.

At this stage, Abbadi does not have the political clout to deal with both the ISIL military threat and overhauling the Iraqi state, even though dealing with the latter would be a necessary condition for combating ISIL.

Among Iraq’s Shia Muslims, he vies for power with the various militias and Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Abbadi came to power in 2014 partly as a result of calls from Sistani for the prime minister’s predecessor, Maliki, to step down. 

Abbadi had gotten the recent political cover to deal with “corruption” in the state as a result of Sistani’s sermon, calling upon Iraq’s leadership to tackle the corruption at the top, which has led to Iraq’s failure to deliver services.

Abbadi’s announcement streamlined executive decision-making and relieved the state of the burden of providing security details for three vice presidents.

Ageing infrastructure and crippled grids

He still has the challenge of dealing with the physical problem of an ageing


and crippled electricity grid that has yet to be rebuilt from the chaos of the 2003 post-war looting, partly as a result of corruption in the various ministries and municipal governments.

Furthermore, Abbadi’s vision for a High Commission to deal with corruption will face challenges, most likely from corrupt politicians who would most likely seek to join said commission.

The issue he is attempting to tackle is one that is pervasive within all levels of state.

Forms of corruption, not just in Iraq, but in a fair number of Middle Eastern states, includes the lucrative practice of informal, predatory extractive policies from society.

When a politician in Iraq is awarded a ministerial post, that ministry is filled with political loyalists rather than talented technocrats.

Those loyalists down the hierarchy then can reward themselves by accepting bribes, or creating their own niches of patronage within the ministry.

There are civil servants who demand bribes from citizens for completing the simplest administrative task, or members of the armed forces or paramilitary forces who extract payments from citizens at checkpoints.

Systemic discrimination

Outside of the Kurdish Regional Government in the north, this political system mostly benefitted Arab Shia Muslims close to the political parties after 2003.

This in turn led to Arab Sunni complaints of systemic discrimination in state-hiring practises and high unemployment for them.

The state, since the rise of Saddam Hussein, has been the largest entity employing Arab Sunnis, so the purges following 2003 ultimately led to a mass of unemployed men among this demographic.

This discrimination in employment proved to be one of the leading grievances raised by protesters throughout the country, such as those in Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi, and Hawija from 2012 to 2013.

RELATED: Twenty five years later, the Middle East looks the same

Unlike the protests this summer, those protests were met with military force under Maliki’s government, creating the grievances that paved the way for ISIL to ride the wave of Arab Sunni discontent and push into their areas of Iraq.

Combined with an Iraqi armed forces devoted to extractive rent-seeking from the population, the regular Iraqi military lacked the discipline to combat ISIL during its foray into Mosul in 2014.

ISIL not only took advantage of this Arab Sunni discontent, it also created a model of governance that repudiated those corrupt practices of the Iraqi state.

ISIL has sought legitimacy among Iraqis by ending those extractive policies and by delivering services.

While ISIL probably leverages its “citizens” to give these rosy assessments of its administration, their complaints of their former Iraqi government have been echoed by Iraqis within Iraq itself, as demonstrated in the recent street protests.

Ibrahim al-Marashi is an assistant professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos. He is the co-author of “Iraq’s Armed Forces: An Analytical History”.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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How Europe turned its back on humanity (Al Jazeera)

August 11, 2015

By Rachel Shabi  

Europe holds dear the tenets of tolerance, freedom, and human rights – except when it comes to migrants.

When talk turns, as it often does, to the issue of defining Europe’s identity and values, its handling of the current “migration crisis” has to be one of the core concerns.

For a continent that collectively holds dear such tenets as tolerance, freedom, and human rights, how does Europe square those with its current approach in dealing with mass migration?

We are facing the largest movement of refugees since the World War II.

The number of people forced to leave their homes rose to a record 60 million last year – with most of those people fleeing Syria’s horrific war or coming from counties such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, and Iraq.

READ MORE: UN warns of alarming level in global refugee numbers

For some time now, the news has been of migrants making the most appalling and terrifying journeys and all too often dying in the process. 

But the European response so far has been to vilify the people risking everything to get here, while fortifying borders: building more walls, erecting more fences, sending more militarised patrols, and raising the possibility of bombing the “death boats” that make those perilous journeys across the Mediterranean into Europe.

Overwhelmed by the crisis 

There is no debate around the billions of euros spent building and guarding borders against migrants and refugees – no question that this money might be better allocated.

Instead, Europe seems to have swallowed wholesale the idea that it is about to be “swamped” by “illegal” migrants, overwhelming us with their filth, extremist terror, and less developed cultures.

Sometimes it is politicians using those damning, demonising words – such as British Prime Minister David Cameron describing people trying to get to the UK from a migrant camp at Calais as a “swarm”.

In reality, most refugees aren’t trying to get to Europe: There were 626,000 asylum applications across the EU’s 28 member states – and a collective population of 500 million – last year. 

The UK has committed to take in 500 Syrian refugees, of the four million fleeing the war in that country.

Lebanon, meanwhile, has taken in over a million people from Syria, while Turkey, with around two million Syrian refugees, is hosting the highest numbers.

But in Europe, at a politics and policy level, discussions focus on the concern that being somehow more “lenient” to migrants – by absorbing more, say, or by creating safe, legal migration routes, so that people trying to get to Europe don’t end up dying, horribly and avoidably – will give electioneering ammunition to the far-right.

Dragged into hostility

Apparently, Europe is so troubled by an influx of dark-skinned foreigners, so enthralled by intolerant positions on migration, that liberal policies on the issue would actually be vote-losers.

But is this really where we want to go – allowing Europe’s racist far-right to drag us into an ever more hostile response to a humanitarian crisis? Are these the values we have decided should define us now?

Across Europe – and with the exception of Sweden – it seems that the countries that have the lowest levels of migration are the ones where anti-immigrant parties are better represented in parliament.

It is pure ignorance that is fuelling this sentiment – and yet, instead of challenging these views, politicians are pandering to them.

As the walls go up around the borders of “Fortress Europe”, they have blocked our capacity to see connections between our policies and the people living beyond our fortified frontiers.

For it seems that when the West gushed about free market globalisation, it was only intended as a one-way street: We get the cheap goods and the forcibly opened markets, while those in the developing world get the broken economies, the corrupt governments and the failed states that so often arise as a consequence.

Creating stability and security

And when we talked about creating stability and security, we only meant for us – not for those in countries whose repressive dictatorships we are supporting and bankrolling and furnishing with ever more effective weaponry.

And when we insisted military “interventions” in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Libya, were humanitarian and liberating, we didn’t plan or even think about the aftermath; the horrendous consequences that might follow.

Meanwhile, if neoliberal politics have created a staggering inequality of wealth, security and opportunity, it is now also informing our reactions to it.

After all, it is the logical response of neoliberalism – a rampaging economic ideology that puts profits before people – to see desperate migrants and refugees as an inconvenience to the smooth ticking-along of advanced capitalism: A disruption to the passage of goods; an inconvenience to the flow of tourism.

It is a race-to-the-bottom rationale that has decimated employment markets across Europe.

It acts to further ferment resentment, from people worried about insecure and low-paid jobs, towards migrants coming into the workforce.

Desperate for life

The real target for both groups should be the employers who keep driving down wages, and the governments that allow them to.

It is ravaging, ideologically driven austerity that has crashed living standards across Europe, decimating public services and welfare, causing worry over resources and access to them.

People don’t risk death unless they are desperate for life.

RELATED: A call for EU cooperation on the migration crisis

People don’t usually decide to violently uproot families and lives unless that is the only choice available to them. Rather than dream of Europe, refugees often wish to return home, if they could.

In the endurance of long, dangerous journeys, in the resourceful capacity for survival, in the courage and tenacity of attempts to cross borders, in the persistence of a propelling, perpetual, hopeful life force in the face of unimaginable adversity, what people trying to get into Europe are repeatedly showing us is humanity.

And what we are showing, repeatedly, is that we have lost ours. 

Rachel Shabi is a journalist and author of Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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Tunisia is sacrificing its democracy for safety (Al Jazeera)

August 10, 2015

By Larbi Sadiki  

Tunisia’s new anti-terrorism law represents bad lawmaking and could demote rather than promote democratisation.

After two years of division and various provisions, Tunisia’s democratically elected 217-member unicameral parliament legislated a


counterterrorism law on July 24.

It was passed with 


approval: While 172 voted in favour, 10 members abstained, and only a limited number of members objected the law.

This bill may have been legally adopted, but that doesn’t make it right


By siding with the ruling Nidaa Tounes, the Islamist Ennahdha and leftist Popular Front leadership chose short-term power politics over long-term democratic substance.

There are some problems with the new law.

The partly reactionary law proposal was rushed in response to the Bardo museum and Sousse beach attacks of this year.

Moreover, the new law was hastily approved with Ennahdha’s House Speaker Abdelfattah Mourou hurrying the legislation process and not extending the consultation period.

Consequently, the passing of the bill coincided with the July 25 Republican Day – a hollow attempt at symbolism given what was at stake in libertarian and democratic terms.

And, as a piece of legislation, it threatens the incipient and fragile democratic structures of Tunisia, which are newly in place since their adoption in early 2014.

Quick fixes and gimmicks

This new law replaces the 2003 anti-terrorism law adopted by the ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime.

The law echoes Ben Ali’s fixation with solving terrorism through bad lawmaking and draconianism – not to mention the quest for quick fixes and gimmicks – and it threatens fundamental freedoms and liberties during a critical phase of democratic reconstruction in Tunisia.

What is regressive about the law is that it is, in parts, worse than the law it has replaced – the 2003 anti-terrorism law previously adopted by the ousted dictator’s regime.

For instance, there are a number of questions that can be raised relating to the rights of accused citizens, especially during the investigation phase for alleged acts of terrorism.

In the new law, detention without a court order is up to two weeks. The law also annuls the right to legal assistance during interrogations.

In the 2003 law, the detention period could not exceed six days.

In my personal discussions with both secularist and Islamist intellectuals who support the bill, many have raised the superficial argument that even the United States has illiberal anti-terrorism laws in place.


hose same people seem to ignore the fact that the US enjoys strongly independent judiciary and legislative branches, in addition to an array of consolidated civil and civic structures that function with the explicit purpose of inhibiting and punishing illegal actions.

Moral high ground

It is important to note that the US has regularly committed illegal acts (eg, rendition flights, Guantanamo Bay detentions) off of American soil and out of reach of the accountability of its own judiciary systems.

In Tunisia, public opinion seem to be backing up the new law.

The state claimed it acted from a “high moral ground”, and the media – with very few qualified exceptions – followed suit.

It was a failed test of free speech in which dissenters from parliament and civil society came under attack.

The pressure was such that even Ennahdha jumped on the bandwagon to support a bad law, which does not bode well for Tunisia’s democratic citizenship and democratisation.

There have been no tangible measures taken thus far to address extremism effectively.

No one has made efforts to integrate civil society and legal watchdogs to cooperate more effectively to holistically fight against terrorism.

This approach is vital given that the new law seeks to revive Tunisia’s powerful and pervasive state-run security and intelligence capacity, as well as to appease the security die-hards from the Ben Ali era.

The risk lies in the fact that the new law could legitimise heavy-handedness and secrecy as necessary measures and tactics in the fight against terrorism in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Unrealistic expectations

Similarly worrying are the unrealistic plans of Prime Minister 

Habib Essid,

who’s attempting to build a sand barrier along the porous Libyan border.

While the recently-passed law cannot be seen in isolation as it accompanies the securitisation of the border with Libya, a barrier – a la Israel – will be a drain on the civilian economy, which does not have the means to direct its scant resources and materials towards anti-terrorism security mobilisation.

Like its neighbours in the Maghreb region, Tunisia has joined the long queue of nations fighting terrorism and following the security “route” at a critical historical juncture of democratic trail and learning.

While “security” measures are discussed almost universally in the national discourse of extremism, no clear interpretation of the concept has emerged.

It is almost a recipe for fighting fire with fire, and with the new anti-terrorism law, it becomes fighting terror with “legal” terror.

In the absence of conceptual and legal clarity of the term, the security apparatus indirectly empowered by the new anti-terrorism law will be tempted to define its own mandate in the fight against terrorism.

The history of unchecked discretion in such matters has left many democratising states collapsing back into dictatorship after vesting too much in security at the expense of democracy.

Treading an uncharted route

Like Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, Nidaa and company in Tunisia could tread an uncharted route, threading the line between lawful defence of state, citizen’s rights, and illegality – similar to the era of Ben Ali – in the fight against extremism.

US President Barack Obama announced that Tunisia is a major non-NATO ally, which qualifies it for closer strategic and military cooperation with the US and the EU.

This endorsement will not help the embattled Tunisian leadership in developing new, out-of-the-box strategies on both local and global levels.

Following a path characterised by the rolling back of democratic rights – and of political institutions strategically using national security to their advantage – is one sure way of eliciting acquiescence on the part of scared citizens and an international community more than willing to buy into the narrative of the “

war on terror


Even with the Bush era having come to an end, the Obama administration has no less needed to chase its fair share of bogeymen.

In that kind of understanding, freedom was seen as a threat that comes with a lack of control over undesirable and disgruntled elements of society.

Resurgent authoritarianism

If rule of law and due process are undermined during initial democratisation – as in Tunisia’s case – politicisations of the legal system and political expediency forever will dictate how justice is meted out.

The mass mobilisation of army and police forces can quickly become the tool of a resurgent authoritarianism – especially in a country with a long history of it.

Given the pervasiveness of the security apparatus under the ousted regime, many fear it could easily re-emerge.

Tunisia’s leaders must recognise that for Obama and other Western powers, there are more pressing issues and interests than the democratisation process of a single North African country.

Historically speaking, the US, the EU and their allies overlooked democratic deficits in Muslim majority countries as long as such countries were in line with Western ideology or their economic and strategic interests.

For now, it seems Nidaa Tounes and its partners in parliament are bluffing their way through politics via blind pro-US policy preferences – which does not equate to pro-democracy predilections.

One can only hope that these decisions do not lead Tunisia towards becoming a national security state clad in the veneer of democratic trappings.

Larbi Sadiki is an academic at Qatar University where he teaches international affairs. He is the author of Rethinking Arab Democratization published by Oxford in 2009 and 2011 and is editor of the Routledge Handbook of the Arab Spring, which was recessed in 2015.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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Dipesh Gadher on Extremism in Britain, ISIS, and the Future of Journalism in the Digital Age (Asharq Al-Awsat)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Dipesh Gadher joined the Sunday Times as a graduate trainee in September 1998 and has since held several roles in the news department, including transport correspondent, media correspondent, and deputy news editor. He now works as the newspaper’s chief investigative reporter.

During his career at the Sunday Times Gadher has covered a variety of topics—in 2011 he reported on the Arab Spring and during the 2000s followed the rise of increasingly strident extremist preachers in London like Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada. Today, he continues to focus on extremism in the UK, especially the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) drive to recruit followers from the country.

Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Gadher about the phenomenon of extremism in Britain and the lure which groups like ISIS have for some young Britons, as well as British coverage of regional issues such as the Israel–Palestine conflict, and the future of journalism in the digital age.

Asharq Al-Awsat: After Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada have been deported from the UK, do you think the term “Londonistan” still applies?

Dipesh Gadher: I think the “Londonistan” term is still very relevant today. It seems many of the seeds that were planted by Islamists in London in the 1990s may now be coming back to haunt Britain and the West. The last two stories I wrote involved Tunisian extremists who have lived in the UK and who were disciples of Abu Qatada and who have now been linked to last month’s massacre of British tourists in Sousse.

Q: You played a key role in covering the Arab Spring. What is your view of what happened? More than three years on, are you disappointed by the progress that post-Arab Spring states have made?

Of course it’s disappointing to see what’s happened in the wake of the Arab Spring. Syria is a complete mess, Egypt has veered back to an authoritarian regime—where journalists can be locked up and democratically elected leaders are sentenced to death—and a lack of economic progress in Tunisia seems to have driven many disillusioned youths into the hands of extremists.

Q: Most recently you have been writing about foreign fighters going to Syria. What particularly interests you in this subject?

As I mentioned earlier, what interests me most is what motivates a youth who has been raised in Britain to suddenly join a bloodthirsty group like ISIS and, in some cases, seek to carry out or encourage attacks on his or her home country or its citizens. Why does a 15-year-old girl with grade-A results from a school in east London think it would be a good idea to become a jihadist bride in Raqqa? What led Mohammed Emwazi to become “Jihadi John” and behead British hostages? Part of this relates to the “brand” that ISIS has created for itself and its expert use of social media—which is something that we’ve not witnessed before to this degree as a tool of radicalization. In the late 1990s, I was focusing on the influence of preachers in mosques and study circles, such as Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza, but now recruitment and radicalization are being carried out over Twitter and Kik—and, often, by young peers who have only just recently made it out to Syria or Iraq.

Q: As a journalist for the Sunday Times, a very recognizable newspaper, how has it helped, or perhaps even hindered, your work?

Working for a well-known newspaper can sometimes open doors and gives you credibility with government departments and ministers. However, the fact that the Sunday Times is a center-right newspaper can occasionally make it harder to build up trust and confidence with jihadists and extremists and their families. I always make it clear when seeking interviews with such people that my aim is to understand someone’s behavior and not to castigate or demonize them for it. It’s important to remain objective as possible as a news reporter.

Q: How did you start your career in journalism?

I was always interested in news and current affairs as a teenager, but I only seriously thought about a career in journalism after working as news editor at my student newspaper at Nottingham University. Unfortunately, every local newspaper I wrote to for a job or training contract after I graduated turned me down. I was so disheartened that I started filling in application forms for accountancy firms instead. Luckily, a job as a junior reporter came up at a weekly English-language Asian newspaper called Eastern Eye. That’s where I earned my spurs for two years before getting onto the Sunday Times graduate trainee program in 1998.

Q: What was the moment when you were sure you had chosen the right profession?

When I realized you could get paid for being nosey and writing about other people’s lives!

Q: What was your first story? When was it published?

I think my first national newspaper byline was in 1995 when I was on work experience at The Times and I was asked to cover a press conference at the Argentine embassy in London which was about oil rights around the Falklands Islands. My first ever Sunday Times story was written in September 1998 and, appropriately enough, was about Osama Bin Laden’s alleged PR men and financiers in London being questioned by Scotland Yard about the east African embassy bombings of that year.

Q: What is it that you most enjoy doing?

If I’ve interpreted this question correctly, I still love tracking people down for a story and turning up on their doorstep unannounced and asking them to speak to me. It’s still a buzz if it works out well.

Q: What is the story or interview you are still waiting to write?

Tough question! An exclusive with [ISIS leader] Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi would be good—assuming he’s still alive! Or Mohammed Emwazi, the ISIS executioner known as “Jihadi John.” Might as well aim high.

Q: You’ve won many prestigious awards for your work, but is there one that you’re most proud of?

Alas, I haven’t won any proper awards. But this year I was shortlisted for “News Reporter of the Year” at the Press Awards and for the “Breaking News Story” category at the British Journalism Awards—both to do with my work on British jihadists in Syria. Which was a nice way to be recognized.

Q: We are now more than three years into the Syrian conflict, with this story being reported on front pages and sitting at the top of the news since it began. Is there a chance of media fatigue?

I don’t think so. The story in the British media has evolved from one about President Assad to one about ISIS and the threat it poses to Britain and the West. It’s clearly a shame that this angle has taken precedence over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Syria, but national security is always likely to get more coverage in the British press. Indeed, today’s front pages are dominated by David Cameron’s efforts to deploy the SAS to fight ISIS.

Q: How do you rate the Sunday Times’ coverage of terrorism and jihadist stories?

At the risk of sounding like a cheerleader for my own newspaper, I do genuinely think our coverage of this subject has been more comprehensive than in most other UK media. Not least because I am one of about half-a-dozen Sunday Times reporters, including our Middle East specialist Hala Jaber, who are interested in the story. I would, however, say that the Independent has been extremely good in spotting the ISIS phenomenon from a very early stage.

Q: The coverage of the Palestinian issue is noticeably biased, whether we are talking about a pro-Israel bias in the West or a pro-Palestine bias . . .

This is a perennial issue—and even the BBC gets blamed for being either too pro-Palestinian or too pro-Israel on occasion. It’s very difficult. All I can say is that as a news reporter you have to stick to being as objective as possible.

Q: Who is your favorite journalist—both locally and internationally—and why?

I’m afraid there are too many to name in both the UK and in the Arab world. I particularly admire those who go to the frontlines to report on conflicts when their own safety may be at risk and those who try to find the truth in countries where freedom of speech and a free press are stifled.

Q: How many hours do you spend working a week? Does this leave you with much personal time?

It varies depending on what’s on the news agenda, but—on average—I’d say about 60 hours a week. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest for a Sunday newspaper. I’m afraid like most journalists I spend much of my “down-time” reading newspapers, magazines, and online reports—so I always have less personal time than I would like.

Q: What is your take on the print media vs. online media debate? Do you think new forms of media are killing off old forms?

I think the two forms can live side-by-side. Personally, I still like the feel of ink on my fingers. And I do think that print publications, such as the Sunday Times, Der Spiegel, the New York Times, and Washington Post, have enough resources to excel at investigations. However, I’ve been impressed by the Vice News website for its coverage of jihadists. And I can see that BuzzFeed is also investing heavily in news reporting. Time will tell on which form is more commercially viable.

Q: What is your favorite blog or news site?

I still turn to the BBC News site for most things. But, increasingly, I’m finding Twitter the best source for breaking stories—in the UK and abroad.

Q: What advice would you give to young journalists about to embark on a career in journalism?

Be persistent and thick-skinned, be prepared for rejection, but, most of all, be true to yourself.

Q: Who is your role model in journalism?

To be honest, there are countless journalists—and editors—who I admire. If I was to single out one person, I guess it would probably have to be Marie Colvin, the former Sunday Times foreign correspondent who was killed in Syria by Assad’s troops in 2012. She gave me one of my earliest bylines on the paper and was always generous to rookie reporters with her advice and time. She was also fearless and made a difference. Every time I see my local Sri Lankan newsagent, he goes on about Marie and how she helped to highlight the plight of the Tamils in an earlier conflict—and losing an eye in the process!

Q: What characteristics do you think every successful journalist should possess?

Determination, modesty, and the willingness to challenge authority. Don’t take ‘No’ for an answer.

Q: What kind of advice would you give to young Arab journalists in particular?

It would be the same as above: be persistent and thick-skinned, be prepared for rejection, but, most of all, be true to yourself. And for those whose families might not approve, journalism is every bit as important as medicine or law or politics—though not necessarily as well paid!

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The Middle East: Between Arab Dictators and Zionist Racist Colonialism (The Palestine Chronicle)

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Since the 1970s and beyond, when democratic ideas and institutions spread, power has been exercised on behalf of the people in most of the world’s nations. Democratization came about through actions initiated by the elite reformers, by the demands of political activists to adapt foreign models to solve local problems, and by social movements on behalf of excluded groups. The era of colonialism in Africa, India and East Asia ended, but Zionism, a new form of colonialism supported by the nineteenth century European colonial powers emerged in the Middle East.

History has to be rewritten every generation because each new generation should ask new questions as it lives differently and learns from the mistakes that had been made. Only people in the Middle East today still re-live the same aspects of their predecessors’ experiences; they keep asking the same questions of the past generations and they are making the same mistakes. Things are going from bad to worse; the old tyrant rulers are replaced by new ones; old conflicts remained and new conflicts emerged. The tyrants of the new generation are as bad as or worse than the old ones were. And the Israeli government has become more aggressive in implementing the Zionist project for Palestine.

To understand tyranny in the Arab world today, look at Egypt, the most populous Arab country, the country that has the potential of being the region’s political heavy weight. Egypt achieved a high degree of multiparty democracy almost a century ago. The constitution of 1923 introduced political pluralism, regular elections to a two-chamber legislature, full male suffrage, and a free press. Democracy was interrupted by the military in 1952.

Millions of Egyptian protesters took to the streets in 2011 and 2013 demanding the end of the sixty year military rule that relied on repression and graft which turned Egypt into one of the poorest and least developed countries economically and politically. The protesters’ expectations had been artificially inflated by ousting two presidents, but with the return of the military rule, they saw their high expectations’ bubble burst against the reality of a country coming apart at the seams.

The ruthless coup leader, Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi sought to replace the democratically elected president, that he served under and overthrew, followed by street bloodbaths inflicted on unarmed anti-coup protesters and thousands were tortured in jails. The elections of the coup leader ran according to the old familiar repetitive script. Like the referendums on the former army general, President Husni Mubarak before him, al-Sisi received more than 96% of the vote, same as then President Mubarak. But instead of getting better, living conditions, lack of security, unemployment and human rights violations are getting worse under the new regime. And most alarming is politicizing Egypt’s judiciary institutions. Most Egyptians today even miss Mubarak’s era that was most hated and feared. Like Latin America in the last century when the business elite and foreign powers favored military rule for fear of communism, the Egyptian elite, the crony business class and the Coptic minority favored military rule for fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.

If Middle Eastern people think about the world in which they live, it is easy for them to see why they are suffering and why they have not been developed up to their potentials economically, politically, intellectually, socially and humanistically; why the majority is living in despair and why they support violence and extreme movements.

For the Arab world to satisfy the aspirations of its people and join the civilized world community, as a start, they have to break the cycle of the authoritarian exclusionary system of government and military rule. Democracy will not solve all their problems, but without it, they will continue to be led most likely by ambitious cunning men who engage in criminal practices to coerce society to accept or support their rule. Even with liberal democracy, much more needs to be done to fulfill the aspirations of the young to participate in shaping the future of their country, and to break the cycle of political and economic subordination to foreign powers.

But the hope for a transition to democracy has fallen victim to the protracted periods of self-perpetuating autocratic rule. While the rest of the world lives under different kinds of democratic systems today, power holders in the Arab states developed multiple forms of authoritarian political systems. No Arab citizen lives under liberal constitutional democracy, and women have no civil rights in the Arab world. Arabs live under the constraints of authoritarian regimes in male dominated hierarchical societies that do not treat their members as free and equal citizens. Arab regimes leaders have developed the capacity to concentrate the national resources for use to stay in power. They are the absolute rulers and they are not held accountable to any judiciary or legislative control.

Arab military defeats by Israel in 1948 and 1967 ushered in a radical new age of Arab politics. The magnitudes of the defeats combined with the deliberate deception of the Arab public set off a crisis of confidence in the existing political leadership. Public disenchantment set off support for a wave of military coups led mostly by cunning men against existing governments across the Arab world.

In the 1950s and 1960s the feudal and monarchical governments in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya were overthrown by military men who established secular governance. Each of the new governments adopted a radical Arab nationalist platform as the basis of its legitimacy, calling for the liberation of Palestine and the triumph over imperialism. The new rulers who reigned and ruled tried to broaden their popular support by appealing to nationalism and promises of better economic conditions to come, and the new political culture of military governance took roots in the region.

After decades of authoritarian rule since the 1948 war, sectarianism and ethnicity have superseded Arab nationalism, and international and regional foreign powers dominate the Arab lands. The issue of Palestine that was uniting the Arabs in rhetoric, not action, is overtaken by other issues that have divided them. Israel became a dominant ally to many Arab regimes against Iran and “the war on terrorism” (which includes resistance to Israeli occupation), while the Israeli military and settlers terrorize the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem; and Israel continues to colonize the Palestinians’ land, demolishes homes and villages, and denies them their human rights.

Israel committed heinous massacres in the besieged Gaza enclave. Haaretz newspaper reported that a gang of Jewish settlers firebombed a Palestinian family house in the West Bank village of Douma on July 31st. They burnt an eighteen month infant, Ali Saad Daoabshi alive, and seriously injured the rest of his family. Saad is not the only child killed by Israel. The crimes of killing Palestinians are repeated daily and will continue as long as there is occupation! According to The Independent, a report by Amnesty International on the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians claims among other things that “Israeli forces killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians including 75 children in Gaza on August 1, 2014.”

The dead Palestinians, whether by fire or bullets or bombs or starvation in the besieged Gaza, are victims of racist colonialism which is still being practiced in Palestine. The Palestinian people are betrayed by the international community and especially by the Arab authoritarian regimes. The clearest indication of Israel’s obstinacy and Arab authoritarian regimes irrelevance came from Israel’s economy minister, Naftali Bennett. “The idea that a Palestinian state should be established within the land of Israel has reached a dead end,” he declared.

The Middle East can accurately be described as the land of dictators and a dominant Zionism.

– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to

The post The Middle East: Between Arab Dictators and Zionist Racist Colonialism appeared first on Palestine Chronicle.

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