Friday 3 April 2009

Palestine archipelago

This extraordinary re-imagining of the occupied West Bank as an archipelago shows how Palestinian areas have become cut-off from each other by Israeli settlements, roads and checkpoints.

Helem in New York

Georges Azzi of Helem, the Lebanon's LGBT rights group, addressed a gathering in New York.

Azzi made clear that the struggle for equality is part of the wider resistance in the Arab world:

Helem opened its center to people displaced by the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The majority of those who sought refuge were Shiite Muslim, and Hezbullah representatives visited the center and other shelters to ensure they were receiving care.

"If it’s possible in Lebanon, its possible anywhere." Helem members also participated in marches and other protests against Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip earlier this year.

A front page article in Helem’s annual newsletter accused Arab leaders and the United Nations of "enjoying a massacre done with bestiality-something they don’t see every day." The article further opined the scenes from Gaza caused people around the world to demonstrate and even riot in the streets.

A handful of people walked out of a panel discussion at the LGBT Center in lower Manhattan on Tuesday on which Azzi was a panelist after a journalist asked him about the article.

Azzi was quick to point out it attacked the Israeli government-and not Israelis themselves. He added, however, he feels Helem has a responsibility to show what he described as solidarity with Gazans and those who spoke out against the Israeli incursion.

Stupid Arab rich lose $2.5 trillion

The AP reports that Arab world has lost some $2.5 trillion in the global slump created by toxic deals that the global rich seemed to think would grease their wheels for years to come. The total is probably bigger.

Forbes runs the story. Wonder what even a portion of this money could have done for the regions poor.

Read and weep:

Arab financial officials said Thursday that the global economic crisis had cost the region's investors about $2.5 trillion, offering a sobering look at the challenges confronting the region's leaders despite their repeatedly rosy assessments of their nations' ability to weather the financial downturn.

The comments at the start of a two-day Arab Economic Forum focused the spotlight on the damage done in a region that has enjoyed steady growth for the past few years.

Adnan al-Kassar, a leading Lebanese banker and former economy minister, said that among the effects of the crisis in the Arab world was a 20 to 60 percent drop in the region's top stock markets, the decrease in worker remittance revenues and the cancellation of mega projects.

But al-Kassar didn't specify whether the $2.5 trillion in losses also included sovereign wealth funds held by some of the countries. Those funds are secretive and the exact amount of their losses has not been revealed.

In tandem with the equity markets slump, the governments of many of the Arab world's top oil producers are seeing revenue fall as oil prices fell from mid-July highs of $147 per barrel to roughly $50 per barrel at present.

Crude revenues are a mainstay for many of these countries, and the slide is forcing Saudi Arabia, for example, to project a deficit for the first time in 2002.

On a near daily basis, Arab newspapers report layoffs, with some of the most troubling headlines coming from Dubai, the one-time Gulf boomtown now mired in debt.

The job creation issue is paramount for many of the Arab nations. With a surging youth population, Arab governments face daily challenges of providing opportunities to a population that is often courted by Islamists. The ensuing tug-of-war carries broad domestic and international security ramifications.

As a result, Arab nations - particularly in the oil rich Gulf - have been careful to ensure that layoffs stemming from the downturn hit the countries' expatriate workforce, not the much smaller national labor force.

Bahrain police riot

The BBC have posted footage of a police riot in Bahrain.

It the reports:

On 13 March at about 1530, unemployed dustman Muhammad says he stepped out into the street to join a peaceful demonstration to protest against brutality by the police forces.

Five minutes, later along with about 50 others, he says he was fired upon by members of the Bahraini security forces. He was hit in the legs with a shotgun blast.

Asked if he or the others had done anything to provoke or threaten the security police Muhammad (not his real name) replied "Absolutely not!"

"There was no violence," he insisted. "It was a peaceful demonstration. The police opened fire without provocation."

Video footage of the incident - supplied to the BBC by a Bahraini human rights organisation - would appear to corroborate Muhammad's account.

It shows a line of police standing near from a group of protesters carrying Bahraini flags. Suddenly and without any apparent cause, the police open fire.

Members of this island nation's Shia community say they had joined the protest against alleged police brutality.
Divisions in society

The tiny island kingdom of Bahrain is unique in the Arabian Peninsula in that it has a Shia majority, thought to be about 65% of the population.

But like the other Arab Gulf states the ruling elite is Sunni. And with the Shia Muslim-led Iran just across the Gulf and tensions growing between Islam's two largest sects, Shia here find themselves under suspicion.

Members of the ruling family and its Sunni supporters in parliament have long accused Iran of fomenting unrest in Bahrain. Bahraini Shia organisations say Iran has nothing to do with it. They say Shia have long been victims of discrimination.

They accuse members of the royal family of seizing Shia land, and point to poor housing, high unemployment and employment discrimination as the root causes of what is now becoming almost nightly rioting in their villages.

Tear gas, rubber bullets and stun bombs are used to quell disturbances, but the alleged use of live ammunition signals a trend that is disturbing many people in Bahrain.

Khalil al-Marzok MP, a member of a Shia political party and a leading activist, says excessive use of force is making a volatile situation ever more dangerous, particularly for young Shia men.

"There is an increasing level of force being used and all that is doing is creating anger and more violence."
Government response

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Interior Minister's office told the BBC that the use of shotguns against ordinary citizens is not permitted as a general policy.

"Their use is allowed only in rare cases under the law, such as when people's lives are in danger or when the use of force becomes the only means for the security forces to perform their duty," the statement says.

It says all security personnel are aware of this policy and obey it.

But evidence of the use of live fire has continued to emerge. On 27 March, three children aged of 11 to 14 were reportedly hit by shotgun pellets, including one who was badly injured.

"We want a dialogue and we are trying to persuade the authorities that the opportunity to talk is still there," says another Shia MP, Jasim Husain.

But he says the political will to make that happen is not coming from either the ruling family or the government.
"Without dialogue," he says "I'm not sure where this country is going."