All posts tagged arab spring

Obama’s Empire: The Arab and Muslim World

President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office. / The White House, Flickr

Patrick O. Strickland – For liberal America, it is becoming harder and harder to sell the almost painfully trite and stale cliché that one must pick “the lesser of two evils.” The simple fact is that, for advocates of human rights and equality, a vote for Barack Obama requires a number of back-peddling explanations and heartfelt apologies, not least of which regarding the broader Arab and Muslim world.

In a widely-praised address from Cairo in 2009, Obama stated that the “cycle of suspicion and discord” which defines American-Muslim relations “must end.” Seeking a fresh start, Obama boldly claimed his desire to build a new relationship: “one based on mutual interest and respect; one based on the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.”

But from the onset of Obama’s presidency, the broader Arab and Muslim world has been exposed to a violent uptick in American imperialism. From North Africa to Afghanistan, Obama has not merely continued the belligerent policies of the Bush Administration; he has greatly expanded violent measures and seized all opportunities to entrench American dominance.

Drone Attacks

Though initially started by the Bush Administration, the use of US drones has skyrocketed under Obama’s command, namely in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Though this is one point on which Republican candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama agree, a recent poll published by the Pew Foundation found majorities in 17 of 20 countries across the world disapprove of drone strikes.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that 884 out of at least 2,572 people killed by drones on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border since 2004, were civilians. In other words, drone use in Pakistan has a roughly 34% failure rate. From 347 drone strikes as of October 10, 2012, the Bush Administration was responsible for a mere 52, with the Obama Administration for the remaining 295.

According to Peter Bergen, the targets of drone attacks are chosen based on “patterns of merely suspicious activity by a group of men.”

The drone program has also resulted in the extra-judicial killing of at least three American citizens. In September 2011, claiming that they were both Al-Qaeda commanders, the United States killed Samir Khan and Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen. They were both American citizens who had never been legally charged with terrorism. Two weeks later, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of al-Awlaki, was killed in a similar drone strike.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson, recently announced that he will head an investigation into the legality of the US drone program, the existence of which “the Obama Administration… will neither confirm nor deny.”

Imperial Spring

In February 2011, Obama praised the Egyptian Revolution, commending Hosni Mubarak’s decision to step down from the presidency. Just a few months after hundreds of thousands of brave Egyptians peacefully toppled the three decade long dictator, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was punishing pro-democracy demonstrators withAmerican-made tear gas in Tahrir Square, the very same square that had been branded the throbbing heart of the revolution.

Notably absent from Obama’s speeches of praise and encouragement was an official apology for propping up Mubarak for the prior three decades. Much the same ingenuity marked American support for the Tunisian revolution.

Tunisia and Egypt, however, were at least lucky enough to garner the nominal support of the United States, while uprisings in Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco and elsewhere were quickly crushed or quelled by American-backed autocracies.

In the case of Bahrain, the parking lot of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, a Saudi and American-backed Sunni monarchy freely imposes its suffocating will on a restive Shiite majority that accounts for at least 70% of the total population. Although the ongoing unarmed rebellion began at almost the same time as the Egyptian Revolution, with calls for almost identical demands, the official American response has been vastly different.

A small island situated snugly between Iran and the plentiful oil fields of Saudi Arabia, the Obama Administration wasted little time in deciding that Bahraini self-determination did not mesh well with American imperial designs in the region.

The month after demonstrations swallowed the small island, in a visit intended “as a show of support for the ruling family,” the now former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates landed in Bahrain to peaceful anti-government demonstrations that numbered in the thousands. Three days later, joint Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military forces entered Bahrain to assist the regime in suppressing the unrest, an operation which entailed around 5,000 security forces with tanks and helicopters stormed Pearl Roundabout killing several and injuring hundreds.

Until today, the Obama Administration’s support of the Bahraini monarchy has barely budged. Recently, Bahrain imposed emergency laws which ban all protest gathering, peaceful or not; a violation of basic human rights which the Obama Administration has condemned innumerable other regimes for in the world.

In Libya, an oil rich country having long toiled under the despotic auspices of Muammar Qaddafi, the United States swiftly participated in a NATO campaign to arm and support rebels in their quest to violently overthrow the dictatorship.

The most horrifying display of bloodshed in the region is presently taking place in Syria, where the United States, though making several passing remarks in condemnation of President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown, ostensibly has yet to adopt an official position.

Through a careful process of selective endorsement, American hegemony is preserved — Obama’s approach, in that sense, functions as a present day Sykes-Picot accord, a project to redraw the borders of dominance and influence in the Middle East. Despite all the praises of democracy and freedom, the United States continues to foster despotic police states in the various Gulf kingdoms, and shields many Middle Eastern regimes with horrible human rights records, not least of which Israel’s ostensibly endless colonization of the embattled remains of historic Palestine.

Israel and Palestine

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always, and will continue, to serve as an insurmountable barrier to reconciliation between the US and the Arab and Muslim world.

In the same 2009 Cairo address mentioned above, Obama set to rectify this source of contention. He stated that Palestinians “endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation.” The United States, he proclaimed, would no longer ignore “the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

Despite several highly publicized spats between Obama and Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu, in September 2012 the US Ambassador to Israel reaffirmed the close cooperation between the two countries to sustain Israel’s security, including the prevention of a nuclear-armed Iran. Former Defense Department official Dennis Ross later told Haaretz that “what [President Obama] has done for Israel in the area of security is without precedent.”

Unchecked support for Israel has meant the hastened colonization of the West Bank and an airtight siege on the Gaza Strip.

Israeli settlement is so deeply entrenched in the West Bank that carving out a sovereign Palestinian state has become an impossible task. Almost half a million Israeli settlers live in well-guarded settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Small pockets of “sovereign” Palestinian Authority control in cities such as Ramallah, Jericho, and Bethlehem have dissected the West Bank into what are effectively Bantustans.

Few Palestinians still have faith in President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s ability to reach a final peace agreement with Israel, as was demonstrated by the massive anti-government demonstrations that engulfed the West Bank recently in September.

The post-Oslo embers of hope have burnt out, and many Palestinians now see ahead of them a long nonviolent struggle for a single democratic state that respects equality among all its citizens regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations. In 2011, Rashid Khalidi argued that the Obama Administration had situated itself “to the right of the most right-wing, pro-settler government in Israeli history,” and that the two-state solution had been “buried by forty four years of unceasing Israeli colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem under the benevolent gaze of nine successive US administrations.”

Furthermore, many Palestinian activists are beginning to see the two-state solution as Israeli-imposed apartheid. Though President Obama encouraged Palestinians to abandon violence and model their struggle on the American civil rights movements, one doubts that he will put any pressure on Israel or pledge any meaningful solidarity for a new generation of Palestinians who have switched their sights from territorial liberation to civil rights and freedom in a single democratic entity.

Reimagining the American Role

The exercise of sacrificing swaths of liberal demands by voting for “the lesser of two evils” sustains international inequality and American hegemony at the expense of democracy.

As new information emerges each day that renders American liberal support of Obama and the Democratic Party more and more difficult, the need to imagine a new American political culture becomes more pressing. One that transcends the boundaries of a two-party system which, as Professor Noam Chomsky said, “encourages the American public to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena.”

The American public discourse ought to be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up. The United States desperately needs a third party not compromised by corporate meddling or tired positions on age-old debates. A vote for Obama, while marginally better than one for Romney, is a vote for American empire and of all the injustices that comes along with it: from the extra-judicial killing of American citizens to the co-opting of Arab revolutions; from indifference to its allies’ human rights violations to the ongoing injustice against Palestinians.

This article originally appeared at the Fair Observer. It is reprinted here with permission.

Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance American journalist and Israel-Palestine correspondent for BikyaMasr.com. His work has been published by CounterPunchPalestine Chronicle, Fair Observer, Socialistworker.org, and elsewhere.

Letter from Jerash, Jordan: A visit to the Gaza Refugee Camp

Children from the Gaza Refugee Camp, Jerash Jordan / Munir Atalla

Munir Atalla, +972  - Last month I worked at the Gaza Refugee Camp in Jerash, Jordan.  The camp is home to about 24,000 Palestinian refugees who left the Gaza Strip in 1968.  Most of the families living there were also displaced in 1948, meaning that they have lost their homes twice in one lifetime.  The majority live on less than $2 a day.  About a quarter live on less than one.

The camp starts unexpectedly.  After the stone ruins of Jerash, one turns left into a valley.  The streets become narrower and the pedestrians more numerous.  Like a punch in the gut, the air begins to smell of hot sewage and rotting fruit. Sweaty and dusty from walking through the camp in the scorching summer, the one word that wouldn’t leave my mind was “hellish.”  The market on the main road is very crowded.  Amongst the frying falafel and bread baking, an old man was selling homemade perfumes.  “Come here young man, I’ll make a personalized scent that will make you irresistible to young women,” he grinned and advertised.

If anything can be said about the inhabitants of the many refugee camps in Jordan, it is that they have shown remarkable resilience in the face of unspeakable injustice.  The people at Gaza Camp are warm and welcoming, albeit suspicious.  Numbers haunt the life of every refugee.  There are passport numbers, national identification numbers, and social security numbers that are denied to them.  There are the statistics that their lives have been reduced to: 24,000 refugees, 2,000 makeshift shelters, 50% unemployment, 0.75 square kilometers.

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The Syrian Knot

lovestruck., Flickr

Bobby S. Gulshan - With the massacre in Houla, and the discovery of 13 people who had been apparently bound and executed near Deir az-Zour, the grim reality of the deteriorating situation in Syria has taken center stage across the globe. The diplomatic isolation induced by the expulsion of Syrian diplomats in numerous countries also seems to suggest a turning point in the conflict. Even the Russians couldn’t stay silent. Meanwhile, many commentators now openly speak of the failure of Special Envoy Annan’s Six-Point Plan. With the brutality coming to light – and diplomatic channels being closed – the question looms with a long and stark shadow, what is the way forward in Syria?

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Wadah Khanfar: Palestine Still A Central Issue For A Changing Arab World

Arab Revolutions Televised, Tweeted, and Blogged: The Exit & Entrance Interview with Wadah Khanfar

Last night, I was privileged enough to attend another episode of the Atlantic Exchange series with former director of Al Jazeera, and now head of the new Sharq Forum, Wadah Khanfar hosted by Palestine Note co-publisher Steve Clemons. In addition to getting to sit in the same room as someone has been listed in the top one-hundred most powerful people in the world by Forbes Magazine, those of us in the audience also got to hear from the man himself about some pretty juicy topics. Mr. Khanfar responded thoughtfully and candidly to Steve questions about his reasons for leaving Al Jazeera, his views on the Qatari government, political Islam, and the importance of social media in the “Arab Spring”*.

What I was really looking forward to, however, was hearing what Mr. Khanfar had to say about the role of Palestinian issues in the Arab movements. More on that after the jump.

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Arab Revolutions Televised, Tweeted, and Blogged: An AtlanticLIVE Interview With Wadah Khanfar


Live broadcast by Ustream
Tonight, Palestine Note co-publisher and AtlanticLIVE editor-in-chief Steve Clemons will be hosting an exchange with former Director General of Al Jazeera and President of the Sharq Forum. I’ll be heading out to the Atlantic offices in just a few hours, but citizens of the internet can also watch the event live in the above video at 5:30 pm EST. And if you’re feeling particularly chatty, don’t forget to tweet your reactions to @PalestineNote and use the hashtag #AtlX.

Hope to “see” you there!