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The Middle East rises - Feb 28

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Protests in Oman Spread

Nada Bakri, New York Times
Demonstrators blocked roads and clashed with police on Monday in Oman, the normally quiet oil-rich country along the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, as three-day-old protests calling for political reforms and better living conditions spread to Muscat, the capital.

Demonstrators blocked roads and clashed with police on Monday in Oman, the normally quiet oil-rich country along the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, as three-day-old protests calling for political reforms and better living conditions spread to Muscat, the capital.

In the northeast port city of Sohar, where the protests originated, demonstrators blocked roads to the port, Oman’s second biggest, and an industrial area that includes a refinery and an aluminum factory, according to two witnesses in Sohar and news agencies
(28 February 2011)




The Price of Food is at the Heart of This Wave of Revolutions

Peter Popham, Independent/UK
Revolution is breaking out all over. As Gaddafi marshals his thugs and mercenaries for a last-ditch fight in Tripoli, several died as protests grew more serious in Iraq. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah tried to bribe his people into docility by splashing out $35bn on housing, social services and education. Across the water in Bahrain the release of political prisoners failed to staunch the uprising. In Iran, President Ahmadinejad crowed about chaos in the Arab world, but said nothing about the seething anger in his own backyard; in Yemen, the opposition gathers strength daily.

And it's not just the Middle East. This is an African crisis: Tunisia, where it started, is an African country, and last week in Senegal, a desperate army veteran died after setting fire to himself in front of the presidential palace, emulating Mohamed Bouazizi, the market trader whose self-immolation sparked the revolution in Tunisia. Meanwhile, the spirit of revolt has already leapt like a forest fire to half a dozen other ill-governed African nations, with serious disturbances reported in Mauritania, Gabon, Cameroon and Zimbabwe.

Nowhere is immune: dozens of activists in China are in detention or under other forms of surveillance, and the LinkedIn network was shut down as authorities seek to stamp out Middle East-style protests there. In what is arguably the most repressive state on the planet, North Korea, the army was called out and five died in the northern city of Sinuiju after violent protests erupted there and in two other cities. The generals who rule Burma under a trashy façade of constitutional government were keeping a close eye on the Middle East, ready to lock up Aung San Suu Kyi again at the first sign of copycat disturbances.

Nowhere is immune to this wave of rebellion because globalisation is a fact; all the world's markets are intricately interlinked, and woe in one place quickly translates into fury in another.

... the real cause of these revolutions, beyond all the chatter about social networks, is a problem that is liable to get worse in coming years rather than better, and that is largely beyond the power of anyone to contain or control.

The first warnings of what was to come appeared in the form of a briefing paper on the website of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization in December. "Recent bouts of extreme price volatility in global agricultural markets," it said, "portend rising and more frequent threats to world food security. There is emerging consensus that the global food system is becoming more vulnerable and susceptible to episodes of extreme price volatility. As markets are increasingly integrated in the world economy, shocks in the international arena can now transpire and propagate to domestic markets much quicker than before."
(27 February 2011)




The Arab Democratic Revolt

Bill Fletcher, ZCommunication
The Arab democratic revolt has highlighted a potential reshaping of Pan-Arabism for the 21st century, and it is exciting to observe.

In the period from Abdul Gamal Nasser's coup against the then King of Egypt in 1952 through the mid-1970s, there was a sense of Pan-Arabism that shook North Africa and the Middle East. This was a Pan Arabism that grew out of the anti-colonial and national liberation struggles of the period. These efforts, whether in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Algeria, or later Yemen, South Yemen, Palestine, the Sudan and Libya, were anti- imperialist and, on the global stage largely neutralist vis a vis the two superpowers of the time (the USA and the USSR). This Pan Arabism even took the form of efforts at structural unification, such as the failed merger of Egypt and Syria (to form the United Arab Republic) and efforts to include Iraq in that process.

The disastrous June 1967 war with Israel, along with the failure of the Arab states to develop a coherent and implementable strategy to support Palestinian liberation, compounded by the debt crisis (and rise of neo-liberalism) undermined the progressive impulse that was Pan Arabism. All that was left was the rhetoric and a few political "outposts" attempting to keep the flag of Pan Arabism flying.

The failure of Pan Arabism to fulfill a revolutionary mission, both in terms of truly liberating the people, eliminating corruption and authoritarianism, as well as keeping Western imperialism at bay, resulted in the creation of a void. This void began to be filled by various forms of what came to be known as political Islam (or Islamism).

... The Arab democratic revolt of 2011 represents the potential for a renewal and transformation of Pan Arabism. First, it is a popular movement that is relying on the masses of people not as instruments of someone's agenda but as self-conscious political forces who are seeking freedom. As many people have noted, this is a movement without leaders, but, as I have said previously, it is not a movement without organizations.

It represents an effort by social movements of the people to find their own voices. Hopefully clear leadership will emerge and the necessary organization in order to transform the revolts into revolutions, but that said, the movements have themselves proven to be transformative.


BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA.
(28 February 2011)



Gorbachev: The US Must Take Blame for Fanning Islamic Fundamentalism

Matthew Bell, Independent/UK
Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, has called for fundamental change to world politics against the background of uprisings across North Africa, saying that the will of the people can no longer be ignored.

... In a wide-ranging interview with The Independent on Sunday, marking his 80th birthday on Wednesday, Mr Gorbachev also calls on David Cameron to withdraw British troops from Afghanistan. And, in comments that risk provoking outrage in the US, he portrays the war against Islam as a conflict partly of the US's own making.

"It's called the historical and political boomerang," he says, referring to the US's secret funding of Islamic extremists during the 1980s, when the Americans were fighting communism. "[The Americans] were working in secret with those forces with whom they are now fighting. They should accept their part of the blame. Let them say so. I think God has some mechanism that he uses to punish those that make mistakes."

... Mr Gorbachev became President after Soviet forces had occupied Afghanistan, and oversaw the eventual withdrawal of troops in 1989. He points out that Britain advised against the Soviet invasion, saying the Afghans are a special people who live by their own rules, and that Britain should now heed its own advice.

Earlier this month, Mr Gorbachev welcomed the uprising in Egypt: "The people have spoken and made clear they do not want to live under authoritarian rule." In today's interview, he appeals to a generation of young people to enter politics and the media, to regain control, and to restore democracy, describing himself as an idealist.

... Asked if Russia would ever be a superpower again, he says: "I don't think this should be Russia's goal. I think even the US doesn't need to be a superpower. China doesn't need to be a superpower. It's a different world. Relations in the world are different.
(27 February 2011)



The destiny of this pageant lies in the Kingdom of Oil

Robert Fisk, Indpendent/UK
The Middle East earthquake of the past five weeks has been the most tumultuous, shattering, mind-numbing experience in the history of the region since the fall of the Ottoman empire. For once, "shock and awe" was the right description.

The docile, supine, unregenerative, cringing Arabs of Orientalism have transformed themselves into fighters for the freedom, liberty and dignity which we Westerners have always assumed it was our unique role to play in the world. One after another, our satraps are falling, and the people we paid them to control are making their own history – our right to meddle in their affairs (which we will, of course, continue to exercise) has been diminished for ever.

The tectonic plates continue to shift, with tragic, brave – even blackly humorous – results.

... in Bahrain, I had a depressing experience. King Hamad and Crown Prince Salman have been bowing to their 70 per cent (80 per cent?) Shia population, opening prison doors, promising constitutional reforms. So I asked a government official in Manama if this was really possible. Why not have an elected prime minister instead of a member of the Khalifa royal family? He clucked his tongue. "Impossible," he said. "The GCC would never permit this." For GCC – the Gulf Co-operation Council – read Saudi Arabia. And here, I am afraid, our tale grows darker.

We pay too little attention to this autocratic band of robber princes; we think they are archaic, illiterate in modern politics, wealthy (yes, "beyond the dreams of Croesus", etc), and we laughed when King Abdullah offered to make up any fall in bailouts from Washington to the Mubarak regime, and we laugh now when the old king promises $36bn to his citizens to keep their mouths shut. But this is no laughing matter. The Arab revolt which finally threw the Ottomans out of the Arab world started in the deserts of Arabia, its tribesmen trusting Lawrence and McMahon and the rest of our gang. And from Arabia came Wahabism, the deep and inebriating potion – white foam on the top of the black stuff – whose ghastly simplicity appealed to every would-be Islamist and suicide bomber in the Sunni Muslim world. The Saudis fostered Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'ida and the Taliban. Let us not even mention that they provided most of the 9/11 bombers. And the Saudis will now believe they are the only Muslims still in arms against the brightening world. I have an unhappy suspicion that the destiny of this pageant of Middle East history unfolding before us will be decided in the kingdom of oil, holy places and corruption. Watch out.
(26 February 2011)



Saudi Arabia: A Brief Guide to its Politics and Problems

Nimrod Raphaeli, Middle East Reaview of International Affairs (MERIA)
This article examines the familial structure of the Saudi ruling oligarchy and considers this regime’s performance given the economic and demographic challenges it faces.

Oligarchy is a form of government where a few rule the many. In Saudi Arabia, the few are predominantly royal male princes who are all descended from the founder of the modern Saudi kingdom, King Abd al-Aziz who, upon his death in 1953, left behind 44 sons (and an uncounted number of daughters) by 17 wives. Today, Saudi Arabia’s ruling structure is capped by a unique, almost unprecedented, form of oligarchy, whose members are connected through a bloodline to Saudi Arabia's polygamous founder. The princes have treated the country's wealth of oil and minerals as their personal domain and made themselves famous for their extravagant life style. Some princes have accumulated enormous personal wealth; with King Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz, the reigning monarch, topping the list with a personal fortune estimated at $20 billion.(1)

... Beyond the poor financial management by the ruling elite, this section examines the major systemic problems of the Saudi economy, including its dependence on oil, its population explosion, and its massive unemployment.

The Dependence on Oil

Saudi Arabia is an oil-based economy with strong government control over major economic activities. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 75 percent of budget revenues, 45 percent of GDP, and 90 percent of export earnings. Indeed, only about 25 percent of GDP comes from the private sector. Saudi Arabia’s economy remains, despite attempts at diversification, heavily dependent on the production and export of oil.
(September 2003)
Suggested by EB reader Piyush who writes:

"It would be useful if you publish an article related to the likelihood of unrest in Saudi arabia, given other unrests. So far I haven't seen any information with respect to income, political and social inequalities in Saudi Arabia. One report I came across from the web http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2003/issue3/jv7n3a2.html, seems to indicate there are significant inequalities, but it is old, would be useful to know the latest.

"Quantitative (income distribution, basic services, infrastructure etc) and qualitative information (women's rights, racial discrimination, etc) would be useful. I think now Middle Easterners are competing with each other and it is going to become a dignity issue ("they are getting the freedoms, why aren't we rising?"), so unless governments volunteer real democracy and distribute their illicitly acquired wealth by selling off the country's resources (some of latter happening but without former, will look like a ploy and may actually result in more aggravation), the people will rise.

"I have also heard that we (US) are in some kind of official treaty with Saudi Arabia to side with the rulers if unrest happens, this would put US in a very difficult situation and question the legitimacy of our own democracy (which is now evident in our own protests rising gradually but persistently). This of course has great implications and I hope it happens, because such things increase the chances of big and real changes for a better world."

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