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- Constantinian: Death penalty is irrelevant! Get rid of it!
- Father of Abdellah: What the? Islam says death penalty. You are anti Koran!
- Diamond: It is time we stop Sharia! Sharia is old-fashioned you filthy traditionalists, go back to the seventh century!
- Princinian: You! return to God now! you are being blasphemous! This country is Muslim, Islam is this!
- Father of Abdellah: Our country’s constitution says Islam, Islam is this, thus Islam!
- Princinian: Go back to sending people to Afghanistan! Go back to fighting witchcraft!
- Diamond: What is she on about? The filthy Trotskyist! May be she needs some exorcism!
- Government: hmm, we’re finding it hard to care either way. We don’t think we’re anti Koran if we abolish, and we have stopped it anyway. Win/Win. Status quo.
- Chaab: hey wait, what of injustice, jobs, corruption, etc?
- Government: Oh, something else to discuss, biometric passports, we’re gonna make women reveal their hair and men remove their beards, hehe, fight!
- Chaab: ??? jobs? houses? hello? We’re gonna burn the place down!
Elfahem Yefham. What a broken dialogue.
Please take the time and read my post on Global Voices Advocacy on how far would go to defend the rights of your political enemies. Selected excepts:
What has this background to do with censorship though? When Rachad’s website was censored several blogs and websites carried the story including mine, with a petition to oppose all forms of censorship. Replies were extremely distrutful and vehement. Hchicha, a famous Algerian blogger who blogs in French, had a Youtube video that denounced censorship in all forms. He was attacked mercilessly and had multiple video replies. He says he was swamped with angry emails. I received emails to the tune that I am an islamist in disguise for starting the petition and had to alter the text to make it generic. “How dare you defend the rights of Islamists?” was their argument. These emails and Video replies were coming from people who, themselves, oppose the current regime to the core.
This brings me to the question: beyond the slogans and the principles, how far would you go in defending your political rival some fundamental human right, even if you know that the rival presents a substantial threat to your way of life? Upping the stakes once more, what if even the values that you’re defending for them may be substantially jeopardised in case they win power?
On an autumn day of September 2001 I arrived at Heathrow Airport, London from Algiers for the first time in my life. Only two weeks after the 9/11 events, the arrivals terminal looked very busy with passengers forming a long queue the spun like a snake around metallic posts, although in hindsight the long queue may be due to the strict controls being applied in the paranoid post 9/11 world of air travel. Barely a teenager, I was quite excited at the opportunities that lay ahead but very anxious at the prospect of being interviewed by border control, having heard plenty of horror stories. Legend has it that many people were interviewed rudely, held here for hours and days only to be rounded back home at the soonest available flight. I had applied and was granted a visa, but the visa application itself said that getting a visa is no guarantee for being accepted.
The atmosphere at the queue was unbearably tense. Security guards kept going back and forth moving people to interview rooms. The hall had numerous windows with one-way mirrors suggesting that all passengers are being watched. I waited patiently for my turn and made sure that I stare at no guard or mirror – yes, I was quite scared. Being of mixed Berber and Arab heritage, I look unmistakably middle eastern, brown of the North African variety, but not necessarily like the 9/11 hijackers. But you never know, we always all get lumped in the same bag, even Sikh and Indian people were racially abused and shot at after 9/11.
At the end of the queue stood a steward directing passengers to one of several border control desks as they become available. When it was my turn he looked at my posture, looked at my hand holding the green Algerian passport, and asked me to come to a small queue he held behind him. I discovered that I was joining several other passengers all of the same prototype: young, brown and male. An old Algerian in a suit in the “normal” queue got furious at the steward and asked him to clarify the treatment. I understood from the gestures of the steward and what few words I could pick up that it is “policy”. The old man still moved around angrily demanding answers and asked for the manager. I thought he was a noble and brave man but I was scared that he will get rounded up for defending us.
Meanwhile, our queue moved unbearably slow. Out of all the control desks one was dedicated to us. Once my turn came, the steward pointed me to the desk, at which sat a typical old British man with white hair. The old man lifted his forearm up, then with his back hand facing me he gestured with the index finger for me to come to the desk. The gesture was clearly made to intimidate me, but having the typical Algerian hot blood his manners made me more confident and gave me a rush of adrenaline to prepare for a shouting match that I thankfully restrained myself from getting into.
At the desk, language problems immediately manifested themselves. He looked at me in the eye from above his spectacles as he asked me something in English which I spoke very little of, so I just replied with my broken English: “I do not understand” in a je m’en fous way. I could hear him mutter a frustrated “Jesus Christ” as he held his head in his hand, flipping my passport with the other. Upon realising I was Algerian he asked me in French “Where is your Visa?”, I spoke French so I gave him the page number. Then came the flood of questions: how long are you staying? where are you going to study? for how long? where will you be staying? Who is waiting for you at the airport? do you have a French passport? and so on. Flipping through my passport, he phoned somewhere, from his gestures I assumed that he was establishing the authenticity of the passport. I stood there for over 15 minutes, then he stamped on my passport and asked me to join an adjacent room for a “medical” check.
Another queue at the room, again those being queued were of the same prototype. The “medical” check involved another examination of the passport and asking a few of the previously asked questions. The last question was whether I took vaccinations as a child, to which I replied in the affirmative. At baggage control, somehow I was again singled for a “random” check, which was quite thorough. I had a small bottle of high quality honey confiscated and was referred to have a “check” on my file in case the same “offence” was committed again, but somehow another staff asked me to just pack up and go, finally into the country. All in all, getting through border control took 3 hours of stress, and I am told I had it easy.
Throughout the next eight years I was more or less subjected to the same treatment (minus the special queues) every time I flew into Heathrow. Flying out always had me removing my belt, my shoes, nearly routinely getting singled out on the side for a thorough body check. Once I was pulled into a room where I had a border control officer “quiz” me about various subjects: What I thought about Islam and Bin Laden and other questions of that sort. I could barely hide a mixed face of frustration and laughter throughout the “interview”.
This profiling is, to me, too real not to assume it is not systematic. Some random checks may pick up the odd non prototype conforming passenger, but I have a hard time believing that all old ladies, young girls and businessmen were subjects to the same treatment. Therefore forgive me for chuckling and sadly shaking my head whenever one of these racial profiling debates flare up. In a discussion with some of my English white friends, some think that it is not a big deal and that I am not being targeted. This makes almost pull the lethal “but you’ve never been black or brown so you don’t know” card.
The profiling is already done in practice, and is undoubtedly codified in some internal memos as recently discovered in the United States. The question should not merely be whether racial profiling should be done or not, but whether 8 years (or perhaps more) of it have prevented terrorist attacks and whether the moral costs justify the small or non existant security gain. It need not be said that for all the profiling that I and people like me were subjected to in the UK, it is British men that caused the 7/7 bombings in London. These people would normally whiz through the specially marked EU border control desks at Heathrow. Any suggestion of racial profiling for British people in the UK or for Americans in the US will be laughed out of court. For a would be terrorist, the problem of getting citizenship of the target country of attack is a side issue. History shows us that no amount of bureaucratic paperwork prevents ideologically motivated attacks. Security measures are just a smoke screen that serve to discourage the target countries from seriously thinking about their acts on the international stage and the hate they generate.
But here is the cracker though: suppose that racial profiling was “officially” approved, and that the next attacks (god forbid) are committed by a non racially profiled attacker. The embarrassment this potential scenario would cause to the authorities is unthinkable. It remind me of the embarrassment, frustration and total loss that the French experienced through the Algerian War 1954-1962.
At the start of that war, Algerians took to the mountains to fight against the French military. The French stepped up security measures and installed checkpoints everywhere. The Algerian fighters countered by wearing their wives’ clothes to get past the controls. Then in the Battle of Algiers, key to the Algerian attacks were Yassef’s girls, totally european’ised and blending well with the white Pierds Noirs, some of them even took a habit of flirting with security guards as they got though their checkpoints to plant bombs everywhere in Algiers. When the French lost the war they discovered that all along numerous white French and Pierds Noirs, men and women alike helped the Algerians all along and were instrumental in moving key Algerian fighters around the country and for organising money collections for them.
Half of the the upper chamber of the Algerian parliament will be renewed on this 29th of December. The upper chamber was created after the November 1996 constitution. Its aim is to balance the popularly elected lower chamber, acting as a collective of “wise” senators who would champion human rights and rigorously counter any abusive appeal to popular opinion by the lower chamber, i.e in the style of the UK’s House of Lords.
In practice both chambers are tightly controlled by men who are loyal to the President. The upper chamber routinely rubber stamps any laws the lower chamber passes. Its president, Abdelkader Bensalah, is a staunch believer in the president’s program. When he was president of the lower chamber, he has been known to try and squash any sign of oppositions laws. The presidential third is used to reward personalities of all types with little regard for expertise, intellectuality or diversity. The President is in a position to offer some seats to win support and neutralise potential opposing voices – most lately the president is rumoured to have offered Djamila Bouhired a senate seat, and he might well do that to counter the criticism that her letters have garnered. In the letters she complained that representatives are paid way and beyond any veteran or John Doe Algerian is paid.
Constitutionally, the upper chamber has 144 members, one third is directly appointed by the president, and two-thirds (2 x 48) are elected by an electoral college formed by elected officials at the provincial and mayoral levels. Each province is represented by two senators. Half of each of these two sections of the senate is renewed every three years, i.e. half of the presidential third, and one senator of each province.
The senate mirrors the results of the previous national provincial and mayoral elections. This has the effect of rendering the senatorial renewal the most dull and totally predictable of the already predictable Algerian elections. Parties have some wiggle room to form alliances and vote for each other’s candidates but that has never caused a major upset.
This year, only five parties are seriously contending for the senate in four fronts. The five parties are the historical now mercurial FLN, the (Secularist? Capitalist? Opportunist?) RND, the islamically inspired MSP, the nationalist FNA and the Trotskyist Workers’ Party (PT). Louiza Hanoune’s Workers’ Party has pledged its votes for the RND in a bizarre alliance. The presidential alliance triangle (FLN-RND-MSP) are not running together. Only the FLN and the RND stand any real chance of winning a substantial number of senate seats. The FLN stands to win a majority since it won a large proportion of the last provincial/mayoral elections. The MSP, as usual, just hopes for the president to award two or three senate seats from the presidential third for their loyal support within the presidential alliance. Four of their elected senators are up for re-election, and it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to get them back by doing behind the scene deals with either the FLN or the RND.
The FFS under the historical Hocine Ait Ahmed and the RCD are boycotting the elections, a position they took since Bouteflika’s ascent to power. Ennahda/ElIslah, two islamic parties that were once one do not stand any chance of winning. They both suffered internal struggles because of government meddling and the inflexibility of Abdellah Djabellah, their leader at one point. Both parties have now been in effect successfully obsoleted.
The RND-PT alliance has created a handful of hotly contested seats against the FLN, notably in Skikda (historically Islamically inspired and the city of origin of Djaballah’s movement), and El-Tarf (usually FLN controlled). The absence of any substantial differences in the policies of RND’s and FLN’s senators make these electoral fights largely decorative. The RND-PT alliance is bizarre because it joins a Trotskyist party with the RND under Ahmed Ouyahya, a man who always stood for privatisation and less rights for workers and who always infuriated both the PT and the union organisations in the past.
The RND-PT alliance is yet another major set back for opposition forces. It appears that Louiza Hanoune is trying to get under the umbrella of the government should any major shakeup of the cabinet occur. One notices that the political sphere, with the major political forces all under Bouteflik’a sphere of power closely resembles the homogeneity of Boumediene’s era, in which the FLN played the role of the one big party under which multiple currents coexisted and shared power. The immediate logical question to such a setup is the question of succession.
Consitutional reforms to combat this concentration of power are badly needed. While it is true that virtually no amount of textual laws can prevent a dull political scene, some steps can help mitigate its effects and encourage a more lively debate. A six months obligatory rotation of the presidency of the two chambers among the top represented parties will empower the small opposition. This will create a rotation of six presidencies over three years, and that will be hard to control as it is not easy to manipulate election results to create a senate or a congress where the top six forces are pro government. The presidential third should be abolished, and the number of elected senators should be doubled to make it possible for parties that have relatively few provincial/mayoral representatives to win seats.
One would argue that after Bouteflika’s partial success at relinquishing control from the military, he should actively try to create a political scene in which power can be rotated among parties. It is only when that happens that Algeria’s claim at being a democratic state will have any legitimacy.
For some time the Algerian authorities have been thinking about putting an Internet filtering service in place. Algeria is one of the few middle eastern countries that escaped the wrath of such a system so far.
The government cooked together a law throughout the last year to combat cybercrime, terrorism websites and internet pornography. cybercrime has been an evident problem of late. The lack of successful role models and a market where IT specialists could fuel their energy encouraged the youth to view hacking as a desirable, heroic, patriotic or even religious activity. The recent Algeria Egypt football match saw some literally fierce website hacking battles, facilitated by the laughable security in government IT systems in both countries. On the other hand, indecency laws have been used rigorously to put people who distribute obscene pictures to trial. Some cases were featured at large as the subjects (mostly women) were threatened and sentences ended up being harsh, enrolling charges of extortion.
So the law resonates very well with a local population that is increasingly conservative and hostile to a pornographic industry seen as a product of broken Western morals, while at the same time very frustrated at the sporadic yet continuous terrorist attacks. The government was largely successful in introducing the laws without much resistance or proper discussion from the local press, non governmental organisations or Internet café owners (Internet cafés are main venues for connectivity).
Now the government is turning towards implementing a publicly funded national filtering system to filter and monitor web usage. I could stomach that a large portion of the population might find such a system desirable. I could also accept that it gets enabled it by default for new customers. What I just can’t pass up are the plans to make circumvention of such filters illegal and punishable. Such a system would be too easy to abuse to crack down on dissident voices and cause the abortion of the infantile Algerian blogosphere.
Given the Algerian authorities’ track record against the printed press, I am not at all delighted with this move. The authorities have repeatedly used its monopoly of the printing and advertising businesses in the country to reign in on independent newspapers. The same treatment will surely be unveiled on undesirable websites with the click of a button.
Aggravating the threat is the judicial system’s extreme technophobia, as in literal hostility towards technology. The judges often give the impression that they do not understand technology and lay down sentences on the whim of suspicion, sometimes in an effort to inflate the number of “caught” terrorists and terrorist “sympathisers” or to exaggerate the severity of web terrorist activity inside the country. This blogger knows several people who have been locked up because their computer equipment contained pictures of terrorist attacks that were saved from local press websites, and were publicly available in printed form in the hundreds of thousands.
Circumventing the filtering system in and of itself should not be banned and there should be no legal repercussions whatsoever for doing so. It is up to the prosecutor to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the crime as dictated by the law has been comitted with no remorse to the filtering system. In this age of the 21st century and its technologies, it is trivial for a moderately savvy user to circumvent almost any filtering mechanism.
The country should instead concentrate on improving internet facilities for its citizens and should implement policies that encourage the use of the Web to diffuse information and empower civil discourse. The fact that the country has no filtering system yet is, sadly, not a reflection of liberal tendencies or love for freedom of speech. It is a reflection of the fact of that Internet penetration is very low even by the region’s standards. A just released market research report forecasts it to grow to 3.2% by 2013 – a deplorable figure. The cause is not lack of resources or of IT brainpower, it is pure business mismanagement. The network is managed by the state owned bureaucratic Algérie Télécom, a monolithic archaic entity that, despite having more than 3 million lines, was valued by potential investors at the paltry sum of $200 million for the whole internet/fixed telephony business last year. An embarrassingly low figure for a usually investor safe lone communication market player. In contrast, the mobile market is estimated to be worth a figure in the double digits of billions of dollars. On the incompetence of Internet providers, I recount my experience: I lodged an application for a DSL line and paid 6 months of subscription upfront only to be figuratively tortured with endless promises and delays, not to speak of regular downtime and aweful peak time speeds once service started. Issam Hamoud, an Algerian blogger in the capital no less recalls a similar experience.
My only condolence were such a system implemented and abused is the possibility that it will backfire, knowing the netizens’ tendency to quickly reassemble and follow what they’ve been banned with vengeance. The low penetration numbers can suggest more malice than failure, as the authorities may not want to get bothered with a problem of internet political activity in the first place.
The minaret ban in Switzerland continues to draw much ink and cynic reactions in the Arab world. The ban provided another opportunity for authorities to regain the tempo domestically on the issue of democracy and human rights. Echorouk, Algeria’s populist most popular Arab newspaper carried two scathing opinion pieces. The reactions lambasted the West for its “hypocrisy” towards human rights and its perceived high horse attitude towards the Arab world. They cite multiple issues and come to the conflusion that the West is not different from the Arab world after all – only more intelligent, in its anti human rights campaigns. Pieces like this suggest that the western human rights demands are just post colonial meddling in internal affairs.
The first piece is written by Fayssal Alqassem, one of the most popular journalists in the Arab world. His syndicated column is printed in almost every Arab country. He is one of the BBC trained journalists who helped shape Aljazeera’s image with taboo destroying programmes. In his piece, titled “The Myth of Indiviual Liberty in the West” he is as usual, abrasive and confrontational. He amusingly subtitles his column “Careful, a camera is watching you”. He contrasts Arab countries’ anti-Human Rights record, describing it as rather dumb and too obvious – with the West’s, which is according to him cleverer, by using technology such as DNA databases and cameras in public places. The latest minaret ban is just the west accidently getting into the dumb anti human rights ways. Some selected quotes (paraphrasing):
I don’t want to suggest that the Arab countries’ have a crisp human rights record – far from it. But the Arab intelligence and security institutes are still behind in terms of technology and logistics of spying, monitoring and citizen surveillance , at least the Arab can try and evade his country’s incompetence. But in the “west”, who is often riding the moral high horse on human rights, citizens are under surveillance 24 hours a day. The big brother that George Orwell warned us from is watching everywhere. Rarely can you walk through a street in Europe without noticing dozens of cameras watching even the ants. In London alone there are more than 4 million cameras…
And then some attacks on the United States:
Uncle Sam does not only want to monitor his citizens alone, he wants to monitor the whole world. We need not cite the spying network and its surveillance operations around the world […] I also want to congratulate Europe on their new European law that makes it possible to allow the CIA to get access to , lawfully, the banking details of its citizens.
I don’t know what law he is referring to, that is scary if true. Fayssal’s punch line is rich:
Oh George Orwell, if you still lived you’d wish the old soviet style surveillance tactics are still in force instead!
The second piece is written by Fawzi Oussedek, a local Algerian journalist. He titled it “Human rights in Switzerland, melting like chocolate in Minarets [sic]”. He contrasts the perceived reaction of the West, governments, institutes and individuals alike towards the Minaret ban with their reactions to any similar measure in the Arab and Muslim Worlds. There are a lot more Muslims in the West than say, Christians in Muslim countries so the difference in reactions seems even more absurd to him. On Western reactions he says:
Since the Minaret ban I have been waiting the views of human rights organisations […] that made a habit of criticising some places for their human rights record […] since the ban I have been listening to commentators in the west trying to justify the unjustifiable […] Governmental reactions amounted to only expressing mere dismay, a tactic that they used to diplomatically evade their moral stance on human rights.
Then he contrasts this reaction to reactions towards the Muslim world:
I wonder, what if such a vote was made in a Muslim country to ban some other religious symbol, what would be the reaction? simply, we will hear many descriptions about the whole muslim world, from backwardness to being hateful, the reaction can amount to using economic pressure sometimes, and to scare the countries in question by threatening to include them in the “black list”!! […] but in Switzerland some considered democratic referendums as saintly, it’s just sometimes possible to use them unwisely – evading the moral stance towards the ban.
The author then suggests that the muslim community try and fight this ban all the way in Swiss and European courts.
The ban and other similar measures around Europe, such as the previous veil ban in France , France and Netherlands’ flirtations with banning certain types of clothing and Britain’s “English Defence League” will provide more fuel for criticism, and will sadly have ramifications on democratic reform in the whole Arab world.
Aminatou Haidar is occupying the centre stage in the new chapter on the Western Sahara Conflict. More coverage here and here. Of note is the Algerian complete silence on the issue – which is rather typical.
Morroco’s main strategy is to advance the idea that the conflict is a made up one – and that Algeria is the real adversary. The view is partly correct: Algeria does fund and give political and territorial support for Polisario, and the western Sahara issue is the only issue they spend money on lobbying (soft term for bribing) in Washington. Aminatou Haidar’s hunger strike, as embarrassing as it is for Morroco and as perturbing as it is for Spain, is a convenient perfect argument for Algeria to counter the strategy of Al Maghzen – they need not say a word and the saga will continue to be a public relations nightmare for both countries and a point for Algeria, as it moves the focus of the conflict from the Morrocan-Algerian Axis to the Moroccan-Polisario axis, or even more conveniently, to the Moroccan-Spanish Axis. The more adversaries in the conflict the better – while they are at it, bring in human rights organisations if possible.
Algeria’s main strategy towards the conflict was to try and delegate the problem to the Polisario when possible, and to just act behind the scenes. Algeria’s success at prolonging and aggravating the problem is rather remarkable – even more remarkable is its success in helping to shape the terms of the conflict and its image in the world as she wishes – all the while appearing to care much less about the issue than Morocco. In terms of public relations, both internationally and domestically, Algeria’s strategy is two-fold depending on the audience.
Internationally, since the days when it had an active role in third world politics and the non alignment movement (When the current president Bouteflika was the secretary of foreign affairs – great video, the guy always had a sharp tongue) Algeria’s main argument overseas is to insist that it is championing the self-determination rights of the Western Saharan people. Having declared independence in 1962 after such a vote, the argument was strong, and is still rather powerful despite the rise of federalism and the tendency of independence voices in various parts around the world to be quieted down through a form of a republic federalist compromise or by completely refusing to succumb: Iraq’s Kurds, Northern Ireland, the failure of the PLO so far to create a state and Eta in Spain are examples (the Balkan region is an exception to this because of its rather different history, and Scotland is also in a separate group – I don’t think the efforts of the SNP for independence from the union will be successful after all).
Despite its horrific human rights record, especially in the “black decade” of the 90s, Algeria also often uses this conflict to bolster an image of a human rights campaigner for the rights of the Western Saharan people – the Algerian authorities have for long maintained that they support democracy in the region, supposedly being a democracy (at least on paper) as opposed to the monarchy in Morocco. This image of a democracy championing state was rather conveniently supported by Bush’s New Middle East doctrine: then, the Algerian authorities declared that they are unconcerned by the initiative because, hey, we are a democracy and see, we also want democracy elsewhere. Their tactic here and Bush’s initiative conveniently blend well. Domestically, the Algerian authorities used this argument for all it’s worth.
Turning to its domestic strategy, as is the case for most foreign conflicts, the Western conflict is a convenient rallying point for the authorities (this strategy is shared with Morocco as well). This is a standard procedure with most states – keep the population busy overseas and try to use nationalistic and chauvinistic feelings towards the issue. Algeria has been very successful domestically at rallying the whole nation, be it media, newspapers, parties of the whole spectrum behind the authorities. There is almost totally no dissident voice moving even an iota towards the Morrocan stance. Any hint of such a stance is squarely quashed. A few years ago , “Rida Talyani” (literally, Rida the italian), a pop singer, wore the Moroccan flag and expressed his support for a Moroccan Western Sahara in a concert in Morocco – his music plunged from top of the charts to absolute obscurity very quickly as he was banned (unofficially) from participating in concerts and from any TV or Radio programme.
The issue is a handy agreement point between the government, the newspapers and the opposition. Almost all the newspapers, persecuted or not, state run or private, in Arabic or in French rally staunchly behind the government on this issue. Likewise, opposition parties, left or Kabyle region based, as well as Islamist parties such as the MSP follow the government line. The Moroccan monarchy provides very little incentive to rationalise an ulterior opinion. Any potential remorse to Pan-Arabism, Islamic Solidarity or Maghreb El-Kebir politics can usually be squarely addressed by the claim that Monarchy has sold out and that the Moroccan compass has always been turned towards the West since Hassan II, who has a draconian evil reputation attached to him because of his alleged role in the airplane hijacking of the five Algerian revolution figures in 1956, his supposed collaboration with Israel, allegations by the famous Egyptian journalist Heikel of spying for the West during Arab summit meetings and the list goes on.
Behind the arguments, Algeria’s stance without a doubt is not about the plight of the Saharan people. Algeria’s authorities are still, indeed, very much paranoid about the Moroccan claim to Algerian territories, a claim that Morocco has not withdrawn since it was made in the fifties. The hawks in the army will do their best to weaken the Moroccan side – better have the conflict and Moroccan land claims over there than anywhere on Algerian soil. In her view, Algeria has been bitten twice before, and the Sand War of 1963 is viewed in a bad light as Morocco tried to take Algerian western territories by force directly after the independence, supposedly taking the opportunity of the weakness of the infant Algerian state.
That war, ironically, helped stabilise the country at a time when tensions were very high among army leaders and civil wars were close to being declared over who rules the country. It would seem that the Algerian élite realised the potential of the conflict as way to score political points since then, and they seem to have been successful so far. A potential route to the Atlantic Ocean is an attractive notion as well.
Unfortunately Algerian fears make the conflict very much a military one between Algeria and Morocco. There is an ongoing fierce armament battle between the two countries (or rather, spending battles), with both countries buying military aircraft and equipment to the tune of several billion dollars. Most of the Algerian Military’s arsenal is based in the west of the country facing Morocco: in Sidi Belabes, Tindouf, Oran, Mers el-Kebir, etc.
In the absence of substantial political reform in the region, and especially in both countries, the conflict will continue to be prolonged over what is described by many as a lifeless patch of sand. A final solution has to include both countries as well as the Polisario and Mauritania, and has to leave no questions asked over the sovereignty of each state.
In an earlier post about the Swiss Minaret ban, I mentioned the problems that actions like this ban pose to advocates of Democracy in the Arab world. I believed that oppressive regimes will turn to criticising the ideal of democracy that is often lectured to them by Europe et al.
Well, that didn’t take long. As reported by the AFP and commented about at The Arabist , the Egyptian foreign affairs minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, weighed in… literally asking Europe not to give any more lessons on democracy, and declaring that the human rights record of the Egyptian government is good. More direct words could not have been spoken by him. The quote, given below, is just too rich!
Egypt’s top diplomat said on Thursday that a Swiss vote to ban the construction of minarets was a “grave mistake” and Europe could no longer lecture his country on human rights.
“The Swiss people will some day come to realise what a grave mistake they have made,” Ahmed Abul Gheit told Egyptian television in comments carried by the official MENA news agency.
“The human rights situation in Egypt is good… Europe cannot talk to Egypt about its human rights record at a time when Switzerland is supporting a ban on minaret building,” Abul Gheit said.
“People who live in glass houses should not throw stones,” the minister said in the interview which focused on Egyptian-European relations.
On Sunday, more than 57 percent of Swiss voters approved a right-wing motion to ban minarets on mosques, a decision that was met with an international backlash and charges of intolerance.
Abul Gheit expressed “regret that there is an increasing fear of Muslims in (European) societies as a result of the acts of some groups,” in allusion to attacks committed in the name of Islam.
Undoubtedly the guy believes he struck a very big note and achieved a huge political point for the Egyptian government. Undoubtedly the voice of democracy and reform has been dealt a blow in this row and has been pushed a step back in its quest to counter the government plans. The president’s son is being groomed to replace him, amid more clampdown on the people of Egypt and more closing down of the political scene to make it almost impossible for any opponent to run. The government has reacted negatively to Ahmed AlBaradei’s initiative and has been trying with great effort to sabotage a possible candidacy by Amr Mousa and others.
So, again, thanks to the Swiss People’s Party, and thanks to any more xenophobic measures like this that may come in te next months/years!
Let me start off this blog by a somewhat unrelated post. I just couldn’t pass up the chance to demonstrate what I’d like democracy *not* to be. Somewhat unexpectedly, the swiss voted to amend the constitution to face the threat of four cone shaped structures and an application for two more. I am hard pressed to think of a worse way to waste time. Will this “face the threat of islamisation” in anyway? I can’t see how, setting aside the question that such a threat even exists. Does this open another front against the ordinary Muslims in Europe? Yes. The Maghreb Political Review and Laila Lalami’s excellent articles delved into the wrongness of this more than I’d like to here, but I’d just like to concentrate on another often forgotten effect of actions such as these.
Namely, that votes like this give more ammunition to democracy haters in the Arab World. The fine example of direct democracy in the world is using mob rule to code into law disallowing ordinary Muslim tax payers to build what they find delightful. And, unfortunately, due to the economic conditions, much of Europe is heading with sure steps towards a decade of right and far right politics. Is it a testament of human nature that people turn more xenophobic when under pressure?
The leader of the MSP, Mr Bouguerra Soltani has been embroiled recently in a controversy because a Swiss human rights organisation wanted him sued on Swiss soil for alleged torture. People in the Middle East and North Africa view such interference with endless suspicion, and what better way to further these fears than by votes such as these.
The leaders of the Swiss People’s Party ought to be ashamed of themselves for providing such a fine example of how democracy should not be.