Thursday, 24 February 2011

CIA plots and Tunisian realities

Those who should be Wikileaks greatest friends have (in part) turned into its harshest critics. 'Deals' with Israel, talk of Assange's mental health, such things have served to partially undermine the world changing revelations of this stunning agency.
Now it's the turn of critical thinkers and those who may be called 'conspiracy theorists' to turn their gaze towards the Pan Arab, North African uprisings.

In Tunisia, the people here are not 'happy' about events in Egypt, despite intense brotherly (sisterly) support for the uprising itself. Why? Because the people here fear/sense that the military handover that followed the ousting of Mubarak is a catastrophic mistake.

Let's take a look at the facts. As in the case of Iran under the Shah, the US stood by the 33-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Their simplistic dogma, shared by most European nations, and extended to become what Tony Blair called his 'world view' ran like this:
'Either secular repression or anti-American Islamism’.

The Egyptian security services and the CIA have been unhealthy co-dependents for over six decades.
In 1952, the young agency supported the Free Officers Movement that toppled the monarchy. Since 1995 it was highly placed in the dark partnership against 'Islamic fundamentalist terror.' A catch-all remit that Ben Ali of Tunisia had polished into a shining beacon of oppression in the eighties.

In Egypt the CIA has always played with two decks.
A dual relationship flourished with Nasser’s successor, Anwa al-Sadat. It supported him in the open, whilst spying on him in the gloomy corridors of power.
“A CIA security operation in Egypt, designed to provide...Sadat with protection and warnings of coup and assassination plots, also provided the CIA with electronic and human access to Egypt’s government, its society and its leader,” US journalist Bob Woodward of the Washington Post wrote in “Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987.
“The place was wired,” he stated.
The CIA’s double-vision in Egypt, of course, was no different than in any other “friendly” country. But the partnership with its Cairo counterpart intensified in the mid-1990s with what it saw as the swelling threat of Islamic fundamentalism.
Now, with the military firmly in power (albeit, it is hoped, temporarily) there are fears in Tunis that the “Egyptian revolution,” has turned into a behind-the-scenes military putsch, intent on imposing a new junta of CIA puppet generals.
Central to this theory is growing evidence that such a sly coup involved the seizure or blocking of the Suez Canal. The canal is the historic Egyptian waterway, which still carries over 8% of all seaborne world trade. And which the British imperialists tried to grab back in 1956. Incidentally the US and the UK still wish to exclude China, Iran, and Russia, from using the Suez.
So, there are mutterings that that Mubarak was toppled in the end, not by the brave millions on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria and beyond but by Washington and London. Why get rid of this useful despot and risk the spread of popular revolt in the region? Because, Mubarak supposedly opposed the current US-UK plan to organize a block of Sunni Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf states — under a US nuclear umbrella and shoulder to shoulder with Israel — for the purpose of confronting and provoking a war with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah.
Sends a cold chill down the spine doesn't it?

If this is the case, then the fall of Mubarak, has taken the Middle East a big step further down the road to a vast, general war.
As for the madman's Junta; they have now dissolved parliament, shredded the constitution, and announced six months of martial law. Not a bad result for an authoritarian regime with a history of working with imperialist oppressors.

In Tunisia, they are determined the same will not happen here.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Youth, 'Islamism' and some long awaited reunions

Youth, 'Islamism' and some long awaited reunions

Tunis, 21/02/11Casbar
The square before the Finance Ministry is thronging with young people at 8am. There is a major university campus opposite, but these young people aren't just taking a stroll to class on a rainy morning. The scene is one that Tunisians are used to but jolts my children as we walk through the crowds. For the unarmed but noisy students are facing and chanting at military lorries and jeeps parked at one end of the square, guarded by equally youthful soldiers, looking, Id' say, sheepish. At the other end of the tree filled square there is less uncertainty. Older men, in black state uniforms gather around a rotund commander in the peaked cap beloved by the likes of Gadaffi. Side arms are on display and British MP, Jeremy Corbyn, himself no stranger to demos for three decades, points out two water cannon trucks on standby, almost hidden by the rush hour traffic.

OUrghemmi Manel is a 19 year old, in her first year of a Business English course. She takes my pad and pen and writes;
'We want to put these persons who are working in our government out, because they were working with Ben Ali in the past. We are here to say 'What are you (these officials) doing here (still in office)? This is not your place.'

The question of whether the army is 'with' the people hangs unanswered in the damp air. For three decades all tiers of the military have worked with secret police to suppress basic freedoms for Tunisians. Freedom of speech, press freedom, the right to education, the right to trial by jury, were just a sample of the collaboration between the forces and the Ben Ali regime. This is why the people here protesting reject absolutely 'the Egyptian option' of having an interim military state whilst a democratic process takes shape. 
When I meet officials from the Islamic Al Nadha party they ask 'What will happen when the army is in power and the pressure on the streets eases off, what then?' But more from Al Nadha later.

Jeremy Corbyn and I leave the scene at the Casbar in one of the bone crunching, miniscule local taxis. Did I mention that the people here can't stop talking (politics) now? Well, the driver had some juicy political gossip to impart.
'The Presidential Palace has been opened for the first time and guess what was found inside the Palace Library? Bookcases stuffed, brimming with international currency.
'Enough to fund three new governments' he sighs shaking his head.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Women of the Revolution

It's ten in the morning. Cool Winter sunshine, lightly bathes hundreds of men and women gathered outside a conference centre on Mohammed V street, Tunis. Our delegation of journalists, politicians and activists make our way inside. I wish I was at the latest demonstration on the streets (a daily occurance now) and suspect we are in for a yawn worthy technical meeting.
 I am wrong.
I am underestimating the passion of this uprising, of the Tunisian people. The world's media circus has  pitched camp in Libya. But no meeting in Tunis today is under subscribed or can be described as dull.

In this hall, families of political prisoners, along with many men who suffered torture under the Ben Ali regime, are gathered to remember their martyrs.
Despite the highly charged atmosphere, as we make our way through the packed auditorium, the men forced to stand through lack of space, still spare a moment to greet us with 'Asalamu Alaykhum' as we make our way to the front row.
Behind me four rows of women in the hijab sit, faces streaked with tears, a fierce fire in their eyes; loss mixed with hope. These women are the widows of men from the Islamic party of Tunisia or 'Nada.' Nada has been banned for more than two decades in Tunisia. It's members, people here tell me, suffering the worst persecution under the Ben Ali 'terror.' In the start of this new era, with most of the old politicians still in situ, The Islamic Movement remains, like many opposition parties, banned. Just one of the issues the people here want reversed.
Later on, a lawyer, Abdul Monayhim, tells our group, that due to the persecution, torture and murder of Nada members, this party is now very popular in Tunis. The crackdown on the so-called 'Islamism' that Ben Ali feared, back firing massively and serving as an 'advertising campaign' which today sees the Islamic Movement one of the country's largest parties, with support from even some more secular parts of the population.

The cries of 'Allahu Akbar' reverberating around the hall give goose bumps. There is fervour and pain here today.
On the platform, are members of Human Rights organisations, no longer in hiding. Behind them are draped huge flags. The red flag of Tunisia, replete with the crescent moon and star. Beside this, the Egyptian flag and to the left hand side, a surprise. Not one but two Palestinian flags. Tunisians, it seems do not forget the suffering of those in the Holy Land.
Mohammed Hanoun, of the Human Rights organisation that called the rally, addresses the crowd to more cries of 'Allahu Akbar.'
'We are celebrating a day of victory' he begins '..the success of the first stage of this Blessed Revolution..You are free people of Tunisia. You paid with your blood!'
He calls for a 'Council to protect this revolution' for rumours, (and more than rumours) abound here that Secret Police prowl the unruly streets at night, snatching people on lists that old and newly updated, then detain them.
Who for?
Well the old regime has not gone yet. Ministers, the machinery of the state, remains in place. Nothing has yet been fully initiated to make sure Ben Ali's henchmen do not remain glued to their seats of power.
Unlike Egypt, where the weekly protests got larger and larger, leading to a temporary military state. Tunisians, have dispersed their crowds into hundreds of smaller demos nationwide, making daily, almost hourly protests on individual issues; prisoners, employment, education. Whilst the main matter - how to govern - remains up in the air.
The most pressing matter now for the men and women here is the release of some 3,000 political prisoners, members of outlawed parties, who remain in prison. The 'interim' government, who have power until March, has issued a decree that many, if not all, will now be granted an amnesty, and released. The people here are sceptical.
A chant goes up, a thundering aural wave;
'We are SERIOUS about the release of prisoners' it lasts minutes.
Hamza Hamza, brings cheers when he says 'The must be amnesty for you (prisoners) because you are innocent!' There is a call too for compensation for the families of those killed and imprisoned by the old regime. But it's not possible to imagine at this time, who will be in power to pay such sums, and where, in this roller coaster political climate, such money will come from.

A former prisoner takes the stage. He talks in a voice wavering with emotion of the wives, the sisters, the mothers, who suffered humiliation and agony under the dictator Ben Ali. And that's all it takes. The Tunisian men all but break down, young and old. The hall is  a single, gasping, heaving, sob of gratitude and release. It is clear at this moment, more than any other, how little the world knows about the suffering these people have gone through. Whilst tourists have safely enjoyed the pleasure of the sandy beaches of Carthage and cocktails in five star hotel complexes, what horrors were being visited nearby on local families? How many men vanished? How many women were humiliated and assaulted during prison visits to their loved ones?
'I wish' begins the man, but can hardly go on. 'I wish, my mother had lived to see this day, to see me free..'
The sobs go on and on. All around us, Tunisian men remember the sacrifice and pain of their beloved womenfolk for the past three decades. Men in leather coats sob/chant 'Allahu Akbhar!'
Several in our delegation, myself included, find ourselves crying with them.
Suddenly another chant rises, one that takes us by surprise
'Al- Jaz -eer -a! Al- Jaz-eer- a!'
The man has thanked the news channel for following the Tunisian cause.

Let us hope it may continue to follow this story in the coming months as well.

We can't stop talking!

February 19 2011
Tunis. 5pm local time.

The boardwalk of Habib Bourguiba is heaving. Large, yet informal groups sometimes up to sixty strong, of mostly men, but also women, loudly debate.
Into this maelstrom of Muslim, Magreb, Arabis, Leftist, student, crowd, I (a six foot, fair skinned hijabi), stand out a mile. I try to be low profile and make notes on the amazing scene, notebook in hand but am quickly surrounded by a noisy crowd asking me questions.
'What do you think of this eh?' Shouts a young guy in Arabic ( I have a Palestinian colleague translating)
'We can say what we like and we love it!' Shouts another in French to loud laughter.
Meanwhile a young, smart, lady in her twenties has taken centre stage and in rapid fire French, explains that today, 'like every day!' there was a protest here, pushing for various interests not to be ignored in the anarchy of changeover. Workers rights, student rights, protestors right, human rights, who is to protect these things and take up the mantle of new leader in this one month old new nation of Tunisia?'
The woman's speech is so erudite and compelling even the drunk man who has been yelling non stop
'Tell them we don' hate Jews!' Over and over again falls silent.

Debate, shout, rage, comment, inform, discuss, disseminate; The people of Tunisia have begun being talking politics in public and they just can't stop.

Liberty, solidarity, democracy - inshallah!

Saturday 19 February 2011

Today, a delegation of journalists and political activists, including John Rees of Stop The War, flew into Tunisia, alongside a local man exiled for the past 21 years.

Mohamed Ali Harrath is a former Tunisian dissident. In the early 1990's he  was imprisoned and tortured for helping to create a Muslim political party in Tunisia. Unlike an as yet unknown number of Tunisian dissidents under Ben Ali, he survived with his life and managed to flee the country.
My daughters and I were with the CEO of Britain’s Muslim television station, the Islam Channel, and his family as they nervously, made their return, to Tunis after two decades.

We journalists watched the returning dissident for a sign of emotion at Customs, for it was certain he must have suspected atleast the chance of trouble, for Tunis is not 'free' not yet. His tight smile gave nothing away. . For, despite the rolling news channels need to turn their focus towards other uprisings currently taking place, it is clear that Tunisia and its people are far from politically 'in the clear' yet. Local committees have been set up to protect the 'Blessed Revolution' from the machinations, still in evidence of special police forces to hamper a total clear out of the old regime, or atleast to slow down the rate of change. Since the beginning of the revolts January the 14th, here in Tunis, it has been been the US President's clear wish too, that the urge for real democracy in North Africa and beyond be slowed (to a stop?) in order for what Obama calls a 'smooth transition' to take place from Dicatorship to People's Democracy.

There was an eery calm then as the twenty or so of us made our way to the arrivals hall, unaware of the joyous anarchy beyond. Instantly, Mohammed Ali, stepped onto Tunisia soil, all Heaven (not Hell, no not this time) let loose. For there were around 200 hundred people gathered to greet the family member/Muslim dissident, on his return. Banners were waved, drums beaten and women raised tear strained vocal chords in the traditional Arabian yodel of victory and joy. Mayhem.

Tears and sobs, songs, chants and cries of 'Allahu Akbar' and we were in Tunisia 2011. The beating heart of what is beginning to look like a full on Arab uprising, that will change the shape and tone of the Middle East for decades, who knows, even centuries, to come/

On a personal note, I managed with my usual, luck, to appropriate a white sweatshirt from a student in search of his nation's destiny. On the front of the sweatshirt is a thrust fist above the legend; '14/01/11'. The date it all began.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Israel should comply with international laws

KUALA LUMPUR: Israel should not be recognised as a state until it complies with international laws, says broadcaster, journalist and human rights activist Lauren Booth. “(While) Israel has demanded its recognition and rights as a state, in 63 years, it has given no assurances that they will in turn behave like one.”

“Until it does so by accepting other people’s rights, acting within international law, ending the siege, and stopping the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem, its existence as a state should not be recognised,” she told the New Straits Times last Thursday.

The sister-in-law of former United Kingdom prime minister Tony Blair, Booth has courted controversy in her native United Kingdom and elsewhere in the West for her views on Middle East politics and her highly-publicised conversion to Islam in September last year.
Here for the launch of Viva Palestina Malaysia (a local offshoot of the UK-based Viva Palestina, an international non-governmental organisation working for the speedy creation of a free Palestinian state) on Jan 22, she said Malaysia played a vital role in leading the international community towards a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a lengthy interview, she criticised her Western media counterparts for condemning former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as an anti-Semite due to his views of the conflict, and advised Malaysians not to be afraid when discussing Israeli policies and actions in the Palestinian territories.

“The label ‘anti-Semite’ is applied deliberately to quash debate on the Israeli government and its army.”

“No one should be scared of being labeled anti-Semitic when criticising the unjust, disgraceful behaviour of the Israel regime.”

She said apart from sending aid and speaking out, international NGOs like Viva Palestina Malaysia could be a key factor in creating a united Palestinian government.

“Although NGOs aren’t allowed to be political, I would encourage them to invite (representatives from) Hamas and Fatah to come together - at least on foreign land - to see how they can work with both groups to help the Palestinian people and the cause of freedom.

“It can also serve as a movement which combines Palestinian voices with the foreign solidarity cause, in a stronger, more productive manner.”

Booth said she remained hopeful that a peaceful resolution can be reached in the future, deriving encouragement from her experiences with Palestinian youths in the occupied territories.

“Two years ago in Jenin, out of the rubble of bomb attacks, I found talented young people learning photography, singing and the arts at the Jenin Theatre. At the Jenin cinema, there are even talks of hosting a film festival.”

“Young Palestinians amaze me. I’m confident, when there is peace, Palestine will blossom and flower as a state like no other.”

Read more: Israel should comply with international laws: Lauren Booth