Tag Archives: Arab Spring

You say you want a revolution?

February, 2016

© Deborah Jones 2013

© Deborah Jones 2013

You say you want a revolution…

Well, I’m all in. I like the idea of revolutions. I’m seized with joy at the thought of overthrowing the corrupt U.S. financial establishment. I’m gripped with enthusiasm at the thought of bringing justice and economic security for all Americans. I would die happy if I actually saw that come to fruition. Seriously.

But there might be a few problems …

Have you ever been in revolution? Or the chaos that always ensues in true revolutions? Do you think the people who are being replaced will just go quietly into that good night? No fuss, no muss, glad to a bit of service and out the door? Wall Street billionaires dancing off into the sunset?

And once the revolution has been achieved, are you aware of the sacrifices and commitments that are needed to keep it in place? It can’t be done on Facebook and social media. Buzzfeed won’t have 20 little gifs about how to maintain the progressive “New World Order.” No, from what I’ve seen, maintaining any kind of a gain after a revolution can often involve tremendous commitment, little thanks for the people who are actually doing the work, and many, many backwards steps in order to keep your balance.

Now I’ve never been in a revolution, but I’ve covered them as a reporter and as an editor. A little over five years ago I sat with a group of fellow editors and watched Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned his position after weeks of student demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, that were sometimes met with brutal force by the entrenched interests in Egypt. But I’ll never forget that day when it looked like Egypt was headed somewhere it had never been: a place with free speech, freedom of the press, police that spend more time keeping the peace and less time beating up people, and so on and so on. You could feel the joy of the young people in Egypt pulsating through the screen.

So, it’s five years after that marvelous day in February of 2011. And where is the Egyptian revolution now? It makes me too sad to think about.

Now, the kind of revolution proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is something I find very attractive. Many of his ideas are ones that I think would benefit America: a single-payer health system, more taxes on the rich to help support programs for people who are really in need, reduced college tuitions, the end of debt for students.

But here’s the thing that I’ve learned in my 60-odd years on this planet: important things take time. They take commitment, and energy, and sustained drive, and the ability to deal with setback after setback until the goal is achieved. The fight for these important initiatives won’t end even if Bernie Sanders is elected president next November.

In fact, the fight never ends, ever.

Because all those entrenched forces that I spoke about above, the entrenched forces that turned the Egyptian revolution on its head, also exist in America. And they will fight progress every step of the way. Often cloaked in lies, in bogus science, and duplicity, but they really don’t care as long as they prevent the thing that they fear the most: that the revolution might actually work. And even if the revolution does work, they will continue to try to undo the gains that were achieved. Just today I read how drug testing for food stamps is a possibility. You think that’s a step forward?

That’s why the energy and inspiration of a man like Bernie Sanders is so welcome, even if I don’t support him for the Democratic nomination for president. The way that he is energizing young people to take up the struggle once again is more important that I can tell you. But the kind of instant change Sanders is selling is, well, impossible. And I mean that word precisely. Impossible. Look at the Occupy movement. It accomplished very few of the goals it originally championed. But it did two very important things: it raised the profile of these issues in a very public way, and it launched a lot of young people on a road that will make a difference.

Years ago a Canadian band named The Parachute Club released an album entitled “Small Victories.” One of the songs was indeed about small victories and how important they were. For some reason that song has always stuck with me. Because I’ve learned that’s the way life really works: small victories. Small victories that happen day after day through the efforts of hard-working men and women in many causes who keep their eyes on the prize and Martin Luther King’s wise words in mind.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

But it is long.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned, and relies on the honour system: try one story at no charge and, if you value our no-spam, no-ads work, please chip in at least .27 per story, or a sustaining donation, below. Details here. 

You might also enjoy:

America’s ‘Arab Spring’, by Jim McNiven, F&O’s Thoughtlines columnist

Current political campaigns in the United States reveal how much elections are being disrupted by the same forces that have made a mess out of everything in society, from book and newspaper publishing, to overnight rentals to retail sales.

Five years on, Arab Spring’s thirst for blood still unsated, by Jonathan Manthorpe, F&O International Affairs columnist

It is sobering to remember now the optimism about the “Arab Spring” that swept through the Middle East and supportive countries in Europe and North America at the upwelling across the region of popular frustration at dictatorial, repressive governments. The throngs of young people in the city squares chanting for democracy did not constitute a political movement of any utility, and the Middle East in general is in much worse shape than it was before the Arab Spring bloomed five years ago.

Parachute Club – Small Victories:



Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.





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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Facts, and Opinions, that matter: from Zika to America’s “Arab Spring”

The World Health Organization declared the Zika virus “a Public Health Emergency of International Concern” today.

The WHO cited a suspected, though not yet scientifically proven, link between infection during pregnancy and microcephaly, the way the disease is spreading to vulnerable people, and the lack of vaccines and tests were also given as reasons.

Zika is spread by common mosquitoes, and is thought to have arrived in the Americas two years ago from areas of Africa where it’s endemic. It’s suspected to be the culprit behind  3,700 babies reportedly born with abnormally small heads —  microcephaly — in Brazil, the country hardest  hit in the Americas.

Said WHO, “A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy.

The first priority is control of mosquito populations and preventing mosquito bites in people at risk, especially pregnant women, said the organization.

Read three pieces on F&O that put the Zika emergency in context:

Did health agencies fumble Zika response? By Paulo Prada

It took months for Brazil’s health ministry to recognize the Zika virus had arrived. And so far, the World Health Organization’s hesitant response to the  outbreak –which has created the worst global health scare since Ebola –says much about the difficulties that the WHO and other health authorities face in combating unexpected public health threats. … go to the story

Love in the time of Zika

Where did Zika virus come from, and why is it in Brazil? By Amy Y Vittor

Urbanization, changing climate, air travel and transportation, and waxing and waning control efforts that are at the mercy of economic and political factors have led to these mosquitoes spreading to new areas and coming back in areas where they had previously been eradicated.  … go to the story.

Love in the time of Zika. By Beverley Paterson

Love, sex and babies are the foundation of human existence. Without them the human race ceases to exist. Zika, a virus that few people had heard of a month ago, has suddenly disrupted this normal course of events.  …go to the story.

F&O’s new works this week also include:

Dawn at the scientific base of Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway October 14, 2015. A Norwegian chain of islands just 1,200 km (750 miles) from the North Pole is trying to promote new technologies, tourism and scientific research in a shift from high-polluting coal mining that has been a backbone of the remote economy for decades. Norway suspended most coal mining on the Svalbard archipelago last year because of the high costs, and is looking for alternative jobs for about 2,200 inhabitants on islands where polar bears roam. Part of the answer may be to boost science: in Ny-Alesund, the world's most northerly permanent non-military settlement, scientists from 11 nations including Norway, Germany, France, Britain, India and South Korea study issues such as climate change. The presence of Norway, a NATO member, also gives the alliance a strategic foothold in the far north, of increasing importance after neighbouring Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014. REUTERS/Anna FilipovaPICTURE 03 OF 19 - SEARCH "SVALBARD FILIPOVA" FOR ALL IMAGES

REUTERS/Anna Filipova

Snow, science, solitude: Ny-Alesund, Norway

The Islamic State is a mere shadow of the Assassins’ Caliphate
JONATHAN MANTHORPE, International Affairs Column

America’s ‘Arab Spring’
JIM MCNIVEN, Thoughtlines column

Newspapers their own worst enemy in battle to survive
TOM REGAN, Summoning Orenda Column

Visit  F&O’s Contents page for our recent works, published Saturdays.


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Five years on, Arab Spring’s thirst for blood still unsated

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 23, 2016

Among the hundreds of people dying in the sinking of rickety boats being used by people traffickers to take refugees from Africa to Europe are many Eritreans. Italy / boat people / The Italian Coastguard ship Gregoretti disembarks refugees and migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.   / UNHCR / F. Malavolta / April 14, 2015

Palermo, Italy – The Italian Coast Guard ship Gregoretti disembarks 1,169 migrants, of various nationalities, in April, 2015. UNHCR / F. Malavolta / April 2015.

In an eerie reflection of the start of the Arab Spring five years ago, tens of thousands of Tunisians took to the streets on Friday demonstrating outrage at the death of a young man protesting his lack of a job.

Authorities responded with a nighttime curfew after police stations across the country were attacked by protesters armed with stones and Molotov cocktails. The trigger for the uprising was the death on Sunday of Ridha Yahyaoui, 28, who electrocuted himself by climbing a transmission tower after failing to win a government job.

With unemployment at about 30 per cent among young people, Yahyaoui’s suicide is a grim echo of the death of 26-year-old fruit vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, who burned himself to death after police confiscated his street stall. Five years ago protests at Bouazizi’s death quickly turned into an outright revolt. On January 14, 2011, the dictator President of 23 years, Zine Ben Ali, was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia after the military and police joined the uprising.

The events in Tunisia ricocheted across the Middle East, toppling dictatorships in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

The shock wave from Tunisia also set off the civil war in Syria, which is now one of the world’s worst humanitarian and political catastrophes. At least 250,000 people have died in the Syrian fighting, according to the United Nations. More than four million people have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Last year about one million refugees made the perilous sea crossing to find safety in Europe. At least 2,500 people died attempting the Mediterranean crossing last year and 3,500 in 2014.

The flood of a million refugees into Europe has ignited a political crisis, which some leading political figures, such as French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, are warning threatens the survival of the European Union.

That is not as alarmist as it might sound. The crisis of the common currency “euro zone” is largely unresolved, and later this year Britain is due to hold a referendum on continued EU membership. That vote could go either way, but a vote for what is being called “Brexit” could easily be the first domino in a cascade.

Meanwhile the chaos in Syria has provided a breeding ground for the vile Islamic State (IS) group, whose trade-mark is the butchery of its enemies or anyone it considers heretic by the most brutal means possible. The group has used crucifixion, burning alive, throat slitting, beheading, burying alive, all carefully videoed and posted on-line in a macabre and depressingly successful recruitment campaign aimed at disaffected young Muslim men and women in the West.

IS has not only grabbed control of large tracts of territory in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, it has spawned equally violent disciple groups in Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Indonesia. IS claims its followers have also been responsible for deadly attacks in France and the United States.

It is sobering to remember now the optimism that swept through the Middle East and supportive countries in Europe and North America at the upwelling across the region of popular frustration at dictatorial, repressive governments.

The fallout from Bouazizi’s sacrifice and the flight of Ben Ali in Tunisia swiftly engulfed Egypt. On February 11 2011 and after 30 years in power President Hosni Mubarack was removed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces following 18 days of demonstrations in Egypt’s major cities.

What became swiftly apparent, however, was that the throngs of young people in the city squares chanting for democracy did not constitute a political movement of any utility. Demonstrations demanding political reform continued through 2011 and into 2012, when a democratically elected People’s Assembly was created. This was followed by the election of President of Mohammed Morsi in June 2012. But Morsi was a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which also dominated the Assembly, and its work of writing a new constitution.

It is often the case that authoritarian states breed oppositions that are just as intolerant and rapacious as they are. And to survive, the opposition is usually as brutally disciplined as the state it seeks to overthrow. That is certainly the case with the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamic movement whose dubious credits include being the inspiration for the al-Qaidi terror network and, by extension, the butchers of the Islamic State.

The Egyptian experience was an uncomfortable lesson for U.S. President Barack Obama and the European leaders, who had applauded the advent of elections, but were appalled by the outcome.

Over their year in office, Morsi and the Brotherhood made is clear they intended to turn cosmopolitan and religiously tolerant Egypt into an Islamic State. In the run-up to the first anniversary of Morsi’s presidency in June 2013, there were new street protests and on July 3 the military launched a coup and removed him from office.

In all likelihood the street demonstrations were inspired by the military to justify the coup. The result is that Egypt is now back in the firm grasp of another military dictator, former Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

The sense of relief in Washington and Europe is palpable.

The revolution was even more messy in Libya, where the sinisterly eccentric Muammar Gaddafi had ruled since 1969. The uprising boiled up along communal lines in this highly tribal country. Gaddafi used his armed forces to strike back uncompromisingly against his ungrateful subjects. Indeed, there were atrocities on both sides and in March 2011 the UN Security Council allowed the imposition of a no-fly zone to try to protect civilians from the depredations of Gaddafi’s air force. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, including Canada, began bombing in April, aiming at Gaddafi’s military in support of rebel fighters moving westward out of the eastern city of Bengazi. In August the rebels took the capital, Tripoli, and Gaddafi fled to his home town, Sirte, where rebels cornered him in a drainpipe on October 20 and then killed him.

The NATO allies may have been in a rush to help depose Gaddafi, but they had no intention of aiding in the construction of a functioning state after he was gone. The last four-and-a-half years in Libya have been a grim catalogue of death and destruction as the various tribal groups have battled for supremacy. There have been several battles for the capital and usually at least two groups claiming to be the legitimate government.

This maelstrom has, of course, been fertile ground for the Islamic State to win converts and take root. It has also sent thousands of ousted members of Gaddafi’s armed forces into the Sehal region across North Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. In many cases these fighters have teamed up with local al-Qaida-linked groups to spread the spores of Islamic terrorism.

And for many ordinary Libyans, putting themselves in the hands of human traffickers and risking the terrors of crossing the Mediterranean to Europe has seemed preferable to the horrors of home.

Belatedly, the UN has stepped in. It is attempting to end the civil war and begin national reconstruction by appointing Prime Minister, Fayez Sarraj, who has selected a 32-member cabinet. However, not too much confidence should be placed in this initiative. Neither of the two rival governments in Libya recognize the Sarraj administration. The Sarraj government is also hampered by being unable to enter Libya for security reasons. It is currently operating out of a hotel in neighbouring Tunis.

At the same time as the shockwave from the Tunisian revolution hit Egypt in January 2011 it broke over Yemen, where Ali Abdullah Saleh had been President for 30 years. After a few weeks of street protests, he swiftly promised not to run again for election, but few people believed him and as protests gathered in strength there were mass desertions from the armed forces and civil service.

The country dissolved, like Libya, into a maelstrom of regional, ethnic and religious contests for power. But in late 2014, fighters for the Shia Muslim Houthi sect from north-eastern Yemen, in alliance with the remnants of Saleh’s army, captured the capital, Sana’a. This alarmed the new King Salmand and his son and heir Prince Mohammed in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. As the champions of the mainstream Sunni branch of Islam, they smelled a conspiracy by their regional rivals Iran, the heartland of Shia Islam.

The over-excitable Prince Mohammed in particular believed Iran was aiding its co-religionist Houthis. In his capacity as Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister, Mohammed mustered a regional alliance to launch air attacks against the Houthis and their allies. United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, and Egypt have all sent warplanes to join the Saudis, but, as everyone knows by now, air power alone cannot win wars. Efforts at the end of last year by the UN to broker a peace accord collapsed.

Iran has been circumspect in its support for the Houthis because it didn’t want to do anything that might derail the lifting of UN-imposed economic sanctions penalizing Tehran for its nuclear development program. The lifting of those sanctions this week after last year’s agreement to put the nuclear program under international limits and monitoring may now make Iran feel more free to support the Houthis and goad Saudi Arabia on its southern borders.

Tehran already has several proxy campaigns in play that challenge Riyadh’s assumption that it is the natural leader of the Muslim world. Tehran has significant influence over the Shia majority government in Iraq, and elements of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps are operating there against the Islamic State, which has seized much of Sunni Iraq.

Iran is also a firm backer of Syria’s besieged President Bashar al-Assad. Not only is Tehran giving him direct military aid, it has also dispatched fighters from its proxy Hezbollah group in neighbouring Lebanon to support him.

Tentative efforts to start peace talks for Syria have got nowhere and there is no end in sight for the chaos there.

So the Middle East in general is in much worse shape than it was before the Arab Spring bloomed five years ago.

The irony today is that the one place where it looked as though political reform would take root was where the revolution started: Tunisia. It was not an easy transition. There was much unrest and violence in the aftermath of Ben Ali’s flight. And, as in Egypt, the first attempts at interim elections and writing a new constitution produced bodies dominated by previously outlawed, hardline Islamists. However, elections in later 2014 produced a broadly representative parliament and president.

But democracy has not produced a vibrant economy and corruption among officials and politicians is a constant irritant. Tourism has been about the only area of the economy that has continued to function well, which is why last year Islamic extremists began targeting visitors, who come mostly from Europe. Tourists were targeted in an attack on the world-famous Bardo Museum in Tunis early last year. Then in June, a gunman claiming allegiance to Islamic State attacked people on the beach in front of luxury hotels in the resort city of Sousse. He killed 39 people, including himself.

That attack has had a devastating effect on Tunisia’s tourist industry and exacerbated the unemployment problem which pushed Yahyaoui to scale a transmission tower on Friday and take his own life. The authorities have imposed a nation-wide nighttime curfew to try to calm passions. But clearly the Arab Spring has not yet ended its hunt for victims.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related on F&O:

The Middle East: Meltdowns, Crises and Daesh. By Simon Mabon, Report

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Arab Uprisings, it’s hard to remember the days of popular protests, of democratic revolutions and of dreams of a better future that rocked the Middle East in 2011. Nearly five years on, tensions between rulers and the ruled have exploded across the region – and the ensuing struggles for survival have continued to take all manner of ugly forms.


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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.


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The Middle East: Meltdowns, Crises and Daesh

January, 2015  

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Arab Uprisings, it’s hard to remember the days of popular protests, of democratic revolutions and of dreams of a better future that rocked the Middle East in 2011. Nearly five years on, tensions between rulers and the ruled have exploded across the region – and the ensuing struggles for survival have continued to take all manner of ugly forms.

At the centre of things, the Syrian conflict has deepened – and while the brutality of Islamic State (IS) has been responsible for much of the recent chaos and tragedy across Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been responsible for seven times as many Syrian deaths as IS. Assad’s position was strengthened by continued support from Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, antagonising powerful states in the West and the Gulf – particularly Saudi Arabia. The Gulf states also faced domestic threats from IS, with the group carrying out a number of attacks on Shia sites and communities across the region.

The Syrian conflict became ever more internationalised in 2015. The number of foreign fighters on the ground – on all sides – continued to grow, while on the diplomatic level, the Vienna talks tried to resolve the seemingly intractable conflict – though they have yet to yield any decisive action.

The task of dealing with IS was further complicated by a batch of new wilayats, groups who declared allegiance to IS. Wilayat Sinai in particular was purportedly responsible for a range of acts, allegedly including a massive bomb attack in Cairo and the downing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

All the while, Syria’s refugee emergency has now escalated to a point that United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, referred to it as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. It has now killed more than 200,000 people, displacing 7m within the country and driving more than 4m to flee abroad.

In neighbouring Lebanon, the state struggled to provide safe haven for the millions of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, a problem exacerbated by the Lebanese government’s long-term refusal to ratify the 1951 Refugees Convention. Government paralysis brought rubbish collection services in Beirut to a spectacular standstill over the summer, giving birth to the #YouStink movement – which left Lebanese politicians in little doubt as to what their people think of them.

Other neighbouring states also absorbed large numbers – Turkey took in more than 2m and Jordan a further 1.4m. Almost 250,000 refugees fled Syria and crossed the border into Iraq, where they face a precarious future.

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi, a year into his prime ministership, faced a welter of serious challenges which were all exacerbated by the fight against IS. While his government has tried to dilute the sectarian differences that so badly dogged Iraqi society under Nouri al-Maliki, the country is still facing the same deep-seated grievances that created the conditions for militant groups to spring up in the first place.

Migrants arrive from Greece at the train station in Gevgelija near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. Tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, use the Balkans route to get into the European Union, passing from Greece to Macedonia and Serbia and then to western Europe. After walking across the border into Macedonia to the small local station of Gevgelia, migrants pile onto an overcrowded four-carriage train in sweltering heat, young infants among them, to travel about 200 km north. Their aim: to enter Serbia on foot, another step in their uncertain search for a better life. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Migrants arrive from Greece at the train station in Gevgelija near the Greek border with Macedonia July 30, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Elsewhere, Benjamin Netanyahu won yet another term as prime minister of Israel, drawing support from an increasingly right-leaning electorate that was seduced by Netanyahu’s hawkish politics. Coupled with this victory was an increase in settlement building across Palestinian territories and, unsurprisingly, the freezing of the peace-process – leading to talk of a third intifada over the summer. While these pessimistic predictions have so far not come true, the intense frustration at the current situation is palpable.

Across the border, the Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, increasingly concerned with security across the state, continued the counter-revolution and finally all but extinguished the hopes that lit up Tahrir Square in early 2011. Key Muslim Brotherhood figures, among them the country’s deposed president, Mohammad Morsi, and the group’s leading cleric, Mohammad Badie, were sentenced to death, leading to widespread condemnation and protests.

Almost in the background but no less seriously, the proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran rumbled on, complicating events in Syria and Iraq and throwing up new crises of its own. In March, these tensions erupted into a full-blown proxy conflict in Yemen fought by a Saudi-led coalition of states against a coup mounted by Houthi separatists backed by Iran.

This made Yemen’s already tragic situation even worse, as socio-economic conditions rapidly deteriorated and the casualties rose beyond 40,000 in total – albeit to remarkably little international outcry. In recent days, the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels have called a ceasefire and have agreed to participate in talks in Switzerland. In an effort to create a coordinated counter-terrorism strategy across the region, Saudi Arabia established a coalition of 34 countries, most of them Muslim states. While the intent should be commended, Iran was not a part of the coalition and some members were surprised to be included, having not formally agreed to join, raising questions about the credibility of the coalition.

There was one rather remarkable ray of hope: the nuclear deal reached between the P5+1 powers and Iran. Probably the single biggest diplomatic success of the year, it was greeted with much chagrin by regimes in Israel and across the Gulf. The deal will lift economic sanctions on Iran, providing much needed injections of capital into the Iranian economy. The prospect of an increasingly influential Iran, galvanised by a growing economy, is a cause for concern for many in the Gulf – and there are fears that this could also strengthen the position of Iran’s allies, notably, Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad.

But ultimately, the Middle East will remember 2015 above all for the continued brutality of IS and the fraught, messy efforts to contain it, all at a tragic human cost. Entering 2016, people across the region still face an array of existential threats.

The imperative to ensure that basic human needs are met is paramount: many people are struggling to access food, shelter and security, while millions of refugees and displaced people desperately need access to health care (both physical and mental) as well as education and employment.

And even in some of the Middle East’s more stable countries, the political and human cost of providing support to refugee populations that number in the millions is becoming a terrible strain – turning the screws on societies already pushed almost to the point of collapse.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Simon Mabon is a Lecturer in International Relations at Lancaster University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Libya’s potential new dictator, with CIA links


BENGHAZI, Libya. Photo by Dennixo, Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Libya, already rife with  political, tribal and religious divisions, is threatened by yet another coup, warns International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. Excerpt of today’s column:

A renegade Libyan general, reputedly with links to Washington’s Central Intelligence Agency, is well on his way to filling the political vacuum left by the ouster and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.


Khalifa Haftar

Since late May, Khalifa Haftar has formed a loose alliance of elements of the national military and tribal militias with the aim, he says, of destroying militant Islamist groups that had taken control of much of the country.

In a series of running battles with the Islamists, Haftar says his forces have taken control of almost all of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and hub of the country’s eastern region. His allies also continue to hold the international airport in Tripoli after days of attacks by Islamists linked to Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Haftar’s rapid emergence as a potential new dictator comes as a fresh House of Representatives is due to meet in Benghazi on August 4. This is the latest attempt, in a so-far failed series of efforts, to produce a functioning administration after the uprising against Qaddafi and his killing in October, 2011 read more (subscription*).

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Libya finds its new Qaddafi

Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page is here.

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Putin vs Obama: who is in step with the times?

As the world focuses on Ukraine and the dispute between Russia and the “West,” let’s take a step back for a wider view. Democracy — as a system of representative and accountable governments, operating under the rule of law mediated by an independent judiciary – is struggling or under threat in much of the world, from former Soviet satellite states now in the European Union to the Caribbean to the countries washed by an Arab Spring that has largely failed to blossom. International affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe looks at the big picture. Excerpt of his new column:

One of the more unfortunate pronouncements by United States President Barack Obama in this Ukraine embroglio was that his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had put himself “on the wrong side of history.” Obama was not explicit, but his case appears to be that by intervening in the majority ethnic Russian eastern Ukraine, especially Crimea, Putin is pushing against advancing international values of respect for nation states, popular sovereignty and the rule of law. Yet as one looks around the world it seems it is Putin, far more than Obama, who is step with the times.

Log in first* to read the column, Putin more in tune with the times than Obama. Other recent Manthorpe columns on Ukraine and the state of global democracy include Beijing, not Moscow, is the home of imperialism, Europe carries blame for the Ukrainian violence, and Arab Spring still waiting to blossom.

*Jonathan Manthorpe’s columns are available with a modest subscription or a $1 site day pass to all work on Facts and Opinions. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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Arab Winter of Discontent Lingers

The so-called Arab Spring inflamed democratic imaginations even as activists, citizens, soldiers and rulers clashed violently throughout the region. More than three years after it began, writes international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe, the democratic potential of the revolution has yet to be realized. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column:

Manthorpe B&WThree years after the flight into exile of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali triggered popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, there is little to show for the cost in blood and chaos … The picture is not all of doom and gloom, however. In all four countries where long-standing dictatorial regimes were toppled by the popular uprisings, the hammering out of new constitutions is in process, with elections in the offing.

Log in to read the column, Arab Spring Still Waiting to Blossom.*

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