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“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Posts Tagged ‘Dictatorships

Women in Saudi.

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Readers might remember the case of Manal al-Sherif, a young Saudi woman arrested for driving in Saudi Arabia?

Well, more women are fighting back against petty restrictions and the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, France 24 reports:

“Several Saudi women got behind the wheel on Friday in a “Suffragette-level” protest against rules that ban them from driving cars in the conservative, male-dominated country.

A Facebook campaign page titled “Women2Drive”, as well as the reactions from thousands of Twitter users, have helped push this small act of civil disobedience onto the international stage.

The campaign was inspired by the arrest last month of 32-year-old Manal al-Sherif, who posted a video of herself driving on YouTube.

On Friday there were reports of “several” women driving. But in an ultraconservative country where such behaviour is virtually unknown, it was still a significant act of defiance – even if all the reports were of women driving with a male relative. Saudi women are required by law to be accompanied by a male relative when they venture out.

Microblogging site Twitter was flooded with messages of support on Friday and triumphant comments on those staging these acts of defiance.

Times of London columnist Janice Turner tweeted: “Today, women in Saudi will challenge the driving ban, risking arrest, loss of jobs & children. This [is] Suffragette-level bravery.”

Dr. Mohammed Al-Qahtan, a Saudi rights activist, said he had been driven by his wife Maha through the streets of Riyadh.

“My wife, Maha, and I have just come from a 45-minute drive, she was the driver through Riyadh’s streets,” he tweeted, adding later that she “has taken her necessary belongings, ready to go to prison without fear!” “

Update 1: Time covers it too:

“The beginning of the trip was uneventful. I tried to keep my camera discreetly in my lap and shoot the occasional frame, so as to not draw attention to us. We rode through Friday afternoon traffic, attracting some double takes and a few stares, but overall much less reaction than I would have anticipated. Her eyes, all that could be seen from underneath her all-encompassing hijab, darted in and out of the rear view mirror.

We coasted along King Fahd Road in Riyadh. The traffic seemed to grow more dense by the minute. She was nervous and her husband was giving her directions. “Don’t change lanes, slow down, you are going too fast!” he said. Then, turning to me in the back seat, he declared proudly, “She’s a good driver!”

The backseat driving made me smile—so universal between husbands and wives, no matter where in the world you are.

Given the longstanding prohibition against women drivers, I wondered if the police would stop us. I flashed back to the cramped prison cell in Sirte, where I was held by the Libyan government in March along with three male colleagues from the New York Times. There we were splayed out on soiled foam mattresses, a bottle of urine in the corner of the cell, a box of dates on the floor. I was sure the Saudi prison would be cleaner.

I took the discs out of my camera, hid them in my bra, and put the camera back into my backpack. “

Update 2: This is the Facebook page of Women2Drive.

Free Manal al-Sherif.

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The Washington Post reports that Manal al-Sherif was re-arrested after being released recently:

“CAIRO — Saudi authorities have re-arrested an activist who defied a ban on female drivers in the conservative kingdom, a security official said Monday.

Manal al-Sherif was accused of “violating public order” and ordered held for five days while the case is investigated.

The 32-year-old al-Sherif launched a campaign against the longtime ban last week by posting a video clip on the Internet of herself behind the wheel in the eastern city of Khobar.

Through Facebook, the campaigners set June 17 as the day all women should drive their cars. The page, called “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,” was removed after more than 12,000 people indicated their support for the call. The campaign’s Twitter account also was deactivated.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

Al-Sherif was initially detained for several hours on Saturday by the country’s religious police and released after she signed a pledge agreeing not to drive.

She was re-arrested on Sunday at dawn, said a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “

Update 1: The 17th June 2011 could be an interesting day in Saudi Arabia:

“This law is simply a backward, visceral objection to the thought of a woman behind the wheel, a physical embodiment of a volition which is too offensive to enact. It is about maintaining some semblance of control, the erosion of which it is thought would be complete if women were allowed to drive.

There is this odd view of women in the kingdom as being always on the cusp of dissolute behaviour – reminiscent of an attitude towards slaves who would rebel and murder their owners if not kept perpetually oppressed. This is a ghastly spiral, where the worse the victim is treated, the worse they are likely to be pre-emptively repressed. When arguing against allowing women to uncover their heads or faces in public, some (men and women) respond that if that if this were to pass, women would surely walk around in semi-nudity.

It doesn’t occur to these people that public codes of dress do not exist in most other Arab countries, and women still manage to dress in a culturally appropriate way. Women are allowed to drive throughout the conservative Arabian Gulf, and these societies have not imploded in moral degradation.

The Saudi driving ban is a social, rather than political, issue, over which the authorities would rather not incur the religious establishment’s wrath or create controversy. But if there is one lesson Arab rulers would do well to heed, it is that withholding rights raises the chances of an explosion of dissent.

The arrest of Sharif certainly appears to have done nothing to dissuade the Women2Drive campaign from going ahead; if anything it seems to have garnered it more publicity. There are reports that the religious police are teaming up with traffic forces to patrol and stymie the campaign. If these are to be believed, then Saudi Arabia is in for a first-of-its-kind confrontation on 17 June. “

Driving In Saudi Arabia.

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Women in Saudi Arabia can’t even drive their own cars, without a driver or a relative to do that job for them. Many are effectively prisoners in their homes, still some brave women are fighting back:

This is their channel on YouTube, ksawomen2drive.

Update 1: Manal al-Sherif has been detained for driving herself, AP has more:

“RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Authorities detained a Saudi woman on Saturday after she launched a campaign against the driving ban for women in the ultraconservative kingdom and posted a video of herself behind the wheel on Facebook and YouTube to encourage others to copy her.

Manal al-Sherif and a group of other women started a Facebook page called “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,” which urges authorities to lift the driving ban. She went on a test drive in the eastern city of Khobar and later posted a video of the experience.

“This is a volunteer campaign to help the girls of this country” learn to drive, al-Sherif says in the video. “At least for times of emergency, God forbid. What if whoever is driving them gets a heart attack?”
Human rights activist Walid Abou el-Kheir said al-Sherif was detained by the country’s religious police, who are charged with ensuring the kingdom’s rigid interpretation of Islamic teachings are observed.

Al-Sherif was released hours later, according to the campaign’s Twitter account. The terms of her release were not immediately clear.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

Women are also barred from voting, except for chamber of commerce elections in two cities in recent years, and no woman can sit on the kingdom’s Cabinet. Women also cannot travel without permission from a male guardian and shouldn’t mingle with males who are not their husbands or brothers. “

Written by modernityblog

21/05/2011 at 21:42

The Lobby.

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There is often talk about “the Lobby”, and those words have a certain resonance and conjure up an unpleasant mental picture for most of us, however, I am going to argue that the real lobby in the world is hardly ever discussed, in any meaningful way.

That is the extent of its power.

Clearly, we hear bits about it, in a broad sense, yet it is rarely analysed for its component parts, wider geopolitical influence and negative effect on human rights.

It spans the globe.

Nevertheless, much of the discussion relating to it comes across in a rather crude materialistic fashion, lacking subtlety and depth

There is seldom any piercing critique of the countries involved, the powerful players, the governments, the vested interests, the paid lobbyists, the various parliamentarians on the payroll, etc and above all, the oil companies.

Yes, that is the Lobby I am talking about, the oil lobby.

Dan Froomkin at HuffPost has a good article, which touches upon some of the issues:

“With so much public opposition, why do subsidies remain? You might as well ask why there is no carbon tax, or why there was no significant reform legislation passed after the BP oil spill.

The answer is that one of the many things the industry can do with its fat pocketbook is hire a veritable army of sharp lobbyists and back them up with big wads of cash in the form of campaign donations and spending. The end result is that the industry has a remarkable ability to get its way on Capitol Hill.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ website, the oil and gas industry has spent more than $1 billion on lobbying since 1998, including a jaw-dropping $147 million just last year.

For comparison’s sake, $147 million is about equivalent to the total budget of 100 congressional offices. That’s more than the $103 million spent in 2010 by the financial service industry, another potent lobbying force — but considerably less than the $240 million spent by the pharmaceutical industry. Among major industries, Opensecrets.org ranked Big Oil fifth in terms of lobbying dollars spent, behind only Big Pharma, electric utilities, business associations and insurance.

The oil and gas industry used its $147 million to employ 788 individual lobbyists in 2010 — some 500 (or almost two thirds) of whom, according to Opensecrets.org, are former federal employees who came through the revolving door particularly well versed in the ways of government.

All told, that’s well more than one oil and gas lobbyist per member of Congress out there on the Hill arming allies with talking points and briefing books, spinning the undecided and pressuring the opposition.

And there’s more of them every year. Consider the trendlines. As recently as 2004, the oil and gas industry spent about $52 million a year in lobbying; by 2009, that figure was up to $175 million — or a 300 percent increase in just five years.

The industry backs up its extraordinary lobbying effort with lavish spending on political campaigns. Candidates associated with oil and gas companies made about $15 million in direct campaign donations during the 2010 mid-term election cycle ($26 million during the 2008 presidential cycle).

The industry was also responsible for more than $10 million in donations through its political action committees, or PACs, in the 2010 cycle. “

Written by modernityblog

07/04/2011 at 02:00

Twitter, The Middle East And Racism in Italy.

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I find Twitter very useful for keeping up with events.

Of course, there is the danger of too much information and keeping track of things is sometimes hard. Still, certain issues deserve scrutiny, so here’s a selection of a few things I came across on Twitter recently.

Racism in Italy, or in any part of Europe is not new but the HRW’s documenting of it makes depressing reading, as if no lessons have been learnt:

“Instances of horrific racist violence in Italy have been widely reported on in the past several years. Some of the more notorious incidents include the October 2008 brutal beating of a Chinese man by a group of youngsters as he waited for a bus in Tor Bella Monaca, a district of Rome that has seen numerous attacks on immigrants. In this case, the attackers shouted racist insults, such as “shitty Chinaman.”[75] Seven teenagers were arrested hours after the incident.[76]

In February 2009, two adults and a 16-year-old attacked an Indian man in Nettuno, near Rome, beating him and then dousing him with gasoline and setting him on fire.[77] All three were convicted without the aggravating circumstance of racial motivation.[78] In May 2009, a Senegalese actor named Mohamed Ba was knifed in the stomach as he waited for the tram in MIlan.[79] Ba’s aggressor has never been identified or apprehended, according to Ba and a close personal friend.[80]

The focus on of immigration issues for political ends in an increasingly diverse society has created an environment for open expression of racist and xenophobic sentiment. “A particular kind of language has been dusted off … making it so that openly racist expressions in everyday conversation don’t provoke any kind of concern,” according to Deputy Jean-Léonard Touadi.[81] Francesca Sorge, a lawyer in a firm that represents victims of discrimination and racist violence, agreed, saying that “phrases like, ‘You foreigners go away,’ are taken as part of the common lexicon of normal urban rudeness.”[82]”

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Hamas, Netanyahu And The Middle East.

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What to make of the Middle East?

On the one hand, there is the natural desire of people to throw off their dictators.

Then on the other, bloody dictators clinging to power from Libya to Bahrain, using military might as they see fit, murdering willy-nilly. In part the West rightly condemns Gaddafi’s brutality, but then the EU commissioner defends state induced violence in Bahrain.

In Gaza, Islamic Jihad and Hamas deliberately launch mortars and rockets into Israel’s towns, hoping to kill civilians.

In response, the Netanyahu government plays Hamas’s game sending in planes and tanks.

In Jerusalem a bomb deliberately target civilians, ordinary Israelis, killing one and injuring many.

Back in Gaza, Hamas relish an opportunity to literally play the martyr and the stupid Netanyahu government obliges.

Hamas had been side tracked by events around the Middle East, their brutal rule of the Gaza Strip was made all the more obvious as they bludgeoned protesters for the human rights recently.

As a deflection they started poking Israel with a stick, knowing full well that the Netanyahu government would respond with military force and not a moment’s thought for the consequences, either politically or to ordinary Palestinians.

The Netanyahu government has shown itself incredibly inept and it is hard to point to any significant policy achievement that they have had in the last few years, if any. However, Hamas loves the Netanyahu government, for all their predictability, for all their political clumsiness and their diminishing political capital. If Hamas were left to their own devices they would continue to brutalise Palestinians without reproach, human rights within the Gaza Strip are negligible, speak out and you risk imprisonment, torture or worse. Hamas will brook no dissent.

Still, Hamas is full of canny political operatives, they know how to exploit a political situation and are comparatively good at PR, in stark contrast to the Netanyahu government that throws away chances and alienates allies, almost without a care in the world.

Meanwhile, the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship kills another 15+, those trying to demand basic human rights in Syria.

On top of that in Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh clings on to power and invokes emergency powers.

Egyptian women protesters forced to take ‘virginity tests’.

Israel’s Interior Ministry stupidly wants deport Munther Fahmi.

(H/T: Linda Grant)

Dictators in Burma.

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Burma’s dictators really don’t care what anyone thinks of them. They will imprison, shoot and kill anyone that opposes them.

As we’ve seen in the past companies are only too happy to go along with them, if there’s money in it.

The dictators in Burma feel they have a free hand to kill or brutalise anyone in the country, safe in the knowledge that as long as China supports them they can do what they like, the Irish Times reports:

“THOUSANDS OF refugees from Burma have fled into Thailand after fighting between ethnic rebels and Burmese government forces at the border following Sunday’s election.

The poll has been widely dismissed as a sham to boost the ruling military junta. Rights groups and commentators had widely predicted that the elections would increase conflict and instability in Burma, and on Sunday, rebels from the Karen ethnic group seized a police station and a post office in the border town of Myawaddy. At least 10 people were wounded on each side of the frontier in the fighting.

Thai officials said there were further skirmishes at the Three Pagodas Pass and streams of refugees headed into Thailand.

“There have been at least 10,000 refugees who have fled to Thailand,” Col Wannatip Wongwai, commander of Thailand’s Third Army Region responsible for security in the area, told the Associated Press. “As soon as the situation is under control, we will start sending the refugees back to Myawaddy.”

Burmese government troops appeared to have retaken control of Myawaddy, and the rebels of the Democratic Karen Buddhist army held just a few positions on the outskirts of the town.

Ethnic minorities account for about 40 per cent of Burma’s population and they said in the run up to the elections that they were unhappy at having the military regime impose its rule, warning that civil war could be the outcome. Absurd restrictions on eligibility made it impossible for pro-democracy groups to make themselves heard in the elections, which were the first in 20 years and came after 48 years of direct army rule.”

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Written by modernityblog

09/11/2010 at 04:51

Big Oil And Dictatorships.

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Large oil companies are often not to choosy who they do business with, be it dodgy potentates in the Middle East, to the repressive Generals in Burma, but with the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico they are, thankfully, coming under more scrutiny.

Time magazine has more:

“To the list of Big Oil companies with p.r. problems add two more: Chevron and French energy giant Total. In a report published on Monday, the NGO EarthRights International accuses the firms of being implicated in human-rights violations in Burma, claiming that soldiers guarding Chevron and Total’s natural-gas pipeline in the country have murdered locals and forced others to do backbreaking, unpaid labor in order to keep the gas exports flowing smoothly. The report also holds that the revenues from the operation have been propping up the country’s oppressive military government for more than a decade, thus fostering harmful political outcomes that affect the entire country.

EarthRights’ complaints against Total and Chevron are not new. Last year, the NGO, which is based in Washington and Chiang Mai, Thailand, published interviews with locals describing how soldiers protecting the pipeline had dragooned them into unpaid manual labor. The pipeline, which crosses more than 40 miles of Burmese territory, is a joint venture among Chevron, Total, a Thai energy company and the Burmese state oil and gas authority. Activists say it is a short section of the pipeline that travels overland through a remote part of the country that has led to ongoing conflicts between residents and the Burmese army’s Battalion 282, the soldiers charged with protecting the pipeline. Until the pipeline was built in the mid-1990s, the area saw little military action. But according to the EarthRights report, in February some soldiers of the battalion murdered two residents in the pipeline area after suspecting them of being linked to an armed militia group. “

(H/T: Andrew Murphy)

Update 1: The EarthRights International report is here, as a PDF.

Update 2: Reuters’ coverage of the BP’s oil spill is good.

Written by modernityblog

07/07/2010 at 16:21