Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Middle East’

Spice of Life

Spice of Life
by Gabriel Constans

“They” say variety is the spice of life. This holiday drink has all the colors of falling leaves and a perfect blend of sweetness and spice to get you in the spirit. Dates, originally from the Middle East, are a good source of energy and a great sweet to use instead of candy.

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Yield: 5 cups

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup roasted cashews
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup firm tofu
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 cups apple juice

Place all the ingredients in a blender, and blend on high speed for 45 seconds.

Pour into your favorite mug, add a candy cane or two, serve and sing.

Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!!!

Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!!!
by Gabriel Constans

The fig’s praises have been sung for centuries. It is used extensively in the Mediterranean and the Middle East in a variety of dishes. It is also a surefire laxative when needed. You are encouraged to sing while making this smoothie. Pretend you’re Placido Domingo or Kiri Te Kanawa performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, or in the shower.

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Yield: 3 cups

4 baked figs *
1/2 cup cooked raisins **
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 cup filtered water

Place all the ingredients in a blender, and mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Don’t forget to sing!

Pour into silver goblets or glasses and serve.

*Bake figs at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
** Place raisins in a saucepan with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Palestinian Women FM

From Nation of Change
by Jillian Kestler-D’amours
23 February 2012

FM Radio Spells Change, Success for Mid-East Women

Nisreen Awwad moves closer to the microphone as she signs off to her listeners, the words “Nisaa FM: music, change, success” displayed prominently over her left shoulder.

“The thing I love (most) in my program is when I interview simple women from the villages, because they are successful and (are doing) something different in their society,” the 31-year-old radio producer, a native of the Qalandiya refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, tells IPS.

Host of the daily morning show on Nisaa (Women in Arabic) FM, Awwad explains that positively influencing the roles women play in Palestinian society, and changing the way Palestinian women view themselves, is what she strives for.

“I got involved here because I believe in the message of the radio station, and I wanted to make (a difference for) women in our society. Nisaa FM, I think, it’s something different,” Awwad said. “I like how my work in Nisaa FM makes me involved more in women’s issues.”

Launched in June 2010, Nisaa FM is an almost entirely female-run Palestinian radio station based in Ramallah, West Bank and the only radio station in the Middle East devoted solely to women’s issues. Its director Maysoun Odeh Gangat says that the station aims to inform, inspire and empower local women.

“Through the positive role that the women are playing in the society that we portray, we believe that we can empower women economically and then socially and politically. It could be any woman from the rural areas or the refugee camp, or a woman parliamentarian or minister,” Gangat told IPS.

In addition to suffering from a myriad of human rights abuses stemming from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza, Palestinian women face challenges from within their own society.

According to a 2009 report released by the Palestinian Women’s Information and Media Centre (PWIC) in Gaza, 77 percent of the women in Gaza had experienced some form of violence; 53 percent had been exposed to physical violence and 15 percent to sexual abuse.

In 2008, the Ramallah-based Arab World for Research and Development (AWRD) research centre found that 74 percent of survey respondents did not know of any organization working on women’s rights. Some 77 percent of respondents also said that they supported enacting laws to protect women from domestic violence.

“This is a patriarchal society. This is a male-dominated society, so the change should come by addressing males, as well,” Gangat said, explaining that engaging Palestinian men on women’s issues is important to the station.

She added that talking about difficult issues – such as polygamy, divorce, abuse, early marriage, and poverty – and the ways in which women can assert their rights in these areas, is necessary for change to occur.

“Women were inspired by the fact that we bring some people or experts on issues that are contentious and negative. We’ve had some women calling and asking us, ‘Which organization did you interview?’” Gangat said.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Support Bahraini People

Dear Gabriel,

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the start of protests in Bahrain. Tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets to protest a government that has committed terrible violence against its own citizens.

When Bahrain’s streets awaken in protest tomorrow, will government forces crack down on peaceful demonstrators again? Will there be more tear gas, torture, killings?

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. But we do know that tragedy is not inevitable.

Take action for a better tomorrow in Bahrain. Call on the Bahraini government and security forces to respect peaceful protest and assembly — today, tomorrow, and for all the days to come.

As protests enter their second year, the Middle East and North Africa remain in turmoil. As I wrote you over the weekend, the crisis in Syria is escalating. Civil society is under attack in Egypt. We can’t let violence against peaceful protesters rekindle anew in Bahrain.

If the Bahraini government keeps its promises — to end torture and excessive force, to release peaceful protesters from prison, and to hold those responsible for abuses accountable — it should have nothing to fear from nonviolent protests demanding political reforms.

Under pressure, Bahrain’s government has taken some positive steps forward — but human rights violations continue in the country. Scores of people sentenced to prison terms for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly during last year’s protests are still facing criminal charges.

Two of those prisoners, leaders of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, face a critical hearing this coming weekend that could grant them their freedom — or keep them jailed for years.

The situation in Bahrain is dire, but it is not hopeless — and we can have tremendous influence. Bahrain takes its international image seriously. And since Bahrain is a country with such close ties to the U.S., the Bahraini government is uniquely susceptible to pressure from the U.S. government and U.S.-based activists.

Your action today could mean peace in Bahrain tomorrow. Tell the Bahraini government that you are watching closely — and that when tomorrow comes, you expect them to do the right thing for human rights.

With hope for tomorrow,

Sanjeev Bery
Advocacy Director, Middle East and North Africa
Amnesty International USA

Nonviolent Resistance

From Inter Press Service and Nation of Change
by Karina Bockmann
26 January 2012

The Logic and Limits of Nonviolent Conflict

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the uprisings in Egypt that unseated an authoritarian regime and rekindled the spark of nonviolent resistance around the world.

The mass demonstrations that began on Jan. 25 in Cairo appeared spontaneous, ignited by the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution some weeks before. But according to Srdja Popovic, a seasoned organizer and founder of the ‘Centre for Applied NonViolent Action & Strategies’ (CANVAS) in Belgrade, that assumption is far from the truth.

A consultancy group for nonviolent resistance movements around the world, CANVAS prides itself on having trained pro-democracy activists from almost 40 countries in nonviolent techniques and strategies.

Members of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, a decisive force in bringing down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, were disciples of the organization, which has been dubbed the ‘Revolution Academy’.

In CANVAS workshops, members of April 6 became familiar with forms of peaceful protest, creative provocation measures and practical advice on how to behave in critical situations. They took classes in fundraising and recruitment and gained valuable advice on how to attract new supporters to the movement.

Coupled with the revolutionary fervor that swept across Egypt throughout 2011 and is still visible on the streets today, CANVAS’ training of key young members of the resistance bore fruits of a legendary nature.

“2011 was the worst year for the bad guys ever,” said Popovic at a discussion in Berlin entitled, ‘Democracy Promotion – Democracy Export – Regime Change?’, referring to the many pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East that have come to be known as the Arab Spring.

Popovic easily counts himself as one of the ‘good guys’, given that he was a driving force behind the Serbian student movement Otpor! (meaning resistance) that peacefully toppled the ‘butcher of Belgrade’ Slobodan Milosevic from power in the year 2000.

Solid Strategies

Popovic is the executive director of CANVAS and, by extension, the chief trainer at the ‘Revolution Academy’.

A veteran organizer, he inspires professionalism, assertiveness and confidence when he speaks about the techniques of “how to get rid of a dictator” and of the importance of unity, planning and nonviolent discipline as “the universal principles of success.”

Assuming that a successful pro-democracy movement needs the support of just three to eight percent of the population, the chances of overthrowing dictators anywhere in the world are quite high, Popovic said, corroborating his assertion with the results of a report explaining ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict’.

Authored by Erica Chenoweth, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, and Maria J. Stephan, a strategic planner with the U.S. Department of State, the report analyzed 323 violent and nonviolent resistance movements from 1900 to 2006 and concluded that “major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.”

Chenoweth and Stephan examine campaigns like Gandhi’s struggle for Indian Independence from British rule in 1947, the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, the civilian-based movements in Serbia (2000), Madagascar (2002), Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004) as well as the ousting of foreign troops in Lebanon (2005) and the restoration of civil rule in Nepal (2006) and the Maldives (2008).

The study bolsters the ‘democracy export’ policy introduced by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan back in 1983, which is as dynamic today as it was more than two decades ago – in fact, Washington invests roughly two billion dollars a year in nonviolent global interventions, or what critics of the model call ‘hidden U.S. imperialism’.

Both authors argue that nonviolent resistance has a strategic advantage over violent resistance. Repressing peaceful protests could backfire, resulting in a breakdown of obedience among regime supporters, mobilization of the population against the regime and international condemnation or sanctions, which often serve to weaken those in power.

The authors go a step further to predict that key members of the regime – including civil servants, security forces and members of the judiciary – “are more likely to shift loyalty toward nonviolent opposition groups than toward violent opposition groups.”

When repression by state forces is directed towards nonviolent campaigns, the report estimates the rate of defection by security forces to be as high as 46 percent.

Popovic also stressed that nonviolent strategies against authoritarian rule, as well as the use of social media tools rather than weapons, are, in general, far less risky endeavors for individuals involved in the movement.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Year of Rebellion

Dear Gabriel,

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, 2011 was the year a tightly wound coil was suddenly unsprung. Ordinary people flooded the streets to demand change, releasing energy and power that continues to transform the region.

Millions of people, many of them women protesting for the first time, risked their lives to publicly express a deep, burning need for change. Government forces responded with relentless brute force.

It’s not over yet. Brave individuals continue to put their safety on the line, standing against governments that respond with guns, tear gas and tanks.

Our special in-depth report “Year of Rebellion: The State of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa,” documents this historic, tumultuous year and issues a bold human rights agenda for change in the region. Foremost among these recommendations: stop sending weapons to governments that use them to kill and repress their own people.

I’m going to be talking a lot about weapons sales in the next few months — it’s an issue I care about, and one that has major implications for human rights.

Take Egypt. Last January, Egyptian protestors stormed Tahrir square and braved violent government crackdowns as they drove President Hosni Mubarak from power.

One year later, Egypt’s new military government continues using excessive force against protestors. Many have died. The government has even fired tear gas canisters that say “Made in the USA.”

This is unacceptable. Urge the U.S. State Department to stop authorizing the shipment of U.S.-manufactured tear gas, bullets, and other military equipment that could be used by Egypt’s military to violate human rights.

The people of Egypt have achieved momentous change, but their gains are fragile.

Your solidarity is needed still.

Demand that the State Department stop any future transfers of weapons and equipment that the Egyptian military could use to attack Egyptian protestors.

Thank you for all you do to support human rights.

In solidarity,

Sanjeev Bery
Advocacy Director, Middle East North Africa
Amnesty International USA

Turkey’s Turn-around

From Nation of Change
by Mohammed Ayoob
9 January 2012

Turkey’s Balancing Act

Turkey has over the past few weeks become the spearhead of a joint Western-Arab-Turkish policy aimed at forcing President Bashar al-Assad to cede power in Syria. This is quite a turnaround in Turkish policy, because over the past two years the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had gone out of its way to cultivate good relations with neighboring Syria, with whom it shares a long land border.

This change of course on Syria has also cost Turkey a great deal in terms of its relations with Iran, the principal supporter of Assad’s regime, which Turkey had also cultivated as part of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy.

Given these new strains, it is worth recalling that a only few months ago many American leaders were livid at what they perceived to be Turkey’s betrayal. In their view, Turkey had re-oriented its foreign policy toward the Muslim Middle East and away from the West – a shift supposedly reflected in the country’s deteriorating relations with Israel and improving ties with Iran and Syria.

Many American policymakers and publicists, unable or unwilling to distinguish Turkish-Israeli relations from Turkish-American relations, interpreted Erdoğan’s condemnation of Israel’s blockade of Gaza as a bid to cozy up to his Arab neighbors at the expense of Turkey’s relations with not only Israel but with the West in general. Turkey’s attempt to mediate between the major Western powers and Iran concerning the Islamic Republic’s uranium stockpile went unappreciated in the West; indeed, the United States scuttled the effort just as it seemed to be bearing fruit. And Turkey’s subsequent vote in the United Nations Security Council against imposing additional sanctions on Iran seemed to offer further proof that Turkey had adopted an “Islamic” foreign policy.

America’s anxiety assumed that it is a contradiction for Turkey to seek good relations with both the West and the Muslim Middle East, and that Ankara’s decision to improve its relations with its Muslim neighbors was motivated primarily by religious and ideological concerns considered important by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Turkey’s recent tense relations with Iran demonstrate this assumption’s basic fallacy, and point to a non-ideological foreign policy that caters to Turkish national interests as defined by the country’s political elite – including the post-Islamists in power today.

Disagreement between Turkey and Iran initially centered on their conflicting approaches to the internal rebellion against Assad’s dictatorship. Iran has been heavily invested in the Assad regime, its lone Arab ally and the main conduit for delivering material support to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Turkey, on the other hand, after some initial hesitation, has thrown its weight fully behind Assad’s opponents, including by providing refuge to them, as well as to defectors from Syria’s army. Indeed, Turkey has gone further by helping the divided Syrian opposition to come together on its territory to establish a joint front against the Assad regime and provide a credible alternative to it.

Read entire column at Nation of Change.

Sparking the Arab Spring

From Read My Lips in The Globalist
28 December, 2011

Throughout 2011, protests in rich and poor countries alike have dominated the headlines — and shaped the political landscape. In this Read My Lips, we present economist Hernando de Soto’s recounting of the fate of Mohamed Bouazizi, the humble Tunisian fruit vendor who unleashed a tide of protest throughout the Arab world.

1. How did the revolution begin?

“It began when the 26-year-old Tarek Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself in front of the governor’s offices in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid last December, after his merchandise was confiscated.”

2. What exactly happened?

“Bouazizi flicked his lighter on at 11:30am on December 17, 2010, one hour after a policewoman, backed by two municipal officers, had expropriated his two crates of pears ($15), a crate of bananas ($9), three crates of apples ($22) and an electronic weight scale ($179, second hand).”

3. Why did Bouazizi respond by immolating himself?

“While a total of $225 might not appear to justify suicide, the fact is that, as a businessman, Bouazizi had been summarily wiped out.”

4. How so?

“Without those goods, Bouazizi would not be able to feed his family for more than the next month. Since his merchandise had been bought on credit and he couldn’t sell it to pay his creditors back, he was now bankrupt. Because his working tools were confiscated, he had lost his capital.”

5. What happened next?

“Before a few weeks passed, many of the 180 million Arabs who work in and around the informal markets in the Middle East and North Africa were identifying with his disempowerment and sending their shouts to heaven.”

6. Why did his story resonate?

“Like 50% of all working Arabs, he was an entrepreneur, albeit on the margins of the law. He died trying to gain the right to hold property and do business without being hassled by corrupt authorities.”

7. In other words, what really triggered the Arab Spring?

“Not enough credit has been given to the mighty consensus that triggered the uprising — the desire of a vast underclass of people to work in a legal market economy.”

8. What lesson does Bouazizi’s story hold?

“The powerless can crystallize into a revolutionary class when they become conscious that they share a common suffering — and especially when a martyr embodies that suffering.”

9. What lesson should the region’s political leaders take to heart?

“Political leaders must realize that, since Bouazizi went up in flames and his peers rose in protest, poor Arabs are no longer outside but inside, in the market, right next to them.”

10. And finally, what happens if reforms fail?

“If the agenda does not include tackling the nitty-gritty institutional deficiencies that make most Arabs poor, they will eventually open the doors to the anti-democrats and enemies of modernity who fight democracy and modernity in their name.”

Editor’s Note: The quotes in this Read My Lips are drawn from Mr. de Soto’s November 8, 2011 op-ed in the Financial Times.

Read more at The Globalist.

Egypt’s Virginity Testing

From Nation of Change by Vanessa Ortiz

Hidden in Egypt’s Closet: Virginity Testing as a Tactic of Repression

Women’s broad and persistent participation in the ongoing revolution in Egypt has brought a gruesome new tactic to light—virginity testing. This form of repression that specifically targets female activists and journalists peaked around March 2011, and under Egypt’s post-Mubarak military leadership, the tactic is on the rise.

Recently, the courageous Samira Ibrahim, a 25-year-old Egyptian human rights activist, has not only publicly exposed the torture she and other women were subjected to, but she is filing a legal case against the Egyptian military for sexual assault. Human Rights Watch and other human rights advocacy and defense organizations have denounced the practice of virginity testing and are helping publicize Samira’s case, including a video testimony by Samira that details her experience.

Certainly, sexual torture is not new in Egypt, and men have been subject to it. Bloggers have helped expose this form of torture for years. In June 2011, the popular writer and lecturer, Mona Eltahawy, helped bring to light the new issue of virginity testing as part of a larger strategy targeting women to discourage them from participating in protest activities. She rightly declares, “If the ‘it wasn’t about gender’ mantra is stuck on repeat so that we don’t scare the boys away, then let them remember the state screwed them too…”

Up to now, virginity testing as a tactic of repression has remained in the closet among Egyptians. In this patriarchal, conservative, and now military-run society, it is not difficult to understand how a woman’s virginity could be used as rationale to intimidate detained female activists by Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Women’s overwhelming participation during the revolution helped break open myths and traditions about gender in the Middle East. The current military regime’s understands this, and the desire to supposedly restore law and order, while keeping the country wrapped in the patriarchal cloak that has suffocated Egyptians, naturally requires a strategy to quell mass protests. Security forces naturally gravitate to repressive, coercive means. So what better way to keep half the population off the streets and under military control than to intimidate women using the threat of spotlighting the most intimate, personal of issues in a jail cell and later in a military tribunal, with the added accusation of prostitution?

General sexual harassment toward women in Egypt has existed for many years, and there are many Egyptians using tools to tackle the issue. The 2010 film 678 offers three vignettes of harassment and rape against Egyptian women, and the societal repercussions these women face after rape and after reporting such crimes. This is a problem that has multiplied in recent years, in part due to growing conservatism, in part due to a poor economy that has many unemployed, disgruntled young men idle in the street (women know how this goes no matter where they come from).

Egyptian women knew what they could face in January 2011 at Tahrir Square, and they went out in huge numbers anyway. During a recent conversation with Nada Zohdy, a program assistant at the Project on Middle East Democracy, she recounted how two weeks ago, in another wave of protests, she found herself in Tahrir very late at night. She realized at that moment that she was the only female in sight and was surprised to feel safe overall despite the massive gender imbalance in the crowd and not seeing any other women among the hundreds of people. She attributes this sense of safety to the unique, powerful spirit of solidarity that exists in the square. “The challenge now is how to replicate that kind of gender unity and respect in post-revolution Egypt,” Nada added. It seems the revolution brought out the best in Egyptians.

Read Complete Story at Nation of Change.

Is Obama to Blame?

Is Obama to blame or praise, as perhaps being the catalyst to many of the changes taking place across Africa and the Middle East with millions of people saying “Enough!” and wanting real change and democracy?

It was just 2 years ago that Barack Obama did what many said was impossible and became the president of the United States. He stood (and still stands) for possibility and putting hope into action. He was one of the first U.S. presidents to go to Africa and speak before thousands in Egypt and other countries about democracy, human rights and fair elections. I wonder if his energy and deep intentions may have been the tipping point that, conscious or not, lit some hearts and minds in people across the world who were dying for change for decades?

Yes, there are many other factors that have influenced and are driving Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyan’s Jordanian’s, Lebanese and others and there movements are each coming organically from their own experience, situation and need. Yes, the U.S. has often propped up, supported and turned a blind eye to dictators and governments that we felt were useful for some other purpose (or perceived advantage). And… I believe there are great changes afoot throughout the world and great opportunity to actually practice what we preach.

President Obama has not acted in a vacuum, but perhaps his message of having the audacity to hope has reached farther and deeper than we either give him credit for or realize.

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