Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

16
May

130203041-men-and-women-wearing-traditional-qatari-clothing-visit

The 2014 World Cup is just one month away, but it’s not too early to start feeling intense emotions about the 2022 World Cup. Specifically, fury. That’s the feeling I left with after watching ESPN’s excellent E:60 documentary on the human rights disaster that’s unfolding eight years ahead of the Qatar World Cup.

From the opening shots of a small, red coffin carrying a young migrant worker, E:60: Trapped in Qatar is a gut punch. In addition to interviewing widows of Nepalese migrant workers, reporter Jeremy Schaap travelled to Qatar and took unauthorized cameras to see laborers’ cramped, squalid living conditions. Previous journalists had been detained by police for attempting to film in these dilapidated housing projects.

Those terrible images and individual interviews with grieving family members would be infuriating enough, but then the documentary goes into the actual numbers. Because Qatar has such a tiny population—the country has only about 280,000 citizens—and the World Cup is such a large project, most of the work to build the infrastructure and eight to 12 state-of-the-art stadiums will be carried out by the country’s 1.4 million migrant workers. In the past year alone, according to ESPN, 184 Nepali migrant workers have died, mainly from “sudden cardiac death” caused byterrible working conditions and extreme heat. The Nepalese embassy in Qatar, meanwhile, says 400 workers had died on World Cup projects since 2010. And that’s just the Nepalis.

Qatar has also imported workers from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and elsewhere. India has reported that 500 of its citizens have died in Qatar since 2012. Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, is quoted in the ESPN documentary as saying that at current rates, 4,000 people will dieto make the 2022 World Cup a reality. A March ITUC report said that 1,200 migrants have already died in the four years since the tiny, oil-rich Gulf State was awarded the World Cup in a shady and stunning decision. Watch a clip of FIFA president Sepp Blatter saying “there is not one single doubt that the World Cup will be organized in Qatar” and it’s hard not to reach anger level midnight.

All of these abuses are possible because of the nation’s kafala employment system, which has been aptly described as modern-day slavery. Through kafala, employers are allowed to confiscate a migrant’s passport and withhold exit visas, effectively preventing that person from leaving the country.

Qatar claimed as recently as this Tuesday that not a single person had died while doing work for the World Cup. The contention rests on the fact that the hundreds who have died on infrastructure and construction efforts were working on “non-World Cup projects.”

Despite these assertions, Qatar and FIFA seem to have realized that a humanitarian crisis of this scale is disastrous, at the very least from a publicity standpoint. On Wednesday, Qatar announced reforms intended to abolish the worst provision ofkafala, specifically the one tying workers’ exit visas to employers.

But the Guardian, which prior to the ESPN doc had been the leading news organization in investigating the crisis, reports that these alterations won’t be easy to push through. Changes to Qatari employment law will face pushback from businesses, would have to be ratified by an advisory council, and should not be considered a reality until they are actually enacted.

“Promises to fully review sponsorship and exit permits in the long term don’t help workers on the ground,” Amnesty International’s James Lynch told the paper. “The government has been announcing a law on domestic workers’ rights since 2008 but we still haven’t seen it.” Even after Wednesday’s announcement, no timeline had been set for implementation of the reforms.

As ITUC ‘s Burrows points out to ESPN, getting rid of kafala and the perverse Qatari exit visa system should be a minimum condition for Qatar continuing to be allowed to host the Cup. The changes announced today were praised by Sepp Blatter as a “significant step in the right direction.” But if Blatter refuses to put pressure on Qatar to follow through, the sporting and international community needs to direct pressure on Blatter himself.

Jeremy Stahl is Slate‘s social media editor. Published on 14 May in http://www.slate.com

30
Apr

Iraq election campaign

Iraq holds national elections on Wednesday, its first since the US left in December 2011. Relations between its Sunni and Shia communities have deteriorated and the country is on the brink of civil war as well as territorial disintegration.

The elections are likely to sustain and exacerbate these problems. The country has struggled to contain domestic instability and regional volatility since the US withdrawal, to the extent that many believe it is no longer a question of if, but when, the 2006 sectarian civil war is repeated. That conflict, also between Sunni and Shia communities, took the country to the brink, claimed thousands of lives and divided Baghdad along sectarian boundaries.

Iraq is also facing the resurgence of al-Qaida and other Islamist groups, who have been emboldened by the civil war in Syria and who last December took control of a province in the Sunni-dominated north.

Various Sunni Arab actors from both Iraq and Syria developed cross-border ties as part of the post-2003 Iraqi insurgency, particularly in the Sunni north-west areas that separate Iraq and Syria. Sunni Arab militants from Syria fought alongside Iraqis during the insurgency; Iraq’s Sunnis have returned the favour during the course of the Syrian civil war.

The overlap between sectarian conflict within Iraq and the regionalised sectarian war unfolding in Syria has, therefore, given militants in Iraq a fresh momentum.

Fearing that Bashar al-Assad’s downfall would allow Syria’s Islamist-dominated opposition to intensify its support for Iraq’s militants, Iraq’s Shia-dominated government has in turn allowed Syria-bound Iranian cargo flights to use Iraqi airspace. It has also turned a blind eye to Iraqi Shia militias entering Syria to support the Syrian regime. These militias have ensured the survival of the Assad regime alongside other Shia actors such as Hezbollah.

As a result, sectarian conflict is unlikely to abate. As usual it will be Iraq’s Shia parties who will continue to define and dominate the Iraqi state. As usual, few of Iraq’s Sunnis will be convinced the Shias are willing to share power and treat them as equals. At the same time, Iraq’s Shia community fears a return to the past when it suffered heavily under Saddam Hussein and a Sunni-dominated state.

As with previous elections it will be Iran that emerges as the ultimate winner and decision-maker – the country exercises considerable influence over Iraq’s Shia parties.

In little over two years since the US withdrawal Iraq has lost full control of its biggest province, Anbar, and is facing growing demands for a Sunni autonomous region similar to Kurdistan in the north. The ultimate victim of the growing sectarian polarisation could soon be the Iraqi state itself.

By Ranj Alaaldin; Published on 29 April in http://www.theguardian.com

25
Apr

It’s probably smart to view yesterday’s deal between the leading Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas—in which the two groups agreed to create a consensus government and hold elections later this year—with some skepticism. Announced with similar fanfare, accords in Cairo in 2011 and in Doha in 2012 went nowhere, with neither side believing it had more to gain than lose from agreeing to share power.

There are reasons to believe this time is different, though. It came after the first delegation of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders sent to Gaza since the brutal 2007 Fatah-Hamas civil war. The agreement was signed in Palestine—in Gaza City, to be exact—rather than a foreign capital. What’s more, reconciliation remains hugely popular amongst Palestinians. In March 2011, with anti-government protests spreading across the region, tens of thousands turned out in Gaza and the West Bank to call for an end to the division. An April 2013 poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center found that over 90 percent favored reconciliation between the two factions.

It’s important to recognize the extent to which internal Palestinian political dynamics have driven the move, with both factions under enormous pressure. Amid what its leaders proclaimed an “Islamic Awakening” in the region, Hamas had taken a bullish view of its prospects, assuming it would benefit from the coming wave of Islamist-dominated governments in the region. But it has seen its fortunes turn sharply over the last year. The July 2013 Egyptian coup removed the supportive government of Mohammed Morsi, dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas was founded as the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood). Egypt’s new military government has closed down the majority of the smuggling tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border, severely diminishing the blockaded strip’s access to the outside world and removing a key source of revenue for Hamas, which levies taxes on the tunnel trade

With the negotiations with Israel (which he entered against the wishes of the majority of his own party) now on life-support, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clearly sees reconciliation as something to boost his flagging popularity and at a time when he is in a relatively stronger position vis a vis Hamas. One question is whether he sees this move as something to enhance his position in negotiations with Israel, as a substitute for those negotiations, or possibly both—the latter in case, the former completely collapses. Read more…

Matthew Duss is a foreign policy analyst and a contributing writer for the Prospect. Published on April 24 in http://prospect.org

22
Apr

As Afghans await the results of the April 5 presidential election, another historic transition is taking place — the full withdrawal of international coalition forces from the country by Dec. 31, 2014.

That’s when NATO’s combat mission expires, ending 13 years of foreign military presence in Afghanistan since US-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001.

By joint agreement, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) are disengaging from combat activities and handing over security to Afghan forces.

They’re also shipping home over a decade’s accumulation of personnel and equipment. The logistical pull-out — known as a “retrograde” in military terms — is nearly unprecedented in scope. Foreign Policy explains:

“…in raw tonnage, it’s the biggest single military logistical undertaking ever. For size and complexity, think of something in between D-Day and the moon landing.” 

Here’s a look at what’s involved in sending (nearly) everything and everyone home from Afghanistan.

 

THE PROCESS

 

1. Tens of thousands of combat troops must be sent home.


(Vyacheslav Oseledko via AFP/Getty Images)

There are now 51,100 ISAF troops from 48 contributing countries — a huge drop from peak levels in 2011 of 140,000 troops. Today the top five contributors are the United States (33,500), the United Kingdom (5,200), Germany (2,730), Italy (2,019), Jordan (1,066) and Romania (1,021). “The challenge they have now is backward planning so that they are able to retrieve, clean, repair and redeploy all the gear they can — and then redeploy themselves,”reports Stars and Stripes.

 

2. Coalition bases must be closed and transferred to Afghan forces.


Soldiers demolish and haul away structures on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank on March 26, 2014 near Pul-e Alam, Afghanistan. (Getty Images)

For the last two years, coalition forces have been closing forward operating bases and combat outposts and handing them over to the Afghan National Security Forces. The number of bases and outposts has dropped from 850 down to 90. The goal is to get down to 10 to 12 bases by the end of the year, said former ISAF commander General John Allen. Personnel are also“descoping” the bases — emptying them of vehicles, weapons, equipment and other supplies, which are sent to one of several cargo yards for inventory, assessment and processing. Anything deemed “mission essential” is prepared for redistribution to active units. Everything else is transported home, transferred to Afghan forces, sold to “nearby friendly nations” or scrapped locally.  Read more…

 

Written By Sarah Dougherty; Published in the Global Post on 19 April: http://www.globalpost.com

 

11
Apr

 

The self-immolation of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon last month is a harrowing reminder of the desperate circumstances of those who have fled the war. But the hardship extends beyond just Syrians. Today, Lebanon and Jordan provide sanctuary to one million and some 600,000 Syrian refugees, respectively – about 20 and 10 percent of their respective populations – and the social and economic stresses are taking a heavy toll. Worse, the prospect that many of these refugees might never return home threatens the long-term stability of these states.

 

Demography is a central problem for Lebanon. Syrian exiles are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, and the influx has skewed Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. Adding to the religious strains are the ubiquitous complaints about Syrian workers driving down wages, and the burden refugees place on Lebanon’s already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. According to a recent World Bank report, over the next three years, Lebanon – which had a $4 billion budget deficit in 2013 – will require an additional $2 billion just to provide basic services to its new residents and to “address the expected additional impoverishment of the Lebanese people generated from the Syrian crisis.”

 

Absorbing refugees is also a burden for Jordan. While a fifth of Syrian expatriates currently reside in refugee camps, most live in the kingdom’s cities, where they are driving up rents – by up to 25 percent, the United Nations says – and taking scarce jobs from Jordanians who are already enduring an unofficial unemployment rate estimated at 30 percent. At the same time, despite a substantial budget deficit, Amman is providing free healthcare and education to these Syrians, 63 percent of whom receive monetary assistance from the United Nations.

 

Not surprisingly, the kingdom’s generosity toward its Syrian guests is starting to fuel resentment among the locals. As one Jordanian tribesman complained to me a few months ago, “They are taking the food out of our mouths.”

 

As refugees continue to flow into Lebanon and Jordan, tensions are mounting. Until now, incidents of violence between Syrians and host country nationals have been relatively limited. The worst attack occurred in December, when residents of a Lebanese village in the Beqa Valley reportedly torched a makeshift refugee encampment, leaving hundreds without shelter. To date, the incidents have been isolated, but a more concerted and sustained popular backlash is likely to materialize if the Syrian refugee crisis persists.

 

Alas, there is good reason to believe the problem will endure for some time. Syria’s nominally Shiite al-Assad regime is currently in no danger of imminent collapse. Meanwhile, the largely Sunni Muslim opposition is divided as secular fighters battle not only the regime, but rival Islamist militias, many of which are affiliated with al Qaeda. And even if al-Assad falls, Syria seems destined to face a lengthy and bloody struggle between ideologically opposed Sunni militias for the future of the state. At any rate, with an estimated one-third of all Syrian housing destroyed, there is little to which the refugees can return. Read more…

David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.   Published on April 10 in http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

 

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