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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for March 2011

Dinosaur in Denial

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Until recently it seemed that Syria, along with wealthy Saudi Arabia, was the state least likely to fall to the revolutionary turmoil sweeping the Arab region.

The first reason for the Asad regime’s seeming stability is Syrian fear of sectarian chaos. Beyond the Sunni Arab majority, Syria includes Alawis (most notably the president and key military figures), Christians, Ismailis, Druze, Kurds and Armenians, as well as Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. The state has achieved a power balance between the minorities and rural Sunnis while building an alliance with the urban Sunni business class. This means that Syria is the best place in the Middle East to belong to a religious minority, certainly better than in ‘liberated’ Iraq or in the Jewish state, and for a long time domestic peace under authoritarianism has looked more attractive than the neighbouring sectarian and strife-torn ‘democracies’ in Lebanon and Iraq (the American dismantling of the Iraqi state provided a serious blow to Arab democratic aspirations, neo-con fantasies notwithstanding).

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 31, 2011 at 10:12 am

Posted in Sectarianism, Syria

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Syrian Bloodbath

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Some (I hope exaggerated) reports say that well over a hundred people were killed in the southern Syrian city of Dera’a yesterday. And after Friday prayers today, enraged Syrians took to the streets in nearby Sunamayn, in central and suburban Damascus, in towns such as Tell and Ma’adumiyeh in the Damascus countryside, and in the cities of Homs, Hama and Lattakiya. They chanted “God, Syria, Freedom – That’s All,” and “With our Souls and Blood We Sacrifice for You, O Dera’a.” And they did sacrifice; reports suggest that many more were killed and injured by the state’s bullets this afternoon.

The officially-sanctioned chants usually heard in Syria promote sacrifice for President Bashaar al-Asad. Today a group of pro-regime demonstrators rather lamely replaced Freedom with Bashaar, as in “God, Syria, Bashaar – That’s All.” But it doesn’t work any more. Bashaar, previously perceived by many as innocent of his father’s regime’s crimes, now has blood on his hands. His name sounds like the antithesis of freedom.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 25, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Syria Shaking

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photo by Khaled al-Hariri/ Reuters

A few weeks ago fifteen children were arrested in the southern Syrian city of Dera’a for writing revolutionary slogans on walls. This led to a series of demonstrations calling for the children’s release, the sacking of local officials, and an end to the decades-long state of emergency. Last Friday security forces opened fire on protestors, killing five people. Predictably, state violence redoubled the people’s rage. A Ba’ath Party office was burned and a phone company belonging to the president’s corrupt cousin Rami Makhlouf was attacked. Inspired by Tahreer Square and Pearl Roundabout, protestors then set up tents beside Dera’a’s Omari mosque and stated their intention to stay until their demands were met. Last night security forces attacked the mosque, killing six people.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Syria

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Prison of Terror

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By Nafissa Assed

On the 17th of March I headed to the airport, leaving Tripoli for safety reasons. The internet has been cut off in Libya since 3rd March, phone lines are very bad in all the cities, and some cities are totally isolated (no phone lines, no water, no electricity) – like Zawiya, Misurata, and now Benghazi’s too. God only knows what is coming next. After we lost the internet, Tripoli became a prison of terror.

Qaddafi’s thugs are celebrating all the time, and every day gunfire starts and stops all of a sudden, at any second. Out of a complete silence, we see cars passing by our building playing very loud music, songs for Qaddafi. At other times (usually between 2 and 4 am) we hear gunfire that gradually increases, with no celebrations or cars chanting his name around the streets.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Libya

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Introducing Nafissa Assed

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Our correspondent in Tripoli, who’s been sending us such stirring and terriying reports, is now safe in Morocco. She is finally able to renounce her anonymity. She wants me to tell you her name in capital letters, NAFISSA ASSED, daughter of a martyr, proud Libyan citizen. Read her self-description after the break.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 20, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Posted in Libya

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Infantile Leftism

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picture by Ali Farzat

It certainly feels uncomfortable to watch American, British and French planes enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, bombing Libya’s anti-aircraft defences and destroying Libyan tanks. Certainly the hypocrisy of the West and the Arab dictators is as galling as ever. There’s no chance of a no-fly zone over Palestine and Lebanon, nor over Saudi-occupied Bahrain. I can understand very well the fears of some that the West will overstay its welcome – although I think this is very unlikely indeed.

I am pleased, however, that the joint British-French-Lebanese (with Hizbullah in government in Lebanon) resolution for the no-fly zone has been adopted by the United Nations, that the massacres of the Libyan people may be minimised or stopped, that liberated Benghazi will probably not now fall to the tyrant.

If Britain, France and others are seeking influence in post-Qaddafi Libya by pleasing the Libyan people, that’s fine by me. Perhaps they fear their companies being banned from Libya as a punishment for supporting the dictator, and they are taking this opportunity to make amends. Again, fine. This is how things are done between strong, free countries which respect each other. It’s not the same as, for instance, Western powers arming and politically supporting the Saud family in return for military bases which are hated by the Saudi Arabian population.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 20, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Libya

A Tribe Called Libya

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picture by Asma Waguih/ Reuters

Our Tripolitanian witness is alive and well in an Arab country beyond Libya’s borders. Free to use the internet again, she has sent some old reports. This one is from March 7th.

Today is the 7th March 2011, one of the most horrible days that Libya has witnessed since the ‘Greatest Libyan Revolution’ began. Zawiya has seen the nastiest massacres. The city was attacked from 8 am until 9pm; in the morning there were over 1500 protestors in the city streets, and by the end of the day there was no one. Hundreds were brutally murdered by heavy machine guns, missiles, and tanks, others were seriously injured, and some were lucky enough to stay alive.

In Misurata, snipers executed two martyrs after they stopped Qaddafi’s thugs mounting the roof of their building. In Ras Lanoof, families are evacuating the city as Qaddafi’s thugs are getting more brutal by attacking houses and buildings (even mosques) and killing civilians. As a matter of fact, I received confirmed news that a whole family was viciously murdered in their car as they were leaving Ras Lanoof. So Qaddafi and his supporters are not only killing people who try to protest and stand up for freedom, but also people who want to run away for their life to a more secure area.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 20, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Posted in Libya

Tripolitanian Abnormality

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Steve Bell's Qaddafi

Our Tripolitanian witness is alive and well in an Arab country beyond Libya’s borders. Free to use the internet again, she has sent some old reports. The first is from early March.

Today I went out in my area, Ben Ashour, and all the shops were still closed in the main street. I stopped by the bakery for bread and I found a long line of people waiting; the bakery of my area gives each person a rationed number of loaves so each can have at least some bread by the end of the day. I also went to Fashloom, near my neighborhood, and I noticed a weird silence and only a few people walking in that area, the walls all clean of the anti-Qaddafi graffiti that had covered them earlier. I also noticed two cars belonging to Qaddafi’s thugs parked (and undoubtedly armed) in the corners of the tiny streets of Fashloom. Some thugs were dressed like civilians and yet I could tell who they were by their car. Others were wearing military outfits and standing alertly in front of their cars. A member of my family sadly confirmed to me that some families they know in Fashloom (and other areas) had buried their epic martyrs in the gardens of their houses, for they were scared the bodies would be taken away from them by Qaddafi’s thugs.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Libya

The US-Saudi-Khalifa Alliance

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Following the surprise visit of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates to Bahrain, home of the American Fifth Fleet, tanks and troops of the Saud family dictatorship have crossed the causeway and are now occupying Manama. The film below shows Bahraini police tactics against unarmed protestors before the Wahhabi goons were called in. Meanwhile, the Khalifa regime is urgently recruiting more mercenaries.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 14, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Posted in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia

Should the No-Fly Zone Fly?

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For those of you wondering what’s become of our informant in Tripoli, I’ve heard from a member of her family who lives here in Britain that she is physically safe but in a difficult emotional state – terrified and very tired. The internet is properly down now, and Human Rights Watch reports a wave of “arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances” throughout the capital.

To the west of Tripoli, the heroic city of Zawiya has fallen after Qaddafi’s forces bombed schools, hospitals, mosques and private homes. There are reports of random mass arrests there too. We can be sure that executions and torture are continuing on a massive scale. Further east, first Bin Jawad, then Ras Lanuf and now Brega have been reclaimed by the tyrant after heavy aerial bombardment. It seems that my earlier optimism was misplaced. The Libyan revolution risks drowning in blood. If it does, the larger Arab revolution may well grind to a temporary halt.

This worries me far more than the prospect of Western intervention, because the West is currently in no position to occupy or control Libya. The West’s economy is precarious to say the least, partly because of the adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the mighty American army was tied down and humiliated although no more than 20% of the people rose against the occupation at any one time, and despite the political incompetence and sectarian divisions of the resistance. In Afghanistan, NATO achieved the amazing feat of making the almost universally hated Taliban popular again. While the West squanders treasure and blood, China has signed the contracts to exploit Afghanistan’s resources.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 13, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Iraq, Libya

Terror and Hypocrisy

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children in 'Ain Qenya

An irate PULSE reader, a Zionist immigrant to Israel from Britain, has written to ask why I haven’t condemned the murder of a family living in the illegal colony of Itamar near Nablus. The reader, by the by, describes himself as a ‘lefty.’ It’s always interesting to see how political terminology entirely loses its meaning when employed by Zionists. Choosing to migrate from a safe, free country to join the side of the masters in an aggressive ethnocracy is not what would normally be called ‘lefty’ behaviour. Here’s another example – a “left-leaning youth movement” is establishing a new settlement in the illegally occupied and ethnically-cleansed Jordan valley. Hooray for the Zionist left.

As it happens, I think the attack on the Itamar family was repulsive. I have no idea how anyone could stab young children to death, even the children of racists and thieves. These murders were immoral and politically counter-productive. They gave Israel an excuse to whine about the bloodthirstiness of the natives and a pretext for building hundreds more homes in the West Bank (although Israel does these things without pretexts too).

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Palestine

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Tablet and Pen

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This review appeared in today’s Financial Times.

In his introduction to “Tablet and Pen – Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East”, Reza Aslan correctly argues that “from ‘the civilising mission’ to ‘the clash of civilisations’” the West has read the East primarily through a security prism, as something to be managed and contained. Apart from a couple of Nobel winners, an Egyptian feminist, and Sayyid Qutb, the region’s writing – and therefore the human dimension – is absent from our calculations.

With Saidean distaste for grand orientalist categories, Aslan argues the literatures grouped here are linked by themes of “imperialism, colonialism and Western cultural hegemony.” A straightforward civilisational definition might have been more logical; African, Indian and Caribbean writing has engaged the same preoccupations. But we know what Aslan means: these 20th Century poems, short stories, novel extracts and essays come from Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and the Arab world, the old Islamic heartland connected by common experience and similar cultural references.

The presence of the anthologiser is felt throughout – pleasantly so: Aslan’s introductions and chronologies give historical structure and social context to the pieces, and succeed in making this “not an anthology to be tasted in disparate bits but rather a single sustained narrative to be consumed as a whole.” It’s a weighty and physically beautiful book which is also compulsively readable.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 12, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Posted in book review

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No Exception for Oman

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By Iman Said

After Cyclone Gonu

Just like the Gonu and Phet cyclones that hit the Sultanate in the last two years, corruption has united the Omani people once again. The protests that have spread all over the country turned into a huge campaign to ‘clean’ the country.

Yesterday I saw people holding placards on which they had written names of some of the corrupt officials in high positions. They were protesting peacefully and no riot police were involved. I felt very proud of the space of freedom that we have established in our beloved Oman. That is what I want for my country. That is what I want for my fellow countrymen.

Public opinion has been fluctuating because of what the Omani TV describes as vandalism. People came out with new slogans now: “No corruption…No vandalism”. However, one can never ignore the greater picture; a picture of Omani citizens expressing themselves with no fear.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Oman

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Daughter of a Martyr

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picture by Ali Farzat

Anonymous eye witness in Tripoli:

After more than ten days at home, yesterday morning I went out for some grocery shopping, and I noticed a sad and fearful quietness in the faces of the Libyans in the streets because of the inhumane events which are happening. The streets are very quiet and almost empty. People no longer feel safe enough to walk in the streets even in daylight. In fact, the shops near here are all closed; only a few small grocery markets are open so people can buy the basic needs (water, flour, oil).

There is an apparent shortage of all goods in the market, including dairy products, beverages, and vegetables. All the goods are highly expensive. We wanted to buy flour but we couldn’t find any. Also people are buying up whatever is available. Two days ago I saw my neighbors carrying big bags of flour. They told me that some bakeries are running out of bread, and that soon all bakeries and food shops will close. Prices of food have almost doubled (a bag of 20 eggs used to cost between 4.75/5LYD, and now it costs 10 LYD). People are suffering between the need to stock up with adequate quanties of food and water on the one hand and the sudden high prices on the other.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 1, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Posted in Libya

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