Author Archives: Javier Barrera - Page 2

Egypt votes for new president

Photo: Ahmed Abd El-fatah (Flickr)

Today Egyptians are casting ballots in a historic presidential election to vote for the next leader in Egypt.  This is the first presidential election since Mubarak was ousted last year. From The New York Times:

“Rise up, Egyptians,” proclaimed a full-page headline in the largest independent daily newspaper, Al Masry Al Youm. “Egypt of the revolution’ chooses today the first elected president for the ‘Second Republic.’ ”

Four candidates have emerged. They include Mubarak’s former foreign minister, Amr Moussa, a former Muslim Brotherhood official named Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote in the first round of voting, the top two candidates face a run-off in mid-June.

For an in-depth discussion on this historic election, AAM sits down with David Schenker, Director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

AAM: We know the elections are coming up on the 23rd and 24th of May. What happens next and what should we be looking for?

DAVID SCHENKER: I think what we have to see is who gets first past the post – who are the top two candidates. I think that the military is hoping that at least one of those is a guy named Amr Moussa. This is going to be their candidate. They see him as the best of a bad bunch. I think that liberals in the country – the ones who actually ran the revolution but are now largely shut out of the political process – are very concerned that there will be a political monopoly going forward. That, in fact, Islamists will sweep and not only control 75% of the parliament but also control the executive and then start legislating a really oppressive social agenda.

But even more immediate than that is the economy in the country which is reaching a crisis point. The standard figure used to be 40% of the people in Egypt make less than $2 dollars a day. Now a year after the revolution, when expectations were so high that the people’s economic situations would improve, you probably have up to 50% of the people in Egypt making less than $2 dollars a day. Their reserves are down from $36 billion dollars at the time of the revolution to $14 billion dollars. Read more »

NATO summit declares end of Afghan war in sight

Photo: Sean Carberry

On Sunday, NATO allies declared that the end of the war in Afghanistan was in sight. The summit, so far, has been focused on the fate of Afghanistan. Combat troops are to gradually hand over security responsibility to the Afghans next year with a troop pull-out by 2014. President Obama wants the US to shift into a support role in the unpopular war while running for re-election, even though the US is committed to many more years of assistance. The US-Afghan “Strategic Partnership Agreement” covers a time period of ten years after military forces are to leave. Issues remain as member countries debate the details. From the LA Times:

The alliance is split on key details about how to prevent Afghanistan from falling under Taliban control once NATO troops leave. There were clear signs of discord over how quickly to pull troops out over the next 2 1/2 years, and growing doubts about whether NATO nations will meet financial pledges in the future.

“We still have a lot of work to do and there will be great challenges ahead,” Obama told reporters after meeting for more than an hour with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “The loss of life continues in Afghanistan and there will be hard days ahead.”

NATO troops have now spent a decade in Afghanistan, and more recently, NATO airpower helped to overthrow Moammar Ghaddafi in Libya. But in the face of economic stress, and war-weary publics in the United States and Europe, how will the alliance move forward? America Abroad reports on The Future of NATO »

NATO summit in Chicago: the local perspective

The NATO conference marks a historic first by putting Chicago on the world stage instead of New York or Washington DC. For some native Chicagoans, an international conference is a mark of prestige; for others, the summit maybe more trouble than it’s worth. From WBEZ in Chicago, Alex Keefe reports:

As far as informal public opinion polls go, you could do worse than Manny’s Deli. The clientele is a good mix of suits and construction workers, and it’s been in the same spot for decades – just a couple miles away from where the NATO summit is being held.

Jason Greenberg falls under the construction category. He says he isn’t buying all the PR about NATO being Chicago’s moment in the sun – especially for a city wrestling with budget deficits, failing schools and unemployment.

“I think it’s too much trouble,” he says. “I think there’s more important things to the city than some world leaders that come here. I think we have more important issues.”

People like Steve Dukatt, a real estate investor, seem to think NATO is a good fit for President Barack Obama’s hometown. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt us,” says Dukatt. “It’s only going to bring a little economic action. Whatever inconvenience it has will be a short-lived one. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

The NATO summit, after all, is just two days in the life of a big city. But it’s a big two days. Read more »

Youth unemployment in Tunisia

From Greta Ghacibeh, Directrice, Association Tunisie Media

TUNIS – As unemployment in Tunisia hovers around 19%, and 120,000 young people are projected to enter the labor market annually, it would appear that Tunisia is suffering from a lack of jobs. However, experts at human resources expos and job fairs feel that the problem may lie in the disconnect between the education and skill sets of young Tunisians and the predominance of labor and tourism jobs throughout the country.

Is it the responsibility of the state to provide jobs to its people, or is it the responsibility of the people themselves and the job market?

Association Tunisie Media with Mosaique FM examined these questions, along with various causes of unemployment among young Tunisians, during a live town hall broadcast connecting three studios in the capital city Tunis, the coastal city of Nabeul, and the interior city of Syliana.

Read more »

Sandmonkey’s thoughts on upcoming Egyptian elections

Liberal youth formed the crux of the revolutionaries that took to the streets of Cairo to oust President Hosni Mubarak. Once toppled, Islamist parties in Egypt seemed to take over the political process. Islamist parties form the majority of members in parliament with a large say on the forming of a new constitution. Where did the liberals go? Why were they defeated so soundly in elections and have the Islamists hijacked the revolution?

Egyptian blogger Mahmoud Salem, better known by his nom de plume “Sandmonkey” spoke at the Washington Institute and shared his perspectives on the upcoming Egyptian elections and why there don’t seem to be any viable liberal candidates in the running. He is a longtime analyst of Egyptian political affairs and advocate for free speech. He also ran as a parliamentary candidate last year on the ticket of the Free Egyptians party.

He believes that the street movements were largely disorganized. Leftists have no candidates because they have not created a message that connects with the public at large. These civil and secular groups need to do a better job “modernizing their rhetoric” to appeal to large groups that are fundamentally Islamist and have lived the better part of their lives under a one-party system. The economy, corruption and security are the real issues that have to be dealt with forthright with new ideas and platforms that can appeal to the masses.

Read more »

Drone strike kills leading al-Qaeda figure in Yemen

Fahd al-Quso, a leading figure in al-Qaeda in Yemen, was killed by a CIA drone strike according to US officials. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2003 for his suspected role in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 US sailors and injured 39 others in the port of Aden in Yemen. He was being held in a Yemeni prison but escaped. He was captured again but only served 3 years and could not be extradited to the US for lack of extradition treaty.

CBS news explains his background with the Cole bombing:

Quso’s co-defendant in the Cole indictment, Jamal al-Badawi, allegedly bought the boat and a truck to tow it to Aden harbor and rented a safe house to store it. One of Quso’s jobs in the plot, according to the indictment, was to retrieve and hide the car and trailer used to tow the attack boat into position.

On Oct. 12, 2000, the day on which two al Qaeda suicide bombers struck the Cole, Quso was meant to videotape the attack in the hills above the Port of Aden for use in al Qaeda propaganda. Quso failed to do so, later telling an FBI agent who interrogated him in Yemen that he had overslept.

The man accused of masterminding the bombing of the USS Cole, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. His trial does not begin until November 2012 but his pre-trial hearings are proving to be challenging to the prosecution since he is expected to testify about the more than four years he spent in secret CIA prisons.

Lawrence Wright, author of the book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, talks to America Abroad on the program, Remembering the Cole, to discuss the USS Cole bombing and its implications for 9/11.

Afghanistan: More Questions Than Answers

Republished courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations.

May 2, 2012. Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations

Photo: Sean Carberry

President Obama has been of two minds toward Afghanistan since the outset of his presidency. In December 2009, en route to tripling the U.S. military presence there, he declared that U.S. military forces would begin to withdraw from that country in eighteen months. Now, two-and-a-half years later, he stated that U.S. military forces would continue to leave Afghanistan but that American soldiers would remain in the country until at least 2024.

The announcement of the U.S.-Afghan “Strategic Partnership Agreement” raises at least as many questions as it answers. How many U.S. troops will remain in country after 2014 and what will be their precise role? What will be the ultimate scale of Afghan army and police forces? How much will all this cost, and what will be the U.S. share? And what is the extent of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan if, as is all too possible, this mix of Afghan and U.S. effort is not enough in the face of Taliban ruthlessness, Pakistani provision of a sanctuary for the Taliban, and Afghan corruption and divisions?

The bigger question over the president’s speech is not that some U.S. forces are to stay in Afghanistan–U.S. forces have remained in other hot spots for decades and played a useful role–but centers on the purpose and scale of the ongoing commitment. Mr. Obama put forward two rationales. The first is that absent this effort, “al-Qaeda could establish itself once more” inside the country. This is of course true. But it could regroup in Afghanistan even with this effort. More important, it is not clear how this possibility would distinguish Afghanistan from, say, Yemen or Somalia or Nigeria. The global effort against terror is just that—global–and there is no reason for the effort in Afghanistan to be large. It is not the central battleground in a struggle against an enemy with access to dozens of countries.

All of which takes us to the second rationale for the announced policy: to “finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly.” But past sacrifice is a poor justification for continued sacrifice unless it is warranted. The truth is that while the United States still has interests in Afghanistan, none of them, other than opposing al-Qaeda, rises to the level of vital. And this vital interest can be addressed with a modest commitment of troops and dollars.

Sudan and South Sudan skirmish along their borders

A woman standing among her possessions at the Juba port. She and her family returned from the north and have no money or family in the south who can help them resettle. Photo: Sean Carberry

South Sudan is accusing its northern neighbor Sudan of attacking its oil region and is preparing to counter-attack. The violence is escalating along the frontier and the United Nations, the White House and the African Union have tried to calm down the warlike situation.

NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is reporting from the South Sudanese capital of Juba on the escalation of war between Sudan and newly independent South Sudan.

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Tensions began in January when South Sudan shut down oil production and refused to pay what it says are inflated fees imposed by South Sudan for use of its pipelines. There is also an issue of citizenship as Sudan is expatriating many South Sudanese back to the south where many have never been before.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July 2011 as part of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that put an end to Sudan’s long-running civil war and mapped out South Sudan’s road to self-determination. Many issues that were apparent then, i.e. borders, oil and citizenship, are quickly coming to a boil now.

America Abroad was in South Sudan last year and filed these reports »

Recent press from Tunisian town hall on civil society

Last week, Association Tunisie Media (ATM), AAM’s Tunis-based office, partnered with Hannibal TV to host a town hall discussion focused on the role of civil society in Tunisia’s democratic transition. Here are some of the news articles generated by the program from Tunisie Numerique and

From Tunisie Numerique:

The role of civil society in Tunisia has been the spotlight, Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at night in the show “Likaa Maftouh” (open meeting) on Hannibal TV channel.

Very important guests like Badreddine Abdelkefi (member in the constituent assembly and responsible for relations with civil society), Mohsen Marzouk (a human rights activist and secretary-general of the Arab Foundation for Democracy) and Khlifa Ben Fatma (director of training and studies at the orientation center of associations) where in the studio to discuss about “The role of civil society in the success of democratic transition”.

In the presence of an audience that includes representatives of civil society, debates were rich and varied.

The discussions between guests on the set helped to introduce the experiences of each other on the ground and to expose new challenges faced by associations in the country which currently consists of 11000 associations instead of 9600 before the revolution of January 14, 2011.

The debates also focused on the evolution of the activities of civil society associations after the promulgation of the new law on associations.

The program also helped to evoke the overruns of some associations that do not always meet the required criteria.

Speakers stressed, in this issue, the importance of civil society in the success of the democratic transition in the country, calling for greater coordination of civil society organizations with the government.

Read more »

Perspectives on US/NATO plan in Afghanistan

The US and Afghanistan have agreed to a long-awaited strategic partnership that will ensure the US’s involvement after the planned 2014 withdrawal of troops. The US will provide both military and financial aid for a decade beyond the 2014 date. Leaders in Afghanistan hope this will mitigate fears that US allies are not walking away from the conflict. After 10 years of war, insurgents remain a threat to Afghanistan. From the Guardian News Service:

“Today Afghanistan and the US initialled (sic) and locked the text of the strategic partnership agreement,” said Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi. “This means the text is closed, and both sides will now review the document and do a final consultation. In the US it will go to the houses of Congress and the president; in Afghanistan the president will consult with national leaders plus both houses of parliament.”

For a better understanding of how Afghans feel about US and NATO troops in their country, listen to these clips of Afghans sharing their perspectives on US/NATO troops, their presence, and their impending departure.

Ahmad, from Nangarhar Province, thinks that NATO must stay.

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Rozi Zalmai, also from Nangarhar Province, does not want NATO to stay and thinks their presence is not possible for peace.

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Malalai Niazi, from Kabul, does not think Afghan security forces are ready to take over responsibility.

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Abdul Wasi, from Kabul, is afraid if NATO leaves, civil war will begin.

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Iqbal, from Logar Province, thinks the Afghan military forces still need assistance.

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Mohammad Khalik, a soldier at Kapisa police headquarters, has seen changes over the years but still believes that keeping NATO forces in Afghanistan will be positive.

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