Minority rights in Tunisia

From Greta Ghacibeh, Directrice, Association Tunisie Media

TUNIS – Khemaies Ksila, a member of the Constituent Assembly, explains that even though Tunisia is going through a transitional period, it has been suffering from a “general narrow-minded mentality,” especially when it comes to accepting others’ differences. Yemina Thabet, head of the Tunisian Association to Support Minorities added:

“Minorities have their own particularities and needs that have to be protected by the law. It is our role as a civil society to raise awareness about the matter.”

Thabet also refers to the importance of including minorities’ rights in the Constitution as a way to ensure a culture of tolerance for future generations.

In collaboration with Attounsia TV, AAM’s Tunis-based office—Association Tunisie Media (ATM)—brought together a panel of three government and civil society officials and an enthusiastic audience to discuss the concerns, demands and future of Tunisia’s minorities. These audience members were represented by a group of eleven participants belonging to different minority groups in Tunisia.

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Greece votes, Europe and Germany hold breath

Photo: Erwss, peace&love (via Flickr)

Greece holds elections on Sunday and the rest of Europe is holding its breath. This will be the second time Greece goes to the polls to elect a government that will forge a clear path towards financial stability. The centrist, pro-austerity New Democracy party is tied neck-to-neck with the leftist Syriza party that favors a full renegociation of the financial bailout terms imposed by Europe’s banks and Germany. There is great fear, in both Greece and the rest of Europe, that the elections will continue to destabilize Greece’s financial future and threaten the financial stability in Europe.

Despite who wins, Greece still faces difficult negociations with European banks and lenders over the terms of its austerity programs to get Greece back on fiscal track. Many Greeks think the austerity measures are too strict and do not focus enough on economic stimulus to get the country moving again. Greece finds itself going deeper into recession. For certain, any new government will have to confront Germany for another leaner, and more forgiving, bailout package. From The New York Times:

“Everyone knows that whatever they call it — and they won’t call it a renegotiation — there will have to be a de facto renegotiation of the bailout memorandum,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “If Syriza is the largest party, it will add to the general sense of panic and will push the Germans to do more” to ease pressure on the euro, he said. “The Germans are trying to slow things down, worried they’ll be forced into financial commitments without political commitments in place.”

Germany, most certainly, will not write the Greek government a blank check and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Greece’s bailout will not be renegotiated. America Abroad reports from Germany, long the economic engine of the EU, where citizens are losing trust in the European Union, and political leaders are struggling counter the discontent. Read more.

Photo essay: The struggle for water in Kenya

By Jonathan Kalan, Nairobi, Kenya

At a water trucking and distribution point in Lagos, 20 kilometers from Garissa, Kenya, over 3,000 pastoralists temporarily survive off water brought in each week by the Kenya Red Cross during severe droughts. Photo: Jonathan Kalan.

In the hot, dry and harsh landscapes of northeastern Kenya skirting the Somali border, hundreds of thousands of nomadic pastoralists continue to eek out a meager living from the land.

See Jonathan Kalan’s photos now »

Yet by September of last year, conditions were unbearable. It had been 16 months and counting since a single drop of rain touched down on the scorched earth, and the region was crippled by the worst drought in decades, forcing residents to survive near-famine conditions. The riverbeds were emptied, leaving nothing but dusty scars on the landscape. Carcasses of goats, donkeys and camels littered the side of the 370 km dirt highway between the two major towns of Wajir and Garissa, and thousands of people were forced to set up temporary shelters, kept alive by charity.

The rains in the horn of Africa are becoming more sporadic, erratic, unpredictable and unreliable. However, a lack of rain alone does not produce famine. While some countries have the infrastructure, policies, programs, and emergency relief services to be able to provide resources for their citizens in times of crisis, this area of Kenya, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.

When it comes to the basic necessity of water, the northeastern region of Kenya is plagued by both a lack of infrastructure and extreme marginalization. Inhabited by mostly ethnic-Somali pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on their livestock, people carry their homes on the backs of camels and move nomadically from one water source to the next. They don’t vote, and even if they did, their voice would matter little—the region has such little economic importance due to lack of resources. Its primary purpose is to serve as a buffer between Kenya and war-torn Somalia. An aid worker once mentioned offhand that “…elected officials want to keep these people poor. That way, come election time, they can easily buy their vote and retain power.” Though this can’t be verified, it certainly is a common perception here.

Across the region, infrastructure is still the greatest challenge: 96% of sub-Saharan African agriculture is still rain dependent, meaning only 4% can actually grow and harvest crops when the rains don’t come, or during the dry seasons. Resources are vastly underused, and the lack of agricultural innovation and investment is tragic. There is water, underground and above ground, that’s not being tapped into.

For example, along the Tana River in Garissa, the Kenya Red Cross estimates that only 10% of rivers capacity is actually being harnessed. The African Development Bank has cited that the region’s lack of infrastructure—roads, housing, water, electricity, sanitation—reduces its output by 40%.

While rains may be uncontrollable, famine isn’t. The ability to access, harness, and distribute what lies atop or just beneath the surface is perhaps both the greatest failure and opportunity of the region. This photo-essay explores the current situation of water in Kenya’s driest areas, and the multiple efforts of private and public organizations working around the region to fix it. See photo essay »

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.

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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.

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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.