Tag Archives: Arab Spring

Town hall from Tunisia on the protests and public order

From Greta Ghacibeh, Directrice, Association Tunisie Media

TUNIS – On Monday, September 24, 2012, America Abroad Media’s Tunisian office – Association Tunisie Media (ATM) – hosted its ninth town hall connecting Tunisian citizens for discussion about the critical issues they face during the democratic transition. The event – organized in partnership with and broadcast on Shems FM – connected individuals in  Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of the Arab uprisings, with others in the coastal city of Sfax to discuss the contentious relationship between Tunisia’s security forces and protesters.

The fundamental question posed was whether security forces have been using excess force to disperse protesting crowds, and whether or not this infringes on citizens’ civil rights. Many participants who were either victims of police violence or activists for the right to assemble and protest argued yes. State officials, who sat on the panel, argued no – providing explanations for the use of force against protestors who were breaking the law and posed a threat to public safety. When the recent attack on the US embassy was brought up, state officials said that they believed they “avoided a catastrophe, which was bound to happen if the security forces had intervened in more forceful ways, meaning the death toll of protesters could have been much higher than 4 people killed.”

The heated discussion also included numerous phone calls from listeners, as well as comments and questions submitted via Facebook. There was a strong sense from the tone and focus of the discussion that participants felt government security forces were indeed using excess force in dispersing protests, thereby infringing on civil rights. So it came as quite a surprise when, at the end of the town hall, the host read the results of an online poll from Shems FM’s website. A mere 12.27% said the state uses excess force in dealing with protesters, with a remarkable 87.73% saying the state doesn’t use enough.

Listen to audio interviews with some of the town hall participants below:

Gaith Youssifi, unemployed university graduate

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Khaled Aounia, lawyer and activist

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Lazhar Gharbi, political and union activist

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To see pictures from the event, click here .

Disappointment for Copts in new Egyptian government

Photo courtesy of Copts United.

The acting head of the Coptic Church in Egypt is disappointed that the government of newly-elected Islamist President Mohammad Morsi is failing to include adequate representation to the Coptic religious minority. Morsi appointed one cabinet seat to the Copts among the 35 ministerial positions. Archbishop Pachomius says the new government unfairly represents Christians and ignores their rights as citizens.

Coptic Christians make up almost 10% of Egypt’s 82 million people. From VOA:

Coptic Christians in Egypt constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East, as well as the largest religious minority in the region. In 2011, approximately 94 people – mostly Coptic Christians –died as the result of sectarian violence in Egypt, 70 since the fall of Mubarak.

Should religious minorities be concerned about the rise of Islamist governments?

America Abroad’s Katherine Lanpher discusses the issue with professors Aomar Boum, an assistant professor at the School of Middle Eastern and North African studies at the University of Arizona and Saba Mahmood, an associate professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Katherine Lanpher: Let’s start by looking at the current political situation in the Middle East, what the casual observer knows as “Arab Spring” or the series of uprisings that we’ve seen across the region. What has that meant for religious minorities?

Saba Mahmood: I think it differs from country to country. Let’s take the example of Christians in Egypt. The Coptic Christians are the dominant Christian population. They’ve refused European protection historically and said: “We are Muslim by country and only Christian by religion.” They have suffered a series of discriminations which only escalated under the Mubarak regime. Now you have the Muslim Brotherhood that won the presidential election and it’s often touted in the press as being very negative. My studies in the last 20 years shows that the question is really open. We do not know how Coptic Christians will be treated. The Mubarak regime itself was very discriminatory against Copts when sectarian violence began to erupt against them.

Aomar Boum: If you look at Morocco and Tunisia, for instance, the Tunisian case is still uncertain despite the fact that the government has promised to protect the rights of Jews, given the fact that there is the rise of Salafis in Tunisia. If you look at the main religious minority in North Africa, they still are Jews. There are less than a thousand Jews who live in Tunisia. Between 3,000 and 5,000 Jews live in Morocco. Their situation is much better than other minorities in other parts of the Middle East. Algeria is a different case because we really don’t know the exact number of religious minorities. They are not as visible as much as in Morocco and Tunisia.

Read more from this interview »

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 »

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 almourassel.com.

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 »

The role of the civil society in a democracy in transition in Tunisia

From Greta Ghacibeh, Directrice, Association Tunisie Media

TUNIS – Basli Raja, Secretary General of the Association “Generation Free Tunisia” stated:

“We do not know much about civil society as a whole. Civil society itself does not know itself very well; it is either not conscious of its strength or thinks it has no strength. After January 14, we realized that we must move. We created a citizens’ association to make our voice heard and realize many actions of awareness to participate in the democratic transition that our country is experiencing.”

Tunisian civil society is a major player in this transition. It led, in cooperation with others, the revolution against the dictatorship, and expresses the diversity and richness of the Tunisian people. But to fully play its vital role, the Tunisian civil society needs to recreate itself, and gain the proper experience and know-how in order to be more effective in delivering a smooth transition to democracy. Read more »

Political participation in Tunisia

From Greta Ghacibeh, Directrice, Association Tunisie Media

Reboot team members Zack Brisson & Kate Krontiris wrote in a World Bank report, on March 14, 2012:

“Many Tunisians are taking advantage of their new liberties and enjoying meaningful political participation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the flood of new political parties that ran in last year’s elections for the constituent assembly. Yet these opportunities are not without corresponding threats. Two main challenges face political participation in Tunisia. First, the inexperience that hinders many Tunisians’ ability to effectively engage with the political system. Second, while the volume of party activity is evidence of an open system, in practice this has caused confusion among less-informed voters who have difficulty choosing among the cacophony of parties and platforms.”

Since the fall of the autocratic regime of Ben Ali in January 2011, Tunisia has been undergoing a dramatic political transition. Have Tunisian political parties become more experienced since the October 23rd constituent assembly elections, and therefore more organized and effective? What will re-motivate citizens of all age ranges and genders, who have too quickly lost patience and faith in their newly founded political parties? Have Tunisians decided, too soon perhaps, to retreat from political life – in many cases preferring to engage in civil society activism over affiliating with political parties?

Read more »

Bahrain uprisings one year later

March 10, 2011. A powerful message of protest in Pearl Square in Manama. Photo: Susan Schulman

On the 1-year anniversary of the pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain, protesters and activists took to the streets to demand an end to the monarchy and the establishment of a parliamentary democracy. Police fired back tear gas to disperse the crowds. The Pearl Square roundabout that was the center of the protest movement was blocked off and people turned away.

Since the violence began a year ago, over 60 civilians have died with 120 injured this week alone. Bahrain has been in turmoil with clashes between the Sunni-ruled monarchy and the Shi’a protesters. Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain’s population of some 525,000 people, but say they have faced decades of discrimination and are blocked from top political and security posts. Each accuse the other of rejecting dialogue.

From Reuters:

Jasim Husain, a former lawmaker from the Shi’ite Wefaq party, the largest opposition faction, said Wefaq members had met Royal Court Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed, seen as a powerful figure in the ruling Al-Khalifa family.

“There is fresh attention now, but the authorities have to show seriousness,” he said, without giving details. “The new thing is that the government is increasingly becoming a partner and realizing that the security cannot solve the issue.”

From BBC:

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel on Monday, King Hamad dismissed the opposition’s complaints.

“We have made political reforms. We have just passed a number of amendments to the constitution which allow parliament to dismiss the government,” he said. “We invited everyone with openness. But some people boycotted the election and certain people just walked out of parliament. If you want a better system you have to join.”

Bahrain is a strategic ally for the U.S. The Fifth Fleet is stationed there and is responsible for patrolling the Persian Gulf in this heavily trafficked area where much of the world’s oil is transported. Bahrain is also allied with the Saudis and serves as crucial partner to U.S. interests in the region.

America Abroad talked with Kristin Smith Diwan, assistant professor at American University’s School of International Service, and an expert on the Gulf on Iranian influence in Bahrain and U.S.-Saudi interests. Read more »

AAM Insight: Interview with Robin Wright

The Arab Spring swept across the Middle East with surprising force and speed. But to many long-time observers of the region, the signs of change were already apparent in social media, culture and counter-jihad movements.

AAM sits down with Robin Wright, a fellow at the United States Institute for Peace, to discuss her prescient new book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion across the Islamic World. Watch »

The following are a few questions from the interview.

AAM: You originally wanted to write a book about the Islamic world since 9/11. How did that idea grow and change during the course of your research and what was it like to watch the events of the Arab Spring unfold as you are nearing completion of that book?

Robin Wright: I started the book because I wanted to have something that would chronicle the changes in the Islamic world in the decade since 9/11. I actually went in with the idea of the extraordinary forces that were developing on the ground, both politically and culturally, and how it was so different. Many of the people I went to see in Egypt, for example, then went on weeks later to start the Arab uprising. I had friends who were tweeting me or sending text from Tahrir square saying “We’ve got 10,000 today and we’re going to campout tonight.” So I had it all unfolding, in real time, because of the people I talked to for this book.
Read more »

Protesters return to streets of Sana’a Yemen

The worse violence since March in Yemen has left at least 50 people dead from two days of fighting. Government security forces are pitted against antigovernment protesters against the return of President Ali Abdullah Salah.  The Yemeni president has been recuperating from injuries sustained during an assassination attempt more than three months ago.  He has vowed to return to Yemen which has enraged his opponents who are looking for a transfer of power.  This round of fighting pushes Yemen ever closer to a civil war. It is a country of growing liabilities and declining assets.  From the LA Times:

“I am upset and angry. My friend has been severely injured. I curse Ahmar’s soldiers and I curse the troops of the regime,” said Ahmed Zurqah, a protester. “The demonstrators wanted this revolution to be peaceful, but the soldiers on both sides want this to turn into a civil war.”

Roots of the Arab Spring

From Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen, a youth-powered uprising is challenging the Arab world’s ruling regimes. It all started quite literally with the strike of a match when a young Tunisian man set himself on fire to protest the humiliation of unemployment. The demands of this Arab spring quickly expanded beyond economic grievances to include freedom, democracy and respect, but it’s important to remember the jobless young man and the fire he started across the region.

The Middle East is in the middle of a dramatic and growing youth bulge. More than half of the population is under 30 and faced with a frustrating paradox: the fastest rising level of education and the highest levels of unemployment.  And no matter which regimes fall and where new governments stand up, the economic plight for young Arabs will take years to improve.

Listen to reports from America Abroad’s award-winning series on Arab youth. These stories detail the links between unemployment, frustration, migration, and terrorism.