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February 19 2014

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February 14 2014

As a Federal State, Yemen Marks the Third Anniversary of Its Revolution

February 11th marked the third anniversary of Yemen's revolution which toppled former President Ali Abdullah's Saleh's 33 year rule. Just a day before, on February 10, Yemen's president Abdu Rabu Mansour, based on the National Dialogue‘s recommendation for the political transition and after deliberating with a Region Defining Committee, approved turning the country into a six-region federation state.

Nadia Al-Sakkaf, an activist, member of the National Dialogue and editor-in-chief of The Yemen Times, tweeted:

The federal system was a solution to counter the failure of the centralized government and to give the south more autonomy while preserving Yemen's unity. Yemen's parties had been divided on whether to split the federation into two or six regions. A north-south divide which was suggested by Southerners was rejected due to fear that it could set the stage for the south to secede. The six agreed regions included four in the north, comprising Azal, Saba, Janad and Tihama, and two in the south, Aden and Hadhramaut.

Azal includes the capital Sanaa, which will be a federal city not subject to any regional authority, in addition to the provinces of Dhamar, Amran and Saada. Aden would comprise the capital of the former south, as well as Abyan, Lahej and Daleh. The southeastern Hadhramaut province would include Al-Mahra, Shabwa and the island of Socotra, while Saba comprises Bayda, Marib and Al-Jawf. Janad would include Taez and Ibb, and Tahama also takes in Hudaydah, Rima, Mahwit and Hajja.

Yemen_updates tweeted a link showing the new regions:

There were many reactions among Yemenis and Arabs both for and against this decision.
Yemeni youth activist, Jamal Badr jokingly tweeted a still shot from a scene of a famous Egyptian comic play:

Isn't Yemen fine?? Yes, every region is fine but separate

Farea Almuslimi disapproving the haste in the decision making tweeted:

It took my father and uncles a longer and more thoughtful time to divide the (small) land they inherited from my grandfather then it took to determine the form and number of the regions in Yemen

Egyptian visual artist and film maker, Mahmud Abdel Kader, commented:

Nobody is saying that the UAE is divided because it is federal … because the idea of federalism is to add not divide, what happened in Yemen is a division not an addition

Lebanese Karl Sharro sarcastically tweeted:

Yet there were many questions in people's minds, which Sam Waddah raised on Facebook:

Major question marks remain on dividing power, authority, duties between regions and central state, defining the new system, how local governments will be elected, etc. Tentatively federal system is a good one but it's too early to tell here and by leaving these issues undefined I think Hadi and the regions defining committee are putting the cart before the horse!

Adam Baron also wondered:

Nadia Al-Sakkaf shed some light on the new federal system in her article in The Yemen Times:

The relationship between the regions and the federal government will be written into the constitution. The details will be defined in a Federal Regions Law after the constitution has been approved via a national referendum, expected to take place three months after the creation of the Constitutional Drafting Committee. Each region will have the autonomy to devise its own regional laws to define the relationship among its various states.

Three years after the revolution, on February 11, Yemenis were back on the streets but for various reasons. There were those who went out to celebrate the anniversary of a revolution which awed the world with its power and peacefulness and there were those who went out to protest against the government's corruption and for not realizing the revolution's demands.

Majda Al-Hadad, an activist spearheading the campaign against the government's continuous electricity power cuts tweeted:

It is not necessary for me to list the reasons for me to go out tomorrow, there is nothing positive that would make me hesitate. No rights, no dignity, no law, no justice, and no presence of the government except corruption and injustice.

Journalist Khaled Al-Hammadi tweeted:

The people want to topple corruption“, “the people want the fall of the government“, “a new revolution all over again“, “oh government of corruption, leave the country” chanted protesters across the streets of Sanaa.

(Video posted on YouTube by Ridan Bahran

Akram Alodini also highlighted the political division in his tweet:

In the morning, marches for the republic of Sabeen and the sport stadium, and in the afternoon for the republic of Seteen, and the citizen is helpless

Lawyer Haykal Bafanaa wondered how would corrupt politicians counter corruption:

Researcher, blogger and activist Atiaf Al-Wazir tweeted:

This video by SupportYemen is a reminder of what the revolution was about and what it still needs to achieve:

And as Rooj Al-Wazir, tweeted, some of the revolutionary youth, three years later, were still behind bars:

Journalist Benjamin Wiacek tweeted with disappointment, a bitter sentiment shared by many of the revolutionary youth:

Journalist Iona Craig, who has been living in Yemen since 2011, and as the rest of Yemenis has been suffering from frequent and lengthy electricity cuts tweeted:

Many Yemenis did not feel a change in their daily living conditions – quite the contrary, many were disappointed and frustrated with its deterioration. In a question posed on Facebook by journalist Ahmed Ghurab, “In your opinion what change has occurred in the living conditions of the average citizen in the last three years since the outbreak of the revolution?!!”, the majority complained about the hike in prices, the continuous power outages, the insecurity and instability along with the increase of assassinations, the car explosions and kidnappings and the failure of the government to address or manage these issues.

Nevertheless, there were those who were celebrating the revolution's achievements so far and were still hoping for more. Photos of the marches all over Yemen commemorating the third anniversary of the start of the revolution were posted all over Twitter and Facebook.

Yemen-based journalist Adam Baron tweeted:

A photo from the Friday marches in Sanaa in 2011 demanding the fall of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh

A photo from the Friday marches in Sanaa in 2011 demanding the fall of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh

Activist, photographer and member of the National Dialogue, Nadia Abdullah,posted photos of the marches in Sanaa on facebook.

Marches in Sanaa's Seteen street celebrating the 3rd anniversary of Yemen's revolution (Photo by Nadia Abdullah)

Marches in Sanaa's Seteen street celebrating the 3rd anniversary of Yemen's revolution (Photo by Nadia Abdullah)

On a more positive note, Baraa Shiban, a youth activist and also member of the National Dialogue, tweeted:

He summarized in his Facebook post, what many would undoubtedly agree is the greatest achievement of Yemen's revolution:

Yemen has a new generation of men and women who believe in the principals of democracy and human rights. Yemen's youth now believe in equal citizenship, women's rights and minorities. Yemen's youth today believe in achieving their demands by following the peaceful method.

The revolution continues…

Ending Illegal Logging and Launching Forest Carbon Credits in Madagascar

 Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

The new administration in Madagascar is seemingly making a concerted effort to curb down deforestation in Madagascar. First, new president Hery Rajaonarimampianina has made ending illegal logging of Madagascar rosewood a priority at his first executive meeting[fr]. Second, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that the Government of Madagascar has approved carbon sales with Microsoft and its carbon offset partner, The CarbonNeutral Company, and Zoo Zurich. The funds from carbon sales will be used by Makira REDD+ Project for conservation, capacity building, and enforcement activities related to conservation of Madagascar's rainforest. It is yet to be seen whether these measures will be implemented in the field. 

What Does Civil Society Engagement Really Mean?

Is civil society really being heard by inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) such as the United Nations, World Bank, or World Trade Organization? CIVICUS, the world alliance for citizen participation, is polling all civil society organizations (CSOs) who have ever engaged with an IGO to get a clear picture. Eventually they wish to develop a scorecard to assess how well different IGOs and processes are working.

Examining the Post-Colonial Evolution of Francophone and Anglophone Africa

Screen capture of animated slideshow on the legacy of French and English colonization in Africa via Le Monde

Screen capture of animated slideshow on the legacy of French and English colonization in Africa -Blue countries are French-speaking nations, red countries are English-speaking nations.  via Le Monde

The topic of the post-colonial evolution of francophone versus anglophone African states has always a fodder for intense debate. Cheidozié Dike, from Nigeria, brings a new perspective to the subject :     

While the French Loi Cadre system was mostly about integration, the British colonial system sought only exploitation. Creating an air of suspicion between the nations that make up present-day Anglophone Africa, fracturing connections before they were even made, all the better to rule.[.;] Francophone Africans do not feel the need to aspire to western culture, because the French culture was wedded with local customs such that it became an indivisible whole

However, the predominant analysis from francophone Africa is quite different. Ouréguéhi, from Benin, articulates why he thinks francophone Africa is lagging behind its anglophone counterpart financially [fr]:

Les pays anglophones ont été libérés de leur colon sur tous les plans. la France a toujours les regards dans les affaires des colonisés sans oublier la dictée qu'elle fait à ces pays. Quand tu veux voir celui que tu prétends aider évoluer, tu lui donne les conseils tout en lui laissant le choix de sa politique

English-speaking countries were freed from their colonizers at all levels. France still keeps an eye in the affairs of its former colonies, not to mention the fact that she still dictates (a few policies) of these countries. When you want to help someone evolve, you give him/her advice but you let them choose their own policy. 

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

Bosnian Protesters Demand Bread, Social Justice and Freedom of Speech

When the citizens of Bosnia’s second biggest city, Tuzla, went out to protest on February 4, 2014, few expected to witness the country-wide riots that the world is witnessing just a week later. Whether the latest unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, can be qualified as the “Bosnian Spring”, as some media have named it, isn't what matters at the moment. The reasons behind the unrest and where things are headed are the topics that many locals are asking the international community and media to focus on.

Bosnia’s “Grapes of Wrath”

Protesters have drafted a set of demands, narrowing down their struggle to one about social justice [ba], the end of corruption, and freedom of expression. People have also made it clear that the protests are not motivated by a quest for identity or inter-ethnic tensions. Stefano Fait from Italy commented:

Eric Gordy, a University College of London (UCL) professor who also writes for a group blog about Balkan politics and academics, described snapshots of the recent atmosphere in Bosnia that he observed during a visit there, giving insight into what is fueling the current anti-government protests:

Conversation 1 was with the waiter in a large Sarajevo hotel [...] A colleague and I had heard that the employees of the hotel had not been paid for several months, so we asked. It was true, he told us. Most of the employees had remained at the hotel through a series of ownerships and bankruptcies, and had often faced periods of reduced pay, no pay, or something in lieu of pay. So what were they working for? They wanted to keep the hotel going in the hope that one day it might become profitable again, and they wanted the employer to keep making contributions to the pension and medical care funds. [...]

Conversation 2 was with a group of postgraduate students in Tuzla. Most of them had or were seeking work as schoolteachers. And they were only able to get short-term jobs. Why no permanent jobs in schools? Because available workplaces are distributed among the local political parties, who fill them with their members and put them on one-year contracts. The effect of this is that no young person can get a job except through the services of a political party, and no young person can keep a job except by repeatedly demonstrating loyalty to the political party. You can probably imagine the wonderful effect this has on the development and teaching of independent, critical thinking in schools.

The government has been claiming that it has no funds to provide even for its citizens’ most basic needs. Some Bosnians have responded with humor, circulating comments and images like the one below, widely on social networks:

The note reads:

The note reads: “Donations for the government”, using the word “sergija”, which is a term for donations made to religious institutions and charities. Image widely circulated on Twitter.

Media coverage

In national and regional mainstream media, the protesters are often labeled as hooligans. A textbook example of media manipulation is the spin around protesters having weapons. Serbian tabloid “Kurir”, considered a government mouthpiece in Serbia, published an article detailing a plot for the “violent unification” [sr] of the ethnically varied cantons of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The article screams, through exclamation marks, images of violence and biased wording, that protesters are amassing a stockpile of weapons with which to lead the alleged “violent unification” of Republic of Srpska, the so-called Bosnian Serb Republic that is one of the two political entities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the other, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kurir’s piece generously quotes Mehmedalija Nuhić, called a “political analyst from Tuzla” in the article. On social media, people wondered [ba] who this person is, some of them clearly dismissing his claims. Tanja Sekulić, executive editor at Klix.ba, tweeted:

The peak of idiocy: Analyst Mehmedalija Nuhić claims that protesters have acquired weapons that they will allegedly use against the citizens of RS [Republic of Srpska, the Serb majority part of Bosnia-Herzegovina]. #protest

Banja Luka-based Kontakt Radio published an investigative piece [ba] researching the alleged Nuhić, “presented [to the public] as an analyst”. “Every journalist around Tuzla is wondering who this analyst is,” writes Kontakt Radio team. As Kontakt Radio's quick research revealed, Nuhić is in fact a municipal inspector serving in the city of Lukovac. “And we kid you not,” comments the author, cheekily ending the piece with some more readily available information on Nuhić, which dismisses his credibility as a “political analyst” entirely.

People from the region are used to media manipulation and the above example of such machination is one among countless others. In an op-ed [ba], Paulina Janusz reflected on the unity political parties and media in Bosnia's show against protesters. The media, for its part, was quick to report on any rumors of protesters’ bad behavior, but protesters were quick to react to such reports. Activist Emir Hodžić, who attended the Sarajevo protests on February 7, detailed to Radio Slobodna Evropa (Radio Free Europe) what he witnessed, declaring “we are neither vandals nor hooligans”.

Others have been thorough in describing their experiences on blogs as well. The following video of a young woman in tears, imploring police to join the crowd, went viral, accompanied by snarky comments on social media in the lines of “see, these are the hooligans of Bosnia”:

Dario Brentin, among others, has compiled articles from the early days of the protests in a Facebook note. Materials like this are regularly translated into English and updated on Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files. A collectively curated compilation of links is also available through the CrowdVoice.org platform.

Now what?

Many politicians and media representatives have already begun to play the blame game quite actively. Lord Paddy Ashdown, who served as High Representative and Europe’s Special Envoy to the country from May 2002 until January 2006, urged the European Union “to make Bosnia functional”. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Lord Ashdown warned:

At the moment its citizens are complaining about poverty and lack of movement and dysfunctionality of the state and corruptions among politicians” [but it] “could move to something far worse very quickly.[...]

The international community has to act now. If they don’t act now, I greatly fear that a situation where secessionism will take hold could easily become unstoppable as we approach elections.

Alarmism is also present on several sides. Valentin Inzko, an Austrian citizen and the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, declared to Balkanist.net:

If the situation escalates, we will possibly have to think about EU troops. But not right now.

Regardless of whose fault it is and who is supposed to “fix” the country, one question persists: Why are so many Eastern European and Balkan countries suddenly protesting? Shortly after protests erupted in Tuzla and Sarajevo, Bulgarian independent research blog Banitza published a thoughtful post, “Waving ‘Democracy’ from Ukraine to the Balkans”:

Why now? Why not 6 months ago; why not one year ago? These are question that were directed at the protests in Bulgaria, which reached their largest numbers in the summer. Clearly, the situation is so dire that either nothing or anything could trigger public outrage. [...]

Of course violence cannot be the answer. It’s destructive. But desperation clearly takes precedence over dialogue in this case. [...] It’s simple – for the people protesting, the assumption of patience is nonexistent. And it is understandable. There is a level of tolerance that is, as has been shown over and over again in the 20th century, very flexible and malleable among human beings. But it has its limits. And within the Balkan countries this year, the sense of tolerance has been exhausted by the outright public arrogance of the Untouchables – call them mafia men, ex-communist, business elites. It makes no difference. Their capacity to flaunt their economic dominance is one thing, but their increasing ability to enforce their political and legal immunity is apparently too much. It has been, for a long time, a fact that democracy is very dysfunctional.

Writing for Balkanist, Darko Brkan formulated four suggestions:

1) Declare Victory for the Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina
2) End all Police Investigations [against citizens having taken part to the protests]
3) Establish Provisional Governments in the Cantons
4) “Internal Lustration” Within Political Parties

What may be a game-changer is a recent decision by the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordering “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Pro-government protests have also been witnessed, as seen in a video from February 10.

What Guinea Needs Now is Peace and Stability

Conakry Ville via wikimedia license CC-BY-2.0

Downtown Conakry via wikimedia CC-BY-2.0

Serge Lamah reports on his blog[fr] that Oyé Guilavogui, the communication minister has pointed out the pressing needs for Guinea today :

Vous vous rappelez, en 2011, les avions en direction de Conakry ne désemplissaient pas. Les hôtels étaient pleins à tout moment, aujourd’hui, allez-y, il y a de la place toutes les saisons. Les avions viennent à moitié vides parce qu’il n y a pas eu de calme, on ne s’est pas acceptés. Donc on est obligé de tout remettre à plat pour faire revenir les investisseurs. Pour qu’un investisseur mette son argent dans un pays, le premier critère est qu’il faut qu’il y ait la stabilité, la paix.

You remember in 2011, planes bound for Conakry never emptied. Hotels were always but today, there are always empty rooms all year long. The planes are half empty because there is always uncertainty and we have yet to learn to live with each other again. So we are forced to get back to the drawing board and in order to appeal to investors again. For an investor to invest in a country, the first criterion is that there must be stability and peace. 

February 12 2014

Controversial Sindh Festival Accused of Risking Ancient Ruins for Flashy Kickoff

Fireworks during the opening ceremony of Sindh Festival held in Moen Jo Daro. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (3/2/2014)

Fireworks during the opening ceremony of Sindh Festival held in Moen Jo Daro. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (3/2/2014)

The people of Sindh province in the south of Pakistan, the site of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, are currently celebrating a festival to pay tribute to their rich and vast cultural heritage. The brainchild of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the festival aims to revive the history of Sindh, his home province, with a 15-day celebration in various cities showcasing local art, music, sport and more.  However, critics accused him of playing the Sindh card by exploiting the peace loving innocent Sindhi people.

If that was not enough, before the celebrations had even begun, the festival drew ire from some for its decision to hold the theatrical opening ceremony at the ancient ruins of Mohenjo-daro.

Mohenjo-daro, an UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the earliest urban settlements in the world, dating back to 2600 BCE. A stage and other event infrastructure was built nearby the delicate ruins for the opening ceremony of 1 February 2014, to which about 400 or more dignitaries were invited. The federal government and even some leading archaeologists did not give the green light for holding the festival there. However, the organizers of the event and the PPP government in Sindh assured that the ceremony was being planned with painstaking attention to details, ensuring that the ruins were not threatened.

Pakistani writer Bina Shah wrote on her blog that she wasn't convinced:

So the Sindh Festival opened last night at Mohenjodaro, but it didn't remain untouched by controversy: the accusation that the ruins were being damaged by preparations for the festival, including the building of a stage, construction of steel pillars, and other things that shouldn't be happening on or around delicate ruins from a five-thousand year old civilisation. In addition, the vibrations by the construction and the loudspeakers during the concert, and the bright spotlights would possibly degrade the site even further. Furore erupted on social media, petitions were signed, and letters written. The Festival went ahead as planned and by all accounts was successful, but it's still a sensitive subject as we wait to assess the impact of the concert on the site post-event.

Labourers prepare for the Sindh Festival at Moen Jo Daro (Mound of Dead), the location of the remains of an ancient Indus Valley civilization. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (

Labourers prepare for the Sindh Festival at Moenjo-daro (Mound of the Dead), the location of the remains of an ancient Indus Valley civilisation. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (3/2/2014)

Local journalist and environmental activist Amar Guriro's photographs of the stage being constructed at the ruins first drew the attention of many to the choice of venue when they viral on social media. Debates emerged over the use of wooden and steel scaffolding over and near the ruins, heavy spotlights and lasers for a light show, and sound systems for the ceremony that could possibly damage the area.

While commenting on Amar Guriro's photographs, Shah added on her blog

I was very concerned when I saw the photographs and I retweeted them so that people might pay attention to the issue. The Festival organisers responded by claiming they'd had archeological experts both local and foreign approve the plans and help build the site in a safe way.

Journalist Mohammad Malick wanted someone to inform Bilawal Bhutto Zardari about the importance of the ancient city: 

Senior Editor of The News Talat Aslam tweeted his thoughts about the opening ceremony: 

Environmental communicator and cricket journalist Afia Salam was also against the idea:   

The official Twitter handle for the Sindh Festival was quick to clarify their position:

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari defended the choice: 

The ruins of Mohenjodaro

According to UNESCO, Mohenjodaro is the best-preserved urban ruin on the Indian subcontinent. The ruins, unearthed by a British archaeologist Sir John Marshall in 1922, are already threatened by harsh climatic conditions, floods and saline action of the Indus River water. 

Ever since the news broke on social media, protests and online petitions signed against the opening ceremony at the Mohenjodaro ruins marred the main event. According to a news report published in Dawn Newspaper, UNESCO was unhappy with the idea of holding an event at the ruins. The report said that a week before the festival at Moenjodaro, the director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites declared the opening ceremony as an “improper” activity.

But here is what the organizers had to say after the opening ceremony of the Sindh Festival at Mohenjodaro:

China: Cleaning Up The Yellow

In Chinese language, the color yellow also signifies sex and pornography. The crackdown of sex industry and pornographic materials is termed as “cleaning-up the yellow”. Political cartoonist @remonwangxt's latest work is about the “Cleaning-up yellow” campaign in China.

Insurgent Group Tweets Photo of Iranian Soldiers Abducted at Iran-Pakistan Border

Five Soldiers kidnapped nera Iran-Pakistan border, source: Jaish al-Adl's Twitter

Five abducted Irani soldiers. Photo released by  Jaish al-Adl's Twitter account

Iranians are using the #FreeIranianSoldiers hashtag to spread awareness about five Iranian border guards abducted at the Iran-Pakistan border. The Baloch Sunni-muslim insurgent group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) claimed responsibility and published the above photo of the abducted soldiers through their Twitter account. 

Jaish-al-Adl operate in Sistan-Baluchestan, one of Iran's largest and poorest provinces, which is home to 2 million Sunni-muslims. The ethnic Baloch and Sunni-muslim insurgents in the area have been demanding more autonomy from the Shia-government in Tehran in recent years.
 
In October 2013,  Jaish-ul-Adl which is called a terrorist group by the Irani state, ambushed and killed 14 Iranian border guards. In response,  authorities in the Shia-dominant country executed 16 people from Sistan-Baluchestan allegedly associated with Jaish-ul-Adl.
 

 Mohammad Reza Aref, an Iranian reformist politician, tweeted:

An Iranian social media researcher and blogger Narima Gharib tweeted:

Canadian-Iranian Maryam Nayeb Yazdi tweeted:

 

Iran-based Twitter user Opium calls for unity:

Hey you, don't tell me there's no hope at all  Together we stand, divided we fall. #FreeIranianSoldiers

— opium (@opiums) February 10, 2014

 
Since 2006, Baluchis, who make up 2% of Iran’s population, have accounted for about 20% of state executions, according to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a US-based group which tracks human rights abuses in Iran.
 
The Irani government believes Jaish-ul-Adl is hiding in Pakistan's Balochistan province, which borders Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan province. Pakistan is battling its own Baluchi insurgency,and has been criticized by Iran for failing to crack down on militant camps in its territory.
Reposted byiranelection iranelection

February 11 2014

Iran: “Less” anti-U.S. Atmosphere

Iran celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Islamic revolution on Tuesday.Some netizens wrote about what hardliners reported after the celebration.Hadi Nili tweeted

Reposted byiranelection iranelection
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