[This is a bi-weekly roundup of news articles and other materials circulating on Resistance and Subversion in the Arab world and reflects a wide variety of opinions. It does not reflect the views of the DARS Page Editors or of Jadaliyya. You may send your own recommendations for inclusion in each bi-weekly roundup to DARS@jadaliyya.com by Sunday night of every second week.]
News & Commentary
Sale of Tear Gas to Bahrain Blocked Over Concerns Raised by Rights Group, by Robert Mackey and Choe Sang-Hun
In response to concerns raised by rights groups about the misuse of tear gas by the riot police in Bahrain, South Korea’s government has decided to block the export of millions of canisters of the gas to the kingdom. The Lede that proposed shipments to Bahrain from two defense contractors had been stopped. The decision was made in response to political instability in Bahrain, where people are reportedly killed and injured there because of tear gas.
I’m No Traitor, Says Wael Ghonim as Egypt Regime Targets Secular Activists, by Patrick Kingsley
One of the figureheads of Egypt`s 2011 uprising says he is staying away from the country "as Egypt no longer welcomes those who are like me." Wael Ghonim`s statement comes amid claims by fellow activists that Egypt`s government has returned to the authoritarianism of the pre-2011 era. Ghonim is the latest 2011 figurehead to be targeted in recent months, as a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters of ex-president Mohamed Morsi spread even to those secular activists who called for Morsi`s overthrow last July.
Egypt’s Top Satirist Gets Ready to Return after Ban, by Nate Rawlings
Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s most popular satirist who has been called the country’s Jon Stewart, is preparing to bring back his wildly popular show two months after being tossed off the airwaves for criticizing the government. Youssef, a TIME 100 honoree last year, hosted the popular but controversial program “El-Bernameg” (Arabic for ‘The Program”), which he used as a platform to criticize those in power in Egypt.
Egypt’s Unsustainable Crackdown, by Anthony Dworkin and Helene Michou
As Egypt was preparing itself for a constitutional referendum, protests by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood continued to sweep the country. In a new European Council on Foreign Relations policy memo - Egypt’s unsustainable crackdown - Anthony Dworkin and Hélène Michou argue that the authorities’ attempt to restore public order through repression will not succeed.
Journalists Demand Egypt Free Al-Jazeera Colleagues, by BBC
More than 40 journalists and editors have signed a statement demanding the immediate release of three Al-Jazeera colleagues accused of helping the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Senior figures from the BBC, New York Times and CNN are among the signatories. Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed were detained by Egyptian authorities on 29 December. The letter calls for an end to their "arbitrary imprisonment."
Widespread Boycotts as Egyptian Voters Back New Constitution, by Patrick Kingsley
Participants in the first Egyptian vote of the post-Morsi era have voted overwhelmingly in favour of approving a new constitution. The referendum`s integrity has been challenged by opposition members and rights campaigners, who say the poll was conducted against a backdrop of fear. Up to 35 no campaigners were arrested, claimed one opposition party that boycotted the poll in protest.
Egyptians to Vote on New Constitution Amidst Boycotts and Apathy, by Shahira Amin
Egyptians head to polling stations on Tuesday to vote on a revised constitution heralded by Egypt’s military-backed government as a” first step in the country’s democratic transition” and billed as a blueprint for the “new Egypt.” The amended document has also been hailed by analysts as one that “enshrines personal and political rights in stronger language than in previous constitutions.” Rights advocates however, have expressed fears that the enormous powers and privileges the ‘new’ charter grants the military could undermine those rights, rendering them meaningless.
Egypt: A Tale of two Constitutions, by Heather McRobie
The 2013 constitution that has been put to voters last week was explained in pro-government media in terms of its improvements on the 2012 constitution that Morsi passed under tense circumstances and from which his Presidency never recovered. The re-framing of the executive-legislative relationship in the 2013 constitution, compared to the ‘Morsi constitution’ of the previous year, also read at first sight as hopeful measures of instituting meaningful checks and balances. However, reading the 2013 constitution as a remedy to the ills of the 2012 constitution evades two main problems of legitimacy. The first is the status of the military in the 2013 constitution. The second is the primary issue of the 2013 period itself, tangled in irreconcilable narratives variously of ‘saving’ the revolution and a brutal coup in which many hundreds were murdered.
On Means and Ends, by Mahmoud Salem
On 14 January, Egypt votes on the new constitution, which aims to show the world its electoral legitimacy, and thus undermine the Muslim Brotherhood. Given that the Yes campaign is on the streets, on TV, in the newspapers, all over the social media and in targeted text messages to phones, and that the few who dare start a No campaign get arrested, it is fair to say that the Yes vote will win handily, since everyone who will go to the polls is planning to vote Yes anyway. The result will be as follows: a constitution that will get a historic turn-out and approval rating, but will not have electoral legitimacy, because, well, it’s hard to claim it is democratic if those who oppose it are getting arrested.
Strike, Protest in Tunisia Town as Social Unrest Mounts, by AFP
A general strike gripped the central Tunisian town of Kasserine on January 8th amid rising discontent over the government`s failure to improve living conditions three years after the revolution. The night before, dozens of protesters attacked a police post in the nearby village of Thala, witnesses told AFP. Tunisia`s powerful UGTT trade union confederation called the strike to coincide with the anniversary of the first death in the town during the January 2011 uprising that toppled veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Netherlands Businesses Cutting Ties With Israel’s Occupation, by Mitchell Plitnick
The Netherlands has seen a number of its companies terminate cooperation with Israeli companies over Israel’s ongoing occupation. The latest is PGGM, the largest Dutch pension management fund. PGGM made the decision to divest all its funds from Israel’s five largest banks because all of them are involved in some way in the settlements. The amount of money is not huge, estimated at several tens of millions of euros, but Israel is concerned that other financial institutions may follow suit and that, despite its official stance, the Netherlands government is creating an atmosphere which encourages boycotts and divestment from Israel.
Academic Boycott Diverts Attention from More Effective Pressure, by Yarden Katz
Every few years, a call to boycott Israeli academic institutions gains enough momentum to make a brief wave in the media, before it enters the cycle of condemnation. After making the rounds, the boycott gets predictably denounced by major organizations, followed by widespread reiteration of support for the state of Israel. It diverts the public’s attention from the main issues of justice in Palestine, stands no chance of convincing a mainstream audience, and sets the stage for right-wing opponents. Ultimately, it is economic pressure — justified by legal and human rights violations for which there is ample evidence and strong international opposition — that can help remedy the injustices in Palestine.
British Activist Detained Entering Israel, Facing 10-Year Ban, by Dimi Reider
A high-profile member of Northern Ireland’s Alliance Party and a long-standing activist for human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories, Gary Spedding, was detained on arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on 9 January and told would be deported and banned from the country for ten years. Speaking from the airport, after being held for eight hours, Spedding told +972 that the interrogating officers hacked into his mobile phone, and copied email addresses and telephone numbers. He also said no reason for his impending deportation was given, except that he was a “liar” and a “security threat.”
Gaza’s Wet and Wild Nonviolence, by Nadine Bloch
Activists of nonviolent opposition to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, came up with an action plan. Instead of trying to get goods from the outside world into Gaza, they created a way to get goods beyond the siege. The Gaza’s Ark project centers around rebuilding an old fishing boat into a cargo ship — by training and hiring locals to do the construction, as well as establishing trading partners to receive the Palestinian goods. Internationals are acting as consultants and supporters rather than as saviors. Meanwhile, this outbound trade is keeping alive shipbuilding expertise and seamanship skills, providing local jobs and helping to rebuild the Gaza Strip’s economy.
Syrian Women Demand to Take Part in the Peace Talks in Geneva, by Madeleine Rees
There are over fifty Syrian women in Geneva this week at a UN Women meeting. Supported by international women`s organisations, they are demanding a ceasefire in Syria and to be part of the planned peace talks in Geneva on 22 January. Women need to be in these talks not necessarily as negotiators for a particular political settlement, but to ensure that what is said is based on the demands of civil society, that gender dimensions are taken into account, and that women’s rights are in no way compromised.
Did Iran Just Ban Online Chatting? by Aryn Baker
Both the Jerusalem Post and the exiled opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization have stated that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei banned online chatting between unrelated men and women. The ‘ban’ is sourced to a response the religious leader gave to a question submitted to his website by a conflicted follower. But a religious ruling does not make an official ban. So while Khamenei might discourage his followers from online chatting, people fear that it might lead to flirtation, or worse, he is not likely to order Iran’s religious police to start patrolling chat rooms and looking over texters’ shoulders.
Arrested Iranian Activists and Bloggers Accused of BBC Links, by Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Iranian judicial authorities have accused a group of recently jailed activists and bloggers of having links with the BBC and its past training courses. At least sixteen Iranian nationals, including employees of the technology website Narenji, were arrested in December in the southern province of Kerman as part of another crackdown by the intelligence forces of the elite Revolutionary Guards. Half of those arrested have since been released on bail, the Guardian has learned, but the rest, including Narenji`s staff, remain in detention.
Turkish Riot Police Officer Who Gassed ‘Lady in Red’ Faces Prosecution and Possible Jail Term, by Adam Withnall
A Turkish police officer Fatih Zengin, who sprayed tear gas in the face of Ceyda Sungur, wearing a red dress at an anti-government protest faces prosecution and a possible jail term, a legal source has said. Images of the incident with “the lady in the red dress” became symbolic of the ongoing unrest throughout last summer, quickly spreading on social media and printed on stickers and posters at protest camps.
Turkey’s Top Business Group Warns against Internet Censorship, by Hurriyet Daily News
Turkey’s top business group has warned that a government-led bill to increase control over the Internet is worrying and the planned regulations might lead to wide censorship on the Internet. The Turkish Industry and Business Association noted in a statement that “the law, which results in limiting the individual’s fundamental rights and freedoms, has also been subject to a ‘rights violation’ ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.” All individuals’ Internet records, including details about what sites they have visited, which words they have searched for on the web and what activity they have engaged in on social networking websites, will be kept for one or two years, according to the draft law.
Three Years after Revolution, Tunisians Have Cause to Celebrate, by Carol J. Williams
Marches through Tunis, the capital, evoked both the gains and setbacks of the era after the President Zine el Abidine ben Ali, with Tunisians celebrating their evolution from repression to self-determination while also lamenting the assassinations, political clashes and economic turmoil that has dogged the movement`s progress. Tunisians are poised to approve a new constitution that enshrines Islam as their religion but secular democracy as their form of governance.
Successful Activism Campaign Cuts Off the Supply of Tear Gas to Bahrain, by Molly Hofsommer
South Korean authorities announced this week that they are suspending the export of more than 1.6 million canisters of tear gas to Bahrain in response to a global advocacy campaign. South Korea joins a growing list of countries including the United States, France, and Spain that have stopped shipping chemical irritants and crowd control weapons to Bahrain. The use of tear gas has caused dozens of deaths since demonstrations against the repressive Sunni-ruled monarchy began in 2011.
Egypt: Activists Arrested for ‘No’ Campaign, by Human Rights Watch
At least seven peaceful activists from the Strong Egypt party face criminal charges, apparently for hanging posters calling for a “no” vote in the constitutional referendum. During interrogations with prosecutors and police, questions fixated on the posters and the men’s political views. Police arrested the activists in three separate incidents after finding them in possession of posters calling for a “no” vote in the week preceding the referendum.
Playing an Oud, a Bard of the Revolution, by Celine Ahmad
Maan, a Syrian musician, was one of the original protest organizers in Daraa in 2011. He was arrested while sitting for an English-language exam at Damascus University. During lulls in fighting, he began playing for the local Free Syrian Army fighters. “I insist on carrying on my professional art for the Syrian revolution, even if I have to play at a street corner to convince the world that the Syrian people are oppressed,” he says. He played his oud for wounded civilians and sang songs about the revolution at funerals or when rebels captured new areas of Daraa. He wrote a song about twelve of his friends who had volunteered with the FSA and who were all killed during a failed attack on an army checkpoint in Daraa. After that, he became known as a “bard of the revolution.”
Gezi Park and the Transformative Power of Art, by Stephen Snyder
The transformative power of creative narrative is the power to give meaning to life’s activity by keeping ahead of forces that would deny it. It is a fundamental dynamic of the resistance movement that sprang from the Gezi Park sit-ins. The movement erupted with an aesthetic intensity that surprised detractors as well as supporters, employing aesthetic creativity in a way that sets it apart from other protests in Turkey and the Arab world. On several levels, the young movement has become a form of artistic protest.
Creator of Gezi Park Protest’s Animated Film ‘Tornistan/Backward Run’ Speaks Out, by John Patlakas
On 28 May 2013, a sit-in began in Gezi Park at Istanbul’s Taksim Square as hundreds attempted to prevent the demolition of the park and the erection of a large shopping complex. The brutal eviction of the protesters resulted in massive demonstrations that broke out in all major Turkish cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Bursa. “Tornistan/Backward Run” is a short animated film made by Ayce Kartal about police violence during the protest and the diminutive media coverage of the events.
50 Iranians, One Question: ‘If You Could Do Anything You Wanted, What Would You Do?’, by Golnaz Esfandiari
"If you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?" That`s the question Iranian artist Ali Molavi asked fifty people in Tehran. One man answers: "I would fix our country`s problems, the unemployment of youth." Another interviewee asks whether what he says will be censored. After apparently receiving an assurance that his comments won`t be subjected to censorship, he touches on a sensitive subject: "I will fix [Iran`s] relations with America," he says, adding that he would remove the sanctions that are in place against Iran over its nuclear program.
Conferences & Events
She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World, 27 August 2013-12 January 2014, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA
Creative Dissent: Arts of the Arat World Uprisings, 8 November 2013-9 February 2014, Arab American National Museum, Michigan, USA
The Third Annual Conference on the Social Sciences and Humanities, 19-20 March 2014, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Tunisia