Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: More or less Democracy?

This is the end of year ritual when we take a look back on the events and developments over the past twelve months. It has been an interesting year but is the Arab world a more democratic place? There is very little indication that official Arabdom has changed its ways or that American money and firepower has had any significant impact on freedom of expression. On the web things are different and the exchange of political and cultural discourse has never been so vibrant and challenging. Arabdemocracy is only one of many initiatives that have started and grown this year. Our readership has increased steadily and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We hope that things will continue to progress in this direction and that repression and censorship will not rear their ugly heads to stop or influence this process.

We wish our readers a free and safe new year. Thank you for your support and see you in 2008.

The Team at Arabdemocracy

image taken from

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto and March 14th

By Joseph El-Khoury

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto did not come as a surprise. Since her return from exile to Pakistan in October, it was only a matter of time before she was maimed, silenced or annihilated. I found myself reacting in a similar way to the time I witnessed the last car bomb in Lebanon: A mixture of fear, anger and an intense desire to retaliate against those who justify violence in the name of divine inspiration. Leaving to one side the war on terror, the Bush administration and Capitalist globalization, I can’t help myself thinking that political Islam is in crisis and that the bloodshed on the back of chronic instability is the most obvious symptom of this crisis. I say this as an external observer since being a non-Muslim I cannot conceive of embracing political Islam as a solution to the problems of this world. Others clearly do! Nonetheless Muslims are not the only faith group in the Middle-East. Their majority status does not confer on them the right to impose a doctrine and a code of life that is alien to their compatriots. On the other hand and more importantly, Islamists do not accept geographic and ethnic limitations on their project. Political Islam is global or is not. To Bin Laden and friends everything else is short of apostasy and heretical belief. From their perspective whether you are Muslim or not is irrelevant and I am asked to make a choice under the threat of …beheading. Going back to the late Benazir and the martyrs of the Lebanese March 14th alliance what they have in common is death, overwhelming in its irreversibility. I am not tempted to ignore past accusation of corruptions just like I will not suddenly praise dead politicians that I despised in their lifetime. But what is unavoidable is that by dying these figures will occupy the moral high ground. A ground that Pervez Musharraf, the great survivor of Pakistani politics, will struggle to acquire. Same goes for the Hezbollah-led Lebanese opposition. Interestingly it is this same Hezbollah which originally acquired its privileged status through the martyrdom of its young men on the Israeli front which today denies this same treatment to its opponents in the Lebanese government.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Season of Beirut

By Joseph El-Khoury

Another holiday season… and the Lebanese are flocking back like migratory birds to warmer or colder climates (depending on whether they work in London or live in Brazil). It feels odd that despite the ongoing political crisis and threats of war, civil or not, the planes are full and the atmosphere festive. Many see this as a sign of the resilience of the Lebanese and their determination to carry on whatever the cost. This attitude is worthy of praise when you are suffering from terminal cancer and decide to run the marathon but Lebanon is not suffering from a terminal illness, it is at the centre of an international struggle to which powerful elements in the country have chosen to align themselves at the detriment of internal unity and the welfare of the common people. This is not a tragedy over which we have no control and are left to dedicate our energy else where.This is a disaster waiting to happen that is of our own making. In response; denial, repression, sublimation or any other Freudian psychological mechanism is inappropriate and harmful. Human societies react differently when faced with conflict and uncertainty. Priorities change for some while others see opportunities in chaos. A vibrant nightlife and consumer confidence are not signs of hope when not linked to a broader context. In the absence of the state, what is required is for students, professionals, unions, civil society and others to remain vigilant and remind us that Beirut was still the Paris in the Middle East a few weeks before indiscriminate sectarian killing started in 1975. Eid Moubarak and Merry xmas to all of you out there. By all means party but keep an eye on the storm brewing in the horizon.

The picture is from

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Terrorist’s Act of Faith

“Untouchables? Surely not. More like vulnerable…very vulnerable. You are proud of your great army? This army supposed to protect you. Well we can hit this army at its head, at its heart and we can shoot it down. In the same way that, yesterday, we shot down freedom itself. We can reach all of you: The press, the media, the army, the political class, the average citizen and the youth. No one is safe. Anyway no one can protect you. We will strike at the break of dawn. Whether school buses full of children are nearby isn’t cause for concern. We do not have a conscience or a sense of morality. We only have resentment and hatred. We are barbarian souls motivated by a destructive energy who celebrate distress, mourning, desperation and death. We feed on the blood of your elites and your leaders. We will continue to nail you one at a time into humiliation, silence, submission and annihilation. No one will be able to help. All the world’s democracies are powerless in the face of tyranny and here they are observing your demise without moving a finger, while we continue to act with total impunity. You are weak because you love life. Look at yourselves… You make us laugh”.

Michel Hajji Georgiou, L’Orient Le Jour, 13-12-2007

This translated extract was written from the perspective of the supposed perpetrators of the spite of assassinations in Lebanon over the past 3 years. It catches well the state of paranoia and helplessness felt by many Lebanese and other Arabs in the face of a faceless and nameless terror. The latest attack only a few days ago targeted the prominent army General Francois Hajj.

Michel Hajji-Georgiou is a Lebanese journalist and columnist at L’Orient Le Jour. Earlier this year he was awarded the Gebran Tueini international award presented by the World association of newspapers for his contribution to freedom of speech.
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Our Friend Muammar Kaddafi

By Joseph El-Khoury

Muammar Kaddafi is a dictator. That has been a banal fact of life since the 1980s. What is more interesting is that this predecessor of Saddam as embodiment of pure evil in the minds of many westerners is now welcome in France. Actually he, along with his millions in oil revenues, has received the best of French red carpet hospitality. After years of being ostracised from the international community for ’ irresponsible’ behaviour Muammar is now back in fashion. If there was one example of collusion between the interests of what has been called the Military-Industrial complex and the foreign policy of a government, that would be it. To be fair, during the photo opportunities Nicolas Sarkozy looked slightly uncomfortable and many of his ministers appeared lost for words while others in his own party and the opposition made their views clear on the visitor’s record on human rights. Mr Sarkozy did ‘ask’ his Libyan friend to ‘do better’ on democracy (A statement later denied by Kaddafi on French TV) but despite her brave stand, Rama Yade, French secretary for human rights, was unfortunately wrong. France can be treated as a doormat when its economy is doing badly and foreign investments can translate into jobs for French workers. Airbus and Dassault might be the direct beneficiary but faced with the prospect of long term economical benefits the French Left is unlikely to challenge the Realpolitik adopted by their opponent for fear of upsetting the working class and the business world alike. On a positive note this rapprochement between Paris and Tripoli could facilitate Mr Bernard Khouchner’s mission in Lebanon by endearing France again to the Syrian regimes. If Kaddafi can still turn up at the Elysee with his head high despite looking like an ageing rocker (Anyone noticed the resemblance to Johnny Holiday!) then surely the brilliant ophthalmologist from Damascus would shine with his elegant wife at his side.

The picture was taken from

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Israelis Against the Wall

“It is the duty of Israeli citizens to resist immoral policies and actions carried out in out name…”

These words are extracts from the website of ‘Anarchists against the wall’, a group of Israelis who have made it their purpose to oppose the wall of separation (also known as wall of shame) being built around the occupied Palestinian territories. At a time when most of Israeli society appears at best ignorant of the plight it is imposing on other human beings, these men and women dedicate time and effort to raise awareness and engage in non-violent resistance against the same authorities that claim to act in their name and protect them against Arab barbarism. In their latest action it is reported that they plastered Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with posters denouncing the collective punishment imposed through blockade on the Gaza strip.


For more information please check their website

Also from the 6/12/07 edition of the Lebanese Al-akhbar newspaper:

فوجئ سكان تل أبيب والقدس الغربية المحتلة أمس بوجود بيانات ألصقها ناشطون من حركة «فوضويون ضد الجدار» على أبواب منازلهم تنبئهم بقطع التيار الكهربائي عن المدينتين أسوة باعتزام السلطات الإسرائيلية قطع الكهرباء عن قطاع غزة.
وذكرت وسائل إعلام إسرائيلية أن قرابة 70 ناشطاً من حركة «الفوضويون» اليسارية علقوا نحو 10 آلاف بيان على أبواب المنازل والبنايات ولوحات الإعلانات العامة في تل أبيب والقدس الغربية. وأشارت إلى أن البيانات مشابهة للتي تصدر عن شركة الكهرباء الإسرائيلية لدى إعلانها قطع الكهرباء.
وشدّد «الفوضويون» على أنه «لا توجد أي شرعية في العقاب الجماعي للمواطنين (في غزة)، حتى إن الجيش الإسرائيلي أكد أنه لا احتمال لأن تؤدي إلى وقف صواريخ القسام».
وأضافوا أنه «بواسطة هذا النشاط، نحاول زيادة وعي المواطنين الإسرائيليين لعشوائية هذه الخطوات العدوانية ومحاولة حشد تعاطف مع ضائقة مواطني قطاع غزة».
يذكر أن حركة «الفوضويون» هي أكثر الحركات الإسرائيلية التي تنشط ضد جدار الفصل في الضفة الغربية.
(يو بي آي)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sex Trade: Iraqi girls who Become Prostitutes in Syria

Maraba's nightclubs advertise services seldom on show in Syria (Picture: NY Times)

This feature, written by Lina Sinjab (BBC journalist in Damascus), was published on the Middle East page of the BBC website:

With their bright neon signs and glitzy decor, dozens of nightclubs line the streets of the Maraba district in the Syrian capital Damascus.
It's here that men come from far and wide - car number plates are not just from Syria but Iraq and Saudi Arabia - to watch young women dancing.
Most of the dancers are teenagers and many of them are Iraqi refugees.
They dance for the cash which gets tossed onto the stage.
The dancers are surrounded by bodyguards, to stop them being touched by the men. But the guards also arrange for their charges to be paid for sex with members of the audience.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees have moved to Syria and Jordan during the past four years, escaping the violence and instability that followed the US-led toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Women supporting families face the greatest challenge.
The Syrian authorities and aid agencies do not know the exact numbers, but many of the women say they have little choice but to work in places like Maraba.

Lost innocence
Rafif is an innocent-looking 14-year-old, her long hair tied in a pony tail. She seems barely to understand the enormity of the crisis she is living.
"I have three sisters who are married and four brothers. They are all in Baghdad. I am here with my mother and young brother only. None of my family know what I do here."
Banned from doing regular work in Syria, she says their money ran out and her mother started looking for other means to survive.
She says she makes about $30 a night at the clubs, but when men take her to private villas she makes $100. She won't say what she must do to earn this money.
"A woman came and spoke to my mother, who agreed to send me to these places. We needed the money.
"I have already been arrested for prostitution and sent back to Iraq, but I came back with a false passport."
Not all sex workers went into the industry by choice.
Nada, 16, says was dumped by her father at the Iraq-Syria border after her cousin "took away my virginity".
Five Iraqi men took her from the border to Damascus, where they raped her and sold her to a woman who forced her to work in nightclubs and private villas.
She is now waiting at a government protection centre to be deported back to Iraq.
The government says police have arrested Iraqi girls as young as 12 working as prostitutes in the nightclubs.
"We are coming across increasing numbers of women who do not manage to make ends meet and are therefore more vulnerable to exploitative situations such as prostitution," says Laurens Jolles of the UN refugee agency.
"Intimidation and shame means the numbers of trafficking victims and sex industry workers in Syria may never be known by government or aid agencies."
Women picked up by the police are sent to protection centres, which they frequently escape from, or are sent to prison.
"Immediately after we get to them, or sometimes before, they are bailed out of prison, often by the same people who probably forced them into prostitution," says Mr Jolles.
Many of the young women who leave Iraq hoping for an easier, safer existence find what is in some ways an even tougher life in Syria.
At an age when life should just be beginning, Iraqi teenagers like Nada feel they have reached a dead end.
"Now they will send me back to Iraq, I have no-one there and in any case I am afraid for my life. I have no hope leaving here. I have told the government I don't want to go back. My family has abandoned me."