Monthly Archives: June 2013

Violence in Egypt is inevitable with such divisive politics

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Amongst heightened expectations of mass protest across Egypt this weekend, President Mohamed Morsi wielded the might of the state and pre-emptively deployed the army to key government ministries and the Suez Canal to avoid an embarrassing mass mobilisation of protestors calling for his resignation.  In a further step sure to fan the flames of frustration, he began legal proceedings against several judges and removed airwave regulators in an attempt to cement his position and that of the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood.

 

In a speech on Wednesday, he echoed what many leaders under siege across the globe are thinking about protests within their own countries: “Enough”!

 

There is a good reason for him to emit such a shriek of fear – a petition declaring him “unfit to administer a country the size of Egypt” has been signed by fifteen million citizens. A large proportion of these are expected to turn out en masse this Sunday to add voice to their demands. 

 

A movement, calling itself “Tamarod”, or rather “rebellion” has transformed the protests of Tahir square from a random and general one into a well-oiled and organised machine. Parallel to the waning popularity of the President, who had won due to the Muslim Brotherhood filling in the vaccum that the disorganised masses were unable to fill with their multiple and difficult-to-differentiate objectives, Tamarod is quickly becoming the real opposition to Morsi and his following.

 

Nonetheless, instead of seeking new parliamentary elections it engages in signing petitions and organising street protests. Along these lines, discernable leaders within the movement have already declared they would call for the boycott of any elections. 

 

Which is the first problem: to set up a formidable opposition that seeks to create real and meaningful change in the way peoples’ lives are lived, Tamarod cannot turn its back to the democratic way of politics. After all, fifteen million signatures exceeds the number of people who voted for the President himself, and can be used to infuse the Egyptian parliament with representatives of the voice behind the petition to ensure extremely biased acts, such as the legislation of the new constitution, cannot occur again.

 

The second problem is that, after taking a closer look, their aims are not much different to those expressed by the masses two and a half years ago in Tahir square, namely, the desire to topple their President. Without any clear policies of how to improve, say, the standard of living in Egypt, people will be reluctant to show their trust in such opposition movements at the ballot box – that is, if they decide to stand for the elections.

 

Lastly, it will eventually need international recognition, which is hard to come by at the best of times in such a divided country. This is exasperated, nonetheless, if a movement is aiming solely for the resignation of a President that was put into power through a democratic voting procedure and is set to lead for a set amount of years. 

 

The unfolding situation in Egypt is both, exciting and worrying, at the same time. Exciting because of the rise of a mass movement and worrying because of the probabiliy of violence and the vagueness of the Tamarod. Before it is too late, Tamarod needs to grasp the democratic tools that have been placed at its feet after the forceful removal of former President Mubarak. 

 

 

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Politicians think you’re stupid!

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics”, Mark Twain once said and when it comes to politics, it often rings true. As a general rule, politicians fiddle around with statistics until it supports their case rather than the other way round. This means that the government largely sticks to its ideological course rather than review the numbers and change direction.

 

The most recent example is that of the British Chancellor, George Osborne, claiming to increase capital investment in 2015/16 to boost economic growth in today’s ‘Spending Review’. He announced it would rise by an astonishing £50 billion. However, in the midst of ascending hopes within the construction industry, it quickly became clear that Osborne had changed the statistics to fit his lie.

 

In more detail, instead of net investment, he used the measurement of gross and once one takes a detailed look at the numbers, the policy quickly becomes a complete and utter farce. The promised £50 billion gross investment is, according to the OBR, just under the planned £50.4bn in 2015/16.

 

Do politicians think the public is that stupid? The UK government clearly thinks it is.

 

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How China is regressing to a dictatorship

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Amidst the suspicion of Chinese involvement in the ongoing Snowden affair and his ‘escape’ from Hong Kong, cheering on the country for its role in protecting a whistleblower and standing up for the freedom of speech and expression, ignores its past and its future. If Tiananmen Square is symbolic for its repression of public opinion in the past, then ‘Document Number Nine’ is that of its future.

 

Steeped in deep secrecy, the document has been circulated within the Communist Party over the last few months. The contents, however, have gradually spilt out onto the web as some insiders decided to take a stand and speak out against it openly.

 

Otherwise known as “A briefing on the current situation in the ideological realm”,  it mirrors the assertions of many governments – be they dictatorial or democratic – under pressure by their people demanding their fundamental rights. Namely, the assertion that disturbances are being caused by Western influence.

 

Although the majority of disturbances in China are perfectly natural and can be summarised as the collection of petitions, blogging and collective signing statements, the new Chinese President Xi Jinping has revealed his intolerance towards any such expressions of discontent.

 

The fear of dissent is particularly surprising as the actual threat is simmering at a low level. In this light, the only explanation for Xi Jinping to take such an ideological conservative stance at a relatively early stage in his presidency (compared to the time taken by his predecessor), is to stamp his creed on the shape his government will take towards public activism: treat it as “extremely malicious”.

 

Why?

 

It is simple. Because the government is nervous about the public and the lack of conviction in the political system. This is underlined by the frequent repetition of the need to be confident in the system, the party policy and the theory behind it in officials’ speeches.

 

What the party fails to see is that blaming the West for its troubles is not going to make it go away in the long-term. Xi Jinping is too conservative to understand or acknowledge, probably even in private, that the peoples’ demands are those inherent in every human being – the need to be able to express oneself and speak one’s mind.

 

Until this point is understood, no reform of the economy will be able to contain the so-called ‘Western influence’ and the boiling point of discontent will eventually be reached.

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A tale of two whistleblowers

It’s a battle akin to David and Goliath with a twisted ending: the Americans, still claiming to be the global moralauthority, turned on the province of Hong Kong and demanded the extradition of Andrew Snowden. In response, Hong Kong gave them what is equivalent of the middle finger and let him board a plane to Russia. In this case, David didn’t win but he got away with it and survived with a few diplomatic (and possibly minor economic) bruises.

 

In another case, a whistleblower pleaded with the UK to let him seek asylum in Ecuador. Once again, the Americans insisted on his eventual extradition after facing trial in Sweden and in this case, David bent his knee and yielded. As a result, Julian Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London and has remained there for more than a year with no end in sight since the UK is unwilling to let him leave the country.

 

Why are the two stories so similar and yet ended so differently? 

 

Admittedly, Julian Assange was the mouthpiece of the whistleblower Bradley Manning, whose excessive detention conditions in the US sparked worldwide concern (still think the US is the emblem of human rights?). Nonetheless, Assange is arguably viewed with greater hostility than Snowden by the White House, since the information he leaked on the internet supposedly “aided the enemy”, whereas Snowden’s actions will probably not be of great help to any terrorist organisations or states as it does not contain war logs or State Department cables. (This does not mean the prosecution would not try to make this accusation stick if the US does get its hands on him however.)

 

Most importantly, unlike the UK, Hong Kong asserted its beliefs in the freedom of speech and expression, partly because it feels like it may drown in the incoming tide of Chinese repression. If you read between the lines of its statement, the province declared to the world that it does not tolerate such prosecution and will not accept it from any authority that seeks to impose it. China will have taken note of that.

 

What did the UK have to gain from letting Assange go? Essentially, he had been accused of sexual assault and no matter whether people believe the charge was politically motivated, he needs to stand before a jury and prove his innocence. Letting him leave the country to flee those accusations would be irresponsible and immoral.

 

However, the real reason the UK is not willing to take a stance against the US is the close relationship it enjoys with it, from trade right down to sharing intelligence (see PRISM). And it is this dog-of-the-US syndrome, which has besmudged the human rights reputation over the years. Yet, as the hard power of Britain is decreasing andthat of soft power rising, more emphasis needs to be placed on the record of the country in standing up for those that dare shine a light into the forbidden darkness of state practice and reveal to the world that in a globalised world, no one is safe. And that is exactly what the whistleblowers have shown us, and why countries have to stand up for the freedom of speech and expression against a Goliath that has lost his right to police the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Journalists, stand up for yourselves!

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Creating a new Twitter account entails sifting through thousands of users and intermittently clicking ‘follow’ if the ‘who am I?’ section is judged enticing or interesting enough. What caught my eye was the amount of tweeters (twitterers?) ensuring that everyone knew their posts were their own and not that of their employer. This widespread phenomena was particularly obvious with journalists. And it touched a nerve.

 

Imagine you worked for the ‘Daily Telegraph’, a slightly rightward leaning enterprise. Working for such a company does not necessarily carry with it the requirement of occupying the exact same spot on the political spectrum, but why would you write for it if you did not have the same views, if not similar ones. Which is exactly the point I wish to make.

 

In simplistic terms, your ideals would align more or less with that of your employer, but there will still be differences. These deviations create debate, and furthermore, envelop additonal readers who do not necessarily agree with the points made , but are encouraged by a newspaper taking such a wide stance and may, as a result, change some peoples’ pattern of thinking.

 

Once you are part of a company, it does not mean you lose your individuality and for you to have to claim that they are your individual thoughts and not echoed by your employer, proves that every once in a while you will write about something that does not fit your worldview. Instead, you should be free to type what you actually think, rather than having the editor peer from behind your shoulder and lecture you on why you cannot write about, for example, the disastrous impact of climate change.

 

And when you air your view, don’t you dare add: “this is not my employer’s view”! Your employer is a mass of individuals who think differently and are meant to express their views and not have their imagination or thoughts restricted by an artificial guideline.  Every individual is the company.

 

Why is this so important? Take the example of the Iraq war. Almost every newspaper in the UK supported the invasion back in 2003, and any journalists expressing doubt were immediately sidelined. There is a reason why politicians continue to fight for every inch of space they can get. Why? Because newspapers matter. They can turn a disastrous policy into an acceptable, even desirable one. If there had been less censorship on the individuality of people that are essentially the creators of the news, who knows what a change in public thinking could have brought about.

 

All in all, the lesson for today is the following: don’t let your employer limit what you write in their name. Journalism is about free thinking that creates room for debate, instead of a monotone debate that stifles free thinking.

 

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Revolution and Revulsion: Democracy is on the warpath

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The globe is being taken by storm, and the governments, even rightfully elected ones, are trembling in their boots. There never was an “Arab Spring”, and even if there was one outside of the journalists’ minds seeking to create a catchy title, reality caught up with the initial uprisings, wrapped its icy claws around them and pulled them back into the cold and bleak realm of Realpolitik. But besides creating an unstable and uncertain future for those countries that had successfully toppled their dictatorial megalomaniacs, the uprisings had set a new trend. A trend of revolution and revulsion.

 

Although it was not the reason, the “Arab Spring” did provide the spark for the launch of a new era of democracy. In the democratic states, this is not about eradicating the government, but instead, telling them you are sick and tired of the way they are handling things. Rather than simply practicing your right at the ballot box after a set time period, you can now actively take part in politics whilst not having to stand as a politician or be part of a pressure group.

 

To link up with a popular and mostly peaceful movement, strongest in Brazil, Bulgaria and Turkey at the moment, sign up to Twitter or Facebook and take a few hours out of your diary to take a stand against corruption, overbearing parental governance or any other issue you feel is being neglected. If you’re not in the country, I’d recommend you start looking at the practices of your own government and start something up. Described by Erdogan as a “curse”, a “menace” and a “scourge”, social media has become not just one of the main provocateurs but also its main organiser.

 

It is also a torch that shines into the deepest lairs of governance and reveals to the world its deepest secrets. The resultant revulsion is then fittingly played out in the squares of the cities, as the anger in the public internet domain is translated into anger in the public spaces.

 

Whether this form of power, that of morality, outlasts the power of the powerful remains to be seen. One thing that is for sure however, is that this new form of democacy is on a warpath and it will not stop until one side gets hurt.

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