Thursday, April 7, 2011

CHOMSKY on Arab States - Toronto University

(Mis)governance and the Arab Crisis

What we are witnessing in Libya and other Arab countries is actually the culmination of decades of mis-governance in these countries

MIDEAST BY AIJAZ ASHRAF WAN

Some of the primary characteristics of Failed States, writes Noam Chomsky, are (a) their inability or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction, (b) their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and (c) if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance. Over the decades most of the Arab states have only witnessed authoritarianism, denial of democracy and mis-governance. The present crisis that the Arab world is going through is actually the outcome of mis-governance by the power hungry dictators turning these countries into Failed States and now into battle fields. Syria, Egypt and Libya are perfect case studies in this regard. 

Hosni Mubarak and Egyptian Politics
Historically Egypt has been the most important country of the Arab world, leader of Arab resistance against colonialism and the champion of the Palestinian cause. Ghamal Abdul Nassar espoused and vehemently followed the policy of Pan-Arabism but didn't succeed.   Following the assassination of President Sadat in October, 1981 by a Jihadi cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, Hosni Mubarak became the President of the Egypt and the Chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP) on 14th Oct 1981. He was the longest serving President of Egypt, his term lasting 29 years. President Mubarak Continued his predecessor's policy of periodic rigged elections and was re-elected by majority votes in a referendum for four successive terms in 1987, 1993, 1999. The referendum in itself is of questionable validity. No one could run against the President due to a restriction in the Egyptian constitution in which the People's Assembly played the main role in electing the President of the Republic. It was only in May 2005 that a national referendum approved a constitutional amendment that changed the presidential election to a multicandidate popular vote.
Like the other countries of the Arab world who have remained under dictators for a long time now, Egypt was also put under Emergency Law in 1967 (Law No. 162 of 1958) which continued to remain in force, except for an 18-month break in 1980s. Under the law, police has been given extensive powers, constitutional rights suspended and censorship is legalized. The law strictly prohibits any non-governmental political activity. As per non official records some 17,000 people are detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners run 25 to 35000. Under the "state of emergency", the government has the right to imprison individuals for any period of time without any trial, and for virtually no reason. The very basic elements of a democracy-right to vote, right to contest elections, rule of law etc-have remained absent in Egypt.

Political corruption in the Mubarak administration increased dramatically, due to the increased power of the cabinet over the institutional system.  In 2005 'Freedom House', a NGO that conducted research reported that the Egyptian governments, under Mubarak expanded bureaucratic regulations, registration requirements, and other controls that feed corruption. It claimed that corruption has remained a significant problem under Mubarak, who promised to do much, but in fact has done anything significant to tackle it effectively. In 2010, Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index report assessed Egypt with a CPI score of 3.1, based on perceptions of the degree of corruption from business people and country analysts, with 10 being very clean and 0 being highly corrupt. Egypt ranked 98th out of the 178 countries included in the report.

In February 2011, there were various media reports regarding the illegal wealth accumulated by Mubarak and his family. ABC News indicated that experts believed the personal wealth of Mubarak and his family range somewhere between US $ 40 billion and $ 70 billion founded on military contracts made during his time as an air force officer. Britain's Guardian newspaper also reported that the fortunes of Mubarak and his family might be worth up to $70 billion due to corruption, kickbacks and legitimate business activities. On March 17, 2011 US Senator John Kerry, head of foreign relations committee of the Congress, officially confirmed that the government of the United States froze assets worth $31 billion belonging to Mubarak, including property and bank accounts.
Keeping the above facts in mind it is not very difficult to understand a why mass protests against Mubarak and his regime erupted in Cairo and other Egyptian cities on 25 January 2011, leading finally to Mubarak's resignation.

Libya under Col. Qaddafi


On 1 September 1969, a small group of military officers staged a coup d'état against King Idris and launched what is known as the Libyan Revolution. The Libyan army's Free Unionist Officers' Movement, led by the then 27 year old first lieutenant Muammar Qaddafi, took over power on September 1st, 1969.On 16th January 1970 Qaddafi became the primer of Libya. Immediately after taking over Qaddafi evacuated American and British bases from Libya. Inspired by Nasar's ideas of Pan Arabism, Qaddafi also attempted to seek the unification of Arab world. However, all his attempts to achieve Arab union in the form of the "Union of Arab Republics" with Egypt and Syria, or the union with Egypt and Tunisia, failed.  Without an official title, he is sometimes described as the "Brother and Leader", and other times as the "Leader of the Revolution".

Qaddafi controls all the main aspects of the country's political and economic life. In 1973, Qaddafi delivered his famous "Five-Point Address". The five main points of his address being: Suspension of all existing laws and implementation of Sharia, Purging the country of the "politically sick", Creation of a "people's militia" to "protect the revolution", Administrative Revolution and Cultural Revolution. Gaddafi renamed the Libyan Arab Republic to Jamahiriya in 1977, a meaning "state of the masses", assuming the title of "Leader and Guide of the Revolution" and forming "people's committees". He resigned from the position of General Secretary of the General People's Congress of Libya in 1979, but has remained in power as de-facto dictator for past 42 years now.

After taking over power Qaddafi has issued countless orders and passed hundreds of laws in almost all the spheres of life, including laws directly related to public freedoms and the exercise of political, cultural and economic activities, restricting the activities of the citizens. The majority of the laws reflect the regime's interest in protecting itself and closing the door to any other opinion or power that may compete with its authority. Interestingly these laws were not issued by the Legislative, but by the Executive Authority represented by the Revolutionary Leadership Council. The laws were used against Libyans to deprive them of their legitimate fundamental rights. The repeal of the 1951 Constitution which established and embodied the state's Constitutional legitimacy was Qaddafi's first step to tighten his grip on the state, followed by all sorts of restrictions on the citizens to curb their democratic rights. Qaddafi's word became law and his "Green Book" which he published in 1975 the political Bible for Libya.

Law 45 of 1972 prohibits strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations. Law 71 of 1972 treats political parties as criminal. An article of this law considers the exercise of political party activities as treason, and says that "Those who belong to political parties commit treason".  Articles 3 and 4 prescribe a penalty of death or no less than 10 years' imprisonment for anyone who calls for establishing any prohibited gathering, organization or formation of any political group. Dissent is illegal under Law 75 of 1973. One of the obligatory instructions is an order that says: "We execute even innocent people with the aim of terrorizing real culprits who may not be known at the moment. The locations of those who wish to defy the revolution shall be attacked and destroyed inside Libya, even if in a mosque. If the location is external we have to move to its location and attack and execute the perpetrators."  The Abou-Salim prison massacre on 29 June 1996 that killed about 1,200 political prisoners is one of the worst crimes against humanity. Qaddafi used light and heavy weapons against unarmed detainees whose only crime was strike due to poor health conditions, inhumane treatment, torture, humiliation and their continued detention without trial.

The rampant corruption and accumulation of wealth by Qaddafi and his close associates became another feature of his regime. There are varying estimates on Qaddafi's wealth. Some estimate it to be as much as £60 billion – which has been squirreled away in safe havens across the globe. The main vehicle for the Qaddafi's wealth is the $70 billion Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), a "sovereign wealth fund" set up in 2006 to spend the country's oil money.

Syria and the Assads

In an interview to Wall Street Journal this January Syrian President Bashar Assad said that he was unlikely to face a popular uprising similar to the ones in Tunisia and Egypt because change inside Syria was shaped by "the people's feeling and dignity, [it is] about the people participating in the decisions of their country."  The President remarked that while Syria faced circumstances more difficult than those in most Arab countries, the country remained stable "because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people." However, the policies of Hafiz al Asad, who ruled the country for three decades, and Bashir Assad had provided enough reasons for the people of Syria to explode at any time, which finally happened this year.

In 1970 Hafiz al Assad becoming the first 'Alawi' President and  Syria became the country where minority Shiite Alawites rule over majority Sunnis. He placed members of his family, clan, tribe and sect, personally loyal to him, at important positions of power in the military, security, party and state institutions. He invested heavily in the military, giving privileges to the security forces and creating for them a vested interest in the survival of his regime. To protect himself from potential army coups, he created independent "Defence Companies" as a party militia, and an independent Presidential Guard. He never allowed any opposition to his power. In Feb 1982 Assad responded with unprecedented force to Muslim Brotherhood's opposition to him resulting in the killing of five to ten thousand people. Bashar took the reigns of power from his dictator father Hafiz al Assad in 2000. He continued with his father's policies, marrying to a Sunni girl. Like his father, Bashar maintained his supremacy by methodically undermining all potential alternative centers of power and legitimacy. Opposition parties and NGOs are banned, and an emergency law first introduced in 1963 allows police to arrest and detain anyone they suspect of "opposing the goals of the revolution." All forms of dissent are quickly and violently crushed, and the mukhabarat (secret police) have spies everywhere. In 2004, at least 30 Syrian Kurds were killed, and dozens more injured, in a crackdown by security forces in the northeastern city of Qamishli.  

However, the nature and magnitude of present uprising against the autocratic government clearly revels that government does not care about the wishes and beliefs of the people and people of Syria don't shape their policies. This kind of sustained, anti-government protest is almost unheard of in Syria, home to one of the world's most authoritarian regimes. The present uprising and the brutal response of the government has again resulted in the death of many innocent people.

Conclusion: What we are witnessing in Libya and other Arab countries is actually the culmination of decades of mis-governance in these countries. It is a fight of the common people of these countries for the democratic rights that have been denied to them in their own lands. However, the people of these countries need to be careful about the methodology they use for securing their rights. The Egyptian experiment has clearly shown the power of peaceful resistance as it does not provide much excuse to the rulers to perpetuate state terrorism.  One area where Mubarak failed and Qaddafi succeeded is pushing people for violence. It gave Qaddafi a reason to use all his brutal methods to suppress the revolution. A recent study conducted by  Maria J. Stephan and entitled "Why Civil Resistance Works-The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict", wherein they studied and compared hundreds of violent insurgencies with those of major nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006, found that over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25 percent of the violent insurgencies. Why? Because, as Eric Chenoweth wrote in an article in The New York Times, "for one thing, people don't have to give up their jobs, leave their families or agree to kill anyone to participate in a nonviolent campaign. That means such movements tend to draw a wider range of participants, which gives them more access to members of the regime, including security forces and economic elites, who often sympathize with or are even relatives of protesters". Also the people of Arab world should not allow too much of external intervention. They should try to win over their democratic rights by their own efforts even if it takes a bit more time and sacrifices. We have well seen the result of external intervention in Iraq for the so-called liberation of the people of that country. And finally it is very important for these countries to guard against slipping into anarchy or civil war once the revolutions are successful.

(Aijaz Ashraf Wani is Assistant Professor Deptt of Political Science, University of Kashmir. Feedback at aijazpol a gmail.com)





Students, workers and faculty rally against the corporate takeover of UofT

Toronto - The Anti-Corporatization Working Group of the UT General Assembly is calling a rally outside of the University of Toronto's Governing Council to protest the Munk "donation" and the privatization of education. Professor Noam Chomsky, speaking at a public lecture in the afternoon, has expressed support for the cause and is expected to make an appearance at the rally.

Organizers claim that the administration wants to generate discourses around global issues that are financed by and subject to the annual approval of the Munk Foundation. Peter Munk is the chairman of the mining company Barrick Gold, a corporation facing frequent allegations of international human rights and environmental abuses. What's more, Barrick is currently pursuing lawsuits against three academics who have written about these issues.

"The University of Toronto does not belong to Naylor nor to any private interests for that matter," says Gavin Smith, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and member of the anti-corporatization working group. "It belongs to all of us – students, teachers, staff workers and the community at large. This is where its quality lies, not in acting as the front for token gestures by rapacious mining interests."

Even the UofT administration seemed to expect controversy surrounding the acceptance of Munk's money. Negotiations around the agreement were kept secret, even from the Governing Council – a body that is, at best, a façade of democracy. At the last GC meeting, when a student governor presented notice of a Munk-related motion, the chair tried to prevent her from speaking. Though the motion was served with due notice, the executive committee of GC arbitrarily voted to remove the item from the agenda of Thursday's meeting, thereby stifling any debate on the topic.

"The omission of the motion from the agenda comes as no surprise. Its indicative of broader patterns of exclusion, marginalization and silencing of student, faculty, and workers' voices from decision-making at the University," stated Joeita Gupta, a student member of the University of Toronto Governing Council. "Please come together to keep our university public: say no to the corporate take-over of the University and to back-door fee increases."

In addition to protesting the Munk contract, the rally targeted the privatization of the University of Toronto. At the meeting, the Governing Council is set to approve tuition increases that would ensure that for the first time ever, tuition and other fees would surpass public sources of funding in UofT's projected budget.

The message of the rally is clear: students, teachers, staff workers, and the public are not silent sources of profit; they are the university. And they will rally to enact a new vision for UofT that reflects the interest of their community, not corporations and not neo-liberal governments.




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