Friday, May 27, 2011

This is a fabulous article in April's Le Monde Diplomatique about Gum Arabica, US diplomacy in Sudan and Coca Cola! I don't know how to access the full version on the net or the English version

"Non loin de là, à l’angle de la 14e Rue, le 4 Union Square South est l’adresse d’un supermarché de la chaîne d’alimentation bio Whole Food. Sans le savoir, les chalands y lestent leurs cabas d’infimes quantités de cette résine d’acacia. En l’absence de cet émulsifiant également connu sous le code E 414, « le colorant noir du Coca-Cola remonterait à la surface de la bouteille », explique M. Frédéric Alland, directeur de l’entreprise d’importation et de transformation de gommes Alland & Robert. « Nous ne pourrions plus boire de boissons gazeuses. »Ni consommer de confiseries et de médicaments, dont la gomme fixe l’enrobage, ni manger de yaourts, dont elle épaissit la texture, ni boire de vin, dont elle réduit l’agressivité des tanins, ni imprimer de journaux, sur lesquels elle permet de fixer l’encre.
« La plupart des gens dans le monde consomment de la gomme arabique tous les jours », explique le professeur soudanais Hassan Addel Nour. Des secteurs aussi vastes que l’industrie pharmaceutique, la cosmétique, l’alimentaire, les boissons aromatiques, le textile, l’imprimerie et l’industrie de pointe dépendent de cette manne tombée du ciel qui, selon la Bible et le Coran, permit de nourrir les Hébreux errant dans le Sinaï, et dont les Egyptiens se servaient..."

The US and the Arab despots in each others' arms

"For months now, the world has watched as protesters have taken to the streets across the Middle East to demand a greater say in their lives. In Tunisia and Egypt, they toppled decades-old dictatorships. In Bahrain and Yemen, they were shot down in the streets as they demanded democracy. In the United Arab EmiratesKuwaitJordan and Saudi Arabia, they called for reforms, free speech, and basic rights, and ended up bloodied and often in jail cells. In Iraq, they protested a lack of food and jobs, and in response got bullets and beatings.
As the world watched, trained eyes couldn’t help noticing something startling about the tools of repression in those countries. The armored personnel carriers, tanks, and helicopters used to intimidate or even kill peaceful protesters were often American models. 
For decades, the U.S. has provided military aid, facilitated the sale of weaponry, and transferred vast quantities of arms to a host of Middle Eastern despots. Arming Arab autocrats, however, isn’t only the work of presidents past. A TomDispatch analysis of Pentagon documents finds that the Obama administration has sought to send billions of dollars in weapons systems -- from advanced helicopters to fighter jets -- to the very regimes that have beaten, jailed, and killed pro-democracy demonstrators, journalists, and reform activists throughout the Arab Spring."

McEwan speaks half-truths to power

"In spite of his claiming disinterest in "arguments of equivalence," McEwan repeatedly denounces "both sides" as if they were equivalent players in the ongoing tragedy. He speaks of "nihilism" of Hamas, which "has embraced the suicide bomber" -- though such tactics began only after intolerable Israeli provocations and lasted only a few years. They are not a current tactic, though McEwan describes them as if they are. Meanwhile, the Israelis have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians, without committing suicide."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

One more thing

Oh and while I was in the US Obama gave a speech to the Arab World. As they say in French: il est passe inapercu. 

Palestine and the Arab Spring in the US

I’ve left the US this morning. I was there with colleagues on a speaking tour organized by AUB to talk about the Arab Uprisings. We spoke, among other places, in the Council for Foreign Relations. This was a talk I was worried about because I had been warned by friends and comrades that there would be a lot of Zionists in the audience. I thought, all things considered, that the talk went well and that we were able to pass a clear message: that we in the Arab World have regained agency over our present and our future, notwithstanding the counter-revolutionary forces. We also emphasized, wherever we went, the centrality of the Palestine issue to the whole Arab people. In every venue I participated in, I talked about the Israeli cold-blooded murder of unarmed protestors during the pacific Return to Palestine March of May 15 in Maroun al Ras and told the story as it happened.

The trip was also an occasion for me to launch my new book: Food, Farming and Freedom: Sowing the Arab Spring, published by Just World Books. The Launch took place in New York and was well attended. Helena Cobban, the owner of Just World Books did a great job. The book has a great introduction by Rashid Khalidi, and is a lightly edited compilation of the main posts on this blog.

I spent an extra couple of days in the US, and attended two events, one of which was a panel on Gaza, the Goldstone report and Israel’s impunity. The Culture Project and Mondoweiss organized the event. The attendance was impressive, the venue was great, a large amphitheatre near Central Park South. And the panelists were Naomi Klein, Colonel Desmond Travers (who was part of the Goldstone mission), Noura Erakat and Lizzy Ratner. It was moderated by the absolutely fabulous Laura Flanders. The discourse was much more radical than I had expected, and there was lots of applause when Noura said that she “honored the acts of resistance of Hamas and Hezbollah”. See this post on Mondoweiss for details.

I really got the impression that things were moving in the US, and that the picture on Palestine was not as bleak as it once was. This confirmed the impressions I gleaned from the panels I participated in and from the book launch. One thing Ratner said struck me, because of my interest in the issue. He told us that the Israelis have deliberately destroyed thousands of acres of farmland and a large number of farms near the border zone, to shrink Gaza further by placing the inlands under direct fire. He mentioned briefly (I think) that this was also part of the siege in the sense that it reduced the ability of the people to produce food. I may have misheard him, but in any case, this is what it is all about: creating a landscape of power and control.

The next day, I went to a solidarity meeting for a number of people who were entrapped by the FBI and accused of terrorism, and of civil society activists also accused of supporting terrorism through fund raising for social projects. The atmosphere was very different, and the meeting was not very well attended, maybe 30-40 people. The attendance was very different from that of the Gaza-Goldstone meeting, although there was an excellent speaker, Lamis Deek, a very strong lawyer with a radical discourse. But the general feeling I got was that people were fighting a hugely repressive apparatus. Right before the meeting, one of the people I met told me that the US was no different from Syria or other Arab security regimes: they both operate on the basis of an emergency law that goes on and on (the Patriot Act) and that allows people to be locked in and questioned and jailed in disregard of their basic citizen's rights. That made me think that there are many other similarities with the security states of the Arab World and elsewhere: fallacious democracy, control of the people by a very small number of powerful individuals, strong influence of the state on mainstream media, prisons that are removed from the legal space, acceptance of torture as a way of extracting information. One could make a long list of these. So in essence, it is not really surprising that the US government finds an affinity with the security states worldwide, it is not a contradiction or an aberration, quite the contrary, there is pretty good harmony at work here.

I got into Washington too late for the Move Over AIPAC (MOA) meeting, but I passed by the Convention Center where AIPAC was taking place and was able to see the pickets outside. MOA had a very strong showing, perhaps a 1000 or more I was told, and there were speeches and BDS coordination meetings and others. The site has a lot of information. This confirmed my impression that things were changing for Palestine in the US and getting closer to the mainstream. People I asked told me this had started with the 2006 war on Lebanon, then the Gaza onslaught then the continued Zionist aggressions.

The last impression from this rapid visit is that, in many respects, the discourse among the liberal pro-palestine people is in many ways far more radical than that of the equivalent classes in Lebanon. This is really something to ponder about.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beautiful prose poem about the Third Intifada by Daniel Drennan

"Let them riot in Gaza!" you said, and I saw you, and I saw you seeing me, and in that held gaze was a promise, and in my pause was a covenant, and I wrote those words down to forever remind me, I noted down your threat which is hereby reciprocated with interest accrued a hundred-thousand-fold. And now, 25 years later, I keep this promise by coming down to that border with those thousands upon thousands who would come down; by accompanying those who have left their square-kilometer meager allotment, who have decamped to this false demarcation, who have descended to this no-man's-land falsely partitioned, to this bogus border; to return with those who will one day soon, the grace of God willing, come home.

And be further informed that we will riot in Gaza; we fully intend to riot in Gaza, and in Golan, in Maroon Ar-Ras and in Naqoora; in Rafah, Ramallah, and Karameh. And soon must come your avowal, your acknowledgment, your surrender. Then must come the dismantling, the demolishing, the unsettling. Then must come the great pause, and the gathering, and the Return. And I vow for those who elseways have traversed your hellish gates, who elsewise have suffered your deadly portals, an endless patience, a constant and determined descent, a third and final wave with no end, a divesting, a demining of obstacles, an end to the debacle, an existence in resistance. And your day is come. And you will bear the burden of your crimes."

The whole land grab story: essential reading, multilevel analysis

"Barely 20 percent of these land-investment projects have reached an operational stage, so it remains difficult to assess their social, economic and environmental costs and benefits. Even once they launch, it may be difficult to measure their efficacy or impact. Given the significant potential consequences and the size of the investments involved, there exists distressingly little information about exactly how these deals are done—or who, exactly, does them. Investment procedures are shrouded in secrecy, and the identities of many investors remain unknown.
Last October, a study conducted by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law surveyed private investment in agriculture in Sudan, Pakistan, Tanzania and Mali. The study found a near-total lack of transparency and noted the absence of regulatory frameworks within the host countries that could reliably scrutinize projects. The report also found evidence that these investments left displaced people, food insecurity and water shortages in their wake. Pakistan, for example, has announced its intention to make six million acres available to private investors, which threatens to displace 25,000 villagers." (Thanks Karim)

Why food prices rise

"Another contributor to the high price of food is MOSAIC. It is a publically traded arm of Cargill the world's largest privately held company. Because it is privately held Cargill's profits and how they are obtained are not public but it's safe to say that Cargill controls much of the world's potash and phosphate two of the main ingredients of chemical fertilizer. Associated Press (2011) reported that Cargill's net earnings in the first quarter of 2011 was up 23 percent from a year ago and the company is on a buying spree and is planning to sell its shares of the highly profitable MOSAIC."

Buying out the Arab Spring

"Considering our own national debt, we cannot afford to forgive up to $1 billion of Egypt's debt," Elena Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said last Thursday. "The U.S. should only provide assistance to Egypt after we know that Egypt's new government will not include the Muslim Brotherhood and will be democratic, pro-American and committed to abiding by peace agreements with Israel."

Read more:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Brilliant class analysis of the events and post events of may 15 Return to Palestine by Daniel Drennan

Deep, sensible, sharp and crisp analysis of the events and the controversies surrounding the Return to Palestine March of May 15. The best I have seen written around the subject of Palestine and class in a long long time. By comrade Daniel

"How can we not imagine the emotion of living life, generation after generation, in one kilometer square, and then finding oneself 500 meters from one's homeland? In what way can it possibly be denied to people on this side of the border fence, on this, the land they currently live in with dubious status and standing, unarmed and peacefully marching, the right to make such a statement? And even if one from among them managed to cut the fence, or climb the fence, or scale this artificial border, why would you allow that border to be defined, entrenched, made permanent by your acknowledging its existence? Would you add the force of your voice to the bullet that stopped this one returning home dead in his tracks? Is this not a recognition of the Israeli entity? An acceptance of the power differential of this world? Are you willing to make that statement out loud? Are you willing to pick up that rifle and shoot? Do not dare call these martyrs puppets of parties or factions. Do not dare remove from them agency above and beyond the removal of agency that they daily suffer from. Do not dare attempt to deny that those organizing this event were likewise down in that valley protesting, or else were down in that valley exhorting protesters to return to safer ground, but who were down there nonetheless. Do not dare to create distance where there was none. Do not dare. For we know, we witnessed. And you do not get to impose your sterile remove on us. This is ignoble in its cynicism; a divisive tactic worthy only of the enemy."

Friday, May 20, 2011



رامي زريق
نهار الأحد الماضي، في الخامس عشر من أيار 2011، خلال الاحتفال السلمي بالذكرى الثالثة والستين للنكبة الفلسطينية والعربية، قتلت إسرائيل أحد عشر شاباً من المشاركين في الاحتفال، وأصابت أكثر من أربعين منهم بجروح خطرة. قتلت إسرائيل هؤلاء الشباب بدم بارد، بينما كانوا يتحركون على الأراضي اللبنانية. اختار القتلة الصهاينة ضحاياهم بهدوء، من بين مئات من الشباب والصبايا العزّل الذين تجمعوا على الحدود اللبنانية مع فلسطين المحتلة، خلف سياج العار العربي. أتوا من جميع أنحاء لبنان، من المخيمات الفلسطينية حيث سجنوا وعزلوا عن باقي العالم منذ ولادتهم، من البيوت المتهالكة التي لا تعرف الشمس، ومن الأزقة الغارقة في مياه الصرف الصحي. أتوا من حياة لا آفاق فيها، لا أمل ولا حرية. إلا أن بعضهم أيضاً أتى من أحياء المدن الثرية ومن جامعاتها النخبوية. بعضهم كان يحمل وثيقة، وبعضهم كان يحمل بطاقة من الأونروا، لكن بعضهم أيضاً كان يحمل الهوية اللبنانية، أو حتى جواز سفر من دولة غربية. كانوا أغنياء، كانوا فقراء، كانت لديهم أوراق ثبوتية، أو لم يكن بحوزتهم أي منها، لكنهم كانوا كثراً وكانوا يتشاركون هوية واحدة: فلسطين. جاؤوا ليصرخوا عالياً في وجه المحتل، ليقولوا للعالم بأجمعه إنهم تواقون إلى فلسطين، إنهم سيعودون، وإنهم مستعدون لأي تضحية حتى يحققوا هدفهم هذا. جاؤوا ليهتفوا بالصوت العالي أنهم، هم، لبنانيون، فلسطينيون وعرب، لا يعترفون بأي جنسية أخرى سوى فلسطين. تلك كانت جريمتهم: أن يتذكروا، أن يتوقوا، وأن يتلهفوا على أرض فلسطين وسمائها، على شواطئ حيفا وضفاف نهر الأردن. إلا أنه في عالم اليوم، الذي يديره حماة الصهيونية من العرب والإسرائيليين، الإعدام العلني هو الحكم الوحيد الذي يليق بتهمة الإنتماء إلى فلسطين.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On the rise

"Wheat prices jumped on Wednesday, taking the week's gains to 17%, an ascent that threatens to put fresh pressure on fragile Middle East governments that import the grain to feed their people."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

They can kill us but they cannot kill Palestine

Last Sunday, on the 15th of May 2011, during the pacific commemoration of the Palestinian and Arab Nakba, Israel publicly executed 11 youth and seriously injured more than 40 others. Israel executed those youth in cold blood, while they were on Lebanese soil. The Zionist executioners chose their victims calmly from among hundreds of unarmed young men and women who were assembled at the Lebanese border with occupied Palestine, behind the fence of Arab shame. They came from the four corners of Lebanon, from the Palestinian camps where they have been locked and isolated from the rest of the world since their birth, from the decaying houses that do not know the sun and from the alleys overflowing with open sewers. They came from a life with no prospects, no hope and no freedom. But many also came from the affluent neighborhoods of the cities and from its elite universities. Some carried a laisser passer (wathiqa), some a UNRWA card, but others had a Lebanese citizenship, and many carried a passport from a western country. They were rich, they were poor, they had papers, they had none, but they shared the same identity: Palestine. They had come to shout it loudly to the occupier, to tell the world that they longed for Palestine, that they will return, that they are ready for any sacrifice to achieve this goal, and that they, Lebanese, Palestinians, Arabs, recognized no other nationality than Palestine. This was their crime: to remember, to belong, to yearn for the land and the sky of Palestine, for the shores of Haifa and the banks of the Jordan River. In today’s world of Arab and Israeli Zionism the sentence for belonging to Palestine is public execution.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

How Egypt has changed: new farm policy to increase wheat and cotton acreage

"For the first time in years, the new rate for wheat has been announced well in advance of the next season, which starts in November and ends in April, giving growers ample time to prepare the new crop. The number of hectares of wheat is expected to jump to 1.5 million, or 3.7 millions acres, from 1.2 million hectares. Another 30,000 hectares recently seized from the Saudi investor Prince Waleed bin Talal after it was determined that he had bought the land below market prices will be devoted to growing wheat, further increasing the number of hectares in production.
The government also pledged to supply farmers with high-yield seeds and asked them not to keep any seeds from the current crop because of its poor yield.
Under the plan, wheat farmers will receive more regular and intensive counseling to “help them plant at the right time, use correct amounts of fertilizers and harvest the crop for the maximum benefit,” said Abdelsalam Gomaa, an adviser to the government and an expert on wheat cultivation. The government also will subsidize research that, along with better seeds, could sharply increase productivity, and it vowed to remove red tape that complicates the process of setting up companies seeking to grow grains, especially wheat."

Thursday, May 12, 2011

This is #Lebanon: 7 companies control 60% of the economy, 5% of farmers own 50% of farmland

لا تستثنى من الاحتكار والسيطرة في المراسيم اللبنانية، إلا المواد الغذائية فقط. أما باقي المواد التي يحتاجها كل مواطن في حياته، من محروقات، ومواد بناء، وأدوات كهربائية ومنزلية، فهي تخضع لسيطرة الوكلاء الحصريين، وأصحاب الرساميل الكبرى، من رجال أعمال وسياسيين. 
وفي ظل غياب الحكومة، وحتى في وجودها ومع غياب أي سياسات اقتصادية أو مالية، ترتفع الأسعار في السوق اللبناني، بشكل جنوني، حتى أصبح كل مواطن، وخاصة إذا كان من ذوي الدخل المحدود، يشعر بأن جهات محددة تساهم في نهب دخله الشهري، الذي يذوب كحبات الملح في الماء. 
وتلك الجهات نفسها هي التي تمنع حتى الآن إقرار مشروع قانون المنافسة، وتنفيذ قانون إلغاء الحماية عن الوكالات الحصرية.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

US foreign policy: chose your side and it better be ours

"But no amount of external assistance can compensate for a lack of motivation and commitment. Pakistani leaders must choose once and for all. It is not enough to be a limited partner in the struggle against terror; Pakistan needs to become a full partner.

There will be Pakistanis who protest against the recent American military action, arguing that it violated Pakistan’s sovereignty. But sovereignty is not an absolute; it involves obligations as well as rights. Pakistanis must understand that they will forfeit some of those rights if they do not meet their obligation to ensure that their territory is not used to shelter terrorists.

If things do not change, the sort of independent military operation carried out by US soldiers will become less the exception than the rule. This is not nearly as desirable an outcome as Pakistan joining what should be a common international effort. At stake is not only assistance, but Pakistan’s own future, for, in the absence of genuine commitment to counter-terrorism, it is only a matter of time before the country falls victim to the infection that it refuses to treat."

Richard N. Haass, formerly Director of Policy Planning in the US State Department, is President of The Council on Foreign Relations.

They steal our olive tress and sell them

"The project under Rajasthan Olive Cultivation Ltd. was inspired from the successful cultivation of olives in the desert regions of Israel with the help of technology. Rajasthan experiences a climate similar to Israel, with cold spells and a certain chilling temperature that is essential to the cultivation of olives. Olives can grow in water-scarce desert regions because of their low water requirement." (Thanks Annia)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Palestine in Tahrir square

Among all Arab capitals I have visited, I used to like Cairo least. The crowded, the cars, the pollution, the latent aggression of the baltagiyya in the souks, all this used to get me. Today, after the January 25 Revolution, I feel the vibes of this city, and I just love it. The whole place has changed, the attitudes of people in the street have changed, there is a palpable mood of freedom everywhere, from the airport taxi to the public gardens.

I'm here to attend the launch of the World Bank World Development Report titled "Conflict, Security and Development". Let me spell out clearly that my participation does not constitute an endorsement of the World Bank, of its policies or or the report. I will have much more to say about the report at the end of the meeting. But a lot of very interesting things are happening and I am learning a lot about the Egyptian Revolution. Yesterday's marathon day session only welcomed the Egyptian audience, and included an evening meeting with the independent trade unions, which was enlightening. But more about this later.

The highlight of my day happened at night. From the balcony of my hotel room I can see Tahrir square. I can also hear it. That's how I noticed the demonstration that was taking place there, around 11 pm. I decided to go and see what it was about.

Tahrir square at night

A few hundred people were assembled at the corner of Tal`at Harb, chanting anti sectarian slogans and some were brandishing crosses and qur'ans.  They were protesting the sad events that took place in the Imbaba neighborhood between "salafis" and Copts and which left at least 10 dead and hundreds of wounded. Everywhere I had gone that day people were talking of a conspiracy to drag the revolution into sectarianism.

There was one flag that
 was carried during the protest, alongside the Egyptian flag. It was the
Palestinian flag. And the chants of the protesters reflected this very clearly, with at least half of them directed at the zionists and their agents in the Arab World. I also found there posters calling for the Egyptian Return to Palestine March, and the people I asked were all aware of it and were intent on participating.

Tahya Misr. Vive L'Egypte.

 The poster of the Egyptian Return to Palestine March on Tahrir Square

Feeding the Arab Uprising

MRzine posted my talk.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Zizek on cloud computing

"Everything thus becomes accessible, but only as mediated through a company which owns it all — software and hardware, content and computers. To take one obvious example, Apple doesn’t only sell iPhones and iPads, it also owns iTunes. It also recently made a deal with Rupert Murdoch allowing the news on the Apple cloud to be supplied by Murdoch’s media empire. To put it simply, Steve Jobs is no better than Bill Gates: whether it be Apple or Microsoft, global access is increasingly grounded in the virtually monopolistic privatization of the cloud which provides this access. The more an individual user is given access to universal public space, the more that space is privatized.

Apologists present cloud computing as the next logical step in the "natural evolution" of the Internet, and while in an abstract-technological way this is true, there is nothing "natural" in the progressive privatization of global cyberspace. There is nothing "natural" in the fact that two or three companies in a quasi-monopolistic position can not only set prices at will but also filter the software they provide to give its "universality" a particular twist depending on commercial and ideological interests.

True, cloud computing offers individual users an unprecedented wealth of choice — but is this freedom of choice not sustained by the initial choice of a provider, in respect to which we have less and less freedom? Partisans of openness like to criticize China for its attempt to control internet access — but are we not all becoming involved in something comparable, insofar as our “cloud” functions in a way not dissimilar to the Chinese state?"

Friday, May 6, 2011

Perspectives on the Arab World in Revolt

I wrote an article on Food and the Arab Revolutions in this issue of Perspectives Middle East. Plenty of excellent articles in there.

Return to Palestine by the Never Before Campaign

Bunting: The endgames of our empire never quite finished – just look at Bahrain

"Second, this imperial endgame explains so much about today: for instance, the growing crisis in Bahrain, where new arrests over the weekend appear to herald a fresh bout of violent repression, and why we are not currently bombing this Gulf state with as much enthusiasm as we are Libya.
It has been one of the most successful chapters in British imperial domination; the Al Khalifa dynasty signed its first treaty with the British in 1820 and they finally "left" in 1971. The British have backed a repressive regime in a very cosy, mutually advantageous relationship of finance, military training, arms deals and royal ceremony (one of the less edifying aspects of the imperial endgame has been the use of the royal family to flatter and seduce client regimes, however unpalatable). In the last few months the Bahrain government has beaten, killed, tortured the Shia protest movement. On Saturday, the Guardian reported that Bahraini students who had protested against this repression in Britain now feared violent reprisals. The west has done little but mumble incoherently; too many interests are at stake to live up to the grand moral rhetoric now being lavished on Libya."

Haiti and the international aid scam

"Corruption takes many forms, and if the United States seems like it has less of it than many developing countries, this is partly because we have legalised so much of it. Election campaign contributions are only the most costly and debilitating form: a legalised bribery that, for example, gives the pharmaceutical and insurance companies a veto over healthcare policy and generally hollows out our limited form of democracy.
This legalisation of corruption reached a new milestone last December when one Lewis Lucke, a long-time US Agency for InternationalDevelopment (USAID) official turned influence-peddler, sued a consortium of firms operating in Haiti for $492,000, for breach of contract. As Lucke would have it (sorry!), he was promised $30,000 a month, plus incentives, to use his influence to secure contracts for these nice fellas. He got them $20m worth of contracts, but they cut him off after two months. The defendants in the case are Ashbritt, a US contractor with a questionable track record, and the GB Group, one of the largest Haitian conglomerates. Together, they formed the HaitiRecovery Group, which they incorporated in the Cayman Islands, to bid on reconstruction contracts."
Mark Weisbrot

الشعب يريد العودة
رامي زريق
أدت موجة الانتفاضات التي تعمّ الوطن العربي إلى تغيرات هامة في مقاربة العمل السياسي؛ فقد أصبحت المسيرات والاعتصامات السلمية و«شبه العفوية» جزءاً أساسياً من عدة العمل، بعد غياب دام عقود. أعادت الينا الاحتجاجات إيماننا بإمكان التغيير من خلال العمل المدني المشترك والدؤوب، ومن دون الارتهان لجهات سياسية بالية لا يفضي التحالف معها إلا إلى إعادة إنتاج النظام السائد. كذلك، نشهد تغيراً في طبيعة الشعارات المعتمدة خلال التظاهرات، التي تتميز ببساطتها وبقدرتها على التعبير عن مطالب الناس بمختلف انتماءاتهم. تبني هذه الشعارات على الأمور التي تجمع بين المحتجين بدلاً من تلك التي تفرق بينهم. على رأس «السلوغانات» الحديثة صرخة «الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام» التي ولدت في تونس وتناقلتها ملايين الحناجر العربية. تبنت الحركات الاحتجاجية العربية هذا الشعار وطورته، لكنها أبقت الجزء الأهم منه: «الشعب يريد». في الأسابيع المقبلة، سيشهد لبنان وعدد من البلدان العربية والغربية استعدادات مكثفة لمسيرات ضخمة تحمل اسم «مسيرة العودة»، تحت شعار «الشعب يريد العودة إلى فلسطين». تنطلق هذه المسيرات، بالتزامن مع ذكرى النكبة، يوم 15 أيار، وتسير، من كل بلدان الطوق، باتجاه الحدود مع فلسطين. كذلك، ستنطلق تظاهرات منسقة في وقت واحد باتجاه سفارات «إسرائيل» في عدة بلدان غربية. تهدف هذه المسيرة، التي تنسق في تنظيمها كل الجهات الفلسطينية، بمشاركة عدد من الجهات والناشطين من الأفراد اللبنانيين، لتثبيت الحق الفلسطيني بالعودة وتحرير كامل التراب الفلسطيني من البحر إلى النهر. خلالها، لن يرفع سوى العلم الفلسطيني، شعاراً وحيداً لتأكيد وحدة الصف والنصرة العربية للقضية المركزية، فلسطين.

Raj Patel: hunger as a commodity

"While the economic world ought to work this way in theory, it doesn't in practice. Goldman Sachs has an investment structure that is only about buying food futures. Despite what the theorists say, speculators have profited from hunger. And there's now mounting evidence from some economists that the rush of money into commodity funds is indeed driving prices higher.
But even these kinds of analysis assume that there are rational moves made by actors within the market's confines. When financial powerhouses like Glencore are able to control and engineer the terms on which they are governed, economics has painfully little to say. Rather than being "price takers", today's financial behemoths are price makers. To understand the power at play, we're better served by the insight of the French historian Fernand Braudel – that capitalism is, at its pinnacle, not about the facilitation of free exchange, but about its destruction."

Monday, May 2, 2011

Battling with monsters

I have been promising myself to write about the preparations for the May 15 Return to Palestine march. I feel the urge to do so because what is going on is a major departure from the classical political activism in Lebanon and I am sure in the Arab World as well. This is a new type of action in which we can clearly see the impacts of the Arab Spring.

But I want first of all to say a few words about the Arab Spring -or Revolutions, or Uprisings, call them as you please-. The situation is now far more complex than when it started in Tunisia in late 2010. And this should be expected. When a change of such magnitude takes place, you can safely predict that the all the powers will deploy in order to capture as much as they can from the new state of affairs and steer it towards their interests.

The Arab Spring was led by people, the People, al jamaheer as we say in Arabic, and it took everyone by surprise. But this was only temporary, and as early as mid-January, we saw a rapid and systematic positioning of the key players seeking to exploit the popular movement in order to preserve and protect their stakes and ameliorate their position. In this process, new partnerships have emerged, new affinities were discovered and new connections established.

The Libyan quagmire is a classic example, where the opposition forces have been driven to calling onto the US to come and do as it pleases. This imbalanced "alliance" is happening regardless of the make-up of this opposition which includes groups that should be anathema to the US but with which the US seeks (imposes?) an opportunistic and asymetrical partnership. The news of the killing of Usama Bin Laden today in Pakistan comes to remind us of a similar situation that started in Afghanistan many decades ago.

In Yemen and in Syria the Empire is still scratching its head and observing the situation before taking a formal position. In both countries, as in other countries in the Arab World, the opposition is made up of a heteroclite assemblage of people and groups, sometimes with diametrically opposed political views and ideologies, but which have found common ground in the simple slogan: "The People want to bring down the regime". Once the regime falls, the logic goes, we shall sort all of this out. Not as easy as it sounds, in view of the power imbalance between those groups and of the constant interference of the imperial and corporate structures, as well as of the pressures of the regional actors who are themselves associated with the Empire, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Very palpable too are the pressures exerted by the local and global parties of money who are seeking to carve themselves a new deal or to protect their class interests. Last Friday April 29, Al Safir published an analytical article (in Arabic) by Mazen al Sayyed entitled: "Did Qadhafi anger the Banque Nationale de Paris? The Libyan revolution between Russian Wheat, African Markets and the mysterious French moodiness" which connects the dots between the Libyan revolution, foreign interference and mega-sized financial deals. And there is probably much more of the same that is yet to be exposed. And I wont even even talk about Bahrain, where the violent repressions of the most basic freedoms appears to have suddenly fallen under the human rights-democracy radar of Western and Arab mass media. Cherchez l'argent et le pouvoir...

But this should not mean that we have misgivings about the Arab Springs. All it means is that we have to brace ourselves and prepare for a rough ride before we can achieve our goal of a human society based on justice and equity and social cohesion and not on power imbalances and monetary interests. People who endorse these premises have sparked the Arab Revolutions, seeking dignity and equality and an end to humiliation at the hands of dictators and of their business partners. This is exactly why we should, now more than ever, prepare ourselves for the times that are coming. It is time to unearth Gramsci's "The old world is dying away and the new world struggles to come forth: now is the time of monsters" and to act in consequence. 

We should be ready to fight the monsters with our newly discovered powers. For this we need to educate ourselves, to reach out across classes and borders and to establish strong and effective linkages and partnerships with similar struggles all around the world. We need to build on the successes of the Arab Revolutions but not become complacent about them. What has happened in Tunisia and Egypt is only a beginning and needs to be transformed. As in rugby, we have scored a try now we need to attempt a conversion by kicking the ball into the goal. And there will be plenty of tackling and mauling and scrums in the process.

The Return to Palestine March of May 15 gives a good idea of the new tools we have at our disposal. It is a massive peaceful march organized simultaneously in Palestine and in the countries bordering it (I think Syria will pass this time given the circumstances) and in many cities in the world. There is one main slogan: "The people wants to return to Palestine", clearly inspired and aligned with the Arab Spring. The organizers do not hide their affiliation with the Arab Spring, and this has given rise to interesting debates around Syria's official participation. In Lebanon, there will also be one flag, the Palestinian flag, under which all Palestinian factions will assemble. Fath, Hamas, and all the others are organizing together, not as parties but as civil society organizations and with them Lebanese civil society and individuals. The dynamics in the meetings is extremely positive, and this was the case even before the Fath-Hamas reconciliation in Cairo (again the Arab Spring). There is insistence on the peaceful but massive nature of the civilian march, on the right of return to all of Palestine and on the Arab identity of Palestine. It does truly feel as if there is a broadening of the liberation discourse to accommodate new approaches and strategies which were effective in Egypt and Tunisia.

Among these approaches in the increased reliance on electronic media. The March has a blog ( with links to the internet sites of the other marches and other activist groups involved in the march, a Facebook page and a twitter account "may15filasteen". 

The use of Facebook created an issue that is interesting and worthy of mention. A few weeks ago, Facebook blocked the Third Intifada page following complaints by Zionists. Nothing surprising there. But what is interesting is that now all the pages of the Return to Palestine March have become extra careful in wording their statements and in moderating wall posts and other comments lest they get censored. So Facebook, which has monopolized social media (as there does not appear to be any alternatives that will allow networking between large groups of people who do not know each others), has effectively become a controller of words and thoughts. It can now decide what can and cannot be posted, and what can or cannot be promoted. This is a tremendous power, as the criteria for rejecting and accepting are subjective, lack transparency, and are determined by a private corporation (Facebook) that has financial interests to protect. For example, Facebook has recently acquired the Israeli startup company Snaptu.

This of course brings up the need for alternatives to Facebook, and begs the question of whether monopolies of such power should be acceptable in social media, when they are theoretically not accepted in other sectors, especially with the realization of the potential power these media can wield. Lots to think about when it comes to battling with monsters...