Middle East

A. Loewenstein Online Newsletter

Don’t let the IMF get their dirty hands on the Arab revolutions

Posted: 06 Jun 2011

Independent Australian journalist Austin Mackellwho has been living in Egypt for a while documenting the post revolutionary mood, is interviewed by RT
 

New York’s Celebrate Israel parade 2011 shows Zionist myopia

Posted: 06 Jun 2011

How can American Jews show their love for the Jewish state? March in the centre of New York, of course. Back in 2009, I reported on the Salute to Israel event, with tens of thousands of young and old Jews singing, saluting, parading and waving Israeli and American flags in an orgy of Zionist love. It looked and felt desperate. 
Yesterday I again attended the march here in New York (only around 30,000 people took part) and the overwhelming feeling was one of increased anger and defensiveness. Countless Jews shouted out against Hamas, 9/11, terrorism, suicide bombing and Islam, as if they’re all connected. In the small mind of pro-settler Jews, they are, and this shows the level of paranoia shown by so many Zionist Jews. It’s a “the whole world hates us and always will” mentality. Occupation and military and racial discrimination don’t exist in yesterday’s rally.
It reminded me of whites marching for apartheid South Africa in the 1980s and believing history was on the side of hating blacks. These days, it’s hard to find many South Africans who proudly say they backed the apartheid regime.
Yesterday I spent time in the roped-off protest area, where Jews and Palestinians stood bravely against the masses and peacefully demonstrated against the Israeli state. We were clearly out-numbered and even then the marchers hurled abuse at us. Are Zionists so insecure that any dissent is seen as an existential threat? I guess shooting largely unarmed demonstrators is something to be proud of.
If the mainstream people at the march yesterday are the future of Israeli support in the US, then anti-Zionists have been given a gift. Extremism and virulent Zionism is not embraced by growing numbers of global citizens and yet Orthodox Zionism and Christian fundamentalism are becoming the key drivers of pro-Israel sentiment here.
A day to both despair and celebrate.
UPDATE: Need more evidence that the mainstream political elite sees Israel not as a country, but a fundamentalist religion that can’t be challenged? A leading New York politician is damned for not appearing at yesterday’s Israel parade.

What “right to exist” as a Jewish state?

Posted: 05 Jun 2011

Leading Australian academic Scott Burchill (we like his thoughts here) on specious Zionist claims

Since the 1970s, Israel’s leaders have insisted that their Palestinian interlocutors acknowledge Israel’s “right to exist” as a pre-condition for negotiations on a settlement of the conflict.
Amongst other concessions, the governments of Israel and the United States insist that Hamas makes precisely this declaration before being allowed to join Fatah in direct talks with their Israeli counterparts.
The problem with such a demand is that no such abstract “right to exist” can be found in international law or in any serious theory of international relations.
To put it succinctly, a “right to exist” does not exist for states. Nor does such a right exist in practice. Australia, for example, does not recognise Israel’s “right to exist”. Nor do any other states.

The question of what it would actually be recognising by acknowledging Israel’s “right to exist” has only one answer. Hamas would be acknowledging the legitimacy of the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their homeland.
Why would they ever want to concede this, let alone as a precondition for peace negotiations? It would amount to a pre-emptive surrender.

Egyptians don’t care about democracy, only the economy, says US Republicans

Posted: 05 Jun 2011

 
A poll that unsurprisingly didn’t focus so much on the major reasons the Egyptian economy is in such bad shape, namely that billions of dollars of US aid over decades went to building a police state:

A majority of Egyptians who supported this year’s revolution did so mainly because of their poor economic situation, not because they yearned for democracy, according to a U.S. government-funded poll released Sunday.
The survey also underlines Egyptians’ sky-high expectations for their next government. Eight in 10 respondents said they anticipated their economic situation would be better in the coming year. That presents a daunting challenge for whomever takes office, with a recent drop in tourism and foreign investment exacerbating the country’s already severe economic problems.
The survey was carried out for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a pro-democracy group that is close to prominent U.S. Republicans.
Only 15 percent said they support the Muslim Brotherhood, which favors a government guided by Islamic sharia law. Less than 1 percent of respondents favor an Iran-style Islamic theocracy.
And only 15 percent said their political opinions were strongly influenced by religious figures, with many more citing family members and military leaders.

The Net Delusion is alive and well

Posted: 05 Jun 2011

 
My following book review appeared in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald:

THE NET DELUSION
Evgeny Morozov
Allen Lane,
408pp, $29.95
As people in the Middle East have been protesting in the streets against Western-backed dictators and using social media to connect and circumvent state repression, it would be easy to dismiss The Net Delusion as almost irrelevant.
Born in Belarus, Evgeny Morozov collects mountains of evidence to claim the internet isn’t able to bring freedom, democracy and liberalism.
Sceptics would tell him to watch Al-Jazeera and see the power of the Facebook generation in action.
In fact, it is a dangerous fantasy to believe, he argues, because countless regimes are using the same tools as activists – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and email – to monitor and catch dissidents.
He writes that “the only space where the West (especially the United States) is still unabashedly eager to promote democracy is in cyberspace. The Freedom Agenda is out; the Twitter Agenda is in.”
Morozov condemns “cyber-utopians” for wanting to build a world where borders are no more. Instead, he says these well-meaning people “did not predict how useful it would prove for propaganda purposes, how masterfully dictators would learn to use it for surveillance” and the increasingly sophisticated methods of web censorship.
Furthermore, Google, Yahoo, Cisco, Nokia and web security firms have all willingly colluded with a range of brutal states to turn a profit.
The Western media are largely to blame for creating the illusion of web-inspired democracy. During the Iranian uprisings in June 2009, many journalists dubbed it the Twitter Revolution, closely following countless tweets from the streets of Tehran. However, it was soon discovered that many of the tweets originated in California and not the Islamic republic. The myth had already been born.
None of these facts is designed to lessen the bravery of demonstrators against autocracies – and Morozov praises countless dissidents in China, the Arab world and beyond – but lazy journalists seemingly crave easy and often inaccurate narratives of nimble young keyboard warriors against sluggish old men in golden palaces.
The New York Times’s Roger Cohen was right when he wrote in January that “the internet’s impact has been to expose the great delusion that has led Western governments to buttress Arab autocrats; that the only alternative to them was Islamic jihadists”.
But most protesters in the streets of Egypt had no access to the internet or any use for it and the main gripes were economic rather than ideological. However, it is undeniable that many of the young organised through online networks and clearly surprised the former Mubarak regime with their ability to harness a mainstream call for change.
Morozov, hailing from a country that knows about disappearances and suppression, urges the West to “stop glorifying those living in authoritarian governments”.
One of the Western fallacies of web usage in non-democratic nations is the belief that people are all looking for political content as a way to cope with repression. In fact, as Morozov proves with research, an experiment in 2007 with strangers in autocratic regimes found that instead of looking for dissenting material they “searched for nude pictures of Gwen Stefani and photos of a panty-less Britney Spears”.
I noted similar trends in China when researching my book The Blogging Revolution and found most Chinese youth were interested in downloading movies and music and meeting boys and girls. Politics was the furthest thing from their minds.
This would change only if economic conditions worsened. A wise government would pre-empt these problems by allowing citizens to let off steam; Beijing has undoubtedly opened up online debate in the past decade, though there are certainly set boundaries and red lines not to cross.
Morozov sometimes underestimates the importance of people in repressive states feeling less alone and mixing with like-minded individuals. Witness the persecuted gay community in Iran, the websites connecting this beleaguered population and the space to discuss an identity denied by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ultimately, The Net Delusion is necessary because it challenges comfortable Western thinking about the modern nature of authoritarianism.
This year we have already been left to ponder the irony of the US State Department deploying its resources to pressure Arab regimes not to block communications and social media while the stated agenda of Washington is a matrix of control across the region.
These policies are clearly contradictory and a person in US-backed Saudi Arabia and Bahrain won’t be fooled into believing Western benevolence if they can merely use Twitter every day.

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