Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Archive for November 2011

The Russians are coming!

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Analysis from a better blogger than I:

Russia is deploying warships at its base in Syria. The battle group includes aircraft carrying missile cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov. The deployment is being projected as pre-planned and having no relation to the current tensions in Syria, but it follows the US move to station the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group with support vessels off Syria. Speculation is mounting about a western ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Syria. 

The Russian MFA spokesman said on Friday, “The human rights situation in a particular country may certainly be the subject of international concern, but human rights issues under no conditions should be used as a pretext for interfering in the internal affairs of states, in this case Syria. The Syrian people must decide their own fate, without ‘tips from outside.We absolutely do not accept a scenario of military intervention in Syria.”

The big question is whether there could be a US-Russia showdown over Syria. For US, regime change in Syria opens the road to taking on Hamas and Hezbollah next, which would isolate Iran. The stakes are very high. For Russia, loss of the Tartus naval base will be a serious blow that will cripple its capability to operate in the Mediterranean region, apart from Syria being an old ally.

Russia can’t think it’s going to stop the momentum of the NATO-US-UN-AL-GCC-SNC-MB-supported regime change in Syria. But if anything more than a show of displeasure is meant by the voyage of the Kuznetsov, we’ll find out soon enough.

Written by M. James

November 30, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Arab Spring, Syrian fall

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I recently posted about a “deal” that the Arab League had supposedly struck with President al-Assad’s Syrian government (here). It would, in effect, end the violence in Syria and encourage a dialogue between the regime and the resistance. I didn’t post a follow-up because, quite frankly, I was confused. Nobody was quite clear about who the complicit “Syrian authorities” were, what “Damascus” meant, or how anyone would go about ending a vicious cycle of violent protest and military intervention.

And as the deadline for the “agreement” passes without an invitation being extended to any Arab League overseers, it seems that “Damascus” and “Syrian authorities” were not synonymous with “President al-Assad” after all. The real Ba’athist Syrian regime, as it has made eminently clear in the past, is not interested in negotiating with what it sees as a foreign-funded militant Islamist movement—and never was. But it doesn’t really matter who did, didn’t, or may have agreed with what or whom and when (although I’m curious who the Arab League thought it was talking to), because the result is the same:

Arab League officials said Thursday that if the government of President Bashar al-Assad failed to agree by Friday to sign a protocol detailing the mission of the observers, Arab finance ministers would meet Saturday in Cairo to discuss imposing sanctions that could include halting flights to Syria, curbing trade and stopping transactions with the country’s central bank.

The new sanctions would deal a severe blow to an economy already suffering under sanctions from the European Union and the United States. Syria’s two most vital sectors, oil and tourism, which account for more than a third of the government’s revenues, have all but come to a halt.

And the purpose of the sanctions (which Turkey agrees to mirror, by the way) is clear:

“We will not give up,” said Abu Kinan, a shop owner and protester from the Midan neighborhood in Damascus. “When the Arab League imposes its sanctions, the Syrian economy will collapse, and then the business class and the middle class will join the protests to change the regime.”

Familiar? With the merchant middle class between a rock and a hard place (read: lacking the necessities of life), al-Assad’s regime will take the fall. And the USS George H.W. Bush (the only deployed Atlantic Nimitz-class supercarrier) will be inconspicuously parked off the coast of Syria (as it is now), waiting to make the transition smooth for everyone. Including Bashar.

Written by M. James

November 26, 2011 at 2:01 am

Tunisia takes to Turkish model

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Tunisian constitution will make no place for faith
Tom Heneghan; Reuters; Nov. 4, 2011

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s Islamist-led government will focus on democracy, human rights and a free-market economy in planned changes to the constitution, effectively leaving religion out of the text it will draw up, party leaders said.

The government, due to be announced next week, will not introduce sharia or other Islamic concepts to alter the secular nature of the constitution in force when Tunisia’s Arab Spring revolution ousted autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M. James

November 14, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Gaza bound: Update

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The apparent conclusion to the voyage of the Tahrir and the MV Saoirse:

Activists on the pro-Palestinian ships that aim to block the Israeli blockade on Gaza say two Israeli warships have surrounded the two boats and that they have lost all contact with the world.

The campaign organisers in Canada and the EU tweeted that they lost contact with all journalists onboad and suspect that the Israeli navy jammed the boats’ communications.

They also detailed that the boats are about 40 miles off of the Gaza shore, but still in international waters.

An hour earlier (12pm GMT) the Israeli navy made radio contact with one of the ships.

In a statement published on the Canada Boat to Gaza campaign website reads that an Israel navy officer warned the captain that Israeli navy ships would intercept them at any minute.

And intercepted they were.

Another blockade-breaker handled reasonably well by Israel. More opportunities to come, no doubt.

Written by M. James

November 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm

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Gaza bound

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Google Maps "could not calculate directions."

The Tahrir and the MV Saoirse, former components of the failed “Freedom Flotilla II” to Gaza in July (failed due to a combination of sabotage and an unsupportive Greece), are trying again.

The Tahrir, a Canadian ship by origin, flies the Comoros flag. The MV Saoirse, an Irish ship by origin, flies the American flag.

The two ships are reported to have left the Turkish port of Fethiye with activists on board (and with Rhodes as the supposed destination), and will be due in blockade waters within days.

Not all the attempts at breaking Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip have been “incidents,” but none of them have been successful, either. Potential for another Mavi Marmara looms.

Written by M. James

November 2, 2011 at 12:51 pm

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In Syria: Arab League strikes “deal”

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From Reuters:

Algeria’s Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said on Tuesday an Arab League committee charged with seeking an end to the violence in Syria had reached agreement with Syrian authorities, Al Arabiya television reported.

Arab diplomats said the ministers proposed that Syria release immediately prisoners held since February, withdraw security forces from the streets, permit deployment of Arab League monitors and start a dialogue with the opposition.

Either the “deal” isn’t as stringent as it sounds or President al-Assad is feeling threatened all of a sudden. Official announcements to come.

Written by M. James

November 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm