by Abbas Sarhan, Niqash, November 28, 2013
Only a few years ago a woman driving on the streets of Karbala was an unusual sight, one that some considered indecent and odd. But this has changed a lot, with more women driving and more locals considering it acceptable. And despite the city’s conservative ways, local authorities are now sending their female staff to driver education courses.
Local woman Ruqaya is proud that she was one of the first females, if not the first, to drive a car in the conservative Iraqi city of Karbala. She’s a school teacher and she was taking taxis to work every day. “This was costing almost one quarter of my salary,” she explained to NIQASH. “So I decided to buy a car. It was an old Daewoo and I bought it for US$3,000. In 2009, I sold it and bought a sportier model, a Kia.”
That was in 2005. “It was strange to see a woman driving a car here,” she continues. “People often looked surprised or outraged when they saw it. And there were men who would make fun of female drivers and who made jokes about them.”
Once when her car broke down, Ruqaya had to leave it next to a petrol station and she was jeered at by those who saw her predicament as she left the car.
Karbala didn’t have any actual laws forbidding women from driving and, unlike in some Gulf States, there has never been a fatwa, or religious edict, issued that forbids women from driving.
By Noah Browning AQQABA, West Bank (Reuters) – A silvery green olive grove set in the red soil of a Palestinian village is a crime scene – testament to a practice so sensitive that it is spoken of only in whispers. One night in late November, Rasha Abu Ara, a 32-year-old mother of five, was beaten to death and strung from a gnarled tree branch as a gruesome badge of "family honor" restored. The rise has led Palestinians to question hidebound laws they say are lax on killers, as well as a reluctance to name and shame in the media and society, which may contribute to a feeling of impunity among perpetrators. "But, it's standard." A week after the crime, Aqqaba mayor Jamal Abu Ara, who is a member of the victim's extended family, and his brothers sat in their village home, smoking cigarettes and choosing their words carefully.
Jon Stewart reviews the false statements by President Obama and administration officials about the nature and scope of National Security Agency electronic surveillance of Americans. It is in fact scooping up emails and telephone calls. They’re even in ‘Worlds of Warcraft.’ They’re monitoring the locations of 5 billion smartphones every day. They “want it all.” I began by saying that the Snowden revelations showed the government violating the 4th Amendment. We are now at the point where their assault on the privacy of innocent individuals is fully science-fictional. It turns out that “2014″ is substantially worse than “1984.”
Euronews notes that the Turkish economy had a growth spurt in the third quarter, and it is certainly doing better than other non-oil states in the region or than most in Europe.
One drag on the economy, though, is an increase in Turkish petroleum imports. This problem is going to get worse, and could constrain Turkey’s future.
Turkey’s oil imports are expected to double during the next decade. Its main source in recent years has been Iran, with Russia coming in second. (This datum helps explain Turkey’s delight at the US-Iran negotiations that might reduce sanctions). Most of the imports are in the form of diesel fuel.
Some of the diesel is probably being used in generators, making electricity. That is awful for the earth, and very expensive. Turkey is rich in solar, wind and wave energy, and should make a big press to increase those energy sources, since it does not have oil of its own to speak of.
General Electric is investing $5 billion in Turkish wind farms, which is the right move for both parties, but only a beginning.
By Juan Cole
In his stirring eulogy of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first president to be legitimately elected, by the entire South Africa people, President Barack Obama said,
“There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.
There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
I am not an armchair politician who holds the real ones in contempt. Politics is hard. Most of us don’t have the patience or the stamina for it. Hammering out a compromise among persons with strong egos and entrenched ideologies is a talent and a skill that I admire. Those puritans who demand consistency and decry hypocrisy, who scoff at bargaining, may admire their own unsullied characters alone in their rooms, but they will never actually accomplish anything good for people. Barack Obama has the patience of a Job, in the face of an opposition party that has declared itself not a loyal opposition but a deadly enemy.
So it is not lightly or glibly that I use the occasion of Obama’s heartfelt speech to upbraid him. But the contradictions in his sentiments and his actions here are too extreme, too glaring to pass without rebuke.
Obama praised dissent in the service of human rights, but has done everything in his power to suppress dissent. Dissent can come from within the ranks of government employees (indeed, since 3% of the work force in the US is employed by the Federal government if you count the military, it would have to). If Mr. Obama truly valued dissent in the service of human rights, he would persuade his Attorney General to drop charges against Edward Snowden and he would use his presidential pardon to release Chelsea Manning from penitentiary. These two are dissenters, the one in prison and the other facing prosecution if the US could get its hands on him. They saw their government do things that they found ethically repugnant and blatantly unconstitutional, which the government had hidden from the citizens whom it was supposed to be serving. Their revelations of what they knew was the highest form of morality.
Mr. Snowden in particular has revealed a Federal government completely out of control, engaged in warrantless surveillance of millions of American citizens on US soil, in ways that contravene the letter, spirit and intent of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and which courts have found illegal when these practices have been allowed to come before them. The ACLU has shown how dangerous this unfettered surveillance could be to our individual liberties and personal autonomy.
One can only be disappointed at Mr. Obama’s complaisant reaction to these revelations, many of which may well have come as a surprise to him, since apparently the octopus-like secret government that has substituted itself for the elected one doesn’t tell the front men very much about what it is really doing. Obama seems convinced that the records being assiduously compiled on Americans (not to mention millions of innocent French, Brazilians, Germans, Indians and others) will not be misused by government. This conviction is either self-serving or strangely naive, and in any case goes against the entire tradition of American governance. The US government was erected by people who had suffered forms of tyranny pursued by a much less powerful government than we now have, and who were convinced that state officials will often get away with as much as they can get away with.
We already know that warrantless surveillance of individuals has started law enforcement investigating them for, e.g., drug buying. When the investigation threw up actionable evidence, law enforcement prosecuted on the basis of it. The police then lied to the judges and defense attorneys, making up some reason for which they began looking at the alleged perpetrator in the first place, and obscuring that it was unwarranted electronic surveillance that put them on to him or her. Perhaps thousands of such unconstitutional prosecutions have been brought, dishonestly and illegally. If police will lie to the judge’s face to get their conviction, what else will they do? And getting up a political protest involving civil disobedience is as easily monitored as are drug buys.
The kind of information being gathered without a warrant not only by the National Security Administration but by a wide range of law enforcement and intelligence agencies has the potential for making dissent impossible. Most effective protest of the sort Mr. Obama praised in his speech is illegal. Often, the laws themselves are wrong, as with the latticework of Jim Crow legislation that subjected African-Americans or the enactments of the South African parliament in the Apartheid era. Breaking wrong laws is key to much of the social progress the world has made in the past century. Gandhi, whom Obama cited, formulated a policy of nonviolent noncooperation, which involves law-breaking. The government’s aspiration to total information awareness about all human beings will be deadly to conspiring to break the law or carrying it out.
Some may think I am exaggerating the case, but we only have 1% of the Snowden leaks and what we already have makes Orwell’s 1984 look like a lackadaisical libertarian paradise.
A man driven by a desire for social justice, on discovering what the NSA and other agencies have been up to, would have formed an urgent commission to investigate abuses and curb them. Obama instead kidnapped the president of Bolivia looking for Snowden and stiff-armed any talk from people like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) about maybe reforming the practices.
Greatness has escaped Mr. Obama. He seems content to be the community organizer of the Federal government, asking Congress and Federal officials what they think they need and offering to try to get it for them. That isn’t leadership. His response to the NSA leaks was to announce that the country could now have a discussion of the practices, as though the citizenry could discuss matters being actively hidden from them, on which a sitting senator like Wyden is muzzled. Mr. Obama’s chance at greatness is before him. Most of the abuses are in the executive, over which he largely has control. He could initiate major reforms restoring constitutional liberties. If he does not, he is very unfortunately choosing to play P.W. Botha, not Nelson Mandela.
The irreplaceable Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian novelist whose greatest characters were the city of Cairo and its people, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature, would have been 102.
I post this late on December 10 for a reason. The great storyteller always celebrated his birthday on December 11, but he was apparently actually born on December 10. So though today was his 102nd birthday, Egyptians will mark it tomorrow. As Raymond Stock, who is writing his biography, noted here two years ago:
FYI, his birthday has traditionally been observed on Dec. 11 — the day it was registered in 1911 — but he was actually born on Dec. 10, at 2:00 am, according to his birth record at Dar al-Mahfouzat. This was fifteen years to the hour after Alfred Nobel’s fatal stroke in San Remo in 1896. Though I informed Naguib of this finding, he preferred to stick with Dec. 11: he was always a creature of very fixed habits.
On what would have been his 100th birthday in 2011 (Mahfouz died in 2006), I did a lengthy interview with Dr. Stock about his memories of the man, which you should go read now if you didn’t then (or when I reran the whole interview last year). I won’t run the whole thing again here, but it contains many memories of the man by an American who knew him well. Meanwhile, celebrate the great man’s 102nd appropriately, by rereading some of his work. (If you’ve never read him, it’s time to start. One of my questions in the interview was where someone coming to Mahfouz for the first time should start. I will repeat Raymond’s answer here:
First one should ask, do you like short reads or long? For long reads, one should begin with (if not the Trilogy) [the famous three movels of the Cairo Trilogy], Miramar, Midaq Alley (now out in a new translation by Humphrey Davies), or Khan al-Khalili. For shorter ones, Adrift on the Nile or The Thief and the Dogs are excellent, as are Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth, Cairo Modern, Thebes at War, and The Coffeehouse (his last novel, which gives a brilliant, brief historical overview of Egyptian politics and society of the twentieth century, and is a moving story with some very poetic passages to boot). Also the short stories in The Time and the Place. These are all among his best works — very accessible and also entertaining. But everyone would have their own list. Incidentally, the last time I was asked this question, it was to choose his most representative works. The titles I’ve recommended here are those I think would be most appealing.
Can this be true? “Iran, UAE Close to Deal on Hormuz Islands”
The Gulf balance of power is changing in almost kaleidoscopic ways, but this would be astonishing indeed. The dispute over Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunb Islands dates from the British retreat from East of Suez in 1972, also the moment of the UAE’s independence. For the 42 years since, Iran and the UAE (Abu Musa is claimed by Sharja, the Tunbs by Ras al-Khaimah); I gave some brief background here).
Defense News is also reporting that Iran has withdrawn a squadron of fighters from Abu Musa.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has said publicly that he is prepared to negotiate with the UAE on the basis of the 1971 agreement under which Iran and Sharja were to share Abu Musa. Is it possible that the deal reported above could be strucvk in which Irn keeps the seabed and the UAE gets the islands.
For four decades both sides have funded white papers, articles, and books defending their respective cases (incliding a recent one by a member of a ruling family), as well as occasional threats and saber-rattling. Could a breakthrough be possible?
I think this story needs to be taken with a reasonable dose of skepticism.
NABEK, Syria (AP) — Masked gunmen abducted a leading Syrian human rights lawyer and three other prominent activists in a rebel-held Damascus suburb Tuesday in a new sign that al-Qaida linked militants who have joined the fight against President Bashar Assad are trying to silence rivals in the opposition movement.