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Showing posts from 2013

Key events in 2013

Egypt: a second revolution, a coup and back to square -1 2013 has been a seriously rocky year for Egyptians. Massive protests against then President Morsi inaugurated the year, and the growing hatred was channelled through what has proved to be an incredibly useful vehicle across the region: the Tamarrud ("Rebel yourself") movement . A turning point was reached on 30 June , and the Army felt legitimised by the millions of people who had taken to the streets to oust the President and take the reins of a renewed transition to democracy. The Army, spearheaded by new superhero Colonel Sisi, also felt somewhat legitimised to break in the huge Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins of Rabaa Al-Adawiya, leaving behind hundreds of dead and a deeply polarised country, where stability is little by little imposed again, thanks to an iron fist that has had no qualms in arresting, torturing, repressing... All for the sake of Egypt's recovering its honour and economic well-being, that is. Th

Hezbollah under strain

Talking about politics in Lebanon is always tantamount to wondering about the status of Hezbollah (meaning "Party of God"). Hezbollah is, at the same time, as The Economist likes to call it, a party-cum-militia, created within the Shia community and funded by Iran during the country's civil war - in 1982 - with the main aim of offer resistance (muqawama) to the state's self declared biggest enemy that had just (taking advantage of the ongoing chaos) invaded the country: Israel. Its paramilitary wing is still regarded as a resistance movement throughout much of the Arab and Muslim worlds. Several countries and organizations in the West and elsewhere (U.S., Netherlands, France, Gulf Cooperation Council, U.K., Australia, Canada, the European Union ) classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, be it in whole or in part.

Aleppo yesterday. No words, just tears

From Beirut to the moon?

Do you remember being a child and being told stories about the "space race"? Didn't you imagine handsome brave American and Russian astronauts in over-the-rainbow modern space shuttles that would take them to the moon, or even somewhere else? Didn't our parents dream of Sputnik, Laika, Armstrong and the likes? Well, it seemed the Soviet Union and the United States were not the only ones fantasising about flying to the moon. A group of Lebanese youths once shared this dream and saw themselves conquering the space.

¿Se ha convertido Francia en un país racista? ¿Acaso lo ha sido siempre?

Francia se ha erigido durante décadas como referente e ideal de una república laica en estado puro, una nación orgullosa de su historia y raíces, pero también (o precisamente por ello) una nación inclusiva deseosa de mostrar sus virtudes a todo aquel que desee residir en su seno. Una república que crea ciudadanos que llevan marcados a fuego en sus conciencias las palabras  “libertad, igualdad y fraternidad” .

Una nueva portavoz para la Franja de Gaza

¿Cuál es la primera imagen que aparece en la mente de cualquiera cuando piensa en Hamas? ¿Hombres barbudos vestidos de oscuro gritando a voces y despotricando sobre Israel? ¿Jóvenes encapuchados que izan banderas y marchan en las calles del pequeño territorio de Gaza? La realidad es que eso puede estar cambiando, ya que el grupo militante islámico ha nombrado como portavoz a una persona completamente diferente de a lo que la gente en las calles está acostumbrada. Se trata de una persona  educada en Gran Bretaña , culta, que ocupó un puesto en la versión inglesa del canal de noticias estatal iraní, que usa ropa de colores y a menudo sonríe a los cuatro vientos. Esta persona tiene 23 años, tiene un hijo y ya se ha divorciado una vez. Esta persona es, sorprendentemente,  una mujer . Su nombre es  Al-Israa Moudallal , y se enorgullece enormemente de ser la primera mujer en ocupar el cargo de portavoz en materia de relaciones con los medios internacionales, una tarea extremadamente difíci

Should Al-Aqsa be shared?

Should Jews be allowed free access to pray at  Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary , one of Islam's holiest sites? The Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred site in Islam, adjoins the Western Wall and stands on what Jews insist are the first and second temples. Haram Al-Sharif has been an exclusively Islamic shrine since the Arab conquest of Palestine in the 7th century AD, but the mosque was built upon the Temple Mount, itself one of Judaism's most sacred sites. The Western Wall, the only remnant of the Jewish temple destroyed by Herod in 70 AD, is under direct Israeli control, and Jewish prayer has always been allowed there. Even Christians revere the site they consider the place where Jesus walked and reasoned with the rabbis — as well as chastised the Pharisees and money changers. The compound has been under factual if not legal Israeli sovereignty since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, and is the holiest site in Judaism. That´s not the case of Haram Al-Sharif, whi

On Hamas' brand new spokeswoman (yeah, you read right: it's a woman)

What's the first image that pops up in your mind when you think about Hamas? Dark-suited bearded men shouting and ranting? Hooded youths hoisting flags and marching on the street? Well, that may be changing, because the Islamist militant group has appointed a spokesperson different than what people in the streets are used to. It's an British-educated cultivated former presenter of Iranian state-run English news channel who wears colored clothes and often smiles into the wind. This person is 23 years old, has a child and has already divorced once. And it's a lady. Her name is Israa Al-Moudallal, and she takes pride in being the first woman to hold the position of spokesperson concerning relations with international media, a hard task taking into account Hamas' disadvantageous situation .

Tension mounts in Gaza

Last July I wrote about the several Tamarrod-style copycat movements that had been created throughout the Arab world inspired by their Egyptian brethren with the aim of protesting against the governments in power and in favour of the granting of further rights. One of the most active ones has surprisingly proven to be the Tamarrod Gaza movement, silently formed in the street against what some consider a status quo controlled by Hamas that is growing authoritarian by the day. Several small scale protests have been taken place in the tiny territory throughout recent weeks, but the demonstration most organisers hoped to represent a real breakthrough was scheduled for November 11, a key date for all inhabitants of the Strip. Indeed, las Monday was the anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, founder of Hamas rival Fatah, a date revered by all Palestinians that in the past has also been an occasion for protests.

The rise of the far right in Europe. Case in point: Poland

A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of neo-fascism. The stir caused by a recent meeting between Geert de Wilders and Marine Le Pen , who are planning to form a far-right political coalition which will intend to participate in the 2014 European elections (if they are not banned from running, that is) is just the latest sign. According to a polemical survey carried out in France weeks ago, it seems both highly controversial figures will have a say. Record-high unemployment, falling living standards, a struggling economy and mounting concern over crime, confronted by seemingly powerless traditional parties, have fuelled a rise in support for the far-right which isn’t solely confined to France and the Netherlands. At the end of September, Austria’s far-right Freedom Party gained over one-fifth of the votes in the country’s general election, while over the course of the year the visibility of Britain’s anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party has also been climbing after making

¿Es la Francia de hoy un país racista? El elefante en la sala

Francia se ha erigido durante décadas como referente e ideal de una república laica en estado puro, una nación orgullosa de su historia y raíces, pero también (o precisamente por ello) una nación inclusiva deseosa de mostrar sus virtudes a todo aquel que desee residir en su seno. Una República que crea ciudadanos que llevan marcados a fuego en sus conciencias las palabras "libertad, igualdad y fraternidad". Parece sin embargo que el país que para muchos representaba un faro entre tanta oscuridad extremista en Europa está inmerso en un pulso contra el mismo: un pulso entre la République y un país multicolor, un pulso entre sus ideales y su día a día. Un pulso entre un estado que inauguró la larga travesía de la protección de los derechos humanos con su mítica Declaración de los Derechos del Hombre y del Ciudadano, una república nacida de una revolución que puso Europa patas arriba al pretender luchar contra los privilegios arbitrarios y garantizar los mismos derechos a todos

A glimpse of hope for Syria?

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the one and only body considered as representative of the Syrian opposition by the international community (despite its lacklustre state and its problems with the rebels on the ground, many of them having refused to recognise its authority and rejecting the idea of negotiations) has agreed to participate in peace talks with the regime that will take place in Geneva, what pundits like to call "Geneva 2 talks". The helter-skelter body has however outlined certain conditions for its attendance that will need to prove the Syrian regime's goodwill and predisposition, particularly a guarantee that relief agencies would be given access to deliver humanitarian assistance and that political prisoners would be released. In this sense, many considered as a very good omen a deal whereby a blockade on the rebel-held town of Qudsaya, near Damascus, will be eased.

The very problem with civil wars

This week's Economist publishes an enlightening article drawing, amongst other things, parallels between the Lebanese and the Syrian civil wars. I would stress a sentence that I believe sums it all up perfectly: "Lebanon could not be conquered by one side, nor divided among all. Its people are too mixed".

¿Una solución a la vista del misterioso asesinato de Arafat?

Cuando todo apuntaba a que la muerte de  Yasser Arafat  se mantendría durante décadas como uno de los grandes misterios de la Historia,  Al- Jazeera  podría arrojar algo de luz sobre el fallecimiento del entrañable héroe palestino. Fueron precisamente las investigaciones del canal catarí lo que forzó la exhumación del líder palestino en 2012. De acuerdo con un informe que la cadena ha publicado recientemente, científicos del Centro Universitario de Medicina Legal de Lausana han concluido que los restos de Arafat contenían al menos una proporción de  polonio radiactivo 18 veces mayor a los niveles normales , llegando a la conclusión de que es muy probable que Arafat fuera envenenado. Los antecedentes Ya en octubre de 2012, la Fiscalía francesa accedió a abrir una investigación en torno al presunto asesinato de Yasser Arafat en 2004, ante alegaciones de su familia (en particular, de su viuda Suha) según las cuales el veterano líder palestino murió por envenenamiento por polonio (

Palestinian revisionism?

Just a sentence: " the Palestinian people and the Palestinian state are a modern invention inspired by Israel. It has no precedent, it has no history. There were never such a people and such a state. Now, thanks to the Israeli occupation, there are ". Read the whole article here .

Arafat's mystery might be solved soon

Last year, I wrote about how French prosecutors had ordered the reopening of the case on Yasser Arafat's 2004 death. Today, and according to Al-Jazeera  (the channel whose investigations triggered the Palestinian leader's exhumation), scientists at the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne have found at least 18 times the normal levels of radioactive polonium in his remains, thus concluding that it was very likely the figure was poisoned.  The report has only examined the question of what killed Arafat, without addressing the question of whether he was deliberately poisoned or how. Moreover,  Suha Arafat has said that "we can’t point a finger at anyone". Rumours have already been unleashed, though. The bulk stress the main suspects are either the Israelis (even though they have always denied they had anything to do with his sickness or death and to date no evidence has emerged that implicates them) or Arafat’s Palestinian rivals, aware of the many thre

Israel hawks are like the phoenix...

Lieberman is back ... start trembling!!

The Ahrar Movement

The Ahrar Movement: anti Morsi, anti MB, anti Army, anti Mubarak. The Ahrar Movement and the likes = hope for Egypt.

Is Egypt as rich as people believe it is?

Every time people cite Egypt's economic distress in front of an Egyptian, he most probably will bump retorting that this economic problems are surely due to political mismanagement, as Egypt is an incredibly resource-rich country which could one day reach the level of brethren Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia or wealthy countries in the region such as Israel? I have to say I, undoubtedly influenced by History courses about the incomparable Egyptian Empire, have always believed that fact. Until now. This week-end I found what I consider an enlightening article on the issue.

New textbooks in Gaza

Months ago, I wrote about how the Lebanese school curricula were designed not to influence the pupil's own identity, with the very particular aim of leaving the interpretation of the country's recent History into the hands of each community. Now I bump into this article on the NYT  about how Hamas has decided to change the curriculum in the Gaza Strip having the exact opposite objective in mind, that is, looking forward to infusing the next generations with its militant ideology (maybe as a consequence of it's being shunned both at home and abroad). Coming from a country in which political ideology, more than class, culture or genetics, remains the main root of polarization between what people call "the two Spains", I am appalled by this kind of gestures, which only teach children to be as narrow-minded as their parents often are. Israel is often criticized for adopting the same stance towards education. If Palestinians want to show they are more qualified than

Guinea: democracy at last... or not?

On 28 September, Guinea held its first democratic parliamentary vote since the country's independence from France in 1958. The election was held two years overdue and was due to complete the long-delayed transition back to civilian rule following a 2008 military coup. Indeed, the vote was meant to have been held within six months of the inauguration of President Alpha Conde in 2010, but was delayed many times. The main reason behind those delays were disagreements amongst the main stakeholders hinging on how the poll should be organized (one of the fundamental points of disagreement between the two camps was the electoral register, the opposition suspected of being "inflated" in favor of power in areas considered to be pro-establishment and reduced in areas considered strongholds of the opposition). During these two years, the role of parliament was left to be played by an unelected National Transitional Council. What were in principle political skirmishes turned into

Inspectors on the ground, now what?

A score of inspectors sent by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the brand new winner of the Nobel peace price founded in 1997 and based in The Hague, arrived three weeks ago to Syria to check the status of the country's controversial chemical arsenal. The team was part of an advance party, sent out to hold talks with the Syrian authorities and smooth the way for the destruction process to begin. Once the list of facilities, lethal substances and weapons was finalized, a second group of experts travelled to Damascus to proceed to their elimination. According to the terms agreed upon by Russia and the United States later ratified by a key UN resolution passed unanimously, Syria's chemical weapons mixing and filling equipment must be destroyed by 1 November. According to the initial ambitious timetable last week , In the first half of 2014 all of them will have to disappear.

Cineforum (4): El Cairo 678

No es un secreto que la vida de las mujeres en Egipto no es siempre fácil. La mayoría de las veces ignorado por las autoridades y los políticos, cualquiera que sea la bandera que éstos ondeen, el acoso sexual es sin lugar a dudas uno de los problemas más graves a los que se enfrenta el país hoy en día. Un problema cuyas raíces son múltiples y resultan todavía difíciles de determinar con exactitud, pero que durante años ha representado al mismo tiempo un tabú y una epidemia para la sociedad egipcia. Un problema sobre el que que algunas valerosas organizaciones como  Tahrir Bodyguard  u  Operation Anti-sexual Harrasment/Assault  han estado intentando concienciar a la población egipcia lo largo de los años, pero que fue descubierto por Occidente únicamente tras la Revolución 25 de enero de 2011. Fue precisamente la película de la que hoy hablamos la que también ayudó a gente de todo el mundo a entender la gravedad de este flagelo.

HR in Egypt

Ursula Lindsey spoke to a d emocracy and human rights activist who affirmed that "the situation is the worst it’s been since the 1990s”.

Cairo 678

It is not a secret that life for women in Egypt is not always easy. Most of the times ignored by authorities and politicians, whichever their background, sexual harassment is beyond doubt one of the most serious problems the country faces nowadays. A problem whose roots are difficult to determine, but which has for years represented both a taboo and a gangrenous wound for Egyptian society. An issue that many remarkable organizations such as Tahrir Bodyguard or Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault have been raising awareness about for years, but that has only been really discovered by the West after the 25 January Revolution. It was precisely a film that also people around the world to understand the gravity of this scourge.

The MB in five lines

"The Muslim brotherhood has experienced two major waves that have risen and fallen. The first wave was in 1928 in its original launch by group founder Hassan el-Banna and then the ruthless crackdown of president Nasser beginning in 1954. The second wave started in 1971 with the release of their leaders from imprisonment, and ended this year with the collapse of Morsi’s rule and the subsequent crackdown" (via Nervana , who else?).

WMD: double standards anyone?

One of the unforeseen consequences of the much bragged about Russia & U.S. backed deal on Syrian Weapons of Mass Destruction has been casting light on one key stakeholder which nonetheless was trying to remain on the sidelines as of lately, Israel. Indeed, Assad´s regime immediate reaction after relinquishing and accepting to give up its weapons (and therefore admitting their being in possession of them) was to point its finger to the eternal usual suspect when it comes to WMD in the region. A suspicion that might have been clarified by a 1983 C.I.A. paper that has been recently declassified whereby the Hebrew state has for decades amassed this kind of arms. Israel has however always acted with ambiguity and never acknowledged having nuclear weapons, even though many amongst its authorities have hinted they have the right to assemble and stock them in order to defend themselves (and by themselves, without having to call for outside intervention) from all these dangerous neigh

Syria, Iraq, Kosovo and Libya: useless and hazardous comparisons.

While  two weeks ago  Western intervention in Syria seemed imminent , today it merely stands as the second track  after the  diplomatic option both the US, Russia and Syria have embraced . This situation has lead many, including me, to draw parallels that somehow justify or refute the usefulness of an attack on the Syrian regime, the most likely comparisons being drawn with Iraq, Libya and Kosovo.  I hereby point out the major differences that make such comparisons unfeasible and even dangerous. 

Palestine now

"In 1990, as Edward Said once argued, the Palestinians were divided into four groups. The first was the biggest, which is the silenced and hopeless: mainly the Palestinians in the diaspora. The second were loyal to Arafat and his military apparatus. The third was the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank: suspicious of what the Oslo agreement would bring but at that time, not decided. The last was the marginalized group of intellectuals, educated personalities and some Islamic factions who were opposed to the Oslo Accords.  

Syria is NOT Kosovo

I found a good article underlining why Syria's situation is not the same as the one in Kosovo back in 1999 whereby "apples are being compared not to oranges but to cobras". In view of these arguments, do you think intervention might be still justifiable?

A must-watch film on Syria

"Not anymore: a story of Revolution"

Not enough

Even though the news about the Syrian government having already submitted the paperwork to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, the treaty may be ill-suited to deal with the situation on the ground in Syria, raising the possibility that President Bashar al-Assad could manage to retain his chemical weapons stocks. More on it here .

The Russian Card

Everything suggested an American attack was imminent ... until Putin and his five-star Foreign Minister made magic and amazed us all by buying Assad a little more time. While never-ending debates about intervention were still invading the media and after the UK Parliament threw a bucket of cold water on the idea of a Libya-style Western-led operation, President Obama decided the US congress would have the last word on any eventual attack. It appeared the Republicans supported this move and, even though a vote has not still been cast, it seemed only the moment and exact target were still to be decided.

El pueblo, la fuerza durmiente de Egipto

DiscoveringMENA is sometimes honnoured with articles by the brilliant Maria Sanchez (you can read more following this link ). --> El Pueblo, la fuerza durmiente de Egipto.

Did you know?

Tzipi Livni abandoned the UK hours before a British court issued an arrest warrant for her over war crimes committed in Gaza in 2009?

Did you know?

Did you know that El-Baradei donated all his Nobel Peace Prize money to orphanages in Egypt? I believe everybody should read his Nobel Lecture .

The Syrian regime in a chart

Via The Arabist, in turn via WINEP

Syria's catch 22: damned if you attack, screwed if you don't

It seems a  US  strike on  Syria  is now imminent. Presumably without the backing of a United Nations Security Council resolution. Apparently, Assad has trespassed the red line President Obama spoke about a year ago. As if more than 100,000 deaths and nearly 2 million refugees were not convincing enough a reason. A horrifying attack with chemical weapons on the  Damascus  suburb of Ghouta that allegedly left behind more than 1,000 dead has set itself up as the most probable turning point of a conflict that has already ravaged the country and the whole region for more than two years. 

Go Maliki, go!

It seems the Iraqi Supreme Court  struck down  a measure imposing term limits on the prime minister, clearing the way for Nouri al-Maliki to seek a third term.  Good news for democracy and stability (sigh)!

Five game changers in Syria

Enlightening article : The chemical attack on a Damascus suburb while UN inspectors were in the country This attack is the only reason why all eyes are again on Syria, Where were they before? On Egypt, the actual core of the Arab world. What happens there might affect the rest of the region. Increasing weight of extremism in both sides, making it much more harder to even imagine an end to the conflict. The article talks about attacks in Latakia (the fief of Assad's regime). I would rather speak about the current situation in Lebanon. The Kurdish factor . That's when inshallah recovers its meaning.

Tunisia is on fire (again)

Last time I wrote about Tunisia things were not going exactly well. And this hasn't pretty much changed. Weeks ago, an assassination shook the country once again, and Tunisians are more than ever aware of their transition being in a complete stalemate, while they carefully look at their neighbour out of the corner of their eyes. Despite what TIME Magazine may say , Egypt has always been and will for years remain immensely relevant. This time, the political crisis was triggered by the 25 July assassination of MP Mohamed Brahmi, attribued to a jihadist movement. The kind of extremist group that has more than once put the country on the verge of deeper social instability, while the authorities seems unable to (or unwilling to) impose themselves and efficiently tackling the issue. Not surprisingly, the previous Government fell after the murder of the remarkable opposition leader Chokri Belaïd in February.

Digressions on Egypt part 1

"One of the few, if not the only, positive outcomes of Jan 25 that people cite is the breaking of the barrier of fear. People now are not afraid to speak their mind, protest, etc. But courage turned into impudence for some. Now people also feel safe criticizing the killing of hundreds mostly peaceful protesters, or retrieving a family member from a jail cell and shooting whoever doesn’t get out of their way fast enough." Found  here

Happy birthday, Discovering MENA!!

Wow. A year has passed since I shyly published a post in Discovering MENA and other thoughts. A year in which I have had my ups and down, I've been thrilled and I have been disillusioned, I have received invaluable support that has given me wings and I've lost hope sometimes. Confronting a blank page is not always easy, inspiration is very tricky, and having a blog means feeling very lonely sometimes. But the good thing is that I have never been bored, I have always found the motivation to carry on. This blog is really one of the things that keep me well alive and lively. I created it trying to find a way to organize my thoughts. I had started to accumulate a certain amount of knowledge on the region (once you start discovering it, you cannot stop asking for more) and wanted to prove to myself I was able to put all of this in writing, to analyze what was going through, to put it and elaborate on it in an easy comfortable way. Being followed was the least of my expectat

Back up and breathe

Okay, it's been more than a month since I last wrote something meaningful (barring the post about the Third Square movement, whose date of publication wasn't really fortunate), and I am more than sorry for that. Moreover because now that I'm IN the region, I had promised myself I would write even more often. At first I blamed the complete lack of inspiration. Three weeks of intense holidays left behind a sleepy lazy individual who could only think about being active again... in the medium term. But after four (excessively) relaxing days at the beach, I was ready to engage in a much more meaningful research and write as if there was no tomorrow. I wanted to elaborate on polarization in Egypt, I was looking forward to explaining the current situation in Tunisia, I was very excited to delve into Lebanon's political scenario, I was eager to closely follow the resumption of the MEPP talks, I felt my assumptions on Syria could use more knowledge... And, even though being in E

The quest for a happy medium in Egypt

Back in Egypt (finally!!), I was dying to comment on the situation with my friends, particularly with the "journalist sect". I was specially curious about how they assess the polarization that nowadays stands out as the biggest issue the country is facing, and whether a solution might eventually be found in that respect. I was surprised to listen to so many references to the "Third Square", an entity weary of divisiveness and exclusion, tired of politicians clinging to power, fed up with their brethren's swearing allegiance to either one or the other faction and dismissing any kind of concession. To sum up, a group of people who feel their dreams have been once and again betrayed by power-hungry figures vying for a higher rank but muttering at the same time empty words about freedom and the true will of Egyptians. A movement against both religious fascism and military rule. The first few ones who were brave enough to shout out loud they do not trust eithe