March 18, 2011

Return of the News Roundup

Things have totally been happening. I, however, have been too busy mooning about to write about it.
This stops now. Sorry about that.


Haiti: Aristide's coming back, and as with most things related to Haiti, it makes the US nervous. The former-priest-turned-first democratically-elected-President of Haiti  won office by 67%--in a  field of 12 candidates--in 1990, but the left-wingy policies that put him in office turned out to be too spooky for US Republicans, and various machinations and a coup later, he was in exile in South Africa. Now that he's back during yet another bout of electoral unrest in Haiti, rumours fly of more violence to come--to yet again be blamed on Aristide. Personally, if shit does hit the fan, I'd blame it on his new bodyguard Danny Glover. Yes, that Danny Glover.

Pakistan: Remember the CIA-contractor jerkoff that killed two Lahore motorcyclists in January execution-style? The CIA guy, a one Mr. Raymond Davis formerly of Blackwater, was investigating the radical Pakistani Islamist group Lashkar when the shit went down and inflamed angry discussion about how far diplomatic immunity actually goes. Now he's out of prison, everyone's still pissed about it, and the families of the men killed were paid $2.3 million dollars. For context, the average suggested pay to families of innocents killed in US ops hovers around $5,000.

Sierra Leone: War-crimes-missing-hands-and-blood-diamonds-fame Charles Taylor's 3-year trial closed March 11, to let the Hague decide what to do with him. If convicted, he'd be in lockup in the US.

Indonesia: Jakarta's evacuating people on the slopes of its most active volcano, rising alerts to the highest level they can, proving that the Ring of Fire is on a roll jerking around the human race. Look out California.

Japan: You probably have heard by now that exactly a week ago, one of the most brutal earthquakes in human history hit one of the most densely populated islands on the planet. You probably also know that it was swiftly followed by a substantial tsunami along the North East coast, and a huge string of nuclear plant failures making an unbelievably bad, bad humanitarian disaster into a humanitarian disaster with panic, apocalyptic overtones and carcinogenic fallout. There's so much information on this particular continuing disaster that it's more useful for me to list some good stuff for you than it is to try and summarize it all, so:

One thing to remember about Japan: the nuclear angle is the scariest, but the humanitarian disaster angle is by far the most destructive. Two things to remember about Japan: if you want to donate, do it wisely.

Bahrain: Protests proceed, things get messy, and opposition leaders are arrested for "talking to foreign agents".

Yemen: 31 people are dead after the continuing protests for the sniper treatment. My awe of the regular Joes of the Middle East continues unabated.

America: The Foo Fighters recorded their latest album in Dave Grohl's garage, did a documentary about it for SXSW, and are doing a tour of concerts in peoples' garages. That you can maybe have in YOUR garage. After a day of bad news, how effin' cool is that?

Breaking: Libyan Gov Declares Ceasefire after UN Declares No-Fly Zone

Al Jazeera breaks it, and my spidey somethin.

The statement from the government claims an immediate stop to all military operations, and an immediate ceasefire. And it also says that "Libya takes great interest in protecting civilians".

I'm gonna try to walk that line between crying and laughing hysterically at that one.

This is happening because yesterday, the UN stopped shuffling their feet and enacted a No-Fly Zone over Libya in response to the month of the Gaddafi regime shooting, burning, bombing and otherwise brutalizing their population. The sheer thought of the international community actually putting their proverbial shoulders to a cause (especially when that cause includes more jets than they have) might have been enough to make the regime approach sensibility. Or just try and find ways to quell protests in ways that put them on international television less.
As with most Libyan news, any good news is suspect. We'll see whether this "ceasefire" actually results in anyone from the military side actually not firing (case in point: reports from Misurata say the Gaddafi regime is still shelling them. You say ceasefire, I say bomb a suburb...).
In the meantime, cautious optimism for the win?

March 4, 2011

State of the Revolution II: Revolution Harder

Good morning, my little sunspots! It's Friday! That makes it Pray-Then-Protest day in the Middle East--and I've got a couple hours in Toronto to burn, so let's catch up, shall we?
Yemen: after a few weeks of fairly regular protests, current president Ali Abdullah Saleh offered a unity government with the Joint Meeting Parties and the rest of the opposition (who? These guys). To which they said "HA." and promptly kept protesting. Today, the opposition groups counter-offered with an exit strategy. To which the protesters said "HA." and promptly demanded he leave now. Understandable, considering the reports of military firing on protesters in the North. Despots of the Middle East, please stop killing people and just talk already.

One cannot simply rock out of Mordor.
Libya: In Libyan diplomatic (wow, oxymoron) news, a mediator between Gaddafi and the rest of the universe has come to the table in the form of everyone's favourite guitarron-playing Venezuelan egoist, Hugo Chavez! It's completely unclear what sort of mediation could possibly make anything the crazypants dictator is doing even remotely okay, but Gaddafi's apparently cool with it. The rest of the world is mostly ignoring the proposal, looking instead at all the bombing and terrible atrocities happening all over the country. Huh. Go figure. Meanwhile, people in Libya are getting scared to protest--surprise--and there are rumours that the Crazypants Militia is preventing people from leaving via Tunisia. They're also killing their own. Graphic, brutal, and really, really making me want to radicalize, march over there, and do something foolish to that asshole in the mumu.

Tunisia: is busily announcing a new government. This is cool, but significantly less cool once you remember that they've had three interim governments since the revolution. Apparently it's still quite unstable. Understandable.

Bahrain: 's Shiite groups say they're ready to negotiate, so that's what's going down.

Take two! Rolling...
Egypt: Remember them? They recently ousted the prime minister that Mubarak appointed, slowly whittling down the old regime piece by piece. Next target: dissolving the entire National Democratic Party and the State Security Agency.

Wisconsin: Okay, not technically in the Middle East. Mid-West, maybe. Still--did you know they've been protesting in the state building in support of their unions' bargaining rights for like, over a week?? It's been intense! Bring it home, Dairyland!

March 2, 2011

Libyupdate: Yup, Still Insane.

The last few weeks have confirmed a couple things about Libya.
look at that sign. That's an awesome sign.

1) It's become a bad, bad place to be. Rarely was Tripoli a cushy vacation destination before, but this is just ridiculous:

-the air bombing continues, this time in Brega, an oil outpost. Just to clarify and reiterate: Gaddafi is using the air force to bomb his own country.

-Reports are coming in that Gaddafi's forces have been tying up and burning soldiers that refuse to fight, and burying them in the streets and barracks where they fall. They've also been shooting from ambulances, and killing wounded protesters in hospitals.

-it's becoming increasingly dangerous for Sub-Saharan Africans working in Libya--they're being targeted for violence because they're assumed to be mercenaries hired by the regime. Whether or not they actually are is up for debate, but pre-revolt, sub-Saharan Africans were the majority of over a million foreign nationals in Libya: they certainly can't all be working for the nutbar in the mumu.

-being reasonable people, thousands of Libyans and expats alike are looking around at their situation and deciding to get the hell out of Libya. As a result, the Tunisian and Egyptian borders are overrun with desperate refugees, threatening to rival Tripoli as a humanitarian hypercrisis. Aid staff is trying, and airlifts are happening, but it's understandably quite difficult and really tense.

2) Gaddafi is effin' certifiable. He's orders of magnitude more disconnected from reality than Hosni Mubarak was. The man isn't even in the solar system anymore; he's like an interstellar machine that pumps out human rights atrocities and really ridiculous outfits. I recently learned he wants to abolish Switzerland. What. And it doesn't appear that he's going anywhere.

Yesterday, the world spent a lot of diplomatic face time asking "WTF do we do about Libya?".
It sort of went down like this:

UN Security Council: So Gaddafi's nuts enough to bomb his own capital and endanger the security of a whole hell of a lot of oil interests.... I dunno, let's sanction him and his goons, freeze his assets? Any arguments? Didn't think so. (gavel!)
UN Human Rights Council: Yeah, sack that crazy man. Suspend him from the council. Wtf is he doing on here anyway? Ugh. I need to go wash my hands.
International Criminal Court: Send him to us. I don't care if he hasn't stepped down yet, you heard me.
President Sarkozy of France: Oui, he needs to GTFO.
Basically Every Other EU Leader: What he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron, UK: Yeah, get out--or we'll send in the army! Or we won't. Maybe.
The Arab League: Waitasecond there...
NATO: Guys, this is pretty intense...should I launch a no-fly zone?
Everyone: (foot shuffling) Ummmm.....

In addition, everyone outside of Libya is scrambling to send frigates, planes and warships to rescue their expats from the crazy so they can drill another day.

To lighten the mood, boingboing posted a fantastic video of the UK's Charlie Brooker sending a verbal lashing to Gaddafi. Extra points to the included fashion montage.

And as a last note on Nelly Furtado: big up on you for donating the million dollars Gaddafi paid you for a 45 minute concert in 2007. In honour of your press-worthy save-face, I'll still do my wondering about why 41 years of brutal absurdist military dictatorship and human rights abuses were okay for a pop star to profiteer off before it was really in the news--but I'll do it quietly.

February 21, 2011

Libya Protests: Things Get Real

Quick update on Libya, which is moving faster than I can keep up with without cloning myself:

 Yesterday's crazy, rambling speech by Gaddafi's son Saif ("the modern face of Libya" basically played the threat of civil war card, and blamed all these protests on drug dealers and the BBC last night) put some spark in the average Libyan step, so today's protests are the most intense and dangerous yet. Everyone knew that Gaddafi and the Libyan government were probably going to be more mercenary than some other Mid-East regimes, but this is getting ridiculous.

Reports of the madness include:

-Fighter jets bombing the capital Tripoli on Gaddafi's orders.

-Consequently, some Libyan air force staff have defected to Malta with their planes.

-The navy firing from the harbours into suburban neighbourhoods

-Libyan diplomats jumping ship, including their entire UN delegation. EU nations prepping to pull their businessfolks, too.

-Ban Ki Moon of UN fame does the UN Finger-Wag Hokey Pokey.

-Gaddafi fleeing to Venezuela....maybe.

-Tons of misinformation, due to thoroughly disrupted communications (they even cut the land lines)

-Abject massacres. Estimates of over 300 dead. And helicopters dropping off more ammunition for the army still.

If you (understandably) can't wait for me to actually follow this stuff, the indispensable Al Jazeera and the excellent Guardian are both covering bases. Links go to Libyan coverage.

Hope and bated breath, Tripoli and co.... let's make this three.

February 20, 2011

Middle East: the State of the Revolution Address

In Which Ash Recovers from Dropping the Ball on the Protest Movement, Rounds That Collective Craziness Up and Tries to Achieve Some Sense of Scale of the thing.

So I took a little vacation for a few days and travelled haphazardly around central Ontario, and when I finally came to rest in the fine nation's capital and decided I might need to check my email, I checked the news in the Middle East.

Silly Ash, being MIA during the middle of a burgeoning regional revolution.

Suffice it to say that shit's going down.
Wanna hear about it?
(Note to the Geographically Spooked: If you feel like you've never heard of any of these countries, that's fine--the clickable wonder of wikipedia in each header will help with that. Go do some map-learnin! We live in interesting times!)

Protests started early and strong in Algiers, and the 19th's demonstration came up against 30,000 riot cops. They stopped them from marching, but it's unlikely they'll stop protesting. If this is surprising to you, you haven't been paying attention.

Manama's been through a lot in the last few days, largely from police firing into swelling but peaceful crowds. Folks seem to want the monarchy and the attendant government out, and are having a good ol' Tahrir-style love in at Pearl Roundabout to make their point. Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims, usually a little tense around each other in Bahrain, are coming together quite nicely. Apparently nothing builds community like a good old democratic revolution. Oh, and there's a national general strike! Those are fun!

Whaaaaat? China?? Apparently so! Under the Great Firewall squeaks the rumours of brewing protests in the now-familiar flavour of Jasmine Revolution. Mmm mmm good. Watch this space, if the news can escape the great google-scramblers of Mao and co.

East Africa has actually been protesting since Jan 28th! Who knew? Tired of Ismail Omar Guelleh for President, demonstrators surrounded a stadium and don't want to go home until they get what they want. Then again, they're being beaten with batons and tear gassed.

Marraketch in Morocco
Protests in Tehran are being menaced by basiji militia tear gas and batons and a bunch of people detained in Shiraz. However, Iranians are my personal heroes for being the original face of Middle Eastern protest movements, so I've got significant faith that they're not going anywhere. Even though there are 1984-esque stories coming out of the unofficial state media that there are no protests happening anyway. Sure.

Oh my god, they want better government services and for someone to handle unemployment--say it ain't so. People in Basra and other large cities took to the streets in the thousands. Also, someone wrote the word "Governor" on a donkey in the middle of a square in Kut. Cheeky.

For the last seven weeks, Friday has been "quick!-flood-the-square" day in Jordan, but the demonstrations against the absolute monarchy aren't quite at the same level of cohesion as some of the other places on this illustrious list. They also appear to be getting more violent, slowly. Lame.

After Four days of crazy, there are loads dead. The Guardian says that "talk of massacres is not exaggerated"--the army keeps firing on protestersin Benghazi. Media's not blacked out, although reports fly that they're trying. You may remember their president from his cablegate-publicized botox and hot nurse: after 42 years in power, Muammar al-Qaddafi's still a big jerk. Protests have spread to Tripoli, and are not slowing down.

With the wholesale rejection of "a constitution made for slaves"thousands turn out for peaceful protests in a bunch of Moroccan major cities. Marraketch has apparently degraded into violence, with protesters sacking the police station and government buildings. The state media is covering it, though, which may give credence to the government's insistence that it's much more liberal than the rest of these goons running the Mid East. Protesters still want a new constitution, a change in government, and for the overall smog of corruption to clear though.

Sanaa's been protesting for 11 days now, and 3,000 students in the streets have pushed President Saleh past his initial concessions ("I swear I won't run after 2013 guys. Unlike the last 30 years, I'm super serious this time.") and into claims he's ready to dialogue. It's actually pretty complicated, though, so AJE breaks it down with the usual insight and grace.

Extra Credit: 
40,000 folks were back on the streets of Tunis again protesting the interim government's persistence, and demanding that the remainders of the regime they overthrew actually leave the seat of power.

Once again, AJE makes my week with this feature on the fantabulous women of Tahrir Square. No swimsuit competition, no irrelevant talent component, only the excellence of inspirational and ballsy Arab women, knockin it out the park.

February 14, 2011

World News Roundup: Post-Populist-Revolution Edition!

So I woke up to a really impressive populist-democratic-revolution-hangover, and realized that me and the collected staff of Al Jazeera English have been under a current events rock with the Egyptian flag on it for the past two weeks.

So now that I can stop worrying about democratic protesters being killed, and start worrying about the substantially-less-bloody and substantially-more-harrowing matter of practical nation building in Egypt, I'm feeling a wee bit afeared that I no longer have any idea what the pants is happening in this world of mine.

And like a beacon in the night, Foreign Policy has anticipated my need.

Some highlights from the excellent ''What Else Happened This Week?" by Josh E. Keating:

"Excuse us. Please keep your hands off
the murdering dignitary. Excuse us."
-Innnteresting: did anyone else know that a US consulate official (and former Special Forces soldier) in Pakistan is in prison, accused of murdering two men? The Pakistani Taliban are (unsurprisingly) calling for his head, but it looks like everyday folks in Lahore are also right pissed--the police report reads more like an execution than an act of self-defense. The official's diplomatic immunity is a big sore spot, and it's straining the already-tense interactions between Pakistan and the US, who appear to be walking less softly than they should be while carrying their big stick. The House Armed Services Committee has already played the "we'll take your aid away if you don't let him go" card. Keep it classy, americuh.

-The suspects in the Moscow airport bombsplosion a few weeks ago are from Ingushetia, an embattled, largely Muslim region of the Caucasus looking for a sovereignty close to what the Chechens are after. The suspects are also a family of kids under 21, rumoured to have blown up the airport as revenge for law enforcement killing their brother in law in a raid. Situations like this, where everyone's a bad guy with a tragic story justifying what they do, are entirely too common around the former Soviet republics. This is the sound of me moping and grumbling.

-My boy Evo Morales is takin' heat from his population, with people taking to the Bolivian streets, angry about rising food prices and the cuts to subsidies he made. Unfortunately, I can see why--a 73% increase in the price of gas would make me block a highway to make my point, too. Morales is stepping up, though--he rescinded the price hike, which is expected to curtail the cost of food production. Those Bolivians, though, they're marvellously scrappy, so watch this space.

Gbagbo. Blargh.
-To my great shame, I've failed to stay on top of fairly important West African politics. To make up for that, I spent a few hours looking into Cote D'Ivoire's current massive election-and-regime-upfuckery. The Coles-notes version: Laurent Gbagbo, long-embattled Ivorian-civil-war-president, was voted out of office in early December 2010, after great hubbub and flummoxing of any electoral sensibility. Not one to let not being elected stop him, he closed all the borders and ports, shut off communications and foreign news, set up the army, crossed his arms, and told all the foreign powers demanding his abdication "I'm STILL president." The UN has recognized his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, as the legitimate head of state, but running a shadow government from a hotel is a difficult task regardless of how many UN peacekeepers are watching your back, so despite the endorsement, it could be going better for him.
Gbagbo's dug his heels in, kicked out the peacekeepers, thumbed his nose at each progressively more "serious" urging to step down, and even threatened to issue new currency so that no one could use economic measures to get him to leave. Ouattara offered him a unity government, which he declined. So now the African Union is trying to broker a deal in this crazy situation that doesn't leave the country a smoking crater. Cote D'Ivoire, meanwhile, is quickly degrading into a deeply factioned, messy, "lawless" African stereotype, and Ouattara's prime minister says it's in for another civil war. Which is exactly what the area needs, really. Bah.
In other news, the Ivory Coast is where the majority of the world's cacao is exported from--so if you're not eating fair trade chocolate, you're probably implicated in Ivorian slave labour. Happy Valentine's Day!

-South Sudan's almost ready to cede from the country after a vote 99.57% in favour of going out on their own, but they've got substantial problems to kick through first:  someone shot their minister of rural development in his office, and a splinter militia is attacking the South Sudanese miltiary in Jonglei state with civilians being killed in the process.

-Fairly out of left-field, Thailand and Cambodia are fighting over some land, and kind of beating up the 11th century UNESCO heritage site temple on it in the process. People are displaced, UN peacekeepers are deployed. Lame. Also, did you know that Thai politics is generally considered to be colour-coded? I sure didn't.

-Less out of left field, the state media in Burma publishes that the venerable awesome Aung San Suu Kyi and co. will "meet their tragic end" if they keep up with this actual democracy and West-friendly-business. Subtle work, brutal military dictatorship. They'll never know it was you.

-And finally--I love my country, I really do, but sometimes Canada is just so damn -stupid-. The government of my fair province of Ontario suspended the ambitious and interesting Lake Ontario offshore wind turbine project because of the "wind turbines will hurt my children" lobby and the science being "too green". Then I read that our leader for the Great and Powerful 51st State Stephen Harper (and crony Peter McKay of the Defense Ministry) is highly complicit in the torture of hundreds of Afghanis, and could actually be prosecuted for war crimes. Which hopefully would invoke some state accountability, and get them out of my government. Fingers crossed.

Extra credit: the New Yorker followed up their much-buzzed "Wtf, Scientology?" essay with an equally interesting but much more topical "Wtf, Corruption In Afghanistan?" expose. It's here in its entirety, and I'd recommend it if you've got time to kill and illusions about the west's role in the mid east.

Okay. We're totally not caught up, but we're almost close.

February 13, 2011

So Egypt Wins....So What?

If you've been within eyeshot of a major media outlet in the last two weeks, you probably have clued in that big things are happening in Egypt. If you've been reading this blog, or basically any news anywhere, you probably have also clued in that a) a peaceful, populist democratic revolution has ousted an authoritarian president that has been seated for 30 years, and b) this is unabashedly awesome.

What you might not totally get is why. And that's completely understandable.
So Why the Hell Is This So Important?
The reasons that the success of the Egyptian revolution has everyone atwitter (haha. ha. Ash you're lame.) can be clumsily classed into the following three categories:
Egypt leads the way.
Being the most populous Arab nation, geopolitically centrally located, and generally containing a little bit of everything important about the region, Egypt tends to lead the way in the Middle East. Things they do tend to set standards and precedents on an international level--and they also tend to trend.
The fact that they just overthrew their US-propped-dictator added such crazy burgeoning momentum to the regime-toppling force released by the Tunisian revolution that protests intensified in Yemen, JordanAlgeria, and the Gabon. It's resulted in a lot of speculation about whether or not this practice of insisting on responsible government was going to keep up--and which world leaders are in trouble if it does.

Democratic Egypt = Irritating Cracks in US Imperialism
stay classy, New York Post. Derp.
The change of the guard means that the US has less control over the region. The now-deposed Mubarak regime received 1.3billion USD in military aid every year, which tended to buy a lot of party-line-toeing on its participation in the war on Iraq, or their shared border with Gaza and the 30-year peace treaty signed with Israel. The lack of US involvement in this Egyptian democracy business makes Israel and the US very nervous, seeing disrupted trade, islamofascist regimes and the spectre of pesky Iran ruining their perfectly stable, if perfectly brutal, middle-Eastern setup. That setup, it's worth mentioning, includes cosy relationships with many of the aforementioned authoritarian world leaders possibly in trouble for political douchebaggery.

Also, it's problematic that the majority of the Western world was seen hmming and hawing about the protests, being diplomatic and shaking fingers without actually coming to the support of the most popular revolution since at least the 70's. This is a problem for two reasons: 1) the aforementioned 1.3 billion in military aid meant that the power that Mubarak had--and abused--for so long was a direct result of the US giving it to him; and 2) the US has spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives trying to INSTALL democracy in the middle East, so anything less than an unequivocal joygasm of unqualified support for such an overwhelmingly popular democratic movement seems patently spurious to me.

And finally,
A Peaceful Democratic Revolution Just Happened. And that's kind of a miracle.
In Tahrir Square, a functional, unified community sprang up out of the craziness of sectarian violence and a divided population, because of a shared vision for a better Egypt. Within days, the protesters had clinics, sleeping areas, food and water stations, phone and computer charging access, and media screens broadcasting AJE for anyone who needed them. Twentysomethings spontaneously organized the sexy revolutionary duties of trash pickup every morning. When "pro-Mubarak" thugs stormed the square, they set up checkpoints to screen for weapons and welcome people to the demonstrations. They organized local musician and artist showcases. They organized football tournaments in the square for kids. They held Christian mass in the Square, just as they protected each other during Muslim prayers. They protected foreign journalists from angry police during media crackdowns.

They did all of this without central leadership.

That is the most fundamentally inspirational thing about the Egyptian Revolution to me--the fact that I just watched democracy -happen-, in such an unadulterated, people-first way that Western powers barely recognized it as democracy, springing from the grassroots alone.
This matters because it reaffirms, in the eyes of the entire world, that stuff of this incredible calibre CAN  ACTUALLY STILL HAPPEN.
Egypt reminded me that the struggle against power is neither futile nor unreasonable.
And that is absolutely invaluable.

So that's what.

February 11, 2011

February 10, 2011

Egypt to Mubarak: GTFO Already!!

Mubarak to Egypt: Die in a Fire.

After seventeen days, billions lost in the financial markets, general labour strikes, over 300 lost lives, and countless demonstrations of astounding, inspirational bravery, we were all expecting today's announcement from Hosni Mubarak to finally be a declaration of his resignation.

And instead of that, he announced that he was giving all his power to Vice President Sulemain, and staying put, addressing them as naughty children who should be ashamed of themselves. He told them to stop watching satellite tv, and to go home.

Tahrir Square is pissed, and what happened next is unsurprising. From the Guardian liveblog on the ground:
...In an instant, Tahrir shook with fury. Many took off their shoes and waved them in the air. Pockets of protesters launched different chants: "Down, Down, Hosni Mubarak" and "We're not going until he goes". Soon they coalesced, and the square spoke as one with a single word. "Irhal" (Leave), it cried.
Foreign Policy put it really well: "It's hard to exaggerate how bad Hosni Mubarak's speech today was for Egypt... It is virtually impossible to conceive of a more poorly conceived  or executed speech. "

AJE's live coverage is calling shenanigans on the blatant lies being transmitted from regime media officials to American media conglomerates. They're also documenting pro-democracy protesters' increasing disaffection with the military. Soon, the military will have to choose which side they're on--analysts are saying within the next 48 hours. Analysts, incredulous at the ridiculousness of this government at literally the most popular revolution in the last three decades at least, suggested the government was attempting to frustrate the populace into violence to justify a crackdown. 

Tomorrow's march, originally intended to be a Day of Martyrs in honour of the 302 people dead, is being galvanized as we speak. There are calls for 20 million people to protest in Cairo. 

After the government's utter and complete loss of dignity, 20 million marching to the Presidential Palace tomorrow would not surprise me.

February 8, 2011

Egypt Update: Excellence Roundup

The protests that began on Jan 25th are still strong across Egypt. Millions of people are still in Tahrir Square. The army is still present, still doing very little. Mubarak is still entrenched.

I am still intently watching in awe of the women, children, men and youth of Egypt.

In honour of two weeks of protest, sacrifice and bravery for democracy and human rights, here's a roundup of what I've been seeing:
(And it's in turns brutal, unsurprising, and totally, totally sweet.)

Rampant government interference and violence against the press.

Egyptian State media blatantly refusing to broadcast tens of thousands of their people protesting.

The UN pretending nothing is happening.

Two continuing liveblogs--two weeks in, and still warranting continual coverage from the Guardian and AJE.

Coptic Christians forming human chains to protect Muslims at prayer--just like Muslims formed a human shield during Coptic Christmas marches.

A medical clinic set up in front of a KFC in Cairo.

Community-led barricades, checking IDs, disallowing weapons, and welcoming people to the protests with "The Egyptians are here!"

The first Western hip hop solidarity song for Egypt, released for free (download here--it's good), and the video mashed from AJE footage.

Overwhelming UNITY in a country whose opposition to Mubarak has previously been characterized by its fragmentation.

And finally, the widespread internet fame of a guy wearing bread as a hat. 

Mubarak, your argument is invalid.

February 7, 2011

In Other News

So I've been so glued to AJE tensely watching Egypt that I definitely forgot the rest of the world existed.
Believe it or not, Ash, things are still happening in places that aren't Cairo.

Let's look at some, shall we?

-Australia--you're falling apart! First brutal flooding, then no-longer-cyclone Yasi hits the flooded areas, and now an area near Perth is a disaster zone because of wildfires? I know you're a scrappy people, and these things happen every year, but... do they happen this bad?
And if so...can no one take a hint and move to somewhere that ISN'T totally insane? You're starting to look like California.

-Speaking of Australia, oh hey, remember Julian Assange? His Swedish extradition hearing is happening right now. The Guardian's liveblogging it, as they do--or you could follow the amazing in-court Tweeting journalists direct!

-Speaking of countries completely bent over by the elements, Greeks take to the streets to protest the austerity measures enacted to try and dig them out of the scariest economic clusterf*ck in recent memory. Which is really saying something lately.

-here in North America, the snowpocalypse happened. With apologies to those in Dallas having heart attacks, everyone up here in Canada was vaguely disappointed when it failed to meet the hype on our end. I, however, was thrilled to hear gems like 'snowmageddon', 'icetastrophe', and 'SnowMG' coming from the good ol' mainstream media. Because now I have proof that everyone is as lame as I am, and institutions care nothing about the sanctity of the English language. My plan is working perfectly.

-Here in Canada specifically, some jerkoffs summarily executed a hundred sled dogs in Whistler. The only good to come of this is a serious look at the seriously outdated and undertoothed Canadian animal cruelty laws, so this nonsense doesn't happen again.

-Also the collective petitioning and small-business-WTF?!-ing got the CRTC internet cap reversed. Phew!

-The new 'elected' president of Burma is.....a high-ranking member of the brutal and ridiculous ruling Junta. No way!

this is what bad news looks like.
-In an outstandingly awkward paparazzi moment, someone took photos of an "uncontacted tribe" of the Amazon rainforest. Naturally, because these people have been trying to avoid the involvement of Western society, they're all over the internet. Funny how much coverage is necessary for a movement that's trying to get people to leave them alone.
In related Amazon news, the climate-crisis-triggered drought in 2010 has people legitimately worried that large swathes of the rainforest are dying off at an alarming rate. I'd really love it if that didn't happen.

-In Haiti, they tossed out the provisional (and highly contested) election results, and are setting up a likely-more-legitimate runoff sans Celestin. They're also prepping for Presidential Problems 4: Return of Aristide.

-The Guardian is trying to convince people that the world is taking the African Union Summit seriously. I hope they're right, but considering how seriously some world powers are taking other big things that are happening in Africa right now, I have my doubts.

come on guys. that's lame. let him down.
-The South Sudanese secession referendum is over, and it looks overwhelmingly like we're gonna have a new country down there. Even head-jerk himself, President Omar Al Bashir, agrees. Time for another new map of Africa, I'm afraid. South Sudanese Independence Day July 9th, mark your calendars.

-A while ago, some jerk in Russia hooked a donkey up to parasail and sat back to see what happens. The donkey died. I hope he feels terrible. Donkeys are not for flying.

February 2, 2011

Egypt: In Tahrir Square, People Are Dying.

Right now, in the chaos, of Tahrir Square and the Oct 6 Bridge, pro-democracy protesters are being shot in the head.

The pro-Mubarak goons that disrupted the week's inspirational peaceful protests are widely suspected--and reported--to be plainclothes cops and hired thugs, paid by the regime to terrify the masses and damage the resolve of the protesters. They've been targeting Al Jazeera staff (and any journalists, really) for violence.
They have been using homemade pipe bombs and molotov cocktails. The army appears to be doing very little to stop them, and reports are flying that they may be guilty of exacerbating the situation purposely.

And in the face of this ridiculous and shameful, shameful display of force, I can't think of anything that I can do to help these people that are risking and losing their lives in pursuit of something I was born into and take for granted every day of my life.
Except for tell you about it.

It is 5am in Cairo. Al Jazeera is liveblogging still. If you are like me, and find it difficult by geography and means to do anything more substantial, at least bear witness to the history happening tonight.

January 31, 2011

Stuff You May Have Missed in the Egypt Protests; In Other News, Egyptians Still Incredible.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Arab version of the Berlin Wall is falling.

And you, me, and everyone else with half an eye on the news, is watching.

I've been watching the Al Jazeera liveblog, refreshing every few nanoseconds. My love of AJE is the stuff of epic poetry, but it seems for once everyone else is watching it too, recognizing what good journalism looks like, and noting the sizeable difference between it and CNN. The President was watching it, and they barely even allow it on US cable.
I've also been following a fairly decent Guardian liveblog, which gives a slightly geopolitically-broader look at the whole crazy-inspirational Egyptian revolution story.

And it has been inspirational.

In case some of you have been under a rock waiting for me to sass about this, here's the extreme-Coles-notes-version: after Tunisia's regular folks overthrew their authoritarian government a few weeks ago, 30 years of regime under Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is falling apart. There have been approximately 7 days of protests in major cities all over Egypt, with women, children, lawyers, judges, teachers, tradespeople and youth demanding free and fair elections and the removal of Mubarak. They've been withstanding police brutality, country-wide internet and SMS shutoff, increasingly early military curfews, and the stubborn refusal of their leadership to listen to their demands. They've decided that they're not budging until they get what they're entitled to as human beings.
Tahrir Square, in Cairo, on the 28th

Considering the coverage of this issue has been practically omnipresent on most major news networks, I get the rare opportunity to report on some stuff I've read that maybe isn't on the CBC basic breakdown at 6.

-You may have noticed footage of burning buildings in Cairo, and riots in Suez and Alexandria played over and over. What you might not have noticed is the community-led vigilante groups setting up roadblocks in Cairo suburbs, to prevent looting. Or the protesters stopping to pick up garbage, and distributing food during the marches. Clearly, these are dangerous anarchists.

in front of the Antiquities Museum.
Note the business attire. Incredible.
-What about the human chain of protesters preventing looters from getting into the National Antiquities Museum, where a few thousand years of human history lives?

-Or the sleepover of a few thousand people in Tahrir Square tonight with a "feeling of community", despite the fact that they had to defy curfew, step over barbed wire and avoid tanks and military helicopters to get there?

-Or the recent statement from the Egyptian military verbalizing their admirable practice thus far, saying that they will not attempt to harm protesters?

-Or the reports of soldiers defecting to join the protest?

Mubarak's first address to his country a few days ago paid the usual lipservice to freedom, democracy and the protesters, and hammered home that even though he's been identified as the problem, he wasn't going anywhere. But even though governments all over the world are cautiously, diplomatically issuing statements, it's become abundantly clear--it doesn't matter how much he shuffles his cabinet, the guy simply can't stay in office.

Today, the Egyptian government tried to shut down Al Jazeera, storming the office, temporarily arresting reporters, and taking all their gear. Because nothing says "We totally take your request for democracy seriously" like hobbling the most effective and visible agents of the free press with police goons. Sends just the right message.
The small amount of Egyptian government face that wasn't already covered with proverbial egg is now thoroughly smeared, with news organizations and international governments from all over the place making statements of support. Even Anonymous has sent out an open letter of support to Al Jazeera and to the Egyptian population in general. And they signed it with a "We love you", which might be the most genuine display of affection ever recorded from those cheeky trolls.

In the meantime, in the face of the continued internet shutdown, the folks at Skyne--er, Google, have developed a speech-to-tweet function so that people can call in their social networking updates.

Make no mistake, things are far from rosy. Police stations, National Democratic Party and other government offices have been burned to the ground. The death toll is rising from 150 (which is an admirably small number, considering the thousands that have been in the streets for a week). There are many, many people missing in Egypt (and many attempts to organize to find them).
The Egyptian army has troops in the Sinai peninsula for the first time since their peace treaty with Israel, which is making them anxious and causing a great deal of talk about the Islamization of the Middle East (though my personal opinion is that fear's a mite bit self-absorbed at this point, isn't it?). And considering it tends to happen every time someone Arab sneezes or stubs his toe, the price of crude oil is going through the roof again.

But considering the scale and consequence of this revolution--and the fact that a huge protest is planned for tomorrow that may wind up being a crux point for the government--it's looking rather positive.

And with the whole world watching, too.

January 28, 2011

Egypt Protests: Wow.

Last night, I found the pamphlet being distributed non-digitally throughout Egyptian cities, giving demonstrators some tips on how best to get out their message, and survive, during today's planned biggest-demonstration-yet. I looked at it, thought long and hard about posting it before now, decided against, and tried to go to sleep to blog another crazy news day.
I failed in the sleeping bit. It just felt like what was brewing was going to be really intense.

Lo and behold, within seconds of Friday prayers letting out, it was.

They detained ElBaradei after they saw him in the streets. They shut down the internet and texting functions again, "in select areas" (namely, anywhere a protest was likely--upwards of 8 cities all over the country). The UN issued a stern fingerwag, as they are wont to do.

Some selections from the excellent liveblog that I am checking every 3 minutes:
A Human Rights Watch advocate on the scene says that police are withdrawing in the city he's in.

Journalists from every stripe have been beaten--AP, Reuters, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN...mostly by plainclothes police.

In Suez, two soldiers were disciplined overnight for refusing to fire on demonstrators. Al Jazeera now has footage of police throwing tear gas canisters....and demonstrators throwing them back.

In Cairo, a female protester has been killed in the central plaza--but the police are throwing teargas canisters away and siding with the protesters.

In East Alexandria, as soon as security arrived they began shooting teargas and rubber bullets. When they ran out of those, the protesters blocked in police in the yard of a mosque. Now they're begging the protesters to stop--and the protesters are begging them to join them.

It's afternoon prayers, and police are putting down their weapons and praying with the people in the streets.

This whole situation is absolutely blowing me away--and I could wax poetic all day about the right to democracy or about how the Egyptian example is an amazing, brave and ballsy physical manifestation of the desire for government accountability in the face of overwhelming craziness. But everything that I could say turns into paltry internet crap--watch the footage. Be inspired that people from all walks of life care enough about their situation that they put their lives on the line to change it for the better.

Praying, in Alexandria. With the people previously trying to bash your head in.
The US and the UK are both on the fence, issuing largely ambiguous statements calling both sides to end the violence. This is probably due to the fact that their significant aid money to Egypt paid for every bullet being fired at those protesters--and to the fact that they already knew about the huge problem with police brutality in Egypt. Thanks, cables!

Meanwhile, a protest begins in Jordan...

January 27, 2011

Egypt Gets Concerning, with Yemen Not Far Behind

Things are crazy all across Egypt right now.

The protests that started on the heels of Tunisia's regime-overthrow are still raging, and they're not looking like they're going to stop. Suez, Giza, Cairo, North Sinai--they're all crammed with people vowing not to stop demonstrations until they get responsible government.
They're also crammed with police in the middle of an insane, brutalist crackdown on demonstrators. As of Wednesday, 800 people had been detained. Tear gas is flying all over the place, and police are trying everything they can think of to prevent marching.

Reuters has footage of a protestor being shot to death and dragged back into the crowd.
Apparently, this is the way Egyptian police
deal with permitless marches

Wide reports are surfacing that the government (or someone) has shut down internet and text message services across the entire country--something that's never happened before, ever.
Human Rights Watch is nervously watching, because they're worried that the police will open fire on the crowd. Which would be terrible.

Mohamed ElBaradei, Egyptian winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and former nuclear chief at the UN, is being seen as the best bet for alternative leadership after the Mubarak regime falls apart under the pressure.  He returned to Egypt after 30 years away, and is pledging to join the protests.

this is Yemen. this looks familiar.
Meanwhile, Yemen is brewing some protests of its own: tens of thousands of folks in the capital, calling for the disposition of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The difference here is that the president appears to have his own chunk of supporters running counter-marches. 
Yemen also has people serious enough about getting rid of the government that they're self-immolating.

To all you brave folks out there demanding what's right from your government: you're inspirational and excellent.
And please, please don't get shot or trampled.