Egypt Isn’t Ready for the U.S. Gift of Democracy

My comment on a ridiculous NYT oped that appeared today by a Georgetown professor:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/17/opinion/democracy-in-egypt-can-wait.html?comments#permid=251

Mr. Kupchan’s letter may touch upon reality in some universe, but it is surely not ours. A “sign of the dark side of the Arab awakening”? The dark side belongs to the reaction to the uprisings.

Certainly “a sobering course correction in American policy” is needed. However, if we put the rhetoric aside and simply deal with the demonstrable actions, the current policy in Washington is hardly to “spread democracy in the region”. Sure, there has been much hand-waving about restoring democracy. That is for public consumption. The spigot of military aid however continues, aside from a symbolic gesture.

Mr. Kupchan is calling for the U.S. to back “responsible” states, by which he means, governments strongly allied with Washington.
Impressive double-think is required to utter a statement like “Washington’s determined promotion of democracy compromises its credibility because doing so is often at odds with its own policies.” In the final sentences he finally clarifies what had been obscured throughout the article – that democracy promotion is mere rhetoric.
Certainly we are in agreement on one thing – that rhetoric should match actions. However, contra Mr. Kupchan, it is Washington’s actions that must catch up with its rhetoric, not the other way around.

Amen: Richard Dawkins’s bigotry does not represent athiests – Owen Jones in the Independent


Pam Bailey and Medea Benjamin have penned a reflection from their recent delegation to Yemen that includes a moving report on how one drone strike played out on the ground.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/08/20138149170972966.html

Here is just one of the many stories we heard as we travelled the country:

It was 9 am on a Tuesday and Ahmed Abdullah Awadh was at home with his 26-year-old son, Majed, in the small village of Ja’ar in southwestern Yemen. Suddenly, they heard a loud explosion. The house of Awadh’s neighbour, a man he described as “an ordinary taxi driver,” was hit. Everyone in the largely residential neighbourhood, including Awadh and his son, ran to see what happened and help rescue anyone who was hurt.

The 33-year-old taxi driver was dead; fortunately, the rest of his family had not been at home. Fifteen minutes later, as neighbours were still sorting through the rubble, there was a second strike in the same spot. This time, with almost the entire neighbourhood concentrated in one location, the entire block was reduced to rubble, about 20 residents were injured and another 14-26 died – including Majed.

“Majed was burned over 50 percent of his body,” recalled Awadh through an interpreter. “But there is only an emergency clinic in Ja’ar, and they said he was too seriously injured to be treated there. The nearest hospital is in Aden, and the main road was closed. It took four hours to get there. I held him in my arms while we were driving, and he kept bleeding. On the third day in the hospital, at 2:30 am, Majed’s heart stopped and he died.”

Was the taxi driver actually affiliated with al-Qaeda? Awadh and his fellow residents – and American citizens, whose taxpayer dollars pay for this warfare – will never be told. They were merely left to pick up the pieces.

Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni engineer who lost his cousin and brother-in-law in a drone strike in August 2012, published an open letter  to President Obama and Yemeni President Hadi. He wrote that his brother-in-law was an imam who had strongly and publicly opposed al-Qaeda, and that his cousin was a policeman. “Our town was no battlefield,” he said.

“We had no warning. Our local police were never asked to make any arrest. Your silence in the face of these injustices only makes matters worse. If the strike was a mistake, the family – like all wrongly bereaved families of this secret air war – deserve a formal apology. To this day I wish no vengeance against the United States or Yemeni governments. But not everyone in Yemen feels the same. Every dead innocent swells the ranks of those you are fighting.”

Even when drone targets are confirmed affiliates of AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), we were told that in most cases they could have been easily arrested and brought to trial, if the political will existed. And then there is the fact that many of the so-called “targets” have no possibility, or intent, of harming Americans. ….

Should the United States be free to intervene in Yemen, a country with which it is not at war, and assassinate anyone it suspects of terrorist affiliations, along with the unlucky individuals who happen to be around them?

Yemen’s Interim President Hadi seems to think so, since he has given his consent to President Obama. But the Yemeni people have answered that question with a resounding “No”. Although their brave, historic vote was only reported in international media such as Al-Jazeera and Press TV, a nearly unanimous majority of the 565 participants in Yemen’s multi-party National Dialogue Conference – the grand effort to bridge the many internal divides and reach consensus on the future for the country – voted last month  to criminalise drone strikes and all other forms of extra-judicial killings.  Under the governing rules of the NDC, once the conference completes its work in about a month’s time and a new constitution is drafted, the ban against drones is required to become law.

There are many critics of the NDC, but it is the most democratic institution that exists in Yemen right now, and as such has been embraced by the United Nations, the Gulf states and Western nations – including the United States. However, despite the vote against drones, the attacks continue.


Juan Cole breaks it down: It’s not about Democracy: Top Ten Reasons Washington is Reluctant to cut off Egypt Aid


Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers call our attention to the pro-Democratic Party betrayal by the organizers for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington.

http://www.alternet.org/activism/we-cant-give-culture-fear-and-apathy-channel-your-discontent-action?paging=off

King believed in remaining independent of the two parties of his era, both of which were dominated by segregationists.  His view was summarized in his quote, “I feel someone must remain in the position of non-alignment, so that he can look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both—not the servant or master of either.” Today, we face two parties dominated by money and corporate power and must remain independent to be effective.

Unfortunately, the groups organizing this rally have aligned themselves with the Democratic Party. Speakers for the celebration include Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and presidents of unions and others who are the greatest supporters of the Democratic Party. President Obama is scheduled to speak on the actual anniversary, Aug. 28th, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. King spoke. The only speakers from the front lines of struggle will be the parents of murder victim Trayvon Martin and the Dream Defenders, but they will be surrounded by the very people who have done nothing to end racist policies in our nation; and who have aided the wealth divide and failed to confront the jobs crisis.


Adam Baron, a freelance journalist based in Sanaa, reports:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/15/inside_yemens_droneland_marib_province_al_qaeda

“We want to live with dignity, free from fear,” another [Yemeni interlocutor] continued, “whether from the fighters of al Qaeda or from the American planes that terrorize everyone whenever they appear.”

Nearly every time the subject came to al Qaeda during my time in Marib, the American drone program came up along with it. It’s not as if people there seemed to have any sympathy for the group; condemnations of al Qaeda were generally treated as statements of the obvious. But the psychological effects of previous strikes were palpable, the lingering fear they’ve sown clear solely through the tone of a person’s voice.

“You just don’t know when another one will come,” a teenager who witnessed a strike told me, the cracks in his voice doing more to convey his point than anything he could ever say. “Civilians have been killed and injured. Each time we hear the sound of a plane, we immediately worry it will happen again.”

“Do Americans know this?” he said, straining his words as he seemed to hold back tears. “Does your government?”

Marib, Yemen

Marib, Yemen


In Somalia the U.S. is allied with the government and the peacekeeping force deployed there. A NY Times story from yesterday details some recent instances of both of these parties behaving badly.  Incidentally, the U.S. is scheduled to conduct a military training with Burundian forces soon, in conjunction with its contribution to the Amisom force in Somalia.

Also, it’s remarkable that MSF is withdrawing now after operating continuously for over two decades through so much chaos. The climate must be very bad indeed.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/16/world/africa/african-union-and-somalia-to-investigate-rape-allegations.html?pagewanted=print

On Wednesday, the medical humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders announced that it was ceasing operations in Somalia because it could no longer guarantee the safety of its staff. The group had operated in the nation uninterrupted since 1991. ….

In January, the Somali government outraged human rights groups after a woman who said she had been gang-raped by members of the security services was charged with making a false accusation and insulting a national institution, as was a Somali journalist who interviewed her. Both the journalist and the woman were found guilty and sentenced to a year in prison, but their convictions were on appeal.

Amisom has about 18,000 troops in the country, from Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Burundi and Djibouti.

“I’ve been hearing reports of Amisom abuses since December, but this is the most extreme case I’ve heard of,” said Lisa Shannon, an American who is a founder of Sister Somalia, an organization that helps rape victims there. Previously, Ms. Shannon said, “people were nervous to talk about Amisom abuses because they thought it could destabilize the fragile peace.”

The victim was held for a day and a half before being tossed on the street by her captors, said Ilwad Ali, who also works with Sister Somalia. When she was found, she had two needle marks in her arm from where she had been sedated with injections. She was receiving treatment to prevent H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases.

A doctor confirmed that the woman had been raped, said Ms. Ali, adding that the victim had described two girls who were being kept in the same room, one of whom had been stabbed.


The revolution in Libya is taking a turn for the worse: “Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said Thursday that his government will use “any means,” including military force, to prevent striking port workers from selling oil independently.”


Speaking of the lack of free speech with regard to Palestine (I just posted about that the other day)… The University of Michigan has disinvited Alice Walker from delivering a keynote speech because her advocacy for the rights of Palestinians offended donors.

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