Thinking the Unthinkable: Is the Gulf Next?
It?s time to think the unthinkable: Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states may be getting in line for their turn at confronting widespread popular discontent.
As a wave of mass protests sweeps the Arab world, shaking the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the core, rumblings of popular restlessness are bubbling to the service in the Gulf.
Shiite opposition groups in Bahrain, a strategic island kingdom that hosts the U.S. Navy?s 5th Fleet, have called for?protests on February 14 to demand greater political freedom, a halt to attempts to redress the sectarian balance in a Shiite-majority country ruled by a Sunni minority, an end to human rights abuses and improved economic opportunities.
Over the past month,?Saudi Arabia?s dismal soccer performance in the Asian Cup, unemployment, floods in Jeddah that killed at least four people and the granting of asylum to the ousted Tunisian leader have sparked protests and criticism on newspaper op-ed pages as well as on blogs and in Internet chat rooms.
Read more of the story at?The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer ——–
James M. Dorsey, a former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent, writes about ethnic and religious conflict. He is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.
Millions of brave Egyptians are right now facing a fateful choice. Thousands have been jailed, injured or killed in the last few days. But if they press on in peaceful protest, they could end decades of tyranny.
The protesters have appealed for international solidarity, but the dictatorship knows the power of unity at a time like this ? they?ve desperately tried to cut Egyptians off from the world and each other by completely shutting down the internet and mobile networks.
Satellite and radio networks can still break through the regime blackout — let?s flood those airwaves with a massive cry of solidarity showing Egyptians that we stand with them, and that we?ll hold our governments accountable to stand with them too. The situation is at a tipping point — every hour counts — click below to sign the solidarity message, and forward this email:
People power is sweeping the Middle East. In days, peaceful protesters brought down Tunisia?s 30-year dictatorship. Now the protests are spreading to Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and beyond. This could be the Arab world’s Berlin Wall moment. If tyranny falls in Egypt, a tidal wave of democracy could sweep the entire region.
Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak has tried to crush the rallies. But with incredible bravery and determination, the protesters keep coming.
There are moments when history is written not by the powerful, but by people. This is one of them. The actions of ordinary Egyptians in the coming hours will have a massive effect on their country, the region, and our world. Let?s cheer them on with our own pledge to stand with them in their struggle:
?Mubarak?s family has left the country, but last night he ordered the military into the streets. He?s ominously promised 0 tolerance for what he calls ?chaos?. Either way, history will be made in the next few days. Let?s make this the moment that shows every dictator on our planet that they cannot stand long against the courage of people united.
With hope and admiration for the Egyptian people,
Ricken, Rewan, Ben, Graziela, Alice, Kien and the rest of the Avaaz team
Egypt unrest: Alert as mass protests loom
Egyptian government shuts down the Internet
North Africa: Will dominoes fall in the region?
‘Beginning of the end’ for Egypt’s Mubarak as son and wife flee
Amnesty International condemns the crackdown on demonstrations
Regular updates are being posted by Egyptian activists here:
ACCESS campaign for digital freedom in Egypt:
His eyes flitted forward and back, and having surveyed the scene for possible danger, it stopped. The head stooped, and that was how he stayed. Crouched on the floor of a bus full of Bangalis, the Pahari (hill person) amongst us, was living in occupied land. Keeping out of trouble was his best chance for survival.
It was only when the uniformed men with guns boarded the bus and prodded him that he raised his eyes. Scared, tired, hurt, angry eyes. But he knew enough to not express his anger. Meekly he obeyed the commands. His humiliation was also ours, but we did not complain. We were tourists in our own land, but the constitutional guarantees enshrined in our laws, while not fully respected anywhere, was particularly absent here. As well-connected Bangalis, we were far more safe than he was. But the rules of occupation are never generous, and they had guns. They left. We breathed more easily. He continued his journey with his head bowed. I took no photographs.
Walking through Rangamati as Bangali tourists was a disconcerting feeling. Many of the Bangalis here were also poor. Displaced from their homes in far away places, they had been dumped here with promises of a happy life. Left to fend for themselves, they joined the power chain well above the Paharis, but very low down all the same.
At the top of the chain was the military. Then the wealthy Bangalis, the ones who made the deals, then came the Paharis who had sided with the government. The Bangali settlers (the poor ones anyway), were quite a bit further down. The Paharis never dared to reach for the rungs of that ladder.
Rangamati was still a beautiful place. The homes buried beneath the lake when the Kaptai Dam was built, the tropical rain forests that had been destroyed, the hill people who were forced to leave their ancestral land, were things that never made it to our history books. The Hill Tracts featured in the picturesque postcards and tourism ministry books and the well rehearsed cultural programmes in the government Tribal Centre.
Occasional photographers from the lowlands came to discover the ?authentic tribal lifestyle?. A bare chest woman bathing by a waterfall, backlit women with children strapped on their backs, a wrinkled old woman smoking a pipe and other photographic trophies were potential award winners.
As anticipated, the tiktikis (lit: geckos, local term for government spies, generally members of ?Special Branch?) soon found us. They followed us everywhere. Asked stupid questions. Made notes. Questioned the people we had spoken to or visited. We consciously stayed away from friends. No point in getting them into trouble.
At a later visit, Drik?s printer Nasir and I had gone to Bandorban. Amongst the photographs I?d taken on that trip was this one of a mother weaving. Perhaps I was repeating what the trophy hunters had done, but the poster above the window, part of a UNICEF blindness prevention campaign, had words that seemed poignant. ?hai re kopal mondo, chokh thakite ondho?.? (oh what irony we find, we have eyes but are blind.)
My eyes had shown me the military operations in the hill tracts. The deer being taken to the major?s home. The all Bangali military. The timber being taken to the military camp. While we did see Paharis, carrying loads, and doing odd jobs, most of the shop owners were Bangali settlers. It was Bangalis who had access to the government. They who obtained the local contracts. Menial labour was generally, all that Paharis could aspire to. Kalpana Chakma?s abduction followed (12th June 1996). Friends got arrested. Some were released, but killed upon release. The violence continued, more murders, more rape, more displacement.
On 2nd December 1997 the newly elected Awami League (1996) signed the ?Peace Treaty? with Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS). This had led to divisions amongst the hill people. Many felt that the core concepts of:
1.??????????? Autonomy for the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
2.??????????? Withdrawal of the Bangali settlers.
3.??????????? Demilitarization of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
were being compromised. Others were more pragmatic. Even those who questioned the signing of the treaty by JSS, despite their demands not having been met, recognise that peace in CHT is the ultimate goal, and that the land disputes that resulted from the government aided settlement of Bangalis was the core cause of the conflict.
The sole purpose of a nation?s military is to protect the sovereignty of all of its citizens, not to suppress them. The need to protect a nation?s borders cannot justify the forced eviction of people from their ancestral land. The disregard for even the commitments made, exposed the government?s lack of sincerity to the peace deal. Imperfect though it may be, for those clinging to the flimsiest of promises, the treaty still held hope.
The irony of the military and the settlers – in the second term of the Awami League – choosing the month of February, to remind the Paharis of how brutal they could be, was not lost on the survivors of the massacre. Salauddin, Jabbar, Barkat, Rafiq and Salam had died in 1952 to protect our mother tongue. In February 2010 many Pahari names joined the list of people who died for their mother tongue. But these different sounding names would never make it to that official list.
These were names that probably didn?t exist anyway. Without rights to land, citizenship and protection of the state, they were second class citizens at best, fugitives to be hunted, raped and killed at worst.
matri bhasha (mother tongue), has a very different meaning when your mother is Pahari. Kalpana,?I failed you as a brother, when they abducted you. I failed you as a friend, when they killed your brothers Mantosh, Samar, Shukesh and Rupan. I fail you now as a citizen, when my military and my government burn your villages, murder your families, take away your land. I fail you all as a human being, when you are prevented from laying flowers at the Shahid Minar in your village home. amar bhaier rokte rangano, ekushey february. ami ki bhulite pari. This month, red with your warm blood. I cannot, will not, must not, ever forget.
28th February 2010 A story in Croatia with similar concerns:
For the past few months, I have been preparing for an almost meaningless exam, one which graduate students in the US have to take, called ?comps? (short for comprehensive/PhD candidacy exam). During moments of sarcasm, we also call it the intellectual boot camp. While preparing for the exams, I have created a bubble around me, a self-imposed isolation, as if the Atlantic Ocean between me and Dhaka is not vast enough. Inside this carefully constructed bubble, I allow myself to read Bangladeshi newspapers or reply to emails only during periods of protracted procrastination. Friends? requests to read their pieces pile up. The news of a launch capsizing on the eve of Eid-ul-Azha, news headlines of RMG workers? awful plight remotely catches my eyes ? shamefully so. I rapidly read emails, I quick-read news from home and elsewhere, whether good or bad, I don?t have moments to react and reflect. It is in this privileged insulated life of mine, that I get an email from Rahnuma that Jashim Uddin Manik, the ?alleged? rapist, has died of cardiac arrest in Italy.
In the next few days, I get many emails, all from old friends from the anti-rape movement. In 1998 the students of Jahangirnagar University took to the streets for two months protesting against campus rape, and demanding punishment of the rapists, many of whom were Bangladesh Chhatra League activists. These emails bore witness to those nights when we sat in front of the university?s administrative building shouting, ?Amar boner apoman shojjho kora hobe na, dhorshonkari jei hok bichar take petei hobe? (We will not tolerate our sister?s dishonor, the rapist must be punished, whoever he may be). I would not read the letter but only its subject heading, and flag it to read later. An email from Jashim Uddin Manik?s friend incidentally landed in my mail box, forwarded by a friend. It expressed shock and grief at the untimely death of a close friend. It contained routine details which follow such news. Jashim Uddin Manik died in Padova, Milano at around 10:30pm local time (which I guess, on the basis of email exchanges, would be January 5). His body lies in a morgue while his Italian friends are making arrangements to send his body back to Bangladesh. Manik?s wife took the news very badly, she?s still not herself. In the email, Manik?s friend writes how hard it is for him to stop his tears, he urges everyone (the recipients of his email) to pray for the departed soul. In a way, there?s nothing striking about this email. A grief-stricken friend is breaking to others the news of the death of a close friend. Yet, the ordinariness of the news sends a chill down my spine.
In 1998, during the anti-rape movement in Jahangirnagar University, Manik had been identified by the disciplinary committee (fact-finding committee) as having been one of the rapists. We knew of him as the Chhatra League cadre who was said to have distributed sweets to ?celebrate? his 100th rape. I re-read the last line of his friend?s email ? please pray for the departed soul. I stumble at each word, did the man who committed many rapes, if not a hundred, one who had the heart to celebrate it, have a soul? But it?s for a few seconds only, and I close my email window.
I try to thicken the bubble around me. I must pass this exam.
My indifference towards Manik?s death makes me start thinking about death. Any news of death is supposedly saddening. But here I am, sitting in front of my laptop, recollecting the details of his sexual offences, and flinching. His crime had been proven in front of the university administration. He had been punished for what they had termed ?misconduct?; his studentship had been cancelled. However, no legal case had been filed against him. I remembered those days when many of us, those for whom the anti-rape movement in Jahangirnagar University had been a political turning point, had shared hours of rage as we had read news of Manik fleeing/flying to Italy. In those shared moments of rage and despair, we had learned to recognise the gendered nature of the university, and of our legal system. Since the movement ended, in the decade that has gone, the rage which we had felt has presumably turned into indifference.
I mean no disrespect toward his grieving family and friends. I am sure it is an irreplaceable loss for them. His death matters to me only in the larger historical context of Bangladesh. What does this particular fate of the alleged serial rapist tells us about the legal system? How does it write the history of violence against woman? If I remember correctly, many national dailies printed headlines during the movement that the incidents of rape on Jahangirnagar University campus are for us a matter of ?national shame? (jatir kolonko). I cannot help but wonder what is the state of national shame when known rapists are never brought to justice? When the sexual harassment policy on Jahangirnagar University campus still remains not enacted, officially?
The clock ticks away? my exam is only a few months away. I try harder to thicken the bubble. I succeed but only for two and a half weeks.
On January 28, the convicted murderers of Bangabandhu, five former army men, were hanged at Dhaka Central Jail, after midnight. They were proven guilty of killing the country?s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and all but two members of his family, on August 15, 1975. And yet again, emails overflowed my mailbox. A friend called a number of times, finally, leaving a Facebook message: ?I see that they executed Sheikh Mujib?s killers. It must be a good thing? It was weird going to his house and seeing the blood stains and thinking they were still about.?
Her question leaves me perplexed. More than a week after the event, I visit the online archives of daily newspapers to retrieve the issue of January 28. I watch ATN news clips posted on the Daily Star website. Most of the reports try to walk us through the execution night, covering each moment of waiting at the jail gate between 11:00pm to 3:00am. As I read along, I feel uneasy at news of the celebratory chants, and the flashing of V-signs. Members of the public had gathered at the jail gate, they had chanted slogans as the serial executions had been completed. I think, what would have been an acceptable response to the execution of the death penalty of Sheikh Mujib?s killers? Amnesty International has condemned the executions for being ?hasty? while a European Union delegation to Bangladesh has found the trial ?respectable? (New Age, January 29), but it added a twist. The EU statement said, it was, in principle, opposed ?to all death penalty in all cases and all circumstances? (New Age, January 29). Their principled opposition to death penalty, interestingly enough, excludes cases like Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali. In the final months and days of this trial, a debate on death penalty had surfaced, but I don?t want to engage with that debate today.
Colonel Jamil?s widowed wife?s narrative of August 15 reminded me that at issue was not only the healing of the surviving daughters of Bangabandhu, but that there are others too, who had faced similar losses, had equally waited for the execution (Daily Star, November 19, 2009). For a split second, I thought about the emotional wound and the healing of the family members of Siraj Sikdar. Is it time to talk of other extrajudicial killings? To talk about Cholesh Richil? But, maybe, I am moving too fast, in both directions, past and future. Let me dwell on the present ? on the night of the execution, the chants and the flashing of V-signs.
I go to blogs which I have not dared to visit the last couple of weeks or more, may be months. Activist bloggers and Facebook friends express similar discomfort at the celebration, the flashing of V-signs. Involved debates trace the missing pieces to reconstruct the political context which had led to the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. A friend who had gone to the jail gate had posted a video clip on Facebook. I watch it a few times to see what people had chanted ? ?ajker ai dine mujib tomay mone pore? (On this day, today, we are thinking of you Mujib). A comment on the video-post caught my eyes, ?Shouldn?t Henry Kissinger have been somewhere in there?? Implicit in this question is the alleged ?foreign involvement? in the coup. I remember reading in Willem Van Schendel?s History of Bangladesh (2009) that ?by the spring of 1975 the Indians knew about the possible coup and warned Mujib about it? (p 182). I believe, by ?Indians?, he had meant the Indian intelligence, the government. The fact that a neighbouring state knew suggests that the coup of 1975 had involved far more political stakeholders than those who had been convicted, and hanged. The execution of Mujib?s killers may have healed the trauma of his family and followers but the ?national wound? is far from being healed. Imperial links with the assassination of Sheikh Mujib remains undisclosed. It remains outside the circle of our political concerns.
We have been witnesses to two kinds of death, one was natural, the other unnatural. The wounds to the nation in both cases remain open. Unattended.
Saydia Gulrukh is a PhD student at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), USA and a faculty member of Pathshala, The South Asian Media Academy Published in New Age February 11, 2010
BODIES of army officers had been found, they had been dumped in the sewage canals that lay underneath the BDR headquarters in Pilkhana. Two dead bodies had been the first ones to surface, far away, in Kamrangirchar.
Three civilians had died too, on the very first day. But as news of fifteen more dead bodies of army officers surfaced the next day, the civilian deaths seemed to pale away.
And then a mass grave was discovered in the BDR grounds. Thirty-eight dead bodies were unearthed, including that of the director general Shakil Ahmed. A couple of other bodies were found, killed and dumped in ponds, drains, and sewage lines.
As the long hours passed, the whole nation seemed to be holding back its breath, aghast at the enormity of what had happened. At the carnage that had accompanied the rebellion. People gathered around to listen to the radio, watched breaking news spots on television, read aloud newspapers. News travelled through word of mouth. Collective sighs of relief were heaved when family members who had been held hostage were released. But the discovery of more mass graves, the news of family members also having been killed, of the many scores still missing, leave people speechless.
Horror, incredulity, and a sort of numbness have set in. Scores still remain missing, as the gagging stench of decomposing flesh hangs over Pilkhana grounds.
How could the jawans go on such a killing spree to right the wrongs done to them? What on earth could have possessed them? These are questions that are repeated endlessly by people in all parts of the country. Yes, they did have grievances (over not being given full rations, not being sent abroad on UN peacekeeping missions, over low pay, unpaid daily allowances promised for extra duties rendered, recruitment from the army to the higher, decision-making positions, etc, etc) but surely, their course of action was disproportionate by all accounts. Not to mention, suicidal (as I write, the idea of disbanding the BDR is being considered).
Is there more to it than meets the eye? In a crisis as grave as the one that faces the nation now, where does one seek answers to the truth? It is better to know some of the questions than all the answers. But what if some of the questions being raised are seen, especially by powerful sections, as blaming the victims of the tragedy? Do we have the resources, the intellectual capacity, the political will, and above all, the courage, to raise the right questions? Will these be tolerated, in moments of such deep grief, where passions rage high?
Were unseen forces at work? Wild conspiracy theories are doing the rounds. Do these not block off hard-headed attempts at understanding whether unseen forces were really at work? Surely we need to know the truth, in the interests of the nation-state, and in the interests of the survival of the many millions who live within its boundaries. It is a nation whose citizens are proud of their hard-earned and fought-for independence, and of their sovereignty, notwithstanding the deep fractures that cause long-standing divisions.
I see women and children seated on the pavement or standing outside the BDR gates, keeping long hours of vigil, for news of their loved ones. I see a few faces break down in tears as yet another body is identified. I see some women reach out to console, while others, who still have shreds of hope, lower their heads in shared grief. Hoping against hope that their husbands, or fathers, or brothers or sons will return. Alive.
I see a mother holding up a wedding photograph of her missing son and his newly-wed bride. I grieve for them, just as I grieve for much-respected inspector general of police Nur Mohammad?s daughter, widowed, at two months. Scores remain missing, still.
I read of the Indian government?s offer to send a peace mission to give security to the Calcutta-Dhaka-Calcutta Moitree Express that runs between the two cities on Saturdays and Sundays, to be manned by Indian paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force, the Railway Protection Force, maybe, even the Border Security Force (The Telegraph, February 27).
I listen to balance in reporting being urged, particularly in the case of the electronic media, since the accusations of the BDR jawans had been highlighted on the first day of the rebellion in some of the private TV channels. It is being said, the other side?s version, that of the army officers, had not been sought, that it had not been reported. But surely the lack of press briefings, either from the government or the Home Ministry, or from the ISPR, contributed to this situation? I listen to a discussant argue that command failure, intelligence failure and corruption should not be mentioned. I cannot help but wonder, how does one seek out the truth where such a besieged mentality operates, where collective grief, horror and condemnation can be offered and accepted but only on terms that are acceptable to the recipient? Where narratives of grief and pain and horror seem to be overlaid with other narratives, that of the right to rule.
The dead cannot be brought back to life, nor can the brutal happenings be erased from the nation?s history. We can only console the bereaved. We can only learn lessons from it, as a nation.
It is the nation ? as a whole ? that grieves for the army officers, and their family members. It is the nation that must stay united, since the crisis seems grave enough to threaten our existence. It is the nation that must come together to seek answers, and to discover the truth. A unity of interests must prevail, rather than that of any particular institution. Or else, I fear, we would be doing injustice to those who lost their lives at Pilkhana.