Saturday, June 4, 2011

* Current Edition * Topics o Agriculture o Economy o Energy & Oil o Environment o Fisheries

No official events took place as he joins Cuba's club of octogenarians, which already boasts his brother Fidel Castro, 84, and his second in charge, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who is 80.

At a recent summit of the Communist Party, Castro said one of his last duties as head of government would be to pave the way for successors.

“Today we face the consequences of not having a reserve of adequately prepared substitutes, with the experience and maturity to assume the new and complex work of leading the party, the state and the government,” he said.

But on Thursday when seeing off former Brazilian president Lula da Silva, Raúl insisted it was a shame he could not retire because he was less than half way through the first of two possible five-year terms, thus hinting he would stand again for the presidency in 2013.

If he were to retire his presumed successors are of the same generation -- vice-president Jose Ramon Machado is also 80, and close confidant Ramiro Valdes is 79.

However in a radical break from the past, Castro has paved the way for more private enterprise, encouraging Cubans to open small businesses and pay taxes on their endeavors.

Cubans have bought more than 200,000 licenses allowing them to go into business for themselves since last October. At the same time, Castro announced massive layoffs in the state sector that will eventually mean the elimination of more than 1 million jobs.

Reform has reached agriculture where families are allowed to farm their plots and sell directly to consumers at market prices. Cuba with ample farmland to feed its population is desperate to cut its imported food bill, mostly from the US and Brazil and which is two billion US dollars per annum.

In that line of action the scheme of free lunches for almost everybody has been gradually abolished and will be limited to the really needy.

Even when there were no plans to mark Raul 80th birthday on Friday, officials anticipated that a grand celebrations is programmed for his elder brother Fidel's 85th in August.

Former president Lula da Silva was in Cuba where he met with both Castro brothers, Raul and Fidel, to visit the construction of the Mariel port, 43 kilometres west of Havana. The port restructuring was subsided with a US$ 300 million credit line awarded during Lula da Silva’s term. Lula reported to be “happy” with his trip and his meeting with the Castros.

Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting calls for proposals [West Africa]

ournalists from 16 West African countries can submit proposals for reporting on regional water and sanitation projects.

The Pulitzer Center seeks four West African journalists to join two international journalists to produce a series of reports on water and sanitation projects in the region.

Reporting will be published in West African and international news outlets. This collaboration between West African and international journalists is aimed at improving water and sanitation reporting and giving a voice to West African journalists.

The grants are open to journalists, writers, photographers, radio producers and filmmakers; staff journalists as well as freelancers who live and work in the region as defined by the UN are eligible.

The selected journalists will attend World Water Week in Stockholm in August and a number of issue-related workshops.

The regional reporting will take place in October. All expenses in Stockholm and West Africa will be covered by the Pulitzer Center.

For more information, click here.

* Basic Journalism
* Disasters
* Environmental
* Specialized Reporting


Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting calls for proposals [West Africa]

ournalists from 16 West African countries can submit proposals for reporting on regional water and sanitation projects.

The Pulitzer Center seeks four West African journalists to join two international journalists to produce a series of reports on water and sanitation projects in the region.

Reporting will be published in West African and international news outlets. This collaboration between West African and international journalists is aimed at improving water and sanitation reporting and giving a voice to West African journalists.

The grants are open to journalists, writers, photographers, radio producers and filmmakers; staff journalists as well as freelancers who live and work in the region as defined by the UN are eligible.

The selected journalists will attend World Water Week in Stockholm in August and a number of issue-related workshops.

The regional reporting will take place in October. All expenses in Stockholm and West Africa will be covered by the Pulitzer Center.

For more information, click here.

* Basic Journalism
* Disasters
* Environmental
* Specialized Reporting


Syrian Soldier Defies Order To Shoot Peaceful Protesters Censorship and Free Speech, Middle East and North Africa, Military, Police and Arms |

By Amnesty International researcher Cilina Nasser in Wadi Khaled, northern Lebanon

He is a 21-year-old soldier and illiterate. But this young man does not need to read and write to know that shooting at unarmed protesters by government forces is wrong.

He was ordered to shoot, refused to do so, and in late April joined protesters calling for the fall of the Syrian regime in Damascus. With the help of protesters he then returned to Tell Kalakh, his hometown near Syria’s border with Lebanon, and then became one of some 4,000 Syrians from that area who were forced to flee from their homes in mid-May and to seek refuge in northern Lebanon.

He spoke to me on condition that I do not reveal his name because of his fear about possible reprisals against his relatives who are still in Syria.

The soldier was formerly based at a military compound in the city of Homs. In late April, his battalion was moved to Damascus to help quell the mass protests then taking place in support of demands for reform. He and around 600 soldiers in his battalion were each given a Kalashnikov rifle with seven 30-round magazines, a pistol and a tear gas mask to be used if and when the riot police fired tear gas at the protesters. They were taken to al-Ma’dhamiya in Damascus on a Thursday afternoon in preparation for a demonstration next day after people had gathered for Friday prayers. The soldiers were told that the riot police would deal with the demonstration.

That night, however, the soldiers’ commander called them together and told them he had received an order that they should shoot protesters.

“He talked about the protesters as if they were after us, that they would attack us and take our weapons… and that they were armed. He also said that if people did not protest on Friday, then we should just leave them alone… I and other soldiers secretly agreed to refuse to shoot at our people.”

I asked the soldier what instructions his commander had given and whether, for example, he had instructed his men to fire warning shots into the air. He said no. He and the other members of his unit were told simply that they had “an order to shoot.”

The next day, while people were attending Friday prayers the soldiers, in groups of 10 to 15 led by their sergeants, took up positions at the corners of streets near and around mosque exits.

When people came out of the mosque, the soldier said, they started chanting: “The people want the fall of the regime” but also called out “silmiye, silmiye,” an Arabic word meaning “peaceful” to stress the non-violent nature of their demonstration.

The soldier said he was standing at a street corner with nine other members of his unit and they watched the protesters who began a peaceful march along the street. He told me that none of the demonstrators were carrying weapons as far as he could see, yet he and the other soldiers were ordered to open fire on them.

“The officer gave us the order to shoot when the protesters were around 15 or 20 meters away from us… but we – in all, five of us soldiers – immediately said we would not shoot and said to the other soldiers present: ‘How can you shoot at these people? We will not do that.’”

At this point, the soldier told me, the officer in charge of his unit ordered: “Shoot at them”, pointing to those who refused to fire at the protesters, leading to a stand off between the two groups of soldiers.

“They cocked their rifles and so did we… but neither of us pulled the trigger. We then started pushing each other and scuffled a bit… Then the officer fell on the ground. We immediately ran in the direction of the demonstration and held our rifles up in the air so that protesters would know that we weren’t going to shoot at them. When we were close enough so that they could hear us, we shouted to them saying ‘We are not going to shoot you. We are with you.’”

Minutes later, however, the shooting began as other government security forces opened fire on the demonstrators. The soldier said he witnessed several people fall as they were shot, who then were carried away from the scene by other protesters. As he continued marching with the protesters, he saw other soldiers leaving the ranks and joining in support of the demonstration, despite the risks that they could face for disobeying orders and deserting the ranks.

Justice for Saleem Shahzad? We've seen this before...

An important distinction is emerging in the murder of Saleem Shahzad, at left, as details of a second post-mortem were released Thursday. Shahzad was not tortured as has been widely reported. He was more likely beaten to death fairly quickly, apparently with iron rods, according to media reports. Here's the highly respected Amir Mir, writing in Asia Times Online, the site that published Shahzad's article that appears to have led to his death:
Shahzad's post-mortem report, prepared by a team of three doctors, found the journalist died soon after he was kidnapped. Dr. Farrukh Kamal, who headed the autopsy team, said, "There were at least 17 wounds, including deep gashes... . The ribs from the left and right sides seemed to be hit with violent force, using a blunt object. The broken ribs pierced Shahzad's lungs, apparently causing the death."
According to the reports, Shahzad's post-mortem report said "liver failure and ruptured lungs could have caused his death." Could such violent use of force imply that there wasn't an attempt to extract information from him about the sources in the story the military found so embarrassing?
Shahzad was grabbed on the evening of May 29. Two days earlier his article "Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistani strike" appeared online. Shahzad wrote that Al-Qaeda negotiators had met with officers of Pakistan's navy. They wanted them to release naval officers who had been jailed, accused of links to Al-Qaeda. When the talks fell apart, the group launched a May 22 attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi that lasted for 17 hours. The attack further embarrassed the country's military structure, which had already been shamed by the U.S. attacks on May 2 that killed Osama bin laden in Abbottabad, deep inside Pakistan.
Shahzad's brutal killing was likely meant to send a message to journalists in Pakistan to end their criticism of its powerful military and security establishment.
The anger surrounding the abduction and murder of Saleem Shahzad is still raging. But, rage or not, the response of the government--pledges to investigate and expressions of sympathy to the family, an opposition call for a special commission to investigate the killing--are typical of the pattern we have seen in the past. Maybe the only new, and absurd, wrinkle in the government's response this time around was the suggestion by Interior Minster Rehman Malik that reporters carry weapons to protect themselves.
Pakistani journalists are easy prey for many of the violent actors in their country--militant and extremist groups, criminals and thugs, and, despite official denials, the military and security establishment. The country has a record of perfect impunity in the murders of journalists since some of the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl were brought to justice after his 2002 beheading, the only such trial CPJ is aware of in Pakistan since we started keeping records in 1992. In all those cases, CPJ has held to the course of not making accusations, only calling on the government for investigations and trials to bring the killers to justice.
CPJ might not make the accusations, but ask virtually any journalist in Pakistan about two other notorious cases of the 37 journalists killed in Pakistan we have on our records since 1992, and they will tell you with very little doubt that government officials--the police, the military, or the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate--were behind the attack. And in both cases, after a public outcry, there was an investigation of one sort or another, but no further action taken. It seems entirely reasonable to expect the same in Shahzad's case.
In December 2005, freelancer Hayatullah Khan, who for years had been under threat from government officials and militant groups in North Wazirstan, had been considering getting out of journalism. He and his wife had built a small guest house, and were in the process of building a school in the town for boys and girls. But Khan was alerted to a story that was too good to pass up. He came up with photographic evidence--remnants of a Hellfire missile--that had hit a house inside Pakistan. The ostensible target was senior Al-Qaeda figure Hamza Rabia. The pictures--widely distributed by the European Pressphoto Agency on the same day they were shot--contradicted the Pakistani government's explanation that Rabia had died in a blast caused by explosives located within the house. At the time, the Musharraf government was in denial that the United States was violating Pakistani territory and conducting military operations inside its borders. Khan had supplied some of the first proof that revealed what later came to be common knowledge and is now an everyday event.
On December 5, 2005, the day after Khan had transmitted his pictures which got global coverage, five gunmen in a white Toyota pickup truck ran Khan's car off the road. His younger brother Haseenullah had been driving, but was unable to save his brother. At 4:40 p.m. on June 16 after frantic efforts to locate Hayatullah and a local and international campaign to get the government to answer the family's pleas for information, a Pakistani intelligence officer identifying himself as Major Kamal who had been dealing with the family said Khan's body could be found in Miran Shah's marketplace. Khan wore the same clothes he had on when he was abducted, now tattered and filthy. His body, with multiple gunshot wounds, had been ritually shaved in the Islamic manner used to prepare a corpse for burial. On his left hand dangled the distinctive sort of handcuff used by the military.
The very loud public campaign inside and outside of Pakistan to get Khan released during the six months of his disappearance had not worked, but the protests only grew louder after his death. President Pervez Musharraf ordered an investigation to be carried out by Superior Court Justice Mohammed Reza Khan, who did just that. Judge Khan delivered his report in September, but the results have simply never been made public. In July 2006, Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and Secretary of the Interior Syed Kamal Shah pledged in a meeting with CPJ to make the report public. The call for the release of the report continued to be made over the years. On May 3 this year, World Press Freedom Day, in a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik CPJ made the request again. One month later, the report still has not been released.
Umar Cheema was abducted on September 4, 2010, and held overnight by, as he put it, "men in police commando uniforms." During the hours he was held before he was bound and dumped on a roadside, he was beaten, humiliated, and sexually abused. By his account, his captors asked him why he continued with his critical reporting--was he trying to discredit the government and bring back former President Musharraf?
At the time, the English-language daily Dawn's widely reprinted editorial said it best, and made an accusation: "No half-hearted police measures or words of consolation from the highest offices in the land will suffice in the aftermath of the brutal treatment meted out to journalist Umar Cheema of The News. This paper's stand is clear: the government and its intelligence agencies will be considered guilty until they can prove their innocence."
Cheema was a prominent political reporter for the English-language daily The News. Unlike Hayatullah Khan, his beat was the government offices of the capital city Islamabad, his sources were political insiders, not Taliban leaders--a world, it turns out, almost as treacherous as Hayatullah Khan's.
There was outrage and anger at the abduction, and the government promised a full investigation, the results of which were never made public. Soon after the attack, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani called Cheema to assure him the attack would be thoroughly investigated. "The prime minister assured him that the matter would be thoroughly investigated to bring the culprits to book," the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported. "He further apprised him that he had already issued orders for judicial inquiry." Two government panels--a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and a judicial commission--investigated his abduction. The JIT met less frequently as the case wore on, and never reached any conclusion. The commission made some recommendations to Parliament, but they were never made public.
In effect, nothing was done and the case is all but closed. Umar continues to work at The News. He's working to set up an investigative reporting group and regularly speaks out for journalists' rights.


Brazil invests in research for bio-fuels from micro-algae

Brazil invests in research for bio-fuels from micro-algae

Brazil will allocate 4.5 million Reais (approx. 2.8 million US dollars) in non-refundable credits to research projects exploring the use of aquaculture or micro-algae products in biodiesel production.

According to a decree signed by the Ministries of Environment, and Science and Technology, research centres interested in the field of study have until September 25th to present their proposals to the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development. The Brazilian government is willing to finance projects based on the following: • The development of low-cost micro-algae farming techniques that may be used in oil production as a raw material for biodiesel production; • Studies assessing the potential of different micro-algae types; • Studies on the economic feasibility of farmed micro algae processes for biodiesel production; • Research of cost-effective and efficient micro-algae collection and subsequent oil extraction processes. The selected projects will be announced in October and financing will be released for the projects in December. Brazil already obtains bio-diesel from oil-producing plants such as castor, sunflower, soy, and palm and is a world leader in ethanol from sugar cane. The government managed oil and gas corporation Petrobras recently inaugurated the first of its three vegetable fuel processing industrial plants. The Brazilian Government intends to incorporate new raw materials, such as seaweed, that today already function as an experimental source for biodiesel production in various countries including the United States, Japan, and Argentina. The State of Rio Grande do Norte Agricultural Research Company (EMPARN) to the north east of the country is already developing large-scale seaweed-based biodiesel production techniques. According to company studies, seaweed's bio-fuel production capacity is 25 times that of any other vegetable. (FIS)

Sad News from PTI


Friday, June 3, 2011

Mission to Moscow

Mission to Moscow
Why Authoritarian Stability is a Myth

In this 2008 article, Michael McFaul, about to be nominated as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, and Kathryn Stoner-Weiss describe the damage Vladimir Putin's authoritarianism has done to Russia's political and economic systems.
MICHAEL MCFAUL is a Hoover Fellow, Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. KATHRYN STONER-WEISS is Associate Director for Research and Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University

The conventional explanation for Vladimir Putin's popularity is straightforward. In the 1990s, under post-Soviet Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, the state did not govern, the economy shrank, and the population suffered. Since 2000, under Putin, order has returned, the economy has flourished, and the average Russian is living better than ever before. As political freedom has decreased, economic growth has increased. Putin may have rolled back democratic gains, the story goes, but these were necessary sacrifices on the altar of stability and growth.
This narrative has a powerful simplicity, and most Russians seem to buy it. Putin's approval rating hovers near 80 percent, and nearly a third of Russians would like to see him become president for life. Putin, emboldened by such adoration, has signaled that he will stay actively involved in ruling Russia in some capacity after stepping down as president this year, perhaps as prime minister to a weak president or even as president once again later on. Authoritarians elsewhere, meanwhile, have held up Putin's popularity and accomplishments in Russia as proof that autocracy has a future -- that, contrary to the end-of-history claims about liberal democracy's inevitable triumph, Putin, like China's Deng Xiaoping did, has forged a model of successful market authoritarianism that can be imitated around the world.
This conventional narrative is wrong, based almost entirely on a spurious correlation between autocracy and growth. The emergence of Russian democracy in the 1990s did indeed coincide with state breakdown and economic decline, but it did not cause either. The reemergence of Russian autocracy under Putin, conversely, has coincided with economic growth but not caused it (high oil prices and recovery from the transition away from communism deserve most of the credit). There is also very little evidence to suggest that Putin's autocratic turn over the last several years has led to more effective governance than the fractious democracy of the 1990s. In fact, the reverse is much closer to the truth: to the extent that Putin's centralization of power has had an influence on governance and economic growth at all, the effects have been negative. Whatever the apparent gains of Russia under Putin, the gains would have been greater if democracy had survived.

The Rise of the Islamists

The Rise of the Islamists

By Shadi Hamid

The recent turmoil in the Middle East may lead to the Arab world's first sustained experiment in Islamist government. But the West need not fear. For all their anti-American rhetoric, today's mainstream Islamist groups tend to be pragmatic -- and ready to compromise if necessary on ideology and foreign policy.
SHADI HAMID is Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center and a Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
For decades, U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been paralyzed by "the Islamist dilemma" -- how can the United States promote democracy in the region without risking bringing Islamists to power? Now, it seems, the United States no longer has a choice. Popular revolutions have swept U.S.-backed authoritarian regimes from power in Tunisia and Egypt and put Libya's on notice. If truly democratic governments form in their wake, they are likely to include significant representation of mainstream Islamist groups. Like it or not, the United States will have to learn to live with political Islam.
Washington tends to question whether Islamists' religious commitments can coexist with respect for democracy, pluralism, and women's rights. But what the United States really fears are the kinds of foreign policies such groups might pursue. Unlike the Middle East's pro-Western autocracies, Islamists have a distinctive, albeit vague, conception of an Arab world that is confident, independent, and willing to project influence beyond its borders.
There is no question that democracy will make the region more unpredictable and some governments there less amenable to U.S. security interests. At their core, however, mainstream Islamist organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan and al Nahda in Tunisia, have strong pragmatic tendencies. When their survival has required it, they have proved willing to compromise their ideology and make di⁄cult choices.
To guide the new, rapidly evolving Middle East in a favorable direction, the United States should play to these instincts by entering into a strategic dialogue with the region's Islamist groups and parties. Through engagement, the United States can encourage these Islamists to respect key Western interests, including advancing the Arab-Israeli peace process, countering Iran, and combating terrorism. It will be better to develop such ties with opposition groups now, while the United States still has leverage, rather than later, after they are already in power.

End the War on Drugs

End the War on Drugs
599,318 have signed. 500,000 target reached on Tue May 31! Now let's reach 750,000
Update June 1 2011
Amazing! In just a few days, we blew past our goal of 500,000 voices calling for an end to the war on drugs. Our message will be hand-delivered to world leaders on Thursday, June 2 at a press conference in New York and to the UN Secretary-General on Friday, June 3. The event will feature a live counter of petition signatures, so every one of us counts -- let's keep spreading the word and building this campaign!

Posted May 30 2011
In 72 hours, we could finally see the beginning of the end of the ‘war on drugs’. This expensive war has completely failed to curb the plague of drug addiction, while costing countless lives, devastating communities, and funneling trillions of dollars into violent organized crime networks.

Experts all agree that the most sensible policy is to regulate, but politicians are afraid to touch the issue. In 72 hours, a global commission including former heads of state and foreign policy chiefs of the UN, EU, US, Brazil, Mexico and more will break the taboo and publicly call for new approaches including decriminalization and regulation of drugs.

This could be a once-in-a-generation tipping-point moment -- if enough of us call for an end to this madness. Politicians say they understand that the war on drugs has failed, but claim the public isn't ready for an alternative. Let's show them we not only accept a sane and humane policy -- we demand it. Sign the petition and share with everyone -- when we reach 1/2 million, it will be personally delivered to world leaders by the global commission.

For 50 years current drug policies have failed everyone, everywhere but public debate is stuck in the mud of fear and misinformation. Everyone, even the UN Office on Drugs and Crime which is responsible for enforcing this approach agrees -- deploying militaries and police to burn drug farms, hunting down traffickers, and imprisoning dealers and addicts – is an expensive mistake. And with massive human cost -- from Afghanistan, to Mexico, to the USA the illegal drug trade is destroying countries around the world, while addiction, overdose deaths, and HIV/AIDS infections continue to rise.

Meanwhile, countries with less-harsh enforcement -- like Switzerland, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Australia -- have not seen the explosion in drug use that proponents of the drug war have darkly predicted. Instead, they have seen significant reductions in drug-related crime, addiction and deaths, and are able to focus squarely on dismantling criminal empires.

Powerful lobbies still stand in the way of change, including military, law enforcement, and prison departments whose budgets are at stake. And politicians fear that voters will throw them out of office if they support alternative approaches, as they will appear weak on law and order. But many former drug Ministers and Heads of State have come out in favour of reform since leaving office, and polls show that citizens across the world know the current approach is a catastrophe. Momentum is gathering towards new improved policies, particularly in regions that are ravaged by the drug trade.

If we can create a worldwide outcry in the next 72 hours to support the bold calls of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, we can overpower the stale excuses for the status quo. Our voices hold the key to change -- Sign the petition and spread the word.

We have a chance to enter the closing chapter of this brutal 'war' that has destroyed millions of lives. Global public opinion will determine if this catastrophic policy is stopped or if politicians shy away from reform. Let's rally urgently to push our hesitating leaders from doubt and fear, over the edge, and into reason.

Onbehalf of Avaaz


Bangladesh Sabgskritik Academi

Jatiyo Party Announcement

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Japa Press Release


INVITAION " Business Development and Entrepreneurship Lecture".

Dear ALL,
You are cordially invited to attend a 3-days workshop on self-development and healthy living, alternative treatment of Heart Blockage, yoga, BREATHING EXERCISE, pranayama.......

& How to Flowrish in Business a World Gueness Record Business lesson in Dhaka on 2-3 June in Public Library and 4 June in Chittagong Engineers Institute, Mr BK C. Shekhar, Mr H Patil from Delhi and Mumbai, India,
Dr. Govinda Chandras Das, Tapan Kumar Nath from Bangladesh will speak and conduct the session,

Hon'ble State Minister for Health and Family Welfare will be the Chief Guest and National Professor Dr. NURUL ISLAM WILL INAGUARATE THE WORKSHOP on 2nd June at 9am . Plz do not miss " Business Development and Entrepreneurship Lecture".

At least 500 participants will be attended at a time, partial fee waiver for deserving candidates/persons.

You can kindly CALL FOR further INFO 01715458479 or


Here’s an opportunity for YOU(th) to be part of a global campaign to explore young people’s role in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) crisis! In

Here’s an opportunity for YOU(th) to be part of a global campaign to explore young people’s role in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) crisis! Investigate. Reflect.Share & show your solidarity for young people at the centre of social change in MENA!
What can YOU(th) learn from young people who played a part in the MENA crisis? How can YOU(th) take these lessons and apply it in your situation? Now is the chance to find out! Be a ‘MENA Meet’ Facilitator and hold ‘MENA Meets’ with young people to answer up to 9 questions.

Graffiti in Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt. ©Maggie Osama
Amnesty International with APYN wants YOU to be a ‘MENA Meet’ Facilitator from May 28 to June 30!
What’s the issue?
The world has seen public uprisings sweep across the MENA region including in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, demanding political, social and economic and human rights change. Beginning with the death of one young Tunisian, the role of young people has been widely recognized as significant agents of change in these events, as they demand the right to shape the future of their countries for the better and spread the message of liberty and free speech across their communities, towns, districts and over the internet to the entire world.
What’s a MENA Meet?
A MENA Meet is a chance for you and your friends to discuss what you can learn from young people’s involvement in change in MENA.
It’s easy – we will give you a facilitation kit with instructions, tips, and a list of questions. Just grab a few friends for coffee or during lunch and answer up to 9 questions. Then you can easily share your reflections through a simple and quick reporting process.
Everyone who signs up will receive a facilitation kit. And everyone who facilitates a MENA Meet and reports back to APYN will receive a certificate!
What will we do with your answers?
We will collate the key points you report back to us from conversations all around the world and make an Action Guide that we will share. The action guide will have top recommendations, lessons, strategies and tactics for the role of young people in large-scale social change, inspired by lessons from the MENA region coming out of these global dialogs.
What do YOU(th) have to do?
1. Sign up and we will send you a facilitation kit
2. Hold your MENA Meet – make sure you have on record what everyone says. You need to hold your MENA Meet by June 30, 2011.
3. Submit your reflections and feedback through our simple and quick reporting process by July 15, 2011 – this is important so your views can be included!
4. You will receive a certificate for facilitating a MENA Meet! (But, even better – you can demonstrate your solidarity with YOU(th) in MENA region in their ongoing work to defend human rights. )

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Turkey as a model of democracy and Islam

Sami Zubaida,

Democracies are about more than elections and majorities: they require genuine separation of powers, autonomous institutions and associations, all regulated by the rule of law. The current Turkish situation is the product of social and institutional patterns, now in question, in which multiple centres of institutional power confronted and checked one another, unlike the centralised and personalised regimes of much of the Arab world.
About the author
Sami Zubaida is emeritus professor of politics and sociology at Birkbeck College, London.

In the diverse discourses on the ‘Arab spring’, Turkey often comes up as a positive model of democracy, and one which is harmonious with Islam. In that model Islam is friendly to democracy and distant from militant jihadism. The system is favourable to enterprise and open to world markets, and has achieved enviable economic growth and a degree of generalised prosperity. It is reassuring to the west: a friendly and capitalist Islamic democracy, at peace with its neighbours, and indeed a force for stability and problem-solving in the Middle East.

The main demands and slogans of the oppositional and revolutionary movements in the Arab countries are to do with liberty, democracy, jobs and livelihood and an end to corruption. Islam does not appear to be an issue. But, of course, there are diverse Islamic elements in the field, notably the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria, and al-Nahda in Tunisia, those chiming in with the main thrust of the movement emphasising liberty and democracy. They are opposed by Salafi conservatives for whom Islamic observances and disciplines are paramount, to be enforced by just government, and who reject alien and infidel models of society. This confrontation is now raging in Egypt. In these ideological fields, Turkey is regularly cited as a model of co-existence of Islam with democracy and pluralism, as well as a healthy capitalist economy.

I should like to discuss two issues: the present condition of Turkey is the result of historical trajectories of politics and society which are very different from those of the Arab states; and, is the rosy image of Turkish Islam and democracy accurate? The two are related.
Present conditions and past influences

Turkey developed from the aftermath of World War 2 as an authoritarian state with electoral democracy. Elections and political parties actually functioned and there was alternation of government subject to election results. But the process was under strict monitoring and control by a powerful army upholding the principles of the Kemalist foundation, emphasising national unity, and therefore suppression of any regional or ethnic claims, mainly the Kurdish, and the principles of secularism. This latter did not actually banish religion from state functions, but subordinated it to state controls. The Religious Affairs Directorate, controlling mosques, schools and ritual functions and insuring political compliance, became one of the largest and best financed arms of government. Within this arrangement, Islam was Sunni Islam, and the considerable Alevi population was marginalised, an issue which has acquired renewed significance in the present situation.

Turkish electoral democracy was subject to periodic disruption by the military, whenever the high command feared challenges to the Kemalist model of statist control and ‘secularism’, and the intensification of social conflict and violence. Military coups occurred in 1960, 71 and 80, and most recently in 1997 when a warning from the military members of the National Security Council (a body of government ministers and military commanders, and an instrument of military control) regarding the government coalition which included the pro-Islamic Refah Party, led to its resignation. It is important to note that this military guardianship enjoyed wide popular support. Turkish nationalism, always acute and often xenophobic and paranoid, was firmly supportive of the military, and opinion polls regularly revealed this support. During the 1970s and 80s, Islamic political groups were close or convergent with extreme nationalists against the leftist movements, the Kurds and the Alevis, leading to escalating and violent confrontations and disorders, which were part of the pretext for the military coup of 1980.
The Ozal opening

The restoration of electoral democracy in 1983, after the 1980 coup, brought to power Turgut Ozal, a modern and modernising conservative, a former functionary at the World Bank, with personal Islamic roots and affiliations. His policies chimed in with global neo-liberalism and the pressures on Turkey to open up its economy, institute structural reforms, including privatisation of what has been a highly state- and military-controlled economy. Unlike most Arab countries, notably Egypt, Turkey has always had an independent business bourgeoisie, though restricted by state enterprise and regulation. Ozal’s reforms strengthened and expanded this bourgeoisie, especially in the provincial centres of Anatolia, a conservative and mostly religious bourgeoisie, distinct from and resentful of the cosmopolitan and secular bourgeoisie of Istanbul and Ankara. Ozal’s regime was much more tolerant of religious manifestations: Ozal himself had been affiliated to Naqshabandi Sufi groups, strictly suppressed by Ataturk, but functioning in private networks and incubating many of the Islamic social and religious movements that were to come to prominence from the 1970s. Ozal also broke many of the Kemalist cultural taboos, most notably in patronising so-called Arabesque music and associating with its prominent singers. This genre had been excluded from the official canon and from state broadcasting, qualifying as ‘oriental’ music banned by the Kemalist functionaries. The Istanbul bourgeoisie of that era, worried about the Anatolian ‘invasion’ of their city, concocted the stereotype of the Anatolian nouveau riche frequenting Lahmacun saloons (named after an Anatolian/Armenian/Arab dough crust topped with spiced meat, now dubbed ‘Turkish pizza’ in European cities), drinking whiskey and enjoying Arabesque songs.

The Ozal reforms initiated the opening up of the Turkish economy to world markets, a development which has proved highly beneficial to Turkish capitalism, offering opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs in trade and contracts in the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of Europe. Small businesses in provincial centres were among the main beneficiaries of these developments, many growing to considerable importance, and now dubbed the ‘Anatolian tigers’. This is also the milieu for the cultivation of conservative Islam, with some Sufi connections. They became the main constituency for the Islamic political parties, favouring stability and social disciplines, quite distinct from and antithetical to the jihadist Islam feared by the west: hence the benign consideration of Turkish Islamic democracy. This is especially the case after the defeat of the more ideological and strident politics of Necmettin Erbakan, the first charismatic leader of the Islamic parties of the 1970s to 90s and frequent partner in coalition governments of the period. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Gul and their Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged as the modern, reformist, capitalist face of pro-Islamic politics, often preferring to characterise themselves as a conservative party than as Islamic. Their rule, with repeated electoral successes since 2002, is credited with radical democratisation of Turkish state and society through legal and constitutional as well as institutional reforms. These reforms were aided by the process of negotiating accession to the European Union.
The European Union

There was an odd alliance between the AKP and the European Union. The Kemalist establishment and institutions, primarily the army command and its representation in the National Security Council, but also the judiciary and the media, were the main antagonist of the Islamists and the AKP. The authoritarian and repressive controls of this establishment restricted the range of legitimate expression and association. Vague legal formulations of offences such as undermining or insulting Turkishness or threatening national unity or abrogating the laicity of the state, were all used to prosecute Kurdish activists, human rights campaigners, those pursuing discussions of the Armenian massacres of the early twentieth century, as well as disapproved religious manifestations and parties, including veiled women in public institutions. The aspirations for EU accession were widely shared in both the secularist establishment and the Islamic party. The conditions imposed by the EU regarding democratisation, the so-called ‘Copenhagen criteria’ exerted pressures for legal and institutional liberalisation which favoured the AKP. Military interference and the threat of coups diminished, and the range of options for military commands were severely restricted. This opened the way for reforms.
Multiple power centres: checks and balances

Here we come to a crucial characteristic of the Turkish political field post 1983 which makes comparisons with Arab states (though not necessarily Iran) inappropriate. The Kemalist establishment of the army, the judiciary, much of the press and the secular bourgeoisie, remained powerful and vociferous. But their dominance was being eroded with the increasing prominence of Islamic parties, institutions, media, education and public spaces, aided by electoral successes and the EU-influenced liberalisation. Electoral success was brought about through meticulous grass roots organisation, aided by social welfare networks at neighbourhood level and community organisation, a feature of all Muslim forces in the region. This contrasted with the complacent and fragmentary efforts of the traditional secular parties. Limited liberalisation opened up spaces for Kurdish activism. The net result was a situation in which there were multiple centres of power and influence, confronting and checking one another. None of those centres was liberal or unambiguously ‘democratic’, and the repressive and vaguely formulated laws continued to operate. Yet, the fact that none of those centres was totally dominant introduced measures of liberty and latitude, which allowed diverse forces, including human rights and Kurdish advocacy to function, and to challenge the draconian nationalist impositions. Judicial persecution of liberal intellectuals and human rights activists, as well as of religious manifestations, faced increasing and sometimes successful challenges, aided by European institutions and public opinion. Extreme nationalists resorted to violence, notably in the assassination in 2007 of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in the middle of Istanbul. Nationalist violence continued to feature in relation to Kurdish issues and regions. A crucial element in this field is the rise and increasing power of the Anatolian business elite, socially conservative and economically liberal, aided by the opening up of the Turkish economy to international markets, and the business opportunities in neighbouring countries. The ‘Anatolian tigers’ are part of the power base of the AKP party and of Islamic communal and conservative associations.

None of the Arab states, except Lebanon in a very different pattern, featured any elements which could remotely approach this pluralism of centres of power. Iran, especially after the Iraq war and the death of Khomeini in 1989, exhibited elements of this plurality and contention of power centres, notably during the Khatami presidency (1997-2005), but in a very different political system. This plurality was considerably curtailed with the subsequent rise to dominance of a security state coalition under Ahamadinejad. The Turkish model, then, is quite inappropriate for the Arab countries in which the ruling regime holds dominant control over all centres, and bypasses state and economic institutions in personalistic networks of family, clan, patronage and cronyism. The removal of the heads of those regimes in Egypt and Tunisia has, so far, left much of the regime and its rickety institutions in place. Whatever government is brought in by elections, free or not, will inherit the opportunities and constraints of this situation. Reform remains an uphill struggle, especially under adverse economic, demographic and social conditions.
Authoritarian creep?

The entrenchment of the AKP in power after repeated, and probably continuing, electoral success, is now seriously encroaching on the plurality of power centres checking one another. In policy and legislation which seem to be steps in greater democratisation, the AKP is acquiring greater powers for the executive (itself) at the cost of the other centres. The extensive powers of the army command have been considerably curtailed. Constitutional amendments and legal reforms have given the government and the President powers over the appointment and management of the judiciary. The government has also been able to slot its appointees into the important institutions and bureaucracies of government, notably education and higher education. All past governments in Turkey, and the components of their coalitions had engaged in infiltrating their appointees into bureaucracy, police and education. The AKP, ruling alone without coalition, and ruling continuously since 2002, has been able to fill important posts consistently and cumulatively.

Backing the AKP is the Gulen movement, a conservative religious organisation with extensive wealth and power, extending its educational and charitable activity far and wide in Turkey and beyond. Its superior educational institutions, at all levels, have been producing graduates with qualifications for a wide variety of government service as well as business and the professions. It is widely believed that these constitute networks of influence favouring the AKP and social conservatism. A book by a journalist, Ahmet Sik, documenting the Gulen network in the security services was recently confiscated by police and the author arrested. He was one of several journalists arrested on the accusation of being associated with a 2007 military conspiracy to overturn the government, the so-called Ergenekon conspiracy. This has been used as a pretext for arrest of many public figures, detained without trial. In this respect the AKP in government is showing itself as a worthy heir of the Kemalist establishment. Critics of the government and its personnel in the media have been harassed and intimidated, sometimes sending in the tax inspectors to assess crippling sums in supposedly unpaid dues. Commentators have noted parallels with Russia and Putin in these respects.

These authoritarian developments are, in themselves, unrelated to the Islamic roots of the AKP: as the comparisons with Russia indicate, they are features of electoral authoritarian regimes, using electoral popularity as a mandate for executive control. Democracy is about more than elections and majorities: they require genuine separation of powers, autonomous institutions and associations, all regulated by the rule of law. There are, however, other aspects of authoritarianism which are related to religion.

Religious conservative groups, whether Muslim or Christian or other, have always sought to impose moralistic controls on family, sexuality and personal conduct. They also seek to control and censor cultural productions in conformity with religious doctrine and ‘respect for religion’. Legislation to those effects is difficult in Turkey, being under the watch of European institutions. Still, in 2004, the AKP parliamentary majority, supported by Erdogan, introduced legislation criminalising adultery. Erdogan backed down in the face European objections and widespread protests. By 2005 it became clear that EU accession would be unlikely in the foreseeable future, which lowered the pressure on the AKP to conform to European sentiment. Will this make it more likely for future moralistic legislation? Apart from the law, however, there are local, municipal and communal pressures towards moralistic conformity. Alcohol consumption has always been an emblematic target for Islamists everywhere. After the success of the then Refah Party in the 1994 municipal elections in Istanbul, the mayor of Beyoglu, the prime cosmopolitan entertainment district of Istanbul, tried to restrict the visibility of drinking by requiring establishments to hide drinkers behind curtains. This was greeted by outrage, demonstrations, and threats by the military, which forced a speedy withdrawal. That was a different age. Now, there are many reports of bans and restrictions on bars and liquor shops in many provinces, though obviously not in the main urban centres. The taxes on alcohol, however, have been raised in recent years.

Two conclusions can be drawn from the foregoing: the connection of Islam to democracy in Turkey is unique to the particular history and institutional pluralism of the country, and not applicable to any of the Arab neighbours; and that pluralism is now threatened by the repeated electoral successes of the AKP, establishing, in effect, the bases for a majoritarian authoritarianism, at both the institutional and the communal levels. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has championed democracy and pluralism in its proclamations over the past years and to the present. But what do they understand by ‘democracy’? They are ambiguous and contradictory over issues of women and Christians, and over questions of cultural production, freedom of expression and ‘respect for religion’, all harbingers of authoritarian moralism. ‘Democracy’ then becomes majoritarian authoritarianism.

Open Democracy