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Ed Webb

A Critical Perspective from the South - governmentgazette.eu - Readability - 0 views

  • various obstacles have prevented convergence in policy discourses and processes across both shores of the Mediterranean
  • The EU’s emphasis on a security-centered approach in migration management and the prioritization of stability over democracy in the MENA region, have led to widening the Euro-Mediterranean gap.
  • the promotion of democracy and human rights represented one of the major normative objectives of the 1995 Barcelona Declaration. Still, due to a mix of pragmatic and security-driven considerations, the EU has co-operated with authoritarian regimes that upheld stability in the Arab region and in the Euro-Mediterranean order. The EU has moreover promoted a gradualist path of liberalization in the Arab world which consisted in galvanizing economic reforms and providing support to civil society groups. Ironically enough, this gradualist strategy contributed to maintaining the façade of liberalization that autocratic regimes were eager to advertise
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  • political engagement is not necessarily a slippery slope to interventionism
    • Ed Webb
       
      Key word: necessarily
  • boosting liberalization through economic means has proven to be unsatisfactory
  • Since 9/11, the EU has engaged in the MENA region with social and political actors whom it considered as moderate and liberal. Its uneasy relationship with Islamist parties has prevented it from tackling the interface between democratization and the requirement for inclusiveness
  • bridging the gap between a European and an Arab perspective of current changes in the Arab region is crucial
  • financing research and empowering academic and media discourses that help depict Arab narratives away from Western-centric and orientalist interpretative frameworks can set the tone for the development of a more balanced dialogue
  • The former Barcelona process and the Union for the Mediterranean (UFM), currently criticized for compartmentalizing issues of co-operation whilst sidelining core political problems, have called into question the multilateral dimension of Euro-Arab co-operation
  • while the bilateral approach can help boost democratic transitions in individual countries, tackling in the long term structural issues obstructing reform and good governance in the MENA region would still require multilateral channels
Ed Webb

The Lights Are Going Out in the Middle East | The New Yorker - 0 views

  • The Middle East, though energy-rich, no longer has enough electricity. From Beirut to Baghdad, tens of millions of people now suffer daily outages, with a crippling impact on businesses, schools, health care, and other basic services, including running water and sewerage
  • With the exception of the Gulf states, infrastructure is old or inadequate in many of the twenty-three Arab countries. The region’s disparate wars, past and present, have damaged or destroyed electrical grids. Some governments, even in Iraq, can’t afford the cost of fuelling plants around the clock. Epic corruption has compounded physical challenges. Politicians have delayed or prevented solutions if their cronies don’t get contracts to fuel, maintain, or build power plants
  • movement of refugees has further strained equipment. Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, already struggling, have each taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees since 2011. The frazzled governor of Erbil, Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, told me that Iraq’s northern Kurdistan—home to four million Kurds—has taken in almost two million displaced Iraqis who fled the Islamic State since 2014, as well as more than a hundred thousand refugees fleeing the war in neighboring Syria since 2011. Kurdistan no longer has the facilities, fuel, or funds to provide power. It averages between nine and ten hours a day, a senior technician in Kurdistan’s power company told me, although it’s worse in other parts of Iraq.
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  • In Lebanon, Moustafa Baalbaki, a young software engineer, tried to help people cope with outages by developing the cell-phone app Beirut Electricity, which does what the government doesn’t: it forecasts power cuts in the capital—and sends alerts ten minutes before the power goes out.
Ed Webb

Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart - The New York Times - 0 views

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    An excellent account of the MENA region's torments since 9/11. Highly recommended
Ed Webb

How Twitter is gagging Arabic users and acting as morality police | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • Today, Twitter has a different story, and it is not one of speaking truth to power. Twitter is no longer empowering its users. Its platform cannot be considered neutral. Twitter’s actions suggest it is systematically suppressing voices in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
  • What started out as an investigation into the mass suspension of accounts of Egyptian dissidents, uncovered a mass censorship algorithm that targeted users who use Arabic flagging their text as hateful conduct. This story is still unfolding. As you read this, mass and unjustified systemic locking and suspension of Twitter Arabic accounts continues. Users are angry and bewildered.
  • The effects of these suspensions was not just hiding a set of tweets critical of the government, but completely disabling the influence network of Egypt’s dissidents. This is potentially the first documented politically motivated mass shutdown of twitter accounts at a time when online interaction was high and translated to possible action on the ground
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  • draconian yet lazy algorithms have systematically shut down voices of dissent – and pulled unsuspecting social media users down with them
  • accusations are not limited to Egypt but the entire region who have a sense that being critical of their governments was met with punitive measures by Twitter against them
  • many of those suspensions had a common denominator: being critical of the Egyptian government
  • suspensions seemed to have happened around late September and lasted from one day to a few days. In many cases Twitter had responded that they had suspended the accounts by mistake. The accounts affected varied from having a few followers to hundreds of thousands
  • a trending anti-Sisi hashtag disappeared suddenly in July 2018, and then later on in 2019. It didn’t help either to find that an officer in the British Army information warfare unit was head of editorial in Twitter for the MENA region.
  • I interviewed @OfficialAmro1, a user affected by mass suspensions with over 265K followers and 115K tweets. He was suspended without cause and added, “I don’t even curse.”To which I foolishly replied, “Cursing would not suspend your account, particularly if directed against a public figure. Incitement will.”“No, now it does,” he replied. He also added that if you criticize a figure loyal to the Arab regimes, you can get your account locked or suspended.
  • The 'hateful conduct' policy as defined by Twitter states: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.Analyzing the message contents that were flagged for hateful conduct I saw that most did not violate Twitter’s rules. Soon I began to discover that what @OfficialAmro1 had told me was true. The content I was seeing contained profanity. But that wasn’t the whole story.Arabic curse words are used often. I sampled around a little under 50 claims, with over 30 screenshots that contain Twitter’s email identifying the violating tweet. It was clear that profanity alone was not causing the suspensions.
  • Tragically funnier still are those who were joking around with their friends using their usual language that has profanities @ism3lawy_ ended up cursing Egypt’s Zamalek football club and for that his account was suspended permanently along with that of one of his friends. In a separate conversation, his friend @EHAB_M0 was also joking around with his friends and eventually got a permanent suspension.
  • Within seconds of my post, the algorithm identified the curse words and locked my account for 12 hours. It was my first violation ever. The irony of documenting this as a reply to the platform’s account is probably lost on them.
  • the most dangerous and disconcerting of my findings is that the appeal system in Twitter for MENA is broken.
  • Even things like talking about prostitution can get you banned
  • There is an element of guardianship that is present in despotic Arab regimes, and that moral guardianship is reflected in the algorithm by Twitter as was shown through the numerous examples above.
  • With my limited access to Twitter’s data, I have found nearly 20 accounts probably wrongfully and permanently suspended. I imagine hundreds or even thousands more have been kicked off the platform.
  • “Thank you for trying to help make Twitter a free space once again.”
Ed Webb

No going back: How America and the Middle East can turn the page to a productive future - 0 views

  • the Arab world — with few exceptions — either sees citizens rising up in protest, citizens who are suffering from government repression, or citizens living through civil war. Although each country is unique, the core complaints across them are some combination of poverty, corruption, and an absence of freedom.
  • Across the region, ordinary citizens are rising up against an elite class that is accumulating enormous wealth through enormous corruption and for basic rights. This is a region where in most countries, the top 1% generally earns more than the bottom 50%. That might have been tolerated in a pre-social media world, but now that ordinary citizens can see the extreme wealth of the elite, and can use social media to organize, extreme income inequality just isn’t stable any longer.
  • Even America’s closest allies like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — which might seem stable, and where military spending is among the highest on earth per capita — have to resort to such significant repression of freedom of expression that Freedom House ranks them as some of the worst in the world. In Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the bottom half earn one of lowest proportions of income at the world, at 8% and 9% respectively.
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  • In Washington, we need to remember that we play second fiddle to ordinary citizens on the ground. At the same time, there are a few things we can do. We can remember that we can’t actually build nations. We can’t create democracies. We can’t eliminate corruption. But what we can do, what we must do, is avoid making all these things worse.
Ed Webb

Black Box: Military Budgets in the Arab World - POMED - 0 views

  • As the double whammy of the pandemic and the collapse in oil prices slams Middle Eastern economies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are already providing several Arab governments with billions of dollars in emergency financing and anticipate requests from others. Many Arab states are especially vulnerable to such external shocks because of long-standing economic mismanagement, often exacerbated by exorbitant military spending.
  • The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) laments that many Arab governments lack any semblance of transparency in their military budgets, making it impossible to know or even estimate the region’s defense expenditures. Among other problems, this opacity makes it difficult for international financial institutions (IFIs) to factor Arab defense budgets into the requirements for adjusting public spending that normally accompany their support.
  • only four Arab countries—Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Tunisia—have made all of their military spending data public over the past five years. While it is expected that war-ravaged countries such as Yemen or Libya would have trouble producing a full accounting, other states have the capacity but simply choose not to release the information.
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  • While we may not know exactly how much Arab regimes spend on their militaries, we do know that they are among the world’s leading importers of arms—an industry rife with corruption—and the largest recipients of military aid. As SIPRI has documented, six of the top 10 importers of major arms were Arab countries, totaling nearly one-third of all global imports ($146 billion) between 2015 and 2019. In 2017—the last year for which full data are available—four of the top 10 purchasers of U.S. arms were Arab countries, and nearly one-third of all U.S. weapons sales ($36.6 billion), along with roughly $5 billion in U.S. security aid, went to Arab regimes.
  • When IFIs provide assistance, even emergency aid, to Arab governments, they should condition the funds on transparent budgets, including a full accounting of military expenditures
Ed Webb

Secret British 'black propaganda' campaign targeted cold war enemies | Cold war | The G... - 0 views

  • The British government ran a secret “black propaganda” campaign for decades, targeting Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia with leaflets and reports from fake sources aimed at destabilising cold war enemies by encouraging racial tensions, sowing chaos, inciting violence and reinforcing anti-communist ideas, newly declassified documents have revealed.
  • The campaign also sought to mobilise Muslims against Moscow, promoting greater religious conservatism and radical ideas. To appear authentic, documents encouraged hatred of Israel.
  • The Information Research Department (IRD) was set up by the post-second world war Labour government to counter Soviet propaganda attacks on Britain. Its activities mirrored the CIA’s cold war propaganda operations and the extensive efforts of the USSR and its satellites.
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  • The Observer last year revealed the IRD’s major campaign in Indonesia in 1965 that helped encourage anti-communist massacres which left hundreds of thousands dead. There, the IRD prepared pamphlets purporting to be written by Indonesian patriots, but in fact were created by British propagandists, calling on Indonesians to eliminate the PKI, then the biggest communist party in the non-communist world.
  • “The UK did not simply invent material, as the Soviets systematically did, but they definitely intended to deceive audiences in order to get the message across.”
  • “reports” sent to warn other governments, selected journalists and thinktanks about “Soviet subversion” or similar threats.The reports comprised carefully selected facts and analysis often gleaned from intelligence provided by Britain’s security services, but appeared to come from ostensibly independent analysts and institutions that were in reality set up and run by the IRD. One of the first of these, set up in 1964, was the International Committee for the Investigation of Communist Front Organisations.
  • Between 1965 and 1972, the IRD forged at least 11 statements from Novosti, the Soviet state-run news agency. One followed Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 six-day war against Israel and underlined Soviet anger at Egypt’s “waste” of so much of the arms and materiel Moscow had supplied to the country.
  • The IRD also forged literature purporting to come from the Muslim Brotherhood, a mass Islamist organisation that had a significant following across the Middle East. One pamphlet accused Moscow of encouraging the 1967 war, criticised the quality of Soviet military equipment, and called the Soviets “filthy-tongued atheists” who saw the Egyptians as little more than “peasants who lived all their lives nursing reactionary Islamic superstitions”.AdvertisementThe IRD also created an entirely fictive radical Islamist organisation called the League of Believers, which attacked the Russians as non-believers and blamed Arab defeats on a lack of religious faith, a standard trope among religious conservatives at the time.
  • The IRD’s leaflets echoed other claims made by radical Islamists, arguing that military misdeeds should not be blamed on “the atheists or the imperialists or the Zionist Jews” but on “Egyptians who are supposed to be believers”.
  • Other material highlighted the poor view that Moscow took of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the limited aid offered by the Soviets to Palestinian armed nationalist groups. This was contrasted with the more supportive stance of the Chinese, in a bid to widen the split between the two communist powers.
  • One major initiative focused on undermining Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia, the former colony that unilaterally declared its independence from the UK in 1965 in an attempt to maintain white minority rule.The IRD set up a fake group of white Rhodesians who opposed Smith. Its leaflets attacked him for lying, creating “chaos” and crippling the economy. “The whole world is against us … We must call a halt while we can still save our country,”
  • In early 1963, the IRD forged a statement from the World Federation of Democratic Youth, a Soviet front organisation, which denounced Africans as uncivilised, “primitive” and morally weak. The forgery received press coverage across the continent, with many newspapers reacting intemperately.
  • A similar forgery in 1966 underlined the “backwardness” and “political immaturity” of Africa. Another, a statement purportedly from Novosti, blamed poor academic results at an international university in Moscow on the quality of the black African students enrolled there. The IRD sent more than 1,000 copies to addresses across the developing world.
  • As with most such efforts, the impact of the IRD’s campaigns was often difficult to judge. On one occasion, IRD officials were able to report that a newspaper in Zanzibar printed one of their forgeries about Soviet racism, and that the publication prompted an angry response. This was seen as a major achievement. Officials were also pleased when Kenyan press used fake material about the 1967 six-day war, and when newspapers across much of the Islamic world printed a fake Novosti bulletin on the conflict. Occasionally, western newspapers unwittingly used IRD materials, too.
  • Though the IRD was shut down in 1977, researchers are now finding evidence that similar efforts continued for almost another decade.“The [new documents] are particularly significant as a precursor to more modern efforts of putting intelligence into the public domain.“Liz Truss has a ’government information cell’, and defence intelligence sends out daily tweets to ‘pre-but’ Russian plots and gain the upper hand in the information war, but for much of the cold war the UK used far more devious means,” Cormac said.
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