Archive for June 12, 2012

By Karlos Zurutuza

TRIPOLI, Sep 6, 2011 (IPS) – Libyan children will go back to school without Muammar Gaddafi’s ubiquitous presence, despite a lack of new books.

“We know the challenges ahead will be massive but I’ve never been so happy at the beginning of the school term,” primary school teacher Ahlam Saadi tells IPS. “I can hardly wait to teach in freedom,” adds the 35-year-old from Tripoli.

Staff at Shoala Primary School in Tripoli’s Dahra district greet one another emotionally; the school is five minutes walk from the capital’s main Martyrs’ square. Colleagues hug each other, and many are in tears. Celebrations by teachers outside the school have the feel of weddings.

As the school term begins, teachers sit down to agree schedules and take administrative decisions. But the first decision has been taken unanimously before anyone set foot inside the building.

“We’ve decided to rename our school ‘Ayman Tuman’ in the memory of our colleague’s dead son,” says Salwah Talah. She has almost lost her voice after a massive demonstration by women at Martyrs’ Square the previous night. The Arabic teacher introduces us to Zeynab Tuman, the mother of the 22-year-old who was killed.

“Ayman was shot by the Qatiba – local militia loyal to Gaddafi – after the evening prayers on Feb. 20,” Zeynab recalls. “He had also been a student here.” The school, and people in the city, remember Ayman as “Tripoli’s first martyr”.

Through the tragedy of the loss, the 50-year-old teacher says she “couldn’t be happier” about the renaming of the school.

The 15 women teachers – all dressed in black and wearing colorful scarves – finally step into the building. Some are missing, and teachers say they won’t resume classes this year and, very likely, never again. Not at Ayman Tuman Primary School.

“The teachers of ‘Education for the Yamahiria’ – the subject through which Libyan children have been indoctrinated for the last four decades – obviously won’t come back,” says school manager Jamal Tabi. “Needless to say, all of them were loyal to Gaddafi, and some even joined the Qatiba.”

Tabi takes us on a tour of the school. The most eloquent change is the removal of Gaddafi’s portrait.

“It was mandatory to place it in front of you, never behind,” Tabi recalls. Now, the large tricolor flag of the rebels has been spread at the site. It also helps cover the bullet holes on the window behind.

Tabi has been preparing to receive rebel general Ali Ashur, who visited the school with half a dozen armed men escorting.

“We’ve been touring the schools around the city to make sure security is not an issue any more,” Gen. Ashur tells IPS. Paradoxically enough, the general wearing camouflage fatigues still sporting the ousted regime’s insignia on his shoulders.

“We all do until Benghazi gives us the new uniform,” says the officer.

Every reminder of the previous regime has been removed in Ayman Tuman: no more portraits of the leader or green flags of the Yamahiria – a word invented by Gaddafi meaning “the republic of the masses”. The last two copies of Gaddafi’s ‘Green Book’ are given away to visitors as souvenirs.

Further stages in the transformation process will be harder to carry out. It’s just about two weeks since the rebels took over the country’s capital, and teachers have hardly had any time to adapt the school material to the new times.

“Subjects such as maths or chemistry do not pose any risk but we will have to watch with the history books,” says Tabi. New books being printed in Behghazi should arrive in less than a month, he adds.

Several offices, including the school library, were ransacked by Gaddafi’s troops in violent searches before the city fell.

“Many of our teachers were suspected to have links with the rebels, and they were looking for any sort of incriminatory documents,” 45-year-old teacher Kamila Ashur tells IPS, speaking amid the rubble at the school’s main door. She says she couldn’t finish teaching through the term because she had to go underground when the police started looking for her at her district in Suq al-Yuma in north-east Tripoli.

When asked how she will teach who Gaddafi was, the history teacher goes ballistic.

“How am I going to explain my students who was Gaddafi? I’ll tell them about that horrible regime, the detentions, the tortures…I’ll tell them that his ideas weren’t good for any human being,” says Ashur, waving a makeshift rebel flag with the half moon and star painted in tipex.

“I’m not only teaching history, I’m also making it.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

– Chris Doyle
Sunday, 04 September 2011

Global Arab Network – Well you know, when you have a go at Ribal or Rifat Assad that they will resort to anything, such is their record. (Rifat has apparently plenty of loyal well paid thugs in his entourage).

So a few days after having campaigned against the holding of an Eid reception hosted by an MP promoting Ribal’s Iman organization (if you can call it that as there no semblance of a board, accounts or where it is registered, but photos of Ribal and his MP friends) my wife Rim and I get slagged off in an online article (if you can call it as such) in Arabic and English. It is highly defamatory in practically every word.

It has not been a pleasant week. The Conservative Member of Parliament who is hosting the event, Daniel Kawczynski, instead of answering why he his promoting an apologist for crimes against humanity, has written to both our employers. Rim was called in to meet with her head of department at Imperial College, who far from chastising her as Daniel hoped, asked her if she wanted protection. Daniel called me various things on the phone including that I was a “raving lefty and a communist”.. It seems he is taking lessons from the Assad family in making threats and intimidating critics.

I wrote back in July against Ribal when an MP gave him a platform to speak in Parliament, not just because it was so offensive generally, but also as the regime was pulverising Hama at the time making it doubly insensitive.

I also, as can be seen on my Twitter account @doylech, lobbied against Ribal’s event coming up this Wednesday. Caabu issued a press release on Friday. Huge pressure has been applied by Syrians and Syrian human rights organizations taking up the issue protesting to MPs and even Ministers. Ribal’s cozy relationship with a select few MPs, some of whom he has funded to go to the Middle East, is now under threat. Ribal of course acts as the front man for his father, as his arch apologist-in-chief. Ribal comically told Channel 4 News that his father had been a democrat since the 1970s, something that will appall all those killed, injured, tortured, and brutalized when he was at the top of the regime and running its notorious special forces. His great defense of his father was that he could not have ordered the shelling of Hama in 1982 which killed over 10,000 people as he was in Damascus at the time, as if his presence on the spot was required for him to give the order to his special forces.

It remains a disgrace that Rifat is roaming free in luxury throughout Europe living off his ill-gotten gains, and that his sons are excusing his behavior and polishing his image. It is a crazy world where the EU is sanctioning regime officials inside Syria but seem incapable of taking any action against Rifat and others .

So this is the background to the slurs in this article. They add up to nothing but strangely echo nonsense that both Daniel Kawczynski said to me on the phone and were also written in the comments section of my Guardian article. I am in no doubt that this is not a coincidence.

It is a bizarre set of accusations for a start barely worthy of writing about. Apparently according to the unknown author, Rim’s intervention on BBC women’s hour sounded like apologists for Iran when discussing women. (a non-hijab wearing wife of a British husband acting as a puppet of the Iranians!!) The interview was back in the early days of the protests, and the point of the program was to examine why it seemed not so many Syrian women had participated. She mentioned Mothers’ appearing on TV talking about their being children killed. She makes clear that these demonstrations were very, very risky for women.

Rim must be the only Syrian women not to know how terrible the situation is on the ground. Contrary to this rant, Rim has every idea how angry Syrian society is, she is part of it, with family on the ground with friends all over the country. I have had to comfort her daily as news of friends being arrested, tortured or killed have come in but above all, as her country that we love lurches into a dangerous and unknown future, with a regime that seems to know no limits to its brutality.

Before the protests, we have been involved in doing what can to help Syria, whether by promoting development, encouraging reform, and also promoting Syrians and Syrian culture that has been so often been denigrated in the West. Indeed I have spent 20 years doing little else but working against the demonization of Arabs in the West. We hoped, like so many others, that Bashar just might bring about some reforms. It was a faint hope but we clung to it. Those hopes have been dashed once and for all.

So during these years we helped with various organizations devoted to helping Syria. We set up a small charity, one of the first international NGOs to operate in Syria. Gulf Sands Worldwide not its Syria branch (not Rami Makhlouf who I lobbied to get sanctioned) donated to the Damask Rose Trust, a UK-based charity. Neither of us knew that Makhlouf was a shareholder of Gulf Sands in Syria at the time, but the donation was of no benefit to him nor us. Even today I am not sure just where Makhlouf has tucked away his extraordinary wealth that he has stolen from the Syrian people. I confess I may have bought one of his mobile phone SIM cards, and perhaps used one of his airport taxis, as there is little choice of course.

Rim and I are proud to be Trustees of the Damask RoseTrust that has done fantastic work in difficult conditions to help the deprived in Syria, set up a hotline for victims of domestic violence and supported rural communities. We make no apologies for that. I am proud of her role in setting up the Syrian Professional Women’s Association, an organization here in the UK, devoted to assisting Syrian professional women. I am also proud of what she did whilst involved some years ago with the British-Syrian Society (BSS). She took on some major successful cultural projects but felt she had to step down from the BSS, some time ago. Her cultural work was based on her passionate interest in Arabic and Islamic culture – she has recently curated a major exhibition at the Royal Society.

Our efforts pale into insignificance compared with those on the ground who risk their lives on a daily basis. We shall continue to assist in whatever small way we can.

It is a pity that @all4syria has allowed itself to be abused by Ribal Assad and his family. This does little to help the future of the Syrian opposition (Ribal has no interest in genuine opposition of course), which neither Rim nor I would ever dare to claim we represent, is crucial. Working together for a free and democratic Syria has never been more important. That there are those who seek to undermine all of this shows just how scared the Assad family is. That there are a handful of British MPs who collude with Ribal Assad is a shame on Westminster…

Source: Global Arab Network.

– Talal Abdullah
Tuesday, 06 September 2011

Global Arab Network – Syrian soldiers opened fire in and around the rebellious city of Homs on Tuesday, killing two people, including a teenager, as the U.N. secretary-general urged the world to take action on Syria.

Also, the bodies of five unidentified people, including a woman, were found around the city center, activists said.

15 Demonstrators were killed on Monday in the central city of Homs and the northern province of Idlib, according to Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights. Security forces also carried out a “major assault” on Monday on the town of Nawa, near the southern province of Daraa where the uprising began in March, Merhi said by phone on Tuesday.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Arabi will visit Damascus on Wednesday, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported, without saying how it got the information. The visit takes place in the wake of expanded sanctions by the European Union in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on dissent.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, Adelsalam Hassoun, 24, a blacksmith, was killed by army snipers on Monday just after he had crossed into Turkey from the village of Ain al-Baida on the Syrian side, his cousin told Reuters by telephone from Syria.

“Abdelsalam was hit in the head. He was among a group of family members and other refugees who dashed across the plain to Turkey when six armored personnel carrier deployed outside Ain al-Baida and started firing their machineguns into the village at random this morning,” Mohammad Hassoun said

Thousands of families fled their homes in the northern border region in June when troops assaulted town and villages that had seen big protests against Assad.

Faced with a heavy security presence in central neighborhoods of Damascus and Aleppo, and military assaults against a swathe of cities from Latakia on the coast to Deir al-Zor in the East, street rallies calling for an end to the Assad family’s domination of Syria have intensified in towns and villages across the country of 20 million.

Demonstrators have been encouraged by the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and growing international pressure on Assad. The European Union has imposed an embargo on Syrian oil exports, jeopardizing a major source of revenue for Assad, who inherited power from his father, the late Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.

“Economic pressure will be key in swaying the merchant class toward the side of the uprising, but Assad will keep adopting the military solution and deploying heavy weapons across Syria,” said Syrian dissident in exile Bassam al-Bitar.

“International intervention, something akin to a no-fly zone, will still be needed to protect protests and encourage more members of the army to defect,” Bitar, a former diplomat, told Reuters from Washington.

Source: Global Arab Network.


Mauritania on Monday (September 5th) dispatched teams to monitor the movement of locusts, APA reported. The move comes after heavy rainfall created conditions favorable to the crop-destroying insects, which have already been observed in Assaba and Tamachekatt. Early monitoring by the national locust control center (CNLA) aims to prevent a possible invasion. Ground and air units will treat some 30,000 hectares across the country.

Source: Magharebia.