Dec 22, 2011

Are bloggers journalists?

Here's my talk with Al-Jazeera English show "The Stream", in case you missed it.

Dec 16, 2011

Arrests and Trials of Kuwait’s Stateless Protesters

Kuwaiti riot police use water cannons to disperse stateless protesters (AFP, Yasser al-Zayyat).

There are at least 120,000 Bidun jinsiyya (without nationality) in Kuwait today suffering from the lack of human rights. They cannot legally obtain birth, death, marriage or divorce certificates. The same applies to driving licenses, identification cards, and passports. They do not have access to public education, health care, housing or employment. And while they face some of the state’s harshest discrimination policies, they have no recourse to the law and its courts. Simply stated, the Bidun, who are equal to about 10% of the Kuwaiti population, do not exist. They have been dehumanized and rendered invisible by government policies coupled with pervasive social stigmatization.
Last February and March, Hundreds of the stateless community in Kuwait protested demanding their rights of documentation, education, health care, employment, and naturalization. The protests were brutally dispersed by riot police and tens of young men were arrested for a week or so. Riot Police used water cannons, teargas, smoke bombs, and concussion grenades to disperse the protesters. According to Human Rights Watch, over 30 people were injured and 120 were detained by state security in the first day of Bidun protests.
On the 12th of December, the stateless attempted to protest again to state their demands and to show support for those who were going on trials for protesting. Around 31 men were in court for ‘illegal protesting’ and were released as the judge decided to adjourn the case to the 23rd of January. Kuwaiti and stateless activists showed up to the court hearing to show support as the interior ministry refused to give permissions for any sit-ins. Kuwait Human Rights Association issued a statement condemning the trials and stating that the Kuwait constitution grants the rights to peaceful protesting and thus none should be prosecuted. Parliament members did not have a say in this and the only political bloc to have issued a statement in solidarity was the leftist Taqadomi movement. According to their lawyer Mousaed Al-Shammari, the 31 men might get 3 to 5 years jail sentences.
On the 14th, three other stateless men faced another trial for illegal protesting: Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli, Tariq Al-Otaibi, and Ridha Al-Fadhli. On Sunday the 18th, other 45 stateless men will face another trial and this time charged with violence against police men. The charges in the first two trials were submitted by the public prosecution, but in the coming trial, charges were submitted by the state security police. According to Kuwait Human Rights Association’s spokesman Taher Al-Baghli, state police did not charge the stateless for ‘illegal protesting’ only because such a charge will most probably be dismissed by the higher court.
Since the first trial started, the stateless community had several attempts to protest again. Activists tried to get permissions to protest in Erada square, in front of the parliament, where protests took place in the past two months against former prime minister Nasser Al-Mohammed which led to his resignation. The interior ministry refused to give such permission which made some of the stateless protest in their poorly-conditioned areas. The number was not large and protesters left in response to calls from some activists to avoid clashes.
This Friday, as reported by activists, tweeps, and news agencies, riot police used violence against stateless protesters and more than 20 men were arrested, among them two journalists who were later released (Fahad Al-Mayah and Hamad Al-Sharhan). According to a report by AFP: “Kuwaiti riot police used tear gas and water cannons on Friday to scatter hundreds of stateless protesters demanding citizenship. The police sought to break up a crowd of 400 people gathered after noon prayers in Jahra, raising Kuwaiti flags and banners that read: We demand Kuwaiti citizenship.” Stateless activist Mousaed Al-Shammari was reportedly arrested as he was trying to convince protesters to leave. Some wrote that he is now on hunger strike protesting his detention. According to a report by Reuters, there were also minors beaten and arrested in Friday protest. 

* Published in MidEast Youth

Dec 12, 2011

Undocumented and Afraid

They took them in, shackled their brown hands, threaded out their thick hair, and told them “We will now turn you into soldiers, fighting against hope, warring against life. You have two choices: death or death.” They stared at the hours, then removed their eyes, hanging each upon its nail. Then they waited and waited for the funeral of memory to start. They set the light on fire and recited myths, fairytales, and stories about their fathers, their stupid fathers, who were once heroes and are now nothing but cowards.
Why did you leave us in this trap without any poems? Why did you color the sky yellow? Why did you give us stars to hang our hearts on? We did not do anything, we only wanted to sing. We have read the Quran, the New Testament, and the Old Testament. We read every verse and we pretended to be religious enough to read, and to know if hope was a sin, and it wasn’t.
In this trap, we recreated time and turned every thousand hours into another day, another attempt to save our youth from the wasteland. On the broken stairs of time we walked and we asked God, “Why didn’t you let us choose our pain—for the pain of waiting is the ugliest kind of heaven. Allow us to choose our own pain for once. If we were permitted to make choices we might begin to think.  And then we might believe, for a second, that we are human.”
“Undocumented and unafraid.” That is what a Hispanic girl wrote on her shirt as an American policeman shackled her hands. I said, “I am undocumented and afraid. And fear is genetic, even if scientists have not yet discovered that fact.” I let my memory sail me off to the shore of my childhood and I remembered that I had books, a soccer ball, and an old lady asking me, “Where are you from?” I paused and said, “I am from Bidun.” She laughed “There’s no such place. No country is Bidun.”
I removed my small feet and drew a flag, a jersey, and a national anthem. Then I waited and hoped, like all my people. I waited and hoped that she would reappear so that I might show her my country. The woman died and I grew up. I killed my imagination even as I continued to practice the sins of hope and waiting. Here, a kid puts his nail in the sand and tries to build a home, but it rained.
Let us live our evenings to the fullest so we might be allowed to imagine that we are what you are—creatures of flesh and blood and rainbows. Give an answer for a mother to say when her child asks her, “Mother, where are we from?” We are the prisoners of yesterday. We make collages out of the Yellow Pages. We like to be pawns since we are not allowed to die just like our fathers who fought, died, and went forgotten in a truck, a grave, or a sandstorm.
Our children have no kites; for we have no wind to fly them, no money to buy them, and no sky. Our children take the road to the mosque and make their prayers. “Oh god, I do not want to take the same road again, not because I do not love you but because I want to take the road to school.” We will love life one day we will one day hope again without the fear of losing our nails.
We will take no portion of your ego, we will always bend our heads when we see you in the streets. We will buy hats if we need to, just so we might take them off when we see you, just so you feel secure in your self while your cars run, and our heads bend. Let us offer you three hats for every slap your policeman draws on a man’s face, and for every horror he puts in a teenage heart, or in a girl’s breast.
We are lonely but our loneliness does not bring us together. Our fathers shook off their tents. They hid their pride in their pockets. They pointed towards you and said, “Let us join our brothers; let us go home.” And when they arrived, they heard a word, and they opened their dictionaries under the letter “e” and read “enemy.” We waited, in the yellow bus, for our brothers to take us home. The bus was a candle. The bus melted under the sun. The sun died. And we made chairs out of our hope, we sat, and we waited.
Let us be whatever you want us to be—your trains, your music, your fleeting smiles, but just let us be. Let us have an answer for the question of life while you solve your question of God, let us be. Let us sing a love story and do not mock our thick accents for we do not have the luxury of your tongues; we have no tongues, no speech, no songs. We are waiting for our mothers to sow our youth and give us the song of salvation. We are waiting for the anti-hope pills that never work.
Make exceptions for us before we die. Let us have a day to build a house near the schools. Let us watch our children be happy and complain about their teachers. Let us see them burn with the fire of knowledge. Let us frame our losses and crucify them on the imaginary walls. Let the father see his dead son and sigh, “Now who is going to bury me?” Let us buy new chairs, let us have chairs first, let us have the choice to take off our hats for you, or not to take them off. Let us have shadows, ghosts, and more fears.
I do not hate you but I do not love you. I look at you and I know. I know that my heart is not like the size of your shoe. Pardon me, but I cannot lie. My whole existence is a lie and I, once and for all, blame my fathers for being lies. You do not allow me to wait, hope, or live and I do not allow you to make me lie. We are the statues on which you will build your birdhouses.

Published in Jadaliyya - 12/12/2011

Dec 9, 2011

Sectarianism, Opposition Parties, and Online Activism in Bahrain

An Interview with Blogger Chan'ad Bahraini

For the blogosphere in the Gulf region, the name Chan'ad became a reference to all of those who were seeking accurate, well written, and up-to-date inside information from Bahrain in English. Chan'ad, author of the blog Chan'ad Bahraini 2.0, has been a prominent figure of digital activism in Bahrain and the region since 2004 as he works on unveiling regime tactics to fuel sectarian fear, suppress facts, and keep up state repression. After the 14 February uprising, Chan'ad, whose real name is Fahad Desmukh, played an important role in exposing the lies of state-controlled media in Bahrain and the Bahraini regime’s hiring of foreign journalists and firms to whitewash its image. In this interview, Chan'ad shares his views on the unrest in Bahrain, the regime’s handling of the uprising, the pattern of the opposition, and relative issues such as blogging, social networking, and xenophobia in Bahrain.

Mona Kareem (MK): Who are you?
Fahad Desmukh (FD): Chan'ad is the local Arabic name for mackerel. I work as a freelance journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan. I grew up in Bahrain and in 2004, while I was still there, started blogging about Bahraini politics and society. In 2006 I was summoned for an interrogation by the National Security Agency because, it seems, they found activities related to my blogging suspicious. I left the country shortly after and when I tried to return, I was told by immigration officials at the Bahrain airport that I was on an entry blacklist. I have been living in Pakistan since then, and in my free time have tried to keep blogging and tweeting about the human rights and political situation in Bahrain.

MK: Bahrain reached a dead end, agree or disagree?
FD: This certainly is not a dead end for Bahrain as the current situation in Bahrain is not sustainable. Despite eight months of repression of the uprising, there has been no end for protests. Since March, protesters have been jailed, tortured, killed, maligned, sacked from their workplaces and expelled from schools and universities, and yet you can still find protests in Bahrain on almost any day of the week. At some point, something has got to give.

MK: How can you imagine the Bahraini scenario if it weren’t for the Saudi/GCC interference?
FD: If it weren’t for Saudi/GCC interference, it is quite possible that there would not have even been anything for people to be protesting about when this uprising began on 14 February. The problem in Bahrain is that the Al Khalifa regime relies on Saudi Arabia and other foreign powers as the source of its legitimacy rather than the Bahraini people. Until this changes, there will always be political strife. If it weren't for this outside interference, then—maybe—the regime would be forced to listen to its people and share some power.

MK: Many Bahrainis live in denial and state that sectarianism is only practiced by the regime. Do you agree? Or do you think instead people should admit that sectarianism exists deeply in Bahrain and has increased after 14 February?
FD: It is true that sectarianism does exist in Bahraini society and has a long history, but this must be distinguished from the regime's deployment of sectarianism as a political divide-and-rule strategy. The “social sectarianism” that exists between the Sunni and Shia communities in Bahrain is akin to the fear and suspicion that exists between any different social groups that have distinct histories and customs. The Sunni and Shia communities in Bahrain have historically lived in separate settlements, speak differing dialects of Arabic, mostly marry among themselves, and obviously have their own religious practices. It is not surprising then that there are elements in the two communities that are suspicious of and have false ideas about each other. The self-proclaimed keepers of tradition in both communities benefit from the divide, and seek to maintain this status quo.

MK: How did the regime use sectarianism?
FD: The Al Khalifa regime has managed to maintain its power precisely by exploiting this division. Abdulhadi Khalaf has explained in his work how the regime has not simply supported the Sunnis and suppressed the Shia, as is often portrayed. Rather, the strategy has been to tolerate or patronize representatives, from either group, who interact with the regime as confessional agents of their community, and to discourage or punish those who seek to co-operate across the sectarian divide and make demands of the regime on a “national” rather than confessional basis.
Indeed, it is worth noting that the first political prisoner after the start of the 14 February uprising was a Sunni former army officer, Mohammed Al-Buflasa, who gave a speech about Sunni-Shia unity at the Pearl Roundabout. Also, the first political party to be targeted by the regime was the National Democratic Action Society, or Wa'ad, a secular nationalist group that has both Sunni and Shia members. Two of its offices were firebombed; the home of one of its Sunni leaders, Dr. Munira Fakhro, was firebombed; the Bahraini regime temporarily suspended the party; and its Sunni secretary general, Ibrahim Sharif, was sentenced to five years in prison. In contrast, Al Wefaq, the largest political society in Bahrain, and an openly Shia Islamist group, was not targeted in this same manner (initially at least). The political bloc that the regime has targeted the most severely is the “Alliance for a Republic.” Although it has an overwhelmingly Shia support base and often couches its rhetoric in religious symbolism, its demands are always nationalist and non-sectarian.

MK: Wouldn’t the regime fail to use sectarianism if it had not already existed?
FD: If we look back in history, we find that the “social sectarianism” between Sunni and Shia citizens in Bahrain has been restricted to fear and suspicion and has not manifested itself in the form of violence, since the 1950s. Violent sectarian clashes peaked in 1953-54, in reaction to which Bahrain saw for the first time, the rise of a “national” political movement that explicitly sought to unite Sunni and Shia on a common platform and eradicate sectarianism. Needless to say, the regime saw this as a threat and cracked down on the movement, and on other “nationalist” movements in subsequent decades, through a combination of both co-optation and brutal violence. But in all this time since 1954, there have not been any significant cases of violent clashes between the Sunni and Shia communities. Rather, any violence that has occurred has been between the regime and the opposition. If the conflict was of a solely sectarian nature, we should have seen incidents of Sunni citizens violently attacking their Shia neighbors, or vice versa—but this has not occurred. There have been some cases of violence since February that the regime has sought to portray as having a sectarian motive, but no evidence has yet been presented to support this claim.

MK: How did the regime employ the media for its sectarian bet?
FD: The regime has used the state apparatus, especially the media, to incite sectarianism in society. Maybe the most explicit example of state sectarianism is what has been dubbed the “Bandargate affair.” In 2006, Dr. Salah al-Bander, then a British adviser to the Bahraini government, released a 240-page report blowing the whistle on an alleged conspiracy led by a royal family member that sought to foment sectarianism, including changing the demographic makeup in the country and influence the parliamentary elections. One should be skeptical of such conspiracy theories, but it is indicative that immediately after al-Bander released the report he was deported from Bahrain, and a gag order was imposed on any media discussion of the scandal. The government has refused to respond to any public demands for the scandal to be investigated.

MK: Where did the Bahraini opposition falter, what went wrong, how to get back on track?
FD: Maybe the biggest fault of the Bahraini opposition was that it did not reach out enough across the sectarian divide before the start of the protests. Yes, there were many Sunnis who joined the protest movement, but it did not have that critical mass of Sunnis needed to create cracks in the state apparatus and force the regime to listen to the people.
Having said that, it is difficult to see how this could have happened. The opposition has always sought allies in its very modest national demands for a contractual constitution, real powers for the elected legislature, and fairer electoral districts. Yet, the regime has, through the mobilization of sectarian fear, managed to ensure that Sunnis do not ally with their Shia brethren in these simple demands.

MK: So you suggest that unity is the only way to achieve these demands?
FD: This is, in my eyes, where the opposition needs to work the hardest. The most important site for cross-sectarian cooperation is in the workplace and the labor movement. It was the labor movement that was the focus of the nationalist opposition movement in the 1950s and I believe this is what the opposition should focus on strengthening. This will of course be extremely difficult to do, given how severely the regime has cracked down on the trade union movement since February. Nonetheless, I cannot see it happening any other way. This strengthening of the labor movement will of course necessarily require building solidarity with migrant workers also, who have been largely ignored up until now.

MK: Do you think it hurt the opposition that some demanded the fall of the regime instead of focusing on toppling the Prime Minister?
FD: I remember in 2004 when Abdulhadi al-Khawaja of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights for the first time publicly accused the Prime Minister of corruption and called for him to step down. Many of the “moderates” in the opposition at the time insisted that this was too radical a demand for Bahrain and that it will hurt the movement. For most people in the world, I imagine, calling for the resignation of an unelected prime minister who has been in power for forty years would hardly be regarded as a radical demand. The mainstream opposition did not call for his resignation and nothing happened.
Similarly, after 14 February, when protesters started calling for the downfall of the regime, the mainstream opposition insisted it was too radical a demand to call for the downfall of an autocratic monarchy, one that has killed and tortured its people.
But 14 February brought about a change unseen before. At the Lulu Roundabout people were able to express how they really felt. Now that the cork has been removed, it is impossible to bottle everything up again. The chant of "yasqut Hamad" ("Down with King Hamad") has become the chant of the movement. It is spray painted all over walls, it is chanted by protesters, and it is honked by cars. I think there is a strong argument for a transition to a genuine constitutional monarchy rather than a republic. However, there is great value in letting people tell the government how they really feel. There is nothing sectarian or racist about calling for the fall of the regime. In the words of Malcolm X: "Stop sweet-talking him. Tell him how you feel. Tell him what kind of hell you've been catching and let him know that if he's not ready to clean his house up, he shouldn't have a house."

MK: Many anti-regime Bahrainis like to portray the revolution as a non-Shia movement, but isn’t it more convenient and rational to say that it is a Shia movement as Shia are oppressed and are entitled to demand equality?
Yes, it would be disingenuous to pretend as though it is sheer coincidence that Shias form the overwhelming majority of the protesters. There is a reason why anti-apartheid protesters in South Africa and civil rights activist in the United States were mostly black. This reason applies to Bahrain.

MK: Do you believe youth should have acted independently of opposition political parties? Wouldn’t that be more helpful?
It is the youth who have led this movement from the start, while most of the mainstream opposition parties offered only lukewarm support. Since 14 February, the established opposition groups have had to make their decisions keeping in mind that it is the independent youth groups, and not the political party activists, who face the bullets and batons every day at the front lines.

MK: If the Crown Prince becomes the king of Bahrain, will that be better than nothing?
FD: Yes it will be better than nothing. If Bahrain were to transition to a genuine constitutional monarchy, all the other members of the royal family would stand to lose their guaranteed positions as ministers, ambassadors, judges and military officers. The Crown Prince however would be the only one who stands to benefit, as he would retain his position. Having said that, the Crown Prince has so far given little reason for the people to believe that he has the desire or the political ability to take on the rest of his family in trying to implement such a transition.

MK: The Media has turned its back to Bahrain with Saudi pressure and other factors, how do you think Bahrainis should respond to that?
FD: While the international media has not been paying as much attention to Bahrain as other Arab uprisings, when they do report on the situation it is generally sympathetic to the cause of the pro-democracy movement and critical of the regime. This is not where the problem lies. The real problem lies at home where the state-controlled local media has managed to divide and scare the people along sectarian lies. Bahrainis need to challenge this narrative through people-to-people contact and solidarity building.

MK: Do you believe the regime has an electronic army that works on bashing oppositionists and their supporters?
FD: I don not think there is any hard evidence to prove that the regime has such an electronic army, but anyone who blogs or tweets against the regime in Bahrain is familiar with the barrage of foul personal attacks that comes in response. We also know that the government has hired Washington D.C.-based Public Relations company “Qorvis,” which offers online reputation management as one of its services. According to a Huffington Post article, “the firm uses ‘black arts’ by creating fake blogs and websites that link back to positive content, ‘to make sure that no one online comes across the bad stuff,’ says the former insider. Other techniques include the use of social media, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.” So potentially, this may be happening in Bahrain, but there is no hard evidence for it yet.

MK: In the last year, blogging has been replaced in Bahrain with social networking. Do you think that was a productive shift considering how much more organized and argument-strong blogging is, comparatively speaking?
FD: Much of the group brainstorming, planning, and organizing of online activism movements still takes place on discussion forums like BahrainOnline, rather than on blogs, Facebook, or twitter. However, real-time social media tools like Facebook and twitter were essential for real time information dissemination and feedback. The latest information about a protest or police attack could be spread around the country and the world within seconds. This does have its down side, as it means that false rumors can and are spread just as faced using this social media tools. But of course the real blame for this is the people who spread or choose to believe this false information without any real evidence for it.

MK: Remembering Ali Abdulimam?
FD: I was actively involved in the online campaign to free Ali after he was arrested in 2005 along with two other administrators of BahrainOnline. It was the first case of a blogger being detained in the Gulf as far as I know. His short time in detention brought him international recognition and allowed him to meet and share notes with other cyber-dissidents around the world. All the while his website continued serving hub for opposition debate and discussion, and in August 2010 he was arrested again along with scores of other people as part of a widespread crackdown on the opposition. He was released this February after the start of the uprising, but rather than keep quiet, the first thing he did after leaving prison was to join the protests at Pearl Roundabout. He spoke to the international media about the torture and abuse he faced during his detention. So when the Saudi-backed crackdown began in March he was to be rounded up. The security forces raided his family’s home to find him, but he is believed to have fled before their arrival. He has been missing in the eight months since then, and was sentenced in June in absentia to fifteen years in prison by a military court. I hope he actually is in hiding somewhere safe as I have heard.

MK: Do you think the choice of many netizens to remain anonymous have weakened the credibility of news coming from Bahrain?
FD: A great many netizens in Bahrain have always chosen to hide behind pseudonyms because of the threat from the state that has always existed. I myself tried to hide my identity while I was in Bahrain. You can assess the trustworthiness of anonymous online sources by looking at: (i) whether they are regarded as trustworthy by people who you trust highly, and (ii) how consistently accurate a source’s published information proves to be after observing them over a period of time. The problem that was witnessed in Bahrain was that after the start of the uprising there was a sudden rush of people joining twitter without understanding how it works or those who weren't as concerned about sources. At the same time you had hundreds of new twitter accounts being created overnight that appeared to be actively spreading false information about the unrest and crackdown.

MK: If Sunnis committed anti-Shia acts, then do you think Shia acted reactionary by making remarks against naturalized Bahrainis who are being stereotyped as mercenaries?
FD: Yes I think xenophobia is just as condemnable as sectarianism. However there is a difference in Bahrain’s case. Most of the opposition activists I have met are keen to make the distinction that when they use the term “naturalization” they are usually referring to “political naturalization.” That is, the use of naturalization for demographic engineering as a political tool. Having said that, I do not think it is particularly helpful to repeatedly use this term as a blanket insult against people, many of whom are just looking for a decent life. Nor should we deny the existence of xenophobia in Bahrain.

MK: Shouldn’t the naturalized Bahrainis be accepted in society instead of being rejected and hated? The remarks used against them exclude them for being racially non-Arabs or recent arrivals?
FD: Yes, just because the policy of political naturalization should be condemned does not mean that naturalized people should be hated. This applies especially to the many naturalized citizens, or their children, who were born and raised in Bahrain and regard it as their home. If the opposition was wise it would try harder to reach out to them, even those working in the security forces, to make them understand that they are both being exploited by the same fat cats.

* Published in Jadaliyya - December 2011. 

Dec 2, 2011

Kuwait is SEGREGATING Health Care between Citizens and Non-Kuwaitis

Racial Segregation ended decades ago but is coming back now in Kuwait!
As the world fights for providing free health care to everyone regardless of their financial powers, nationalities, races, colors, religions, and/or gender, Kuwait is working now on creating 3 hospitals (with 300-beds-capacity for each) and 15 clinics to take care of 1.5 million expatriates and stateless people in the near future. Parliament members and the government have neglected the discriminatory nature of this project and responded to citizens’ complaints about waiting times when using health services. Many times, Kuwaitis, with the lack of awareness, talked openly that they should not be waiting in ‘their hospitals’ because of the long line ups of expatriates. Thus, parliament members, with their motivation to guarantee more votes to stay in the game box, have passed this scandalous project.

The project aims to build three hospitals with a capacity of 300 beds each and with land area of 50,000 square meters for two and 36,000 square meters for the third. These hospitals will provide integrated medical services even dispensing of some drugs. This will cost 130 KD in the first two years, 150 KD for the third and forth, 170 KD for the fifth and sixth, 180 KD for the seventh and eighth, and 190 KD for the ninth and tenth. This proves that this project is a financial failure for Kuwait as those few centers will not be able to provide 1.5 million people with good health services including surgeries.

Two weeks ago, a lecture entitled “Racist Segregation Hospitals” was held in Kuwait Transparency Society to condemn this project and demand terminating it. The speakers said the project is a shameful mark in Kuwait’s history and is very much a racist project in a country that is known of its civil bodies and establishments. They found it nothing but a commercial project the government offered to companies robbing national funds. Speakers also emphasized that this can be considered, according to international laws, a project of racist segregation. They called on parliament members to be considerate of non-kuwaitis who have rights, as the constitution guarantees quality to all, and to stop this project that will be bad for Kuwait’s reputation internationally.

Columnist Dr. Sajed Al-Abdali wrote about the project and spoke in the lecture saying this project will offer 2 to 6 for each 10,000 non-Kuwaitis. He wondered why isn’t the money of this project injected into reforming health services. Salma Al-Essa, from Kuwait’s association of transparency, assured the racist nature of this project. She also asked why isn’t the report of World Bank regarding this project still not published, if it exists, and added that there are no guarantees that the project will function well especially that it will not be under observation.

Dr. Amer Al-Tamimi from Kuwaiti Human Rights Association said this project is an economical failure as it will cost 130 million Kuwaiti Dinars and this amount of money should not be invested in such a project that will harm Kuwait’s reputation of human rights. Al-Tamimi said: “do not expect this project to offer all services. This will surely not include treatment of psychological problems, kidney failure, treatment of war damages and permanent diseases.”

Fawaz Farhan was the only medic present in the lecture and he said: “it is unfortunate that the medical association is not hosting this project.” Farhan said that racism already exists in hospitals as non-kuwaitis do not get any medicine as citizens do and also because they are paying fees for each visit and tests needed. Farhan also said that racist segregation already exists in some clinics. He described the project saying “They want steal the money of non-kuwaitis to practice racism against them!”

Kuwait is taking a suicidal step by executing this project which has been cooked in the past few years. This will definitely take the country into a serious crisis as 1.5 million people will be forced to use facilities that cannot logically be able to provide them with good health services. Segregating people based on their nationalities can pen the country with the most famous scandals in the new century.

To read the leaked proposal of this project in both Arabic and English, click here and here. Also, you can read the complete document that announced the auction for those interested in investing in this project, click here.

Nov 7, 2011

Remembering Ali Abdulemam

To know the Arab blogosphere, you need to know Ali Abdulemam, the Bahraini blogger who spent more time in jail than in blogging in the past year. He is one of the fathers of Arab blogging and Bahrain's most famous blogger as he was the founder of Bahrain Online, a forum that the regime blocked in 2002. When Ali’s name comes up, we think of a man who had the courage to challenge the criminal authorities and thus became not only an opposition figure but also an icon for his people and a voice to their struggle. His cell, where he was kept since September 2010 until February 2011, symbolized the oppression that a new generation is facing in Bahrain.
As we are witnessing the case of Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdelfatah challenging the military junta in post-revolution Egypt by refusing to accredit their military trials of civilians and answering their questions, we need to remember that 6 years ago, Ali Abdulemam went through the same challenge when he and his fellow Bahraini blogger Hussain Yousef refused to be bailed out because they did not want to admit to the system and its false accusations. Ali, after his release last February, has disappeared and was sentenced to 15 years in jail for ‘spreading false information and trying to subvert the regime’. Surely, just the way he was denied a lawyer when he was imprisoned last year, Ali like all other Bahrainis after the uprising, was denied a fair trial and was sentenced in absentia.
When speaking to Hussain Yousef about how he and Ali refused to be bailed out back in 2005, he narrated the story in details: “It was March 2005, we heard of a solidarity protest that took place in front of the police station where we were jailed (Al-Qathibiya police station). We were worried about the safety of the protesters. The long interrogation sessions ended with us and Wael Bualai. They faced us with seven charges. Our lawyers said these charges will lead to the sum up of 107 years in jail! We were laughing at those charges that regimes usually use to kill freedom of speech, such as insulting the king or the royal family, spreading false information, threatening national security, attempting to subvert the regime etc. We rejected the charges, decided to go on a hunger strike, and leaked our news out somehow. We heard that the king was out of the country and that he was faced with our case by journalists wherever he went. Free people stood in solidarity with us from all over the world and Bahrain human rights center did a great job campaigning for us. Statements came out from different organizations and we continued with our hunger strike.
Then, the Interior minister sent someone to ask us to sign an apology to let us out. I asked: for whom? For the king? Or for the people? If it is for the king then let his palace ask us so, and if it is for people, let the parliament come and talk to us. I asked him in return for an apology and told him that we are on a hunger strike and that if we die it will be his responsibility and the responsibility of those who asked to jail us. He offered to bail us out for 1000 Bahraini dinars (around 3000$), and again I rejected. I was taken back to the cell, I explained the situation to my friends, and we agreed. That night we were taken to somewhere unknown and dark. Our eyes were open when we got into the bus and we had intensive security around us and a wave of cars followed us to the new place where we met a person in civilian clothes. The guy started to threaten to put each of us in a separate cell, I asked him who he was and we figured out that he was someone brought back from his vacation just to deal with us. We asked to call our lawyer to inform him of our place and he said no one would know of our place. I said it will be his responsibility if we die and the whole world will know about it. Ali called one of our lawyers. Suddenly, they treated us differently, asked us which cells we like, and we were released the following day. It was the statement of the American Association of Journalists that scared them and we knew more about the calls of the American embassy by reading the cable documents that came out last month through wiki leaks.”
This is an interesting phenomenon that we are witnessing; bloggers are going head-to-head against dictatorships and wrestling their ways out even if they were left alone. It is truly disappointing to see bloggers still getting jailed, tortured, and/or brutalized in the Middle East after the uprisings. Iran, Egypt, and Syria are only behind China when it comes to the number of bloggers and cyber activists harassed or arrested. Saudi Arabia has recently arrested, later released, three vloggers for making an episode on poverty, Kuwait interrogated and arrested five twitter users this year, while a ‘retweet’ in Bahrain might get you interrogated or even jailed.
When speaking with Nasser Weddady, the Mauritanian blogger and activist talked to us about the campaign he launched: “When Ali was arrested in September 2010, Arab bloggers and others from around the globe created one of the nosiest campaigns to demand his release by putting together a showcase for advocates rising through different platforms and multiple mediums.” In comment on what both Ali and Alaa are doing, Weddady added: “This is for liberty; it is a moral stand. These two bloggers chose their principles over their freedoms. It is not about politics, it is about principles.”
Weddady exclaimed: “Ali is a delicate case; he is not a member of a political party because he is above the frame. He was targeted by the regime because when he speaks, there’s a huge blogging community that listens to what he has to say; he has international respect. The stand of world’s democracies towards Ali’s case is shameful. His fate hinges on the world’s complacency towards Bahrain’s dictatorship. We need to realize that this is not only an Arab cause, it is a global one.”
Ali Abdulemam is not a case of his own; he is the face of his people, his generation, and a true example of how online free speech is getting raped by regimes in the Middle East. Founding the Bahrain Online forum in 1998 was a tunnel that Ali digged for Bahrainis to walk out to the world. Revealing his identity in 2002 was seen as a mix of insane courage and suicidal wrestling against a brutal regime. Refusing to be bailed out in 2005, losing his job, and living the nightmare of Bahraini prison in 2010 are all factors that make the world owe this man more than silence. It is a shame how the Arab world and the globe in general are watching the crimes done against Ali and his people, adding water on their revolution to die off. With memory we try to fight for Ali Abdulemam and with spoken words the world should get the Bahraini regime to stop its crimes and to respect the sacred human right of free speech.

Nov 4, 2011

Egypt: Men Should Wear the Veil!

With Islamists rising in post-revolution Egypt, fear of religious oppression is growing among youth, minorities, and women. Recently, a group of Egyptian women started a Facebook page in Arabic called “Echoing Screams” pointing out sexism in their society and the oppression that might be coming with the expected arrival of Islamists in power.

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Nov 1, 2011

Tunisia Trolls Obama

Following my Global Voices post on the #TrollingObama Tunisian social-networking-attack, I was interviewed by BBC TheWorld on this wave. Listen to the recording here.

Oct 31, 2011

Tunisia: Let's Invade Social Networks!

A crazy wave of posts hit the world of social networks when Tunisian netizens decided to invade Facebook and Twitter with their comments. The move started with netizens showing solidarity and support for the American occupy movement by posting chants and messages on the official Facebook page of US president Barack Obama. Many of those comments were funny as they tried to Americanize the chants of their revolution that started last December. This came hand in hand with a hashtag on Twitter called #TrollingObama. Surely those posts are not only to support the protests across the US but to also criticize US foreign policy.

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Saudi Arabia: Poverty Video Vloggers Released

Around two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia arrested three young video bloggers Firas Buqna, Hussam Al-Darwish and Khaled Al-Rasheed for producing an episode of their show Malub Alena about poverty in one of Riyadh's areas. The name of the show can be translated into We Are Being Fooled and this episode was actually their fourth episode after previous shows on youth and police corruption. Before the arrests, the show was having a good number of views but in few days after their arrests, it was viewed for more than 600,000 times.

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Oct 26, 2011

Pictures from the Statelessness conference

On my left, famous stateless Dominican- Haitian activist Sonia Pierre speaking
Next to Maria Otero, US under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs
Reading of my speech about the stateless of Kuwait

* Pictures taken, with permission, from MOSCTHA.

Oct 20, 2011

He is dead. The End.

Picture of 18 year old Ahmed Al Shebani who Killed Gaddafi today

Oct 16, 2011

Oct 5, 2011

The Beat Generation Tour

What am I but a Beat Generation fanatic; my senior thesis was on the image of America in the poems of Allen Ginsberg and Arab poets and this is all what I want to do in my graduate studies. The Beat ideals, methods, madness, screams, expression, and rebellious soul are the ones I relate to most, and I have previously dared to call the rising Arab generation "The New Beat Generation"; one without a face, though.
Last week, I got the chance to achieve one of my biggest dreams when I had a walking tour around New York City visiting the places where the Beat writers used to hangout, live, drink, buy their books from, meet, and read their works. New York is not like Paris as it doesn't care if a famous writer or artist lived in this or that place, because the capitalist question will always be the loudest to be heard "Turn a place that a writer once lived in, to a museum? who will pay for that?" so unlike all the writers' maisons I got to visit in Paris two years ago, New York has no special treatment for them and unfortunately no one thought of doing what Lorca once has done in Andalusia leaving marks on the places where the best minds of his generation lived.
I surely did not get the chance to visit all places; directions are not easy to catch, and time was too short, however I tried to visit as many places relevant to Kerouac and his masterpiece On the Road. I didn't take pictures of all places especially those I got to during the evening, therefore, I will surely have to revisit these spots next time.  

[Click on any of the pictures to see it in full size].
In this Italian restaurant, William S. Burroughs used to invite his Beat friends to dinner.
"Cafe Wha?" is the place where the Beat members used to go to listen to music, mostly Jazz. Great figures like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix performed in this place.

Caffe Reggio is a very simple and intimate place in Greenwich Village. It was not only a place for the Beat writers to hangout but also the site for Bohemians, a John F. Kennedy's speech, and some shots from Copolla's The Godfather II.
In this basement bar called "Gas Light Cafe" the Beat recited their works. Bob Dylan has also performed there and lived in the upstairs apartment for a while. A teenager working in the shop next door told me the place changed its name six time, the last to be "106" and that it has had hard times. Unfortunately, many beat-relevant places are vanishing, getting neglected, losing their spirit, or even shutting down, as I've discovered in this short trip.

In this building, Lucien Carr lived. He was the one to have introduced Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg to each other. He was the one that introduced Ginsberg to the writings of Arthur Rimbaud. Kerouac used to visit Carr in this apartment, and while sneaking out, once, Jack fell and injured his head.

The White Horse Tavern is a bar where Jack Kerouac used to go drink sometimes. When talking to the bartender, he told me that they used to write 'Go home, Jack' in the bathroom so when he reads it he will remember to leave! The place was also a spot for Dylan Thomas, Norman Mailer, and Hunter S. Thompson. Kerouac lived across the street for a while in this building:

Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of Kerouac's favorite churches. You have a weird feeling when seeing it left out of the 'developed' concrete atmosphere where one can notice the huge tasteless buildings, the metro stop, the bus stops, the European tourists, the tired workers, and the arrogant lunatic taxi drivers.
In this apartment, Allen Ginsberg lived for a year. A passer-by gave me an absurd look for taking pictures of someone's door and did not hesitate to ask the question. When I answered, she replied "Ginsberg who?." I was of course disappointed.

In this building, Jack Kerouac wrote his masterpiece On the Road. The building is getting renovated and I could not get in to see his apartment. One of the construction workers was nice enough to let me stand in front of the door and take a picture of me.