The plight of civilians in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib became too much to ignore in the middle of 2019 hot summer, even in a world that had become flooded and numbed by mediatised suffering. In late August, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that nearly 600,000 people were displaced while “more than 500 civilians had been killed and many hundreds more injured” in this province.
Continue reading Accountability: One Small Step at a Time!
In many years at the World Food Programme and UNICEF, I worked with professional and committed leaders who clearly wanted to see our work as #charity and #Humanitarian_aid and not as a fulfillment of rights owed to children and the hungry. They cared most, as good executive bureaucrats do, about getting the job done and growing their organizations in the process. They wanted to provide “help” to people who “need it” rather than support “entitlements and rights” — which to them seemed like a losing and senseless ideological battle in which some of their main benefactors (esp. the US), stood firmly on the other side. What is deeply wrong and self-defeating with this organizational attitude? how does it come about? Please share your views on this and I will share a couple of longer pieces when they are done in the coming few months.
(An earlier version of this piece appeared in Ahramonline on 7.12.2013)
It has been a truism for decades to attribute the drivers of US foreign policy in the Middle East to two realist drivers; free flow of oil from the major Gulf producers and Israel’s security, with the latter seen as part of the US power projection in this region since the cold war era and increasingly also a domestic policy concern since the late 1960s.
Continue reading Dances on quicksand: US and the Arab Spring (3 of 7)
(This was first published in Ahram online on 30.11.2013)
Before we jump into the horse-trading that marked the making of the US foreign policy on the Arab Spring in 2011-2013, it helps to scan and present the chief actors in Washington DC, even if quickly. The authority to formulate the US foreign policy ultimately rests with the US President on major issues. He takes decisions relying on options prepared and debated by senior officials and experts from respective departments and agencies when they meet within the National Security Council (NSC). In these meetings, senior presidential advisers join top officials from the departments of State and Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other government agencies. The NSC is where options for all major foreign policy issues, especially if they are at a crisis stage, are shaped. The list of crises debated within and acted upon by the president using the NSC entire membership or a partial team from there includes the Bay of Pigs in the 1960s all the way to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001-2003, and the Arab Spring of 2011-2012.
Continue reading Dances on quick sands: US and the Arab Spring (2 of 7)
(This was first published in Ahram Online on 22 November 2013)
Continue reading Dances on quick sands: US and the Arab Spring (1 of 7)
I spent a few months this year studying how the US foreign policy machine has been responding to the avalanche of developments in the Middle East since December 2010 when the ostensibly stable region erupted into a turmoil that brought its peoples to the streets in an upheaval that has not ended yet. Through written material, documents and interviews in Washington DC and New York, these articles are an attempt to piece together how the US foreign policy was formulated and why in this period.
First published by here by Dejusticia in April 2018 as part of their book Rising to the Populist Challenge: A Playbook for Human Rights Actors
Summary:Over the period from 2014 to 2017, the Egyptian government cracked down in an unprecedented fury on human rights defenders in particular and the civil society in General (including political parties, trade unions, student unions, sports clubs, etc.). Unlike previous regimes which worried about international reactions and, to a lesser extent, wanted to maintain an appearance of a relative freedom of association, the current regime feels far more empowered on both fronts. It has committed some of the most egregious human rights violations in Egypt’s modern history with impunity, crushed almost all forms of public dissent, killed over a thousand protestors in the span of a few days, imprisoned tens of thousands of people, and, finally, has been strangulating and demonizing human rights actors by drying up their funding streams, especially from foreign sources. The regime has resorted to the other weapons in the authoritarian arsenal including restrictive laws and regulations, vilifications and labeling, censoring independent media, and embroiling HRDs in court cases with charges ranging from harm to national security to tax evasion. Domestically, it seems that the regime has mollified the protest movement that reached a zenith in mid 2013, though anger, probably fueled by the persistence of deteriorating socioeconomic problems, seems to be simmering. In this the regime has benefitted from the prominence of counterterrorism, stemming the waves of immigration from the region and stability; these three concerns seem to dominate the foreign policy decisions of the US, western Europe, Israel and rich Arab gulf countries. And this is why the current regime has received their support or their silence in the past four years.
First published by the Century Foundation on April 18, 2017
Summary: Since the mid-1980s, the number of Egyptian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focusing on human rights has grown rapidly. But despite the proliferation of organizations, the human rights movement in Egypt has never been very effective, and is now especially unmoored. This report traces the sources of these problems in the history of human rights activism in Egypt. The author shows that even as the government has at times allowed NGOs a modicum of independence, it has mostly regarded them with contempt and suspicion. Additionally, Egyptian human rights organizations never formed strong bonds with trade unions and other parts of civil society. They have thus been especially vulnerable to failure. Now, the security-dominated regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is leading a fresh crackdown on human rights NGOs. For Egypt, mired in political dysfunction and economic malaise, this is a practical as well as a moral blunder. The inclusion of human rights in policy and politics, the author argues, is essential to the country’s advancement.
First published in the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalysis in September 2016
Abstract: Freedom of expression suffers from a ferocious crackdown in Egypt because of gaping narcissistic injuries to a chauvinist, patriarchal national psyche that has been repackaged in Egypt’s early post colonial years. Decades of cultural and socioeconomic decay has torn Egypt’s stereotypical psyche between claims of grandeur and righteousness on the one hand and a reality of failures and debasement on the other hand. Dislocated, many Egyptians are desperate and willing to submit to any comforting system of meaning. Their alienation and sense of shame drive them to seek a clean origin and to disavow reality, a state that is conducive to an obsession with blaming the other, or the minority or the neighbouring communities, for instigating this shame. There is a symbiotic deadlock of the impossible return to an imagined past and the feared submission to an ill-defined new. This creates a state of neurosis where the two essentialist “selves” propagated by the religious and neo-liberal elites are meant to preserve a status quo under the benevolent hand of the father/dictator. A challenge to this setup means also a challenge to the father whose protection is sought and loathed in such a torturous neurotic state whose end or dissolution could mean to many the end of the world as they know it. For Egypt to get out of this quagmire, deep political and institutional reforms will have to evolve through social resistance and transformation. This will take time because ultra-nationalism and patriarchy are instrumentalized and integral to deep vested material and psychological interests.
Politics of Food Aid:
From Politicization to Integration
… at the beginning of the [1990s] … aid agencies tried to recruit states for their cause, by the beginning of the next decade they had discovered that states had already co-opted humanitarianism for their interests (Barnett: 172).
Continue reading Politics of Food Aid: From Politicization to Integration