The Global Citizen: February 2012
On February 13, Syria's Representative to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, spoke at the U.N. General Assembly to emphasize the irrationality of international engagement with protestors in Syria. "We in Syria would not imagine sending soldiers to defend Occupy Wall Street protesters," argued Ja'afari. But can the analogy by Ja'afari be justified?
The Occupy Wall Street "people-powered" movement began September 17, 2011, months after the initial uprisings in Arab nations. This is not to say that Occupy lacked mass support because, as people have seen, thousands of people around the world demonstrated against corporations and in some cities continue to camp out in financial districts. The Occupiers are the 1% taking a stand, which is fundamentally similar to the Syrian opposition. Many Syrians are also taking a stand against random killings, tyranny, and civilian torture. So yes, the Occupy and Syrian movement have found ways to physically demonstrate their disapproval of each society. Both Occupy and the Syrian uprising reveal the strength of the masses in making the rest of the world aware of their movements and taking action.
Last Friday I attended a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Egyptian crackdown on non-governmental organizations. In December, the Egyptian government raided the offices of several NGOs within the country and is now prosecuting representatives from these organizations. The government claims that the organizations were not registered to be in the country and that they were receiving aid from non-Egyptian organizations. Four presidents from American NGOs affected by the raids testified at the hearing, including the International Republican Institute, National Democracy Institute, Freedom House, and the International Center for Journalists.
The witnesses were questioned about how their organizations were affected by the government raids and the charges being brought against them. Lorne Craner, of the International Republican Institute, said that members of his organization were interrogated for hours by Egyptian officials. Some of the NGOs said their offices were sealed so that they are no longer able to use the facilities and most had documents, computers, cash, and other goods confiscated. The witnesses agreed that their organizations have never received treatment like this before. While no formal indictments have occurred, charges are being brought against 16 Americans.
My task for the Syria Valentine project was to figure out how to get in touch with "the Syrian Revolution." Needless to say I was a little intimidated. Locating and connecting with activists, conveying the project's sentiments, and finding a way to get our words of support to people on the ground was challenging. A week and a half ago, I never would have dreamed we would be able to make such a human connection purely though the internet, social media and email. But just since Amanda's blog was posted yesterday, we have received even more feedback from Syrian activists about our Valentine! The words are so heartfelt that I just had to share it with you.
The Arab Spring has captured international attention for more than a year now, conjuring images of protests in Tunis, Cairo or Homs. Particularly the ongoing plight of the Syrian people has stirred emotions, leading human rights advocates to call for international action to intervene and protect civilians being attacked for protesting. But many people seem to have forgotten another group of people who also took to the streets and public squares to demand greater democracy and freedom - the people of Bahrain.
The uprising, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary on February 14, has received a fraction of the attention and media coverage that other Arab protest movements have garnered. Activists estimate that more than 70 people have been killed, with thousands more wounded and arrested. An independent committee commissioned by the Bahraini government itself estimates that more than 3,000 individuals are still imprisoned for political reasons. These prisoners have been subjected to torture and their families have been targeted by the government for night raids and home inspections.
Good news: the U.N. has taken some action on Syria-even if it's largely symbolic.
The U.N. General Assembly voted yesterday by an overwhelming margin to approve a resolution, drafted by Saudi Arabia and introduced by Egypt, which condemns violence by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and calls on Syria to end human rights violations and attacks on civilians. The vote tally was 138 countries in favor of the resolution, 12 against, and 17 abstentions.
"Today, the U.N. General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria: the world is with you," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said of the resolution. "Bashar al-Assad has never been more isolated. A rapid transition to democracy in Syria has garnered the resounding support of the international community. Change must now come."
Unfortunately, the General Assembly resolution is not legally binding, but is more of a symbolic statement on the situation in Syria. Repeated efforts to pass a resolution with real force in the U.N. Security Council have been stymied multiple times by vetoes from permanent Security Council members Russia and China. Both those countries opposed the General Assembly resolution as well, but they don't have veto power there. France, another Security Council member, has announced it is working on a new resolution which it hopes can gain Russian support.
Last week, staff gathered around a table in our office and discussed the sad accounts of Syrian activists feeling disillusioned and abandoned after Russia and China vetoed a UN Resolution aimed at stopping the conflict.
We knew we had to do something for the Syrian activists, but what?
The international community was moving at a snail’s pace, so our political advocacy options were unclear. But we did know one thing – even if mostly symbolic, it was important to let the Syrian people standing up for their freedom know that U.S. citizens haven’t forgotten about them.
We sent Syria a Valentine.
After all, Valentine’s Day has come to be regarded as a day that celebrates all kinds of love and friendship. If cards are given to teachers, parents, children, siblings, friends and sweethearts, why not Syrian activists?
Would our community understand the gesture and participate? YES!!
Tomorrow may be Valentine's Day, but for those of us who care about international affairs funding (or federal funding of any kind, for that matter), today was a day which has long been almost as breathlessly anticipated: the release of the President's annual budget request for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2013. (I know, not as delightful as Valentine's Day, but still important.)
President Obama stressed that his overall budget aims to balance many different priorities, such as spurring job growth while reigning in the deficit. But stepping away from that bigger picture, what does the President's budget request mean for funding for international affairs in the next year?
President Obama has requested $51.6 billion for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Within that, budget priorities include funding for the "frontline states" (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq); human and economic security; support for embassies and the U.S. global presence; and support for U.S. allies and contributions to multilateral organizations.
Despite President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline plan, Senate Republicans want to add an amendment to the transportation bill that would mandate construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The vote is expected to take place Tuesday.
Don't let the promise of jobs and cheaper gas prices fool you; as the Natural Resources Defense Council reports, the pipeline company itself stated that only a few hundred permanent jobs will be created for Americans-the State Department estimated fewer than 100 jobs. This pipeline was created to help big oil companies, not the United States. What Big Oil also fails to clarify is that this pipeline is for export, meaning gas prices in the United States would not become lower but would actually increase.
The environmental damages will be massive. Greenhouse gas emissions and destruction of Canada's great Boreal Forest will prove to be a higher cost to the mythical "benefits" of this pipeline. Since this pipeline would be for tar sands extraction, it will be more likely to spill and harder to clean up.
Egyptians just celebrated the one-year anniversary of their revolution last January, but you wouldn't know it from the actions of their military. Indeed, the Egyptian military is operating business as usual, using repressive tactics to maintain an autocratic grip on power. The military has been accused by Egyptian revolutionaries of cracking down on subsequent protests, particularly last fall, when the military violently suppressed demonstrations resulting in at least 100 deaths and wounding thousands more. This extreme response to protests and demonstrations has earned the Egyptian military a reputation of opposing a real transition of power to a new democratically elected government.
This weekend, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was in Germany speaking at an event supporting women in international security. Secretary Clinton remarked "that when we think about peacemaking, which is, after all, one of the critical tasks of any of us in international security, that something is missing. And that is women. There are not enough women at the table, not enough women's voices being heard". Women are underrepresented in peacekeeping forces and in international peace negotiations. This is an unfortunate revelation, considering studies and experiences have show that the presence of women in peacekeeping operations can be extremely beneficial to the success of the effort.
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