Burma’s protests

Soldiers and police have baton-charged Burmese protesters who tried to stage a further day of marches in Rangoon. This sparked global protests .

The military junta in Burma isn’t new to repressing protests. During the cold war such practices used to be seen as an internal matter as countries like the USA tried to distance themselves from it considering it politically unrewarding. Its allies like China used the pretext of sovereignty.

As it seems in politics, principles are set aside in favour of interests. The most realistic in reaction to what is taking place was Russia when it said that Burma didn’t pose a threat to any country. All the countries reluctant to impose vigorous sanctions on the military junta are worried about their interests.

The protesters stand defenceless. They have as arms just marches and the media reporting about them. The military junta has the deadly weapons to crush them. There is one thing that can turn the soldiers into supporters of democracy is by succeeding in converting them onto fervent Buddhists, ready to obey monks and not the military. As the army didn’t spare even the monks by brutally repressing them, the civilians there are likely to be in the grip of military power. There is no force to overthrow it as the outside world is divided about what action to take.

The world leaders can stand against the military because of its undemocratic practises. By they won’t stand in the way of each other’s interests. The USA is free to do what it likes in Iraq. Other countries are free to support which regime they like.

A revert to civilian rule is unlikely. The military are reluctant to give power. A top general can accept a return to civilian rule provided he becomes the head of state at least for two terms as it was the case in Nigeria. In Pakistan Pervez Musharraf is fighting to remain in power at whatever cost. Even if he loses the next elections he will stay the head of the army. It’s a dream only. The military junta in Burma should come to a compromise for a smooth transition to civilian rules. The Head of the army should share power with democratically elected parties to allow the next elections to be run for the formation of a civilian government. But it seems that generals used to the comfort of sweeping powers will find it difficult to return to their barracks. Blood for them is a routine. They won’t mind spilling as much of it as a possible to get rid of hard opponents and through violent scenes they discourage any new challenge at least for a very long time. In Burma it took this spectacular uprising almost 19 years as the latest took place in 1988.

As history shows, there are people who are unfortunate. Their ordeals become just a spectacle and they go down history as a parenthesis or a food for thoughts for movie makers, writers and journalist to depict this country to the outside world. As time passes, the protests fade and then the country falls in oblivion until new sparks of bloody protests grab the headlines.


Is Madeleine McCann in Morocco?

The search for Madeleine McCann has taken a dramatic turn after a Spanish website published a photograph taken in Morocco last month which, it is claimed, shows the missing four-year-old.

There have been speculations that Madeleine McCann was seen in Morocco, first in Marrakesh city. On this basis Madeleine McCann’s parents visited Morocco last June. They had assurances that the Moroccan authorities would do their best. They were received by the Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa and other top security officials. When they were in Morocco, their case became public, especially when Madeleine’s photograph was handed in Marrakesh to the public to give a clue and the Moroccan press talked about it.

This picture above can make the task of Moroccan police easy to dispel doubts about her actual presence in Morocco. Two years ago, some people appeared in a documentary on a Spanish TV channel giving their testimony about prostitution and paedophilia in two Moroccan cities, Marrakesh and Tangiers. Following that documentary the participants offering themselves as male or female prostitutes or as pimps in it were arrested. Although they were from these big cities, they were easily identified. Other Moroccans were arrested because they appeared in pornographic videos on the internet.

Concerning the picture, it can be easy for the Moroccan police to detect the woman, especially if she is from the region where she appeared in the photo.

Personally, I don’t think it can be Madeleine. The woman seems from the countryside. In Morocco people, especially those living in the countryside know each other. For her having a child speaking English can raise the curiosity of people in her area. She can have as an answer that the child is from a relation who lives in Europe as a substantial number of Moroccan immigrants originate from the north of Morocco. If that girl was really Madeleine, the women wouldn’t show her in public. She can be easily spotted as Madeleine’s case is still fresh in mind and among the search priority of the security services in Morocco. In general, the local authorities’ job is to know about any foreigner living in any areas. It has a network that regularly reports about anything special taking place in any area of the country. If the girl was Madeleine she couldn’t have gone unnoticed as it is too early for her to speak the local language fluently without reverting to English. As a consequence she can be the talk of the area where she is.

That’s what I believe. But only police vigorous and thorough inquiry can yield results. First, it should find the woman and the child before coming to any conclusion. I think the Moroccan police won’t have problem doing so as long as the woman isn’t out of view herself, making her tracking a difficult matter.

Updated news showed that the girl in the picture wasn’t Madeleine McCann.

Denying Pt Ahmadinejad a visit to Ground Zero

Mr Ahmadinejad has been denied a visit to Ground Zero, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying that “it would have been a travesty”.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to draw much attention whenever he’s on a visit to the USA. All his activities become the focus of the media as everything he does or says is considered with significance. There was the controversy of whether he should visit Germany to support the Iranian football team during 2006 World Cup there because of denying the Holocaust and asking for Israel to be wiped out of the map.

Now on his visit to the USA, he has been denied to lay a wreath at Ground Zero. The security concern is groundless as the USA has sophisticated security system to guarantee his safety. The simplest thing to do is to close off the area during his visit. But as the USA still has Iran on the terrorist list, it can’t contradict itself by allowing Ahmadinejad to visit a place that was the target of the worst attack in the US after that of Pearl Harbour. As both countries haven’t normalised their relations, it seems absurd that the US government will allow Ahmadinejad to tour the country freely or to prolong his stay beyond the UN General Assembly summit for a private visit.

It seems allowing Ahmadinejad to go to Ground Zero is like him visiting the White House to say hello to Pt George Bush without having anything to agree upon. The visit can have a human gesture for Pt Ahmadinejad. But for the White House this can just boost his popularity as he will be shown around the world as a pigeon of peace while Bush and his company are hawks of war.

In politics, words and gestures matter. Iran and the USA are playing on words and gestures to further their cases. The good thing is that Ahmadinejad can attack the USA on its land through his addresses and press conferences broadcast on main news channels. But no American can do so in the same way on Iranian soil. That’s the big difference.

Should President Ahmadinejad have addressed the New York’s Columbia University?

Free speech is an undeniable right. President Ahmadinejad has the right to express himself in public. In the USA, probably people mainly listen to local news which doesn’t put them in the global picture. Iran has becomes in they eyes of many an additional threat, which is added to that of international terrorism from Al Qaeda. People should listen to what the Iranian president wants to say. The right to speak also entails the duty to listen. There were direct exchanges between President Ahmadinejad and his audience.

It could have been better if there were direct exchanges between Ahmadinejad and Pt Bush. It could have more weight. An academic and a president addressing each other seems disproportionate as the Iranian president was addressing an academic audience. On the whole the “academic” confrontation” was an occasion to shed light on the position of divergent sides. But politically concrete debates should be carried indoors in politically established institutions like the UN or the UN Security Council.

Symbolically Ahmadinejad was denied to lay wreath at Ground Zero. His address at the New York’s Columbia University brought zero results to the current intricate situation in the Persian Gulf that needs political will to resolve and not academic speeches to fuel it.

A possible war with Iran?

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says the world should prepare for war over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Iran has been a thorn in the side of the USA since the Islamic Revolution. The USA has since done all that was in its power to curb its influence and weakening it by supporting Iraq in its war it in the 80s of the last century. It was then seen as a destabilizing force as it sought to export its brand of Islam to the rest of the Muslim world, especially neighbouring countries, thus threatening the established regimes and the interests of the USA.

Iran looks more threatening because it has gone beyond the phase of propaganda to that of trying to be a superpower in the region. What is worrying about Iran is that it is going its way, meeting threats and sanctions from the West with more determination and defiance. It can be argued that in view of the huge oil reserves Iran has, it can build more oil refineries to meet its energy needs without resorting to a controversial nuclear energy program. Nuclear energy program has become a source of national pride in Iran, on which the regime is basing its popularity to appear as the only one in the region standing up to the influence of the West. The USA has military bases in the region. Iran tries to look as up to the challenge to face any military attack. But in the eye of the USA, the case of Iran has become an urgent matter. It can be just a question of when to launch an attack on it in case all diplomacy fails and all are in a race against time. Iran hurrying to complete its program and the US seeking to strike before Iran become a de-facto nuclear power.

Whether Iran is really seeking to be a nuclear power or not, it shouldn’t seek to bite more than it can chew. In case it mounts a stiff challenge it can stand alone on the world stage subject to unleashed attacks from all sides. The Iranians must consider the outcome of their intransigence. In case big countries like Russia turn a blind eye to a possible US nuclear strike against Iran, it is the Iranian regime that will lose. The world will not sacrifice its interests for the sake of Iran. The Iranians should take the example of Iraq that was invaded despite opposition from influential countries like France and Germany. When its turn comes it can be dealt a heavy blow although the tension will remain. For the US and its allies the threat of sporadic fights is far better than the threat of a nuclear attack that can reach its soil and that of its allies.

Is BBC WHYS a first or a second rate show?

On BBC WHYS blog, a comment was sent by Thomas stating the following.

The BBC has the reputation of providing the highest standard of news and commentary. But the programme World Have Your Say tarnishes this – callers who can barely speak English, or accents that are too difficult to understand or contributions that consist of little other that “like”, “I mean”, and “ahmm”. The sooner this call in show is ended the better.
Clearly the BBC views it as second rate since none of its seasoned journalists present it.

To which Ros from WHYS responded below:

I’ll let others decide if I qualify as a seasoned journalist, but with regard to the quality of English being spoken….

We’d never put someone on air who doesn’t speak English that we can’t understand, but we will speak to people who speak English as their second language. I’m more than happy to bear with someone who’s speaking English slightly falteringly if I gain an understanding of a story of an issue that I couldn’t get without hearing from them. If need be I reiterate what people have said so we’re sure that everyone has understood them.

Of course it’d be easier to only hear from perfect English speakers but the programme would be far poorer for it and wouldn’t deserve its name if we did that.

It’s also worth saying that lots of Africans have told me they struggle with American accents and vice versa -English is spoken in a lot of different ways by a lot of different people and we don’t want to exclude anyone. If you actually can’t understand at all that’s a problem but I don’t accept that happens very often at all on WHYS. Speak to you tomorrow.

On my part I have the following to say:
It seems that some listeners like Thomas whose comment #21 is the subject of debate forgets that WHYS tries to reach all contributors from different parts of the world to have a world view of events that can be international or local. Its aim is to understand what the others want to say and not to expect them to say just what we like to listen to. This can be helpful in dispelling prejudices like people from poor countries have little to say as their material poverty can be equated in the minds of some with their poor knowledge. Issues are raised and discussed by listeners who are common people, not necessarily academics, and professional journalists – but at the same time they show good knowledge.

Contrary to what Thomas thinks, the contributors aren’t totally just common listeners. Thomas doesn’t appear to be a regular listener. One should listen to at least 100 WHYS shows and read at least 500 comments on the blog to be able to come up with a conclusion based on facts. There are from time to time distinguished guests, the latest of whom was Prince Hisham of Morocco. I can give just a few other examples: Pastor Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jessie Jackson from the USA, Don McKinnon, the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Nations etc. There are also contributions from BBC correspondents who take parts in the show like Rob Watson, Richard Hamilton and Jonathan Marcus, not to mention academics and officials from different organisations. It may be interesting to watch this video entitled World Have Your Say Behind the Scenes

and to listen to this report about WHYS to get a general picture of WHYS is essentially about and how it differs from other news programs.

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As for the accents, it depends on the open-mindedness of the listeners. If they are open to different ideas, they can also open their ears to different accents and try to understand them. It can be a way of sharpening one’s linguistic skills. On the show it can be impossible to make out what people are saying when the lines are bad. But usually the caller is stopped and asked to speak again until the lines are clear. Personally, I get curious to know the accents of different people from different parts of the world. Just from the accent, it’s easy to discern the origins of the speakers, if they are Arabs, French, Russians, Pakistanis, Indians or Africans. (By the way sometimes it is difficult to say if a listener is Pakistani, Indian or Bengali as they ostensibly have the same accents.). There is also the presenter Anu Anand who has a multinational breed. She is Indian of origin, educated in the USA and now a British citizen. She has a unique accent. One needs to have fine hearing to discern the different cadences in her voice to trace her multinational background and to know the secret of her unique accent.

The flagrant remark by Thomas is when he said, “Clearly the BBC views it as second rate since none of its seasoned journalists present it.” Perhaps Thomas wants WHYS presenters to brag about their qualifications. Anu had an interview with Pakistani President Musharraf. If she wasn’t a seasoned journalist how could the BBC have sent her for the interview? For Ros, he doesn’t need to present himself. Those who want to know more about him and the rest of the team, make your own research. Those have Thomas’s views can get surprised. After all the BBC won’t allow programs presented about stories about whose depths the presenters aren’t knowledgeable. There are other seasoned journalists who presented the show like Peter Dobbie and Rob Watson. Does Thomas want the WHYS presenters and the rest of the team to be in their fifties or sixties to be convinced that they’re seasoned?

On the whole BBC WHYS is the most interactive programme of the BBC world service. The facts that it publishes comments criticising it even wrongly is an aspect of the confidence of WHYS team.

It seems Thomas is accustomed to getting opinions from specialised commentators on “formal” programmes and he didn’t come to absorb the fact that even common listeners can have good and provoking opinions. When one respects people and gets free of prejudices, it becomes easy to see the whole truth. Considering WHYS as a second rate means it should be like some news programmes in which only top officials are the sole speakers and whose opinions that only matter, ignoring the right of listeners or viewers to set their agendas and to talk to one another instead of being just talked to without being able to have their say. At least WHYS offers listeners the opportunity to be on air and to be able to communicate with different parts of the world.

War Veterans and obligation to them

War veterans are the lucky ones who returned alive from wars, especially those who fought in major ones like those who took part in WWII. In many countries they felt let down. France is one of the colonial countries that had its army composed of soldiers from its colonies and who fought bravely against the Nazis to liberate it. Until recently, such soldiers from African countries like Morocco were left to eek out a living from the meagre pensions they received from the French government. The majority of them are now octogenarians needing more medical care. It was only a movie called “les indigènes” or “Days of Glory” showing the heroism of France indigenous soldiers from Morocco and Algeria mainly that moved former president Chirac to increase the pensions of such remaining war veterans, although it came too late.

In Morocco, veteran combatants against French colonialism were rewarded with pensions and public transportation licenses for taxis and coaches. Their children were given priority in employment. But as time goes by, such privileges are dwindling. Their pensions aren’t enough for them due price rise. There are efforts to improve their situations although it remains below their expectations like the recent signature of a convention to cover basic medical needs for the profit of the Family of veteran combatants and former members of the army and their families. However, many complain that their living standards still need much improvement.

Some countries are lucky not to have any war veterans as they have never fought a war like the Gulf States, leaving other armies like those of the US to make wars on their behalf as in 1991 Gulf War. They can have just a veteran army trained just for marches and parades and making of its weapons just toys and uniforms a way to show off.

The army is the pride of any country, especially if it has a glorious history behind it, making its country feared all around. If, for example, sport heroes get lots of prizes by showing excellence without risking their lives, war heroes and veterans should have dignified treatment, not to live in luxury but at least to have acceptable standards of living. War veterans were ready to sacrifice their lives for their country, it’s a shame to make their lives miserable and to argue they were paid enough when active as if they were mercenaries who get paid for a war and seek to fight another as a way of making their living.

Bad democracy or benign dictatorship?

It seems there is no best system of government as government was described by the American Founding Fathers as a necessary evil. Government is a tool of controlling public affairs and implementing political agendas. This can be carried out through real democracy Even in ancient democracies like that of UK there is public outcry when there is a new law introduced for security reasons as terrorism laws. This is seen by many as interference with privacy and personal freedom.

The separation of powers is a means to exercise control on the government not to fall into oppression, and dictatorship. Limiting the presidential terms, as in the USA, is aimed to save democracy from the grip of a ruler who can use unlimited terms to stifle democratic process. Even in the USA, there are arguments that there is no real democracy as leaders can go against the wishes of the public. US Military presence in Iraq is widely opposed by the Americans according to polls and yet the White House is deaf to this, as for it what matters are the interests of the USA as a state and not the public opinion who have no access to state secrets and therefore can’t dictate to the government what foreign policy it should take.

For other countries, there is the question of which is better a benign dictatorship or a bad democracy. It seems democracy is the best means for political stability as the ballot boxes are the sole arbitrator of who should be in power at the central or local level. Dictatorship means the censorship of all sorts of opposition and the imposition of the rule of those who are in power.

What people expect from any government is justice, good living standards, good management of the nation’s resources and security. But in some cases democratic process becomes just a façade through its institutions like parties and elected officials who turn out corrupt looking just for their personal interests and abusing the trust of those who elected them. Many officials are accused of public fund embezzlements. Even in a transparent democracy, people can choose incompetent leaders who stick to their seats despite their shortcoming leading to political instability and even civil wars.

Democracy can be successful when the voters can make the right choice and those elected should be brave enough to admit their mistakes, resign or call for general elections when they prove inefficient instead of holding to power for personal reasons or for fighting political enemies disregarding national interests. Israel is one of the rare countries in the world whose political leaders are ready to submit their resignation or call for general elections instead of sticking to power indefinitely contrary to their neighbouring republics like Egypt and Syria whose leaders remain unchallenged. In Syria, when there are presidential “elections”, no single Syrian can stand as a candidate against the president as that would amount to national treason or an attempt to stage a coup.

Dictatorship is bad if it means stifling personal freedom making people subservient to the leaders with no right to criticise even local officials or to expose their defects as that can be seen as implicitly exposing the defects of a regime considering itself as infallible. This oppression is carried out through state media that purposely avoids tackling the government setbacks. Any journalist seeking to expose even local scandals can be jailed as allowing this is an indirect criticism of the leader and his regime.

What is important is to have any degree of democracy than not to have it at all. Having a strong leadership is better than having incompetent leaders who turn their country into an angry nation. After all, even in countries like UK, there are critics who say the elected government is an elected dictatorship as it can undertake unpopular policies despite public protests. The difference is that there are regular elections allowing people to vote it out of power. In established dictatorship leaders are there to stay ruling according to their views even if they become archaic just to stay in power. They consider the people just as sheep that should be led in any way.

Whatever form of government, democracy or benign dictatorship, there should be the power of the people to choose who should rule them without stifling their freedoms. They should have guarantees that they won’t be prosecuted if they ask for their rights. After all, people have common sense. They can differentiate between who is good and bad for them. They can acquire the skill of who to vote for if there are regular elections and continuous public debates through transparency about general issues to solve them and not just to speak about them as a façade of the freedom of expression. Those ruling at whatever level should have as a priority the interests of their people and not those of their party or those surrounding them.

Listen to the BBC WHYS show on the subject.

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Is US surge plan in Iraq working?

The military objectives of the US troop surge in Iraq “are largely being met”, the top US military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, has said.

The US surge can be successful if there is evidence of imminent US forces withdrawal without plunging Iraq in further violence. Many operations proved without significant consequences like the killing of insurgent leaders like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or the capture of many other insurgents.

The Iraqi government will stand defenceless if the US troops withdraw from Iraq. The militias will have more power controlling areas and carrying out operations. There will be the risk of neighbouring countries, especially Turkey and Iran interfering with the affairs of Iraq, which can lead to regional tensions. It’s very likely the US will continue its presence for a long time in Iraq by keeping military bases instead of a complete pull-out once security is handed over to Iraqi forces.

As long as there is no national reconciliation in Iraq, the insurgents will continue to thrive forcing the US to stay longer since the Iraqi forces are still unable to mount a stiff challenge to the insurgents and the suicide bombers whose sport is to detonate wherever leaving as many deaths and injuries as possible. Among the insurgents, there is always the death ratio of one suicide bombers against tens of injured and dead.

Moroccan election results, who can be the future Prime Minister

There have been questions of whether Fouad Ali Al Himma will become Morocco’s future a Prime Minister after this year’s general parliamentary elections. Fouad Ali Al Himma is one of the closest friends of King Mohammed VI from childhood. They studied together. When the King ascended the throne he appointed him as “secretary” of the ministry of the interior. A secretary in Morocco is below the position of a minister. So no confusion please! (Government in Morocco takes from the French system as you know.). He was then promoted as Deputy Interior Minister. Last August he resigned from his ministerial position to stand as an independent parliamentary candidate in his region Rhamna, one of the poorest regions in Morocco. This gesture was interpreted by many as a tactic to allow him to become a Prime Minister. In the recent elections his no-political-affiliation list -made up of three candidates, including himself- won the three seats reserved to this region.

Personally I don’t think that the King will venture to appoint him as a PM as he doesn’t belong to any political party. If the plan was to make him PM, he would have kept his ministerial job. After all, the King is free to appoint whoever PM he chooses. The current PM Driss Jettou used to be an interior minister. He was later appointed as Technocrat PM. He doesn’t belong to any party. The King took the decision because the winning parties couldn’t agree on PM to put forward to the King.

Appointing Fouad Ali Al Himma can be politically risky as it will make people in future election turn out at an alarming rate. In these elections the turnout was just 37%. This will just enhance the view of the purpose of the elections if a close friend of the King is a PM, giving the impression that both are using their powers to rule while the rest of the ministers from other parties are there just to execute their orders.

Another point, the excitement that the Islamist Party PJD can win an outright victory in these elections seems to be dashed. It came second with 47 seats. The Nationalist party Al Istiqlal came first with 52 seats. It seems the PJD will have little chance to get in the government or to have key ministries as Al Istiqlal will make a coalition with the other parties staunchly opposed to the PJD like Popular Movement, the National Rally of Independents and Socialist Union of Popular Forces. There is the probability that Al Istiqlal (Independence) Party leader Abbas El Fassi will be the PM. His party is surely not to cause any alarm for Western countries, especially the USA, as it has no Islamic agenda. It remains up to the parties which have been allied with his party to ally with it again before the King appoints a technocrat PM as it was the case with the current government.

Here are the temporary results as announced by the minister of the interior:

The Istiqlal (independence) party, the oldest party in Morocco has gained 52 seats, followed by rival opposition Party for Justice and Development (PJD), 47 seats, and the Popular Movement (MP) whose electorate comes mostly from rural Berber areas, 43 seats. Three other parties that were represented in the government coalition (including PI and MP), the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), which has been so far the leading force in the outgoing government coalition with 8 ministers, as well as the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), won respectively 38, 36 and 17 seats.

Listen to a BBC report on Moroccan monarchy, past and present

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In memory of Luciano Pavarotti

Opera legend Luciano Pavarotti has died aged 71. He had pancreatic cancer. The Italian tenor is credited with bringing new audiences to opera and his rendition of Nessun Dorma, which was the official song for the 1990 World Cup.

Pavarotti was one of the best voices. Although I can’t understand the words of his singing I can be swayed by its melody. His voice was a music crowning the melodies of the musicians who accompanied him.

He maintained the popularity of the opera when modern genres of music became dominant. He was an illustration of Italy’s best art.

Pavarotti is now with Angels while he left the world a wealth of angelic voice that soothes the troubled souls. He will be remembered as an opera genius. He will surely be ranked among immortal music giants like Mozart and Bach, whose music through time become more and more inspirational for many. The loss of Pavarotti isn’t just for Italy but for all opera lovers, especially those who were lucky to attend his singing and to feel at the end that they had been transported to a different world full of inspiring melody.

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