Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

is a euphemism for microdebt.

There is no credit without debt. But, more importantly, let’s call it what it is to the people we claim to be trying to help.

Also,”micro” is kind of inappropriate. 50 bucks may be micro to even a hobo in America, let alone GoldmanSachs. But it’s major money to the people who take on this debt.

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This was written a few weeks ago as the first part of a much larger project. I have yet to get around to addressing the third part. So I am publishing this for the most part as it was written. The material and some of the links may seem dated at this point, but I want to get the conclusion out there.


Over the last three weeks, I have started writing several times. Unfortunately, I’ve found it impossible to focus on anything other than following the unfolding minutia and so have been unable to get very far. Now that the immediacy of the uprising has ended with a military coup, perhaps it is time to join the rush to comment without critical distance on the antecedents to the 25 January mass uprising, the challenges to its stated aspirations and outlooks for the future.

A lot has been written over the last couple of weeks (Sarah Carr, Jack Shenker) as well as long before the January 2011 Arab uprisings about all of the efforts undertaken and progress made over the last decade or so. Even a cumulative reading of the most recent writing leaves some linkages unmentioned. I emphasize the role of the decade long process of youth organization and politicization.

There are many factors that have led us to this point and even with critical distance it will be difficult to unravel a straight forward narrative. There are so many intertwined strands. The socioeconomic factors are key as is the way in which the regime has increasingly relied on force and corruption to maintain itself, alienating pretty much the entire population, including (as was evident by their turnout in the uprising) the elite. At various points external factors have played a role, including regional events (I touch upon the Intifada and the invasion of Iraq) that served to galvanize opposition, and international pressure (which I don’t mention any further) that helped open up politics for a crucial moment around 2004-05 creating a wedge for the opposition and media that proved impossible to close. The bulk of this narrative, however, is centered on youth, attempting to tease out the decade-long building of their capacity and political consciousness.

Socioeconomic Factors

Egypt observers have been talking about a revolution for at least a decade, if not longer. Time and again predictions were made of its imminence. A large part of the focus was on all the reasons for explaining the lack of a revolution: cultural relativist arguments such as that the Egyptians are a quiet, humble, accepting people; that they’ve been ruled by dictators for millennia; social explanations such as patriarchic nature of society or the remnants of tribalism; socioeconomic ones such as that the social networks guarantee that no one is starving; political ones about the lack of a rallying point in the post-Camp David era; and all sorts of other drivel that we deluded ourselves into thinking made sense. It was hard to not fall into this trap. After all, it seemed like Egypt was defying all the odds. Evidently, all of the pieces were not yet in place.

Perhaps we needed the restarting of the stalled neoliberal, Washington consensus-dictated structural adjustment “reform” programs. Perhaps we needed Gamal to enter stage right with his coterie of corrupt capitalists that would over the course of only a few years accelerate the siphoning off of massive amounts of Egyptian wealth into their pockets (not to mention Swiss bank accounts, New York investment funds and London properties). While the process of crony capitalism had been unfolding since Sadat’s Infitah, maybe the army officers that were the center of this still had some degree of pride in their nation and if not little modesty, then at least a sense that they were in fact benefiting disproportionately and unfairly. And so, while no doubt amassing significant wealth, their capitalism was still Egypt-centered and the benefits they derived relatively inconspicuous.

In any case, Gamal’s rise to power in the NDP and his technocrat/capitalist entourage made sure that the benefits were conspicuous. Over the course of the last decade, and particularly since 2004, the regime rapidly deregulated the economy, gradually tried to lift subsidies, sold off not only banks and large parts of the public sector (to themselves it seems), but practically gave away the public land on which the grotesquely designed and grossly inequitable and insanely unsustainable gated golf-courses, megamalls and cookie-cutter beach resorts would be built for the uber-rich. Aside from the fact that this US-imported de-urbanization has proven to be a great folly even in parts of the US where there isn’t a looming water catastrophe, if nothing else it served to underscore the massive societal class divisions that were being exacerbated by the neoliberal policies, where the rich got richer and the poor poorer, a pattern that has followed IMF interventions across the globe starting with Latin America in the seventies and eighties. The change was so rapid that it did not take any political economic schooling to understand; everyone could see what was happening and knew why.

One key point that I think differentiated the new crony capitalists was the audacity and sense of entitlement with which they ruled. A friend at Yale’s School of Management has related the story of one of the simulations they took part in. The (market) simulation was rigged by the organizers to favor a certain group so that if they won, the odds of their continuing to win were much higher. He tells me that, while the disadvantaged groups caught on to this fact, those who were winning (himself included) had the conviction that they were just shrewder than the rest.

There is little reason to elaborate further. The socioeconomic drivers had long been in place but were accelerated and put on prominent display by the Gamal and Ezz-led, Nazif-managed crony capitalist neoliberalization of the economy.

Youth Activism

The lore surrounding the rise of activism over the last decade has by now become in some senses mystified. Ask a dozen activists about it and you will get a dozen answers. But some themes are consistent:

  • The Second Intifada is thought to have been the first key event. It brought many sympathizers out into the streets and on to the campuses. Perhaps key for the future of activism was the committee for the assistance of Palestine (I may be getting exact name wrong, but the idea was to gather and deliver in kind donations) which served as the first point of coordination and communication among diverse groups. Another oft-quoted benefit was that the older activists from the seventies were reconnected, in some cases for the first time in decades.
  • The March 2003 invasion of Iraq witnessed massive outpourings across the region. In Cairo protesters from AUC, Cairo University and beyond converged upon Tahrir in the first massive mobilization in decades. Again, this was a crucial platform for coordination among old and new activists.

Kifaya and the Rise of the Youth

These two key events sowed the seeds of what was to become Kifaya, the umbrella group formed in late 2004 to reject any further terms for Mubarak or his son. Much has been written about the rise and fall of this group, but I would like to emphasize the role of the so called Kifaya youth (shabab min agal il taghyeer, youth for change). The people involved included youth from the Muslim Brotherhood, the old and new parties, the revolutionary socialists (who by then had been operating for several years on campuses) as well as youth that previously had little or no political affiliation. It included street organizers, campus activists and perhaps critically, the tech-savvy vanguard of the internet, some of who were already politicized and others for whom politics was a new venture.

As the spring of 2005 progressed, cracks began to appear between the youth and what they often derogatorily called the “ties” (as in the suits), with the youth agitating for a more active and aggressive role than the veterans were willing to sanction. No doubt there was the idealism and gung-ho spirit that comes with youth at play.

But in retrospect, there was something else going on. Youth were learning (not always successfully) to debate, organize and, crucially, to unleash their creativity in circumventing the regime. Often with support and advice from the veterans (but certainly not always), they developed ways in which to make large protests more orderly as well as ways in which to keep the regime unbalanced. For example, there were the oxymoronic “secret protests” in which only a handful of people would know the actual pre-scouted location (usually in popular quarters). They would ensure that others appeared nearby, would guide them to the location at which point a seemingly spontaneous protest would erupt, march through a marketplace and then just as suddenly disperse some thirty minutes later.

Over the years, youth have learned from their counterparts abroad as well. I’m not talking about the Western money poured into “training” programs on citizenship and democracy. I’m sure they’ve had some value, but more crucial has been learning from fellow activists and dissenters.

Blogs and the Internet

While I have long been disdainful of the whole facebook-activism, twitter-revolution sensationalism (read this on the difference between strong and weak ties; and this for a very interesting take on the role of social media), I have maintained that at least from a theoretical perspective: social media, the internet and, more broadly, the still unfolding ICT revolution, offer the possibility of a similar socio-political revolutionary impact to that of the Gutenberg press. The spread of information and ideas in places where there has historically been a monopoly on the Truth (to carry the analogy, akin to that of the medieval Church), could have (and arguably is having) significant impacts on society.

To return to the point, it was, naturally, the youth that took to the emerging blogs and internet most readily. It can be argued that the internet not only created a space for debate and organizing but also made it possible for secular leftists and Islamists to communicate and cooperate with respect for each other despite the fact that their leaders could not. (Though, to be fair, the trend was started offline as early as a decade earlier by the revolutionary socialists). This is not to ignore the conflicts, but there was definitely something happening here in terms of laying the groundwork for intelligent, respectful dialog.

For all the challenges, the petty squabbling and the subsequent disintegration of Kifaya as an institution (if it ever was that), the youth were building networks, learning and creating a body of experience about dissent, and developing means of communication that would prove crucial building blocks. But this group of several hundred on- and offline activists’ efforts had remained frustrated for many years. The running sardonic joke was that protests were a good excuse to meet up with people you don’t see day to day. There were other important moments along the way that I am aware I am glossing over, such as the judges that spoke out against the fraudulent 2005 parliamentary elections and the campaign to support them; the Israeli attacks on Lebanon (2006) and Gaza (2008-09). But, none of this gained much traction beyond a core group. And, though there is no way to test this, I would argue that had Tunisia happened a year earlier, Egypt may not have had its uprising. So, what has changed over the last year?

Mohamed El Bardie

While there is much ambivalence surrounding his role and his suitability as a leader in Egypt, I find it hard to dismiss the evidence that the appearance of an educated, successful, internationalist, untainted by the necessary corruption of making a name over the last few decades and bolstered by the prestige of standing up to the Bush administration and a Nobel Peace prize to boot has drawn in a certain segment of young people: the educated, foreign-language speaking, usually private school educated and private sector employed, ambitious middle and especially upper middle class. While El Baradie may have little street cred, his organization nevertheless did garner a million signatures to their agenda for change and, perhaps more importantly, drew in a previously unpoliticized, yet critical, segment of society.

We are all Khalid Said

The role of Khalid Said’s unfortunate though all too common death at the hands of Egypt’s notoriously thuggish police forces is perhaps more evident. Again, it drew in a large number of previously apolitical middle class youth. One of the challenges that activists have long struggled with is the popular perception, particularly among the middle classes, that if you kept your head low, you could avoid the excesses of the police. But here was a random kid in his twenties with no Islamist or political links. The publicity that surrounded Khalid Said’s murder as well as the arrogant impunity with which the regime managed the fallout was a wake-up call.

A call facilitated, no doubt, by the astute manner in which the support campaign, “We are all Khalid Said,” was managed. By framing the reaction in an apolitical manner, it was possible to mobilize thousands of youth to stand in silent remembrance of the victim of police violence without linking the issue to the larger institutional and systemic issues. It is critical to note that here, again, we see the innovation of youth circumvention of the regime, through, for example calling for people to not communicate, carry banners or stand in groups, technically neutralizing the public assembly restrictions of emergency law.

6 April

I have purposefully put off discussing the 6th of April movement to the end of this youth section. Their politics and role have been the subject of much contention. In response to a call by Mahalla workers for a strike in April 2008, a group of youth formed a facebook group in the hopes of rallying around this labor action to link it to broader political issues. The first time around, they managed to keep people at home (most likely out of fear of dealing with the clashes), but by 2009 the irrelevance which veteran activists had insisted upon had become apparent. While I think their intentions were admirable, the crux of their failure was that they had not yet built any real networks with labor. And it is these real-life networks that are key.

Labor Activism

On the back of the churning of 2004-05, 2006 witnessed the emergence and spread of labor activism. Hossam el Hamalawy has been tracking this for years and his blog is an archive of much (though I doubt even he would claim most) of the progress over the last few years. (Until this last week, their crowning victory was the April 2009 establishment of the first free union in decades). While initially sporadic and focused on narrow factory issues, it was not long before workers began to link their concerns with those of the system at large including regional issues.

Rather than belabor the matter, I will defer to Hossam and other documenters of the labor movement, save to make two points. First, that, again, like the youth this was a long term process of politicization and organization that has been unfolding for over a decade.

Second, and this is a critical point that is missed in most of the media coverage, in all likelihood it was the mass labor strikes in the second week of February that tipped the balance of the uprising and shook the regime. This is not to discredit the protesters on the street, but while the regime might have imagined it could weather the street protest storm, I think the powers that be realized that they had a lot more to fear from the factory floor and street joining forces, especially when the labor movement has already demonstrated such a strong capacity for organization.


Why this is all so important is to dispel some of the mystification of the January 25 seemingly spontaneous mass uprising. The narrative for much of the last three weeks has been that a handful of anonymous online activists issued a call on facebook to which tens of thousands of people responded. The details are still emerging, but this is clearly not an accurate depiction of what happened.

In fact, a lot more organizing went into it than had been presumed as depicted by this WSJ article and the previously cited Shekner post. To summarize: A diverse group of organizers had been meeting for at least a couple of weeks (no doubt building on years of networking). They realized they had to overwhelm the security apparatus and spread them thinly – no easy task with over 1.2 million people in the security apparatus. Twenty sites were announced. But this was not enough: A 21st site, in the popular district of Bulaq al-Dakrour was kept secret. As outlined above, this was not an innovation; it was the incorporation of a tactic used at least as far back as 2005. Again, their years of experience meant that they knew they had to work on timing, which they empirically measured and synchronized. In the end, it was this secret group that finally broke into Tahrir.

By the time the regime realized the magnitude of what had just happened, it was too late. The crack in the fear barrier that was Tunisia had been blown wide open by the people on the street. I say this with caution as somebody that has not had the privilege of being on the ground: It seems to me that the reaction on the ground was a little too good to have been random and spontaneous. I have little doubt that the medical assistance (much as the legal assistance) was spearheaded by long-time activists. It also seems as though the football ultras played a significant role alongside Muslim Brotherhood youth at some of the most critically existential moments for the uprising. Their years of coordination came in handy.

This does not detract from all of the people that stepped up, but the point I am trying to drive home is this: It took a decade of capacity building to get where we are today. Despite all the odds and a lack of any institutional locus, the dedicated activists (though I would like to think that the on-and-offers like me have also contributed somehow) have consciously (and sometimes not so consciously) developed the infrastructure and capacity for dissent against an authoritarian regime.

The question now is: do we have the capacity to build a nation, also against all odds?

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This is really too good for me to pick excerpts out of. It really expresses so much of what I believe is wrong with the world and to cut it up would diminish it. While focusing mainly on India, Arundhati Roy, author of the God of Small Things (a book I think is overrated since I disapprove of the petered-out ending), and other books manages to strike the heart of the system: that the word democracy has been usurped to mean something entirely different than it should/did. Read it yourselves:

While we’re still arguing about whether there’s life after death, can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By “democracy” I don’t mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy, and its variants, such as they are.

So, is there life after democracy?Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defense of democracy. It’s flawed, we say. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than everything else that’s on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: “Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia… is that what you would prefer?”

Whether democracy should be the utopia that all “developing” societies aspire to is a separate question altogether. (I think it should. The early, idealistic phase can be quite heady.) The question about life after democracy is addressed to those of us who already live in democracies, or in countries that pretend to be democracies. It isn’t meant to suggest that we lapse into older, discredited models of totalitarian or authoritarian governance. It’s meant to suggest that the system of representative democracy–too much representation, too little democracy–needs some structural adjustment.

The question here, really, is what have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something dangerous? What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?

Is it possible to reverse this process? Can something that has mutated go back to being what it used to be? What we need today, for the sake of the survival of this planet, is long-term vision. Can governments whose very survival depends on immediate, extractive, short-term gain provide this? Could it be that democracy, the sacred answer to our short-term hopes and prayers, the protector of our individual freedoms and nurturer of our avaricious dreams, will turn out to be the endgame for the human race? Could it be that democracy is such a hit with modern humans precisely because it mirrors our greatest folly–our nearsightedness?

Our inability to live entirely in the present (like most animals do), combined with our inability to see very far into the future, makes us strange in-between creatures, neither beast nor prophet. Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival. We plunder the earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for the profound, unfathomable thing that we have lost. It would be conceit to pretend I have the answers to any of these questions. But it does look as if the beacon could be failing and democracy can perhaps no longer be relied upon to deliver the justice and stability we once dreamed it would.

A Clerk of Resistance

As a writer, a fiction writer, I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on. Does it eventually mask a larger truth? I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry.

Something about the cunning, Brahmanical, intricate, bureaucratic, file-bound, “apply-through-proper-channels” nature of governance and subjugation in India seems to have made a clerk out of me. My only excuse is to say that it takes odd tools to uncover the maze of subterfuge and hypocrisy that cloaks the callousness and the cold, calculated violence of the world’s favorite new superpower. Repression “through proper channels” sometimes engenders resistance “through proper channels.” As resistance goes, this isn’t enough, I know. But for now, it’s all I have. Perhaps someday it will become the underpinning for poetry and for the feral howl.

Today, words like “progress” and “development” have become interchangeable with economic “reforms,” “deregulation” and “privatization.” “Freedom” has come to mean “choice.” It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant. “Market” no longer means a place where you buy provisions. The market is a deterritorialized space where faceless corporations do business, including buying and selling “futures.” “Justice” has come to mean “human rights” (and of those, as they say, “a few will do”).

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the tsars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being “anti-progress,” “anti-development,” “anti-reform” and of course “anti-national”–negativists of the worst sort.

Talk about saving a river or protecting a forest and they say, “Don’t you believe in progress?” To people whose land is being submerged by dam reservoirs, and whose homes are being bulldozed, they say, “Do you have an alternative development model?” To those who believe that a government is duty bound to provide people with basic education, healthcare and social security, they say, “You’re against the market.” And who except a cretin could be against markets?

To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when “free speech” has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.

Two decades of “progress” in India has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it–and a much, much vaster, desperate underclass. Tens of millions of people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods, droughts and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental engineering and massive infrastructural projects, dams, mines and Special Economic Zones. All developed in the name of the poor, but really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy.

The hoary institutions of Indian democracy–the judiciary, the police, the “free” press and, of course, elections–far from working as a system of checks and balances, quite often do the opposite. They provide each other cover to promote the larger interests of Union and Progress. In the process, they generate such confusion, such a cacophony, that voices raised in warning just become part of the noise. And that only helps to enhance the image of the tolerant, lumbering, colorful, somewhat chaotic democracy. The chaos is real. But so is the consensus.

A New Cold War in Kashmir

Speaking of consensus, there’s the small and ever-present matter of Kashmir. When it comes to Kashmir, the consensus in India is hard core. It cuts across every section of the establishment–including the media, the bureaucracy, the intelligentsia and even Bollywood.

The war in the Kashmir valley is almost twenty years old now, and has claimed about 70,000 lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured, several thousand have “disappeared,” women have been raped, tens of thousands widowed. Half a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir valley, making it the most militarized zone in the world. (The United States had about 165,000 active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation.) The Indian Army now claims that it has, for the most part, crushed militancy in Kashmir. Perhaps that’s true. But does military domination mean victory?

How does a government that claims to be a democracy justify a military occupation? By holding regular elections, of course. Elections in Kashmir have had a long and fascinating past. The blatantly rigged state election of 1987 was the immediate provocation for the armed uprising that began in 1990. Since then elections have become a finely honed instrument of the military occupation, a sinister playground for India’s deep state. Intelligence agencies have created political parties and decoy politicians; they have constructed and destroyed political careers at will. It is they more than anyone else who decide what the outcome of each election will be. After every election, the Indian establishment declares that India has won a popular mandate from the people of Kashmir.

In the summer of 2008, a dispute over land being allotted to the Amarnath Shrine Board coalesced into a massive, nonviolent uprising. Day after day, hundreds of thousands of people defied soldiers and policemen–who fired straight into the crowds, killing scores of people–and thronged the streets. From early morning to late in the night, the city reverberated to chants of “Azadi! Azadi!” (Freedom! Freedom!). Fruit sellers weighed fruit chanting “Azadi! Azadi!” Shopkeepers, doctors, houseboat owners, guides, weavers, carpet-sellers–everybody was out with placards, everybody shouted “Azadi! Azadi!” The protests went on for several days.

The protests were massive. They were democratic, and they were nonviolent. For the first time in decades, fissures appeared in mainstream public opinion in India. The Indian state panicked. Unsure of how to deal with this mass civil disobedience, it ordered a crackdown. It enforced the harshest curfew in recent memory, with shoot-on-sight orders. In effect, for days on end, it virtually caged millions of people. The major pro-freedom leaders were placed under house arrest, several others were jailed. House-to-house searches culminated in the arrests of hundreds of people.

Once the rebellion was brought under control, the government did something extraordinary–it announced elections in the state. Pro-independence leaders called for a boycott. They were rearrested. Almost everybody believed the elections would become a huge embarrassment for the Indian government. The security establishment was convulsed with paranoia. Its elaborate network of spies, renegades and embedded journalists began to buzz with renewed energy. No chances were taken. (Even I, who had nothing to do with any of what was going on, was put under house arrest in Srinagar for two days.)

Calling for elections was a huge risk. But the gamble paid off. People turned out to vote in droves. It was the biggest voter turnout since the armed struggle began. It helped that the polls were scheduled so that the first districts to vote were the most militarized districts even within the Kashmir valley.

None of India’s analysts, journalists and psephologists cared to ask why people who had only weeks ago risked everything, including bullets and shoot-on-sight orders, should have suddenly changed their minds. None of the high-profile scholars of the great festival of democracy–who practically live in TV studios when there are elections in mainland India, picking apart every forecast and exit poll and every minor percentile swing in the vote count–talked about what elections mean in the presence of such a massive, year-round troop deployment (an armed soldier for every twenty civilians).

No one speculated about the mystery of hundreds of unknown candidates who materialized out of nowhere to represent political parties that had no previous presence in the Kashmir valley. Where had they come from? Who was financing them? No one was curious. No one spoke about the curfew, the mass arrests, the lockdown of constituencies that were going to the polls.

Not many talked about the fact that campaigning politicians went out of their way to de-link Azadi and the Kashmir dispute from elections, which they insisted were only about municipal issues–roads, water, electricity. No one talked about why people who have lived under a military occupation for decades–where soldiers could barge into homes and whisk away people at any time of the day or night–might need someone to listen to them, to take up their cases, to represent them.

The minute elections were over, the establishment and the mainstream press declared victory (for India) once again. The most worrying fallout was that in Kashmir, people began to parrot their colonizers’ view of themselves as a somewhat pathetic people who deserved what they got. “Never trust a Kashmiri,” several Kashmiris said to me. “We’re fickle and unreliable.” Psychological warfare, technically known as psy-ops, has been an instrument of official policy in Kashmir. Its depredations over decades–its attempt to destroy people’s self-esteem–are arguably the worst aspect of the occupation. It’s enough to make you wonder whether there is any connection at all between elections and democracy.

The trouble is that Kashmir sits on the fault lines of a region that is awash in weapons and sliding into chaos. The Kashmiri freedom struggle, with its crystal-clear sentiment but fuzzy outlines, is caught in the vortex of several dangerous and conflicting ideologies–Indian nationalism (corporate as well as “Hindu,” shading into imperialism), Pakistani nationalism (breaking down under the burden of its own contradictions), US imperialism (made impatient by a tanking economy) and a resurgent medieval-Islamist Taliban (fast gaining legitimacy, despite its insane brutality, because it is seen to be resisting an occupation). Each of these ideologies is capable of a ruthlessness that can range from genocide to nuclear war. Add Chinese imperial ambitions, an aggressive, reincarnated Russia, and the huge reserves of natural gas in the Caspian region and persistent whispers about natural gas, oil and uranium reserves in Kashmir and Ladakh, and you have the recipe for a new cold war (which, like the last one, is cold for some and hot for others).

In the midst of all this, Kashmir is set to become the conduit through which the mayhem unfolding in Afghanistan and Pakistan spills into India, where it will find purchase in the anger of the young among India’s 150 million Muslims who have been brutalized, humiliated and marginalized. Notice has been given by the series of terrorist strikes that culminated in the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

There is no doubt that the Kashmir dispute ranks right up there, along with Palestine, as one of the oldest, most intractable disputes in the world. That does not mean that it cannot be resolved. Only that the solution will not be completely to the satisfaction of any one party, one country, or one ideology. Negotiators will have to be prepared to deviate from the “party line.”

Of course, we haven’t yet reached the stage where the government of India is even prepared to admit that there’s a problem, let alone negotiate a solution. Right now it has no reason to. Internationally, its stocks are soaring. And while its neighbors deal with bloodshed, civil war, concentration camps, refugees and army mutinies, India has just concluded a beautiful election. However, “demon-crazy” can’t fool all the people all the time. India’s temporary, shotgun solutions to the unrest in Kashmir (pardon the pun), have magnified the problem and driven it deep into a place where it is poisoning the aquifers.

Is Democracy Melting?

Perhaps the story of the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, is the most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been deployed there, enduring chill winds and temperatures that dip to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Of the hundreds who have died there, many have died just from the elements.

The glacier has become a garbage dump now, littered with the detritus of war–thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate. The garbage remains intact, perfectly preserved at those icy temperatures, a pristine monument to human folly.

While the Indian and Pakistani governments spend billions of dollars on weapons and the logistics of high-altitude warfare, the battlefield has begun to melt. Right now, it has shrunk to about half its size. The melting has less to do with the military standoff than with people far away, on the other side of the world, living the good life. They’re good people who believe in peace, free speech and human rights. They live in thriving democracies whose governments sit on the UN Security Council and whose economies depend heavily on the export of war and the sale of weapons to countries like India and Pakistan. (And Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, the Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan… it’s a long list.)

The glacial melt will cause severe floods on the subcontinent, and eventually severe drought that will affect the lives of millions of people. That will give us even more reasons to fight. We’ll need more weapons. Who knows? That sort of consumer confidence may be just what the world needs to get over the current recession. Then everyone in the thriving democracies will have an even better life–and the glaciers will melt even faster.

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Strong Objection to the Nuweiba Power Plant Project in South Sinai planned by the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company and to be financed by the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank.

We kindly ask for to join us in combating a serious situation that is arising in Nuweiba!

We, and other investors, residents and workers in Nuweiba, have, over the past couple of days, just learned of the plans of the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company to build a very large power plant, (750Mw gas powered turbines on a site of 105000 square metres – towering over 82 metres in height), in the middle of Nuweiba City, South Sinai, Egypt.

Financing is reportedly to be forthcoming from the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank, (even though procedures of the banks and of the European Union for the granting of such financing have not been properly adhered to).

Furthermore, we were dismayed and shocked to hear that, allegedly, this project has been approved by the Egyptian Environment Affairs Agency. However, we now learn that apparently this is not the case.

If such a plant proceeds, it will have a disastrous effect on the local tourism industry, on the local Bedouin population and, above all, on the local environment.

Nuweiba is one of the most picturesque parts of the whole southern Sinai Peninsula, has an excellent and unique tourism potential, is home to two major Sinai Bedouin tribes, and has an almost unique, relatively undisturbed underwater marine life.

Apart from the obvious enormous detrimental effects such a project will have on the local environment and population during the construction period, once operational, the plant will have a negative impact on the quality of air, will reduce the level of sunlight, increase noise pollution and, above all, will damage seriously and irreparably the marine life and coral reefs that lie all along the east coast of Nuweiba adjacent to where the plant is planned to be built. The increase in water temperature will damage the aquatic life in Nuweiba in a number of ways, most prominently by causing a rapid reduction in the number of different fish species found here, causing the death of some and by forcing others to move to distant stretches of reef, but also by inducing coral bleaching and rapidly increasing the amount of algae in the water. This effect will initially be localised to the reefs in the immediate vicinity of the plant, but will, over time, extend to destroy more and more of the reefs in Nuweiba and further afield.

Such a large power plant will also cause the eventual demise of the local tourist industry and subsequently force the closure of the hotels, dive centres and other tourist service providers in the area, resulting in the loss of jobs for the many workers within the tourism industry and the loss of livelihood for the various local businesses that supply products and services to the tourism industry in Nuweiba. Tourism is a major source of income for the local Bedouin tribes so the effects on the loss of this industry are simply unimaginable.

We kindly and respectfully ask your assistance in putting pressure on the Ministry of Electricity and Energy, the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, the South Sinai Governorate, the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank and the Egyptian Environment Affairs Agency immediately to withhold approvals for this project pending full investigations, in co-ordination with internationally recognised environmental protection agencies, as well as to hold full disclosure meetings and consultation with local residents, businesses and NGOs as this has apparently not be done. The proposers of this project did place an advertisement in Al Ahram Newspaper, (a single, 1/8th page, insertion on the 8th April 2009 with very brief details on the project and with the instructions that any interested parties should visit certain offices either in Cairo, 470 km away, or Ismaileya, 400 km distant, or attend a meeting on the 15th April 2009 in Sharm el Sheikh, 160 km), but made no other serious attempts to advise, consult or inform the local community.


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Here’s an article by Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., a physicist, environmentalist, feminist, science policy advocate and director of Navdanya and the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology essentially on how monoculture, non-organic, chemical-fertilizer-and-irrigation-dependent, non-renewable, genetically modified, corporate, IP-protected seeds are fucking farmers.

.. and an interview with her.

This is really, seriously, one of the most heinous crimes committed by the neoliberal, brettonwoods, corporate, capitalist agenda. It makes me nauseous every time i read about the issue. Within as little as a single growing season, entire regions of farmers go from self-reliance to debt so daunting that they see no solution but suicide. 200 THOUSAND in India in a dozen years. India is where it’s most visible, but i’ve read similar reports from Egypt.

Even without the suicides. So much economic devastation for profits.

So depressingly, painfully sad. And such a crime.

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The UN’s Human Development Report for this year is out and it focuses on, surprise surprise, climate change. Havent read it yet. But here’s the press release.

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Culture in the Gulf

It’s been clear for a a few years now that Abu Dhabi has been seething with envy towards its oil-poor, commercial super-hub neighbor. Naturally, it wouldnt make too much sense to compete in the same niche. And so they’ve picked culture (no new news, really, though), a concept which, for some reason, i find hilarious.

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