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Middle East Press On Women Journalists, Arab Issues, Al-Qaeda And Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopia: New Age Islam's Selection, 26 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

26 November 2020

• Women Journalists Are Facing A Growing Threat Online And Offline

By Jackie Harrison, Julie Posetti And Silvio Waisbord

• Every Woman Is Influential And Inspiring In Today’s World

By Ambica Sachin

• Do Not Expect Substantive Shifts In Policy On Arab Issues

By Ray Hanania

• Iran’s Close Connections To Al-Qaeda Should Surprise No One

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

• Turkey's Erdogan Crushes Hopes Of Reform, Lashes Out At AKP Veteran

By Amberin Zaman

•  There Can Be No ‘Going Back To Normal’ In Iraq

By Hayder Al-Shakeri And Taif Alkhudary

• How Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopia-First Nationalism Led To Civil War

By Awol K Allo


Women Journalists Are Facing A Growing Threat Online And Offline

By Jackie Harrison, Julie Posetti And Silvio Waisbord

25 Nov 2020


Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa speaks to the media after pleading not guilty to tax evasion charges, in Rappler's office in Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines on July 22, 2020 [File: Reuters/Eloisa Lopez]


On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, it is important to throw light on a growing threat women journalists are facing today: The insidious problem of online violence is increasingly spilling offline, with potentially deadly consequences.

In a global survey of 1,200 media workers, conducted by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), some 20 percent of women journalists and media workers reported being targeted with offline abuse and attacks that they believe were connected with online violence they had experienced.

These preliminary research results also point to a surge in rates of online violence against women journalists. Nearly three-quarters – 73 percent – of participants identifying as women said they have experienced online abuse, harassment, threats and attacks.

Online violence is the new front line in journalism safety – and it is particularly dangerous for women. They – just like women across society – experience higher levels of harassment, assault and abuse in their daily lives. women journalists are also at much greater risk in the course of their work, especially on digital platforms. In the online environment, we see exponential attacks – at scale – on women journalists, particularly at the intersection of hate speech and disinformation.

Alarmingly, the risk extends to their families, sources and audiences. Online attacks against women journalists are often accompanied by threats of harm to others connected to them, or those they interact with, as a means of extending the “chilling effect” on their journalism.

In combination, misogyny and online violence are a real threat to women’s participation in journalism and public communication in the digital age. This is both a genuine gender equality struggle and a freedom of expression crisis that needs to be taken very seriously by all actors involved. We believe that collaborative, comprehensive, research-informed solutions are increasingly urgent.

An escalating deadly threat

Our finding that a fifth of the women journalists who responded to our survey reported experiencing abuse and attacks in the physical world that they believed were associated with online violence targeting them is particularly disturbing. It underlines the fact that online violence is not contained within the digital world.

In 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that in at least 40 percent of cases, journalists who were murdered reported receiving threats, including online, before they were killed, “highlighting the need for robust protection mechanisms”. The same year, two women journalists on opposite sides of the world were murdered for their work within six weeks of one another: celebrated Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and prominent Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh. Both had been the targets of sustained gendered online attacks before they were murdered.

Parallels between patterns of online violence associated with Caruana Galizia’s death and attacks being experienced by another high-profile target – Filipino American journalist Maria Ressa – are so striking that the murdered journalist’s sons issued a public statement expressing their fears for Ressa’s safety. “This targeted harassment, chillingly similar to that perpetrated against Ressa, created the conditions for Daphne’s murder,” they wrote.

Likewise, the death of Lankesh, which was associated with online violence propelled by right-wing extremism, also drew international attention to the risks faced by another Indian journalist who is openly critical of her government: Rana Ayyub. She has faced an onslaught of rape and death threats online alongside false information campaigns designed to counter her critical reporting, discredit her, and place her at greater physical risk.

Pointing to the emergence of a pattern, the targeting of Ayyub led five UN special rapporteurs to intervene in her defence. Their statement drew parallels with Lankesh’s case, and called on India’s political leaders to act to protect Ayyub, stating: “We are highly concerned that the life of Rana Ayyub is at serious risk following these graphic and disturbing threats.”

This trend of online attacks against women journalists only appears to be increasing over time. Back in 2014, when these issues first began to attract mainstream media attention, a survey of nearly 1000 women journalists conducted by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and the International News Safety Institute (INSI), which was supported by UNESCO, found that 23 percent of women respondents had experienced “intimidation, threats or abuse” online in relation to their work.

A follow-up survey conducted by IWMF and Trollbusters in 2018, involving a smaller but still substantial sample, found that 63 percent of women respondents had been harassed or abused online at least once. And in our survey, 73 percent of women reported experiencing online abuse, harassment, threats and attacks. Although these surveys are not directly comparable, viewed collectively they point to a disturbing pattern.

The COVID-19 pandemic and social media risks

Physical violence against women has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in what has been called the “shadow pandemic”. At the same time, online violence against women journalists also appears to be on the rise. In another global survey, conducted earlier this year by ICFJ and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, 16 percent of women respondents said online abuse and harassment was “much worse than normal”.

This finding likely reflects the escalating levels of hostility and violence towards journalists seen during the pandemic – fuelled by populist and authoritarian politicians who have frequently doubled as disinformation peddlers. Significantly, one in 10 English-language respondents to the ICFJ-Tow Center’s survey indicated that they had been abused – online or offline – by a politician or elected official during the first three months of the pandemic.

Another relevant factor is that the “socially distanced” reporting methods necessitated by coronavirus have caused journalists to rely more heavily on social media channels for both newsgathering and audience engagement purposes. And these increasingly toxic spaces are the main enablers of viral online violence against women.

This conundrum – the need for women journalists to participate in online communities to do their jobs, even as these spaces grow increasingly unsafe – has become more urgent over time. The 2014 INSI-IWMF survey found that 88 percent of respondents felt their work had grown more dangerous because of the advent of social media and its role in audience engagement and news distribution.

Since then, research has increasingly focused on the role and responsibility (or lack thereof) of social media companies as facilitators of online violence against women journalists. Several studies have concluded that some women journalists are withdrawing from front-line reporting, removing themselves from public online conversations, quitting their jobs, and even abandoning journalism in response to their experience of online violence.

There is even evidence of women journalism students being deterred from pursuing a career in the field because of their experiences of online toxicity, or their knowledge of the risks of exposure to online violence in the course of their work. In parallel, this crisis is making women sources less likely to speak online and we have also seen evidence of the retreat of women audiences from online engagement.

However, there have also been numerous cases of women journalists fighting back against online violence, refusing to retreat or be silenced, even when speaking up has made them bigger targets.

What can be done now to respond to this crisis?

It is vitally important for news organisations to have gender-sensitive policies, guidelines, training, and leadership responses. Together, these measures must ensure awareness of the problem, build the capacity to deal with it, and trigger action to protect women journalists in the course of their work. These strategies also need to be connected and holistic in the sense that they bridge physical, digital and psychological threats, and address them accordingly.

We know that physical attacks on women journalists are frequently preceded by online threats made against them. These can include threats of physical or sexual assault and murder, as well as digital security attacks designed to expose them to greater risk. And such threats – even without being followed by physical assault – often involve very real psychological impacts and injuries.

So, when a women journalist is threatened with violence online, this should be taken very seriously. She should be provided with physical safety support (including increased security when necessary), psychological support (including access to counselling services), and digital security triage and training (including cybersecurity and privacy measures).

But she should also be well supported by her editorial managers, who need to signal to staff that these issues are serious and will be responded to decisively, including with legal and law enforcement intervention where appropriate.

The stigma needs to be removed from feeling and expressing the impacts of online violence. In particular, we need to be very cautious about suggesting that women journalists should build resilience or “grow a thicker skin” in order to survive this work-related threat to their safety.

They are being attacked for daring to speak. For daring to report. For doing their jobs. The onus should not be on women journalists to “just put up with it”. The question that needs to be asked instead is: How do we protect women journalists from exposure to such violence in the course of their work, or at least minimise it?

The answers ultimately lie not in temporary measures like requiring them to retreat from digital journalism practices, including audience engagement. The solutions lie in structural changes to the information ecosystem designed to combat online toxicity generally and exponential attacks against journalists, in particular.

This will require rich and powerful social media companies living up to their responsibilities within international human rights frameworks, which are explicitly designed to protect press freedom and secure journalism safety. It will also require them to deal decisively, transparently and appropriately with disinformation and hate speech on the platforms as they affect journalists.

This will likely mean that these companies need to accept their function as publishers of news. In doing so, they would inherit an obligation to improve their audience curation, fact-checking and anti-hate speech standards. Regulatory work is also likely to be a feature of this process.

Ultimately, collaboration and cooperation that spans big tech, newsrooms, civil society organisations, research entities, policymakers and the legal and judicial communities will be required. Only then can concrete action be pursued.


Authors’ note: The survey results are non-generalisable because they are based on a self-selecting group of journalists and other media workers. The survey is part of an ongoing global study commissioned by UNESCO.

Johann Petrak assisted with data analysis for this article. He is a Research Fellow in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield. Dr Pete Brown, Research Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, conducted the quantitative analysis of the data presented from the Journalism and the Pandemic Project.

Professor Jackie Harrison is Chair of the Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) at the University of Sheffield and UNESCO Chair on Media Freedom, Journalism Safety and the Issue of Impunity.

Dr Julie Posetti is Global Director of Research at the International Center for Journalists, where she leads the UNESCO-commissioned online violence project.

Silvio Waisbord is Director and Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University.


Every Woman Is Influential And Inspiring In Today’s World

By Ambica Sachin

November 25, 2020


Women, who have changed the world


On Tuesday, the BBC released their pick of 100 of the most inspiring and influential women and suddenly the world was abuzz.

Who run the world? Girls, the fierce and fabulous Beyonce would have you shout out. With an overwhelming nine nods at the recently announced 2021 Grammy nominations, the singer has created history in a female-dominated music scene this year. But she’s not the only woman to lead the pack in an eventful 2020.

On Tuesday, the BBC released their pick of 100 of the most inspiring and influential women and suddenly the world was abuzz. After all 2020 will go down in history as the year in which leaderships were sorely tested, households turned topsy-turvy, work places compulsorily made to undergo a 360 degree shift and society forced to recalibrate itself post the onslaught of an infectious disease.

A professional footballer, a former sex worker, an octogenarian activist, a Coptic nun, a darts champion, a sake master brewer, a mental health expert, a teacher, a transgender model, a disability activist, an actress, a filmmaker, a singer are among those who made it to the coveted list. The designations are many and the names perhaps not so familiar to those outside the honoree’s circle of influence.

The list also aptly includes Sarah Gilbert, a UK scientist who along with her team of researchers is spearheading the creation of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine.

However personal the accolade might be for the 99 odd women who made it to the international list from across the world, what makes it so relevant is the fact that it could have been any of us. Nay, it is every one of us.

As a token of tribute to the innumerable women out there who have sacrificed their time and at times their lives, fighting their own personal battles as well as public ones, bravely attempting to stay afloat within a system that is often detrimental to their existence, BBC chose to keep one nomination blank. It could be you; it could be any of us.

I believe that while lists are an official acknowledgment and perhaps a prerequisite for formal validation, exclusion from one need not be taken as an indication of one’s insignificance in any manner.

Look at Lady Diana for instance. Who would have thought 25 years after her tragic passing away she’d come back from the dead, so to speak, to dominate social media posts and headlines across world? The Crown might be responsible for stirring the hornet’s nest and bringing back from the dead ghosts better left in peace, but you have to admit due to the power of social media, she is a zillion bytes more impactful today.

The 2020 list is also more pertinent because this year will be etched in history as the most challenging one humanity has ever faced. No other year has perhaps tested the resilience of women world over more than 2020 that saw many juggling a demanding career with household chores in the absence of a support system amidst a worldwide pandemic. But like a recent study revealed if women have had to pay a higher price post the remote working scenario or found themselves falling short of the competition during the busiest time of their lives, its mainly because the men in their lives have not stepped up to the occasion. A woman who holds down a high-powered job or for that matter any job that requires her to give an unstinting chunk of her day towards the running of any organisation, is as much to be lauded as a man in a similar position.

And to the gentleman who told me the other day that a woman can either be a full-fledged career woman or a complete homemaker and should not aspire to be both, I’d like to point out: Life is always going to be a juggling act. The trick is to know which ball to throw up in the air and which to hold on to at any given moment. And that’s an art women have perfected over the years. It, of course, helps to have someone close by to hold the ball once in a while when she wants to munch on chocolate! Personally, I’d nominate each and every woman I know — from the nanny to the teacher to the doctor and the stay-at-home-mum — for the Unsung hero post put up by the BBC. You are truly every woman.


Armed with a double masters in English Literature, Ambica Sachin embarked on a career that has seen her straddle teaching, assisting an award-winning author, and reviewing books and movies, before finding her forte in critical writing and interviewing celebrities. She is currently Editor, City Times, the lifestyle and entertainment portal of Khaleej Times.


Do Not Expect Substantive Shifts In Policy On Arab Issues

By Ray Hanania

November 25, 2020

If there is one thing we will remember about outgoing Secretary of State Michael Pompeo it is that he wore his heart on his sleeve. His “in-your-face” attitude and a tendency not to hold back fueled concerns among many Arab activist groups about his long-term goals.

When Pompeo spoke, there was no risk of misunderstanding how he felt about an issue. He never held back in expressing his strong feelings about the leadership of Iran, for example, nor did he mute his gushing support for Israel’s government.

His successor is expected to adopt a different style, one that might make it easier to advance US foreign policy goals. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will nominate Tony Blinken, a pro-Israel liberal, to serve as the new secretary of state. This is not surprising, considering that Blinken, who served as a National Security Council staffer under President Bill Clinton, was Biden’s spokesman on foreign policy during the final months of the election campaign.

Arabs wondering how Washington’s approach to the Middle East might change under Biden need not wonder too long if they recognize that the differences between Pompeo and Blinken come down not to matters of policy but to process.

Blinken will pursue almost all of the same goals as Pompeo but will do so in a less outlandish fashion that is more subtle, more nuanced and more considerate of opinions in the Arab world. But the end result will basically be the same, regardless of Biden’s six-page “Agenda for the Arab American Community,” which is on his official website.

One thing we know for sure, from Biden’s campaign speeches and by reading that agenda, is that Blinken will design for the new president a softer approach to Iran that is less combative. That shift will not be welcomed by a moderate Arab world that, rightly, views Iran as an extremist threat.

We also know that Blinken will be a strong champion of Israel. He might not have openly advocated for many of the policies Trump rammed through during the final two years of his administration, but Blinken supports many of them. In fact, some might argue that his appointment heralds a pro-Israel policy that is much stronger than Trump’s but more subtle in its approach.

Blinken believes the US Embassy belongs in Jerusalem, not in Tel Aviv, and he has no plans to change that. This recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a given under prior administrations. The only reason the embassy was not moved there until Trump came along was fear that it might upset the apple cart and cause serious problems in the Middle East. Trump proved that assumption to be wrong in 2018 when he ordered the relocation of the embassy. But he did not do it to appease the Israelis or Jewish voters in the US — he did it to reinforce his popularity among Evangelical Christians, a significant voter base.

Arabs might point to Biden’s agenda for Arab Americans in much the same way they pointed to the “Cairo speech” given by former President Barack Obama in 2009. But the truth is that when you carefully read them both, they hold out the hope of a more pleasant environment while offering little in the way of real substance to achieve it.

In other words, telling Arabs that they cared about them was more than enough to gain their support, without having to actually do anything. For all of the bluster of Obama’s Cairo speech, it was heavy in pleasing rhetoric but light in terms of significant policy change.

Both Biden and Obama have spoken in strong terms about respecting the civil rights of Muslims. Obama proposed a new beginning in the relationship between the US and Muslims around the world, based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. Specifically, he vowed that his administration would seek a more comprehensive engagement with Muslim-majority countries.

As a result, Arabs — who were and are often the target of discriminatory policies — were willing to believe that things could change not only in terms of human rights, but in terms of policy decisions affecting the Middle East.

As we know, that did not really happen during the Obama administration. The hopes and dreams of Arabs that were fueled by his speech did not translate into changes that improved the everyday lives of the people of the Middle East or addressed ways of ending the conflicts there.

Arabs are making the same mistake by allowing an infatuation with Biden’s agenda to fuel a belief that somehow he will advance the cause of establishing a Palestinian state. If anything, his promises only set Arabs up for another major disappointment. He cannot meet the expectations of Arabs or appease them because his own party, the Democrats, have defined the American policies that support Israel.

Condemning Israel’s settlements, which Obama often did, is not the same as punishing a regime for expanding illegal settlements built on land stolen from Christian and Muslim Palestinians.

Obama did not take any real action to punish Israel for anything, except perhaps on one occasion when he refused to veto a UN Security Council resolution critical of Israel. It is easy to forget that in December 2016, he abstained from blocking a resolution that condemned Israel for its illegal settlement activity. He faced criticism for failing to prevent approval of the resolution, but in truth it did not matter because it achieved nothing other than adding more empty words to a book that is filled with worthless rhetoric condemning Israel’s actions. Months before allowing the resolution to pass, Obama approved the largest military aid package in Israel’s history, worth $38 billion.

Israelis might not have liked the fact that Obama failed to act in the UN in defense of their illegal settlement policies, but it is not the same as implementing policies with consequences for settlement expansion. No consequences were imposed, so the resolution was nothing more than an empty gesture.

Our weakness as Arabs is that we are often too emotional. We are easily swayed by beautiful words — which is one reason why we love poetry, I suppose.

Allowing feelings of euphoria to create a false sense of hope and justice when we face substantive challenges, such as the Palestinian cause, is a flaw we should prepare to experience once again. Other than some sympathetic words, do not expect much in the way of substantive policy changes from the new administration in Washington when it comes to issues such as Palestine or punishing Israel for military abuses during its occupation of the West Bank.


Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at


Iran’s Close Connections To Al-Qaeda Should Surprise No One

By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

November 25, 2020

According to a recent report in The New York Times, which cited information from intelligence officials, Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Mohammed Al-Masri, is dead. He was reportedly gunned down, at the behest of the US, by two Israeli operatives in the streets of Tehran on Aug. 7 along with his daughter, the widow of former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza.

Al-Masri, who would more than likely have been the successor to Al-Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, was accused of taking part in the bombings of two US embassies in Africa in 1998. Iranian authorities attempted to cover up his death because they do not want it to be known that they have any links to Al-Qaeda. Tehran also wants to maintain its narrative, and misconception, that Iran’s Shiite government is an enemy of Sunni extremist groups.

Some people were surprised that Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command was living in Iran. However, the country’s connections to the terrorist organization should not come as a surprise to anyone, for several reasons. Even though the regime is known to sponsor, support and arm Shiite militias and terror groups, it has a long history of forming alliances with nonreligious or extremist Sunni groups with which it shares common strategic interests. Iran’s links with the communist regimes of North Korea and Venezuela are prominent examples.

Iran and Al-Qaeda share several common interests. Tehran is attracted to the organization because they both view America as their main enemy, and the group has carried out several successful terrorist attacks against the US. Al-Qaeda is also a threat to Gulf states which Iran views as regional rivals. The theocratic Iranian establishment most likely provided Al-Masri with the resources to carry out his campaigns against the US and Gulf states.

In addition, Al-Qaeda’s modus operandi is anchored in efforts to destabilize the region and create chaos, which is a ripe environment that the Iranian regime, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxies and militia groups can exploit and prosper from.

The US government has targeted the IRGC with sanctions and designated it as a foreign terrorist organization. “The IRGC actively participates in, finances and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft,” said US President Donald Trump. “The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.”

Al-Qaeda also provides the Iranian authorities with the opportunity to increase their military presence and influence in other countries, such as Iraq, on the pretext of fighting against terrorist groups. This is why Al-Qaeda has carried out attacks in many countries but has never targeted Iran.

More importantly, there exists an abundance of evidence linking Iran to Al-Qaeda. A former spokesman for the IRGC, Said Qasemi, shared a surprising revelation when he stated that the Iranian government sent agents to Bosnia and Herzegovina to train Al-Qaeda members. He added that Tehran’s operatives hid their identity by posing as humanitarian workers for Iran’s Red Crescent.

Another Iranian official, Hossein Allahkaram, who is believed to be one of the operatives sent to Bosnia and Herzegovina, confirmed this, saying: “There used to be an Al-Qaeda branch in Bosnia and Herzegovina … They were connected to us in a number of ways. Even though they were training within their own base, when they engaged in weapons training they joined us in various activities.”

In addition, a trove of 470,000 documents released by the CIA in late 2017 pointed to close ties between the Iranian regime and Al-Qaeda. The terror group’s former leader, Osama bin Laden, advised his followers to respect the Iranian government and wrote that Iran was the organization’s “main artery for funds, personnel and communication.”

For more sophisticated training, Al-Qaeda members traveled to Lebanon. According to the documents, Iran provided them with “money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia.”

It is likely that three Iranian institutions have long been instrumental in helping Al-Qaeda: The IRGC, its elite Quds Force and the Intelligence Ministry.

Iran was also implicated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, before which Tehran allowed Al-Qaeda operatives to travel through the country without visas or passports. Robust evidence, including a US federal court ruling, suggests that “Iran furnished material and direct support for the 9/11 terrorists.” Eight of the hijackers passed through Iran before coming to the US. Tehran provided funding, logistical support and ammunition to Al-Qaeda leaders, and sheltered several of them, in exchange for attacks on US interests.  The evidence proves Iran’s alliance and friendship with Al-Qaeda, and is indisputable.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.


Turkey's Erdogan Crushes Hopes Of Reform, Lashes Out At AKP Veteran

By Amberin Zaman

Nov 25, 2020

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dispelled any illusions that he would revert to his old Reformist self, declaring on Wednesday that there “is no Kurdish problem in this country” and lashing out at one of his oldest lieutenants for defending jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas.

Addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the parliament, Erdogan used language long espoused by the country’s hawkish generals. “They say there is a Kurdish problem. What Kurdish problem? We solved it,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan defended his government’s record in the mainly Kurdish southeast, boasting of the roads and infrastructure that it had built and of its campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been waging an armed campaign for Kurdish self-rule since 1984.

He justified the forced ejection of dozens of democratically elected Kurdish mayors on thinly supported charges that they were acting in concert with the PKK. “We came to bring peace, and where there is terror, wherever there is a terrorist, we are here to crush their heads,” he said.

Erdogan also took aim at Bulent Arinc, a founding member of the AKP who served as parliament speaker, among other senior posts, and was a member of the presidency’s High Advisory Council. He said he could see why Turkey’s “sworn enemies” would call for Demirtas’ release, but that he failed to understand why “those who were among us for years would board the same train.”

Arinc, a veteran Islamist who ardently campaigned for the conversion of the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul into a full-service mosque, heightened hopes of a possible AKP “reset” in remarks Nov. 19 to the private broadcaster Haberturk.

Arinc argued that Osman Kavala, the Turkish philanthropist jailed since October 2017 on outlandish charges of seeking to overthrow the government, ought to be freed. The evidence against him, Arinc observed, was “based solely on suspicion,” and prosecutors’ indictment “might have been written by a child.” He also recommended that viewers read a book penned by Demirtas.

The dovish commentary gave rise to speculation that he was testing the waters on Erdogan’s behalf. Erdogan swiftly put the kibosh on such ideas. Arinc offered his resignation to Erdogan on Nov. 24 after the AKP leader accused him of sparking discord in a diatribe the day before in unison with his informal coalition partner, Devlet Bahceli.

Bahceli, who heads the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), lambasted Arinc’s support for “terrorists” and evoked racist tropes that have long circulated about the AKP veteran that he is ethnically Kurdish and carries Jewish blood.

“I was offended by the advice that everyone read a book written by some terrorist,” Erdogan lamented in his parliamentary address.

Talk of a supposed AKP “reset” was spurred by Erdogan’s pledges for sweeping judicial and economic reforms in the wake of the shocking Nov. 8 resignation of his son-in-law, Finance Minister and heir apparent Berat Albayrak.

Albayrak was apparently sacrificed to restore investor confidence and assuage growing disgruntlement within governing circles over his brash, arrogant style. He’s been scapegoated for the mismanagement of a once booming economy that has seen the Turkish lira shed around a third of its value since the start of the year. A steady drip of leaks implausibly suggests that Erdogan was misled by him into believing all was well, while Albayrak burned through $120 billion worth of Central Bank reserves to prop up the lira.

Turkey’s mounting financial woes have seen the AKP’s fortunes ebb. A recent survey by the Ankara-based Metropoll polling organization indicated that support for the party has dipped to around 28% when undecided voters are not factored in. The same survey showed that 48% of those polled could pay for basic needs such as food and shelter while 25.5% said they couldn’t at all.

With Arinc’s resignation, the image of a party beset by factionalism is growing just as the Erdogan’s family seems to be divided as well. It’s an open secret that the president’s younger son, Bilal, cannot stand Albayrak, who has disappeared from public view ever since he announced he was stepping down via Instagram.

Arinc and fellow old-timers have been campaigning for a return to the AKP’s early glory days when it rammed through the sorts of democratic reforms that shamed the European Union to open now stalled full membership talks with Ankara in 2005.

Fehmi Koru, a prominent commentator, reckons that Erdogan, who after 18 years in power continues to lead his rivals by a hefty gap, could yet alter course. Koru contends, however, that the longer Erdogan waits, the harder it will be to shake off his alliance with Bahceli forged in the wake of the failed 2016 coup.

But others believe that the Reformist AKP is a relic of the past. Yildiray Ogur, a supporter turned critic of Erdogan, noted in a Nov. 25 column for the daily Karar that four years of MHP inspired rhetoric and policies — among them three separate military incursions against the Kurds in Syria, and more recently military assistance to Azerbaijan against Armenia — has steered the AKP base and its ideologues closer to nationalism. “Despite being the junior partner, the MHP’s dominant and tough ideology is drawing more and more members of the AKP, which was founded on a loose ideological framework,” Ogur observed. Erdogan’s embrace of their nationalist rhetoric has accelerated the shift, leaving him little room to walk it back.

Should the AKP base turn against Erdogan for some reason, they would likely defect to the MHP as they did during the 2015 parliamentary elections, robbing the AKP of its majority for the first time. A similar dynamic unfolded in last year’s municipal elections as the Kurds supported an alliance of opposition parties and significant numbers of AKP voters favored the MHP. The AKP lost control of Istanbul and Ankara, another first. “It’s not easy for the party founders to accept, but there is now an [AKP] that is close to Bahceli, not Arinc,” Ogur concluded.

Either way, should Erdogan manage to engineer an economic recovery of sorts, he can probably prolong his political life, while thousands of political prisoners continue to rot in jail. That is what he appears to be banking on. But without the rule of law, investors will only come to reap short term gains, leaving real and sustained recovery out of reach.


There Can Be No ‘Going Back To Normal’ In Iraq

By Hayder Al-Shakeri And Taif Alkhudary

25 Nov 2020

Earlier this year, there was much hope among politically active youth in Iraq that the fall would reignite the revolutionary fervour of last year’s October protests and bring large crowds back to the streets of Iraqi cities.

But October came and went and large-scale demonstrations did not take place. Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, once the epicentre of the protests, was cleared of tents and reopened for traffic for the first time in a year. For many, this marked the end of the “October revolution”, in which young people occupied squares across the central and southern provinces of Iraq to demand their rights and an overhaul of the political system.

However, it is too early to pronounce the “death” of the Iraqi protest movement. The violent crackdown and brutal assassinations of protesters may have succeeded in temporarily holding people off from the streets, but it is only a matter of time before Tahrir Square is occupied again and revolutionary momentum returns.

The October revolution

Although there had been mass demonstrations taking place regularly since at least 2011, what set the 2019 protests apart was not only their scale – with more than one million Iraqis repeatedly taking to the streets in October and November 2019 – but also the coherence of the popular demands.

People were not simply calling for basic services, employment and an end to corruption, as they had done before. Rather they were demanding a complete overhaul of the governance system – dissolving the muhasasa ta’ifia, which allocates government positions on the basis of religious and ethnic affiliations and which is widely seen to be the source of systemic corruption, and building a unified secular national state.

Tahrir Square, a neglected roundabout in downtown Baghdad, became the symbolic centre of this protest movement. Activists had held demonstrations there regularly since 2015, but on October 25, 2019, they managed to wrest control of the square and proceeded to occupy it for a year.

During this period, they cleaned up the areas in and around Tahrir Square, painted murals dedicated to fallen protesters and provided food, entertainment and sanitation services. In this way, they created a “mini state” that at once opposed everything that Iraq has become since 2003 and put forward a new vision of what it could be.

Government inaction

In response to the news that Tahrir Square had been cleared, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi took to social media to thank protesters for their “cooperation” in clearing the square and allowing a return to “normalcy”. But one has to wonder what “normalcy” the prime minister sees in the current state of affairs.

The situation in Iraq was far from normal before the protests broke out, with the country facing multiple interlinked crises. Baghdad was ranked the least liveable city in the world in 2018. This has much to do with the continuing large-scale embezzlement of reconstruction funds which has prevented the rehabilitation of infrastructure and housing damaged and destroyed in the 2003 invasion and the subsequent sectarian civil war.

Corruption has also prevented the Iraqi government from providing basic services, including electricity and clean water, in one of the world’s most resource-rich countries. In the southern city of Basra, contamination of the main water source “Shat al-Arab”, led to the hospitalisation of at least 118,000 people in 2018. What is more, this summer the city, along with the rest of Iraq, saw nearly 24-hour-long electricity blackouts amid record temperatures.

Infighting between Iraqi officials looking to expand their influence and self-enrichment has undermined every Iraqi government since 2003. In 2019, Health Minister Alaa Alwan, for example, submitted his resignation twice in the span of six months, citing mismanagement and blackmail in a health ministry devastated by corruption.

Government dysfunction and mismanagement have also left the Iraqi economy in tatters and completely dependent on oil revenue, which has been dwindling because of the collapse in oil prices in recent years. This has curbed job creation, which has particularly affected the young people, with some estimates putting youth unemployment as high as 46 percent. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation only worse, putting 4.5 million Iraqis at risk of falling below the poverty line.

There has also been nothing normal about the security situation in Iraq. Barely surviving the ISIL’s onslaught in 2014, the country is now in the grip of various armed militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), some of which continue to undermine government efforts to take control of the security apparatus.

These groups have political wings which contested the 2018 general elections and now have representation in Parliament and therefore legislative power. Pressure from these groups reportedly led to the demotion of Lt General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, the head of the highly-regarded counterterrorism forces – a move that sparked the October revolution.

Protesters have also accused these armed groups of being behind the violent attacks on protests and sit-ins in Baghdad and the southern provinces. Some 700 people have been killed and about 30,000 injured since the outbreak of the protests. None of the families of these victims can return to “normal”, as their demands for justice remain unaddressed.

Failed reforms

Al-Kadhimi came to power promising reform but has so far delivered little. The main pillar of his reform plan was changing the electoral law and staging early elections, which was supposed to address one of the protesters’ demands.

The electoral law was indeed amended but not in a way that would actually allow for free and fair elections. Political elites continue to rework it to serve their own interests and to ensure that they can take as many seats as possible in the next elections.

So while the government may be able to pull off an early election next year, protest leaders and independent candidates will not be able to compete with the establishment parties and gain any meaningful representation in Parliament. In fact, some of them have had to flee the country because the campaign of assassinations and intimidation has escalated under al-Kadhimi’s watch

What is more, while it may appear that new political parties have emerged, a closer examination of their loyalties and sources of funding show their association with members of the current political elite. An example of this is Ammar al-Hakim’s rebranding of his Hikma movement and the emergence of associated youth groups claiming to represent protesters.

The second important pillar of the government’s reform plan is the economy. Finance Minister Ali Allawi recently published a plan outlining a series of ambitious goals that must be achieved if Iraq is to overcome the current economic crisis. The five key reforms include ensuring financial stability, expanding job creation, providing basic services, improving governance and implementing legislative changes.

However, the road map does not provide any tangible plans on how these goals will be reached and it seems quite likely that the collapse of oil prices will render the government unable to pay its 4.5 million public sector employees.

While Iraqis are aware that reforms take time, having spent 17 years giving endless chances to the political elite, at the very least they want to see political will to implement reforms and actions that demonstrate change. This does not appear to be the case right now.

For this reason, it is foolish to expect that public anger will not erupt into another wave of protests. Already, protest action is taking place outside Baghdad. For example, on the same day that Tahrir Square was reopened to traffic in Baghdad, hundreds of protesters managed to hold on to Al Bahariya Square in Basra, despite being attacked with live fire and tear gas and having their tents burned down.

Protests were also held in solidarity with Basrawi demonstrators in Al Haboubi Square in Nasiriya and in the city of Samawah in Muthana province. This not only goes to show that the Iraqi protests are far from over, but also that attention should be paid to the south, which has historically been the heart of anti-government struggles in Iraq.

Ultimately, the October revolution has allowed Iraqis to imagine for the first time a country beyond the muhasasa ta’ifia. As the late American anthropologist David Graeber argued, protests can break “existing frames to create new horizons of possibility, an act that then allows a radical restructuring of the social imagination”. This “act” is the result of at least nine years of organising in Iraq, of protests being quashed time and again only to return stronger and more determined each time. After all, revolution is not a momentous occurrence. Rather, it is a process of constant give and take that begins with imagining the world anew.

Development practitioner and commentator on Iraqi affairs.


Taif Alkhudary is a Research Assistant at the LSE Middle East Centre.


How Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopia-First Nationalism Led To Civil War

By Awol K Allo

25 Nov 2020

Earlier this month, a simmering political and ideological conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the northern region of Tigray escalated into a deadly civil war that is threatening to destabilise an already fragile and volatile region.

On November 4, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military attacks against the Tigray region, which borders Eritrea and Sudan, and its governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The prime minister, who positioned himself as a reformer and peacemaker since taking office in 2018, and won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for clinching a long-awaited peace deal between his country and Eritrea, declared an all-out war on a regional government as a means to settle an ideological and political difference.

The war in Tigray is a continuation of the violent and widespread repression Abiy began in Oromia, Walaita and Sidama against those who resisted his vision of the future. After silencing dissent and opposition elsewhere in the country, Abiy and his camp are turning to Tigray, the last frontier in the battle over the character of the Ethiopian state.

Tigray presents a significant challenge to the prime minister’s grandiose vision of “Making Ethiopia Great Again” (MEGA). In addition to being an autonomous region with effective control over its territories, it is a battle-hardened region with highly trained troops and access to much of Ethiopia’s military arsenal.

Although Abiy’s government is scrambling to convince the world that this is a law enforcement operation with limited and achievable objectives, the fierce battles fought over the last few weeks involving fighter jets, tanks, and armoured personnel carriers make it evident that the country is in the midst of what is likely to be an intractable military deadlock that would result in a large number of casualties.

This is likely to be a protracted and destructive war with significant ramifications for Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. There are already fears that the war could lead to the fragmentation of the Ethiopian state, an event that would constitute a great geopolitical nightmare for the region and beyond.

But what are the causes, drivers, and dynamics of this war?

The genesis of the conflict

At the heart of the current civil war and the political upheavals that rocked the country since Abiy’s rise to power are two radically contrasting and seemingly irreconcilable visions of the future. On the one hand is Abiy’s vision of a centralised and unitary state in which the centre determines the political, economic, and cultural policies of the periphery. On the other hand is a vision represented by the TPLF, the Oromo opposition camp and other nations and nationalities in the south of the country, of an Ethiopia in which political authority is constitutionally divided between the central government and autonomous regional governments responsible for determining policies central to their political, economic, and cultural futures.

It is these inherently ideological differences about the nature and character of the Ethiopian state that escalated into a full-blown military confrontation between the TPLF and the Abiy regime in Addis Ababa.

Central to these contrasting ideological visions is competing historical narratives about the nature of the Ethiopian state. Federalist forces, including the TPLF, view Ethiopia as an empire built through the exclusion and assimilation of many of the region’s diverse peoples.

This is a point of view shared by many Ethiopian and Western historians. For example, Professor Christopher Clapham writes: “Although Ethiopia has continuously formed a multi-ethnic political system, participation in national political life normally required assimilation to the cultural value of the Amhara core: the Amharic language, orthodox Christianity and a capacity to operate within the structure and assumptions of a court administration.”

Federalist forces claim that the current ethnonational federal arrangement, which provides nations and nationalities the right to determine their political and cultural destiny, including the right to become an independent state, is an attempt to right historical wrongs and correct the structural asymmetries of power and privilege that persisted into the present.

Abiy and his supporters, on the other hand, see Ethiopia as a glorious political project, a “land of origins” with a long and uninterrupted history of greatness, and mobilise mythologised understandings of the past to undermine the narratives of the federalist front.

Since coming to power, Abiy frequently spoke of Ethiopia’s past glory and magnified the perceived greatness of its controversial emperors and princes. In his first official statement as prime minister, he described Emperor Menelik II, the controversial founder of the modern Ethiopian state whose southward territorial expansion was accompanied by widespread atrocities, as a “great leader”. During a support rally organised by his supporters, he told the audience, “I have no doubt Ethiopia will return to its former national glory” in an apparent derision for the current constitutional settlement.

His vision of the future feeds off of a disturbing infatuation with chauvinist imperial nationalism and a romanticisation of a deeply problematic past that left intergenerational trauma for those who historically existed on the periphery of political life. In Abiy’s promise of renewed greatness, one hears the derision and disdain with which he holds the current constitutional settlement and its guiding ideologies.

Although Abiy started his political life as a member of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), his attitudes, views, actions and visions are currently at odds with mainstream Oromo views. Abiy’s main support base is now in the Amhara region, and mostly among the Amhara elite in Addis Ababa, who want to dismantle the federal system and bring back the unitary system in the name of national unity.

For Amharas and the Amhara elite, this war is about recapturing territories they claim were unlawfully taken by Tigray, such as Wolkait, and moving closer to their dream of reinstalling national unity by eliminating the TPLF. For many in the historically marginalised south, however, their ideas of national unity represent nothing but an attempt to reimpose the assimilationist system that excluded non-Amhara cultures, languages, and ways of being from Ethiopia’s national life.

Instead of settling these competing visions of the future through dialogue and democratic processes, Abiy used the first two years in office to consolidate power and ultimately impose his vision on all peoples of Ethiopia by any means necessary. Since coming to power, Abiy used security forces and the military to subdue opposition and dissent against his vision. In Oromia regional state, he has effectively eliminated the most formidable political forces such as Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba, and Lemma Megersa, who represented a threat to his electoral chances, and therefore his vision. With the arrest and detention of Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, the house arrest of former Defence Minister Lemma Megersa, and the increasing militarisation of Oromia, Abiy effectively subdued Oromia, and rendered this politically vital region leaderless.

Abiy went to an all-out war with Tigray because he could not subdue the region and the TPLF in the same way he annihilated opposition in Oromia and other places. The region is politically autonomous and retains effective control over its territory. It also has significant military capacity in terms of troops and weaponry.

After it was removed from power at the centre and sidelined by Abiy on key national policy issues, TPLF emerged as an outspoken and powerful defender of the multinational federal arrangement which restructured the unitary state into a federation of nine self-governing ethnolinguistic states with considerable political and cultural autonomy. Along with other federalist forces, it argued that the solution to Ethiopia’s explosive national and subnational politics is not a return to the assimilationist past, but to strengthen and democratise the existing constitutional settlement.

Federalist forces want to preserve their constitutional status as distinct self-governing subnational entities while at the same time building a common Ethiopian culture and consolidating a new Ethiopia that reflects the cultures and identities of the diverse peoples who belong to it. They want a political order which celebrates autonomy, self-rule, pluralism, difference, and the coexistence of multiple identities alongside one another, instead of one that imposes a single culture and identity on Ethiopia’s diverse inhabitants in the name of national unity.

National implications

Abiy used an alleged attack on a federal military base in Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray, by forces loyal to the TPLF as justification for his government’s military offensive against the region. However, federal forces were massed on the border between Tigray and Amhara days before the alleged attack on November 4, indicating that the central government was preparing for war long before the incident.

Abiy is trying to frame the continuing war as a rule of law operation aimed at defending the constitution, but his declaration of war against a regional state itself lacks a constitutional basis. Abiy declared war against Tigray only because the region refused to bow to his unitarian vision. Ethiopia’s constitution does not grant prime ministers the authority to go to war with regional states that do not support their ideology or policies.

And the war Abiy is waging in the name of national unity is actually damaging the fragile interstate and intercommunity dynamics in the country, with significant ramifications for ethnic harmony and coexistence.

The anti-TPLF rhetoric supported by the central government has morphed into anti-Tigray propaganda since the beginning of the conflict. As a result, Tigrayans who live outside the Tigray region, particularly in Addis Ababa, are now being discriminated against and targeted. There have been widespread reports that the federal police are trying to form lists of ethnic Tigrayans working in government agencies and even in international NGOs.

Beyond putting a target on all ethnic Tigrayans’ backs, the war is also likely to heighten the long-standing ideological and territorial dispute between ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans. Amhara activists and elites view the war not just as an opportunity to regain territories they claim are unlawfully taken by Tigray but also as an opportunity to dismantle the current federal system and reassert the pre-eminence of Amhara culture and language in the name of national unity.

Although Abiy and his supporters are pushing the narrative that the government is engaged in a law enforcement operation with a clear and achievable objective, the conflict is escalating and there is a real risk of a protracted, bloody impasse that could lead to the collapse of the Ethiopian state and a broader regional conflagration.

Regional conflagration

The war against Tigray is coordinated from three centres – Addis Ababa, Mekelle, and Eritrea. The Eritrean government, which fought a bloody war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 when the TPLF was in power in Addis Ababa, emerged as an ally of Prime Minister Abiy.

Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki see TPLF as a significant obstacle to their respective agendas. Abiy sees TPLF as the only remaining obstacle to his MEGA vision, and the war against Tigray as the last frontier in the realisation of his vision. Isaias, meanwhile, wants to see the end of TPLF as a political movement. He sees this as an opportunity for a more favourable settlement in the Ethiopia-Eritrea rapprochement and as payback time for the defeat TPLF leaders inflicted on him in the battlefield and diplomatically.

The war is also likely to draw in other regional actors. Sudan, itself a highly volatile and unstable state, has already moved soldiers to the border and more than 40,000 refugees have entered its territory since the fighting began. The country is expecting to receive at least 200,000 refugees because of this conflict. It is highly likely that the various actors in Sudan will intervene on one side or another as the war inevitably gets protracted and bloody.

Somalia, another highly volatile country, is already feeling the consequences of the war as Ethiopia withdraws its non-AMISOM forces from Somalia, weakening the support available to Somali forces in their fight against al-Shabab.

In short, the war between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray regional government will be protracted and is likely to become the greatest geopolitical nightmare in the Horn of Africa.

Abiy’s attempt to solve political and ideological differences through military means is dangerous and misguided. The Tigray region has militias and special forces numbering in hundreds of thousands and controls much of Ethiopia’s military hardware. The TPLF controls a vast and strategic territory bordering Eritrea and Sudan from which it can plan and launch a concerted military operation against the federal government.

Abiy’s attempt to solve political and ideological differences through military means is dangerous and misguided. As a Nobel laureate, Abiy had the moral and political obligation to rule out war as a means of settling a political dispute.

There can be no military solution to the ideological differences between Abiy and the TPLF. And a protracted war and continued bloodshed would make the amicable resolution of these differences difficult, if not impossible. The only solution to the continuing war and the broader political upheaval grinding Ethiopia is a genuine commitment to an all-inclusive national dialogue that would chart an agreed pathway to a democratic future.


Awol K Allo is Lecturer in Law at Keele University, UK.



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