Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2017-01-23T12:11:13Z WordPress contributors <![CDATA[Will Saudi Reforms be enough to Forestall big Trouble ahead?]]> 2017-01-22T23:13:31Z 2017-01-23T05:28:17Z By Bernard Haykel | (Project Syndicate) | – –

In 2017, Saudi Arabia will continue to pursue two key goals: to reduce its economy’s dependence on oil revenues and government spending; and to position the Kingdom as a regional hegemon that can meet any threat. The country’s transformation will be difficult, but it is necessary, not least for regional stability.

PRINCETON – In 2017, Saudi Arabia will continue to pursue the two key goals that King Salman set when he acceded to the throne in January 2015: to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil revenues and government spending; and to position the Kingdom as a regional hegemon that can meet any threat, especially from Iran.

Salman’s 31-year-old son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who is also the defense minister and chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs – is overseeing the country’s reforms. The prince is a charismatic and energetic figure, whose apparent commitment to meaningful reform has impressed the country’s youthful population (70% of Saudis are under 30), as well as many foreign observers. He has promised to make the government more accountable and transparent, and to deliver more economic opportunities for the Kingdom’s citizens.

But reform will be a Sisyphean struggle, because the state employs two-thirds of the population, and its decades-old entitlements system has created a culture of dependence. It will be exceedingly difficult to wean Saudis off of government handouts and benefits, and acclimate them to an economy in which the state is not the dominant player.

To achieve its objectives, the government will have to cut spending on health care, education, and energy and utilities subsidies; institute new forms of taxation, such as value-added, “sin,” and land taxes; and create a competitive environment for private-sector firms to create most future jobs. Thus, the ruling Al Saud family will have to re-invent the social contract with its subjects. And, judging by social media – the principal space where Saudis express themselves openly – the Kingdom’s people will be demanding more of a formal say in governance.

Bernard Haykel is a professor in the Near Eastern Studies Department, Princeton University.

Licensed from Project Syndicate


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World Economic Forum: “Davos 2017 – Saudi Arabia’s Path to 2030”

contributors <![CDATA[Kurds Will Come Together to Discuss Independence With Baghdad]]> 2017-01-22T22:58:07Z 2017-01-23T05:26:46Z TeleSur | – –

Kurdish independence “is a reality that will come true,” said Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq.

Kurdish parties will meet with the Iraqi government to discuss independence, reported Kurdish media on Saturday.

The delegation will include five Kurdish parties, who will meet with Turkmen, Chaldean and Assyrian delegates, reported Rudaw, which is funded by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP.

“We failed to live together, failed under federalism and autonomy,” said KDP spokesperson Mahmood Mohammed. “What will our coexistence look like now?”

The meeting, which came out of talks between the ruling KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, will focus on how to be “good neighbors.”

The news comes on the heels of a Washington Post interview with Masoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, where he said that Kurdish independence “is a reality that will come true.”

He said he had already spoken with Baghdad on the issue and that “we will continue until we exhaust the path of dialogue with Baghdad to reach a positive result, so we don’t have to take other steps. But we will certainly take other steps if we lose hope in this.”


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Juan Cole <![CDATA[Trump to CIA: We now have 2nd Chance to take Iraq’s Oil]]> 2017-01-23T12:11:13Z 2017-01-23T05:16:09Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald Trump has had a contentious relationship with the US intelligence community, in part over their conviction that the Russian Federation attempted to use cyber tradecraft to interfere in the US election on behalf of Trump.

His visit to the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters at Langley, Va., was probably intended by his handlers to begin the work of repairing that relationship. From all accounts it did not. The most alarming thing Trump said, however, regarded Iraq:


The United Nations Charter and other treaty instruments that are part of US law actually abolished the principle of ‘to the victors go the spoils.’ Conquering states in a war are not allowed to annex territory from the vanquished as of 1945. That’s what is wrong with the Israeli creeping annexation of Palestine since 1967.

Given that the US has 6000 troops in Iraq, as Thomas Doherty pointed out, this kind of talk puts them in danger from Iraqi nationalists who may begin seeing them not as allies against ISIL but as stalking horses for a sinister imperialism. Trump just painted a big red target on the backs of our troops.

Thomas Doherty @dohertytjp:

“There are American troops in Iraq now, fighting Daesh. Talk like that increases risk to their lives, makes their mission harder.”

This isn’t speculation: the great Borzou Daragahi reports that the Iraqis are indeed ‘pissed’ and ready to fight for their oil.

Trump is also wrong that Iraqi petroleum fueled Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), or that the US could have “taken” Iraqi petroleum. This is because he does not know Iraqi geography or political geography. Most oil in Iraq is either down in Shiite territory at Basra (the vast majority of what is pumped) or up in Kurdish-held territory at Kirkuk. Daesh in Iraq had relatively little access to petroleum revenues, and the experts on it believe that contributions from Gulf supporters and taxes and plunder from local people (including on agriculture) were much more important. The situation is perhaps a little different in Syria, but we’re talking about Iraq.

Trump uses the phrase “take the oil,” apparently, to mean do a deal to handle the export of petroleum from a country. He said that Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, goes to a country and “takes their oil.” I’m not sure whether he understands that this is typically a business deal negotiated by both sides rather than an act of coercion.

Any attempt by the United States to occupy Iraqi petroleum fields militarily and unilaterally would have resulted in massive bombings of them by Shiite militias in Basra, including Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army (‘peace brigades’). You can’t export a flammable material like petroleum from a country nowadays against its people’s will. They have too many bombs. Any small garrison of US troops at Basra would have been constantly under attack.

Moreover, the Iraqi government would never have permitted it, so you’d have to overthrow that government and re-occupy Iraq. Likewise, if the US ‘took’ Iraqi petroleum in any way that reduced profits for Iraqis, it would de-fund the Iraqi state and military, which are already woefully weak, and actually help Daesh attack an enfeebled Baghdad! Trump is arguing for a policy that enthrones Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Caliph of Iraq!

In any case, ExxonMobil passed on Iraqi oil bids because the Iraqi ministry of petroleum put too many conditions on them and made them relatively expensive. China’s oil companies did some contracts, in contrast. If Dick Cheney really did overthrow Saddam Hussein to allow US petroleum companies to get at Iraqi oil, he may as well not have bothered. China’s economy has slowed so much that world thirst for oil stopped growing so fast, which put enormous downward pressure on prices. Also, US petroleum companies pioneered hydraulic fracturing to get oil out of fields like Bakken. The fields are probably shallow but for the moment the US isn’t importing as much petroleum as it used to.

So the fact is, the US petroleum companies probably don’t want to “take” Iraqi petroleum, don’t need it, and wouldn’t want all the massive security problems that would cause.

There is another calculation here. Oil is only used for transportation in the US, not for electricity generation (except in Hawaii). There are already 500,000 electric vehicles on US roads, and the number is about to spike exponentially. These vehicles can be fueled by solar and wind power. US demand for petroleum is about to fall off of a cliff, over the next decade, even setting aside the fracking issue.

Still, Trump’s team is talking about swinging into military action against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and so are planning to add yet another war to all the overt and covert ones being fought by the United States (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan’s tribal belt, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, etc. etc.) This will be Trump’s war for Oil and against Daesh. Such a war is quixotic. The Iraqi forces are near to finishing Daesh off in Mosul, its last major Iraqi stronghold, anyway. And the US doesn’t need or want Iraqi petroleum.

The problem with thinking about Daesh as primarily a military problem with a direct US military solution is that that strategy ignores the dual character of Daesh as also a terrorist organization, to which it will revert as it loses on the battlefield. How it is rolled up is important.

Trump meandered all over the place at Langley, talking about how young he is at heart (his narcissism would not let him get past the phrase ‘When I was younger’ and so he had to spend a lot of time dancing around being elderly). He talked at length about how he campaigned, how many rallies he held, all of this inappropriate in a room full of analysts and field officers.

He unwisely stood in front of the wall at Langley HQ that lists the over 100 CIA field agents killed in the line of duty. He only acknowledged them in a sentence.


CIA personnel have standing instructions, like many US government employees, not to speak at the level of policy, only of analysis. Policy, they feel, is above their pay grade. Trump bringing up whether they voted for him, in this teasing way, apparently set off loud alarm bells inside the agency, according to ex-CIA chief John Brennan. The last time intelligence was highly politicized, the pressure came from Bush-Cheney and produced a faulty National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that the Agency has never lived down.

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contributors <![CDATA[Dispatch from DC: On the National Mall, the state of a nation]]> 2017-01-22T23:19:08Z 2017-01-23T05:13:37Z By Lisa Benton-Short | (The Conversation) | – –

On Jan. 20, Americans focused their attention on Washington, D.C., as the presidential inauguration ceremony took place on the National Mall, a place that urban scholars, geographers and historians refer to as a “stage for democracy.”

As an urban geographer, I study the important role of public space in cities. Perhaps no public space is more important in America than the National Mall. Its monuments, memorials and staged events contribute to a larger national narrative about identity, reflecting the meanings of democracy and citizenship. And, it is a place that enshrines First Amendment rights. I examine these themes in my recent book, “The National Mall: No Ordinary Public Space.”

I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of protests, festivals, celebrations and several presidential inaugurations. Symbolically, inaugurations on the Mall are especially powerful; they’re a reminder of the peaceful transition of power and the principles of democracy. But they’re also a snapshot of the cultural and political zeitgeist.

Two recent inaugurations – George W. Bush’s second and Barack Obama’s first – illustrate how inaugurations can mirror the nation’s mood and challenges. And as with those examples, Trump’s inauguration weekend embodied the current state of the country.

Barricading Bush

On Jan. 20, 2005, at his second inauguration, President George W. Bush took his second oath of office and delivered a speech that forcefully enunciated the principles of extending democracy, freedom and liberty throughout the world.

Ironically, this event took place amidst bollards, barriers, sentry boxes, more than 13,000 soldiers and police officers, and miles of security fences. Even the conservative Fox News commentator George Will observed that the nation’s capital resembled a banana republic.

Bush’s hyper-secure inauguration was a potent reminder that there had been a geopolitical shift since his first inauguration. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 – and the subsequent global war on terrorism – had expanded the security and fortification of private and public spaces in cities around the country.

Many scholars from the time, including me, predicted a bleak future for urban development and design, with the invocation of “national security” severely limiting and undermining public access and public space. Unfortunately, this has proven true on the National Mall, where permanent security measures have been installed. Some are visible (barricades and bollards), while some are less visible (security cameras). Others are temporary, like the fences that have surrounded the Mall in every inauguration since.

In 2005, security costs were estimated to be around US$17.5 million. The New York Times estimated security costs ran at $100 million for the 2016 inauguration. Fences, guard towers, police panopticons and a 30,000-member security force have become the new normal for presidential inaugurations. But we’ve allowed this to happen without any debate or discussion. We’ve let security preempt issues about public access.

The National Mall is where American society expresses its national ideals of democracy, liberty and freedom. Because the Mall represents the fundamental principles of democracy in both form (monuments and memorials) and function (public space), its fortification is at odds with the Mall’s symbolism. In a place that symbolizes freedom, the Mall now also symbolizes fear and retrenchment.

A crumbling Mall in a crumbling economy

At the 2009 inauguration, Americans came to the National Mall by the millions. They traveled from around the country and endured frigid weather, security checkpoints and long lines.

They were there to bear witness to history: the inauguration of the country’s first black president, Barack Obama.

The entire two-mile stretch of the Mall was a carpet of nearly two million people – an unprecedented crowd of astonishing size and spirit.

But the celebratory atmosphere was tempered by an economy in bad shape. The first Obama inauguration took place amidst a backdrop of an economic recession; his address was measured, as he challenged Americans to “begin again the work of remaking America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.”

While parts of Obama’s message were inspirational, I couldn’t help noticing that the grass around me was trampled, the reflecting pool filled with scum. Sagging benches, broken water fountains and crumbling, neglected walls and sidewalks dotted the grounds.

The Mall was a stage that needed some fixing. Eight years later it still hasn’t been fixed. Instead, it continues to underscore the long-term economic disinvestment in our public spaces and public infrastructure.

We’ve allowed our bridges to crumble, our sanitation systems to decay and our public spaces and parks to decline. The Park Service reports that it currently has an $11 billion backlog in maintenance and repair, with the Mall alone accounting for $852 million of that. No wonder the Mall looks shabby: We’ve failed to give it the respect it deserves, as has Congress. It doesn’t reflect the pride of our American spirit, and it’s certainly not a shining example of the best we can do for our own front yard.

A stage for two Americas

If past inaugurations reflect the times, what did the 2017 inauguration symbolize about the state of the union?

It took place at a moment of deep division in America, in the wake of an election that exposed divisions over race, class, gender and ideology. Trump’s extreme campaign rhetoric included inflammatory statements that were racist, misogynist, and anti-immigrant. His victory appealed to an anti-globalist, anti-establishment sentiment that caught many off guard. The election broadcast two very different versions of America to the world.

To articulate this divide, the Mall was the stage.

It was an unusual inauguration. In contrast to previous inaugurations, the Mall looked empty. Roughly 250,000 tickets were distributed and perhaps several more thousand came without tickets (compared to 1.8 million in 2009 and one million in 2013). In addition, Trumps’ inaugural address was notable for its lack of appeals to unify or reconcile the country. Instead he was blunt, defiant and promised he would continue to “fight.”

The next day, the Mall became a stage for democracy again – this time to protest the new president and his agenda. While many inaugurations have experienced protests, this was unprecedented in scope and size. In 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, some 5,000 suffragettes marched for equality and to demand voting rights. Other protests on the Mall have drawn significant crowds; for example, an estimated 250,000 people attended the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The 2017 Women’s March on Washington, however, drew upwards of 500,000 people. Millions more marched in hundreds of cities in the U.S. and around the world. Women, men, and children protested the rhetoric of the 2016 election as insulting, demonizing and threatening to women, minorities and immigrants. They marched on the Mall to show that their presence in numbers was too great to ignore. A sign best expressed the day’s purpose: “Inaugurate the Resistance.”

With an inauguration one day, and a “counter inauguration” on the next, the Mall in 2017 symbolized how, at the moment, we are a nation divided.

The Conversation

Lisa Benton-Short, Associate Professor of Geography, George Washington University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

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contributors <![CDATA[Protesters Face Increasing Criminalization in Trump Era]]> 2017-01-22T02:04:28Z 2017-01-22T05:27:12Z TeleSur | – –

Changes aim to hit protestors with criminal records and beefed up fines and impunity for police who accidentally kill them.

Donald Trump was officially sworn in Friday as one of the most unpopular U.S. presidents in recent history, sparking off widespread protests around the world. Resistance through protest and mass organization in the U.S. is likely to become more difficult and increasingly regarded as a criminal act. Trump has voiced his intolerance for peaceful protest and a number of Republican-backed state laws have been proposed to crack down on peaceful demonstrations.


As Trump ushered in a new era of populist and belligerent politics, poised to “Make America Great Again,” the official White House official website was overhauled with his administration’s new agenda.

While all content related to civil rights, climate change, immigration, healthcare and LGBT issues were swiftly removed, one section that was added could be an ominous warning to resistance and protests movements under Trump’s rule:

“The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration. President Trump will honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public … Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter or the violent disrupter,” read the new section, “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.”

While the passage paints protesters as out of control, if the crackdown on protesters in the capital during his inauguration were anything to go by, it could be more of the same from law enforcement.

State Republicans are also cracking down on protesters through a number of bills that have so far attracted little attention amid the media circus surrounding the changeover in presidential powers. Indeed the new changes could have significant consequences not only for anti-Trump demonstrators, but for wider social movements.

Already in North Dakota, a Republican bill squarely aimed at anti-pipeline protesters plans to exempt drivers who “unintentionally” hit or kill pedestrians who are obstructing traffic on public roads. Republican state lawmaker Keith Kempenich is spearheading the initiative along with other GOP members, influenced in part by his 72-year-old mother-in-law, who was blocked by a group of protests on a roadway. He admits the law specifically targets protesters.

In Minnesota, Republicans introduced a bill to make protesting on freeways a gross misdemeanor with fines of up to US$3,000 and one year jail time. It comes as BlackLivesMatter protests have shut down major roads, most notably after the police killing of Philando Castile. In another separately proposed Minnesota bill, the nonviolent obstruction of authorities would attract at least a year jail time and fines of up to US$10,000.

In Iowa, a similar bill to attach criminal penalties to protesters blocking roads in being planned by Republican lawmaker Bobby Kaufmann. The bill also targets state universities with public funding that hold sit-ins and additional grief counseling services for services related to Trump’s presidency.

In Washington state, Republicans have pushed a change that would create the new crime of “economic terrorism” for protests which “harm a person’s ability to make a living,” said Senator Doug Ericksen, who was deputy director of Trump’s campaign in Seattle, to Kiro 7.

In Michigan, a number of Democrats are fearful that Republicans will attempt to reintroduce anti-picketing legislation that was previously dropped. The law aimed to fine picketers US$1,000 per day and hit organizing union with a daily fine of US$10,000.

Social movements and civil liberties groups have been highly critical of the proposed criminal changes, with many seeing it as the criminalization of a dearly held civil right for citizens to publicly demonstrate.

Via TeleSur

Juan Cole <![CDATA[All the terrible things Trump plans to do to Women (besides that one)]]> 2017-01-22T03:39:12Z 2017-01-22T05:11:50Z By Juan Cole | – –

About 1 million women and their supporters demonstrated in Washington, D. C. on Saturday, but many millions more rallied in cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta and in small towns like Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as in cities around the world. The target of their ire? Predator-in-chief Donald J. Trump.

Women are right to be extremely worried about what the new administration intends to do to them (quite apart from what the president says he does to them all the time). The Hill reports that the Trump budget may well slash Federal funding for the 25 programs that grew out of the Violence against Women Act.

Claire Landsbaum, writing in New York Magazine, pointed out that in the decade after the act was passed in the early 1990s, the rate of domestic violence in the US plummeted by 64 percent. So Trump may in essence be arranging to allow thousands of women to be beaten with impunity every year.

While it has been widely noted that on his first day in office Trump signed an executive order that could stop enforcement of the health insurance mandate (which fines healthy young people if they don’t buy insurance, since if they don’t, it becomes crushingly expensive for the middle-aged and elderly).

But what is not often noted is that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has provisions that eliminated differences in premiums between what was charged to women (more) and to men (less) in “the individual and small-group insurance markets.” It also “required coverage of recommended preventive services and maternity care.” It mandated that employers pay for birth control for women, a provision that evangelical and Catholic employers strongly resented, and which would be repealed along with the rest of the law. That is, repealing the ACA could injure the health of millions of women in an unfair way, hurting them more than the repeal hurts men. Not to mention that millions of women will lose their health care insurance entirely.

Although, as Bridgette Dunlap writing in The Rolling Stone correctly points out, it is a little unlikely that Trump through his Supreme Court picks could overturn Roe v. Wade entirely, he could so water it down as to make it almost impossible to get an abortion in some states. Texas attempted to place undue burdens on abortion clinics, an attempt that was struck down. But if Trump gets three or so nominations to the court, the justices could decide instead to allow what Texas did. Texas was down to a handful of clinics in the whole state that perform the procedure, and most working class women couldn’t afford to travel to a clinic. For them, Roe v. Wade was de facto overturned, and they faced a choice of bearing a child they did not want (some 17,000 cases of pregnancy by rape are reported annually in the US) or of having a coat hanger illegal abortion that threatened their lives. A SCOTUS dominated by Trump-Pence nominees could reverse itself and let Texas and other states violate women’s 5th and 14th amendment rights.

Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, indicated in his testimony before the Senate that he would not let the Federal government get involved in prosecuting hate crimes against women or gays, where these crimes were already being prosecuted in local jurisdictions. Sessions actually said, “I am not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it.”

These administrative and legal changes proposed by Trump or his cabinet nominees will inflict harm on millions of American women. But Trump’s own behavior toward women demeans them, and a president has enormous powers to influence people. The status of American women has fallen just because Trump was elected.


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contributors <![CDATA[Thousands of Palestinian-Israelis rally after Israel Razed Bedouin Village]]> 2017-01-22T02:11:40Z 2017-01-22T05:04:56Z Ma’an News Agency | – –

ARARA (Ma’an) — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets Saturday in the town of Arara in northern Israel, in the wake of a demolition campaign in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran on Wednesday, when Israeli police shot local math teacher Yacoub Abu al-Qian to death under widely-contested circumstances.


Protesters caused traffic jams and briefly blocked Highway 65 in the Wadi Ara region, with Israeli police suppressing the crowds with stun grenades and other protest dispersal means, according to reports.

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List coalition that represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Israeli Knesset told reporters in Arara that the rally was held “to show loyalty to the martyr Abu al-Qian,” and to voice condemnation of racism and the killing Palestinian citizens.

While Israeli police have claimed Abu al-Qian was carrying out a vehicle attack when he was killed, numerous eyewitnesses testimonies and investigations from Israeli media and NGOs have said that police opened fire on the man while he was driving normally near the clashes posing no threat to anyone, which caused him to accelerate and lose control of the vehicle, resulting in the death of an Israeli policeman and the injury of several others.

Hours later, Israeli authorities carried out the demolition of more than dozen structures belonging to Bedouin Palestinian citizens of Israel, including a number of structures that were owned by Abu al-Qian.

The demolition campaign came a week after at least 10 Palestinian homes were razed to the ground in the city of Qalansawe in central Israel.

Odeh called for an investigation to be opened into Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Israeli police “for their decision to stop negotiations with the people of Umm al-Hiran and for all the events that occurred at the evacuation,” The Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.

He said he held police responsible for the killing and demanded that Abi al-Qian’s body be returned to the family immediately, as numerous preconditions have been set by Israeli authorities for the body’s release.

“Minister Gilad Erdan, who did not miss one chance to stand before a microphone and lie on Wednesday, while inciting and igniting the flames, should resign immediately,” Odeh reportedly said.

Odeh, who had traveled to Umm al-Hiran Wednesday along with a number of other members of the Joint List to protest the demolitions, was shot in the head by police with a sponge-tipped bullet amid the clashes.

He also released a video on his Facebook page Saturday ahead of the rally in Arara, where he is shown with bandage on his forehead covering the gunshot wound.

“We know that there are 50,000 houses without licenses as a result of Israel’s planning policies,” he said in the video.

“This means demolitions will not stop, but will rather reach more houses in Israeli villages and cities. For that reason this demonstration, attended by thousands, should be understood as a resonant cry of a people who want to live in their homeland in dignity.”

Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi told reporters during the rally that the thousands of demonstrators were sending a clear message to the Israeli government that Palestinian citizens of Israel “would not yield to the systematic policy of home demolitions and incitement imposed by the Netanyahu government” against them.

Ayman Odeh’s spokeswoman Reut Mor confirmed to Ma’an via telephone that Israeli police were firing stun grenades at crowds in Arara, and said that some unconfirmed reports emerged of sponge-tipped bullets being fired at protesters.

While the official demonstration had ended, she said that thousands of demonstrators remained in the area, and that “many people” were on their way to join the crowds as of early Saturday evening.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said in a statement that police had “allowed” the demonstration in Arara, on the condition that demonstrators did not obstruct traffic on Route 65, and on the condition that they did not “breach the law.”

“However, a group of demonstrators blocked the main road ignoring police orders prompting police officers to remove them without detentions. The demonstration is going on under police control,” she added.

Via Ma’an News Agency

contributors <![CDATA[The left’s response to Trump and US Neofascism must be international]]> 2017-01-21T02:37:43Z 2017-01-21T05:25:17Z By Sayantan Ghosal | (The Conversation) | – –

With Donald Trump’s inauguration as American president, one more event considered by many to be beyond the realm of possibility has come to pass. Protests may have been taking place in America and around the world, but the crisis of the left is all too apparent.

The social democrats have long since accepted the right’s tenets of globalisation and deregulation. They offer a managerial capitalism where taxes from a marketised system are used to sustain and, where possible, expand the welfare state within national boundaries. This looks almost meaningless in the face of an ageing population, as Western economies compete for jobs and investment with resurgent Asia and struggle for growth. The more radical left has meanwhile found a foothold in some countries, but it has tended towards protest rather than offering a genuine alternative.

I believe these groups have to return to something central to their 19th-century founding principles that has been overlooked. A global problem does not need the response of national movements but rather a fully coordinated international movement. The challenge for the left is to bring this about.

Left in the cold

The story of our times is the journey of socialism during the 20th century. It transformed from an explicitly international movement dedicated to radical alternatives to the status quo into political parties confined within national boundaries. These focused on raising and managing resources for public services and welfare within a global capitalist order forged on globalisation and technological change.

The abject failure of a planned Europe-wide general strike on the eve of World War I was an early portent. By the 2008 financial crisis, the absence of any serious discussion, let alone an attempt, to mobilise a cross-national movement to combat austerity even within the eurozone was a severe indictment of European social democracy. Governments run by social democrat parties colluded in institutional processes that led to harsh austerity in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece.

Movements like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain mobilised national anti-austerity coalitions but had little to say about coordinated action. In the US, Bernie Sanders’ take on democratic socialism builds on guaranteeing the economic rights of all Americans. Jeremy Corbyn and his leftist colleagues in the Labour Party also oppose UK austerity and pay plenty of lip service to international solidarity, but they are not trying to bring it about. Movements such as Occupy did try to coordinate internationally, but focused on the symptoms of the problem and not the causes. Why this global failure?

The target constituency

The left’s big conundrum is how to persuade the key voting constituency of the alt.right that it has a better solution to their problems. Populists, including Trump, Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, have primarily mobilised white voters on low to middle incomes working in skilled or semi-skilled jobs in industry and services or running small businesses – plus pensioners. Theresa May’s favoured term for this group is people who are “just getting by”.

They have seen their incomes and future prospects stagnate; stable jobs in manufacturing replaced by lower-paying less stable ones in services; and their access to welfare become restricted – and even contested – following the financial crisis.

This has stoked their opposition to mass immigration, political correctness and reckless banks and corporations. They increasingly believe the welfare state shouldn’t give special treatment to minorities or the “undeserving poor”. They are patriotic both for cultural reasons and because they believe the nation state can protect them against the excesses of globalisation and technological change.

In other words, they agree with many of the key arguments of the left’s critique of global capitalism but believe in an isolationist solution. As Trump put it simply during his inauguration speech, “America first”.

The left has to convince them that the protection they believe they receive from the nation state is temporary. The huge problem facing Western democracies is that their populations are getting older and therefore need more workers to sustain them – low birth rates dictate that these workforces have to come from other countries. Leaders like Trump may temporarily reduce immigration, but you can only defy gravity for so long.

Meanwhile, economic theory makes clear that in a relatively free global market, there would be a tendency for people with similar skills to get paid the same. An often-cited example is that following the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), unskilled labour wages gradually fell in the US while rising in Mexico. In an era of globalisation and technological change, until workers with similar skills in the East and South receive wages on a par with those in the West, those people “just getting by” can expect their standard of living to keep falling.

One of the main consequences of globalisation is that it has created a world market in which workers in different countries see themselves as competing for wages, jobs and investment. This has exacerbated divisions that help to explain why coordinated international action is never even mentioned as a possibility – never mind that smartphones and the internet could make it much easier than for previous generations.

Common interests

The answer is for people to stop competing with workers in other countries and start recognising their common interest in winning a greater share of global wealth. This means everything from coordinated wage bargaining positions within multinationals and global supply chains to eurozone-wide general strikes against austerity. It means that retail workers on zero-hours contracts selling clothes made by Bangladeshi sweatshop workers need to recognise their common interests and mobilise to act together.

Political entrepreneurs such as Trump have blurred the traditional differences between left-wing and right-wing concerns by offering a bulwark to the effects of change in an increasingly complex world. They have singled out migrants and minorities as the physical embodiment of the problem. The left’s big failure is not to explain or even perhaps understand why this is the wrong answer. There is no reason why it could not make Trump’s inauguration a line in the sand.

The Conversation

Sayantan Ghosal, Professor of Economics, University of Glasgow

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

WEBN TV Boston: “Protestors take Trump International Hotel in DC”