Archive for October 10th, 2016

Jordan election seen as small step toward democratic reform

September 19, 2016

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan’s parliament election on Tuesday is being touted as proof that the pro-Western monarchy is moving forward with democratic reforms despite regional turmoil and security threats.

Officials point to new rules of voting and the participation of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood for the first time in almost a decade. But critics argue that this year’s electoral reform — ostensibly meant to strengthen political parties — has fallen short and that the revised system continues to favor King Abdullah II’s traditional tribal supporters.

They expect the parliament being chosen Tuesday to be similar to the outgoing one — largely an assembly of individuals with competing narrow interests, widely dismissed by Jordanians as ineffective in dealing with endemic unemployment and other crises.

Such a legislature is still a long way from what Jordanians have long been told would be the goal of gradual reform — a strong parliament with a say in choosing the government, now the exclusive domain of the king.

The new election rules are “a step forward, but it is not yet enough to create a serious breakthrough on the reform track,” said analyst Oraib al-Rantawi. The rules replace the “one man, one vote” system that was introduced in 1993 and weakened political parties.

In Tuesday’s election, Jordanians will choose 130 members of parliament, with 15 seats reserved for women, nine for Christians and three for minority Chechens and Circassians. More than 4 million Jordanians over the age of 17 are eligible to vote, more than twice the number in the 2013 election, when voters had to pre-register.

Under the new rules, the country is divided into 23 districts, and voters choose candidates from competing lists in their district. In all, 1,252 candidates are running on 226 district lists. Voters can select one or more candidates on a list.

Only six percent of the lists are affiliated with a specific political party, 11 percent have some party representatives, 39 percent are independent and 43 percent are based on tribal affiliations, according to the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-based non-partisan group that seeks to promote democracy.

“The majority of voters base their voting habits on tribal affiliations, community roots and identity rather than approaches to policy,” the group said. The most organized party is the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, a veteran opposition movement linked to the regional organization of the same name. The IAF competed in 2007, but boycotted parliament elections in 2010 and 2013, arguing the electoral system was unfair.

The Brotherhood has suffered setbacks in the region and in Jordan in recent years, in part because of a backlash of various governments to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. In Jordan, ideological arguments split the group into rival factions, with one recognized by the government as the official Brotherhood.

The original group has been outlawed in Jordan, but its political arm, the IAF, remains legal. Al-Rantawi said he believes the IAF is running in this election — despite misgivings about the system — to avoid becoming irrelevant.

The mood among supporters was subdued at an IAF election rally over the weekend in Sweileh, a neighborhood in the capital, Amman. The outdoor gathering on a sandy lot drew a few hundred people, but several back rows of plastic chairs remained empty.

IAF spokesman Murad Adayleh said his party would push for economic and educational reform. “Our role will be to uncover the government’s wrong policies and address any mistakes,” he said, dismissing suggestions that a vocal, but small IAF faction could inadvertently serve as democratic window dressing.

Adayleh, who is also a candidate, said he expects his party will win between one-fourth and one-third of the seats. Al-Rantawi said he believes about 30 seats are in play for political parties, including about 20 for the IAF, and that the remaining 100 seats would be split among individuals. Other parties are less well known nationally, including leftists, centrists and conservatives.

A debate among candidates from nine parties, held over the weekend at a hotel in Amman, rarely got beyond generalities, such as calls for lowering unemployment. One of the newcomers on the scene, the Maan List, campaigned for separation of religion and state, still a relatively provocative idea in the conservative, overwhelmingly Muslim kingdom. Candidate Mohammed Numan, a pediatrician, called for ending what he described as a culture of shaming those not considered devout enough.

Growing voter apathy may be a key factor this year. In an IRI poll in April, 87 percent of 1,000 respondents said the outgoing parliament didn’t accomplish anything worthwhile and more than half said they were somewhat or very unlikely to vote. The survey had an error margin of 3.5 percentage points.

Voter turnout in 2013 was 56 percent, said analyst Ayoub Al-Nmour of Al-Hayat, a civil society group that monitors elections. This year, the percentage of those casting ballots will likely be lower because the pool of eligible voters nearly doubled, though turnout could be higher in absolute terms, he said.

Some voters are discouraged by unequal representation. For example, the urban district of Zarqa, with 1.8 million people, including large numbers of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, gets 11 seats in parliament, the same number as the tribal Karak district, with just 300,000 residents, said Al-Nmour.

Mohammed Momani, the government spokesman, said the new voting system is a significant step toward political reform. “The fact that Jordan is actually holding elections …in a region that is full of blood and fight and weapons — that in itself is important,” he said. “It shows the strength of this country, and the credibility of its institutions and the reform process.”

U.S.-based analyst David Schenker said Jordan invests in regular elections in part to polish its image in the eyes of Western military and financial backers. “We know that the West has a special regard for Jordan, and we know that Jordan, because of this high regard … is able to charge very high rent,” said Schenker, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank.

“It costs money to do these elections and there are some risks involved, but for Jordan it’s important to display that the kingdom is different from other Arab states,” he said.

Associated Press writers Khetam Malkawi and Sam McNeil in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

School in Qatar removes Israeli flag from its corridor

September 28, 2016

A private British school in Qatar has come under fire after putting up a display of the Israeli flag this week.

The flag was erected in the main hall of Doha College West Bay where it was spotted by parents.

Qatar’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education tweeted about the incident on Monday, saying the school had “apologized for any distress caused.”

The ministry then explained that the flag was put up to display member nations of the UN and that Israel’s flag was displayed in error and was taken down.

The school’s headmaster Dr. Steffen Sommer told the Doha News the incident involved “an error of judgement.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Spanish cities free themselves of Israeli Apartheid

September 18, 2016

Almost 60 local and regional councils all across the Spanish state have passed similar motions over the last two years. Only recently, the provincial capital Cádiz (Andalucia, southern Spain) and eight more councils in the province have joined the effort. At the end of July, the town of Santa Eulària on the island of Ibiza, one the most popular holiday resorts in the Balearic islands, opted to free itself of Israeli apartheid passing such a solidarity motion. Other world-famous places in Spain, including the island of Gran Canaria, Córdoba, Sevilla, Santiago de Compostela and Gijón, are today destinations that offer an unforgettable holiday free of Israeli apartheid.

The wave of support for Palestinian rights among cities across the Spanish state is based on the campaign to build ‘Israeli Apartheid Free Zones’ launched in 2014 by RESCOP to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Wall. The Israeli Apartheid Free Zones are part of the global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and ‘support the creation, in our neighborhoods, towns and cities, of commercial, cultural, political, sporting, academic and social spaces in the Spanish state, which refuse to collaborate with, or passively support, the Israeli colonial and apartheid system’. The campaign aims to ‘create islands of political awareness and to consolidate Israeli Apartheid Free Zones in different parts of the Spanish State’.

In Gijón (Asturias), for example, one can walk into shops, libraries, restaurants, bars and coffee shops that display a logo at the entrance alerting that the space is ‘Israeli apartheid free’. Citizens and visitors can shop or meet friends in environments that guarantee that in these premises no products from Israel or companies that are targeted by the global BDS movement are being sold or used in the food or products. These are spaces where no Israeli propaganda or cultural whitewashing is tolerated.

Since 2015, more and more municipalities in the Spanish state are joining the movement to free themselves of Israeli apartheid. Municipal councils have passed motions committing to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not spent on companies and products that are complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and that the local institutions do not promote relationships with Israeli institutions that would legitimate or support Israeli illegal policies against the Palestinian people. This includes adapting  procurement processes in order to reflect this position and declaring the Israeli ambassador in Spain “persona non grata”. They further promote the logo of the ‘Israeli Apartheid Free Zones’ and support local Palestine solidarity initiatives…

Over decades, an unparalleled number of states, multilateral organizations and all levels of UN bodies have condemned Israeli policies and underlined the urgency for Israel and the international community to stop, prevent and remedy Israeli violations of international law. Yet, governments have remained largely idle. It is therefore encouraging to see that such a large number of Spanish local and regional councils are now taking action to fulfill human rights, clearly understanding the global impact of their local actions and are using local democracy to promote solidarity and consciousness of the public.

In fact, the steps taken by the ‘apartheid free’ local and regional councils are simply the fulfillment of an obligation for all state actors.

Local authorities and other spheres of government bear a legal obligation to withhold recognition, cooperation and transaction with, and/or assistance to parties in any situation that breaches the fundamental principles of international law.

These obligations are self-executing and require no further legislative act or incorporation into national law, but only the opportunity, political will and capacity to exercise them. Failure of federal governments to comply with the state’s obligations does not exonerate other spheres of government within a territory from their duties. Based on this understanding, in December 2014, the International Conference on Local Government and Civil Society Organizations in Support of the Rights of the Palestinian People organized by the UN and local government networks in Seville called in its final statement (‘Olive Declaration’) on local governments to “commit to responsible investment, to refrain from contracting with parties and/or twinning with cities that support or benefit from occupation, or violate related prohibitions under international law”.

Pitiful is thus the reaction of the pro-Israel lobby in the face of growing support for such actions. After supporters of Israeli apartheid policies lost the democratic process in ever more local councils, they have used a recently created NGO to bring legal cases against some of those municipalities. They aim to use district court decisions to prohibit local councils from introducing human rights based criteria in their procurement procedures, arguing this would constitute ‘discrimination’.

Such logic favors impunity not only for all those companies and institutions complicit with Israeli crimes and illegal policies, but would, if successful, promote complete impunity for any human rights violating corporation. Citizens, social justice movements and decision makers alike would see themselves deprived of the possibility to define even the most basic red lines on how their money will be spent.

It is not surprising that pro-Israel efforts once again align with corporate interests and show anti-democratic traits. Israeli occupation, apartheid and colonialism are sustainable exactly because it denies an entire population its rights and ensures corporations can reap profits from its expansionism and repression of the Palestinian people.

It is therefore in the interest of all of us that we defend local democracy, the principles of international law and the values of human rights. While you may start the campaign to free your own city from Israeli apartheid, come and enjoy your holidays in the Israeli apartheid free cities, bars and restaurants in the Spanish state…

Source: Middle East Monitor.