By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
The dance that has the Internet aflutter has taken on new life in the…
The dance that has the Internet aflutter has taken on new life in the Arab world.
The “Harlem Shake,” based very loosely on a dance that originated in Harlem, is the foundation for countless lighthearted videos. But young protesters in Tunisia and Egypt are using the shake as a tool of civil disobedience. They’ve danced outside the Tunisian education ministry and on the steps of the Cairo offices of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
In one video produced by high school students, dancers impersonate salafis and emirs as others flail around in their underwear. The Tunisian ministry opened an investigation, while Egyptian authorities arrested four dancers. Students responded by dancing even more, producing hundreds of videos.
In an irreverent Tunisian example, students dressed as Homer Simpson and Nintendo’s Luigi character take to the floor. Some are shocked by the backlash. “I realize I wasn’t dressed decently, but that’s no reason to put a price on my head on Facebook,” one Tunisian student told France 24, referring to online threats. Another clip, the location of which is unconfirmed, targets the Syrian civil war, with a mock battle between rebels and government forces. A bystander holds a sign reading “stop the violence”—before the whole group breaks into dance.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
A political assassination. A prime minister’s resignation. The country that was the cradle of the Arab Spring is shaking
Tunisia’s interim President Moncef Marzouki has called his country “an exceptional experimentation lab in the Arab world.”
The experiment is Tunisia’s efforts to transition from an authoritarian dictatorship to democracy. If Tunisia is exceptional, it is because many believe this is where the Arab Spring has the best shot at fully blooming.
Egypt is bigger and more important, Libya’s revolution was bloodier, and if Syrians succeed in unseating President Bashar al-Assad, they will have paid the highest price for their freedom. But Tunisia was first, the spark that set the rest of the region ablaze. And while the Jasmine Revolution had its martyrs, fewer died in Tunisia than elsewhere where dictators were overthrown. Its revolution was relatively peaceful and quick: less than a year after president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down in January 2011, elections for Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly were held.
This took place in a country that, while lacking political freedom, was socially progressive—by 1956, women had equal rights and abortion was legalized in 1973—comparatively wealthy and well educated. A 2009 World Economic Forum report ranked Tunisia 30th in the world for health and primary education, and seventh for the quality of its math and science teaching. Culturally, many middle-class Tunisians were open to Europe. They did business there and spoke French. They might not have lived in a pluralistic democracy, but they had a pretty good idea of how one worked.
By Emily Senger - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 8:20 AM - 0 Comments
One of the loudest critics of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist government has been shot and…
One of the loudest critics of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist government has been shot and killed outside his home in Tunis.
Opposition politician Chokri Belaid was leaving his home in the country’s capital city when he was killed, reports The New York Times.
The assassination was viewed as a strike against the Arab Spring uprising, which ousted the government in 2011, and thousands of Tunisians flooded the streets in protest upon hearing news of the killing.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who was democratically elected after the Arab Spring, condemned the attack, reports Reuters. “The murder of Belaid is a political assassination and the assassination of the Tunisian revolution. By killing him they wanted to silence his voice,” Jebali said.
Belaid’s assassination comes after he spoke out against the ruling Ennahda party and accused it of hiring mercenaries to attack a meeting of his Democratic Patriots party.
By Michael Petrou - Monday, February 6, 2012 at 6:15 AM - 0 Comments
Last year’s revolutions of the Arab Spring were, and remain, the greatest opportunity for the global growth of democracy since the end of the Cold War and the resulting spread of freedom in Eastern Europe.
Democracy promotion is ostensibly a priority for this government. In the 2008 Throne Speech, Canada was promised: “a new, non-partisan democracy promotion agency will also be established to support the peaceful transition to democracy in repressive countries and help emerging democracies build strong institutions.”
More than three years later, that promise is unfulfilled. But Canada still has the framework to pursue democracy promotion through the Canadian International Development Agency, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
Both CIDA and DFAIT claim democracy promotion as part of their core mandates. It should follow, therefore, that the Arab Spring presented them with an unprecedented opportunity. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 11:45 AM - 0 Comments
The Arab Spring unleashed a wave of hope and action in a region ruled by oppressive regimes and tyrants
It’s a movement that began with an angry vegetable seller and has already changed the world.
Last December, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on ﬁre to protest the harassment and extortion he had suffered at the hands of municipal ofﬁcials since childhood. His self-immolation, and death from burns two weeks later, sparked protests and then an uprising that soon spread across the Middle East. Dictatorships that had persisted for decades were toppled in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Thousands died in those countries and elsewhere, as ruling strongmen scrambled to respond—some, such as King Abdullah II of Jordan, by promising reforms and sacking members of government; others, such as President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, by cracking down on dissidents with murderous force.
The uprising unleashed hope in a region that had seen little of it of late. “People have talked about the end of fear. This is not something that is going to be reversed,” says Marina Ottaway, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I think we have seen the end of the passive Arab public. People have learned that if they protest, if they take things in their own hands, change can take place.”
By Cigdem Iltan - Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
The leader of Tunisia’s liberal Islamist party says alcohol and sunbathing won’t be banned
The election of an Islamist government in Tunisia wouldn’t mean bikinis and beer won’t be welcome on its beaches, the leader of a once-outlawed party says. Rached Ghannouchi, who heads the North African country’s most liberal Islamist party, Al Nahda, says women may sunbathe and alcohol can flow freely if his party takes power in the elections scheduled for October. Ghannouchi, 70, supports a democratic interpretation of Islam, as seen in Turkey, and spent more than two decades in exile in London for his views. He returned to Tunisia in January after a popular uprising ended president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s 24-year despotic rule.
Al Nahda, which means “the awakening” in Arabic, is expected to emerge from the election with more votes than any other political party. Maintaining the appeal of Tunisia as a tourist destination is front of mind for the party, as the industry has taken a hit amidst an ongoing war in neighbouring Libya. Ghannouchi says his party will discourage drinking, rather than ban the use of alcohol. “Islam is not a closed religion. We want our country to be open to all nations,” he told the London Times. “Our aim will not be to cut supply of alcohol, but to reduce demand.”
By macleans.ca - Monday, June 20, 2011 at 5:08 PM - 1 Comment
Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and wife Leila convicted in absentia of theft, unlawful possession of goods
A Tunisian court has sentenced the country’s former president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and his wife, Leila, to 35 years in jail. The country’s former power couple was convicted in absentia of theft and the unlawful possession of large sums of foreign currency, jewellery, archaeological artifacts, drugs and weapons. Ben Ali and other members of The Family fled Tunisia in January after being ousted from government by mass protests. Ben Ali and his wife were also ordered to pay 91 million Tunisian dinars (S65 million) in fines and could yet face more charges.
By Martin Patriquin - Monday, April 11, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 7 Comments
From our archives: The executive, who quit the firm this week, on capitalism, Libya and the future of nuclear power
Update: Pierre Duhaime quit his job as chief executive at SNC-Lavalin on Mar. 26, becoming the third executive to leave the firm in under a month. Duhaime’s resignation followed news that he had authorized $56 million in payments previously rejected by the CFO, thus breaking the company’s ethics code. Exactly what the money paid for is unknown. Here is a Maclean’s Q+A with Duhaime from April of last year.
As one of the largest engineering firms in the world, Quebec-based SNC-Lavalin is a corporate giant in Canada and beyond. Starting as a small engineering firm in Montreal in 1911, the company now operates in 100 countries across the globe, with annual revenues of over $6 billion. Yet SNC’s centennial year has been marked by upheaval in many of the countries—Egypt, Libya and Tunisia among them—where it does business. President and CEO Pierre Duhaime recently spoke about the company’s operations in these suddenly unstable parts of the world—and about its contract to build an immense prison complex in Libya.
Q: Tell me about SNC-Lavalin’s decision to build Libya’s Guryan Judicial City prison.
A: For us, in Libya or elsewhere, this is an infrastructure project. We have been in Libya for 25 years, we have been building airports, roads and water plants. It was presented to us as way of opening up the country, of respecting civil rights. It was one of the key projects of Gadhafi’s son, Saif. We went around the world but mostly in the United States to find out what were the best jails in terms of respect. We thought, “What’s wrong with this?”
Q: How much did you consider Libya’s human rights record before taking on the project?
A: Libya was part of the human rights commissions with the United Nations. Mr. Gadhafi was very welcome by many prime ministers and presidents around the world. Saif was very vocal in terms of respecting human rights in Libya. And of course, you need to have jails, no matter what. It’s not for political prisoners, it’s for prisoners.
Q: But we have no way of knowing if it was for political prisoners or not.
A: The way it was presented to us, it was nothing to do with political prisoners.
Q: SNC-Lavalin did a fair bit of publicity around the irrigation projects and the airport work. The prison wasn’t publicized.
A: Because it’s too small. The project was $200 million. It wasn’t really big enough to attract that much attention. We talk about billion-dollar jobs. A hundred million or $200 million is not something we talk about. And it wasn’t even 100 per cent us, it was with a joint venture with another company. We see that more as a service contract, nothing else.
Q: I have trouble believing that a jail is the same thing as an airport.
A: For me, it’s the same thing. Here in Quebec we are bidding on jails, we are bidding on hospitals.
Q: But our human rights record is pretty good. In Libya, it’s not good.
A: Why are you saying that? Do you have any proof?
Q: Sure. You mentioned Saif. He referred to the people in the rebellion as “rats” and has handed out arms to pro-Gadhafi forces.
A: Yes, after the rebellion started. Look, you just have to go back to what Saif said in the last five years. He has given speeches at the London School of Economics. Go and see what he said.
Q: Do you believe him now?
A: When you are in a war you say some things that maybe you wouldn’t repeat later on, and you don’t really believe it. He’s in a war and he has to defend his family’s interests. Maybe they are reacting too heavily. And I don’t support what he is saying. I am totally against what they are saying. But they’ve said it.
Q: What has been the fallout from all of this, as far as public relations?
A: We are trying to explain to people that we are an engineering company working for a customer who was totally welcomed by the Canadian, American and British governments. Today, things have changed. There are all kinds of politics behind the scene. Who has initiated the thing? Who has armed the rebels? Why has it suddenly happened now?
Q: I think it happened because people were fed up with 40 years of dictatorship.
A: That’s a bit naive. There’s always external forces behind these things to help the rebellion. It didn’t happen just like that. I’m not saying all the people were happy, but there are a lot of people who still support Gadhafi. Right now we don’t have a true democracy. And I support what the international community is doing, because the way [the Gadhafi regime] has resisted is not the right thing. I’m not there to defend the Gadhafi system. I’m saying we have been working in Libya for the last 25 years, we respected the government conditions, we were well in line with the rest of the world. What’s wrong there?
By Jen Cutts - Friday, April 8, 2011 at 3:10 PM - 0 Comments
China has detained its best-known artist, Ai Weiwei
China has detained its best-known artist, Ai Weiwei, the latest in a hardline crackdown on expression that human rights groups are warning is the most severe in more than a decade. Ai, an outspoken critic of the government, has not been heard from since Sunday, when he was seized at the Beijing airport. And last week, three pro-democracy activists were charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)—which is punishable by life imprisonment. At least 23 other dissidents are being held, and another dozen are missing and at risk of harm, says CHRD.
The show of force, according to the Hong Kong-based group, is in response to online chatter that began in mid-February calling for weekly “Jasmine revolution”-style protests, inspired by the uprising in Tunisia. The initial posts appeared on a website run by exiled Chinese activists; they encouraged citizens to gather in public spaces like Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s busiest shopping streets, for “strolling” demonstrations. Unlike in Tunisia, however, there has been limited participation by the Chinese, though police have been on hand in great numbers, ready to quash any act of dissent—including that of one man who tried to leave a white jasmine flower outside a McDonald’s.
By Erica Alini - Friday, March 11, 2011 at 6:42 AM - 3 Comments
After chasing out former president Ben Ali and his family, Tunisians can’t stop reading about them
After chasing out former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family, it seems Tunisians can’t stop reading about them. Long-banned books about the deposed leader, his children and much-detested wife, Leila Trabelsi, are turning up on bookshop shelves in the country, along with other once-prohibited volumes delving into corruption, Islamism and political repression under the regime. A sign reading “Livres interdits” (“forbidden books”) on display in the window of a prominent bookstore in the capital, Tunis, attracted crowds of passersby, writes the Irish Times.
Across Tunisia, taboo titles surfacing to the public realm include La Regente de Carthage, an unflattering portrayal of the former first lady, and writings by journalist Toaufik Ben Brik, a notorious critic of the president, according to the Guardian newspaper. Gone, it seems—hopefully for good—are the days when importing a book required obtaining a visa for it from the interior ministry, and keeping track of an ever-changing official list of prohibited foreign tomes.
By Jen Cutts - Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 10:59 AM - 0 Comments
The French president is hoping a yet another reworking of his cabinet will lift his flagging reputation
After taking a drubbing in recent weeks for a string of slip-ups on the world stage, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is hoping a reworking of his cabinet—his fourth in less than a year—will lift his flagging reputation. Sarkozy announced several changes last Sunday, including ousting foreign minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who’d only been in office for three months. Alliot-Marie had controversially vacationed in Tunisia over Christmas, as anti-government protests were gaining momentum, and, in January, offered the Ben Ali regime the use of French police.
The most notable criticism of Sarkozy came from a group of unnamed French diplomats, who published an opinion piece in Le Monde last week accusing him of “amateurism, impulsiveness and [a] short-term preoccupation with the image in the media.” They refuted his attempts to stick envoys with the blame for France’s slowness to react to the crisis in Tunisia, as well as in Egypt. Gaffes on the international stage are a sore point for the French, who take a particular pride in their nation’s diplomatic abilities. A recent opinion poll found that 59 per cent of respondents don’t want Sarkozy to run in the 2012 election.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 7, 2011 at 9:04 AM - 17 Comments
Rather than simply lament for how little attention is paid to the institution, I thought I’d ask some smart people if they had anything to say in response to my piece about the state of the House of Commons. Over the next little while, those responses will appear here. Next up, Alex Himelfarb.
As we watch events unfold in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, as the media chronicle acts of extraordinary courage in the face of grotesque brutality, I expect many of us – inspired, hopeful, uncertain — are led to reflect on things here at home. For me, at least, this has meant a recognition of our own very good fortune accompanied, at the same time, by worry about our increasingly enfeebled democracy and perhaps too some shame that we don’t seem able to muster the will to do anything about it.
By Nicholas Köhler, Julia Belluz and Nancy Macdonald - Friday, March 4, 2011 at 10:17 AM - 0 Comments
The ‘world’s fattest contortionist’; farewell, Fidel; and a few kind words for Bernie Madoff, from Bernie Madoff
And other acts of God
When a 6.3-magnitude earthquake rocked New Zealand last week, killing dozens and toppling the steeple of Christchurch Cathedral, it took a Canadian, Christchurch Bishop Victoria Matthews, to give nature its due. “People shouldn’t think they’re in control of Mother Nature,” she said. The long-time Anglican bishop of Edmonton arrived in her antipodean idyll three years ago. Her words echo poet Alden Nowlan, who described Canada as “a country where a man can die simply from being caught outside.” Matthews, who is working to get churches open and parishioners dug out, acknowledged her ignorance of some of nature’s talents. “I knew about snowstorms, I knew about hurricanes,” she said. “My Canadian education was woefully lacking about earthquakes.”
She learned from the best
Michèle Alliot-Marie, the French foreign minister, is the latest casualty of Tunisia’s fallen regime. Her reaction to the protests that led to the Jasmine revolution surprised many—she offered French savoir faire to stamp out dissenters. Later, it was revealed she was on holiday in Tunisia as the revolt heated up, and her family has close connections with ousted Tunisian president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali. She resigned over the issue, and President Nicolas Sarkozy swiftly replaced her with Alain Juppé, his trusted defence minister. Like the Arab autocrats, Alliot-Marie did not go quietly. In her resignation letter, she insisted she’d done nothing wrong, adding: “I have been the victim of political, then media, attacks.”
Hard out there to be a thief
Taking time from his 150-year jail term for defrauding investors of tens of billions of dollars, Bernie Madoff gave another interview this month, this time to New York magazine. He talked of his silent suffering in carrying his secret for years. He mused, as he did to the New York Times, that banks and investors who were getting rich surely knew something fishy was going on—or should have. “Am I a sociopath?” he asked his therapist, in one vulnerable moment. (She said no—he feels remorse.) For some that may be offset by his petulance that all the good he did is forgotten and he’s judged too harshly by public and media. “I am a good person,” he insists.
No fairy-tale ending here
Both buzz and fury are brewing on the eve of the release of the new film by Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. Hardwicke’s new project is in territory not far from her last. Her Red Riding Hood is a supernatural tale that plays up the latent sexuality of the Brothers Grimm original (a wolf, dressed in ladies’ clothing, luring a girl into bed?). The buzz is understandable: it stars the luminous Amanda Seyfried. The fury is over the tie-in book, by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright. You can buy it now—but fans discovered when they got to the last page it won’t reveal the ending. Instead there’s a link to a website that will go up once the film is out. The griping has already begun in the blogosphere. Suffice it to say this is one plot twist that won’t stay a surprise too long.
Look—a fluffy dog!
Want to get Queen Elizabeth II‘s mind off potash—a neat trick if you’re the premier of Saskatchewan and have just helped block an international deal to take over Saskatoon-based PotashCorp? Meeting the Queen during a visit to London designed to assuage ruffled feathers, Brad Wall, the premier in question and a former disc jockey from Swift Current, Sask., presented the Queen with children’s books written by Regina-born folksinger Connie Kaldor—books with titles like A Duck in New York City and A Poodle in Paris. The books are destined for Savannah Phillips, who became the Queen’s first great-grandchild when she was born last year.
Some fashion advice: zip it
Less than a week before John Galliano, head designer for Christian Dior, was to present his latest collection in Paris, he’s been axed by the fashion house. The firing was prompted by a video showing the fashion bad boy drunkenly taunting patrons in a Paris bar with anti-Semitic slurs such as “people like you would be dead,” and “your mothers, your forefathers gassed.” He added, “I love Hitler.” Dior’s head, Sidney Toledan, condemned the remarks, as did actress Natalie Portman, who has signed an endorsement deal with Dior. “As an individual who is proud to be Jewish,” she said, “I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.”
Call him a fan
American Filmmaker Michael Moore‘s romance with Canada has been long and multi-faceted: 10 years ago he loved those trusting unlocked doors he found in Toronto filming Bowling for Colombine; in Sicko, he heaped praise on our universal health care. Last week, he picked a new darling: the people of Thompson, Man., who he says are “fighting a front-line battle” in the “war of the world’s rich on the middle class.” In a blog post, he skewers Brazilian mining giant Vale, which plans to shutter operations in Thompson and put 500 people out of work, even though it recently got a $1-billion loan from the Canadian government. “Don’t be embarrassed if you need a map to find Thompson,” writes Moore, who complains U.S. media “only tell you about Canadians if they have some connection to Justin Bieber.” Yet many Canadians will be just as clueless about remote Thompson’s location, as jazzed about Bieber, and as indifferent to Thompson’s workers.
Another one for Gwyneth (yawn)
Poet/author/actor/soap star James Franco wasn’t the only overachiever in the room Oscar night. Halle Berry was readying for her Broadway debut, and there was GOOP publisher/style maven Gwyneth Paltrow in her third recent musical turn, belting out Coming Home. Actors. We know there’s nothing they can’t do, but must they actually go out and do it all?
Castro goes, long live Castro
Another global political heavyweight may be on the way out. Fidel Castro is expected to resign as Communist party leader in April. Cuba’s “El Jefe” will likely hand over the job to his brother Raul, who became president in 2008, due to Fidel’s declining health—which means that, for the first time, a non-Castro will take the party’s secondary slot.
Fat is not a contortionist issue
His weight fluctuates between 400 and 450 lb., yet he can do the splits and touch the soles of his feet to his cherubic cheeks. Edmonton’s Matt Alaeddine, 30, bills himself as the “world’s fattest contortionist” and has travelled the globe with the freakish Jim Rose Circus, having got his start at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. “Obesity! It’s working for me,” he recently told the Edmonton Journal, for a story that generated worldwide curiosity, likely due to an accompanying video of the performer staging impromptu feats of fleshy derring-do dressed in a gold nylon two-piece apparently bought at American Apparel. “I know you’re in shock; you can still clap!” he told a crowd of clearly uneasy Edmontonians at a local transit station.
A big bite out of Apple
Apple’s superstar designer, Jonathan Ive, may be leaving the company, which is suffering a period of uncertainty in the wake of Steve Jobs‘ medical leave. Ive, Apple’s highest-profile employee after Jobs, heads the design team responsible for its most famous products, including the iPad, iPhone and Macbook. The 41-year-old is “at loggerheads” with the California-based company over plans to return to his native Britain, where he hopes to educate his twin sons, according to Britain’s Sunday Times. His imprint and value to Apple—and its stock price—is immeasurable.
Call it documentary activism. Louie Psihoyos, the American director of the Oscar-winning movie The Cove—about the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan—was so keen the people of Taiji see his film he sent Japanese-language DVDs to every household in the fishing village. “To me the film is a love letter to the people of Taiji,” he said. “They’ll realize that it is just a handful of local environmental thugs giving a whole nation a black eye.” The love may not be returned. The town office said it had received copies of the film, but no one had watched it yet.
Apparently Equatorial Guinea’s dictator, Brig. Gen. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, hasn’t learned from the uprisings roiling North Africa. Word has leaked that Teodorin Obiang, the son he is grooming for succession, has commissioned a super-yacht worth $380 million—three times what the oil-rich African country spends on health and education each year. Teodorin, who lives in a $35-million Malibu mansion, reportedly fills his days with naps and Rodeo Drive shopping sprees with his Playboy bunny girlfriend. The next Guinean leader is described in Foreign Policy as an “unstable, reckless idiot” by a former U.S. intelligence official who knows him well.
A little bit of country
Kate Middleton was keen on a village wedding. So while her nuptials will take place at Westminster Abbey, she and Prince William are bringing a bit of village to the city. A butcher, a pub landlord, a postman and convenience-store owners from Bucklebury, her hometown in Berkshire, were among the 2,000-odd guests to receive a gold-embossed invitation. Chan Shingadia and her husband, Hash, who run the store, will rub shoulders with the likes of David Beckham. Mrs. Shingadia said she’s accepted, and told the Telegraph Kate “is really caring, and she is always a good customer.” The pair pop by so regularly, she’s always stocked with the very common treats they favour: Haribo sweets and mint Vienetta ice cream.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, February 25, 2011 at 7:00 AM - 5 Comments
After more than four decades in power, will he be the next tyrant to topple?
In December 2004, then-Canadian prime minister Paul Martin visited Moammar Gadhafi in the oversized Disney World-style tent the Libyan dictator used to entertain guests, and declared him to be a “philosophical man with a sense of history.”
Martin was angling to land a billion-dollar contract for the Montreal firm SNC-Lavalin, which perhaps discouraged him from more accurately describing Gadhafi as malicious, cruel and almost certainly insane. But then, Gadhafi’s idiosyncrasies have always been more interesting to those outside the country than details about how he ruled Libya. Journalists accompanying Martin in 2004 got a lot of mileage out of two camels mating outside the tent while Martin and Gadhafi chatted inside. So did Martin—he included the anecdote in his 2008 autobiography, Hell or High Water.
Gadhafi, the man who is now fighting to hang on to power, and who has unleashed a wave of brutality against his own people, has long been a seemingly endless source of similar colour. There is his insistence on setting up that climate-controlled tent in foreign capitals; his all-female bodyguard unit; his strange fashion sense; the Ukrainian nurse with whom he travels—”a voluptuous blond” according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. All this distracts from decades of international terrorism, skulduggery and crushing repression at home.
By macleans.ca - Monday, February 14, 2011 at 1:08 PM - 2 Comments
6,000 migrants arrive following Tunisian uprising
The Italian government has appealed to the European Union for aid after an influx of about 6,000 Tunisians refugees arrived on Italian shores following the political upheaval in their homeland. Italy has declared a humanitarian crisis, and has asked the EU’s border enforcement agency, Frontex, to intervene. Meanwhile, Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is in Tunisia to discuss the issue with the country’s interim administration. The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, has suggested that Italian police be sent to Tunisia to help stem the tide of migrants to Italy. Economic conditions in Tunisia remain dire, and many seek to escape the extreme poverty by fleeing to Europe, despite the hopefulness that came from revolutionary uprising, which resulted in President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster.
By Chris Sorensen - Friday, February 11, 2011 at 1:08 PM - 5 Comments
The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia can be blamed in part on inflation.
Inflation isn’t normally associated with serious social upheaval, at least not in Canada, but recent events have shown that spiralling prices can have profound effects on emerging economies. The chaos in Egypt, much like the uprising in Tunisia earlier this year, can be blamed in part on inflation—namely rising food and energy prices that have left jobless Egyptians feeling desperate.
It’s an especially sharp problem in developing countries where a substantial portion of income is spent on food. But even big global players are growing concerned lately. China, for instance, is worried that rising prices are making the cellphones, dishwashers and clothing churned out by its manufacturing sector less attractive to foreign buyers. And no country, it seems, is more sensitive about inflation than Argentina. Independent firms have pegged inflation there as high as 25 per cent, more than double the official figures, and are reportedly being threatened with government reviews of their methodology and potential fines of $125,000.
What’s behind all this inflation trouble? According to a recent Scotiabank report, the run-up in prices is fuelled mainly by soaring commodities, thanks to a combination of reduced global supplies of everything from grains to vegetable oils (many producers cut capacity during the recession while bad weather has ruined crops) just as demand in many parts of the world is beginning to rise with the recovery. But some have also singled out a weak U.S. dollar as a key culprit. Four months ago, the U.S. Federal Reserve launched a second round of quantitative easing—essentially printing money to juice the economy—by buying US$600 billion in U.S. government bonds. China and other developing nations say the move is causing money to flood into their economies, further pushing up prices of food, energy and other commodities, while also forcing their currencies higher.
Not surprisingly, U.S. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has dismissed the criticism by blaming developing countries for failing to properly manage their own monetary policies—a fair point, although one that is likely to fall on deaf ears once the citizenry has taken to the streets in protest.
By Martin Patriquin - Friday, February 4, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 3 Comments
The ‘most notorious’ member of Tunisia’s ruling family fled to Montreal via private jet
Until his sister married into power and plundered wealth, Belhassen Trabelsi was a businessman of middling success whose life revolved around the modest cement company he started in 1986. Six years later, when his sister Leila married Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Trabelsi’s name became synonymous with power, absurd luxury and a bulletproof sense of impunity. He owned a radio station and a newspaper chain, as well as a luxury hotel. At one point he started a discount airline, availing himself of the facilities of Tunisair, the government-run airline, to service and run his airplane. His high-flying lifestyle apparently included travel to Canada, where, sometime in the mid-1990s, he acquired permanent residency.
This last bit would come in handy when his life took another turn. With the recent spectacular collapse of Ben Ali’s government, following a mass revolt of the Tunisian people, Trabelsi and his family fled to Montreal via private jet last week, and promptly checked in to a $325-a-night hotel in the Montreal suburb of Vaudreuil. Montreal’s sizable Tunisian community was almost instantly up in arms; many descended on the hotel after a local TV station reported that Trabelsi and his family had holed up there.
His welcome from the government hasn’t been any warmer. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made a statement saying Trabelsi isn’t welcome here; Trabelsi reportedly had his permanent residency stripped shortly after. (According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, permanent residents must live in Canada for at least two years of the five-year period after being granted status.) Trabelsi is now seeking refugee status—a strange twist of events, given the thousands of Tunisians who have turned up in Canada fleeing his family’s brutal regime in the past.
By the editors - Friday, February 4, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 7 Comments
A functional democracy and robust economic growth are the best guarantors of long-term success
Ascribing the birth of an international movement to a single act by a single person may grossly misrepresent the process of history. Nonetheless, the tragic story of Mohamed Bouazizi readily explains the issues at play in Tunisia, Egypt and throughout the Middle East. And what must be done to fix the situation.
Bouazizi was, by all accounts, a hard-working if hot-tempered 26-year-old fruit and vegetable seller in the town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia; the $5 a day he earned supported his extended family and paid for his sisters to attend school. But in December his cart was confiscated by police for capricious reasons. When he went to local authorities to complain, his entreaties were rudely ignored. In protest and desperation, he then set himself on fire.
This extreme act is now recognized as the spark for mass riots that spread across the country and eventually forced Tunisia’s long-time dictator to flee. The protests moved to Egypt, gathered formidable strength, and pushed 30-year President Hosni Mubarak to announce he would not seek power again. Other countries have also come under siege by protesters. The king of Jordan replaced his entire government this week.
By macleans.ca - Friday, January 28, 2011 at 1:59 PM - 1 Comment
Federal government announces it will comply with Tunisian request
The federal government says it will comply with Tunisia’s request that Canada extradite Belhassen Trabelsi. Foreign Affairs minister Lawrence Cannon made the announcement on Friday, though Trabelsi had yet to be detained by authorities. Trabelsi’s resident status was revoked on Thursday by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which said the deposed Tunisian president’s brother-in-law hadn’t met residency requirements. Trabelsi, one of Tunisia’s most notorious government figures, has been in the Montreal area since January 20.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 28, 2011 at 10:29 AM - 74 Comments
“Canada supports the transition in Tunisia,” Harper said. “We support the democratic development that is taking place there and obviously want to see that proceed positively.” As for uprisings in Egypt, he said: “We want to see democratic development in that country as well and we’re very supportive of that. At the same time, we want to see that happen in a way that is peaceful and non-violent.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 4:54 PM - 9 Comments
Belhassen Trabelsi reportedly violated residency requirements
The Canadian government has reportedly revoked the permanent-resident status of the billionaire brother-in-law of deposed Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Belhassen Trabelsi, who arrived in Canada with his family last week, had his status revoked Thursday, according to Radio-Canada, because he did not meet specific residency conditions, including that requiring him to have stayed in Canada for two years over a five-year period. Trabelsi is the reputed leader of a family that ran much of Tunisia’s economy with an iron fist. His sister, Leila, married Tunisia’s then-president in the 1990s. Trabelsi, who is currently holed up in a hotel west of Montreal, is apparently considering applying for refugee status after Tunisia’s transition government issued an international warrant for his arrest.
By Alasdair Soussi - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:40 AM - 5 Comments
Egyptians take to the streets to protest against Mubarak
The radical political change sweeping Tunisia has led to speculation that it could spread to other countries in North Africa. And certainly, leaders in the region should be worried, if the massive street demonstrations that shook Egypt earlier this week are any indication. There, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets on what was the country’s Police Day, in an unprecedented show of anger against the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak, battling government forces and shouting: “Mubarak, your plane is waiting for you.”
A cursory look at Egypt does reveal a nation with many problems similar to Tunisia’s. Rising food prices, official corruption and an autocratic political system, which has facilitated the rule of the now ailing Mubarak, 82, have all sown the seeds of discontent in this country of 80 million. And for many Egyptians, the fall of Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was a welcome sight. “Ben Ali was not a good man,” said Adel Shalaby, a Cairo taxi driver. “All Arab and Muslim people are happy that he’s gone.”
Shalaby, interviewed before Tuesday’s protests, was a little more circumspect on domestic matters. “I don’t think I want the same thing to happen in Egypt. We want a change in president—but not like in Tunisia.” And indeed, beaten down by years of autocratic rule, and lacking the visionary leadership that was so readily projected by the likes of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, many Egyptians have been disillusioned, dispirited and bereft of real revolutionary zeal. Perhaps for that reason, the virulence of this week’s demonstrations caught many—even among those who took part—by surprise. “We have never seen anything like this before,” one protester told the Guardian.” “It is the first day of the Egyptian revolution.”
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 3:02 PM - 2 Comments
“Notorious” Tunisian businessmen sought by transitional government
The Tunisian provisional government is seeking the arrest of Belhassen Trabelsi, the “notorious” brother-in-law of ousted President Ben Ali and a senior member of his inner circle, who arrived in Montreal last week. Trabelsi is accused of a number of financial crimes, including illegally obtaining property and illegal possession of transfer of foreign currency. Trabelsi, who arrived with his family in Canada last week after fleeing the mass uprisings in Tunisia, has permanent residency in Canada which makes it difficult for Canadian authorities to hand him over to Tunisian authorities. While he could lose the right to stay in Canada if he has not spent at least two of the last five years in the country, he could claim refugee status. The Canadian government may freeze his assets if requested by the Tunisian government.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:55 PM - 11 Comments
Bob Rae considers Tunisia and Egypt.
Enter the cell phone, the internet, the i-phone and the blackberry. These are “personal devices” which empower the individual to learn, to communicate, to connect. Governments try to repress them from time to time but it can’t be done. A generation of young people with no work, plenty of time on their hands, and living in countries where the politics is truly stuck and the economies apart from oil are having trouble growing – it’s the perfect storm. Add to this mix on the fringes political ideologies and extremism and the storm takes on added strength.
Will this produce instant democracy ? Absolutely not. Armies and state structures will have their day and their say. But the social change underway can’t be stopped, and governments are going to need to show a capacity for change, openness, transparency, accountability, and, yes, democracy and human rights.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 3:20 PM - 0 Comments
Demonstrations continue putting pressure on PM Ghannouchi to step down
Over the past several weeks, widespread protests over high unemployment and high food prices have pitched demonstrators against Tunisia’s police and military and lead to the ouster of longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Hoping to placate protesters, Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced on Monday that there would be a government of national unity. But just one day later, four ministers have withdrawn from the national unity government. Three members of the opposition General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) were joined by Health Minister Mustafa ben Jaafar, a key opposition leader, putting pressure on Ghannouchi to resign as well. Ghannouchi defended the inclusion of members of the old regime in his new government, and said they had “clean hands” and had always acted “to preserve the international interest.” He repeated pledges made on Monday of a new “era of freedom,” which would see political parties free to operate and a free press. He said free and fair elections would be held within six months, controlled by an independent election commission and monitored by international observers. But while some protesters appeared ready to wait and see, others immediately described the new government as a sham. For now, demonstrations continue in Tunis, and new protests were reported in Sfax, Regueb, Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid—where the revolt began in December when a 26-year-old man set himself on fire.