philosophy, sociology, anthropology and environs
you are cordially invited to
So near and yet so far: an Oriental’s view of the Near Orient,
32 years after Edward Said’s Orientalism
Monday, February 28, 6.00 pm,
OH 116, University of Malta, Msida
Baghdad born Dr Alshinawi teaches international political economy at the University of Malta from where he originally graduated as a pharmacist and where he then went on to diplomatic studies. He studied international relations at the University of Amsterdam, obtained his PhD from Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and was visiting lecturer at the School of International Relations and the Faculty of Oriental Studies, St. Petersburg State University, Russia. A Maltese citizen, he worked for more than a decade at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, serving in Tunisia and Libya.
Getting Benghazi developments right
According to the information available to us, the new political body set up yesterday (Sunday 27 February 2011) in the early afternoon in Benghazi:
- is NOT A SECESSIONIST GOVERNMENT representing Eastern Libya
- it aspires to be a NATIONAL council seeking to link up with all towns and areas in the whole of Libya that have already ousted the regime’s forces
- to emphasise that the revolution is not the prelude to the break-up of Libya along tribal lines as alleged by the regime, the representatives of the new political forum insist that it is NOT GOVERNMENT at all
- and that it is NOT CHALLENGING TRIPOLI’S STATUS AS THE NATIONAL CAPITAL
- it is a TRANSITIONAL body (Mustafa Mohamed Abdel Jalil, the Libyan justice minister who resigned from Gaddafy’s cabinet on Monday 21 February and who is leading the interim administration in Benghazi, says: “”It will lead for no more than three months – and then there will be fair elections and the people will choose their leader.”
- midful that heavy handed foreign intervention could play into the hands of the regime, the Council is NOT CALLING FOR FOREIGN INTERVENTION (Hafiz Ghoga, spokesman for the new National Libyan Council, said the newly formed council was not contacting foreign governments and did not want them to intervene)
Meanwhile in Zawiyah…
the flag of the popular revolt flies in the centre of this town 30 miles from Tripoli. Zawiyah is controlled by rebels but surrounded by Ghaddafy loyalists. Zawiyah is described by The Guardian as “a metaphor for the current stalemate” in Libya.
UN Security Council unanimously condemns regime but visiting journalists told ‘fireworks not shooting’
“As the Libyan people take their destiny into their hands, as is their right, I hope that the new future for which they yearn, peaceful, prosperous and democratic, will soon be theirs”.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, yesterday 26 February 2011
In its Resolution 1970 taken yesterday, the UN Security Council obligated all United Nations Member States to “freeze without delay all funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on their territories, which are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by the individuals or entities” listed in resolution.
The Council imposed a travel ban on Gheddafy, some members of his family and other relatives, as well as senior elements of the administration.
The arms embargo clause of the resolution instructs all Member States to “immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from or through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related material of all types, including weapons and ammunition”.
Although the Council recognized that Libya is not party to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), it nevertheless directed Libyan authorities to cooperate fully with the ICC in its investigations of the situation in Libya since 15 February 2011. (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=37633&Cr=Libya&Cr1=)
Meanwhile, Sejf al-Islam told foreign journalists visiting Libya on a regime sponsored visit: “Everything is calm, if you hear fireworks don’t mistake it for shooting” (http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=5479)
For background information on the UN Security Council, see http://www.un.org/sc/members.asp
How accurate and up to date is the background information on Libya provided by the international news services? Judging from the BBC’s assessment of a Libyan English language newspaper, The Tripoli Post, this information is not always accurate. Of course, it does not follow that all of the BBC’s reporting and analysis of the unfolding momentous events in Libya is inaccurate, far from it! It does mean, however, that the situation on the ground – and this should not surprise us – is developing at a much faster pace than outsiders, even experienced professional observers, can digest and analyse with adequate accuracy. It may also mean that previous information on Libyan society – a far more complex and nuanced reality than many seem to appreciate – may have been somewhat approximative and stereotyped.
Here is an example. The Tripoli Post, a Libyan newspaper with an online portal, is referred to as an “English-language pro-government weekly” in the BBC News’s Libya country profile on a page “last updated at 10:19 GMT, Tuesday, 22 February 2011” (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/819291.stm ). We followed the link provided by BBC News and read the following report (which we are reproducing in full):
Govt Opponents Claim Victory in Misurata
Opponents of the government were claiming victory in Misurata, a provincial centre, about 200km east of Tripoli in another indication that the rebellion was encroaching on cities closer to the capital, Tripoli. Al Jazeera also reported large protests in the southern city of Sabha.
Libyans fleeing across the country’s western border into Tunisia said there had been two nights of fighting between rebel and pro-Qaddafi forces in the town of Sabratha, home of an important Roman archaeological site 60 km west of Tripoli.
According to Reuters News Agency thousands of Libyan forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi have deployed there in an attempt to extend the crackdown that gathered pace in the capital after Al Qathafi’s television address on Tuesday calling for ordinary citizens to help hunt down opponents “house by house.”
A resident is reported to have said that messages being broadcast from the loudspeakers of local mosques were urging people to attack government opponents in Sabratha, while a local radio station that had been broadcasting opposition messages was attacked.
In Tripoli, armed men, described by many as “mercenaries” were still roaming the city, while more pro-Al Qathafi forces were reported to be moving toward the capital to reinforce his hold. Citizens are afraid as they themselves don’t have any weapons to fight with.
The country’s interior minister, Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi, who announced his defection to the opposition urged the Libyan Army to join the people and their “legitimate demands.”
Abidi said Wednesday that he had decided to resign after the people of Benghazi were shot down with machine guns. In an interview with CNN, he said he had argued with Colonel Al Qathafi’s intention to use airplanes to bomb that city, warning that it would kill thousands.
But Colonel Qaddafi’s security forces have made no attempt as yet to take back the growing number of towns in the east that have in effect declared their independence and set up informal opposition governments.
The Libyan revolt that began with a relatively organised core of longtime government critics in Benghazi, swiftly spread to the capital. It was spontaneous, outracing any efforts to coordinate the protests.
The Libyan government lashed out with a level of violence unseen in either of the other uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, partly by “importing foreigners without ties to the Libyan people”. But there were heavy defections from the Libyan government forces as they abandoned their uniforms to join the cause. (http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=5466 )
[We are aware of the inconsistent transliteration of the Arabic proper noun معمر القذافي (mʿmr alqḏāfī) as Al Qathafy and Qaddafi in the text above but the text has been quoted as published by The Tripoli Post; we ourselves prefer to use Ghaddafy]
It is difficult to imagine how what BBC News characterises as a “pro-government weekly” could dispassionately report that the “Libyan government lashed out with a level of violence unseen in either of the other uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt” and to openly admit that “there were heavy defections from the Libyan government forces as they abandoned their uniforms to join the cause”. More significantly, it is difficult to reconcile The Tripoli Post’ s ssessment of the revolt as “spontaneous, outracing any efforts to coordinate the protests” with the assertion by both Muammar Ghaddafy and his son Sejf that the uprising is the result of an externally organised conspiracy.
Also note that Ghaddafy is never referred to as ‘the Leader’ but simply by his name or as “Colonel Qaddafy”. The regime’s forces as simply the “pro-Al Qathafi forces” or “Libyan forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi” and even as “armed men, described by many as ‘mercenaries’ roaming the city (Tripoli)”. The sources referred to are the international agencies and residents on the ground. The government is never referred to as a source.
There are, of course, also indications that the editor may be – in the improbable event of a future restoration of the status quo ante – be telling future inquisitors: “Now, Criticks, do your worst, that here are met; For, like a Rook, I have hedg’d in my Bet.” (George Villiers, The Rehearsal, 1672). Here’s the indication: In the passage where it is reported that The country’s interior minister, Abdel al-Abidi announced his defection to the opposition, we read that he also “urged the Libyan Army to join the people and their “legitimate demands” ”. Note how the words ‘legitimate demands’ are within inverted commas in the original (“ ”) , suggesting that the editor is taking an arms distance position from the person he is quoting and practically saying – just in case we may be ill disposed towards the idea that the said demands are in fact justified – that he was only quoting al-Abidi. This caution is, it cannot be emphasised enough, balanced by several instances where the editor takes considerable risks and reveals his inclinations, e.g., the final words (… the cause) are not enclosed between quote marks.
The Tripoli Post has this to say about itself: “The Tripoli Post first appeared in 1999. It is meant to be a newspaper of substance. Its objective is to communicate Libya’s news and views to the rest of the world. The Tripoli Post and The Tripoli Post On-Line focuses on serving readers by making information available with regard to Libya’s politics, business, culture, sports, history and the country’s dynamic growing population.” ( http://www.tripolipost.com/aboutus.asp)
We have no doubt that the BBC’s assessment is in the best of professional good faith. It may also well be that The Tripoli Mirror is itself evolving into a more politically independent news provider and that the BBC’s assessment was written well before the revolt and not revised in the light of The Tripoli Post‘s metamorphosis.
The Tripoli Post has in fact changed. Above we noted that in its reporting of the revolt, The Tripoli Post never refers to Ghaddafy as ‘Leader’. Contrast this with its report in September of last year of the festivities of 40th anniversary of the coup d’etat that brought Ghaddafy to power in 1969. In that report, Ghaddafy is pompously referred to as the “Leader of the Revolution, Supreme Commander, Chairman of the African Union” (http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=3545&archive=1 ).
Although today’s The Tripoli Post is light years ahead of last year’s The Tripoli Post, a close analysis of its content and style over the last few years suggests that it was already close to Sejf Gheddafy’s ‘liberal’ line within the regime. But Sejf’s speech early Monday morning, suggests that The Tripoli Post is light years ahead of Sejf. Today’s The Tripoli Post in relation to Sejf is certainly first past the post. In any case, this case indicates how important it is – if we are to understand developments in a country such as Libya whose future will impact heavily on our country, the region and the world – that we look at it closely, very closely.
Updated 12.20 23/02/2011
The landing of two Libyan air force Mirage F1s in Malta yesterday is significant in both a general and a specific sense. In a general sense, it indicates that the Libyan armed forces are not all monolithically compact behind Muammar Ghaddafy. More specifically, however, it suggests that he can no longer rely on the unconditional and complete support of his tribe, the Qadhafas.
The Qadhafa tribe is, in comparison to the other tribes in Libya, a middle sized one and, prior to the 1969 coup, it had no tradition of political militancy. It is smaller than the Warfalla tribe, whose historic centre is the town of Bani Walid about 125/30 kilometres to the South East of Tripoli, today in the Misratah district. Members of the Warfalla tribe, who are now spread all over Libya, were involved in a failed attempted coup in 1993 and the whole tribe has since been excluded from key positions in the armed forces, security and the (albeit rickety) state apparatus. Akram Al-Warfalli, a Warfalla leader, told Ghaddafy through Al Jazeera that he is “no longer a brother, we tell you to leave the country”.
The Qadhafa tribe is also smaller than the Al Zuwayya tribe, the largest and most influential of eastern Libya, formerly known as Cyrenaica. Inasmuch as the regime never quite felt it had a solid grip of eastern Libya, it never trusted the Zuways and generally neglected Libya. Speaking to Al Jazeera, the tribe’s leader, Shaikh Faraj al Zuway warned Ghaddafy that they would “stop oil exports to Western countries within 24 hours” if the violence did not stop. Moreover most of the Mediterranean part of the Cyrenaica is already in the hands of the revolt.
The Magariha is Libya’s second largest tribe after the Warfalla, and ,after the Qadhafa itself, the tribe with the strongest ties with the regime. Former Prime Minister Abdessalam Jalloud, Ghaddafy’s right-hand man for many years until he fell out of favour, is a member of the Magarihas. Allegations that Magariha backed the 1993 coup attempt by officers belonging to the Warfalla, may have contributed to Jalloud’s removal from the post of general coordinator of the Revolutionary Committees. Although the regime is known to be wary of the Magarihas, many of them are in sensitive and senior positions, even the security services.
Although it appears that many Magariha youths have joined the revolt, the tribe itself has not yet pronounced itself. However, the Magariha is traditionally closely allied to the Al Zintan, a tribe hailing from the town of Zintan, about 120 kilometres south of Tripoli, one of the first towns in western Libya to join the revolt.
Of course this is a simplified picture of the Libyan tribal universe, as there are around 140 clans or tribal networks in Libya some of which have branches outside of the country, such as in Egypt (*), Chad and Tunisia. Around 30 of them have an evident influence on important developments in the country. More significantly is that it is difficult to understand the regime’s patronage priorities and, more importantly, how critical and sensitive positions are filled, unless one has at least a basic knowledge of the tribal system. This continuous to be true today when, largely as a result of urbanisation, an estimated 15 per cent of Libyans make no effort to activate their tribal affiliation and feel no loyalty towards it.
Which brings us back to the two Dassault Mirage F1BD/ED fighter jets, piloted by senior colonels in the Libyan air force, the Al Quwwatal Jawwiya al Jamahiriya, that landed in Malta yesterday. These pilots could not possibly be Warfallas, nor Zuways or of any of the eastern tribes or berbers, and it is unlikely that they are Zintanis. The regime considers the air force as the most important of its weapons and would never dream to allow members of tribes it does not trust to reach senior positions in it. They are, therefore, probably from the Qadhafa tribe or, but less likely, Magarihas. Either way, this is a strong indication that tribal support base that Ghaddafy – the leader who came to power with the declared intention of freeing Libya from suffocating grip of the tribal networks but eventually came to rely upon it – enjoyed is now beginning to show cracks.
(*) From Al Masrya Alyoum, 20/02/2011: The Egyptian lawyer and activist Ayman Shawqi, who lives in the coastal city of Marsa Matrouh, near Libya, said Libyan activists, the Arab Doctors Union and the Egyptian-Libyan Awlad Ali tribe had collected tons of medicals supplies for Libya. Egyptian authorities granted the convoy access to Libya, Shawqi told Al-Masry Al-Youm. When organizers contacted Libyan guards in al-Masaeed, located near the Salloum border point, they welcomed the convoy. Asked about stance of the Awlad Ali tribe – which has dual citizenship, lives in the border areas between Egypt and Libya, and keeps good relations with Libyan President Muammar Qaddaf I – Shawqi said “Qaddafi is a dictator. Our stances cannot be different from those of our people in Libya.”
From the comments to the Watersbroken post North Africa limits of social and political sustainability. Read them below or click on https://watersbroken.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/north-africa-limits-of-social-and-political-sustainability/
1. Ramona Camilleri said, on February 21, 2011
Can anyone suggest some serious study of Libya’s ‘tribes’? Everybody is mentioning these tribes but I cannot get my hands on anything substantial.
2. Henry Mason, London said, on February 21, 2011
The evergreen classic study of Libyan tribes is De Agostini’s Le Popolazioni della Cirenaica, Notizie etniche e storiche raccolte dal Colonello Enrico de Agostini. Con annesse 12 carte. Benghazi-Tripoli. Governo della Cirenaica, 1922-1923, written during the early Italian colonial period. For a more recent study see Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, The making of modern Libya: state formation, colonization, and resistance, 1830-1932, State University of New York series in the social and economic history of the Middle East, SUNY Press, 1994. Ali Abdullatif Ahmida is Professor of Political Science at the University of New England. He is the author of Forgotten Voices: Power and Agency in Colonial and Postcolonial Libya and the editor of Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the Maghrib: History, Culture, and Politics. Finally, beware of a lot of propagandist crap from various sources, including serious sounding institutes.
3. Sammy Rahman said, on February 21, 2011
@ Ramona and Henry Mason
Seeing the heart of the revolt is Benghazi, the Cyrenaica and the Gebel Ahdar, another still useful classic is Evans-Pritchard’s The Sanusi of Cyrenaica (1949). Look also at E. Peters’ The proliferation of segments in the lineage of the Bedouin of Cyrenaica, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1960, 90 (1953). Enjoy.
MALTESE IN LIBYA: USEFUL CONTACTS
Foreign Affairs Malta Freephone : 8 0 0 7 2 2 0 3 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maltese embassy in Tripoli: VOIP (Malta Line) 2 2 0 4 2 0 9 1 – 4
Direct Office Line: 0 0 2 1 8 2 1 3 6 0 2 4 1 5
Mobile: 0 0 2 1 8 9 1 3 6 4 0 5 6 5
Violence continues unabated
Gaddafi’s 25 second statement yesterday evening denying persistent rumours that he has already fled Libya appear to have energised protesters calling for the fall of his regime.
In the capital, pro-regime forces seem to be concentrating punitive operations – including airborne ones – on particular neighbourhoods and suburbs, with reports referring to the poor area of Fashloom, to Zawiyat al-Dahmani and, around 14 kilometres east of Tripoli, Tajura.
Meanwhile the Arab League will hold an emergency ambassadorial level meeting in Cairo today at 3 pm GMT to discuss the Libyan revolt.
International Energy Agency (IEA) chief economist Fatih Birol earlier today told the Guardian that:
The surge in oil prices caused by the Libyan crisis could derail the global economic recovery, the International Energy Agency’s chief economist warned on Tuesday.
Fatih Birol said high oil prices could weaken trade balances, add to inflation and put pressure on central banks to put up interest rates at a time when economic growth remains lacklustre in many countries, including the UK. “Oil prices are a serious risk for the global
economic recovery,” he said.
The price of oil and grains jumped again this morning amid fears that growing violence in oil-rich Libya could spill over into other oil producing countries in the region.
Brent crude oil rose nearly $2.83 to $108.57 a barrel after hitting $108.70 on Monday, the highest since the onset of the financial crisis.
Sout Al Horeya صوت الحريه [Sound of Freedom] by Hany Adel and Amir Eid is one of the more succesful songs to have come out of the uprising of the Egyptian people. Here’s the text:
I went out and said that I wouldn’t come back
And wrote with my blood on each street
We made our voices heard to those who weren’t listening
And all the barriers/obstacles were broken
Our weapon was our dreams
And tomorrow was clear before us
We’ve been waiting for a long time
Seeking but not finding our place
In every street of my country, the sound of freedom is calling
We lifted our heads high
And hunger no longer bothered us
What’s most important are our rights
And to write our history with our blood
If you were really one of us [Hosni Mubarak]
Stop talking and telling us
To leave and forget our dream
And stop saying the word “I”
In every street of my country, the sound of freedom is calling
And here is the link:
The situation all across the countries of the southern shore of the Mediterranean is critical. Although it is true that the insurrection of the Tunisian people against Ben Ali’s corrupt regime has inspired their sisters and brothers in all North African countries, the Tunisian example is not the ’cause’ of what has happened and what is continuing to happen in Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. The process we are witnessing – in all of its dramatic immediacy as it unfolds hour after hour, yet from the safety and comfort of our homes and through the numbing mediation of television and internet – is only superficially similar to a spreading contagion. What causes generally peaceful, all enduring and home loving populations to rise in anger and risk all, even their lives, is not an example, not even one as heroic as that of the Tunisian people. The causes are always to be found in the concrete conditions of each of the societies concerned. Some of these circumstances are common to all of these countries, others are specific to each.
Certainly one thing is clear. What yesterday we accepted uncritically, today sounds increasingly hollow. Our own (Maltese) experts of Libyan affairs – in both the academic and business worlds – assured us in private and in public that there was “No fear of domino effect on Libya from Maghreb revolts” (Malta Today 5 February 2011). Ranier Fsadni, lecturer at the university’s Mediterranean Institute, said that Libya had in the past experienced internal discord, but it was common for an oil-rich Arab nation to “reach into its deep pockets” to quell revolt ( http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/no-fear-of-domino-effect-on-libya-from-maghreb-revolts ). Even Maltese business-persons with decades of experience of doing business in and with Libya failed to understand what was and is going on in Libyan society. All were unanimous in asserting that Tripoli is immune from the earthquake that is shaking the East of the country. They all quote friends of cousins of friends to confirm their views. But that is part of the problem. None are familiar with the real country outside of these networks. The situation so far has proved their conventional wisdom to have been built on shifting sand. But it’s a fluid situation, and it is a highly inflammable fluid.
Other, more ‘Western’ models have also shown themselves to be unsustainable. Only recently, we were impressed by the Tunisian authorities’ boasting that in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, Tunisia “ranks 32nd in the world in terms of competitiveness out of 139 countries involved in this report, achieving the best performance, compared with the top forty countries and coming ahead of several countries members of the European Union […], of Asia and Latin America”. Today, the following words sound hollow: “The economic and financial policies that Tunisia has pursued have shown their effectiveness in achieving stability over the years and have proven their worth in the recent period by effectively shielding the country from the fallout of the global economic and financial downturn” (http://www.investintunisia.tn/document/554.pdf ). It is not that international competitiveness rankings such as the Global Competitiveness Index are based on unreliable data, but rather that what they measure may systematically ignore and underestimate the limits of the social and political sustainability of certain models of development, and of their corresponding models of distribution of power and wealth.
Freeze Mubarak’s assets wherever they may be! Egypt’s money must be returned to its people! Petition G20 finance ministers when they meet tomorrow Friday 17 February in Paris.
In its own words Avaaz.org is:
“a 7-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making. (“Avaaz” means “voice” or “song” in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 13 countries on 4 continents and operates in 14 languages.”
Watersbroken is carrying the following appeal from Avaaz.org.
Mubarak is out – but he may take unimaginable wealth out with him. Estimates of his stolen fortune range as high as $70 billion, more than a third of the entire Egyptian economy. Time is running out for world governments to freeze Mubarak’s assets before they disappear into a maze of obscure bank accounts – like so many other dictator’s stolen fortunes. Switzerland has already frozen his finances, and some EU ministers have offered help – but without an immediate global outcry, action may come too slowly to stop the Mubarak billions from vanishing.
Let’s call on leaders of all nations to ensure that Egypt’s money is returned to the people. Our petition will be delivered, if we reach 500,000 signatures, to G20 finance ministers when they meet this Friday in Paris. Let’s add our names now and spread the word!
Millions of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day — yet experts say that corruption costs Egypt more than $6 billion in public money per year. The Mubaraks themselves have benefited massively from a web of business deals, crony-capitalist privatization schemes, and state-guaranteed investments throughout Mubarak’s 30 years as president. Estimates of their wealth run from a “mere” $2-3 billion to the staggering $70 billion figure, which would make Hosni Mubarak the world’s richest man. And 25 senior government officials are already under investigation for amassing fortunes above $1 billion while serving under him.
But the days may finally be over when corrupt rulers can escape with their fortunes intact. The new United Nations Convention Against Corruption explicitly calls for the return of corruptly-gained assets to the countries of origin, and Egypt’s military government has already asked European Union governments to freeze Mubarak’s fortune. The key question now is whether action will come fast enough: all the laws in the world won’t help if the Mubarak billions are shuffled out of sight before authorities can seize them. Our voices as citizens can help the people of Egypt make good on the promise of their revolution. Join the call for Egyptian wealth to go back to the people of Egypt.
As millions of Egyptians risked – and even gave – their lives for democracy, there was little that we around the world could do beyond send our hopes and solidarity. But now we have a special responsibility: to do our utmost to restore the national property stolen by a dictatorship that our own governments tolerated for far too long. The people of Egypt are ready now to build a new nation. Let’s ensure that they regain the resources that were taken from them, as they create the future that few dared to dream possible.
The Avaaz team
IF YOU WANT TO SIGN THIS PETITION, LOOK UP AVAAZ’S LINK ON GOOGLE OR SOME OTHER SEARCH ENGINE. WE HAVE NOT REPRODUCED THE LINK ON THIS SITE AS WE CANNOT GUARANTEE THE INTEGRITY OF E-MAIL DATA BASES ON SITES OTHER THAN OUR OWN. THIS NOTE DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN OPINION ON THE INTEGRITY OF INFORMATION ENTRUSTED TO AVAAZ, IT IS MERELY AN UNDERSTANDABLE PRECAUTION. IN FACT WE THINK THESE GUYS ARE DOING A GREAT JOB.
Washington Post: “Egyptians focus their attention on recovering the nation’s money” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/12/AR2011021203767.html
Egypt’s Mubarak Likely to Retain Vast Wealth; Mubarak Family May Have as Much as $70 Billion Stashed Away, Experts Estimate http://abcnews.go.com/Business/egypt-mubarak-family-accumulated-wealth-days-military/story?id=12821073
Seize Money Stolen by Mubarak and Return it to Egypt http://www.aljazeerah.info/Opinion%20Editorials/2011/February/15%20o/Seize%20Money%20Stolen%20by%20Mubarak%20and%20Return%20it%20to%20Egypt%20By%20Paul%20Dunk.htm
EU Yet To Agree Action On Egypt Asset Requests http://www.nasdaq.com/aspx/stock-market-news-story.aspx?storyid=201102151027dowjonesdjonline000253&title=ecofineu-yet-to-agree-action-on-egypt-asset-requests
The United Nations Convention Against Corruption http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/CAC/convention-highlights.html#Asset_recovery
There is no doubt in my mind that if we are serious about promoting Gozo’s sustainable development, we need to seriously tackle the issue of transport between the two islands and, possibly, between Gozo and other regional destinations. Having said this, I do not intend to – today – take a position for or against the Gozo tunnel idea promoted by lawyer Chris Said, Nationalist member of Parliament for the 13th district and Parliamentary Secretary for Consumers, Fair Competition, Local Councils and Public Dialogue in the Office of the Prime Minister. What concerns me today is this story’s subtext.
Dr Said is young – he’s 41 – but politically experienced. At the age of 13, as he told another newspaper in 2007, he used to accompany Giovanna Debono’s father, Coronato Attard, to Parliament. At 21, he was president of the Gozo Football Association. Mayor of Nadur for nine years between 1999 and 2008, he witnessed at first hand the evolution of his town’s political profile. In 1999, the Nationalist Party obtained 51.3 per cent of first- count votes at the Nadur local council election. Labour got only 27.8 per cent. Although both parties gained ground in both absolute and relative terms in this town’s local council elections between 1999 and 2008, the Labour Party’s share of the vote grew by 13.6 percentage points but the PN vote increased by only 7.3 points. Indeed, the PN vote actually fell by almost 3.9 percentage points between 2005 and 2008. That both Dr Said and veteran Mrs Debono are from Nadur makes this a locality to watch.
Although he was elected to Parliament in 2008, Dr Said fought his successful electoral campaign under a Nationalist government that had won 58.8 per cent of Gozo’s votes at the 2003 national election as against the opposition’s 40.8 per cent. Although he was elected, the PN’s Gozitan vote fell by 3.4 percentage points at the 2008 election to stand at 55.4 per cent, whereas Labour gained 2.1 percentage points over the previous elections to stand at 42.9 per cent.
Dr Said, new yet politically streetwise, must have learnt a lot from this contradictory experience. Although the Gozitan PN was in crisis and lost ground, the young lawyer advanced considerably over his 2003 results, from 1,323 first-count votes to 2,563 in 2008.
The real benchmark against which he must have measured himself, however, is Mrs Debono, his senior by 14 years. Whereas he improved his performance over 2003 by almost 98.5 percent, the Minister for Gozo sank by over 14.5 per cent. Already in 2007, Dr Said realised that Mrs Debono’s parochial, clientelistic approach was losing its effectiveness. “I believe the country needs to aim for new targets”, he told a newspaper, adding this new approach required fresh blood. The “new generation of politicians can make this quality leap”, he emphasised.
The Gozo tunnel story is being cooked according to Dr Said’s “visionary” recipe for reviving the PN’s fortunes in Gozo and in the whole of the country as well as for boosting the value of his political stock inside a post-Gonzi PN. From this perspective, it is not important whether the tunnel project is technically and financially feasible or not. It is not important if its opportunity cost makes sense for a country in our circumstances. It is not important if it is conceived within the framework of a coherent national development strategy. From this perspective, all that matters is its effectiveness as political rhetoric.
From this point of view it’s cool. Think of it. Critics will say that, knowing Malta, this project will take an eternity to complete. That’s exactly the sort of criticism I would want to hear if I were spinning this tale. It just goes on to prove I am confident my party will win the next election. We dare plan for the very long term because we know we are here to stay. We are eternal.
Is it very expensive? Of course, but we are so confident money will not be a problem, the sky is the limit. The sum involved in us ministers and parliamentary secretaries getting a double salary are peanuts next to the €150 million it will cost. A conservative figure, say you? Imagine how punier, in comparison, would be the €4 million said to have been paid in commission to the guy who got BWSC the power station contract, if I had said it would cost, say, €210 million.
In comparison to the grandness of the tunnel project everything else pales into insignificance. Mortal sins become venial. Great projects look small.
And the sky brings me to the moon. In 1961, the then 44-year-old President John F. Kennedy announced the visionary goal of sending an American to the moon before the end of the decade. It was great political rhetoric and must be understood in the context of the Cold War. Only an extremely ambitious, risky and fantastically expensive project could project the image of a superpower so self-confident, that it could dare commit itself to go – like Starship Enterprise – where no man had gone before. The propaganda value of the moon project was at least as important, and arguably more important, than its scientific value.
The great political advantage of getting everybody to look at the sky – friends and foes – is that that way they don’t look at the ground, at the here-and-now.
This article appeared on Dr Vella’s regular column on The Times of Malta on February 14, 2011. You can access the original at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110214/opinion/the-tunnel-and-the-moon