Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mugabe Finally Toppled

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal

It’s been a long time coming, but one of Africa’s longest-serving and brutal dictators, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, was finally removed from office after 37 years in power. 

But his successor, long-time Mugabe ally and former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is no new broom.

The 93-year-old Mugabe, who presided over the ruination of Zimbabwe’s economy, and was poised to have his wife continue his policies, resigned on Nov. 22, as Zimbabweans poured onto the streets of Harare in celebration.

Some people were holding posters of Mnangagwa, whose dismissal earlier this month triggered the military takeover that forced Mugabe out.

Mugabe had fired Mnangagwa to create a path to the presidency for his wife Grace, 52, known to her critics as “Gucci Grace” for her reputed fondness for luxury shopping. 

Reviled for her greed, her ostentatious excesses irritated everyone in Zimbabwe. Indeed, the vitriol directed against her since the coup has been remarkable.

Mugabe had clung on for a week after the army takeover and expulsion from his own ruling ZANU-PF party, but resigned shortly after parliament began an impeachment process to oust him.

Nonetheless, he has been treated with kid gloves. It is widely reported that he and his wife could get a $10 million retirement bonus and immunity from prosecution.

Mugabe’s $150,000 annual salary will also be paid until his death, and his wife will then receive half that amount for the rest of her life.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change is furious, saying it is an unconstitutional bribe to get the president to stand down. Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC secretary general, stated that they will fight the deal in the courts. 

Mugabe has left Zimbabwe with a worthless currency, massive debts, an impoverished population and an estimated unemployment rate of more than 80 per cent (some list it as over 90 per cent). 

Roads are in poor shape, many rural communities have no electricity, education is basic, and health care almost non-existent. Life expectancy of 60 is one of the lowest in the world.

The 75-year-old Mnangagwa, who has now taken over the leadership of the ruling ZANU-PF party, was quickly sworn in as president. He pledged to govern for “all Zimbabweans” and pledged that “free and fair elections” would be held next year as scheduled.

Mnangagwa has promised to create jobs and make efforts to attract foreign investors. He also indicated that the land reforms that had led to the violent seizure of thousands of white-owned farms would not be reversed, but promised compensation. 

Of course Mnangagwa is no angel. After all, for decades he has been part of the brutal government that presided over Zimbabwe’s decline. One of Mugabe’s closest aides, he has always been part of the regime’s human rights abuses and corruption. He held six cabinet positions under Mugabe. 

As minister of state security, Mnangagwa played a major role in the ethnic massacres of the 1980s, when thousands of civilians were slaughtered by the Zimbabwean military. Most were ethnic Ndebele in Matabeleland, who were supporters of Joshua Nkomo, Mugabe’s rival.

“It’s difficult to see how going forward he can be respectful of human rights, given his history,” remarked Dewa Mahvinga, Southern Africa analyst for Human Rights Watch. 

“People may not see it now, or realise now, because of the relief of seeing the end of Mugabe’s political era, but Zimbabwe is in grave danger in terms of constitutional democracy.”

Not for nothing is Mnangagwa widely known as “the Crocodile,” a nickname referring to his tenacity and ruthless cunning. The story of Zimbabwe’s tumult is far from over.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Old and New in Tel Aviv

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

If Tel Aviv weren't an Israeli city with a Jewish majority, usually only noticed abroad in relation to conflict and terrorism, its Mediterranean ambience would be better appreciated.

With its climate of 318 sunny days a year, beaches, and "la dolce vita" way of life, it reminds one of cities in Italy and Greece.

Even in mid-November, when I spent more than a week here, the sun shone, temperatures were between 25-30 C, the beaches were full, and the outdoor caf├ęs along thoroughfares like Rehov Dizengoff were packed into the early hours of the morning.

The wide boulevards with their palm trees and the Bauhaus International style architecture make walking in its various neighbourhoods a wonderful experience, and its outdoor markets, some old, some new, can be a shopper's delight.The city is vibrant and the streets are full of life.

The amount of new construction here is incredible, it takes your breath away. There are scores of new office towers, skyscrapers, and amazing high-rise apartment buildings, that just go on for what seems like miles. This is particularly true in Ramat Aviv, across the Yarkon River.

None of this existed 40 years ago, when I was last here; I was taken aback by the way the city looks today.

Tel Aviv also has its share of museums.  We stopped at Independence Hall, on Sderot Rothschild, where David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948, declared the creation of the state of Israel, as the British Mandate came to an end.

Another important site is Kikar Yitzhak Rabin, the square where the then prime minister of Israel was assassinated in 1995.

Though Tel Aviv is only 108 years old -- the blink of an eye in the Middle East -- some older areas which are now part of the city were settled earlier.

One area of Tel Aviv, located in the south-west corner of the city adjacent to Jaffa, is Neve Tzedeck (Hebrew for Dwellings of Justice).

Founded in 1887, the first Jewish district outside of old Jaffa, the original town on the coast, its dozen or so narrow and tranquil winding streets are free of noise and traffic. Many of the houses have distinctive red-tiled roofs.

This was home to the first cinema in the country, the Eden, which opened in 1914.

Long neglected, many of the buildings in Neve Tzedeck have now been renovated, and are home to art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and small craft shops, along its main street, Rehov Shabazi.

One example is the old Tel Aviv railway station (HaTakhana), on Rehov Koifman, now totally redeveloped, with wine bars and live entertainment.

The former home of Shimon Rokach, on the street that bears his name, contains videos and exhibits that chronicle the early days of Tel Aviv. He was one of the earliest Jewish settlers here. In 1983, his grand-daughter, an artist, opened its doors to the public.

The Nahum Gutman Museum, on the same street, features works by the 20th-century Israeli artists. Between 1907 and 1914 the building served as home to the left-wing HaPoel HaTzair's newspaper. It was later home to several authors.

In 1992, after the inclusion of the building in the Tel Aviv Building Preservation Program, it underwent renovation by the architect Roni Zaibert. The museum was opened in May 1998.

The most impressive venue here, located on Rehov Yechieli, is the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre. It sits in a beautiful square with fountains and orange trees.

In two buildings originally constructed in  1892 and 1908, it is home to the Batsheva Dance Company. It offers shows by leading local and international performers.

Neve Tzedeck is well worth a visit, and tourists have now discovered its charms.

Leaving a Rich Legacy in World Affairs

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

While in Israel this month, we visited a former colleague of mine, from the time when I worked as a journalist in Washington in the 1980s.

Judith Colp Rubin, a native New Yorker and graduate of the University of Chicago, has been a foreign correspondent in the Middle East for various American newspapers.

She was married to Barry Rubin, who died in 2014. A former Fulbright and Council on Foreign Relations fellow who received his PhD from Georgetown University in Washington in 1978, he was at first a left-wing pro-Palestinian activist.

He wrote for such publications as MERIP Reports, the Journal of Palestine Studies, and the Communist-founded ultra-leftist Guardian, published in New York.

He even turned up in Beirut in 1974, in the company of his Georgetown mentor, the Palestinian professor Hisham Sharabi.

But he began to grow disillusioned with the far left and moved to Israel in the 1990s, where he founded the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA).

A prolific author, Rubin wrote dozens of books about the Middle East region and the Israeli-Arab conflict, including The Israel-Arab Reader, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, The Truth About Syria, and Israel: An Introduction. He also frequently wrote for the Jerusalem Post.

Silent Revolution
, published a year before his death, describes how the Left rose to political power and cultural dominance in the United States.

Barry and Judy co-authored several books on the Middle East, terrorism, and America’s modern-day reputation. Their 2003 book Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography, was an in-depth look at the life and political career of the Palestinian leader.

Hating America: A History, published in 2004, addressed various aspects of the ways in which the U.S. has been vilified, concentrating in general on the opinions held in European nations.

They also co-authored Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: A Documentary Reader, in 2003, and Chronologies of Modern Terrorism, in 2008.

Judy is now the honorary president of what has been renamed the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs.

The current director, Jonathan Spyer, holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master’s Degree in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

The Center publishes two quarterly journals, the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), and Turkish Studies. They cover developments in the region from a wide variety of viewpoints, including American policy, radical movements, and minorities.

As well, it produces analyses and reporting on the Middle East by research associates and scholars.

Quite a legacy, and one which Judy and the Center try to carry on.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mexico's Politics Affected by Relations with U.S.

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations and Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall at the Mexican-American border will both get an airing in Mexico’s forthcoming presidential election, scheduled for next July. 

A Mexican president can serve only one six-year term, so there will be no incumbent.

Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), won election in 2012 against two major opponents. 

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the candidate of a left-wing coalition formed by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Convergence Citizens’ Movement, and the Labour Party (PT), ran second. Josefina Vazquez Mota of the right-of centre (PAN) came third.

The PRI had ruled Mexico continuously for more than 70 years, until losing power to the PAN in the 2000 vote, 12 years earlier.

In 2006, Lopez Obrador, then the PRD candidate, suffered a razor thin loss to the PAN’s Felipe Calderon, with the PRI’s Roberto Madrazo running third. It was the PAN’s second victory, coming after Vincente Fox’s breakthrough in 2000.

Lopez Obrador and his supporters cried fraud. He had himself declared “the legitimate president” of Mexico as his constituents took to the streets for weeks of protest in Mexico City.

Recent polls now show Lopez Obrador, who broke with the PRD in 2014 and who now leads the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), as the front-runner ahead of next year’s presidential election. Respondents selected the PAN second, with the PRI third. Neither has yet chosen their nominee.

Pena Nieto has become increasingly unpopular with Mexicans, seen as not standing up to Trump on NAFTA or the border wall, and his PRI is suffering accordingly.

The right-wing PAN party, which ruled the country from 2000 to 2012, has three main candidates: Margarita Zavala, a former legislator and wife of ex-President Felipe Calderon; Ricardo Anaya, the current party leader; and Rafael Moreno Valle, the former governor of the state of Puebla.

Among those the PRI may choose are Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray, and the Minister of the Interior and former governor of the state of Hidalgo, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong.

As for the PRD, its main contender appears to be Miguel Angel Mancera, the current mayor of Mexico City.

Lopez Obrador’s campaign is focused on criticisms of corruption and neoliberal policies under the previous three governments.

PRI leaders have been allegedly involved in bribery schemes costing the country an estimated $450 million, according to the anti-corruption watchdog PRENDE, at the Universidad Ibero-Americano.

Lopez Obrador also wants to give voice to the more indigenous populations of Mexico, who often are seen as second class citizens to the Spanish-descended ruling elites. 

Many of them have seen NAFTA in negative terms, arguing that it has destroyed Mexico’s rural economy and forced dependency on American imports.

Lopez Obrador has also declared that if he wins the presidency, he will kill an energy reform law that opened oil and gas to private investments in 2013.

Trump’s election has triggered a rise in Mexican nationalism: A poll in July found that 88 per cent of Mexicans viewed him unfavorably.

Mexican officials have warned White House aides that Trump’s behavior could help make the forthcoming election a referendum on which candidate is the most anti-American.

A victory for the combative Lopez Obrador, in his third try for the top job, could increase tensions with the Trump administration.

In a speech Sept. 5 at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute in Washington, Lopez Obrador declared that “the 50 Mexican consulates in the U.S., in a short period of time, will fully take on the defence of Mexicans and migrants in the U.S.”

Meanwhile, the PAN and PRD, despite their ideological differences, have called for a “broad alliance” and the installation of a coalition government in an attempt to oust the ruling PRI party and halt Lopez Obrador next year.

They depict him as a demagogue who would create the same chaos in Mexico that Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela.

He in turn called the proposed coalition an alliance of sycophants and a “mafia of power.”

A Radical Outpost in a Religious Jerusalem

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Jerusalem is today known as a religiously conservative city, unlike liberal and trendy Tel Aviv and secular Haifa.

But even the Holy City has a radical past; it is, after all, home of the Hebrew University. And many of the city's radicals and bohemians used to gather at one spot, at 27 King George St., the Cafe Ta'amon.

However, on my current visit to Israel, I discovered that the place that was, in its own small way a Jerusalem landmark, is gone.

It was once the place to go, where left-wing activists, politicians, artists and writers came together and where they quarreled about one thing: Israel. Some fierce arguments even came to blows.

I should know. I spent the summer of 1972 as an overseas student at the Hebrew University, but much of my education took place hanging around with the regulars who frequented the Cafe Ta'amon.

A home away from home for members of left wing groups like Matzpen, Siach, and the Black Panthers, many a planned demonstration against one or another government policy (especially those relating, after 1967, to the territories acquired after the Six-Day War) was hatched within its walls.

Social activist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement Uri Avnery was a regular.

Film director and producer Noemi Schory was the force behind the documentary series, The Generals, an Israeli-European co-production about Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, produced in 2003.

In an interview she gave that year, she remarked that she enjoyed being in Jerusalem in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with friends at the Cafe Ta'amon.
"I wasn't involved with Matzpen though after the '67 war, my political awareness kept growing. I identified more with the New Israeli Left," Siach.

The Cafe Ta'amon served as a venue for speeches by European New Leftists such as the German student radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who visited in 1970.

The Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, was between 1950 and 1966 temporarily located in the Beit Froumine right across the street, so the 
Ta'amon also became a meeting place for young and ambitious politicians.   

Mainstream Israeli leaders like Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Golda Meir and Shimon Peres also drank coffee here.

The Cafe Ta'amon also hosted chess enthusiasts from all walks of life. Artists like the sculptor Shaul Baz exhibited their works there.

The Cafe, described by one old activist as an international meeting place in a provincial city, has even become the subject of a documentary directed by the German filmmaker Michael Teutsch, released in 2013. 

The Cafe Ta'amon was established in 1936 by German Jewish refugees, and was bought in 1960 by Mordechai Kopp, then 32 years old. Though Kopp was himself a religious nationalist, activists recall him sending food and cigarettes to customers arrested and jailed during demonstrations.

This simple, unobtrusive Cafe managed to survive a divided city, three wars, and competition from the more fashionable bars and cafes that abound today. 

Alas, Koop retired not long after the film was produced, so the  Cafe Ta'amon is no more. In its heyday, it was worth a visit to soak up, along with the coffee, some of Israel's less well-known history.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Balfour Declaration One Century Later

By Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the seminal events of the 20th century: the release of the Balfour Declaration.

There are few documents in Middle Eastern history which have had as much influence as the Balfour Declaration. It was sent as a 67-word statement contained within the short letter addressed by the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Lord Rothschild, on November 2, 1917.

Before that date, Zionism was still a marginal movement that divided Jews and was little noticed by others. After the Balfour Declaration, the Jewish national project enjoyed the support of the leading imperial power of the age.

In the letter, the British government stated its intention to endorse the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine:

“His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The Declaration emerged as part of Britain’s growing desperation to seek allies in the ongoing bloodbath of the First World War.

The Zionists had a hard time engaging the interest of British officials at first. As late as 1913, the chief diplomat of the World Zionist Organization, Nahum Sokolow, could get a hearing at no higher a level than low-level Foreign Office functionaries.

Many in the Anglo-Jewish elite themselves opposed political Zionism. Edwin Samuel Montagu, for example, a minister in the British government at the time, denied there was a Jewish nation. “When the Jews are told that Palestine is their national home, every country will immediately desire to get rid of its Jewish citizens, and you will find a population in Palestine driving out its present inhabitants.”

Much credit for turning things around is credited to Chaim Weizmann, the Russian-born Zionist who, as a scientist at the University of Manchester, helped the British war effort by developing a new method for the manufacture of acetone, used in the manufacture of cordite explosive propellants critical to the Allied war effort. But this alone would not have sufficed, of course.

The truly decisive moment in paving the way to the Balfour Declaration took place on December 6, 1916, when British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith was compelled to resign, and was replaced by David Lloyd George.

Asquith had no interest in Zionism and did not support the Zionist aspirations, but Lloyd George and his foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, believed that support for Zionism would advance British war aims.

The problem, though, was that at the time many Jews in the United States tended to favour Germany, due to the fact that Britain was allied with tsarist Russia, home of anti-Jewish political and economic repression and pogroms.

But this changed in the spring of 1917, when, on March 15, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and a liberal regime emerged in Russia.

Now, the British believed, American Jews could be persuaded to encourage their government to enter the war, and Russian Jews would also throw their weight behind efforts to ensure Germany's defeat and the creation of a Jewish national home under British sponsorship.

Moreover, support for Jewish nationalism might advance Britain’s territorial ambitions in Palestine.

Britain, after all, would do nearly all of the expected fighting against Ottoman forces in the Sinai and Palestine. Lloyd George and Balfour saw an opportunity to use Zionism to gain international support to place the Holy Land entirely under British rule.

Following the end of the war, when Britain acquired a League of Nations Mandate over Palestine, its purpose was partially to put into effect the Balfour Declaration, in conjunction with the World Zionist Organization. 

The Mandate specifically referred to “the historical connections of the Jewish people with Palestine” and to the moral validity of “reconstituting their National Home in that country.” 

Furthermore, the British were instructed to “use their best endeavors to facilitate” Jewish immigration, to encourage settlement on the land and to “secure” the Jewish national home. 

The British would backtrack on these early promises. The British establishment itself was divided and began to respond negatively to Zionism by the late 1920s, in the face of Arab hostility to Jewish immigration.  

By the mid-1930s, fearing that the Palestinian Arabs would side with Germany and Italy in a war they knew would soon come, Britain increasingly reneged on the Declaration’s commitments. 

Indeed, at the moment European Jews were most desperate to seek entry to Palestine, the White Paper issued on May 17, 1939 virtually eliminated that possibility.

Still, by the time the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947 voted to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, the Jewish population had reached one-third of the Mandate’s total of almost two million people. Six months later, the State of Israel was born.

With the Balfour Declaration, Britain had laid the foundations for a Jewish state -- and a conflict between Arabs and Jews that a century later remains unresolved.

Monday, November 13, 2017

More to Jerusalem than Famous Sites

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
I’m sending this article from Jerusalem, the city that has doubtless had more written about it than any place of comparable size anywhere on the globe.

Visitors and tourists know about the sites holy to the three Abrahamic faiths; the more recent Israeli points of interest; and the various museums.

There’s arguably more to see in Jerusalem than anywhere else on earth. So I’m not going to re-invent the wheel by describing, for instance, the Old City’s Western Wall, the Al-Aqsa mosque, or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about them.

The same holds for more modern venues in west Jerusalem, such as the Israel Museum, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls; Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust; or the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Instead, I’ll describe a more idiosyncratic place with its own, less well known, history.

Between 1948 and 1967, Jerusalem was a city divided between Israel, which controlled the western, newer parts, and Jordan, governing East Jerusalem and the Old City.

The small area in-between the final ceasefire lines in Jerusalem became No-Man’s Land, and part of the “urban border” between the two parts of the city. 

And the only way to cross from one part to the other was a checkpoint known as the Mandelbaum Gate, just north of the western edge of the Old City.

The crossing point was located at the intersection of Shmuel Hanavi Street and St. George Road, next to the building that gave it its name. It became a symbol of the divided status of the city.

The Gate was run by Israeli and Jordanian customs officials, largely serving diplomats and UN people, as well as Christian pilgrims. The bi-weekly convoy to the Israeli enclave on Mount Scopus passed through the Mandelbaum Gate.

Clergy, diplomats and United Nations personnel used the Gate to pass through the concrete and barbed wire barrier between the sectors, but Jordanian officials allowed only one-way passage for non-official traffic. Anyone with an Israeli stamp in his or her passport was denied entry.

The Gate was named after Rabbi Simchah Mandelbaum and his wife, who had built their home on the northern side of the intersection in 1927, when the British ruled Palestine as a League of Nations mandate. 

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Mandelbaums’ house stood between the Jewish neighbourhoods and the area under Jordanian control. The building was blown up and demolished by Jordanian Legionnaires in July 1948 during the fighting. 

However, part of the front wall with the entry gate remained standing until 1967 as a memorial to divided Jerusalem. Outside this Gate was the official crossing between Israel and Jordan.

After Jerusalem was united in 1967 the last remains of the building were demolished. Today the square next to the site is called Mandelbaum Square. A sundial in the centre of the road marks the place where people crossed from Jordan to Israel and back. 

An interesting aside: in 1965, when the city was still divided, Scottish author Muriel Spark published The Mandelbaum Gate, a novel set in 1961. It became a classic and is still read today, though the Mandelbaum Gate is long gone.

Things Are Getting Worse in South Africa

 by Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s current president, is not a nice man. His political career was written off in the run-up to the 2009 election when he was simultaneously battling allegations of rape and corruption. Yet he managed to prevail, and was re-elected in 2014.

Critics charge Zuma with having replaced the idealism and ethics associated with the late Nelson Mandela with a brutal and avaricious bid for wealth and power, dividing the governing African National Congress (ANC), and tarnishing the reputation of the post-apartheid “rainbow nation.”

Zuma’s years in office have been marked by a series of scandals, including the use of millions of dollars in government funds to renovate his private home; accusations that Indian businessmen close to him offered to dole out powerful government posts in exchange for favorable treatment; and his appointment of allies with little experience to important positions in government and state-owned companies.

Zuma’s credibility was severely damaged in March 2016 when the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that he had violated the constitution by failing to repay the government for money used on upgrading his private residence. He apologized for the “frustration and confusion” caused by the scandal and repaid the money.

Zuma has also been accused of allowing members of the Indian-born Gupta family to wield undue influence over his regime. They moved to South African from India in 1993, and started a number of businesses through which they have amassed great wealth.

More than 100,000 documents and emails leaked to the press earlier this year detailed improper dealings in lucrative government contracts made with the family. Allies of Zuma have been linked to allegations involving suspected kickbacks.

One of President Zuma’s wives, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, worked for the Guptas, and two of Zuma’s children have served as directors in some of the Gupta family companies.

Not coincidentally, the Guptas were granted citizenship long before the law warranted it.

In March 2016, deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas asserted that a member of the Gupta family had offered to promote him to the post of finance minister in 2015.

He said that Ajay Gupta offered him the position as well as 600 million rand (about $56 million), and told him the family had already made six billion rand from the state planned to take that money to Dubai.

All of this has hurt the ANC. In municipal elections held in August 2016 the party suffered steep declines in support in nearly all of South Africa’s major urban areas. In Pretoria, the Democratic Alliance eked out a victory, with 43 per cent of the votes to the ANC’s 41 per cent.

Zuma has now survived six votes of no-confidence in parliament, most recently this past August, when a broad coalition of opposition parties and renegade members of his own ANC fell just short of the majority needed to force Zuma and his cabinet to resign.

The Democratic Alliance’s Mmusi Maimane told reporters that “I applaud the courageous ANC people who moved across and said we will vote with our conscience and we will vote for change.”

Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, said the vote had proved South Africa's democracy works, and warned Zuma it proved they could unseat him.

A petition signed by more than a million people was delivered to the deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is seen as Zuma’s main rival in the ANC.

The party is now torn by factionalism. Over 60 people have been assassinated in intra-ANC killings in the province of KwaZulu-Natal alone in the past two years.

But some analysts believe that with Zuma due to step down as ANC leader in December and as president after general elections in 2019, he intends to back one of his ex-wives, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as his successor.

He hopes that she will shield him from any further investigations involving 783 allegations of theft, fraud, and money-laundering.

The economy is now officially in recession and unemployment, reaching nearly 28 per cent, has hit a 14-year high, as the economy is stifled by corruption and mismanagement.

There is an almost complete lack of new investment, more businesses are closing than opening, and real incomes are steadily falling.

The health and education systems are a shambles, and community protests have now become an everyday occurrence throughout the country.

The title of the novel Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton, published in 1948, is more apt than ever.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Eventual Winner of Liberia's Election Faces Difficulties

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, steps down as president of Liberia after 12 years in office, the presidential election that was held on Oct. 10 was seen as a crucial test for the country.

There were 20 candidates vying to replace her, among them Sirleaf’s vice president, Joseph Boakai of the governing Unity Party, and former soccer star George Weah of the Congress for Democratic Change.

Weah lost to Sirleaf in both 2005 and 2011, but he had better luck this time, coming first with 38.4 per cent of the vote. Boaka, who had been involved in a spat with Sirleaf, who declined to endorse him, trailed with 28.8 per cent. 

All the other candidates were in single digits. Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty Party, who ran third with 9.6 per cent, protested that there had been irregularities in the voting and that the election was marred by gross irregularities and fraud.

Nonetheless, Cultural Ambassador Juli Endee cautioned Liberians to embrace the culture of peace and denounce the culture of violence. 

‘‘Even though there were lots of irregularities and administrative issues during the  elections as many observers reported, it ended with peace, which has been our major concern, she said.

With neither Weah nor Boaka obtaining 50 per cent, a runoff will take place on Nov. 7.

In the House of Representatives, the Congress for Democratic Change coalition took 21 seats, two more than the Unity Party.

There were also those in the race who would never have been allowed to stand for office in most other countries. 

They included three men with blood on their hands: Prince Johnson, Benoni Urey, and George Dweh, who were all involved in terrible crimes during Liberia’s vicious civil war that lasted from 1989 to 2003 and resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people.

As well, Weah chose for his running mate Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex-wife of former president Charles Taylor, now serving a 50-year jail term after convicted in 2012 for his part in the civil war. She vowed to put his old “agenda back on the table.”

Founded in the 19th century by the American Colonization Society as a home for freed American slaves, Liberia has been a de facto protectorate of the United States ever since.

The Americo-Liberian elite that came to rule the country recreated a clone of a southern U.S. state and ended up oppressing the native African tribes. Indigenous people could not vote until 1951.

All this came to a head in 1980, when this ruling group was overthrown in a coup led by Samuel Doe, a member of the indigenous Krahn people

A decade later, the country descended into a horrific civil war, when Taylor formed an armed militia that overran much of the country.

Peace eventually returned to Liberia in 2003, in no small part due to the United States, which sent in the Marines to force Taylor out. 

In 2005, the return of electoral democracy brought to power Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state. She won re-election in 2012. The country’s constitution does not allow for a third term.

Sirleaf was Washington’s choice for president. After fleeing Liberia in 1980, she worked for the World Bank, then the African Regional Office of Citibank, and finally, before returning to Monrovia, the Equator Bank, a subsidiary of the HSBC banking conglomerate.

Though feted by western leaders, and even becoming a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, Sirleaf has accomplished less than those who laud her tenure will admit. 

Government corruption continued unabated, the health system remained in shambles and unemployment among young men, at 85 per cent, remained high. The 2014 Ebola epidemic killed 5,000 people.

The civil war largely destroyed Liberia’s economy and brought a steep decline in living standards. 

The absence of basic infrastructure such as adequate roads and water, sewage, and electrical services remain problems.

Most Liberians live on less than US$1.25 a day. Sirleaf herself has called the situation a real threat to the country. Liberia remained a fragile country with significant governance challenges.

Jason Robinson, an Africa analyst with Oxford Analytica, said that the final election results will determine whether Liberia’s “fragile” democracy “can be consolidated.” A tall order indeed.

Egypt's Nasser Political Colossus in Arab World

By Henry Srebrnik,  [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian 

Boston filmmaker Michal Goldman, who lives in Mermaid, P.E.I. part of the time, recently presented her new documentary, “Nasser’s Republic: The Making of Modern Egypt,” at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Her interest in Egypt goes back to the 1990s when she lived in Cairo for several years, and her film is a portrayal of the man who ruled Egypt from 1952 until his death 18 years later. 

This documentary was filmed between 2011 and 2015, years of turmoil in Egypt. It saw the Arab Spring lead to the downfall of one autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, the election to the presidency of the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, and his removal in a coup by another military man, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

But no one has dominated the Middle East as Gamal Abdel Nasser did, before or after, and this film is particularly timely, given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

It is a conflict in which Nasser played arguably the most important part. And while he called Egypt’s defeat a “temporary setback,” as we now know it was much more than that; it shaped the modern Middle East, and gave rise to the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

As well, Israel controlled most of the Sinai Peninsula for the next 15 years.

Goldman’s film presents Nasser as an authoritarian leader who challenged Western hegemony in the region, was responsible for economic and social progress in Egypt, but was foiled in his attempts to create a pan-Arab political entity.

Of humble origins, Nasser grew up in an Egypt still dominated by Great Britain, and became an opponent of the corrupt regime of King Farouk. 

On July 26, 1952, Farouk was forced to exile and Nasser, now a colonel, became leader of the Free Officers Movement. By 1954 he had achieved undisputed power as the country’s president. 

Determined to see Egypt free of colonialism, he nationalized the Suez Canal, which brought him into direct conflict with Great Britain, France and Israel two years later.

His stand brought him huge popularity throughout the Arab world, and two years later Syria joined Egypt in a United Arab Republic. This was the apogee of secular Pan-Arabism.

On the domestic front, agrarian reform laws widened the opportunities for land ownership by the peasantry. In 1962, Nasser, by then a Soviet ally, announced that Egypt would be run on Arab socialist lines, and numerous enterprises were nationalized. There were also major projects such as the Aswan High Dam.

Ordinary citizens enjoyed unprecedented access to public housing, free education, jobs, health services, and social welfare. 

However, much of what Nasser accomplished would be reversed. The United Arab Republic was dissolved in 1961, and no new pan-Arab entities were created. He also became mired in a civil war in Yemen. His defeat by Israel in 1967 was a major blow and may have hastened his early death three years later, at age 52.

His successors, Anwar el-Sadat and Mubarak, rolled back most of Nasser’s economic reforms, and Egypt became a far less egalitarian state.

What are we to make of Nasser’s legacy? He remains a revered figure in much of the Arab world. But does his politics hold as much sway today as those of two other Egyptians, the Islamists Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, both killed by Egyptian authorities? 

As the Egyptian writer Tarek Osman, author of Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to the Muslim Brotherhood, has asserted, the blow to his Arab nationalism and the rise of religiously-based ideologies “took from Egypt a lot of its claim to leadership.”