In the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan a referendum (March 18) lifted term limits on the presidency granting approval to President Ilham Aliyev to serve as many times as he wishes after his second term finishes in 2013. To the surprise of democracy optimists, the breakup of Communist rule saw the emergence of authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes. These regimes have all adopted Western-style institutional and legal setups but the state was typically exploited for private gain.
Dialogue of Cultures
Israel has lost its political vision and military might without a clear political sense dominating its actions. Military power, freed from subordination to political goals, is blind and brutal. No one in the Israeli leadership has a political vision. Many who advocate a two-state solution also know that their future relations with a Palestinian state would be less like those between Italy and Austria than like those between Tibet and China. But suppose there were a confederation in Israel-Palestine. This confederation could become the kernel of a Middle Eastern Union of Peoples, in which Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and many other states would conjoin together much along the model of the European Union.
For the tired and disenchanted Arab and Muslim world, exasperated by a long history of humiliations and defeats now strengthened by the war in Gaza, the interview President Obama released to al-Arabiya is more than a breath of fresh air: it's a sign of change and political turnover, something we weren't ready to expect from the United States. The cultural shift couldn't be more sharper. It has evident symbolical issues: Obama chose an Arab network for his first international interview, knowing that its impact would have been global. It was something new even on the linguistic side: “We are going to use the language of respect” is something that Arab and Muslims are not used to hear from the United States.
No surprises, nothing at stake, even less a competition, as formal as they may be, the presidential election to be held on April 9th in Algeria will simply be a formality for continuity. Nothing will prevent the president in power, Mr. Abdelaziz Bouteflika, running as an “independent candidate” from succeeding himself to hold his third mandate as Head of State. How did this come about?! And why has change been discarded as an option?
“Peace has never been completely restored, one cannot however deny that we are no longer experiencing the dark days of the Nineties. As far modernisation of the economy is concerned, I believe that the objective has also not been achieved.” Benjamin Stora, Professor of History at the INALCO in Paris and a great expert on the history of the Maghreb, takes stock of contemporary Algeria. He is the author of numerous essays on the war in Algeria, among them Histoire de la guerre d'Algérie. An interview by Marco Cesario.
In Egypt bloggers have created a Human Rights Observatory. In Turkey a group of intellectuals have launched a apology petition on the internet to the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide, whcih goes against the national policies of their own country. In the Lebanon a group of 290 intellectuals signed an appeal for "peaceful civil resistance" to the war started by Hezbollah against Sunnis and Druzes. In the third millennium Muslim-Arab civil societies are moving at a speed that differs from that of the states, which act as spokespersons for a backward-looking vision of Islam resulting from post-colonial logic. Thanks to various forms of dissent, Muslim civil societies not only portray a different vision of Islam, but are also demolishing the political immobility of governments and causing profound transformations in their societies.
The democratic citizen, on whose vote the legitimacy of the entire political mechanism rests, is called upon to reason using his own brain (and to vote in solitude and as an individual), and associate with others to exchange information and opinions, to change his or her mind and then change it again, if necessary. Dissent is a constitutive virtue of democracy. Rather than corroding social ideals, as authoritarians and conservatives believe, it strengthens partiality and cooperation between citizens. Dissent reveals a fundamental loyalty to a country, a society or a community.
A lack of coherence among Western leaders, and the use of different standards in judging and then establishing relations with Arab countries on the basis of personal economic and geopolitical interests, has effectively weakened and delayed even more the emergence of an élite of really democratic Arab reformists. Compared to the past, Arab dissent appears to be more mature and ready to challenge regimes, no longer taking refuge in European capitals as happened in the past. Samir Kassir, as well as Tunisian Sihem Benzedrine and Egyptian Saad Eddine Ibrahim, are only few of the well-known Arab dissidents who have turned their backs on Western hypocrisy, to personally assume responsibility and run the risk of being tried in military courts and suffering detention without trial in order to pursue one ideal: freedom.
Is there a relationship between dissent and consensus? Is the quality of opposition decisive for it to then win and govern? According to Michael Kazin, professor at the History Department at Georgetown University, and an expert on the history of the Left and social movements in the United States, the answer to both these questions is yes. It is precisely the victory of Obama, who is capable of being popular without becoming populist, that proves it.
Now Imams may speak in Italian. One hopes the intention is not to control or to spy on them, but to ensure their message reaches those interested in Islam. Among these there may also be Italians or Chinese. Would it not be a good idea to take a second look at the proposals put forward by the Muslim Council so long ago? The Council suggested creating schools in which Imams could be educated, transparency of funding for mosques as well as control over the money’s origin. Above all, the Council requested the authorities to abandon their harsh opposition against the creation of new mosques. One priority should be the creation of a Foundation for Italian Islam, acknowledged by the Government and strengthened by mutual understanding. And, as is the case other faiths, the possibility to devolve a percentage of income tax to this religion.
Last February 8th almost 60% of Swiss citizens said ‘yes’ to the Agreement on Free Movement of Labour between the European Union and Switzerland. In spite of pessimistic surveys, raising the spectre of an uncertain result, the Swiss voted overwhelmingly for a ‘yes’. In an interview with ResetDOC, journalist Bernard Wuthrich, an expert on Swiss politics who writes for Le Temps – one of the Swiss Confederation’s most authoritative newspapers – explains the reasons for this rather surprising result.
“Friday prayers should be said in two languages, in Arabic and in the language of the country in which Muslims live. If the message is spread in an incomprehensible language the objective of the Friday sermon is not achieved.” This is the opinion expressed by forty-two year old Mohamed Béchari, President since 1992 of one of Islam’s most important organisations in France, the Fédération Nationale des Musulmans de France. Former Vice-President of the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCM) and Secretary General of the European Islamic Conference, Bechari has also published a book entitled “L’image de l’islam dans les médias occidentaux” [Islam as seen by the Western Media].