Category Archives: Middle East

All Eyes On Syria; UN Appeals for $5b in Aid


The United Nations has just launched the largest appeal for aid in the institution’s history, a proposal for $5 billion for humanitarian purposes. While conflicts between the forces of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian rebel armies fail to dwindle, millions of Syrians are still being forced to flee the country, escaping to neighboring regions. By the end of this year, “the UN expects the number of refugees – currently more than 1.5 million – to leap to nearly 3.5 million.”

A major concern within this refugee movement is also the plight of Syrian youth, for now “Unicef is warning of a lost generation of young Syrians.” This is highly reminiscent of the Sudanese ‘Lost Boys’ who were displaced for years after Sudan’s Civil War drove them all over North and East Africa. Unfortunately, it is highly possible that Syria’s youth will be displaced in a similar manner.

Map of conflict and refugee displacements:


Meanwhile, a NYTimes piece reports that “The Syrian opposition will not attend the proposed Geneva conference on the crisis in Syria unless rebel fighters receive new supplies of arms and ammunition.” This could render a meeting that UN officials hoped would be very productive entirely useless, for without a rebel authority peace negotiations will not be possible. Already there has been rough controversy over the arms that Russia has sent to the Syrian troops and the combat assistance and supplies that Western nations have shipped to the rebels. The fact that the rebels are now holding out for more is clear evidence that a position of power remains of greater importance to them than resolving the war. This is awful news for those caught in the crosshairs of the conflict.


The World’s Children and their Valuables


Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti traversed the globe to capture young children standing behind their most prized possessions. The goal of the collection is of course to accent the differences in the quantity and quality of toys found among regions of varying culture and wealth. The first photo, featuring Chiwa from Malawi, is undoubtedly my favorite. I have a soft spot for toy dinosaurs.

Here’s the original link.


Chiwa – Mchinji, Malawi


Stella – Montecchio, Italy


Pavel – Kiev, Ukraine


Arafa & Aisha – Bububu, Zanzibar


Cun Zi Yi – Chongqing, China


Bethsaida – Port au Prince, Haiti


Orly-Brownsville,Texas, USA


Botlhe – Maun, Botswana


Watcharapom – Bangkok, Thailand


Alessia – Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy


Norden – Massa, Morocco


Julia – Tirana, Albania


Keynor – Cahuita, Costa Rica


Shaira – Mumbai, India


Tangawizi – Keekorok, Kenya

U.S. Pledges $60m to Syrian Opposition

The story of the United States pledging $60 million to the Syrian opposition controversially hit the newspapers last week. Previously it had been only food rations and medical supplies that the U.S. had been assisting the rebels with, and therefore this announcement marked a serious turning point for the United States’ perceived involvement in the conflict.

The problem that many conservatives and those restrained in foreign assistance policy have with this is that the United States is once again taking a position as a global police-power. Dating back to Monroe Doctrine and remaining true to the day, the United States has often taken on the responsibility of international humanitarian, disaster, and conflict problems. Many fear in this particular situation, however, that this pledge is the beginning of even greater U.S. involvement in the Syrian Civil War. “There is speculation that the Obama administration might expand its program of support to the Free Syrian Army to include nonlethal equipment if rebel fighters use the initial assistance effectively and do not allow any to fall into the hands of extremists.” While Bashar al-Assad is unquestionably a corrupt and dangerous leader, the real dispute lies in the rebels that the U.S. and other involved nations may be supporting. There are many rumors that the rebels are deeply infiltrated by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, which would mean support would be clearly against U.S. interests.

It is a tough decision for a powerful nation to make when civil war is raging and people are being killed, and there will always be those who disagree with the actions taken. What is left to see is if the U.S.’s $60m drastically changes the situation in Syria, or if Secretary of State John Kerry will take any further actions. U.S. personnel involvement, by my estimation, is extremely improbable. Nonetheless, there are many critics of Secretary Kerry who believe that he may eventually order such action, (senators included).

Tunisia’s Assassination and Dangerous Dynamic


After Chokri Beliad was assassinated, Tunisian officials attempted to move swiftly to keep the politics of the still unstable nation from falling apart. Belaid was the head of an alliance of leftist parties, and with his death came the explosion of those already angered by what they see as the remaining lack of certain rights in Tunisia. What started with a Tunisia fruit vendor setting himself on fire in December 2010 eventually became mass riots all across North Africa and the Middle East from populations demanding a change in government. Though there has been much progressive change in nations such as Tunisia, the change is unfortunately still raw and many do not feel that their concerns have been properly met.

As a Foreign Policy article points out, this assassination and revolt is not only a tragedy for Tunisia, but may also prove dangerous for the other nations involved in the Arab Spring. Tunisia “is regarded by many onlookers as the Arab Spring country with the best preconditions for success. If it stumbles, the likelihood of a positive outcome for other democratic aspirants, like Egypt or Libya, starts to look even shakier.” What could be troubling is if the strife that has been accumulating in the past few months creates the second wave of revolutions that many Middle Eastern specialists have been fearing.

The Newest (nonmember) State: Palestine

The United Nations just voted to make Palestine a ‘nonmember observer state’, marking, “a stinging defeat for Israel and the United State.” Hopes in the UN are that this recognition will lead to a two-state solution to the Gaza strip conflict that has reemerged in the past few weeks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has claimed that this sort of solution is Palestine’s ultimate goal, and that this international vote is an important step towards such. The rhetoric in his UN address continued to highlight Israel as an aggressor, and suggest that the Palestinians are the victims of the situation.

What this may reveal to the United States is that the international community is not on board with much of the US agenda in the Middle East. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was openly displeased with this decision, and is quoted saying that the UN resolution is, “unfortunate and counterproductive.” While the US remains loyal to the Israeli side in the conflict, voting states of the UN have proven through this resolution that they do not blindly follow the US opinions on world politics. In fact, many countries do indeed see Hamas as the victim, and may even support Palestinian sovereignty in Gaza over Israel. Perhaps the US will be forced to reevaluate its priorities in the region.

Tweets of Live News from the Gaza Strip

If you’ve been keeping with the news then you’re already aware of the escalating conflict that is currently the Gaza Strip, a piece of the Mediterranean coastline roughly twice the size of D.C. Expectations here are that you should buckle down and prepare for more updates, because the violence between Israelis and the Palestinian group Hamas that currently occupies the strip is only expected to get worse.
Israel invaded the Gaza strip in 2008, and now the past few days have seen some of the most intense violence of the past four years. On November 14th, two days ago, an Israeli airstrike killed the commander of the Hamas military wing, resulting in the launching of hundreds of rockets from Gaza into Israel. On the 15th, Isreali planes struck down several Hamas militant sites, in part trying to disarm some of the rocket sites. Now this morning Israel troops are preparing for a ground assault into the strip.

There is currently a compilation webpage of Live Twitter Updates from the journalists and local citizens in Israel and nearby nations, composed by Robert Mackey, which is serving to update the rest of the world in real-time as events happen. This is in many ways the best way of keeping with the conflict, for the people living and stationed in the heart of the conflict will be those with the best coverage, and it is social websites like Twitter that have proven to be the quickest method of reaching a large, interested audience.
Most political scientists agree that it was the use of social media, picture and video cell phones, and sharing websites that made the Arab Spring so rapid and successful. The revolutions that took place, (and in some cases are still happening), all over North Africa and the Middle East differ from a majority of regional transitions to democracy, such as in Latin America or Southeast Asia, because of the existence and extensive use of social websites to publish live clips and events, express discontent, and organize. Now we have another large-scale conflict building in the Middle East, and the world can perhaps best witness the evolution of it through these real-time means.

Syria’s Threats to Intervention

President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria spoke out to say the price of a foreign invasion on Syria is, “more than the whole world can afford.” Syria President Warns Against Foreign Intervention in Syria reads the International Herald Tribune article. Oh, what a surprise that the President of a war-torn nation whose authority is under severe scrutiny thinks that intervention is a bad idea. Would involvement be costly to the United States and other NATO or UN nations? Yes. Would they, ‘not be able to afford it?’ I don’t think so.

Iran Under Pressure from Oil Sanctions

Today’s Morning Brief on Foreign Policy Passport gave insight to how Iran’s oil industry has been affected by Western sanctions in a response to Iran supporting Syria’s government in the Syrian Civil War. The IEA (International Energy Agency) has released information showing that Iran’s exports on oil have been cut by nearly a third, which has severely impacted Iran’s overall economy. The brief also states that the rial, the currency of Iran, has lost 40 percent of its value in this past month. That’s a devastatingly large hit to a currency, and the continued loss of value to the rial will certainly cause problems to trade and purchasing power in Iran for the near future.
EU foreign ministers have also agreed to impose separate sanctions on additional sectors of Iranian industry. Banking, shipping, and energy sectors are also going to be being targeted, ensuring that a widespread audience in Iran will be feeling the international pressures to end its support of the Syrian government.

Will these sanctions be successful? They have already proved to be successful in making clear to Iran what the western powers are opposed to. What is left to see is if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the other leaders of the Iranian government will change policies in order to loosen the sanctions imposed on them, or if they will stay stubborn to outside pressures and readily take the hit to the economy.
What was not mentioned by the IEA was the impact these sanctions have had on the United States and EU domestic oil prices, and if the sanctions on Iran are hurting consumers of the policing nations as well.

Predictions on Syria

Who is winning, the rebels or the security forces?
That’s the ultimate question- and unfortunately, no one has a definite answer. Since the late summer the country has been at full-scale civil war, and violence has been escalating, with foreign onlookers always expecting things to “wind down soon” and for a clear winner to emerge. After three months, these hopes are fading. Bordering nations like Turkey have begun to get involved, firing artillery into Syria in retaliation of the violence spreading over Turkish borders. Many powerful nations including the United States have condemned Syria’s authoritarian president Bashar al-Assad for starting the war by ordering troops to crackdown on demonstrations (as memories of the Arab Spring are still fresh). In this way these nations demonstrate support for the rebels, though the U.S. remains tentative to send arms their way. A real problem with supporting these rebels is the uncertainty of who these rebel groups represent. It seems as if more and more radical Muslim groups are joining the rebel forces, including Al Qaeda fighters, making it difficult for the U.S. and other NATO nations to hold steady their support.
Iran, an ally with Syria, still shows tremendous support for the Syrian government. There’s also knowledge that Russia is aiding the military loyal to Assad, and has made multiple arms sales to those fighting the rebel forces. Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has historically proven to make international security decisions difficult, and by supporting the Syrian government it has forced the UN to tiptoe around its Syrian policies. Thus there seems to be little assistance coming to the rebels, for the powerful nations that may want to assist them are stuck in the web of international bureaucracy. Because both sides of the fighting are such grassroots movements and there is little known of clear leadership on either side, the expectation here is that the violence will continue for a indefinite period, with small groups within each “side” continuing to make attacks in various different cities. Without serious intervention by influential foreign nations, and because other Middle Eastern countries have been the only nations to get even slightly involved in the fighting, there will be no inherent advantage to either side. It seems as if the war will drag out until more of the city is destroyed, and until one side has been utterly and completely crushed. One ultimate (and pessimistic) fear here is that the entire country of Syria turns into a Mogadishu of sorts, a war-stricken land that is incredibly slow to heal.

Protests over the Controversial Film

For the past few days protests over the controversial video mocking the Prophet Muhammad have been the reoccurring headlines of world news. The NY Times reports that over 20 countries now have seen uprisings, demonstrating the widespread regional contempt for the film. And it hasn’t been only Anti-American sentiment. German and British embassies in Khartoum, Sudan were also attacked, suggesting these protests are directed more at a broader audience.
World on Safari points to several causes for the common use of protests as a means of expressing discontent. Due to relatively large fertility rates and population growth, many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are now experiencing an enormous younger generation reaching adulthood. The workforce in their home countries is not necessarily prepared for them, leaving many young adults jobless and lacking a higher education. Many have also started harboring resentment for more developed countries the media often portrays as wealthy, ignorant, and religiously contrasting. In addition, protests in these regions have in recent history proven to lead to change, and thus seem a legitimate option for angry citizens. It was widespread protests that led to many of these countries transitioning away from authoritarian regimes. Even so, these governments still do not command a sense of total control, as evident here. “The state has lost a lot of its capacity to govern effectively,” said Mr. Rob Malley, a program director at the International Crisis Group, in reference to Egypt and Tunisia in this article.
Here’s the article.

Afghanistan shut-off access to YouTube after reports came in of the attacks to the US embassy in Libya that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and several other Americans dead. Hopefully we have seen the peak of the violence, and that the flustered civilians in these nations realize the film does not represent the vast majority of Western opinions.