All roads lead to Rome for Xi


March 25, 2019

All roads lead to Rome for Xi

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times ) by special agreement with the author)

All (silk) roads do lead to Rome, as this Saturday Chinese President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will sign a memorandum to adhere to the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Afterward, Xi becomes a magnanimous version of The Sicilian, visiting the port of Palermo, with Beijing intent on investing in local infrastructure.

Atlanticist hysteria has been raging wildly – with the simplistic narrative focused on the fact that Italy is a G7 member, at the heart of the Mediterranean “mare nostrum”, and crammed with NATO bases. Thus, it cannot “sell out” to China.

Conte and diplomats in Rome have confirmed that this is strictly about economic cooperation, and signing a memorandum is non-binding. Italy has, in fact, been informally aligned with the Belt and Road scheme since 2015 when it became one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which finances scores of BRI projects.

EU members Greece, Portugal and Malta have also signed BRI agreements. Berlin and Paris have not – at least not yet. Same with London, but post-Brexit that will inevitably happen as trade with China will become even more important for the UK.

Here, in English and Italian, is the draft text of the memorandum, although the final version may be slightly more diluted to appease the Eurocrats at the European Commission (EC), which last week defined China as a “systemic rival”.

Milan’s Corriere Della Sera published a comprehensive op-ed signed by Xi Jinping himself, even quoting legendary writer Alberto Moravia. Xi stresses the “strategic trustworthiness” between China and Italy and vows to “build a new stage of Belt and Road in aspects of the sea, the land, aviation, space and culture”. So, yes, this is not only about geoeconomics, but crucially also about the projection of geopolitical soft power.

Hoping to emulate Singapore

I have already explained how Marco Polo is back in China, again, and how the EU is struggling to position itself in a common front when dealing with its top trade partner. The ongoing geoeconomic game is essentially about the Maritime Silk Road – with  Italy positioning itself as BRI’s privileged southern European terminal.

The port of Venice is already being upgraded for a possible role as a BRI terminal. Now, the possibility opens for Genoa and the northern Adriatic ports of Trieste and Ravenna to be developed by COSCO and China Communications Construction. Conte himself has already singled out, on the record, Genoa and Trieste as “terminals for the New Silk Roads”.

COSCO is on a roll. It has operated the port of Piraeus in Greece since 2008 and holds 35% of Rotterdam and 20% of Antwerp. And it plans to build a terminal in Hamburg. In the Battle of the Super-Ports, as I defined it, between northern and southern Europe, Cosco is betting on both sides.

Zeno D’Agostino, president of the Trieste port authority, even dreams of becoming the new Singapore, profiting from Chinese investment, while not renouncing to manage its new status – as happened with Piraeus. He has perfectly understood how, for the Chinese, Trieste is “the perfect gateway to Europe.”

Palermo is an even more interesting story. It happens to be the hometown of both Italian President Sergio Mattarella and, more significantly, Michele Geraci, the undersecretary of state for economic development. Geraci was a finance professor at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou from 2009 to 2018. A Sinophile fluent in Mandarin, he has been Rome’s point man negotiating with Beijing.

China directly investing in the Sicilian economy is a huge deal, totally in tune with Italian national interest in terms of expanding the role of a strategic bridge between southern Europe and northern Africa.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, left, is seen with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in this photo from late last year in Brussels. Photo: AFP / Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu

On the hypersensitive telecom front, it’s certain that every direct reference to data sharing, 5G and strategic infrastructure will not be part of the Italy-China BRI memorandum.

That won’t alter the fact that both Huawei and ZTE have been experimenting for years now on installing 5G in Italy. Huawei already sponsors two “smart and safe cities” research centers in Italy. And the recent opinion piece by one of Huawei’s rotating chairmen has made a huge splash not only in Italy but across the EU; Guo Ping argues that the reason for the current demonization campaign is that Huawei equipment blocks all back-doors available for spying by the US National Security Agency.

All aboard the BRI train

Moving on, when Xi visits France early next week, his focus will be totally different. The Paris establishment has not made up its mind yet on how deep to relate with BRI. Inside the EU, France is the top power in terms of constraining Chinese investment. So Xi’s strategy when meeting President Macron will rely on stressing cooperation on climate, global governance and peacekeeping operations.

According to media reports, Macron has also invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to join the meeting.

Beijing is very much aware that France chairs the G7 this year and is the crucial co-actor along with Germany in shaping EU policies, especially after the crucial European elections in May that may translate into a huge success for far right, anti-Brussels parties.

Beijing is also focused on guaranteeing a smooth China-EU summit in Brussels on April 9, which will make things much easier for the 16+1 summit of China plus Eastern and Central Europe nations in Croatia on April 12. The inescapable fact is that the 16+1 – the majority of whom are part of the EU – as well as Greece, Portugal, Malta and now Italy are all on board of BRI.


Ramin Mazaheri explains why the Yellow Vests torch banks in rich Paris neighborhoods

March 17, 2019

New Zealand and the Positive Feedback of Violence:

March 15, 2019

by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog

The tragic news of terrorism in New Zealand highlights the failure of Western governments in dealing with it.

In its policy of denial of addressing ISIS-like activities in the West, Western governments have inadvertently given ultra-right wing elitist Fascists the green light to take the law in their own hands to “avenge” the terrorism of Salafist/Wahhabi/Jihadi terrorists on innocent Westerners thereby driving them to kill innocent Muslims.

It is hard to think of a policy that is more antithetical than the manner in which the West deals with the so-called “Islamic terrorism”.

On one hand, at least as far as the Western media outlets are concerned, the West is duly adamant in its “war on terror”, all the while feeding it from the other hand. The topic has been so widely addressed and proven beyond any reasonable doubt, and there is no need to even try to provide more evidence that Western policies have capitalized on Wahhabi doctrines and nurtured and facilitated the emergence of Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East, all the while it is trying to control followers of the suicidal devotees at home, ie in the West.

The recent terror attacks in Europe over the last 3-4 years are a gruesome testimony, and the failure of Western governments in dealing with those serious massacres left many Europeans not knowing how to deal with them other than in one of two manners, either by shifting their votes towards ultra-right wing parties, or taking the law in their own hands.

In saying this, we must keep in mind that at least some massacres that recently happened in the West had the fingerprints of ISIS, but were not pronounced as such. The infamous Las Vegas massacre stands out like a sore thumb. As a matter of fact, ISIS did “claim responsibility” for the attack, but the claim was played down by the media and by the Trump Administration as well as the highly-charged Democrats digging extremely deeply in dirt and sniffing with radio-telescope-sized nostrils, desperately trying to find anything against Trump, including hiring highly-imaginative fiction script writers who are capable of writing a story, any story, upon which they can impeach President Trump.

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to ISIS attacks on the West that highlight the inabilities of Western governments to curb it, both the American Democrats and Republicans have an unwritten agreement of bipartisan inaptitude-based silence.

But the infamous November 2015 Bastille Day attack in Nice, the London Bridge and Manchester attack, the Munich attack, just to name a few, were undeniably ISIS-inspired attacks. And what did the governments of France, the UK, and Germany do in way of preventing such further attacks? Nothing much that would give Western residents enough feeling of security.

Fear breeds insecurity and insecurity breeds radicalism, violence and counter violence.

When the West under the presidency of Jimmy Carter and advice of Zbigniew Brzezinski decided to turn on the Afghani Mujahideen, in their shortsightedness, not realizing that they were opening a Pandora’s box that is far bigger than they could even imagine, in their second-tier failure, and without giving a second thought as to whether or not they monster they were awakening/creating was going to chase them home, they are now facing not only the Jihadi monster that they cannot switch off, but also a domestic ultra-right one that is potentially capable to inflict much more harm to the democratic fabric of Western society.

Shifting blame does not solve problems, but in between the supposedly developed and rational West and the Middle East that is still by-and-large stuck in medieval ideologies, there is logically a bigger onus on the West to be the “wise guy”, but it has proven to be anything but.

New Zealand does not deserve any of this violence. New Zealand is a nation with a predominantly Western culture, but it is also one that endorses its indigenous Maori culture. It has a very compassionate refugee policy, and ever since its former late Prime Minister David Lange made a stand against nuclear US Navy vessels docking in his country in the 1980’s, New Zealand has taken many steps that clearly position itself as the Switzerland of the South Pacific. And this is perhaps why Brenton Tarrant chose New Zealand as his theatre of action. In fact, he did say that he chose the most unlikely place on earth in order to prove that no place is safe for the “invaders”.

Terrorists of all flavours and descriptions, and there is no philosophical difference between them at all, seem to be embarking on a highly dangerous path of proving their worth by planning and perpetrating unprecedented acts of terrorism. They see such acts like sportsmen and woman see sporting achievement records, and every achiever tries to break records.

Some sanity has to prevail to stop this vicious cycle of positive feedback of violence.

Yellow Vest week in review: March 16 to be the biggest march in months

March 14, 2019

by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog

The fundamental problem with media coverage regarding regarding the Yellow Vests is that it fails to see it as an already-permanent movement, or even a possibly-permanent one: each week must be either the biggest one yet, or the very last one.

The Yellow Vests see it similarly, but differently: for them each week is the very last one, too… because they will FINALLY storm Élysée Palace (Act 16: “Insurrection”, Act 17: “Decisive Act”, and now Act 18 on March 16: “Ultimatum”.)

The Yellow Vests are like the Vietcong: it’s not that they are so innately tough, it’s that they have nowhere else to go. Ask a protesting Yellow Vester and they’ll tell you: they have no money to pay their bills, much less do anything fun on the weekends… so why not go protest and enjoy what you can’t buy – camaraderie?

As a journalist who has covered every medium- to major-sized protest movement in France in the last decade (and the small ones, i.e. pro-Palestine, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, etc.), I have come to deeply resent and fear the Yellow Vests.

What a damned long workout they impose on us! They are marching 10-15km every Saturday, with zero consideration for TV journalists who have to carry equipment. Furthermore, why on earth do they march so damned fast?! If Guinness keeps this record, the Yellow Vests must take the crown for “protester km/h”.

This is surely the legacy of the constant police attacks during the first six weeks – you can’t hit what you can’t catch.

It’s also more confirmation that so many of them have not been politically active (which is also why so many get arrested – they don’t know what they are doing): French demonstrations are supposed to be festive, leisurely, tipsy strolls. French union demonstrations are basically half-parties: you lose a day’s pay… but there will be loud music, lots of alcohol, cheap barbecue, and scatological signs instead of proper propaganda. “We didn’t get our political demands? Oh well, at least we had a good time.” But at Yellow Vest demos public intoxication is far, far rarer and political seriousness is far greater.

The most significant media polls about the Vesters (and there are crazily few polls about them) revolves around a majority of France now not wanting them to protest every Saturday. The effect of this can be summed up easily: So the hell what?

Since when did political protesters need the approval of the majority to practice the modern right to free assembly? Protesters are usually against the often-clueless majority. They wouldn’t be protesting if the majority was getting it right! It’s not as if the Yellow Vests are a clearly manipulated, virtue signalling, identity-based, hipster/bobomovement, like the recent anti-Semitism marches (excuse, me I meant the marches to pave the way for criminalising anti-Zionism).

But they must keep broadcasting these very particular polls for a reason, and it was summed up by failed 2017 Macron-party candidate and sociologist Jean Viard, who said, “When there is a poll which says that 70% of France is fed up with the Yellow Vest demonstrations, we can stop the movement.”

Well that is certainly debatable, no?

Why should we choose 70%? How will they “stop the movement”? (Answer: reimpose a State of Emergency.) Isn’t 30% still a huge minority in a West European / liberal / bourgeois democracy, which gives some support for minority rights (the wealthy minorities more than others, of course)?

I give the reader that quote just to illustrate how France’s mainstream media and mainstream politicians are currently thinking, which is “When can we really pounce?”

Other polls show that while a majority wants the marches to stop, a majority still supports the Yellow Vests – these are two different things, and the latter is more significant in the long (and short!) term.

The main reason French people are increasingly against the marches themselves is the French tendency to get easily bored.

The French desire for sensation – “Something, anything… just not more ennui!” – is constant (and the basis of Western decadence). Combine that with the fact that these protests are not that fun unless you believe in the Yellow Vest movement. As I related, it’s long, hard work, and it’s in the cold. (The fact that France has a winter protest movement is truly unprecedented, and should have immediately put our gauges into the red.)

And it’s violent. Last Saturday, after a brief coffee my colleague and I had to insist that a cafe off the Champs-Elysées unlock their door to let us out. They wanted to block out the violence and enjoy their drinks, but we had to cover the impending, inevitable sundown attacking of the Yellow Vesters by cops. As the manager opened the door he wished us a loud and hearty “Bon gazage!” Or, “Enjoy getting tear gassed!” Tear gas is – and I have tasted many of France’s finest vintages – not a fun sensation. Most French today can’t even handle a few weeks of Lenten fastidiousness (rather minor, compared with Ramadan), much less four consecutive months of political piety.

However, the Yellow Vests absolutely do not care what anyone thinks, except their fellow Yellow Vests, and so they are not going to quit the field just because polls show a majority wants them to stay home. “These polls are all politically manipulated,” a Vester told me. She must be a right-wing, deplorable conspiracy theorist, of course.

No, she’s absolutely right. There is a revolving door between the government and the top polling institutes: Macron’s token Muslim minister (and a most half-hearted Muslim, at that) went from spokesperson for the president to a top spot at IPSOS, the nation’s top polling institute (and run by private interests, as it is not a public institute).

Relaying these in-bed-with-the-government polls is the job of the sycophantic mainstream media… and that’s why more than half of France says that the media has done a bad job covering the Yellow Vests. It is amusing to read this article (in French), because from the very lede paragraph the journalist writing it is defensive, accusatory and self-justifying. Anyway, 70%+ say coverage is too focused on violence, and too unbalanced, and too corporate-driven.

Basically they are saying – just as France doesn’t want massive opinion polling which is not manipulated by the private sector (like in China) – France doesn’t want a Western liberal / capitalist system of journalism but a state-controlled and state-supported one (like in China). Yellow Vesters will figure this out, Inshallah.

Vesters only trusting Vesters… that explains why they will, I believe, eventually form a political party, as no other political party can be trusted to try and implement their political demands.

Biggest march yet… until the next huge one

Haven’t the French finally realized that mere marches don’t get them anywhere? They only got any concessions after major violence. They need a general strike and a permanent encampment!

The tried the latter last week at the Eiffel Tower – shut down immediately, with extreme prejudice. At least Paris is consistent: they were against Tahrir Square in Egypt… until the protesters won, of course. And in all the revisionist history books / journalism accounts. Let’s not forget that Sarkozy’s foreign minister offered to send Tunisia security forces to put down their revolution in 2011.

March 16 will definitely see the biggest march in Paris in months – tens of thousands of people, guaranteed. Lately it has been 6-9,000, but I could be low because I can’t put eyes on every single Yellow Vest gathering in Paris on Saturdays. Of course, this is about 3 times what the government says, which is my general rule of thumb for crowd counting of anti-government protesters.

March 16 is indeed an “Ultimatum” because it has been expressly designed to give the Yellow Vests’ verdict on Macron’s two-month “National Debate”, which was the biggest and most attention-getting concession he made to the movement.

The National Debate, LOL.… Fidel Castro-sized speeches from Macron, minus a Fidel Castro-sized heart for his nation and for international solidarity.

What’s the most useless job in France in 2019? The guy or gal whose job it will be to condense all the data compiledfrom the many town hall meetings. That final report will be, in the best traditions of France’s (liberal bourgeois) bureaucracy, forever stuck in the limbo of en cours de traitement (being processed).

It’s going to be so big that Macron had to try and steal its thunder by extending the National Debate into April, hastily announcing a “Phase 2”. So, the fiction – that the government cares / is listening / will implement public opinion once they properly gather it – will continue for a few more weeks. What will be most interesting is when that stops.

(Interesting like – what happens with Eurozone Quantitive Easing stops? But that’s going to continue forever, per the recent and very surprising European Central Bank announcement. This was the only way they could prove me wrong in September 2017, when QE was first scheduled to stop: that European Sovereign Debt Crisis II will hit as soon as free money to high finance stops).

Truly, we can’t underestimate the significance for France of the end of the National Debate: because the protest are still going on, the government simply must do something… but now what?

However, the “debate” truly is over – Macron has gone back to business-as-usual – being Mack the Knife: He announced that he will rewrite the unemployment system by himself, ending 30+ years of collaborative efforts between unions and bosses.

While we’re talking about ancient history, let’s remind ourselves: It’s not like the pre-Yellow Vest era wasn’t full of regular anti-government protests…. The Vesters are adamant, mostly, that they remain aloof from politics. Fine, but politics will continue.

Yes, the Vesters have caused a four-month stop in the onslaught of “reforms”, but Macron’s return to his usual modus operandi means that we will soon be talking about unions during the week, Yellow Vests on the weekend. After all, unions marching during the week have been guaranteed sights during all of Macron’s era, and most of Hollande’s: we are merely now “regressing to normal” in West European (Strongman) Liberal Democracy in the EU / Eurozone age.

The National Debate never had a chance, all of France knew, because one cannot debate with a know-it-all; for some reason “public service” has become infested with individualism in the 21st century, which is why politicians and journalists all adopt this posture of arrogance, instead of one of subservience to the greater good. This is just the latest example of Macron personally rewriting (labor code, rail reform, policing reform, justice reform, etc.) a huge part of French socioeconomic culture in order to make it more like the inferior, more unequal US, UK and German models. Even though he has an absolute majority in Parliament, he’ll probably even make the unemployment system changes law by executive decree to give his party members plausible deniability during re-election.This of, course, will certainly provoke more protests by the traditional protesting groups, like unions, NGOs and a Roman Catholic clergy concerned for their members.

So Macron is going back to doing what he does – remaking France in the image of the neoliberal US – and unions will go back to making a big show of opposing him in the hopes of winning concessions for their dues-paying members, and also to water-down Macron’s decrees a tad for non-members. Just a tad, though.

‘Who’s in charge? We are!’ – chant of the Yellow Vests

And this is really the key of this article: the Yellow Vests have lodged an unprecedented foothold in politics; they have one-upped the unions, and thus they are now truly the ones who “represent the People / workers”. They are the ones setting the agenda, and the ones the government / bosses most fear. The Yellow Vests are a minor revolution, which is why the first question from every mainstream journalist to an analyst is, “When will they stop?”

(Of course, the question from every mainstream French journalist regarding the Algeria protests is: “How can we help them continue?”)

The only way the Yellow Vests could be compelled to take off their vests is for France to have true democracy… but such a thing is simply unprecedented and impossible in the West European liberal democratic system. The only way for that is to have a post-1917, socialist-inspired system. Look at all the millions of fingerprints on Cuba’s new constitution – contrarily, there will only be one set of prints on France’s new unemployment system: Macron’s.

(Interesting sidebar: the most poplar issue discussed at the massive debates over the content of Cuba’s new constitution was making marriage “between a man and a woman” into a “union between two persons”. What is depressing is that – even in Cuba, where the people have the best combination of political intelligence, political inspiration and political involvement – even they are obsessed by this totally useless, sectarian issue!

However, what’s amazing is how their vanguard leaders recognised that, “Overwhelmingly, the (average Cuban citizen’s) proposals were against the proposed change.” And… they actually took out this change from the constitution! In Cuba, the leaders actually listen to and then implement the democratic will, unlike in France – voila, socialist democracy versus liberal democracy.

In Cuba, the majority is not forced to be beholden to the demands of any 1%, whether that 1% is monetary or sexual.

With the UK now teaching transgenderism to schoolchildren (to Muslim kids first, of course) the less-than-1% (sexually and sartorially) is now often the main beneficiary of Western public policy.…)

Of course, mass state violence, arrests, trials and jailings are other methods to force their Vests off; physical and judicial repression is obviously being used by Macron to intimidate people from protesting. Every day newspapers urban and rural are filled with the latest sentences for Yellow Vesters, but it won’t be enough to stop them.

Not even the “Anti-Yellow Vest Law”, which the Orwellian Mainstream Media prefers to call the “Anti-Rioters Law” – which is being deftly manipulated by Macron past a possibly-meddling legislative branch – will stop the Vesters, either.

LOL at Macron! High unemployment and unprecedented discontent… and you want to roll back the jobless system this spring? (Pension rollbacks coming in autumn, so we have more to look forward to.) The guy is either oblivious, anti-democratic, or the puppet of someone else.

But look at all the coverage of Brexit, and the demand for a 2nd referendum – Leavers will only respect democracy when they get THEIR way. (Me, I’m telling my English friends to vote “Leave” in Brexit Vote #3 and “Remain” in Brexit Vote #4, with Brexit votes 5-7 possibly write-ins for Mickey Mouse, who would have surely respected the first democratic vote.) West Europeans simply ARE anti-democratic because they have never been trained in modern democracy, which is necessarily socialist-inspired.

Bourgeois, West European, liberal democracy is not democracy, and we all see that in the 21st century: True change in France can only come when they realize that French arrogance regarding their terrible institutions has been unmerited for all these decades.

However, that realisation only comes after adopting the internationalism of the socialist view – other ideas (Gasp! Even non-French ones!) are needed to survive in 2019.

Barring this epiphany, Paris will bunker down on March 16… and far beyond.

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.

Arms sales to Middle East increase dramatically, research shows

Saudi Arabia’s arms purchases grew by 192 percent over 2014-2018 (AFP)



New York, United States

Arms flows to the Middle East grew by 87 percent in the past five years and now account for more than a third of the global trade, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a report on Sunday.

The defence think tank’s annual survey showed that Saudi Arabia became the world’s top arms importer between 2014-18, with a growth of 192 percent compared to the preceding five years.

Egypt, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq also ranked in the top 10 list of global arms buyers.

The report shows how the United States and European nations sell jets, jeeps and other gear that is used in controversial wars in Yemen and beyond, SIPRI researcher Pieter Wezeman told Middle East Eye.

“Weapons from the US, the UK and France are in high demand in the Gulf, where conflicts and tensions are rife. Russia, France and Germany dramatically increased their arms sales to Egypt in the past five years,” said Wezeman.

The growth in Middle Eastern imports was, in part, driven by the need to replace military gear that was deployed and destroyed in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya, said Wezeman.

It was also driven by tensions and a regional arms race, he added.

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The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel are readying for a potential conflict with Iran, said the 12-page report. Since 2017, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and others have rowed with Qatar in a rift, which, at times, looked like it could turn violent.

Between 2014-18, Saudi received 94 combat jets fitted with cruise missiles and other guided weapons from the US and Britain.

Over the next five years, it is set to get 98 more jets, 83 tanks and defensive missile systems from the US, 737 armoured vehicles from Canada, five frigates from Spain, and Ukrainian short-range ballistic missiles.

Between 2014-18, the UAE received missile defence systems, short-range ballistic missiles and some 1,700 armoured personnel carriers from the US as well as three corvettes from France, the report says.

Qatari imports grew by 225 percent over the period, including German tanks, French combat aircraft and Chinese short-range ballistic missiles. It is set to receive 93 combat aircraft from the US, France and Britain and four frigates from Italy.

Iran, which is under a UN arms embargo, accounted for just 0.9 percent of Middle Eastern imports.

For Wezeman, “the gap is widening” between Iran and its foes across the Gulf, which have more advanced weapons.

US remains top arms seller

The US has kept its position as the world’s top arms seller. Its exports grew by 29 percent these past five years, with more than half of its shipments (52 percent) going to customers in the Middle East.

British sales grew by 5.9 percent over the same period. A total of 59 percent of UK arms deliveries went to the Middle East — most of it combat aircraft destined for Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Arming governments in the turbulent Middle East is increasingly controversial in the West, said Patrick Wilcken, an arms control specialist with Amnesty International, a UK-based rights watchdog.

He pointed to cases where sales are merited – such as re-tooling Iraq’s army after it lost much of its hardware and territory during the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s surprise attack in 2014.

But, more often, western arms end up being used in human rights abuses, he added, pointing to Egypt’s crackdown on opponents, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

He blasted the “hypocrisy” of western governments not following their own rules by continuing to supply authoritarian leaders who commit wartime abuses or violations against their own people.

“A critical problem for the region is the emergence of armed groups like IS,” Wilcken told MEE.

A critical problem for the region is the emergence of armed groups like IS

– Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International

“In Yemen, totally unaccountable militias are being armed and supported by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which is setting the scene for a future period of instability and human rights violations.”

The problem has not gone unnoticed in western capitals.

In the US, lawmakers in both houses have passed resolutions to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition, though US President Donald Trump has vowed to veto the document if it reaches his desk.

In Britain, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a ban on arms exports to Saudi. Last month, a parliamentary committee concluded that the UK was on “the wrong side of the law” by arming Riyadh.

In October, Amnesty released a report about French-built armoured vehicles being used by Egyptian government forces to “disperse protests and crush dissent” in crackdowns between 2012-2015.

Germany, however, has taken a stand. This week, it extended until the end of March a unilateral freeze on arms supplies to Saudi over its war in Yemen and the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

This has caused a rift with Britain and France, its partners in European defence projects, as it puts a question mark over orders, including a $13.1bn deal to sell 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Riyadh.

Jeff Abramson, a scholar at the Arms Control Association, an advocacy group, said the US should follow Germany’s example.

“Instead of being challenged, the US continues to claim a larger share of an expanding global arms market,” Abramson told MEE.

“As such, the US should take the lead in promoting responsible behavior, rather than encouraging trade to repressive and irresponsible regimes, such as those in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

Other findings

The report made other interesting findings.

These past five years, Turkey has increased exports of armoured vehicles, missiles and other gear by 170 percent, becoming the world’s 14th most important arms exporter and the second biggest in the Middle East, after Israel.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE were among Turkey’s top three importers of weapons in the past five years, despite Ankara being at odds with its customers over Khashoggi and the blockade on Qatar.

Continuing to buy arms from Turkey may be a bid by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to keep ties with Ankara on track despite the rift, said Wezeman.

Also, Algeria increased its arms imports by 55 percent over the past five years, with shipments from Russia, China, Germany and elsewhere.

This made it the world’s fifth biggest arms importer despite only having a $168bn economy.

Algeria buys arms for military prestige, to tackle militants from neighbouring Libya and because of its “long-standing rivalry with Morocco”, said Wezeman.

Sipri measures the volume of deliveries of arms, not the dollar value of deals. The volume of deliveries to each country tend to fluctuate, so it presents data in five-year periods that a give a more stable indication of trends.

Bouteflika warns of ‘chaos’ as protests continue against his candidacy الحراك الشعبي في الجزائر… ما مصيره؟ بوتفليقة يحذر من اختراق الحراك الشعبي

In this file photo taken on May 04, 2017, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen on a wheelchair as he casts his vote at a polling station in Algiers during parliamentary elections. (Photo by AFP)
In this file photo taken on May 04, 2017, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen on a wheelchair as he casts his vote at a polling station in Algiers during parliamentary elections. (Photo by AFP)

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is facing protests against his bid for a fifth term in office, has called for vigilance, saying foreign or domestic groups may seek to stoke chaos in the North African country.

Demonstrations have been staged almost daily in Algeria since February 22, with Bouteflika cautioning protesters not to allow their peaceful rallies to be manipulated as he invoked the country’s decades-long civil war.

“Breaking this peaceful expression by any treacherous internal or foreign group may lead to sedition and chaos and resulting crises and woes,” the 82-year-old leader wrote in a letter on Thursday on the eve of a major rally.

The elections are due to be held on April 18 but protesters are unlikely to give up demanding the resignation of Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013.

He has been in Switzerland since February 24 for what his office has described as “routine medical tests,” without giving an exact fate for his return home.

In the letter, Bouteflika urged protesters to exercise “vigilance and caution” and warned of a return to the “national tragedy” of the country’s decade-long civil war and of the “crises and tragedies caused by terrorism” in neighboring countries.

Algerian lawyers and journalists take part in a protest against their ailing president’s bid for a fifth term in power, in Algiers on March 7, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Bouteflika’s letter came as some 1,000 lawyers took to the streets of the capital Algiers on Thursday, saying his ill health should disqualify him from the upcoming elections.

“We are asking the Constitutional Council to assume its responsibilities … This candidacy is inadmissible,” protester Ahmed Dahim, a member of the Bar Association of Algiers, said as his fellow demonstrators chanted “No to the fifth mandate.”

The Constitutional Council must decide on the candidates by March 14.

Opponents also cite what they call chronic corruption and a lack of economic reform to tackle unemployment.

On Sunday, Bouteflika promised that if re-elected, he would order a referendum on a new constitution and call an early election where he would not run.

The compromise came nearly three weeks after he announced that he would once again participate in the presidential race, infuriating his opponents and unleashing major protests in the country.

Algeria’s divided opposition and civic groups have called for more protests against Bouteflika’s 20-year rule if he proceeds to seek another term.

الحراك الشعبي في الجزائر… ما مصيره؟ 

مارس 7, 2019

كمال حميدة

كنت أتوقع أن يمضي الرئيس عبد العزيز بوتفليقة في تقديم ملف ترشحه لولاية خامسة، رغم الاحتجاجات العارمة التي شهدتها معظم المدن الجزائرية، الرافضة لتوليه ولاية جديدة. هذا التوقع أتى نتيجة أنّ الرئيس بوتفليقة يستمدّ ترشيحه من طرف جبهة التحرير الوطني، وهي الحزب الحاكم منذ الاستقلال وبعض الأحزاب والحركات الموالية له، هذا الحزب هو الآخر يستمدّ حضوره من المشروعية الثورية التي نالت الحرية وانتزعتها بفضل تضحياتها ونضالاتها ضدّ المحتلّ الفرنسي، وهي بدورها تسلّمت مقاليد السلطة لكونها اعتقدت اعتقاداً جازماً أنّ السلطة هي مكسب لها ومشروع محق للحفاظ والدفاع عن المبادئ الثورية وأهدافها.

هذا الترشح أتى بالوكالة عبر رئيس حملته الانتخابية عبد الغني زعلان، الذي عيّن خلفاً لرئيس الحكومة السابق عبد المالك سلال، هذا الأخير تجنّب معارضته للاحتجاجات الشعبية لأسباب صحية من الدرجة الأولى للرئيس بوتفليقة. وعقب تقديم ملف ترشح الرئيس الحالي تلا رسالته الوزير السابق بالنيابة عنه، التي نصّت في أهمّ بنودها على أنّ الرئيس الجزائري وعد بانتخابات رئاسية مبكرة في حال انتخابه للدورة الخامسة، وعقد ندوة وطنية تجمع كافة الأطياف والمكوّنات الحزبية لإجراء تعديلات دستورية، وتأسيس لجنة مستقلة تشرف على الانتخابات.

فبعض المراقبين اعتبروا أنّ هذه الخطوة استفزازية وتؤدّي بالبلاد نحو المجهول وهي مناورة لكسب الوقت من أجل تجديد النظام من رحم ذاته، مضيفين أنّ ثمة رجالاً في الخفاء يديرون الدولة من أعلى الهرم السلطوي، بالأخصّ في الظروف الصحية الحالية لرئيس الجمهورية. ومنهم رأى أنّ الصراع القائم بين الحرس القديم والحرس الحالي، هو من فجر هذا الحراك الشعبي في الشوارع العامة، ويعمّق الفجوة بين الهرم السلطوي والقاعدة الشعبية، ورأي آخر يرى أنّ رجال المال الفاسد أو ما يعرفون بـ «باترونة المال» أو «المجموعة النافذة» بما يتمتعون به من نفوذ وعلاقات داخل مفاصل الدولة لا يروق لهم أن تتنازل السلطة عن مركزية قرارتها وأن تعيد النظر في تقديم وجه آخر لمرشحها.

كما أنّ هذه الرسالة اعترضت عليها منابر إعلامية وحزبية بأنّ هذه الوعود أتت متأخرة، حيث سبق أن قدّمت أحزاب المعارضة قبل سنوات هذه المقترحات، عندما كان الرئيس يتمتع بكامل صحته، فأقدمت السلطة على الأخذ بعين الاعتبار بجزء منها، وتجاهلت المقترحات المتبقية، وهنا بدت الأحزاب غير الموالية للسلطة أنها فقدت ثقتها بنظام الحكم، خصوصاً عندما تفجّر الحراك الشعبي في معظم المدن، التي باتت تعتمد على أصوات زخم المسيرات من أيّ وقت مضى، وتدعم مطالبه بكلّ ما أوتي من قوة، وتنظر إليه أنه أتى في الفرصة المواتية ليكون هو المحرك الحقيقي لإرغام السلطة الحاكمة للنزول عند شعاراته وهتافاته وتقبل ما يريده من المسؤولين الحاكمين.

الإنجازات التي تحققت في حقبة طوال الحكم تفتخر بها الأحزاب الموالية، كشبكة الطرق والسكك الحديدية، والسدود، وزيادة في عدد الجامعات، ومنح حوالي ثلاثة ملايين مسكن للمواطنين بصفة مجانية، إلى جانب الدور الأساسي لرئيس قصر المرادية في استتباب الأمن وترسيخ الاستقرار الداخلي. إلا أنّ المعارضة تقضي عليها بأنها إنجازات نسبية، والأموال التي أنفقت في جميع المشروعات هي أموال الشعب، فضلاً أنّ رجالاً من داخل النظام والمقرّبين منهم هم الذين انتفعوا من الأموال التي استثمرت فيها. واستاءت المعارضة من مستوى الفقر المستشري في المجتمع الجزائري بحيث وصلت نسبتها إلى 38 بالمئة من خلال تقارير الأمم المتحدة.

مطلب المتظاهرين على منع الولاية الخامسة دون تحديد سقف معيّن للتجاوب معها، قد يحمل في طياته نتائج لا تصبّ في خانة المحتجّين. فمضاعفة الاحتجاجات دون الالتقاء والتقاطع مع تنازلات السلطة بالحدّ المعقول من وجهة نظر دوائر الحكم، من المحتمل أنه سيصطدم بمواجهات في الشارع، لأنّ نظام الحكم له مناصروه ومؤيدوه سيدافعون عن نظام الدولة ويرفضون رفضاً قاطعاً اللجوء إلى الانقلاب عليه بين عشية وضحاها ودفع السلم الأهلي نحو حافة الهاوية، لا سيما أنّ الأسرة الحاكمة قدّمت مقترحاً واعداً بتنفيذه في أجل قصير المدى، وهو مبرّر قد يضيفها رصيداً لإقناع الشارع بأنّ الدولة في خدمة المصلحة العامة للشعب، والحفاظ على أمنها واستقرارها بدلاً من جرّ البلاد نحو المجهول أو الفراغ الدستوري. وفي حال إصرار الشارع الرافض لرئاسة خامسة على المضيّ قدماً في تجاوز مطالبه وفي طليعتها تغيير جذري للنظام القائم، واعتراضه من جانب شارع المؤيدين والموالين قد سيؤدّي إلى اندلاع صدامات واشتباكات وأعمال شغب وعنف، حينها ستتدخل الأجهزة الأمنية والعسكرية وتفرض حالة الطوارئ داخل البلاد لأجل قصير أو طويل المدى، بطبيعة الحال ستصبح فرض منطق الغالب هو الأقوى على الأرض. وفي هذه الحالة ستعمل السلطة على إعادة النظر في تصحيح أوراقها وترتيب بيتها ومعالجة ما يمكن معالجته وعلى رأسها تقديم مرشح رئاسي مستقبلاً يحظى بإجماع وطني لإقناع شريحة واسعة من الشعب الجزائري بأنها الجهة الوحيدة القادرة على إنقاذ البلاد من دوامة الخلافات الخانقة والانقسامات الحادة التي تهدّد الوحدة الوطنية، والحامية الكفيلة بالتصدي وردع كلّ صوت أو حراك يستهدف زعزعة الأمن الداخلي والاستقرار السلمي.

كاتب سياسي


بوتفليقة يحذر من اختراق الحراك الشعبي ضد الولاية الخامسة من أطراف داخلية وخارجية

الميادين نت

الرئيس الجزائري عبد العزيز بوتفليقة يحذر من اختراق الحراك الشعبي ضد الولاية الخامسة من أطراف داخلية وخارجية، ومدير حملته الانتخابية ينفي ما تضمّنته تقارير إعلامية عن تدهور صحته، والمحامون يبدأون التجمع في إطار تحركات باتجاه المجلس الدستوريّ.

مدير الحملة الانتخابية عبد الغني زعلان، يؤكد أنّ "التصريحات الرسمية الجزائرية عن صحة بوتفليقة مطابقة للواقع"

مدير الحملة الانتخابية عبد الغني زعلان، يؤكد أنّ “التصريحات الرسمية الجزائرية عن صحة بوتفليقة مطابقة للواقع”

حذر الرئيس الجزائري عبد العزيز بوتفليقة من اختراق الحراك الشعبي ضد الولاية الخامسة من أطراف داخلية وخارجية.

كما حذر بوتفليقة من “إثارة الفتنة وإشاعة الفوضى وما ينتج عنها من أزمات وويلات”، مشيداً بالطابع السلمي للمسيرات الشعبية في الجزائر.

وأكد بوتفليقة على ضرورة الحفاظ على الاستقرار للتفرغ للاستمرار في معركة البناء.

وكان مدير الحملة الانتخابية لبوتفليقة نفى ما تضمّنته تقارير إعلامية عن تدهور صحته.

وأكد مدير الحملة الانتخابية عبد الغني زعلان، أنّ “التصريحات الرسمية الجزائرية عن صحة بوتفليقة مطابقة للواقع”.

في هذه الأثناء، بدأ المحامون في الجزائر التجمع في إطار تحركات باتجاه المجلس الدستوريّ.

كما قرر اتحاد المحامين تجميد العمل على مستوى المحاكم والمجالس القضائية، ويطالب المحامون السلطات بـ”إرجاء الانتخابات المقررةِ في الثامن عشر من نيسان/أبريل المقبل، وبتأليف حكومة انتقالية”.

هذا وأعلن حزب جبهة القوى الاشتراكية في الجزائر، “سحب نوابه من المجلس الشعبيّ الوطنيّ ومجلس الأمة”، موضحاً في بيانه أنّ “الانسحاب جاء من أجل النضال مع الشعب في الميدان”.

كما أعلنت جمعية قدماء وزراء التسليح والاتصالات العامّة، دعمها الاحتجاجات ضد الولاية الخامسة للرئيس بوتفليقة.

الى ذلك، أكد رئيس أركان الجيش الجزائري الفريق أحمد قايد صالح، “استعداد الجيش لتوفير الظروف الآمنة التي تكفل للشعب حقّه في الانتخاب”.

ومن ناحيته، أشار النائب في البرلمان الجزائريّ عن حزب العمال يوسف تعزيبت للميادين، “رفض أي تدخّل في شؤون الجزائر من قبل القوى الإمبريالية”.

نصرُ وسلامةُ الجزائر … قرارٌ للأوفياء

غالبيتهم ولدوا وترعرعوا في ظله وتحت مظلته، ولم يعرفوا رئيسا ًغيره، واليوم يتظاهرون ويفقدون حماستهم لترشيحه! … هل هو حقا ً من كان يحكمهم في السنوات الأخيرة،

 أم نال منه المرض، وحوله إلى صورة رئيس , هل هو التغيير أم الإصلاح أم بابٌ للفوضى وطريقٌ نحو المجهول ؟… من يتربص بالجزائر، أهو بعض الداخل، أم طقس “الربيع” وأجوائه التي لا تزال تعصف بالدول العربية؟ أم برودة جبال الألب الفرنسية؟ أم شغف أمريكي لإفتتاح سوقٍ جديدة لنقل الإرهاب والإرهابيين من سوق الهزائم في سوريا والعراق إلى سوق إستثمارٍ جديد، هل هو حصارٌ تركي لمصر، أم صراعٌ تركي – مصري، وعلى أمل تفادي الطوفان …

وسط تظاهراتٍ عارمة عمت مختلف المدن الجزائرية، أربعة عشر مرشحا ً قدموا أوراق ترشحهم باليد، ووحده الرئيس بوتفليقة من أرسل أوراقه بطريقةٍ أغضبت البعض، فالرئيس في جنيف لإجراء بعض الفحوصات الطبية، وسط شكوكٍ حول حالته الصحية، وإمكانية صموده وتعافيه وعودته، بملء إرادته أو ببقائه هناك للأبد، فصحيفة “لوموند الفرنسية” عنونت نسختها اليوم “بوتفليقة ,,, انتهى”، فهل تكون بذلك قد كشفت السر …؟

فما نُقل عن الرئيس وعوده بإجراء إنتخاباتٍ مبكرة وبدستورٍ جديد وبإنشاء هيئة تضمن النزاهة والشفافية في الإنتخابات، وبكل ما يحمل تغييرا ً جذريا ً في النظام الجزائري، وكل ذلك في حال فوزه بالولاية الخامسة.

وهنا نطرح السؤال، لماذا تأخرت الجزائر كما تتأخر الإصلاحات في العالم العربي عموما ً، ولماذا لا تأتي قبل إنقسام المجتمع وتحوله إلى صراع داخلي يسمح للأطراف الداخلية والخارجية وأصحاب النوايا والمشاريع الخبيثة، بالحصول على الفرصة “الذهبية” للنيل من الأوطان.

أي حالٍ إنتظره الرئيس بوتفليقة وجعله يتمسك بالحكم، فالجزائريون يعلمون أنه خلال السنوات الماضية لم يكن هو الحاكم الفعلي مع تدهور حالته الصحية، في حين بقيت البلاد متروكة لمن يديرها من وراء الستار، وسط رضا البعض وإمتعاض البعض الاّخر؟

هل وجد بعض الجزائريون في الانتخابات الحالية الفرصة للتغيير والإصلاح , أم هناك صيدٍ في ماءٍ عكر , وهناك من يسعى لتصفية الحسابات مع الدولة والشعب باّنٍ واحد , فالجزائر ورغم عواصف “الربيع” والإرهاب و”التطبيع” و”صفقة القرن” التي ضربت المنطقة العربية , لم تجعل الجزائريون يتخلون عن البوصلة العربية وقضية فلسطين المركزية, ولم تتحول بنادقهم من كتف المقاومة إلى كتف التطبيع مع العدو الإسرائيلي, ولم تتوقف حكومات الرئيس بوتفليقة المتعاقبة – قدر إمكانها – عن دعم المقاومة والدول والشعوب المقاومة, ولم يتخل الجزائريون عن مجدٍ وإرثٍ صنعوه بدماء مليون ونصف المليون شهيد , دفاعا ًعن كرامتهم وسيادتهم وإستقلالهم, ولا يمكن استبعاد مخططا ً خارجيا ً يسعى للنيل من الجزائر وشعبها من بوابة التطرف الداخلي المغلف بثوب “المعارضة”, ومن تدخلٍ إقليمي ودولي, يبدأ من تركيا ولا ينتهي بمصر مرورا ً ب ليبيا.

حتى الاّن يتسم الوضع الجزائري بالغموض والترقب والخطورة, على وقع التظاهرات التي تعم عديد المدن, على وقع خطابات رؤساء الأحزاب المؤيدة أو المعارضة لترشح الرئيس عبد العزيز بوتفليقة لولايةٍ رئاسية خامسة … فقد ألهب عبد العزيز بلعيد رئيس “جبهة المستقبل الجزائري” الشارع الجزائري بحديثه عن عدم تكرار “السيناريو السوري”, فيما اعتبر المرشح ورئيس الحكومة الأسبق علي بن فليس أن ترشيح بوتفليقة ” إهانة للشعب الجزائري”, أما السيدة زبيدة عسول “رئيسة حزب الإتحاد من أجل التغيير” اعتبرت أن وعود بوتفليقة ليست سوى “مناورة” ودعت لإستمرار التظاهر, في الوقت الذي أعلن فيه أكبر الأحزاب الإسلامية “حزب مجتمع السلم” مقاطعته للإنتخابات في خطوة خطيرة وتضع إشارة الإستفاهم حول موقفهم ما بعد المقاطعة …؟

نعتقد أنه في الجزائر الكثير من العقلاء والحريصون على وحدة البلاد وأمنها وسلمها الأهلي والداخلي، بوجود مؤسسةٍ عسكرية تحترم الشعب الجزائري وتقف على مسافة واحدة من الجميع، ونتمنى السلامة والهدوء والإحتكام إلى صوت العقل قبل صناديق الإقتراع، وأن تسعى كل الأطراف لتعزيز الثقة بالجزائر – الوطن للجميع أولا ً، وبكل جزائري حر صادق محب لوطنه، وأن نصر الوطن هو مسؤولية جميع الجزائريين.

وربما تكون هذه مناسبة للتعبير عن خشية العقلاء في الشارع العربي، من جنون وعمالة بعض الأنظمة العربية، التي تخلت وتاّمرت على سوريا والعراق واليمن وليبيا، ولن تتوان عن متابعة مهامها، في استهداف الجزائر ومصر على طرفي ليبيا المسكينة… فالقطار المسموم يسير ويقترب من نهاية محطته في سوريا والعراق، وسط عراقيل تضعها تلك الأنظمة بأوامر أسيادها لتأخير الإنتصار السوري ويترددون في إعادة فتح سفاراتهم، وإعلان هزيمتهم وتعقلهم , فنصر سوريا هو نصرٌ للجزائر, ولكل الدول العربية, بتأكيد السيد حمودة الصباغ رئيس مجلس الشعب السوري في اجتماع البرلمانيين العرب في الأردن بالأمس.

   ( الثلاثاء 2019/03/05 SyriaNow) 

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