Book Review: 18 Days Al Jazeera English and the Egyptian Revolution

18_jazeera_feature-770x47218 days from 25 January to 11 February 2011 had not changed the Arab streets due to revolution but also changed the way the world judged and saw how Al Jazeera English was not just an ordinary news channel. The network channel known by some right wing commentators as “Terror TV” was part of the wider Al Jazeera Media Network where once in 2003 the Arabic channel was famously remarked by Hosni Mubarak as a “tiny matchbox,” had overnight become a trusted and reliable news source which controlled the news agenda for the best part of 2011.

18 Days: Al Jazeera English and the Egyptian Revolution studies the account of the channel during the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Authored by Scott Bridges who had worked at the channel on two occasions the book gives a blow by blow account of the relationship between the newsroom, the journalists reporting in Egypt and the lives of the people they were reporting on from the streets of Egypt as change was sweeping the Arab world’s most populous country.  Bridges uses his own experience from working for the cosmopolitian newsroom providing abehind the scene account portraying a deep analysis of how this news channel based in the desert city of Doha became the most sought news source both on TV and online. Bridges highlights the powress during that time of the channel’s  unlimited resources of newsgathering, risk taking journalism and sharp editorial judgement in leadership which transformed the media landscape. However Bridges also uses the opportunity to examine Al Jazeera English and its relationship with its Qatari benefactors, its role within the world and the challenges the channel now faces after its ‘CNN moment’ in 2011.

The book is a day to day journey of what really took place at the channel trying to report the facts as correspondents Sherine Tadros, Ayman Mohyedin and Rawya Rageh along with their colleagues were beaming the revolution into the homes of millions of people, to the behind the scene conversations in the gallery when presenters Adrian Finigan or Kamahl Santamaria were guiding the audience to the plethora of events.

As an individual who watched Al Jazeera during that period as an audience member rather than as a journalist the book offers a great narrative during the events ranging the last minute heated tensions off air or problems with the B-Gan’ which forced correspondent Jamal ElShayyal to look at alternatives to get his content beamed from Alexandra to Doha.

Salah Negm, the channel’s Director of News was quoted by Bridges as saying: “Once you have a big news story, you focus on it, you own it, concentrate on it; make yourself the point of interest,” during the 18 days of the revolution Al Jazeera did exactly that. As editorial staff by default were focusing on the Tunisian revolution, management decided to send correspondent Rawya Rageh to capture the mood in Cairo outside the Tunisian embassy where a dozen protesters had gathered. Even though Raweh along with many colleagues were not convinced anything may blow into a full blown revolution, her closing lines in the package was: ” Whike it’s not clear if these limited protests could gain enough traction to replicate what happened in Tunisia, the sentiment is clear; change is coming, Tunisia is the inspiration,” yet as Rageh told Bridges in her mind she was not convinced that anything remotely on the scale of what to come was about to happen. Rawya didn’t believe that change would come, but then like her colleagues her sentiments were that nobody had an inkling of what was to come.

Bridges goes into detail on how events on the 25th January changed the the editorial debates in Doha which prompted Mohammed Nanabhay the head of online at the time to take the call to place Egypt ahead of the Palestine Papers story, which was scheduled for the day of the protests, even though Al Jazeera had one eye of the 25th January protests it didn’t mean Al Jazeera were not prepared, Bridges shows with examples how during the day on the 25th the wheels started in motion to focus more on Egypt with staff, news gathering and resources.

Despite TV having the resources and were leading the content discourse, Nanabhay and his online team played a central role in the development of the story from the streets of Egypt with the use of social media and constant updates on the site together with the live streaming of the news. The importance of the online character was demonstrated when during the course of the 18 days there was a 2500% increase on website traffic which placed aljazeera.com above the New York Times as a news source.

Bridges uses anecdotal examples of failing equipment, rolling news and near death experiences draws the reader to not just understand the editorial nuances but the emotional and physical dealings journalists had to endure as history was being made.

Bridges offers a perspective on why Al Jazeera the new kid on the block shook the media landscape and brought into journalism the “Al Jazeera DNA,” something Al Anstey the Managing Director always refer to. Despite the constant scrutiny and challenges the channel is currently facing, 18 Days shows how the channel answers their critics not by rhetoric but by its content. Even though the channel has dispelled the myths of being a “Terror TV” station, the channel has new challenges, most notably to campaign for the release of its three arrested journalists in Egypt and the constant questions on editorial independence and bias. Yet the enormity of the channel’s reputation which it has itself cultivated had brought goodwill support from competitors, world governments and human rights group in their calls to free their colleagues, while the integrity and respect for good honest journalism through its news and programmes has won many plaudits from their peers and beyond. Bridges in the words of the blogger Grayson Hamilton highlights the network’s philosophy: “Deliver the facts, give them context, and serve the public,” something which has served the channel well for the past nine years and not just 18 days in the early days of 2011.

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Pioneer and patriach – The Unsung Hero

“Success isn’t what I did, success is getting things done to help others” – probably the greatest piece of advice a great man once told me, who sadly departed from this world to meet his maker earlier this week. It is an irony however, that he himself who gave me this valuable advice, lived his entire life through the prism of that particular quote.

I have been fortunate in meeting some very remarkable and inspiring individuals, whether they were leaders of countries, academic geniuses, enlightened scholars or even humble community leaders, but Ahmed Mohammed Patel (Ahmed nana) was an individual who had such a profound impact on my life, second only to my own late grandfather, that he himself stood above the heads of statesmen and leaders, of whom so much was written.

Ahmed nana was not a world leader, or a captain of industry or even great philanthropist, books, titles and eulogies may not be bestowed upon him, because he may have been an average man living an average life, but for the many few his contribution and legacy will outshine and outlive people for generations.

Born in the village of Kankaria in the mid 1920’s, he was born into a wealthy, influential and politically active Patel family. He was born into a family who had immense influence and to live under the shadows of his grandfather, father and uncle’s would be no mean feat, especially as he was the firstborn grandson of Asmalji Patel.

Ahmed nana’s childhood began with tragedy as his father Mohammed Patel had died after being trampled by a stampede of bulls, Ahmed Nana was only a year old, while his mother Amina was expecting their second child (my grandmother, Fatima). Nevertheless both brother and sister were not deprived the love of a father, as their younger uncle, Yusuf Patel married their widowed young mother Amina and provided stability, love and affection to both Ahmed nana and Fatima. I was always reminded by both siblings that the love, care and teachings he provided to them, a real father could not match it for his own children. It is an irony that the death of Ahmed Nana coincided with the 36th anniversary of the death of Yusuf Patel, while one man died on 6/8/2012 (17th Ramadan 1433 AH) the other died on 6/8/1976 (10th Ramadan 1396 AH).

The greatest quality of which I give tribute to Ahmed nana was how his intentions through his actions were executed after he had arrived in the United Kingdom during the early part of the 1960’s determined the future for so many individuals. Like many men of his generation, he arrived without the knowledge of the language, customs or even understanding of what the United Kingdom stood for, but like most men of his generation he quickly adapted to life and rather than just pursue the solace of the Pound and the British passport he started to think how his family, his people and his community can gain from this opportunity from the villages of India to the mill towns of the United Kingdom, where hopefully lives and fortunes can change.

From the onset Ahmed nana himself did not need to be working in the mills of Yorkshire and Lancashire, living in squalid conditions with other men and face the bitter chill of the British winter as he himself was quite wealthy by most standards in India. As at the age of 9 he inherited his father’s share of his grandfather’s huge estate, but while his family were in Bid, his share of the land was in Kankaria, but nevertheless he had spent his childhood in Bid, and only after his marriage in 1949 to Amina Musaji Patel (his uncle’s daughter) did he officially take up residence in Kankaria.

However, as an immigrant worker in the United Kingdom he knew he had a sense duty to his own family. Not only did this man strive to bring his own wife and eight children to the United Kingdom, which was the basic norm that most men had carried out during the 1960’s and 1970’s, he personally undertook the opportunity to look at ways to see how his extended family could also benefit.

A few years ago it was roughly calculated that due to Ahmed nana at least 250 people currently living in the United Kingdom, of whom many are born and bred as British from my family can trace a connection back to Ahmed nana. Here was a man who was responsible for many individual to come to the United Kingdom from India, and thus start a new life with their own families.
Whether it was working in Manchester to acquire vouchers for his younger brother’s and cousins so they can work in the United Kingdom, or looking at how he could ensure his sister and her children could settle in the United Kingdom or whether through marrying of individuals; the future of many homes were enhanced in both countries due to the effort of one man. One such example was of him sponsoring a poor man from the village of Kankaria, who in India could not even manage to have two meals a day, but sponsoring him and even arranging his marriage the fortunes had changed from despair to hope.

Through the endeavours of one man, people who may have ended up being farmers and housewives in India are now successfu Ulama, Hufaaz, businessmen, teachers, lawyers, pharmacists, broadcast journalists and above all content in life. Through the endeavours of one man, people who may have had deep economic problems due to demographic changes within their own family structure in India are now happily living in their own homes across the United Kingdom and beyond. Through the endeavours of one man, his own family not only had contributed to the development of their community in India but many had contributed and still do so in civic life within the United Kingdom.

I, myself enjoyed listening to his stories of family history and his take on the world while he would be making his customary paan, which would be made ready for consumption and then spat out in the old mango tin if there was excessive tobacco within minutes. His hand gestures while he would state an opinion and those stary eyes, which he inherited from his mother, which would be noted if he was displeased (my grandmother herself can use the stare rather well, I must say), were unique traits he would possess.

I recall one incident when he was talking about influence, and he said to me “the Patel of village may have been someone else, but in your grandfather’s home (Hasanji Patel) decisions were made by cups of tea, never assume titles can give influence,” or the time he once had told me “every person has a worth, never think the King is mightier than the beggar.” Profound anecdotes but with clear precise meanings, which would give any master strategic operators like Peter Mandelson or Alistair Campbell a run for their money.

He was a man who held strong beliefs and convictions, he would give out honest statements and hold opinions and yet not fear the consequences, he held immense pride in the name of his family and his heritage and would remind people of their past, their duties and their future.

But he was a man who held deep loyalties and had a share of responsibility towards certain people. He once remarked to me and an uncle of mine, who both had lost our mothers, that it was his duty to look out for us as he’ll one day have to meet his creator and answer for his deeds.

The death of Ahmed nana has brought an unbearable loss, but even though the world and society did not or could not honour his life, the almighty honoured him by taking him to his house of prayer in Ramadan for Umrah, while bringing him back home to his family where he departed during Maghrib to his creator in the auspicious month of Ramadan.

Human beings are mere mortals, their destiny and actions are all determined by the almighty who must have liked something in him Ahmed nana to grant him a noble death.
Ahmed nana’s life, achievements and successes may have gone unnoticed, while for others it will be always remembered, but for those who have mourned his death we need to ask ourselves the question will our lives be remembered on what ‘I’ did or will it be based on getting things done in order to help others? A benchmark, one such pioneer had passed with flying colours that I doubt could be matched or even attempted.

“Those who patiently persevere, seeking the countenance of their Lord; Establish regular prayers; spend, out of (the gifts) We have bestowed for their sustenance, secretly and openly; and turn off Evil with good: for such there is the final attainment of the (eternal) home

Gardens of perpetual bliss: they shall enter there, as well as the righteous among their fathers, their spouses, and their offspring: and angels shall enter unto them from every gate (with the salutation)

“Peace unto you for that ye persevered in patience! Now how excellent is the final home!”

~ Surah Rad 22-24”

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France’s media as undecided as its voters

Al jazeera – Something I wrote before the First French election.

With the first round of the French presidential election less than 24 hours away, there has seemingly yet to be any great wave of public excitement over any of the candidates or their policies.

The French media, along with the general public, often unanimously agree that the “real election” comes during the second round, in which the top two runners fight it out for the key to the Elysee Palace.

Ten candidates will compete in Sunday’s first round – and if, as expected, none wins 50 per cent of the votes cast, there will be a second, run-off round.

n a country where all candidates are given equal coverage and where televised political advertisements are banned, the frontrunners have to share the media stage with their less popular candidates. Nevertheless, editorial analysis and judgement plays an important role in getting politicians’ message across.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has recently been trailing in the polls to his rival, the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy has been blamed for the country’s economic difficulties, and – for someone who was elected in 2007 for his personality and policies – he is now someone who appears to have lost his charm and popularity.

‘President-in-waiting’

Hollande, on the other hand, has been called “the president in waiting”. He is seen as an affable moderate, whose quiet manner and corporate tax-raising economic policy differ sharply from Sarkozy’s glamour and free market ideals.

The campaign of centrist François Bayrou – who in 2007 took nearly a fifth of the first round vote – has become somewhat marginalised, over-shadowed by the more extreme right and left wing candidates. He does, however, remain influential in terms of where his votes will go in round two.

The far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen has been polling at 15 per cent with her policies against the “tsunami” of illegal immigration, and the “Islamisation” of France, but she hasn’t managed to make as much of an impact as once predicted.

The far-left candidate Jean Luc Melenchon, who has attracted voters with radical ideas – such as a “citizens’ revolution” based on the ideals of the 1871 Paris Commune – is also polling at 15 per cent, in close competition with Le Pen for third place.

n the final stretch before Sunday’s vote, Sarkozy is under pressure, with most opinion polls showing him trailing behind Hollande, who is expected by many observers to beat the incumbent in the second round of polling on May 6.

In the 2007 election, Sarkozy was much more popular in the media, talked up as a potential “hope and change” for France, ushering the country into a new era. 

But after five years as president, where he has presided over an economic lull, the media have become much more critical and sceptical of the man dubbed the “bling bling president”.

Nevertheless, Sarkozy has always found an ally in the right-leaning daily newspaper Le Figaro, which is an exception to the rule, firmly supporting the incumbent – calling a major campaign speech “rich, lyrical, and forward-looking” in an editorial comment.

Usual lines

Yet, even as the polls swing against him, Sarkozy told [Fr] Le Figaro that if Hollande were to win it would be “catastrophic” for the French economy – which has been the long-running argument from the right.

Le Figaro maintained a Hollande victory would mean Mélenchon and his far-left support base would hold the new president hostage with “suicidal economic policies … to the detriment of France”.

But the left-leaning Le Monde said the Sarkozy presidency had “egregious shortcomings, due to his ubiquity, his exhibitionism, his endless capacity to contradict himself, his fascination with the rich, and his tendency to blame all shortcomings on the unemployed, immigrants, Muslims and civil servants”.

Liberation, another left-leaning newspaper, said the financial markets “were not scared by the left” and had anticipated a Socialist win in both the presidential and parliamentary elections.

This acceptance – that if opinion polls are correct – means that on May 7, President Hollande will be the first Socialist president since 1995.

Throughout the campaign, a key component of debate and scrutiny has been the economy, with both leading candidates promising to balance the budget. Hollande, however has emphasised growth, in comparison with attempts to cut deficits through the “austerity” measures of Sarkozy’s administration.

The economy has dominated the election, even though there was a brief moment when it looked like the debate was about to be shifted to immigration and Islam following the Toulouse shootings.

It is the economy

Anne-Gaëlle Besse, a French journalist in the northern town of Denain – often dubbed “the poorest city in France”, said the election had forced people there to “take an interest”, given the dependence of their future on the outcome of the vote.

Besse said general media coverage had been based on “economics being the main issue, not security. And all those anti-Muslim declarations haven’t really worked”.

Liberation, days after the Toulouse shootings criticised Sarkozy initially for how he had “played the Muslim card on terror, halal meat and Hijabs” to appeal to Le Pen supporters.

“As we approach the 2012 presidential election, relations between Nicolas Sarkozy and the Muslim community continue to deteriorate, as Sarkozy aims to use ‘the Muslim issue’ as a vote grabbing exercise,” said Gaelle.

Sarkozy’s reported attempts to pick up far-right voters did not go unnoticed and attracted strong international criticism, with The Wall Street Journal calling him “Nicolas Le Pen“. Yet Sarkozy has not be allowed to steer the debate far from the economy, and that is where he hopes he can take on Hollande in the second round.

There seems to be a general consensus coming from French media that, unlike previous elections, there are many voters who still haven’t made up their mind who to vote for, or have confessed they simply won’t be coming out to vote in the first round.

Shaima Elbialy, a French journalist living in London, said the media and the candidates failed to attract people’s attention simply because real issues had hardly been tackled.

“Even the debates between candidates on TV have attracted fewer people … and in particular, young people,” said Elbialy.

Marianne, a weekly French news magazine, implied that none of the candidates had announced any solution to “real problems” that fuel so much anger among voters – hence a potential low first-round turnout.

A study carried out by polling agency IFOP for the education magazine L’Etudiant reported 59 per cent of voters aged 18 to 22 were still unsure of their choice, compared with 32 per cent of the French population at large.

An IFOP opinion poll for the Journal de Dimanche weekly newspaper also predicted some 32 per cent of eligible voters would abstain from voting in this round.

According to writer Eric Le Boucher in the financial newspaper Les Echos, it is “an election of illusions,” calling the campaign “an overwhelming disappointment”.

Even though Le Figaro is rooting for Sarkozy, it has also stated that undecided voters were hesitating between “the vote from the heart” for Mélenchon or Le-Pen and the “vote from reason” for Hollande or Sarkozy.

But it is difficult to see how Sarkozy can overturn the odds and defeat Hollande, despite tough talk on the economy and immigration. The Toulouse shootings briefly played in his favour as the security-conscious incumbent, but recent polls have again seen Hollande rise above him in first-round voting.

As a run-off between Hollande and Sarkozy looks likely in next month’s second round, it is expected that the French media, along with the rest of the nation, will have to take a deeper role in scrutinising, analysing and commenting on who they really want to govern them.

Follow Hasan Patel on Twitter: @hasanpatel

 

 

 

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Book Review: Talk of the Devil

Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Wojciech Jaruzelski, Mrs Hoxha, Baby Doc Duvalier, Colonel Mengistu and Mira Milosevic (wife of Slobodan), all once leaders of countries who had fallen from grace through coups, revolutions or through the downfall of the Soviet Union’s patronage.

‘Talk of the Devil, encounters with seven dictators’ by the Italian journalist Riccardo Orizio shows how the end of the cold war had meant there was an increase of  a few out of job dictators who once reigned through the realms of fear.  Yet, after they were desposed of from power, they were now more focussed on satellites dishes in the case of Amin, or fighting legal issues, as was the case of some former Eastern European dictators.

Orizio shows how the likes of Bokassa, Mengistu and Jaruzelski had felt let down by the Soviet Union and in particular Mikhael Gorbachev. But he also created an understanding how these fallen leaders were so deluded in understanding the dynamics of the new world order and political status quo.

Jean-Claude Duvalier desposed of in Haiti, was perched in a Paris cafe with his European female companion and three chins lighter used his interview to show that his rule was one of compassion and in the interests of his people, but failed to acknowledge the murders and death squads under his rule. Duvalier, like all interviewed in the book showed his aloofness by saying ‘I had to do what I had for the interests of the country.’

Orizio shows through his journalism an insight into the minds of these people, but for Hoxha and Milosevic he adds in conversations and personal experiences of the victims and perpetrators of the regime in order to bring an understanding what life was really like in a post Hoxha Albania or why Bosnian Serbs acted with barbarism during the Bosnian war.

The comparisons from the book were also interesting. Each fallen leader apart from Amin were more interested in current affairs, rather than dream of going back home. Each leader, however blamed their enemies, foreign agents and former loved ones for their demise. Quotes such as  the “brutality of regime were invented by enemies, ” “people loved me,” or “I was brought down by treachery,”  and most common of all was the “country is  worse off now”.

Orizio provided a simple narrative adding with how his journey to meet some of the former despots included bribes, conversations with taxi drivers, a night in a police cell and countless visits to random homes.

Orizio painted a picture of their lives, how they had fallen from grace together with the many questions in their mind “if they only had stayed in power.”

Bokassa remembered when the Pope had proclaimed him as the 13th apostle and how he was the emperor of Central Africa, yet now he had to rely on his children. Mengistu in a funny incident he denied how he was a cannibal and that while living in Zimbabwe he wished he had a bigger home.

These once leaders who either were feared or loved showed how their rule, which was  connected with misery and terror were now living out their own lives in misery and in fear of death.

Overall a good book to read for those who may want to find out what had happened to Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Wojciech Jaruzelski, Mrs Hoxha, Baby Doc Duvalier, Colonel Mengistu and Mira Milosevic.

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‘Pasty tax’ row heats up British PM

Al Jazeera

A British culinary staple finds itself at the centre of an unsavoury political row.

The prime minister claims to love them; his finance minister cannot remember the last time he had one, and the leader of the opposition prefers a sausage roll.

The hot snack in question is the pasty, a typically meat-filled pastry usually from the southwestern county of Cornwall, which has become an unlikely motif of popular dissent against budget proposals cooked up last week by George Osborne, the finance minister.

The introduction in last week’s budget of a 20 per cent sales tax on pasties and other hot foods sold by bakeries and supermarkets, now known as the, “pasty tax”, has prompted observations that proletarian foodstuffs have been targeted, while luxury edibles remain untouched.

“We now live in a country where caviar is untaxed and a hot pasty is .. go figure,” tweeted influential blogger Guido Fawkes.

Adding fuel to the fire, “Pastygate” is causing problems for David Cameron after the prime minister’s efforts to show how much he loved the pasty by recalling a large one he had eaten at Leeds railway station proved somewhat flaky.

When asked when he last had a pasty, Cameron said: “I think the last one I bought was from the West Cornwall Pasty Company.

“I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time and the choice was whether to have one of their small ones or one of their large ones. I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too.”

But the Daily Telegraph ran with the headline “Oh crumbs” after it emerged that the shop where Cameron claimed to have bought the pasty had closed in 2007.

‘Pork pie probe’

The Sun ran with the headline “PM pasty ‘pork pie’ probe,” and compared Osborne with Marie Antoinette, of “Let them eat cake” fame. The populist tabloid also offered readers a free pie, pasty or sausage roll, and urged them to protest at 1400 GMT by eating their pasty in public.

Even the Times could not resist a pun by running with a sketch headed: “Dave tries to play catch-up but it’s all pie in the sky as Mr Pasty tells a porky”, while the Guardian joined in as well asking “Who ate all the pies?”

“Pasty gate” blew up when Osborne, facing a grilling by a parliamentary committee on the decision to tax hot snacks, was asked when he had last visited Greggs, a popular high street bakery.

Osborne, who usually answers questions on fiscal stimuls or deficit reduction, looked out of his depth and said he could not recall.

Ken McMeikan, Greggs’ chief executive, warned that in current economic circumstances his company could be forced to cut jobs if pasty prices rise by 20 per cent, and attacked Osborne for being out of touch.

One tweet suggested that Osborne was probably subjected to a Treasury presentation where he was told that pasties were “similar to mini boeufs en croute,” referring to his priviliged background.

With petrol prices on the rise, causing last minute panic-buys at petrol forecourts in the UK, the Daily Mail attacked the government with the headline: “Petrol, pasties and the politics of panic.”

It said both Cameron and Osborne had conspired to plunge the government into a combination of high farce and panic.

As Cameron has been caught with a pasty in his mouth, the internet has gone viral with various humourous anecdotes to his love affair with the pasty.

The website www.cameronwithpasties.tumblr.com has created various pictures of Cameron holding, eating or even stroking a pasty.

Cornish backlash

In Cornwall, the Western Morning News, a regional newspaper, ran with the headline “Pasty battle,” and said the fight over Value Added Tax on its local product had turned personal.

Andrew George, a local member of parliament whose Liberal Democrat party is in coalition with Cameron’s Conservatives, said that Cornish people would “fight them on the beaches”.

“Pasties are not luxury food. It’s not like caviar or lobster sandwiches, which would be zero rated,” he said.

“For the chancellor to tell working Cornish folk that they can ‘eat their pasties cold’ fails to recognise the long tradition and how important this humble square meal is to working people in our country.”

Alex Folkes, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Launceston Central, used social media tools by organising a Facebook campaign, called Stop the Pasty Tax, which already has 5,000 members.

“I’m not saying that the tax means nobody will ever buy a pasty again,” says Folkes. “It would mean some people buying hot pasties less often and that could lead to job losses.”

Ann Muller, a pasty shop owner, said the tax was “basically a tax on the working man of Britain”.

“My hot pasties would go up by 50 pence ($0.79) for some people, that will make a big difference. I’m planning to put a sign up in the window: ‘Hot for the rich, and cold for the poor.'”

Not be outdone by the public mood, Ed Miliband, the opposition Labour leader, showed his allegiance to heated pastry products by visiting a Greggs bakers in Redditch, Worcestershire, and buying eight sausage rolls.

Follow Hasan Patel on Twitter: @hasanpatel

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Tareq Ayoub: a ‘martyr to the truth’

(Al Jazeera)  As American troops pull out of Iraq, Dima Tahboub, widow of Al Jazeera reporter killed in Baghdad, talks about her loss.

Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayoub was killed in Iraq when a United States air strike slammed into Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau on April 8, 2003. He had given a live report just moments before he died.

The 35-year-old Jordanian became the twelfth media worker to be killed in the Iraq conflict. He had been working for Al Jazeera for three years, normally as permanent correspondent in Amman, and had only been in Iraq for three days.

His wife Dima, with whom he had a one-year-old daughter named Fatima, was interviewed by Al Jazeera on the day Ayoub was killed. Dima, who lives in Jordan and teaches at the Arab Open University in Amman, said at the time: “Eventually everyone will forget him, but we will never forget him. He is with God now.”

She spoke to Al Jazeera’s Hasan Patel about how the war in Iraq meant the end of her young family.

Al Jazeera: Tareq was killed in Baghdad. Eight years on, what has his death meant for you?

Dima Tahboub: Tareq was killed on April 8, 2003, nine years next April. His death came as a shock for us all.

I understood Tareq was reporting a war. He had previously been to Iraq after the post-Gulf war siege and he had covered a lot of demonstrations against the war in Jordan, [he was] even arrested and taken to jail.

Iraq was just another phase in his career. I personally thought journalists and reporters came in and out of Iraq. In a conflict [I thought] nobody in their right mind would think of harming journalists. I was wrong, nobody but the USA harms or kill journalists.

Tareq’s death meant an end to our young family. We were married for three years and had Fatima, our daughter. I became a widow at the age of 27; Fatima, an orphan at the age of one year and four months. A most beloved husband, father and son had been lost for good.

AJ: How did his death impact his family and friends?

DT: As soon as the news of his death came, the concern for the family was to bring his body home. We were to see him for the last time before his burial and to rest him near us in his country where we could visit his grave regularly.

It has now been eight years since Tareq was killed, and, to be honest, the extended family has not been the same.

Both his parents mourn their son. Their health [has] deteriorated tremendously, mainly due to the sadness and [the] void Tareq’s death has left in their lives. My mother-in-law has lost all stamina and motivation for life.

My daughter has had to create an image of a father she barely remembers out of pictures and videos. For a short duration, I even left Jordan for Britain, to take up further studies, but the truth of it was I had fled in the hope to [end] my grief instead.

AJ: On the day of Tareq’s death, some media outlets described the attack on the Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad as intentional. Have you received any official explanation about what happened that day?

 
 

DT: Officially, nothing was told to me. I have just had to rely on accounts from eyewitnesses and from Al Jazeera staff who gave recollections to me and proved that the attack was intentional.

[The] truth came out through information being presented to me from stories published in the media.

In terms of bringing those responsible to justice, a lawyer was appointed to work with myself and some Iraqi families who had lost people in the war.

We looked at options to bring those responsible to justice. Our lawyers had researched how, in Belgium, there was a law which allowed victims of unjust killings in war to lodge a prosecution [against] anyone who gave orders which resulted in the death of innocent people.

No sooner did we try and raise a case through the Belgian courts, [but] the law was amended to prevent the prosecution of heads of states and officials who then gave immunity to soldiers and army personnel who had acted upon orders.

In Jordan, there is no hope at all to gain justice from international criminals. The legal system doesn’t function properly to even attempt an international case.

AJ: What does the loss of Tareq’s life mean for you in the context of the war in Iraq?

DT: The day Tareq died was another nail in the coffin of the catastrophe for the Arabs with the fall and occupation of Iraq.

Baghdad was once a beacon of Arab civilisation and history, but in the past hundred years, things had changed from bad to worse.

Iraq [after] being enslaved by Saddam’s tyranny, had become enslaved by [the] international tyranny, mastered by the USA and sustained by the spread of terror, fear, sectarian violence and the ongoing theft of Iraq’s natural resources.

Tareq’s death was one of many losses, but his death received international attention because of his job. Yet, let us not forget the death of the thousands of Iraqis who also were killed; nobody remembers them. As the occupation ends, the rising death toll of Iraqis isn’t ending.

AJ: What do you tell people about Tareq’s contribution to the coverage of Iraq?

DT: Thankfully, I don’t have to remind anyone anything about what Tareq did.

 
 

He had spent three days in Iraq, preparing four reports and countless live coverage [spots], he even gave a live report moments before he was killed.

People will always remember Tareq as a martyr to truth, but I still would have had him remain alive, reporting the truth.

AJ: Was Tareq, in your eyes, a victim of the war in Iraq?

DT: Yes, but he is one of many, as all of Iraq has been victimised by this war.

AJ: What do you tell your daughter Fatima when she asks about her father?

DT: Raising Fatima is a labour of love; a continuous regeneration of Tareq’s memory, in my life and hers.

She was very young when her father was killed, so she doesn’t remember him. We’ve had to construct his image, personality and life from the beginning to the end.

Through pictures, videos and images, we have created an impression for Fatima to know her father. But nothing would compensate for the actual presence of her father in her everyday life.

Tareq was not there to accompany Fatima to her first day at school. Sadly, he will not be there to attend her birthdays, graduation ceremonies, or give her hand away in marriage.

I am raising my daughter to follow in the footsteps of her father in the way he would have wanted, and to allow her the opportunities to achieve her ambitions and dreams.

I also want to ensure Fatima grows up to never forget or forgive those who had deprived her of her right of having a father. Tareq was killed in an unjust way, whose death sadly, eight years on, still lingers in my mind – because his killers are still not brought to justice.

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Event Review: Brookings Institute Doha

 

I attended a Brookings Doha Centre seminar titled “Assessing Obama’s Middle East Policies,” which was addressed by Martin Indyk, who was is the vice-president and Director of the foreign policy programme, Brookings Institute.

Indyk is a seasoned Democrat diplomat who had served as US ambassador to Israel from 1995-97 and 2000-1, which meant he was a player during the Wye Accords of 1996 and the failed Camp David talks. Indyk was specialist of Middle East policy during the Clinton administration, as he held various State Department roles.

As a seasoned American policy maker in Indyk, I didn’t expect any real radical views which would deviate from current US policy. Indyk’s paper focussed on Obama and his Middle East challenges in the current climate.

 Indyk outlined that the basic US Middle East foreign policy was dictated by the security of Israel and the need for oil. He suggested (which wasn’t wholly accepted by some parts of the audience) that the US policy in the Middle East was based on interests and values, many thought it was just interests. For example in the Gulf, the premise of foreign policy was based on the interests of preserving the route of oil for the US consumer, and in order to achieve that key interest, a marriage of convenience was sought with autocratic monarchies.  

Indyk explained how in Libya, it was about ‘values’ which were sought when the USA led from behind with the NATO mission to remove Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Indyk had downplayed the rationale for oil interests in Libya, I thought otherwise.

Indyk argued that the George W Bush presidency tried to deviate US policy from interests by implementing values by invading Iraq and stipulating democracy takes place in Palestine, which on both accounts according to Indyk had backfired for the Bush administration. 

Overall the presentation was a justification of Obama’s policy in the Middle East, and there were many holes and issues which weren’t covered, such as the rise of political Islam in the democratic process, the current stage of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and Obama’s decision to come hard on Mahmoud Abbas and his mission for the UN recognition for Palestinian statehood. He briefly touched about the in the Saudi-Iranian cold war, and how it was being served in the US interests.

Indyk believed that the Arab Spring wasn’t created by the USA and that the USA should act with humility and help the people of the Arab Spring. But based on Indyk’s assertions one can say that the difference of US policy towards Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad shows a contradiction, while in Bahrain, US rhetoric is based on protecting their interests, while even though Indyk was certain Libya was about values, no real assertions were presented.

In true US rhetoric the Israelis and Palestinians wer put on an equal footing, as Indyk referred to the crisis as too wide to bridge the gap for Israeli security against a Palestinian statehood. 

No real effort was made to explain US policy towards the Palestinians, and what drove Obama to take such as hawkish stance towards Abbas at the UN General Assembly earlier this year.

Overall the presentation was interesting in the sense of understanding an aspect of US policy towards the Middle East, but overall it came across as a moral justification of US action under Obama without really referring to the geopolitical challenges that lay ahead.

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And God Created Cricket by Simon Hughes: Review

Any book that is published to provide a definition and analysis in the historical context about a sport tends to be heavy with statistics, narrative and could be used as a weapon due to its size.

Simon Hughes, the former Middlesex bowler and now cricket analyst provides a witty and factual case for the ‘greatest game on earth.’

Hughes gives a breezy whirlwind tour of  400 years of cricket with profiles on players past as present, rescuing from the shadows  neglected English heroes such as Wilfred Rhodes, the slow left-armer who took  4,204 first-class wickets who managed a 1,000 runs and 100
wickets in a season 16 times.

Hughes highlights that throughout history commentators and newspaper hacks would comment on the decline of cricket when there was a new innovation and a player who was performing in a unique way. In the 1930’s the legendary Australian Donald Bradman was seen as a symptom of how cricket had declined into a single-minded, too purposeful and selfish, (as a modern-day Andy Murray), but seventy years on he is described as the greatest.

Hughes shows how cricket through changes to the game and  the characters who played the sport has ultimately provided survival to a game which is up there as sport of great influence. He shows how reactionary forces in cricket have always been there to suppress change and thus, ensuring change occurs slightly later than expected, whether through the introduction of professionalism, reform of the county cricket scene, introduction of overseas players, one-day cricket and T20.

Unashamed, Hughes believes change in cricket only comes about when the batsman will benefit over the expense of the bowler. He shows how cricket has always provided prosperity to the batsman who were always defined as the the original gentlemen, who would defend against the hoardes of bowlers representing the working man.

Hughes provides a glittering analysis of players throughout the game, from the likes of WG Grace, Hobbs, Hammond, Boycott, Botham and modern-day heroes like Warne, Flintoft, Tendulkar and Murali. Wally Hammond was called the David Beckham of his day, while  Bradman the Pete Sampras.

Hughes uses his own experience of playing the sport to give his own perspective of the game since the late seventies when Geoff Boycott would stay at the crease to the recent triumphs of England in the Ashes. He is also hilarious at times, such as when Phil Tufnell,   whom he recalls one day coming into the Middlesex dressing room and  announcing that his wife had popped out for a pint of milk three weeks   before and not returned. “Christ, are you managing OK?” he was asked.   ‘‘Yeah, I’m using the powdered version for the moment.”

Hughes is an innovator of the sport and his book shows he is greeted by the same old  rhetoric: the game isn’t what it used to be, the fact is it isn’t, but cricket at the pace of the New Zealand test batting line-up moves at a slow pace with the times.

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Book Review: The Race of a lifetime – How Obama won the White House

“Senator Clinton would like to speak to you,” one of her people told Obama. So Obama ambled over to Clinton as she stood there on the tarmac.

“I’m sorry about what Billy said,” Hilary began. “I didn’t know he was going to do that. I’m not running that kind of campaign.”

“That’s fine, Hilary,” Obama replied. “But this wasn’t an isolated incident. There were those emails Iowa……”

“Now hold on a second!” Clinton snapped, cutting Obama off, uncorking the long list of grievances she’d been stewing on for months. Bug-eyed, red-faced, waving her arms. Hilary pointed at her rival’s chest. Obama tried to calm her down by putting his hand on her shoulder- but that only made Clinton angrier. Finally, they broke from the clinch, stalking back to their respective planes.

“Wow, that was surreal,” Obama told his chief strategist. “You could see something in her eyes,” he said, something he hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was gear. Maybe desperation.

“You know what?” Obama said. “We’re doing something right.”

The Race of a lifetime – How Obama won the White House, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin is book for the fans of politiking, strategy, communications, negotiation and the general art of winning all types of games in order to win the big prize is a must.

The authors say they hope to occupy the ground that lies “between history and journalism”; their book, researched as the events were unwinding was written in hindsight as it shows how Barack Obama reaffirmed the promised, “Y es we can,” slogan and won the race to become President of the United States.

Of course the book did cover the issues of race, economy, the war in Iraq, the role of a post-Bush America and the complexities of how Americans choose their commander-in-chief.  Yet the frantic, yet detailed pace of the book sheds light in the most rivetting US presidential elections since 1960 as Barack Obama had to overcome firstly Hilary Clinton and then John McCain.

The book shows Hilary Clinton could have the endorsement of Caroline Kennedy, but because the call was made by a Hilary aide, Kennedy felt offended and gave her all to Obama, as her uncle, the late Edward Kennedy publically endorsed Obama as he felt upset at the way Hilaryland were using race as a campaign yardstick to win the extra points.

The rise and fall of John Edwards, demonstrates how bad political decisions, indecisiveness and a moment of madness could completely destroy aspiration, potential and ambition, but can turn any individual into a deluded mindset, as when the world is falling apart, they still feel powerful and confident. Politics and power it seems has this addiction as around us many the mighty and not so might have fallen, yet their fall from power is often worse, because the way they handled it. John Edwards’s affair with his web video producer, Rielle Hunter, was parody in itself. Initially denying the affair, Edwards was forced to come clean, but justified his act of madness, by stating the affair took place after his wife Elizabeth was given the all clear from cancer.  Elizabeth Edwards came worse in this journey, as the authors showed a perceived darling of the political families was actually his insecure, crazy and at times just mad. The authors show the Edwards as a couple like the Clintons who had ambition, but had no vision or steel to succeed. As the Edwards campaign was falling apart, Edwards still expected some reward from Obama, as one incident highlighted he was after a position in any future Obama administration, he’ll settle for attorney general. “How desperate is this guy?” Tom Daschle, is said to have thought. “This is ridiculous. It’s going to be ambassador to Zimbabwe next.”

The authors potray Bill Clinton as a liability to the Hilary campaign, as his constant meddling and obsession of Obama not getting a tough ride, caused deep divisions in the Hilaryland camp. Bill was one reason why top-­ranking ­Democrats sought an alternative to Hillary, even though they so feared the wrath of the Clintons that they couldn’t publicly back Obama. One senior party member says of the Bill situation: “It’s like some epic Japanese film where everyone sees the disaster coming in the third reel, but no one can figure out what to do about it.”

The book also looked at the McCain campaign, which basically was a shambles from the start, the incidents over how they chose Sarah Palin as the running mate was straight out of a scene from the hit comedy show, The Thick of It.

When complications for choosing the 2004 Democratic VP candidate, Joe Lieberman fell, the feuding McCain team quickly processed a timetable of two months into a week by vetting, choosing and introducing Palin, with the intention that the announcement will be a game changer.

Her appearance at the convention with her “lip stick” speech was a sensation, but from then it went downhill, as her obsession with note cards, expensive suits and make-up together with her moments of dimness trailed the Republican campaign to disaster. McCain’s staff  struggled to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. She did not know why  there are two countries called Korea, she thought Saddam Hussein attacked America on September 11, 2001 and even though her son was serving in Iraq, she could not say who the enemy was. McCain’s people found that things she had  told them were not quite true, and they feared at one point that she was
mentally unstable.

But the star attraction was Barack Obama, and his tale of 2008 was the key to this epic polemic. The authors show a young politician who in 2007 wasn’t exactly confident of himself and those around him, yet  by November 4th 2008, he became a political sensation with his oratory skills, the management of the Lehmann brothers crisis and how he managed to unite his Democratic party calmness and acumen which was instilled into his team consisting of political strategists like Dan Axelrod, Dan Pouffle and Robert Gibbs who ran a tightly organised political machinery who not defeated the Republican party, but also the first couple of the Democratic party, when it was needed.

The final few pages of the book is dedicated on how president-elect Obama asks his defeated Democratic colleague, Hilary Clinton to become secretary of state, even though the personal and often bitter relationship to secure the nomination would assume that it would be the last thing Obama would do.

But political maturity showed, as their past relationship was one of respect and mutual understanding as  partisan colleagues in the Senate.  When he offered her the position of secretary of state, no one on either team could believe it. Hillary, initially rejected the offer, stating she was too tired ad withdrawn from the experience of the past 18 months and had prepared a statement to that effect when she spoke to the president elect at 1am on the morning of the announcement.

On a matter close to her heart, she said (according to the authors’ ­paraphrase of the conversation): “You know my ­husband. You’ve seen what happens. We’re going to be explaining something he did every day.”

“I know,” Obama is said to have replied. “But I’m prepared to take that risk. You’re worth it. Your country needs you. I need you.”

Obama will need these skills of persuasion to win over a hostile electorate for the 2012 elections, and if he does want suggestions on how to do that, I would recommend, The Race of a lifetime – How Obama won the White House.

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London’s burning – why or why?

Parts of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham and Bristol are burning, shops are looted and youths in hoodies are walking around with their prizes ranging from Tesco’s own branded basmati rice or a nice pair of designer trainers.

Reading the tweets, blogs, social media and articles, opinion is split on who is exactly is to blame for the riots. London is experiencing the most destructive riots since the riots of 1981. Thirty years on as was the case in 1981, the riots took place against the backdrop of a royal wedding and an economic downturn. Some of the riots are taking place in some of the same locations with a followed pattern of events, but there is a very different tone to the riots this time around.

I grew up in Birmingham, studied and worked in Leicester, while also living and working briefly in Manchester and London. I just can’t comprehend that on the streets where I would walk and breath has become in some parts a war zone. According to the analysts from the left pockets of youth in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leicester have exploded their anger into violent action as government cuts, the withdrawal of college grants, an increase in tuition fees and rising youth unemployment all have added to the frustration, anger and isolation.

While the right believe that these youth are products of broken homes who have no responsibility and are resorting to crime and looting.

In the summer of 2010 I had spent some nights in the inner city areas of Manchester and Leicester to see for myself whether there was a perceived gang-culture within the streets which could escalate into something far sinister.

My observations which came out were that many of these young men who were aged from 15-18 were school dropouts, who had no real life mentors and were basically bored as they had nothing to do with their time. Some felt their communities had let them down, while others blamed the system, but the overall picture was they got used to hanging around in groups on street corners into the early hours of the morning, as they had nothing else to do.

A group of youth who allowed me to trace their steps told me, they felt the police would always pick on them and they had become vulnerable targets as public perception of the ‘hoodie’ was one of a trouble maker, a drug user and involved in petty crime. There was no real youth club, while others even let their anger be directed towards their community leaders for not doing enough to understand their needs and aspirations. With low educational level achieved with high unemployment the route to success for some would always be the life of crime.

I myself came across a 16 year old boy who came from a poor background and had no real relationship with his own father, who turned to selling drugs as the only source of income to fuel his expensive consumer influenced lifestyle.

The UK for a number of years as allowed this class of youth to grow in numbers, while at the same time they themselves have become disenfranchised with the system. David Cameron’s objective of ‘hugging a hoodie’ was ridiculed and supported, but the fact is perceptions of inner city youth is one of juvenile behaviour, broken homes and no real support.

Together with the lack of funding in successful programmes like youth work and family support, more and more of Britain’s youth were left on their own to make their own free time enjoyable.

David Cameron says he now wants to rebuild families and improve parenting so all children and young people grow up to become citizens who make a positive contribution to society. But from speaking to young people across the country, all they want is to be heard, respected and for their politicians to leave a better society for the future.

No doubt there are criminal elements that have exposed the vulnerabilities of a stretched police force, but many youth have just ridden on the bandwagon of carnage in order to resent the system but also get some satisfaction on the way.

The riots have become a product of the direction Britain is heading, for too long societies have been living side by side but not engaging or understanding each other. As groups of university students, faith groups and local community associations are cleaning up Britain as a way of reclaiming the streets, that in itself shows how divided the UK has become.

One on hand there is a group of people who feel let down that they continue to cause destruction and damage, and another idealistic group who urge society to reclaim a peaceful existence.

Many minority groups in an indirect way highlighted that the problems of society aren’t just race related as Sikh youth in the Birmingham suburb of Smethwick stayed awake all night to protect their community while Bangladeshi groups in East London reminded their fellow Muslims it is their duty to help their non-Muslim neighbours.

Unlike 1981 the causes of the riots can’t be just defined as black and white in definition. The riots have exposed the lives the rioters choose or feel constrained to live. Blaming the riots on individual wickedness, conspiracies or on government spending cuts is too simple for such complex issues.

Posted in British Politics, Community | Tagged | 1 Comment