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Middle East and North Africa

Accidental agents of change

Nicholas van Praag's picture

In places where conditions are ripe for political change, actually unseating tyrannical regimes requires a spark to light the tinder of revolution. But where does that spark come from?

    In the vanguard

The upcoming World Development Report argues that there is no one push factor. Rather, it shows how a wide range of domestic and international stresses—including economic inequality, political oppression and corruption—can eventually bring a country to its knees if its institutions are unable to mediate tensions and overcome stresses.

But, absent an institutional set-up capable of heading off the pressures before they boil over, when does enough become too much?

Many people are wary and their natural reticence may win out.

I was reading last weekend that most people in the UK pay parking fines—even when they are given erroneously—rather than go through the hassle of complaining.

If that is the case in the UK, what does it take to ignite direct action in places where the dissuasive powers of the authorities are used to scare people into submission?

Universal principles in revolutionary times

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

   Demonstrating for the right to rights

I remember a Russian diplomat in Geneva in the 1980s telling me that his country believed strongly in the centrality of human rights. It was just that back in the USSR the hierarchy was different from countries on the other side of the iron curtain: individual rights mattered, but less than people’s collective rights to health, education, jobs and so on.

I was not much impressed; and the collapse of the Soviet Union soon gave the lie to that regime’s paternalistic take on the relative significance of different categories of rights – political, social and economic.  

 

The medium and its message: how new media is changing the dynamic of dissent

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

    Grand old man of the medium Photo: Reckon, Chris Weige

The role of cell phones and new media in mobilizing people on the streets of Egypt and Tunisia has evinced as much interest in some quarters as the grievances that lie behind the unrest.

Some commentators dismiss this fascination as a cliché driven by the born-in America phenomena of Twitter and Facebook. But make no mistake: these new types of media are flattening the hierarchical media environments long held in the iron grip of governments and elite owners of the means of communication.

Their grip on these levers of control remains strong, as we have seen in Egypt these past few days, but the advent of new media threatens the continued dominance of top-down communication.

That’s a big change; one that empowers ordinary people in a potentially revolutionary way. According to Jason Liebman, co-founder of Movements.org, “these technologies not only shrink the world by allowing us to communicate with more people than ever—but they enable every person to be an activist for peace and human rights”.

His organization provides a go-to site for movements around the world where they can find how-to guides, case studies, and blog posts about digital activism.

Democracy and the foundations of legitimacy

Nicholas van Praag's picture

This post is part of a series of interviews with members of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council.

With the ongoing protests and calls for democratic reform in Egypt -- and in other parts of the Arab world -- there is a lot of interest in the grievances and aspirations that lie behind the unrest. In this interview, Mr. Louis Michel, a member of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council and member of the European Parliament, discusses the role of the state and the foundations of legitimacy.

WATCH:


Return to Gaza

Nigel Roberts's picture

In my last few blogs I have been writing about a visit to the West Bank & Gaza in January of this year. The WDR 2011 is looking at how peoples' expectations can affect the course of a conflict, and the extent to which actions by governments and the international community can change those expectations. This new video explores these ideas.

Return to Gaza from WDR Video on Vimeo.

I Can’t See You

Nigel Roberts's picture

Jerusalem, January 15. 2010

“War…yes, everyone knows what war is like. But occupation is more terrible in a way, because people get used to one another. We tell ourselves, ‘They’re just like us, after all’, but they’re not at all the same. We’re two different species, irreconcilable, enemies forever.” Irene Nemirovsky, 1942, on the attitudes of the occupied French.

    The controversial wall separating Israel from Palestinian administered areas, is further limits access and movement. Photos © Natalia Cieslik.

So-called dialogue

In 2005, at the time of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, I became involved in a series of discussions between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Government of Israel (GOI). This involvement stemmed from World Bank analytical work: we had argued that a healthy Palestinian economy was an essential part of the confidence-building needed if Palestinians were to ‘invest’ in reconciliation, and that Israeli restrictions on movement and access were crippling any such possibility. What’s more, we believed that it was possible to greatly reduce these restrictions without destabilizing Israeli securityor rather, that a pursuit of day-to-day ‘absolute security’ risked the achievement of any longer-term ‘sustainable security’, and that improved methods of managing the flow of goods and people could be used to the benefit of both parties.

This argument had some resonance in Israel, and subsequently with the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA), and was adopted as a core part of the Wolfensohn Quartet Mission’s terms of reference. A series of negotiations took place and culminated in the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) brokered by US Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice in November 2005.

Despite its high profile, the AMA was never implemented. That’s a longer story.

Trapped

Nigel Roberts's picture

Gaza City, January 10, 2010

In our WDR Concept Note, we have written about an ‘expectations trap’. We argue that persistent violence and disappointment at efforts to tackle it can fracture peoples’ confidence in their leaders and institutions: a crisis of confidence that can snowball, as when investors lose faith in the stock market. Under this dynamic of despair, people are more prone to embrace violence, out of anger or an effort to preserve dignity and identity.

    Reconstruction Gaza Style.  Photos © Natalia Cieslik.

Gaza is a literal expectations trap, both physical and psychological. It is true that Israeli settlers and soldiers no longer live here, but it must be hard for any but the more avid Hamas supporters to find many positives out of two decades of ‘peacemaking’let alone believe that a just resolution is anywhere near happening. Visiting almost a year after the recent war with Israel, Laurence Wright described the isolation and hopelessness in the The New Yorker: “I began to see Gaza as, I suspect, many Gazans do: a floating island, a dystopian Atlantis, drifting farther away from contact with any other society.”

What the %*$& happened here?

Nigel Roberts's picture

Gaza City, January 9, 2010

"I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit. "No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it along the way."

Winter in Gaza

I first visited this place in 1994. Even then, the name was synonymous with misery. What I remember, though, was a crowded, contentious place possessed with energy and, in the minds of many, the hope of an end to 46 years of exile.

    Photos © Natalia Cieslik
Rex Bryan, Yezid Sayigh (from left), and I on the right during our trip to Gaza.

I haven’t been here for four years, and am here on WDR business with Yezid Sayigh (our West Bank and Gaza case study author), Rex Brynen and Natalia Cieslik of the WDR core team. Today, Gaza feels dead. It’s cold. A few green Hamas flags droop from the electricity lines. Much of the damage from the battles of December 2008 has been cleared away, but bullet-strikes run up and down many of the apartment blocks. There is little color anywhere; little of the efflorescent graffiti that once covered walls, few advertizing bill-boards, hardly any of the posters of ‘martyrs’ once claimed by contending political parties. As we drive the length of the Strip, the streets are almost empty.

Only a few Gazans can get out of the Strip now, almost all across the southern border into Egypt. Trade with Israel is a fraction of what it once was. The large modern facility Israel built at Erez to manage the flow of daily laborers is almost empty. Little except basic foods comes in through the Israeli cargo terminals, and only a few cut-flowers and vegetables are allowed out. Everything else comes in across the Egyptian border, most of it through a network of more than 100 tunnels dug by entrepreneurs beneath the fence at Rafahpetrol, cigarettes, bottled water, clothes, cement, allegedly 4-wheel drives, and even a lion and a zebra for the Gaza zoo.

The Yemen Challenge

David Craig's picture

Last month’s High Level Donor Meeting on Yemen in London reminded the international community once more that we have to support this country in need.

Yemen is in trouble. A worrying mix of security-related and economic crises has the potential to destabilize the country. We are now paying more attention to Yemen, because the Al Qaeda-inspired failed airliner bombing in the United States on December 24 originated, at least in part, there. But Yemen is also facing long-standing civil unrest in the north and south, as well as an increasingly deteriorating fiscal situation.

It’s complicated

Natalia Cieslik's picture

I have just returned from Jerusalem. It was my first visit to this part of the Middle East, and now I see why people always say that you have to go there to get an idea of what it is really like. It is complicated.

     Interviewing a displaced family in Gaza for the WDR 'Witness' project.

It helped to be traveling with Nigel Roberts, Yezid Sayigh, and Rex Brynen. They combine decades of field experience and academic research, with intimate knowledge of every detail and latest twist in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After spending two weeks with them I am convinced, between the three of them they likely know the shoe size of every actor in the region.
 
We went to Tel Aviv, Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, and Jerusalem again for our consultations on the upcoming World Development Report. We met dozens of people, individually and in groups: journalists, political scientists, human rights activists, doctors, businessmen, students, civil servants, among others. There were hawks and doves, moderates, people who had given up any hope for peace and others who refuse to let frustration win over their beliefs that a solution and peaceful coexistence are possible.

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