A picture of Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa decorates a tank as armed forces secure Manama's Pearl Square on March 19, 2011 Photograph: Getty Images
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Why is former Met police commander John Yates working for the brutal Bahraini regime?

Yates is defending a blood-stained Middle East tyranny.

Oh dear. What happened to John Yates? How did a suave, sophisticated, liberal British policeman, once tipped for the top job in the Metropolitan Police, end up shilling for a vicious Middle East dictator who shoots, teargasses and tortures unarmed protesters?

“Yates of the Yard”, as he became known during his pursuit of Tony Blair over the cash-for-peerages scandal, was appointed by the king of Bahrain to oversee reform of the country’s security forces late last year.

This was the very same King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who had turned those security forces on his own people when the Arab Spring reached the country’s capital on 14 February, 2011. Protesters had arrived in Manama’s Pearl Square to demand greater political freedom and greater equality for the Shia majority. More than 30 people were killed in the crackdown that followed.

Opposition groups say that Yates, who quit the Met over the phone-hacking scandal, was hired to give the ruling al-Khalifa family a veneer of respectability – and he does seem to have taken to his new role with relish. In February, Yates told the Telegraph that the turmoil in Bahrain wasn’t the result of “organised protests” but “vandalism, rioting on the streets”.

Earlier this month, with human-rights groups calling for the forthcoming Bahrain grand prix to be cancelled, Yates intervened to urge teams to travel to the Gulf kingdom, suggesting that he and his family felt safer in Manama than in London. In a leaked letter, dated 11 April, Yates admitted that there were “nightly skirmishes” but claimed that these were “overplayed” by social media sites sympathetic to the opposition. “I feel completely safe,” he wrote. “Indeed, safer than I have often felt in London.”

Of course, if you’re in charge of security and policing for a brutal, unelected dictator, you do tend to feel quite safe.

Until, that is, the inevitable revolution comes. Then they’re often strung up from the nearest lamppost. If, and let’s cross our fingers here, Bahrain’s al-Khalifah ends up going the way of Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Yates might well find himself desperately trying to book a seat on the first flight out of Manama.

The former Met commander is a disgrace. To cosy up to News International is one thing; to defend and dissemble on behalf of a blood-stained Middle East tyranny quite another. If Yates really believes Bahrain is “safe” and that the protesters are “vandals”, then perhaps he should venture out of his plush, air-conditioned office inside of the interior ministry in Manama and go and speak with the family of 22-year-old Ahmed Ismail, who bled to death last month after being shot by government loyalists at a rally. Or with the parents of 15-year-old Sayed Hashim, who bled to death on New Year’s Eve after being hit in the neck by a tear gas canister.

Yates was appointed to his post in December 2011; according to a recent report by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, there have been at least 30 documented cases between November 2011 and March 2012 where Bahrainis have died after confrontations with police or security forces. So much for his “reforms”. Yates of theYard has failed. Again.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Hamzah al Zobi
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Meet the Syrians using education to escape the refugee camps

On the bus to university with Syrian refugees in Jordan. 

The bus to Zarqa University leaves Jordan’s largest refugee camp at 7am sharp. The journey is one of the day’s highlights for the Syrian students who ride this route - a chance to plan weekend get-togethers, bemoan heavy course loads and even enjoy the occasional school-bus style sing-along. It’s also their daily ticket out of Za’atari camp and a means of escaping the dreary realities of refugee life.

“We are the lucky ones. Most had to give up their dreams of higher education” says 19-year-old Reema Nasser Al Hamad, whose family fled to Jordan five years ago when bombs destroyed her home in Dara’a, Syria. She shudders to think of the alternatives: aimless days spent sitting in a crowded caravan, or early marriage. “After the war, students in Syria lost their cities, their opportunities and their futures, so many of the girls just married when they got here. There’s a huge difference between the lives of those who study and those who don’t.”

Despite missing two years of school, Reema (pictured below) was able to pass her exams before securing a Saudi-funded scholarship to study Pharmacy at Zaraq’ University. “In Syria, I’d planned to do medicine and be a doctor because I always had high grades. There are fewer choices for us here but I’m happy to be studying at all,” she says. Hamza al Zobi, who’s studying Pharmacy on an the EU-funded EDU-Syria programnme, says young Syrians are hungry to learn. “We all have friends and relatives who didn’t get this chance and we feel so upset for them. If they’re not well educated, how can they go back and do the right thing for our country?”

More than a quarter of 18-24 year olds in Syria were enrolled in higher education when the war broke out. “Based on data provided by UNHCR we assess that around 20,000 young Syrians in Jordan would qualify for vocational education and higher education,” says Job Arts, Programme Manager Education and Youth, EU Delegation to Jordan, which is supporting some 1800 Syrians and disadvantaged Jordanians on degree courses in Jordan.

“While the number of places for Syrian students to pursue their education has increased dramatically over the past few years, there are still many more interested students than spaces available for study,” says Sarah Dryden-Peterson, non-resident Fellow at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. “Without these possibilities, young Syrians will lose the kind of hope that is essential to productive futures.”

According to the Jordan Response Platform for the Syria Crisis, 1,250 Syrian youth were in higher education in Jordan in 2016. Building on commitments made by the international community at the London Conference on Syria last year, the Jordanian government hopes to secure funding to increase access to tertiary education and vocational training at the upcoming conference in Brussels this April.

“Jordan views higher education from a strategic point of view, specifically in terms of providing the Syrian youth with the education, skill and knowledge that will allow the opportunity to be part of rebuilding their country once the current situation comes to an end,” says Feda Gharaibeh, Director, Humanitarian Relief Coordination Unit at the Jordanian Ministry of Planning & International Cooperation.

Reema plans to return to Syria when the war is over. “After graduation a lot of students want to go to Europe. That would be fine for me too if it’s just to do a masters or doctorate, but then I want to go back to Syria and use what I’ve learnt to help my people.” Now four semesters into her course, she is making good progress but says adapting to the Jordanian education system was a challenge. “It’s really difficult for us. Classes are taught in English and the teaching style is different. They also have a lot more exams here.”

Only the brightest stand a chance of securing a scholarship but many young Syrians have seen their grades plummet after missing years of schooling. For, some, it’s too late to catch up. Accountancy student Ibrahim Mohammed, 23, came to Jordan in 2013 with his younger brother Khalil, now 19, who works in a print shop. “He stopped studying when he was 14. He didn’t even have a chance to get his high school certificate,” says Ibrahim.

Attempts to bridge the gap through open and distance learning programmes aren’t always effective. “It’s not a tool that is frequently used in the education environment in the Middle East,” explains Arts. Refugee students' access to electricity, internet connections, computers and space to study can be in short supply. Moreover, many students seek the escapism that a university education offers. “In our dialogue with parents and students, we often hear the phrase ‘being normal again’,” Arts adds.

Hamzah tries to help fellow students achieve this in his role as representative for the Syrian community at Zarqa University. He and Reema are part of a team that offers advice to new students and support for those from poorer families living in the camps. “There are 900 Syrian students here and each one has a different story of suffering,” says Hamzah, who organises group trips to restaurants and fairgrounds, helping to create a sense of regular student life. “It makes us forget what we are,” explains Reema.

During term time, she prefers to stay with her uncle in Mafraq, a city nearby. It’s hard to study in Za’atari. As soon as the power comes on at 5pm, her brothers switch on the TV, making it difficult to concentrate in the cramped caravan they share. There’s nowhere else to go; the camp is dangerous at night, particularly for young women. It’s even more crowded since the arrival of her baby sister. Reema remembers how her mother sobbed when she learned of the pregnancy, worried about bringing another child into the makeshift world of the camp.

But in five years a lot has changed. “In Syria, I had never left my village; now I feel there is another world to know,” says Reema. Like many Syrian students, she worries about life after university, particularly if they stay in Jordan where employment opportunities remain restricted for Syrian refugees. “It seems like work is forbidden to us Syrians and without a job we can’t take control of our lives. We’re studying hard but with no prospects,” says Hamzah. Few can see beyond graduation. “The future is opaque for us,” he adds, “We’re just living day by day.”

To date, the Jordanian government has issued some 39,000 works permits out of the 200,000 it pledged to make available for Syrians during the London Conference last February. However, with these opportunities built around low-income roles, primarily in the construction, agriculture, and textile manufacture sectors, the way for Syrian university graduates in Jordan still seems barred.

“Jordan is a small country with limited job opportunities,” says Ghaith Rababah Head of Projects & International Cooperation Unit (PICU) at the Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research. “Maybe the market will be better able to absorb educated Syrians at a later stage.”

In the meantime, higher education offers young Syrians a semblance of the security and stability their lives otherwise lack, Rababah continues. Given the opportunity to “use their talents for something good”, he adds, young people placed in difficult situations are less likely to fall prey to extremist ideologies and be “tricked into committing terrorist acts".