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John Pilger: Welcome to the violent world of Mr Hopey Changey, Barack Obama

As Barack Obama continues his ludicrously overhyped European tour, media gloss cannot disguise the renewed imperial ambition of Libya’s western aggressors.

When Britain lost control of Egypt in 1956, Prime Minister Anthony Eden said he wanted the nationalist president Gamal Abdel Nasser "destroyed . . . murdered . . . I don't give a damn if there's anarchy and chaos in Egypt." Those insolent Arabs, Winston Churchill had urged in 1951, should be driven "into the gutter from which they should never have emerged".

The language of colonialism may have been modified, but the spirit and the hypocrisy are unchanged. A new imperial phase is unfolding in direct response to the Arab uprising that has shocked Washington and Europe, causing an Eden-style panic. The loss of the Egyptian tyrant Hosni Mubarak was grievous, though not irretrievable: a US-backed counter-revolution is under way as the military regime in Cairo is seduced with bribes, and power is shifting from the street to political groups that did not initiate the revolution. The western aim, as ever, is to stop authentic democracy and reclaim control.

Robbers and bombers

Libya is the immediate opportunity. The Nato attack, with the UN Security Council assigned to mandate a bogus "no-fly zone" to "protect civilians", is strikingly similar to the final destruction of Yugoslavia in 1999. There was no UN cover for the bombing of Serbia and the "rescue" of Kosovo, yet the propaganda echoes today. Like Slobodan Milosevic, Muammar al-Gaddafi is a "new Hitler", plotting "genocide" against his people. There is no evidence of this, as there was no genocide in Kosovo. In Libya, there is a tribal civil war; and the armed uprising against Gaddafi has long been appropriated by the US, French and British, their planes attacking residential Tripoli with uranium-tipped missiles and the submarine HMS Triumph firing Tomahawks, in a repeat of the Iraq "shock and awe" that left thousands of civilians dead and maimed. As in Iraq, the victims, including countless incinerated Libyan army conscripts, are media unpeople.

In the "rebel" east, the terrorising and killing of black African immigrants is not news. On 22 May, a rare piece in the Washington Post described the repression, lawlessness and death squads in the "liberated zones" just as the visiting EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, declared she had found only "great aspirations" and "leadership qualities". In demonstrating these qualities, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the "rebel leader" and Gaddafi's justice minister until February, pledged: "Our friends . . . will have the best opportunity in future contracts in Libya." The east holds most of Libya's oil, the greatest reserves in Africa. In March the rebels, with expert foreign guidance, transferred to Benghazi the Libyan Central Bank, a wholly state-owned institution. This is unprecedented. Meanwhile, the US and the EU froze almost $100bn in Libyan funds, "the largest sum ever blocked", according to official statements. It is the biggest bank robbery in history.

The French elite are enthusiastic robbers and bombers. Nicolas Sarkozy's imperial design is for a French-dominated Mediterranean Union, which would allow France to "return" to its former colonies in North Africa and profit from privileged investment and cheap labour. Gaddafi described the Sarkozy plan as "an insult" that was "taking us for fools". The Merkel government in Berlin agreed, fearing its old foe would diminish Germany in the EU, and abstained in the Security Council vote on Libya. As in the attack on Yugoslavia and the charade of Milosevic's trial, the International Criminal Court is being used to pro­secute Gaddafi while his repeated offers of a ceasefire are ignored. Gaddafi is a Bad Arab. David Cameron's government and its verbose top general want to eliminate this Bad Arab, much as the Obama administration killed a famous Bad Arab in Pakistan recently.

The crown prince of Bahrain, on the other hand, is a Good Arab. On 19 May he was warmly welcomed to Britain by Cameron with a photocall on the steps of 10 Downing Street. In March, the same crown prince slaughtered unarmed protesters in his country and allowed Saudi forces to crush the Bahraini democracy movement. The Obama administration has rewarded Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive regimes on earth, with a $60bn arms deal, the biggest in US history. The Saudis have the most oil. They are the Best Arabs.

The assault on Libya, a crime under the Nuremberg standard, is Britain's 46th military "intervention" in the Middle East since 1945. Like its imperial partners, Britain aims to control Africa's oil. Cameron is not Eden, but almost. Same school. Same values. In the media pack, the words colonialism and imperialism are no longer used, so the cynical and the credulous can celebrate state violence in its more palatable form.

Keys to the kingdom

As "Mr Hopey Changey" (the name that the great American cartoonist Ted Rall gives Obama) is fawned upon by the British elite and launches another insufferable campaign, the Anglo-American reign of terror proceeds in Afghan­istan and elsewhere with the murder of people by unmanned drones - a US/Israeli innovation, embraced by Obama.

On a scorecard of imposed misery, from secret trials and prisons, to the hounding of whistleblowers and the criminalising of dissent, to the incarceration and impoverishment of his own people, mostly black people, Obama is as bad as George W Bush.

The Palestinians understand all this. As their young people courageously face the violence of Israel's racism, carrying the keys to their grandparents' stolen homes, they are not even inclu­ded in Mr Hopey Changey's list of peoples in the Middle East whose liberation is long overdue. What the oppressed need, he said on 19 May, is a dose of "America's interests [which] are essential to them". He insults us all.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 30 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Hands up who knows how to fix our schools

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Why did the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

It is a fitting that in a tumultuous year for global peacemaking, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition made up of the union federation UGTT, the employers’ institute, the Tunisian human rights league and the order of lawyers . Over the past few years, the Quartet has been quietly shepherded in democracy to the country that lit the fuse of the Arab Spring. In part thanks to the efforts of this broad cross-section of civil society, Tunisia has stayed the course in transitioning from an authoritarian past to a democratic future, even in the face of terrorist violence and as other revolutions in the region have faltered.

The award comes at a time of escalating sectarian conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Islamic State’s campaign of terror has uprooted Iraqis and Syrians alike, driving desperate refugees into small boats to battle the waves of the Mediterranean. They join others fleeing to Europe from political and economic crises in Africa and Asia, forming a stream of humanity symbolising failures in leadership in three continents.

Among all this, it is not hard to identify why the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the world’s most coveted peace prize to the Tunisian Quartet.

First,Tunisia deserves to be celebrated for its momentous achievements in consolidating democracy. Unlike other countries in the region, it has trodden a path that is slow but solid, adopting a comprehensive and consensus-building approach to decision-making.

In this it provides a rare and extremely important example, not only for the region but also for the world. Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

Civil society steps up

Second, the role of civil society is fundamental for bringing about sustainable peace. Political leadership is important, but the scale of the challenge in transitional societies means that we cannot simply leave things to political leaders to sort out.

At local level especially, peace feels a lot more real when it comes with tangible improvements to quality of life. Citizens want to see the economy motoring again and to have confidence in the state’s institutions. They want to know that they can sleep soundly and safely, without fear of violence, persecution or poverty. Governments often lack the capacity and credibility to deliver these dividends alone. Civil society must step up to the plate – particularly the associations of trade, justice and human rights of which the Quartet is formed.

And third, the Quartet’s work relies heavily on forming constructive relationships across the political spectrum – from secularists to fundamentalists. It has walked a fine line, keeping disparate groups with diverging interests invested in an inclusive national process of dialogue. It has, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, laid the “groundwork for a national fraternity”.

Politicians are often the most cynical of creatures, yet the Quartet has managed to build a sense of collective endeavour among them. It has encouraged them to put the country’s best interest ahead of personal or sectarian interests, making this the guiding principle for decision-making.

Other bright spots

The transition in Tunisia is a work in progress and there will be more setbacks and successes. The country was left reeling from two terrorist attacks earlier this year, when 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and another 39 people died during an attack on a tourist resort in Sousse. But the message today is clear – Tunisia has made remarkable progress since 2010, despite the odds. This is in large part due to a credible and engaged civil society, a remarkable achievement in a new democracy. The country has forged a path of inclusive national dialogue from which many lessons can be learned.

Elsewhere this year, Myanmar goes to the polls in November – the country’s first free national ballot since 1990. Colombia is closer to lasting peace than ever, ending half a century of war that has taken 220,00 lives and uprooted six million people.

The US restored diplomatic relationships with Cuba, and also struck a landmark agreement with Iran over its nuclear programmes. And the UN has adopted the sustainable development goals, explicitly recognising peaceful and inclusive societies as a development priority for the first time. Behind every step forward there is an individual or institution worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but only one can win and the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is a worthy laureate.

Laura Payne is a Research Fellow and Director of RISING Global Peace Forum, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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