Sectarianism, what?

If you’d have asked me 5 years ago what sectarianism is, I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. I don’t think it really mattered to me and I don’t think it was so widely discussed. Yet now, you cannot escape the term and the consequences. Sectarianism has, in my eyes, never been so prominent or eminent – not just in the Middle East – but also in the West. And it ain’t pretty. We – as humanity – have built up this desire and necessity to occupy ‘our’ countries and be of only one predominant, majority race/ethnicity/religion.

Israel-Palestine is a perfect example of this desire for a sectarian divide. It’s deemed impossible (not just by Israelis, but by Palestinians too), that they can co-inhabit the same ‘country’/area of land because one group are Jewish and the others are Muslim and Christian. Then there’s Iraq. Iraqi Shia’s suffered intense abuse under the rule of Saddam Hussein yet Sunnis and Shia’s appeared to live peacefully together. Yet now, those days seem to be long gone. Moreover, Syria – you have the Alaawite Shias ruling over the Sunnis for years and years and now – boom, explosion and no one can get along. Iran too, oppressing Bahai and Sunnis alike. Saudi Arabia, oppressing Shia. Regional ‘friendships’ built on who is Sunni and who is Shia. Lebanon – Sunnis, Shias, Christians… all in a melting pot.

Africa – Sudan – Ethnic Arabs and Blacks slaughtering leading to the potential genocide in Darfur. Then there’s Rwanda in 1994 – the Tutsis and the Hutus where almost 1 million people were brutally murdered in less than 1 month. Theres the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar who are constantly killed and oppressed for their religion.

So can these different religions/ethnicities and races ever get along? Are the ‘quiet’ stable nations all simply waiting to explode into some kind of hatred or is this just a ‘phase’ where different individuals will have to eventually learn to get along with each other and all will be fine and dandy like in the West? But is the West even fine and dandy? I mean, we have the rise of nationalism, of fascism, racism, hate crimes. We want to leave the EU ‘make Britain British again’ (whatever that means). We’ve got Donald Trump who hates immigrants and refugees and wants to make ‘America great again’. WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!

It all boils down to one thing right now. Apparently, we all hate each other and can’t live together peacefully if we have different religions, cultures and skin colours. We feel the need to ‘dominate’ others, we have to have power and oppress people who could have power just because they’re different from us. We LOVE power too much and we’re happy to resort to the worst kind of violence to maintain that power. I mean REALLY? Is that the sort of world we live in? Where we can’t integrate, we can’t just respect each other and be kind? We can’t live peacefully and harmoniously because we can’t possibly have someone who’s slightly different having power and control.

There are so many states in this world that are oppressing people for being different. For the fear of them having power. There is a lack of knowledge, respect and understanding of different communities across the world which is causing conflict and severe sectarianism issues. The attack on Kurdish Iranian teenager Reker Ahmed in Croydon shows our inability to respect difference.

When the power of love is greater than the love of power, the world will know peace. 

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The newest state & constant struggle 

South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 becoming the 197th recognised state in the world and making it the newest state too, ending the longest African civil war which killed an estimated 1.5 million people. Yet the separation from Sudan has not made anything any better or any easier. The country has been in the midst of a civil war and the people of South Sudan are now suffering from severe droughts.

Conflict began in 2003 in Darfur in which two ‘liberation movements’, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement began fighting the Sudanese government, accusing them of severe mistreatment of the non-Arab population. This resulted in the government led by Omar al-Bashir carrying out ethnic cleansing against the non-Arab population. The conflict in Sudan split between the Sudanese military, police and Janjaweed (translating as man on a horse with a gun). Janjaweed was made up of certain Arab groups. on the other side were the rebel groups who were made up of non-Arab Muslim groups such as Zaghawa. It is estimated that around 70% of the Sudanese population were Arab with the remaining 30% (approx.) being Nubians (who follow Islam), Zaghawa (Beri, who also follow Islam and are semi nomadic) and Copts (Christians). In South Sudan, the majority groups are the Dinka and Nuer followed by other groups such as the Shiluk, the Toposa and Otuho. Along with conflict, disease and starvation were also large causes of death in the conflict.

An agreement was reached in 2005 which finally came into force in July 2011 giving South Sudan independence following the vote which resulted in 98.83% in favour of succession. This made the majority states in South Sudan the Dinka and Nuer followed by other groups such as the Shiluk, the Toposa and Otuho and capital declared as Juba. Due to the conflict with Arab Sudan, it is not surprising that South Sudan is made up predominantly of Christianity and Traditional Religions. South Sudan was supported by numerous local states, but more importantly, became a recognised member state of the UN and the African Union. However, the citizens of South Sudan did not receive the happy ending that they had hoped for.

To begin with, conflict broke out with Sudan again in 2012 in dispute over the oil rich Abyei region. This was quickly resolved in 2012 with the introduction of a 10km militarised zone. Abyei still remains unresolved meaning the region is effectively its ‘own entity’ without any government or structures.

Civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013 and lasted until 2015 although the country still remains rather unstable. The civil war displaced over 2 million citizens of the new nation and has left a long lasting, damaging effect on the nation. The conflict broke out due to the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit accusing his Vice President Riek Machar (and others) of trying to carry out a coup d’état. Despite Marchar denying this, he fled to join and lead the  Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – in – position (SPLM-IO). So this left Salva Kiir Mayardit from the SPLM vs. Riek Machar from the SPLM-IO. The conflict proved to be deadly with numerous massacres and atrocities occurring with both sides being guilty of taking areas and then killing all those they believed opposed them. There has also been repots of widespread abuse towards women and children including rape and burning villages to the ground and the use of child soldiers. It is estimated that over 50,00 people were killed and over 1.5 million internally displaced.

Eventually, in August 2015, Salva Kiir Mayardit signed a peace agreement due to the threat of international sanctions. Riek Machar was re-sworn in as Vice President in Juba in 2016 as a sign to enforce the peace agreement. However, this caused conflict to ignite again in July 2016 and led to Machar leaving the country and being replaced by General Taban Deng Gai.

South Sudan separated from Sudan due to ethnic conflicts and massacre by Arabs towards groups such as the Dinkas who then formed South Sudan. However, the civil war in South Sudan has also been characterised by ethnic tensions. The Dinka group aligned themselves with President Salva Kiir and the SPLM whilst those from the Nuer ethnic group aligned with the SPLM-IO and Machar. It seems that the main reason for the creation of South Sudan – to prevent conflict based on ethnic divisions – has failed and left many in the same, if not worse situations than before.

Conflict has also had a huge impact on causing mass food shortages. The civil war prevented farmers from working as many were either directly caught up in the fighting, or, were unfortunate civilians caught in the middle. In 2014, the United Nations Security Council categorised South Sudan as a humanitarian emergency and warned that a third of South Sudan’s population was affected by the food shortages. Despite the fact that over 7,000 UN peacekeepers and 6,000 security forces were deployed to the country, little seems to have changed. The UN was given the mandate of civilian protection, allowing UN troops to use force yet this too seems to have done little good. Only last month, it was reported that 100,000 people were suffering from serious famine due to the ongoing conflict and inability of farmers to maintain the agricultural economy (due to conflict). It was also reported by the UN that over 1 million people were on the verge of famine. The main state that is said to be affected is Unity – on the border with Sudan where some of the worst fighting has occurred.

So what now? South Sudan, an oil rich state, was once deemed as having a successful, prosperous future. The ethnic conflict that led to the states creation has only diversified into different ethnicities fighting each other and has not provided the stability and prosperous future that many hoped it would. Many civilians are now suffering one of the worst famines known in the world for a long time and it seems unlikely that anything will change in the near future. Millions of civilians were failed by their former state, Sudan and are continuing to be failed by their new state, South Sudan – whether it be through fighting or starvation. With limited food supplies coming in and violence threatening the transport of food goods along with the collapse of the agricultural industry, many civilians South Sudan is in desperate need of help to survive. But will the international community step up to the plate to help an African nation that is not in their national interest?

 

 

 

The abandoned 

The Western world seem to have gained themselves a pretty decent list of people that they have abandoned. From Afghanistan, to Eritrea, to Syria, to Yemen, we are continuing to let innocent human beings down. My biggest bug bear is the fact that there are numerous atrocities occurring worldwide that are worthy of everyday news attention but they don’t get it due to fear of the audiences becoming bored or not being able to handle the truth. But why should this be the case?

The most recent situation that gets me more than others, is the situation in Syria. In December 2016, the news went through its latest phase with the country where it focused on the children of Syria – especially Aleppo – and the evacuations occurring there as the government quickly tightened its grip, regaining the Eastern parts of the city that had previously been the rebel stronghold. Yet this fad quickly came and went. So what now? Lets be frank. We in the west need to toughen up a bit. By toughen up, I mean we should read things we don’t necessarily like, we should watch things that might make us cry. Why? Because it shows humanity – humans in war zones, political crises or poverty stricken situations – it shows the truth. Once you become emotionally invested to some extent, you simply cannot let yourself walk away. You feel this responsibility or this compassion to help.

I’m not going to pretend that we’re all diplomats who can negotiate peace, or doctors who can go and help in hospitals – but we have voices don’t we? We all spend so much time on the internet, on social media – we can shout about it, we can sign petitions. We can even get off our asses and go out in the streets and shout about it. Tell our governments to make a difference, to make peoples lives count.

I’ve heard it a lot recently – most upsettingly from a Syrian boy. We were talking about Daraa, about Assad, ISIS and the horrors of the civil war. And he asked me, “why do people not care if we live or die? Is our blood cheap? Is Syrian blood cheaper than Western blood?”

Perhaps we can do something. We can at least try to make our voices heard. Make our voices the voice of those the world cannot hear or refuses to hear.

“Welcome to the land of the free”

The UK has, for some reason, a reputation of being accepting of refugees and asylum seekers. From many conversations I have had, young people often set their sites on The UK for that very reason. Yet, from my experience, and probably now from theirs, this unfortunately doesn’t seem to be true. 

Let’s roll it back….

So you’ve just jumped off a lorry (or you’ve been found by the driver, whose called the police). You’re somewhere in the UK. If you’re lucky, it was in a town or a city. If you’re unlucky, you’re on the side of a motorway. So from here, the chances are you’ve either been taken to a police station or a detention centre or, you’ve walked into a police station/ the Home Office (Croydon) to say who you are and why’re you’re here (if you have an interpreter and they actually managed to get you the right language or you already speak English, they’ll understand you). You are classified as an in country applicant – someone who claims asylum after arrival rather than a port application which is someone who claims asylum at the port of entry (i.e airport). The difference is, port of entry is legal. In country is not. The beginning part of this process can be quite blurry. Lots of people, lots of questions, not a lot of human emotion. You’re just another number.

You’ll be interviewed (known as screening interview), asked where you’re from, why you’re here etc. and be issued with a Home Office ID card. This ID card can be contentious – it’ll have your date of birth (which as I’ll discuss below, can be debated) and it’ll have your nationality – which is also debatable. One of the most common situations I have heard is among Pashto Afghans where they are taken for Pakistani. There can also be other issues for Kurds and Middle Easterns. This debate can go back and forth for a while – you might have to speak to a language specialist or try to prove where you’re from with legal documents (which can be difficult or impossible to gain). But you can’t claim asylum in the UK until you have a Home Office ID although you can continue to debate the age and nationality you have been given. Once you’ve had this discussion – whether you have been issued with a Home Office ID card or there are still areas for debate, you will be placed in housing.

Where you end up will depend on one thing – whether the authorities believe you or not. So to begin with, they could question your age. Many young people come from countries where they’ve never had passports, didn’t have the opportunity to bring their passport or it was destroyed (either by a smuggler or back home for another reason). It seems to be common practice for teenage boys from the Middle East or Asia to have their age disputed due to the fact that, quite simply we look different. Middle Eastern men and Asian men can sometimes be hairier. Not only that but a lot of the time, the horrors that young people experience on their journey to the UK undoubtedly ages them mentally. Many children see things and experience things no child should ever have to see. So, you get aged assessed. This is done with the local social services to wherever you’ve ended up in the UK and the ‘appropriate adults’. They might look at your physical appearance, ask you some questions. Yet at the end of the day, its all very subjective. Anyway, so they’ll either decide you’re the age you say you are, a different age but still under 18 or that you’re 18 or over. But hey, you probably have two birthdays now…. 1st January – Home Office Birthday!

So if you’re deemed to be under 18, you’ll be looked after by the local social services. Depending on how old you are – under 16 and you’ll be looked after by a foster carer, over 16 and you could find yourself in semi-independent living accommodation. Semi-independent is a bit like student halls except you have a key worker there who is responsible for helping you become independent. And then the waiting game begins….

You could be living in any area, with any sort of people. Some people might hate you. You’re a foreigner, you’re an immigrant, you’re here to claim their benefits. You’re not welcome here. You can however apply to go to college. Oh, and you get taken on a big clothes shop (which means more than 1 pair of clothes!). Best case scenario, you’ll be living with nice people – some people who speak your language maybe -, you’ll be in the local college or school learning English or if your English is already good, perhaps even starting your GCSEs! Your social worker and/or solicitor (that will have been given to you by the government through legal aid unless you have the money yourself for a private one) will have hooked you up with some clubs and other classes. If its not going to so well, you could be living with people who don’t speak your language, your age dispute could mean you’re not at school/college and your social worker/solicitor either doesn’t care to help you with extra curricular stuff or, more likely, doesn’t have the time to help.

The support network you have can make or break you. Simple as.

Before your substantive interview with the Home Office, you’ll be expected to sit down with your solicitor and write a statement of evidence. In between this and the long interview, you’ll be expected to report to the Home Office or a designated government office (so the government knows you’re still in the country).  Finally, the day comes round when its your long interview – if you’re under 12 you don’t have to do this) with the Home Office. Your time to tell your story and explain why you are claiming asylum. You’ll be given an interpreter – hopefully the right language/dialect – and your solicitor or social worker will have hopefully gone with you. And now you have to talk. You have to tell a cold-fronted stranger exactly why you’re in this country. You have to drag up all the horrors you ran away from. Every thing you tried so hard to escape. Everything you tried to bury. But careful, if you forget a fact, it’ll come back and bite you. You don’t feel welcome. You feel that they’re trying to catch you out. They’re trying to find a reason to say no.

It’s over. You’re exhausted – emotionally and physically. Back to the waiting game.

Now, fingers crossed – if you’re age assessment was correct, your nationality was correct and your from one of the countries on the Home Office list (or you suffered something so bad you honestly can’t go back), then congrats! You’ve got refugee status or humanitarian protection. Refugee status is based on the UN Convention relating to the status of refugees (1951) and it lasts for 5 years subject to review. Humanitarian protection is provided when an individual doesn’t meet the UN Convention criteria but it is still too dangerous to return to the country of origin and it also lasts 5 years.  Thats it. Your life is now perfect (despite the fact you miss your family, you’re mentally scarred and everything is disorientating).

If you were granted Refugee Status of Humanitarian Protection, chances are, your nationality was figured out correctly (meaning they agree you’re from where you say you are. I say this because from my experience, thats how its gone). However, if your age was disputed and you’re still disputing it, the battle may continue. You might suggest X-rays or checking teeth  – or perhaps you’re lucky enough to go to your country embassy and get documents (if its not the government you’ve run away from…).

The other option for you, as someone the government has agreed is under 18, is Discretionary Leave to Remain. This is when the Home Office doesn’t believe you require Refugee Status or Humanitarian Protection. This is also known as UASC Leave (Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Leave). This is granted for either 3 years or until you are 17 1/2 years old, which ever is shorter. This is basically a rejection yet due to laws, the UK has a responsibility to look after children – so you can stay until you’re 18.

If you were age assessed as over 18 and refused, then bam. Nothing.

However, with UASC leave (if it is longer than 12 months) and refusals you can appeal…..

Asylum decisions are meant to be resolved within 35 days but it can take longer. Once a decision has been made, your legal representative and local authority will be informed. So, lets say, its bad news. You’ve been granted UASC leave. Yet you’re fleeing real persecution. You can’t go back there. Ever. So you’re going to appeal. The appeal system is a two tier tribunal system. If your claim is refused and you have a right of appeal, you’ll got to the Immigration and Asylum Chamber. If the appeal is refused, you can ask for permission to go to the Upper Tribunal. If this is still refused…. you can attempt to challenge the Court of Appeal. You only have 10 days to do this.

If none of this works…. you’re appeals rights exhausted. Too many people end up in this situation. Your options here become limited. You either find new evidence and ask a solicitor if you can put in a fresh claim, you wait it out until you’re 17 1/2 and see what happens or you go underground. This makes your life limbo. You’re only a teenager – as if being a teenager isn’t hard enough – and now you’re in complete limbo. You know that when you’re 18, you could be detained and sent back to the danger you fled and there is nothing you can do about it. You could have fled Albanian blood feuds or sex traffickers, you could have fled the Taliban or ISIS in Afghanistan or you could have fled ISIS/violence in Iraq. You could also be returning to that violence. The nightmares you’ve been having, the flashbacks…. could all become reality again. They didn’t want you here. You’re an immigrant, you’re not British. You’re not welcome here.

Regardless of the outcome, there are numerous other battles that young refugees/asylum seekers face in the UK.  Mental health affects young refugees/asylum seekers dramatically. The chances are, none of us can even try to comprehend the horrors. Young people suffer from being withdrawn, not being able to trust others and having constant flashbacks and nightmares of the things they have experienced. They may also feel isolated – English is a new language, England is a new culture. It isn’t an easy thing to get your head around. For young people from conservative countries, Britain is most definitely a shock. And undoubtedly, you’ll miss your family. What is your mum doing right now? How about your brother? Maybe you’ll be able to track them down (you’ve started the Family Tracing process) but theres no guarantee. Maybe it’ll be bad news.

Maybe. 

You continue, trying to live your life. Trying to build yourself a life in the UK. You read the news – they want to cut immigration. You see on FaceBook – ‘refugees aren’t welcome here’. You’ve never felt more alone. The government doesn’t want you here, the people don’t want you here. All you see is hatred.The concept that the United Kingdom is the land of the free appears in front of you as a lie. Whether you’ve been granted refugee status or you were refused, you still do not feel welcome.

This is the reality for many young people I have met. A lot of hatred is easily bred throughout social media and throughout the news. Be the change. Join the protests – tell them, refugees are welcome here. Give up your time, sign a petition. Let them know, they are welcome. Please sign the petition to campaign against the government back tracking on the Dubs amendment http://www.citizensuk.org/dubs_petition. 

Please note, nothing in this blog post is intended as legal advice. It is illegal in the UK for an unqualified individual to give immigration advice. This is simply a scenario based on a range of experiences I have been told about. There are other situations that can happen – this is not an exhaustive scenario. 

Dear Donald….

Donald Trump is someone I’m sure we would all rather not have to talk about. I for one wish I did not have to waste my time thinking about the man, let alone let him bring me to writing about him. But it has become unavoidable. It’s time to face the man at the forefront of post-truthism. The concept of a Mexican Wall was bad enough, his so called ‘pro-life’ anti-abortion stance was bad enough. Yet for me, the final straw was his treatment of nationals from those seven particular countries. That sir, was one step too far.

As a proactive campaigner for refugees rights (and as someone who works weekly with refugees and asylum seekers), Donald Trump’s proclamation of banning the entry of anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia is an utter disgrace and outrage. Not only is it completely pointless when we come to America’s favourite subject – terrorism, its damn right obnoxious and heartless. So lets take a step back. ‘Terrorists’ that America seems to constantly be so scared about (despite the fact that you’re probably more likely to get shot by your toddler with the gun you casually keep in your house) have tended to be from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Surprise, surprise they’re not on the list. Of course, we must prevent ‘Islamic Terror’ unless they’re from a country that we’re so reliant on being friends with (I mean oil, hello). Therefore, for Trump to claim this ban to be because of so-called ‘terrorist’ threats is absurd. Yes Islamic State are real but over 90% of the people who have been killed by them are Muslim. In Syria or Iraq. You know, the ones who want to flee to safety?

Second of all, conflict, terror or human rights abuses significantly affect all the states that Trump has taken issue with. Syria and Yemen are both in the midsts of deadly civil wars that appear to have no end in sight. Sudan has experienced political turmoil for as long as can be remembered with past genocides, sectarian issues and human rights abuses. Somalia – after escaping war, has seen itself divulged into a fight against Al Shabab (an offshoot of Al Qaeda). And Libya. Libya, Libya. After overthrowing Qaddafi, has seen itself in civil war as well as fighting off an offshoot of Islamic State. Last of all, Iran. Iran might not have an issue with civil war but the human rights abuses are unreal. Kurds, women, Sunnis, Bahai. You name it.

All because they’re Muslim? Some might be Christian, Jewish, Bahai. Is that even relevant?

So now lets get real. There are millions of people displaced globally right now. Estimates put half of them as children. Yet ‘the land of the free’ calls them ‘terrorists’, or people who are not worthy of being safe or free from oppression. Yet Donald Trump gets up on his high horse proclaiming that he is ‘pro-life’. PRO WHOS LIFE? You don’t care about the millions of people across the globe, persecuted, shot down, struggling to get by. Many of them who have seen their only families die behind their own eyes. Families who send their kids for safety in hope of giving them the future they could never have.

But we will not be silent. The world will not sit back and watch one vulgar human being treat humanity like this. We will not rest until justice is served. We must not rest until humanity is free and these borders that are nothing short of social constructions are destroyed. We are all human beings. We are all one. This is not about politics, this is about humanity. And anyone who cares about humanity will shout until there is no need to shout anymore.

The Arab Spring & Oil

The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has troubled the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) significantly since 2010.  The protests were a shock to many around the world as no one had predicted such protests and consequently revolutions or wars could or would happen in the MENA region. However, once it became clear that this ‘domino effect’ was happening, people began to question whether there were any correlations between the nations involved.  One of the main things questioned was the role of oil. The majority of states that have experienced significant protest or civil war have not been states in possession of large quantities of oil.  So does rentier state theory explain the failure of mass mobilisation in certain states?

Let’s role it back to how this ‘Arab Spring’ began. In December 2010 in Tunisia Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit and veg seller set himself on fire in protest against corruption in the country. This led to all out protest in the nation and the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The protests soon spread as in January 2011, they broke out in Yemen and Jordan swiftly followed by Egypt in February 2011 following the Mukhabart beating to death Khaled Said (of which pictures appeared on the internet sparking outrage). A couple of weeks later, Hosni Mubarak resigned. The Libyan people joined the ‘Arab Spring’ in February 2011 too along with Bahrain, Morocco, Oman and Algeria followed by Syria and Saudi Arabia in March 2011 and finally, Kuwait in the summer of 2011. Every protest was different in nature and outcome as some were easily resolved by their leaders, others involved regime change or even counter-revolution and many continue to suffer grave civil war to this day.

Of all the states that were involved in the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria and Libya were the only states with significant oil assets and Libya was the only state that saw dramatic change.

At first glance, it appears that states involved in the Spring that had oil wealth were able to survive the upheaval. Due to the sheer amount of money that these states make from producing oil, they were able to ‘buy off’ their citizens – which is exactly what Saudi Arabia did. Saudi Arabia put $136 billion into the public sector to help fund housing and unemployment. This undoubtedly prevented citizens from wanting to revolt further – along with the fact that people were arrested and often tried in courts specifically used for terrorism charges. The Saudis were also able to use their oil influence in Bahrain where they helped the Bahraini King suppress rebellion with military force (probably paid for by oil).

Although on the surface oil (rentier-state theory) may be useful in explaining why certain states did not have to deal with the mass mobilisation of their citizens during the ‘Arab Spring’, it doesn’t truthfully represent it. Oil prices fell during the late 1980s and we didn’t see political liberalisation then and also, there were a number of other causes such as the  authoritarian or monarchic (although monarchies can also be authoritarian) nature of governments and the protests themselves.

Arguably, it wasn’t the fact that oil producing states had financial abilities but it was how we used them. The Gulf monarchies attempted to consult and include the vast majority of the population rather than just a particular group of supporters – something that Libya failed to do. Libya did not use their oil wealth to appease their citizens in a successful way which ultimately led to widespread protests that spiralled. When Qaddafi finally attempted to ‘buy off’ his citizens (with $24 billion for housing) it was too little, too late. This just goes to show that some states were a lot more willing to use their oil wealth to buy off their citizens and prevent them protesting than others. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Monarchies recognised this ability – Libya, did not.

The majority of states in MENA are either ruled by monarchical or authoritarian governments. Its arguable that Monarchies were able to retain power without much issue during the ‘Arab Spring’ due to the nature of their regime and the tradition it entailed. Monarchies sit outside the normal legislative institutions making it easier for them to quell protest and offer reforms in an easier manner – due to the differing factions in the legislature. In Saudi Arabia reforms were granted as women gained certain political rights as well as noted changes to interfaith dialogues and the judicial system. Libya on the other hand played off clan and ethnic differences and held central importance to the army to stamp out process. The army then split into two meaning that civil war broke out. This is something we have also seen in Egypt and Syria – deserters – yet we have not seen it with monarchical regimes as they still retain full support of their militaries. Qaddafi came to power in 1969 following a military coup and played off deep divisions in the country ensuring he followed authoritarian rule. This created a fractured and distrustful society, which ultimately was prepared to rebel against authoritarian rule.

My last point is that the nature of the protests varied significantly. In Saudi Arabia protests were pretty limited – the majority of protests were in the Eastern Province, the Shia dominated region of a Sunni nation. Limited groups were involved in the protest such as the Free Youth Coalition and the National Youth Movement (both Shia). The protests did not call for the direct overthrow of the regime, only for changes to human rights and putting an end to corruption. There were vary few Sunnis who became involved in the protests. This meant that unity and mass mobilisation was not going to happen due to sectarianism being used as a counter-revolutionary strategy. This was the opposite to Libya were protest was widespread and mainstream. Libyan protests expanded nationwide and even set up the National Transitional Council (NTC). There were numerous opposition groups which had grown abroad as well as underground at home such as the Libyan Constitutional Union and the Libyan Islamic Group and, to top it off for Qaddafi, most the Arab world despised him making it a lot easier to overthrow him.

So, although oil wealth helped states that were willing to use their oil wealth to ‘buy off their citizens’, it was very much dependent on whether the state in question was willing to do so. Saudi Arabia was willing to put billions into employment benefits, housing and public sector pay and therefore this, to an extent, helped prevent mass mobilisation. Libya on the other hand, attempted to put a few billion into the state welfare and citizens, in particular housing, but it was very much seen as far too little and far too late. Furthermore, the protests themselves and their demands and the nature of the regime played significant roles. In Libya, a large section of society called for the fall of the regime whereas in Saudi Arabia, a limited sect of society protested. Furthermore, due to its monarchical nature and the support of their armed forces, they were more capable of overcoming unrest in the early stages whereas, in Libya, the authoritarian regime lacked the overall support of the military and therefore, the regime fell.

 

 

 

 

Forgotten states: Eritrea

Eritrea is finally hitting the agendas of mainstream journalists and the media despite the plight of Eritreans being an issue for over a decade. The African state is surely a prime example of western national interest. With the worst human rights record (arguably) in the world, lifetime military service and religious persecution (Sunni Islam & Orthodox Christianity make up the majority of the population and little else is accepted), it really shouldn’t have taken this long to hit the agendas. But here it is.

Eritrea first hit my radar about 3-4 years ago when I met a number of Eritrean teenagers through voluntary work I do in London with young refugees and asylum seekers. I knew absolutely nothing. I found myself questioning – why are they here? I felt naive. One only has to do their research to see how bad it is and since then, my empathy goes out to all Eritreans but also, praise. Their strength and intelligence never fails to amaze me. But first, lets go back to the beginning.

So Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after a long and bloody war. In the beginning, people were positive. Women had been given a role in fighting, the country had united despite ethnic and religious divisions and finally, the country could have its own democratic country and constitution. Well, not so fast. Isaias Afewerki wasn’t about to let that happen.

Isaias made it clear from the early stages that it was to be a one party state and everyone was going to obey him. Not only that, he took on a very defensive stance – that attack is the best form of defence. Isaias fell out with most of his neighbours – Yemen, Djibouti and most bitterly, Ethiopia. The Ethiopian anger remains – albeit Cold War style. Due to this need to defend himself, he introduced military service for both men and women from the age of 18. This military service has become indefinite. This alone is enough to make parents want to send their children away. Of course, thats not so easy either. I have heard first hand accounts of parents/young people being imprisoned for trying to escape without permission – many parents in prison and labelled as ‘human traffickers’ (smugglers) for wanting to send their children away. Eritrean borders are on the whole guarded with a ‘shoot to kill’ policy meaning if anyone is seen escaping over the borders thats it. Game over. If you do escape, it’s not all gravy then. African countries, just as with Palestinians in the Middle East, tend to make Eritreans stay in refugee camps where they live to rot away with nothing to do. This makes their best bet Europe.

The journey to Europe includes horror stories too with many dying along the way whether it be from dehydration, the horrors of smugglers or the dramas of Libya. Smugglers are renowned for violence, sexual exploitation and well, you name it, to get as much money and exploit desperate individuals as much as possible. Unfortunately I’ve heard accounts of this ending in young people’s siblings or friends dying. If you make it past that, theres Libya. Libya has faced its own turmoil since the overthrow of Qaddafi in 2011 meaning that those trying to reach Europe’s shores often have to face ISIS (many girls end up as sex slaves) and Libyan prisons. Again, I have heard of numerous occasions where individuals have been kept in Libyan prisons for a very long time – regardless of their age.

We all know how the European story goes – the boats sinking – but to Eritreans, it seems the risk is well worth it.

I can’t imagine the plight Eritrean individuals that I know have been through. The sheer repression of the largely unknown African state should not be kept quite any longer. The insane amount of human rights abuses and threat to life are beyond anything anyone in the western world can and should have to comprehend and they simply should not be allowed to happen any longer.