The struggle for statehood: through the eyes of children

Israel-Palestine has been on and off the Western agenda for years. After the Brits (quite frankly) collosal screw up, no one has ever been quite sure what to do. It started off with some half hearted attempts by the international arena and often ended in Palestinians taking things into their own hands and losing trust not only in the west, but also in their Arab neighbours. It can therefore be no surprise that the likes of Fatah and Hamas exist and, in response, the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet things have changed since the founding of Hamas and Fatah. Things have undoubtedly got worse. One of my favourite quotes is something Amira Hass said “If Hamas grew out of the generation of the first intifada, when the young people who threw stones were met with bullets, who will grow out of the generation that experienced the repeated massacres of the last seven years?”

Life under occupation is, in my opinion, only getting worse which means resistance will only become more futile. We’ve seen two intifadas (some argue more) and the unforgettable campaigns of Operation Summer Rains and Operation Autumn Clouds in 2006,  Operation Hot Winter in 2008, the Gaza War 2008-2009, Operation Returning Echo and Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012  and  then Operation Protective Edge in summer of 2011. Most of these operations/conflicts have been  in retaliation to Hamas’s actions and their infamous rocket firing. The latest violence seeing fleets of so called stabbings in the West Bank.

The biggest change: children. I have no doubt some children have always been active in movements – I know Hamas prides itself on having a junior wing. Yet many of these so called stabbings have been primarily children and young people. Why? There is little doubt that they’re getting fed up. Their childhoods are stripped from them – whether it be in the form of having their house knocked down, living without electricity or basic sanitation/infrastructure as well as many commodities in Gaza due to the blockade or the general oppression Israel imposes on them.

Children in conflict is interesting. In the west, we tend to see children as sweet and innocent who don’t know any better and who are simply just caught up in horrible situations. However, children can be used as useful tools in conflict or, can actually formulate their own opinions and anger from a young enough age if put in that sort of environment.

A combination of factors can explain the reaction of children in Palestine: education, life experiences/repression and the lack of international support. Palestine is divided geographically into two smaller entities; the Gaza Strip to West and the West Bank to the East. Experiences of Palestinians in both ‘entities’ are very different yet generally, still very negative. Life in Gaza is undoubtedly worse in many ways due to the blockade yet the West Bank sees settlement building. I’m going to attempt to talk about reasons why young people are losing hope and taking actions into their own hands in both areas.

Lets start with Gaza; a cut off Palestinian entity. Settlements were removed from Gaza in 2005 with complete disengagement being the policy of Ariel Sharon. This meant Gaza became the Palestinian only entity of Palestine. In 2007, Israel and Egypt initiated the blockade of Gaza (by land, sea and air). This blockade occurred when Hamas took power over the Gaza Strip following the formation of the Palestinian Authority by Hamas and Fatah. Fatah took control of the West Bank. Now Israel and Egypt believed that the blockade was necessary as they didn’t think that Hamas would provide adequate security. This can be seen as the beginning of the ‘matrix of control’. This blockade has meant that for the last 10 years, there has been a serious shortage of medical supplies, building supplies and fuel.

The main electricity station in Gaza was bombed by the IDF in 2014 during the 51 day war meaning that power supplies in Gaza are often limited. Its argued that Hamas was storing tanks/weapons etc. at the power plant and that is why the IDF bombed it. Over the past few months, there has been widespread protests in Gaza due to many suffering 12 hour blackouts due to limited supplies of electricity. Gaza has had to rely on donation from Qatar and Turkey in order to get their power plant up and running again.

Furthermore, there is a serious lack of clean water. It is estimated by Oxfam that around 90% of the water in Palestine is not safe to drink. Due to the blockade, there is limited ways to make this water safe and sewage/sanitation has also become a large issue. As you can see, one thing leads into another. Its a vicious cycle – you probably then get sick but of course, the medical supplies needed are also banned in the blockade. Gaza’s economy has also fallen apart – it exports flowers and dates yet is allowed to do little else. Again, the blockade prevents a decent, self sufficient economy from flourishing. Is this matrix of control starting to seem real now?

So then maybe education is the way out? Of course, its incredibly hard to get out of Gaza full stop. The free movement of people is just as much blockaded as goods. You can’t really get in or out. The education system probably won’t allow that anyway. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine provides a significant amount of the schooling in Gaza. There are over 250 schools yet they serve almost a quarter of a million students. Often, schools have to run double shift – one in the morning for one lot of students and another in the afternoon for another lot. The lack of materials for education is very much evident and there is significant issues with propaganda in Palestinian school books – especially those provided by the Palestinian Authority (PA).  There simply isn’t enough classrooms or materials to educate the children of Gaza.

This is no surprise considering there are an estimated 2 million people in Gaza of which half of them are children. Gaza is only 12km in width at its widest point and is becoming one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The UN have declared that by 2020, its going to be unliveable.

So, you have poor access to water, electricity, food, materials and education and the economy is almost non existent. You’re stuck in a densely populated area that you can’t get out of. What could make it worse? Conflict, of course. Israel and Hamas do not exactly have a good relationship – Hamas fires rockets or kidnaps someone or Israel drops some bombs or demolishes some houses – whatever it is, something bad always happens. So these children grow up with pretty much nothing, in an area that is quickly becoming unliveable with absolutely no way out and then every few years they get bombed. And people wonder where the anger comes from?

Now, lets switch over to the West Bank. The biggest problem for Palestinians here is a) Jerusalem, b) Settlements and C) the wall/fence/barrier. Jerusalem is highly contested – both Israel and Palestine lay claim to the city due to the location of the Al Aqsa mosque and the Temple Mount compound. Neither Israel or Palestine will give up control of the area yet Israel keeps pushing the boundaries with building settlements and laying claims of Jerusalem as their capital (it currently sits as Tel Aviv).

Israel’s power and global support (mainly from the USA) means that they are in a stronger position than Palestine (Fatah in the West Bank) and can therefore, get away with more things. This is also linked to settlement building. It has been estimated that there are over 700,000 Israeli settlements of which 400,000 of those are in the West Bank (exc. Jerusalem). This is further allowing Israel to create a matrix of control as they are building settlements in places which isolate Palestinian villages and towns and building Israeli only infrastructure to connect them, cutting off Palestinians and Palestine. This has had a dramatic effect on Palestinians and especially children. Many children now have to walk through Israeli settlements to get to school or to go out and there have been numerous stories of these children being attacked by settlers. At one point, it was event reported that the IDF were having to escort Palestinian children to school.

There’s also demolitions. These are often linked to the building of settlements. At the end of 2016, it was reported that the demolition of Palestinian houses in the West Bank had risen by 25%. Imagine that – one day, you come home from school and your house is gone. It’s been bulldozed by the Israeli government.

Then theres the wall/fence/barrier. Its always been known as the wall yet it’s not always a wall. At some parts its a wall, at others its a fence and again at others its just a barrier. Israel claimed they built it for security – to prevent suicide bombings. Regardless, the aim is to create a separation between Israel and Palestine. Yet the wall actually crosses Palestinian land at points and is over 700km long. This has cut many Palestinians off from society. Again, it has cut some children off from accessing their schools. The UN reported that it limited some peoples access to water. Charities such as the Palestinian Red Crescent Society have said that it has also impacted many children and women’s access to medical supplies. The barrier has been declared illegal by the UN – as have the settlements – yet no one seems to really care. The Palestinians yet again, let down.

Although there is no blockade in the West Bank, the education system still suffers in the same way. The settlements and wall/fence/barrier has made it incredibly difficult for many to access education and there is a shortage of teachers. The lack of support for infrastructure has also made it incredibly hard for young people to have the access to a good education.

2016 was the deadliest year for the past decade to be a child living in the West Bank. The IDF killed over 30 children in various towns and villages in raids, protests and attacks.

So why are young people in Palestine and especially in the West Bank so angry? Really? I mean, as if everything above isn’t enough. I will never condone violence – a lot of the time its innocent civilians caught in the middle (especially in this conflict). But I understand why they are angry. I understand why young people are sadly feeling the need to take things into their own hands. The international community has failed the children of Palestine and the international community continues to do so. These are children who are left without a good education system, without basic supplies to live, with constant (physical) barriers in their life and almost no hope of escaping it.

This statement will never leave me. And we should never allow children to resort to the desperation of this thinking.

“I hope God kills the Israelis when we grow up. We are going to kill them. May God kill all of them. Every last one.” – Summer, age 12, Gaza

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.

Forgotten States: Kurdistan

Kurdistan – a nation that, in theory, does not exist but many call home. The region sits between four nations; Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. It has been estimated that there are around 30 million Kurds, many of whom feel persecuted and stateless. So why do we hear so little about them – other than their fight against Islamic State?

Iraqi Kurds successfully set up their own autonomous government recognised by the constitution in 2005 with Irbil as their capital. The Kurds of Iran do not have anywhere near as good situation as Iraq yet they do tend to all live in the same region – Kordestan. In Syria, the Kurds make up a good 10-15% of the population (the largest minority) who predominantly hold the region of Rojava and have been vital in the conflict against Islamic State. Last of all, is the Kurds of Turkey – the governments enemies. There is little desire to be kind to the Kurds by the Turkish government which often results to attacks and bombings by the PKK, a group banned in Turkey. It has also be reported that Turkey has fought against the Kurds in Syria.

Again, I knew very little about the Kurds until I met many of them – mainly from Iraq and Iran both of whom left for very different reasons. There is no doubt that being Kurdish is not easy – the desire for self determination (that was almost reality after World War II) and equal rights in a state that doesn’t especially want to give you either. Yet the experience of Kurds within different state boundaries appears to be quite different. Up until the intensifying of the fight from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and their severe persecution of the Kurds, many more young Iraqi Kurds have made the treacherous journey to Europe. Yet, on the flip side, the Kurds seemed to have gained more ground and control in their fight back against Islamic State. Nevertheless, there is little doubt its been easy.

In Iran, the situation is very different. There is no conflict, no fight against Islamic State but there is repression, severe repression. Iran is not particularly nice to its minority groups – such as the Kurds – with many being discriminated against. They are often prevented from gaining employment, accessing housing, playing a role in mainstream politics and often have their civil, cultural and political rights curtailed and those who speak out against such repression are often imprisoned with potential of facing death  (as stated by Amnesty International). On top of that, certain Kurdish groups within Iran have a particularly difficult time due to their religion as Sunni Muslims – not Shia. Iran has a strict regime for normal Shia Muslim citizens let alone for Sunni Kurds leaving little surprise that many young Iranian Kurds are left to flee their homelands for the ‘safety’ of Europe.

The situation in Syria and Turkey is, of course, difficult too. It is common knowledge that Syrian civilians have been leaving their homeland en masse due to the bloody civil war that is entering its sixth year. Syrian Kurds have had a tough role to play in this conflict too but unlike the Kurds in other regions, their flight from their homelands has been less obvious. They had a long a bloody battle against Islamic State in Kobane, as well as playing a vital role in Northern Aleppo and Raqqa to name but a few. They have fought and continue to fight an intense conflict against evil. In Turkey – repression against Kurds is very real and undoubtedly plays a leading role as to why they have been refused EU membership amongst other things. The conflict between the Kurds and Turkey has been going on for almost 40 years as the Kurds push for a state or, at least, an autonomous region. Kurdish insurgency groups, especially the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) have been part of an armed struggle with the Turkish government since the 1980s. The Turkish government have been accused of curtailing Kurdish human rights in numerous ways – whether by arrests, murders, torture, destroying villages – you name it – but the accusations work both ways. Turkey has been experiencing a high level of suicide bombings and attacks over the last few years with Islamic State and Kurdish insurgents taking responsibility.

To summarise, the Kurds have been neglected. After World War Two, there were two peoples who lost. The Kurds and the Palestinians. The Palestinian fight for self determination often features in the news in some form or another but the Kurds (other than those fighting ISIS) go largely ignored. Kurds are often systematically abused by their host nations and its about time their desire and right to self determination was put back on the table making Kurdistan a real state, not a forgotten one.

 

 

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.