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A Decade of War and Peace

August 20th, 2012 No comments


Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.

Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah preparing to depart for Ghazni province with the Afghan airforce to campaign in remote ethnic Hazara villages. Abdullah was the leading opposition candidate challenging President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections. On the right stands a Shi’ite Seyyid accompanying him to Shia population centers for campaign credibility. ©2009 Derek Henry Flood

No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.

No grand conspiracy here, just plain, old awful war. On August 15, 2006, a Lebanese ambulance lay destroyed by what appeared to be an Israeli missile strike (quite possibly a drone strike or SPIKE anti-tank missile) outside of Sidon in southern Lebanon, an irrefutable violation of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Pro-Likud right-wing bloggers would dare say scenes like these were part of elaborate false flag operations by Hezbollah or photoshop masterpieces by left-wing or pro-Hezbollah journalists meant to demonize the Israel Defense Forces. This ambulance was not part of the so-called “ambulance controversy” nor am I aware that this particular wreckage appeared anywhere in the international media at the time.  ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

The Struggle for Northern Mali and Other Troubles

July 24th, 2012 No comments

Souvenir in Bamako’s Grand Marché depicting an undivided Mali from happier times. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- I have a new article out today in the July issue of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point’s Sentinel publication. I am honored to have been awarded the cover story for the second time this year. The story is based on the two weeks I spent in Mali in May and June and a couple of months of armchair research here in Barcelona and New York. As last year when I was avidly and concomitantly following Libya and Bahrain in particular, this year my attention has largely turned to Syria and Mali.

The conflict in Mali is, yes, a result of the NATO-GCC backed war in Libya in part but Libya’s troubles are not the cause of Mali’s current crisis. The causes of Mali’s 2012 rebellion of messy irredentism and radical Islamism are rooted in local economic, ethnic, and ecological disparities. There are long-held grievances among several of northern Mali’s communities that have sat unresolved for many decades. These issues of emphasized racial and ethnic difference are discussed fairly in depth in Bruce S. Hall’s A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960

Global warming (now marketed as climate change) is a causal factor. Coupled with climate issues are then food security and the survival of livestock-key for both the sedentary agriculturalist and semi-nomadic pastoralist populations competing for land and scare resources in the wider Sahel. In this light neighboring Niger is especially vulnerable with many of the same environmental and ethnic issues at stake.

So is the legacy of French divide et impera (divide and rule) during the colonial period. Up until Mali’s independence in 1960, French administrators favored certain groups over others in order to maintain their grip on power. The Salafi agenda of AQIM (and now MUJAO) has certainly exacerbated and accelerated things. The kidnapping for Westerners, most notably the brazen hostage taking in Timbuktu’s Centre Ville in late November 2011 in which a German national was shot dead when he tried to resist being hauled off into the unknowns of the Sahara, has utterly destroyed Mali’s relatively lucrative and quite vital (yet fragile) tourism industry.

On top of all this I am still trying to keep up with events in Syria. It appears from the outside looking in that the war has to have been amplified by the audacious assassinations of  National Security Chief General Hisham Ikhtiyar, Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Assef Shawkat and former Defense Minister Hassan Turkmani. This has brought a sea change in the level of political violence across the country not most notably in the formerly quiet Aleppo Governorate. It seems that the al-Jaish as-Suri al-Hurra (the endonym of the Free Syrian Army) has certainly achieved increased momentum in recent days in what has been essentially an unabated war of attrition.

With the Free Syrian Army back in January. What a terrifying, difficult trip this was. What’s the old line from Raiders? “It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage.” ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Before the year is out I may return to one or both of these troubled nation-states. Hard to fathom what the fall of Damascus will mean, particularly for Syria’s Alawite community as well as its numerous Christians. Add to that Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. I remember in Baghdad and environs in the spring of 2003 when there was an immediate backlash against Palestinians hosted by the Hussein regime who were resented at best and deemed collaborators at worst by furious Iraqis.

Damascus will be a tremendous tinderbox once the tipping point against Assad is finally reached. It won’t likely happen overnight (unless there were to be a spectacular and ingeniously successful assassination plot) but history is definitely against such a calcified, minoritarian regime in the Middle East today.

Another issue which managed to grab my attention today is the violence erupting in Khorog, the regional capital of Tajikistan’s difficult to access Kohistan Badakhshan (a.k.a. Gorno-Badakhshan in Russian). At least 42 people have been reported killed so far in clashes after the local intelligence chief was savagely beaten (some reports say stabbed) to death by assailants linked to a local warlord hailing from the 1992-1997 civil war.

Street portrait, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, July 8, 2010. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

This means something to me because I have a friend from Khorog and I’d imagined visiting the place one day. We chatted on skype today and she is terribly fretful because all phone service has been cut to the city and she cannot reach family members still residing there (she lives outside Tajikistan). The needless mayhem may have been the result of the hard sought after cigarette smuggling trade along the Afghan border.  Though the region is infamous for its Russia-bound heroin trade, like all borders in the global Balkans, it’s a hub for Marlboros as well. Hopefully more information will come to light soon. Tajikistan is an incredibly brittle place that has never properly reconciled the wounds from its horrific post-Soviet civil war.

Splendid scenery in Varzhob, Tajikistan, July 7, 2010. This was my driver. Absolutely hilarious, multilingual nutcase hustler. He brought me to this lake when it was baking hot in Dushanbe and I was desperate to cool off in this landlocked country. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

No End in Sight to Bahrain’s Troubles

April 22nd, 2012 No comments

New York-Busy working on some last minute touches for an article coming out tomorrow but wanted to repost an email I received today from the beleaguered Bahrain Center for Human Rights. I get emails from the heavily suppressed Bahraini revolution from time to time but this weekend’s seemed especially poignant in light of the human rights disaster known as the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix. The most deplorable thing I read was some clueless quote from the German winner of the debacle:

“Some teams have expressed frustration at the attention on politics. Sebastian Vettel said shortly after arrival on Thursday that he thought much of what was being reported was hype. He [Vettel] looked forward to getting in the car and dealing with the ‘stuff that really matters – tire temperatures, cars.’”

What a freaking idiot. Vettel’s main sponsor is the godawful RedBull energy drinks company. Perhaps people should let Austrian tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz (his Thai business partner died last month) know that a European Union-based company shouldn’t exploit a human rights crisis to promote a frivolous product.

Bahrain’s crisis goes on unabated because its citizens are trapped in the anti-egalitarian nightmare known as the Gulf Cooperation Council where it’s perfectly fine to talk about democracy in Syria but deadly to dare try and implement it in these stultified monarchies passing themselves off as modern with shiny architecture built on the backs of South Asian slave labor.

Here is the text from BCHR:

“The Bahraini regime has continued its escalation and crackdown on peaceful protesters. A number of activists, journalists and peaceful protesters were arrested today. Many more were beaten, tortured and shot at with tear gas, shotguns and stun grenades. Another death was reported of inhalation of tear gas.

Death of a resident

The excessive use of teargas as a means for collective punishment against villages has caused another yet death. An Indian man, known as Sabeer (25 years old), was found dead in his room in Sanad village. Reports say that he died of suffocation of tear gas which makes him death number 79th person to die according to BCHR records since the start of the revolution. The authorities continue to delay releasing the body of Salah Abbas, a protester who was found dead yesterday after getting arrested and beaten up.

Protesters arrested

Today, at least 8 Bahraini women went to the site of Formula 1 grand prix to protest against the unjust detention of activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja who has been on hunger strike for more than 70 days, which puts his life at great risk. The women were unarmed and peacefully protesting when they were arrested. Witnesses say that they were beaten up as well. The women’s names are as follows:

1- Ramleh Mula Abbas from Nabih Saleh

2- Zainab Laith from Dar Kulaib (a poet and an activists who was listed to go to Gaza on “Mariam Ship” in 2010)

3- Zainab Almuglak from Sihla

4- Eman Alhabishi from A’Ali

5- Masoma Alsayed from Bilad Alqadeem (was arrested before several times for protesting )

6- Mona Ali from Sitra

7- Zahra Abdulanabi from Sitra

8- Sara Hasan from Sitra

Journalist Nazeeha Saeed, torture victim, stated in her twitter account that “torturer office Sara Al Moosa is on duty in BIC protecting the race”. Concerns raised over the wellbeing of the arrested women who were taken to the same police station where Naziha and several other detainees have previously reported being tortured, Riffa police station . When the families tried to see their daughters they were pushed out of the police station.

Heavy security measures including security checkpoints, armored vehicles were deployed at areas surrounding the Pearl Square as calls for a march back towards the square emerged early today. There were many protests heading to the former pearl roundabout (AKA Lulu), which has become a symbol of freedom and democracy to Bahrainis. All the protests were all violently attacked with teargas, shotgun and stun grenade.

Activists targeted

Activists and blogger Zainab Al Khawaja, (@angryarabiya) was arrested again on night of 21 April 2012 after she staged a single woman protest by sitting peacefully in the middle of the road protesting against the continued detention of her father who is possibly on his death bed, after being on hunger strike for over 70 days with no compassionate reaction from the authorities in Bahrain. Zainab refused to go to the public prosecution today and she is currently being held in jail. Her sister Maryam Al Khawaja, head of foreign affairs in BCHR, said “I can guess it’s because nobody really believes in the legal system. Zainab’s mentality is you can only bring about the fall of the regime when you stop treating it as a government.”

BCHR reported yesterday the details of the arrest of blogger & youth activist Mohammed Hasan, who was released last night after being beaten. Today, Mohammed was rearrested in a checkpoint in Sanabis with journalist Colin Freeman from The Sunday Telegraph. Colin is an accredited journalist allowed to work in Bahrain. They were taken to the Exhibition center police station. Mohammed was interrogated about his connection to the journalist and later released without any charges.

Activists Dr. Alaa Shehabi and Ali Al Aali were with a group of journalists from Channel 4 News on Budaiya road near Naqsh coffee shop in their car. They were chased by 11 riot police vehicles until forced to stop and were arrested. Ali said on his twitter account “we are being insulted/ humiliated”. Dr. Alaa is an economist, lecturer, writer, activist, head of researches of BRAVO human rights organization and a co-founder of Bahrain Watch. She has been very vocal about her political views in interviews with different TV channels and newspapers. Dr. Alaa was on the same panel with Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR, in a press conference about detained and tortured Athletes in Bahrain just a couple of days ago. She has also written articles against the Bahraini regime in numerous foreign newspapers. Dr. Alaa and her husband, a former political detainee, met Bernie Ecclestone in their visit to London where he told them that the people of Bahrain can hold protests in the circuit and that he “want(s) the opposition to have a press conference in which opposition can get their message across and for open dialogue”. Not only was there no press conference but freedom of expression was targeted in every possible manner due of F1.

Journalists arrested

A statement by the Channel 4 news confirmed that “A Channel 4 News team, with Jonathan Miller, has been arrested in Bahrain. We have been in contact with them and are very concerned for the welfare of their driver who was arrested and assaulted in front of the team, and then separated from them. When last seen he appeared to be bleeding from slashes to his arms.” Miller managed to record an audio report while in the police car of what happened: channel4.com

Like many other news agencies, Channel 4 News was denied journalist visas and has been working without accreditation during the Grand Prix. Yesterday, another reporter, Rasmus Tantholdt from Danish TV2 channel was denied entry to Bahrain at the airport for the second time in 24hrs. He was in Bahrain 2 weeks ago and did some coverage for the channel on the protest for the hunger strike human rights defender Abdulhadi AlKhawaja.

Also, two Japanese journalists working for Asahi Newspaper were arrested in Sanabis village and taken to Exhibition police station, where they they are still detained.

Mazen Mahdi, a photojournalist with German news agency EPA , was stopped today by riot police while covering protests in Belad Al Qadeem village. He was then threatened by police that they would break his camera. He said: “Threat made by what appears to be an officer masking his face and rank!”.

As the Formula1 race is over, it seems that the Bahraini authorities are again trying to enforce a media blackout in place by targeting journalists and those who facilitate their work in Bahrain. The most peaceful assemblies continue to be targeted. Bahrain center for human rights strongly condemn the government’s fierce crackdown on whoever exercises freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and the attack on journalists and activists for exposing the crimes committed in Bahrain by the authorities. We immediately demand the release of all detained activists, protesters and journalists, putting an end for the use of violence against peaceful protesters and allowing Bahrainis their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

In Syria, like Father, like Son & Mali Slides from Democracy to Junta

March 26th, 2012 No comments

Like father, like son. Giant portraits of Bashar and Hafez al-Assad hang on a building in downtown Latakia, Syria in July 2006. I stayed in Latakia, an Alawite stronghold, while traveling from Antalya, Turkey to Lebanon to report on the vengeful Israeli air and ground campaign occurring that summer. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

New York- It’s been quite a while since I’ve managed to slug out a blog update due to bouts of sickness, busy-ness, and relaxing-ness. None of that is to say that TWD hasn’t been busy though. Where to begin…well things in Syria have obviously gotten much worse. Kofi Annan’s shuttle diplomacy is clearly an abject failure. Meanwhile the Free Syrian Army position visited by TWD in late January has been overrun according to the Telegraph’s Nick Meo who traveled to Guveççi in early March. After the vicious assault on Homs, I figured reprisals against rebellious bastions in Idlib Governorate would surely be next and indeed they were. I had been contemplating a return to Idlib in the spring but for now I’ve scuttled that idea less a major development occurs. All the talk of a Turkish imposed of led buffer zone is just that…talk.

The floundering Syrian revolution is the saddest quarter of the Arab Spring, beating out the quashed, well contained uprising in Bahrain by a long shot.  At least for the near term, it does not appear that any one actor is going to stick their neck out far enough and come to the FSA’s rescue. That is not to say their cause is entirely without hope. Though the stream of Russian-supplied arms through the Black Sea and on to Syria’s slice of the Mediterranean coast certainly does not foster much optimism for those longing to see the end of the conflict. With members of the FSA’s border sentinels back on their heels in Turkish territory, I’m quite curious as to just how that will affect the already rather timid talk of creating some kind of cordon sanitaire hugging the southern Turkish border.

With the fall of Deir ez-Zor last week, the FSA has lost its conduit to smuggled arms emanating from northern and western Iraq. So in sum, things are looking quite bleak. As the FSA has had to concede a succession of tactical retreats throughout March reversing many of their gains from 2011, those that cannot ditch to either Turkey’s Hatay Province or Lebanon’s North Governorate may have to resort to a form of taqiyyah (dissimulation) to save the revolution from Assad’s unforgiving mukhabarat. The bloody war in Syria being waged by Bashar al-Assad is like his father’s much more limited anti-Ikhwan campaign that lasted for several weeks in February 1982 when the city of Hama suffered through a pulverizing scorched earth campaign that was the writ small template for today’s crisis.

The world is paralyzed from acting in any sort of unison on Syria not just because of the well-reported obstinance of Russia and China on the UN Security Council but because that other all-important permanent member, the United States, could not take a firm position because it needed to be clear on what Israel’s position was first. The problem with that scenario has been that the Israelis have not really had a position at all, at least officially. The Israelis, behind the curve more often than not when it comes to change in the Middle East, hoped that the untenable status quo would somehow maintain in Syria so that they could keep their American patrons tightly focused on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Although the US, most notably the State Department, began to put some teeth into their statements regarding the Assad regime, this ends up being empty rhetoric when not backed up by concrete action on the ground of any sort. Now that everyone has twiddled their thumbs for so long, the FSA has lost much of the ground it once de facto controlled.

Though publicly the Israelis find Assad and Co. odious, they would prefer to deal with a rather predictable, supposedly rational enemy they know rather than a collapsed state on their doorstep or an emergent Sunni-led government intent on somehow regaining the illegally occupied Golan which Israel sees as critical to its water supply. And as with Libya, France and Britain cannot really do much in terms of military action without the US. The most important player in the whole deal appears to be the Kremlin which is always a sad state of affairs (see Chechnya, Dagestan et al.). Though every state shall perform diplomacy through the narrow prism of their national interest, having Medvedev (Putin) broker a Syrian peace/stalemate is absurd.  The FSA hoped Turkey would have their back but Ankara is too concerned about a resurgent PKK to do anything of substance on Syria. Turkey fears renewed Syrian assistance to the PKK that would allow them to stage attacks on Turkish security forces from Syrian ground as Hafez al-Assad had done until the late 1990s. Depressing all the way around.

While the world has been consumed by the war raging in the Levant, a very important geopolitical development has taken place in what many might incorrectly assume to be a quiet African backwater. A coup d’état took place in Mali last week as a direct result of the Western (and GCC)-backed overthrow and extrajudicial execution of Qaddafi in Libya last year.

With Qaddafi dead and the war in Libya shrunk down to a few internecine militia skirmishes and inter-ethnic squabbles little understood by the outside world, ethnic Tuareg fighters who had fought under Qaddafi’s monochrome green banner returned to their desert home in northern Mali to commence a new, better armed rebellion. There is a long history of the Libyan state, embodied singularly by Qaddafi’s quixotic territorial ambitions, co-opting the dispossessed Tuareg of Mali and Niger for Libya’s own purposes. Qaddafi thoroughly enjoyed making trouble for his neighbors (and anywhere in the world he deemed counter-revolutionary). He harbored rebel leaders from throughout the Sahel region. This interaction gave birth to the musical collective Tinariwen, arguably the world’s most famous beacon of Tuareg culture.

Now Mali’s Tuareg rebels, principally the MNLA, have launched a new war against the Malian state with arms and vehicles looted from the chaos in Libya last year. Mali’s regular army troops outgunned and even reportedly underfed at surrounded garrisons in the country’s three northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. In response, a group of disaffected Army officers formed a junta to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Touré (who was just weeks away from peacefully stepping down with new elections on the horizon).

The Arab Spring, which began as a chain reaction of calls for radical reform that quickly morphed into the toppling of strongmen across the region, has now inadvertently toppled a relatively decent democracy. Malian Tuareg who were either no longer needed or no longer welcome in Libya returned home to incite an insurrection to secede from the Malian state to create a Tuareg homeland of ‘Azawad.’ So now poor Mali-recipient of a meager amount of American foreign aid and client state in the Pan-Sahel Initiative/Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative/AFRICOM jumble-has had a fairly civil, democratically elected leader (himself a former soldier who led a coup in toppling  dictator in 1991) overthrown by an American-trained, hitherto unknown army captain who leads a junta angry about better armed MNLA rebels who are sort of beneficiaries of American/Western policy. This policy in Libya that greatly helped to collapse the Libyan state structure which gave rise a renewed troubles in Mali (and potentially Niger).

The proverbial genie is out of the bottle in the troubled under-governed Sahel and Qaddafi is no longer around to sort things out. NATO declared the Libyan campaign a success when it officially called an end to Operation Unified Protector on October 31, 2011 without any sort of contingency plans for potential state failure in the countries to Libya’s south. Qaddafi loved to stoke conflicts in Africa and now that he’s long dead, he’s still able to cause immense trouble.

My Asia Times Online article above was sourced heavily for a UPI article reprinted below:

Mali Coup: Arab spring spreads to Africa

BAMAKO, Mali, March 26 (UPI) — Last week’s military coup in Mali, triggered by a Tuareg rebellion and ignited by fighters and weapons from Libya, underlines how deeply the fallout from the year-old string of Arab uprisings is spreading from North Africa to non-Arab West Africa.

“The current crisis … has the potential to create further destabilization in the wider Sahara and Sahel regions beyond the current chaos in Mali,” observed analyst Derek Henry Flood, who witnessed the 2011 Libyan conflict at close quarters.

“In simplest terms, the Arab Spring has now bled into Africa. And the mercurial, egomaniacal (Moammar) Gadhafi is no longer available to mediate such deadly disputes.”

The coup by disgruntled soldiers of Mali’s 7,000-man army overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure, an ex-soldier.

He went into hiding with loyalist troops, including his old 33rd Parachute Regiment, leaving open the possibility of a counter-coup in the nation of 15.4 million.

The irony is that while the Arab leaders targeted by the popular uprisings against them throughout 2011 were dictators and despots like Gadhafi, Mali’s Toure wasn’t one of the autocratic “Big Men” of Africa like the late Sese Seko Mobuto of the Congo or the murderous Charles Taylor of Sierra Leone, but a democratically elected leader.

Indeed, the U.S.-supported Toure had been instrumental in moving Mali, a vast landlocked desert state south of Algeria, from a military dictatorship to a passably democratic state over the last two decades.

Toure “was on the cusp of stepping down at the end of his first term in what should have been a peaceful transition” in presidential elections scheduled to begin April 29, Flood observed.

These aren’t likely to happen now since troops led by mid-level officers seized power Thursday.

Led by a U.S.-trained officer, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, they apparently struck because of discontent in the military that Toure wasn’t doing enough to support them in fighting a rebellion in the long under-governed north along the Algerian border.

The nomadic Tuareg have been a problem for centuries. Their secessionist insurrection had been stiffened by heavily armed tribal fighters who fought for Gadhafi’s regime and had long battled the Bamako government in the non-Tuareg south for independence under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

In recent months thousands of tribesmen have returned to Mali, armed with missiles and mortars that left the Malian army badly outgunned. In January, they rekindled the MNLA’s revolt.

The coup itself seems to have been touched off by a mutiny among troops in the north reeling under an MNLA onslaught led by Gadhafi’s Tuareg veterans.

Now the MNLA, having seized most of the north and with the military in disarray, is apparently moving south toward the capital, with government troops reportedly fleeing in the Tuareg path.

Algeria, the regional military heavyweight, is increasingly concerned that Mali will become a haven for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. This group has been extending its operations across North Africa and into the Sahel states of Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

Other countries, particularly impoverished Niger with vast uranium deposits, are seen as increasingly vulnerable to AQIM and its allies, which have in recent years included Tuaregs across the region.

Many Nigerien Tuaregs also fought in Gadhafi’s forces and they’re going home armed with heavy weapons.

Niger had a coup of its own in 2010 and struggled with a Tuareg revolt in 2007-09.

The MNLA has overrun towns and military bases along Mali’s border with Niger, Algeria and Mauritania.

Algeria, which has ducked the worst of the Arab Spring, is to have elections in May amid widespread discontent. The last thing Algiers wants is more trouble from the southern desert while it battles AQIM.

Links between the jihadists of AQIM and the Tuareg are patchy but they may yet find common cause.

The March 20 arrest in Mauritania of Gadhafi’s infamous and fugitive intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, after he flew in from Morocco on a forged Malian passport “illustrates that the effects of regime change in Libya will be felt across Africa for some time to come,” Flood noted.

“It’s now clear that the consequences of the Western-backed Libyan campaign have now unequivocally traveled from North Africa to what is distinctly West Africa.”

Little Change in Bahrain

February 14th, 2012 No comments

Whizzing by the demolished, cordoned off former site of the Pearl Roundabout in Manama's financial district on April 3, 2011. Photography in the area was banned and this shot was all I could get. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood.

New York- On April 2-3, 2011, I traveled to Manama, Bahrain for a fleeting 24 hours to get a glimpse into the island kingdom’s crushed revolution. I was only allowed out of the airport after a friend who works as a junior diplomat at the American embassy there came to my rescue. The Pearl Roundabout, whose eponymous sculpture had been torn down on March 18, was forbidden to both visit and photograph by the time I arrived. The area, in the heart of the island’s steaming hot capital, had become a closed militarized zone upon my visit. My ruse to visit the area was to take a taxi to the adjacent fish souq manned by South Indians and Bangladeshis. The authorities quickly caught on however and the jig was up. In a taxi on the way to the souq, the driver had mentioned off handedly that a local coin had been taken out of circulation because it simply depicted the vanished Pearl sculpture. I went to a number of businesses in Manama trying desperately to get my hands on one of the verboten coins thinking surely it would still exist as change in someone’s cash register. I asked at the coffee shop that I darted into while trying to evade the Bahraini police. Nope. Then the Carrefour, then the Virgin store and so forth. All of the salespeople told me they had been instructed to rubbish the Pearl coins when they received them as payment. I quickly realized I would only be able to score one once outside the country.

The South Asian fish souq mongers in downtown Manama, pawns in my not so elaborate ruse to get to the former site of the Pearl Monument. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

My way of exacting revenge was via Ebay. As soon as I reached New York at the end of that trip, my first order to business was to track down the banned 500 fils coin depicting the Pearl Monument. The coin took quite some time to arrive but I finally got my hands on the prize (from every conflict I collect recently or soon-to-be defunct currencies like the Taliban afghani, the Saddam dinar etc).

The Bahraini uprising began sadly a year ago today. The grievances have been stifled by the ham-fisted policies of the government there and its big brother in neighboring Saudi Arabia. The United States has not only callously failed to act there, wary of losing its military lookout facing Iran (ie the 5th fleet) but has also been debating buttressing the regime was a massive weapons deal disproportionate to the kingdom’s tiny size and populace. While the infamous $53 million arms deal sits in limbo, a smaller $1 million arrangement has been allowed to go forward according to Human Rights Watch. Bahrain is a travesty in part because it is simply allowed to go on. The monarchy continues to suppress calls for both moderate reform and those more radical for its overthrow and the conversion of Bahrain into a representative democracy. Joshua Landis, the author of Syria Comment, referred to the regime of Bashar al-Assad as “the last minoritarian regime in the Levant” who is “destined to fall in this age of popular revolt”.

In the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf however, sits yet another minoritarian regime, that of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The Hamad government has been described as destined to fall by no one unless there is a statement by Hassan Nasrallah or some ayatollah in Qom I’m unaware of. America’s clumsy, lopsided policy when it comes to Bahrain is then easily exploited by those who did not want to see Qaddafi fall and seek to uphold Assad at least rhetorically because of their deeply ingrained anti-American worldview. Amidst all of this nonsense, in the towns and villages outside the once glitzy capital of Bahrain, it is the Shia civilians there that continue to suffer.

Bahrain's "cancelled" 500 fils coin picturing the once iconic Pearl Monument whose six pillars represented the six monarchies making up the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Lost and Found

February 1st, 2012 No comments

Antakya- Doing some googling to see where some of my recent Syria work might have ended up, I stumbled upon some references to my work from close to a year ago that I missed in the chaos of the time. I put them on my blog in part to create a living catalogue of my work so that I can keep track of it (and possibly add it to my CV). On March 1 of last year while I was in the Libya war, my colleague Chris Zambelis had an article in the March 2011 edition of the CTC SentinelThe Factors Behind the Rebellion in Iranian Kurdistan” (endnote #8). I was also cited by colleague Peter Lee at Asia Times Online on April 9, 2011 in “China under pressure over Saudi rise.” Love to find these little nuggets after the fact.

Nabeel Rajab Savagely Attacked During Arab Winter

January 6th, 2012 No comments

New York-I’m posting the verbatim email I received from Maryam al-Khawaja just now on a vicious attack on @NabeelRajab. I interviewed Nabeel twice in 2011. Those articles can be read here and here. Luckily he was released not long after. Though it is easily the most oft overlooked corner of the Arab world’s uprisings, Bahrain’s bitter struggle is far from over with no end in sight. Of course I can’t help but think how things would play out differently if the fifth fleet were to depart for good.

Bahrain: Vicious Attack on Human Rights defender Nabeel Rajab

http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/4949

06 Jan 2012

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies hold the authorities in Bahrain full responsibility for the life and safety of human Rights defender Nabeel Rajab.

The President of Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab was beaten severely by the security forces in Bahrain then moved in an ambulance to Salmaniya hospital after participating in a peaceful protest in Manama earlier tonight (video of the attack on the protest). He has told his lawyer on a phone call following the attack that the policemen gathered around him suddenly and started to beat him. He informed the lawyer that while lying on the ground he was beaten all over his body and specially on his back and face and that his face injuries are serious. He has an injury just below his right eye. He was then taken to Salmanyia hospital which is still controlled by a heavy security presence since last March. Human rights activists from Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) and his lawyer Mohammed Al-Jishi who have headed immediately to the hospital were prevented from seeing him. His Son Adam Rajab saw his dad in the hospital, carried by police, he said Nabeel’s face was swollen. When Adam tried to take a picture of his dad he got pushed and his phone was taken from him. Dr Alaa AlShehabi reported from the hospital that Nabeel is surrounded by 8-10 security officers and that he is suffering from concussion, back pain and bruises to his back and face. He told Dr Alaa that he was attacked by a group of police officers with sticks, he was kicked, punched & beaten all over his body and especially on the face. BCHR member Said Yousif AlMahafdha was able to see Nabeel for a moment by was then asked by Minister of interior officers to leave immediately.

BCHR knew that Nabeel is being interrogated right now, though he can’t talk and is currently on a wheel chair. His family was not allowed to stay with him.

Following the same attack, Sayed Yousif AlMahafdha, active member of the BCHR, was also injured with a stun grenade in his leg and arm. In addition, supporters gathered in solidarity outside Nabeel’s house in Bani-Jamra were attacked with tear gas.

This is an urgent appeal, the fact that the ministry of interior is controlling access to Nabeel with heavy security presence around him and preventing taking photos is very worrying and we are concerned about his health and life. Rajab is believed to be under arrest, until authorities with the Ministry of Interior allow visitation or reveal Mr. Rajab’s status.

There is an imminent fear of torture, in case Rajab was transferred to a detention facility, particularly that there is a trend of targeting human right defenders in Bahrain, who are frequently subjected to torture and other ill treatment while in detention.

GCHR, BCHR and CIHRS believe that the security forces attack on human rights defender Nabeel Rajab is directly related to his legitimate work in defense of human rights and democracy in Bahrain.

We are deeply concerned that this latest attack comes as part of an increasingly hostile environment that human rights defenders in Bahrain are facing which has included the repression of peaceful demonstrations in the villages of Bahrain, the arbitrary arrest of nonviolent protesters on daily basis, and the attacks and intimidation of human rights defenders who are defending the people’s rights in Bahrain.

We condemn in the strongest possible term this vicious attack on a well known human rights figure inside Bahrain and on the regional and international levels. GCHR, BCHR and CIHRS, are gravely concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Nabeel Rajab and hold the government of Bahrain responsible for his safety.

May Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

December 31st, 2011 No comments

Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi got his backside kicked by Spinal Tap on The Simpsons two decades ago. Funny how his Matt Groening rendering looks a lot like Libyan revolutionary street art.

New York- Watching my old Simpsons DVDs the other day, I caught this quick gag where a tout tries to sell Bart a Spinal Tap t-shirt where the band is kicking Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi’s backside. This art presaged that of the Libyan revolutionaries by a good nearly 20 years. The Qaddafi shirt appears in The Otto Show which was broadcast in April 1992 at the end of the show’s third season.

2011 was one crazy roller coaster of a year. I want to thank some of the people that made the year both possible and memorable: Faisal my driver in eastern Libya who took me as far as Ras Lanuf and invited this strange Westerner who didn’t eat meat into his home for lunch, watching the circus that was Libyan state TV, and letting play with his Kalashnikov which he procured in case things got really bad. My old San Diego friend Brad, a reformed Orange County punker turned family man/junior diplomat at U.S. Embassy Bahrain and Nabeel Rajab for giving me his thoughts on the grim human rights situation in his besieged country. In Addis Ababa I want to thank my friend Carlo who introduced me to the last Italians in Ethiopia at the Buffet de le Gare near the defunct railroad station. Sorry we never did the trip to the Somali border mio amico! Next time… Khalid and the very hospitable Amazight (Berber) rebels in Nalut in Libya’s Jebel Nafusa. I hope the war really is over for you. Kenny in Barcelona who rescued me on the way back from North Africa when there was no place to stay in the city on a hot summer night. And Kostas and Veronika at Caveland on Santorini, I hope to come again! I miss those pups. Caroline and all the staff at the American Embassy in Paris closed out my year very nicely and for that I am grateful.

No one could have ever predicted all of the things that took place this last year. The world began to reorder itself in a messy and violent way. The status quo became unbearable to the point of both peaceful and armed revolt. The drone war escalated, the neocons are trying to stage an awkward comeback and a host of other negative trends mean we are in no way out of the proverbial woods. But people were and are willing to fight and die for their freedom which came at a terrible cost in Libya (and continues unabated in Syria). Plenty of dictators-yes I’m talking about you Central Asia-and monarchs-GCC, Jordan, Morocco-still stand around the world. The clock is ticking for Bashar al-Assad. Plenty of issues seek to be ironed out in 2012 in the European Union to say the least. God only knows where the next crisis will arise in the coming year and anyone who says they do is likely a fool.

Happy New Year from TWD!!!