Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Morocco’

Is the GCC Unravelling?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th November, 2017

C0F4FE57-2826-47BC-B8AE-6C6F8B4B45BCThe Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, more commonly known by its previous name, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has been in existence since 1981 and aims at a degree of economic integration between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman as well as cooperation in other fields, but some of its more ambitious plans have been quietly shelved. Following the launch of the euro there was talk of moving towards a single GCC currency, to be called the khaleeji (Gulfi), but Oman said it would need to opt out and enthusiasm waned elsewhere. Then at the time of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, tentative moves were made to bring two other Arab monarchies, Jordan and Morocco, into the fold, despite neither being in the Gulf. However, the one obvious geographical absentee absentee is Iraq, which overthrew it’s short-lived monarchy in 1958, was never a serious contender while Saddam Hussein was in power and has been equally unpalatable to the Sunni Arab monarchs since Shia-dominated governments have been in charge in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion. When there was stronger than usual unrest among Bahrain’s majority Shi’i population in 2011, Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent in troops to help the Al Khalifa monarchy quash it. Since then, Iran has been the focus of much of the GCC’s animosity, notably from Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as Tehran’s rival for regional hegemony. But since this summer, another deeply complicating factor has emerged: the embargo of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, mainly because of the activities of the Doha-based TV channel, Al Jazeera, and Qatar’s alleged cosying up to Iran (with which it shares a gigantic gas field). Kuwait has been trying to mediate, while the wily ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos, is keeping well out of it. The Saudi Foreign Minister the other day downplayed the importance of the row, but it has inevitably made the facade of GCC unity crumble. And if the standoff continues for long, the GCC would be in real danger of unravelling.

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Avi Max Spiegel’s “Young Islam”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th September, 2015

imageWestern media and politicians tend to view the rise of political Islam through a prism of binary opposites: moderate versus extremist, Sunni versus Shia and so forth. But in reality the situation is far more complex. There are as many types of Islamism – the belief that political systems and structures should be based on Islamic teaching – as there are Islamists.

Similarly, young Muslims who are radicalised or who make their religion the foundation for their individual and collective lives do so for a variety of different reasons. Commentators in Europe have focussed on the influence of militant imams and Islamist websites. However, extensive fieldwork by the ethnographer Avi Max Spiegel in Morocco (Young Islam, Princeton University Press, £19.95) suggests that a more common method of recruitment is via the example and encouragement of friends.

Morocco has two main Islamist streams: the PJD, which is a registered political party that has sometimes had Ministers in government, and the more radical underground movement Al Adl. These operate in parallel, in a country whose Head of State is a King who traces his own ancestry back to the Prophet Mohammed (thereby validating his own legitimacy).

By mixing with young Moroccans over a lengthy period, the author was able to discover how individuals, male and female, make their choices about which group they favour and which activities to embrace. A fluent Arabic speaker, he lets them tell their own stories, so we see them as people with their own personalities and concerns rather than just statistics.

Avi Max Spiegel is that rare creature, an academic who presents serious fieldwork in a totally accessible form. This book is therefore not only a valuable contribution to understanding Moroccan youth today but has relevance to the entire Islamic world.

(This review was first published in Liberal International British Group’s magazine Interlib) 

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Don’t Forget the Western Sahara

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st November, 2011

I spent the weekend at a spa hotel outside Algiers at the Second International Solidarity Conference with the Sahraoui people, which drew two or three hundred participants from countries as diverse as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Ethiopia, France, Lebanon, Mexico, Namibia, Russia, South Africa and Tunisia. The Algerian TV and other media wee there in force, as the Algerian government has been the firmest friend of the Western Sahara and its independence movement, the Polisario, since Morocco ocupied the phosphate-rich western half of the territory after it ceased to be a Spanish colony. It is often wrongly said that Namibia was the final African country to gain independence, whereas actually the Sahraouis have been struggling for theirs for nearly 40 years — almost as long as the Palestinians. The Sahraoui Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), as the Western Sahara is formally known, is a full member of the African Union and has been recognised by a growing number of countries round the world, though not as yet by Britain. I shall be arguing that Britain should raise the status of the Polisario representation in London to that of an Embassy — as HMG has already done for the Palestinians — which would be an important step towards statehood. There have been numerous UN resolutions about the Sahraouis’ right to self-determination, but the Moroccans have dragged their feet for many years, thereby preventing a referendum of the people of the territory that is meant to settle the issue one way or the other. Libeal Democrats (and the old Liberal Party before) have had longstanding relations with the Westen Sahara; the late Chris (Earl of) Winchilsea was a particularly active campaigner and organiser of aid to the Sahraoui refugee camps deep in the Algerian desert. And I was pleased that LibDem MEPs — not least Andrew Duff — recently opposed the renewal of the EU fisheries agreement with Morocco because it also covers the waters off the Western Sahara. Indeed, the Coalition government has taken a more progressive line on related issues than its Labour predecessor did, but it still has the task of standing up to France in the European context, as the French are staunch supporters of Morocco and its colonial occupation. But standing up to the French is something Brits have often done rather well in the past, so perhaps on this issue we should return to our traditions!

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The Good Tourist

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th October, 2008

  The Good Tourist sounds like it ought to be a novel by John Le Carré, but in fact it is a fascinating and highly personal exploration of ethical tourism by the former Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, Lucy Popescu. Most books on the subject concentrate on the environmental and social impact of tourism in developing countries, but The Good Tourist (Arcadia Books, £11.99) takes a different tack, devoting individual sections to some of the world’s favourite exotic tourist destinations — such as Cuba, Egypt, the Maldives, Mexico and Morocco — in which the attractions are first set out in fairly broad-brush terms (enlivened by anecdotes from Lucy’s own travels, or those of her friends), followed by often harrowing descriptions of human rights abuses there.

Syria and Uzbekistan are examples of a particularly acute contradiction between beautiful countries and fascinating history on the one hand and hideous repression and torture on the other. Lucy does not spare us some of the gruesome detail, but it is all well-sourced, relying mainly on the testimony of local writers, journalists and human rights activists whose causes have been taken up by PEN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the like. When it comes to Burma (Myanmar) in particular, the question has often been asked: should tourists go there at all, as much of the income generated goes straight into the hands of the ruling junta? Lucy sets out the arguments both for and against and invites the readers to make up their own minds.

At times the book is delightfully quirky (though I fear some Ukrainians will bristle at seeing the Crimea discussed under ‘Russia’). I laughed out loud at the image of Lucy cornered in a quiet Istanbul back street by jeering, leering policemen who had confiscated her passport and refused to give it back, until she shouted repeatedly ‘Margaret Thatcher!’ But otherwise there is much to make one rage and even cry. Frustratingly, there is no index, which rather reduces the book’s worth as a reference volume, but amongst its strengths is a list of useful things a good tourist can do (as well as organisations that will help) and a very well-selected booklist of recommended books to read before, during and after one’s trip.

Link: www.arcadiabooks.co.uk

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Western Sahara Still Unresolved

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th August, 2008

The Polisario’s UK representative, Lamine Baali, came for lunch yesterday. He arrived just two weeks ago, though this is actually his second London posting. He spent the intervening dozen years based in Stockholm. In the interim, much in Britain has changed. John Major’s Conservatives have been replaced by New Labour, though now it is Gordon Brown’s government that gives the impression of being on its last legs. In contrast, the situation regarding the Western Sahara remains depressingly the same.

For nearly 30 years now it has figured on the United Nations list of Non-Self Governing Territories — the last unresolved major territorial dispute in Africa. Morocco occupies the better half of what used to be the Spanish Sahara — and has been settling it with migrants from further north — while the Polisario control the desert rest. However, the bulk of the Sahrawi population who support the Polisario’s campaign for independence live in refugee camps in the Algerian desert, as they have done for a generation, currently suffering from intense heat and drought.

I visited the Polisario camps in 1990 and travelled by jeep and camel in their part of what they call the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Lawrence of Arabia would have felt at home there. I was woken one morning by a camel nuzzling my ear as I lay on the ground, and I heard about Nelson Mandela’s release from prison on the World Service of the BBC while I was there. I even climbed over the wall that the Moroccans built right through the territory, in order to keep Polisario fighters out of their occupied zone. These are some of my most vibrant memories of my time as a foreign correspondent. But I find it infinitely depressing that nearly 20 years later, the issue of the Western Sahara’s future still has not been resolved, and the referendum promised to the Sahrawi people so they can exercise self-determination still seems no more than a distant mirage.

Link: www.arso.org

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