Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Yemen’

Landmark Ruling on Arms Protesters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th April, 2016

DSEI protestEight anti-armaments campaigners, who were charged with blocking the entrance to last September’s giant arms fair in London, DSEI 2016, were this week found not guilty, on the grounds that they had acted in good faith to prevent an even greater crime. After listening to four days of often passionate testimony, the judge said the court had heard compelling evidence of the role of weapons on sale at DSEI in repression and human rights abuses. During the trial, the defendants had particularly highlighted the use of weapons in Saudi Arabia’s attacks in Yemen, the suppression of  dissent in Bahrain and Turkey’s military activities in predominantly Kurdish areas of the country. They also argued that some illegal types of weapon had been openly displayed at the Fair. An estimated 30,000 visitors went to the Fair despite the disruption by protesters. DSEI is one of the largest such events in the world and a,though another one is planned for next year, anti-war campaigners are determined to be out in force on that occasion too.

Link: https://www.caat.org.uk/

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Cameron’s Shameful Saudi Arms Sales

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th February, 2016

Yemen strikesWhen he visited the BAE Systems factory in Preston yesterday UK Prime Minister David Cameron boasted of his success in helping promote “brilliant” arms sales top Saudi Arabia, whereas he should have hung his head in shame. Of course the Desert Kingdom and other Gulf states have the right to defend themselves and it is natural that Britain, as a major arms producer, should wish to corner an important part of a lucrative market. However, Saudi Arabia is not a normal case, for at least two reasons. The first is the air campaign it has been waging in Yemen, which has caused not only immense physical damage — including, reportedly, to all the country’s universities — but serious civilian loss of life. All this in by far the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula, in which hundreds of thousands of people, especially children are suffering from acute malnutrition. The second reason for Britain to balk at its cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia, rather than bask in it, is the Kingdom’s egregious human rights record. Since King Salman came to power, far from reducing the number of executions Saudi Arabia has accelerated their number. Medieval punishments are carried out under the false flag of religion, while women are still denied a full place in society and those who dare criticise the system, such as the liberal blogger Raif Badawi, face imprisonment, flogging or worse. The European Parliament rightly called for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia this week, because of the Yemen conflict, though Mr Cameron’s Conservative MEPs failed to back that resolution. Labour politicians Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Benn, to their credit, have spoken out in Britain and Tim Farron and other Liberal Democrat figures have also made their revulsion known. But the spotlight needs to be turned on David Cameron, who is presiding over a government that has put human rights concerns on a back burner and which celebrates making billions from arms that are not for legitimate defence but for offensive action beyond Saudi’s borders and sometimes for domestic oppression as well.

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A New Era in UK-Iran Relations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd August, 2015

UK Iran 1The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Tehran today, reopening the Embassy that has been closed for four years following its invasion by demonstrators. Given the recent progress in international negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions this was an inevitable and welcome step. Though Brtain’s engagement in Iran has not always been positive there are strong reasons for the UK — and indeed the European Union — to have closer working relations with this important Middle Eastern power. Commercial opportunities are obvious, but trade should not be the only focus for attention. If there is going to be a regional settlement of Syria’s ongoing civil war then Iran is going to have to be involved. Similarly, wider regional insecurity as well as the fight against ISIS, require closer contacts with Tehran. In particular, it would be helpful to reduce the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been a central cause of the recent events in Yemen.

UK Iran Britain can also usefully use its influence to try to calm Israeli rhetoric against Iran and vice versa; yesterday, in an interview, the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that Israel had considered attacking Iran four times over the past decade. Iranian propaganda against what it refers to as the “Zionist entity” is often poisonous, but Israel would find itself in a less ignominious position if it withdrew from occupied Palestine. There is, however, one other major issue that could be an impediment in the way of much closer British-Iranian relations and that is human rights. The Islamic Republic has a poor record in a number of areas, including the treatment of its Ba’hai minority, Kurds, political dissidents, LGBT population and others. And although the UK Foreign Office recently downgraded its emphasis on a worldwide campaign against the death penalty it should not let this issue drop off the agenda in discussions with Iran.

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Mohamed Bouazizi’s Legacy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th December, 2011

A year ago today the young Tunisian itinerant fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself outside the municipal offices in the southern town of Sidi Bou Zid. He had reached the end of his tether after months of harassment and humiliation at the hands of the police and the authorities; little could he know that his act would trigger the undiginfied departure into exile of longstanding President Ben Ali and the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring (which I prefer to refer to as the New Arab Awakening). A year on, the leaders of Egypt, Libya and Yemen have gone and Syria’s President Assad is under threat. But the democratisaton process has been neither as swift nor as smooth as that which happened in central and eastern Europe 22 years ago. People are still losing their lives, not only in the worsening civil war in Syria, but also in ongoing incidents in Egypt, notably. It is still far from clear whether Egypt’s Revolution will lead to what many of the liberal-minded demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo hoped for. Moreover, minor disturbances or marches continue in other parts of the Arab world, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It is not only dictatorial presidents who are potentially at risk now but also some hereditary monarchs. But even though Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-sacrifice was an act of despair, as Tunisia today leads commemorations of the first anniversary of his self-immolation, there is hope that at least in some parts of the Middle East and North Africa we are seeing the dawn of greater respect for the aspirations of ordinary people and for human rights.

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The Bell Tolls for Dictators

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd August, 2011

Like many bloggers and tweeters I stayed up late last night, transfixed by the scenes in Tripoli, where the National Liberation Army (as I prefer to call it) penetrated neighbourhoods of the city, including the iconic Green Square, which was immediately renamed Martyrs’ Square. At least two of Mouammar Gaddafi’s sons have been captured and it can only be a matter of time before Gaddafi himself is cornered. Will he do a Hitler and shoot himself, or arrange things so that he gets killed? Or will the cause of justice be served by him and some of his closest associates being taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC)? It’s staggering to think how fast events have moved since the impoverished Tunisian fruit-vendor Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself last December. The Tunisian President Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s President Mubarak was forced to resign and is now on trial, Yemen’s President Saleh was seriously injured in clashes during the uprising to oust him and remains in hospital in Saudi Arabia — which has a reputation now as the retirement home for dictators, beginning with Uganda’s Idi Amin. And now Gaddafi’s day of judgement is nigh. To remind ourselves of the speed and significance of these events, just take a look at the photo here of the four dictators looking so pleased with themselves at an African Union Summit last year. And next? Syria, inshallah.

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The Arab Spring: How Long Will It Last?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 27th July, 2011

Last night I spoke to the South Somerset Peace Group in Ilminster about the so-called Arab Spring, highlighting in particular what has been happening in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen — each of which is quite unique, even if certain common threads can be ascertained. One of those is the importance of youth unemployment and economic exclusion, as well as the feeling amongst many ordinary Arabs that for too long they have simply been ruled rather than having any meaningful say in their own destiny. Of course, Tunisia and Egypt (historically) have some experience with democratic politics, whereas in large parts of the Arab world government is top-down, with varying degres of benevolence or malevolence. Western-style democracy is by no means necessarily the most appropriate or relevant model for some states at present.  The key country to watch is Egypt, though it is far from clear whether the transition to a democratic government after elections in November will go smoothly and there is generally a feeling of a revolution only half-completed. Most worrying, I feel, is Syria. The government of Bashar al-Assad has made some minor concessions, but repression has not ceased. Whether a meaningful dialogue with opposition groups — both inside and outside the country — can be organised, leading to true reform, remains to be seen. But there is always the danger that the regime could provoke a regional crisis, drawing in Israel, which would  be downright disastrous. What is certain is that events will kep evolving way beyond the end of 2011: this new Arab Awakening is not a matter of a short season but of an epoch.

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Emma Nicholson’s European Decade

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th June, 2009

Emma Nicholson‘The European Union is one of the most calming and peaceful mechanisms in the world today,’ Baroness (Emma) Nicholson, MEP, told Kensington and Chelsea Liberal Democrats at one of their ‘Food for Thought’ supper events this evening, citing the EU’s work in election monitoring and promoting tertiary education in particular. The Union has extended its reach dramatically during the ten years she has been a member of the European Parliament, both through enlargement to take in 12 new member states and also because of fate, she said. Events — including terrorism — have transpired to encourage EU member states to become more involved in countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — though not in a colonial way. Emma Nicholson’s own focus has often been on Romania (notably relating to children’s rights) and, more controversially, Kashmir, but she has just returned from south Lebanon, where she was part of the EU’s monitoring team covering the Lebanese general election, especially in Hezbollah-dominated areas. 

As Vice-Chairman of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Emma has dealt with a whole range of crucial international issues during her decade shuttling between Brussels, Strasbourg and the South East of England region that she represents, not to mention the extended periods of time she has spent in various parts of the Middle East, notably Iraq and Iran. She was seconded for several months to a European Commission election monitoring operation in Yemen, raising some eyebrows among her constituents, but building expertise which will be invaluable to the LibDems’ foreign affairs team when her Euro-parliamentary career ends in five weeks time and she resumes a more active role in the House of Lords. But in the meantime, she is due to launch an Iraqi-British business association next Monday in London, to encourage British investment in Iraq and bilateral commercial cooperation.

Link: http://kensingtonandchelsealibdems.org.uk

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