stories told here

Southern California in 35mm

The first week of May, I made an impromptu visit to Los Angeles because of this guy below – and his impaired state of ambulatory mobility. After having bought film a couple times in the past few years, I finally committed to shooting some 35mm on the Canon AE-1 my dad gave me four years ago. This is a glimpse into southern California through my lens, and the eyes behind it.

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[Travis parked along Hollywood Boulevard atop a star inscribed with a name unfamiliar to either of us.]

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[Travis waiting to have his leg examined by the physician's assistant in Fullerton.]

The reason my twin brother is sitting on an exam table, feeling guilty about messing up the paper (though inevitable), stems from pneumatics. The front brakes on the bike he was riding (not his own) failed while taking laps during a motorcycle racing class at a track in Riverside. This sent him through hay bales and into a chain link fence. The result was a broken fibula. He’s also a newcomer to California with a dog, manual transmission truck, and empty apartment to move his belongings (including motorcycle) into. This is where I come into the picture: help.

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[The iconic "Hollywood" hills sign.]

After taking care of doctor’s visits, we were able to take our only free afternoon together to experience the view from north LA’s Griffith Park.

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[Downtown Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory.]

          ____________________________

    Laguna Beach

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Laguna Beach is perhaps the idyllic American beach town. Rolling hills give way to surf-side cliffs, which fall into the Pacific as pristine, sandy beaches. Picturesque cottages are nestled into the green coastline. The town is pretty much what you would expect, shiny and seemingly perfect. You may know Laguna Beach from the MTV reality series, or “The O.C.” Idealized in American pop culture as the it spot in California, Orange County also includes cities like Anaheim, home to families who live a less glamorous life.

Driving down Highway One to Laguna Beach, I passed a Maserati and McLaren dealership. I was unaware that the latter car maker sold cars from dealerships, with price tags starting around a quarter of a million dollars for the high-performance car based off the Formula 1 racer. If you look past the shiny exterior of Laguna, there’s another side of the town that exists under the surface projected into tourist experiences and the lives of the wealthy.

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[Looking at the ocean from the curb across from Laguna High School.]

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[One of Laguna's cottage houses in an alley a few blocks from the Cliffside beach.]

Luis

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This is Luis. I noticed him taking a smoke break in front of his home at the end of Mermaid Street and asked if I could take his picture. After snapping a portrait, he remarks, “You know, I used to do that for a living.” He went on to share that he worked as a photographer in Europe for eight years. In his mid-twenties, while visiting his uncle in Seville, Spain, he had the opportunity to stay. A newspaper offered him employment as a photographer.

The job took him all over Europe. He even “got to go behind the Iron Curtain” on assignment, he said, saying it in a way that treated the opportunity like a cherished privilege. While sharing the last bit, I could tell his reminiscing had revived a longing for that time in his life. He loved his time abroad, and reluctantly returned to the States after eight years of fighting to hold and renew residency visas. Luis has been a resident of Laguna Beach for the past twelve years. Smiling, he says he hasn’t owned a television or a car since 1990.

                                           

 La Sirena Grill

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Upon arriving in California, my brother told me not to get too excited about prospects for Mexican food. As a pair of Texans, our standards are rather high (don’t take it too hard California). However, my first taste of Mexican cuisine in the Golden State surpassed my tempered expectations. Driving around Laguna Beach, the first open parking spot I found was on Mermaid street, in front of La Sirena Grill. After walking the blocks in the area, I circled back around to where I had parked my brother’s truck. The tiny restaurant, empty when I had parked, now entertained a line out the door and several folks eating at the tables on the sidewalk. A good queue is the best validation of any eatery’s promise. So, I hopped in line.

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[The owner inside La Sirena. His wife promptly exited into the back after she realized her husband had pulled her to his side for a picture.]

After sidling up to the counter, I chose the carne asada plate for lunch. I apologize for not having a picture. I have a new personal rule about not Instagramming food, and felt a little self-conscious about hovering over my plate with a film camera. However, I wish I had. The asada steak is served with grilled bell peppers over flour tortillas. What brought it all together were the grilled Serrano peppers, stuffed with monterey jack cheese. Top that off with their homemade salsas that made me dismiss the stereotypes I heard about California’s Mexican food lacking the kick that Texans are used to. If you ever find yourself in Laguna Beach and want to break away from the swanky bistros along the main strip, check out La Sirena.

                                                   

Patrick

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Wandering down Forest Avenue’s sidewalks filled with high-dollar art shops I came across Patrick. He wasn’t the first homeless person I had seen in Laguna, but he drew my attention. I handed him a couple dollars and sat down on the bench with him. I’m a social person. Traveling alone, if only for a day, can be a bit isolating. Being homeless is even more isolating. I figured I would rest and give him some company.

Originally from Cincinnati, he has been in California for the past decade. We discussed everything from the upcoming NFL draft to life in Laguna Beach. After falling on hard times, he came to Laguna “because it’s safe.” While first preference is given to what he called “residents”, Patrick can find a place to sleep and a meal some days at the local shelter. Being homeless in a city that works to keep an image devoid of struggle can be hard. Many of the residents, he said, either ignore or look down at him, and police will ticket for sleeping in public.

However, Patrick says there are the few that give him hope. Californians aren’t serious people, and there are a handful of people in town that go out of their way to show him kindness. Patrick is in a hard place right now and I told him I would ask you, who are reading this, to pray for him. He welcomed it. If you can, pray that our dear brother would find community, encouragement, meaningful work, and restoration of relationship with his ex-wife and daughter.

     ________________________________

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[UC Irvine in the valley behind Laguna Beach, looking North.]

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[An old classic parked along Alta Laguna Blvd in one of the town's hilltop neighborhoods.]

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[A flock of pelicans drifting above the breakers at Crystal Cove beach]

      ____________________________

The last day of my time in California was spent moving Travis and his belongings into the new apartment. The final piece was his supermoto bike. Wary of theft, he decided to keep it in the apartment while he monitored the parking garage to gauge its security and find the best parking spot. Thankfully, it fit into the elevator and onto the third floor balcony.

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[A much pleased Travis stands behind his bike in his new home.]

Field Recordings: The music of Kajo Keji, South Sudan

From 2011 to 2012, I produced films for Seed Effect microfinance in South Sudan. Over the course of my year there, I was able capture some wonderful music on video. I was going through my archives recently and decided to compile the songs I came across into one track. Below is a brief description of each song and where it was recorded.

*All of the music is in Bari/Kuku, Dinka, Lugbara, or Swahili. I may have some full translations later on.

1. Kigwo Trading Post

This song was recorded at night in a rural area called Kigwo Boma. I had accompanied a group to the Nile river to scout a potential route for a road project connecting Kajo Keji with Nimule in Eastern Equatoria. After our surveying trek, our group along with the local villagers shared a goat and some good music.

2. Kalawa Baptism

This song was recorded while filming a baptism in a village called Kalawa. We walked from the mango tree where church was held to the closest body of water, a small muddy pond, nestled among some rocks. Baptisms are a group event full of celebration and song. You can hear my friend Sam giving the baptism at the end.

3. SPLA War Song

This is part of a call and response song sung by the SPLA troops during an interlude in the July 9, 2011 independence day celebration in Kajo Keji. I wish I had captured more of the song. The soldiers clapped their rifles while a few ranking NCO’s danced and led the song. There’s something about this moment that gives me chills when I hear it. All of the music from independence day is this way. The songs aren’t just music, but expressions of joy freely expressed after decades of war and exile.

4. Yumbe Delegation, Uganda

Since Kajo Keji is located in the southern part of Central Equatoria, the Kuku people share a connection to northern Uganda where they spent years as refugees from the Sudanese civil war. Conversely, Kajo Keji hosted refugees from northern Uganda during the days of LRA terrorism. This song was recorded on the back of a small lorry as it carried Ugandans from West Nile, Yumbe District to independence day celebrations in Kajo Keji.

5. Schoolchildren, Kajo Keji

This first song performed by young, local pupils was quite a riot at the independence day celebration. This group displayed a confidence, natural ability for performance and stage presence that I had never seen from a group of middle school aged children. They went so far as to drag local officials from the VIP stands out onto the parade grounds to dance.

6. Yumbe Delegation, Uganda

This second song from the Yumbe group was performed during the official celebration. The song is an old Islamic tune from the West Nile region. West Nile is one of the areas in Uganda with an historic Muslim minority.

7. Schoolchildren, Kajo Keji

This is perhaps my favorite song from independence day. I only wish I had an uncut full version. This group of schoolgirls recount the history of South Sudan in their struggle for freedom. They thank the SPLA, and praise the independence referendum. They go through a list of East African nations, thanking each for hosting South Sudan’s refugees. At the mention of Uganda, they repeat their line of thanks to an eruption of applause. Lastly, they end on a note imploring good governance from the leaders of their new nation. This song had the whole parade grounds on their feet. Individuals, in a traditional sign of appreciation and commendation, got up and placed South Sudanese pounds in the pockets of the performers.

8. Tinate Yesu

This name of this song, also the main chorus line, translates as “Thank you Jesus” in Kuku. This was recorded at Kajo Keji Baptist Church, where I spent most of my Sundays in South Sudan. This song is one that transports me back in time to a place full of people I love, and awakens some cherished memories. I am still waiting for the next Sunday I will be able to enjoy inside of those walls.

A filmmaker’s review of “The Square”

Last week, the list actors and films nominated for the Academy Awards was released. As usual, I skimmed down the list past the usual characters until my eyes caught a flash of the word “documentary” on the screen. I had already seen one of the documentary features nominated (Dirty Wars), and ever since Sundance 2013, I had been waiting for a date circled on my calendar, January 17, to finally watch The Square on Netflix.

I love documentary film, and the art of the documentary is what drew me to filmmaking in the first place. As someone with a several humble years of experience in the trade, I wanted to sit down and write a bit about these two films from the perspective of a filmmaker, starting with The Square.

Harnessing the power of the medium

What The Square does exceptionally well is harness the power of the medium. I have to give praise to Jehane Jounaim her crew for the cinematography and intimacy of the film. This is one of the most immersive documentaries I have watched. This is what makes it such a beautiful film. Video has the ability to take the viewer inside a moment, and live it, so to speak. The camera crew for The Square took visibly extraordinary risks to capture moments that conveyed the reality of what Egyptians have experienced in Tahrir over the past three years.

I found my eyes hot with tears at a multiple points during the film. The story of Egypt’s journey as a country and people since the beginning of 2011 is perhaps one of the most gripping I have ever witnessed during my life. The camera crew of The Square‘s production team took extraordinary risks to immerse the viewer in Egypt’s revolution. They put me in the middle of the square, and it was overwhelming.

There are scenes where I sat waiting for a stray bullet or tear gas canister to send the lens of the camera crashing into the pavement. In 2010 I visited Iyad Burnat at his home in Palestine. After hearing stories of protestors in Bil’in killed by gas canisters and “rubber” bullets, my perspective on “non-lethal” ammunition changed. I knew that even if the Egyptian police weren’t firing live bullets (which they did), protestors could still be killed by their munitions.

The film also harnesses characters well (cast listed here). Rather than cut to talking heads to pontificate about the revolution, the film follows a group of revolutionaries that includes one member of the Muslim Brotherhood and one woman. Their cameras put you inside the square, and inside the lives and conversations amongst them and their families as they navigate through Egypt’s ever changing state of civil society. You are able to see their personal struggles close up, and it is hard not to feel a connection to them by the end of the film.

Here are some of my favorite moments from the film. I love these because of the raw emotion they captured.

Mubarak steps down

TheSquare_Mubarak steps down

This is a moment in the film that we all know is coming, yet unless you were in Tahrir on February 11, 2011, you haven’t felt it in this way. I watched the elation of multitudes gathered in the square, and the weeping of individuals unable to control the outpouring of years worth of emotion. After viewing the film, this moment is one I feel that I understand just a little bit better.

Ramy Essam sings “Taty Taty” in Tahrir

TheSquare_TatyTaty

This is perhaps one of the most amazing moments I have witnessed captured by a documentary. As security forces, draped in riot gear, surround Tahrir, Ramy Essam leads a crowd of protestors in lyrics that expose the hypocrisy of military rule to the very face of the oppressor. The group stands defiant, proud, and brave. I love how this scene was edited. For me, it was a beautiful moment of courage.

Mina Daniel’s Mother after Maspero massacre

TheSquare_Mina martyred

At this point in the film, and Egypt’s story, tragedy still plagues the country. Police and army brutality is constantly rising. The moment the sacrifice and heartbreak of Egyptians hit me hard was after the Maspero massacre. The heartfelt words spoken by Mina Daniel’s mother at his memorial made me want to book a ticket to Cairo just to say, “I am with you. Mina is not forgotten.” This scene was so powerful because it was intimate. If you don’t connect with this family during the film, you need to check your pulse.

Lastly, what I love about this film is that it didn’t give up. Producing and editing a documentary is a painful process. You have to take a huge experience, communicate it within a relatively small time window, and retain the emotion and integrity of the story. The makers of The Square went back to Egypt to continue filming and produce a second edit of the film because they thought it was important to include as much of the constantly developing story as possible. I can’t tell you the kind of perseverance that takes.

Criticism

From a production standpoint, I have few criticisms of the film. From a journalistic standpoint, I hold some concerns shared by others in the community of journalists covering the Arab world.

The most circulated criticism piece that I have found so far comes from Max Fisher at the Washington Post. The thesis and headline of his post is “The Square is a beautiful documentary. But its politics are dangerous.” Fisher argues that, “The Brotherhood’s role in the revolution itself is not just excised, it is rewritten into something much more nefarious.” However, the best critical review I have read comes from Evan Hill at Al Jazeera: “The Egypt outside ‘The Square’.” Hill states, “Some of the same young Egyptians who protested alongside Noujaim’s activists now criticize what they see as the film’s rose-tinted bias and oversimplification of an ongoing revolutionary moment that is far from pure or straightforward.”

This is essentially where The Square‘s weakness lies, and some would argue, failure.

As the film progressed, I found myself concerned about the way the Muslim Brotherhood was portrayed, waiting for moments to balance out the narrative that favors the secular revolutionaries. Sharing sentiments from other observers of Egypt, Fisher relays this from an interview, “They cited the degree to which the film had become a Western darling: Sympathy for liberal or secular activists is after all high in the West, while concern for the Muslim Brotherhood is low.”

The filmmakers do work to bring in the Brotherhood perspective with Magdy Ashour, who is portrayed in a positive and sympathetic light. He is a great, complex character that displays the middle ground between the dichotomy portrayed in the West as military vs Brotherhood. The truth, as pointed out by Issam el-Amrani on The Arabist, is that many Egyptians possess this middle ground. However, we are never taken inside the Muslim Brotherhood organization the same way that we are taken into the community of the revolutionaries. The brutality that Muslim Brotherhood members endured at the hands of the military after Morsi’s ouster is acknowledged, but not deeply covered in the way the revolutionary movement was.

In the end, I desired greater coverage of the deadly crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood/anti-coup sit-in in July 2013, and a stronger voice for other groups during the early 2011 protests. My concerns were somewhat assuaged by a scene at the end of the film where the main revolutionary protagonist Ahmed talks on the phone with Magdy, after the June 30 ouster of Morsi. The two share a moment of unity, affirmation of brotherhood, and common desire for Egypt to attain true freedom and internal peace. Through this scene and narration, the filmmakers do make an effort to keep the narrative framed as a struggle of people vs power. However, it is almost too little, too late.

Subjectivity and documentary film

The Square brings up the topic of objectivity vs. subjectivity in journalistic media. I ascribe to a view that believes journalism and subjectivity are not necessarily mutually exclusive. None of us are truly objective, and I think that acknowledging our own subjectivity is what is important, to a degree.  That said, a responsibility to be accurate to the story remains. Overwhelmingly, the debate over The Square that many are having is one of accuracy.

In The Square, the problem is not that it heavily covers the revolutionary side, but that it lacks a sufficient counterbalance. We need to hear what Ahmed thinks of the Muslim Brotherhood. We need to hear his perspective, regardless of what he thinks, because his voice is important. Ahmed also embodies what many young, liberal revolutionaries have felt over the past three years. The problem arises when there is not a direct voice of equal weight from the side he is addressing.

As for not moving much outside Tahrir, I would argue that the film doesn’t need to. The focus is clearly stated in the title. There’s nothing wrong with focusing heavily on what happened in Tahrir Square. When filmmakers tell a story, focus is essential in order to achieve a clear and digestible storyline. I don’t believe the filmmakers set out to produce a comprehensive film on the Egyptian revolution. They set out to tell the unique story of what happened inside Tahrir Square during Egypt’s revolution. I even think it’s fine to have a film that focuses only on the more liberal revolutionary perspective, as long as the film is branded as such.

The Square flirts with this line a bit. For an individual that has followed Egypt relatively closely, they know enough context to sift through information presented. But those unfamiliar with the Egypt’s story may finish the film with some inaccurate and unfair notions about the Muslim Brotherhood constituency, not to mention a flawed understanding of Egypt’s recent history. For those of us in the West, there is a danger of confirming liberal, Western biases about our view of the Egyptian revolution and the July 3rd military coup.

Editing is a tough and tiring process. In Hill’s article, he cites Noujaim on the editing process, “The filmmakers had to edit down from more than 1,500 hours of footage, she said, and the ‘news and the politics’ of the revolution were best left to journalists.” I have to disagree with Noujaim on this. The film is telling personal stories, but it is also telling a story of political and historical significance. The mistake here is that, in this case, she is a journalist. Certain stories we take on as filmmakers carry a responsibility to amplify the story to the world as accurately as possible.

In my opinion, the director and editors had two options. The first is to expand and deepen areas of focus in the film in a way that strives for historical accuracy as much as it does for an effective story. The second is to tell a strictly revolutionary point of view, clearly stating the intention and purpose as such, so that viewers understand it is not an endeavor to tackle the whole picture, only a slice of it.

Final Takeaway

While not perfect, The Square is beautiful and the best attempt to tell the story of Egypt’s revolution to date. This is an important film, and a powerful one. Despite shortcomings, I have an immense amount of admiration and respect for the team that told this story. And you deserve to see it. Documentaries like this do not come around often. Understand the film for what it is and use it as a jumping off point to connect further with Egypt and their struggle for “bread, dignity, and social justice.” The violence and division on the streets in Egypt today, the anniversary of the revolution, further underscore the struggle to translate a revolution into sustainable political progress.

How the US Sacrificed Pluralism for a Fractured Syria

Following the August 21 chemical attacks on East Ghouta outside of Damascus, the specter of US intervention in Syria sparked heavy debate over the course of action or inaction the government should take in response. Government officials, academics, pundits, and talking-heads offered their opinions on what the response to chemical weapons use should be, and how the US should proceed in regards to influencing the final outcome of Syria’s civil war. There has perhaps not been a period of more intense scrutiny of Syria in the American public conversation since the conflict began in the spring of 2011.

The chemical weapons distraction

The debate over chemical weapons is an important one, but in the context of the conflict as a whole, a distraction from the lacking substantive conversation about holistic policy. President Obama was reluctant to pursue a military option to his self-imposed “red line” on chemical weapons use. In large part, the president put himself in an undesirable position of having to make a unilateral decision based on the actions of a third-party or damage his own credibility. The way current public opinion stands, this is a lose-lose situation. For those arguing that military inaction was an issue of US credibility, America has invaded and occupied two foreign nations in the past decade. No other country on earth has that track record. I think US credibility on the issue of military intervention is fine. The president’s credibility as an individual is another matter. I don’t think the American people are ready to risk blow-back on saving one man’s reputation.

Having said that, it is important to acknowledge the leadership dilemma President Obama faces. As the leader of the free world (if we can claim exclusive rights to that anymore) there is undoubtedly a personal struggle over the decision of what precedent to set with his response. Even the non-interventionists (like myself) should recognize this.

Assad is not the magic kingpin

Advocacy groups and interventionist policy wonks have been arguing for greater military intervention in Syria long before chemical weapons were used by what seems to be both Assad and the rebel opposition. If we are to be fair, the information made available to those without a security clearance leaves questions about the certainty of culpability in the case of the August 21 attacks and those preceding it. From a logical standpoint, Bashar al-Assad has nothing to gain from using chemical weapons, and everything to lose. Personally, I think there is enough evidence to claim that both the rebels and the Assad regime have used chemical weapons in the last several months. Israeli and German intelligence claim that the regime ordered chemical weapons attacks, but state that the order did not come from the top of the chain of command.

I use the phrase “Assad regime” in the previous paragraph because the semantics of how we talk about this particular actor in the conflict is important. How we view Assad and the ruling regime in Syria is key to how we envision an outcome. It is also critical to influencing how we approach our engagement in the civil war. Bashar Assad began the process of being groomed to assume leadership of Syria after his older brother, Bassel al-Assad’s, untimely death. Bashar was viewed with an air of hope for change and reform in Syria after the brutality of his father Hafez al-Assad, the man who crafted the modern security state in Syria.

In an interview with NPR last weekDavid W. Lesch, author of The New Lion of Damascus, discussed his personal experiences with the authoritarian Syrian president. A key point put forward was that Bashar Assad cannot be simplified into a convenient caricature. He is as much, or more, a product of the pre-existing regime structure than his own intrinsic evil. Once a hope for reform, Lesch says he eventually began to believe the surreal world of the sycophants placed around him. In Egypt, Mubarak was removed from power, but many of the remnants of the regime remain intact, and untouched. The tight grasp of survival has not loosened to give room for revolutionary reform. This should be a clear illustration that the problem is larger than one man.

A solution of inclusivity

The likes of politicians such as John McCain, pro-opposition advocacy groups like the Syrian Emergency Task Force, and Mideast specialists in the line of Shadi Hamid, argue for a policy of increased materiel and training support for the “vetted” rebel opposition; that is, the non-jihadists groups. In short, the “bad guys” that are mixed in with the “good guys” we want to win.

The Obama administration has not put forward a “Syria strategy”, but the president has made clear that he sees an endgame in Syria without Assad. The US has already supplied the“vetted” rebel opposition with small arms and conducts training of rebel forces through the CIA in Jordan. We have claimed to pick a winner and a loser, the winner stated to be the Syrian people. However, with these actions, we have started down the road of an exclusive solution in Syria. By default, this guarantees some unavoidable problems in the future. The most powerful role the United States could hold in Syria is as a neutral third-party arbiter. As the world’s superpower, we have given up that ability and destined ourselves to champion one side in this war. It is already clear that the only truly “good” side in Syria is the ongoing non-violent resistance, along with those Syrians who humbly suffer the chaos unleashed by a brutal regime and an armed rebellion.

In supporting an almost exclusively Sunni opposition, there is the real possibility and current reality of marginalizing minority groups in Syria. These minority groups, especially the Alawites, are the key to a functional and peaceful Syria after the civil war. At the moment, the US is on the way to helping create a new insurgency in a post-Assad Syria. In Iraq, the dissolving of the Baathist party created an overnight devolution of infrastructure in the country, and a growing anti-American insurgency. It is a convenient cautionary tale, yes, but one we would do well to learn from. In order for an unfractured, peaceful state to emerge (if possible) the old regime must be part of the transition process. An exclusive strategy gives the regime even more reason to hang onto power. If they have everything to lose and no foreseeable security in the future, it is the status-quo or death.

As repeated by Syria expert Joshua Landis, the US cannot solve the internal problems of Syria militarily. There are limitations on our ability to intervene, and those must be acknowledged. Using our wealth and power to support armed solutions to this war is folly, but will be sold by advocates of armed intervention in the package of moral obligation. In reality, it is a contingency based on achieving a desired result through calculated risk mitigation. As I have written previously, a number of actors have stakes in a desired outcome in Syria that benefits themselves more than the Syrian people. The United States had the opportunity to roll back the influence of those parties with a vision for Syria obscured by sectarianism. The warring groups in Syria need a leader that can plot a path of peaceful pluralism for a pluralistic society. Instead, we have chosen sectarianism, the same as Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Qatar.

The Obama administration will tell you that we have exhausted all diplomatic options. This may be true, if your standards for diplomacy is to be left underwhelmed. We have yet to see bold and courageous diplomacy by our president. So far, he has only marginalized Assad, Iran, and Russia. We cannot decide the outcome of this civil war. What we can do is guide it towards a peaceful and inclusive resolution as much as is within our power. Our efforts would go farther to put as much commitment into humanitarian aid, refugee support, and courageous diplomacy as we have put to military solutions to real or imagined problems in the past decade. Our actions teach. What are we teaching to the students of American action?

Syria and American Intervention: New Kids on the Block

Over the past year, a decision on the questions of “if”, “when”, and “how” to become militarily involved in Syria, has moved slowly from obscurity towards potential clarity. Currently, President Obama is seeking the approval of Congress for any strike that may occur on what has been reported to be regime targets. The potential strike or strikes (we have little idea of what this would look like) would be to deter the Assad regime from using chemical weapons in the future, according to the president. With the question of this tactical decision has arisen the question , by many, of long-term strategy. There is a plurality of views on what the strategy should be, if we should have one or not, and then further, what it should look like. What I want to do is address only the topic of actors and major players included in forming any Syria strategy.

The Unites States is not the only player. It is not new; and it has the least influence right now.

The uprising in Syria has been going on since March 2011. That summer, in 2011, is when it turned violent, becoming the most protracted armed conflict of the region’s uprisings. Over the past two and a half years, what happened in Lebanon during it’s own civil war has occurred in Syria. The chaos of the battlefield became cover for any party that desired to get a hand in on the action. The instability opened a door for geopolitical opportunism and agendas by foreign actors to be pushed through proxies. Right now, the US doesn’t own anyone is Syria. But Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sunni extremists, Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia do.

The US has strategic interests in Syria. However, those interests cannot compete with the level of importance and ambition possessed by the interests of other parties involved.

Energy Wars

Syria is Russia’s only ally in the Middle East, thanks to a post-Cold War world. Syria is a minor energy producer as far as the region goes, holding modest oil and gas reserves. For Russia , one of the world’s largest energy producers, it is not so much what Syria sits on top of as much as it is where Syria sits. Russia’s nationalized natural gas company, Gazprom, is the largest producer of natural gas in the world. It is also the main supplier of LNG (liquified natural gas) to Europe.

In the Arabian Gulf, the world’s other natural gas giant, Qatar, sits on top of the largest proven natural gas field on earth. The North Dome field has turned the small peninsula kingdom into one of the richest countries in the world. That wealth has also allowed them to acquire greater political influence in the region in recent years. Bashar Assad’s control over Syria happens to be the one thing sitting between Qatar and a pipeline that could deliver Qatari LNG to the European market.

Qatar has been a strong supporter of the opposition, and one of the first, along with Saudi Arabia to send money and weapons to the Syrian rebels. For the past two years, the two gulf countries have been the largest supporters of the rebels in terms of money and arms. With what is at stake, Russia and Qatar are in for long-war to ensure the endgame swings in their favor.

The Sunni-Shia Divide

Increased political power, divided along religious lines, is perhaps the most prevalent goal among the host of parties that have joined the act of intervening in Syria. This is where things become muddled and complex. I say the divide is about political power, because at the core, that’s truly what it is. It happens to fall along sectarian, Sunni vs Shia, lines. However, the very nature of politics itself is sectarian. And not everyone asked for conflict to go that way. Several months back, a Syrian friend of mine remarked that he didn’t know members of his family in Syria spanned the spectrum of Sunni, Alawite, and Christian until some time into the uprising.

Syria is a Sunni majority country ruled by a minority regime, whose leadership ranks are filled with Alawites (a Shia offshoot, for lack of a better term). Iran and Hezbollah are trying to hold onto an important ally. For Iran, Syria is the only Arab country it has as an ally in its sphere of influence. The Shia majority Iraq is an unsettled matter. Hezbollah, more or less, takes guidance from its benefactor, Iran. If you listen to the rhetoric of Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah, it is filled with religious language. He voices concern over the fate of Shia brothers and sisters in Syria that is not devoid of some level of sincerity. There is a personal element to the war for Sunnis and Shias, enough that it is already causing conflict by extremists inside Lebanon.

For Sunni nations, or kingdom in the case of Saudi Arabia, the removal of the Assad regime would mean another Sunni ally in the Middle East and increased influence and power in the region. For Saudi, it would greatly bolster their position against Iran in regards to security and regional politics. Iran would no longer have influence in the Arab League, and lose a pre-paid Syrian vote at the United Nations.

All of the groups mentioned above are bought in at higher stakes than the US. What they are fighting for has real implications for their lives, governments, and organizations. Power, influence, and wealth are visible through an open door. They were there before America could strike Syria, and they will be there after any strike occurs, if one occurs. What America is debating is Western intervention. In that regard, they are the new kids on the block.

Al Jazeera English has put together a great interactive graphic on Syria’s allies and enemies in regards to Western intervention.

 

Bread, Dignity, and Justice (2.0)

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(Protestors in Egypt hold signs of ousted President Mohammed Morsi that read “Irhal” or “get out” in Arabic. Photo: AP)

In following the June 30th protests, and the subsequent ouster of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, it seems that everyone is trying to make sense out of the fast paced chaos occurring up and down the Nile . Tracking political developments in the Arab world from the West is a challenge. There are more questions than answers in the minds of most people. Everyone has strong opinions about what many are calling a coup, and others are calling a popular uprising. The inadequacy of each term to accurately describe the event has led to the adoption of the phrase “coupvolution” by some. This is not a post to advocate a particular side, but to work towards gaining an accurate understanding of societal opinion as a whole in regards to civil governance.

While trying to gain a picture of the future through the window of the present, a major struggle arises: How accurately do the events we are witnessing reflect the reality of public opinion? Are the Egyptian people are getting what they really want?

The Reality of Social Media and Narrative Formation

For those of us in the West, it is important to be aware of certain limitations put on media to give a complete picture of unfolding events. I want to mainly focus on the internet and social media as a source. 

In regards to Egypt and the touted role of social media in the Arab uprisings, there are some critical caveats. It is important to note that Twitter and Facebook are not as important to influencing what happened and happens inside Egypt, as changing the ability of the West to follow the events in real time. The majority of political organizing in Egypt is still done on foot. Twitter is an indispensable tool for gathering information, but is largely skewed when it comes to gathering public opinion.

In Egypt, less than 1% of the population uses Twitter. Social media tends to exclude the lower classes, anyone without regular internet access, a computer, or smart phone. Furthermore, most Egyptians post in Arabic, creating a large language barrier for 99% of Westerners. Those that tweet in English are dominated by individuals that belong to secular and more liberal political spheres. Geographically, news coverage and social media gravitate towards what is happening in Cairo. While the massive city is the focal point of the country, the outlying governorates do not receive equal coverage. These areas also tend to be more conservative. Cairo represents roughly 19 million of Egypt’s population of 84 million.

For these reasons, the secular and liberal constituency in Egypt has an amplified voice to those of us listening in the West. This is not to diminish the importance of their views, but to bring awareness to how our perceptions of Egyptian opinion may be formed from the narratives we are exposed to.

Polling Public Opinion on Religion and Government

On to the question of how to gain the most accurate picture of reality from incomplete information. First off, saying what will or will not happen with any certainty, in my opinion, is an exercise in futility. What we can do, however, is do our best to understand what motivates the current and future actions of individuals and constituent groups. To do this, we must pair information gained from the news with historical context and the most up-to-date public opinion available.

The past week has witnessed a large popular movement against Egypt’s president, supported by the Egyptian military. It is important to remember that Mohammed Morsi was voted into office by elections that were deemed free and fair by independent monitoring agencies. Leading up to the June 30th protests, the opposition’s Tamarod campaign collected 22 million signatures expressing a vote of no-confidence in Morsi and calling for early elections. That number indicates that the movement goes beyond being exclusively secular. It also displays a commitment to the ballot box. Movements of the street are an essential element of a free society, but also a difficult metric. How do we correlate the number in the streets with the overall sentiments of the people? 

Gallup and Pew have done some of the most extensive public opinion polling of the Arab and Muslim world. I will mainly use Pew here, but also recommend the book Who Speaks for Islam? published by Gallup. By seeking out the foundations of Egyptians’ beliefs and philosophy of civil government, we can gauge how the citizenry will react to developments during the transition period. 

Here are a group of key questions accompanied with data from Egypt produced by Pew Research. 

Pew Global Attitudes Project: Egypt (2010-2012)

What is the view of Islam’s role in politics?

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The Quran as a source of legal code.

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Who do Egyptians look to as a governing model?

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The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (2013)

Religious Freedom

Among Egyptians, 77% of Muslims “say it is good that others are very free to practice their faith.”

View of Islamic political parties

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Even among Egyptians dissatisfied with the direction of the country, the vast majority prefer Islamist parties.

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In the West, there is a tendency to frame the narrative as a fight between Islamism and secularism. That tension definitely exists, but misses the core of what is driving current opposition movements and counter protests. The data shows that the June 30th protests and Tamarod movement were less about opposition to Islamist leadership and more about the failure of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership to reform institutions, improve the economy, and strengthen inclusive politics. While the perception of Islam’s role in politics at any given time is more subject to current events, Egyptians see Islam as having an important part to play in the guidance of civil society.

The Tipping Point

As with the the January 25 protests of 2011 that ousted former President Mubarak, the tipping point leading to Morsi’s fall is the same. The economy. The battle cry of the Egyptian uprisings for the past two years have been “bread, dignity, and social justice.” The protests hold long-time frustrations of longing for freedom, but are brought to the streets by the insufferable daily struggle for a decent life. Morsi was asked to “meet the demands of the people.” That demand was jobs and a better economy. Here is an overview of the economic state of Egypt during Morsi’s year in office. (Stats from Rebel Economy)

The Egyptian pound lost 15% of it’s value against the dollar.

Unemployment increased from 12.6% to 13.2%. (It was 8.9% before the 2011 uprisings)

The budget deficit has widened from 11% of GDP to 14%

Last summer, before Morsi came into office, Egyptians were clear in the emphasis they put on the economy as a political priority. A Gallup study conducted in June 2012 found that across political parties, Egyptians listed the economy as the number one issue the government should address. The report discovered that 95% of Egyptians said food prices were too high, and 88% expressed that “it is a bad time to find a job in the city or area in which they live.” Meaningful work and a home free of hunger are essential to securing “bread” and “dignity.” If the next leaders of Egypt fail to make progress on the nation’s economic state, we may see history repeat itself Summer 2014.

Tuesday Night Diary

Sitting on the back porch, the night air is cold, still. It chills the nose and numbs the fingers. Not comfortable, but refreshing in the Texas spring.

Three cracks ring out in the distance. Three, four blocks away. Instinctively my mind asks the question I hate: is it construction I heard earlier or gun shots? The stillness returns. Televisions cast a flickering glow on the windows of houses next door. No doors open. The humming of cars floats through the air.

I think of this week a couple millennia ago. Christ came into Jerusalem as king. In a few days, three similar ‘cracks’ would ring out in the air. Three nails violently putting an end to my asking that question one day. One violent death to end all violence, end all death.

Tonight, the kingdom is here, yet not fully complete.

A Commentary on President Obama’s Speech in Jerusalem

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(Photo: Haaretz News. Click for full text and video.)

Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama addressed an audience of 2,000 Israelis at the Jerusalem Convention Center, the venue for his first speech in Israel. This purpose of this post is to examine the language used, points made and not made, and give some thoughts on what the rhetoric reflects. At this point, predicting any new policymaking decisions is premature. Further, on the issue of Israel and Palestine, the President’s previous words and actions have managed to accomplish the feat of disappointing and disaffecting both Palestinians and Israelis alike; drawing criticism from the left and right in the US, as well. Any flashes of hope for change in any new direction will be met with a chorus of skepticism. With that in mind, within the speech lie some new and brave words from the American president to the Israeli people. His three major themes are “security, peace, and prosperity.”

The audience for the President’s first major address in Israel reflected the focus of his message: defining the future. He spoke to the public, and to a young audience. In fact, towards the end of his speech, he says this: “Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see.” It seems the exhaustion that anyone involved seeking a solution to this intractable conflict encounters has reached the president, as well. In essence, he is acknowledging the reality that Netanyahu and conservative leaders of Israel’s government are not viable partners for peace. The same goes for Hamas, and to a certain extent, Mahmoud Abbas. This isn’t just Obama talking. Palestinians in the West Bank will tell you first-hand the lack of confidence in their top leader.

Opening his speech, Obama continues, “But what I’ve looked forward to the most is the ability to speak directly to you, the Israeli people – especially so many young people – about the history that brought us here today, and the future that you will make in the years to come.” And on Friday, that message about the future comes down to this quote from the heart of his address, “Only you can determine what kind of democracy you will have. But remember that as you make these decisions, you will define not simply the future of your relationship with the Palestinians – you will define the future of Israel as well.”

Foundations of a nation

The beginning of Obama’s speech consists of what any listener would expect, an ode to Jewish history, tradition, and long journey of the nation of Israel, the Deuteronomic cycle. He praises Israel’s accomplishments in the modern era, and reinforces the promise of strong friendship between the US and Israel. But within his opening stanzas, Obama weaves in themes used to set up parallels between Israelis and Palestinians; he introduced the idea that the historic struggle and desires of the Jewish people is not so different from the experience of the Palestinian people now. “For the Jewish people, this story is central to who you have become. But it is also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and salvation.” He even makes the point indirectly that philosophy of Zionism is not compatible with occupation. “[Jews] found its full expression in the Zionist idea – to be a free people in your homeland.”

Once the President lays the foundation of common experiences, rather than differences, he addresses the subject of democracy and enlightenment ideals. Obama states that Israel is rooted in more than “history and tradition,” but it is also rooted in a “simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.” This is significant. America is a nation founded on an idea, not tradition. Democracy is a philosophy of government based on principles and values. “And we are defined by a democratic discourse that allows each generation to re-imagine and renew our union once more. So in Israel, we see values that we share, even as we recognize what makes us different.” Obama places an emphasis on the reality that nations make conscious choices. These choices “define who we will be as a nation in this 21st century.” This speech, as much as anything, appears to be an attempt to spark a dialogue among the next generation of Israeli leaders about how they will define their nation and what choices they will make. What do you want Israel to look like? How will it survive? How will it have to be renewed?

Security and the open door

After what we could call the President’s “set-up”, he takes a short detour to talk directly about existential threats to Israel’s security. The president reinforces belief in the backing of the Iron Dome system for Israel as a measure to save lives, saying Israeli children “deserve to sleep better at night.” Good. Next is where the President leaves room open for interpretation through what he does not say. Not so good.

First, the president states that Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, as he should. Following up with “[The US] have stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself.” Obama stops short of defining what constitutes “defense.” If not careful, defense can cross a line into the realm of offense. This is a a term that is contentiously debated and takes on a different meaning depending on what government, leader, or official you talk to.

Second, the President slips in a significant statement regarding the US role in Syria. The president draws a line between Hezbollah and “ally” Assad. Obama says the US will not “tolerate” use of chemical weapons or transfer of weapons to terrorists. “The world is watching, and we will hold you accountable.” One can speculate what zero tolerance and accountability means, but you can bet it means commitment of US military assets. Words are words, but doctrines, the root of policymaking, can be born from public address.

Third, regarding Iran, President Obama leaves all options open, stating, “As President, I have said to the world that all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.” In the same turn, he urges resolve towards peaceful solutions, saying that “peace is far more preferable to war.” There are few people who would disagree with that sentiment, but the president failed to explicitly rule out a military strike. It is also important to keep in mind that the White House and the Pentagon have both been continuously firm on the stand that they do not support a unilateral support by Israel. However, that is not reemphasized here, and leaves the possibility of bilateral action open.

The Impasse of Peace

President Obama moves on to tackle the subject of peace, looking to the future and what it will look like for Israel. Arriving at the crux of his speech, he focuses in on peacemaking. Obama first acknowledges importance of honesty among friends and fact that “not everyone in this hall will agree with what I have to say about peace.” This is a big step for a president, and underscores that this is possibly the most candidly any US president has spoken about or to Israel, save Jimmy Carter in his years after holding office. He continues, adding, “But I want you to know that I speak to you as a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future, and I ask you to consider three points.”

Here are President Obama’s three points:

“First, peace is necessary.”

The president lays down this bold challenge: “You can be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future… the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine. ” If the ideals of democracy and civil rights did not resound, he cites demographics, the international community’s growing frustrations, specter of isolation, and advance of technology as rationale to ponder. Obama states that — while difficult — engagement, not isolation is what will bring peace, change the hearts of people, and sideline extremists. This is the hard reality for Zionism. A one-state solution can lead to an apartheid state with a limited life-span, or a non-Jewish democracy, with a probable Arab majority in the long run. For Israel to truly survive, it must honestly seek a two-state solution.

“Second, peace is just.”

Obama asks the Israeli audience to “put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes” going on to list various struggles of life under occupation. He deserves some commendation for that statement. “Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.”

Not mentioning Hamas by name, Obama says that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone dedicated to its destruction, while adding that Israel has “a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.” He mentions the difference between the peaceful West Bank of today and the chaos of the intifada in 2002 a decade ago, rejecting violence and pursuing nonviolent resistance. This is a reality that has been witnessed across the West Bank in communities pushed around by settlements and cut off by the Israeli separation wall. Through the stories of Bil’in, Budrus, and Jenin, Israel and the world have witnessed the adoption of non-violent resistance in the last decade, in search of a culture of peace.

“Third point: peace is possible.”

Making peace possible will require adaption by Arab states treatment of Israel and vice-versa. “Now is the time for the Arab World to take steps towards normalized relations with Israel.” This is the difficult, but necessary step that Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon must take, following the lead of Jordan. This is a regional conflict requiring a regional solution.

Obama next moves to an issue Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has been in staunch opposition to, “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state.” The Palestinian leader has stood firm against this, due to the fact that 25 percent of Israel’s population are non-Jewish Israeli Arabs, and it eliminates the prospect fulfilling right of return for Palestinians from cities within Israel like Jaffa or Haifa. It is also highly debatable that an explicitly Jewish state runs contrary to democracy. We must also keep in mind that this is not something that even all of Israel agrees on. Currently, it is the wish of Netanyahu and the conservative ruling parties, but does not have full support of the Israeli public. Even less believe it should be a condition of a peace agreement. All that said, in a two-state solution, this is something that Palestinian leadership would need to let go of and allow Israelis to sort out domestically.

On the issue of settlements, Obama comes close, but fails to capitalize.”Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable– that real borders will have to be drawn.” What lacks here is the sobering fact that settlements are the number one obstacle to a real peace solution. Each new settlement construction project is not a step, but a giant leap in regression. It is not enough to freeze new construction, but all future plans must be halted. Forever. This area is one where the president repeats an old statement, already worn on the ears of Palestinians, to an Israeli crowd. The opportunity to call settlements what they are — the glaring plank in the eye of what could be attainable peace — was a missed one.

Closing his final point, he places hope in the young generation, hoping that they can learn to trust before learning how to mistrust. “Look at young people who have not yet learned a reason to mistrust, and those who have learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents because of the simple recognition that we hold more hopes in common than the fear that drives us apart.” It is upon this hope that the president hedges his bets.

The inevitable future

Even with its points leaving something left to be desired, President Obama gave the rare, honest speech by a US President on foreign policy. At the end of the day, rhetoric is rhetoric; empty until filled with meaningful actions. In some senses, the speech is contradictory in nature. The president leaves much to be interpreted regarding how far Israel can go militarily and still receive America’s blessing or complicit silence. In the same stroke, he breaks new ground and employs brave language when addressing the issue of peace and justice regarding the Israelis’ conflict with the Palestinians. In a sense, he paints a picture of reality that many Israelis do not want to face head on: regardless of American support for Israel, the eventual outcome of the peace process will not be decided by American influence. Israel cannot exist in its current state indefinitely. The time is coming swiftly where Israel will need to make crucial decisions that define its future.

To follow up these thoughts, President Obama places the weight of leadership on Israel’s shoulders. “There will be many voices that say this change is not possible. But remember this: Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakeable support of the most powerful country in the world.” These tough and honest words are what Israel needs to hear. Part of what makes the language of this speech possible is shifting American and international public opinion on the issue of Israel and Palestine. The conflict is seen with a more critical eye by many. I see it as the conversation true friends have with each other. They don’t skirt uncomfortable conversations. They tackle hinderances to growth and prosperity, so that their nations can seize opportunities for a bright future.

In his second to last paragraph, the President ends, again placing the choice of how Israel will be defined in the hands of the next generation. “Today, as we face the twilight of Israel’s founding generation, you – the young people of Israel – must now claim the future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the story of this great nation.”

Week in Review: Jordan’s Election Aftermath

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This past week in Jordan, the newly elected MPs began settling in for the first session of parliament following recent election reforms. Here is a collection of articles, blogs, and links that break down the general events of the past week, opposition protests, progress on selecting a new Prime Minister, and results of the election by seat (Arabic).

Jordan’s election: Calming Down

http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21572239-general-election-goes-better-some-had-expected-calming-down

Jordanian Islamists protest against new parliament

http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2013/02/22/267766.html

Another house bloc nominates Ensour to be Prime Minister

http://jordantimes.com/another-house-bloc-nominates-ensour-to-be-next-prime-minister

**Electoral Reform in Jordan since 1989 at a glance (Important read)

http://impatientbedouin.com/electoral-reform-in-jordan-since-1989-at-a-glance/

Jan. 23, 2013 Election Results

Senate (Upper House): http://www.parliamentjo.net/?p=9722

Representatives (Lower House): http://www.parliamentjo.net/?p=9725

Jordan #hashtagdebates

  1. Roughly two years into ongoing uprisings and reform movements in the Middle East, Jordan remains in the bloc of countries whose civil society has seen little fundamental change. Jordanian citizens have held protests and continually called for constitutional reforms, stopping short of demanding regime change. On January 23, 2013, Jordan held its first parliamentary elections since new election laws were passed in June.

    Today, Reuters is reporting that H.M. King Abdullah II is calling for further changes in order to create a more representative parliament. This statement was spurred by a boycott of last month’s parliamentary elections by Islamist parties in Jordan. The boycott was motivated by a widely held grievance among Islamists, Palestinians, and minority groups, that under current laws, elections are skewed against urban areas where these groups hold most of their support. Rural Jordan is home to a larger portion of the kingdom’s bedouin Jordanians, which favor the regime.

    This past week in Amman, the independent media organization, 7iber.com held another iteration of their #hashtagdebates series. The town hall-like forum seeks to bring together Jordanian citizens with political and social leaders to foster dialogue, hopefully leading to a more open society, and in their own words, give power to “craft and share their own narratives.” This  gathering brought local citizens together to with former Jordanian Prime Minister and current President of the Senate, Taher Al Masri.

    Jordan’s lukewarm “Arab Spring”, as many would call it, has been frustrating for the kingdoms citizens, hanging on the brink of any real reform. Up to this point, Jordan has not reached an impasse or breaking point in their quiet, determined struggle of self-determination. Surveying the uprisings around them, especially Syria to the north, Jordanians know that violent upheaval is something their country and the region cannot afford. Seeing open dialogue grow in the form of events like the #hashtagdebates is refreshing and signals the planting of powerful seeds of change. Time will tell when the mustard seeds of true democracy explode into the change and political reform that Jordanians seek in their country.

    *Arabic tweets are in the process of being translated. Keep checking back for a full English translation in the next several days.

  2. #HashtagDebates are back; we’re hosting H.E. Taher Al-Masri to talk abt the aftermath of parliamentary elections on.fb.me/Vvwi3d
  3. Going on #hashtagdebates about #joElections #jo #amman 7iber http://instagr.am/p/VZZy3yLCPt/
  4. With a parliament that looks a lot like the last 1, are we still in political gridlock? – 1st qstn to Taher Masri at #hashtagdebates #jo
  5. @Obada_Kayyali: هل تشكيلة المجلس الحالي قادرة على تطبيق الإصلاحات المطلوبة في المرحلة القادمة#hashtagdebates
  6. “@Obada_Kayyali: Is the current composition of the Council is able to implement the required reforms in the next phase”
  7. المصري: نتمنى عودة مجلس النواب من عام ٨٩ ذا الأداء الجيد جدا و تم انتخابه بقانون انتخاب جيد على غرار الصوت الواحد الحالي.
    #HashtagDebates
  8. “Taher Masri: We hope to return to the House of Representatives of ’89. It saw very good performance and was elected by a good election law, similar to the current one vote [system].”
  9. RT @7iber: المصري: برلمان ٨٩ الذي لم يقم على قانون الصوت الواحد كان من أقوى البرلمانات، استقلت من رئاسة الوزراء تلبية لعريضة وقعها #hashtagdebates
  10. The romanticism for #JO‘s parliment in ’89 is part of Taher Al Masri’s rhetoric as a former Prime Minister. #HashtagDebates
  11. المصري: بعد انتخابات ال ٢٠٠٧ و ٢٠١٠ أصبح تغيير قانون الصوت الواحد مطلب جماهيري شعبي #hashtagdebates
  12. Taher Masri: this parliament is different than the last one. New leadership likely to emerge in the Lower House. #HashtagDebates #jo
  13. One-man one-vote system showed its flaws…forced on the political arena…it will hopefully be the last time we see it #hashtagdebates
  14. طاهر المصري.. هلا سميت لنا الجهات التي وقفت في طريق الحوار الوطني و مخرجاته؟
    #Hashtagdebates #Jo #ReformJo
  15. 1 wonders if the learning curve post the “shelved” National Agenda has improved as Masri speaks of same experience with NDC #HashtagDebates
  16. Question posed to Taher Masri: how do you feel about having an elected Senate? #Hashtagdebates #jo
  17. سؤال: هل سيلبي مجلس ١٧ طموحات الشعب الأردني؟ #hashtagdebates
  18. #HashtagDebates احد الحضور يسال عن رأي المصري في انتخاب الأعيان أو على الأقل انتخاب بطريقة غير مباشرة
  19. The Senate needs to have a new function – but we don’t want it to be a duplication of the Lower House – Taher Masri #hashtagdebates #jo
  20. #hashtagdebates هل رفض وضع قانون إنتخابات ممثل ناتج عن الخوف من الإخوان أم آخر
  21. For perspective, the Senate under Masri’s leadership passed controversial legislation against freedom of online expression #HashtagDebates
  22. I don’t know if this parliament fullfills peoples’ ambitions but it has some good ppl who cud bring abt change – Taher Masri #hashtahdebates
  23. Masri says he had second thoughts on participating in #Joelections via a national list #HashtagDebates
  24. If my answers dont address your questions, let me know…I’m not trying to avoid a question – Taher Masri #hashtagdebates #jo
  25. Can someone ask about the censorship Law and how he was pressured? what is the true story there? @7iber #hashtagdebates
  26. Debate nights like these are why political exchange between citizens of #JO and officials matters. #HashtagDebates
  27. المصري:أنا متفائل من ما رأيته الأسبوع الماضي في اجتماعاتي فإن مجلس النواب الحالي لن يكون كالسابق.
    #HashtagDebates
  28. #hashtagdebates المصري يتساءل أن كان وجوده شكلي أم لا عدة مرات و يعول على بقاء الحراك كقوى ضغط لتحقيق التغيير المحتوم
  29. Why did we have to endure another deformed Parliament? Why 2017 and not 2013? Too many promises have proven to be futile. #hashtagdebates
  30. RT @omar_faisal86: Why did we have to endure another deformed Parliament? Why 2017 and not 2013? Too many promises have proven to be futile. #hashtagdebates
  31. @omar_faisal86 because there is no real intention for reform! الشمس لا تغطى بغربال! #HashtagDebates
  32. المصري: الاحتمال الأقوى في تسمية رئيس الوزراء هو ترك القرار لجلالة الملك لأن فوص توافق النواب و الأعيان على اسم قليلة جدا #hashtagdebates
  33. Way of appointment of the next Prime Minister isn’t even clear to Masri, a former prime minister. #HashtagDebates
  34. Question from the audience on Independent Elections Commission and its role during the election season & the elections. #hashtagdebates #jo
  35. RT @ZainMN: سؤال:هناك ٩٠نائب جديد في المجلس الجديد.هل هناك أي آلية تختص بتجهيزهم لتمثيل الشعب وفهم آليةعمل الحكومةوالقانون؟
    #HashtagDebates
    @reemalmasri
  36. #hashtagdebates @tarawnah why not speak truth to power why did Masri not resign when dialogue committee recommendations were ignored
  37. Masri thinks isolated steps were taken in implementating reform and that basic steps were covered. #HashtagDebates
  38. Masri did vote but didn’t dip his finger in blue ink. Says he would’ve resigned if he wasn’t planning to vote. #HashtagDebates
  39. المصري: صوتنا بعدد لا بأس به ضد القانون و لكن تم اقراره بالنهاية #hashtagdebates
  40. المصري: ليس هناك عملية تثقيف و تدريب للنواب الجدد، و لكنهم يشاركو في برامج و دورات من مؤسسات أوروبية #hashtagdebates
  41. المصري: بدنا زلام توقف وتقول لأ. ونحن بحاجة للمؤسسية وسيادة القوانين #HashtagDebates #jo @7iber
  42. Seems Masri’s talking about what King has called the “tsk” mentality but from a Senator pov…yes men polluting govt. #hashtagdebates #jo
  43. #hashtagdebates طاهر المصري: بدنا رجال، ويجب القبول بالراي والرأي الآخر
  44. Masri answers question on exclusion of Islamists via electorate. Says laws r set 4 majority whereas they represent 20% only #HashtagDebates
  45. RT @LinaWaheeb: طاهر المصري: بدنا زلام توقّف وتقول لأ. #hashtagdebates
  46. “@LinaWaheeb: We want Zlam to stop and say no.”
  47. Answering @hazem , Masri : officials should man up & say no to all unconstituational practices #HashTagDebates
  48. @SamiHourani Not low a percentage by any means especially given its mobilization powers #HashtagDebates
  49. المصري: لا أقبل قول البعض أن الأردن غير جاهز للديمقراطية! #hashtagdebates
  50. #hashtagdebates ألا تستطيع النساء الوقوف وقول لا! #بس_بسأل هناك حاجة لتغيير الخطاب السياسي والتوقف عن ربط الشجاعة بالرجال فقط
  51. Masri believes in proportional presentation based correlated to distribution of population cc: @Curtisryan1 #HashtagDebates
  52. المصري: لا آخذ البعد الديمغرافي في وضع قانون الانتخابات، قد أقترح مقعد اضافي لبعض المناطق النائية #hashtagdebates
  53. #Hashtagdebates today with Taher Masri , nice open discussion and insights from #Jordan veteran politician
  54. “Thank you, everyone, for your attendance.”
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