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Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

How Libya killed hundreds in Syria

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 9, 2012

An UN Security Council proposal to invoke its charter for “responsibility to protect” was vetoed by China and Russia last week. Now many people have questioned why we, the West, intervened into Libya to ‘protect’ those civilians and yet we stand by and watch a government slaughter its own people in Syria?

Well, you can blame Libya or at least how we did the job there. One of the concerns by international governments (like Russia and China) was that the UN mission was not actually to protect the people instead, an opportunity to get rid of an internationally unpopular dictator…i.e. regime change was the real point.

As it turned out, they were right.

The role of NATO (the instrument of UN protection) seemed not to limit or prevent Gaddafi’s ability to punish his people but to act as an unofficial air force for the ‘liberation’ rebels. Now, it could be argued that getting rid of Gaddafi was a good; however the poor choice of mechanism for regime change has come home to roost and the people of Syria are paying the price.

Assad, Syria’s ruler, unlike Gaddafi has some strong supporters in the international community; Iran, Russia and China being the most notable and important. Even though I think (grant me a moment of sentimentality) that as much as the political leadership of these countries desperately want to see the end of the deaths in Syria; they do not want to get rid of Assad who is too important to their geo-political machinations. They fear, and Libya seems to have proven, that UN intervention will not be limited to protecting civilians but will be used as a means of regime change.

Sadly, they are probably right.

Of course some may argue that if NATO actually did the work in Libya and WE, the West, control NATO, why not have NATO unilaterally intervene?

Fears of western imperialism not new

First, intervene could risk war with Russia and China (okay not likely but tension would rise…never a good thing). Beyond that, without UN cover, it is likely…no for certain, that Arabs would will not see this as humanitarian help especially by Syrian allies Turkey, embattled Egypt and Iran (also paranoid with reason).

I have used the term ‘the West’ a few times because to those in the region this term means something…they do not see democracy or  philanthropy but they know two wars in Iraq, one still going in Afghanistan, drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan, Israeli settlements in Palestine, Gaza blockade, Libyan collateral damage, the constant threats to Iran, the habitual silence over Israel…they do not automatically assume our acts/intentions are noble but are instead another example of western (American/Israeli?) imperialism – right or wrong, this is how they feel.

These Arab nations could make operations in Syria difficult at best and at worst they may ‘defend Syria’s rightful government’ with military force. Because this operation would lack the legitimacy of an UN Security Council resolution, they would be right…technically (and really?) it would be an act of war for NATO to intervene militarily.

Better the devil I know

Secondly, Syria has a military. One of the facts that led to the defeat of Gaddafi was his relatively small aged and ineffective military. Libya had been on the arms embargo list for decades; Syria has large forces, well organized and equipped with modern and deadly weaponry. Libya’s forces were largely used to suppress its own people; Syrian forces are in constant preparation for a war with Israel…a major threat to Syria (let us not forget these countries are still technically at war and Israel bombed Syria in 2007). Syria’s military is, at least conventionally, able to deal with a major Israel threat; NATO would be minor compared to what Israel could do.

Arab spring or swapping jockeys

The only hope the people of Syria have is the Arab League of Nations…their local UN. The Arab league has sent in observes to judge the level of violence and quickly left because the levels of savagery they saw shocked even ‘professionals’ like them. They have condemned Syria and attempted to isolate it politically. However, the Arab League is composed of 21 Arab nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia; these nations have had difficulty presenting a unified front in the past and there are few military that could take on Syria.

Of course another major issue is that after the “Arab Spring” most of the oppressive nations, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, do not want to promote ‘liberation movements’. The Saudi’s sent troops into Bahrain to stop uprisings there and the Egyptian military is trying to maintain its control over Egypt after the loss of Mubarak. Economically, Russia and China (and India, Brazil, South Africa) see Syria as valuable for economic, political or geo-strategic imperatives.

Short vs. Long term

I came out strongly in favor of the intervention in Libya to “protect innocent civilians” and at the time I mentioned my fears that western powers would use this noble (and necessary) principle for a more opportunistic agenda (regime change). Well, my trust in humanity (as principled and tentative as it was) was misplaced. That said, there is a lesson to be learnt.

One of the goals of Radio Free Thinker, is to expand the frontier of skeptical thinking; taking the tools of critical thinking and the scientific method beyond their traditional limited spheres of science. We have a learning opportunity here; one I hope political leaders will learn from. Libya and Syria are empirical data points about what happens then noble and just actions are hijacked for more cynical political gains. That if politicians hope to elevate the state of humanity and create a better world for themselves (and maybe by accident for us all) they need to learn from the lessons of the past…that when we are dogmatic, be it in religion, history or politics, we are condemned to death, destruction and failure.

{End note – As my loyal readers know, I like to have a good supply of images in my posts. Often I use cartoons. When I was looking for images for this post I was struck by the number I found in Arabic…most poignant ones were ‘local’. I have not found this for any other blog I have done to date; I think this is saying something and if I were Assad, I would be looking for a place to retire sooner than later.}

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Libya, the UN and what we have lost…

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 24, 2011

I think it’s time.

He’s dead and in a tangential kind of way we, those of us on the show, asked for it to happen.

There are many adjectives that have been applied to Moammar Kaddafi…revolutionary, dictator, Pan-African federalist, opportunist, Arab nationalist, mad man, anti-American freedom fighter, killer of his own people…whatever label you may apply it seems true that he was unique, anti-colonial and absolute ruler of Libya. I think it’s not a stretch that at least for Libya itself, his death is believed to be a good thing. What follows may be better or worse…time will well. Egypt seems to show that removing the dictator does not guarantee a ‘western-style free democratic society’ (whatever that may mean). Recent hints from the elections in Tunisia and the Libyan leaders point to a more theocratic government based on sharia law with blasphemy laws, curtailed freedom for women and a stricter adherence to religious dogma (maybe as extreme as the ‘based on biblical law’ of the current GOP/Tea Party).

Although I do care what happens now, the focus of this blog is my personal sense of responsibility (as minor and ethereal as it may be) for what happened…what we as “the west” did at first for and then to Libya. As our loyal listeners may remember we did a segment a number of months ago about the intervention of the UN (via the NATO). In that segment we attempted to dissect the issue of intervention.


At the heart of the debate was, as we saw it – innocent citizens being ‘murdered’ by their own government. These ‘innocents’ were the spontaneous uprising hoping to liberate themselves from a ‘hated dictator’. The local flowering of the Arab spring that had seen the removal a despised dictator in Tunisia and Egypt…who were in no small way encouraged by those of us in the free nations hoping for the same in Libya. Unlike Tunisia or Egypt and more like Syria; Libyans were not able to achieve the overthrow in a (relatively) peaceful way.

Some (maybe most in Canada?) didn’t care (it’s their problem not mine), a few thought the west (and especially the USA) was spread too thin as it was with Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Africa. There were some who thought we (the west, NATO, the USA…) should invade with troops and put in a ‘better’ (for the West) regime.  Most people (I would like to think) thought that intervention, for humanitarian reasons, was a valid option.

The humanitarian argument was that life should be protected…that just because one is a member of a state, that the state does not have a right to kill its own citizens…in fact if a state kills its own citizens it loses its legitimacy.

That said, it is one thing to say that an illegitimate government should be deposed by its people (as it has happened in Tunisia and apparently in Egypt) and an entirely different (?) thing to have external powers (i.e. NATO, UN, USA) to commit regime change.

As stated, the majority (?) of those in favor of humanitarian intervention do not support (external) regime change.

Racism against black Africans in Libya. Guest workers equated to 'Kaddafi Mercenaries'

In spite of the moral argument a number thought  it still wrong to intervene, not because the cause was just but that once the ‘west’ was involved, our ‘ennobled’ leaders could not resist the temptation to use the military power given them to go beyond humanitarian support and use it to remove a thorn (justifiable or not) in ‘the wests’ side; that once the UN authorized military intervention, the US and Europe (and Canada) would go beyond humanitarian support and act as a proxy air force for the ‘rebels’. Implicit in this is that in supporting the rebels, UN forces (via NATO) would kill numerous ‘innocent’ people in their drive to remove Kaddafi.  As we have seen, although NATO would claim it bombed discriminately, many innocent civilians died from bombing, ‘rebel’ attacks and revenge killing (by the rebels the NATO eventually explicitly supported).

The fear went beyond just the loss of innocent life or even the hypocrisy of the ‘west’. For those who believed in humanitarian intervention but feared regime change, the biggest danger was that the UN was the author of the intervention. That if ‘humanitarian intervention’ was seen to be secret code for ‘regime change’; any attempt by the UN to ACTUALLY promote human rights…to protect the innocent…to take meaningful and concrete actions for ‘good’ would be fatally harmed by this action. That it was for the greater good that we let Kaddafi do what he would to ensure that the UN only flex its muscle for genuine (?) humanitarian causes.

Well, as I said it’s done…regime change done…revolution complete…the chickens will soon come home to roost.

We did not save lives – arguably…did we promote human rights – no…did we remain above petty politics for the sake of grander moral principles – NO! NATO (via the UN) saw an opportunity to remove a thorn and Libya is (perhaps) free of a dictator.

The cost?

The UN…

One thing that is constantly, and justly, raised is why Libya and not Syria (or Bahrain)? IF the UN were to be the neutral protector of BASIC human rights, it should have done something not only in Libya but also in Syria. Libya was easy…it did not have a ‘military’ institution (something seen as a criticism in Libya and a hindrance in Egypt).

Who stands to gain.

Kaddafi was not reliable…there was a moment of opportunity for regime change to a more malleable leader. Keep an eye open in the coming months for talk about ‘rebuilding Libyan infrastructure’…code for western takeover of Libyan oil. Kaddafi was a bastard but he did nationalize most of the petroleum industry and use that money for (what HE saw as) Libyan interests.

Syrians die because they have a ‘real’ air force…Syria is politically ‘complex’…Syrian lives are not as important as Libyans…Kaddafi was more embarrassing to the west than Assade…Assade had support from Iran, Kaddafi only African nations…Bahrain has the base for the US Navy’s 6th Fleet…ultimately, the cost to profit ratio was not worth it…Bahrain’s Spring…Syrian’s Spring…postponed because it was not easy!

Kaddafi is dead. The dead is done. I am unsure if I would still support UN intervention in Libya. If my concern was simply Libya I think I would not hesitate with my support for intervention. IF my concern was the UN…human rights…the world…I am not sure I could remain as confident.

Kaddafi is dead and with him any chance the UN will ‘forcefully’ intervene JUST BECAUSE of human rights…human suffering is involved…just because it’s the moral and right thing to do. The UN is a great idea, sadly it doesn’t seem to work as well in practice.

I mourn today, not for Kaddafi but for humanity as a whole.

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Battleground Museum

Posted by Ethan Clow on February 3, 2011

On our 100th episode (never get tired of saying that) we discussed the situation regarding a bust of Queen Nefertiti.

There she is

The first salvo was when Dr. Zahi Hawass started a campaign to have ancient Egyptian artifacts returned to Egypt, including the the Rosetta Stone, the bust of Nefertiti, the Dendera zodiac ceiling painting from the Dendera Temple, the bust of Ankhhaf, the faces of Amenhotep III‘s tomb at the Louvre Museum, the Luxor Temple’s obelisk at the Place de la Concorde and many others. Now its quite clear that Egypt has other things to worry about at the moment but prior to the uprising, this story caught my attention.

It was reported in late January that Egypt was requesting the return of the famous bust of Nefertiti.

The bust in question is a 3,400-year-old likeness of Queen Nefertiti,  Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) sent the request to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which runs the Neues Museum in the German capital where the bust is kept. Antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, appealed to the foundation seeking the return of the bust.  However, the foundation said it did not consider the letter an official state request as it had not been signed by Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

Perhaps the second salvo, Germany refused to return the bust (as they have every time a request was sent) Considering what’s happened in Egypt in the last few days, some people are wondering if Germany’s refusal was actually a prudent move. Alex Joffe said in a Wall Street Journal article that “these events make Mr. Hawass’s quest to return all Egyptian objects to Egypt misguided or at least poorly timed.” Not only have the recent political upheaval been dominating the news, but it appears that the tense climate led to some tragic vandalism of ancient Egyptian artifacts. The last thing that should happen is the museum literally become a battleground.

The Nefertiti bust was found on the 6th December, 1912 at Amarna by the German Oriental Company led by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt. It was found in what had been the sculptor Thutmose’s workshop, along with other unfinished busts of Nefertiti.

What makes this request somewhat unique is that Egypt (or rather Dr. Hawass) is making the claim that Germany removed the artifact illegally. The story goes that Ludwig Borchardt discovered the artifact and wanted to take it back to Germany. However, this had to be cleared with Egyptian authorities. So he wrapped it in paper and told them it wasn’t anything special.

A 1924 document found in the archives of the German Oriental Company recalls the 20 January 1913 meeting between Ludwig Borchardt and a senior Egyptian official to discuss the division of the archaeological finds of 1912 between Germany and Egypt. According to the secretary of the German Oriental Company (who was the author of the document and who was present at the meeting), Borchardt “wanted to save the bust for us”

If this is true, then Egypt probably does have a legitimate complaint. The item was removed from their borders under false pretenses. Of course, the Prussian Cultural Heritage denies this. (As did Borchardt)

Despite that, the artifact is still considered “stolen” by Egypt and even Time magazine lists it among the “Top 10 Plundered Artifacts

Dr. Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, believes that Nefertiti belongs to Egypt and that the bust was taken out of Egypt illegally and should therefore be returned. Dr. Hawass has maintained the stance that Egyptian authorities were misled over the acquisition of Nefertiti in 1913. He has demanded that Germany prove that it was exported legally.

There’s an interesting parallel between ownership of artifacts and ownership of land, of which we discussed back in episode 93.

Many of the same questions come up – ownership based on culture (how do you define culture) ownership based on ancestry (how do you define ancestry) – After all, modern Egypt is hardly the same as Egypt in the time of Nefertiti.

Of course Egypt doesn’t seem to be relying on claims of culture at all. The crux of their case appears to be the artifact was uncovered within their sovereign borders and was removed illegally.

I find myself with generally mixed feelings about repatriation of historic items. On the one hand, many great and beautiful examples of culture were stolen or removed at the point of a gun during an age of imperialism. Yet in many cases the items in question were preserved and protected (and remain today) because they were taken to secure locations. Of course you can’t justify taking something from someone by saying you’ll treasure it more. That’s just silly.

They belong in a museum

On the other hand, I’m reluctant to cede ownership of historical artifacts to people just because they happened to be born in the geographic area where that artifact was created centuries or even thousands of years earlier. I’m also not comfortable with groups or cultures claiming ownership of items that represent great works of art that are significant to not just them, but the world.

I was particularly distressed to learn that during the Egyptian uprising a number of priceless artifacts were destroyed or damaged. Apparently looters or vandels broke into the Egyptian Museum and beheaded two mummies—possibly Tutankhamun’s grandparents—and looted the ticket booth. They also stole jewelry and broke some of the antiques.

It could have been worse

Dr. Zahi Hawass discussed some of the damage in his blog and read about it more in an article in the Wall Street Journal. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the museum is safe for the moment. During the break-in museum security and regular Egyptians helped protect the treasures before the army showed up to restore order. A number of people mentioned to me how this was some attempt by the government to sew discontent by having hooligans or secret agents disguised as rioters. Frankly I don’t care. It doesn’t matter who was trying to damage these artifacts. These are one of a kind and if they’re destroyed, they’re gone.

There is certainly more to be said on the subject of repatriation of these historic artifacts. Perhaps that’s something we’ll dive into on a future episode of the show. In the meantime I shall hope that Egypt quickly resolves its problems and go on protecting and showcasing its wonders to the world.


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