Interview with Mahnaz Hamesh, an Iranian woman who lives in Abu Dhabi, on her experience living in another country and how this has changed her.

Isabel Esteban:  How was it living in Iran?

 

Mahnaz Hamesh:

I had a lot of fun as well as difficult times. I enjoyed my childhood and teen age as well as college years more or less like any other person on the other side of the world. But the war (Iran/Iraq) and the sanctions had made our lives difficult at some point. Besides, the current regime has made some rules and regulations, which to my opinion are not fair. Dealing with those obstacles is sometimes hectic.

 

Isabel Esteban:  As a woman in Iran, was it difficult to go to college and to be taken seriously in your area of study?

 

Mahnaz Hamesh:

Not at all! Iran is very open about women education and career. We have the same number of female students as male. Iranians are not like some Arab countries in which women they don’t have some basic rights!

 

Isabel Esteban:  Why did you want to go to Abu Dhabi?

 

Mahnaz Hamesh:

I would love to experience the life away from my country. Besides there are so many social and political corruptions going on in Iran, would not allow me to live the life I want.

 

Isabel Esteban: How different is Iran and Abu Dhabi?

 

Mahnaz Hamesh:

UAE is a very small, usually warm and humid country, with less population. Iran is a big country, with very different climates and is very populated. Tehran (the capital, where I used to live) is a big city full of life and of course traffic and pollution is the side effect of it. Abu Dhabi is a small city, much calmer.

 

Isabel Esteban: Since you left Iran, in your point of view, has it changed in any way the roll of women in society?

 

Mahnaz Hamesh:

I think women are getting to know better how to ask for their rights all over the world these days and my country is not an exception. In terms of career, they have always been allowed to work outside of the house, obviously with the difficult economic situation more women tend to work outside the house these days to help the family.

 

Isabel Esteban: If you had a chance to live in Iran would you go?

 

Mahnaz Hamesh:

No

 

 

Isbael Esteban: Has it been difficult to live in Abu Dhabi?

 

Mahnaz Hamesh:

Yes, I have been through a lot of ups and downs here.

 

Isabel Esteban: If you had a chance to live in any part of the world where would it be? Why?

 

Mahnaz Hamesh:

UAE is a very nice place to live in for so many reasons, but there is always a huge discrimination in terms of social or career opportunities among different nationalities. Besides, as an expat you never get a permanent residency or nationality here even if you lived all your life here. If I had a stronger passport I would have loved to live here for good.

 

 

Isabel Esteban: What difference can you see between living in Iran and living in Abu Dhabi?

 

Mahnaz Hamesh:

There is more social freedom here. Life is not as hectic as Tehran as here is a more quiet, relaxed country.  But Tehran is a four-season city; we see proper spring, summer, and fall and winter weather. Here it hardly rains and it is hot and humid for most of the year. In Iran, you have more options of travelling and doing lots of outdoor recreation. This is very limited in the UAE.

 

by: Isabel Elena Esteban

Interview with Marta Triggiano, Project Manager of the Italian NGO “Un ponte per”.

Marta Triggiano is project manager of the Italian NGO “Un ponte per“, which is operating in Jordan and Northern Iraq to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees.

I contacted the NGO hoping to get an interview with Miss Triggiano, since I am particularly interested in the ongoing Syrian conflict and specifically in the humanitarian assistance that is being provided to the Syrian refugees who have been forced to leave their homes. The NGO, called “Un ponte per” promptly provided me with Marta Triggiano’s contact and I was able to get a phone interview with her. She gave me and in-depth analysis of the lives of the refugees, explained me how the host countries’ Governments and civil populations are dealing with them, and also clarified the relations between the refugees and the Syrian Rebels.

Giovanni Baldoni:  What is the general situation of Syrian refugees in Northern Iraq and Jordan in terms of basic necessities and possible ways out?

Marta Triggiano: The situation is worsening every day. The number of Syrian refugees is increasing steadily both in Jordan and Northern Iraq but also in other neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt. Even though it is true that over the last couple months the humanitarian response to help the refugees has augmented, the services provided by Humanitarian actions are not enough to address all the needs of the refugees, which are mostly basic needs like water, food, basic health assistance, medical treatment, and education for children. Many of the refugees coming from Syria have been directly targeted by the violence, but some of them who are not directly targeted by the conflict, still have to flee Syria because they have lost access to primary needs such as food and water and basic services such as health care.  Some of them haven’t eaten anything since several days and there are some serious health cases. People that flee their countries are in need of everything, the primary needs of course, but also that kind of needs we don’t usually think of, as for example access to information, available services and orientation to live in a new country.

Giovanni Baldoni:  Was collaboration offered by Jordan and the Iraqi government satisfactory in terms of material and logistic support?

Marta Triggiano: Both the Jordanian and the Iraqi Government, or to better say, the Kurdistan Regional government (KRG), have so far guaranteed a policy of open borders which is absolutely positive. The situation within Iraq is more complicated because there are three main crossing points on the borders between Iraq and Syria. Two of them are constantly closed, then there is another one which is open most of the time, which is the one used by most of the Syrian refugees. This crossing is located in the northern part of Iraq bordering Syria, within the Kurdistan Region under the control of the KRG. In Jordan there are two or three official frontiers to cross into Syria, but there are also several passages where people can cross illegally and a high number of refugees are actually doing so. In terms of response, the Jordanian government since the very first day allowed Syrian refugees to register with the UNHCR, the UN high commissioner for refugees, and therefore to get free access to public hospital, public health centers as well as public schools.  In the KRG (the Kurdish Regional Government), most of the refugees are registered with the UNHCR and with the immigration department of the KRG and by doing so they can obtain a 6 months permit of stay which is a very good achievement because this permit allows them to work and to ensure a kind of livelihood which is very difficult. In both countries the best solution for both governments would be in any case to have all refugees into refugee camps, which is not an easy-to-apply solution. But keeping the refugees all together, within the limits of possibility, is definitely an easier way to get the international community to give them support.

Giovanni Baldoni:  What is the attitude of Jordan and Iraqi public opinions towards the Syrian Refugees?

Marta Triggiano: The situation varies quite a lot depending if we speak about the Kurdish Region or Jordan. Most of the Syrian refugees that seek protection in Kurdistan are of Kurd ethnicity so there is a kind of ethnic affiliation between the refugees and the local population. As for Jordan, the nation has hosted in the last years hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, and the fact has to be taken into account, that a high percentage of the Jordan population consists of Palestinian refugees, which make Jordan a country of refugees and because of this reason Jordanian people have shown in the last months and years an extraordinary solidarity towards all people in need and refugees. The Jordanian population is absolutely generous. The problem is not a matter of generosity by the Jordanians, the issues is unfortunately of another nature. The number of Syrian refugees in Jordan has now reached half a million and by the end of this year they will be more than one million inside Jordan, whose whole population is of only  6 million people. How can a country host a number of refugees equal to one sixth of its own population? It’s a big burden on the Jordan people. Furthermore most of Jordanian host communities which are helping Syrian refugees are in really poor areas, where life is difficult, where there is a high rate of unemployment and huge problems especially in terms of resources, for example water which is a main issue in Jordan. This is why the international community has to support the countries that are giving help to the refugees, because they are reaching if they haven’t already reached the highest capacity of bearing this burden.

Giovanni Baldoni: What are the expectations and hopes of Syrian refugees as to the Syrian Civil War? Do anti-Assad rebels have relations with them?

Marta Triggiano:  Syrian refugees are escaping Syria from all regions of the country; therefore the refugee population is quite diverse. Most of the middle class Syrian refugees found a refuge in Lebanon. The Kurds are escaping towards the Kurdish region in Iraq. Syrians from the Northern areas are fleeing mainly to Turkey. As for those of them that are leaving Syria through the southern border and therefore entering Jordan, they mostly come from rural areas of Dar’a and Damascus. These are very poor areas where over the last years and decades the opposition to the regime of Basar al Assad has always been very strong, this is the reason why most of the refugees in Jordan support the opposition, they are absolutely against the regime and many of them also support the idea of an armed conflict against the regime. Over the last few weeks we’ve also witnessed an increasingly high number of refugees, especially those that are in the biggest refugee camp in Jordan, claiming that they want to go back to Syria. Most likely a high majority of them wish to go back and join the rebel groups, the armed opposition groups which are fighting Assad. Also because the opposition armed groups are gaining more and more territories in the south of Syria, where these refugees come from.

 

Giovanni Baldoni.

Changing the strategy regarding Iran

Courtesy of

Courtesy of Nashdown 

 

As Iran’s uranium enrichment policies continue, the focus of the international community now falls on the limited diplomatic possibilities of the U.S. government. The relationship between the U.S. and Teheran has a long history of political and military disagreements that have reached new heights recently because of an alarming report of the IAEA regarding Iran’s nuclear activity. This relationship was affected negatively even further as the U.S. pushed resolution 1929 through the U.N. Security Council in June 2010.

The resolution deals with the sixth round of sanctions against Iran, banning further development or exploitation of uranium technologies or intercontinental ballistic missile technologies. Also, a new inspection regime is imposed to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring banned technologies by increasing the number of inspections on Iranian ships suspected of smuggling. Lastly, a new round of financial sanctions was imposed which culminated with freezing assets of Iranian companies that could fund the proliferation effort.

As the U.S. continues to use its military and international position as leverage to try and force Iran into giving up its nuclear program, perhaps it is time Washington reconsidered its position and options. Threats including military intervention are effective if they are backed by the political willingness to start a war. Of course, when discussing war, the costs have to be smaller than the gains. If we consider factors like: the American military involvement around the world, the state of their economy and their declining international image, one can argue that the U.S. cannot afford to fight another war. Thus the threats of military intervention against Iran seem empty.

This leaves the Washington government with a more risky alternative: deterrence. The U.S. could allow Tehran to pursue its nuclear programs and then deter the ensuing result just as it did with the USSR in 1962. Threatening Iran with the use nuclear weapons before acquiring such weapons would ruin the image of the U.S. However, once the Islamic Republic creates a nuclear weapon, nuclear threats from the U.S would be justified. These threats could be more effective considering the big difference in capabilities between the U.S. and Iran. Also the US has mentioned that a nuclear-armed Iran would not pose a fundamental threat to the United States and its regional allies like Israel and the Gulf Arab monarchies. Also, if the threat becomes substantial, the US will have to deter and eliminate all nuclear elements and facilities to prevent a catastrophe in the region.

Using more carrots than sticks could prove more useful and efficient for the U.S. The sanctions that impoverish the declining economy of Iran should be used as a bargaining chip to bring the nuclear, deterred country into a treaty that will ensure the permanent security of the region. Also they should be used to improve the cooperation between the Islamic Republic and some U.S. allies in the region hoping that a more integrated Iranian economy dependent on neighboring states will make the Tehran government reconsider its position.

Military Intervention: Acceptable or not?

The death of Lee Rigby a week ago brought attention to a highly controversial area of international relations, namely: the legitimacy of outside intervention in a country’s internal affairs. Officially, the International Community does not support intervention, unless there are some international interests. This leads to highly controversial decisions taken by some governments.

 

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Courtesy of The Daily Mirror

 

When referring to the international community, the United Nations stands as the beacon of international cooperation. The UN Charter acts as a set of rules for state behavior when engaging other states. However, when it comes to armed intervention, it fails to specifically enunciate an exact principle of non-intervention. It only implies a principle through its Article 2(1) which brings forth the “principle of sovereign equality of all the Member states”. It then goes on to say about peaceful settlement of international disputes in Article 2(3). Article 2(4) stresses out the importance of not using force “against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or in any manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the U.N.”. Finally Article 2(7) draws boundaries for UN intervention altogether. If we take into account the politics involved in high level negotiations related to the international community, then the controversial nature of these principles is perfectly justified because of the interests of the dominating powers. The UN Security Council has been criticized for a long time for its non-democratic nature.

 

 

One of the murderers, in a short statement, said: “I apologize that women had to witness this today but in our lands, our women have to see the same”. His statement can be easily interpreted in many ways but at first sight, it would seem that he believes that the situation in his country is a justification for his actions in London. This points out the “one sided” nature of Foreign Intervention because developed states have not experienced in their modern histories such events yet they have been involved. Becoming the noble armed actors that fight for the good of the innocents has only created a strong feeling of resentment towards them. They use their military force to impose and dictate standards of living of an alien nature to the populations involved. The armed interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the situation with Syria are proof of how the politics of the “Carrot and Stick” are applied on an international level. However, what governments don’t seem to understand is that sticks generate negative feelings which, directed back at you, can have serious repercussions.

 

The stabbing in France and the decapitation in London which both happened this past week can be considered the result of a long chain of events that culminated in a feeling of general injustice among the people that the International Community was supposed to help. 9/11 seemed to be the first event to show the resentment of populations in poor or developing states towards the rich and powerful. As such, the Interventionist policies have been revised and the question of: “whether or not an intervention is worth the costs” has been gaining more and more popularity among the academics, analysts and politicians. A good example is the conflict in Mali where it was speculated that intervention could worsen the situation. As such, if an intervention increases resentment against a country, should that country proceed to use force or should it struggle to find a diplomatic approach?

Saudi Arabia: The expression of international interests

Saudi Arabia is an independent state located in the Middle East, north of Yemen, bordering the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. It has a population of 26,534,504 and its oil based industry has ensured a $740.5 billion GDP in 2012. Politically, it is organized as a constitutional monarchy under King Abdullah. The Saudi legal system is based on Islamic (sharia) law and it includes Egyptian and French elements.

In the international news, Saudi Arabia makes headlines with its multi-billion dollar oil industry, international investments in other countries and its constant human rights abuses. Only this Tuesday, Saudi Arabia executed five Yemenis under sharia law despite international pressure for reform in the legal system. The UN condemned these executions under the assumption that “they violate international standards because the bodies were left in public” as an example of the severity of the law in this country. This serves as a realistic reminder of the speed at which changes take place in a highly conservative and religious society.

Women are still treated as minors and they are not allowed to travel, study or work without permission from their male guardians. The King did announce that they will enjoy the right to vote in the 2015 municipal elections however, the harsh restrictions continue to cause international debate over whether or not the government will uphold its promise to reform the country. Detainees, including children, commonly face systematic violations of due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest and torture. Also, authorities leave very little space for public criticism of officials or government policies in the wake of the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements. The Saudi Ministry of Culture adopted policies of heavy censorship regarding printed press and broadcasted media.

This brings into focus the nature of the political class of Saudi Arabia considering the rather hypocritical attitude adopted with regards to Human Rights. The Saudi government openly condemned the H.R. violations in Syria despite its own obvious problems, having arrested a woman for driving.

 

Courtesy of Mario, A. (Setyoufreenews.com)

 

The reason for this controversial Saudi attitude can be found in the economic and political relationships that it developed over time. At the end of the Second World War US President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended American protection to Saudi Arabia, saying “the defense of Saudi Arabia is a vital interest for the defense of the United States of America”. Having such an influential ally in the international arena has its benefits, the U.S. being highly supportive with the Saudi regime. Japan is another important ally of Saudi Arabia and their joint statement related to the H.R. violations in Syria proves that both parties’ national interests are intertwined.  These interests revolve around the Saudi oil industry as Saudi Arabia exports a very large quantity of crude oil to the U.S, Europe, Japan and many other countries.

This brings into question the strength of the American resolve to stand against oppressive, non-democratic regimes which it has condemned since before the beginning of the Cold War. An interest based resolve of the American political class would imply that the rhetoric against non-democratic regimes can be brought into question.

Syrian rebels: terrorists or freedom fighters?

A Syrian rebel prepares to advance against government troops in Azaz. (Manu Brabo / Associated Press)

The question of “whether or not the Syrian rebels should be supported” is highly controversial. This is because there is evidence that the rebel forces have been infiltrated by members of dangerous organizations who could alter the initial democratic goals with radical Islamic elements which are highly criticized in the West.

The Syrian population took to the streets to call for political reform and freedom from the corrupt government of President Basar Al Assad, having been inspired by the successes of their neighboring countries. The government used brutal force thus triggering a violent response from the people. The country quickly descended into civil war. This led to major socio-politico-economic problems for both Syria and the international community because of the constant exchange of population and the dangers that armed, leaderless groups posed to border security.

Different political analysts and governments have expressed increasing concerns over whether or not the rebels should be supported in their fight against Assad’s oppressive regime. However, the Syrian government has classified the rebels as terrorists from the beginning of the conflict. Other governments who support the Assad regime, such as Iran, have done the same. This is because the rebels fit the definition of terrorists, according even to Western standards. These states also argue that foreign extremist groups and fighters have joined with the rebels in an attempt to gain political advantages with the future regime. Initially, these accusations were dismissed by the international community as an attempt on the Assad Regime’s behalf, to justify the brutal measures taken against peaceful protesters. When the armed conflicts started, they were seen by the international community as a repetition of the events in other Arab countries during the Arab spring; countries that have opposed their oppressive regimes with force like Libya.

However, having monitored the situation in Syria for the past two years, some rebel actions have seemed unorthodox like: intentionally attacking Syria’s neighbors Turkey and Lebanon to trigger an international response or the desecration of the shire of the revered Shiite figure, Hojr Ibn Oday. More recently, UN officials have accused the rebels of using banned chemical weapons in their struggle against the regime whereas U.S. and U.K. intelligence services suggest that the Damascus regime is responsible.

As such, there are increasing concerns that the rebels have been compromised by Islamist extremism. There is even evidence that members of al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations such as Jabhat al-Nusra have infiltrated the rebels. Jabhat al-Nusra’s leader, Al-Amir Gazi al-Haj, did confirm the participation of his organization in Syria, but stressed the nature of their intentions as being pure and honorable. This brings the spread of Islamism extremism among the rebels who were fighting for democracy. The NY Times issued an article pointing out the problems with The Supreme Military Council and the Leaders of the different rebel groups, there are some influential people who “seek to infuse the future Syrian Government with Islamic law”, which is highly controversial and criticized in the Western world. The Supreme Military Council is the organization that is supposed to unite and control the rebels in Syria. If its initial democratic goal is compromised by non-democratic principles then the war struggles and the lives lost would have been in vain.

In this case, the US, who has recently reconsidered the idea of supplying weapons to the rebels, and its allies actually have a tough decision to make. This is because whoever wins, Syria will still be a problem in the future. The Assad regime is already known for its anti-Israeli and anti-American positions and supporting the rebels may be counterproductive if the rebels actually have ties with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, because it would mean that the US is arming its own enemies and the terrorist organizations will have sympathizers within the new Syrian government for having fought alongside them in the war.

By: Isabel Elena Esteban

Alexandru Movila

Giovanni Baldoni

Hurkan Karas.

Boston bombings: News reliability in times of crisis.

Last week on Monday, April 15th during the traditional Patriot’s Day Marathon in Boston, two bombs exploded near the finish line. Amid the panic and chaos of the explosions, news agencies like CNN, Fox News and the New York Post were quick to report about non-American citizens being detained or questioned under the suspicion of involvement in the tragic events of the Boston Marathon.

The Boston tragedy revealed a darker side of the American society and media by pointing out their bias towards minorities when dealing with traumatic events. According to a CBS news report, a scared and injured Saudi teenager was arrested by three Boston PD detectives who considered him a suspect “because he seemed to be moving very deliberately away from the blasts”. Later that day, federal authorities searched the suspect’s apartment, but no connection to the incident could be found.

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Two Moroccan teenagers have also been in the media’s attention when the NY Post reported on Thursday that the FBI was looking for them. The two told Aljazeera that they had been harassed online by the public, which was quick to blame them. Salah Eddin Barhoum and Yassine Zaime ‘s pictures were posted on websites whose users were looking through pictures of the marathon bombings for suspects. People carrying bags were a focus of the investigation because there was speculation that the bombs were carried in backpacks. This highlights the problems that social media sources can unintentionally cause, thus demonstrating the public thirst for information.

However, the pattern of blame is not limited only to individuals. CNN focused on the traditional terrorist groups, reporting on a statement released by the Pakistani Taliban who denied involvement in the attack. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also condemned the bombings amidst fears of a possible outbreak of Arab-blame: “American Muslims, like Americans of all backgrounds, condemn in the strongest possible terms today’s cowardly bomb attack on participants and spectators of the Boston Marathon” (Gibson, D. and Markoe, L. 2013). The FBI chief of Boston, Rick Deslauriers, expressed his contempt at the “amateur sleuthing that filled the vacuum of information” (Aljazeera, 2013). FBI even released a statement on the 17 of April 2013 criticizing the media for issuing reports based on unofficial sources. The Huffington Post also reported on the bias that was taking over FOX news. NBC and CNN were also criticized by John Stewart in The Daily Show for their inaccuracy.

This bias is fueled by the social demand for information which corporate media sources speculate to get an edge in the competitive system they are part of. As a consequence, this means that news is often rushed and its accuracy is highly questionable. The significance of 9/11 and the feeling of resentment that has grown in the American public towards minorities, especially the Muslims, makes rushed news highly unreliable and dangerous to the point that it can endanger innocent people’s lives with low accountability.

By: Hurkan Karas

        Alexandru Movila

        Giovanni Baldoni

        Isabel Elena Esteban.