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  • Centauri Dreams looks at two brown dwarf pairs, nearby Luhman 16 and eclipsing binary WD1202-024.

  • D-Brief notes a study suggesting panspermia would be easy in the compact TRAPPIST-1 system.

  • Far Outliers notes the shouted and remarkably long-range vocal telegraph of early 20th century Albania.

  • Language Hat links to a fascinating blog post noting the survival of African Latin in late medieval Tunisia.

  • The LRB Blog notes the observations of an Englishman in Northern Ireland that, after the DUP's rise, locals are glad other Britons are paying attention.

  • Marginal Revolution notes a study suggesting that refugees in the US end up paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

  • Spacing reviews a fascinating-sounding new book on the politics and architecture of new libraries.

  • Understanding Society examines the mechanisms through which organizations can learn.

  • Window on Eurasia talks about the progressive detachment of the east of the North Caucasus, at least, from wider Russia.

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  • The BBC notes an attack on a vegan restaurant in Tbilisi by meat-eating nationalists.

  • Bloomberg notes a slur by a German populist against a non-white soccer player, reports on Sweden's economic boom, Looks at rail investment in India, and notes Southeast Asia is beating out China as a destination for Japanese investment.

  • Bloomberg View looks at reform in Tunisia's Islamist movement and notes the lack of private foreign investment in Greece.

  • The CBC notes anti-gentrification sentiment in the Montréal neighbourhood of St. Henri, resulting in the looting of a gourmet grocery store.

  • MacLean's interviews Sebastian Junger on his theory that PTSD is rooted in the problems of modern individualism.

  • The National Post looks at an anthropologist's discovery of ancient hobo graffiti.

  • Open Democracy notes the Europeanization of Estonia's Russophones.

  • The Toronto Star contrasts the responses of the NDP and the Conservatives to their election defeats, and notes how older Chinese couples are now using fertility treatments to have their second child.

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  • Al Jazeera looks at the rejection of political Islam by Tunisia's Ennahda party.

  • The Australian Broadcasting Corporation notes the ambition of Zambia to become a major food-exporting country.

  • Bloomberg notes the negative impact of booming immigration on the New Zealand economy, observes Ireland's efforts to attract financial jobs from London-based companies worried by Brxit, reports on the elimination of Brazil's sovereign wealth fund, and notes a lawsuit lodged by Huawei against Samsung over royalties.

  • Bloomberg View notes that Russia can at least find domestic investors, and worries about the politicization of the Israeli military.

  • CBC reports on the Syrian refugee who has become a popular barber in Newfoundland's Corner Brooks, notes the sad news of Gord Downie's cancer, and wonders what will happen to Venezuela.

  • Daily Xtra writes about the need for explicit protection of trans rights in Canadian human rights codes.

  • MacLean's notes Uber's struggles to remain in Québec.

  • National Geographic notes Brazilian efforts to protect an Amazonian tribe.

  • The National Post reports about Trudeau's taking a day off on his Japan trip to spend time with his wife there.

  • Open Democracy wonders what will become of the SNP in a changing Scotland.

  • The Toronto Star looks at payday lenders.

  • Wired examines Twitter's recent changes.

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Jihen Laghmari and Caroline Alexander's Bloomberg article notes Tunisia's efforts to deal with Islamic State recruits who have returned to their country. I feel a certain, very limited, sympathy for these people. Offering them pathways out may be important, but I do not think these should be easy, if only for the sake of the people they brutalized.

It took just weeks of brutal fighting for Ahmed to realize that his journey from a working-class home in Tunisia’s capital to the battlefields of Syria had been a mistake.

Radicalized at an unofficial Tunis mosque, Ahmed, then 24 years old, was helped into Syria by militants he met on social media. With their assistance he slipped across frontiers in early 2013 on his way to jihadist-run villages. He says he expected to be defending Muslims caught up in civil war, and instead found himself among their oppressors.

“I saw with my own eyes how armed groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Al-Nusra Front kill and terrorize civilians, especially women and children, without reason, just to intimidate residents and control cities,” Ahmed said. He asked for his real name to be withheld and replied to questions posed through his lawyer.
“Anyone who rejects orders or tries to quit is killed. Getting out of Syria alive was like being reborn.”

Back in Tunis, where he keeps a low profile to escape police searches, Ahmed is at the center of a debate over how to deal with returning fighters -- one that may soon echo all over Europe with as many as 30,000 foreigners having traveled to Syria and Iraq. It pits activists calling for greater emphasis on rehabilitation against politicians who fear being seen as soft on terrorism.

Assaults on tourists and security forces have shattered Tunisia’s image as the Arab Spring nation that avoided spiraling violence and held successful elections -- a transition rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. Compounding the problem are the estimated 3,000 Tunisians who’ve traveled to war zones to fight.
The government has imposed a state of emergency and is fencing part of its border with Libya, where intelligence agencies say attacks on a Tunis museum and a beach resort were planned. That won’t be enough, say proponents of a draft law that would offer a future to men like Ahmed.

“You can’t fight terrorism with violence, imprisonment and insult,” said Mohammad Iqbal Ben Rajab, president of the Rescue Association of the Tunisian Stranded Abroad. “Without a clear strategy, most of the returnees will turn into time bombs and sleeper cells.”
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Via Facebook's Stephen comes the Rik Goverde's Middle East Eye report on the history of the Jews of Djerba, a Tunisian island known for its merchant diasporas.

These are busy times for Nissem Bittan, a Jewish jewellery salesman in the heart of the old city of Houmt Souk. Customers keep walking into his shop, which seems to be constructed solely out of lavishly plastered ceilings and walls and handcarved wooden showcases.

The customers dig deep in their pockets and take out jewels and gold they want to sell. It’s just before Eid al-Adha and people on Djerba are running out of money. On the island just off the coast of Tunisia tourism is the main source of income, but it became almost non-existent after terrorists hit the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March and the beaches of Sousse in June, leaving almost 60 dead in total.

“People don’t have money but they still want to buy a sheep for their family (as part of the Eid tradition). So they sell their jewelry to us,” says Bittan, a 52-year-old in shorts and a striped shirt who was born and raised on Djerba.

Bittan runs one of the many jewellery stores in the old city of Houmt Souk, the small capital of Djerba. In those narrow streets, Jews and Muslim merchants have been working side by side for centuries, relatively secluded from the outside world. He has Muslim friends, Bittan says, although they don’t really come over to each others houses for dinner a lot and "there are certainly no inter-marriages" between the two religious groups. “In Tunis that might happen... maybe,” he says. “The Jews there are a bit more liberal. But here, no. It’s a religious thing, we don’t blend. But we still respect each other.”
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  • Al Jazeera notes that Tunisia is still on the brink, looks at the good relations between Indians and Pakistanis outside of South Asia, suspects that a largely Armenian-populated area in Georgia might erupt, and reports on satellite imagery of Boko Haram's devastation in Nigeria.

  • Bloomberg notes that a North Korean camp survivor caught in lies might stop his campaign, reports on Arab cartoonists' fears in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, notes the consequences on Portugal of a slowdown in Angola's economy, and notes that the shift in the franc's value has brought shoppers from Switzerland to Germany while devastating some mutual funds.

  • Bloomberg View warns about anti-immigrant movements in Europe and notes that Turkey's leadership can't claim a commitment to freedom of the press.

  • The Inter Press Service notes Pakistani hostility to Afghan migrants, notes disappearances of Sri Lankan cartoonists, and looks at HIV among Zimbabwe's children.

  • Open Democracy is critical of the myth of Irish slavery, notes the uses of incivility, and observes that more French Muslims work for French security than for Al-Qaeda.

  • Wired looks at life in the coldest town in the world, and notes another setback in the fight for primate rights.

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  • Al Jazeera captures the mood of Tunisia on the eve of elections, looks at the sufferings of ISIS' sex slaves, reports on Kenya's harsh response to American criticism of anti-terrorism legislation, and notes that Florida surpasses New York as the United States' third most populous state.

  • Bloomberg reports on the absence of well-heeled Russian customers visiting Dubai, North Korea having been found guilty of the kidnapping of a Korean-American pastor, describes a European Union response on Ukraine's financial needs, examines the entanglement of BP with Russia's sanctions-hit oil and gas industry, outlines Chinese interest in helping Russia for a price, describes geopolitical rivalries of companies bidding for a South African nuclear program, notes Lithuanian interest in the Euro as a way to protect that Baltic state from Russia, shares listings of wonderful Detroit homes on sale at low prices, suggests the low price of oil means economic retrenchment in the Gulf states, and describes how a globalized Filipino village came to specialize in child porn.

  • Bloomberg View suggests Russia's economic future is parlous despite the recent stabilization of the ruble, criticizes Russian military aircraft confrontations with civilian aircraft, suggests Russia wants a deal, argues the collapse of Vermont's single-payer healthcare program shows the path-dependency of America's medical industry, argues Japan should surpass China as a lender to the US, and describes North Korea's high price for its apparent Sony hack.

  • The Inter Press Service notes a high dropout rate from school for Afghan refugees, suggests political turmoil in Spain might lead to a moral regeneration, describes the negative impact of falling oil prices on fragile African economies, comments on Pakistan's renewed use of the death penalty, and argues Cuban-American detente will help stabilize the Americas.

  • MacLean's wonders why the National Archives are being made inaccessible to visitors, describes the toxic CBC environment that enabled Jian Ghomeshi, and visits Yazidis returning to liberated territories to find mass graves of their people.

  • Open Democracy looks at Russian support of Central Asian governments which kidnap their dissidents on Russian territory, examines official misogyny in Chechnya, looks at constitutional turmoil in the United Kingdom, and studies the nature of Russian support for European far-right groups.

  • Universe Today describes how a newly-discovered dwarf galaxy satellite of the Milky Way can help explain the universe, looks at evidence for a subsurface reservoir of water on Mars, and examines the idea of airship-borne exploration of Venus.

  • Wired thinks the withdrawal of Google News from Spain will do nothing to change the underlying dynamics of the mass media industry, and examines the fascinating dynamics of volcanism in history on Mars.

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Spiegel International describes the steady progress made by the Islamic State in North Africa. Anarchic Libya and Egypt's unstable Sinai peninsula are particular loci for expansion, while Tunisia is a notable source of manpower.

Chaos, disillusionment and oppression provide the perfect conditions for Islamic State. Currently, the Islamist extremists are expanding from Syria and Iraq into North Africa. Several local groups have pledged their allegiance.

The caliphate has a beach. It is located on the Mediterranean Sea around 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Crete in Darna. The eastern Libya city has a population of around 80,000, a beautiful old town and an 18th century mosque, from which the black flag of the Islamic State flies. The port city is equipped with Sharia courts and an "Islamic Police" force which patrols the streets in all-terrain vehicles. A wall has been built in the university to separate female students from their male counterparts and the disciplines of law, natural sciences and languages have all been abolished. Those who would question the city's new societal order risk death.

Darna has become a colony of terror, and it is the first Islamic State enclave in North Africa. The conditions in Libya are perfect for the radical Islamists: a disintegrating state, a location that is strategically well situated and home to the largest oil reserves on the continent. Should Islamic State (IS) manage to establish control over a significant portion of Libya, it could trigger the destabilization of the entire Arab world.

The IS puts down roots wherever chaos reigns, where governments are weakest and where disillusionment over the Arab Spring is deepest. In recent weeks, terror groups that had thus far operated locally have quickly begun siding with the extremists from IS.

In September, it was the Algerian group Soldiers of the Caliphate that threw in its lot with Islamic State. As though following a script, the group immediately beheaded a French mountaineer and uploaded the video to the Internet. In October, the "caliphate" was proclaimed in Darna. And last week, the strongest Egyptian terrorist group likewise announced its affiliation with IS.
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Al Jazeera's Mohammed al-Mukhtar Ahmed notes how in Tunisia, sole liberal survivor of the Arab Spring, the seaside resort community of Sousse has furnished many volunteers for ISIS.

Tunisia has, by some estimates, provided the largest number of foreign fighters in Syria. According to official numbers, up to April 2014, 3,000 Tunisians have joined the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. Other more recent estimates put the number at 2,500.

Some, like Omar, die there; others return. The vast majority, however, disappear.

The touristy charm of this Tunisian city hides another, more menacing reality: The town visited by a million tourists a year, is also a source of fighters going into Syria and Iraq.

A visitor to Sousse often hears stories about youths who joined the "jihad" in Iraq and, more commonly, Syria. There are a few who are stopped before being able to leave, and perhaps end up detained, but most leave.

Within Sousse, specific neighbourhoods like Al Qalaa Al Kubra ("The Grand Castle"), Al Riyadh, Al Shabab and Hamam Soussa serve as recruitment hotpots for the stream of potential fighters.
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  • 80 Beats reports on how the Chukchansi tribe of California has used more than a million dollars' revenue from their on-reserve casinos to try to fund the revival of their language.

  • The Burgh Diaspora comments on how Brazil and Mexico, even though they are similar in being upwardly mobile middle-income Latin American democracies, respectively enjoy and suffer from very different portrayals in the international media (Brazil as successfully social-democratic country of the future, Mexico as seat of horrific drug gang warfare).

  • Eastern Approaches has two posts describing the contestation of the Second World War in post-Communist Europe, one from Hungary commenting on the rehabilitation of that country's dictator Admiral Horthy, the other in Lithuania with the provisional government that took over immediately after the Soviets were driven out by the Nazis in 1941.

  • Geocurrents portrays Tunisia's Djerba island, an ethnolinguistically and religiously diverse and economically cosmopolitan island that despite terrorism still hosts annual visits by members of the departed Jewish community.

  • GNXP's Razib Khan wonders, in light of a recent study suggesting human musical preferences are non-arbitrary, if classical music with its hierarchical associations is fading, if our (possibly emerging) "world of nearly free music and amateur dispersed production may return to the roots of our species, from the vaulted arches of aristocrats back down the earthier tastes of the commons".

  • Language Log's Julie Sedivy comments on the role of greetings in commercial establishments in Montréal as markers of identity and language change.

  • Torontoist's guest contributor Krista Simpson notes that Toronto artists are staging guerrilla takeovers of the city's remaining telephone booths as impromptu art galleries.

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Ocean mining, diasporas, Belarusians in Poland and Ukraine to totalitarians, Libya, and more!


  • 80 Beats notes that deep-sea exploration of the Pacific has turned up large amounts of rare earths--rare elements of the periodic table--in the mud of the Pacific. Mining?

  • At Acts of Minor Treason, Andrew Barton argues in favour of some sort of Canadian government outreach to the Canadian diaspora.

  • Border Thinking's Laura Agustín argues that sociological research on international migration of sex workers needs to be carried out more impartially in the context of globalization and migration.

  • Eastern Approaches observes that economic crisis has really hurt the Belarusian traders smuggling goods into their country from Poland.

  • Far Outliers has two grim posts on interwar Ukraine, the first on the ways in which Hitler and Stalin saw Ukraine as necessary for the fulfillment of their plans, the second recounting the great famine of the 1930s.

  • The Global Sociology Blog reviews a book on the noxious but increasingly common tendency to hire interns instead of workers.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money's Erik Loomis comments on the increasingly common interest of unions in establishing transnational links, i.e. the United States with Canada and Mexico.

  • Personal Reflection's Jim Belshaw argues that the recent visit of William and Kate to Canada was made in part with the aim of promoting Canadian national unity and the Canadian-ness of Québec.

  • At The Power and the Money, Noel Maurer comments on the war in Libya, noting the non-involvement of Egypt and Tunisia, the role of France in the light of domestic politics, the rebel-Berber alliance, and more.

  • Slap Upside the Head celebrates the news that Ontario Roman Catholic schools have to allow GLBT support groups, gay-straight alliances in all but name.

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I've a post up where I point out that many of the immigrants coming to Italy are coming from Italy's old colonial periphery. What role does empire play in modern Italian policies and attitudes and the directions of migrants, I wonder.

Go, read.
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I've a post up at Demography Matters making, among others, the point that the Maghreb seems set to become a destination for large numbers of imigrants, no longer only a source.

Go, read.
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In the opinion section of today's Globe and Mail, Naomi Wolf made two plausible points about the role of women in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions and why they played those roles. Education and feminism destabilized the old order.

[W]omen were not serving only as support workers, the habitual role to which they are relegated in protest movements. Egyptian women also organized and reported the events. Bloggers such as Leil-Zahra Mortada took grave risks to keep the world informed daily of the scene in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

The role of women in the great Middle East upheaval has been woefully under-analyzed. Women in Egypt didn’t just “join” the protests – they were a leading force behind the cultural evolution that made the protests inevitable. And what’s true for Egypt is true throughout the Arab world. When women change, everything changes, and women in the Muslim world are changing radically.

The greatest shift is educational. Two generations ago, only a small minority of the daughters of the elite received a university education. Today, women account for more than half of the students at Egyptian universities. They’re being trained to use power in ways their grandmothers could scarcely have imagined: publishing newspapers (as Sanaa el Seif did, in defiance of a government order to cease operating); campaigning for student leadership posts; fundraising for student organizations; and running meetings.

Indeed, a substantial minority of young women in Egypt and other Arab countries have now spent their formative years thinking critically in mixed-gender environments, and even publicly challenging male professors in the classroom. It’s far easier to tyrannize a population when half are poorly educated and trained to be submissive. But, as Westerners should know from their own historical experience, once you educate women, democratic agitation is likely to accompany the massive cultural shift that follows.


Social networking systems, she argues, with their much flatter hierarchies and lower costs to entry, let newcomers--like women--play important roles as coordinators.

The nature of social media, too, has helped turn women into protest leaders. Having taught leadership skills to women for more than a decade, I know how difficult it is to get them to speak out in a hierarchical organizational structure. Likewise, women tend to avoid the figurehead status that traditional protest has imposed on certain activists in the past – almost invariably a hotheaded young man with a megaphone.

In such contexts – with a stage, a spotlight and a spokesperson – women often shy away from leadership roles. But social media, through the very nature of the technology, have changed what leadership looks and feels like. Facebook mimics the way many women choose to experience social reality, with connections between people just as important as individual dominance or control, if not more so.

You can be a powerful leader on Facebook just by creating a really big “us.” Or you can stay the same size, conceptually, as everyone else on your page – you don’t have to assert your dominance or authority. The structure of Facebook’s interface creates what brick-and-mortar institutions, despite 30 years of feminist pressure, have failed to provide: a context in which women’s ability to forge a powerful “us” and engage in a leadership of service can advance the cause of freedom and justice worldwide.


Go, read.
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Azad Essa's Al Jazeera essay on the implications of the North African revolutions for sub-Saharan Africa reminds me of a point that Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui once made about the arbitrary boundaries between Africa and the Middle East, that the Red Sea unites as much as it divides on human and natural grounds, and that the Arabian peninsula could--if people so wanted--be reclassified as African. It all comes down to the question of where you want to draw the lines, visible or otherwise, on your own personal map.

Demonstrations are continuing across the Middle East, interrupted only by the call for prayer when protesters fall to their knees on cheap carpets and straw mats and the riot police take a tea break. Egypt, in particular, with its scenes of unrelenting protesters staying put in Tahrir Square, playing guitars, singing, treating the injured and generally making Gandhi’s famous salt march of the 1940s look like an act of terror, captured the imagination of an international media and audience more familiar with the stereotype of Muslim youth blowing themselves and others up.

A non-violent revolution was turning the nation full circle, much to the admiration of the rest of the world.

"I think Egypt's cultural significance and massive population were very important factors in ensuring media coverage," says Ethan Zuckerman, the co-founder of Global Voices, an international community of online activists.

[. . .]

Egypt was suddenly a sexy topic. But, despite the fact that the rich banks of the Nile are sourced from central Africa, the world looked upon the uprising in Egypt solely as a Middle Eastern issue and commentators scrambled to predict what it would mean for the rest of the Arab world and, of course, Israel. Few seemed to care that Egypt was also part of Africa, a continent with a billion people, most living under despotic regimes and suffering economic strife and political suppression just like their Egyptian neighbours.

"Egypt is in Africa. We should not fool about with the attempts of the North to segregate the countries of North Africa from the rest of the continent," says Firoze Manji, the editor of Pambazuka Online, an advocacy website for social justice in Africa. "Their histories have been intertwined for millennia. Some Egyptians may not feel they are Africans, but that is neither here nor there. They are part of the heritage of the continent."

And, just like much of the rest of the world, Africans watched events unfold in Cairo with great interest. "There is little doubt that people [in Africa] are watching with enthusiasm what is going on in the Middle East, and drawing inspiration from that for their own struggles," says Manji.

He argues that globalisation and the accompanying economic liberalisation has created circumstances in which the people of the global South share very similar experiences: "Increasing pauperisation, growing unemployment, declining power to hold their governments to account, declining income from agricultural production, increasing accumulation by dispossession - something that is growing on a vast scale - and increasing willingness of governments to comply with the political and economic wishes of the North.

"In that sense, people in Africa recognise the experiences of citizens in the Middle East. There is enormous potential for solidarity to grow out from that. In any case, where does Africa end and the Middle East begin?"

The ‘trouble’ that started in Tunisia (another African country) when street vendor Mohamed Bouzazi’s self-immolation articulated the frustrations of a nation spread to Algeria (yes, another African country), Yemen and Bahrain just as Hosni Mubarak made himself comfortable at a Sharm el Sheik spa.

Meanwhile, in 'darkest Africa', far away from the media cameras, reports surfaced of political unrest in a West African country called Gabon. With little geo-political importance, news organisations seem largely oblivious to the drama that began unfolding on January 29, when the opposition protested against Ali Bhongo Odhimba’s government, whom they accuse of hijacking recent elections. The demonstrators demanded free elections and the security forces duly stepped in to lay those ambitions to rest. The clashes between protesters and police that followed show few signs of relenting.

"The events in Tunisia and Egypt have become, within Africa, a rallying cry for any number of opposition leaders, everyday people harbouring grievances and political opportunists looking to liken their country's regimes to those of Ben Ali or Hosni Mubarak," says Drew Hinshaw, an American journalist based in West Africa. "In some cases that comparison is outrageous, but in all too many it is more than fair.


Go, read.
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I've a post up at Demography Matters that makes the point that, while Malta now might be imagined as islands pressured by illegal migrants, this time last century large numbers of Maltese were actively settling French-colonized North Africa. History has reversed itself, no?

Go, read.
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More from Olivier Roy via the Global Sociology Blog, this time in a New Statesmen article.

Look at those involved in the uprisings, and it is clear that we are dealing with a post-Islamist generation. For them, the great revolutionary movements of the 1970s and 1980s are ancient history, their parents' affair. The members of this young generation aren't interested in ideology: their slogans are pragmatic and concrete - "Erhal!" or "Go now!". Unlike their predecessors in Algeria in the 1980s, they make no appeal to Islam; rather, they are rejecting corrupt dictatorships and calling for democracy. This is not to say that the demonstrators are secular; but they are operating in a secular political space, and they do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world.

The same goes for other ideologies: they are nationalist (look at all the flag-waving) without advocating nationalism. Particularly striking is the abandonment of conspiracy theories. The United States and Israel - or France, in the case of Tunisia - are no longer identified as the cause of all the misery in the Arab world. The slogans of pan-Arabism have been largely absent, too, even if the copycat effect that brought Egyptians and Yemenis into the streets following the events in Tunis shows that the "Arab world" is a political reality.

This generation is pluralist, undoubtedly because it is also individualist. Sociological studies show that it is better educated than previous generations, better informed, often with access to modern means of communication that allow individuals to connect with one another without the mediation of political parties - which in any case are banned. These young people know that Islamist regimes have become dictatorships; neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia holds any fascination for them. Indeed, those who have been demonstrating in Egypt are the same kinds of people as those who poured on to the streets to oppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. (For propaganda reasons, the regime in Tehran has declared its support for the opposition movement in Egypt, though this is little more than a settling of scores with Hosni Mubarak.) Many of them are religious believers, but they keep their faith separate from their political demands. In this sense, the movement is "secular". Religious observance has been individualised.

Above all, people have been dem­onstrating for dignity and "respect", a watchword that emerged in Algeria in the late 1990s. And the values to which they are laying claim are universal. But the "democracy" that is being called for is not foreign, and therein lies the difference from the Bush administration's attempt to promote democracy in Iraq in 2003. That did not work, because it lacked political legitimacy and was associated with a military intervention. Today, paradoxically, it is the waning of US influence in the Middle East, together with the pragmatism of the Obama administration, that has allowed a native and fully legitimate demand for democracy to be expressed.

That said, a revolt is not a revolution. The new popular movement has no leaders, no structure and no political parties, which will make the task of anchoring democracy in these former dictatorships difficult. It is unlikely that the collapse of the old regimes will automatically lead to the establishment in their place of liberal democracies, as Washington once hoped would happen in Iraq.

What of the Islamists, those who see in Islam a political ideology capable of solving all of society's problems? They have not disappeared, but they have changed. The most radical of them have left to wage international jihad; they are in the desert with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in Pakistan or the suburbs of London. They have no social or political base. Indeed, global jihad is completely detached from social movements and national struggles. Al-Qaeda tries to present itself as the vanguard of the global Muslim "umma" in its battle against western oppression, but without success. Al-Qaeda recruits deracinated young jihadists who have cut themselves off entirely from their families and communities. It remains stuck in the logic of the "propaganda of the deed" and has never bothered to try to build political structures inside Muslim societies.


Go, read.
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The Global Sociology Blog introduces its readers to the essential thinking of European sociologist and Middle Eastern area specialist Olivier Roy, translating and abstracting an interview in French with said Roy. His take on the ongoing revolutions is worthwhile indeed.

First of all, what we have seen so far are not revolutions but protest movements involving the same kinds of social actors in the Arab world and beyond: protesters are young, educated, connected (through mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) even though Internet penetration rates are still not great in these societies. They are sociologically modern in terms of family structures, education and ideas. They are more individualist, believe in democracy. They are the ones who started these movements, then joined by older generations.

These protests are against old and tired corrupt regimes that have been captured by authoritarian leaders and their families or inner circles, and have stagnated for the past 30 years. So, it is a fed-up generation that rejects what have been the dominant ideologies in the Arab world in the post-War period: Islamism (political Islam), nationalism or Arabic socialism.

These movements are popping up all over the Middle East because of the similarities across countries: authoritarian regimes that have been in place for a long time, without major evolution. Beyond the shallow differences (monarchy in Morocco, authoritarianism in other places and family rule in Morocco, Syria or Jordan where each leader is succeeded by his son), there has been little diversity in governance.

So, politically, there are few differences. Sociologically, this is a different story. In Yemen and Jordan, the tribes still exercise power, whereas they are of little importance in North Africa or Egypt. Structures of power have developed over these sociological differences in order for the rulers to keep themselves in power.

What makes repression worse is when the protest movements in favor of democracy are based on ethnic (Iraq), denominational (Bahrain), or tribal divisions. For example, in Bahrain, the Sunni elite, supported by Saudi Arabia, dominates a numerically larger shiite population. In that case, more brutality from the rulers can be expected as full democracy would probably cost them their regime. But that is why the protesters in Bahrain have emphasized their nationality first, using the national flag, rather than their shia identity (they are not particularly pro-Iran). But that is something that the Sunni elite from the Persian Gulf do not want to hear.

It is not entirely clear why things are exploding now since these regimes have not changed over the past 20 years. There is certainly the global economy but Roy also sees a generational phenomenon. This is the coming of age of a generation born in crisis but who has never considered Islamism as solution to all social problems (as Islamism is seen as one of these discredited ideology). And then, there is population growth. The protesters come from a baby boom, a population peak, with lower fertility levels after them. In this sense, one can draw some comparisons with May 1968 in France.


Go, read.
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The protests in Libya are going to be revolutionary indeed. Will the Great Leader meet justice, rude or otherwise? I can't speculate, although the expected analogies with Romania in the late 1980s strike me as promising too much for him: Ceausescu was at least appreciated by Western powers as an autonomous power within the Soviet bloc, making things easier during the Cold War in a certain pleasant unexpected sense, but Muammar Gadaffi's post-2003 transformation just brought him up to the bare minimum expected of a responsible state.

Last night Toronto time, his son Saif al-Islam delivered a live speech to the Libyan people. Besides demonstrating the failed flirtation with Libyan dialect noted earlier and the typical contempt felt for the subjected people by the dictator, one element that came out during the live-tweeted speech was an emphasis on Libya's fragility and divisibility.

We have arrested tens of Arabs and Africans, poor people, millions were spent on them to use them by millionaire businessmen. There are people who want to establish a countries in parts of Libya to rule, Like the Islamic Emirate. One person said he is the Emir of Islamic Emirate of Darna. The Arabic Media is manipulating these events. This Arabic media is owned by Arabs who are distorting the facts but also our media failed to cover the events.

[. . .]

It is no lie that the protesters are in control of the streets now. Libya is not Tunis or Egypt. Libya is different, if there was disturbance it will split to several states. It was three states before 60 years. Libya are Tribes not like Egypt. There are no political parties, it is made of tribes. Everyone knows each other. We will have a civil war like in 1936. American Oil Companies played a big part in unifying Libya. Who will manage this oil? How will we divide this oil amongst us? Who will spend on our hospitals? All this oil will be burnt by the Baltagiya (Thugs) they will burn it. There are no people there. 3/4s of our people live in the East in Benghazi, there is no oil there, who will spend on them? Your children will not go to schools or universities. There will be chaos, we will have to leave Libya if we can't share oil. Everyone wants to become a Sheikh and an Emir, we are not Egypt or Tunisia so we are in front of a major challenge.

[. . .]

Before we let weapons come between us, from tomorrow, in 48 hours, we will call or a new conference for new laws. We will call for new media laws, civil rights, lift the stupid punishments, we will have a constitution. Even the Leader Gaddafi said he wants a constitution. We can even have autonomous rule, with limited central govt powers.

[. . .]

What is happening in Bayda and Benghazi is very sad. How do you who live in Benghazi, will you visit Tripoli with a visa? The country will be divided like North and South Korea we will see each other through a fence.

[. . .]

In any case, I have spoken to you, we uncovered cells from Egypt and Tunisia and Arabs. The Libyans who live in Europe and USA, their children go to school and they want you to fight. They are comfortable. They then want to come and rule us and Libya. They want us to kill each other then come, like in Iraq. The Tunisians and Egyptians who are here also have weapons, they want to divide Libya and take over the country.


Gadaffi is self-serving. There does seem to be something there, though. I just know not how much.

I've followed Libya intermittently here--it's been of interest to me mainly as an exemplar of a fragile state, a polity that blames pediatric HIV/AIDS epidemics on evil nurses instead of bad infectious-disease protocols, one that depends on oil to cement together the country. Unlike Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, with their long histories of statehood within coherent and enduring boundaries (and, in the first two countries, imperialist efforts beyond those frontiers), and unlike an Algeria that gained additional coherence under French colonial rule, the very entity "Libya" was a late formation, as the dominant province of Tripolitania in the west was fused with Cyrenaica in the east on the Egyptian border and Saharan Fezzan in the southwest to form modern Libya in 1934.

Ottoman_Provinces_Of_Present_day_Libyapng


As Ahmida noted in his The making of modern Libya, Libya was a very plural society, with the two main areas of habitable land on the northern coast being widely separated by the Gulf of Sirte into two separate societies, each with its own strong linkages extending beyond modern Libya.

One has to keep in mind that prior to the colonial period and the colonial conquest in 1911, strict borders were nonexistent, as were local ties to just one state. The tribes of western Tripolitania and southern Tunisia had strong confederations and were tied to the larger Muslim community of the Maghreb and the Sahara. The state of Awlad Muhammad in Fezzan was linked to the Lake Chad region for trade and the recruitment of soldiers. It also formed a strategic refuge from the Ottoman state in time of war. Equally important to note are the strong socioeconomic ties between the tribes of Cyrenaica and western Egypt. Cyrenaican tribes viewed western Egyptian cities and the desert as both sanctuaries to escape wars and as markets for agropastoral products (12).


When Libya gained its independence, it was established as a federation of three equal regions, perhaps to counter-balance the weight of a Tripolitania that has always been home to two-thirds of the country's population and seems to hold most of Libya's oil. Interestingly, the Senussi religious order that briefly held the monarchy of independent Libya until Gadaffi's 1969 revolution was based in Cyrenaica. The consolidation of power in Tripoli hasn't helped the region. I wonder if the Gadaffi regime's incessant efforts to unify with another Arab country, at least one other, maybe even Malta, might have been an effort to continue the process of state-aggregation.

What does the origin of the protests, and their concentration in Cyrenaica, mean? Italian foreign minister and DEBKAfile alike seem to imply that this revolt might be separatist, but given the cravenly self-serving nature of the Berlusconi government's foreign policy in relationship to Libya and DEBKAfile's bias, I'm not inclined to believe this. Similarly, a division of Libya into Egyptian and Tunisian spheres of influence seems profoundly unlikely, and not only because of the disinterest of Libya's neighbours.

But what does it mean? I don't know; I can only speculate. This informed blog post goes into more detail about the background of regional issues in Libya, but comes to the same conclusion.

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