FGM: Why have we not eradicated it yet?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) causes severe bleeding and health issues including cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth. It affects at least 200 million girls and women alive today. Despite this, very few charities, Non-Government Organisations or activist groups focus on this as one of the most serious issues the globe currently faces. FGM could be eradicated within one generation yet the current response to FGM by government and the media is one of denial and inaction. Why is this?

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The UN defines FGM as all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and this is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

FGM is a global problem, not just an issue facing central African countries, and should be tackled as such. The UN have been ignoring the prevalence of FGM globally most particularly in parts of the Middle East and Asia. Indian activist, Masooma Ranalvi, recently urged governments and donor countries to help fund research and data collection in Asia at the 2017 ‘Ban FGM’ conference in Rome. This would allow a much better picture of the seriousness of FGM across the globe and would help to spotlight which countries and cultures need the most attention.

It is not just a lack of funding and research which undermines attempts to eradicate FGM. Many cases of FGM go unreported but cases which are reported tend to have very lenient prison sentences. This sends the wrong signal to those who continue to practise FGM. In January 2017, four people were prosecuted for FGM after 17-year-old Mayar Mohamed Moussa died from undergoing a procedure in Egypt. Mayar’s mother and doctor were given a fine of £1000 (EYP) and a suspended sentence of only one year. Lawyer Reda Eldanbouki, who was representing Mayar, expressed shock at the sentences saying “it is unfair and unjust and will be ineffective as it sends the wrong signal”.

A serious side effect has occurred because of the pressure that is starting to be put on communities that perform FGM in Africa. There are a greater number of reports suggesting FGM is being performed on much younger girls and in the dead of night in order for people to avoid the consequences of the law. This ‘under the radar’ approach makes it more complicated for authorities to effectively deal with the problem. The UN and human rights groups need to come together to stop these inhumane procedures by educating people on the dangers of procedures being done incorrectly or in unsanitary conditions.

We have an obligation as compassionate humans to eradicate FGM and help to rebuild the lives of the millions of women and girls it has already affected.

Uncomfortable trio: West, Dictators and Terrorism

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“People talk about the Middle East as if there were only two options: dictatorship or terrorism. However, this is a false dichotomy, both are terrorist groups”.

(Dr Maha Azzam)

This concluding remark by Dr Azzam last night at “Al Qaeda and Beyond: where do Arab dictatorships fit” is a powerful key to interpreting developments in the Middle East. Experts on Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Iraq analysed the relationship between dictators and terrorism, posing the question “why is the West so obsessed with dictatorships?”

In a post Arab Spring world, voices from both Europe and the USA have been advocating a return to dictatorial government in the Middle East. Distant spectators observed democratic revolutions turning into violent uprisings, peaceful protests becoming armed resistance groups and once quiet areas becoming terrorist controlled regions. The focus quickly shifted back home, with many voices denouncing ISIS attacks and asking how all of this could have happened. It is this fear and shock that has lead many to advocate increased support for Assad and Saleh, questioning the possibility of a democratic future in the region.

The history of support for dictatorships by the West is a story as long as colonialism. Even at the time of the Pahlavi dynasty in Persia, Western powers strongly supported dictators throughout the Middle East. A single individual was easier to control than a democratically elected government and his ethnicity could easily be exploited to maintain the divide and rule strategy adopted in colonial times.

It is clear that the West has benefitted from their relationship with dictators since the end of formal colonialism. From the trade deals between Italy and Libya to the military support given to Mubarak by the US, dictators in the region have been strong partners and supporters of Western interests in the area. On the opposite side of the spectrum, whenever an unfriendly government took power, Western democracies resorted to terrorist groups to destabilize the country and re-obtain their control. A classic example was the Taliban in Afghanistan, armed and supported by the US in its quest for a pipeline from Central Asia.

We should not disregard however the use dictators themselves made of terrorist groups. As illustrated by Basher Al Assad releasing jihadist prisoners in the wake of the Syrian revolution, terrorist groups have been widely used by local powers to portray themselves as “the lesser of two evils”. More recently, Sisi has used the threat of ISIS to curb peaceful civil society groups and to justify the brutal actions of Egypt’s army in Sinai. This creates a vicious cycle in which opponents of the government, deprived of their freedom of speech and assembly, resort to armed revolts, justifying increased violence from the government.

Nowadays there are two terrorist movements in the Middle East: state terrorism and religious terrorism. Depending on the time and circumstance, the West has simply opted for one or the other, perpetrating breaches of human rights and the lack of democracy in the region.

By Martina Villa

The EU-Turkey Deal: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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Syrian Refugee Camp on the Turkish Border

In 2015 1.2 million people entered Europe from countries as disparate as Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. With further displacement and migration forecast for the coming years, an existential crisis is now threatening the very foundations of the European Project. In a mood of desperation and political expediency negotiations to curb migrant numbers have been accelerated with Turkey, culminating in a deal that now faces severe legal, ethical and practical difficulties.

In a nutshell, the agreement attempts to mitigate refugee flows that may otherwise overwhelm frontier European states, relocating the exigencies of asylum processing back to the Middle East and providing space to devise a more tolerable, long term solution. In principle, it also aims to undercut and degrade the mechanics of an extensive trafficking economy now proliferating across the Mediterranean. The commercialisation of people smuggling has exacerbated the number of refugees travelling, and sometimes even perishing, along sea routes. By adopting a hardline stance on ‘boat-people’ and diminishing the pull factor of assumed European altruism, people trafficking will, in theory, devolve into a high-risk low-reward enterprise that depresses demand and channels refugees towards more easily regulated outlets.

Under the auspices of a ‘one in one out’ system, any ‘new irregular migrants’ arriving in Greece after March would be deported to Turkey and relegated to the back of the queue of those seeking asylum. In return, EU member states are obligated to resettle properly processed Syrian refugees from Turkey and expedite visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals wishing to visit Europe.

There are obvious benefits to this approach. On a human level, the sharp fall in individuals traveling to Greece in the aftermath of the deal will hopefully translate into lower mortality rates for those refugees seeking entry into Europe. It also relieves pressure on Frontex, the underfunded European border management agency, and allocates new resources for efficient processing schemes. In the face of perpetually gridlocked EU institutions, the political intransigence of Eastern European governments, rising right wing populism and the resurrection of internal border controls, it provides a palatable alternative for European publics that may be able to preserve the cosmopolitan values of Schengen while also delivering immediate results. Perhaps most importantly, the agreement alleviates the burden on Ankara. Supplemented by an aid package of €3 billion earmarked for improving ‘the lives of refugees’ in the region, and a series of concessions with regard to Turkey’s prospective membership in the EU, it is hoped the agreement will deliver desperately needed investment to fund accommodation, education initiatives and welfare services for the two million refugees in Turkey itself.

However, despite the humanitarian rhetoric espoused by its proponents, the broader implications of the deal remain a cause for concern. Any claims suggesting the authoritarian tendencies of the Erdogan regime may be ameliorated by visa-liberalisation and closer political cooperation between Turkey and the EU are spurious to say the least. As negotiations concluded, the government has shown no sign of slowing its crackdown on independent journalism, seizing control of the national newspaper Zaman in March and tightening its grip over civil society. The fact these excesses hardly elicited any reaction from the West, and that German authorities are now considering the prosecution of a local comedian for ‘insulting’ Erdogan, allude to the leverage Turkey currently enjoys. As such, by colluding with autocrats the EU may paradoxically be compromising its liberal values on another front, namely free speech and free expression.

Crucially, there are also significant legal and practical issues that need to be considered. Human rights organisations have cited grave problems with the agreement. They argue it not only contravenes international law and its underlying humanitarian norms but also fails to exert pressure on Turkey to improve the protection it offers Syrian refugees. Amnesty International (AI) in particular maintains “the EU is…incentivising the opposite’, referencing a concerted effort by local Turkish authorities to expel asylum seekers back into Syria and close the Southern border to stop any further influx. While the ‘one in one out’ system explicitly circumvents controversy over blanket returns by certifying a right for refugees to make individual asylum claims, there is no doubt that the testimonies collected by AI deliver a damning indictment of Turkish migratory policy. It also undermines the fallacy that any claimants deemed irregular by the EU are being deported to a ‘safe third country’. To assume Turkey is safe is to ignore the Kurdish insurgency waging in its Eastern periphery and the horrendous conditions refugees are currently living under. Non-Syrians face the threat of further extradition back to dangerous home nations under the conditions of independent bilateral agreements between Ankara and, for example, the Afghan government. For those remaining in Turkey, many lack work permits and are forced into unregulated black market jobs for little to no salary. Perhaps more worryingly, 400,000 of 700,000 school age Syrian children aren’t receiving any formal education. There is simply no opportunity for integration, leading to societal tensions that will exponentially grow as the crisis gets worse. Unless this trend is radically altered, the EU’s refugee policy as it stands today is giving rise to a disenfranchised, socio-economically marginalised and uneducated ‘lost generation’ completely at odds with the humanitarian virtues the organisation claims to champion. On a practical and moral level this is untenable.

Europe is therefore between a rock and a hard place. Its migratory infrastructure cannot manage a crisis of this magnitude and it does not have the institutional or democratic flexibility to deliver an equitable scheme for effectively distributing shares of refugees across its membership. But as Kenan Malik, a London based lecturer and broadcaster, argues, by ratifying this deal with Turkey the EU seems to be regressing back to its antiquated mentality of the 1990s; ‘criminalising’ migrants, militarising its external borders and paying peripheral states to ‘operate as immigration police’. Outsourcing the problem and pretending it isn’t there is not a viable option. There needs to be a substantive, systemic transformation in how Europe both conceptualises and engages with the refugee problem. Anything short of this is simply not sustainable and the EU risks having its moral authority irreversibly damaged.

Shock continues as circumstances around the Giulio Regeni atrocity unfold

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Contribution by Ashley Forbes

Public outrage continues to soar over the mysterious death of Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose mangled body was discovered last Wednesday on an Egyptian roadside. New information has emerged regarding Mr. Regini’s involvement with a left-wing Italian newspaper, Il Manifesto. The newspaper published an article last Friday claiming that weeks before his death, the student wrote an article for their paper under a pseudonym, criticising Egyptian President el-Sisi.

Over the years, foreigners, and even locals, who dare to express opinions in opposition to the ideas of the Egyptian government tend to find themselves imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes dead. Usually, those detained find themselves in jail or in a courtroom. This begs the question: why wasn’t Mr. Regeni jailed instead of tortured to death? The barbaric nature in which Mr. Regeni was found indicates that his death was no accident. However, even if he was writing for Il Manifesto, and even if the Egyptian government took issue with his opinions, why was he not brought in for questioning, or given his time in court? This occurrence undoubtedly heightens security risks for all foreigners travelling to Egypt. If a PhD student can end up brutally tortured to death for simply wanting to expand his academic background through field research, then are any of us really safe anymore?

In memory of Giulio Regeni

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Giulio Regeni, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, was a visiting scholar at the American University in Cairo, researching on trade unions and labour rights in post-Mubarak Egypt. He was of Italian origin, but had an international background which made him a citizen of the world. On the 25th January, the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, Giulio was supposed to meet his friends near Tahrir square. He never got there. His body was found five days later in a ditch, half-naked from the waist down, with clear signs of torture (stab wounds, cigarette burns, mutilation): evidence of what was a non-accidental, slow death.

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As the Italian and Egyptian authorities proceed with a supposedly joint investigation, we cannot help but wonder: How is this possible? How can we accept this horror? Giulio had moved to Egypt for academic purposes, doing research on the field on what was his expertise. The circumstances of his murder suggest that he was killed because of his ideas, that is, because of his decision to pursue his studies even if that meant living in a difficult environment.

As Angelo Martelli, PhD student at the London School of Economics, powerfully commented, “Giulio has paid the price of someone who believed that knowledge has no borders and that academic research in order to flourish needs to be truly free. (..) With Giulio’s murder academic research has also been assassinated, because we are depriving academia of its core idea of universitas, of a community of scholars without borders, where minds are challenged to discover new knowledge and contribute to the welfare of a broader society. A community where freedom of thought is elevated to its highest level without the fear of being persecuted for your ideas or discriminated on the basis of culture, religion or ethnicity. (…) Giulio was an example of a young free man who does not give up, who follows his instinct for knowledge and finds his sense of fulfilment by contributing with his research work.”

Now not only do we find this terrible loss hard to process, but we are more than concerned about the ramifications this event has in terms of freedom of movement, freedom of thought, freedom of expression. As The Guardian recalls, Giulio’s death ‘is not the first incident of a foreign national dying in suspicious  circumstances on Egyptian soil’. Thus my first appeal goes to Egypt to provide better security for its national and international citizens. But what if, as many have suggested, the Egyptian government or its institutions are to some extent responsible for this death? Should that be the case, then the same appeal goes to the international community: we cannot let our people be killed in such a dramatic and terrible way. If it is true that pursuing one’s research in sensible topics may carry the risk of travelling to unsafe areas, this cannot entail torture and death. It is simply not acceptable.

Giulio, we will remember you as a person who followed his dreams and interests and was not afraid of doing that, raising up your voice in search for a deeper knowledge. At the same time, as we keep on affirming, when terrorism and extremism bring horror and death, this tragic event should not represent an obstacle to those of us willing to explore the world and continue our work, whether it is for academic purposes or not.

We believe in freedom, and we want justice.