Freedom of Expression in Putin’s Russia

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Freedom of expression is an essential cornerstone of any democratic society. Constructive dialogue is only achieved when ideas of all types, however unfavourable, are discussed and valued. In a modern democracy, ideas are communicated in three main domains – through traditional media outlets, in public demonstrations and over the internet. In Russia, the opportunity for free expression is being thwarted in all three arenas of dialogue.

Under Putin government legislation has seen the content of mainstream media become dispiritingly predictable. Fines and penalties are levied on media not conforming to the Kremlin’s political narrative. As a result, independent outlets have either closed down due to lack of funds or been forced into self-censorship. The remaining mainstream media companies are either state controlled or funded by government loyalists, effectively silencing the voice of the opposition.

During the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections, for example, the RIA media company would often quote Alexei Navalny, the anti-government candidate, in its campaign news reports. Needless to say Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Alexei Gromov, directly contacted the agency’s editor-in-chief warning her that a state news agency must not work against the state’s own interests by promoting the opposition.

However, the internet has presented Putin’s opposition with a new platform to challenge the government. At the end of 2011, mass anti-government protests were organised through social media, highlighting the effectiveness of the internet as a tool for political mobilisation. In response to these demonstrations, the government introduced new legislation allowing them to censor and block internet content and in recent times has introduced significant restrictions on online speech.

Online space for the public debate of sensitive issues, such as Syria, Ukraine and LGBT rights, has begun to shrink and people have even been arrested for blogging their views. In the same way that media companies were forced into self-censorship, members of the public have become increasingly insecure about limits of acceptable speech. Combine this with the spate of arrests at the recent nationwide anti-corruption protests and it becomes clear that the opportunity for public dialogue is being stifled in all spheres.

Putin’s brand of authoritarianism treats freedom of expression not as a right but as an impediment. This ‘we-know-best’ policing of anti-government ideas reflects the insecurity of Putin’s government. 20th-century political history tells you that fear mongering and the suppression of dialogue are the foundations on which oppressive political regimes are built. The Russian people must be granted their right to receive and spread all types of information.

 

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The 10th International Media Awards

On the 28th of June, the 10th edition of the International Media Awards were held at Whitehall, London. With guests attending from all over the world, including Russia, Israel, Afghanistan and Libya, the ceremony was a great spectacle of diversity. The ceremony was indeed a microcosm of the greater Middle East, the disparate nationalities and ethnicities of all those who participated reflected the vast array of people that call the region home. In an increasingly exclusionary, protectionist modern political landscape, this evening serves as a sharp contrast, offering a glimmer of hope to all of us who have been saddened by the current state of middle-eastern affairs, and those of us who are discontent with recent geopolitical developments.

The evening was not short of entertainment either, throughout the dinner multiple awards were given to deserving journalists, ranging from those who have just embarked on a journalistic career to those more seasoned, with some boasting 25+ year careers. Correspondents, documentary producers, and broadcasters were all recognised during the night. It is imperative these professionals are recognised for the work they do. They consistently risk their lives for the sake of uncovering the truth on complex conflicts and help us make sense of an increasingly interconnected world. Through credible, honest storytelling the winners have drawn our attention towards humanitarian crises whether they be in Yemen or Syria, the plight of those living under IS rule in Iraq and also highlighted the injustices some Palestinians face in everyday life.

Among the winners was Lyse Doucet, an accomplished broadcaster and frontline journalist, and is currently the BBC’s Chief International Correspondent. She won the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting’ award, which rewards those who have had an illustrious career in the field of journalism. Throughout her career, Lyse has upheld the universal media virtues of integrity, honesty and impartiality. She is a figure of the industry and an idol to many young journalists looking to begin their careers.

There was also a moment of profound reflection. During the 4-year International Media Awards hiatus, there have been over 100 media related murders in the Middle-East. This number serves to indicate the deteriorating security conditions for media personnel in the region. But it simultaneously, allows us to appreciate the dangerous but vital work these journalists undertake. The sorry state of freedom of speech in the region is disheartening, but as the International Media Awards have indicated: The Middle-Eastern region has been ushered into a new era of information and wide-spread knowledge, there has been a huge influx of young journalists breaking through evinced by the young set of winners this year. Those who are brave, courageous, and those who will always stand in the face of adversity to retell the stories of the unfortunate to those of us who are much more fortunate. It is safe to say that the future of journalism is in good hands.

 

King Salman’s son Prince Mohammed bin Salman named as new crown prince

On Wednesday morning King Salman of Saudi Arabia named his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the next heir to the Saudi throne, sweeping aside his son’s oldest rival, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. King Salman’s royal decree removed his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, from the line of succession and from his post as interior minister. The promotion of Mohammed bin Salman to the position of crown prince marks the end of the gradual removal of powers from the previous Mohammed bin Nayef.

While some are calling the royal decree emblematic of a coup d’état in which Mohammed bin Nayef has been ousted; the decision has not come as a shock. It is the case that the timing has been unexpected, but the influence of Mohammed bin Salman has been consistently growing culminating in this decision. The new crown prince has enjoyed growing influence following his father’s accession to the throne in 2015. Shortly after King Salman’s accession to the throne, he was appointed as defence minister and later in the same year was named deputy crown prince.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s influence is perhaps most apparent in his role as defence minister in leading Operation Decisive Storm, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen fighting the Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen. It is widely believed that Mohammed bin Salman has been a driving force behind the decision to cut diplomatic ties and enforce a blockade on Qatar. Despite being behind this inconclusive and damaging military campaign, he is popular amongst Saudis for his reforms to the country’s ineffective state bureaucracy and his new long term economic plan “Vision 2030” which aims to wean the Kingdom off its dependence on oil.

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Prince Mohammad bin Salman, as Defence Minister, with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis before a bi-lateral meeting held at the Pentagon, Washington DC, March 16 2017. 

King Salman’s decision to cement the position of Mohammed bin Salman brings into question what the consequences in the region will be, particularly with regards to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. Significantly, the decision to replace the 57-year-old Mohammed bin Nayef with King Salman’s 31-year-old son will give the Kingdom something it has not experienced in over half a century – a young King with the potential to rule for over 4 decades.

It is too early to predict the precise effects of this appointment on the stance of the Kingdom with regards to respective nation states in the region. That being said, given the current aggressive stance under King Salman towards Iran, it is likely that this will either continue or worsen under the crown prince. What is for sure, is that Mohammed bin Salman’s appointment will have significant ramifications for Middle Eastern politics, and more specifically for the Gulf, in the long-term.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations Emmanuel Macron

We at the Next Century Foundation would like to wish the new President of France luck in his quest to unite France after the highly polarizing presidential election. He has a monumental task ahead of him. Macron must appeal to both the disillusioned minorities in France who feel marginalised as well as exasperated French patriots who have looked to the far right for answers to their economic and sovereignty fears.  We hope he continues to uphold the virtues of liberty, equality and fraternity upon which the Republic of France was built.  We also hope that Macron, as an exponent of the European project, adopts a foreign policy that reflects the values of the European Union, the most important of which are the respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, equality and the rule of law. Whilst there are many domestic problems that need to be resolved, including the stagnant French economy and his weak legislative powers, we are expect that Mr Macron will not turn a blind eye towards the injustices in the Middle-East and the humanitarian crisis that continues to persist on the shores of the Mediterranean.

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A New Hope for Libya

On the second of May, two of the most prominent Libyan political figures met in Abu-Dhabi for a meeting that lasted 2 hours long, mediated by both Arab and International actors. This was the first meeting of this type between the clashing leaders  since the UN sanctioned Libyan Political agreement was signed in January 2016, which instated the Government of National Accord.

Khalifa Haftar,  one of the two aforementioned leaders, has often been described by mainstream media outlets as a renegade military leader, with ambitions to institute military rule upon Libya. He has been exile in Virginia,  America for nearly 20 years after his failed attempt to overthrow Colonel Gaddaffi in a military coup, gaining U.S. citizenship. Currently, he is based in the east of the country and leads the self-named Libyan National Army or what is also known as Operation Dignity. Due to his unwavering stance towards Islamic extremism and his strongman demeanor, Khalifa Haftar has ascended to the forefront of Libyan politics, he now enjoys financial and military support from the Kremlin as well as the UAE, it has been noted that General Al-Sisi is also an ally of General Haftar. But we should be under no delusion, some Libyans (many of them non-Islamist) are opposed to any rule composed of General Haftar. They do not want what they perceive to be another military dictator, after paying in blood for their freedom.

In stark contrast Fayez Al-Sarraj the leader of the Government of National Accord and the head of the presidential council, has led a particularly uneventful life before his designation to the prime ministerial role. Mr Al-Sarraj hails from Tripoli and was born to a wealthy family, he trained as an architect and his father owned vast swathes of land. Much responsibility rests on his shoulders following his appointment, he cannot afford to alienate the General Khalifa Haftar because of the large foreign support he is provided with and the growing strength of his army. Conversely, it is the general consensus that the country needs to submit to civilian authority. President Al-Sarraj has been adamant in wanting a unified Libyan army under civil control, a stipulation which Haftar is against, although the General has never truly admitted so in public.

As is always the case in high level diplomatic negotiations, it seems that there is a disconnect between these ostensible leaders and the people governed.  General Haftar and Mr Al-Sarraj meeting in Abu-Dhabi was convened amidst a backdrop of a dire economic situation in Libya. Libya’s oil production output, the state’s most significant revenue generator, is a fraction of 2010 levels. Foreign capital investment has grounded to a halt, and the Libyan tourism industry has been devastated. This has all led to delayed and sometimes cancelled salary payments, substandard infrastructure even in Tripoli, virtually non-existent public services and inadequate healthcare, forcing people to travel to Tunisia and Egypt to obtain life-saving treatments. It is a sad fact that ordinary Libyan people are the ones  feeling this financial squeeze the most.

Robust, unified governance and rule of law is the hallmark of all developed and civilised countries. Through forging relationships, and crossing political divides this meeting  provides hope for the creation of such a government, all in the pursuit of a prosperous Libya. We wish the two leaders good luck, and remind them that they would do best by serving the populace rather than pursue policies of greed, and corruption which have bedevilled North Africa in the past.

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معاناة أهالي الحويجة

معاناة أهالي الحويجة

مازال الشعب مازال العراقي يعاني من تعذيب مجندي تنظيم الدولة الاسلامية للمدنيين رغم التقدم الذي أحرزته القوات العراقية المشتركة في تحرير بعض المناطق من سيطرة التنظيم في العملية التي قد بدأت قبل عدة أسابيع. يقوم مجندي التنظيم بالانتقام لخسارتهم المتعددة في عدة مدن بتعويض هذه الخسائر بسفك دماء المدنيين و خاصة في قضاء الحويجة في كركوك. حيث قام أعضاء التنظيم مؤخرا و تحديدا قبل يومين بإعدام 13 مدني رميا بالرصاص بعد محاولتهم الفرار من الحويجة إلى مدن قريبة للتخلص من الرعب الذي يسكنهم و الذي ينشره التنظيم في جيمع أنحاء القضاء حيث ان قام احدهم بالفرار من القضاء فالموت ينتظره و أما إن بقي في منزله فالجحيم يسكنه!

قام التتنظيم بالسيطرة على قضاء الحويجة و بعض المناطق المجاورة في كركوك في يوليو 2014 ، حيث أبلغ مجندي التنظيم أهالي الحويجه بعد إعلان السيطرة الكاملة على القضاء بأنه من سيحاول الفرار من جنوبي كركوك سواء كان رجل او امرأة او طفل سيكون عقابه و مصيره الموت، و قد قام التنظيم بالفعل بقطع يد من يرفض الانتماء له من أهالي الحويجة و إعدام 6 أشقاء بعد محاولتهم الفرار من الحويجة.

قام التنظيم بإحتجاز مايقارب 385 مدني من سكان الحويجه بعد محاولتهم الفرار نحو المناطق الخاضعة لسيطرة قوات البيشمركة جنوب غربي كركوك، و البعض حاول الفرار و الوصول إلى محافظة صلاح الدين. تم إعدام عدد قليل من المحتجزين فيما لا يزال مصير الآخرين مجهول. من بين المحتجزين رجال و نساء و أطفال حيث يتوقع البعض بأنه سيتم إعدام جميع الرجال و تجنيد الأطفال في صفوف التنظيم. فيما سيتم سبي النساء و استخدامهم فيما يعرف عند التنظيم “بجهاد النكاح”، و هنا نعود للإسلام الذي يدعي التنظيم أنه يمثله، حيث أنه من توجيهات رسولنا – عليه الصّلاة والسّلام – في الحرب أنْ لا تُقتل المرأة أو الشّيخ أو الطّفل، وإنّما يَحلُّ سبي النّساء في حالةٍ واحدةٍ فقط، وهي حالة القتال مع الأعداء، ودون ترويعٍ لها أو انتقاصٍ من كرامتها، و هذا ما لا يفعله التنظيم.

قصه واقعيه لرجل فر هاربا بعد أن احتجزه التنظيم بعد محاولته الهروب مع والده و زوجته و أولاده من الحويجه. بعد العديد من الترتيبات و التجهيزات جاء اليوم المنتظر الذي ظن فيه هذا الشخص بأن عذاب التنظيم و الخوف منهم سينتهي بعد الهرب من قضاء الحويجة إلى منطقة آمنة، و لكن سرعان ماتحول هذا الحلم إلى جحيم و عذاب مستمر بعد أن أمسك التنظيم به و بوالده بينما استطاعت زوجته الفرار برفقة أطفاله. قام التنظيم بممارسة جميع أنواع التعذيب من الضرب و الجلد و كل مايخطر على البال من أساليب معدومة الرحمة لمدة 5 أشهر على هذا الرجل بينما قاموا باحتجاز والده في مكان آخر و لم يستطع رؤيته. أعلن التنظيم عن أنه سيتم إعدام هذا الرجل و تم تحديد اليوم ولكن لحسن حظ هذا الرجل و لأنه لم يقطع أمله بالله نشب حريق في السجن الذي كان متواجد فيه حيث استطاع الهروب إلى الصحراء للوصول إلى منطقة آمنه في تكريت حيث استنجد بأهلها للوصول إلى كركوك لزوجته و أولاده، و لكن رغم هربه إلا أنه لايزال يجهل مصير والده و حاله و لا يعلم إن كان حيا أو قد تم قتله! وصف هذا الرجل التنظيم بأنه شديد الوحشيه و معدوم من الانسانيه و الرحمه حيث أن مجندوه يستمتعون بالقتل و رؤية عذاب الآخرين و يضحكون على من يموت و على من يعذب، و هنا أيضا نسأل أين الإسلام فيما يفعلونه؟ الإسلام يقول بأنه لايجوز على الميت إلا الرحمه و هؤلاء الوحوش يتراقصون فوق الجثث، الإسلام يأمر بالرحمه و الأخوه و لكن هؤلاء يقتلون أبناء وطنهم و آبائهم و إخوانهم و البعض منهم من يقتل أمه و يقتل العربي مثله و إن كان مسلم؟ فهو يقتل أخاه المسلم و هو شيء يمنعه الإسلام، فأين الإسلام فيما تفعلونه! نساء تترمل و أطفال يتيتمون و رجال عاجزون عن حماية عوائلهم.

مايقارب 28 شهرا مضت على دخول داعش للأراضي العراقية و السيطرة على مايقارب 40 % من الأراضي، و حتى الآن خسر جزء كبير من هذه الأراضي بفضل العمليات العسكرية التي تعمل على تحرير العراق من التنظيم، و لكن مازال التنظيم يعلن سيطرته على 7%من المدن التي يتواجد فيها عدد كبير من السكان. على مدى مايزيد عن العامين خسر التنظيم 30 ألف مقاتل من ضمن 45 ألف مقاتل دخلوا العراق و من بين ال30 ألف مقاتل 40 قياديا من الصف  الأول و مايقارب 500 قياديا من الصفوف الوسطى و الميدانية مما يوضح بدء انهيار التنظيم بشكل كبير. أيضا بعد أن كان التنظيم يقوم بتجنيد 500 مقاتلا شهريا و ضمهم لصفوفه ، بات يجند فقط 50 مقاتلا شهريا أو أقل. من ناحية أخرى، بعد أن كانت إرادات التنظيم تصل إلى مايقارب 80 مليون دولار شهريا في سوريا و العراق ، انخفضت الإرادات بشكل كبير بنسبة 62.5 %.

في العديد من المقالات نقرأ عن بعض أعضاء التنظيم يقتلون بعضهم البعض أو القيادات تأمر بقتل أحد أعضاء التنظيم ، كما تعلمنا عندما كنا صغار أن ماتفعله سيعود لك فيوم لك و يوم عليك ، بالأمس قتلت و اليوم أنت ستقتل ، بالأمس أمرت بقتل فلان أو إعدامه أما اليوم فسيتم الأمر بإعدامك. نحن لا نملك سوا الدعاء للأبرياء الذين يجبرون على معايشة الخوف في كل يوم و لحظه و ثانيه و الدعاء للمحتجزين لدى التنظيم بأن يفك الله أسرهم، و أن يعود العراق آمنا و شامخا و بهيبته كما كان سابقا و أن يعيش هذا الشعب الذي عانى الكثير و تغرب في جميع أنحاء العالم أن يعيش بسلام و آمان لأنه حان الوقت لأن ينتهي هذا العذاب.