Blog Archive

Blog Archive – November, 2011

Nothing New in Nepal? Part 1 of 2

November 26, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Its mountains look as glorious as in the picture books; trekkers sport the same recognizable brands, the same professional boots; tourism in Nepal is flourishing although the noise and dust of Kathmandu are unabated; worshippers crowd the shrines and monasteries, their offerings reflecting undiminished devotion; and NGOs remain profitable… for their employees, if not for alleged beneficiaries.

Thus, on the surface it appears that nothing has changed in Nepal in the past decade. So, has the status quo been restored?

Not at all. Despite the apparent political stagnation, unresolved economic issues, excessive dependence on NGOs and tourism, the ousted king’s public appearances, and public frustration with a succession of prime-ministers, Nepal will never be the same.

International attention focuses on a so-called “Arab Spring”, still in the throes of rebellion, aggravated by outside powers, generating violence and instability over a large part of the world. Meanwhile Nepal may offer an example of how a democracy can take root and grow, albeit at a wearisome pace with much remaining to be tackled. Only this week a long awaited major agreement has been reached that will admit into Nepal’s regular army the thousands of members of the victorious rebel military.

Few will be aware that Nepal was ruled by dictators for almost 350 years. It started with a succession of inherited prime ministers (the Rana Era) and continued through a line of kings (the Shah Dynasty). Foreign powers happily co-operated with these men; and, when popular uprisings demanding democracy erupted in 1990, nary a word was heard from abroad. Neither foreign leaders nor the United Nations who come forward with such righteousness to demand the ouster of other entrenched autocrats, called for the removal of Nepal’s rulers. (Indeed Washington provided military support for the king’s forces  in putting down recent rebellions.) Despite its awful human rights record, the country continued to attract holidaymakers in record numbers and garner unlimited foreign assistance. 

Finally in 1996, a successful resistance mobilized not through exiled opposition leaders but by an indigenous armed rebel (Maoist) movement known as the People’s Liberation Army. (See Dispatches from Nepal by Li Onesto, Pluto Books.) Within 6 years, this people’s army was in control of 75 % of the country, mainly impoverished rural areas. Dubbed by Washington as a “terrorist organization” (a status that even today the US has not amended), the movement nevertheless thrived. In 2006, the rebel movement had so weakened the monarchy which had repeatedly blundered and discredited itself, and successfully tackled  the ‘royal’ army that it was able to negotiate a cease fire and then a comprehensive peace accord. Referenda and elections followed which removed the monarchy, declaring Nepal a secular republic with an open press. Multi-parties sprang up and human rights laws were instituted. The first election brought the rebel leader Pachandra in as prime minister with his Maoist Part winning a majority in parliament. But both he and his party were unable to retain the confidence of the government for long.

The past 3 years have seen a succession of leaders from various, mainly leftist, parties. Today’s prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, a highly regarded, experienced Maoist leader, offers new hope for stability.

Some pessimists describe the situation as close to anarchy, but the democracy itself seems firmly established. Indeed the proliferation of parties and vigorous public criticism of leaders can be read as a sign of a healthy democratic process.

By international standards, the toll from the war-- 15,000, two thirds of whom were rebel fighters and civilians killed by the military-- is low. More important the speed with which free speech and party reforms came into effect. It certainly helped that the unpopular king, Gyanendra who had succeeded King Birendra after the suspicious palace massacre of 2001, was gone. (Although he is neither dead nor exiled.) Not even the idea of a constitutional monarchy survived. 

Five years after the institution of democracy, although tourists are delighted that their treks can continue unhampered, and NGO activity has stepped up, many in Nepal may be wondering where they are headed. The promised constitution has yet to be finalized, poverty is increasing, real economic development is negligable, corruption is unabated, parties are squabbling and factionalizing, and dominance by the southern “madeshi” who live along the low-lying plain bordering India becomes more troubling.  (Watch for Part 2 of “Nothing New in Nepal?” next week)

[ Nothing New in Nepal? Part 1 of 2 ]

Latest Defeat; Arab Nationalism in the Crosshairs

November 02, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

It’s confirmed, in case you missed it. Arabs really are savages.


I wonder if other Arabs feel as I do: that the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is a triple blow.

As western powers and their Gulf Arab allies gloat over their victory in Libya, we simple Arab peoples endure a threefold defeat: a) we are deprived of one leader who accomplished much-- for his people and for Africans and Arabs in general; b) any balanced view of  this Arab country’s modern history will be impossible now; and c) we lost whatever shreds of our dignity we still held when we glimpsed some of the barbarian character of the rebels who ended the battle.


Along with western media and historians of war and terror, the vainglorious heads of state doubtless have their day. We scroll through graphic footage to dispel any rumor that this African Arab leader is alive. There’s ample proof that he was dispatched most dishonorably. His regime is truly gone, the nation wrecked and plundered, cleansed of anything that might suggest Libya had achieved something in modern times.


As for me personally, I am in mourning. I admit it. I suspect that millions of others are experiencing a similar sadness, even grief, these days. Because we are not only witness to a dirty end and swift retelling of Gaddafi’s rule and his development of Libya, however imperfect, as a modern society. The record is there—the literacy rate, an enviable per capital income, coveted health and education benefits, even though all this is kicked deeper under the sand, sucked into the detritus of war.

Meanwhile a new western-created and disseminated legend emerges—one sodden with correctness, heroism, humanitarianism—all internationally sanctioned. It sparkles.

Not only will documentaries and news reports pass over us as we quietly grieve in the shadows. We ourselves must veil our loss. Otherwise we would suffer a double defeat: we’ll be challenged to defend a man who ‘killed his own’, who uttered outlandish, laughable words, a capricious fellow whose idiosyncrasies are dizzying and whose policies seemed crude.

Anyone who might write truths and come to Gaddafi’s defense is simply not credible now. We might even be charged as having been in his pay, beneficiaries of his regime at one stage or another. (Forget about America’s payouts, its unmatched atrocities and plunder; Washington’s policies are directed against ‘others’, not America’s own people!)

I am not only in mourning for a defamed man and the death of his achievements in terms of Libyans’ living standard and its support for nationalist struggles. I weep for the ignoble rebels who became dirty and at the same time heroic agents of the western agenda, deployed hand in glove with NATO to ‘protect Libyan civilians’.

In their military adventure, perhaps throughout their battles across Libya ending in Sirte, those gung-ho anti-Gaddafi rebels emerged-- for me-- not as liberators but as savages: the grubby, highly conspicuous frontline of hidden NATO warriors and their clean, smart gunships. We have not been allowed to see what crimes these fellows committed as they marched behind the NATO strikes, and ‘cleansed’ house after house, settlement after settlement, city after city. Although we could view their noble wounded rushed into the care of field hospitals, interviewed while recovering, the martyred remembered by proud families.


In the final battle, with the made-for-TV capture of the leader, suddenly neither NATO nor any politician is at hand. Instead, victorious rebels were given license to operate as they pleased. Packs of wild dogs set upon a wounded animal, they indulge an ugly fantasy. The result is less a humiliated Gaddafi than a gang of savage Arabs. Vultures, animals, ripping into their prey.

This is the image that we are left with. A ruthless bunch of  beasts, untamed, primitive, conveniently with camera in hand to document their pleasure. It’s almost pornographic. (From the little we know, American troops have behaved similarly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, not being Arabs, they are not savages, just a few boys gone wild. And who remembers those images?) 


Do those rebels who assailed the last Libyan loyalists defending Sirte not realize how they are manipulated and used to defame our entire race? Their actions become a stain on all of us.

While a ‘detached’ human rights official calls for investigations, the observing, cool-headed world is handed this souvenir, a savage image of Arabs and Arab culture.

All of us carry the smudge. This is why I mourn today. All the pride and dignity won by revolutionary Tunisians and Egyptians these past months has been overturned by these unleashed Libyan brothers.

Another generation is handed the task of rebuilding; they are next to be sucked into the redeeming cycle of music concerts, seminars, fundraisers, testimonial city tours, children arriving for surgery at the hands of gracious western medics and, and, and.

[ Latest Defeat; Arab Nationalism in the Crosshairs ]

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