Thursday, 05 November 2015 19:43

Mohamed Fahmy Speaks About Release

by Lin Abdul Rahman in Toronto

“It’s very important to love your job from day one,” Egyptian Canadian journalist Mohammed Fahmy said to a packed room at the Toronto Public Library’s Bram and Bluma Appel Salon on Monday evening.

“The government wants to get you, extremists want to get you, and you have nowhere to go. As a young journalist, you should understand that journalism is a tough job. It’s one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.”

Fahmy was reflecting on his long journey to freedom after being jailed in Egypt under charges of conspiring with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. He had spent 400 days behind bars, including one month in solitary confinement. 

After a gruelling legal battle with the help of high-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and a global network of supporters, Fahmy was released on a presidential pardon.

He landed in Canada on Thanksgiving day and has been speaking to different audiences across the country about his experience.

“It was surreal, it was tough [and] there were issues that complicated the case,” he said. 

Caught in Egypt's legal system

Fahmy had been working for Al Jazeera for only three months when the democratically-elected but short-lived Morsi government was overthrown and the Muslim Brotherhood, a party affiliated with Morsi, was labeled a terrorist organization. 

Overnight, the Egyptian government began cracking down on what it deemed to be terrorist activities. This resulted in the arrest of many journalists including Fahmy and his Al Jazeera colleagues Peter Greste and Baher Mohammed.

Fahmy was accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood and fabricating materials that undermined the country’s national security.

The trial lasted for four months, after which Fahmy and Greste were sentenced to seven years in prison. Their colleague Baher Mohamed received a ten-year sentence.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The government wants to get you, extremists want to get you, and you have nowhere to go."[/quote]

According to Fahmy, the court proceedings were incredibly frustrating. In a moment of candor, Fahmy recalls the open cage in which he and his co-accused had to stand as the trial proceeded.

During the trial, he often spoke out against what he felt was wrong and took any opportunity to address the media in the courtroom.

The cage was subsequently replaced with a sound-proof box, “Thanks to my big mouth!” Fahmy said as the audience laughed.

Free speech and freedom of the press

The seasoned journalist said he was merely doing his job alongside his colleagues by reporting from the frontline on Egypt’s rapid political transitions. 

“We were doing what everybody does. We were reporting from both sides,” Fahmy recalls.

As someone who has been reporting from the frontlines, including during the Iraq war, Fahmy feels it’s naïve to think that his arrest was simply about freedom of the press.

“This case has two aspects. First aspect was freedom of expression, but it also has a political aspect,” Fahmy explained.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It was surreal, it was tough [and] there were issues that complicated the case.”[/quote]

He suggested that a “vendetta” between the Egyptian and Qatari government complicated the case from the outset. Al Jazeera English, which is partly funded by the Qatar ruling family, has had difficulty operating in the country; in fact, Egypt had revoked the broadcast license for its Arabic sister channel, Al Jazeera Mubasher Broadcast.

To make matters worse, while Fahmy’s trial was underway, Al Jazeera was suing the Egyptian government for revoking the broadcast license.

As a result, he says he was caught in a game of “political ping-pong” between international news agencies and governments.

Social media activism

According to Fahmy, his arrest signalled a dangerous muzzling of the press in Egypt, but advocacy through social media channels was what helped pave the road to his freedom.

Two weeks following Fahmy and his Al Jazeera colleagues’ arrest, a global social media storm picked up in an effort to secure their release.

In February 2015, Fahmy’s wife Marwa and his brothers launched the #HarperCallEgypt social media campaign to pressure the current Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene.

Fahmy believes social media campaigns played an important role in drawing attention to his unfair detention in Egypt. He said it allowed for people who didn’t know him at all to realize the urgency of his case and help amplify the cause. Without it, “I think it would have been a whole different situation,” he added.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Advocacy through social media channels was what helped pave the road to his freedom.[/quote]

He’s also appreciative of the Al Jazeera’s collective effort to amplify his voice through social and traditional media channels. Nevertheless, Fahmy says, he was disappointed in the network’s mishandling of his case, which resulted in his prolonged incarceration. 

The newly released journalist is currently suing Al Jazeera for $100 million in damages, although, he says, “I don’t like finger pointing, I genuinely want to make things happen for other journalists.”

Moving forward

Fahmy’s experience with being imprisoned for his work has changed his perspective on journalism. “Being on this side of the camera made me realize how important this job is,” he explains.

At the moment, he’s in no hurry to return to the field.

“My passion for journalism is still there and I think I will get back to it eventually,” Fahmy says thoughtfully, “but not right away.” 

Fahmy will be moving into a teaching position at the University of British Columbia and has begun work on the Fahmy Foundation for Free Press which advocates for press freedom and unfairly detained journalists worldwide. 

The former Al Jazeera bureau chief says he wants to “decompress” and spend time with his wife and family.

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Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 10 September 2015 23:18

Syrian Sea Change in Election Campaign

by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia
 
As I walked along a Vancouver beach near my home this morning, I reflected on the extraordinary sea change in the Canadian election campaign.
 
From the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the blue Pacific waters of Vancouver, the tragedy of the migrant crisis has linked Canada to Syria in a visceral way.
 
Who would have thought a terrible, exploited image of a single Syrian child, washed up on a Turkish shore, would have so influenced the course of Canadian politics? That it would potentially de-throne an incumbent Prime Minister and have rival political parties and mayors of major cities suddenly competing over the numbers of refugees they promised to bring in once elected.
 
Certainly not my great-great grandmother Sara, who came to these shores over a century ago, from her troubled Syrian homeland, with her son Solomon and my great-grandparents Najib and Massadi Mussallem. They were Christians fleeing Ottoman era persecution in what was then called Greater Syria, part of an empire that was carved up after WW1. They were from a village in the Bekka Valley, not far from what is now the occupied Golan Heights, in an area that became part of Lebanon in the 1920s.
 
As empires shift and nations emerge, one thing remains a constant: Greater Syria is still reeling from the legacy of 1918, when the Sykes Picot agreement carved up the Ottoman Empire. And now, in a weird gestalt, it may change the political course of a far-flung corner of the former British Empire.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As empires shift and nations emerge, one thing remains a constant: Greater Syria is still reeling from the legacy of 1918[/quote]
 
Make-or-break issue
I wonder what my great-great grandmother Sara, who refused to learn English on the grounds that it was not the language of the future and that its empire would soon pass, would have said about the refugee crisis from her country so affecting her adopted homeland?
 
What strange confluence of serendipity, luck, timing, happenstance  or was it fate?- conspired to make Syrian refugees an election breaking/making issue in Canada?
 
Everyone knows that election campaigns, like Mediterranean crossings in less than seaworthy vessels, are volatile journeys.  Sara would have known this. She and her daughter waited at night on a freighter in Egypts Port Said, as their menfolk rowed out to meet them.
 
As they climbed up the ships ladder, a Turkish gunboat went by and only the top two men made it on board. Later they got stuck in Marseilles for three months due to a shipping strike, finally making it through Ellis Island, then a terrible winter in Montreal and Winnipeg, before arriving on Canadas West Coast.
 
Epic journey
I think of their epic journey as I watch images of other refugee families dodge Hungarian police with exhausted, hungry children. Thousands of other Canadians must have also thought of their ancestors as they watched the nightly news. Who would have guessed that Harpers campaign would have been capsized by a giant wave of compassion and concern on the part of Canadian voters?
 
Harpers stubborn insistence on blocking the floodgates in the name of security concerns about people from terrorist war zonesreminds me of the interviews I did with elders in the community a few decades ago. One man, Syrian-Canadian Habib Saloum, told me a story about his first day at school in Canada. He returned crying to his mother that the kids beat me up and called me a dirty black Syrian.
 
His mother told him to have courage and to tell the other children that he was proud of his heritage and that Jesus was a dirty black Syrian too.  (Many Christian communities in the region still speak Aramaic and can trace their ancestry back a millennium) Habib returned the next day and told his classmates about Jesus. He still got beat up, he told me, but he felt comforted by his mothers story.
 
And now, refugees fleeing ISIS and Syrian government barrel bombs are conflated with the very terrorism they are fleeing.
 
Canadian compassion
But the outpouring of Canadian compassion and concern for the refugees has crossed party lines, with even former Conservative cabinet ministers like Barbara McDougall calling for more open refugee policies.
 
This is the first time that refugee policy has become an election issue, and although one wonders why, say the shiploads of Tamil refugees fleeing the horrors of civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009 and 2010 did not spark a similar debate, its a good thing that Harperbroken refugee policy has finally been condemned. One can only hope that the rights of refugees will stay on our national post-election agenda.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]This is the first time that refugee policy has become an election issue[/quote]
 
As for my ancestress Sara, who arrived here with her family (whose travel documents were stamped by officials with the term Asiatic) just before pan North American anti-Asian exclusion policies would have made it almost impossible, I think she would be pleased with the prevailing election currents.  She lived out her life in a culturally isolated suburb of Vancouver devoid of Middle Easterners- but now, with thousands of Syrians on their way, she would have friends to share ahwheh (strong Syrian coffee) and make svihah (Syrian meatpies) with.
 
And her son Solomons belief that Canada was a country where the rule of law was respected (including international conventions on refugees) would be vindicated.
Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician. 
 
{module NCM Blurb}
Published in Commentary
Friday, 04 September 2015 15:50

Stand Up to Fear

by Hadani Ditmars (@HadaniDitmars) in Vancouver, British Columbia

Dictators famously lack a sense of humour. Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein – none were known for being the life of the party, or for being able to take a joke – especially about themselves that didn’t prove fatal for the jokester.

But, conversely, there’s a proud tradition of fighting oppression with humour.

In 2012, when pre-election rallies were banned in Russia, anti-Putin demonstrators in Siberia staged an entire protest with toys. When police came to “arrest” the toys, the photos and videos went viral and became a huge boon to the protestors’ cause.

Humour is an excellent antidote to fear, and has been exploited by comedians from Groucho Marx – whose role as the leader of Freedonia in Duck Soup remains a classic -- to Chaplin’s the Great Dictator, to Woody Allen – whose Sleeper features the “great leader” reduced to single body part, his nose – kept artificially alive by a group of scientists until they can come up with a better idea for maintaining the status quo.

A sure sign of a dictator is an absent sense of humour. Egypt’s “Jon Stewart” – comedian and talk show host Bassem Youssef   was harassed by both Presidents Mohamed Morsi and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi when his jokes went “too far.”

Immigrants from police states

But apparently Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn’t get the memo that humourless authoritarianism is bad democratic form.

This must come as some surprise, but also a certain sense of familiarity for the thousands of new Canadians who have fled police states run by humourless strongmen. While familiarity is supposed to breed contempt, it may conversely account for the support the Conservative Party receives from new Canadians.

Those familiar with police states might not have been surprised by the sudden censorship of Margaret Atwood’s satirical essay in the National Post newspaper on the upcoming elections that mentioned Harper’s hairstyle, as well as the current scandal on corruption in the Senate.

The column disappeared shortly after its initial posting, only to reappear in an edited version, minus some of the more scathing criticism of the great leader.  (I’m now working on a screenplay of a new version of Sleeper set in Ottawa, with the “great leader” reduced to his hairpiece, kept artificially alive by scientists until it can be cloned.)

Political humour

And then, in an even odder series of events, Tony Turner, a senior civil servant and bird migration scientist, was suspended from his government job because of concern about a satirical anti-Harper song called Harperman he wrote and performed in a video that has since gone viral.

In it, Harper is referred to as a “control freak” and someone who muzzles scientists and suppresses press and other freedoms.

Ironies aside, Harper seems oblivious to the fact that such attempts at censorship from a government represent one of the single biggest opportunities for an artist. I remember doing a reading in Vancouver for PEN International  (from my own book Dancing in the no Fly Zone, which features lots of dark Iraqi political humour in its own right) with Chinese dissident writer Sheng Xue who publicly thanked her government for turning her latest book into a bestseller by banning it. I wonder what Xue, who has since sought refuge in Canada, would say about the Harperman saga?

Now Tony Turner’s video has had over 200,000 views and a national singalong day is planned for September 17th, including one on the steps of the Parliament. This may well help launch his international performing career.

Folk music tradition

The Harper regime has also done a great service to the folk music tradition. Folk singers have not been explicitly targeted by a regime since the days of Allende in Chile, when Victor Jara was murdered in a Santiago football stadium and American  singer Phil Ochs narrowly escaped a similar fate. 

As David Rovics, the American protest singer known for his caustic songs about American foreign policy and in defense of human rights in Palestine and elsewhere, said of the Harperman incident, “I'm never so lucky as to get muzzled. They just ignore me which is their best strategy for avoiding giving free publicity to left-wing musicians or making them martyrs.”

While Turner’s public service union continues to defend him on the grounds that singing a folk song did not impede in any way his research on bird migration, the absurdity of the whole situation makes Harper appear increasingly desperate, paranoid and removed from reality.

Stifling protest

It also removes him from the proud Canadian tradition of satire – which one would hope has only been encouraged by these recent incidents. While Canadian humour is known for its subtlety, dry wit and irony, there’s certainly nothing subtle about firing a government employee for writing a satirical folk song.

It recalls some of Robertson Davies’ better lines, including  “A public servant has no right to an opinion on any subject that's got two sides to it." As well as "I see Canada as a country torn between a very northern, rather extraordinary, mystical spirit which it fears and its desire to present itself to the world as a Scotch banker."

But will Pierre Berton’s classic definition of the Canadian – as someone who can “make love in a canoe” -- soon be changed to “someone who stays silent so they can keep their cushy government job?” Let’s hope not.

At a time when brave Iraqi citizens are protesting their own government’s ineptitude and corruption with clever slogans (my favourite so far was a banner made by the Pharmacist’s Union offering “free hemorrhoid medication for parliamentarians”) it would be a shame if Canadians allowed intimidation to dissuade their own protests.

Let us instead remember that humour is still the best antidote to fear.


Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician.

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Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 17:29

Tunisia: Why I Remain Optimistic

by Imad Al-Sukkari (@MadosMax) in Ottawa

The ‘Arab Spring’ took the international community by storm in 2011, ushering in a new sense of optimism and hope for the people of the Arab world. Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region had been suffering mercilessly under the rule of dictators and theocrats until Mohamed Bouazizi sacrificed himself, protesting the way he and his fellow citizens were treated by the state’s security apparatus.

Four years after the term was first coined, news commentators and international relations experts have described the Arab Spring as a failure, calling it the ‘Islamist Winter’ in reference to the overwhelming support Islamist parties have garnered in Egypt and Tunisia after toppling their juntas.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]While most of us have been preoccupied with the cancer that has swarmed the region known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we have overlooked the comparatively successful, yet chaotic, transition of Tunisia into a democratic nation-state.[/quote]

I had my own doubts that the transition to democracy in the Arab world would be smooth sailing given centuries of oppressive regimes, colonial rule and divisions based on ethno-centric rivalries that to this day remain unsettled in many parts.

While most of us have been preoccupied with the cancer that has swarmed the region known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we have overlooked the comparatively successful, yet chaotic, transition of Tunisia into a democratic nation-state.

It’s hard to come up with an explanation as to why Tunisia continues its path to democracy while its Arab neighbouring states continue to fall into deterioration. The fact is we do not understand Tunisia; more importantly, we have failed to examine the nation as a separate operating unit within its own purview of independent customs, culture and tradition.

Both Sides of Democratization Efforts

In an op-ed published by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, some analysis was provided as to explain why the Tunisian and Egyptian experiments with democracy had different outcomes. One of the explanations put forth by commentators that Zakaria cites is that Tunisia’s former governing Islamist Party, Ennahda, was successful at respecting its citizens’ will when it came to women’s rights and installing a technocratic unity government to manage the country’s affairs.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]From this prism, Tunisia’s road to democracy seems theoretically flawless and with minimal ‘bumps’, however, its political reality has painted a different picture.[/quote]

Furthermore the article cites the work of analyst Tarek Masoud who argues that the success of Tunisians so far has little to do with the Islamists and more to do with the country’s more globalized, urban and diverse society. Add to that the strength of its labour unions, civil society groups and non-secular political parties and you have variables that put sufficient checks and balances on the governing parties.

From this prism, Tunisia’s road to democracy seems theoretically flawless and with minimal ‘bumps’, however, its political reality has painted a different picture. Take for example the following series of events that have occurred since the overthrow of former dictator Ben Ali:

  • 2011 – Ennahda Party wins the first parliamentary elections held
  • 2012 – Radical Islamists attack the U.S. embassy in Tunis and leave two dead and 49 injured
  • Protests continue as a result of fears stemming from Ennahda governance agenda i.e. infusing Sharia Law and altering its stance on women’s rights
  • 2013 – Two popular opposition figures, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, are assassinated
  • Government struggles to finalize a constitution that represents the aspirations of the people, takes four drafts and leads to more protest
  • Ennahda decides to cede its powers to a technocratic coalition
  • Ennahda loses parliamentary elections in 2014 to the current left-leaning governing party Nidaa Tounes
  • 2015 – Terrorist attacks in Tunis’ Bardo Museum leave 23 dead

The above timeline will probably change one’s perspective on Tunisia’s continuing democratic transition, but couple it with a growing unemployment rate among youth and women and the country’s perceived road to prosperity and a ‘better’ future becomes much bleaker.

Optimistic Future

Yet I ask myself: why do I continue to be optimistic about Tunisia’s fortunes given the security, political and economic challenges that lay ahead? For one, the aforementioned challenges are dwarfed if compared to those faced by a neighbouring country in the region, like say Egypt.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Tunisia currently does not have the threat of sectarian divisions as seen in Iraq and Syria between Shia, Sunnis and Kurds, nor does it have an over-reaching military force interested in ruling like Egypt does.[/quote]

Let us compare some statistics between the two countries. For example the size of each country’s population is drastically different: Egypt is home to 80 million in comparison to Tunisia’s 10.9 million. Poverty is far more rampant in Egypt, according to a 2011 World Bank report, 25.2 per cent of Egypt’s population live under the poverty line. Illiteracy rates represent a huge obstacle for Egypt, as 25.9 per cent of its population above the age of 10 is considered illiterate compared to Tunisia’s 97 per cent literacy rate among the same demographics.

Politically speaking, Egypt’s short-lived experiment with democracy has led to the re-emergence of the old military dictatorship similar to the one under Hosni Mubarak with the exception of it being far more ruthless in cracking down on pro-democracy activists and purging any voices of dissent.

Tunisia currently does not have the threat of sectarian divisions as seen in Iraq and Syria between Shia, Sunnis and Kurds, nor does it have an over-reaching military force interested in ruling like Egypt does. Additionally, it is backed by a highly educated populace which is politically active and takes its civic responsibility seriously as evident by the strength of civil society and labour unions.

These differences give Tunisia an advantage over its neighbouring Arab countries, but will these be enough to ensure a democratic transition will take place, and more importantly, be sustained? Only time will tell. In the meantime, Tunisians will have to be decisive in dealing with the challenges that lay ahead including the spread of extremism, rise of unchecked forces (groups loyal to Ben Ali) and economic growth.


Imad Al-Sukkari is a commentator on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) affairs. He was the former operations manager of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations and a member at the Middle East Studies Association.

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Published in Commentary

by Humberta Araújo (@iafuture) in Toronto

While France remained a constant in the news at the top of 2015, with the Charlie Hebdo shooting being covered immensely, there are some stories from the Western Europe region that may have gone less noticed. Here’s a look into what’s been going on in Western Europe and its diaspora, as reported on by a variety of ethnic-media outlets.

Greek-Canadians Apprehensive about Future of Country

Greek Canadians are well aware that things in their homeland’s government are not as they should be. Nevertheless, some good news hit Athens last month, as the Eurozone finance ministers backed reform proposals submitted by Greece.

The European Commission called it a, “valid starting point.” The measures proposed by Greece include combating tax evasion and tackling the smuggling of fuel and tobacco.

According to Pierre Moscovici, the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs, the agreement, “averted an immediate crisis.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The crisis forced thousands of Greek workers to leave the country last year. The Canadian embassy in Rome has seen applications for work permits and visas nearly double.[/quote]

The firm response of the German authorities to the Greek request for an emergency loan extension had put extra pressure on the new government, which came to power with promises it would halt austerity and renegotiate the country’s bailout (which threw Greeks into despair) with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Hope and optimism have been dwindling for Greek-Canadians who are well aware of the country’s challenges. According to the news portal, http://canada.greekreporter.com/ Helenians have been following the developments coming from Athens with great interest through radio broadcasts and social networks following the January 25 election.

The crisis forced thousands of Greek workers to leave the country last year. The Canadian embassy in Rome has seen applications for work permits and visas nearly double.

Portugal: Let’s be Frank, You Can’t Expect to Get Without Giving 

Portuguese newspapers in Toronto have been echoing the position of the Greek government concerning its relationship with the European Union. The Portugese Sun reported Portugal Prime Minister Passos Coelho’s stance: it is unacceptable that the Greek newly elected government would want money from Europe without assuming responsibilities, he said.

“The Greek government requested the extension of loans,” said Coelho (pictured to the right). “It wants the right to be able to use the money the way it sees fit. However, Athens doesn’t want the responsibility to match up with the obligations framework within which the money should be allocated to Greece. This is not acceptable.”

In addition, the paper reported the reactions of the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rui Machete, who reacted to the statements made by Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, indicating the  European rescue program “did wrong to the dignity,” of the Portuguese, Greek and Irish. It proved Portugal should be compensated, added Machete.

Italians, Portuguese and Polish Take Ottawa to Court

A dark shadow hangs over the future of many migrant workers in Canada – particularly from Portugal, Italy, Poland and some Spanish speaking countries.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s becoming impossible for migrant laborers who work in areas such as  construction, the food service industry and mechanics to stay in this country as permanent residents.” - Richard Boraks, immigration lawyer[/quote]

According to the Portuguese Sun, about 150 migrants working in construction, 100 of them from Portugal, are taking legal action against the Canadian government for alleged discrimination. The reason: the Canadian authorities are giving priority to immigrants from England, Ireland and France. “It’s becoming impossible for migrant laborers who work in areas such as  construction, the food service industry and mechanics to stay in this country as permanent residents,” said Richard Boraks, immigration lawyer, in the article.

These workers laboring in Canada under the Federal Skill Trades program, “have to go through a very demanding English test to become permanent residents (…) The government is not looking at the workers’ professional skills, but to language proficiency. The test is very difficult, and designed for people from the Commonweath. The government should follow the law and place language skills as a second priority.” According to the Portuguese Sun, around 30,000 temporary work permits have been given to candidates form Ireland, England and France, while a very small number was given to countries where English is not the first language.

This problem has also been voiced by the Spanish language newspaper El Centro, as well as Portuguese newspaper in Toronto, the Milénio Stadium, which reported concerns that these immigrants may be repatriated by the Canadian government in retaliation for their action. This is a fear voiced by many migrant workers and construction businesses in these communities.

SkyGreece Airlines SA to fly to Canada

Good news for Greek-Canadians. According to Greek Reporter the Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) has granted permission to SkyGreece Airlines SA to schedule international flights between EU member states and Canada.

“We are extremely happy with the CTA decision and it simply shows our determination to meet and surpass the requirements of the agency as well as the Canadian and Greek consumers,” said Nikolaos Alexandris, account manager and co-founder of SkyGreece Airlines SA, a company with the goal of connecting the Greek diaspora with its homeland by offering non-stop flights between Greece and North America.

The website reports that this private company was founded in October 2012 by a team of Greek-Canadian entrepreneurs “with extensive backgrounds in aviation and tourism.” It is based in Athens with offices located in Montreal, Toronto and New York.

Rome Forced to Face Terrorism Head On

The Isis beheadings of Coptic Christians from Egypt working in Lybia have brought a new challenge to some countries in Western Europe. Fears are mounting, particularly in Italy, after Libya-based Isis associates announced that the terrorist group was looking at Rome. This led the Italian government to call for a UN commanded international intervention. According to several Italian newspapers, the country, “has never been as exposed to the jihadist threat,” as it is now.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Portuguese Sun emphasized statements made by the president of the Observatory for Security, Criminality and Terrorism, Filipe Duarte, declaring Portugal is not a target for terrorist acts, but rather a part of the jihadist puzzle as a passage place.[/quote] 

Portuguese media in Canada reporting on Italian fears have also highlighted the issue of terrorism in Portugal. The Portuguese Sun emphasized statements made by the president of the Observatory for Security, Criminality and Terrorism, Filipe Duarte, declaring Portugal is not a target for terrorist acts, but rather a part of the jihadist puzzle as a passage place. British youth have recently used Portugal as a passageway to join the jihad in Syria. To tackle the issue, last month the Portuguese government approved its national strategy to fight terrorism. Its main objective is to “detect, prevent, protect, persecute and respond,” to “the phenomenon on all its expressions.”

Italians remember the Hogg’s Hollow Disaster

The 55th anniversary of the Hogg’s Hollow disaster is fast approaching. March 17, 1960 marks the day of a tragic accident that happened in a tunnel under the Don River in Toronto claiming the lives of five Italian migrant workers.

According to the Italian-Canadian magazine Panorama, “this upcoming March 17 is a day of remembrance in Toronto for the families,” of these workers. The tragic accident forced Canadian authorities to revise the occupational health and safety laws, which had not gone through any change since 1927.

The Hogg’s Hollow disaster was the inspiration for a quilt by artist Laurie Swim that hangs in Toronto’s York Mills subway station.


Humberta Araújo was born in Vanderhoof, B.C., to parents who migrated from the Azores. As a reporter, she has worked in the Azores and Canada, both in television and newspapers. She is putting together a book on Azorean Migration to Canada. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Western Europe
Friday, 30 January 2015 14:16

After Tahrir: Egypt's Growing War on Terror

by Firas Al-Atraqchi (@Firas_Atraqchiin Cairo, Egypt

Four years after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to demand political, social and economic change, their movement has been overshadowed by the country's ongoing war against terrorism.

From the carpet merchant on the side of the road to the dental hygienist to the film director, Egyptians from all walks of life had invested in the so-called Arab Spring to bring about pivotal change that would alter their destinies for the better.

But every anniversary since January 25, 2011 has witnessed a deterioration in the mood among activists, human rights advocates and reformists.

In the first year since then President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down, many Egyptians still braved the odds and violence, and held hope that a new Egypt was within grasp.

But by January 2013, the revolutionary zeal and momentum for change had been replaced with an existential battle waged between the Muslim Brotherhood and the state - the military polity that has run the country since the end of the monarchy in 1952.

The idealists and the reformists are caught in the middle, their voices drowned out by the rhetoric of war waged between the self-styled nationalists and the Islamists.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The idealists and the reformists are caught in the middle, their voices drowned out by the rhetoric of war waged between the self-styled nationalists and the Islamists.[/quote]

With scores dead and wounded during the fourth anniversary this past Sunday - and dozens arrested for violating a controversial anti-protest law - the mood has again changed, this time from sombre resignation that the military is back in control to angry acknowledgment of a chance at change squandered.

Squandered opportunities

"I don't feel inspired when I see our old victories ... I find myself thinking not of victories but of opportunities wasted and of crimes unaccounted for," says Omar Kamel, a videographer and blogger.

Between 2011 and 2013, Kamel took part in dozens of demonstrations calling for political reform; he has seen protesters killed and wounded, and himself sustained injuries.

He is angered by how things have developed in the past four years and says he can't celebrate a "high" when it was followed by such a dismal decline.

"I'm sorry, but our successes have been too few, and the costs too high. We are the survivors and we are all wanting," he added.

The fourth anniversary, perhaps more than any other, has ignited passionate and often feverish debate on social media.

Some ask if the revolution really is dead while others ponder where it all went wrong.

For Khaled Bahaeldin, a surgeon and occasional political commentator, the premise of the revolution itself was flawed to begin with.

He believes that the slogans of the revolution - "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice" - were irrational and antagonistic.

"Freedom is too sacrosanct to be tied to bread," he says

"I cannot demand freedom and simultaneously relieve myself from the responsibility inherent with freedom to cater for myself."

Bahaeldin believes that projecting the ailments and tragedies of the region solely on its corrupt and decadent governance is misdirected.

He argues that a political revolution must work in tandem with a movement directed at concrete social change - what he calls the inward revolution.

Many-sided pyramid

While some see gloom and doom in Egypt's current state of affairs, others put their faith in the current government to lead the way forward.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is seen as a hero by many and credited with "saving" the country from the "tyranny" of extremist Islamists.

The growing regional influence of such groups as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the civil war between Islamist militias in neighboring Libya has helped cement El-Sisi's image as guardian of the Egyptian state.

In the past two years, the Egyptian military has been engaged in an escalating war against such groups as Ansar Beit al Maqdis (Vanguards of Jerusalem), which recently declared allegiance to ISIL.

The war has proven costly.

On Thursday, Ansar Beit al Maqdis claimed responsibility for targeting the Egyptian Army in a string of attacks which killed at least 30 people, mostly soldiers, in Sinai.

The Interior Ministry said 62 civilians were also wounded in the attacks.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]They will have to unify people under a viable alternative rather than just reaffirming their refusal of the regime.[/quote]

Such terrorist violence confirms to many that Egypt is under a regional terrorist threat - or plot - that can only be defeated by rallying around El-Sisi, who was defence minister before being elected president in May 2014.

Independent Egyptian media, which used to predominantly carry opposition voices just a few years ago, has largely leaned in support of the country's leadership.

Foreign-inspired plots

There is also unanimous media criticism of Turkey and Qatar for their alleged roles in destabilizing Egypt.

This has helped create a more insular nation which is quick to cite foreign conspiracies targeting the state.

In recent months, civilians have reported to the police foreigners and foreign journalists "plotting" against Egypt.

Police investigations have found these allegations unwarranted.

Nevertheless, a number of journalists - including Canadian Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy in jail convicted of spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood - have felt a dwindling space for the free press.

El-Sisi has said that there should be no interference in the way the press operates, but has called on the media to help the government develop the country.

He has also said that he would have advised against arresting Fahmy and two other Al Jazeera journalists.

Their imprisonment has been a sticking point in Egypt's efforts to lure foreign investors to a cash-strapped economy.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's visit to Cairo two weeks ago fuelled speculation that the three journalists would be released on the fourth anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

However, as the date passed with no announcement of release, one former Al Jazeera producer told New Canadian Media that "it didn't look good" that they would be imminently released.

He said there was an expectation that the foreigners among the imprisoned Al Jazeera crew would be deported.

Nevertheless, there remains hope that the journalists will be released ahead of a much publicized Egypt Economic Summit in March.

Dormant revolution

Kamel says the revolutionary movement hasn't died out but has become dormant.

Ideas of social justice and accountability are likely to once again surface, however, as opposition politicians who rose to prominence during the revolution run for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

But Kamel says if the revolution is to survive and transition from the mistakes of the past it will have to mature beyond an opposition platform.

"If there is to be another revolutionary wave, then the revolutionaries will have to take on more responsibilities; risking their lives won't be enough," he says.

"They will have to unify people under a viable alternative rather than just reaffirming their refusal of the regime."


Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Canadian journalist of Arab descent who has covered the Middle East since 1992. In April 2010, he left Al Jazeera's English-language website, where he worked as a senior editor since 2004. In September 2010, he joined the American University of Cairo as an associate professor of practice at the Journalism and Mass Communication department. He is also a member of New Canadian Media's Editorial Board.

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Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 25 June 2014 19:31

Canada Lets Down its Citizens

by Amy Awad

There’s something about a Canadian passport that offers its owner a degree of confidence.  After all, in the hierarchy of citizenships, Canada ranks near the top.  A Canadian passport can get you into 170 countries without a visa.

But it can’t get you out of jail; even if it’s clear that you've been wrongfully accused.

Along with the widely-publicized sentencing of a Canadian journalist in Egypt, several other Canadians are currently being held abroad under dubious circumstances and critics say the Canadian government has repeatedly let them down.

“Over the past decade a growing number of Canadian citizens and permanent residents have experienced serious human rights violations in other countries, while imprisoned by governments or held by armed groups,” says Amnesty International on its website. “The Canadian government has, in some cases, refused to intervene or done so minimally. In other cases, Canada's intervention has simply been rebuffed by the foreign government.”

Bashir Makhtal in Ethiopia

There is Bashir Makhtal who is currently being held in a prison cell in Ethiopia, after being illegally "rendered" by Kenyan forces in the midst of an outbreak of violence between Somalia and Ethiopia in 2006. (Four U.K. nationals who were also picked up in the same time period were sent back to their country following swift intervention by the British government).

Makhtal’s cousin, Said Maktal (he spells his last name differently), says he’s been in communication with the Canadian government since Day 1. But promises to help his cousin have come to naught.

“John Baird was always talking to us and publicly saying that he believed in my cousin’s innocence. The minute he became foreign minister, he changed. This government played me,” says Maktal, who continues to coordinate with lawyer Lorne Waldman, various Members of Parliament, and Amnesty International. Maktal says he doesn’t understand why the Canadian government still does business with the Ethiopian government when it knows that one of its citizens is being unlawfully detained.

Not only has Canada since selected Ethiopia as a “country of focus” for international aid (sending over $200 million between 2012-2013 alone), the Canadian government signed an Air Services Agreement in 2010 to allow Ethiopian Airlines flights to fly from Addis Ababa to Toronto (initially promoted as a bargaining chip to secure Makhtal’s release).

All this concluded with Bashir’s Canadian family maintaining that he had been tortured and left to languish in jail on false charges of terrorism because he is the grandson of the founder of a separatist organization in Ethiopia.  The cousin Maktal is further irked by the fact that Canada managed to secure the release of a Canadian woman held in Pakistan on drug-related charges within two years back in 2009. And later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally spoke out on behalf of Tarek Loubani and John Greyson when they were held on false charges in Egypt.

For its part, Foreign Affairs says that “Canadian officials have been providing consular assistance to Mr. Makhtal since becoming aware of his situation on January 2, 2007,” and that the case is “a priority for this government and we will continue to actively engage the Government of Ethiopia on his behalf.”

Husseyin Celil in China

Around the same time that Bashir Makhtal’s ordeal was beginning, another Canadian would also be arrested on fabricated charges by his country of origin.  Husseyin Celil was detained on a trip with his family to Uzbekistan. They handed him over to Chinese authorities who imprisoned him in China because of his work advocating for the rights of the Uighur minority. Following a secret trial, he was given a life sentence.

The Canadian government initially took great interest in Celil’s case. Back then, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke stridently about the need to safeguard human rights, saying, “When a Canadian citizen is ill-treated and when the rights of a Canadian citizen need to be defended, I think it's always the obligation of the government of Canada to vocally and publicly stand up for that Canadian citizen. That is what we will continue to do.” 

But subsequent statements, including during the foreign minister’s most recent visit to China last fall, make no mention of Celil, only that Baird will “continue to promote not just Canadian interests but also our values, including the promotion of human rights and religious freedom.”

Sound familiar?

Baird was in Egypt last spring and also avoided making any public statements in support of Fahmy, though he maintains he did speak to his counterpart in what was described as a “warm and productive” meeting. And, following Egypt’s presidential elections in May, this statement: “Canada is committed to supporting Egypt in making a peaceful and meaningful transition to democracy, based on respect for human rights, freedom and the rule of law.”

Mohamed Fahmy in Egypt

Today, a Canadian journalist is facing seven years in jail in a case that has garnered headlines and condemnations from politicians, human rights activists and media organizations around the world.

Canada’s response? “Very disappointed” and “concerned that the judicial process that led to his verdict is inconsistent with Egypt’s democratic aspirations,” said Minister of State for Consular Affairs, Lynn Yelich. Meanwhile, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott publicly pledged that his government would do all it could to bring Australian journalist Peter Greste home. Egypt’s senior diplomat there was even summoned to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs.

Why hasn’t the Canadian government done likewise?  Is it tenable that the government is hindered by the fact that Fahmy holds dual citizenship? Even the government admits it has full consular access.

No, this clearly isn’t about dual citizenship – it’s about this government once again putting business and strategic interests ahead of human rights and failing to stand up for Canadian citizenship itself. And that devalues it for all of us.

Amy Awad is the Human Rights Coordinator at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).

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Published in Commentary
Monday, 17 February 2014 19:49

Egypt: Many Markers, Little Progress

by Firas Al-Atraqchi in Cairo

The third anniversary of President Hosni Mubarak's ouster came and went last week with little fanfare, no ceremony and lots of shrugs of the shoulder.
 
Many Egyptians were instead out in the parks, cafes and Nile bank restaurants enjoying what to most Canadians is late May weather.
To the uninitiated, the capital Cairo could have been mistaken for hip central, a hangout zone for Egyptian youth brandishing iPads and iPhones, parked neatly next to the hookah, or shisha.
"It's been a long three years, people are finally starting to breathe," says Ali, a cashier at a supermarket in Cairo's Haddayek Maadi district.

'A long three years' may be understating the tumultuous events that have shaped Egypt's contemporary history since millions of Egyptians crowded the now iconic Tahrir Square and demanded "bread, social justice, and dignity."

At the time, Ottawa was slow -- if not reluctant -- to support the populist movement that somewhat achieved 'regime change'.

When Mubarak handed over power to the military, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged the new political reality, said that "the future of Egypt is for Egyptians to decide," and called for democracy and elections.
 
Egypt has witnessed three referendums, two uprisings, a parliamentary election and a presidential election, but the stability that so many had hoped for three years ago remains elusive.
 
Political and social violence in the past three years -- the latest was a February 16 rocket attack on a bus carrying mostly S Korean visitors, killing the driver and three tourists  -- has almost become a de facto way of life.
 
A watershed
 
Nevertheless, many Canadians of Egyptian extract believe the recent political momentum triggered by the January 14, 2014 constitutional referendum could put the country on the path toward stability 
 
Waleed Nassar, a Torontonian who came to Canada two years ago, happened to be in Cairo last summer when President Mohamad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was forcibly removed from power by the military.
 
"From what I've seen, most Egyptians I spoke to were happy [that] Morsi was removed," says Mr. Nassar.
 
But the military's July 3rd intervention to remove a "democratically elected" president -- as North American media repeated over and over -- angered and confused many outside Egypt, and the foreign press began calling the ouster a military coup that divided the country.
 
Ottawa called it a coup, but stopped short of applying any pressure on the new military leaders, and interim Egyptian government. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird conveyed Canada's "deep concern" reiterating earlier statements calling for "meaningful political dialogue."
 
No one was listening.
 
On August 14, security forces forcibly dispersed pro-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in a section of Cairo near the presidential palace – the ensuing clashes left at least 600 people dead and more than 4,000 injured.
 
The violence shook Egyptians in and outside of the country, including Mr. Nassar who hoped for some kind of inclusive process that could defuse tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.
 
"Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have their core supporters who feel excluded and persecuted. My estimate is that they are around 25 per cent of the politically active Egyptians, so I wouldn't say that Egypt was 'divided'. But 25 per cent is still significant and should not be criminalized or labelled as terrorists," Mr. Nassar said.
 
Ahmed Kadry, a student studying in Toronto, believes that the Muslim Brotherhood are little more than a minority who have tried to persuade Egyptians that theirs is a country divided.
 
[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Now that the referendum has officially passed, this will unite Egyptians even more as it’s an important step towards stability," he says.[/quote]
 
On January 14, 98.1 per cent of the more than 20 million ballots approved by referendum the constitutional amendments proposed by a committee chosen by the post-July 3 interim government.
 
Some Egyptians said the referendum was also an approving nod for the military's intervention in July, while others say it is a stepping stone for Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi to run for president.
 
Others, like Mr. Kadry, believe the new amendments were necessary to correct or roll back the constitution that was approved by the Morsi government in 2012: It was a writ that many in Egypt feared would strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood's influence on all sectors of Egyptian society.
 
"The [Constituent Assembly] committee that wrote those amendments during President Morsi's year [June 2012-July 2013] of rule did not represent the Egyptian population in general, and especially the youth of Egypt that took the streets in January and February 2011," Mr. Kadry recalls.
 
He says the committee was given an edict by Mr. Morsi that it was above reproach. 
 
Religion in governance
 
"Morsi's constitution opened the door for two things that I did not want. The autonomy of the army without supervision by the people's assembly or president, and the constitution also included vague references to the role of religion in governance," Mr. Kadry says.
 
If the new constitution is meant to stabilize Egypt, it is yet to bear fruit.
 
While the number of street clashes that were once common in previous years have significantly dwindled, there has been in uptick in attacks on the state's institutions -- the police, army installations in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as targeted assassinations of senior security officials.
 
"I don't think the referendum will help unite Egypt unless the security-first mindset of the current rulers of Egypt is abandoned," says Mr. Nassar.
 
He believes that social and political dialogue must includes representatives of all sectors of society, including the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
In the meantime, Egyptians continue to worry about the economy. The tourism industry, which was a major source of foreign exchange inflows, has slowed to a crawl.
 
The February 16 attack on the tourist bus is likely to be another blow to the struggling sector.
 
Firas is a Canadian journalist of Arab descent who has covered the Middle East since 1992. In April 2010, he left Al Jazeera's English-language website, where he worked as a senior editor since 2004. In September 2010, he joined the American University of Cairo as an associate professor of practice at the Journalism and Mass Communication department. He is also a member of New Canadian Media's Editorial Board.

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Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 05 November 2013 00:46

Pulse: Arab and Middle East

by Mourad Haroutunian

The following were the top stories in the Canadian-Arab media during October:             

Canadian Copts join forces to influence Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) to support Egypt's current secular government - Egyptian-Canadians eyeing their first seat in the Canadian parliament - Palestinian-Canadian activist to discuss how the Canadian-Arab identity affects the Palestinian cause - Omani-Canadian scientist appointed to UN advisory board - Calgary’s first Muslim mayor re-elected - Saudi Arabia's national airline begins direct flights to Toronto.

 

COPTS LOBBYING

Three Canadian-Coptic organizations are combining their efforts to persuade the legislative branch of the federal government to increase support for Egypt, at a conference scheduled to be held on Nov. 19 under the auspices of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Al-Ahram Elgdeed reported on Nov. 3.

The Canadian Coptic Association, the Canadian Coptic Activists Federation and Al-Ahram Elgdeed non-profit organization are expected to urge Canada to recognize what happened in the summer in Egypt as a revolution, not a military coup.

These organizations cancelled a protest originally scheduled for Nov. 3 outside Parliament in order to focus on the Nov. 19 event, the bi-weekly newspaper run by Egyptian Copts said.  They will call on Canada to help Egypt’s secular government in its war on terror and its route to democracy, it added.

Egyptian activists are expected to request that Members of Parliament designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, like Palestinian hate-group Hamas, and to boost Canada's financial assistance to the North African country.

The event will be attended by the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney; the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander; and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bob Dechert, the organizations said.

On July 3, Egypt’s military ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi after millions of Egyptians flooded the streets countrywide calling for his resignation. The Arab world's most populous country has been experiencing political and economic instability since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 following 18 days of massive protests. 

FIRST EGYPTIAN-CANADIAN MP?

Al-Ahram Elgdeed's deputy editor-in-chief, Medhat Eweeda, urged readers to endorse Coptic activist Sheref Sabawy to become the first Egyptian-Canadian to be elected a member of the Canadian Parliament.

Mr. Sabawy is required first to win the nomination of the Liberal Party for the Mississauga-Streetsville federal electoral district in Ontario, before running for the House of Commons seat. The district is heavily populated by Egyptians and others of Arab descent, Mr. Eweeda wrote.

Mr. Eweeda, himself a Conservative, called on fellow Egyptian-Canadians to renounce their differences and back up Sabawy. "Successful communities consider their interests. They take from [political] parties whatever serves the interests of the community and their home countries," he said.

"Unlike [successful communities], we have not yet taken care of our common interests; rather, personal conflicts have ruled our behaviour."

IDENTITY CRISIS

Palestinian activist Issam Al-Yamani is slated to discuss how the Canadian-Arab identity affects the Palestinian struggle at a gathering on Nov. 8, at Palestine House in Mississauga, Ontario, according to Aljalia monthly newspaper.

Mr. Al-Yamani, who was born and raised in a refugee camp in Lebanon, will ask participants whether they have ever faced difficulties as an Arab in Canada, and what they can do, as  a minority, to ensure they are a positive force in Canadian society.

The event is co-hosted by Palestine House, a not-for-profit organization established in 1992, and the Canadian Arab Federation, formed in 1967 to represent the interests of Arab Canadians.

OMANI SCIENTIST

Al-Bilad monthly newspaper reported that an Omani-Canadian scientist was appointed to the newly-created United Nations Scientific Advisory Board.

Prof. Abdallah Daar, a professor of Public Health at the University of Toronto, is the only Canadian appointed in the 26-member board, the London, Ontario-based paper said in its November issue.

The board was formed to provide advice on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development to the UN Secretary-General and to executive heads of UN organizations.

DIRECT FLIGHTS

On Oct. 28, Saudi Arabia's national carrier began direct flights to Toronto, Aljalia reported.

Saudia will have three direct flights to Toronto each week, the paper said, without citing sources. The Toronto flights will serve different groups of passengers, including Saudi students in Canada and Canadians who travel to the kingdom each year for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

With the launch of the Toronto service, Saudia has become the fourth Gulf airline operating flights to Canada after Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

MUSLIM MAYOR RE-ELECTED

Arab News, a biweekly newspaper established in 1974, trumpeted the re-election of Calgary's first Muslim mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The 41-year-old Harvard graduate won 74 per cent of the vote against eight opponents, the Toronto-based paper reported, citing Reuters.

The left-leaning leader obtained a national profile for his response to the floods that swamped large parts of the city of 1.1 million in Canada's costliest natural disaster.

CANADA-EU PACT

In an editorial, Arab News praised a free-trade deal clinched between Canada and the European Union as “one of the legacies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.”  

"This is a big victory for Canadian exporters, who will see lucrative business in Europe," wrote Salah Allam, the newspaper's publisher-editor, "though farmers and cheese-makers will be hurt by the deal."

However, Mr. Allam called for lifting the secrecy surrounding the details of the pact as part of the right of Canadians for freedom of information and transparency.

"The Harper government should understand that Canadian citizens are key players, not just extras on the stage!" wrote Mr. Allam.

The agreement was announced by Mr. Harper and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso at a joint press conference in Brussels on Oct. 18.

ADHA GREETINGS

Al-Bilad paper highlighted a statement delivered by the leader of the National Democratic Party Tom Mulcair, who greeted Muslim-Canadians on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha, or Greater Bairam.

"For over a century, Muslim-Canadians have been playing a vital role in building this country, in areas from business and science to politics and culture. We understand that it’s this diversity that helps make Canada strong," he said in the letter.

“So on this special occasion, I would like to renew our commitment to you to fight for the important Canadian values of diversity and multiculturalism,” he concluded.

AVNERY ARTICLE

Al-Bilad, which has been run by Iraqi journalists since 2002, published an article titled "Why are so many Jews leaving Israel?" by Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement.

In the article, originally published on counterpunch.org, Mr. Avnery suggests a Crusader connection. “Israel declares itself to be “the State of the Jewish People.” Jews all over the world are considered de facto Israeli nationals. But if there is no basic difference between a Jew in Haifa and a Jew in Hamburg, why stay in Haifa when life in Hamburg seems to be so much better?” Mr. Avnery wondered in the article.

Ninety-year-old Mr. Avnery is famous for crossing the lines during the siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on July 3, 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli.

Mourad Haroutunian is an Egyptian media professional based in Toronto. He has worked in Egypt, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the United States, for Bloomberg News, CNBC Arabiya, Alhurra TV, Forbes Arabia and Nile TV International. He holds an M.A. in journalism and mass communication from the American University in Cairo. He currently works a senior equities journalist at Proactive Investors, in Toronto. 

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Published in Top Stories
by Ranjit Bhaskar
 
With the world at large impassive in its reaction to the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, the diametrically opposite responses from Syria and Turkey are perhaps the most telling.
 
Syria's President Bashar Assad has praised the massive protests against the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and said it means the end of political Islam. In an interview with the state-run Al-Thawra newspaper, Assad said his opponents at home failed because they tried to bring religion onto the battlefield. "Whoever brings religion to use for political or factional interests will fall anywhere in the world."
 
“It is unacceptable for a government that has come to power through democratic elections to be toppled through illicit means and, even more, a military coup,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. This strong reaction was to be expected as Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is the model for Mr. Morsi’s Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.
For the record, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has urged all parties in Egypt to remain calm, avoid violence and engage in meaningful political dialogue. "This is important not only for Egypt, but, given Egypt’s influence, for the whole region as well," Baird said.
 
While Assad has reasons to be antagonistic against Islamists as they spearhead the fight against him, his diagnosis may only be partially true: what we are seeing is not the end of political Islam but a likely end to Islamists engaging in electoral politics.
 
Winning elections
 
The message out there among Islamists is that winning elections does not seem to benefit them and Egypt is only the latest in a string of bitter lessons.
 
In 1991, Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of parliamentary elections only to be blocked from power when the president, under pressure from the military, dissolved parliament and annulled the vote. What followed was a decade of civil war in which more than 250,000 people lost their lives. That insurgency is still alive in the Sahara today and Canadians were reminded of it when four fellow citizens were linked to a deadly attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed dozens in January of this year.
 
Analogous to the Algerian fiasco, in 2006 when the Islamist Hamas won elections in Palestine, it was ostracized by the U.S., Canada and some other countries because of the position it took against Israel.
 
The Ennahda party, that won the 2011 elections in Tunisia after the first revolution of the Arab Spring, seems to have bucked the trend thanks to sharing power with non-Islamist parties. That lesson seems to have been lost on fellow Islamist parties elsewhere. Winner takes it all seems to be their mind-set.
 
It was in evidence when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against the recent protests in Istanbul’s Taksim square.  Mr. Erdogan referred to his electoral victories and his parliamentary majority as a license to carry out policies as he saw fit. The more reconciliatory President Abdullah Gul had to point out that true democracy “does not only mean elections.”
This attitude of Islamists toward power gained through the ballot must be seen in the light of debates won within their circles on the superiority of electoral politics over violence. When the so-called Arab Spring movements in Tunisia and Egypt brought to power elected Islamist parties, it was a serious blow to al-Qaeda and the jihadists. It showed the world that political Islam’s compatibility with electoral democracy need not be confined only to Turkey in the Middle East.
 
Failed experiment
 
That experiment is at risk with the fall of Mr Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader. Analysts, like those at the US-based Stratfor Global Intelligence group, say the Muslim Brotherhood will probably not respond violently but may engage in civil unrest leading to violence. However, they fear that elements from ultraconservative Salafist groups would abandon mainstream politics in favor of armed conflict.
 
The ground for that is already being laid. Hundreds of Egyptians are in Syria fighting alongside Islamist rebels against Assad's forces. And at home in the Sinai desert, jihadist groups have taken advantage of the chaos of the past few years to build themselves up.
 
The Syrian president’s optimistic prediction of the end of political Islam may not come to pass soon. A cornered foe can always lash out with unpredictable results.- New Canadian Media
 
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New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved