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Can a Heart Surgeon Resuscitate Syrian Revolution? Here is what Jawad Abu Hatab has to say on War-torn Context!

Five months ago, Jawad Abu Hatab was elected prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government

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Dr. Jawad Abu Hatab, prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government. VOA

Some would describe it as mission impossible.

Trying to run a government is challenging enough, but when you are coming under round-the-clock airstrikes, seeing members of your Cabinet killed and having to shift your location frequently to escape death in a scorched-earth war zone where you command no fighters, the odds of success would seem to be heavily stacked against you.

That isn’t a view held by politically independent heart surgeon Jawad Abu Hatab. Five months ago, he was elected prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government, or SIG, by an overwhelming majority of members of a general assembly of the war-wracked country’s main exiled political opposition groups.

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Since his election, airstrikes have killed 10 members of Syria’s little-known “alternative government” — two of them ministers; but, the 54-year-old cardiologist from rural Damascus remains — outwardly anyway — undaunted. Hatab smiles when he explains how he and his wife, also a doctor, handled 26 births in a makeshift clinic one night as fighting raged around them.

A Syrian Army modified T-72 tank drives during Syrian forces' assault to capture the rebel-held village of Hawsh Nasri, which is located near the rebel-held town of Douma on the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, Nov. 22, 2016. VOA
A Syrian Army modified T-72 tank drives during Syrian forces’ assault to capture the rebel-held village of Hawsh Nasri, which is located near the rebel-held town of Douma on the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, Nov. 22, 2016. VOA

“Twelve of them were by Cesarean Section,” he told VOA in an interview in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep. He had just come from northern Syria — a perilous journey in itself — for a 24-hour visit to Turkey to meet with non-governmental organizations.

Legitimate alternative?

The interim government has struggled to not only be relevant, but to be accepted as a legitimate alternative to the regime of Syrian President Bashar-al Assad. The interim government was formed in 2013 by an opposition umbrella alliance now known as the Syrian National Coalition.

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Rebel commanders, whether aligned to the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) or running hardline Islamist brigades, have paid neither it nor the Syrian National Coalition much heed. Local councils in rebel-controlled areas have gone their own way and without any grassroots organizational structure inside Syria, and starved of funds, the interim government has been little more than a talking shop of political exiles or a stage for factional squabbles.

In a poll last year conducted in Syria by the NGO the Day After Association, only 6.5 percent of respondents said the interim government represented their interests. That was a lower percentage than what the armed factions or even the Assad government received at 14.5 percent and 16.1 percent respectively. The Western- and Gulf-backed Syrian National Coalition received the support of 16.8 percent. A quarter of respondents said no one represented them.

Helping those in need

Hatab, the interim government’s third prime minister, wants to change that and is determined to make his alternative government relevant to the more than five million Syrians living in rebel-controlled areas. His focus is on practical steps, including having all ministers based inside Syria and working on establishing education and health care services. He and his ministers are based in Aleppo and Idlib provinces but often move their locations because of fighting or airstrikes.

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Injured boys react at a field hospital after airstrikes on the rebel held areas of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA
Injured boys react at a field hospital after airstrikes on the rebel held areas of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA

He lists statistics, saying 28,000 children have been killed in the nearly-six-year-long conflict and 120,000 injured. Of the 1.5 million children in opposition-held areas, there are facilities left only to teach 700,000. He says 2,400 schools have been destroyed. Under Hatab’s plan, he needs 30,000 teachers, but only 8,000 are now teaching on salaries of $100 a month. He needs 5 million school books and the interim government is now busy recycling old textbooks and photocopying others for distribution.

Hatab and his ministers are busy negotiating with the European Union — he is asking Brussels for $88 million for various projects. He wants to rotate doctors and medical staff in and out of Syria and says the clinics left need more drugs and equipment.

Hatab says trying to exert influence over the armed factions at this stage as his predecessors attempted is a waste of time and will merely get the SIG bogged down in fruitless negotiations. “We will try to negotiate with all the militias after we have established services for the civilians,” he says, arguing then he will have more leverage, if he has popular support.

“For years the fighters have referred to the interim government as the ‘hotel government,’ saying that all the opposition politicians just live comfortably in hotels in Turkey. With me they can’t do that — I am inside Syria,” he says. The heart surgeon has been from the very start of the conflict. Hatab estimates he has carried out more than 5,000 operations in the past five years as he has moved around the country to where the need is most.

A damaged operation room is pictured after an airstrike on the rebel-held town of Atareb, in the countryside west of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 15, 2016. VOA
A damaged operation room is pictured after an airstrike on the rebel-held town of Atareb, in the countryside west of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 15, 2016. VOA

Hatab acknowledges not having command of the armed factions does pose challenges but says the militias are giving him the political space to get on with what he wants to do, including Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline Islamist militia that’s been in alliance with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the al-Qaida-linked group once known as Jabhat al-Nusra. The latter, he says, is unable to confront him currently because that will bring them into confrontation with other militias that are supportive of what the SIG under his leadership is trying to do — namely, benefit civilians in ways that may improve their lives even in the midst of a war.

“Others, too, working with more than 400 local councils in Syria’s opposition areas also report that militias have become easier to work with and that many armed factions are backing off insisting that they have control over civilian as well as military affairs.”

More resources needed

For Hatab’s approach to work — for him to be able to bring more political coherence to an uprising that’s been marked by disunity and factional and ideological disputes and was quickly dominated by militias and the emergence of toxic jihadist groups — he will need more resources from Western powers and a willingness to back a revolution that is in its darkest and possibly final days.

The question is, has he come too late?

“He has good ideas,” says a Western diplomat. “But he has no traction and we are probably now in the end game,” added the diplomat, who asked not to be identified in this article. Much will depend on President-elect Donald Trump. Shortly after his election earlier this month, Trump told The Wall Street Journalthat, once in office, he would consider cutting off funding for the Syrian rebels and that the priority in Syria should be to defeat the Islamic State terror group rather than oust Assad.

“I think Trump doesn’t know a lot about what is going on in Syria,” says Hatab. “Once he’s in office and understands what’s happening here, that Russian and Assad warplanes have bombed more than 200 hospitals, once he has accurate information, I hope he will change his mind.”

What does Hatab want from a Trump presidency? “At the very least, to stop the airstrikes on us and impose a no-fly zone,” he says. Whether he will get to make a face-to-face plea to Trump or top level administration officials remains unclear. Hatab hopes to be in the United States by November 29 for a private donor conference but so far, has received no reply to a visa application he filed more than two weeks ago. (VOA)

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‘World’s Most Dangerous City’ Mogadishu in Somalia Holds Nighttime Soccer Match for the first time in 30 Years

Since the collapse of Somalia's central military government in 1991, Somalia sports have lacked an infrastructure, and athletes have been threatened by radical militants

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People gather for the soccer match between Hodan and Waberi districts, Mogadishu's first night game in 30 years, at Konis Stadium in Modadishu, Somalia (VOA)

Somalia, September 12, 2017 : For the first time in more than 30 years, thousands of residents and fans watched a nighttime soccer match in Mogadishu, often described as the world’s most dangerous capital.

Thousands of fans enjoyed the event at Konis Stadium, which the international soccer organization FIFA recently renovated.

Although the match, the final of a citywide club tournament for 16- to 18-year-olds, took place under tight security, it was historic for the city, which has dealt with terrorist suicide bombings and anarchy.

After the match, in which Waberi beat Hodan 3-0, Mogadishu Mayor Tabit Abdi Mohamed said the city’s residents deserve security — and more than a nighttime soccer game.

“Tonight is clearly a historic night that our people, the people of this city, waited for for more than 30 years. I reaffirm that Mogadishu is secure and people deserve more than this,” Mohamed said. “You deserve every kind of entertainment and sports that people in other world capital cities get.”

Hassan Wish, the chairman of Mogadishu’s sports activities who organized the tournament, said they decided to hold the nighttime game to send a message that Mogadishu is on the road to betterment.

Somalia
Football players from Hodan district (orange) and Waberi district (yellow) play in the first nighttime game in 30 years in Modadishu, Somalia (VOA)

“To publicize and make it a significant signal to the city’s returning security, the match was held at a nighttime. It was broadcast live on several local television channels,” Wish said. “The city is back on its way to good old days.”

Stadium now a military base

The Somali Football Federation said the Friday night game in Mogadishu took the country back to 1988, when night games were played at the city’s main Mogadishu stadium. The stadium has been and remains a military base for African Union peacekeepers, which drove al-Shabab militants out of the city in 2011.

“We hope this will be the first of similar peaceful matches in our city. It is not the first for Mogadishu, but for me, I have never seen in my life a soccer game being played at night in Mogadishu,” said Dahir Osman, a 20-year-old resident. “I was born in a lawless capital and grew up all these years without witnessing such a hope-reviving event.”

The seaside capital is working to lose the label of “the world’s most dangerous city.”

The name was attached to the city after the collapse of the former central government in 1992, when a famine struck Somalia and political jockeying began. That led to a civil war and deadly armed violence spearheaded by clan warlords who entered the city.

Last month, popular Somali referee Osman Jama Dirah was shot to death near his home in the city.

“The city is enjoying a reviving peace, except for the infrequent al-Shabab terrorist attacks. Now, playing a soccer game at night means the city is rearing its beautiful head again,” said Aden Osman, a 58-year-old resident who has never left Mogadishu.

Somalia
Somali security forces patrol during the soccer match between the Hodan and Waberi districts at Konis Stadium, renovated by FIFA, in Modadishu, Somalia, Sept. 8, 2017. It was the city’s first night game in 30 years. (VOA)

“I was born in this city and still live here. I have witnessed the best and the worst times of the city. But now, I see a reviving hope on the horizon,” Osman said.

Residents return

Thousands of Somalis from the diaspora have been returning to Mogadishu over the past three years, opening new, Western-style restaurants along the beach. The buildings that have been destroyed by the bullets and mortars are now being rebuilt.

Many U.N. workers, who had been operating from Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya, are moving back to the city, and some foreign embassies have reopened.

Since the collapse of Somalia’s central military government in 1991, Somalia sports have lacked an infrastructure, and athletes have been threatened by radical militants.

ALSO READ In Somalia, Rape is a Common Sight: Labeled as Worst Country for Women

In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union, which controlled large swaths of the country’s south and central regions, which include Mogadishu, prohibited women from playing sports, especially basketball, labeling it as a “satanic act” against the principles of Islam.

The group also put restrictions on men and banned watching international soccer matches from televisions and designated cinemas, saying the men should spend their time on their religious responsibilities. (VOA)

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Countries with Stricter Rape Law Limit Chances of Civil War: Study

Rape laws can be another proxy to look at gender equality in society

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Rape law
Rape law in country. Pixabay
  • Stricter rape law that punishes rapists with long punitive sentences are less likely to have a civil war and strife
  • The transmission of rape laws across countries correlates with democratization and a general trend toward progressive laws
  • The findings support research that has identified political liberalism and progressive, individualistic and emancipatory ideas, including gay rights

New York, Sep 07, 2017: Countries that punish rapists with long punitive sentences are less likely to have a civil war and strife, new research has found.

“The transmission of rape laws across countries correlates with democratization and a general trend toward progressive laws. It proceeds then that countries are more likely to adopt gender-neutral laws and stricter laws against rape,” said the study’s lead author Nazli Avdan, Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Kansas in the US.

The researchers paired a statistical analysis of data on rape legislation for 194 countries across the world from 1965 to 2005 with the number of civil wars over that time span.

The study, published in the journal Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict, addresses an expanding body of research that argues that gender inequality heightens the probability of intrastate conflict by creating a structure of violence.

The researchers argued that nations that have laws that are gender neutral in how they protect citizens, especially in granting equal protection and rights to women, increase the chance that the state’s society would embody liberal and progressive norms.

Also Read: What Gives Husbands The Licence to Rape? Decoding Marital Rape in the Indian Legal Scenario 

“These norms cohere with ideas about peaceful conflict resolution,” Avdan said.

“These ideas in turn mitigate civil conflict,” she added.

The researchers found that countries that did little to punish perpetrators of rape likely include exemptions for the crime of rape if the perpetrator and victim are married, or possibly they treat genders differently under the law.

In other cases, some penal systems exonerate the assailant if he agrees to marry the rape victim.

“A so-called marriage loophole is a situation with a perpetrator is married to a victim would exonerate the assailant,” Avdan said.

“That is at its core a misogynistic policy. Countries with these policies – for example, Middle Eastern countries like Jordan and Lebanon but also other countries such as the Philippines — have received condemnation for not reforming these laws,” Avdan added.

The findings support research that has identified political liberalism and progressive, individualistic and emancipatory ideas, including gay rights, for example, tend to correlate with reduced propensities of armed conflicts.

“Rape law showcases an angle about gender norms,” Avdan said.

“And we know that masculine norms tend to support militarism and militant nationalism as well. Rape law can be another proxy to look at gender equality in society,” she added. (IANS)

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Civil War, Cholera and Severe Food Shortage Make Yemen World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisis ; UN calls it ‘Man-made Catastrophe’

Un Human Rights' Agency report asserts that the catastrophe is entirely man-made and a direct result of the behavior of the parties to the conflict.

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People inspect the rubble of houses destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. Airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition targeted Yemen's capital early on Friday, hitting at least three houses in Sanaa and killing at least 14 civilians, including women and children, residents and eyewitnesses said. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed) (VOA)
  • UN report asserts that the sufferings of people after years of civil war in Yemen are man-made
  • The report asserts that Yemen is in the grip of conflict, cholera and severe food shortages
  • According to the U.N. Human Rights Agency, more than 10 million people are in acute need of health care

Geneva, September 6, 2017 : The United Nations calls suffering endured by millions of people after more than two years of civil war in Yemen an entirely man-made catastrophe.

The world body reports there have been more than 11,700 civilians killed or injured in the civil war in Yemen, since the Saudi Arabian coalition began airstrikes against Houthi rebels in support of the government in March 2015. It blames more than 8,000 of the casualties on the coalition and more than 3,700 on the Houthis.

The report says conflict, cholera and severe food shortages have made Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

The U.N. Human Rights Agency’s Chief of Middle East and North Africa, Mohammad Ali Ainsour, says Yemen’s 18.8. million people need humanitarian aid and more than 10 million are in acute need of health care.

Civil war in Yemen
A woman helps her son as he lies on a bed at a cholera treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen. VOA

“The catastrophe is entirely man-made and a direct result of the behavior of the parties to the conflict, including indiscriminate attacks,” said Ainsour. “We have seen attacks on markets, residential areas, hospitals, schools, funeral gatherings and even fishermen and small civilian boats at sea.”

The report says civilians may have been directly targeted in some cases. The report documents a wide range of continuing human rights violations and abuses. It expresses concern at the increasing number of arbitrary or illegal detentions and forced disappearances of human rights defenders, religious leaders, journalists, and political opponents.

Ainsour says there are at least 1,700 cases of child recruitment, most by Houthi forces and 20 percent by pro-government forces.

“OHCHR [the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] monitors frequently observed children as young as 10, who were armed and uniformed and manning Houthi … checkpoints,” said Ainsour.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein is repeating his call for an end to the fighting and for an independent, international investigation to be established. He says it is crucial to hold to account perpetrators of violations and abuse. (VOA)