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Showing posts with label MENA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MENA. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Observers grasp at hopes for Afghan women

If you're like me, you're watching events in Afghanistan unfold with heartbroken anxiety.  (And there's Haiti, but let's take one tragedy at a time.)  I'm not usually a sucker for the broadcast news kicker (though once upon a time, I loved to write them), but David Muir punched the breath out of me with this one.

After talking to our daughter, 22, my wife shared the realization that today's young adults don't have contemporary recollection of the brutality of Taliban rule in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, especially the implications for women's freedom and education.

Afghan women in literacy class in 2008
(U.N. photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Those of us in adult life on September 11 became acquainted with a flood of unpleasant subject matter in the 20-aughts.  I taught a couple of communications courses back then with Ahmed Rashid's Taliban (1st ed. 2000), for example.  Maybe ten years ago I gave my copy of the book to Goodwill, thinking it of only historical interest.  Now here we are.

That prompted me to wonder whether this Taliban is the same as that Taliban.  Is there any hope?  I noticed Taliban leaders on TV giving interviews to female reporters.  I wasn't the only one who noticed.  My academic colleague James Dorsey, my favorite commentator on MENA and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, has published a commentary on point, in print and podcast.

Spoiler alert, Dorsey does not reach the conclusion that this is somehow a kinder and gentler Taliban.  But at this point, we have to salvage any hope we can.

[UPDATE, Aug. 18.] A friend pointed me to this fundraising site, which is genuine: Support Afghan Guides and Fixers.  One of its organizers is Lupine Travel, a partner of mine and a solid UK-based enterprise.  

[UPDATE, Aug. 22.]  Check out this fascinating interview (Aug. 19) at PRI's The World with the exiled captain of Afghan women's soccer.

Monday, May 4, 2020

UK football letter roils world sport, and real world, too

Letter posted on Twitter by the AP's Rob Harris
The English Premier League football (soccer) organization wrote to the U.S. Trade Representative in February urging that the United States put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the "Priority Watch List" of countries that fail to protect intellectual property (IP) rights.

The letter has been widely reported beyond the football world for its potential implications in foreign affairs.  Where the United States is concerned, IP piracy is regarded as a critical contemporary problem, on par with national security.  Much of that regard is warranted, as countries such as China, at least historically, have been linked to IP theft as a means to unfair economic advantage, to the detriment of American enterprise.  Some of the sentiment derives from the capture of Washington by IP-wealthy corporations, to the detriment of intellectual freedom.  Regardless, the gross result has been a paper war with nations that countenance IP piracy.  To put Saudi Arabia in those U.S. crosshairs adds a layer of complexity to our already impossibly complicated love-hate relationship with the KSA—read more from James Dorsey just last week—with ramifications from Yemen to Israel.

The letter has potential ramifications within the Middle East, too.  The Premier League's indictment calls out specifically a Saudi-based pirate football broadcaster that calls itself "beout Q" and seems to operate in a blind spot of Saudi criminal justice, even distributing set-top boxes and selling subscriptions in Saudi retail outlets.  The name seems to be a thumb in the nose of beIN Sports, a Doha-based, Qatari-owned media outlet with lawful licensing rights to many Premier League and other international sporting matches.  Saudi Arabia has led the blockade of Qatar since the 2017 Middle East diplomatic crisis, a high note of previously existing and still enduring tensions between the premier political, economic, and cultural rivals in the region.

A 2016 Amnesty International report
was not flattering to Qatar or FIFA.
Football and international sport are weapons in this rivalry.  Qatar has long capitalized on sport as a means to the end of soft international power, winning the big prize of the men's football World Cup in 2022, if by hook or by crook.  Saudi Arabia has more lately taken to the idea of "sportwashing" its image, especially since the Jamal Khashoggi assassination and amid the ceaseless civil war in Yemen.

The letter roiled the world of football no less, as Saudi Arabia has been in negotiation to acquire the Newcastle United Football Club.  That purchase requires Premier League approval.  So everyone and her hooligan brother has an opinion about what it means that the league is so worked up about Saudi IP piracy as to write to the United States for help.

This unusual little letter is a reminder of a theme, known to social science and as old as the Ancient Olympics, that, more than mere diversion, sport is a reflection of our world.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Restless Algerian youth see Bouteflika resign

Algiers, from the Place des Martyrs
In January, I was in and out of sport shops on the main commercial drag, rue Didouche Mouradin, in Algiers, Algeria, when I noticed a group of rough-around-the-edges, Arabic-speaking young men who seemed to be in and out of the same shops.  I mentally upped my "security threat level," watching the guys a little more closely than I was looking at the merch.  At one point, we were all sandwiched in the same small store, to the point that it would be socially awkward not to acknowledge that we'd taken notice of one another.

Turned out we were in and out of the same shops only because we were all looking at the European football kits.  (Always on the lookout for discounted last-season ManC gear.)  Given the opportunity of tight environs, the guys in fact were eager to strike up a conversation and find out who the pale foreigner was.  They confirmed something I had seen repeatedly by that point in my travel in Algeria:  More than their elders, young people's English is good, they are up to speed on global politics, and they want to know why they don't have the same social and economic security and opportunity that they see young people enjoying in Europe, just across the Mediterranean.

A Bouteflika banner flies opposite Le Grande Post.
The fellows were eager to tell me what European football clubs they followed, and what towns they were from and how they lived their lives in Algeria.  They also were eager to tell me about Algerian politics—though hushed their voices when they said that the status quo needs to change, and the older generation's tight grip on leadership needs to give way.  Outside from the city streets, one could look up in any direction to see billboards and banners bearing the smiling face of Algeria's cult-of-personality president since 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

When I came home and people asked about Algeria, I often said: it's teetering on the point of a major transition—which is going to happen one way or another, peacefully, or by popular uprising—because the young-adult cohort, now irreversibly integrated into the world by our globalized information technology, are not content with stalled development and socioeconomic marginalization.

Downtown Algiers, Le Grande Poste at middle left
Naturally as protestors took to the streets in recent weeks in Algiers, I've been thinking a lot about my fellow football supporters.  I see the flag-waving crowds filling the streets around the Old Post Office and wonder whether the guys are there, sporting their favorite kits behind their green-and-white flags.  Now Bouteflika has stepped down, and the government is effectively back in military hands.  The military has a mixed record, at once supporting popular demands for progressive leadership and having a limited patience with protests in the streets.

I hope my fellows are OK, and Algeria can deliver the opportunity that they deserve.  Maybe one day I'll see them in the stands at Santiago BernabĂ©u.

Me on the street at the celebration of the Berber new year