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Tag Archives | uprising

In Pragati: Bringing our citizens home

A very belated blogpost: in this month’s Pragati, I review India’s evacuation efforts as uprisings raged in Egypt and Libya.  While the government can indeed be pleased about the overall effectiveness of its response, there are lessons to be learned from the experience:

India is no stranger to security uncertainties in the Middle East. At the time of the first Gulf War, India had about 180,000 citizens living in Kuwait and 20,000 in Iraq. Over the course of the war, India dispatched ferries to Dubai and chartered Air India flights to Amman, Jordan to evacuate citizens from the region. Direct evacuation from Kuwait was impossible because of air and sea blockades by the US-led coalition, a point that drew repeated protests from Inder Kumar Gujral, then foreign minister. India incurred costs exceeding $1 billion, having evacuated over 100,000 citizens via 500 flights from Amman to Mumbai. Again, in 2006, when conflict broke out between Israel and Hizbullah in South Lebanon, India dispatched four warships of Task Force 54 (INS Mumbai, INS Brahmaputra, INS Betwa and INS Shakti) to rescue not only the 2,000 Indian citizens but also Sri Lankans and Nepalis, as part of Operation Sukoon.

[T]he bulk of India’s evacuation efforts were concentrated on Libya, where over 18,000 Indian citizens lived and worked. As anti-Gaddafi forces gained momentum in Benghazi, the MEA launched Operation Safe Homecoming on February 28, its largest evacuation exercise since the Gulf War. The initial focus of New Delhi’s efforts was Scotia Prince, a passenger ferry with a capacity of 1,200, chartered to evacuate its citizens from Benghazi and Eastern Libya to Alexandria, Egypt. From Alexandria, four special flights (including one Indian Air Force IL-76 transporter) operated to fly evacuees back to India. The Indian government also chartered MV Red Star One, which evacuated citizens to Malta, from where they were flown back to India via flights operated by Kingfisher and Jet Airways. [Pragati]

Read the article in its entirety in April 2011’s Pragati (webpage, pdf).

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India’s response to Bahrain

Unpardonable negligence.

The situation in Bahrain has steadily deteriorated, with the al-Khalifa monarchy unleashing army tanks onto the streets of the capital, Manama.  About two days ago, I asked on Twitter what India’s contingency plans were for the over 300,000 Indian citizens that lived in Manama, should the violence escalate.  As early as February 14, I had tweeted that the violence in Manama will have a direct impact on the security of NRIs living in the country.

Today, on day six of the protests in Bahrain, MEA released this statement on the situation:

In response to a question the Official Spokesperson said that India is closely following the developments in Bahrain. Our Mission in Manama is in regular touch with representatives of the Indian community numbering over 350,000 , who are reported to be safe. We hope that calm soon returns and prevails in Bahrain. [Ministry of External Affairs]

Now, Bahrain no doubt is a friendly country and one of India’s important trading partners in the region.  And I appreciate the sensitivities involved in issuing statements on the situation.  However, I wasn’t hitherto aware that governments based their policy responses on “hope.”  Apparently, MEA “hopes” calm will return to Bahrain.

But what if it does not?

Further, how does the Indian Embassy in Manama know is citizens are safe?  If violence in Bahrain escalates, how do these citizens know where to apply for relief?

I make these points, because of the state of the Indian Embassy in Bahrain.  The Embassy didn’t bother to renew its website (indianembassybahrain.com), which resulted in the website being bought by an other owner, who ended up hosting pornographic content.  Worse, the Embassy purchased a second website (indianembassy-bh.com), which expired on February 15, 2011.  As of today, the Indian Embassy has no effective way of being able to communicate with NRIs in that country.

On being informed about the issue, the Foreign Secretary thanked the responder and said that the ambassador “is checking.”  Call this nitpicking, but surely Amb. HE Mohan Kumar or his staff should have already been alert to the minor issue of their website disappearing off the face of the earth, sometime over the course of the past three days.  If violence becomes unmanageable for the state this morning, I’m not sure how he or his staff expect to be able to communicate with stranded NRIs.

Their negligence is unpardonable.

Footnote: By the way, and for what it’s worth, Indian citizens in Bahrain can call the 24-hour helpline (+973 17713509) to reach out to the Embassy for relief, if needed.  This is the only number that the Embassy published prior to the demise of its website.  Going by current form though, whether or not this number works is another question altogether.

Update: It appears that the Foreign Secretary’s follow-up had the desired effect on Embassy staff in Bahrain (LT @nikhilnarayanan).  Indian Embassy, Bahrain’s website is back up (http://www.indianembassybahrain.com) as of 1:30pm, February 19.  The website includes an advisory to Indian citizens in Bahrain and emergency contact numbers[1771-2785, 3930-4285 and 3982-8767].

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l’affaire Tunisie

Why the Maghreb is not the Khaleej.

Some quick thoughts on events as yet unfolding in Tunisia.

Much has been written recently about the so-called revolution in Tunisia and its probable impact on the rest of the Arab world.  Robert Fisk, for instance, rattled off the names of every other Arab country he could think of when asked if he thought the revolution could be contagious to the rest of the region.  Admittedly, somewhat unfair to pick on Mr. Fisk when the vernacular press in Tunisia’s neighboring countries has spent almost every waking moment since the revolution asking, “are we next?”

Some factors make the events in Tunisia different from others (العربية) that have occurred in the greater region. Unlike almost any other upheaval in the region’s recent history, this was not an Islamic movement.  Further, it also invalidates the claim that Arab societies were incapable of bringing about change intrinsically and without the support of foreign powers.

However, it would be erroneous to extrapolate this “revolution” in Tunisia to the greater region, particularly the Peninsula.  The Maghreb, after all, is not the Khaleej.  Three primary factors inhibit the sort of Rousseauian rebellion in the Peninsula currently being romanticized in the West.

First, the Heads-of-state: with the exception of a few, rulers in the Peninsula derive political power to rule from dynastic allegiances (contrast this with how heads-of-state in Libya, Algeria and Tunisia came to power).  This is not to say that the leaders in the Peninsula cannot be disposed, but that it will most likely come from within the family (e.g., Oman 1970, Qatar 1995, etc.) than take the form of a people’s’ revolt.

Second, Police states: the contrast of real curbs on social and political freedom and high levels of human and economic development make a Tunisia-like uprising improbable. Harder, because of curbs on freedom and equally unlikely to inspire a economically satisfied population.  Third, United States: While the U.S. pushes for a democratization of the Peninsula, it also has a vested interest in preserving the region’s monarchies.  It provides billions of dollars worth of military equipment to them and trains their officers.  When needed, it has shown a willingness to come to their aid when their power is threatened (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia).  This is a far cry from the rapport the Maghreb has with the U.S.

Indeed, as Amr el-Shobaki makes some very valid points in January 18th’s al-Masri al-Youm, about why it would be difficult to even envision a similar uprising in Egypt, much less in distant Saudi Arabia.

In Egypt, protests have lately taken a single, monotonous form, often rallying people around sectarian causes. The Egyptian regime, unlike its Tunisian counterpart, allows these protests to give citizens an opportunity to vent. This strategy serves to diffuse people’s anger and prevent the transformation of issue-specific protests into larger social and political movements.

The protests that took place in Tunisia reflect a healthy society. The Tunisian education system may be the best in the Arab world (the country’s illiteracy rate is no more than 10 percent), and the Tunisian General Labor Union actually defends workers’ rights. It respects the principles of trade unionism despite the fact that some of its leaders support the ruling party. In contrast, the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) runs itself in haphazard fashion and has distanced itself from independent worker organizations like the Real Estate Tax Collectors’ Union and the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services.

Egypt is also plagued by religious fundamentalism that has made it impossible for Egyptians to protest under the banner of universal values, such as freedom, equality, combating unemployment and demanding a minimum wage. Unlike Egypt, Tunisia is not home to any Salafi movements. Nor does it have preachers who boast thousands of followers and who lead many youth astray. Tunisia does not have a Muslim Brotherhood that is intent on mobilizing thousands of people to defend its own agenda rather than the national interest, nor does it have religious leaders who spread ignorance and sectarianism. [al-Masry al-Youm]

So is democracy doomed in the Peninsula?  Not necessarily, but it almost certainly will not come about as a result of a popular uprising.  The democratization of the Peninsula is a long term project involving painfully slow political and legislative reform, whose wheels have only recently been set in motion.  In this regard, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman will lead the way and provide a model for the rest of the region to perhaps emulate.

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