While you were watching the Olympics…

The Iconic Image of the Event: Celebrating brilliance is one thing, forgetting the rest of the world is a mistake. © The Guardian

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for celebrating British achievement and the fact that the Olympics weren’t the fiasco everyone was expecting them to be. The Olympics have been here, there and everywhere these past two weeks as people from all over the country have taken leave of their prejudices, their differences (and sometimes their senses) to come together and stick to their televisions for up to eight hours a day.

However in all this ‘We are #teamGB’ we have seemed to forget that a real world exists outside the shiny, happy wall to wall coverage of attractive, athletic types winning Gold medals.

For instance, a twelve year old girl, Tia Sharp, disappeared from her home in Croydon last Friday and her body was discovered the following week in her grandmother’s house. Her grandmother and two men have been arrested on suspicion of her murder.

On a national level, David Cameron has abandoned plans to reform the House of the Lords and pave way for the major reform promise of all three major parties at the last election out of fear for back bench rebellion angering his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats into threatening the stability of the coalition by rebelling over boundary reform.

Across the pond, Republican presumptive nominee Mitt Romney announced his running mate for the American Presidential election in November, a pro-life, economic liberal called Paul Ryan who has been branded as an ‘extremist ideologue’ by the Obama camp with a budget plan that supposedly only benefits billionaires. Romney also used the opportunity to add another gaffe to his collection by calling Ryan the ‘future President of the United States’.

In other world news, Syrian rebels have been promised an increase in ‘non-lethal’ aid by British foreign secretary William Hague despite being accused of human rights abuses by Human Rights Watch as the civil war moves into the second city, Aleppo.

In another part of the world recently touched by the Arab Spring, Egypt’s President Mohammed Mursi has ordered the retirement of the country’s powerful head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi. This has widely been seen as a strike against the narrow limits imposed by the Generals during the election. He has also announced a constitutional declaration to curb Presidential power has been shelved.

Finally, there was a massive earthquake in the north west of Iran and about 250 people have died with over 2000 people being injured and homes and villages flatten. The relief effort is now on to get people into adequate shelter before the onset of winter. Casualty figures are expected to rise as hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of patients.

Iranians mourn over the covered bodies of loved ones in the village Baje-Baj, near the town of Varzaqan, © ATTA KENARE/AFP/GettyImages/Sky News

I’m not saying the Olympics isn’t important. I am not saying I wasn’t cheering on Mo Farah like everyone else but I can’t say it made me any prouder to be British (or from Yorkshire). There are individuals who have succeeded and I will cheer them on but I don’t feel they really represent me; the girl who disliked sport at school and loathed her self-aggrandising PE teachers even more. I was however proud to be an alumi of the University of Birmingham when Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake (possibly my two favourite athletes ever) praised ‘Birmingham People’ for doing such a good job hosting them before the games started because of my personal attachment to the place and the people in it.

The overwrought and overstated emotion attached to these games is misplaced. A video montage detailing Tom Daley rise to promience ahead of the diving final yesterday treated him like he was poised to pull a sword out of a stone, not get a bronze in the diving. Why is this necessary? Ultimately all sport is just a game and it will be played over and over again. It makes the individuals money and it makes many others happy but it doesn’t change the world and it certainly won’t change London.

Yes its great that this country has so many talented young people, yes its great that they can excel, but that doesn’t make the other citizens any less obese, any richer and it certainly doesn’t make Britain more ‘great’. We are still a fading world power that is so riven with internal division that we can’t get the other 90% of young people who weren’t blessed with athletic ability out of the dole queue.

The Olympics won’t change us. We may be united on Twitter and in front of the television now but how long will this last? I give it until Wednesday until we’re all bickering again. What has the Olympic said about us? We can make the trains run (sort of) on time for two weeks of the year? Some of us run fast?

I’m not saying the Olympics shouldn’t be on television, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be celebrated. However ultimately its just a sporting tournament that happens every four years and given London has hosted it more often than any other city on Earth and is full of tourists all year round anyway I think its probably time the Tube got a rest.

We can dangle the gold medals in front of faces to distract ourselves all we like but the real world isn’t going away. Young girls are still getting murdered, Middle Eastern dictators are still waging war on their own country and their citizens are committing atrocities in retaliation. Natural disasters  will still kill more innocent people .

By all means, celebrate tonight and go back to hating each other in the morning. I have no problem with the Olympics being front page news, it just shouldn’t be the only news. I know its a miserable thing to say but the real world isn’t going away just because we want it too.

A Review of the Year: The Middle East in 2011



So its been quite a year really hasn’t it? The Middle East is always a major flashpoint in every year but this year it took over the epicentre of nearly every major news story across the world as nearly the entire region became a battleground between the haves and the havenots.

Arab Spring: The spark that lit the bonfire was the actions of one Tunisian man who set himself on fire to highlight the dire situation. What happened next promises to be endlessly mythologised by the media and a few overwrought novels and memoirs which are bound to crawl out of the woodwork in a few years but the speed and sweep of rebellion throughout the Middle East and the fear and hope it has inspired in countries as diverse as China and UK is certainly compelling. Time magazine named ‘the Protester’ their ‘Person of the Year’ because Mohamed Bouazizi didn’t just inspire the Arab World, he also inspired the anti-corruption campaigning in India, protests over contested elections in Russia and arguably the worldwide Occupy movement and made authoritarian governments like China quiver in fear.

Afghanistan: Another day, another death. As the death toll creeped up for foreign troops battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, talk soon turned to reconciliation and withdrawal as the West hoped that the country could finally build their own future. However, these hopes soon started to sour as Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai appeared to be increasing undemocratic and corrupt despite Western support, a memo leaked back in August showed that the British government were ‘looking forward’ to his departure and last week, fired the head of the commission looking into human rights abuses in the country. Furthermore, in order to bring peace to Afghanistan, negotiations have to be made with the Taliban which could jeopardise the headway made for women’s rights which is claimed to be the main reason foreign troops are still occupying the country. This has led to Amnesty International launching a campaign to protect women’s interests during the negotiations.

Iran: A country never far from international trouble, the end of this year saw the withdrawal of British diplomats from Iran over fresh concerns over its nuclear programme. Although, the Tehran Times recently reports the foreign minister is willing to reopen negotiations 2011 remains yet another tense chapter in the history of Iran’s relationship with the West. Last week Tehran threatened to cut off the vital Hormuz strait oil passage to the West in a move the USA says ‘will not be tolerated’ over a UN report that suggests that Iran is developing atomic bombs for aggressive purposes, a charge vehemently denied by the Iranian government. The stalemate continues.

Iraq: As the withdrawal of British and American troops is almost complete and one of the most controversial wars in recent history draws to a close questions over Iraq plans to govern itself as a modern, democratic nation. Barack Obama said that the country still isn’t perfect but they are leaving behind a ‘sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq’ and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that lives weren’t lost in vain. Only time will tell.

Libya: This year saw the fall of Africa’s longest serving dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. The start of the year saw the uprising inspired by their Tunisian neighbours, March saw foreign intervention with the UN backing air strikes that pushed Gaddafi into hiding and an international game of ‘Where’s Gaddafi?’ had begun by the end of August. By October a brutal man had met a brutal end. It was an inhumane and merciless way to end an inhumane and merciless era, we can only hope there will be better things to come for Libya in 2012.

Syria: The other side of the Arab civil war coin to Libya, Bashir Al-Assad refuses to fall. After almost a year of civil war, rejection by the international community and even sanctions from the Arab League, Syria shows no signs of easing up the oppression of its people. Youtube videos and blogs show images of horrific tortures of civilians as protesters ‘disappear’ and turn up weeks later on their families’ doorsteps in bodybags. With the success of the Libya mission, international commentators are calling for greater intervention as human rights are abuse hither and thither. 5000 people are reported to have been killed. We can only hope that the West will do more than make a show of shaking their fist in 2012.

Palestine vs Israel: The forty year old stalemate between Israel and Palestine saw a dramatic development in the latter’s favour as UNESCO voted to recognise it as a country infuriating Israel and its most influential backer, the USA Congress. Palestine is campaigning for full recognition by the international community to give it more power to move against Israeli land acquistions beyond the boundaries of the Peace treaty in 1967.

And the Arab Winter Rumbles On…

Syrian Soldiers Patrol the Streets of Homs. Courtesy of the Guardian/Yin Bogu/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Syria has rejected the Arab League’s demand to end its violent crackdown on protesters and allow greater freedom or face economic sanctions from the League after 3500 people have been killed since the rebellion began in March.

They were suspended from the League on Wednesday.

Along with the demand to end the violence, the League also ordered Syria to allow foreign journalists to work, release all recent political prisoners, withdraw all military from the cities and enter talks with opposition groups within two weeks.

It is understood that the Syrian authorities have agreed to allow a small number, much smaller than originally proposed by the League, of observers in to monitor the peace talks but activists say that 11 have died in the unrest since last Friday are worried that the country will slide into civil war.

Libyan’s suspension from the League was a major factor in the UN agreement to send in support for the rebels back in March and with huge public pressure in countries around the Western world Syria is widely tipped to be the next country faced with foreign intervention. However there are fears within the elite that if they give into the League’s demands and in allowed foreign peace keepers they will lost control of large swathes of territory.

Meanwhile in Egypt, more than 200 people have been hurt in clashes in Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the Egyptian revolution earlier this year, as police use rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the long-term sit-in that started on Friday to protest against Egypt’s military rule.

Finally, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son that always claimed the regime would rise again, was captured trying to flee the country yesterday and will be transported to the Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court.

It would seem the Arab Spring still isn’t over.
Continue reading And the Arab Winter Rumbles On…

After The Fall: What’s Next For The Middle East?

Courtesy of Nick Hayes/ The Guardian

Now that the Gaddafi regime has been ousted from Tripoli and the rebels revel in and loot the various palaces of him and his family, the blogosphere and the Guardian’s picture editors are making the (slightly obvious) comparison’s between Gaddafi’s regime and the forgotten colossus in Shelley’s Ozymandias.

However, as talk turns to what Libya and the Middle East will do next I think a probably more profound literary allusion would be George Orwell. Or more specifically, the final words of his 1945 novella Animal Farm:

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from
pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Continue reading After The Fall: What’s Next For The Middle East?