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Russian resolution on Syria: it’s all a game of chess and dominoes

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Russia presented a new, ‘beefed-up’ draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on the violence exercised by the Syrian regime. France promptly rejected it, claiming the text was too weak. Ironic, considering it was only two months ago that Russia, along with China, vetoed an equally weak, draft resolution that only contained a threat of sanction.

Has Russia suddenly done a U-turn? Not quite. After it initially opposed the no-fly zone over Libya, Russia (and other countries) was viewed with much suspicion by Western leaders. Now that the Arab league (useless as they are) have turned up the notch with their condemnations of Bashar al-Assad, Russia has realised that now is the time to be clever.

The draft resolution is a pragmatic step by a country that is becoming more and more isolated. Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, said: “Russia is changing its position because to completely defend the Syrian regime is impossible given that everyone is against it, including practically all the Arab nations”.

Essentially, it’s all politics. “Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess,” stated Spengler in Asia Times. As Eric Walberg wrote in the Palestine Chronicle, “At times, it is wise to sit back and wait for the straw that breaks the ogre’s (excuse me, camel’s) back. A fool’s mate comes about when your opponent is bankrupt, and it certainly looks like this is how the current game is shaping up”.

The fall of the government in Syria will not be confined to one country, as in Libya. Syria has many key allies, aside from Russia, and is strategically situated. It will throw the whole Middle East into chaos. Bring Syria down and the rest of the dominoes follow suit. In that sense, al-Assad was correct when he said attacking Syria would cause an ‘earthquake‘.

Russia is hardly the moral nation in all of this. They say if you want to find the truth, you need to ‘follow the money’. The Moscow Times reported that Russia’s investment in Syrian infrastructure, energy and tourism amounted to $19.4bn in 2009. Civilian lives and death tolls are hardly their number one priority.

Russian middle eastern experts compare Syria to Russia’s province of Dagestan in the North Caucasus. David Hearst, writing for the Guardian, believes whatever happens in Syria would impact on Dagestan, where journalist Gadzhimurat Kamalov, who routinely invetigated government corruption, was shot dead outside his newspaper’s office.

It is difficult to predict the future of Syria and Russia. Protests, and killings, have been ongoing for almost a year. The African Arab dictators are long gone. But with Syria, as well as Yemen and Bahrain (under reported in the media), the situation is different. And the solution is not as simple or as easy to resolve.


Written by Iram Ramzan

January 12, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Pardon for Afghan rape victim may not be a happy ending

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Originally published in The Pryer on 04/12/2011


Pardoned: Gulnaz has been released from prison without any conditions

In 2010, the world was outraged over the fate of an Iranian woman who had been convicted of adultery and was awaiting a sentence of death by stoning. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was fortunate enough have her sentence “suspended” thanks to human rights groups and media frenzy.

Another woman has dominated the international news this year – Gulnaz, a 19-year-old Afghan woman who was raped by her husband’s cousin and then jailed and sentenced to twelve years in prison for refusing to marry her rapist.On Thursday, President Hamid Karzai pardoned her, which means that there are no conditions for her release.

However, in Afghanistan, tradition and local solutions come before the law. It is highly likely Gulnaz will bow into pressure and marry her rapist, who is also serving a jail sentence. “Once I am out of here, I have no choice but to go back to the person who raped me,” she said before her pardon. “My life is over. I have no choice but to marry him.”

The fact that she had a daughter as a result of the rape will compel her even more towards this decision. Women who are raped in this part of the world are often looked down on by society and, if they were virgins, told that no one would ever marry them as they are considered ‘damaged goods’. The fate of such women is often reduced to becoming a second wife of a much older man or marrying their rapist.

Gulnaz also said that if she were to marry her rapist she would demand that he make one of his sisters marry one of her brothers. This is a common practise, not just in Afghanistan but in many other surrounding countries, as a way of settling disputes among families and communities. In this case it would be an insurance policy for Gulnaz since her rapist would hesitate to hurt her because his sister would be at the mercy of Gulnaz’s brother.

Although Gulnaz is now ‘free’ 600 women and their children stay behind bars in Afghanistan for similar ‘moral crimes’. Moral crimes include adultery (or being accused of it), running away from home or an abusive husband and murder-by-proxy, where a male family member kills someone and a woman is blamed.


Tradition: Afghan women’s first priorities are to get married, often to men decades older

There are no easy or quick solutions to problems that deep-rooted in a society. We can sit here and point fingers and condemn Afghans as ‘barbaric’ but let us be honest: we are just as guilty of the same mentality.

Remember the law which was passed in 2009 in Afghanistan, allowing a husband to starve his wife if she refused to have sex with him? How we were outraged! Yet in 2010, a UK survey showed almost three quarters of the women who were polled said if a victim got into bed with the assailant before an attack they should accept some responsibility. Even in this survey a third of Britons believe a woman who acts flirtatiously is partly or completely to blame for being raped, while one in five think a woman is partly to blame if it is known she has many sexual partners. Clearly we have sympathy for Afghan rape victims, but not much for our own. This is not an Afghan problem, it’s a global problem.

As Jon Stewart once joked on the Daily Show, Afghanistan hasn’t been stable since Hannibal. Gulnaz’s case has demonstrated that while international pressure and diplomacy coupled with human rights groups can certainly push for change, they only make a small dent in the great scheme of things.

There is still the belief that a woman is respectable only if she is embedded within a family, even if that family is abusive. Afghanistan can introduce as many laws as it wishes but that will make very little difference to the ordinary people in the rural areas who still solve disputes internally, where women are often too scared to report crimes.

The problem we make sometimes is judging Afghanistan by our (Western) standards and there is a danger of imposing our beliefs and customs on to the people. It took half a century for women to be granted the right to vote in the UK; similarly in Afghanistan there is no ‘quick-fix’.

Change comes gradually and with the consent of the people, starting at the grass roots level. Gulnaz was spared 12 years’ imprisonment, but she will swap one prison for another should she choose to marry her rapist. And there are thousands more Gulnaz’s in Afghanistan who still await justice.

Written by Iram Ramzan

December 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm

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