May 05, 2005

In Morocco, contradictions and American culture

America intrigues. It is the case for most of the countries all over the world. But in my country, Morocco, often, people's impressions are more complex than just attraction or rejection. In people's minds, there are too many things that make America a passionate theme. You can see it everywhere, even in unexpected places like…billboards.

A story published in weekly news magazine Tel Quel relates the American influences in the streets of Morocco.

A photograph named Abdelkrim Raddadi has worked for 20 years on the desensitization of the "American way of life" in Morocco, through photographs of billboards. His exhibition in Casablanca is really revealing of the contrasts in a society where people are as much pro-Americans as anti-Bush’s policy.

Because, yes, Moroccans, as other citizens in the Arab world, blame the U.S. for the war in Iraq for example. But the U.S. is not only that enormous empire attacking a “brother country”, molesting Muslims since 9/11 and helping the “Zionists” to kick Palestinians out of their homes and land.

America is, before everything, an empire of dreams; an ambiguous mix of Las Vegas, Miami and Hollywood.

Tel Quel’s reporter Hassan Hamdani says: America is everywhere, in each corner. From the names of shops to the children’s clothes. But for Hamdani, it’s not the American culture, but sub-culture, “often even a white-trash America”.

As a person who was born and raised in Morocco, I can say that even in a country where half of the population is illiterate, people recognize the American symbols: the American flag, certain brand names, franchise fast foods, etc. A real exception, according to Raddadi, who says he never saw that absorption of the American culture in another Arab country.

The American dream is still vivid in a country like Morocco. One evidence denies all the accusations of Anti-Americanism: the number of people, of my generation or older, standing everyday in line waiting for an American visa.

Posted 11:25 PM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2005

The UN resolution on Darfur

When, on 31 March 2005, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1593 (2005) referring the situation in Darfur to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United States (US) voted for the resolution by abstention.

After all, had the US taken its principled stance on the ICC, it could have vetoed the UN resolution sponsored by France. But the US decided to abstain, thus allowing the referral to the ICC of a situation that the Bush administration had no hesitation at labelling “genocide”.

In Africa, as elsewhere around the world, the US government has taken steps to ensure that the ICC does not exercise its jurisdiction over its citizens.

Strategies to include this objective go from : the enactment of legislation restricting cooperation with the ICC and with States that are parties to the ICC to the adoption of Security Council resolutions preventing the ICC from exercising jurisdiction over nationals of non-parties that are involved in UN authorised operation.

Given this background, the vote of the resolution on Darfur in the UN Security Council is seen by many as a compromise. Others have celebrated the resolution as a diplomatic success for Europe . Still, US officials have claimed a precedent-setting victory.

Washington was able to win language saying that nations not party to the court would be exempt from prosecution over Sudan. But to secure a US abstention, supporters of the ICC option had to offer a broad exemption from prosecution for nationals of states that are not party to the Statute.

The Sudanese government has furiously rejected the resolution claiming that it “contradicts justice and objectivity and violates national sovereignty”, according to International Justice Tribune. President Omar al-Beshir of Sudan claimed that the UN has “ignored all norms of international legitimacy by exempting Americans…just because America is powerful…”, as reported in The Australian. This is hardly surprising.

Needless to say, there is widespread displeasure with language that the US insisted should be inserted in the resolution. Indeed, the question may be raised: are some peacekeepers better than others? The complaints of the government of Sudan – which calls upon the rule of law when it suits its interests - can only attract limited sympathy.

For what it is worth, though, this attitude suggests that ignorance of international law is not the problem in Sudan.

It is an irony of history that the US administration’s campaign against the ICC has helped raising public awareness of the Court and, in fact, bolstered the Court’s legitimacy.

Whatever the success or failure of the diplomatic efforts in New York, the ICC, armed with a ‘compromised’ mandate from the Security Council, will have a hard time at convincing the government of Sudan to cooperate.
By using threats, intimidation, and tremendous economic pressure to defend its policy on the ICC, the US administration has alienated many friends.

Posted 05:10 AM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2005

From the Pentagon to Rabat

By Najla Benmbarek

Americans are concerned about how they are perceived in the Arab world, nothing new about it. But in Morocco, the francophone news magazine Tel Quel reports that fifteen FBI agents have been in the capital, Rabat, for many days, and are working on surveys for the administration about Moroccan citizen's opinions on various subjects: politics, the Moroccan regime, the economy and the social. Many in Morocco wonder if there are at the same time agents in other Arab countries...

Posted 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2005

South African Trade Detours United States

The news from South Africa last week painted a picture of a vacuum—a great empty space where coverage of the United States might once have been. South Africa’s newspapers suggest not the presence or influence of the United States, but its absence. The sole reporting from the U.S. among the country’s major newspapers revolved around the Michael Jackson trial, of which there was abundant wire coverage.

The Cape Times (subscription required) Cape Town’s leading morning daily, reported on a visit to South Africa by the Foreign Ministers of India, Natwar Singh, and of Brazil, Celso Amerin—focusing on their creation of a ‘Business Council’ with South Africa’s Foreign Minister Nkosazma Dlamini-Zuma to facilitate trade between the three countries. [Cape Times, 10 March, 2005] Specifically, South Africa is in the process of establishing closer relations with the member countries of the Mercosur trading bloc—Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay—and to bring South Africa into the web of trade accords between that bloc, of which Brazil is a leading member, and India.

The meetings between these powerhouses of the developing world take on new meaning in light of the dramatic slowdown in negotiations between Brazil and other Latin American nations and the Bush Administration in negotiating a Free Trade of the Americas agreement.
That effort to establish a NAFTA style, hemisphere-wide trade accord have floundered—while efforts to create an alliance among the tri-continental powerhouses of the southern hemisphere are taking on steam. The three countries have established an alliance, known as IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) “to strengthen south-south cooperation,” reports Angela Quintal, Political Editor for the Cape Times. Trade between the three countries amounted to $4 billion last year, the Cape Times reports; SA Foreign Minister Dlamini-Zuma said that the three nations hope that will grow to some $10 billion by 2007.

In the same week, several other developments suggested the growing ties between the three economic powerhouses of the developing world. According to The Sun Times (subscription required) a South African national daily, Brazil has endorsed the call of the African Union (in which South Africa is a major player) for two African seats on the U.N. Security Council—as well as a permanent seat for a representative from the Arab world. [The Times, 12 March, 2005] The paper suggests that if approved, Africa’s two seats would go to South Africa and Nigeria.

The Cape Argus, a Cape Town afternoon paper (subscription required), reports that India has also thrown its support behind this effort to expand membership in the Security Council. “The foreign ministers of India, Brazil and South Africa said the UN Security Council no longer represented the reality of today’s world,” writes Argus correspondent Thokozani Mtshali. “They reiterated their call for urgent and extensive UN reform and for it to be ‘responsive to the priorities of its member states’ especially the developing world.” [Cape Argus, 13 March, 2005]

Not one of the articles made reference to the U.S. position on this matter. While Michael Jackson’s squirming in Santa Barbara was by far the dominant news about America for South Africans, the main international reporting that week was on the gathering force of political and economic alliances that are detouring Washington altogether.

Posted 06:50 PM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2005

Nigeria, the next Afghanistan?

Many experts raised the attention on Nigeria, since 9/11, as a nation where anti-americanism could feed Al Qaeda cells. According to Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, one of the recommandations of the 9/11 commission was to "take steps in remote regions, such as West Africa, to prevent the rise of future sanctuaries".

The Nigerian case is special : the country is multi-ethnic and multi religious. In a country where the population already suffers from poverty and marginalization, it's easy to deviate from moderation to extremism. That's why the administration should avoid a faux-pas by acting very cautiously. "Washington should seek to ``pre-empt'' the rising radicalism, not with military force but through diplomatic and economic engagement" says Lyman.

Read more about Nigeria, the next Afghanistan?

Posted 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2005

The Economist (Part I): Special Report on Anti-Americanism

This week's print issue of the Economist (Feb. 19-25, 2005) has a three-page analysis of world perceptions of America and Americans, in the aftermath of two recent polls (one conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, previously discussed here; and another from the BBC). The article is premium content, but the site sometimes runs free-access days sponsored by advertisers (as is the case today, Feb. 22). In any case, it's an intelligent, well-written analysis of the current state of anti-Americanism around the globe -- well worth locating in print if you can’t get it online. (Excerpts inside.)

Though anti-Americanism spans the globe, the phenomenon is not everywhere the same. It mutates according to local conditions, and it is seldom straightforward.
No wonder. Most people's feelings about America are complicated. "America," after all, is shorthand for many other terms: the Bush administration, a Republican-dominated Congress, Hollywood, a source of investment, a place to go to study, a land of economic opportunity, a big regional power, the big world power, a particular policy, the memory of something once done by the United States, a set of political values based on freedom, democracy and economic liberalism, and so on. It is easy to be for some of these and against others, and some may wax or wane in importance according to time, circumstance, propaganda or wishful thinking. So it should be no surprise that some people can hold two apparently contradictory views of America at once. The incandescent third-world demonstrator, shrieking "Down with America!" in one breath and "Can you get me a green card?" in the next, has become a commonplace.

The piece begins with France, which it calls "the locus classicus of anti-Americanism." One source of anti-Americanism here, the author writes, is

the rivalry between France and America, based on their remarkably similar self-images; the two countries both think they invented the rights of man, have a unique calling to spread liberty round the world and hold a variety of other attributes that make them utterly and admirably exceptional. Jealousy also plays a part ... French anti-Americanism tends to rise when France has just suffered a setback of some kind, whether a defeat at the hands of the Germans, a drubbing in Algeria or the breakdown of the Fourth Republic.

The author then goes through many of the world's nations, from Angola to Vietnam, examining the state of anti-Americanism and identifying underlying causes in each:

In Iran, for example, anti-Americanism is a tool exploited by the regime "to divert attention from its many failures."

In Indonesia, it’s "largely an armchair affair."

The piece concludes by pointing out that recent polls show anti-Americanism in many cases may have much to do with the reelection of George W. Bush and policies specific to the current administration, then saying:

That is the, perhaps short-term, view of some non-Americans. It is accompanied by another view, increasingly common among pundits, which holds that America is losing its allure as a model society. Whereas much of the rest of the world once looked to the United States as a beacon, it is argued, non-Americans are now turning away. Democrats in Europe and elsewhere who once thought religiosity, a belief in capital punishment and rank hostility to the United Nations were intermittent or diminishing features of the United States now see them as rising and perhaps permanent. Such feelings have been fortified by Mr Bush’s doctrine of preventive war, Guantánamo, opposition to the world criminal court and a host of other international agreements. One way or another, it is said, people are turning off America, not so much to hate it as to look for other examples to follow—even Europe’s. If true, that could be even more insulting to Americans than the rise in the familiar anti-Americanism of yesteryear.

Posted 02:08 PM | Comments (1)