Arab Spring continues as Yemeni President is forced from power

By Peter Hogarth

After 33 years in power, 10 months of protests and fighting between rival factions of the Yemen elite have forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. Thousands celebrated when Saleh signed a deal on November 23 to relinquish his power.

The deal was signed with opposition leaders in the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at a ceremony hosted in the royal palace by Saudi King Abdullah. The deal states that Saleh will immediately hand over power to his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, while Saleh will keep the title of president until new presidential elections. A new government will be formed with Hadi and the opposition, with elections called in the next three months.

However, as we have seen in Egypt, elections and small concessions such as these do not address the real concerns of the thousands of Yemenis calling for change. While opposition forces supported the protest movements that were inspired by revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, their interests are very different from those of the angry, impoverished protestors who took the streets 10 months ago. Members of the opposition, including the Islamist party Islah and defected army General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar come from some of the most powerful families in Yemen and had taken part in the Saleh government before throwing their weight behind the opposition to his regime.

Not surprisingly, the US and European Union hailed the accord as an important step forward for the democratic aspirations of the people of Yemen. US President Barack Obama took the opportunity to commend the graceful abdicating of power and confirmed that the US and Pentagon would work with Yemen to stamp out militants and terrorists in the country. Saudia Arabia and the US lauding praise on the regime change in Yemen does not bode well for ordinary people on the ground in Yemen.

The US and Saudi Arabia are looking for an arrangement in which they can retain their interests and influence. Saleh had the backing of the US as an ally since the September 11 attacks and supported the invasion of Iraq. Saleh even colluded with the US in a series of assassinations and bombings within Yemen as a part of the “war on terror.”

As Saudi Arabia has shown in Bahrain, it will not hesitate to step in to crush resistance in neighbouring countries if its power is threatened. As recently as 2009, Saudi forces launched heavy air strikes on rebels in northern Yemen and supported Yemen military operations to crush the Shi’ite Houthis group.

The relationship between Saudi Arabia, the ruling elite of Yemen and their cooperation in military repression is still a very real concern. US and Saudi endorsement of the Saleh step-down does not mean that the two regimes have done an about-face and thrown their lot in with the youth-led struggle for democracy in Yemen. Rather, it is an attempt to deflect the revolutionary wave sweeping the Arab World and placate the people of Yemen by leaving essentially the old order intact, minus Saleh. Yemen’s elite security forces are still led by Saleh’s son, nephews and brothers, and the possibility of violent suppression of protests still remains.

So while Yemenis celebrated the ousting of Saleh, the protestors who have faced 10 months of blood-stained repression acknowledge that this is just a start. The youth-led forces shouting for democracy in the streets, have been excluded from the opposition and recognize that Saleh was just one piece of the repressive regime. As in Egypt, the revolution will have to continue to oust the mini-Salehs to make the change they demand.

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Resistance and solidarity continues in Bahrain

By Jesse McLaren

On November 23 the people of Bahrain continued resisting the regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in a “black day of anger”—in reference to the black smoke from burning tires. Despite intense crackdown on Bahrain’s uprising since it began in February, demonstrators continue to fight for justice, and the small country of 1.2 million people is getting the world’s attention.

The day of anger coincided with the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which is deeply critical of Bahrain authorities. The report, conducted by international experts, criticizes the use of torture and force of the Bahrain government in dealing with protests that have rocked the country since February. The report cites hundreds of cases of abuse, including mass arrests of peaceful demonstrators, torture in detention and dozens of military trials. It also calls for greater protections of human rights and justice for the victims and protections for human rights.

The report vindicates the experience of the people of Bahrain, but there are concerns it will be misused. While journalists have been welcomed back into the country after a months-long ban and on November 21 all forms of torture were declared illegal, many do not trust a commission appointed by Khalifa to stop the systematic repression that has gone on against peaceful protestors. The report fails to blame anyone for the repression, allowing the regime to claim all the violence was simply the result of rogue elements who will take the fall.

The report also ignores the international context of the crackdown. Bahrain is home to an important US navy base, and the regime could not survive without heavy US military backing. The NATO bombing of Libya was used not only to attempt to hijack the Libyan revolution, but also to bury any news of Western complicity with the dictatorship of Bahrain. As recently as this summer the Obama administration approved $53 million in military sales to the regime. The US state department said it would put the sale on hold until it reviews the report, and there are concerns that the report will be used to justify continued Western arms sales to the dictatorship in Bahrain.

The report itself does not alter anything on the ground. Just hours before the report was to be released, police fired teargas at protestors and continued their assaults on makeshift medical clinics. Abdul Nabi Kadhem, 44, was killed when his car was intentionally hit by a police vehicle, running him into a building. Police used sounds bombs and arrested a number of people protesting the death of Kadhem.

But the people of Bahrain are continuing to resist, and there is growing international solidarity. When the regime sentenced 20 medics to up to 15 years for healing the wounded, international outrage forced a retrial for November 28. On November 26, petitions signed by 1000 global medical professionals were delivered to Bahrain embassies in Washington, London, Cairo and elsewhere, demanding their immediate release. Continued international solidarity, and pressure on Western governments, can help the people of Bahrain fight for their own freedom.

Pro-democracy Protestors in Eastern Saudi Arabia Find their Way in the Streets

By Yusur Al-Bahraini

At least four people were killed and several wounded in Saudi Arabia. Naser Muhaishi was killed as Saudi forces attacked peaceful protestors on November 19. The Saudi authorities in Qatif seized Muhaishi’s body and did not allow his family to proceed with the funeral. Two days later, thousands went into the streets protesting the death of Muhaishi. The Saudi military opened fire killing another protestor, Ali Falfal while injuring hundreds. The army and police surrounded hospitals threatening the wounded and arresting activists.

The next day, Saudi authorities released the two bodies. On November 23, two more, Ali Quraikas and Muneeb Othman, were killed when gunfire broke as the Saudi forces raided the funeral procession in Qatif region in Eastern Saudi province. Violence in Qatif region, where many Shiites in the predominantly Sunni country live, has been escalating as the government continues oppressing the Saudi Shiite minority.

While participants in the demonstrations confirm that government forces opened fire on them, the Saudi Interior Ministry denied that. Mansur Al-Turki, Interior Ministry Spokesman blamed “unknown criminal sources” for the incidents. He described unarmed pro-democracy protestors as “rioters with suspicious objectives.” On the other hand, Al-Muhaishi’s father said: “Those [government forces] who were at the checkpoint shot my son.” He also added that his son did not even participate in the protests.

Protestors’ demands are to release the “forgotten prisoners” and end the ongoing discrimination, oppression and repression. Many Saudi political and human rights activists have been tortured and arrested in the last decade including a number of them who were arbitrary arrested in 1996 and have not been released until today. Two hundred years ago, Al-Saud royal has been in power in the country. Since then, discrimination against minorities and women has been taking place in the kingdom.

While NATO invaded Libya in the name of liberation, Saudi Arabia have not been not been condemned by the United States and its allies. The US proposed sanctions on Syria, but is silent towards human rights violations committed by the Al-Saud monarchy. The US imports 160 million barrel of oil every year from Saudi Arabia.

People with disabilities face cuts, fight back

By Melissa Graham

It’s not a question whether austerity will affect Canadians with disabilities, but a question of when.

In Scotland, people with disabilities are once again taking to the streets this month to fight back against government proposals that would see the Disability Living Allowance cut by 20 per cent, pushing those people into increasing poverty.

Hate crimes are also on the rise. Some 47 per cent of people with disabilities say attitudes towards them have worsened over the last year. A recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report concluded that “people with disabilities in the UK face harassment, insult and attack almost as a matter of routine, while a collective denial among police, government and other public bodies means little is done to challenge the situation.”

 

Canada

The situation in Canada is similar. With recent provincial elections in Manitoba and Ontario, there is a heightened awareness that healthcare, housing and disability benefits in those provinces might be headed for the chopping block as the recession drags on.

Consider the case of Ontario’s Special Diet benefit. When people started using the benefit regularly to bring their income to a slightly less impoverished level, McGuinty cut it back, making it much more difficult for people with disabilities to access it.

In the Ontario provincial election, it was not only social assistance programs, but also accessibility legislation that came under threat. During their campaign the Tories refused to commit to protect existing legislation, or effectively enforce it.

Municipal politicians are also unafraid to cut on the backs of people with disabilities. In Toronto, Rob Ford wants to put accessible transit and social housing on his cuts agenda.

Canadians too have faced high profile disability hate crimes in the past few months. In August, a man who used a wheelchair died four days after being viciously assaulted in his Winnipeg apartment.

Toronto has experienced two situations involving police interaction with people with disabilities. In July, police used handcuffs to restrain a nine-year-old disabled boy who they say “became uncontrollable” at a daycare centre. Around the same time, a man with a disability was killed during interactions with Toronto police.

All of this points to a clear message that politicians and those who enforce the laws do not consider people with disabilities a priority.

We have Canada’s first woman with a disability in the Official Opposition, but people with disabilities are still feeling powerless.

Perhaps it’s time to take a hint from Scotland, and fight austerity before it has already won.

Feds ignore suicide epidemic in First Nations communities

By Amelia Murphy-Beaudoin

The willful ignorance of Canadian governments at all levels is perpetuating the cycle of abuse that First Nations people have been grappling with since residential schools. 

Government officials who have knowingly ignored the myriad of issues affecting First Nations communities are complicit in the epidemic of suicides affecting these communities.

Early in September, Ontario’s Chief Coroner issued a report on the death by suicide of 16 youth in the Pikangikum First Nation over just two years.

The report recommends improvements in health care, education and social services; like the recommendations of previous well-meaning reports, these will likely not be implemented for lack of funding.

According to Health Canada, suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than for non-Aboriginal youth. Suicide rates among Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average.

The soaring suicide rate in First Nations communities is a result of the appalling social and physical conditions in which First Nations people live: overcrowded, sometimes contaminated environments, usually without adequate access to basic services like sewage systems and running water, lower standards of education and housing, high levels of poverty and unemployment.

All of this fosters a sense of hopelessness and results in high rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, involvement in the sex trade and suicide.

Initiatives to protect communities and prevent these tragic outcomes are under-funded and largely ignored. It is vital that we understand the spiraling rate of suicides in First Nations communities as a tragic and unnecessary symptom of the white hegemonic and racist system in which we live.

Socialists can play a role in building and expanding solidarity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to force the government and its agents to take decisive action and to stop the tragedies.

‘Blame-the- teacher” agenda threatens education

By Tara Ehrcke

The BC Public Schools Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) is threatening to lock out the province’s teachers, in response to job action designed to push contract negotiations forward.

The BCPSEA Board consists of both elected trustee representatives as well as appointed government representatives. They are under the direction of PSEC–the Public Sector Employers’ Council, who are clearly an arm of government and who dictate the terms of bargaining.

When the Liberals first came to power, they enacted special legislation that mandated that teachers be an essential service. In 2002 this government unilaterally legislated teachers back to work and imposed a three-year contract that was not negotiated. In 2005 they again legislated teachers back to work but teachers stayed out regardless.

This government has been intent on stopping any job action by teachers and instead are using a legislative hammer to force an end to disputes. The result has been low morale and frustration.

The BC Teachers’ Federation is conducting a phase one job action. Teachers are not attending evening events or monthly staff meetings. They are not attending the once yearly “meet-the-teacher” or “formal” parent-teacher interviews.

But teachers are continuing to meet with each other and to have department meetings without administration. They are continuing to contact parents and communicate regularly. They are continuing extra curricular activities. They are teaching full time. Many teachers are using the few freed up hours to do additional lesson preparation. Many are using the time for additional one-on-one support for students with particular learning needs. Many are saying that teaching and learning haven’t been better in years.

Teachers are fighting back against the BCPSEA agenda to bring in US-style education “reform.” Proposals include the virtual elimination of seniority, the removal of any due process requirements for teacher evaluations, the ability to force a teacher to move to another job merely with one month’s notice, and the ability to fire a teacher after a single evaluation.

The US “blame-the-teacher” reform agenda is political. It is about commodifying and privatizing education. It is a total rejection of the notion of equity. Instead of quality, equal access, and equal opportunity, it promotes competition, consumer driven models and private service delivery.

The end result? Very good schools that are hyper-competitive for the rich. Pretty awful schools for the poor. Struggling schools for everyone in between. Is this where we want to go?

If you would like to show support, please contact your local school trustees and let them know we need a solution, not to take teachers out of the classroom.

Talking Marxism – Constitutionally speaking: Quebec and the Supremes

By Abbie Bakan

The claim that “constitution fatigue” is a “problem” in Canadian politics serves to silence a key aspect of the oppression of Quebec within the federal system of capitalist rule. In a Supreme Court decision pronounced in August 1998, the highest law of the land ruled that Quebec does not have the right to unilaterally declare its independence from Canada according to the Constitution, nor does it have such a right according to international law.

But even this decision did not go far enough to satisfy the cacophony of bigotry that characterized the Constitutional debates in the 1990s.

The same decision ruled that if a majority of Québécois vote in a referendum to secede, Ottawa and the rest of the provinces would be obliged to negotiate the terms.

The ruling followed the referendum of October of 1995, which came within a hair’s breadth of success for the sovereigntists. Before that outcome, the legality of the referendum process was not questioned.

In fact, one of the main arguments used by the federalists during the referendum was that a “Oui” vote could only mean immediate separation without negotiation. But Quebec, apparently, only had the right to self-determination if it would not be asserted.

 

“Plan B”

The legal challenge was part of the federal government’s package of threats known as “Plan B.” It included the threat to partition Canada and maintain a system of militarized borders in the event of another referendum.

“Plan A” was much less developed. It was based on the aim to win over a majority of Québécois to the benefits of federalism voluntarily.

But with the failure to win an unconditional Supreme Court decision against any road to independence, many commentators at the time thought that Plan B had backfired.

The get-tough strategy for the federalists won the legal battle against Quebec sovereignty, after a fashion. The unrequested compulsion to negotiate in the event of a successful referendum took away the government’s ideological ground, virtually negating the legal victory.

Lucien Bouchard, at the time Premier of Quebec and leader of the pro-sovereigntist Parti Québécois, refused to recognize the entire process.

And fair enough.

The nine judges were appointed by the federal government. And they were ruling according to a Constitution to which no elected government in Quebec had ever consented. True to form, the judges ruled against Quebec’s right to self-determination. And what’s more, the ruling expressly denied that Quebec is an oppressed nation within the federation.

But the entire history of Quebec belies such legalisms. And the mere fact that the Supreme Court was even debating Quebec’s right to secede indicates that there is an issue of national oppression to discuss, despite the interpretation of the judges.

 

Politics

Importantly, however, the legal ruling did not reduce the political debate to a matter of law, which was what then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his supporters had hoped. Instead, the judges threw the issue of negotiating sovereignty back into the court of the politicians.

In the months after the ruling, political debate about Quebec’s right to self-determination intensified.

The Supreme Court’s ruling against Quebec’s right to self-determination was a clear expression of the oppressive character of the federal state.

The leaders of the Parti Québécois and Bloc Québécois were and remain committed to the capitalist system without apology, including all the cuts, union-busting and exploitation that goes with it.  But no genuine unity between workers in Quebec and English Canada is possible if it based on threats and coercion.

And the ruling came along with a caveat that reveals a deep divide within the federalist section of the Canadian ruling class about how to address the sentiment for independence within Quebec.

The bigots in English Canada, including those in the federal Liberals and the then Opposition Reform Party (read: Stephen’s Harper’s alma mater), were cringing about part of the Supreme Court ruling. They had unleashed a process that ruled that negotiation in good faith was to be followed should a clear majority in Quebec choose to secede on the basis of winning a clear referendum question.

The national question in Canada was hardly settled by the Supreme Court ruling. Stéphane Dion, the Liberals’ Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, had already renewed the threats against Quebec. Chrétien had suggested that “a clear majority” to secede would be at least 67 per cent, despite his insistence that the federalists won in the October 1995 referendum by only 0.6 per cent above 50. This was the background to the Clarity Act, ultimately passed into law in 2000.

But the fact that the federalists did not fully have the outcome they hoped for indicated that in one sense the Supreme Court judges were right. It is politics that would determine the outcome of Quebec’s relationship with the rest of Canada in the future.

But what type of politics remains an open question to this day. The growth of Québec solidaire in Quebec, which advances a new type of sovereignty and solidarity with progressive forces in English Canada, poses a challenge. It is not, as the judges perceived, the politics of the elite, but the politics of mass struggle among workers in common cause in Quebec and English Canada that will be decisive.