Sunday, July 28, 2013

POLITICS: Australia turns its back on the desperate

The beachside Sydney suburb of Manly is home to many an Aussie boat-owner. Indeed locals (including the abundance of Kiwi settlers) will tell you that the most enjoyable way to get to Manly from the city is by boat. Manly is also the heartland of Tony Abbott, the conservative Opposition Leader who is also desperate to become Prime Minister.

In the 2010 elections Mr Abbott almost made it to the top job with the slogan of "Stop The Boats". Until some days ago, this mantra should have been Mr Abbott's ticket to the PM's house. Mr Abbott has effectively capitalised, indeed monopolised, on the love-hate relationship many Aussie voters have with boats.

In Mr Abbott's electorate, just about every punter owns a boat. Elsewhere, owning one is just about every bogan's dream. But boats are also a nightmare because they're often the vessels that bring dark-skinned unwashed illegal immigrants to our shores. The 5600 boat people that flooded the country in 2010 represented a huge threat to our migration system and our security compared to, say, the 53,900 harmless overstayers largely from Europe and North America.

So who is to blame for this influx of boat people? Is it the bullets and nooses and torture chambers of the God-awful governments, militias, mullahs, juntas and civil wars these people are fleeing? Is it crazy theocrats like the Taliban our brave troops are fighting in Afghanistan and our American allies are cosying up with in peace talks in Qatar?

Since 2001, Australian politicians have had a simple answer. The blame for the influx of asylum seekers lay with the asylum seekers and the people who smuggle them here. Boat people are "queue jumpers". People smugglers, often former asylum seekers themselves, are a bunch of crooks.

Mr Abbott's solution - send in the navy to turn any boats around so they can go back to where they came from. Almost always that means Indonesia. Too bad for Mr Abbott that many Indonesian leaders find this approach inhumane and impractical. And Indonesia knows our Opposition will take their opposition seriously.

Now Mr Abbott faces a new Prime Minister who is just as ruthless. A few days ago, Kevin Rudd signed a deal with Peter O'Neill, leader of Australia's impoverished northern neighbour and former colony Papua New Guinea. Mr O'Neill has agreed to house unlimited numbers of boat people on the remote northern island of Manus or in other facilities.

Mr Rudd has instructed the Immigration Department to place advertisements in local newspapers declaring "If you come here by boat without a visa YOU WON'T BE SETTLED IN AUSTRALIA". A version of this message in video form is also in Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Sinhalese, Tamil and Vietnamese.

Mr Rudd has effectively closed the door to asylum seekers arriving by boat and has thrown away the key in the direction of Port Moresby. A recent issue of the Economist rates Port Moresby as the 139th most liveable city in the world, below Karachi and Harare. Manus Island would unlikely make any list of liveability. It's true that PNG has at least acceded to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, but they have sought exemptions on providing basic services to refugees such as employment, education and housing.

But that's not all. Catherine Wilson writes in Crikey:
Female asylum seekers will find themselves in a society grappling with very high levels of gender and sexual violence, with inadequate law enforcement. Last year the World Bank reported that violence victimisation rates in PNG were among the highest in the world and violent crimes were on the increase. 

Bleeding heart do-gooders like myself are frothing at the mouth and penning editorials on how Mr Rudd's new policy is tougher and less humane than anything Mr Abbott ever came up with. And that's exactly the message Mr Rudd wants to get out there. On asylum seeker and border protection, Kevin Rudd sounds more like Tony Abbott than Tony Abbott. At least that's how it will look until Mr Rudd wins the election and then reviews the policy in 12 months time.

Retired Brigadier Gary Hogan, a former Australian Defence Attache to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, recently wrote for the Lowy Institute:
A cargo cult mentality is alive and well in PNG and this afforded the necessary levers for the Australian Prime Minister to pull so deftly in his game-changing policy statement, which will almost certainly stem boat arrivals in the near term, until people smugglers and Australian activists are able to find paths around the absolutist decree that even legitimate asylum-seekers will now not find sanctuary in Australia. 

Australia, a huge and sparsely populated island continent whose European incarnation was established by criminals arriving in boats, has turned its back on desperate boat people who have in the past made terrific citizens. Still, our loss could be Kevin Rudd's gain. Which I guess is really all that matters.

 Irfan Yusuf is an Australian lawyer and author. First published in the NZ Herald on Thursday 25 July 2013.

UPDATE: An excellent comment from Dr Susan Harris Rimmer of ANU can be found here.

Friday, July 05, 2013

EGYPT: Trying to understand how liberals could support a military coup

[01] The Egyptian army has moved in, suspending the constitution and removing the democratically elected government of President Mohamad Morsi. The opposition, consisting of a hotch-potch of supporters of the former dictator, some opposition parties and allegedly liberal opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood party (to which Morsi belonged), are cheering the end of democratic rule.

[02] Few Western news channels have broadcast the speech given by Morsi after the army announced he was being deposed. A partial English translation can be read here

[03] The elections which elected Morsi were largely regarded as free and fair. Many of those supportying Morsi's ouster were also supporting dictator Hosni Mubarak's ouster which took place when he resigned in February 2011. Jonathan Steele from The Guardian argues these points further here.

[04] Morsi and his aides have been taken into military custody. The Army has issued arrest warrants for some 300 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Are we now back in the days of President Gamal Abdel Nasser when the MB would be mercilessly hunted down and tortured? Will we be seeing military tribunals set up to try and hang MB members as took place under Hosni Mubarak?

"In the space of one night we are back 60 years," said Amr Darrag, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member and former minister for international co-operation. "All of our leaders are being arrested in the middle of the night. Their houses are being stormed. Their children are being scared. All of our remaining leaders are banned from travel and this is just the start. "Yesterday we were part of the government doing what we thought was best for Egypt. Even if you don't agree with us, this has gone too far." 
[05] In his book Nasser The Last Arab, Palestinian journalist and Arab nationalist Said K Aburish writes about Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser's paranoia about the MB. Aburish further alleges that the MB received support from the United States, who prevailed upon Saudi Arabia to bankroll the MB not just in Egypt but across the Arab world. This was apparently confirmed by the son of Said Ramadan, one of the MB's senior leaders. Jordan's King Hussein provided MB leaders with diplomatic passports, and millions were directly transferred into Said Ramadan's Swiss bank account.

[06] "This is a celebration of the end of democracy" were the words of Channel 4 newsreader Krishnan Guru-Murthy. One protester he later interviewed had these words:

We feel excited. We feel so happy. We don't believe it. We don't believe it. We can do this everytime we have a president that who ignore us, that who doesn't see us, we will not just throw him away but we will kill him.

Liberal sentiments indeed.

[07] And what do the Yanks reckon? David Weigel writes in Slate that the Obama Administration is probably very happy with the outcome.

So we're back to a simulacrum of the 2011 situation. Power hasn't been taken from a secular autocrat. It's been taken from an increasingly religious and autocratic politician, someone who'd won an election but might have lost to a unified opposition ... No, despite years of "congratulations to Egypt!"-style pablum, this is probably the outcome the administration prefers. It's a mess that removes an unpredictable force right next to Israel, and replaces it with a reliable, undemocratic force.

[08] A New York Times report of 3 July 2013 seeks to explain why the military at first accepted the MB and then why their patience with Morsi wore thin.

Although many in the military distrusted Mr. Morsi’s Islamist background — the Brotherhood had been outlawed before the revolution — they welcomed his inauguration in June 2012 as an exit from the accountability of governing. Mr. Morsi also granted two key demands: squashing the possibility of postrevolutionary prosecutions of military officials for Mubarak-era crimes and passing a Constitution that excused the military budget from parliamentary oversight. That, plus the perception that Brotherhood members were at least competent and disciplined managers, appeared to give the military confidence that the Islamist group would be a worthy partner.
Apparently the army became upset with the economic stagnation and then protests in the streets. I'm not sure if an army is equipped to enforce desirable economic policy.

[09] The same NYT report ends with this perceptive remark:

... analysts said the opposition was na├»ve in cheering the military’s return to power as a step in the postrevolutionary transition to democracy. “The liberals and the revolutionaries are too quick to hop into bed with the military — it is not their friend,” said Mr. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. “The most important thing from the military’s perspective is preserving its place as the locus of power and influence in the system.”

To be continued ...