“When Politicians Failed to Agree on Conducting the Country’s Affairs, the Quartet Helped Them.”

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The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet

Congratulations Tunisia! We were many who were overwhelmed by joy when the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet scored the – Swedish! – Nobel Peace Prize of 2015 a few days ago. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel!

Now, what does a Tunisian person think of this? My friend Firas, who usually is happy to share his ideas about politics, especially the Tunisian ones, gave me his ideas, in a typical Tunisian style of mixing English with French vocabulary. He was, for once, very optimistic. A trait that is not very common among Middle Eastern and North African people nowadays.

He is happy to say that the quartet deserves it:

“They negotiated for a year in order to take country to the end of the tunnel. 2012 and 2013 were tough years. Radicals were in the government, economy was down and terrorism and unemployment up. The Nobel Peace lauréates managed to make a deal, through dialogue that allowed peaceful power shift.

They lobbied and conducted a dialogue that almowed power shift from mainly islamist government to a next one made of technocrats. This lowered social tensions… Each part of this quartet represented a part of the society. When politicians failed to agree on conducting country’s affairs, the quartet helped them.”

Firas says that the quartet helped in avoiding dictatorship and power vacuum, and points out that they negotiated around nine months to facilitate the power shift to a technocrat government and to prepare for the first democratic election:

“They negotiated around nine months the power shift to technocrat government, a non-politicised one whose mission is to keep the government afloat, and prepare for the first democratic election that will bring first democratically elected government.”

I share Firas’ hopefulness too. This quartet helped Tunisia in avoiding the fate of Egypt and Libya: where sectarian tensions has taken over and terrorism replaces politics. These days I think we should celebrate the victory over terrorism, or as the player would put it: Dialogue vs Conflict: 1-0.

Photo credit: cnn.com

I’m a True Swedish Patriot – You’re Not

Sweden in the summer

Election time in Sweden is coming on September 14 and I’m abroad on a humanitarian mission as I usually am. Last minute it suddenly turned out I hadn’t the possibility to vote at the Swedish embassy in the country where I am. I desperately called and e-mailed the Swedish embassy and asked them to send me the voting material – they made an exception and sent it by private mail to my office. I taped together an envelope with my vote and sent it by DHL to Sweden for 40 USD, eternally grateful that it had worked out, not regretting the 40 USD it had cost me. I will do anything for my country, because I love my country.

I love my country because of many things. I love it because of the weather: in Southern Sweden the weather is mild and rainy in the winters which I love as I hate snow, crisp and sunny in the springs and the short summers are, despite being short, always provided with some sunny days.

I love it because of the clean beaches and the sea, the big, clean parks with fountains and lakes.

I love it because of the social welfare system. I have been unemployed many times between my missions and I always had an income so that I could pay my rent and afford food, because of the unemployment benefits I received. We have public daycares, schools, hospitals, health clinics, psychological care  – all to no or minimum cost. We have decent homes for homeless people, drug addicts and asylum seekers. As long as I live in Sweden I will never have to be afraid of living on the street or not afford health care or school for my kids. I love paying tax to my country as I see the good that comes out of it and since I love my country.

I love it because of the diversity. I have friends from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Liberia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Gaza, Greece, Pakistan, Bolivia, France, UK and Sweden. We have clubs in my city playing dancehall, hiphop, Arabic music, Persian music, singersongwriter evenings, pop, hard rock, electro, classical music, klezmer. An addicted traveller like me will never feel bored in my homecountry.

I spent all this effort and money to vote as I love my country and I want to keep the good things with my country and see it develop. I am a true Swedish patriot since I love my country as it is. You Swedish nationalists, Sverigedemokraterna and Svenskarnas parti, who are candidates for the upcoming national elections, don’t. You’re striving for a Sweden that never existed. A Sweden where people are no longer safe. I’m a true and proud Swedish patriot loving my country for all that it is – you’re not.

Photo copyright: Sweden and the Middle East Views

Can Iraq’s Government Handle ISIS Without Becoming Oppressors Themselves?

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Hayder Hamzoz

Isn’t it sad that the supporters for the country of Iraq are constantly working against the odds? With the frightening delevopment of the ISIS terrorists, Iraq has once again taken several steps back from potential stability and coexistance – 11 years after the outbreak of the war they didn’t start themselves.

Now the Americans are out and Iraq is left on their own to fight against the dark powers that seem overwhelmingly strong. Do they have the capacity to resist? I asked my friend, the human rights activist Hayder Hamzoz, how he saw the situation. He is coordinator of Iraqi Network for Social Media, a community for bloggers and citizen journalists in Iraq, and he has been very active in promoting development and human rights through social media. He sees dangers not only in the threats of ISIS but in how the Iraqi government is handling the situation:

The situation now is very bad outside Baghdad like in Diyala, Mosul, Kirkuk, Alanbar, and Salahaldeen,” he says. “The problem is that a lot of fake news are coming from ISIS through social media and we’re facing that through the trust news from the citizen there under the hashtag #insm_iq. 

This can bring many potential dangers for us (activists, my comment), like they can say you are supporting the ISIS terrorists because you don’t have direct tweets to support the army, this comes from the government. Also, from ISIS they will attack us at least in social media, unless they have group in Baghdad to follow us, because the community knows us, because our sharing about the daily life in Baghdad and other provinces, and they share the fake news. Also, from government’s side again, since we’re teaching the activists how to remove the banners from the banned social media; from the governments perspective we are doing something illegal. 

Can Iraq’s government handle the threat of the terrorists without becoming oppressors themselves? The challenge has two sides. I hope the activists won’t give up.

Photo: Copyright Hayder Hamzoz

“I Am Very Happy Today Because I Believe in Change” – on the Iraqi Elections

Dina Najem

On the evening of the Iraqi elections yesterday my Facebook newsfeed was filled with Iraqi friends and aquintances who happily showed their ink coloured fingers on snapshots uploaded from smartphones. Iraq has been tormented by more violence the last weeks before the elections – still so many Iraqis seemed happy and hopeful.

I caught myself thinking, when was the last time I had a snapshot of myself on election day? That was a long time ago. The last years I have been so worried by the increasing intolerance in Sweden that I haven’t enjoyed the moment of voting.

I asked Dina Najem, women’s rights activist in Baghdad whom I previously interviewed for my blog, on her thoughts about the election and the future. She answered:

We hope in this elections we vote for new faces to be in our new parlement. We hope that they can hear our voices and we want a new Iraq. We want to build the future and change our country from the war to the new Iraq that can be developing and educating. The outcome will be better for us because we need to change and we need to achive our dream. I am very happy today because I believe in change, and all the Iraqi youth want that change.

With such a hope for the future it’s hard to stay pessimistic. I’ll borrow some of the Iraqi courage this September, when our next election is due.

Photo credit: Dina Najem

What Iraqis Think About Sweden

Irakier i sverigeSince the American invasion and the following gradual collapse of Iraq, many Iraqis has applied for asylum in Sweden and in 2007 constituted the largest group of asylumseekers among the many different nationalities that applied.

In my city Malmö, sometimes called “Little Baghdad”, many Iraqis have settled and formed their own communities. In small shops in the middle of our city you can now find things like halal meat, wonderful carrot-marmelade with 80% sugar (that Swedish health freaks would report to the police if they could) and other products that I would find in my local baqala in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. Globalization is a great thing when you can find your favourite marmelade from another part of the world in your own hometown.

Host communities usually has opinions about newcomers, but I think the other way around can be more interesting. Iraq I dare to say is quite the antithesis of Sweden: a large country with a weak central state, where religion plays a major role for many, hospitality is highly valued and your family is the main social network to rely on. The clash is quite big for some – Sweden being very secular with a strong legal system where many people can feel controlled by the authorities; from the housing market to the humiliating procedures at the unemployment agency. If I ask though I might not receive the true answer – critizicing someone’s home country being such a taboo for most people. But what does Iraqis really think about Sweden?

A while ago I joined this interesting Facebook page, “Iraqis in Sweden“, to see what was going on. The group is nicely illustrated by a Swedish and an Iraqi flag intertwined, with updates in both languages. On the page news about Sweden and Iraq are posted, often in an informative way about Sweden. One of managers of the page, Mohammad, tells me that the aim of the page was to create a meeting point for Iraqis in Sweden/Europe and that the group aims to serve people who might need help in Sweden, for example legal assistance or to rent a flat. Quite a nice idea, isn’t it, especially if you think about the many hate groups online, dedicated to bring down other people?

Checking the updates, one post caught my attention: “What advantages/disadvantages are there in the Swedish culture/society do you think?” The answers to this post arrived quickly.

“That everyone pretends to be PERFECT while they’re worth nothing!” one man writes, the comment getting three likes.

Someone replies:

“There is no disadvantages everyone goes his own way, and there’s nothing better than the Swedish society!!” Two exclamation marks, 15 likes.

Other people add upp to the bad list: the politicans, the wheather, there is no summer, it’s hard to find a job. Then another one, the profile picture showing the face of a young woman in a hijab, comes up with a long, reflective post:

“There are both advantages and disadvantages in each society and this is the case for the Swedish society. But I think that the advantages in the Swedish society are more than the disadvantages (…) The RESPECT, FREEDOM, EQUALITY (social), HELPFUL etc… The disadvantages are that parents have some problems raising their children here since the parents wants to raise them according to their traditions/religion. This often leads to a big problem that in its turn is a big disadvantage!! Me myself I have all love and respect for SWEDEN”

Who knew that such a subject could bring on such strong feelings? I wouldn’t, if Ihadn’t found this page. Or as a post reads when scrolling up to another heated discussion: “Do you think you can say anything just because now you’re in Sweden?”

Well on this page, obviously yes. And what better is, everyone gets to share their views without censorship or feeling held back. How I love the dynamics of the diversity sometimes. In Iraq or in Sweden.

Photo credit: Irakier i Sverige