Arab Gulf

RHACEL SALAZAR PARREÑAS, Unfree:Migrant Domestic Work in Arab States (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2021)

My review of Salazar Parreñas’s Unfree is now published in Mashriq & Mahjar.

I hope it’s able to convey how important is reading this book, but also how critical I am about some of its aspects…

You can read it open access here:

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Humanitarianism: Keywords, edited by Antonio De Lauri (September 2020)

This is the first humanitarian dictionary for colleagues and practitioners in the field! And it’s open access for everyone.

I contributed with the entries ‘livelihoods’ and ’emergency’.

You can download the file by accessing this link:

Categories: Africa, Arab Gulf, Arabia Saudita, Asia, Australia, Bahrain, Central America, Egitto, Egypt, EmiratiArabiUniti, Europe, Giordania, Golfo Arabo, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Israele, Italy, Jordan, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Levant, Libano, Medio Oriente, Middle East, Nord Africa, North Africa, Palestina, Palestine, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Siria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, United States, USA, Yemen | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

الندوة النقاشية: مقاومة التطبيع في الخليج: ما العمل؟

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Intervista a RadioBlackout (May, 2019)

lo spettro dei rifugiati sulla crisi libanese

lo spettro dei rifugiati sulla crisi libanese

Scritto da su 11 Maggio 2019

Dall’inizio della guerra civile siriana i libanesi hanno assistito a un vero e proprio esodo di profughi verso il proprio Paese. Il Libano è grande come l’Abruzzo, ha una popolazione di quattro milioni e mezzo di persone e ospita un milione e mezzo di siriani che si aggiungono ai 250 mila palestinesi, e alle migliaia di persone arrivate negli ultimi anni da Etiopia, Filippine, Bangladesh e Sri Lanka già presenti sul territorio. Il Libano non ha firmato la convenzione di Ginevra, dunque non riconosce lo status di rifugiato. Assimilare un milione e mezzo di siriani nella società libanese non è pensabile, anche perché il Libano deve fare i conti con una situazione economica che va peggiorando, il 30 per cento dei cittadini vive in condizioni di estrema povertà, in un Paese che stenta a garantire elettricità 24 ore al giorno.

Nel frattempo, il malcontento tra i libanesi continua a crescere e i rifugiati sono spesso additati come la causa principale della tragica situazione economica che sta mettendo in ginocchio l’intero Paese. La pressione per rimandare i rifugiati in Siria è sempre più forte, sempre più frequenti i casi di incendi dolosi negli insediamenti informali.

Il fenomeno migratorio è stato finora regolato dalla discussa legge Kafala, un sistema di controllo diffuso nei paesi del Golfo che permette ai governi di delegare la supervisione e la responsabilità dei migranti a compagnie o privati cittadini, concedendogli una serie di poteri legali. Una volta entrati nel Paese, ai lavoratori viene ritirato il passaporto, la loro permanenza legale è strettamente vincolata al contratto stipulato con la compagnia che li ha ingaggiati, senza il cui permesso la possibilità di movimento è praticamente nulla.

In collegamento dal Libano Estella Carpi, antropologa sociale dell’University College of London, si occupa di migrazione forzata, assistenza umanitaria e politiche dell’identità nel Levante arabo e in Turchia.


Categories: Arab Gulf, Golfo Arabo, Lebanon, Libano, Siria, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South (May, 2019)

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South

In this blog post I would like to share my personal experiences of carrying out qualitative research in what contemporary scholars call the “Global South” (Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) and the “Global North” (Australia and the United Kingdom). To convey my message clearly, I adopt the classical political geography of “South” and “North” with the intention of neither confirming these narrow categories nor of universalizing my personal experiences but in order to work towards an honest sociology of knowledge through such peculiar experiences.

In particular, I discuss what I think are some of the emerging behavioral and ethical tendencies in today’s research economy and its main methodologies. On the one hand, the reluctance in the “Southern” environments in recognizing their own tendency to embrace predominant ways of producing knowledge. On the other, the reluctance of “Northern” research entities to acknowledge their own positionality within the global scenario – that is, accepting the fact of conducting research as outsiders and, above all, the sociological harm of pretending localism. The result of these two tendencies is, from my perspective, a globalized impoverished attention to factual awareness, which depends on the personal involvement of researchers in the context they study and the cultivation of the capability to build and rebuild a continual relationship with the subjects and the places studied beyond the duration of fieldwork research.

The “Southern” tendency to perceive the practice of producing research as antithetical or substantially different to the North consistently builds on the universal romanticization of the research produced in the Global South, cutting across the North and the South. Indeed, while the research and academic institutions that I worked for in the Global South tended to believe that their fieldwork quality standards were inherently higher, the fact of being at the mercy of external – and unstable – sources of funding often endangered their existence and alternative ways of working. In these circumstances, fieldwork mostly took place in relatively small timeframes and, likewise, theories needed to be quickly wrapped up, making it difficult to identify any effective counter-culture of knowledge production. Studies on publishing locally and perishing globally have importantly highlighted the material constraints of localizing research. While “Southern” knowledge is barely known and mentioned by North-produced researchers (although it often marks significantly several fields of studies), it is also important to add that, in my own experiences across the Arab world, large segments of upper and middle classes tend to receive their postgraduate education and establish their scholarship in Northern institutions, thereby being trained according to Northern criteria while trying to preserve their reputation of being local researchers. In similar ways, Southern institutions often delegate fieldwork to research assistants who struggle to receive intellectual acknowledgment. (The same acknowledgment that many “Southern” research institutions have been looking for in the international arena, still dominated by Global North’s epistemologies and funding sources). In this regard, I have seen no co-authorships offered to research assistants, who undergo processes of alienation similar to those recently discussed in the context of the institutions of the Global North. Likewise, I have witnessed similarly exploitative relationships which seek to build knowledge upon the anonymity and the belittling of an underpaid workforce, whatever the latter’s passport is.

Despite acknowledging the partially ethnic character of some of these power dynamics – such as European academics versus local researchers in the Arab Levant, mostly when the former lack the necessary linguistic skills and in-depth knowledge of the research settings – I would like to emphasize some nuances. While the global archetype of neoliberal academia certainly does not stem from Southern institutions, largely due to colonial legacies, in my experience I have identified hierarchical and alienating structures of research-making across different cultural patterns of knowledge production.

Dauntingly, ethical research and decolonial methodologies are becoming tokenistic worldwide, turning into a further disenfranchisement of diversely vulnerable researched subjects, such as refugees. In this scenario, the Global North currently promotes itself as a pioneer advocate of ethical research – a phenomenon which has led to a proliferation of publications on the topic, rather than finally aiming for a radical transformation of research and for the uprooting of the vulnerabilities of the researched.

With no intention to bury unequal historical relationships, the intrinsic “non-ethicness” of such structural deficiencies needs to be observed across Norths and Souths. To ethnographers, if quality fieldwork means collecting relevant data, it also needs to mean collecting what matters at a local level and in an appropriate way. Contextual relevance and cultural appropriateness inevitably require generous timeframes. Doing less but long-term research and paying under-explored forms of respect to the researched may be the way to go.

Moreover, a pressing question may center on the tyranny of grants and funding, which is said to dictate the design of today’s projects. To what extent is this the cause of such an unacknowledged sociology of failure in academic research? The present tendency is to design methods that involve an extremely large number of interviews and what I would call the “participatory approach fever”. The result of a misinterpretation of what “participation” should mean is subcontracting scientific evidence to researched subjects overburdened with theoretical expectations and over-theorizations, a tendency which seldom turns out to provide sound empirical evidence. In this vein, Northern-led research not only tends to romanticize the South, which would not be new in postcolonial scholarship, but increasingly invites the South to actively participate in its own romanticization. Affected by “participatory approach fever”, many scholars in the Global North feel urged to depict their work as local, while also missing the fact that sharing their own conscious positionality vis-à-vis the researched would instead be an invaluable point of departure in the effort to avoid ethical and scientific failure. Indeed, such a self-acknowledgment would finally contribute to nuancing the multiple cultures in which research design, data collection, writing, and knowledge production are embedded – cultures that are hardly definable within the categories of “North” and “South”.

In light of these considerations, I ask myself how ethnographic studies can survive without being sociologically relevant and, at times, even culturally appropriate. Subcontracting the production of knowledge either to local researchers or to the researched themselves is certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet it looks unfeasible for many researchers across the globe to dispose of proper time and funding to conduct research over a longer timeframe and develop a localized understanding of the contexts they wish to study. I identified a similar issue when I realized that some researchers who have a poor command of the local language shy away from hiring an interpreter due to a lack of material means or because they are in an environment that frowns upon social science researchers who lack contextual skills. While peacefully sharing one’s own limits and assets would potentiate empirical analysis overall, everyone wants to be the “voice of the Global South”. Instead, no one wants to be the Global North, impeding a honest sociology of knowledge. Thus, how do we decolonize sociological and anthropological knowledge and, at the same time, the sociology of knowledge, if the drivers of epistemological coloniality, across Norths and Souths, have managed to make themselves invisible?

Categories: Africa, Arab Gulf, Asia, Australia, Bahrain, Central America, Egypt, Europe, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Middle East, North Africa, Palestine, Play, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Siria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, United States, USA, Yemen | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guerre al di là del Mediterraneo: ecco perché la religione non c’entra (by Estella Carpi and Enrico Bartolomei, April 2016)

Guerre in Siria, Iraq e Palestina: ecco perché la religione non c’entra

“Guerre in Siria, Iraq e Palestina: ecco perché la religione non c’entra”

Dalla Siria all’Iraq, dall’Afghanistan alla Palestina, passando per il Libano e i tumulti sull’altra sponda del Mediterraneo: il discorso confessionale ha oscurato le cause socio-economiche dei movimenti di protesta fornendo ai regimi autoritari il pretesto per presentarsi come garanti dell’unità nazionale.
MONDOULTIME NOTIZIE 29 APRILE 2016 17:16 di Davide Falcioni

Articolo a cura di Enrico Bartolomei e Estella Carpi *

Dall’inizio dei movimenti di contestazione nel mondo arabo, che hanno rovesciato regimi pluridecennali in apparenza incrollabili e rimesso in discussione gli equilibri di potere nella regione, nei principali media e nei circoli degli esperti di politica estera si è affermata la tendenza a spiegare le cause delle proteste attraverso le lenti del confessionalismo, per cui i fattori che determinano la vita politica nel mondo arabo-musulmano sarebbero le tradizioni religiose nella loro irriducibile differenza. Il discorso confessionale ha oscurato le cause socio-economiche dei movimenti di protesta, mascherando le ambizioni regionali delle potenze straniere e fornendo ai regimi autoritari il pretesto per presentarsi come garanti dell’unità nazionale.

Questa griglia di lettura della realtà ha radici profonde che vanno oltre il mondo arabo, ed è stata alimentata da una teoria molto influente delle relazioni internazionali inaugurata dal politologo americano Samuel Huntington, che ha avanzato la tesi dello “scontro di civiltà”, spiegando come alla base dei conflitti post-Guerra Fredda ci siano in primo luogo le differenze culturali e religiose tra i vari popoli. Questa visione semplicistica e fondamentalista degli eventi storici, per cui i gruppi sociali vengono definiti in base alle appartenenze etniche, religiose o comunitarie, non solo ignora la molteplicità dei fattori alla base dei conflitti contemporanei, ma anche l’uso politico che abili “manipolatori del confessionalismo” fanno di queste differenze per difendere i propri interessi.

La grande narrazione confessionale
Dopo gli attentati dell’11 settembre 2001, la guerra globale al “terrorismo islamico” – inaugurata dagli Stati Uniti con l’invasione dell’Afghanistan e dell’Iraq – è diventata la copertura usata dalle classi dirigenti di vari regimi per eliminare gruppi insorgenti, movimenti separatisti o di liberazione. All’indomani degli attentati, l’allora primo ministro israeliano Ariel Sharon paragonò il leader di al-Qaeda Osama Bin Laden al presidente palestinese Yasser Arafat, presentando l’invasione militare della Cisgiordania durante la Seconda Intifada come necessaria per “smantellare le infrastrutture del terrorismo”. Lo stesso discorso viene ora riproposto, questa volta nei confronti del partito politico palestinese Hamas, prima di ogni operazione militare nella Striscia di Gaza. Il nuovo clima politico post-11 settembre permise anche al presidente russo Vladimir Putin di ridefinire la seconda guerra cecena come guerra contro il terrorismo, giustificando agli occhi della comunità internazionale la brutale repressione della guerriglia cecena.

Recentemente, il primo ministro Benyamin Netanyahu non ha esitato a strumentalizzare l’ondata di razzismo e islamofobia seguita agli attentati di Parigi, equiparando il “terrorismo dell’ISIS” al “terrorismo palestinese” nel tentativo di convincere i dirigenti e l’opinione pubblica europea che la lotta di liberazione palestinese è mossa dallo stesso odio anti-ebraico e anti-occidentale che viene generalmente attribuito al salafismo jihadista.

I manipolatori delle identità confessionali
Lungi dall’essere entità omogenee con caratteristiche immutabili, le identità confessionali ed etniche sono costruzioni sociali, vale a dire il prodotto storico di conflitti tra vari gruppi sociali che hanno utilizzato le diversità tra le varie componenti sociali nella lotta per il controllo di risorse materiali. Le appartenenze confessionali nei conflitti sono state strumentalizzate politicamente in primis dai manipolatori delle identità, come le classi dirigenti o i gruppi in competizione per la costruzione del consenso o per il controllo delle risorse. Questi principali attori manipolatori sono a loro volta il prodotto di una complessa relazione con la costruzione della loro stessa identità e garanzia di potere politico. Pertanto, il discorso confessionale è pienamente impiegato nei rapporti di potere ed è spesso elaborato come razionalizzazione d’interessi politici e strutture di dominio.

La strategia coloniale del divide et impera
Il confessionalismo è servito a legittimare la spartizione coloniale europea del Medio Oriente in seguito alla prima guerra mondiale. Presentare i conflitti nel mondo arabo-musulmano come il risultato dell’eterna lotta tra sunniti e sciiti, dispensa l’occidente dalle sue responsabilità storiche di protettore o rivale di questo o quel gruppo religioso o etnico. Difatti, la Francia e la Gran Bretagna hanno cinicamente sfruttato queste diversità per assicurarsi il controllo geopolitico delle risorse energetiche e la sicurezza domestica nella regione, ridisegnando arbitrariamente i confini, creando entità statali artificiali e ostacolando l’emergere di movimenti e partiti multiconfessionali e transnazionali (come quello comunista e panarabista baathista, o nasserista) che ponevano al centro delle loro rivendicazioni l’emancipazione politica ed economica piuttosto che le appartenenze comunitarie, religiose o etniche.
in foto: Israeli security forces walk in the Jerusalem’s Old City near the al–Aqsa mosque
In altri casi, le potenze straniere hanno affidato alle “minoranze confessionali” le leve di un potere parziale rendendolo solo complementare agli interessi esteri. Ad esempio, in seguito alle lotte che i drusi del Monte Libano sotto l’egida britannica conducevano nel XIX secolo contro la componente cristiano-maronita – supportata dalla Francia – il confessionalismo fu istituzionalizzato nel sistema politico (1920) con la creazione dello stato libanese su base elitaria cristiano-maronita, contribuendo a innescare tensioni che hanno dato origine a decenni di guerra civile. In Palestina, la Gran Bretagna s’impegnò con la Dichiarazione di Balfour (1917) a sostenere il progetto sionista di creare uno Stato ebraico, favorendo l’immigrazione di coloni ebrei europei. In Siria, le truppe coloniali francesi arruolarono le minoranze, tra cui gli alawiti, per sedare la rivolta nazionalista araba. La setta alawita venne poi dichiarata ramo della corrente sciita negli anni Settanta a seguito di un avvicinamento politico tra il presidente siriano alawita Hafez al-Asad e l’Imam sciita Musa as-Sadr. A seguito dell’attuale conflitto siriano e l’escalation della violenza attuale, è significativo che un’élite di esponenti intellettuali della comunità alawita abbia dichiarato un distanziamento dal regime di Asad e quindi la propria indipendenza confessional-clericale dalla corrente sciita dell’Iran e del Hezbollah libanese, strenui difensori del regime siriano.

Il confessionalismo e l’autoritarismo delle élite arabe
L’utilizzo delle identità religiose o etniche a fini politici costituisce tuttora un capitolo importante nella strategia del divide et impera messa in atto da diversi attori politici, così come lo era al tempo della dominazione coloniale europea.

L’intervento USA in Iraq nel 2003, finalizzato all’instaurazione di un governo sciita per rispecchiare l’appartenenza confessionale di gran parte della popolazione, come anche la lotta per l’egemonia regionale tra Iran e Arabia Saudita, hanno rafforzato la retorica delle identità comunitarie, fomentando in particolare lo scontro binario tra sunniti e sciiti. I movimenti di contestazione popolare nel mondo arabo, incentrati su rivendicazioni di democratizzazione dei sistemi politici e di giustizia sociale, sono stati anch’essi deragliati sui binari del confessionalismo – se non dall’interferenza straniera – da regimi autoritari, élite al potere, o quei gruppi che vogliono ritagliarsi una fetta di legittimità, ergendosi a difensori di questa o quella comunità.
L’uso politico della religione ha inoltre permesso ai regimi autoritari di contrastare la creazione di fronti unitari, agitando lo spettro di una sanguinosa guerra civile e infondendo dunque un ampio desiderio di stabilità da raggiungere a qualsiasi costo. In Siria, la trasformazione della rivolta popolare in guerra civile a sfondo confessionale ha permesso al regime di Bashar al-Asad di giustificare la repressione militare dei manifestanti, descritti come terroristi tout court, così come alle potenze regionali come Iran da un lato, e vari Paesi del Golfo arabo dall’altro, di intervenire nel conflitto. A loro volta, le milizie sciite o sunnite si sono spesso presentate come difensori ufficiali delle rispettive comunità religiose. Formazioni jihadiste come il Fronte an-Nusra e lo “Stato Islamico” hanno proclamato di voler riscattare la comunità sunnita oppressa dal “regime eretico alawita” e dai suoi alleati sciiti.

Intimorite dinanzi alla prospettiva di un sollevamento popolare, anche le monarchie del Golfo hanno riproposto la tesi della lotta religiosa tra sunniti e sciiti per impedire il diffondersi di movimenti di contestazione interni. L’Arabia Saudita, ad esempio, ha potuto giustificare l’intervento militare in Bahrein presentando il movimento di protesta locale come una rivolta sciita orchestrata dall’Iran. Il governo del Bahrein, a sua volta, ha strumentalizzato le proprie politiche migratorie accogliendo solo rifugiati siriani sunniti – seppur in numero esiguo – pur di contrastare i sollevamenti popolari interni a maggioranza sciita. Il paradigma confessionale è stato utilizzato anche per liquidare le forze del cambiamento rivoluzionario e quindi restaurare quelle del vecchio regime. Il colpo di stato del generale Abdel Fattah as-Sisi nel luglio 2013 è stato presentato come necessario per impedire l’islamizzazione forzata dell’Egitto ad opera dei Fratelli Musulmani e i loro tentativi di provocare una guerra civile.

Dal discorso confessionale ai flussi migratori in Europa
All’interno di confini più simbolici che territoriali, le diverse componenti sociali han sentito il bisogno di definirsi come diverse l’una dall’altra e di reclamare diritti o adempiere ai doveri civili definendosi in termini identitari, piuttosto che come parte costituente di uno stato sociale che garantisce diritti e servizi di prima necessità.

Ma in che modo il discorso confessionale dello scontro di civiltà tocca le sponde europee? In nome della sicurezza contro la minaccia globale del terrorismo islamico, una serie di legislazioni anti-terrorismo limitano le libertà civili e i diritti fondamentali della persona. Anche negli stati che si definiscono democratici, lo “stato di diritto” lascia progressivamente il posto allo “stato d’emergenza”. Il discorso confessionale serve anche per giustificare la gestione militare e securitaria dei fenomeni migratori. Nella propaganda islamofobica e xenofoba, ormai non più appannaggio esclusivo dell’estrema destra, le categorie dei migranti e dei richiedenti asilo vengono sempre più associate al pericolo dell’invasione islamica, che metterebbe in discussione la purezza dei valori cristiani e occidentali, e alla minaccia del terrorismo jihadista. L’equazione clandestino-musulmano-terrorista diventa sempre più accettabile agli occhi dell’opinione pubblica europea.

L’uso di identità confessionali ed etniche per spiegare eventi storici, politici, e addirittura psicologici, è di per sé un atto fondamentalista. In questo senso, le violenze di oggi su scala globale e la convinzione che i flussi migratori siano un qualcosa da accogliere o rifiutare, fanno parte di una lotta all’affermazione di valori e principi propri che si vogliono sancire come universali.

Mentre il profugo o il migrante sono concepiti come elementi in eterna lotta, gli aiuti umanitari sono standardizzati, spesso tradendo la diversità dei bisogni dei beneficiari. La sofferenza dell’Altro, come la sua minacciosa violenza, sono rese omogenee e indivisibili. Quando episodi di violenza spezzano la normalità su cui son disegnate le nostre vite quotidiane, e quando tali episodi sono relazionabili a fenomeni transnazionali generati o facilitati da migrazioni o rivendicazioni di stampo confessionale – prevalentemente islamico – i clandestini che sbarcano, denigrati esclusivamente secondo la loro matrice identitaria confessionale, vengono meccanicamente associati al fallimento delle politiche europee e alle reti islamiche estremiste transnazionali.

In altre parole, la paura delle società occidentali di tradursi in spazi a rischio imprevedibile – cosa che finora ha prevalentemente turbato le vite umane nel “Sud globale” – è arginata tramite avanzate tecnologie di sicurezza e sorveglianza, nonché prontamente consolata da mezzi informativi e di assistenza sociale che tendono a mantenere i confini identitari del “diverso”: l’assimilazione o il riconoscimento dell’eterogeneità di quest’ultimo diluirebbero troppo la sua presenza all’interno delle società di arrivo.

Il “diverso”, da una parte, è in lotta col proprio simile nel Sud globale, in quanto parte di un mosaico identitario che va “sanato” da principi e diritti universali, propugnati dal nostro lato del Mediterraneo. Il “diverso” diventa invece uniformabile ai suoi simili quando il Sud globale si sposta verso il Nord globale, ponendo quest’ultimo al cospetto di nuove rivendicazioni. Mentre ci proponiamo di curare e arginare l’emergenza negli stati mediorientali attraverso agenzie umanitarie in loco, l’insicurezza imprevedibile alla quale siamo di fronte ora – la stessa che pone sullo stesso piano gli immaginari “Nord” e “Sud” – finisce per rafforzare questi totalitarismi identitari: i veri mali del nostro tempo.

* Enrico Bartolomei ha conseguito il dottorato di ricerca in storia dell’area euro-mediterranea all’Università di Macerata. E’ tra gli autori di Gaza e l’industria israeliana della violenza (DeriveApprodi 2015) e tra i curatori dell’edizione italiana di L’occupazione israeliana (Diabasis 2016) di Neve Gordon.

Estella Carpi ha conseguito un dottorato in antropologia sociale alla University of Sydney (Australia). Attualmente consulente di ricerca per la New York University (Abu Dhabi) e Lebanon Support (Beirut), si occupa principalmente di Levante arabo.

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Categories: Arab Gulf, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestina, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

In solidarietà con Ashraf Fayadh

Featured Image -- 2082#FreeAshraf

Riprendo le parole di Chiara Comito di “editoria araba” per offrire un riassunto sulla vicenda del poeta palestinese Ashraf Fayadh. Condivido anche l’elenco degli appuntamenti italiani di quest’oggi che fanno parte della campagna internazionale Life and Freedom for Ashraf Fayadh – Wordwide reading, oggi in contemporanea in 43 paesi per parlare del caso dell’artista condannato alla pena capitale in Arabia Saudita.

Pubblicherò anche le poesie tradotte in italiano da Jolanda Guardi, Silvia Moresi, Caterina Pinto, Simone Sibilio, Alessandro Buontempo, e Aldo Nicosia

Chi volesse leggere la sentenza di primo grado contro Ashraf, diventata condanna di morte, può farlo qui (link inizialmente pubblicato su “letture arabe” di Jolanda Guardi).


Del caso di Ashraf ha scritto Chiara Comito qualche giorno fa su Internazionale:

“Poeta, artista e curatore d’arte, Ashraf Fayadh da circa due anni si trova in carcere ad Abha, in Arabia Saudita, con l’accusa di apostasia, di offesa alla morale saudita e di aver diffuso idee ateiste con la sua raccolta di poesie intitolata Al taalimat bi al dakhil (Le istruzioni sono all’interno), pubblicata a Beirut nel 2007 dall’editore libanese Dar al Farabi.

Nel novembre del 2015 un tribunale saudita l’ha condannato alla pena di morte per decapitazione, respingendo così il verdetto precedente di un altro tribunale, che gli aveva inflitto quattro anni di detenzione e 800 frustate.

Trasformazioni radicali

Ashraf Fayadh è nato in Arabia Saudita, dove vive e lavora, da una famiglia di origine palestinese. Fa parte del collettivo di artisti anglosauditi Edge of Arabia, che promuove l’arte araba e saudita contemporanea, con cui ha curato la mostraRhizoma alla Biennale di Venezia del 2013. Fayadh è stato anche il curatore di un’altra mostra, Mostly visible, esposta nel 2013 a Jeddah. Mostly visible era un’esposizione indipendente, autoprodotta e creata dal basso, che riuniva una ventina di artisti sauditi dai 18 ai 45 anni e che aveva come obiettivo quello di “promuovere la scena artistica saudita, ancora effervescente e giovane, e far sì che lo sviluppo dell’arte contemporanea in Arabia Saudita diventi mostly visible”, cioè esca dall’ombra.

Ashraf era, ed è tutt’ora, molto conosciuto nel circuito artistico saudita indipendente. Era, ed è conosciuto nella città di Abha, diventata un centro importante per la produzione artistica locale. Su Rhizoma aveva detto: “Il nostro obiettivo è fornire una visione chiara delle trasformazioni radicali vissute dall’arte saudita, che oggi è più in connessione con le sue radici, con una cultura più genuina, rappresentata dalla consapevolezza delle diverse condizioni di vita in Arabia Saudita”.

Le notizie circa i reati di cui è accusato sono confuse, a volte contraddittorie. Secondo l’organizzazione Pen international, che difende gli scrittori e gli intellettuali oggetto di pressioni e minacce, Fayadh sarebbe stato denunciato da un uomo con cui nel 2013 aveva avuto una discussione in un caffè di Abha per questioni artistiche. Sempre secondo Pen, i sostenitori di Fayadh ritengono che il poeta sia stato punito per aver postato su YouTube un video in cui era ripreso un esponente della polizia religiosa saudita che frustava un uomo in pubblico.

Altre accuse lo indicano colpevole del reato di aver intrattenuto relazioni illecite con alcune donne, le cui foto sarebbero state trovate sul suo cellulare. In questo caso Fayadh aveva spiegato che si trattava di foto scattate durante un’esposizione artistica a Jeddah. Secondo l’attivista per i diritti dei migranti Mona Kareem, citata da The Guardian, Ashraf starebbe invece pagando per le sue origini palestinesi”.

(Chiara Comito)

Questa lettura continua qui.


Tutte le poesie tradotte per i reading di oggi le potete leggere nel pdf  scaricabile gratuitamente a questo link.

Le poesie che seguono sono tratte da “Le istruzioni sono all’interno”, di Ashraf Fayadh, Dar al Farabi, Beirut 2007.

Tratto da “In merito al petrolio nel sangue” (Traduzione di Simone Sibilio)

 Globuli neri di petrolio

circolano tra le tue cellule

e riescono a liberarti laddove neanche la tua nausea vi riuscì

che male o danno può mai arrecare il petrolio

se non inquinare l’aria di una miseria che si lascia alle spalle

e il giorno in cui s’anneriranno quei volti

di chi scoprirà un nuovo giacimento

e il tuo cuore si gonfierà

così che dalla tua anima

eromperà petrolio

per il bene comune,

quella, del petrolio sarà la promessa, una promessa esaudita,

la fine.


Le tre leggi della Patria (Traduzione di Silvia Moresi)

Prima legge:

 Ogni Patria pacifica ….o in guerra costante…

Ogni Patria che, giorno dopo giorno,  senza lamentarsi viene calpestata dai tuoi piedi…

diventa nel cuore…qualcosa su cui l’esilio esistenziale non ha influenza…

e che gli toglie importanza.


Rappresentazione (Traduzione di Jolanda Guardi)

Un uomo e una donna che indossa la ‘abaya legale fermi ai piedi

del monte.

Un corvo li osserva dall’alto ed è come vedesse se stesso

allo specchio in compagnia di un uomo che non ama…

Un uomo che non sa che Ibn Firnās era una barzelletta storica

di cui nessuno ride eccetto un corvo che non è obbligato

a sognare di volare!


L’ultima stirpe di rifugiati (Traduzione di Caterina Pinto)


L’asilo: stai in piedi in fondo alla fila

per avere un tozzo di patria.

Stare in piedi: una cosa che faceva tuo nonno… senza conoscerne la ragione!

e il tozzo: tu!

La patria: un tesserino messo dove tieni i soldi.

E i soldi: fogli su cui son raffigurate le immagini dei leader.

E l’immagine: prende il tuo posto fino a che ritorni.

E il ritorno: un essere mitico… che si legge nei racconti della nonna.

Fine della prima lezione.

Mi rivolgo a te perché impari la seconda: qual è… il tuo significato?

Nel giorno del Giudizio… stanno in piedi, nudi.

Mentre voi nuotate in condotti fognari


Scalzi… fa bene ai piedi

ma non fa bene alla terra.


Per voi ergeremo pulpiti… e faremo conferenze.

E la stampa scriverà su di voi in modo decente.

Verrà sviluppato un nuovo composto… per eliminare lo sporco


e solo a metà del prezzo.

Affrettatevi per ottenere metà della quantità.

Perché la crisi idrica è molto grave.



L’elenco dei reading di oggi, città per città, è consultabile sul blog “editoria araba” e sul sito Internet di Amnesty International Italia, che anche ha sostenuto l’iniziativa.

#freeAshraf è l’hashtag se volete condividere foto, video e post degli eventi di oggi sui social media.

Categories: Arab Gulf, Palestine, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Art of Exploitation

(The German version was originally published under a pseudonym in WOZ Die Wochenzeitung. The interviews were carried out in June 2015).

(Abu Dhabi, UAE) Much has been written on the foreign workers who built the New York University (NYU) and are still building the Guggenheim and Louvre museums in Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat island. Reports of human rights violations have prompted NYU to order an independent enquiry into the mistreatment of workers (the Nardello report), which confirmed the abuse of one third of the working force employed in the university’s construction sites, with violations ranging from sub-standard accommodations to payment disputes escalated into forced deportations.

Apart from NYU, the Saadiyat gargantuan cultural enterprises are managed by the State-run Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC). The TDIC took its first steps to ward human rights’ activists in 2009, when it announced an Employement Practices Policy (EPP) aimed at improving the workers’ welfare in Saadiyat. The EPP forbids retaining passports, although the ban is sometimes circumvented by asking laborers to sign a “handover form” allowing companies to keep their documents for “safety reasons”. It also states clearly that, with the exception of temporary staff and arranged exceptions, all the workers hired for TDIC projects should be accommodated in the Saadiyat Accommodation Village (SAV), which hosts up to six employees per room and is fully equipped with recreational facilities. Furthermore, the EPP stipulates that no worker should pay fees to recruitment agencies prior to his arrival in the UAE and, if this occurred, his employers should reimburse him. Finally, it grants foreign laborers the right to return home every year.

On the other hand, the most prominent critical voices on the workers’ conditions have been banned from the UAE: NYU prof. Andrew Ross and artists Ashok Sukumaran and Walid Raad are only some of the blacklisted names. “Artists and professors come attached to these institutions and denying access to them highlights how these projects are not about art, but about influence and power behind a sophisticated facade,” commented in a Skype interview Nicholas McGeehan, the Human Rights Watch Gulf researcher who has been banned from the UAE for his latest report (Feb 2015) on the workers conditions’ in Saadiyat.

A recurrent argument of the Emirati labor policy’s supporters is the unsuitability of Western human rights standards, while ignoring the fact that the Qur’an praises the manumission of slaves; there is thus nothing intrinsically Islamic or Arab in the exploitative kafala system subjecting the workers’ legal status to their employers’ sponsorship.

In a country where investigations are accepted only when they are turned into organized tours, WOZ decided to verify independently the laborers’ conditions in some less known projects in Saadiyat.

This Emirati island has been reclaimed from the sea to convert it into the crown jewel of Abu Dhabi’s touristic industry. While low-paid migrant workers reside in the city centre, most of the luxurious projects targeting wealthy expats and tourists are expanding on reclaimed islands such as Yas, Rim and Saadiyat.

Nonetheless, apart from the NYU campus and a couple of high-end hotels, Saadiyat is still a vast sandy construction site where workers wander around under the scorching sun, shielding their features behind Arab kufiyyat. The museums are scheduled to open in the next five years.

The British Cranleigh boarding school has also set up Abu Dhabi’s largest school campus in Saadiyat: designed over seven hectares of land to accommodate 1600 (three to eighteen-year-old) students, its fees range from 65.000 to 85.000 dhm per year (16.500 to 20.300 chf). Cranleigh opened in 2014, but its facilities are yet to be completed.

In line with the tradition of boarding schools, Cranleigh looks like a gated community for well-off kids pampered by the wide offer of cultural and sport activities on astroturf pitches. In the words of the construction workers, the UAE’s elitarian foreign educational institutions are anonymously ordered spaces. “Each time I pass by the French Sorbonne University [N/A: located in Rim Island], there are no students chatting in front of its gates…Which kind of university is that?!” commented Ravindra (36)[1], an Indian employee of the Emirati Target, a major Arabtec construction firm with 6500 workers and a 1105 billion dhm (449 million chf) yearly turnover. An avid reader of philosophy, Ravindra is financially supporting his wife and their two kids back home.

The main contractor on the Cranleigh site is an Emirati Royal Group company called Tafseer, which counted around 2000 laborers and a turnover of 409 million dhm (104 million) in 2012[2]. The Royal Group conglomerate is chaired by a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family.

WOZ spoke with six South Asian Tafseer employees and all of them had their passports confiscated by the company, a practice which is extremely common for everyone except for the (Western) expats.

All of the Tafseer workers employed in Saadiyat live in the company’s own camp in Rim Island, a structure with ten people per room (the minimum legal standard in the UAE), where there are no recreational facilities despite the related Emirati law. The camp hosts 25.000 workers from different companies. Here rooms are divided according to nationalities in reflection of the UAE’s socio-ethnic cleavages: all workers are aware that their wages are determined by the “value” of their passports in a deeply racialized labor market (for example, the Target employees reported that a Bangladeshi generally earns less than a Pakistani, but more than a Nepali).

The Tafseer camp appears to be a cheaper option than SAV. “What are these workers doing in this camp? The problem is that subcontractors [N/A: and contractors] don’t want to pay for SAV, ” prof. Ross, the NYU academic banned from the UAE, told WOZ in a written interview.

Some laborers were scared or tired, but those who dared to speak out knew very well the misdeeds of Tafseer. “It’s been 2 months since we received our wages, the last time we waited for 3 months,” said Bilal, a 28-year-old Bangladeshi Tafseer employee who has been working on the Cranleigh site for one year and a half.

Christopher is an Indian Christian Target employee in his fifties living in the Tafseer camp, who has already worked in several Gulf countries and considers the UAE the most tolerant towards non-Muslims. He told WOZ about a protest cracked down by the police one month ago, when the Tafseer workers rose up demanding their four-month late wages. Strikes and workers’ protests are illegal in the UAE. The recurrence of Tafseer‘s late payments was further confirmed by a Bangladeshi supplier working for construction firms in Saadiyat.

In the UAE modern slavery blossoms in the same gardens adorning the country’s touristic attractions. Manarat Saadiyat is located in front of Cranleigh School, it’s the complex of museum galleries and restaurants where tourists are indoctrinated about the Nahyan ruling family’s “vision” of the future of Saadiyat. Emirates Landscape, a Danish-Emirati joint venture, is in charge of the manteinance of Manarat Saadiyat’s gardens as a subcontractor of Sigma Integrated, a company hired by TDIC for the provision of services in both Manarat Saadiyat and Cranleigh School.

WOZ managed to approach a group of Emirates Landscape gardeners. “These two colleagues of mine arrived less than one year ago, after paying respectively 5500 and 4000 dhm (1271 and 1000 chf) to a recruitment agency in their countries,” said Nawaz (36), a green-eyed Afghani senior employee at Emirates Landscape, while pointing at two younger colleagues respectively from Sri Lanka and India. None of them has been reimbursed.

“They both earn 900 dhm (229 chf) per month, 200 dhm (51 chf) are deducted for food…if you count the money spent calling home and other expenses, they can only send 300 dhm (76 chf) to their families,” affirmed Nawaz. That means between 6 and 8 months to start earning something. A 900 dhm salary is actually considered a decent one according to the Emirati slavery-like standards for unskilled employees (650 dhm (165 chf) per month) in a country lacking laws on minimum wage.

Deductions are illegal in SAV, but Emirates Landscape was unmotivatedly allowed to accommodate its workers in the al-Mafraq camps, two structures which have been already criticized for the poor quality of their catering service. Furthermore, the Emirates Landscape gardeners are allowed to travel home every two years rather than one.

All these accounts suggest a wider reform of the UAE’s labor law and particularly of its enforcement policies are urgently needed before awarding the Emirates with other major construction projects like the ones featured in EXPO Dubai 2020. In the bigger picture, the campaign of solidarity with the workers of Saadiyat finds its raison d’être in the much more ambitious struggle for the creation of a safety net for all migrant workers in the GCC countries.  “NYU should launch additional research initiatives on labor systems in the Emirates and surrounding Gulf region, […] a living wage, for example, or research aimed at reform of the exploitative kafala system,” Kristina Bogos, a NYU Fair Labor Coalition’s student leader, told WOZ in a written interview.

[1]             Names have been changed to protect the identity of the workers.

[2]             Most updated figures available online.

Categories: Arab Gulf, UAE | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bahrain keeps simmering, but nobody cares

(The German version was originally published under a pseudonym in WOZ Die Wochenzeitung. The interviews were carried out in July 2015).

(Manama, BAHRAIN) A taxi ride in the capital Manama is enough to notice the difference between Bahrain and the other richer Gulf countries. All taxi drivers are Bahrainis, they tend to talk politics and complain about the Al Khalifa Sunni ruling family, a surprising habit for anyone coming from the UAE or Qatar, where the tiny minority of mostly wealthy locals would never drive a taxi or dare to criticize their respective regimes.

“Bahrain is made up of numerous inhabited reclaimed islands, but I cannot visit them, they’re the property of the Al Khalifa family,” a middle-aged taxi driver told WOZ, contemptuously hinting at the scandals surrounding the monarchy’s acquisition of State properties. In 2011, when the country was shaken by large Shi’a-led protests, the demonstrators carried copies of the 1 BD banknote, the price paid by the Bahraini PM Shaykh Khalifa to purchase the Financial Harbour via a private firm, according to a document published by the al-Wefaq Islamic Association, the main Bahraini opposition group.

The skyline in Manama is less ostentatious than in other Gulf countries, as the oil revenues are less conspicuous here, but the blatant contrast between the capital and the Shi’a countryside goes hardly unnoticed: villages like Bani Jamra in the north-west or Shahrakan in the west have in common dusty alleys and anti-government graffiti roughly crossed out by security forces. In Egypt they would be considered middle-income neighborhoods, but in the affluent Gulf they are social peripheries. Democratization and a fairer distribution of the national wealth among the Shi’a majority have always been at the core of the popular demands since Bahrain’s independence from Britain (1971), the 2011 upheaval was only the last one in a long string.

The attitude of some Western powers towards the Gulf kingdom remains at best ambiguous. In July 2014 Tom Malinowski, a senior US diplomat, was expelled from Bahrain for meeting with the opposition, but in June 2015 Washington decided to resume military aid to the regime after a temporary suspension, citing “meaningful progress” on human rights. The US still maintains its navy’s 5th fleet in Bahrain. In December 2014, the UK announced the edification of a permanent military base in the Gulf kingdom, whereas in July 2015 the European Union passed a motion calling for a resolution against the detainment of political dissidents. In particular, the US and the UK have never ceased providing security assistance to Manama: the former assistant commissioner of the British Metropolitan Police John Yates and John Timoney- once labeled one of the most infamous American cops – are just two examples out of the envoys sent to “reform” the Bahraini police over the last four years.

The fruits of these alleged reforms are nothing more than a mirage at the moment. Even a licensed association representing the “moderate” fringe of the opposition calling for a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, the above-mentioned al-Wefaq, is currently banned from politics due to its boycott of the last parliamentary elections (November 2014). The secretary general of al-Wefaq, Shaykh ‘Ali Salman, has been arrested in December

“None of the dialogue sessions we had with the Government after 2011 was seriously aimed at opening a dialogue,” Sayyid Hadi al-Musawi, a former Wefaq MP, told WOZ. “All our unmet demands were listed in the Manama Document in 2011,” said al-Musawi in reference to the reasons of the 2014 boycott, “these included among others an elected government, an independent judiciary and a lower parliamentary house (majlis an-nuwwab) with the same powers of the upper house (majlis ash-shura).” According to the Constitution, the deputies of the upper house are appointed by the king, just like the ministers, and they can veto the laws approved by the elected lower house.

Following the publication of the findings of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) in November 2011, an investigative body established by the king which confirmed the abuses committed during the crackdown, the regime set up a number of institutions to polish its image in the eyes of human rights advocates, such as the Ombudsman.

The credibility of these bodies is disputed by those who should benefit from their services. Ali[1] is a 20-year-old inmate at Jaw Central Prison, who has been sentenced to more than 3 years for illegal gathering (tajamhur) and rioting (shaghab). According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), there are currently 1126 political detainees, including 142 minors and 28 women. In February he lost his sight due to an eye infection. Because of a riot occurred inside the overcrowded prison on March 10, he was punished being denied proper medical assistance for more than three months. “We visited the Ombudsman and they promised to follow up on Ali’s situation,” his mother Umm ‘Ali told WOZ in a feeble tone of voice, while covering her face out of shame, “but after 10 minutes they called us back saying the Jaw direction confirmed Ali’s eye was in good health.” On June 23, Umm ‘Ali visited his son again and found him “without medicines, wearing a black dirty gauze on his eye turned upside down.” Ali underwent surgery only on July 7.

The future looks even gloomier for Bahrain when looking at its economic situation, since the erosion of State subsides is likely to provide a fertile ground for further political turmoil. The government expenses are not covered by the already meager oil revenues in the current context of depreciated fossil fuels. To limit the budget deficit, the authorities have already opted for new austerity measures: starting from August the meat subsidies will be lifted with the exception of low-income families.

“Meat subsidies count for 10% of the State subsidies, but the Government is currently discussing the revision of energy subsidies, which represent the majority of subventions,” noted Ibrahim Sharif, the general secretary of the leftist National Democratic Action Society (Wa’d). Although licensed, the group has always failed to gather enough votes to enter the Parliament, but Sharif is one of the country’s most influential political veterans. In the ’70s he was a member of the marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Bahrain. “These austerity measures will affect those who are already struggling to secure an accommodation and ignite further political and sectarian tensions: in 2001 you had 32.000 people on the waiting list to receive a house, now they are 54.000,” explained Sharif.

WOZ met with the leader of Wa’d a couple of days before his arrest on the 12th of July, less than one month after his latest release. In Jaw prison, he was part of the so-called “Bahrain Thirteen”, the main opposition figures who are kept segregated from the other inmates. Even though the Bahraini regime’s propaganda is that of a country at war with Iranian-funded Shi’a Islamists, it is clearly not willing to spare Sunni secular opponents like Sharif.

The poorer rural hotbeds of dissent will be heavily affected by the austerity measures in absence of social security cushions. Fatima Harun is a social worker from Bani Jamra, her 16-year-old son Ahmad al-Arab is a hero there, his smile is displayed on posters next to his detained uncle ‘Ali. He was arrested in April. After one month of intensive torture, Ahmad’s smile was the only feature his mother was able to recognize when she visited him in prison. He is now sentenced to 32 years for having been trained in Iran to carry out a series of bombing attacks when he was 13 years old. Ahmad and 55 of his alleged accomplices were all stripped of their nationality. Mohammad al-Tajer , a lawyer and a human rights defender who has followed personally the case, dismissed the accusations saying they were all “extorted under torture and based on unnamed sources.”

“They’re giving the Bahraini nationality to Pakistanis, while they take it away from us…who are they to do this? My family was here much before the Al Khalifa family!” commented indignantly Mrs. Harun. Sunnis from Pakistan, Syria, Jordan and other countries are known to be naturalized and enlisted in the Bahraini security and military forces. The Shi’a majority sees this as an attempt to alter the demographic balance and make sure Sunnis remain in charge of the repression.

Loaded with xenophobic resentment, Mrs. Harun feels like a foreigner in her own country. “This was my father’s house, we’re 6 families in here…Me and my husband Abdullah have been together for 17 years and we cannot afford buying our own property,” she told WOZ.

For the moment, no one cares about the Al Khalifa’s despotic rule on a regional and international level, but the economic crisis might broaden quickly the popular base of the opposition. Until today the major political forces have prevented the militarization of their efforts, but it’s not clear how long they will manage to refrain from violence in light of the continuous attacks on basic rights. If the flow of Iranian weapons will ever be available to Bahrainis, their struggle could be easily hijacked and turned into a regional threat for Saudi Arabia, whose Shi’a minority lives in similar marginalized conditions in the Eastern provinces. The BICI’s findings have ruled out an Iranian involvement in the Bahraini uprising, even though some opposition parties have historically been influenced by Iranian Shi’a Islamist ideologues. In light of the recent nuclear deal between Tehran and the Western powers and the reluctance of the US administration to intervene in defense of its Gulf allies to counter what Obama called “their internal threats”, the Islamic Republic might feel  galvanized enough to back proxy parties in Bahrain (as it did in Yemen). The only way for the Bahraini regime “to keep it local” in the long run is to carry out significant reforms.

[1]     A pseudonym as been used for security reasons

Categories: Arab Gulf, Bahrain | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

UAE strives to leave imprint on humanitarian aid in Syrian refugee crisis

[A heavily edited (i.e. censored) version of this article was published in the Emirati newspaper The National under a different title (“UAE camp cares for the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees”). The first text below is what I originally wrote, the second is the one appeared in The National].

(Zaatari- Mrajeeb al-Fuhud, JORDAN) Jordan hosts a registered population of 622.106 Syrian refugees, only 16% of them, those who cannot afford paying the rent, live in the three camps of Zaatari, Azraq and Mrajeeb al-Fuhud.

There is a blatant difference between the services provided in the giant UN-run Zaatari camp, which officially hosts around 84.000 refugees and the small efficient Emirates Red Crescent (ERC)’s Mrajeeb al-Fuhud camp, which is home to almost 5.000 refugees: in Zaatari residents are struggling to cover their daily expenses and children drop out overcrowded classes, whereas Mrajeeb delivers high-standard services in all fields.

Some humanitarian workers have already questioned the choice of setting up an A-level camp serving such a small proportion of refugees, but the ERC staff vow to maintain the same standards by focusing on a limited number of vulnerable beneficiaries. While the closely monitored residents can hardly find anything to complain about, the Mrajeeb al-Fuhud camp is still bound to remain a drop in the ocean in a country overwhelmed by the refugee influx such as Jordan.

As the Syrian war precipitated into a deadlock with no solution in sight, Zaatari has evolved into a proper settlement with a thriving souq, similarly to the Palestinian camps of the region, though in a no-man’s land in the middle of the Jordanian desert. In such dire conditions, most Syrians keep living up to their own right to return.

“We still hope to go back to Syria,” Lina (33) from Eastern Ghouta (Damascus) told The National, hiding her face covered by tears, “we don’t want our kids to grow up here.”

Lina has repeatedly tried to register her two children in one of the threeschools of the camp, but every time she was told that they had already reached the maximum number of enrolments. It has been two years since they attended the last class.

According to Mahmud Sadaqa (48), a Palestinian Jordanian volunteer, parents are often not supportive enough when it comes to education.

“Ignorance affects negatively education, parents are psychologically unstable, they keep thinking that they will go back to Syria tomorrow,” said Sadaqa.

Nonetheless, some families still encourage their children to pursue their studies and hold on to their dreams.

“I want to become a lawyer to defend the oppressed people,”Ghufran (12) toldThe National,“(…) we’re 60 students in my class… at first I stopped going to school, but then my mother convinced me to go back.”

Food and medicines are available, but all families struggle to meet ends without any source of income, particularly those where the father went missing.
“My husband has been in jail for one year in Syria, (…) the [ World Food Program] vouchers [N/A 20D (103 AED) each month per family member ] are not enough to buy clothes for my five kids,”  said Yusra Yusuf al-Masri (38) from Daraa, sitting on a mattress in front of her container, which was too small to host us.

Her desperate situation would actually comply with the entry conditions of the Emirati camp, which focuses on women, children, big families, orphans, disabled and elderly people, while denying access to single men.

The National visited Mrajeeb al-Fuhud shortly after Zaatari, escorted by a member in a leather jacket of the Jordanian security forces and the ERC staff, who took us on a ‘cruise’ of the camp on a golf cart.

By arguing these measures were taken to preserve our safety, the security agent took notes of the names of the interviewees, departing from us only upon request. However, the refugees denied the existence of any restriction on freedom of speech.

Differently from Zaatari, up to two family members have the right to be employed in the camp, depending on the size of the family.

“I used to be a muezzin before, so they promised me a job as muezzin also here in the camp,” Shafiq Abdul-Bari Mohsen (65) told The National, “at least I can send money back home, since I have another wife with twelve kids in Syria.”

Everything is methodically organized in sectors in the camp. There are around 30 students per class and even the children look incredibly disciplined.

“Children politely approached the ERC staff, as if they had been taught to do so, whereas in Zaatari they did not hesitate to play with us straight away,” noted Estella Carpi, a University of Sydney doctoral researcher in anthropology, who was conducting field work in Mrajeeb al-Fuhud.

That said, the residents praise loudly the meticulous administration of the Emirati camp in comparison with Zaatari.

“In Zaatari there were always tensions due to the lack of any sort of regulation,” Hussein al-Sari (40) from Eastern Ghouta toldThe National.

In Mrajeeb al-Fuhud there are no tents, only containers. Residents enjoy 24/7 hot water and a selected menu.

“The wishes of the refugees come first: the menu is changed according to their preferences,” Omar al-Swaidi, a member of the ERC administration, toldThe National.

On the other hand, the ERC staff do not eat with the refugees, they have a separate canteen, where they are reminded of their high living standards in the Emirates.

“Listen…we’re used to luxury in the Gulf, I spend 24 hours per day here in the camp, but I need to relax while I’m not working and I am not used to eating bamia [N/A:ladies’ fingers] like Syrians do,” said ERC member Said Shami with a peaceful smile.

As mentioned, some humanitarian workers have been critical of the amount of resources spent on such a small scale project, but the ERC personnel defended their commitment to support a limited number of vulnerable categories.

“Our goal is to host 10.000 people: rather than expanding the number of refugees, we prefer to focus on the weakest ones,” ERC member Said Shami toldThe National. It is worth noting that upon the inauguration of the camp in April 2013, the announced figure was 25.000.

Whether Mrajeeb al-Fuhud will host 10.000 or 25.000 people, similar figures will not relieve Jordan from the burden of the refugee influx. Asked if the UAE should accept part of the refugees back home, the ERC workers show reluctance to this issue as well as the Western governments.

“If we accept to set up camps in the Emirates, Syrians would escape and cause troubles in our country just like they are doing here in Jordan,” ERC’s Said Shami told The National.

Notwithstanding the UAE undeniable humanitarian efforts, Syria’s poorest neighboring countries are left alone paying the highest price of destabilization.

UAE camp cares for the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees

Zaatari and Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, JORDAN // There are more than 622,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, but only the 16 per cent who cannot afford accommodation elsewhere live in the Zaatari, Azraq and Mrajeeb Al Fuhud camps.

During a recent visit, it was clear that there is a discernible difference in the support available at the giant United Nations-run Zaatari camp, home to about 84,000 refugees in Mafraq province, and the smaller Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) camp, Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, in Zarqa, which has about 5,000.

At Zaatari residents struggle to meet their daily needs and school rooms are often overcrowded.

The ERC camp, on the other hand, delivers high-standard services in all areas. It was set up in April 2013 at a cost of Dh37 million to help ease overcrowding at the Zaatari camp. The ERC opted for a small-scale camp, as it wanted to help those most in need, such as orphans, women, children, disabled people and big families. Single men are not accommodated at the site.

While some humanitarian workers question the decision to set up an A-grade camp that serves a small quota of refugees, ERC staff say they are only able to maintain standards by focusing on a limited number of the most vulnerable refugees.

As the Syrian conflict continues, Zaatari has evolved into a mini-city with a thriving souq, similar to Palestinian camps elsewhere in the region.

“We still hope to go back to Syria,” said Lina, 33, from Damascus. She hid her face and cried as she spoke. “We don’t want our kids to grow up here.”

Lina has repeatedly tried to register her two children in one of the three schools at Zaatari. However, classes are full. It has been two years since her children last attended school.

Despite the fact that the schools are full, there remain parents who are not sufficiently supportive of education for their children, said Mahmud Sadaqa, 48, a Palestinian-Jordanian volunteer at the camp.

“They keep thinking that they will go back to Syria tomorrow,” Mr Sadaqa said.

Nonetheless, some families encourage their children to pursue their studies and their dreams.

“I want to become a lawyer to defend the oppressed,” said Ghufran, a 12-year-old girl. There are 60 pupils in her class, and difficulties at the camp forced her to stop attending at one point. Her mother, however, convinced her to return.

Food and medicine are available, but families struggle to make ends meet without a steady income, particularly those where the father is absent.

“My husband has been in jail for one year in Syria,” said Yusra Yusuf Al Masri, 38, from Deraa. She receives World Food Programme vouchers worth about Dh100 each month for each member of her family, but it is “not enough to buy clothes for my five kids”.

The National was able to visit Mrajeeb Al Fuhud shortly after Zaatari, escorted by a Jordanian security forces member and ERC staff.

In the Emirati camp, up to two family members have the right to work on site, depending on family size, and school class fit between 25 and 30.

“I used to be a muezzin, so they promised me the same job here in the camp,” said Shafiq Abdul-Bari Mohsen. “I can send money home since I have another wife with 12 kids in Syria.”

Residents of Mrajeeb Al Fuhud praised the administration of the camp. “In Zaatari, there were always tensions due to the lack of any sort of regulation,” said Hussein Al Sari, 40, from Eastern Ghouta. There are no tents in Mrajeeb Al Fuhud, only trailers. Residents have access to hot water around the clock, and have food options.

“The wishes of the refugees come first,” said Omar Al Swaidi, a member of the ERC administration. “The menu is changed according to their preferences.”

Fellow ERC member Said Shami said: “Our goal is to host 10,000 people. Rather than expanding the number of refugees, we prefer to focus on the weakest.”

Categories: Arab Gulf, Jordan, Syria, UAE | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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