Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt and Libya: Contested battles for support and attention

First published in Pambazuka News – Issue 523


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Drawing upon a range of online reflections and social media activity, Sokari Ekine underlines the high stakes and contested understandings around the ongoing crises in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya and Egypt’s ‘post-revolution’ experience.

CÔTE D’IVOIRE — STILL ON THE BRINK OF CIVIL WAR

According to the UN spokesperson in Abidjan, Hamadoun Toure, 1 million people have fled the capital, many of them migrant workers from other countries in West Africa. In addition, there are 90,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, putting pressure on a country which is itself still in recovery from war. The danger of the conflict spreading to Liberia is made clear in this tweet by Alain Logbognon on pro-Laurent Gbagbo elements taken hostage by Liberian mercenaries.

ALAINLOBOG #civ2010 Guiglo : les éléments Fanci pro-LMP pris en otage par les mercenaires libériens qui menacent de les exécuter en cas d’assaut FRCI.

While criticisms of the West’s intervention policy in Libya continues from the left and the right of the political spectrum, lawyers for Alassane Ouattara complained of double standards in the international response to the two countries while Laurent Gbagbo continues to murder civilians. The two sides remain intransigent, with President Ouattara refusing the proposed AU mediator, José Brito, on the grounds that he was not a head of state and has close connections with Laurent Gbagbo, who still refuses to step down.

‘“J`ai l`impression que la Côte d`Ivoire devient le drame oublié ou occulté. On a lancé une opération en Libye craignant que Kadhafi (…) assassine des gens à Benghazi, alors que (le président sortant de la Côte d`Ivoire) Laurent Gbagbo a déjà commencé à assassiner des gens et continue”, a déclaré Me Jean-Paul Benoit lors d`une conférence de presse, estimant qu`il y avait “deux poids, deux mesures dans la mobilisation internationale”. “La Côte d`Ivoire mérite un intérêt public international” et les populations du pays “une sollicitude au moins égale à celle dont bénéficie le malheureux peuple libyen”, a ajouté Me Jean-Pierre Mignard. Les deux avocats de “la République de Côte d`Ivoire” demandent à la communauté internationale “l`usage de la force légitime”, comme “on l`a fait en Libye”.’

The question of media coverage of Côte d’Ivoire is taken up by the US blog, AfroSphere but the criticism is of the black media rather than the mainstream media. It’s important to note that there are a group of Ivorians tweeting up-to-date accounts on the crisis in their country and these can be found under #civ2010 and #cotedivoire. Unlike in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, these appear to be ignored.

‘In the wake of the enormous media coverage of the uprisings and so-defined “revolutions” in North Africa and the Middle East, I am hard pressed to find any media coverage of the escalating atrocities and impending civil war in Cote d’Ivoire. The “blackout” of this media coverage I am referring to is not within the mainstream media… which is understandable… it’s within the AfroSphere itself. One can read more on Chris Brown… even on Charlie Sheen… on blogs, news sites and webzines within the Black/African blogosphere, than on Cote d’Ivoire.
The sad thing about this is that in this age of the power of social media within the creation of communities of interest, the recent histories of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Kenya are being repeated today in Cote d’Ivoire (here)… and we don’t care. It’s an indictment on all of us, from President Obama … “a son of Africa” … to those of African descent within the continent, the Diaspora and the AfroSphere. We do nothing, then we get pissed and question the motives and sincerity of the Bono’s, George Clooney’s and Mia Farrow’s of the (white) world when they take up the causes of African people.’


Africa News (a news site by African citizen journalists) reports on the growing medical emergency as the country runs out of drugs for the treatment of cholera and HIV.

‘This is a consequence of the EU embargo on the country’s ports. Ivory Coast’s supply of medicines and other products is in serious trouble. Support from key donors like the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria took a serious knock by the crisis which arose from the controversial November 2010 presidential elections. These three major donors approved funding worth several millions of dollars towards the fight against AIDS in Ivory Coast. They have even closed their offices in Abidjan.’

African Arguments publishes some background opinion on the back-story to the present crisis in Côte d’Ivoire which speaks to citizenship rights and xenophobia.

‘The anti-Ouattara ball was set rolling after the death in 1993 of Ivorian president and founding father Felix Houphouët-Boigny. Ouattara, then Prime Minister, squared off against parliamentary Speaker Henri Konan Bédié for the succession. Bédié, a southerner from Houphouët-Boigny’s Baoulé ethnic group, won out — thanks partly to backing from former colonial master France — but he was determined that Ouattara should never pose a threat to his position again.

‘To this end, Bédié nurtured a philosophy called ivoirité or “Ivorianness” — the slippery idea of what it means to be Ivorian. Bédié used this murky notion to harness support for a change in the electoral code he had pushed through parliament a few months earlier, with the aim of making Ouattara ineligible for the presidency. A new clause stated that no one with a parent who was not “of Ivorian origin” could stand for president. Bédié and his supporters advanced an array of arguments to prove that Ouattara’s parents were both foreign, and that Ouattara himself was from Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast’s poorer northern neighbour. Ivoirité became central to the anti-Ouattara propaganda campaign. Bédié built nationalist fervour around the concept, loudly stating that people should be proud to be Ivorian and should not allow foreigners to rule over them.’

On Wednesday 30 March, the UN passed a unanimous resolution demanding an end to the violence in Cote d’Ivoire and issued a travel ban and freeze of assets on Laurent Gbagbo, his wife and three aides. Whether this will finally force Gbagbo to stand down remains to be seen. President Alassane Ouattara has already requested he be charged to the International Criminal Court [ICC] for his crimes against the Ivorian people and it is hard to see him standing down without giving safe passage. On the other hand it is equally hard to imagine him walking away a free man after committing murderous crimes against his own people.

EGYPT — POST-REVOLUTION

One of the main demands of the Egyptian revolutionaries was the call for changes in the constitution and on 19 March Egyptians were able to vote on a range of amendments. Maha al Aswad is highly critical of both the amendment process and the amendments themselves, such as the lack of ‘gender neutral language’, the criteria for president by default implies it can only be a man because “he shouldn’t be married to a foreign wife”, while the drafting committee did not include a single woman.

‘The process of amending the constitution generally was wrong. We made a revolution. Revolutions make constitutions fall along with all the regime! Maybe the problem is that the regime didn’t fully fall. What happened is a big joke. Before the referendum, we took to streets and distributed fliers and talked with people not only to convince them that the amendments are discriminative and violate the principle of citizenship rights and equality between all Egyptians, but also to say that the whole referendum thing is not correct. As the Higher Council for Armed Forces, I don’t have to go and ask the people if they still want the constitution from which they suffered for the past 40 years!’

The Egyptian Army [AFC] now has an official Facebook page in Arabic which it is using to send out messages to Egyptians. The latest is published by Egyptian Chronicles. President Hosni Mubarak is still in Egypt under house arrest, and the AFC is going to review the case of Egyptian protestor Mohammed Adel Mohammed Ali Fawzy, who was arrested by the military police during the revolution and sentenced to five years in prison, while the council will investigate the incidents of torture of women during the last Tahrir Square sit-in.

Sandmonkey gives a quick breakdown of some leading presidential candidates.

‘One thing to be sure of, the next election in Egypt will be incredibly fun, due to the fact that many US election campaign operatives are now offering their services to the highest bidder, and the egyptian election is a very sexy and important election for them.’

Being politically astute he is in favour of the revolutionaries ending their protests.

“The roof of street legitimacy just got raised. Public Opinion went 14 million for a YES vote and 4 million for a no vote, which means that in order to show we represent the majority we need 14 million to join us, which we won’t be able to produce. Hell, if we manage to produce 1 million protesters, people can dismiss us claiming we were only able to turn out 1/4 of our base. It’s not that impressive anymore, and going every friday to Tahrir means we have totally or about to burn that card. But if some feel the need to still protest, that’s fine, but let’s do it right.”

Jadaliyya, a scholarly e-zine produced by the Arab Studies Institute (ASI) Middle East/North Africa uprisings, broadcasts an interview with one of the leading Egyptian revolutionaries, Hossam El-Hamalawy (Arabawy). They discuss the background to the political and economic elite and how they are trying to reframe themselves, the position of other leading protesters and the alliances the different interest groups are trying to build.

LIBYA — SAVING LIBYA WHILE KILLING IN AFGHANISTAN — WHOSE WAR IS THIS?

Last week US drones killed 40 people on the Pakistan Afghan border. No one is talking about this!

Many of us remain conflicted trying to make sense of Libya. Grand narratives like imperialism, Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism and Marxism are being discussed, burning up hours of email time and with no end in sight. There are those on the left who are buying into the ‘humanitarian’ justification for the no-drive no-fly zone military campaign. But I don’t hear these same voices speak about Côte d’Ivoire or question how an empire which regularly kills civilians in Afghanistan can be trusted to protect civilians elsewhere.

The empires and wannabe empires are busy bickering with each other as they all try to predict the outcome and hope they end up on the right side! There’s the battle of the ‘hypocrites’, with Germany (which abstained from the UN vote) and its allies accusing each other of hypocrisy. Then there’s the battle of ‘NATO’, which is mostly between French President Nicolas Sarkozy — who seems bent on fulfilling his ‘crusade’ fantasies through a massive bombing campaign — and the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is trying to take the lead in brokering peace (though there are different ideas on his motives).

Ali Abunimah [@Avinunu] of Electronic Intifada makes some excellent criticisms of the pro-interventionists and the lack of foresight of both the US and the UK.

‘Alarming that there seem to be absolutely no internal checks and balances preventing US launching ill-conceived, open-ended wars.

‘In this case it seems Pentagon didn’t want Libya war, but Obama-Hillary insisted.

‘In UK there was public dispute between PM and Chief of Defence Staff over scope of mission in Libya. Very chaotic and amateurish.

‘If it’s assumed rebels couldn’t defend Benghazi against massacres without air support, who could possibly think they could take Tripoli?

‘Arguments “there was no alternative” are therefore very illogical.

‘Another fundamental flaw in pro-intervention arguments is assumption that they work as advertised. Recent history shows they rarely do.’

Trying to work through the confusion of the left on who is who in this war, Yoshie Furuhashi [Critical Montages] asks if the Libyan rebels are ‘for us or against us’.

‘Neither side of the Libyan conflict was actually looking for any real solidarity with leftists (least of all Marxists), but somehow one side (the regime) got a lot of gratuitous, undeserved Latin American leftist support and the other side (the rebels) got a lot of gratuitous, undeserved Western leftist as well as (both secular and religious) Arab and Iranian support.

‘As a matter of fact, both the regime and the rebels were looking for Western imperialist support, and they didn’t hide it either. The Western imperialists — unlike the world Left, the Arabs, and the Iranians, who all jumped into the Libyan fray without examining what they were jumping into — first took a good, hard look at both sides and then decided to back the rebels.

‘The rebels got what they wanted, and that’s that.’

Left-Flank is also critical of the pro-interventionist position and again returns to the ‘double standard’ argument put forth by many ‘anti and not so sure interventionists’.

“The disturbing thing for pro-interventionists is that the West’s war effort has so far not produced anything resembling a clear cut advantage for the rebels, apart from obligatory TV footage of them welcoming the fighter jets with cheers. A detailed report from Time suggests that Gaddafi has so far made substantial advances even while the no-fly zone operates, and that cracks are opening inside the revolutionary camp between more grassroots activists and ex-regime leaders.”

So what possible alternatives are there to the no-fly and no-drive zone?

‘How might an anti-imperialist Left define some things “our” governments could do that would really help the rebellion? We could start with the TNC requests that the West refused, but Jamie Allinson has some other suggestions that I thought we should be raising.

‘Release the Gaddafi regime funds to the revolutionaries and allow them to buy weapons…

‘Condemn the Saudi (GCC) invasion of Bahrain, cut ties with both regimes and with Yemen’s Ali Abdallah Saleh – removing also the military aid to his regime. Cancel all military contracts with them.

‘Allow Benghazi to become an open port for Arab – or other – revolutionary volunteers to join the fight.

‘Of course these won’t satisfy those on the Left who equate “doing something” with raining death and destruction on MENA countries, but they would be far more useful to both the Libyan rebels and the Arab revolutions more generally.’

Left or right, pro- or anti-intervention, the bottom line is the ‘moral high ground” taken by the empires is inconsistent, and inconsistency cannot be trusted. We don’t have to look far because the empires have chosen two very different responses to two countries on the same continent and in the same moment. Even the elite of the left spend their time obsessing over Libya, oil and intervention, writing page after page of opinion and analysis whilst Côte d’Ivoire remains on the margins of their consciousness.