Monday, May 21, 2007

New Bullets, Recycled Ballots

Originally, this was going to be a round-up of what’s happening in Africa. It will be that, but in condensed form. But with a 10 hour gun battle in Tripoli, Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, whose leader is known to have been associated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, and with two bombs being set off in Beirut markets – reminiscent of Baghdad of late – the question is whether Lebanon is sliding toward a renewal of its 1975-1990 civil war. Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, Israel bombed locations it identified as missile storage or firing points or safe houses for Hamas fighters. And with Hamas fighting Fatah, with casualties heading over 100 just in the last few days, Tel Aviv agreed to allow 500 armed and trained supporters of President Abbas back into Gaza to take on (and presumably eliminate) Hamas.

Lebanon’s woes involve different actors than those that drove last summer’s 34 day war between Israel and Hezbollah. Then, virtually all of the ground action took place in the Litani River basin south to the Israeli-Lebanese border. The Israeli air force bombed Hezbollah strongholds in the southern Beirut suburbs, while the Israeli navy shelled Tyre. Few remarked the fact that Israeli commandos raided suspected Hezbollah safe houses in refugee camps in the upper Bekaa Valley in the search for the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah.

Ironically, the Lebanese army bombarded Palestinian refugee camps, some of which were established as long ago as 1969 – and little has changed over the last 38 years. The camp’s inhabitants are denied schooling, denied most jobs, denied the opportunity to become citizens of Lebanon or, for that matter, citizens of any Arab or predominately Muslim state.

And we wonder why extremist ideologies appeal to those born into such seemingly hopeless conditions?

Briefly turning to Africa, Algeria’s current ruling parliamentary coalition won 249 of the 389 seats in last week’s election for the lower house. While President Boutiflika has restored the electoral trappings of a representative democracy, there is no doubt that this is a country ruled by one person In a turn-about for an army that seized power in 1992 to prevent the election of ultra Islamists, this year the army made known it would be completely neutral – which in Algeria translates into “vote for any candidate, as long as it is the army’s candidate.” Even so, one bomb exploded in Algiers in the interval between the first and second rounds in the balloting.

Still on election results, Nigeria’s defeated political parties and their union supporters plan to shut down the country with a 24 hour work strikes as they protest the certification of Nigeria’s apparent choice of Umaru Yar’Adua as president. Although two challenges are pending in Nigeria’s courts and no outside election monitors were willing to declare the electoral process fair, it is unlikely that the “results” will be overturned.

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