Geopolitics

ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World Is Saying/Hearing/Sharing

ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World Is Saying/Hearing/Sharing

ALL NEWS IS LOCAL: Thirty-six leaders of Jordanian tribes, the load-bearing pillars that have held up the Hashemite regime for more than six decades, have submitted an unprecedented petition to King Abdullah calling for electoral and political reform.

A R A B I C A ارابيكا

By Kristen Gillespie


ALL NEWS IS LOCAL: Thirty-six leaders of Jordanian tribes, the load-bearing pillars that have held up the Hashemite regime for more than six decades, have submitted an unprecedented petition to King Abdullah calling for electoral and political reform.

But the letter is making even more waves for its direct criticism of Queen Rania, as reported by Elaph, a London-based pan-Arabic online news site. Long perceived as a Marie Antoinette-figure at home, pictures of her lavish St. Tropez and Italian holidays have quietly circulated for years in Jordan.

The hot topic at dinner parties in Amman these days is the queen's reported multi-million dollar birthday party in the ancient city of Petra, for which she flew in a host of international luminaries last August. The lid was first cracked last month when word spread of a signed, scathing letter sent to the queen's office by New York-based Jordanian Khaled Kasabeh. The one-page letter detailed the costs of maintaining the queen's private jet, her birthday party, her brother's growing business interests in the country and many other alleged misuses of public funds.

This letter undoubtedly reached tribal leaders, who appear to be building upon growing resentment toward the queen. "We refuse the squandering of public money and aid to polish the queen's own personal image at the expense of the nation," the tribal leaders' statement said. "The queen is building centers to boost her power and serve her interests, against the will of Jordanians and Hashemites," the leaders stated, adding that "Jordan will sooner or later be the target of an uprising similar to the ones in Tunisia and Egypt." The petition was posted in Arabic on popular news site Ammon News but after the site was hacked, editors took it down and it is no longer available online.

Jordan's Bedouin tribes represent an estimated 40 percent of the population, and include key positions in the army, security services and ministries. Commentary on this topic was non-existent on Jordanian news websites and Twitter accounts, as it is illegal to say anything negative about the royal family. The king has not hesitated to arrest anyone perceived as publicly mocking or criticizing him or his family.


SOCIAL MEDIA MATTERS

*Arab Twitterati were closely watching updates all day about Wael Ghonim, a senior Google executive and Egytian national, who disappeared more than a week ago after arriving in Cairo to participate in demonstrations. Ghonim, not surprisingly, was in government custody. But by day's end, word came that he'd been released. Within hours, a facebook group called "Let Wael Ghonim speak in the name of Egyptian protesters' already had 63,000 members. A moving interview with a local Egyptian television network Dream after his release shows him breaking down as he sees some of the victims from the protests while he was jailed.

*Twitterers also commented on reports of U.S. envoy Frank Wisner's business ties to Mubarak's regime. Wisner was sent by President Obama to deliver a message to Mubarak, but his lobbying firm Patton, Boggs was revealed to have the Egyptian military and government as clients.

*Protests continued in Egypt for the 14th straight day as the Mubarak regime appears to be attempting to wait out the crowds in Tahrir Square. One protester with the handle @ikselmi tweeted, "I have not lost my enthusiasm to support the protesters in Tahrir Square despite all the depressing news ... the flame of enthusiasm for defending the oppressed will never be extinguished in me."

ALL NEWS IS GLOBAL:

*An unintentionally ironic interview with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from 2003 is making the rounds on YouTube in which he calls on then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to "resign to avoid the bloodshed of his people."

*Al Jazeera English aired a 25-minute documentary on the first five days of protests in Egypt called "Egypt Burning." Watch it here.

photo credit: illustir

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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