Adonis Diaries

Archive for January 28th, 2014

Former Saidnaya Islamist prisoners released in 2011: And in picture…

Former Saidnaya prisoners turned rebels:

January 21, 2014

1. Zahran Aloush, commander of the Jaish Al Islam – the most powerful single rebel group fighting around Damascus – and head of the military front in the Islamic Front coalition. His brigade claims to have carried out the attack on the Syrian government’s national security headquarters in Damascus on July 18, 2012 that killed Asef Shawkat, Daoud Rajha and Hassan Turkmani.  (There was no destruction in the meeting place: A high-tech operation executed by the US embassy across the building)

2. Abu Mus3ab Al Suri, a leading thinker among Islamic radicals and an opponent of the Assad dynasty, was reported as freed from Syrian regime custody in February 2012. He was initially captured in Pakistan and is believed to have been moved from there to Syria as part of the US secret rendition programme.

3. Ahmad Aisa Al Sheikh, commander of Suqour Al Sham and head of the Shura Council at the Jabha Islamiya, which was created on November 22, 2013.  One of the most influential rebel commanders in Idlib province, commanding a brigade known for discipline and deep resources, it runs 3 field hospitals, a Sharia court, and a prison.

4. Hassan Aboud, leader the Syrian Islamic Front, an independent coalition of hardline Islamist groups in which Ahrar Al Sham, the movement he leads, is the largest and dominant faction. Some reports suggest ex-inmates of Saidnaya prison formed Ahrar Al Sham, after they were freed in early 2011. It has been involved in recent fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

5. Abu Adnan al Zabadani, Syrian Islamic Front. He fought US forces in Iraqi in 2008, was subsequently arrested by Syrian intelligence on his return and then freed from Saidnaya prison in late 2010.

6. Abdul Rahman Suweis of the Liwa Al Haq, a 47 year old former paratrooper officer in the Syrian armed forces, arrested in 1999 for membership of Hezb Al Tahrir. Spent 11 years in prison, released in an amnesty at the start of the uprising in 2011.

7. Abu Suleiman Al Kordi, the general Amir of the Tajamo3 Saraya Al Ansar in the eastern area, a former Saidnaya prisoner.

8. Abu Mohammad Al Jolani, the commander of Jabhat Al Nusra, is rumoured to have been among those set free from Saidnaya prison, although little is publicly known about his true identity and background. Some reports suggest he was held and freed by US forces in Iraq.


Institute For the Study of War, Assafir newspaper (Lebanon), Joshua Landis website ‘Syria Comment’ and Aron Lund’s research for the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

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Stay at home moms: What is your worth?

Troy Polamalu posted:
Shout out to you stay at home moms.
This info-graphic really puts into perspective everything you do.
Shout out to you stay at home moms. This info-graphic really puts into perspective everything you do. In my opinion, priceless.

Stay-at-home moms: you don’t owe the world an explanation

Posted on January 26, 2014 by  (selected as one of the top posts)

Once, several months ago, I wrote this post about Stay-at-home moms.

It was a simple expression of gratitude for stay-at-home moms, particularly my wife.

It got some attention. It was viewed around 3 million times in two days.

I never intended to be an official spokesman for SAHMS across the nation. You do not require my services, nor am I equipped to provide them.

Plenty of you can eloquently defend your vocation, and because you have experience in the arena, you can do so more richly and convincingly than I ever could.

I’m just a guy who loves his wife and appreciates the sacrifices she makes for the family. That’s really the entirety of my insight into this subject.

So it’s with appropriate hesitancy that I offer just one suggestion to all of you.

Here it is:

1. Don’t pay any attention to people like this.

In fact, don’t even click on the link. It’s a blog post, from a website called Thought Catalogue, entitled, “I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry.”

The gist: this woman has no kids, she’s never been married, she has zero understanding of what goes into raising children or maintaining a healthy marriage, yet she’s decided to degrade you because, presumably, the poor girl is hard up for cash and needs to get a ton of cheap hits so she can collect on the ad revenue. (How can I get ad revenue? I posted so far 4,100 articles)

I don’t usually take to reading incoherent, half baked, inflammatory trash.

And what is my take? Well, she raises some interesting points and we should all pause for a moment to reflect upon her observations.

My one experience with wading unwittingly into the “Mommy Wars” taught me something.

It taught me that our broken, confused society has convinced many stay-at-home moms that they need to justify or apologize for their choice to opt out of the hallowed ”job force” in favor of full-time mothering.

You don’t. You really, really don’t.

If you read the comments under that ridiculous article, you’ll see women expressing outrage, but also offering explanations as to why they decided not to outsource their mom-duties.

It pained me to see this. You’re raising your kids, it’s as simple as that. You shouldn’t have to give a reason, anymore than you should have to give your reasoning for drinking water or walking on two legs. (Why not? If Stay at home moms feel the need to explain?)

I think motherhood should be promoted, and the institution of the family should be defended, but you do an excellent job of that simply by being moms.

The disrespect for SAHMs stems from ignorance. The only cure for ignorance is truth (again, what is meant by truth?), and there are two ways to administer a dose of it: you can say it, or you can demonstrate it.

All I do with this blog is say it. As moms – out in the world, against the odds, against the grain, giving of yourself, dedicating your lives to you children — you are demonstrating it. You are living it.

Many of your critics just haven’t done it.

They haven’t been in the trenches all day, every day, shaping children into respectable adults, and doing it themselves, by hand, with sweat and tears and heartache.

They haven’t sacrificed everything for another person.

They don’t know what that is — what it feels like.

They don’t know what it’s like to be in charge of another human being’s entire life. All day. Every day.

They don’t know what goes into running a house.

They’ve never been there. They live in a civilization built by people who put in the sort of work and made the sort of sacrifices that they themselves would never be willing to make. And, in their comfort, in their arrogance, in their brokenness, they mock.

They mock you.

But they don’t know what they’re saying. They just don’t know.

And what is this argument about, really?

Is it better to have a job or take care of your family full time? Is that the controversy?

What a twisted point of view we have in this culture. This is what happens when you buy into the notion that mankind, and especially womankind, achieved emancipation through industrialization.

The Industrial Age and the advent of consumerism gave birth to the modern idea of a “job,” and the pinnacle of freedom and self fulfillment is to have one of them.

Or so we’re told. Ironically, this is a traditionally left-wing point of view, but hating capitalism is also a traditionally left-wing point of view.

The free market is evil, they say, but the ultimate expression of female liberation is to participate in it. (This opinion is Not clear. Need to be developed on)

What a dizzying philosophy these people profess.

And with this philosophy we haven’t just put the cart before the horse, we’ve severed the cart from the horse completely, and now we’re sitting in the cart waiting for it to gallop off into the sunset.

The point is, jobs exist as a means to care for your family. Some jobs are meaningful in their own right, but most, when separated from family, serve no great purpose other than as vehicles for personal advancement.

What’s the point of personal advancement? The answer is either

A) to amass wealth and material possessions for your own enjoyment or

B) to be in a better position to use your abilities to serve others.

You, stay-at-home moms, are using your abilities to serve others, and you’re doing it in the most direct, purest way possible: motherhood. (And when she has time to serve herself? She doesn’t deserve to think about her well-being?)

Beyond all of this, the worst thing about trying to convince women that there’s something wrong with “staying home” is that it fools young girls into being ashamed of their feminine instincts.

Most girls are not naturally competitive and ambitious — at least not competitive and ambitious in the sort of way that men tend to be, the sort of way that has always made men into fighters and hunters and conquerors.

It is a very good thing that women are not this way. (General statements are false)

Women naturally desire to love others and sacrifice themselves. They care about relationships. They aren’t as concerned with getting ahead as they are with elevating those around them.

None of those characteristics will serve you well in many jobs. They won’t help your “career advancement.” They will only make you vulnerable, and put you at the mercy of your less scrupulous competitors. (Distributing false opinions?)

This is why it is dangerous to see “the professional world” as an end in and of itself.

But you know all of this. The people who don’t know probably won’t be convinced by anything I have to say.

Pay no attention to them. They don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

Besides, you’ve got better things to do with your time. (Like what again? Serving a bunch of brats and a husband and mother-in-law, father-in-law…)

Note: And these  Stay at home moms need not explain: They have to wait for Watt Walsh to do the explaining? From a male instinct perspective?


“Goodbye Gaza. This vast Prison Camp for 1.7 million Palestinians”

Hazem Balousha was uncharacteristically despondent when he greeted me recently at the end of my long walk through the open-air caged passageway that separates the modern hi-tech state of Israel from the tiny, impoverished, overcrowded Gaza Strip.

After 3 years reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, our Middle East correspondent is coming home to the UK.
With heavy heart  pays a farewell visit to Gaza and pays tribute to the resilience, creativity and humour of its people
 published in The Observer this January 25, 2014

Goodbye Gaza: our correspondent reflects on her time in the Middle East

Hazem has been a colleague and a friend for three and a half years, a relationship built over more than 20 visits I’ve made to Gaza.

He arranges interviews and provides translation; but most importantly he helps me understand the people, the politics and the daily struggle of life in Gaza. We have talked for hours in his car, over coffee, at his home.

Hazem has accompanied me to grim refugee camps and upmarket restaurants; to the tunnels in the south and farms in the north; to schools and hospitals; to bomb sites and food markets; to the odd wedding party and rather more funerals. In the face of Gaza’s pressure-cooker atmosphere and bleak prospects, he – like so many I’ve met here – has always been remarkably good-humoured.

Palestinians enjoy the weather on the beach in Gaza City

The beach in Gaza City, ‘Gaza’s one magnificent natural asset’. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

But not this time. As we waited for Hamas officials sporting black beards and bomber jackets to check my entry permit, I asked Hazem: “How’s it going?”

He shrugged, and began to tell me about the many phone calls he’d had to make to find a replacement cooking gas canister recently, and how his small sons whine when the electricity cuts out for hours each day, depriving them of their favourite TV shows.

gaza hazem baloushaHazem Balousha.

“This is what we have come to. We wake up in the night worrying about small things: cooking gas, the next power cut, how to find fuel for the car,” he said dejectedly. “We no longer care about the big things, the important things, the future – we just try to get through each day.” (Not much different from the poor in Lebanon who cannot afford private providers in electricity, potable water…)

The people of Gaza are reeling from a series of blows that have led some analysts to say that it is facing its worst crisis for more than six years, putting its 1.7 million inhabitants under intense material and psychological pressure.

Israel’s continued blockade has been exacerbated by mounting hostility to Gaza’s Hamas government from the military regime in Cairo, which sees it as an extension of Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood.

The Egyptians have virtually cut off access to and from Gaza, and as a result Hamas is facing crippling financial problems and a new political isolation.

Power cuts, fuel shortages, price rises, job losses, Israeli air strikes, untreated sewage in the streets and the sea, internal political repression, the near-impossibility of leaving, the lack of hope or horizon – these have chipped away at the resilience and fortitude of Gazans, crushing their spirit.

This was my last visit to Gaza before returning to London to live and work.

I moved to Jerusalem in May 2010, to report principally on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also social and cultural issues and the regional upheavals that erupted three years ago.

Since I first came here almost 10 years ago, I had been fascinated by the place, its people, its history and its compelling complexity.

I arrived eager to learn more about what is frequently called the world’s most intractable conflict, and to try to understand the powerful feelings of historical injustice on both sides.

I am leaving angry about an occupation that has lasted close to half a century, weary of Israel’s grinding oppression of the Palestinian people, cynical about the political leadership on both sides and in the international community, and pessimistic that a fair resolution will be reached.

Before heading home, I needed to say goodbye to Gaza, an extraordinary and unforgettable place.

David Cameron once described it as a prison camp, which is exactly how it feels, hemmed in by walls and fences on three sides. On the fourth side, the Mediterranean, Israeli war ships patrol the horizon; overhead, F16s roar and drones buzz around the clock.

“They are exercising their engines,” said Hazem with a wry smile, as a plane screeched over us. But they also unleash missiles on weapons stores, military training sites and militants’ homes in response to rockets launched at civilian targets in Israel.

Not many outsiders get to see Gaza.

As a foreign journalist, holding an Israeli-issued press card and a Hamas-issued Gaza residency permit, I can enter relatively easily.

Israeli journalists are banned by their own government, which means their readers are rarely exposed to first-hand reports.

Israel allows diplomats, UN staff and accredited aid workers to cross Erez, the border crossing at the northern tip of Gaza which it controls, and issues special permits to Palestinian officials and foreign delegations.

Pretty much everyone else is barred.

gaza; erez walkway

The caged walkway at the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Consequently, the vast hangar-like terminal on the Israeli side echoes to the footsteps of these few, plus a tiny number of Palestinians, nearly all of whom are going to or returning from business trips or hospital visits.

Since a number of suicide bombings at Erez a decade ago, the Israeli border and military personnel remain in offices high above the ground level, watching through blast-proof glass and CCTV, and issuing instructions via speakers. It is an eerie and unsettling experience, however many times you do it.

Once you have passed through Israeli passport control, arrows direct you down a high-walled narrow corridor and through a series of turnstiles that take you to a remotely operated steel door in the vast concrete wall built along the border.

The other side of the wall is Gaza, but you are confined to a long caged corridor through the Israeli-designated “buffer zone”.

For the fit and healthy, it’s a 15-minute walk to the official Palestinian Authority office, where your passport is checked again.

Attesting to the bitter political divide between the Fatah-run PA and the Hamas government in Gaza, Hamas officials run a separate entry process in a handful of shabby Portakabins half a mile down the road.

Here you need to present your Hamas entry permit and have your bags checked for contraband, including alcohol. Booze-smuggling is not tolerated; if found, it is immediately poured into the ground.

Inside Gaza, there are few restrictions imposed on foreigners. I’ve often been asked if I have to wear a headscarf on Hamas-controlled territory.

Only once have I been asked to cover my hair, when visiting the Islamic university which operates a strict dress code for women students and staff – but I do have a “Gaza wardrobe” of trousers and long-sleeved, loose-fitting shirts.

The vast majority of women in Gaza wear the hijab, but not all; and among those who do, there is a cheering amount of fashionable creativity and individuality on display.

Another question I’m frequently asked is if I feel safe. The answer is yes and no.

I’ve never felt in danger from any Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas or otherwise, except from customary gunfire at funerals. But I’m constantly aware of the risk of being inadvertently caught in an Israeli airstrike.

During Operation Pillar of Defense, the 8-day war in November 2012, I lay awake at night listening to shells launched by Israeli warships whizz past my hotel window, the sound of overhead bombing, and the whoosh of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets being fired out of Gaza. I was very frightened – and acutely aware that Palestinians faced a far bigger risk.

Fourteen months after that mini-war, on this last visit, Hazem and I talked of the hope – now long faded – that swept Gaza when the Israeli army and Jewish settlers pulled out in 2005.

The sense of liberation at the time, and the dream that Gazans might be free to determine their own future, and become a model of a future state of Palestine, was swiftly dashed on the rocks of Israel’s political actions and military operations, and the rise of Hamas.

Another brief moment of hope came in May 2010.

Under intense international pressure following the killing of 9 pro-Palestinian activists on board a flotilla of boats attempting to break the blockade of Gaza, Israel eased its draconian siege which had been in force since Hamas took control of the strip.

Then, I talked to factory owners who were desperate to begin importing raw material and exporting finished goods, fishermen impatient to take their boats beyond a 3-mile limit imposed by Israel; families who longed to visit relatives in the West Bank without having to travel through Jordan.

gaza tunnels

Palestinians clean up the tunnels destroyed by Egyptian forces, who flooded some of the tunnels with sewage. Photograph: Getty Images

But now, 8 and a half years and two wars since Israeli “disengagement”, Gaza is still blockaded and hope is rare. Israel controls most of its borders, deciding who and what can get in and out.

Almost all exports are still banned; fishermen are regularly shot at by the Israeli navy; families are still separated. And in recent months, Egypt has destroyed hundreds of tunnels which had been Gaza’s life support system, and has locked down the sole border crossing at the southern end of the strip, cutting Gazans off from the outside world.

Inevitably, the consequences of the policies of Israel and Egypt – plus the continued political enmity between Hamas and Fatah – have had their most acute impact on ordinary people.

In Gaza City, Hazem and I passed long queues of vehicles, whose drivers were waiting for hours to buy fuel. One, his face filmed with stress-induced sweat, suddenly leapt from behind the wheel of his yellow taxi to yell at another motorist.

Omar Arraqi had waited in line for two hours to partially fill his near-empty fuel tank, and there was no way he was going to allow the interloper to push in front.

Yelling and finger-jabbing have become routine at Gaza’s gas stations; sometimes punches are thrown. “People have fights all the time,” said Arraqi, whose income has dropped by 70% since Gaza’s fuel shortages took hold.

The government fixes rates for taxi journeys – the only form of public transport in Gaza – while the cost of fuel, when available, has rocketed. Arraqi said it was becoming increasingly hard to buy food as prices of basic provisions were also rising.

But he was most worried about the health of his 2-year-old daughter, who was born with hydrocephalus. After two failed operations in Gaza, she had surgery in Egypt – but since the Cairo regime closed the border crossing last summer she has had no further treatment. “Without help, she will be disabled,” said Arraqi, worry etched across his face.

His story was one of many accounts of daily small-scale struggles I heard during my last visit. The manager of a family-owned clothes shop told me he’d reduced his staff from 25 to 12, as well as cutting their wages by 10%.

Families whose breadwinners are among the tens of thousands who have lost their jobs, or whose pay has been cut, told me they have less money to spend in the markets, where prices have shot up as a result of higher transport costs and the absence of cheap Egyptian goods.

The price of a kilogram of tomatoes has quadrupled, along with steep hikes in the cost of essentials such as flour and sugar.

Electricity is rationed, currently 8 hours on followed by eight hours off. Some families are cooking indoors on open fires, at considerable risk of injury.

Children are forced to study by candlelight. People set alarms for the early hours in order to be able to take a shower or charge their phones or send an email. Mealtimes are now determined by power supply rather than tradition.

Gaza’s hospitals have to take into account the vagaries of the power supply when scheduling surgery; pharmacies are running low on medicines.

Roadworks and half-finished buildings – new homes, hospitals, schools – are abandoned as the lack of materials makes completion impossible.

Last month, a devastating storm swept through the Middle East bringing chaos and destruction to Gaza. At least 10,000 families were made homeless by flooding; children had to wade through rivers of rainwater mixed with raw sewage to reach school.

The storm wiped out fruit and vegetable crops. “After almost 7 years of siege, we were simply unable to cope,” a local aid worker told me.

An indication of personal desperation and social unravelling lies in an unprecedented rise in property crime, previously almost unheard of in Gaza. Domestic violence is also increasing.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, is feeding more than 800,000 Gazans – almost half the population, and a record number.

But UNRWA is also facing a catastrophic 20% drop in income while need is rising. “So much pressure has built up,” Robert Turner, UNRWA’s director of operations, told me. “How far can Gaza bend before it snaps?

Gaza has come close to breaking point before – especially during the brutal three-week war with Israel in 2008-9. But I’ve always been impressed by the resilience, creativity and humour of ordinary people, despite their adverse circumstances and repeated setbacks.

Memories of many individuals I met will stay with me for a long time.

In June 2012, I visited the artist Maha al-Daya at her home just after she returned from a four-month stint as artist-in-residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, leaving her 3 young children in the care of her husband amid some disapproval.

As Maha showed me her colourful seascapes and vivid abstracts, she laughed when I asked her how she found inspiration in the dust and destruction of Gaza. “This is what I see,” she said, adding that if I looked for colour and vibrancy against the grey backdrop of Gaza, I would also find it.

Long before he shot to global fame after winning Arab Idol last year, I met singer Mohammed Assaf at a wedding party at which he was performing. He told me he had been arrested more than 20 times by Hamas security forces, who demanded he stop singing in public.

He refused to be deterred: “My message as a Palestinian is that we not only speak or fight or shoot, but we also sing,” he said.

gaza  Izzeldin Abuelaish

Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish. Photograph: AP

I spent a glorious day on the beach – Gaza’s one magnificent natural asset – with 12-year-old Sabah Abu Ghanim, a passionate surfer who regularly hogged the single ancient board shared between friends and family and who studied surfing techniques on the internet.

Sabah told me she felt “freedom and happiness” in the waves that crash into Gaza’s coastline. Yet she accepted without resentment the conservative social mores that would require her to give up her beloved sport when she reached puberty.

I cooked maftoul, a type of couscous, and made cheese- and herb-filled pastries with the women of the Zeitun Kitchen, who run a successful collective business catering for weddings and parties from premises that regularly lack power. Along with a tightened waistband, they left me with an indelible memory of cheerful gossip and laughter as they worked in the gloom and stifling heat.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, a remarkable obstetrician whose 3 daughters were killed in an Israeli airstrike in January 2009. His anguished telephone call moments after their death to an Israeli television presenter and friend was broadcast live to shocked audiences.

His book, I Shall Not Hate, was a testimony to an extraordinary capacity to overcome. “Hate is a poison, a fire which burns you from the inside,” he told me at his family’s home, which then still bore the scars of the shelling, in Jabalia in northern Gaza. “It’s easy to destroy life but very difficult to build it.”

These and others belie the demonic image of Gazans, often promoted by Israel. Rather, they are overwhelmingly decent people who simply want food on the table, a better life for their children, dignity, respect and freedom.

But not all my encounters were positive.

I also met grieving mothers who expressed fervent hope that their infant sons would grow up to avenge their dead fathers or siblings by killing Jewish children, a profoundly depressing illustration of the cycle of violence here.

I listened to Hamas officials saying the bloodshed of their own civilian population was necessary in the fight to the death with the “Zionist entity”. I witnessed the funerals of children, saw the destruction of homes, felt growing despair and the near-extinguishing of hope.

And – despite’s Israel’s intentions when it tightened its siege following the Hamas takeover in Gaza in 2007 – I’ve seen the Islamic party’s power become more entrenched during my time here.

Hamas was elected on a wave of revulsion against the corrupt Fatah old guard and on a track record of providing practical support and services to the population, as well as a pledge to lead the resistance against the Israeli occupation.

Hamas has since suppressed political opposition, enforced an Islamic code of social conduct and, with its repeated rocket attacks, provided Israeli politicians with a useful justification for some of their more extreme right-wing policies.

Now, after the brutal crackdown on Hamas’s ideological parents, the Muslim Brotherhood, in next-door Egypt, the faction is facing a crisis. It is unable to ease the harsh living conditions of the people of Gaza, thanks to the calamitous loss of income and cash flow following the closure of the tunnels. It is now politically isolated in the region, and its unpopularity at home is growing. Yet its power is unchallenged.

“This is Hamas’s hardest moment, its worst crisis since it won the election in 2006,” Mkhaimer Abusada, professor of political science at Gaza’s Al Azhar university, told me over sweet mint tea. “But we are very afraid. Hamas does not allow any protests, any opposition. We’re sick and tired of Hamas, but we don’t have an alternative.” Gazans, he added, had become “hostages to Hamas and Fatah, Israel and Egypt – they are all gambling with our lives. I think the worst has not yet come. There will be more miserable days ahead.”

The UN recently warned that Gaza was rapidly becoming uninhabitable. But this is not as a result of a natural disaster – an earthquake, say, or a typhoon – but of destruction, de-development, suffocation and isolation caused by the deliberate policies of Israel and Egypt, with significant contributory factors from both Hamas and Fatah.

And the material and psychological siege of Gaza has profound consequences not just for the population, but also for regional security.

On my last morning in Gaza, the terrace restaurant of the beachfront hotel I have frequented over recent years was almost empty. Few journalists and diplomats come to Gaza these days, as attention – understandably – has swiveled to crises elsewhere in the region. “The world has forgotten us,” one Gazan told me.

After breakfast, Hazem drove me back to the Erez border crossing, through streets in which donkey-drawn carts are replacing fuel-thirsty vehicles, and men while away their lives sipping coffee on plastic chairs for the want of a decent day’s work.

I left a place that I have grown to care deeply about with a profound sense of gloom about its future. After Hamas officials gave me permission to go, Hazem and I risked a socially unacceptable parting hug and he wished me good luck.

But it’s he and the people of Gaza who need luck, and a lot of it.

Davos Forum, Richest people…: “How to make our clan richer?”

The world’s wealthiest people aren’t known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker.

The extent to which so much global wealth has become corralled by a virtual handful of the so-called ‘global elite’ is exposed in a new report from Oxfam on Monday.

The report warned that those richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn (1,ooo billion) as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.

 published in, this January 20, 2014

Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world

As World Economic Forum starts in Davos, development charity claims growing inequality has been driven by ‘power grab’
The InterContinental Davos luxury hotel in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos

The InterContinental Davos luxury hotel in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.
Oxfam report found people in countries around the world believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/REUTERS

Working for the Few - Oxfam report

Source: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, (2013) ‘The World Top Incomes Database’,

Only includes countries with data in 1980 and later than 2008. Photograph: Oxfam

The wealth of the 1% richest people in the world amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world, added the development charity, which fears this concentration of economic resources is threatening political stability and driving up social tensions.

It’s a chilling reminder of the depths of wealth inequality as political leaders and top business people head to the snowy peaks of Davos for this week’s World Economic Forum.

Few, if any, will be arriving on anything as common as a bus, with private jets and helicopters pressed into service as many of the world’s most powerful people convene to discuss the state of the global economy over 4 hectic days of meetings, seminars and parties in the exclusive ski resort.

Winnie Byanyima, the Oxfam executive director who will attend the Davos meetings, said: “It is staggering that in the 21st Century, half of the world’s population – that’s three and a half billion people – own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus.”

Oxfam also argues that this is no accident either, saying growing inequality has been driven by a “power grab” by wealthy elites, who have co-opted the political process to rig the rules of the economic system in their favour.

In the report, entitled Working For The Few (summary here), Oxfam warned that the fight against poverty cannot be won until wealth inequality has been tackled.

“Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table,” Byanyima said.

Oxfam called on attendees at this week’s World Economic Forum to take a personal pledge to tackle the problem by refraining from dodging taxes or using their wealth to seek political favours.

As well as being morally dubious, economic inequality can also exacerbate other social problems such as gender inequality, Oxfam warned.

Davos itself is also struggling in this area, with the number of female delegates actually dropping from 17% in 2013 to 15% this year.

How richest use their wealth to capture opportunities

Polling for Oxfam’s report found people in countries around the world – including two-thirds of those questioned in Britain – believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading.

Byanyima explained:

“In developed and developing countries alike we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest.”

Working for the Few - Oxfam report

Source: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, (2013) ‘The World Top Incomes Database’, Only includes countries with data in 1980 and later than 2008. Photograph: Oxfam

The Oxfam report found that over the past few decades, the rich have successfully wielded political influence to skew policies in their favour on issues ranging from financial deregulation, tax havens, anti-competitive business practices to lower tax rates on high incomes and cuts in public services for the majority.

Since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 out of 30 countries for which data are available, said the report.

This “capture of opportunities” by the rich at the expense of the poor and middle classes has led to a situation where 70% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s and 1% of families own 46% of global wealth – almost £70tn.

Opinion polls in Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the US, UK and Netherlands found that a majority in each country believe that wealthy people exert too much influence.

Concern was strongest in Spain, followed by Brazil and India and least marked in the Netherlands.

In the UK, some 67% agreed that “the rich have too much influence over where this country is headed” – 37% saying that they agreed “strongly” with the statement – against just 10% who disagreed, 2% of them strongly.

The WEF’s own Global Risks report recently identified widening income disparities as one of the biggest threats to the world community.

Oxfam is calling on those gathered at WEF to pledge:

1. to support progressive taxation and not dodge their own taxes;

2. refrain from using their wealth to seek political favours that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens;

3. make public all investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners;

4. challenge governments to use tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection;

5. demand a living wage in all companies they own or control; and

6. challenge other members of the economic elite to join them in these pledges.

(Pledge my ass call)

• Research Now questioned 1,166 adults in the UK for Oxfam between October 1 and 14 2013.




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