Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Oxfam

World’s eight richest people have same wealth as poorest 50%

Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega (Spanish fashion chain Zara), Warren Buffett,  Carlos Slim Helú, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison and Michael Bloomberg

The world’s eight richest billionaires control the same wealth between them as the poorest half of the globe’s population, according to a charity warning of an ever-increasing and dangerous concentration of wealth.

In a report published to coincide with the start of the week-long World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Oxfam said it was “beyond grotesque” that a handful of rich men headed by the Microsoft founder Bill Gates are worth $426bn (£350bn), equivalent to the wealth of 3.6 billion people.

The development charity called for a new economic model to reverse an inequality trend that it said helped to explain Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.

Oxfam blamed rising inequality on aggressive wage restraint, tax dodging and the squeezing of producers by companies, adding that businesses were too focused on delivering ever-higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) said last week that rising inequality and social polarisation posed two of the biggest risks to the global economy in 2017 and could result in the rolling back of globalisation.

Oxfam said the world’s poorest 50% owned the same in assets as the $426bn owned by a group headed by Gates, Amancio Ortega, the founder of the Spanish fashion chain Zara, and Warren Buffett, the renowned investor and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

The others are Carlos Slim Helú: the Mexican telecoms tycoon and owner of conglomerate Grupo Carso; Jeff Bezos: the founder of Amazon; Mark Zuckerberg: the founder of Facebook; Larry Ellison, chief executive of US tech firm Oracle; and Michael Bloomberg; a former mayor of New York and founder and owner of the Bloomberg news and financial information service.

Last year, Oxfam said the world’s 62 richest billionaires were as wealthy as half the world’s population.

However, the number has dropped to eight in 2017 because new information shows that poverty in China and India is worse than previously thought, making the bottom 50% even worse off and widening the gap between rich and poor.

With members of the forum due to arrive on Monday in Switzerland, where guests will range from the Chinese president Xi Jinping, to pop star Shakira, the WEF released its own inclusive growth and development report in which it said median income had fallen by an average of 2.4% between 2008 and 2013 across 26 advanced nations.

Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark filled the top five places in the WEF’s inclusive development index, with Britain 21st and the US 23rd.

The body that organises the Davos event said rising inequality was not an “iron law of capitalism”, but a matter of making the right policy choices.

The WEF report found that 51% of the 103 countries for which data was available saw their inclusive development index scores decline over the past five years, “attesting to the legitimacy of public concern and the challenge facing policymakers regarding the difficulty of translating economic growth into broad social progress”.

Basing its research on the Forbes rich list and data provided by investment bank Credit Suisse, Oxfam said

the vast majority of people in the bottom half of the world’s population were facing a daily struggle to survive, with 70% of them living in low-income countries.

It was four years since the WEF had first identified inequality as a threat to social stability, but that the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen, Oxfam added.

“From Brexit to the success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, a worrying rise in racism and the widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics, there are increasing signs that more and more people in rich countries are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo,” the report said.

The charity said new information had shown that poor people in China and India owned even fewer assets than previously thought, making the wealth gap more pronounced than it thought a year ago, when it announced that 62 billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the global population.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said: “This year’s snapshot of inequality is clearer, more accurate and more shocking than ever before. It is beyond grotesque that a group of men who could easily fit in a single golf buggy own more than the poorest half of humanity.

“While one in nine people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight, a small handful of billionaires have so much wealth they would need several lifetimes to spend it. The fact that a super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us at home and overseas shows how warped our economy has become.”

Mark Littlewood, director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs think-tank, said:

“Once again Oxfam have come out with a report that demonises capitalism, conveniently skimming over the fact that free markets have helped over 100 million people rise out of poverty in the last year alone.”

The Oxfam report added that since 2015 the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet.

It said that over the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1tn to their heirs – a sum larger than the annual GDP of India, a country with 1.3 billion people.

Between 1988 and 2011 the incomes of the poorest 10% increased by just $65, while the incomes of the richest 1% grew by $11,800 – 182 times as much.

Oxfam called for fundamental change to ensure that economies worked for everyone, not just “a privileged few”.

Note: Wealthiest 62 persons own half the global wealth or $3.6 trillion
1% of the richest own 99%o of global wealth or $7.6 trillion.

Question 1: what the wealth of the 62 person represents to the 1% richest?
Question 2: How many of the 62 families represent of the number of multinational companies?

 

Tackling the Refugee Crisis at the Local Level:

Building Capacity and Strengthening Dialogue 

Oxfam and LCPS convened a roundtable on 15 March 2016, focused on pressing issues facing Lebanese municipalities due to the refugee crisis and capitalizing on aid offered by international donors.

Since refugees first arrived in Lebanon, municipalities have been forced to shoulder an ever growing burden, as they are now tasked with delivering services to both Lebanese residents and refugees.

In addition to top advisors from the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Interior, as well as mayors from across Lebanon, the roundtable featured the participation of international NGOs addressing the refugee crisis.

Among them was Lorenzo Paoli, head of programme policy on local governance and decentralization at Oxfam Italy. LCPS sat down with Mr. Paoli on the sidelines of the roundtable to get his take on how local governments in other contexts have coped with influxes of refugees.

Tonnie Ch shared  The Lebanese Center for Policy StudiesApril 22, 2016

How can and should responsibilities be divided between local and national governments when addressing a refugee crisis? I think the primary issue should be focusing on the most vulnerable people. We want to uphold the same rights for all refugees (Syrians, Palestinian refugees from Syria, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon) but also for poor Lebanese citizens.

Oxfam has been able to do this by working with local municipalities that have deep knowledge of the territory.

Within this process we know well that some issues and topics are related to national policy but we think that by starting from assessing and addressing local needs, we can be more successful in forwarding change at the national level.

This process normally entails strengthening dialogue between local authorities and civil society with the objective of promoting positive local and sub-national policies and practices in order to overcome poverty and reduce inequality. Within this paradigm, transparency and accountability are imperative, but so is engagement with local authorities.

Based on these general considerations, we think that the central government should better recognize the importance of local authorities in responding to the Syrian crisis. It should prioritize decentralization and improve the effectiveness and equity of financial resource distribution to ensure local authorities have the independence and legitimacy to respond to constituents’ needs and to specific needs resulting from refugees’ presence.

Furthermore, the Lebanese government should develop a new comprehensive, multi-sectoral Syrian refugee policy based on international human rights law. (Which the EU decided to bypass after the flood of refugees?)

This policy would need to ensure better protection of the refugee population during displacement, enabling Syrian nationals on Lebanese territory to easily access a form of legal status that grants them basic rights and allows them the capacity to sustain themselves.

What are international best practices for governments addressing a refugee crises?

I think we learn more from failures. Speaking about best practices is important but it is also necessary to reflect in terms of what went wrong. To be honest there have been some huge mistakes made across the world.

In my experience, the most frequent error is replicating models without the ability to adapt the experience to local needs and contexts. In Southern Africa or Latin America, this was very common.

The book “Beyond charity” written by Gil Loescher is pertinent in this regard. The text includes an interesting overview of refugee crises and emphasizes the need to develop a comprehensive policy on this issue. At the same time, the author argues for the strengthening of governments and international organizations as a crucial element to assuming more effective assistance, protection, and political mediation functions. (For example, without the US assistance during WWII, the flood of European refugees into Syria would Not have been manageable financially)

Are there case studies you are familiar with that are similar to what Lebanon is experiencing now?

What lessons can be learned from those cases?

Based on my knowledge concerning refugee crises, the Lebanon experience is rather unique due to its complexities. There are similar aspects to other cases regarding targeting, within a sustainable development perspective.

 it would be useful to look at Lebanon before the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, with its many challenges in terms of poverty, inequality, management of natural resources and public services, and transparency, among others. (And is still the case, on a worse level?)

If we are discussing this more comprehensive approach, I think the experience that has been tested is Southeastern Europe, which has a number of similarities to Lebanon, including some aspects which can be models for change. These are middle-income countries where active citizenship is growing, a debate on decentralization has started, and the dynamic of sustainable local development is at the center of the political agenda.

There are some good experiences in Lebanon as well. Take for instance Jezzine. I think that could be systematized and could be one of the experiences that is shared with other municipalities or municipal unions. Jezzine is a good example in terms of the role local authorities have played in boosting local development, but, given the minimal number of refugees in the area, it is less strong as an example of how to cope with large refugee influxes. Therefore, we need to look across many municipalities and draw collective lessons from a range of experiences.

How do you think international donors can better engage with local governments in Lebanon?

I tend to think that you can bring all the funds you want to Lebanon but if you don’t create the conditions within the country to be able to manage these funds effectively and benefit those most affected by the crisis, our efforts to address the crisis will be unsuccessful.

I think we have to reinforce and create the conditions necessary to build the capacities of actors, in particular at the local level. Exchanging experiences among Lebanese local authorities and learning by doing through joint pilot actions between CSOs and municipalities might be a good ways to develop stakeholder and institutional capabilities.

No one claims this is easy. In Lebanon you have more than 1,000 municipalities. (And most of them are of the small size in population that were Not able to have trained and efficient personnel)

I think we must support the capacity of local authorities to be more vocal, and to speak, as much as possible, with one voice. At the same time, it is crucial to facilitate the right of people to be heard.

Additionally, I am very happy to listen to the international donor community speak about transparency and accountability but it is not just a problem of monitoring expenditures. From my perspective there is something more. There should be an active participatory role among the people in the planning process.

Take for instance Buffalo City Municipality, South Africa. There, the method of Ward Based Planning has been implemented, which promotes community action and better engagement/participation in the formulation of municipal development plans, through the promotion of ‘locally-owned’ ward plans linked to an Integrated Development Plan.

Key to the success of this approach is an active and empowered citizenry who take co-ownership (along with local government) in planning and managing their own development and carrying out their responsibilities as citizens. I think for this reason we need to speak about local capacity building and supporting local actors, private and public.

If we are not able to increase the capacity of both actors—citizens and local authorities—in my perspective you will not be successful. What I am concerned about is the sustainability of some of these processes.

For instance, cash for work is a good solution for today and we have to use it to mitigate the current impact of the crisis. (Why Not applied in the European camps?)

At the same time, we must support local sustainable development focusing on people’s wellbeing. This could entail promoting innovative ways to create jobs for youth and women and stimulating the participation of young people in social, economic, and political aspects for sustainable human development. It is for this reason that Oxfam in Lebanon supports and incentivizes a relevant continuity between humanitarian and medium-term development programs.

Existence is Resistance

“THE ONLY WAY TO DEAL WITH AN UNFREE WORLD IS TO BECOME SO ABSOLUTELY FREE THAT YOUR VERY EXISTENCE IS AN ACT OF REBELLION.” – ALBERT CAMUS

If you need an introduction to the flap between Scarlett Johanson and Oxfam https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/internal-revolt-scarlett-johansson-oxfam-sodastream-boycott-israelwest-bank-settlements/

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd writes letter to Scarlett Johanson about her support of Israeli Apartheid

In the past days I have written privately to Neil Young (once) and to Scarlett Johanson (a couple of times). Those letters will remain private.

Sadly, I have received no reply from either.

And so I write this note on my Facebook page somewhat in bewilderment.

Roger Waters

Neil? I shall ponder all of this long and hard. We don’t really know each other, but, you were always one of my heroes, I am confused.

Scarlett? Ah, Scarlett. I met Scarlett a year or so ago, I think it was at a Cream reunion concert at MSG.

Scarlet was, as I recall, fiercely anti Neocon, passionately disgusted by Blackwater (Dick Cheney’s private army in Iraq), you could have been forgiven for thinking that here was a young woman of strength and integrity who believed in truth, human rights, and the law and love. I confess I was somewhat smitten. There’s no fool like an old fool.

A few years down the line, Scarlett’s choice of Soda Stream over Oxfam is such an act of intellectual, political, and civil about face, that we, all those of us who care about the downtrodden, the oppressed, the occupied, the second class, will find it hard to rationalize.

I would like to ask that younger Scarlett a question or two:

1. Scarlett, just for one example, are you aware that the Israeli government has razed to the ground a Bedouin village in the Negev desert in Southern Israel 63 times, the last time being on the 26th of December 2013. This village is the home to Bedouin. The Bedouin are, of course, Israeli citizens with full rights of citizenship. Well, not quite full rights, because in “Democratic” Israel there are 50 laws that discriminate against non Jewish citizens.

I am not going to attempt to list, either those laws (they are on the statute book in the Knesset for all to research) or all the other grave human rights abuses of Israeli domestic and foreign policy. I would run out of space. But, to return to my friend Scarlett Johanson.

2. Scarlett, I have read your reposts and excuses, in them you claim that the Palestinian workers in the factory have equal pay, benefits and “Equal rights”. Really? Equal Rights? Do they?

1. Do they have the right to vote?

2. Do they have access to the roads?

3. Can they travel to their work place without waiting for hours to pass through the occupying forces control barriers?

4. Do they have clean drinking water?

5. Do they have sanitation?

6. Do they have citizenship?

7. Do they have the right not to have the standard issue kicking in their door in the middle of the night and taking their children away?

8. Do they have the right to appeal against arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment?

9. Do they have the right to re-occupy the property and homes they owned before 1948?

10. Do they have the right to an ordinary, decent human family life?

11. Do they have the right to self determination?

12. Do they have the right to continue to develop a cultural life that is ancient and profound?

If these questions put you in a quandary I can answer them for you. The answer is, NO, they do not.

The workers in The Soda Stream Factory do not have any of these rights.

So, what are the “equal rights” of which you speak?

Scarlett, you are undeniably cute, but if you think Soda Stream is building bridges towards peace you are also undeniably not paying attention.

Love. R.

Taken From Roger Waters Facebook Page

“Internal revolt”?  Scarlett Johansson, Oxfam, SodaStream, Israel West Bank settlements…

The Israeli Daniel (Dony) Birnbaum is CEO of the SodaStream bottling plant company located in the occupied West Bank. He claims that the plant employs about 1,600 and 500 are Palestinians enjoying equal pay as Israelis.

The neighboring Palestinian communities lack running potable water and electricity. A Palestinian said: “If we need to go to the hospital we need a permit. we need permits to go pray at the mosques, to visit relatives…”

Mind you that the water the company is using belong to the Palestinians, but Israel is abusing the Palestinian rights to their resources and denying them the proper ratio quantity and ruining their agriculture.

Actress Scarlett Johansson, having the ambassador role with Oxfam for the last 8 years, has been promoting SodaStream ads.

Although Oxfam, an international charity organization, has not endorsed boycott, divestment and sanctions,  it opposes trade with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

There is an “internal revolt” within Oxfam for refusing to cut ties with Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, an Oxfam insider has told The Electronic Intifada.

The dispute within the global charity is largely along transatlantic lines, with Oxfam America stamping on anything seen to be critical of Israel.

Johansson is one of Oxfam’s “Global Ambassadors” but recently signed a deal with SodaStream, an Israeli firm with a factory in an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Ali Abunimah posted on Electronic Intifada this Jan. 27, 2014

“Internal revolt” at Oxfam over Scarlett Johansson affair, insider says

Scarlett Johansson in a screenshot from an Oxfam fundraising video.

The insider, who is familiar with the organization’s internal deliberations, asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to media.

The insider decided to speak out from a belief that Oxfam was suffering serious damage to its credibility by standing with Johansson.

“We do a lot of good work, but it is being overshadowed by all the negative publicity,” the insider said.

“Thorniest issue”

The Johansson affair “has really brought out one of the thorniest issues within Oxfam,” the insider said.

Although Oxfam has done a lot of lobbying both publicly and privately on the issue of Israeli settlements, it has faced intense resistance from Oxfam America.

Oxfam operates as an international federation with national affiliates including Oxfam America, Oxfam GB, Oxfam Belgium and, in The Netherlands, Oxfam Novib.

Fundraising fears

Unlike other national affiliates, “Oxfam America doesn’t invest one cent in the Palestinian territories, or even Israel. They don’t have any programs in the West Bank or Gaza,” the insider explained.

“Yet they [Oxfam America] always claim that anything Oxfam says on Palestine or Israel affects their fundraising. They almost have veto power on what Oxfam does on Palestine,” the insider added.

While these tensions have been present for some time, the Johansson episode has brought the “anger” to the surface within the organization, the insider said.

The insider noted that the situation became much worse after Matt Herrick, spokesperson for Oxfam America, told The New York Times’ blog The Lede last week that Oxfam had not even asked Johansson to end her deal with SodaStream.

“There are a lot of good people at Oxfam who are really pissed off at what Johansson did and even more pissed off at Matt Herrick’s comment,” the insider said.

One unmistakable sign of the disarray at Oxfam came this morning when Oxfam GB tweeted, and then a short time later deleted, a statement on the controversy.

Hurting Palestinian partners

Now the insider fears that Oxfam’s position could harm its programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip which provide vital support to Palestinian communities.

“Oxfam has a lot of Palestinian partners and is one of the more respected international organizations working in Palestine,” the insider said.

These fears could be right.

It was revealed today that the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) has written to Oxfam calling on it to sever its ties to Johansson. PNGO includes virtually all of Oxfam’s Palestinian partners.

Palestine’s Boycott National Committee issued a public statement making the same demand today.

It remains to be seen whether the internal struggle will be resolved in favor of a principled stance and solidarity with Palestinians under occupation, or whether those more concerned with protecting Israel and Oxfam America’s bottom line will ultimately prevail.

Note 1: AP released this statement:

A statement released by Johansson’s spokesman Wednesday said the 29-year-old actress has “a fundamental difference of opinion” with Oxfam International because the humanitarian group opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, saying they are illegal and deny Palestinian rights.

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after 8 years.  She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.”

Note 2: Suppose SodaStream negotiate that:

1. Two third of the employees be Palestinians

2. The neighboring Palestinian communities receive running potable water as much as the company is using.

3. The neighboring Palestinian communities get connected to the public utility as the company is and paying as the company is paying

4. The company makes the additional effort to coax the Israeli government to prevent Israeli settlers from cutting down the olive trees and ruining the Palestinian fields…

Why Daniel Birnbaum refuses to join the campaign against settlers cutting down olive trees and protecting the Palestinian agriculture from the onslaught of the Israeli ruffians?

Would you think that the case of boycotting  SodaStream will be harder to defend?

Note 3: If you try to get information on SodaStream, you’ll be hard-pressed to discover that it is located in the West Bank.  This company knows that it is antagonizing the world community.

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 theguardian.com, 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’, http://topincomes.g-mond.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/

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’, http://topincomes.g-mond.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/ 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.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon: Understanding racism?

A Syrian refugee, when asked how Lebanon was treating him, lamented and said:

“How is it treating me? It isn’t treating me, it treats my money. Because of the nature of my job (veterinarian) I’m dealing with middle upper class Lebanese who only make their judgments based on money. They see that I’m here spending, and they see that I too come from the middle classes so they don’t show as much bigotry as it is normally the sentiment against us (Syrians) in Lebanon”.

Mohamad Ali-Nayel, Bassem Chit published this October 28, 2013 on Civil Society Knowledge Center

Understanding racism against Syrian refugees in Lebanon

The end of Lebanon’s civil war was marked by a more direct hegemonic role of the Syrian regime over the country’s political and economic spheres, with a high level of complicity from the Lebanese rulers with the Syrian regime.

This status quo allowed the Syrian regime to escape the economic stagnation that the country faced (1), through the open borders policy, allowing scores of Syrian workers to come to Lebanon in search of jobs.

And it gave the Lebanese ruling class and its contractors access to cheap labor, without providing them with any rights, in the large reconstruction projects that were initiated by the government in the early 1990’s, after 15 years of civil war.

Source: yalibnan.com

Syrian refugees in UNHCR waiting room, Beirut, Lebanon | Photo by: yalibnan.com

Resentment against the Syrian regime’s control over Lebanon grew in the post-civil war years, yet this discontent was easily channeled through the dominant discourses into an unchallenged (neither by the Syrian or Lebanese State, nor by the majority of civil society organizations and political parties in Lebanon) xenophobic and racist sentiments against Syrian workers.

The Syrian workers became stereotyped and stigmatized as “ignorant” and “menial” workers. Although it was exactly this Syrian labor force that rebuilt Lebanon in the post-war era.

The ongoing popular uprising that started in Syria in early 2011, especially after the oppressive response by the regime, has now turned into an all-out war across the country.

As a result, a high number of Syrian citizens fled their country into Lebanon. Yet, and in contrast to the previous composition of the Syrian community that was present in Lebanon before 2011, this new influx introduced new and different segments of the Syrian population into Lebanon, such as the Syrian upper and lower middle classes.

These newcomers found striking similarities with the Lebanese middle classes. However, the majority of refugees is still composed of Syrian workers and the urban and rural poor.

The multi-class composition of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has challenged pre-existing xenophobic sentiments and stigmas, as the starting quote mentions:“They see that I’m here spending, and they see that I too come from the middle classes so they don’t show as much bigotry as it is normally the sentiment against us (Syrians) in Lebanon”.

However, it only does so on a class basis. The Syrian middle classes are able, in effect, albeit to a small extent, to escape the stigmatization, which is becoming more and more focused and concentrated on poor and working class Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

At the same time, the influx of Syrian refugees is also shaping contradictory sentiments among the wider populace in Lebanon.

On one side there is an element of basic sympathy, which can be identified through a diverse scope of activities such as Lebanese families hosting refugees in their homes or property, as well as basic support like clothing and food in different regions and locations in cities and villages. As a 50 year old woman comments, contemplating that issue of basic sympathy: It is unethical to blame the refugees for the problems we are facing, they had no choice in coming here, they are running from war, like we ran before them from the [Lebanese] civil war”.

On the other side, there are the dominant discourses propagated by leading political forces and elites, along with their affiliated media stations. They have been actively scapegoating Syrian refugees and blaming them for economic, social and security failures in the country. These discourses are then replicated through the daily politics of individuals and groups, forging a xenophobic and racist popular culture against Syrian refugees.

MP Michel Aoun recently stated that the “Syrian refugees are a serious danger”, while Samir Geagea, the main figure in Lebanon’s Lebanese Forces, stressed on the 30th of August 2013, about “Lebanon’s inability to handle [The Syrian refugee crisis] more, and that a viable solution needs to be put in place, and the only solution is to establish safe zones within Syria’s borders under international protection.”

Marwan Charbel, Lebanon’s internal security minister, declared on February 28th 2013 that the “Syrian refugees are threatening the security situation in Lebanon”. Other major political forces in Lebanon, like Hizbullah, Amal, Jumblatt’s PSP (Progressive Socialist Party), and Hariri’s Future Current mostly stressed the Humanitarian aspect of the “Syrian refugees Crisis” in Lebanon, but have refrained from countering any of the racist and xenophobic discourses, in the political and media spheres and even among their base of supporters and cadres.

The scapegoating discourse does not spur out of a natural inclination towards racism. Rather, it signals a deep crisis that the Lebanese state and its ruling elite have been facing since 2005 (2).

More recently, it became galvanized by the crisis faced by the Syrian regime and the consequent influx of refugees, which has uncovered Lebanon’s ruling elite’s inability to manage the rising needs within society and the calls for reform.

Social dismay in Lebanon also started to accumulate around 2011, exacerbated by a history of corruption and conflicts, in the absence of any real and concrete plans of economic and social development and reform.

The past two years witnessed a short-lived social mobilization against sectarianism and a prolonged mobilization and strike movement by the Trade Union Coordination Committee, in addition to localized protests, such as the electricity workers’ open strike.

Added to that was the rising pressure from civil society forces for equal rights for women and other social issues. This led the Lebanese State and major political forces in the country to actively try to escape that pressure by attempting to channel existing popular resentment against the State towards a xenophobic and racist victimization of poor Syrian refugees.

To simply say that the Lebanese are naturally racist is shortsighted. This over-simplification tends to overlook factors that concentrate and divert people’s frustration against their own regime, towards scapegoating and discrimination against Syrian refugees.

In order to discern this process of diversion or deflection, the role of Lebanon’s media institutions needs to be interpreted and the manner in which they shape people’s general understanding and consciousness of the world around them and its contradictions.

On August 6th, 2013, a news article published by An-Nahar newspaper, a Arabic Lebanese political daily, mentions that:

“The worker and craftsman from Akkar already suffers from a tough economic hardship and shrinking job opportunities. They are being forced between the hammer of a human feeling, sympathy with the displaced Syrians, and the anvil of the reality of living difficulties. The Syrian seasonal workers have become today’s workers and permanent residents working in various business available in Akkar”

The author in this paragraph summarizes the problematic of this article.

1. The author manages to establish an unquestionable status quo in Akkar by saying it “already suffers from a tough economic hardship and shrinking job opportunities.” He then suggests that what is galvanizing these hardships is also another unquestionable fact, which is the taking over of jobs by the Syrian refugees, who are “already registered as refugees and are benefiting from international, Arab and local aid”.

2. The author fails to mention the reasons of economic stagnation in Akkar, North of Lebanon, which has been witnessing a serious lack of attention from the Lebanese State especially in terms of socio-economic development. A study conducted by Mada Association in 2008 notices the following about the area:

“In 1998, Akkar accounted for 12.5% of the total number of deprived individuals in Lebanon, with 63.3%of the families in the region living in poverty and 23.3% of them in extreme poverty. Preliminary results of the 2004 mapping using the same living conditions index show that Akkar continues to have the highest share of poor households in Lebanon.”

3. The author also fails to mention the reasons why Syrian refugees, who are “receiving aid”  are in dire need of finding jobs. He also fails to ask whether the provided aid is actually enough to sustain the Syrian refugees, who did not flee to Lebanon by choice, but were rather forced to do so due to the ongoing violence in Syria.

Oxfam, an international humanitarian organization, carried out a Fair Share Analysis of Donations to the UN Syria Crisis Appeal, September 2013 and deduced the following:

“Research carried out by international aid agency Oxfam reveals that many donor countries are failing to provide their share of the urgently-needed funding for the humanitarian response to the Syria crisis. While the need for a political solution to the crisis is as urgent as ever, Oxfam says donors including France, Qatar and Russia, must also prioritise funding the UN’s $5 billion appeals.”

By omitting these facts, the author leaves the reader with the conclusion that people in Akkar are communities who, in order to make a living, need to fend for themselves, without showing the shortcomings and responsibilities of the State or the region’s elected MPs. He also suggests that Akkar’s residents, although living a tough reality, they were generally doing ok, until the Syrian refugees arrived to the region.

This method of diversion is prevalent in Lebanese media reporting.

In an article published by Assafir newspaper on September 4th, 2013, which could be read as a feel-good story about the refugees. However, the story’s conclusion focuses on the negative sentiments that sum up refugees as a nuisance and alien to the “Lebanese way of life.

“The large number of motorcycles, though making life easier for Syrian refugees, has become an ample curse for the local population in the villages. The movements of dozens of motorbikes in villages have annoyed their residents, who in turn complained about the annoying sounds in narrow streets and alleys, in addition to the smoke that is emitted from each motorbike. This urged local authorities and security forces to control their movement, by setting specific limited hours for their movement.”

Although the author mentions the reasons why Syrian refugees use motorbikes, as it has a low cost compared to the high costs of local transportation systems in Lebanon, he misses the fact that the use of motorbikes is also a prevalent means of transportation for the Lebanese  working class or poor backgrounds.

Instead of tackling the question of transportation, facing both poor Lebanese and poor Syrian refugees alike, which is by all means the responsibility of the Lebanese State and ruling elites, the issue is thus diverted into an unresolvable dilemma presented in the concluding comparison, portraying quaint Lebanese villages versus the noise and nuisance that is caused by Syrian refugees on motorbikes.

Another example of this method of reporting can be found in an article published on April 19th, 2013 by Al-Akhbar newspaper, another Arabic, Lebanese political daily. The author seems to have just discovered or is re-discovering Souk Al-Ahad (The Sunday Market). The author observes, based on the present businesses and the crowds in the Sunday Market, that the Syrian refugees are now:

“changing landmarks in Beirut and its daily routine and Sunday market has had the lion’s share from this change”. 

Yet this market has been historically one of the most visited places by poor working class Lebanese and Syrian and other migrant workers alike. But the author neglects that fact by saying that, before the Syrians came, it was a “quiet” shopping area. When one of the stall owners mentions the real problem of the continuous rising of stalls’ rent prices by the market’s Lebanese management:

“Mohamad denies the increasing number of stalls in the market is a result of the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, and explains it on the basis that the price of a stall in Souk Al-Ahad is U.S. $175 per week, with raising prices permanently put up by the market management.”

The author fails to pursue this issue, but continues to generally describe the Lebanese stall owners’ reaction to Syrian customers and vice versa.

The article overlooks the effects of rising rent prices and the reasons behind the hike in product prices, which many of the author’s interviewees mentioned in the article. One woman is reportedly saying: “Are Lebanese used to pay such prices or where they hiked just to welcome the Syrian visitor?” The author simply focuses on the antagonism that exists between Lebanese and Syrians, inadvertently contributing to the portrayal of an embedded racism, without showing who are the ones responsible or pulling the strings and fueling such racism.

The use of the word “Lebanese prestige” at the beginning of the article, to describe an assumed slow or quiet movement in the market before the influx of Syrian refugees, hints at a certain assumed bourgeois character of Lebanese citizens. It is then re-established by describing the “Lebanese corner” of the market, as being similar in shape to the bourgeois streets of downtown Beirut, compared to the popular character of the other stalls (where the author does not really say whether they are Lebanese or Syrian).

The missing facts and questions for understanding the antagonism rising within the politics of this market are many. Who is the Lebanese management? Why did it hike the rent prices?,What were the reasons behind the rent hike? How did that impact the prices of goods sold in the market? Who was affected? How did that play in fueling or driving antagonistic sentiments between Syrian and Lebanese shoppers and stall operators?

Falling into the same problematic of media reporting in Lebanon when dealing with the question of racism against Syrian refugees is the continued focus on reporting “racist behavior,” whether in support or in condemnation. Either way, it is being enforced as the media fails to look into what drives it, what encourages it, and what are the conditions that are nourishing its propagation within society.

All in all, those responsible for economic policies in Lebanon, the establishment of working and accessible transportation systems, the management of markets, such as Souk Al-Ahad, are all outside the picture the media reports when tackling questions related to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The reader is left with two conclusions; either the Lebanese are inherently racist, as a unchanging fact, or Syrian refugees are greedy workers who steal jobs from poor Lebanese citizens.

The examples of media reporting on Syrian refugees in Lebanon are many and most follow these two stereotypes in one way or another. On rare occasions, articles point to the structural causes and the political environment that effortlessly manage to divert existing genuine resentment against the harsh conditions people face in Lebanon, through scapegoating “foreign elements.”

This culture of diversion, if it may be called as such, is not new. It has been a longstanding accompanying discourse of Lebanon’s ruling elite, in building their own political hegemony and preserving their rule. The ills of Lebanon are always relegated to being the result of interference of “stranger” and/or “foreign” elements.

This is exceptionally true in the dominant discourses interpreting the causes of the long civil war that destroyed the country between 1975 and 1989, following which the ruling elite declared a general amnesty and resorted to explain the civil war as a result of the interference of “Palestinians” or “Syrians” in local Lebanese affairs. It was enough to divert attention from the real causes of the war, the State’s sectarianism being one of the major causes.

Yet this scapegoating is never done on the level of interfering governments or rich Arab and foreign interventionists. Quite the contrary, it has always been directed against migrant workers, refugees, workers, and the poor. It is exactly this economic or class element of this culture that is worrying. The opening quote of this article mentions that “it [Lebanon] treats my money”, making Lebanon a safe haven for the rich and, at the same time, a punitive establishment for the poor. The punishments is incited through sectarianism and racist and xenophobic strife and conflict.

In an environment of economic scarcity, hardship, and poverty, questions about who is more poor and more needy, among the poor, is directly and indirectly attempting to hide a more important and more crucial question, which is why do Syrian and Lebanese, whether in Lebanon or in Syria, have to live in poverty and hardship? In the mean time, projects for constructing billion-dollar shopping malls and sky-high expensive resorts and buildings are ongoing in different places around the country. It is that culture of not questioning poverty and scarcity,that allows and drives the development of racism, sectarianism, and xenophobia.

 As a result, it is the poor and the refugees who pay the price and they learn to replicate the same discourse within their own interpretations of reality:

“We have covered larger sections of Lebanon and we have become too many to the extent that the Lebanese cannot tolerate us any longer. They have also increased their authority and control over us at work. Even some of them have stopped paying us our salaries. The hard living conditions are not the only reasons that make Syrian refugees line up at the doors of UNHCR, but also because in Lebanon they don’t feel that they are outside the Syrian crisis. Everyone in Lebanon wants to know where we are from, who we belong to. or who we support. This way, the Lebanese choose to deal with us based on our backgrounds”. Nasser fled with two generations from his family, all wanting to reach the West. It doesn’t matter which country they go to, what only matters is to get out of here. Nasser tells al-Akhbar newspaper on October 16th, 2012.

Stories and news reports about Syrian refugees in Lebanon are abundant in Lebanese media. Stories covering the refugees seem to cover almost all aspects of being a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. However, they are always portrayed in majority as having a “turbulent” effect on Lebanese society, without actually looking to the already existing turbulent conditions in the country. The fact that Syrian refugees are being coerced towards a refugee status is similar to that which many Lebanese faced during the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon or the Civil War. But it is mostly neglected or only used to justify support for the regime or segments of the opposition in Syria. It does not purport to show the striking similarities in hardships, oppression, and exploitation that both Syrian and Lebanese face, while living under the existing ruling orders; the continuous state of stagnation of reforms that both the Syrian and Lebanese regimes are facing; or the effects this stagnation has in terms of exacerbating social and civil injustices.

The media commands how people understand and interpret reality to a large extent. Thus, if the space is left for a shortsighted or deflected explanation of reality, this contributes, in one way or the other, to diverting people’s focus away from the real problems. Thus, it creates a culture of misinformation, which contradicts the democratic culture that the media presumably contributes to developing.

In conclusion, civil society organizations in Lebanon cannot continue treating Syrian refugees in Lebanon through a strictly humanitarian lens. They must be mindful of the prevailing discourses that shape people’s opinions about refugees. They should also systematically counter that discourse by putting pressure on media institutions, in addition to the State, and by developing alternative discourses. This could win people outside the racist and sectarian discourses and lead to a focus on real issues that people face and the shared experience both Lebanese and Syrians are facing and have faced in the past, in their struggle against exploitation and survival under oppression, exploitation, wars, and social injustices.

*Mohamad Ali-Nayel is a freelance journalist based in Beirut.
*Bassem Chit is the excutive director of Lebanon Support.

  • 1.“Syria’s economic stagnation is rooted in official as well as informal economic and fiscal policies and decisions that have undergirded incentives for liberalizing the national market since the early 1990s”, Bassam Haddad, Change and Statis in Syria, Merip, 2013
  • 2.The Lebanese ruling class crisis has presented itself in several forms during the past few years, either by their inability to resolve the political conflict that has been reaping through the country since 2005, and in their inability to respond to the rising economic hardships that most Lebanese are facing, as well as the massively accumulated national debt which accounts to more than 40 billion US dollars (which is a result of the pandemic state of corruption that characterizes the Lebanese ruling order).

Warning: International correspondents in Africa

It is a dangerous job covering a war zone as foreign correspondents: Regimes fear public display of pictures, videos and detailed articles.

It is even more dangerous to play the free-lance correspondent, having no background knowledge of the country and the people…and not even knowing the Capital of the State or its boundary countries…There are advantages of being very naive about the social and political structure of a country:

1. You tend to ask plenty of questions: You have got no choice if you want to relay the story as accurately as you intend to…

2. You take opportunity of a wide spectrum of citizens…anyone willing to volunteer his piece of the story and his view of the conditions…

3. Since you are not a professional correspondent, you have no direct connections with the main leaders and personalities who regurgitate ad nauseam their proper stories of their positions…

“The booming African continent is ripe for new partnerships, but with those who address us as equals not in aid bullet points” wrote  in guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 June 2012, under “How not to write about Africa in 2012 – a beginner’s guide

Save the Children Africa

Photograph: Colin Crowley/Save the Children/PA.  Save the Children’s handout photo of Aftin, a 12-year-old boy who lives in the community of Bulla Al-Tabi in Kenya.

“Nairobi is a good place to be an international correspondent. There are regular flights to the nearest genocide (locations), and there are green lawns, tennis courts, good fawning service.

You can get pork belly, and you can hire an OK pastry chef called Elijah (surname forgotten) to work in your kitchen for $300 a month.

If you work for one of the major newspapers, television or radio services, chances are you live in Nairobi or Johannesburg. To make your work easier, you need, in your phone, the numbers of the country directors of every European aid agency: Oxfam, Save the Children.

To find these numbers is not difficult: chances are these guys are your neighbours, your tennis partners.

If your spouse has arrived in Kenya and does not have a job, soon he or she will be fully networked and earning lots of pounds/euros/dollars, making sure the babies of Africa are safe, making sure the animals of Africa are kept safely away from Africans, making sure the African woman is kept well-shielded from the African man, making sure the genitals of Africa are swabbed, “rubbered” and raised into a place called awareness.

Because you are a good person, who believes in multiculturalism, and that politicians are evil.

You are a child of the human rights age. A post-cold war child.

In this age, which has no ideology, brown and black places are flat issues: how far from gay freedom is (fill in African country)?

In this age, all local knowledge is carried by aid organisations. These organisations speak human rights, and because they do so, we know that they are good, objective and truthful. So, if a foreign correspondent needs to know what exactly is going on in Sudan, their weekly lunch with the Oxfamy guy will identify the most urgent issues.

Since, in your world, big history died with the Berlin Wall, there is only little history left to report on Africa.

Little history is full of many small flares of “wonderfulness” and many small flares of utter “horribleness” that occasionally rise in a flat and benign world: a little boy in Malawi made his own radio. An actual radio. He has a good smile.

Osama bin Laden or one of his peeps bombed trains, planes and innocent civilians – and you slept safe that night, all of the flat world slept safe that night.

There are five or six places that have not been fully pacified inside the vision of the world as run by the victors of the cold war: North Korea, Gaddafi (that has been dealt with), Somalia, Afghanistan, the women of Africa, and the poor people of China, slaving away under the most terrible conditions doing confusing things like refusing to evolve into Europe.

Big places where history is still alive – like Russia, China, the Middle East – are to be feared and demonized. Why shouldn’t the Egyptians vote for a nice, safe, British-trained economist who once worked for the World Bank, as in most current European States?

In the 80s, your newspaper probably had correspondents in many African countries. Now there are two: west Africa, and east Africa (Horn). Or one: Africa, based in Johannesburg.

In the 80s, the world’s future was not secure. Some African countries were on one side of power, some on the other side of power. They could not be ignored. As nobody had won, the big powers had to fight for the hearts, minds and minerals of all.

All an African President needed to do was suggest that he was crossing over and have love and “Smarties” dropped over his house by Nato planes. Margaret Thatcher visited Zimbabwe. Robert loved her.

In 1991, Africa ceased to exist. The world was safe, and the winners could now concentrate on being caring, speaking in aid language bullet points.

If there was a new map, Africa would be divided into three:

1) Tiny flares of horribleness – Mugabe, undemocratic regimes, war, Somalia, Congo…

2) Tiny flares of wonderfulness. Mandela, World Cup, safari. Baby4Africa! A little NGO that does amazing things with black babies who squirm happily in white saviours’ hands because they were saved from an African war. My favourites are clitoraid.com and Knickers 4 Africa – which collects used panties for African women;

3) The remaining “vast grassroots“. This part of Africa is run by nameless warlords. When the warlords fall, these places are run by grassroots organisations that are funded by the EU and provide a good place to send gap year kids to help and see giraffes at the same time.

Grassroots Africa is good for backpacking because it is the real Africa (no AK47s to bother you, no German package tourists).

The vast grassroots exists to sit and wait for agents of sustainability (Europeans) to come and empower them.

But what cannot be said is that history came surging to the present: Market capitalism is shaking, and all of a sudden the vast grassroots has oil and copper, and willing, driven and ambitious hands.

The continent is ripe for new partnerships, new capital – new strong handshakes.

China is no angel – but we are, for them, an essential part of the way the world will be. They are in it for their future, not ours; we are in with them for our future. We are real to them, and we have a platform to talk.

It is not a surprise that, in these days, there is a vast and growing new middle class across the continent: the British, American and European media houses have lost us.

Our own are booming, and we are finding deals with CCTV (China) and al-Jazeera. We fly Emirates and Kenya Airways. We make deals with those who see a common and vibrant future being a platform for engagement.

Note: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2009/11/11/africa-is-targeted-to-be-exclusively-the-worlds-food-basket/


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