Umm Anas’ four-room apartment rings with the muffled laughter of children told to hush. Her six sons and daughters and four neighborhood children huddle around a tiny, rickety television in the otherwise unfurnished living room. Arabic-dubbed episodes of the “How to Train Your Dragon” television series play in the background while the little boys chase each other around the room with plastic toy guns. Umm Anas’ two-year old daughter clings to her mother’s skirts and watches as humanitarian workers survey the broken doors with no locks and the jagged remnants of windowpanes. The toilet behind the house is open to the rest of the complex, and the family’s water tank allows them only 20 gallons per week for seven people.
The daily lives of Syrian refugees in Jordan have always been difficult, but until the winter of 2014-2015, they were defined more by concern about making ends meet than outright panic.
A carpenter all his life, ‘Ala’ never imagined himself wanting for something like a chair or a bed. But today his blue plastic seat is a luxury. After fleeing war in Syria, ‘Ala’ and his family were homeless in Jordan for roughly 18 months. But since January, the father of three has lived with a dozen other refugee families in a furnished apartment building on the outskirts of Amman.
‘Abd al-Qadir is tall, handsome and unassumingly stylish. With his well-cropped beard, Bob Marley T-shirt and Nike kicks, the young man would not look out of place on the gentrified streets of Brooklyn, the art scene of Belleville or the bustling beaches of his dream destination, Rio de Janeiro. Instead, he lingers in Amman, confronting dark news from home with a disarming smile.
The military’s coup in Egypt has placed the American political establishment in a bind. Many observers insist that the Obama administration must either formally condone the military takeover or call it a “coup,” which would require a cutoff of American aid, as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has advocated.
One of the more regrettable things that Uncle Sam does with your tax dollars is sending $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel every year. He’ll be doing that until 2018 — and probably after, unless Americans decide enough is enough.
When President Barack Obama traveled to Israel in March, he was keen to “reaffirm the unbreakable bond between our nations” and “to restate America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.” Over the years, Washington has displayed this resolve in several ways. One of the most consequential has been the continuous stream of taxpayer dollars that has kept Israel armed to the teeth and reduced the prospects for Middle East peace.
With cameras and Twitter feeds trained on Tahrir Square in Cairo, a series of large opposition protests have unfolded in an eponymous square in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, as well as other major cities across the country. The protests have been organized and coordinated by a cross-ideological amalgam known as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP, sometimes also translated as the Common Forum), and have been identifiable by their careful deployment of protest paraphernalia — sashes, hats, posters, flyers and more — tinted in gradations of pink. At first glance, these protests seem to have generated substantial concessions from President ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih, who, having occupied some form of executive office since 1978, is the longest-serving ruler in the Arab world after Muammar al-Qaddafi. Salih pledged on February 2 to abandon his efforts to amend the constitution so as to be able to run again himself or engineer the succession of his son, Ahmad, to the presidency. Much as these steps might appear to presage far-reaching political change in Yemen, perhaps even a colored proto-revolution, there are good reasons for skepticism.
Amidst the monumental Egyptian popular uprising of 2011, Plan A for the Egyptian regime and the Obama administration was for Husni Mubarak to remain president of Egypt indefinitely. They have now moved on to Plan B.
The school in Dahiyat Amir Hasan in East Amman is only half-finished, but even through the rubble and the clouds of concrete dust it is clear that the education there will be very different than in Jordan’s other government-run schools. The classrooms are spacious and positioned around multi-purpose areas that can be used for team teaching or supervised recreation. Downstairs there are science labs equipped with vapor hoods, sinks and Bunsen burners, and set up for students to conduct experiments in groups. There is a gym, an art studio and a music chamber — none of which facilities are standard in Jordanian public schools. The corresponding subjects, in fact, are often left out of the curriculum.
The flooding of most of the Indus River valley in Pakistan has the makings of a history-altering catastrophe. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 20 million Pakistanis are in dire need, many of them homeless or displaced, others cut off from help by fallen bridges and submerged highways, untold numbers lacking supplies of food and potable water. In the August heat, waterborne disease is a mortal peril, especially to children, 3.5 million of whom are said to be vulnerable. Measured in numbers of people affected, says OCHA spokesman Maurizio Giuliano, “This disaster is worse than the tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake.”
The Egyptian regime has once again succeeded in stifling freedom of speech, this time not in Egypt, but in the US. Earlier this month, an Egyptian court convicted a prominent Egyptian-American activist for his outspoken criticism of the regime’s poor human rights record in American public fora. The court accused Saad Eddin Ibrahim, of "tarnishing Egypt’s image" abroad. The conviction referred primarily to writings he published in the foreign press; most notably among them an August 2007 op-ed in the Washington Post in which he criticized Egypt’s human rights record and questioned the reasons behind US aid to Egypt.
In mid-January, when Israel further tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip, it hurriedly assured the world that a “humanitarian crisis” would not be allowed to occur. Case in point: Days after the intensified siege prompted Hamas to breach the Gaza-Egypt border and Palestinians to pour into Egypt in search of supplies, Israel announced plans to send in thousands of animal vaccines to prevent possible outbreaks of avian flu and other epidemics due to livestock and birds entering Gaza from Egypt.  Medicines for human beings, on the other hand, are among the supplies that are barely trickling in to Gaza now that the border has been resealed.
After passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and the ensuing "cessation of hostilities," hundreds of thousands of displaced Lebanese are venturing across bombed roads and bridges returning to their destroyed homes and villages in the south.
Although Israel’s aerial bombardment has ended for the moment, Lebanon’s humanitarian crisis continues to worsen because the unanimously passed resolution failed to address Israel’s blockade and the needs of all the internally displaced.
These two major problems demand the world’s urgent attention.
As President George W. Bush said in his second inaugural address, and as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last summer at the American University in Cairo: “America will not impose our style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, to attain their own freedom and to make their own way.”
Contradicting their lofty rhetoric, the Bush administration, along with the European Union, is undermining democracy and U.S. credibility in the Middle East by sabotaging the result of the January 25 Palestinian elections. In completely rejecting the outcome they are also effectively giving up the biggest “carrot” in their arsenals for influencing Palestinian Authority policy.
Israel seems to have gotten the message that Palestinian land, in any final resolution to the conflict, cannot simply be divided into isolated cantons. But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon still intends to hold onto large chunks of the West Bank. How can Israel link Palestinian enclaves and dampen criticism of its closure policy while maintaining its hold on the Occupied Territories?
In his 2005 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush, hailing “the beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian territories,” pledged $350 million in US aid to the Palestinian Authority. One day before the heralded meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at Sharm al-Sheikh on February 8, the State Department announced the immediate transfer of another $40 million in aid to the Palestinians.
Jordan is the poster child for the Bush administration project of “transforming” the political order in the Middle East through free trade. If Jordan is any guide, however, economic liberalization does not lead inexorably to the diffusion of political power.
Given that a large contingent of foreign aid workers and UN representatives has been on the scene in Sudan for a decade, why did no one foresee the current famine in southern Sudan, which is affecting more than a million people?