Healing Syria’s Gushing Wound

Sep 24

(This article was co-authored with Richard Javad Heydarian.*) Almost 18 months after the onset of popular-democratic protests, the Syrian revolution increasingly resembles a bloody marathon with no clear finish line on the horizon. Unlike the “lightning” revolutions in North Africa, namely Tunisia and Egypt, which took only few weeks to overthrow Arab strongmen such as Mubarak and Ben Ali, the Syrian uprising has instead replicated a “slow-motion disintegration” of the rich tapestry that has characterized the Syrian society for centuries. Undoubtedly, Syria is at the epicenter of one of the bloodiest and most unfortunate conflicts in recent times, raising the specter of international intervention and prolonged humanitarian crisis. There is no way to understate the depth of the unfolding tragedy: there have been almost 20,000 civilians killed, with 2.5 million (and counting) internally displaced people in need of urgent humanitarian need, and more than 200,000 people fleeing the country just to arrive at cramped refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq.  I was able to visit Damascus and Homs a few months ago and had a first-hand look at the tragic unfolding of events. As the armed revolution enters the two large cities of Aleppo and Damascus, the humanitarian tragedy, unfortunately, is set to further deepen in scope and duration, unless all relevant parties (domestic and international) begin to commit themselves to a peaceful and effective political solution. Thus, the first priority should be the following: (1) Imposition of a ceasefire, under the aegis of the UN, on both sides of the conflict to end the bloodshed and provide necessary space for a genuine political dialogue; and (2) An immediate end to the ongoing proxy war that is fuelling an ‘internal arms race’, whereby Western and Arab powers have resorted to arming (directly or indirectly) rebels and extremist elements to topple the regime through sheer violence and terror. With the Syrian regime losing its grip over a growing proportion of the territory, it is also imperative for the Philippine government to explore channels of communication with the opposition forces to ensure the safety of thousands OFWS in Syria, while utilizing varying international fora, including the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), to encourage a unified, peaceful international response to the Syrian...

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An island of growth in a stagnant sea

Sep 14

The economic news on the Philippines the last few weeks has been good.  The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate for the first semester was an impressive 6.1 per cent, which put it in the top tier in Asia, while its “competiveness” leaped 10 notches, to the 65th  from the 75th  spot, out of 144 countries rated by the World Economic Forum.  Most other indicators appear to be pointing in a positive direction. In the opinion of many economic commentators, what is mainly responsible for the positive economic climate are infrastructure spending, which was restrained in the first two years as the contracting process was cleaned up at the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the anti-corruption program of the Aquino administration.  Also instrumental in the view of some has been the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which has raised the purchasing power of millions of households. The country’s performance was in marked contrast to the center economies.  The US recovery has stalled, while most of Europe is plunging into recession owing to savage austerity programs that have been demanded by Germany and key European institutions from highly indebted countries. With two engines virtually knocked out, the global economy has been running on one motor in the last three years, and that is the so-called emerging economies.  Now that motor is faltering, and this will have an impact on the Philippines. BRICs in trouble In 2010 and early 2011, East Asia and the big “newly emerging economies” known as the “BRICs” (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) were regarded as bright spots in the global economy, exhibiting resiliency and growth even as the North stagnated.  Indeed, to economists like Nobel laureate Michael Spence, “With growth returning to pre-2008 levels, the breakout performance of China, India, and Brazil are important engines of expansion for today’s global economy.” In a decade, the share of global GDP by the emerging economies would pass the 50 per cent mark, he predicted.  Much of this growth would stem from “endogenous domestic-growth drivers in emerging economies, anchored by an expanding middle class.”  Moreover, as trade among the BRICs increased, the future of emerging economies is one...

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