May Newsletter

Welcome to Kawaakibi Foundation’s first ever newsletter where we keep you informed on our updates, work and research!

Team updates

In January, Kawaakibi Foundation’s co-founder Ahmed Gatnash stepped into the role of Executive Director. Ahmed is a Libyan-British activist and co-author of the Middle East Crisis Factory, a primer on the entrenchment of tyranny, terrorism and foreign intervention in the region, and a manifesto for hope.

Former Executive Director Iyad El-Baghdadi is now our Chairman, and is taking a step back to focus on building a Palestinian-run fund. The two organisations will be collaborating, so keep an eye out!

We also welcomed Razan Saffour as our new Head of Communications and Content Strategy last November, and have entrusted our media output and communications to her. Razan is a British-Syrian communications and advocacy specialist, with over a decade of experience in human rights, media and emergency response.

In the news

What does “decolonisation” mean in the context of Gaza? Iyad El-Baghdadi gave a 17-minute interview to WNYC last month.

Stolen homelands: Sudan's generations of conflict, displacement and hope: Kawaakibi Arts Programme co-director Khalid Albaih wrote a powerful and intimate story of his family's survival for The New Arab.

In the arts

Khalid Albaih's exhibition "Shahid" opened last month at the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha. This interactive audiovisual installation puts the viewer inside key poignant moments from the Israeli onslaught in Gaza, stressing the individual’s role as a witness to this ongoing live tragedy.

Ramy Essam's exhibition "Bogeys" also opened at The Cowgirl Gallery in Malmö, Sweden. While battling PTSD in 2021, Ramy began drawing "bogeys" - cartoon-like characters which were visual manifestations of the trauma, oppression, and censorship he had endured as a musician. He has since developed an intuitive art therapy process which we will pilot with human rights activists in the coming months.

New media launches

We are hosting monthly Spaces on X, delving into topics we deem most important to our present context each month. Listen here to our January, February and April panels, and keep an eye out for our next Space this month!

76 years on from the Nakba, Iyad shared his reflections on his family's experience of the Palestinian national tragedy, and what it means to describe the Nakba as an ongoing event and structure.

We are also launching the first edition of “The Zoom-Out”, our monthly newsletter featuring analysis and commentary on events related to the MENA region and beyond. We’ll take a look at what’s happening in the world, with a focus on the bigger picture, and historical perspectives which may be missing from news coverage. There’s a preview below - make sure to subscribe at the bottom to get future editions.

The Zoom-Out

MENA overview

When Kawaakibi Foundation launched in 2017, the state of the Middle East and North Africa was radically different to today. The second wave of MENA protests across Algeria, Sudan and Lebanon were brewing, sieges and massacres were a daily occurrence in Syria, as were incarcerations and arrests in Egypt, whilst foreign powers fought their proxy wars in Libya and Yemen. Palestine on the other hand was witnessing the everyday brutality of Israeli occupation with heightened clashes and protests, following Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which would lead to a wave of Arab state normalisation with Israel.

Today, Ireland, Norway and Spain have announced their recognition of Palestine as an independent state following arrest warrants from the ICC against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. Where does this leave the Abrahamic Accords, which were premised on the gradual erasure of the Palestinian cause from Arab and global consciousness, to enable the permanent normalisation of Israel with MENA dictatorships?

The sudden death of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi this week potentially disrupts Iran's domestic policy, amid ongoing elections, but in the international sphere no major change is anticipated in Iran's imperial intervention in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Meanwhile, the situation across other countries in the MENA region remains bleak. Authoritarian regimes have now graduated from attempting to pacify – or distract – populations from their crimes, to murdering with impunity. Senior ECFR policy fellow Tarek Megrisi encapsulates the situation in an Arab Digest podcast succinctly, stating: “Arab leaders don't have to put on a song and dance for the people like they did in the 1960s and ‘70s. Now, they believe that they can just ignore them and if they bubble up too much, they can simply just kill and arrest."

Israel embraces its position as part of the regional order

Eight months into the genocide on Gaza, the ICC prosecutor's request for warrants against Israeli leaders may be the final hope for accountability from international institutions, given the comprehensive failure of other systems of accountability.

However, the warrant requests charge Hamas leaders with eight crimes whilst charging Israeli leaders with seven, despite the power imbalance and overwhelming evidence presented against Israel. Criticising this in an article titled "The ICC warrants are not about justice", Noura Erakat wrote, "The Rome Statute, which established the court, does not consider colonialism to be a core crime, so the worst crimes committed by former colonial powers — here, Israel’s forced displacement and repression of Palestinians over decades — are beyond judicial reach." She added that, "Although the warrants, on their own, will not bring justice, they have cracked the wall that has shielded Israel from accountability and obscured the crisis of the Palestinian right to life and dignity."

Israel's censorship, violence, propaganda, and weaponisation of humanitarian aid align it closely with the region's authoritarian regimes. Omar Sabbour’s comments in a recent article resonate with us, where he states: “Israel is not being “singled out”, as its western backers accuse its opponents of doing. Rather, there are clear commonalities in the nature of violence deployed by the “Arab winter” regimes and Israel in Gaza - and both have been enabled by international powers under the justification of the “war on terror”.

We’re yet to see the true impact of western governments' enablement of Israeli atrocities whilst voicing theoretical support for human rights and justice, but we can guess at the likely consequences: the total delegitimisation of the international order.

The loss of western credibility

The United States is threatening to sanction the International Criminal Court over their arrest warrants for Israel. Such tactics align the US, as it did their previous administration, with authoritarian manoeuvres of threatening judges and independent judicial institutions.

Since the beginning of the genocide, established mechanisms for conflict resolution such as the United Nations have lost their credibility, and public anger is to the extent that “European diplomats say they cannot envisage risking public votes on Ukraine for the foreseeable future... Russia has made a point of highlighting Washington’s “double standards in its attitude to Ukrainians and Palestinians”. Non-western countries now hesitate to support the West anywhere, because they feel that these issues are politicised and that the West will fail to support them in turn, according to an article by Bruno Macaes.

In the long-term, this will go towards the wholesale erosion of norms against international crimes, with more “grey space” attributed to egregious crimes, which become geopolitical footballs based on the identity of the culprit, as “whataboutism” becomes increasingly abused in response to condemnations.

The EU’s bankrolling of dictators

Senior MEPs have accused the European Commission of “bankrolling dictators” after they made a deal offering Egypt €7.4bn "mostly in loans" in exchange for helping curb migrant flows. This comes after a similar deal to give €1bn to the Tunisian government last July, announced with a photoshoot of President Kais Said standing beside grinning senior EU politicians - seemingly unconcerned that they were legitimising the man who was just concluding his comprehensive dismantling Tunisia's democratic progress.

These deals have both been criticised even by EU member states for being rushed and highly-opaque, containing no provisions to reduce ongoing human rights violations, and containing inadequate protections against the money being diverted by governments with track records of corruption and financial mismanagement. The recent resumption of €1 billion in aid for Lebanon to support border control, after a five year standoff demanding serious political reform, which the EU has now lost, illustrates this point.

As Tarek Megerisi eloquently described: "Europe's externalisation policy is essentially a game of bribing states to keep migrants/refugees, which eventually becomes being blackmailed by these states to not facilitate the flow of migrants towards you. And the costs of blackmail have a funny way of continuously escalating. It's ironic that this late-stage version of a policy which was always driven by feelings of anxiety over a lack of control over migration flows, involves trading huge sums of money and our values to someone else to increase their control over the dynamic at the cost of our own."

A recent report by the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks also revealed that the UN is increasingly partnering with Assad regime cronies and organisations with connections to human rights abuses. This exposé comes ahead of the Brussels Conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” on 27 May, and calls on donors to conduct independent monitoring of the UN’s operations in Syria.

Civil society fights the normalising of genocide 

Palestinian, Arab and global civil societies have mobilised strongly against the normalising of genocide since October. Multiple efforts to bring legal accountability are ongoing, whilst large-scale demonstrations and campus encampments have proliferated across Europe and North America, some even being met with violence in Germany and the USA.

An open letter penned by leading activists and former members of the Human Rights Foundation’s community expressed dismay at their abysmal stance and their chairman Garry Kasparov’s dehumanising, militaristic and racist rhetoric. FairSquare, a gulf-focused human rights advocacy organisation, wrote to Swiss Development & Cooperation refusing to accept funds - including outstanding grants - until the Swiss government lifts suspensions on 11 Israeli and Palestinian NGOs. US government and European Union staffers continue to express dissent and publicly resign from their positions over arms sales and western states’ continued refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

As Omar Sabbour eloquently wrote: “I can no longer work on a donor’s crisis response in one country, while they enable a crisis in another. With an imminent disastrous offensive on Rafah in the offing, there is an urgency for members of NGOs with donor partnerships to take immediate action. [..] We cannot allow western “guilt-washing” to take place through the slaughter of Palestinians facing extermination in Gaza, or through a crackdown on the civil liberties of Arab and Muslim diaspora communities. There can be no more squaring of the circle, and it can no longer be business as usual.”

Because of all the factors discussed, in the wider context in which Arab and Palestinian civil society and NGO spaces find themselves often at the mercy of European and American donors, Iyad and his team are developing PAACT, a new Palestinian-run fund for regional and global human rights work. With donors pulling out or disciplining many a MENA-run/focused NGOs for their solidarity with Palestinians, it is high-time that we ensure that those from MENA communities maintain agency over our work.

And what better way than to support us on our journey to self-sustainability? You can do so by signing up to The Zoom-Out, and by donating to us here or on Patreon.

Stay connected

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