World Peace Update
Israel and Hamas really kicked peace in the balls last week, with an impressive and rather one-sided attempt to flatten out the whole of the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, respectively. However, their style was eventually cramped by Egyptian President Morsi, who brokered a ceasefire soon after Hamas had planted a bomb on a bus in central Tel Aviv.
It was a happy moment for everyone: The world stopped hyperventilating, and a bunch of French eco-warriors, Egyptian autocrats, and Belgian milk farmers were allowed to get back to the important business of hurting other people and getting hurt themselves, giving me plenty of options to choose from for this week's column. Could you imagine a world without violence? Sounds boring, right?
About ten days ago, a group of French Catholic homophobes chased some bare-breasted ladies through the streets of Paris. This time around, an assemblage of environmental activists and residents of the village of Notres Dame Des Lates confronted police over the erection of a new international airport in the area. This series of unfortunate events marks France's first consecutive appearance in this column.
Scenes of what AFP described as "guerilla warfare" erupted in a part of the French countryside known as the ZAD (Zone A Defendre) on Friday. After spending months trying to kick the anti-airport protesters out of the site they have been occupying for years, the police decided to move in with bulldozers, tear gas, and large batons to clear the site of any buildings and people once and for all.
Surprisingly enough, this wasn't well-recieved by the protesters, who threw barrages of rocks and flaming projectiles at the authorities. This tactic proved to be quite effective. The site is still under occupation and that vacation you've booked in the ZAD will have to wait a little while longer.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi gave us a valuable lesson in going from zero to hero, and then back to zero, in the space of just two days this week. After lulling Israel and Hamas into shaking hands on a peace deal last Thursday, Morsi gave himself sweeping powers in Egypt, causing his detractors to complain that his latest success had gone straight to his head. Those "sweeping powers" included a decree that no other authority can revoke presidential decisions, essentially placing Morsi beyond the grip of the law. As expected, the news didn't go down well with a large percentage of the Egyptian population, who immediately took to the streets in a series of protests that have been ongoing since Friday.
The first altercations took place between Morsi's supporters and opponents in Cairo, but the violence quickly spread to other cities across the country. In Alexandria and Suez, the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood party (the one Morsi leads) were firebombed. Of course, the police couldn't miss the skull-crashing party, which they joined over the weekend and haven't really left yet. The violence peaked on Tuesday, with a planned protest in Tahrir Square reviving chants that were once reserved for Mubarak and causing flocks of people to chase each other around in the streets.
This series of events has so far left four people dead and largely discredited Morsi's initial desire to "protect the revolution." The pressure is now on Morsi to pull a U-turn or risk more political instability in a country that is surely getting bored of political instability by now.
I've witnessed police come up against a number of weapons at riots and protests; I've seen sticks, gas bombs, rocks, hammers, and even homemade rocket launchers, but never have I seen cops come under fire from a torrent of milk. This happened on Monday, when thousands of dairy farmers from all over Europe descended outside the European parliament in Brussels to protest the new low in the wholesale price of milk—apparently it is now lower than the cost of production.
Snubbing the traditional protest methods of marching and public speaking, the farmers bandied together in a rare show of European unity and sprayed the police guarding the parliament with gallons of milk before trying to remove the barbed wire barriers. You might never have thought of milk as a weapon, especially if you spent any time on Tumblr, but you'd be surprised. The cops can't see, it's slippery, and I imagine it's also quite cold.
Things don't seem to have progressed massively on Assad's side this week, as the rebel Free Syrian Army took control of more territory, including army bases in the north and east of the country, piling further pressure on Damascus. Hardly the regime haven, the capital saw one of its air defence bases, the ominously titled "Base 666," also surrender to rebel forces on Tuesday.
All the while, the response by the regime has been cowardly, but catastrophic. On Sunday, ten children were killed when the playground they were playing in on the outskirts of Damascus was hit with cluster bombs. Locals told Reuters (via Christian Science Monitor) that, "There were no fighters inside Deir al-Asafir when the bombing occurred. They operate on the outskirts. This was indiscriminate bombing." Moreover, as if bombing children was not enough proof for the gap in Assad's soul, an olive press factory in Idlib province was bombed on Tuesday, kiling 20 and wounding scores more.
The fact that the Assad regime has been following a completely illogical strategy is far from surprising, but given the increase in which they're losing valuable military material and territory to the rebels, you'd think they'd step it up and focus their attacks on rebel positions. Launching fire at innocents is only going to hasten Assad's fall from grace. So if you're reading this Bashar al-Assad, maybe get out of the war room a sec, put on a bullet-proof helmet, take a wander around the grounds of your massive house, and take a moment to try and see the forest for the massive pile of children's bodies.
Till next week.
Follow Henry on Twitter: @Henry_Langston