Schlagwort-Archive: Myanmar

Who is Abu Zarr al-Burmi?

by Florian Flade

Abu Zarr al-Burmi has been around for a while now even though there has not been an official introduction to the audience – the spiritual leader of the Waziristan-bases terrorist group „Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan“ (IMU).

The middle-aged cleric wearing glasses and spotting shoulder-long hair, is featured in several IMU video and audio tapes including the last two video releases in Urdu and Burmese language a short while ago.

In Pakistan the voice of Abu Zarr al-Burmi is a known one to those familiar with a Urdu-language recording featuring a debate by the Jihadi cleric and a Pakistani military official. The IMU mufti declares himself to be part of the Tehrik e-Taliban (TTP) and a representative of the Uzbek and Tajik Muhajiroun (foreign militants) stationed in the tribal areas of Waziristan.

Though unconfirmed Abu Zarr al-Burmi claims to have worked as a teacher at the „Al-Farooq Islamic University“ in Karachi. One of his students was Qari Hussain, the infamous Pakistani Taliban trainer of teenage suicide bombers. „Qari Hussain Ahmad Mahmoud was one of my students“, al-Burmi says. When the Pakistani military started to raid and bomb places in Waziristan in 2004 both Qari Hussain and Abu Zarr left Karachi to join the Mujahidin in the tribal region.“He gave up learning and I gave up teaching“, al-Burmi remembers that time.

Apparently both men joined the Tehrik e-Taliban in the first place. Al-Burmi, a Pakistani national of Burmese ancestry, later became the chief Shariah judge and Mufti of the „Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan“ (IMU).

Today the Jihadi cleric seems to be actively preaching in the Waziristan mosques, calling locals to join the Mujahidin in their fight against the Pakistani government. Jihad against the Pakistani states, its military and politicians is a „individual duty“, Abu Zarr says in his sermons, also calling Pakistan´s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah a „kafir“.

According to his own video messages Abu Zarr al-Burmi is keen on establishing a Shariah state not only in Pakistan but worldwide. In a German-language video release by IMU for example he talks about the historic region of Al-Hind. „At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, nine countries were part of Al-Hind“, al-Burmi says, „Sri Lanka, Maledives, Pakistan, Nepal, Kashmir, Bhutan, Baharat, Burma and Bangladesh.“ From Al-Burmi´s understanding these countries must be islamized again and must join to form a Islamic caliphate ruled by the Shariah.

In the person of Abu Zarrr al-Burmi (also known as Abu Zarr Azzam) the IMU has found a impressive example of Jihadi globalization: a Pakistani-educated cleric of Burmese origin is preaching the idea of International Jihad to foreign fighters in Pakistan´s tribal areas in fluent Arabic and Urdu.

Egypt At The Crossroads

by Florian Flade

There is a joke circulating on the Internet about the ongoing protests in Egypt against the Mubarak-Regime, now reaching the 11th day. It is a fictional phone conversation between the US President and Egypt´s leader.

Obama: „Hosni, you should send a farewell note to the Egyptians and say Goodbye.“

Mubarak: „Why? Where are they going?“

There couldn´t be more truth in a statement. Hosni Mubarak is just not giving up, he still remains in power and even justifies his decision of not stepping down by warning the world of an Egypt without him in power. „If I resign now…there will be chaos“, the Egyptian President told ABC´s Christiane Amanpour in a rare face-to-face interview in his palace.

Nevertheless, the 30-year ruling leader of Egypt did not totally ignore the millions out on the streets calling for the overthrow of his regime. Mubarak did react but he did not meet the demands of his people. „We want an overthrow of the system!“ – the mob screams – „Mubarak no more!“ As a first reaction to the violent protests, the President did announce he would form a new government and appoint new ministers.

One of these new faces of the same old regime is Ahmed Shafiq, the newly appointed Prime Minister. Shafiq is the former Minister of Aviation, was a pilot in the Egyptian Airforce and is regarded by many as a war hero. In the October War of 1973, Shafiq served as a figher jet pilot under then Chief of Airforce, Hosni Mubarak. He shot down two Israeli airplanes and was later awarded though Egypt lost the war against the Israelis. Between 1996 and 2002 he was the commander of the air force.

Mubarak also appointed a new Vice-President, the former head of intelligence Omar Sulaiman – he is now Egypt´s first Vice-President since 30 years. Sulaiman is a military man, too – educated in Egypt and Moscow – but is also a good friend of the United States and was Washington´s man in Egypt during the times of the secret rendition program of the CIA. As part of America´s War on Terror, al-Qaida suspects were captured and flown to secret prisons were they were questioned and tortured by US agents and their local allies.

The two new faces of the Egyptian leadership are Mubarak´s attempt to calm down the protesting masses in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. Those demanding a real regime-change were not welcoming Mubarak´s announcement of re-structuring a new government. „We want the regime to change, not its colour!“ – Egyptians answered.

All the signs are now indicating Mubarak is preparing for a regime-change, meaning he will leave power at a time which seems appropriate to him. In 1969 the Soviet-educated soldier Mubarak became head of the Egyptian Airforce and served as a general during the war with Israel in 1973. Two years later, Mubarak was named Vice-President to Anwar al-Sadat. When Sadat was assassinated in 1981, Vice-President Mubarak became President Mubarak – „father of all Egyptians“.

The Vice-President in Egypt is traditionally seen as the new leader taking over from the ruling person. Could that mean Mubarak will leave office and 74 year-old Sulaiman is then named President? This would in no way satisfy those millions of Egyptians protesting against the old system. What they want is a democratic vote on their new leader.

A great obstacle of the opposition-movement is the question of who would lead a new government. Their is no real leader figure among those opposing Hosni Mubarak. Muhammad ElBaradei is a popular politician but insiders think he would rather like to remain a symbol than a real acting leader.

Without any doubt, the Mubarak regime will collapse in the weeks to come. Eleven days of protest, violence, worldwide media attention and steady pressure on the President to act according to the will of the people will eventually lead to a new Egyptian leadership. It is legitimate to say, Egypt has several options of shaping its future. Basically three options are on the table for the Post-Mubarak Egypt.

„The Turkish Way“

Egypt could follow the Turkish Example and turn into a Muslim Democracy with a powerful military defending the state values and constitution against Islamist forces. This would mean the torture in the prisons continues, the military´s position would be strengthened and Generals would occupy powerful political offices.

The peace-treaty with Israel would remain in place when a military-dominated government takes over. Foreign policy would be kept in the hands of the military which would take all necessary steps to avoid religious forces to influence the relationships with other states, especially the European Union and the United States.

„The Iranian Way“

An Egyptian Islamic Revolution of an Iranian-model is a very unlikely outcome of the current uprising. Many factors in today´s Egypt do not match the situation of Iran back in 1979. Just take a look at the opposition elements: Egypt´s opposition does not have a Khomeini-figure living in exile, prepared and ready to take over the country.

Egypt´s youth has witnessed the results and the bloody reality of a theocratic regime on Al-Jazeera during protests in Iran after the 2009 elections. There is no majority in Egypt who would agree to be ruled by religious authorities. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 is no role model for Egypt in 2011.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt´s largest opposition party, have distanced themselves from the Iranian Mullah-regime. In Western Media, the Muslim Brothers are commonly referred to as Islamists and fundamentalists – the reality is somewhat different. Decades of political and social events have created a different Muslim Brotherhood then the one promoted by Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb.

„The Burmese Way“

No other native force accept for the military is able to shape Egypt´s future right now. When Mubarak´s policemen were clashing with protesters, the people called for the army to intervene. Soldiers and their leadership harbor the sympathies of many Egyptians. If the mob is able to pull the military onto its side – then the security forces loyal to Mubarak have no other option than to retreat.

Up to this point the Egyptian military leadership has not clearly announced which side they are supporting. They wouldn´t fire at protesters, soldiers said, but on the other hand they are securing the Presidential palace. A Coup is highly unlikely because Mubarak himself is a military man and therefore the military in-fact is in power right now. Would could though, is Generals taking over all political power. Egypt´s highest ranking military leaders could install a council of Generals ruling in a way similar to how Myanmar (former Burma) is governed.

This solution is probably not welcomed by the majority of Egyptians – but the military could still try to convince the opposition forces that they are part of the new government and in fact able to make political decisions. If the Generals are able to assure more freedom, a brighter economic future and an end to police brutality, torture and the oppression of critics, a certain percentage of Egyptians would possibly support a military dictatorship consisting of not one but many leaders and decision-makers.

World´s Most Dangerous Vacation

by Florian Flade

Planning a Christmas holiday trip? You have already been to Egypt? India is not exotic enough? Safari in Botswana is not a real adventure? How about Iraq for a change, or Afghanistan, or Somalia, Darfur or Communist North Korea? A Swiss travel agency is offering the probably most dangerous vacation experience to some wealthy clients. Babel Travel started its Swiss based business some weeks ago and is now looking for the first clients to book a trip to a war and conflict zone. In co-operation with US-Journalist Robert Young Pelton (author of „The World´s Most Dangerous Places“), Babel Travel organizes 11-45 day trips to several countries tourists usually avoid – for a good reason. The Foreign Ministries of almost every Western nation tells Western tourists not to travel to these regions as the danger of getting kidnapped, killed by bombs, mines or ambushes is high and unnecessary risks are taken.

Kevin Pollard, head of Babel Travel which opened its office in Zug, Switzerland, told me, that there was a high demand from clients to offer vacation trips to countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan or Yemen. „We’ve had a lot of interest so far“, Pollard says, „Many travel companies have been offering trips to Afghanistan and Iraq over the years so travel to these countries is improving.“ From all the countries available at Babel Travel, „Iraq would be the most dangerous“, Kevin Pollard told me, „Afghanistan 2nd. Countries that have experience war and serious conflict (Lebanon, Cambodia, Rwanda, Algeria, Colombia, Bosnia, Iran) have all opened up for tourists over the last 5-10 years. We hope/expect the same to happen in the countries we’re running trips to.“

In Afghanistan, Babel Travel, has a „Afghanistan Uncovered“ package available for booking. The 15-day trip will take you from capital Kabul to Mazar i-Sharif, Bagram, Herat and hiking in the Panjshir and Bamiyan Valley. A stay in a Pashtun village with locals is also included. „This trip will give you an insight into the new conflict that continues to tear the country apart“, the brochure reads. Price per person is US $9,500.

A XXL-package (45-days), including a trip from the Iraqi cities Baghdad to Najaf, Karbala, Babylon and Ur, through Iranian Persepolis, Esfahan and Shiraz, to Afghanistan, will cost you US $26,000. Babel Travel also offers an 15-day Iraq journey, taking a group of tourists from Baghdad to the Kurdish North and Shiite South for US $8,500.

In war-torn Somalia, tourists are able to experience living with tribesmen and nomads in the northern break-away region of Somaliland. The US $6,500 trip includes „speak with jailed pirates, go on an anti-piracy patrol, discuss politics with the Somaliland President and various tribal elders“.

Ever wanted to experience a slow genocide first-hand? No problem, the Swiss travel operator takes you to Darfur, South Sudan for US $12,000, which will take you on a 22-day travel from Khartoum to South Sudan.

If you are scared off by these destinations where a bomb blast or a bullet hitting is not that unlikely, Babel Travel has another country on its list which might interest you: the most isolated country on the planet, Communist Jurassic Park – North Korea. „Experience how Koreans spend their Day-to-Day life“, the Babel brochure for 15-day „Eternal North Korea“ trip reads, „Learn about the North Korean Juche („military first“) idea and how Koreans perceive the world.“

I asked Babel Director Pollard how his agency is able to organize these travels to the most remote and closed Communist dictatorship. “ The local travel company we´ve gone into partnership with has been running tours to North Korea for westerners since 1993″, Pollard explained, „Our trips are the only trips that stay in local Korean homestay (meeting and staying with real Korean families).“

Asked about how the risks taken by the tourists are dealt with and how Babel can assure maximum safety in these dangerous countries, Pollard answered: „We use Robert Young Pelton´s 30 years of local travel experience, careful planning, impressive local networks and excellent risk management.“ One of the key factors why Babel has started business in this field is to „Provide open minded and adventurous travellers the opportunity to understand political and environmental factors behind conflicts“ and to „Introduce to the world certain countries that have seen troubles but are now working through their issues and have become stable and safe.“

However in case of emergency, Pollard said, „We have an emergency telephone number in Switzerland, Australia as well the in the local country that the trips are in.“ Most of the clients of Babel are from the US, UK, EU, Australia and Canada, he tells. In January, the company will organize their first trips to Iraq, Somaliland and Afghanistan for invited clients and journalists only.

Up to today, Babel Travel has not arranged a tourist trip to the war and conflict zones, but is already planning on expanding the range of destinations. Myanmar, Liberia, Yemen and Colombia are expected to be added to the brochures soon.