The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Category: Opposition, in da house

A killer twist to the Syrian civil war

by fpman

It is probably worth watching out for developments in the Latakia area in Syria these days. One of the last few strongholds of the Assad regime, it is simultaneously under attack from rebels and developing mixed feelings towards the Syrian leadership that has so far been the unquestionable protector of this Alawite-majority region.

This comes after Suleiman al-Assad, a first cousin once removed of President Bashar al-Assad has, on August 7, killed a Colonel of the Syrian Air Force, Hassan al-Sheikh in what is varyingly described as “a traffic dispute” or “a road rage accident.” Suleiman al-Assad shot Colonel al-Sheikh dead either “because he overtook him at a crossroads” or “because he did not give way in a traffic jam.”

The son of Hilal al-Assad, commander of Latakia’s defence up till his death in battle last year, has thus killed an officer of the force that is still able to give a bit of an edge against rebel forces where it matters.

The killer has by now been arrested. Locals are demanding his execution. Bashar al-Assad promised there would be punishment but will surely have second thoughts as to how he should mediate between the interest of justice (and sane governance, you might add) and the interests of his powerful family.

The Stuart-Houstons, from Long Island

by fpman

This is a fascinating story and does not require much commentary.

The Stuart-Houstons of Long Island were Bridget Dowling Hitler and Patrick William Hitler, originally. Patrick was Bridget’s son, from Adolf Hitler’s brother, Alois Hitler, Jr. Bridget was Irish and met Alois in Dublin. They went on to live together for some time in London, before they separated. In 1939, Bridget took Patrick over to the US, to escape unwanted attention given the Hitler connection. And she changed her name.

Patrick himself outlined the reasons for the decision in these terms:

“The British are an insular people and while they are kind and courteous, it is my impression, rightly or wrongly, that they could not in the long term feel overly cordial or sympathetic towards an individual bearing the name I do.”

Eloquently put. Patrick didn’t make a secret out of his origins and went on a lecture tour around the country telling people of how wicked his uncle really was (he did meet Adolf Hitler on a visit to Germany once). In the wake of his lobby efforts against Germany he even joined the U.S. Navy’s Medical Corps.

Bridget_and_Patrick“To hell with Hitler,” a message to brother-in-law/uncle, from Bridget and Patrick (source)

Like I said, some story…

Thai “democrarchy”

by fpman

Thai Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is about to have his third wife’s, that is, Princess Srirasmi Akrapongpreecha’s family stripped of royal entitlements, according to reports, and most likely a divorce is brewing along with this.

This comes related to allegations of corruption against an uncle of the princess, a police general, who may have been party to some serious smuggling and gambling crime, and may have been involved in soliciting bribes regularly. The uncle in question is Pongpat Chayaphan, formerly the head of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau. He has been arrested together with seven colleagues of his.

This source allows a peek into some royal intrigue these days, within the ranks of the royal cabinet, known as the Privy Council:

“The prince has been described in secret cables liberated by Wikileaks from the US Embassy as unstable. Members of the Privy Council have confided that they fear his elevation to the thrown and would prefer his sister, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.  However, the laws of succession specify that the heir to the throne must be a male.”

So the case is an interesting combination of corruption and positioning for power. To me an even more interesting aspect of the story is this tidbit, however, from the previously linked BBC article:

“Until now the severity of the lese majeste law criminalising any critical comment about the monarchy meant that no Thai media had pointed out the family connection.”

“Lèse-majesté laws” (laws on injury to majesty) are supposedly an historical feature of absolute monarchies. That you cannot insult the honour of a royal family is not really compatible with post-monarchic, let alone democratic, political arrangements. Mixing the two results in “democrarchy” which may be as awkward as it sounds. Yet Thailand has a lèse-majesté law and it apparently is a major obstacle in the way of free discourse, according to this study for example. As past application of the law reveals to us, Thai authorities are even ready to incarcerate a US citizen for two years for posting excerpts of a book about the king that has been banned in Thailand related to the law.

ThaiRoyalStandardThe Thai royal standard (from here). What standards apply to the royal family?

But in fact Thailand is not entirely unique in this respect. Most European remnant monarchies have lèse-majesté laws themselves. There the application of the law is different of course and based on recent practice mostly obscene and pointless statements about the royals would get you into trouble. That is less of an anomaly perhaps as it is not entirely out of line with anti-defamation practice. (Although I’m open to the argument that even such a restriction may be viewed as problematic from a democratic standpoint.)

The spy who came in from the cold

by fpman

Some blogging-scarce days are past me. Family matters (I mean, blogging about them) had to wait. Now hopefully I’m back to some more regular posting.

For a while it looked like I might write to you about this developing story in Tanzania where the government was apparently considering evicting some 40,000 people from an area that the royal family from Dubai (UAE) was interested in using as hunting ground. But then it turned out people in government can still get back to their senses or at least can be pressured not to go all the way when thinking out loud about carrying out such an atrocity.

Additionally, I then came across an even crazier story. Just take a look at the headline and you’ll see what I’m talking about:

“Palestinian state is a ‘fantasy’, says son of Hamas founder.”

You would think of anyone having anything to do with Hamas as being in favour of an Islamic state in the territory of “all of Palestine,” basically, as far as their known position is concerned. But Mosab Hassan Yousef is special. His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef was one of seven founders of the Hamas movement in 1987. And Mosab, as Sheikh Hassan’s son, was part of the movement, too. But, as the story goes, he eventually became disillusioned with what he saw in Hamas’ prisons.* He says he couldn’t stomach the regular torturing of people who were accused of being collaborators with Israel. Eventually he was approached by Israel’s Shin Bet security service and started working with them. He did so for a decade although not quite all the way under the perfect cover – his ties to Shin Bet eventually became known to Hamas’ leaders who were embarrassed by this and feared mostly that news of this would get out. Mosab left Ramallah in time to make it, and currently lives in the United States. He can thank that in part to Gonen Ben Yitzhak, his former Shin Bet handler and a personal good friend by this stage. Ben Yitzhak broke Shin Bet’s code of secrecy and came out to speak in public in Mosab’s defence when the United States was about to deport him from the country “for his Hamas ties.”

* Remark added on December 6: apparently, this happened in an Israeli prison’s effectively Hamas-controlled wing where mostly only Hamas members were held at the time.

Watch this video to hear some of the story directly from Mosab. Bonus crazy twist alert: a lady asks him at the end basically (though not in these exact words) about whether he might be like Nicholas Brody of “Homeland,” like, trying to infiltrate the West with a sophisticated cover story and all that. Mosab manages to answer with a straight face. Crazy questions most likely are a form of compliment when it comes to a crazy story such as this.

A Non-Definitive Introduction to the Life of Gulnara Karimova

by AiteVer

I’m so excited I don’t even know where to begin. Why? Because the following story has long raised our attention here at the blog. It came up at that allegorical first editorial meeting at that allegorical pub where we discussed how fascinated we were by how one can get so far having a bulletproof last name – as we discussed the rise to fame of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s only leader since 1989, Islam Karimov. Our guess is that the story will not end here so this piece will probably serve only as a brief introduction to the fabulous life of Googoosha or Guli. Why is now the time? It is because this Monday, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office named ‘Karimova G.’ amongst others as a suspect in the investigation of an organized criminal group.

As a prime introduction to Gulnara, I suggest you watch this:

This report from the 2013 Uzbek Fashion Week has everything that’s glamourous in it: fashion, music, famous people, Central-Asia-specific falconry motives and love messages both for FashionTv and well… Guli. It was posted on December 28, 2013 in the middle of the tumult that followed her return to Tashkent in September 2013 from Geneva.

As the linked RFE story goes about listing the conflicts of interest between her public persona and her business career (based on what we seem to know about the latter), it may become obvious to the reader that she kept a very high profile internationally for the past few years. She was involved in the fashion industry having her own fragrance and Guli fashion line but was also a popular singer and a poet in Uzbekistan (who even inspired the likes of Gerard Depardieu [sic]). Not an artist only in a-r-t, she accumulated a large fortune through her business ventures in media and telecommunications (apparently she was interested in restaurants, too) even as she had to master the art of diplomacy as Uzbekistan’s representative to the UN in Geneva. And, by the way, she also headed a charity organization called Fund Forum. Yet, regardless of said charitable niceties, she hails from a country where students are allegedly forced to pick cotton on the fields year after year. Accordingly, she had been strongly criticized for years for not doing enough, as a UN representative, to improve Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record, and was even implicated in it personally when her fashion show at the New York fashion week was cancelled in 2011, due to human rights organisations’ protest. On the other hand, she could enjoy a lavish lifestyle in Europe and largely undisturbed business back home up until 2012. That is when her opponents began to capitalize on her business scandals in Europe.

Her fall from grace was just as public as her life had been as a ‘princess’. Although she was named ‘the single most hated person in Uzbekistan’ by a WikiLeaks cable, she had 50,000 followers on Twitter including many of her younger fans who regarded her as the smallest evil when compared to other potential successors to her 75-year-old father.

The biggest blow to her public profile came in 2012 when news broke of Karimova’s close associates who allegedly accepted bribes worth of 320 million USD from TeliaSonera in exchange for governmental protection in Uzbekistan. The scandal has since provoked investigation in Sweden, France and Switzerland. This piece of Gulnara’s life would be worthy of its own post on the blog but now we will focus on the aftermath that has become a battle ground between Gulnara and her business associates, pitting them against Karimov’s closest circles, represented especially by Rustam Inoyatov, the president’s right hand, head of the Uzbek SNB state security service, and Gulnara’s younger sister Lola and her mother Tatyana.

Events sped up last year when Gulnara had to step down from her UN post in July (mostly because of the TeliaSonera scandal) and returned to Tashkent in September. In October and November her TV and radio stations were closed down, as well as her charity, the Fund Forum. In the beginning of 2014, she and her daughter were put under house arrest in Tashkent. And finally, after some of his associates were sentenced, including her boyfriend Rustam Madumarov on May 24, she was officially charged this week.

The mesmerizing characteristic of the affair probably isn’t even that a Central Asian high profile businessperson, let alone a presidential sibling, is brought under investigation but on how public this all turned out to be. As noted by FP, unusually for such circles, Gulnara’s fallout with her family was ‘uncharacteristically public’. She had always been known to be very open about her life on Twitter, which she had used to inform her growing fan base of her latest plans, whether it was her yoga class or her next musical collaboration. When her family turned against her, she decided to use the same platform to inform the public about the details of her struggles and began to accuse Inoyatov, as well as her mother and sister of trying to control the president and turn him against her. In the process, her account was disabled, deleted and reinstated multiple times only to finally disappear for good in February, which only strengthened her resistance against the pressure she claimed she was put under.

As a response, there was a BBC interview with her sister last September where Lola attempted to distance herself from Gulnara, saying they hadn’t kept in touch for the past 12 years. Then, after a handwritten letter obtained by the BBC in which she claimed she was held by her family, Gulnara’s son sat down with The Guardian selling the family out once again while voicing his concern for her mother’s well-being. The latest news came in August, when BBC received a voice recording from Gulnara herself repeating her cries for help from the international community to free her from her captivity where she was (and, if true, may still be) treated ‘worse than a dog’. We are speculating (and speculating only) that charging her officially was the response of her adversaries – and so we are eagerly waiting how the story continues to unfold.

GulnaraKarimovaGulnara, freely roaming a field, once upon a time…

Valérie’s revanche: Le coup de grâce?

by fpman

It’s all over the papers.

An article in the Daily Mail calls it – really the best expression there is for it – “public figures washing their dirty linen in public.” Imagine that literally is what they are doing, and it won’t be far from what is actually happening.

Valérie Trierweiler, former lover and subsequently partner of current French President François Hollande has written a book, ironically with the title of Merci pour ce moment, printed and prepared for publication in grand secrecy in Germany, revealing to the public all sorts of details about the private life she had with the currently highly unpopular head of state.

TrierweilerMagazine cover heralding the coming of the book

Valérie Trierweiler, often referred to in French public discourse as the “Rottweiler,” or, related to some of her Twitter-based combat of the past, “Tweetweiler,” pulls no punches in presenting an account of all the psychological blows she suffered while First Lady of the Élysée Palace.

The former journalist who hails from a humble family, having been the fifth of six children, in a family where the father, a clerk, lost a leg during World War II, goes after François Hollande with considerable determination – in what some in defence of the President refer to as “paparazzi politics.”

Twice, she says now, François Hollande swore to her, during the course of 2013, that rumors about his relationship with French actress Julie Gayet were false. When word of the affair reappeared, this time among the major news headlines, in January this year, it made her reach for a handful of sleeping pills. In her retelling, Hollande tried to stop her but did not quite manage. She was hospitalized. Hollande immediately dumped her once she was discharged, presumably fearing damage to his popularity from the incident, but kept texting her for a while telling her he needed her. A weird ending to a relationship that in Valérie Trierweiler’s account saw the two gradually alienate from each other after Hollande had taken his office in 2012. At one point, the current Minister of Agriculture, a close advisor and friend of President Hollande, Stéphane Le Foll even told her, in no uncertain fashion:

“If you want an evening with Francois, you have to go through me.”

The book may be clearly in breach of, say, the standards of ethnographic research, in revealing as much as it does, without the consent of those involved. And this raises the extremely complex issue of whether public figures may be entitled to some privacy, too.

But opponents will use this to further Hollande’s character assassination, no matter what. As a member of Hollande’s opposition already declared:

“Clearly, in this case, beyond his private life this is about the temperament of a man whose cynicism and whose indifference are worrying.”

With his current popularity standing making him the most unpopular French President ever, if such perceptions are reinforced, it won’t help him. It’s small consolation to him that it can’t harm him all that much now, either.

“La primera vez”: Mariela Castro’s pseudo-historic “No”

by fpman

Here at the Patrimony we are not subject to the Chinese government’s ongoing attempt to teach journalists “to learn Marxist news values,” and thus, in our ideologically underinformed state, we cannot quite decide if the following piece of news qualifies as revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, or neither of those, in terms of classical socialist doctrine.

The link goes to an article in Spanish, the greatest part of which you can read here in English.

In short: Mariela Castro, Raúl Castro’s daughter, and consequently Fidel Castro’s niece, has recently voted no on proposed labor legislation in the Cuban parliament, in la Asamblea del Poder Popular — the Assembly of People’s Power that is powered by people who say yes to everything twice a year. In case you were worried as to what this might mean for labor code modernization in Cuba, the legislation safely passed, in spite of this very noteworthy resistance. Mariela Castro’s “No” was a lonely No, not only on the given day but historically speaking, too. A first-time No in the assembly. And that is of course the revolutionary aspect of all of this. Or a counter-revolutionary aspect of this… Or… let’s try to understand this a little more.

Here’s a photo of Mariela, demanding release of the Miami Five as they are known in Cuba, from US President Barack Obama — and then here’s a bit of background on her, too.

MarielaCastroMariela Castro (photo: Javier Galeano, AP)

Even as Mariela has her list of demands for President Obama, she is known as the one member of the Castro family who openly says she would vote for him in US presidential elections. This is largely related to her views as an LGBT activist, and her way of supporting Obama’s stance on gay marriage. She is also the odd one out in the family having travelled to the US in the past to attend a conference of the Latin American Studies Association in San Francisco, in 2011. She is a scholar, after all, and she has published several articles in the Cuban journal Sexology and Society, as president of the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education.

In fact, the recent, historic “No” comes connected to Mariela’s activism. She voted the way she did because she was apparently concerned that the new labor law does not provide protection from discrimination to people who are HIV positive or have atypical gender identities.

Now ain’t that nice. However, if one goes all philosophical about this, there is more to the problematique of this parliamentary-familial mini-revolt to polemize about than an implicit clash of traditional and new leftist thinking and core values. Some observers claim that the new Cuban labor law to which the people’s power has given its seal of approval so eagerly, minus the one person in question who didn’t, is actually exposing private sector employees as a relatively weakly protected segment of the labor force. In a country where the private sector is growing.

Given that the one person who said “No” voted the way she did for reasons unrelated to this, yet framing her actions as a stance in favor of what by implication would be an “even more impeccable” labor law than the one presented as good enough for a socialist country, one gets the impression that this “No” is, well, a semi-tolerated, semi-sanctioned one — one that is meant to legitimize rather than de-legitimize.

And yet a first is a first. A case of organized spontaneity this may have been — it may still be followed by more actual spontaneity.