Thursday, April 22, 2010

Of 'ashing' and grounding flights: a self imposed sanction

" Flights resume across Europe " was today's headline news. One week of European space closure causes chaos for travelers and business. "International air transport group Iata says the disruption has cost the industry $1.7bn (£1.1bn) and called for European governments to help carriers" continues the article.

But the chaos has affected everyone in different ways, see sample of comments here, and also the 'ash stories' run by the BBC ... people ran out of prescription medication, people were literally under house arrest in Russia because their flight was diverted there and they have no visa. Business trips were canceled. Travelers were stranded at the wrong end of the world and people had to find ingenious ways to make it home: bus, ferry, train, bicycle , taxi, car...Britain even deployed its Royal Navy to repatriate travelers.

That was just one week of no fly zone over a large swath of European airspace, and the toll was enormous materially, morally and physically. How does it compare for people who are forced to endure something similar for years ?

From 1992 till 1999 there was an air embargo on Libya, but even before that there were the US economic sanctions which also affected Libyan airlines - but I won't take that into consideration in my comparison :)

I remember the journeys we had to make just to reach nearby Egypt! By ferry to Malta - 12 hrs in good weather then overnight in a hotel in Malta then if you are lucky you get the next day flight to your destination. But that will not be a direct flight to your destination because not all airlines go everywhere from Malta and you need visas for Europe even in transit. So the next destination for example Cairo and you have to stopover for a night there as well to catch the flight to your final destination. The same thing is for the return journey. You do the maths. This is provided your ferry to Malta is not delayed by bad weather or places are not overbooked. Can you imagine how much all this costs per family?

You had two other options by car to Tunisia ( Djerba or Tunis depending on where you are catching your flight) or by car or bus to the Egyptian border and from there to Cairo. It's ok if you are doing it for fun but who wants to brave the long lines at the border control ? screaming kids, hot tempered people and officials, the journey to the Egyptian border 2- 3 days depending how fast you drive. To Tunis 12 hours non stop. Again if its for your holiday it may be bearable but such a waste of time but if you have a sick person and not everyone lives in Tripoli or Benghazi it's not obvious. Check this . So many car accidents and some many ill Libyans died on the road. I think that was the period when we in Libya started to drive like crazy, because we were always trying to reach somewhere fast enough. Plus the road to Egypt or Tunis was desolate.

If you were abroad you could not guarantee returning on time for your grandfather's funeral, your daughter's birth or your sister's wedding. If you were in Libya you could not guarantee getting your son on time to Jordan for his chemotherapy. The only ones who did not suffer much were foreign oil companies, because they had their drivers take their crew and staff to Djerba to catch flights to Europe. They had no problem at the Tunisian border as foreigners are waived in faster than Arabs. Also this was the time when 1 US$ was equivalent to 3 Libyan Dinars, which meant despite the astronomically rising inflation everything in Libya was cheap for foreigners, so car travel to Tunis in luxurious and safe vehicles was very affordable.

If in one week IATA alone lost 1.7 billion US$, how much was the collective loss for Libya and Libyans in 8 years ? The airline was in shambles and I think will take a long time to recover if at all.

I know how much the gain was for neighbouring countries who benefited from the sanctions on Libya and especially the air embargo. They had to create flights and routes of major airlines and become a hub to cater to Libya travel ( to and fro) and Libya inbound/outbound business in general. I know because I have seen over the years and a short period of time what Malta was and what it became, what Tunis was and what it became and what Egypt was and what it became. I don't say this with resentment though; good for them for seizing an opportunity, they'd be dumb not to use it.

I have seen the same thing happen in Jordan due to the embargo on Iraq.In a decade in the 90s Jordan had radically changed on the outside - this was accelerated more than it normally would have been.

I hope that the world has felt a little bit of what an air embargo means or even what sanctions are and is ready to sympathize with plight of others and not blindly endorse unjust resolutions. After all grounding flights was not a sanction in Europe but it probably felt like one for them as their plans were no longer 100% proof. It probably felt horrible for all those locked up in hotels in foreign countries or in airports without money.... That is a fraction of what Palestinians feel, Libyans and Iraqis experienced, what Iranians could experience and others such as in Cuba feel.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Avatar and the American Hero Syndrome

I finally managed to watch the much acclaimed Avatar this weekend, not in 3 or 2 D as we no longer have this type of cinema in Libya but simply on DVD.

I absolutely loved the movie, the plot and the Na'vi are beautiful creatures, I wish I could lead such a life.
The angle that most appealed to me is caring about the planet, a climate or environment type of storyline which also includes balance between nature and the spirit.

Prior to watching the film I had read some criticism that it may be anti-American as it negatively criticizes mechanized warfare and by extension the US led wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and possibly all the other attacks launched on other countries to shock and awe them into submission.

Having seen and enjoyed the creativity of the production, I can confirm that it is certainly not anti-American but on the contrary as is with 99.999 % of US films it manages to portray the person who at the end saves the world as American. Even in Avatar this did not fail because the only one who could save the Na'vi was an US marine who like many people in the military in countries who experienced war with the US dated a local woman. That's why fraternization with the natives are frowned upon in the military, use the woman for sex but don't fall in love with them because you may end up embracing their cause and going against your nation even if your nation is in the wrong :P.

Anyway the hero fell in love with the heroine and helped her people against his people. If not for him the American, the Na'vi would be annihilated.

That is the subliminal message I got, 100% pro - America :)

Now we in the Arab world should start making more movies where an Arab saves the day. If Bollywood, the Israelis and even Egyptian film producers can do it why not the rest ? we just need a bit of more fervent nationalism !

Will definitely watch the movie again...