Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cabinet Inaction Is Crippling Lebanon

This editorial was published by The Daily Star on 11/12/2010

The ongoing paralysis of Lebanon’s government is hollowing out the public sector and setting a terrible precedent in the erosion of constitutional institutions – and leaving unaddressed the mounting problems of the Lebanese citizenry.

The nation’s political factions have been polarized yet again by the prospect of the coming indictment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, but the unborn indictment has brought the Cabinet to a freeze. This inert state of affairs could easily persist until the indictment is made public, but tribunal officials have made it abundantly clear this week that the public is not going to find out names of the accused for a few months at the very least – and possibly until the second half of next year.

But where does that leave this country’s government? The Cabinet is the only organ that can approve a broad spectrum of measures necessary for the functioning of the state, and the public administration should not be left hostage to the unpredictable release of a charge sheet.

For example, many significant posts in the civil-service sector need to be filled, and the Cabinet’s inaction is crippling these institutions. Central Bank governor Riad Salameh’s term expires next year, and it is a critical national interest – for a state with such massive public debt and a currency that Salameh has done much to keep steady – that financial markets have clear signals about the future course of Lebanon’s steward of monetary policy.

In addition, the head of General Security, Wafic Jezzine, retired last week, and yet the nation’s security apparatus still awaits the naming of a successor.

At home, however, people are suffering because of the impotence of the executive branch. The list of existential concerns – such as electricity, water and road safety – would far exceed the space available here.

Politicians should know, too, that their irresponsible behavior will only come back to haunt them, as the inhabitants of this nation – regardless of their political affiliation become more ready to abandon the entrenched political class.

Just as dangerously, the politicians sabotaging the Cabinet are clearly violating the terms of the May 2008 Doha agreement. Many are putting conditions about what the government must discuss and when; the Constitution, on the other hand, makes eminently clear that only the prime minister sets the agenda of the government.

The question of the so-called false witnesses is one that politicians need to hammer out. The Constitution spells out in detail the prerogatives of the Cabinet and the Parliament. The national Dialogue table also offers an excellent forum to debate issues of great gravity. On paper, the state has the institutions necessary to handle the business of the state; when they do not meet, however, nothing at all will ever be accomplished.

Jordan: Consolidating Gains

By Walid M. Sadi
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 12/12/2010
The women’s movement in Jordan, spearheaded by the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW), has developed a very ambitious platform to promote women’s rights across the board.

Maybe the movement should hold its horses for a while and articulate a strategy to consolidate the gains that women have managed to acquire before targeting additional goals all at once.

The fear is that over ambitious goals may trigger a backlash at a time when women’s rights are not quite half way through their long journey towards salvation and freedom.

In the long list of objectives set by the JNCW on behalf of the movement there are certainly some aspirations that are reachable in a rather short time, while others may have to wait till the women’s cause catches its breath.

Soliciting immediate parliamentary support for amendments to the Penal Code touching on women’s fundamental rights is certainly in order.

There are two classic examples of the much sought after amendments: The first has to do with the ridiculous criminal law jurisprudence that grants immediate family members of a female victim the option to drop charges against a person who takes her life so that the killer’s sentence can be commuted considerably to just a few years of imprisonment!

This sort of criminal justice is outrageous and ridiculous all in one. This travesty in the administration of justice must end and end soon.

The life of a person is not a commodity for buying and selling! Why Jordan still tolerates this grave and brazen injustice is really troubling.

On another front, the fact that under our system of criminal justice a rapist can go scot free if he marries his victim is equally treacherous and shocking to all fair-minded people. This anomaly in the criminal jurisprudence must also cease immediately for obvious reasons. Suffice to point out that this criminal injustice is at the expense of the victim who would end up paying twice for a crime committed against her by a rapist!

Where the JNCW may have gone wrong is when they push for granting women the right to pass on their citizenship to their spouses and children alike. This sounds impractical and not necessarily consistent with international norms. Putting spouses and children on the same plateau is incorrect in law. It is one thing to give a child the right to acquire the citizenship of his mother and quite another to extend this right to a spouse. There is no country in the world that grants immediate citizenship rights to a husband of a citizen.

A husband of a national could be entitled to residency rights, which he must nevertheless apply for in due course. Children who are under the age of 18 are normally entitled to the citizenship of their mother or father or both.

This is the rule of thumb in international human rights law. This side of the equation appears justifiable and could be pursued on a gradual basis.

The JNCW must first concentrate for the time being on granting residency rights to children of Jordanian women married to foreigners and proceed to go further at a more appropriate time.

We all know the familiar political constraints and implications that would make granting citizenship rights to children of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians impractical, at least for the time being.

In short, the champions of women’s right should take a breather after achieving the most pressing rights, which definitely include raising the quota for their representation in Parliament to at least 30 per cent.

Free Kuwaitis From The Shackles Of Radicalism

By Amer Al-Hilal 
This commentary was published in Gulf Times on 12/12/2010

Respect for human rights, democracy (embodied in our Diwaniyas and later in our Constitution) freedom of speech, gender equality, and religious and cultural tolerance — all these traits were ingrained in the Kuwaiti culture and person for hundreds of years.

These days we witness media reports of MPs attempting to pass legislation to ‘ban bikinis,’ ‘female sportswear,’ or completely eradicating the legal and constitutional presence of female parliamentarians — as if all major problems of the State: Ahmadi gas leaks, Mishrif Station pumping sewage into our waters, expired meat, visa trafficking, development and all the other major issues were already dealt with.

Some of these same individuals wouldn’t even run for Parliament in the 1970s because they regarded democratic public office as ‘unIslamic.’ Now, they are not just attempting to run the show, they are attempting to re-write history and modify the political and social structure of the State, by using democracy as a means to eradicate democracy.

These same ‘religious’ MPs who abhor even the national anthem and refuse even to stand in respect to their State, these ‘Sharia Sheikhs of Swing’ who observe female groups and file police reports about ‘lesbian gatherings’ — even though the assembly of women was at a wedding — and who attempt to free rapists and child molesters from police stations, visa traffickers, expired food merchants and other lawbreakers and criminals, not to mention defend terrorists who threaten the State and the troops of our Allies; hypocrisy at its finest.

Additionally, treating women, employees and compatriots with disdain and disrespect looking the other way whilst corruption seeps and takes hold of society — nullifies any Sharia degree or religious gravitas an individual might have.

Let us be candid, if Kuwait truly was a civilized society the MPs would have been sued, prosecuted and kicked out of Parliament for such inflammatory-jumping-the-gun statements and for attempting to influence criminal investigations. But politics is politics and deals are made, always at the people’s expense. Furthermore, tribes and political groups — some who report to and coordinate with foreign entities — currently dwarf the power of the State (much of this is the State’s doing).


Right wing critics who slam progressive Kuwaitis for encouraging respect for other cultures and religions are dismissed as “agents of Western propaganda” or ‘Liberals’ — for wanting to highlight those ideals and reinforce them — are obviously unfamiliar with Kuwait’s history and background, and are apparently not familiar with the basic tenets of Islam which value and guarantee the aforementioned rights. Maybe some are unfamiliar with history because they just got the Kuwaiti citizenship; others are familiar but think we were living in the Dark Ages then.

In any case, they are certainly not familiar with Kuwait’s real ‘tradition and customs.’ Kuwait was more of a trading and commercial hub before oil than it is now; one of the many reasons why Kuwait was a merchant city and trading post — a haven of culture and commerce for hundreds of years even prior to the advent of oil — was tolerance and openness.

Men and women shared equal responsibilities; toiling away from dawn till dusk, women taking care of the household, educating their children and were active in producing goods (i.e. embroidering the ‘Sadu’) and in commerce — they kept things together, while their partners embarked on six month or longer pearl diving or trading voyages to places as far as India and Africa. They were partners in the true sense of the word. They were equals.

We were no less Muslim then. In some ways, we were superior Muslims; we weren’t arrogant like we are now, with that wretched ‘holier than thou’ attitude; we were broke — desperate for sources of income. Kuwaitis had to interact with other cultures, learn their language and customs; it was an issue of survival, whether it was opening a trade route for water, dates, gold or otherwise. We needed others and that taught us humility and real tolerance of cultures, peoples and religions.

That great Kuwaiti attribute is being diminished by the day in this day and age.Ultimately, Islam should not be measured by the amount of mosques that are built (even though this is a blessing to any society), how many expatriates are converted, or by the amount of Holy Quran memorization schools (even though this is a noble activity) but by treating your fellow men and women, irrespective of whether they are native or expatriate, with respect and dignity, accepting their views and their way of life even though you may disagree with them and by combating inequity and corruption.

That is real test of democracy and Islam is all about democracy, its real targets are oppression, corruption, intolerance, injustice, not impeding the construction of churches, wiping out pictures of the Virgin Mary in magazines, removing Christmas trees, impeding foreign National Day celebrations, removing horse statues from a Chinese bistro at the Avenues, forced segregation and so forth.

It is truly outlandish when Kuwaitis - true citizens of the world with their astute, cultured predispositions — have to travel to a neighboring Gulf state to see a banned film, watch a concert or buy a book. It boggles the mind. Thirty years ago we did all that here and more, without any problem — which means our original ‘traditions and customs’ were much more broadminded.

If only people took the time to learn about our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and his kind, good-humored, patient, compassionate and tolerant ways, instead of blindly following self-imposed judges, juries and executioners of society — who pass ethical judgments on so-called ‘moral pariahs,’ restricting people’s freedom of expression and worship and stifling their personal choice — Kuwait would be in a much healthier shape than it is now.

What’s happening these days in Kuwait is tragic. The potential for greatness is there but in order for us to meet the vast economic, cultural and intellectual benchmarks, our current State-wooing of extremists alongside their Parliament-supported xenophobia has to finally end and justice applied to all.

Robert Fisk: Why Can't A Palestinian Woman Tell Her Own Story?

Rula Jebreal is the subject of Julian Schnabel's new film, Miral
Getty Images
Rula Jebreal is the subject of Julian Schnabel's new film, Miral

    Palestinian Nonviolence: Is The "Budrus" Model Still Viable?

    The recent film 'Budrus' champions a West Bank village's nonviolent resistance that inspired more than 15 similar protest movements. But the momentum is waning.
     By Daniella Cheslow
    This article was published in The Christian Science Monitor on 10/12/2010
    Jerusalem - With Middle East peace talks on the brink after the US this week gave up on an Israeli settlement freeze, Palestinians are reevaluating their options for securing statehood.
    Amid disappointment with both negotiations and violence, a documentary film now showing around the globe highlights the nonviolence protest movement as a hopeful alternative.
    The film, called "Budrus," champions the West Bank village of the same name as a model of nonviolent resistance. It profiles the 2003 struggle of a Palestinian father and daughter who brought together Fatah, Hamas, and even Israelis, to prevent their village from being divided by the Israeli separation barrier.
    After 10 months of protests, Israel scrapped its plans to put 300 acres of Budrus's land on the Israeli side of the wall, instead rerouting the barrier, says Ayed Morrar, who led the demonstrations.
    LIST: Five largest Israeli settlements: who lives there, and why
    Budrus’s success has spurred at least 15 similar movements in towns across the West Bank, perhaps most notably in the central West Bank village of Bilin. The protests stand out against earlier forms of resistance to Israeli rule, such as the suicide bombings of the second intifada that began in 2000.
    “Bilin has become a symbol, a subject of Master’s theses, films, blogs, and articles," says Menachem Klein, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. "Budrus and Bilin maintain the resistance while the Palestinian elite attend talks and readily accept painful concessions on settlements.”
    Yet he calls these weekly events a “ceremony” that may not actually achieve change.
    Why Budrus model has met with limited success
    Indeed, even as "Budrus" is embraced by audiences from America to Germany to the West Bank, the momentum generated by Budrus is waning. Only nine villages hold regular demonstrations and they are often met with a harsh Israeli response, Mr. Morrar says. Now, the model of nonviolence appears to be faltering amid lack of a unified leadership and apathy among local Palestinians.
    Protest leaders acknowledge that while Morrar achieved tangible success, Palestinians as a whole have not reached their ultimate goal.
    “Ayed succeeded in a specific goal, but in general as Palestinians we have not succeeded, because the goal is to remove the wall and end the occupation,” says Bassem Tamimi, who began leading demonstrations a year ago in nearby Nabi Saleh against the expansion of the neighboring Jewish settlement Halamish.
    Mr. Tamimi, who met Morrar while the two protested together in the first intifada in the 1980s, said 150 locals have been injured by Israelis at the weekly protests in Nabi Saleh.
    “The army has become more violent than before,” says Tamimi. “They are shooting five times more tear gas than before, and there are more rubber bullets and more soldiers.... They don’t want to give a message to other Palestinians that this small village can do something.”
    Israeli army spokesman Barak Raz counters that the protests are “not peaceful sit-ins but very violent riots in which well over 100 security forces have been injured.” One soldier was hospitalized in early November after being hit in the head by a rock in Bilin.
    Bilin organizer: Our expectations were lower
    Mohammed Khatib, the organizer of the Bilin protests, says Budrus's model inspired him to protest the Israeli confiscation of village land. His village will mark six years of demonstrations in February.
    Bilin protests attracted retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, former President Jimmy Carter, and Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – but also the Israeli military in the form of nighttime raids, the arrest of prominent activists, and the death last year of one protester after being hit with a tear gas canister. In early 2010, the army began rerouting the barrier to cede about 175 acres of land back to Bilin.
    Asked why Bilin has struggled for more than five years with fewer results than Budrus achieved in 10 months, Khatib says the expectations were lower from the start.
    “No one expected that we would manage to change the route of the wall even one centimeter,” he says.
    Looking back at the first intifada
    Tamimi, of Nabi Saleh, hopes to revive the first intifada, which began in 1987. Though it killed hundreds of Israelis and more than 1,000 Palestinians, nonviolent tactics such as strikes, protests and agricultural movements formed a key part of the uprising – and sparked international support.
    But Prof. Klein said he doubts that a national movement like the first Intifada will materialize. “Without a national network, an organization building protests in different places, this will not turn into an Intifada,” Klein said.
    In the first Intifada, the PLO played a role in organized local efforts into national ones, helping with the circulation of leaflets that advertised strikes and other actions.
    Why Israeli and the PA want to contain protests
    Both Israel and the PA have an interest in containing protests modeled after Budrus – Israel to prevent a non-violent Intifada that could embarrass Israel and the PA because a popular uprising could spiral into a bloody resistance, Klein says.
    Abir Kopty, a press officer for the PA, says this is not true. The government is actively supporting the protest movements, both with funding and visits by prominent officials, including Mr. Fayyad, she says.
    When asked whether the PA had initiated any large-scale national protests, Ms. Kopty says, “The government is busy now with the state-building project and preparing for statehood.”

    Israel: Lieberman Is The Problem

    By Dov Zakheim 
    This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 10/12/2010

    Washington's withdrawal of Danegeld to Israel in exchange for a 90-day settlement freeze marks yet another downward turn in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. That process cannot be said to have been derailed, however; it has not really been on the rails since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power with his former chief of staff, Avigdor Lieberman, as his deputy as well as foreign minister. While Prime Minister Netanyahu may well be sincere in finally coming to terms with the need for a two-state solution, as long as his policies are held hostage by his foreign minister, all the sincerity in the world will count for very little.

    Avigdor Lieberman makes no bones about his position. Intensely nationalistic, he lives in a settlement town himself, and has no sympathy for any agreements that would in any way infringe on what he considers to be settlers' rights. As long as Netanyahu is unable to face down his foreign minister, the peace process will go nowhere.

    Lieberman is doing Israel a tremendous deal of harm and not just regarding peace with the Palestinians. His blunt style, bordering on rudeness, has alienated many of his ministerial counterparts, with whom, after all, he is supposed to work for the betterment of his country's international interests. 

    Most egregious has been his intransigence over Turkey's demand for an apology and compensation from Israel for the death of its eight citizens on the Mavi Marmora, the ship that sought to break the Israeli blockade in May 2010. In the wake of Turkish humanitarian assistance in helping to cope with the fires of northern Israel, the Jewish state has before it an opportunity to restore good relations with its most important, and longest standing, Muslim friend. Israel could apologize for those deaths, call them inadvertent, compensate the families; nevertheless it need not budge an inch from its contention regarding both the ship's purpose, as well as the legitimacy of its commando operation and its blockade of Gaza. In fact, the United States has pursued a similar course of action many times in somewhat analogous circumstances, including in Afghanistan, when civilians have been killed in air attacks on terrorist targets. But Lieberman is stonewalling, and an agreement that could have been reached months ago still may not be achieved, Israel's long term strategic interests notwithstanding.

    While there is an outside chance that Lieberman might relent on Turkey, or perhaps that Netanyahu will find some way to end-run him, the prospects for evading or avoiding Lieberman in order to move ahead in the peace process with the Palestinians are much dimmer, and not only because of the man himself. The administration's strategy of alternating pressure with blandishments is simply wrongheaded. Those who argue that the United States can, or should, pressure Israel, neglect to recognize that most previous attempts to do so, at least since Eisenhower forced Israeli withdrawal from Sinai in 1956, have not met with much success. In particular, U.S. efforts to ratchet up pressure regarding the settlements have been miserable failures, and, in the cases of both Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, may well have cost them their re-election. It is not just the Jewish vote that hurt them both; American evangelical Christians are even more hard line on the settlements issue than are American Jews. Barack Obama risks becoming another one-term president like Carter and Bush if he follows their lead on trying to pressure Israel.

    But blandishments do not work either. Even when Israel accepts U.S. offers of assistance in exchange for progress, little seems to happen. The "atmosphere" improves; photo ops are more genial. But there little evidence to prove that more U.S. generosity correlates with Israeli flexibility on the ground.

    How then can the process be moved forward? First of all, the administration is correct in recognizing that, whatever the difficulties, the United States must continue to work the issue, not walk away from it. Second, the administration should encourage Tzipi Livni to bring her Kadima Party into the governing coalition. Livni has her own political calculus -- including her hope that by remaining out of the government her chances of winning the next election improve dramatically. But such considerations pale in comparison with the importance of having a "national unity" government that would not have to rely on Lieberman or his Yisrael Beiteinu party.

    In addition, only a Likud-Kadima-Labor coalition has any hope of amending Israel's maddening voting system, which involves pure proportional representation, treats the entire country as a single district and allows parties capturing as little as one per cent of the vote to win seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Were the election law to move closer to that of Germany, which includes representatives of single districts as well as requiring a minimum of 5 per cent of the vote, most of the more extreme small parties would disappear from the Knesset. Even if a change in the electoral law is the stuff of fantasy, having Livni in the coalition, and allowing Netanyahu to dismiss Lieberman and appoint her in his place, is not fanciful at all. And it is critical if a two-state solution, which is in the vital interest of Israel as much as it is of Palestinians, is to remain something more than an unattainable dream.

    The Syrian President Criticizing The Palestinians!

    By Tariq Alhomayed
    This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 11/12/2010
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad criticized the Palestinians for linking the peace negotiations to a settlement freeze, saying "we are against putting settlements at the center of peace talks…for this is a mistake." He stressed that the real issue is one of land, saying that Syria has not brought up the issue of [Israeli] settlements in the Golan Heights because territory will be returned "with or without settlements" and therefore there is no point brining up this issue as "those that want to talk about the peace process must talk about territorial restitution and not about settlements."
    This is all well and good, but what would happen if the Palestinians agreed to negotiate with the Israelis without first conditioning a settlement freeze? Firstly, it is certain that the Syrians would criticize [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas, and the Arabs who support him, saying that they had abandoned Palestinian territory and sold out the Palestinian Cause. Hamas would also certainly join in this attack on Abbas and the Arabs. However does this absolve the Palestinian Authority from criticism? Of course not.
    President al-Assad's words are a new lesson in how Arabs waste opportunities; even if this is an opportunity to do nothing more than embarrass the Israelis. This also shows how the Arab division presents Israel with one opportunity after another to frustrate every serious attempt to reach the desired peace, not to mention embarrass those who want to help us [achieve this], like US President Barack Obama.
    We were, and still are, among those who criticized linking the negotiations with a settlement freeze, because this is an Israeli ploy, for everybody knows that in the event of a peace being reached settlements will be removed in the same manner that this occurred during the Egyptian – Israeli peace which saw Israel withdrawing from Sinai. This is exactly what Syrian President al-Assad said on Thursday, saying that "the land will return with or without settlements." Therefore the mistake made by the Palestinian Authority – and also the Arab moderates – was to fall into the Israeli trap and waste a real opportunity – thanks to the presence of a US president such as Obama – to advance the peace negotiations.
    The Palestinian mistake – which was repeated by the Arab moderates – was in their expectation of criticism from the naysayers, like Syrians, should they support the position of Mahmoud Abbas and not call condition a settlement freeze [prior to the negotiations]. The difference today is that it is the Syrian president who is criticizing this linking of the negotiations with a settlement freeze, when it was the Syrians themselves who repeatedly refused to provide the Palestinians with Arab support to continue negotiating with the Israelis [after the Israeli settlement freeze ended].
    Therefore the lesson today is that we must disregard the opinions of the naysayers in our region, for such opinions will always be held, for sometimes this is their most important source of their strength. So here we see the Syrian president – in the same statement – criticizing Washington which was exerting efforts on two levels, with the Syrians and the Palestinians, to achieve peace, saying that the US effort "has not achieved anything." This statement alone is enough to sum up the entire story, for the Syrians want to say; "What about us?" And so the question that must be asked here is: have the Arabs, and more importantly the Americans understood this message?
    It is clear that Damascus wants to say that anybody that ignores it in the peace process will pay the price; however the reality is that it is the entire region that is paying this price, whilst Israel is continually benefiting from this. Therefore the lesson that we must learn from everything that has happened is that it is up to the moderates to advocate moderation and utilize all the cards in their possession without worrying about what others will say, from the naysayers to the cautious. What matters are results, not the slogans that we have become addicted to.

    Religious Fanaticism Targets Democracy And Civil Life In Iraq

    By Hamid Alkifaey
    This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 11/12/2010

    Fanatics are always slaves to an idea that has captured their imagination and have taken control of their thinking and feeling. They cannot depart from it, no matter how far life circumstances have taken them away from it, and even if their duties and interests, and sometimes their fate, dictate otherwise and require them to do something else. They are always hostages to theory, and do not pay attention to practical realities or interests. That’s why they are not fit to lead society, which is mainly concerned with its interests.

    The Taliban ‘mujahideen’ insisted in 2001 on demolishing the Buddha statues in the remote mountains of Bamyan, which stood high for over 1600 years. They rejected all international appeals to keep them because they were holy to millions of people and represented one of the rarest among cultural landmarks recognized by UNESCO. They brought their artillery and rockets, and rooted them out from the mountains of Bamyan as if the statues were actually threatening their country, the interests of their people and the future of their generations! Those extremists remained in power, imposing their extreme, primitive ideas on the people of Afghanistan until American forces toppled them after they had proven to the whole world, beyond any shadow of doubt, that they were a threat to the civilized world. Afghanistan under them became a centre for all fanatics and those looking for martyrdom or heroism.

    In Cambodia, Pol Pot killed a quarter of his people between 1975 and 1979 because of his extremism and strange ideas which were hostile to education, science and all who differed with him. He turned his army, the Khmer Rouge, into a tool of killing, torture and displacement. His people suffered under him until neighbouring Vietnam intervened and toppled him militarily, but only after he killed about two and a half million Cambodians in the strangest ever campaign – to achieve ‘Agricultural Socialism’ and send the country back to ‘Year Zero’!

    In the Soviet Union, Stalin killed at least ten million people in his campaigns of forced migration, purge, and crackdown on political opponents. He caused a famine in his country that left millions of victims between 1932 and 1933. While Hitler caused the killing of more than this figure in his internal wars against minorities and foes, and external wars against his European neighbours. His racism, arrogance, expansionist ambitions and twisted thinking led him to cause all that devastation, but he was finished after the whole world was united to fight and defeat him.

    In Uganda , Idi Amin killed more than half a million and forced millions of Ugandans, immigrant Indians and others to flee their homes. Again, all this happened due to Amin’s obsessions and fanaticism. Ugandans suffered under his rule until neighbouring Tanzania, which he had occupied part of its land, invaded Uganda and toppled him militarily. Saddam Hussein caused the killing of millions of people in wars, prisons, executions, mass graves, and racist displacements. These actions targeted all Iraqis, Arabs, Kurds and others, and again, they were due to the extremism, tyranny, selfishness and chauvinist ideas which dominated his thinking. Iraqis went on suffering under Saddam for over 30 years until George Bush toppled him militarily in April 2003. From that time, fanatics began marching on Iraq from all corners of the Islamic world. Their aims are disparate: from ‘fighting the American occupier’ to fighting Iraqis who are ‘infidel, renegade, and traitors’, and other such imprecations that extremists excel at. As if the activities of foreign extremists, who filled Iraq with terror, death, fire and rubble, were not enough, Iraqis developed local extremism which resulted in a sectarian war that lasted three years at least, and didn’t subside before it had harvested the lives of uncounted innocents, and displaced and terrorised millions. Things didn’t end there, but ‘Islamic’ militias and groups began to apply ‘Sharia Law’ in Iraq . Their typical activity can be symbolized by crackdowns on barbers who ‘contravene Islamic law of shaving hair’ in using different methods of hair-cutting, Ba’athists because they ‘belonged to an infidel party’, and targeting of places which sell alcohol, such as restaurants, hotels, shops, which no one ever thought of closing (except Saddam Hussein in his sudden ‘Faith Campaign’ in the mid nineties, although he didn’t actually ban them but he ‘regulated’ and ‘streamlined’ them).

    Academics, artists, pilots, scientists and journalists were not spared the scourge of terrorists’ extremism. Hundreds of them were killed in ambiguous circumstances in the last few years. But, Iraqis can take some consolation in the fact that those killings were perpetrated by outlawed armed groups – or at least this is what the government says.

    But the decision to close shops selling alcohol, restaurants that serve alcohol, nightclubs and even social clubs – including the ancient Literary Social Club – was taken by the ‘elected’ local government of Baghdad led by the Islamic Da’awa Party of Prime Minister Noori Al Maliki. This decision was taken after the elections and after Maliki became Prime Minister Designate. It was taken at a time when Iraq is fully engaged in the issue of power-sharing between political groups and the issue of finding a solution to the plight of the Christians in Iraq, who are facing repeated armed attacks on their homes and churches. This decision has added to their difficulties since it has closed all their shops, clubs and businesses, and has not left them any window of life in the ‘democratic’ Iraq.

    Religious extremism has begun marching on local government across Iraq . A few weeks ago, hardliners in Babylon Governing Council banned a songs carnival that was called for by none other than the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, and foreign participants in the carnival had to return home without performing their songs. In the southern province of Basra, the Governing Council banned an art show a few weeks ago. The reasons given were very shaky, but the truth is clear to all: members of these governing councils do not wish to see any activity that doesn’t conform to their religious persuasions against alcohol, singing or art exhibitions. The Islamic Da’awa Party controls the governing councils of Baghdad, Babylon and Basra, as well as others, and it must bear full responsibility for these bans, which are not isolated incidents or effected by individuals acting on their own initiative. They are planned and concerted efforts.

    It looks very much as though Iraqi religious parties intend to establish a religious state in which their version of Sharia law will be applied – one which conforms to their ideology and politics. They may justify the closing of liquor shops by saying they need to ‘regulate’ them (or that they are ‘only responding to people’s demands’), the banning of art shows in Basra by saying ‘the venue was not suitable for an art show’, and the banning of singers from performing in Babylon by saying ‘the song’s carnival was not licensed’. But the real reasons are not hidden, they are very clear. They cannot stand difference, and cannot bear to see others practising their freedoms. They do not in fact believe in democracy, and do not wish to establish a modern state that allows all people of all walks of life, of all religions and tastes, ethics and political persuasions, to coexist. Their values come from the ancient past and from narrow interpretations of religious texts which they intend to impose on all people, by fair means or foul. All their claims that they would accept others and coexist with them began to fall before their dealing with realities of daily life. They are marching in the opposite direction to most other countries, while at the same time deploying modern sciences and technology to serve this serious regressive trend. There are many important questions that need answers here. Why do the religious extremists believe they are able to force all the people to succumb to their desires and whims, and believe in their ideas, at a time when the whole world is heading towards pluralism and respect for all the peaceful choices of others, no matter how different? Can’t they see that they are actually damaging their popular support and provoking their opponents into another type of extremism which will backfire on them? Where are their election promises that they would respect the choices of others and work towards the transformation of Iraq into a modern state? Last, but not least, what do non-religious political forces think about these practices which contravene the constitution and the principles of democracy? Finally, what do the secularists who trusted and supported religious parties in the last elections, think now? Will they engage in political flattery, or stand for their political goals of secularism and modernity?

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Focus On The Yemen That Doesn't Listen To Awlaki

    By Alice Hackman 
    This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 11/12/2010

    The British media’s focus on a young British Muslim woman who stabbed a British member of Parliament last month once again shines a gloomy spotlight on Yemen. According to The Guardian, Roshonara Choudhry, a 21-year-old student who stabbed the politician for supporting the war in Iraq, told the police: “I’ve been listening to lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki … He’s an Islamic scholar. He lives in Yemen.”

    As media concentrate on Awlaki’s online sermons, his role in the launch of Al-Qaeda’s new magazine, and the Yemeni government’s ongoing battle against Al-Qaeda, the real Yemen has been drowned out. Yet it is this narrative – that of the vast majority of the population, not of a few hundred militants – that holds the key to better understanding, breaking stereotypes and perhaps ultimately less extremism.

    Inside a coffee shop, near King’s Cross station in central London, British-born Yemeni Abubakr al-Shamahi, 21, sips his hot chocolate and talks passionately about his home country. Not once does he talk about extremism. Instead, he talks of corruption and his fear that donors’ money is not properly spent on long-term development; he laughs at Yemeni parents’ matchmaking; and he raves about the beauty of the old city of Sanaa. No one he knows has been influenced at all by the radical sermons of Awlaki.

    This is the real Yemen. It is not Awlaki’s falsified narrative of a West-hating, militant-training Yemen. It is a country of over 22 million people – over 70 percent of whom are under the age of 25 – struggling for development and the privilege to join the World Trade Organization. On Facebook, this is what the English-speaking youth in Yemen are telling the world. A Yemeni-Canadian, Issmat Alakhali, 32, attracted over 4,500 users to his page, “I know someone in Yemen and he/she is not a terrorist!” which he launched in January. More recently, Atiaf A., another young Yemeni, started a video project called “I’m Yemeni, I’m not a terrorist.”

    And yet, in an interview last May, Awlaki said that he enjoyed free movement among the tribes of Yemen because “the people of Yemen hate Americans.” That is not true. Most young Yemenis learn English because, apart from it being the international language of business, they also dream of emigrating to the United States or Europe to study or to work.
    For the average young Yemeni, daily grievances are far more important than politics. Graduates hope to find a job. Young men struggle to accumulate enough jobs to be able to get married. New couples battle with price hikes. Nearly half of the population lives on less than $2 a day and social development indicators – such as child malnutrition, maternal mortality and educational attainment – remain extremely poor, according to the United Nation’s World Food Program.

    In the north of the country, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have been displaced by six rounds of war between the government and the Houthi rebels. In the south, a growing secessionist movement threatens the unity of the country, while each month thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants arrive on the coast from the Horn of Africa. Nationwide, the next generation will struggle for water to drink as the country’s population continues to increase and its already depleted aquifers run dry.

    Instead of focusing always on Al-Qaeda, international media should highlight the efforts of youth-led initiatives such as Resonate! Yemen, Me for My Country, Ayoon Shabab (Arabic for “youth’s eyes”) and the Yemeni Children’s Parliament to tackle some of the country’s other issues. They should profile social entrepreneurs like Hayat al-Hibshi who set up the Assada Women’s Association to help girls from marginalized poor communities go to school.

    Media should also highlight the positive exchanges between the Muslim communities of Yemen and the United Kingdom, such as the British-Somali charity that helped to set up a day care center for young refugee mothers in Sana’a earlier this year.

    More media focus on positive community-led change in Yemen, instead of terrorism, would counter negative stereotypes of both Yemenis and Muslims in the West. The effect would be more respect for Muslims in the West, less feelings of alienation or anger among their children and, perhaps, less reason to listen to a radical preacher in the first place.

    Alice Hackman recently returned to London after two years as a reporter and features editor for The Yemen Times in Sanaa, Yemen. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service (

    The US, Iran, Disney And Diplomacy

    By Rami G. Khouri
    This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 10/12/2010

    The negotiations that resume in Geneva this week between Iran and an American-led group of mostly Western nations represent another important opportunity to find that elusive middle ground between the concerns of both sides where they can reach agreement on a series of issues, including but not exclusively Iran’s development of nuclear technology.

    I happened to be in Orlando and Tampa, Florida, for lectures and a few days of vacation this week on the eve of the talks. Orlando is best known for Disney World, and Tampa is the headquarters of the US Central Command that manages all military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, including the two ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Between central Florida’s frantic days of college football playoff selections and the always healthy tourism industry that sees around 50 million visitors a year, it is hard to garner any enthusiasm here or anywhere else in the United States for another active war in the Middle East against Iran. This is evident partly in the prevalent, rather quiet, manner in which the US seems resigned to leaving Iraq and Afghanistan to a large extent in coming years, and partly in the intriguing words of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week at a regional meeting in Bahrain that was also attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

    Addressing Mottaki directly, Clinton said she was “pleased to have this opportunity for your government and mine to gather here with representatives from other nations to discuss problems of mutual interest and concern”.

    She said she hoped Iran would come to the Geneva talks “as we will, in good faith and prepared to engage constructively on [the] nuclear programme”, adding that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear programme and urging it to make the choice “to restore the confidence of the international community and live up to your obligations as a peaceful nuclear power”.

    She said the United States’ firm commitment to engage constructively with Iran was coupled with an “iron-clad commitment to defending global security”, and ended with the thought that “the world in turn would benefit from the full participation of the Iranian nation in the political social, and economic life of the region”.

    This is intriguing stuff because it seems to signal some subtle adjustments in the American rhetoric on Iran - not surprising, given that sensible and practical Americans are always willing to discard or adjust failed practices.

    Clinton did well to mention Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear power and that Iran and the US-led side must discuss “a range of issues” - acknowledging Iran’s insistence that its world and concerns include issues other than spinning centrifuges.

    This is an important sign of a potential positive frame for these talks, which will only succeed if both sides feel their key concerns are addressed with equal weight.

    It’s mostly downhill from there in Clinton’s comments, however. Her exhortation for Iran to live up to obligations on peaceful use of nuclear technology was not very credible, coming from the only country in the world that has used nuclear weapons to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Japan in the most gruesome way possible.

    Her one-way admonition on “restoring confidence” is not convincing, given that Iran and many others in the region are deeply dubious of American sincerity in this process, in view of several instances in recent years when the United States had a chance to break through to an agreement, but backed down for some reason.

    Her coupling Washington’s will to engage with Iran with an “iron-clad commitment to defending global security” was about as self-destructive as diplomacy can get. Iranians will not take this process sincerely if they are a priori accused of threatening global security and judged guilty until proved innocent. No wonder, therefore, that another senior Iranian foreign policy official announced in Tehran this weekend that Iran has mastered more elements in the nuclear fuel cycle, including producing “yellow cake”. This is not diplomacy or culture, it is basic physics. Every action gets a reaction. Make a threat, get a threat.

    Clinton’s suggestion that the world would benefit from “the full participation of the Iranian nation in the political, social and economic life of the region” made me feel that I was still in Disney World’s fantasy universe. Somebody should tell Clinton that Iran has participated deeply in the political, social and economic life of the Gulf, Middle East and Central and South Asian regions for approximately 3,000 years, and whisper to her that Iran has far deeper roots and shares stronger interests among Middle Eastern people and societies today than Donald Duck and Dennis Ross can ever imagine.

    All in all, though, there is some positive movement in this dynamic, alongside the usual nonsense. Given the realities on both sides, this is probably as much as we can expect for the moment. Let’s hope that in the direct talks we get less nonsense and more sensible engagement from both sides.

    Hariri Killing

    This editorial was published in Arab News on 11/12/2010

    How will Hezbollah react to findings of the UN panel is the question.

    Is it better to suppress the truth if it causes political embarrassment and or worse, or should it be allowed out no matter how uncomfortable it proves? This is not about WikiLeaks but Lebanon. The UN tribunal tasked with investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is due to publish its findings, possibly as early as this week. It is widely believed that it will indict Lebanon's Hezbollah movement in the killing. Hezbollah has warned of violence if that is the case.

    Hezbollah says the UN tribunal is an American and Israeli puppet. It had earlier said it would provide evidence proving that Israel was responsible for the murder. It has failed to do so. But that has not stopped those who admire it repeating the claim that the UN is an agent of the US and Israel.

    There is hypocrisy at play. It is amazing how some people praise the UN when it criticizes those they oppose but when it turns the heat on causes they support, they condemn it as a tool of their enemies. So much for consistency.

    It is instructive too that those who support Hezbollah are more than happy at the WikiLeaks revelations but not want any revelations about its activities. So much for integrity.

    Until the report comes out, we do not know if Hezbollah will be indicted. Hezbollah's threats of violence ahead of that event is nothing less than thuggery. The correct response, if indicted, should be to challenge those findings through normal legal means.

    Reconciliation in Lebanon will not be built by suppressing the report. It will only convince the majority that they have been cheated. That itself could cause further violence.

    Hezbollah behaves like an armed state within a state. No country can accept such a situation and Lebanon will never be a truly sovereign nation while that continues. Those who have armed it bear the blame in part — but so does Israel. While Hezbollah's prime aim is control of Lebanon, it uses the Israeli threat to justify its massive arsenal. If Israel returned the Shebaa farms and agreed that it would never again interfere in Lebanon, Hezbollah would not longer be justified in remaining an armed camp. From Israel's perspective, handing the farms back would be a small price to pay for its neighbor's stability. Its refusal to do means that it does not want a stable Lebanon. This is a moment of truth in every sense of the term — for Lebanon, for its neighbors. Most of all, for Hezbollah if indicted. Its credibility is on the line. Ironically, it may have hoist itself on its own petard. It has threatened violence. If there is violence, Hezbollah will be condemned. If it decides not to go down that route then its reputation for toughness will be blown away. That is why many in Lebanon believe that as the alternative it will try to trigger fresh conflict with Israel. That cannot be dismissed — especially since it would play into the dangerously deteriorating situation at present.

    Mr. President: Prove You Weren't Bluffing On Middle East Peace

    By Lara Friedman
    This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 10/12/2010

    By snubbing the Obama administration's latest peace gambit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done more than simply renege on an agreement with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Netanyahu has called President Obama's bluff. Netanyahu is telling the president: I don't take you seriously and I don't believe there will be any consequences.

    This is a crucial test for President Obama. Obama came into office promising to deliver peace. He defined peace, correctly, as a U.S. national security interest. He said he would hold both sides accountable for their actions. 

    It is now up to the president to prove he wasn't bluffing. 

    If he fails this test, the implications are global. U.S. allies and adversaries are watching. So far, they see a U.S. president who for two years has been unable to achieve significant progress towards one of his key foreign policy objectives. They see a president who directly connected his Middle East foreign policy to U.S. national security interests, but then, faced with game-playing and delay tactics of the parties, has behaved as if the U.S. was politically impotent. Obama needs to recognize that after two years in office, good intentions and powerful speeches count for nothing; he has exhausted the goodwill and the benefit-of-the-doubt he enjoyed when he first entered office. Today his foreign policy is being judged solely on actions and results. 

    If Obama fails this test, the conclusions that will be drawn -- in Tehran or Pyongyang, when negotiating over their nuclear programs, or in Moscow, when negotiating over arms control, or even Paris and London when considering NATO interests -- are worrying. Their potential impacts are far more devastating for U.S. national security than the WikiLeaks fiasco. The credibility of Obama's entire foreign policy is at stake.

    With the current crisis in the Israeli-Arab arena, Obama today has an opportunity to turn his peace policy around -- to change course and start matching his policy to his rhetoric. The simple reality is this: Obama can deliver an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, but only if the parties start taking him seriously. And at this point, that won't happen unless Obama makes clear that he is out of patience and ready to play hardball -- that there will be consequences for obstructing U.S. foreign policy and undermining U.S. interests. 

    Let no one be deceived: There is no single magic formula for moving forward. Any "Plan B" will be as spectacularly unsuccessful as "Plan A" has been if the President fails to muster the political will to compel the parties to take him seriously. Whether we're talking about the U.S. laying down its own parameters, offering its own peace plan, engaging European and regional allies to build multilateral pressure on the parties, or some other option, the success or failure of the policy will lay first and foremost in the President's readiness to bring pressure to bear and hold the parties accountable.

    That said, some ideas being bandied about are simply not options -- like adopting a "management" approach to the conflict. There is no "managing" a conflict that, with each new development on the ground, has the potential to inflame and destabilize the region and beyond.  

    Likewise, there is no option of putting this policy in "park", awaiting more propitious circumstances. The two-state solution -- the only viable solution to this conflict and a solution that is vital both to Israel's survival and to U.S. national security interests -- is under daily attack. The absence of a credible peace process leaves the door open to violence, emboldening those who advocate the use of force over negotiations. It permits developments that are antithetical to the two-state solution. With these threats left unchecked, the two-state solution will not survive indefinitely. 

    And let's be clear: while a settlement freeze need not be a precondition for peace negotiations, settlements still matter. Settlement construction creates new facts on the ground that make a two-state solution harder to implement, it discredits any peace process, and it sends a signal that Israel is not interested in resolving the conflict through negotiations, but prefers instead unilateral faits accomplis.

    Finally, if President Obama acts with determination, he can ensure that Prime Minister Netanyahu -- who is today being praised for calling Obama's bluff -- faces his own test. For two years Netanyahu has blithely mouthed the rhetoric of peace and the two-state solution, but his actions have exposed his lies. With a resolute policy, Obama can demonstrate to Israelis that Netanyahu is taking Israel down a road that leads only to further collisions with Israel's best friend, the U.S., and to further isolation and de-legitimization. At that point, Netanyahu can either get with the program or face what is sure to be a wave of domestic opposition.

    It is time for President Obama to get serious about Middle East peace, for the sake of U.S. national security and for the sake of the credibility of his foreign policy worldwide. The world is watching and waiting. And still hoping.

    Lara Friedman is director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now

    Israel And Turkey Working To Repair Ties

    By Ethan Bronner
    This article was published in The New York Times on 10/12/2010
    JERUSALEM — Officials from Israel and Turkey said on Friday that their governments were working on an agreement to end the hemorrhaging of their relationship but were stuck on several issues, including whether Israel must apologize — or merely express regret — for the killings of nine Turks during a flotilla raid in May.
    “We are trying to get a compromise formula,” Ron Dermer, a close aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, said on Israel Radio earlier in the week.
    The deaths of the nine Turks, one of whom was also an American citizen, occurred aboard a Turkish-sponsored flotilla seeking to break Israel’s embargo of Gaza. Israeli naval commandos boarded the largest of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters and, facing violent resistance from dozens of activists, staged an armed takeover.
    This came after fierce Turkish criticism of Israel’s war in Gaza two years ago as well as of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians generally. Once Israel’s closest Muslim ally, Turkey, whose government has moderate Islamist leanings, recalled its ambassador from Israel after the flotilla raid and has recently strengthened ties with Syria and Iran.
    But a forest fire in Israel’s north a week ago led Mr. Netanyahu to seek international help, and Turkey quickly sent two fire fighting airplanes. Mr. Netanyahu made a point of thanking the Turks, visiting with their pilots and reminding them of the help Israel offered Turkey in its devastating 1999 earthquake, sending a team of 250 aid workers.
    Turkish news coverage of the fire fighting efforts here and of Israel’s warm welcome showed Israel in a far more sympathetic light than usual. The Israelis believed that this might be a moment to push for improved ties, and Mr. Netanyahu called Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for their first ever conversation. The Turks responded.
    “There is a new atmosphere in terms of reconciliation with Israel,” the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told reporters this week.
    An Israeli official, Yosef Ciechanover, met this week in Geneva with an official in the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Feridun Sinriliogu, and contacts have continued since.
    Ozdem Sanberk, who was Turkey’s envoy to the United Nations inquiry into the flotilla raid, said by telephone that the Geneva talks had gone well. “The importance of the meeting in Geneva was that it showed the willingness of both Israel and Turkey to leave this chapter behind,” he said.
    Mr. Erdogan has said publicly that Turkey would not return its ambassador  to Israel until Turkey received compensation for the families of the dead and an apology. He has also spoken of the need to end Israel’s embargo of Gaza but has not consistently made that a condition of improved ties.
    Israeli officials say that they wish to restore relations with Turkey and that they are willing to pay compensation and express sorrow over what happened, but they have two concerns. They want it spelled out that the commandos who boarded the flotilla were acting in self-defense. And they want whatever deal emerges to end the United Nations inquiry and other international legal actions toward Israel stemming from the Mavi Marmara takeover.
    Turkish officials have made clear that they want an apology but have not agreed to ending the United Nations inquiry or others.
    Israel’s position is that their soldiers acted appropriately and that the embargo on Gaza, which is run by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, is legitimate and legal. In addition, Israel worries that an apology implies guilt, which could lead to further legal action against the commandos and Israeli officials.
    “We must not apologize as there are both moral-diplomatic ramifications and legal ramifications that can really expose Israeli soldiers to lawsuits, damage claims against Israel and the like,” Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said on Israel Radio on Friday.
    Israeli officials say part of what is motivating Turkey to come to an agreement is American pressure. Washington, unhappy to see two allies arguing and concerned about the direction of Turkish foreign policy, is urging Turkey to come to a deal.
    But the result is far from clear. Israeli public opinion has turned strongly against Turkey, and Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition partners include several right-wing parties. An apology would be a hard sell.
    “I’m not sure this is going to succeed,” a senior Israeli official said on Friday by telephone. “They haven’t abandoned their demands, and we haven’t abandoned ours. The question is whether we can thread the needle.”
    Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Istanbul.

    An Obama Foreign Policy Win In South Sudan

    By Michael Gerson
    This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 10/12/2010

    The Obama administration, elsewhere challenged by Iranian nuclear ambitions and North Korean brinkmanship, is on the verge of a major diplomatic achievement in Sudan. Barring technical failures that delay the vote, or unexpected violence, South Sudan will approve an independence referendum on Jan. 9. Six months later, a new flag will rise, a new anthem will be played. It is a rare, risky, deeply American enterprise: midwifing the birth of a new nation.

    Even six years ago, this outcome seemed impossible. The mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south were engaged in a two-decade-old civil war that unleashed genocide, produced millions of refugees and took about three times as many lives as the American Civil War. But in 2005, the Bush administration brokered the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which created a government of national unity and promised an independence referendum for the south in 2011.

    Even six months ago, implementation of the CPA seemed unlikely. Electoral abuses in local contests had widened bitter, sometimes violent, divisions within the south. And Obama administration policy on Sudan was uncoordinated, ineffective and widely criticized.

    But the summer of 2010 was a turning point. The administration was sobered by the prospect of a referendum in less than 200 days for which no one was prepared. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been pushing to elevate the issue to the presidential level, demanding, according to one official, "one team, one fight." In August, President Obama declared that Denis McDonough, then the chief of staff on the National Security Council, now deputy national security adviser, would coordinate a unified government response. The administration's common approach, dubbed "the road map," publicly promised the regime in Khartoum a series of carrots - reviewing its status on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, beginning the lifting of sanctions and starting discussions on debt relief - in exchange for allowing the south to go quietly. Sen. John Kerry carried messages and applied pressure in both Khartoum and the southern capital of Juba. It was an effective full-court press.

    Southern leaders rose to the moment, encouraging an internal dialogue that has reduced the level of conflict and violence in the south. And elements of the regime in Khartoum seem prepared for sullen acceptance of southern independence, calculating that the road map might lessen Sudan's isolation as a pariah state, and probably convinced that military re-conquest of the south is not an option.

    Every diplomatic achievement is rewarded by new complexities. Between the independence referendum in January and full independence on July 9, 2011, a variety of issues - concerning borders, citizenship, security and the distribution of oil revenue - will need to be resolved. This will be a high-stakes, trust-building exercise between two powers more accustomed to war. South Sudan will require considerable help to avoid the fate of a failed state - particularly to build its capacity to govern and fight corruption. The issue of what to do with southern refugees in the north - there are 1.5 million to 2 million - will be especially sensitive. It would be easy for these refugees to become hostages. And another Sudanese region in revolt - Darfur in the west - remains a muddle of open warfare and fragile negotiations, in which civilians continue to suffer.

    But even partial diplomatic successes are worth celebrating - and this is less partial than most. Assuming the last lap of a long race is completed, southern independence will allow these long-suffering people to govern and defend themselves - a development that remains satisfying to a revolutionary power such as America. And southern sovereignty will permanently limit the ability of Khartoum to do harm in a vast region it has harmed for too long. This success also represents the bipartisan continuity of American foreign policy - a peace process launched in one administration and continued by another.

    The most timely message sent by this achievement concerns the nature of the diplomatic task. It was the intention of recent WikiLeaks disclosures to reveal the names of American diplomats and expose their malign influence in the world. Well, here is a leak of my own. People such as McDonough, Michelle Gavin and Samantha Power in the White House, along with Johnnie Carson, Scott Gration and Princeton Lyman at the State Department, are employing American power to noble purpose. I mention their names (none of them secret) because they represent how skilled, effective government officials can shape history, improve the lives of millions and bring honor to the country they serve.

    Who Is The Sectarian One?

    By Husam Itani
    This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 10/12/2010

    The cry that was launched by Chairman of the International Association of Holocaust Survivors Noah Flug against the decision of a group of Israeli rabbis to prohibit the rental or sale of property to non-Jews was highly noticeable.

    Naturally, the side targeted by the aforementioned decision is the Arabs from among the Palestinians of the territories occupied in 1948. As for Flug, he believed that the rabbis should recant their decision, which was similar to the ones issued by the Nazi administration in Germany to oust the Jews from their homes and gather them in ghettos. He also warned against the weak reaction of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward the decision that was signed by Jewish rabbis belonging to the Haredi and National-Religious wings and are spread in towns and settlements extending from Metula on the Lebanese border to Eilat on the Red Sea.

    Flug’s statements, which were supported by a number of Holocaust survivors, pointed to the continuation and increase of the shift toward the extremist right-wing among the Israeli public, and the retreat of the influence of the peaceful movements in the Israeli society.

    One may argue for a long time about the origins of right-wing extremism inside the Zionist movement since before Jabotinsky and his “Iron Wall” - on which the heads of the Arabs seeking the elimination of Israel should be smashed – as he stated. One may also talk about a split Israeli political personality embodied by the bloody and racist practices against the Palestinians and the other Arabs since the 1948 Nakba on one hand, and the insistence on the rule of the law and justice when dealing with domestic Israeli issues (bearing in mind the segregation to which the Jewish Easterners and Falasha were subjected throughout decades). However, what was clear at the level of the rise of the extremist and hostile movements within the Israeli society and among the Israeli politicians - thus rendering each new government “the most extreme in Israel’s history” – is this convergence with the nihilistic and rampant tendencies in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

    Those who focus on the rise of the Israeli racist inclination against the Palestinians and disregard the campaigns targeting religious and national minorities in the Arab countries are terribly mistaken. For example, it is not yet known what remedy the Iraqi authorities are proposing for the quasi-daily attacks targeting the Christians, except for a few security measures. As for the Egyptian government, it does not seem to be giving the required attention to the issue of the Copts and the fierceness with which they have started to face any violation toward them, after years of endurance and patience.

    In the meantime, the relations among the sects in Lebanon are not archetypical, while Sudan seems to be heading toward a new civil war between the North and the South, a few years after the truce during which each of the two sides refilled its weapons and ammunition warehouses. This goes to say that despite its attempts to differentiate itself from the region and its climate, Israel seems to be drowning in sectarianism and racism, just like all its neighboring states and communities. It would even be accurate to believe that it is benefitting from the segregation to which the Jews were subjected to export some of the most harmful position at the level of the social fabrics in the region.

    Consequently, we are entering another vicious circle of actions and reactions, racist practices and retaliations, and inaugurating a new round of the game of blames and questions revolving around which side is racist and which side is sectarian.

    Egypt's Stolen Artifacts Must Be Returned!

    This article was published by Asharq al-Awsat on 10/12/2010

    When the campaign to restore Egypt’s stolen antiquities first began, the world – particularly the archeological community – was surprised by the force of our call and insistence that our stolen artifacts and heritage be returned to us. The initial rallying call for our antiquities to be returned to their homeland was made from the heart of the British Museum, after I was invited to give a lecture there.
    After the lecture, the museum curator invited British intellectuals and several politicians to a dinner that was held in one of the museums halls, where I noticed that a number of Egyptian antiquities were on display. Such antiquities included the magnificent statue of King Ramses II, the greatest Egyptian pharaoh of them all, as well as a statue of King Tuthmosis III, who has been nicknamed the "Napoleon of Ancient Egypt" as he is credited with expanding the ancient Egyptian empire as far north as Anatolia and as far south as the fourth Cataract of the Nile [Dar al-Manasir]. After dinner, the museum curator delivered a pleasant speech welcoming me to the British Museum; the curator also paid tribute to British-Egyptian relations in the field of archeology and praised the cooperation that exists between the British Museum and Egypt.
    Afterwards, I delivered a speech of greeting and thanks. I began by saying that [as an Egyptian archeologist] I understood the pharaohs and ancient Egypt, and that I felt a deep bond with both Ramses II and Tuthmosis III. As I ate my food, I felt as if the statues were speaking to me, telling me how they had spent more than 100 years in Britain and how they missed Egypt and wanted to return to the land of the Nile. Whilst these statues have played a major role outside of their homeland, showing the world the beauty of ancient Egyptian civilization, and teaching people from across the globe how the pharaohs ruled their land under the principle of "Maat" which advocates truth, justice, and order, it seemed to me as if it were time that they returned home after more than a century in exile.
    In my speech, I said that Egyptian antiquities, including statues of its pharaohs, as well as its queens, princes, princesses, and viziers, have a strong presence in museums around the world. Although these antiquities have been removed from their natural environment, whether they were a gift [to a country from Egypt], whether Egypt formally renounced its claim on them, or whether they were legally sold and purchased – for Egyptian law allowed the legal sale of such antiquities in the past – Egypt cannot today demand the return of these antiquities for we are committed to respecting all the international charters and agreements signed by Egypt, even if this is not in the country's best interests. However – I said – that Egypt was calling for the return of any antiquity that left Egypt illegally, and we will not give up this right, whether this is the return of antiquities to Egypt, or the return of other antiquities to their homeland, for example the antiquities stolen from Iraq.
    I concluded my speech by drawing attention to a list of six major artifacts that Egypt hopes will be returned to it once more, in addition to all other stolen artifacts and antiquities. These artifacts are symbols of ancient Egyptian civilization, and it is not right for them to be on display outside of Egypt, even if most of these antiquities had been taken from the countries in a legal manner. Egypt is calling for these artifacts to be returned to their homeland, and is prepared to compensate museums [that return these] with other artifacts. At the top of the list of artifacts that Egypt wants returned is the Rosetta Stone which is on display at the British Museum, as this artifact was the key to unlocking ancient Egyptian civilization. In addition to this, we want the Zodiac of Dendera which is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris to be returned to Egypt; this Zodiac originally formed the ceiling of the Temple of Dendera. Other items that we want returned include a bust of Queen Nefertiti on display in Berlin's Neues Museum; this was originally illegally removed from Egypt by [German archeologist] Ludwig Borchardt, as well as the statue of the architect of the Great Pyramid of Giza – and Uncle to King Khufu – Ham Iunu, which is on display in the Hildesheim Museum. We are also calling for the return of the statue of the architect of the Pyramid of King Khafre [second pyramid of Giza], Ankh-Haf, which is on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the statue of Pharaoh Ramses II on display at the Museum of Turin, which is a particularly fine specimen.
    After I finished my speech, I looked around and noticed the surprise on the faces of the audience who did not expect me to make such an address, or call for the return of Egypt's historic antiquities. This was the beginning of Egypt's campaign to have its antiquities and heritage restored to it.

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Lebanon Needs A Breath Of Fresh Air

    This editorial was published in The Daily Star on 10/12/2010

    The university sector and the business community have joined forces to act on the question of air pollution in Lebanon. They are launching a study that will be conducted by van in Greater Beirut, to monitor vehicle emissions and the wider issue of air quality.

    A day earlier, the American University of Beirut, which is involved in the van study, warned that air pollution is unsafe in the capital, as the AUB team behind the effort focused on the danger posed by carbon emissions, related to having too many cars on the roads.

    Meanwhile, government officials from around the world are gathering in Cancun, to grapple with pressing environmental issues, such as climate change and the worrying role of carbon emissions in this phenomenon.

    One might think that with all the environment-related problems of late, whether in Lebanon or the region, politicians might have sat up and taken notice. It’s a daunting challenge to face, but there are several areas of concern in Lebanon: water quality, susceptibility to fires and the loss of green spaces, the air people breathe, and the country’s dumps, landfills and quarrying.

    Amid all of these alarm bells, politicians are often occupied elsewhere. There has been a pledge to improve the ratios of the energy sector, to reduce the percentage of polluting energy in the mix. However, the latest signals from AUB indicate that the problem doesn’t seem to be near a solution, but might be getting worse.
    The new study will focus on roads and highways, one of the obvious culprits. Is it too much to expect politicians to focus on this vital yet needlessly chaotic sector? Instead of fighting over civil service posts, and which sect gets to fill them, and whose prerogatives will be bolstered in a petty turf war, can politicians get serious about a policy item such as ensuring the country doesn’t have too many cars on its roads?

    Anyone who drives from the mountains around Beirut into the capital takes a dip into an ugly layer of brown smog – the evidence is already there, even before AUB completes its latest study.

    In other countries, taking steps to reduce air pollution levels is something that is actually debated, seriously, and then implemented, and finally followed-up. In Lebanon, there are hardly any serious plans for how to deal with next month, or worse, trivial personal interests block any process of improving governance.

    Ruin the country’s landscape by giving out licenses to parties that harm the environment? No problem. Mismanage water resources? Fine. Allow fires to ravage vitally-important green spaces? Why not?

    Instead of talking so much about the dangers posed by Israel and Iran, politicians should remember the environmental degradation that has afflicted these two states, which are even more capable of fending off disaster than the dysfunctional system in Lebanon.

    Assad: 'No One Wants Strife In Lebanon'

    Syrian president says ‘there is no Saudi-Syrian initiative per se’ to resolve Lebanese crisis

    By Agence France Presse (AFP) and The Daily Star
    This article was published in The Daily Star on 10/12/2010

    Assad: 'No one wants strife in Lebanon'
    PARIS: Syrian President Bashar Assad said Thursday that no one wants civil strife in Lebanon, amid tensions ahead of indictments over the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

    “No one wants there to be clashes, fitna [strife within the Muslim community], between Lebanese,” Assad said after lunchtime talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy centered on Lebanon, for decades dominated by Syria. Assad also highlighted his country did not want to meddle in Lebanese affairs concerning the current deadlock over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

    Asked about an eventual Syrian-Saudi initiative in Lebanon, Assad said his country and Saudi Arabia were helping the Lebanese find solutions to the deadlock. “There is no Saudi-Syrian initiative per se,” he told reporters. “The solution can only be Lebanese, it can be neither Syrian, nor Saudi, nor French.

    Hariri was assassinated in a massive car bombing in Beirut that killed 22 others, and the UN-backed STL tasked with finding who was responsible has said it will issue indictments “very soon.”
    The killing led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops who had been in neighboring Lebanon since the early days of the devastating 1975-1990 Civil War.

    Several foreign media have reported that the tribunal will indict members of Hizbullah, Syria’s strongest ally in Lebanon. The group has warned any such accusation would have grave repercussions in Lebanon.
    Assad said that his country, and Saudi Arabia and France, were coordinating on Lebanon. But he reiterated that a solution ought to be a purely Lebanese one. Assad traveled to Saudi Arabia in October to discuss Lebanese tensions heightened by the UN-backed probe into the Hariri killing.

    “We [Syrians] don’t want to intervene, we don’t want to interfere in an internal Lebanese situation,” Assad said. Tackling the peace process, Assad said Israel was not a peace partner, while also slamming an Israeli law requiring a referendum ahead of a withdrawal from Arab lands occupied since 1967.

    “This Israeli position is completely unacceptable from a legal point of view,” Assad said of the November 23 law, following talks with Sarkozy. The law requires any government signing a peace deal that cedes territory in occupied East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in 1967, to secure approval either from parliament or a referendum.

    It would not affect territorial concessions within the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

    With peace talks stalled as Israel continues to authorize settlement building in the West Bank, Assad said that US mediation efforts should not be blamed. “Before blaming the sponsor, you have to blame the concerned parties. Today, we notice that there is no Israeli peace partner,” he said. Assad added that he was opposed to the issue of Jewish settlement building on occupied Arab land being at the center of peace talks.