Saturday, January 22, 2011

What Might Hezbollah Face Once The Trial Begins?

By William Harris
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 21/01/2011

So Daniel Bellemare, the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, has submitted a draft indictment against suspects in the Hariri assassination. The judicial train has finally left the station.

This is a pivotal event, even if we do not yet know the identities of those indicted. Bellemare has told us he would submit an indictment based on overwhelming evidence. Therefore, we can assume that there will be a legal process and that individuals with clear political affiliations will be subjected to months of judicial proceedings before a global audience, whether or not they are personally present.

We know that the indictments will almost certainly cover persons aligned with Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. One question, though, is whether Syrian or even Iranian persons will be named alongside the Lebanese accused. Given Hezbollah’s assumption that the murder indictments will encompass two or more of its members, what would the implications be for the party? Contrary to the view that the party is capable of seizing Lebanon and sailing through unscathed, the consequences for it in the longer term may be catastrophic.

First, although indictments are against individuals, not organizations, public suspicion directed against Hezbollah will be overwhelming, given the large-scale conspiracy involved in Rafik Hariri’s assassination and the subsequent trail of associated murders. This will be especially true if party members are the most prominent among the accused, while others fade into the background. As Hezbollah’s secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, openly stated in a speech last July otherwise denying Hezbollah’s involvement, any claim that party members involved in Hariri’s killing were “rogue elements” would fail to convince, given Hezbollah’s tight, disciplined structure. Much the same holds for Syria’s intelligence services.

Furthermore, if the indictment of Hezbollah members eventually leads to convictions, it is difficult to see how the party could thereafter take part in Lebanese official business as if nothing had happened – at least in a Lebanon still part of the international community.

Second, although the indictments are specifically for the Hariri assassination, it will be almost universally assumed that the leading suspects were also involved in other political crimes in the period 2004-2008. The sequence of political murders and attempted murders, including the Hariri assassination, involved 12 incidents, targeting politicians, journalists and security officials, with a total casualty toll of 54 dead and at least 335 wounded. These attacks represented the largest, most dramatic assassination campaign in the post Cold War world. Any organization or regime tarred with this brush will be politically finished in any meaningful sense, regardless of the constituency they might think they control.
Third, defiance of the Special Tribunal, combined with efforts to turn the Lebanese government against the institution, will be to no avail. The tribunal will try the suspects in absentia and the international community will impose sanctions on both Hezbollah and the Lebanese state. If the international community is pushed into a corner, no one in Lebanon should doubt that it will react with serious measures.

Overall, if the indictment includes Hezbollah personnel, the party will have little room for maneuver. Lebanese politics will go nowhere during the weeks when the pretrial judge, Daniel Fransen, confirms Bellemare’s indictments, whatever the dubious interventions of Turkey, Qatar or others. More Hezbollah speeches and threats to cut off hands will just convince more people that the party has plenty to hide, and any coup attempt can only end badly for the party. The formal indictment of Hezbollah members may conclusively wipe out its legitimacy in half of Lebanon. Assuming the prosecutor maintains the upper hand, the subsequent court proceedings might bring over many Shiites, as successive, relentless judicial sessions make the party’s alleged victimhood look ever more threadbare.

Up to the point of indictment the Syrian regime has worked together with Hezbollah to try to force Lebanon to end its participation in and endorsement of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Both the party and Damascus fear the trajectory of the international judicial process. However, if an initial indictment names only Hezbollah members and Lebanese also-rans, Syria would hope for a free pass out of crimes that could not have occurred without its direction.

William Harris, a professor and head of the Department of Politics at the University of Otago, New Zealand, is author of “Faces of Lebanon” and “The Levant: A Fractured Mosaic.” His “History of Lebanon, 600-2011” is forthcoming with Oxford University Press. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

Dialogue Is Important

By Walid M. Sadi
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 23/01/2011
Relations between Al Azhar, the icon of Islamic studies, and the Vatican, the governing body of the Catholic Church, deteriorated in the aftermath of the attacks on Christian churches in Baghdad and Alexandria to a point that prompted Al Azhar to take the precipitous decision of “freezing” all contacts and dialogue with the Vatican.

On the one hand, it is understandable that the Vatican is concerned about the fate of Christians in the Middle East especially after sensing that the tempo of attacks against them has accelerated in recent times. On the other hand, Al Azhar is also understandably worried about the disturbing insinuations that Christians in the region are being purposely targeted and threatened by Muslims.
Al Azhar is one of the oldest universities, having been founded in 970-972 AD to serve as the seat of Islamic learning, and obviously does not take its decisions lightly. Islam’s foremost seat of learning must have decided that Islam and Muslims are being wrongly accused as intolerant.

While understanding that recent attacks on Christian places of worship may justify sounding the alarm worldwide about Arab Christians, there is really no justification for allowing the long history of good relations between Christians and Muslims in this part of the world to reach a point necessitating the severance of relations or suspending contacts and communications between them.

The attacks on some Christian churches in some Arab countries need to be seen by both sides as an aberration rather than the norm in the Christian-Muslim relations.

Against this backdrop, Al Azhar may wish to reconsider its recent stance on relations with the Vatican, because halting dialogue with it is not the best way to erase the misunderstanding between their followers.

Instead of closing channels of communications with the Vatican, Al Azhar must engage the Holy See in extensive talks with a view to eliminating all misreading of the situation of Christians in the region.

Al Azhar must convince the Vatican that Christians in the Arab states are integral part of the Arab society and their status as equal cannot be questioned simply because of isolated attacks against them by misguided and criminally minded factions.

The attackers of Christian holy sites may plan to drive a wedge between the religious communities in the Arab world, and if for only this reason, Al Azhar and the Vatican must join forces to defeat their common enemy with all their might, instead of stopping talking to each other.

There is every reason to believe that there is some faction or country out there that wants nothing better than to have the Arab nation divided along religious grounds. This threat requires first and foremost a united effort from the two religions to fight off this conspiracy. That is why Al Azhar must maintain its traditional warm and constructive relations with the Vatican.

Saudi Arabia: Modesty Comes In All Colours

It is unfair to compel women in Saudi Arabia to only wear black abayas — this is uncomfortable and dangerous
By Tariq A. Al Maeena
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 23/01/2011
Lately, it's been happening to me with increasing frequency. And sometimes it is downright terrifying. I am driving on some poorly lit road at night when a figure cloaked in black darts in front of my car, a few inches ahead of my headlights, and crosses over to the other side.
Slamming the brakes with gut-wrenching G-force worthy of a MIG-29 pilot, and with chilling emotions coursing through me, I fervently pray that I have not played any part in causing harm or injury to another living soul.
Just as I pull over to compose myself, I notice a fleeting shadow of a woman all cloaked in black in the rear view mirror. On this dark and lonely street, fate has luckily decreed that she cross safely over to the other side unharmed.
And then anger overwhelms me. Moments after uttering a few unmentionable expletives, I wonder why for heaven's sake was this figure so oblivious to the harm that could have befallen her? Was she stupid enough to assume that motorists drive with night vision gear and would be able to see her dark figure and slow down? Or did she believe that being a woman would automatically grant her the right of safe passage across a street?
But then as always, the mind begins to conjure up possible scenarios and sympathy takes over. She may have been out to get food for her children. Or was visiting a sick relative, and had no other means of getting around.
Perhaps she was rushing to aid ailing parents thus throwing caution to the wind, and had no man to help her in this male-dominated society.
Was it really her mistake? If she had the resources to own a car and could drive, would she have exposed herself to such mortal danger? Is it really her fault, or one created by the social customs of a bygone era to create the illusion of modesty?
Sad state of affairs
In this land of unchecked road warriors, I am usually a defensive driver and this one got away safely. I hate to think just how many women have been struck down by passing motorists just because they were draped in black.
And why only in black? Any grade school student would tell you that the colour black absorbs ultraviolet rays faster than any other colour, which makes it mighty uncomfortable in this part of the world for the wearer of such clothing when temperatures from a searing sun can often reach around 50 degrees Celsius.
In many Gulf countries, it is not uncommon to see a sizeable portion of the fairer sex draped in abayas that are primarily black in colour. Muslim women in other parts of the world do not always follow similar patterns.
In Morocco, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, white, light blue and other gentler colours are often used for modesty. This also allows some relief from the harsh sun.
In Saudi Arabia, the Commission for the Promotion of Good and the Prevention of Evil (the Vice Cops) is ever so vigilant particularly when it comes to matters that relate to women. The commission acts as the kingdom's morality police, enforcing a strict code of behaviour, and has in recent times gained notoriety in an unforgiving media for excesses that have threatened Saudi men and women alike.
Cases of Commission members abducting women who were deemed to be showing too much skin from beneath their full-length black abayas in public, or have their eyes exposed or else had to gall to move around with designs on their abayas had resulted in women being unceremoniously whisked to a commission office for hours of humiliating interrogation.
Decades of such unchecked behaviour by Commission members has resulted in a flat plain black tent of a cover, so to speak, adopted by most of these terrified women as the safest of options to avoid such unpleasant encounters, while they continued to suffer in the hot sun.
Modesty comes in all colours. Why not brown or sky blue, purple or powder pink for that matter? Or at least have a bit of colour running through their abayas to protect them in such situations. Why should one gender or body dictate the attire of another?
Why not allow women the freedom to determine their modesty comfort zone, and dress accordingly. And for their own safety! Why men have this assumption that they know what is always best or most pious?
If they do have to cross the streets unescorted and at night for now, the least that women should be allowed to do is sew up some luminescent stripes over their black abayas. In a sea of black, let there be some colour. Else it could lead to tragic endings.
 Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Libyans Are Just As Hungry As Tunisians

We Arabs have been trapped between dictators and their friends in the west, but Tunisians have shown us a way out

By Hisham Matar
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 21/01/2011

In the 1970s, the young Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was the most impatient exponent of Arab unity. In 1973, he flew to Tunisia in order to convince his next-door neighbour to form a union with Libya. What happened during that summit says a lot about why Tunisia is the first Arab nation to overthrow a dictator through peaceful mass protest.

The first president of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, 70 years old by then, sat at a simple table with a microphone in front of him and a small glass of water to one side. He wore a French suit, his grey hair was slicked back, and he had on a pair of square dark glasses. He looked like Jorge Luis Borges. But, unlike the Argentinian author, Bourguiba wasn't a gifted orator. As a public speaker, the Sorbonne graduate lacked tact and was given to excitement. "What is the point of uniting 1.5 million Libyans with 5 million Tunisians?" he asked, mockingly.

It became clear, as Bourguiba went on, that he had two objectives in mind: to deflate and mildly humiliate the young Nasserist Libyan, and to outline his vision of the Arab world. Bourguiba's thesis was as simple as it was poignant: for the Arab people to build secure states and societies, they ought to concern themselves not with Arab unity, but with education and development.

Sadly, his first motive reduced the credibility of his second. He stated his opinion, that Tunisia was socially and politically superior to its north African neighbour, with enthusiasm and, one couldn't help but detect, delight.

As the Tunisian crowd cheered, the Libyan leader sat to one side looking unimpressed. Gaddafi was only 31. He had all the confidence and swagger of a young man at the height of his powers. He sat in his military uniform, his shaven chin pointing up. Every now and then he would laugh or yawn theatrically.

There was little doubt as to what Gaddafi made of the older man's remarks. As there was little doubt, among Arab observers and commentators, that Bourguiba, the seasoned politician, knew perfectly well what he was doing – that this was the best way to offend his hot-blooded guest. This fact, as well as the Tunisian's lack of enthusiasm for Arab unity, served to distract many Arabs from the valuable and pertinent recommendations the Tunisian president was offering.

This was a heady time. The bitter taste of 1967 was still in the mouth. Every Arab state had a European ex-colonial power breathing down its neck. Yet winning independence was within living memory, and confidence was still high. In the middle of it all there were these two north African men, born more than 30 years apart, both dictatorial, both with prisons full of dissidents, both with egos the size of their two countries combined, and each pointing towards a different path. Bourguiba favoured institutions and a robust bureaucracy, while Gaddafi distrusted institutions and sought to dismantle every union and club.

One of the main reasons Tunisians were able to rid themselves of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali – who was bequeathed to them by Bourguiba – was less because of the claim, endlessly repeated in the western media, that Tunisia is more European in its thinking than its neighbours, and more because of the extent to which Tunisian civil society and state bureaucracy have been allowed to develop since independence.

We Libyans are just as hungry for a just and accountable government as our Tunisian brothers and sisters. The lack of resilient institutions will make our task more difficult. However, a worried Gaddafi was the first Arab leader to give an address on television about the events in Tunisia. He obviously disapproves, but also hopes to quell the protests that have started in some Libyan towns and cities.

I am, by instinct, wary of revolutions. The gathering of the masses fills me with trepidation. But seeing the Tunisian crowds in Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the familiar street throbbing like a hot vein, was one of the most glorious things I have seen in all of my 40 years. From before I was born, we Arabs have been caught between two forces that, seemingly, cannot be defeated: our ruthless dictators, who oppress and humiliate us, and the cynical western powers, who would rather see us ruled by criminals loyal to them than have democratically elected leaders accountable to us. We have been sliding towards the dark conclusion that we will forever remain trapped between these two beasts. The men and women of Tunisia took us back from the brink of that precipice.

Tombs That Bear Witness To Algeria's Jewish Tragedy

By Robert Fisk
This commentary was published in The Independent on 22/01/2011

"Do you want to see the Israelite graves?" the security guard asked me.

It was pouring down, a cold storm of rain off the sea, and above the Algerian French cemetery of St Eugène, I read again those familiar words: "Me today, you tomorrow." Almost two decades since I last entered these gates, I felt sure the remains of the Jews of Algeria would not have survived. During the 1990s war, this had become a no-go area for the Algerian authorities, let alone the French embassy's hired guards. The great French cemeteries of Tlemcen and other cities were razed by the Islamists, the tombs of the old Algerian Jews and the French Jews and the pieds noirs and the colonisers of 130 years levelled into the earth.

The GIA gunmen had made bombs beneath the eucalyptus trees of St Eugène, they said, amid the tombs. A few cops had blasted open the vaults of 19th-century French merchants to look for explosives. They found only bones. The cemetery was still there. "You have to climb through this wall," the security man said. And there it was, the tiny synagogue dedicated by "the Israelite community of Algiers to their children who died on the field of honour".

And there were the memorials, still surviving, in Hebrew and French, of Jews from Algeria who gave their lives for France in the Great War. "David Jules Soussan of the 3rd mixed Regiment of Zouaves, died at Etingen, 1918", and "Amar Maurice Moïse, Soldier of the 2nd Engineering Regiment, died at Nieuport, 16 August 1915 Croix de Guerre". Presumably facing Hitler's last assault in the next war, William Levy "died for France, June 16, 1940, at Arpajon (Seine-et-Oise) at the age of 30", killed before he knew how murderously his country would treat his people.

There had been anti-Semitism enough in the 1890s – not from the Muslims of Algeria but from the "civilised" French colonisers who in 1870 were outraged when the French Jewish justice minister Isaac Crémieux gave full French citizenship to Algeria's 40,000 Jews. Muslims were not awarded this privilege, but it was the French right, not the majority Muslim population, who expressed their scorn for the Jews. In a remarkable book, the Algerian journalist Aïssa Chenouf has published the fruits of his extraordinary research into his country's former Jewish population, and unearthed some terrible stories of France's viciousness towards it.

In March 1897, for example, the French colonial daily Le Petit Africain urged voters to cast their ballots against anyone who supported the Jewish community in Algeria. The paper carried a "liste anti-juive" of safe French candidates, including right-wing doctors, businessmen and retired army officers, under the headline: "All Frenchmen against the Common Enemy. The Jew: This is the Enemy." Pro-Jewish voters were referred to as "sheep" acting under orders.

Incredibly, within 17 years, the Jews of Algeria were sending their sons to fight for France. Aïssa quotes a letter from the rabbi of Constantine to his son, who was about to leave for the Salonika front. "I advise you to be a good soldier, brave, obedient to your officers and warm to your friends," he wrote. "You are no more a child, you are a man and so you have the honour of going to war to defend our beloved country, France. The honour of all your family is now in your hands. You must come home to us, after victory, decorated with the military medal and the Croix de Guerre." Like poor Amar Moïse, I suppose.

At least 2,000 Algerian Jews died in the Great War. They were ill rewarded. Under the 1940 Vichy government, the Crémieux decree was abrogated, returning Algerian Jews to their status of "indigènes". General Maurice Weygand signed this order. Old Algerian French soldiers, calling themselves the "French Veterans' Legion", 150,000 strong, defined their enemies as "democracy, Gaullist traitors and Jewish lepers". When Algerians were permitted to steal Jewish property, the Muslims – almost to a man – refused. Ferhat Abbas, one of the greatest Algerian Muslim patriots, regarded the anti-Jewish laws as "hateful".

In his own new history of Jews in Muslim lands, Martin Gilbert pays tribute to the Algerian Muslims who risked their lives for Jews during the Vichy period, although his book contains a number of flaws. But Jewish history in Arab lands contains many ironies. There was indeed anti-Semitic violence in Algerian history, especially in the 12th century. The final tragedy was Algeria's war of independence. The Jews tried to avoid participation, although their French schooling and history made many of them allies of the pieds noirs colonisers, even sympathetic to the anti-Gaullist OAS armed opposition. By the end of June 1962, 142,000 Jews had left Algeria, leaving only 25,000 – 6,000 of them in Algiers. Gilbert writes that 125,000 went to France, only 25,681 to Israel (where their future lives – this, a largely unknown history – proved a stunning success story). On independence in 1962, the ruling National Liberation Front asked their Jewish citizens to remain. Gilbert says that a nationality law later cast doubt on this request. "An ancient Jewish community was at an end," Gilbert wrote.

Not quite. Jews still live in Algiers. I met one of them a few weeks ago. And they still visit the cemetery of Saint Eugène. When I was climbing through that wall in the rain, I almost fell over the graves of the Baichi family. In accordance with Jewish tradition, there were stones, newly laid, on the tomb of an old lady. "Yes, a member of the Baichis came here four days ago," the security man said. "He came to pray at his mother's grave." Then he brushed his hands against each other in a gesture of finality that I understood but did not like. "It is over," he said. "But they are still here."

Where Were The Tunisian Islamists?

By Olivier Roy
This op-ed was published in The New York Times on 21/01/2011

FLORENCE — The novel characteristic of the first peaceful popular revolution to topple a dictatorship in the Arab world is that there is nothing Islamic about it.

The young Tunisian street peddler who triggered the revolt by publicly burning himself reminds us of the Vietnamese Buddhist monks in 1963 or of Jan Palach in Czechoslovakia in 1969 — an act of precisely the opposite nature from the suicide bombings that are the trademark of present Islamic terrorism.

Even in this sacrificial act, there has been nothing religious: no green or black turban, no Allah Akbar, no call to jihad. It was instead an individual, desperate and absolute protest, without a word on paradise and salvation. Suicide in this case was the last act of freedom aimed at shaming the dictator and prodding the public to react.

In the street demonstrations that followed, there was no call for an Islamic state, no white shroud put by protesters in front of the bayonets as in Tehran in 1978. And, most striking, no “down with U.S. imperialism.” The hated regime was perceived as an indigenous one, the result of fear and passivity, and not as the puppet of French or U.S. neocolonialism, despite its endorsement by the French political elite.

Instead, the protesters were calling for freedom, democracy and multi-party elections. Put more simply, they just wanted to get rid of the kleptocratic ruling family.

At the end, when the real “Islamist” leaders returned from exile in the West (yes they were in the West, not in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia), they, like Rached Ghannouchi, spoke of elections, coalition government and stability, all the while keeping a low profile.

Have the Islamists disappeared?

No. But in North Africa, at least, most of them have become democrats. True, fringe groups have followed the path of a nomadic global jihad and are roaming the Sahel in search of hostages, but they have no real support in the population. That is why they went to the desert.

Nevertheless, these highway robbers are still branded as a strategic threat by Western governments at a loss to design a long-term policy. Other Islamists have just given up politics and closed their door, pursuing a pious, conservative, but apolitical way of life. They put a burqa on their lives as well as on their wives.

But the bulk of the former Islamists have come to the same conclusion of the generation that founded the Justice and Development Party in Turkey: There is no third way between democracy and dictatorship. There is just dictatorship and democracy.

This acknowledgement of the failure of political Islam has met the mood of the new generation of protesters in Tunisia. The new Arab generation is not motivated by religion or ideology, but by the aspiration for a peaceful transition to a decent, democratic and “normal” government. They just want to be like the others.

The Tunisian revolt helps clarify a reality about Arab life: The terrorism we’ve seen over the past few years, with its utopian millennialism, doesn’t stem from the real societies of the Middle East. More Islamic radicals are to be found in the West than at home.

To be sure, the picture differs from country to country. The post-Islamist generation is more visible in North Africa than in Egypt or Yemen, not to speak of Pakistan, which is a collapsing country. But everywhere in the Arab Middle East, the generation that is leading the protest against dictatorship does not have an Islamist character.

This is not to say there are no big challenges ahead. There are indeed many: how to find political leaders who can live up to popular expectations; how to avoid anarchy; how to reconstruct political and social bonds that have been deliberately destroyed by dictatorial regimes and rebuild a civil society. But there is at least one immediate question raised by the Tunisian revolution.

Why is the West still supporting most of the Middle East dictatorships even as this democratic surge roils across the region?

The answer in the past, of course, has been that the West sees authoritarian regimes as the best bulwark against Islamism. That was the rationale behind its support for the cancellation of the elections in Algeria in 1992, for turning a blind eye on the rigging of the Egyptian elections, and for ignoring the choice of the Palestinians in Gaza.

In light of the Tunisian experience, this approach must be re-evaluated. In the first place, these regimes are no longer a reliable bulwark. They could just collapse at anytime. Second, what are they a bulwark against if the new generation is post-Islamist and pro-democratic?

Just as Tunisia has been a turning point in the Arab world, so too it must be a turning point in the West’s policy toward the region. Realpolitik today means supporting the democratization of the Middle East.

Olivier Roy is a professor at the European University Institute in Florence and the author of “Holy Ignorance” and “The Failure of Political Islam.”

Justice For Hariri, And Lebanon

The government should reject Hezbollah's demand that it repudiate the U.N. investigation into the killing of the former prime minister.
This Editorial was published in The Los Angeles Times on 22/01/2011
After a failure by international mediators, Lebanon's political factions are trying to resolve a political crisis that threatens to turn violent. It's a worthy effort, but no agreement should spare the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Lebanon's latest crisis was precipitated by the withdrawal of the Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies from a coalition government, causing it to collapse. Hezbollah acted because Prime Minister Saad Hariri refused to sever ties with a tribunal that has been investigating the 2005 killing of his father and 22 others. Members of Hezbollah are widely assumed to be named in sealed charges filed with the court this week.
The United Nations-created Special Tribunal for Lebanon has been supported by Lebanon, which pays for nearly half of its costs. But Hezbollah has alleged that the court is part of a conspiracy by the U.S. and Israel to disarm the organization. Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, wants the withdrawal of Lebanese judges from the tribunal, the end of Lebanese funding for the tribunal and cancellation of Lebanon's agreement with the tribunal. The underlying goal, obviously, is to lessen the tribunal's legitimacy and make its findings — including those about Hezbollah members — harder to enforce in Lebanon.
Ominously, Hezbollah is gaining allies in the process of forming a government. That raises the possibility that a new government would repudiate the tribunal either completely or partially (by withholding financial support, for example). As negotiations proceed, we hope Prime Minister Hariri stands his ground, not only for his father's sake but because assassins should be brought to justice regardless of political conditions. An evaluation of the tribunal's work obviously must await the unsealing of indictments, but at this point there is no cause for Lebanon to reject its jurisdiction.
The assassination of the elder Hariri marked a turning point in Lebanon's quest for self-determination after years as a client state of Syria. Outrage over his death led to a popular uprising that moved Syria, which was initially suspected of ordering the killing, to withdraw its troops. A government dominated by Hezbollah, an ally of Syria, would represent a step backward from Lebanese independence.
Stability in Lebanon is extremely important, but concord shouldn't come at the cost of justice. It would be unconscionable for Lebanon to repudiate the special tribunal.

Liberal Pakistan Under Extremist Assault

Liberals in Pakistan are struggling to stand their ground in the face of religious extremism and terrorist violence that, on January 4, claimed the life of one of their leaders, Salman Taseer. As the governor of Pakistan’s largest province of Punjab, Taseer campaigned against the abuse of the country’s blasphemy laws. The biased application of these laws have upended the lives of hundreds of innocent people.

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman of Christian faith, became the most prominent victim of such bias. In November 2010, a district court sentenced her to die for “blaspheming” the prophet of Islam, a charge she denies. The sentence shook liberal Pakistan, producing a groundswell of support for her. Its echo was heard as far afield as the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI publicly pleaded with Islamabad to set Asia free.

Pakistan's blasphemy law is in desperate need of reform. But outsiders should refrain from calling for its repeal, given the fragile political balance inside Pakistan today.

Taseer’s Lonely Battle

Governor Taseer was moved to fight for Asia’s life out of fear for the future of Pakistan as a religiously tolerant society. He resolved to persuade Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon her. He also planned to use this opportunity to highlight the frequent misuse of blasphemy laws. Before he set out on his effort to lobby Islamabad, he first visited Asia in her prison cell on November 22 in the full glare of television cameras. Asia convinced him that the charges against her were fabricated. She handed him a petition for a presidential pardon. The visit triggered a heated debate in the national and international media about the merits of Asia’s conviction. Also, it spotlighted Governor Taseer’s courage in attempting to save the life of a fellow Pakistani who cannot fight for herself.

Taseer's visit to the prison elicited mixed reactions. Although liberal and progressive Pakistanis cheered him on, a section of religious leaders decreed him beyond the pale of Islam for meeting with a “blasphemer.” Such decrees are the Catholic equivalent of excommunication. Taseer dismissed the decree as the ramblings of “phony mullahs.”

Despite this attempt at putting on a brave face, Governor Taseer appeared lonely in his battle to reform blasphemy laws and save an innocent life. At one point, he could not name more than four leaders who echoed his cause. On December 31, the religious right shut down all of Pakistan with rallies and strikes in support of the blasphemy laws. In the face of these winds of opposition, Governor Taseer stood erect but alone. He vowed to continue fighting "even if I am the last man standing.” It was this loneliness that took him to Islamabad on the fateful day of January 4, where he twice met with the minister for information to figure out a way to counteract the vilification campaign by extremists who had put a bounty on his head. However, the divisions sown by his right-wing enemies had suddenly grown too wide to heal.

Fractious PPP and Blasphemy Laws

Even Taseer's party – the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) -- was deeply divided on the issue. The Minister for Law Babar Awan, for instance, fumed that no one should “think of finishing this law” as long as he was on the job. The Minister for Interior Rehman Malik, who by virtue of his office is the country’s top cop, outdid his fellow minister with rhetorical flourishes of his own: “If someone dishonors Islam in front of me, I will shoot him dead."

On the other end of the spectrum, the former minister of information and a sitting member of the National Assembly Sherry Rehman introduced a bill in parliament to amend these laws. To further confound this fractious situation, Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani dismissed Rehman’s bill as her own personal initiative and closed the book on the subject, stating that his government “had no intention of amending the (blasphemy) laws.” President Asif Ali Zardari, who also co-chairs the PPP, apparently stood above the fray and said nothing on the subject.

The internal divisions in the PPP, which is a liberal-progressive party, mirror the country’s electoral landscape. Pakistanis of all faiths, including values voters, overwhelmingly vote their pocketbooks and elect progressive parties to government. On religious matters, however, they only listen to leaders of faith. This is how they keep Caesar and God separate.

Yet religious parties could never poll more than five percent of the national vote. The only time they did better was in 2002, when General Pervez Musharraf, now Pakistan’s disgraced leader, engineered the national elections in their favor to keep the center-left PPP and the center-right Pakistan Muslim League (PML) out of power. Religious parties, however, appeal to voters on value issues and, by playing up hot-button controversies, deploy such voters against their elected leaders in the name of faith. In turn, the state is simultaneously challenged by al-Qaeda terrorists, Taliban militants, and political insurgents, which complicates any potential challenge to the blasphemy laws.

Why Blasphemy Laws Are Off-Limits

Blasphemy is a hypersensitive issue for most Muslims in comparison with the two other major monotheistic traditions, Judaism and Christianity. Although Islam shares Abrahamic ancestry with these two religions, it diverges from both in its doctrine of “literalism.” That the Koran is a revealed text of divine authorship is an article of faith for all Muslims. In Judaism and Christianity, only an orthodox minority holds such views about the Old Testament or New Testament. Literalism eternalizes the Koran and the prophet of Islam, placing both above and beyond the reach of free speech.

In the early 1980s, Pakistani intellectual and attorney Mushtaq Raj tested the limits of free speech by penning a treatise entitled Heavenly Communism, which the religious right condemned as a mockery of Islamic icons. Raj, however, escaped their wrath because there was, then, no statute on the books to punish his “crime of thought.” This episode stirred extremists into mounting a long battle in the nation’s courts and legislature to first criminalize blasphemy and then stiffen penalties for it in the early 1990s.

Blasphemy laws have since carried life sentence for desecrating the Koran and the death penalty for defaming the prophet of Islam either in words, deeds, or images. It is often applied by district courts. But their sentences are always overturned in high courts or the Supreme Court. Of hundreds of people who have been tried and sentenced, none was executed. Yet an overturned sentence is no solace for those who are accused of blasphemy. They often become victims of mob lynching. Thus far, at least 32 people charged with blasphemy have been lynched.

Liberals resent these laws for two reasons. They choke off any rational debate on religion and perpetuate the victimization of economically and socially marginalized communities within and between faiths. Second, they empower all kinds of religious leaders, literate, subliterate, and illiterate, to monopolize the discourse on what constitutes blasphemy and how to deal with it. All this makes even the discussion of blasphemy laws, let alone their reform, a life-and-death issue, as became evident with Governor Taseer’s assassination.

Yet even conservative commentators increasingly realize that these laws are often abusively applied, making religious minorities (both inside and outside Islam) their chief victims. There is an equally growing recognition that evidence against defendants in blasphemy cases need to be held to higher and more objective standards, and plaintiffs who falsely accuse defendants, such as Asia, ought to be held to account as well. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Pakistan’s highest forum of Islamic jurisprudence, has even proposed the death penalty for false accusers in blasphemy cases.

What to Do

As a long-term goal, the PPP government should build on these emerging trends to create consensus around reforming the blasphemy laws. In the interim, it should work harder to help Asia in her upcoming appeal process, bring Governor Taseer’s assassin to justice, and stand up to religious extremism by enforcing the state’s writ. It should learn from its earlier mistake of igniting the blasphemy controversy without doing sufficient homework for its comprehensive resolution and without anticipating the extremist backlash.

This grave error breathed life into the moribund religious right. The government’s immediate concern should be to defuse this raging controversy and get it out of the headlines. World leaders would help matters if they desist from making unrealistic demands on Islamabad to repeal the blasphemy laws, as Pope Benedict XIV did on January 10. Repeal is a tall order for a weak coalition government that has just recovered from a near-collapse. No wonder that Minister for Law Babar Awan rejected the pope’s call as interference in Pakistan’s judicial process. If anything, the pope’s call only served as a red flag to the religious right, which answered it with more street marches and inchoate [15] If anything, the Pith what effectPakistani constitution that permits courts to strike down laws deemed "repugnant" fury.

Although it forcefully condemned the extremist violence that took Governor Taseer’s life, the United States stayed out of this controversy. On January 11, when he was in Islamabad on a day-long trip, Vice President Joe Biden said: “Societies that tolerate such actions end up being consumed by those actions.” He made time to speak with Governor Taseer’s family and offered condolences on his own behalf and on behalf of President Barrack Obama and the American people. The major U.S. concern is to keep extremist forces from destabilizing Pakistan, a concern that has prompted Washington to provide economic and military assistance to Islamabad. “The United States remains committed to helping the government and the people of Pakistan as they persevere in their campaign to bring peace and stability to their country,” remarked Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in a statement that condemned Governor Taseer’s assassination.

Controversies like the one whipped up over the blasphemy laws will only take the government’s focus away from far greater threats to Pakistan and its religious minorities, such as Taliban militancy and al-Qaeda terrorism. The United States, deeply invested in Pakistan’s stability, does not want this to happen. That’s why Vice President Biden “delivered a bold message of support for Pakistan” on January 11, saying that “our relationship… is absolutely vital … to the interest of the United States … and to the Pakistani interest as well.”  

President Obama echoed these sentiments by emphasizing “U.S-Pakistan strategic partnership” in his hurriedly scheduled Oval Office meeting with President Zardari, who was in Washington on January 13 to attend a memorial service for the late U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrook. Liberal and progressive forces in Pakistan also realize that religious extremism feeds on weak states, which they need to combat by rallying behind the state of Pakistan.

Think Again: American Decline...This Time It's For Real

BY Gideon Rachman
This Article was published in Foreign Policy Issue January/February 2011
"We've Heard All This About American Decline Before."
This time it's different. It's certainly true that America has been through cycles of declinism in the past. Campaigning for the presidency in 1960, John F. Kennedy complained, "American strength relative to that of the Soviet Union has been slipping, and communism has been advancing steadily in every area of the world." Ezra Vogel's Japan as Number One was published in 1979, heralding a decade of steadily rising paranoia about Japanese manufacturing techniques and trade policies.
In the end, of course, the Soviet and Japanese threats to American supremacy proved chimerical. So Americans can be forgiven if they greet talk of a new challenge from China as just another case of the boy who cried wolf. But a frequently overlooked fact about that fable is that the boy was eventually proved right. The wolf did arrive -- and China is the wolf.
The Chinese challenge to the United States is more serious for both economic and demographic reasons. The Soviet Union collapsed because its economic system was highly inefficient, a fatal flaw that was disguised for a long time because the USSR never attempted to compete on world markets. China, by contrast, has proved its economic prowess on the global stage. Its economy has been growing at 9 to 10 percent a year, on average, for roughly three decades. It is now the world's leading exporter and its biggest manufacturer, and it is sitting on more than $2.5 trillion of foreign reserves. Chinese goods compete all over the world. This is no Soviet-style economic basket case.
Japan, of course, also experienced many years of rapid economic growth and is still an export powerhouse. But it was never a plausible candidate to be No. 1. The Japanese population is less than half that of the United States, which means that the average Japanese person would have to be more than twice as rich as the average American before Japan's economy surpassed America's. That was never going to happen. By contrast, China's population is more than four times that of the United States. The famous projection by Goldman Sachs that China's economy will be bigger than that of the United States by 2027 was made before the 2008 economic crash. At the current pace, China could be No. 1 well before then.
China's economic prowess is already allowing Beijing to challenge American influence all over the world. The Chinese are the preferred partners of many African governments and the biggest trading partner of other emerging powers, such as Brazil and South Africa. China is also stepping in to buy the bonds of financially strapped members of the eurozone, such as Greece and Portugal.
And China is only the largest part of a bigger story about the rise of new economic and political players. America's traditional allies in Europe -- Britain, France, Italy, even Germany -- are slipping down the economic ranks. New powers are on the rise: India, Brazil, Turkey. They each have their own foreign-policy preferences, which collectively constrain America's ability to shape the world. Think of how India and Brazil sided with China at the global climate-change talks. Or the votes by Turkey and Brazil against America at the United Nations on sanctions against Iran. That is just a taste of things to come.
Don't count on it. It is certainly true that when Americans are worrying about national decline, they tend to overlook the weaknesses of their scariest-looking rival. The flaws in the Soviet and Japanese systems became obvious only in retrospect. Those who are confident that American hegemony will be extended long into the future point to the potential liabilities of the Chinese system. In a recent interview with the Times of London, former U.S. President George W. Bush suggested that China's internal problems mean that its economy will be unlikely to rival America's in the foreseeable future. "Do I still think America will remain the sole superpower?" he asked. "I do."
But predictions of the imminent demise of the Chinese miracle have been a regular feature of Western analysis ever since it got rolling in the late 1970s. In 1989, the Communist Party seemed to be staggering after the Tiananmen Square massacre. In the 1990s, economy watchers regularly pointed to the parlous state of Chinese banks and state-owned enterprises. Yet the Chinese economy has kept growing, doubling in size roughly every seven years.
Of course, it would be absurd to pretend that China does not face major challenges. In the short term, there is plenty of evidence that a property bubble is building in big cities like Shanghai, and inflation is on the rise. Over the long term, China has alarming political and economic transitions to navigate. The Communist Party is unlikely to be able to maintain its monopoly on political power forever. And the country's traditional dependence on exports and an undervalued currency are coming under increasing criticism from the United States and other international actors demanding a "rebalancing" of China's export-driven economy. The country also faces major demographic and environmental challenges: The population is aging rapidly as a result of the one-child policy, and China is threatened by water shortages and pollution.
Yet even if you factor in considerable future economic and political turbulence, it would be a big mistake to assume that the Chinese challenge to U.S. power will simply disappear. Once countries get the hang of economic growth, it takes a great deal to throw them off course. The analogy to the rise of Germany from the mid-19th century onward is instructive. Germany went through two catastrophic military defeats, hyperinflation, the Great Depression, the collapse of democracy, and the destruction of its major cities and infrastructure by Allied bombs. And yet by the end of the 1950s, West Germany was once again one of the world's leading economies, albeit shorn of its imperial ambitions.
In a nuclear age, China is unlikely to get sucked into a world war, so it will not face turbulence and disorder on remotely the scale Germany did in the 20th century. And whatever economic and political difficulties it does experience will not be enough to stop the country's rise to great-power status. Sheer size and economic momentum mean that the Chinese juggernaut will keep rolling forward, no matter what obstacles lie in its path.
For now. As things stand, America has the world's largest economy, the world's leading universities, and many of its biggest companies. The U.S. military is also incomparably more powerful than any rival. The United States spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world put together. And let's also add in America's intangible assets. The country's combination of entrepreneurial flair and technological prowess has allowed it to lead the technological revolution. Talented immigrants still flock to U.S. shores. And now that Barack Obama is in the White House, the country's soft power has received a big boost. For all his troubles, polls show Obama is still the most charismatic leader in the world; Hu Jintao doesn't even come close. America also boasts the global allure of its creative industries (Hollywood and all that), its values, the increasing universality of the English language, and the attractiveness of the American Dream.
All true -- but all more vulnerable than you might think. American universities remain a formidable asset. But if the U.S. economy is not generating jobs, then those bright Asian graduate students who fill up the engineering and computer-science departments at Stanford University and MIT will return home in larger numbers. Fortune's latest ranking of the world's largest companies has only two American firms in the top 10 -- Walmart at No. 1 and ExxonMobil at No. 3. There are already three Chinese firms in the top 10: Sinopec, State Grid, and China National Petroleum. America's appeal might also diminish if the country is no longer so closely associated with opportunity, prosperity, and success. And though many foreigners are deeply attracted to the American Dream, there is also a deep well of anti-American sentiment in the world that al Qaeda and others have skillfully exploited, Obama or no Obama.
As for the U.S. military, the lesson of the Iraq and Afghan wars is that America's martial prowess is less useful than former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others imagined. U.S. troops, planes, and missiles can overthrow a government on the other side of the world in weeks, but pacifying and stabilizing a conquered country is another matter. Years after apparent victory, America is still bogged down by an apparently endless insurgency in Afghanistan.
Not only are Americans losing their appetite for foreign adventures, but the U.S. military budget is clearly going to come under pressure in this new age of austerity. The present paralysis in Washington offers little hope that the United States will deal with its budgetary problems swiftly or efficiently. The U.S. government's continuing reliance on foreign lending makes the country vulnerable, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's humbling 2009 request to the Chinese to keep buying U.S. Treasury bills revealed. America is funding its military supremacy through deficit spending, meaning the war in Afghanistan is effectively being paid for with a Chinese credit card. Little wonder that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has identified the burgeoning national debt as the single largest threat to U.S. national security.
Meanwhile, China's spending on its military continues to grow rapidly. The country will soon announce the construction of its first aircraft carrier and is aiming to build five or six in total. Perhaps more seriously, China's development of new missile and anti-satellite technology threatens the command of the sea and skies on which the United States bases its Pacific supremacy. In a nuclear age, the U.S. and Chinese militaries are unlikely to clash. A common Chinese view is that the United States will instead eventually find it can no longer afford its military position in the Pacific. U.S. allies in the region -- Japan, South Korea, and increasingly India -- may partner more with Washington to try to counter rising Chinese power. But if the United States has to scale back its presence in the Pacific for budgetary reasons, its allies will start to accommodate themselves to a rising China. Beijing's influence will expand, and the Asia-Pacific region -- the emerging center of the global economy -- will become China's backyard.
Not really. One reason why the United States was relaxed about China's rise in the years after the end of the Cold War was the deeply ingrained belief that globalization was spreading Western values. Some even thought that globalization and Americanization were virtually synonymous.
Pundit Fareed Zakaria was prescient when he wrote that the "rise of the rest" (i.e., non-American powers) would be one of the major features of a "post-American world." But even Zakaria argued that this trend was essentially beneficial to the United States: "The power shift … is good for America, if approached properly. The world is going America's way. Countries are becoming more open, market-friendly, and democratic."
Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton took a similar view that globalization and free trade would serve as a vehicle for the export of American values. In 1999, two years before China's accession to the World Trade Organization, Bush argued, "Economic freedom creates habits of liberty. And habits of liberty create expectations of democracy.… Trade freely with China, and time is on our side."
There were two important misunderstandings buried in this theorizing. The first was that economic growth would inevitably -- and fairly swiftly -- lead to democratization. The second was that new democracies would inevitably be more friendly and helpful toward the United States. Neither assumption is working out.
In 1989, after the Tiananmen Square massacre, few Western analysts would have believed that 20 years later China would still be a one-party state -- and that its economy would also still be growing at phenomenal rates. The common (and comforting) Western assumption was that China would have to choose between political liberalization and economic failure. Surely a tightly controlled one-party state could not succeed in the era of cell phones and the World Wide Web? As Clinton put it during a visit to China in 1998, "In this global information age, when economic success is built on ideas, personal freedom is … essential to the greatness of any modern nation."
In fact, China managed to combine censorship and one-party rule with continuing economic success over the following decade. The confrontation between the Chinese government and Google in 2010 was instructive. Google, that icon of the digital era, threatened to withdraw from China in protest at censorship, but it eventually backed down in return for token concessions. It is now entirely conceivable that when China becomes the world's largest economy -- let us say in 2027 -- it will still be a one-party state run by the Communist Party.
And even if China does democratize, there is absolutely no guarantee that this will make life easier for the United States, let alone prolong America's global hegemony. The idea that democracies are liable to agree on the big global issues is now being undermined on a regular basis. India does not agree with the United States on climate change or the Doha round of trade talks. Brazil does not agree with the United States on how to handle Venezuela or Iran. A more democratic Turkey is today also a more Islamist Turkey, which is now refusing to take the American line on either Israel or Iran. In a similar vein, a more democratic China might also be a more prickly China, if the popularity of nationalist books and Internet sites in the Middle Kingdom is any guide.
Don't be too sure. Successive U.S. presidents, from the first Bush to Obama, have explicitly welcomed China's rise. Just before his first visit to China, Obama summarized the traditional approach when he said, "Power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another.… We welcome China's efforts to play a greater role on the world stage."
But whatever they say in formal speeches, America's leaders are clearly beginning to have their doubts, and rightly so. It is a central tenet of modern economics that trade is mutually beneficial for both partners, a win-win rather than a zero-sum. But that implies the rules of the game aren't rigged. Speaking before the 2010 World Economic Forum, Larry Summers, then Obama's chief economic advisor, remarked pointedly that the normal rules about the mutual benefits of trade do not necessarily apply when one trading partner is practicing mercantilist or protectionist policies. The U.S. government clearly thinks that China's undervaluation of its currency is a form of protectionism that has led to global economic imbalances and job losses in the United States. Leading economists, such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and the Peterson Institute's C. Fred Bergsten, have taken a similar line, arguing that tariffs or other retaliatory measures would be a legitimate response. So much for the win-win world.
And when it comes to the broader geopolitical picture, the world of the future looks even more like a zero-sum game, despite the gauzy rhetoric of globalization that comforted the last generation of American politicians. For the United States has been acting as if the mutual interests created by globalization have repealed one of the oldest laws of international politics: the notion that rising players eventually clash with established powers.
In fact, rivalry between a rising China and a weakened America is now apparent across a whole range of issues, from territorial disputes in Asia to human rights. It is mercifully unlikely that the United States and China would ever actually go to war, but that is because both sides have nuclear weapons, not because globalization has magically dissolved their differences.
At the G-20 summit in November, the U.S. drive to deal with "global economic imbalances" was essentially thwarted by China's obdurate refusal to change its currency policy. The 2009 climate-change talks in Copenhagen ended in disarray after another U.S.-China standoff. Growing Chinese economic and military clout clearly poses a long-term threat to American hegemony in the Pacific. The Chinese reluctantly agreed to a new package of U.N. sanctions on Iran, but the cost of securing Chinese agreement was a weak deal that is unlikely to derail the Iranian nuclear program. Both sides have taken part in the talks with North Korea, but a barely submerged rivalry prevents truly effective Sino-American cooperation. China does not like Kim Jong Il's regime, but it is also very wary of a reunified Korea on its borders, particularly if the new Korea still played host to U.S. troops. China is also competing fiercely for access to resources, in particular oil, which is driving up global prices.
American leaders are right to reject zero-sum logic in public. To do anything else would needlessly antagonize the Chinese. But that shouldn't obscure this unavoidable fact: As economic and political power moves from West to East, new international rivalries are inevitably emerging.
The United States still has formidable strengths. Its economy will eventually recover. Its military has a global presence and a technological edge that no other country can yet match. But America will never again experience the global dominance it enjoyed in the 17 years between the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008. Those days are over.

Between Tunisia’s Uprising And Lebanon’s Tribunal

By Raghida Dergham from New York
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 21/01/2011
There is a precedent in common between the events of Tunisia and the events of Lebanon at the beginning of 2011: it is the precedent of accountability and of insistence on non-impunity. There is the precedent of a popular uprising of a new kind for the Arab World, taking in the Jasmine Revolution the form of toppling the tyrant and insisting on taking to court those who were essentially responsible for oppressing the Tunisian people. There is also the precedent set by the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, for which paid the price those who were the victims of political assassinations following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and his 22 companions six years ago: the precedent of the first UN tribunal launched this week from The Hague to hold accountable those responsible for political assassinations in an Arab country. Those achievements are not just Tunisian or Lebanese… they are a gift to the Arab World as a whole, where has always been assumed the inability to hold anyone accountable and to end impunity. And in spite of the tremendous difference between the beautiful secular Jasmine uprising in Tunisia and the hideous sectarian plague that threatens Lebanon today, one must remember how one million Lebanese headed to Beirut during the Cedar Revolution, setting aside their religious affiliation in demonstrations of a rare nature in the Arab World, devoid of weapons or blood. The UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is the reward for the million-man uprising during the Cedar Revolution, no matter how much those who oppose it seek to paint it as “an Israeli instrument”. If only they turn out to be right, those who believe that it was Israel that carried out the Hariri assassination! If only that were true, and justice comes to vindicate those who are convinced that Israel is responsible for this crime! For the sake of assertion, Israel’s crimes in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and even Dubai are political assassinations and certainly crimes against humanity and terrorist crimes alike. Israel’s tribunal is coming, no matter the extent to which it temporarily succeeds to bury Judge Richard Goldstone’s report within the folds of political skillfulness. Indeed, that report would represent the start of the future tribunal if Arab diplomacy successfully revives it at the international level. This is the phase of impunity and it is a valuable opportunity that can be made use of, if only Hezbollah would cease libeling international justice and considering it to be “a conspiracy against the Resistance”. Indeed, the international scene today is not one of political trade-offs, as has become the custom. That is because the justice system has found its way to the heart of politics, not the other way around. And that is something new which all players should take into consideration. What is also new is the transformation in the stances taken by some countries and in their policies, as well as the conclusion reached by the leaders of certain countries, which has led them to reconsider their foreign policies for domestic reasons and aspirations. US President Barack Obama is at the forefront of such a trend, a matter which deserves careful examination and sound analysis.

To begin with Tunisia, Barack Obama had no part to play in what took place there, nor did French President Nicolas Sarkozy have anything to do with that crucial historical event. The popular uprising in Tunisia is the ideal response to those who do not believe in the possibility of change from within. Is the matter in our hands or in those of others? That is the debate that has been going on for years between those who seek positive change in the Arab region. The events in Tunisia have brought an unprecedented response in the Arab region: change is in our hands.

In Iraq, such an opportunity was not available, although it would have been possible. We will never know because history and the events have outrun assumptions. Most Iraqis and Arabs believe that, had it not been for US military intervention, it would not have been possible to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In Iraq then change was in the hands of others, with some contribution from within.

Not so in Tunisia. The events of Tunisia remain the resounding bell that alerts the Arab people to what they hold in their hands. As long as Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi remains within his borders and does not attempt any adventures in the Tunisian interior, and as long as the Jihadists and the masters of Islamic extremism are unable to breach the Jasmine Revolution, the events in Tunisia will develop into a guidebook for activating Arab resolve, trust and insistence on change being in our hands, and not necessarily in the hands of others.

Egypt will not be a second Tunisia. Nevertheless, the Egyptian government could return today to the policy-drafting table in order to take itself the initiative of change, in partnership with the people’s wishes, not on the basis of partnership with religious fanaticism in order to contain it. Perhaps the time has come for President Hosni Mubarak to appoint a Vice President and to clarify the features of what would come after him on the bases of a lucid democracy that respects people.

Jordan is not likely to witness change from within as has Tunisia, because this would flow directly in the interest of Israel, which has never made it a secret that what it really wants is for Jordan to be the “alternative homeland” of the Palestinians. Talk of the fever of the events in Tunisia spreading to every Arab country is thus superficial, irresponsible and emotional. Accountability, yes, but haphazard change is a very dangerous matter.

In Syria too, change should be in our hands, not in those of others. Any change taking place through Israeli military intervention meets with stern refusal, and would only be in the service of Israel, not of the Syrian people. Taking the initiative in Syria is also in the hands of the government, if it wishes to make things right. Economic openness will not alone be sufficient, regardless of the success of the media campaign in the language of “modernity”. The events in Tunisia have surprised everyone, and that is the lesson that must be learned.

Change has begun in Arab republics where the confrontation was taking place between the military institution and the institutions of Islamic extremism. The Arabian Gulf region has its own particular considerations, circumstances, challenges and threats, if it does not make things right and take radical measures of reform. Indeed, Iran launched the Khomeini Revolution in 1979 and dragged the Gulf countries with it into the darkness of terror and submission to religious extremism. The response from the Gulf region came in the form of a mixture between submission to religious extremism and unparalleled military entrenchment. But that is a different issue to be discussed later.

Today, the events in Tunisia bring to mind the events of the Khomeini Revolution, with one major difference. They bring it to mind in terms of the element of surprise and the ability for change from within. The difference is that the Tunisian movement is secular and aspires to integrate with the rest of the world, while that of Iran was religious and characterized by isolation from the world.

When college students in Iran succeeded in igniting the revolution and taking part in it, the Mullahs came immediately to take control of the revolution and to exclude the students and even repress them. There remained only revolutionaries the likes of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The revolution was contained at the hands of new tyrants.

So far, Tunisia does not seem to be headed in such a direction. What poses the greatest threat to it today is the development of democratic chaos, or chaotic democracy, to the extent of making people yearn for tyrants. Former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was a tyrant, but he was also the man who protected Tunisia from Jihadists and from Islamic extremism, as well as from Al-Qaeda and its derivates. This is why the events in Tunisia today do not represent an Islamic coup d’état against the regime, but rather a popular coup d’état against a tyrant. That is an important distinction that must be carefully considered.

Accountability in Sudan has taken a completely different turn. Southern Sudan has held Omar Al-Bashir’s government accountable both from within and from without. Indeed, had it not been for “the hands of others”, embodied in the activity of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), as well as in the United States entering as a direct party, the Southerners would probably have not been able to obtain secession by way of the referendum, no matter how hard they might have tried. Sudan is perhaps an example of change from within and without, by way of a strategy that took into account the roles played by NGOs. And what contributed to forcing Bashir to submit to the secession of Sudan was international justice. Indeed, had not the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched the process of non-impunity for the massacres perpetrated in Darfur and later issued arrest warrants for the Sudanese President, the latter would not have submitted to change, which is so far taking shape in the secession of the South from the North.

Sudan today is a success story for Barack Obama, despite the fact that he did not start or formulate the process, but in fact inherited it from the George W. Bush Administration. China has always been a quiet party in the issue of Sudan. It ensured its massive oil interests in Sudan, and agreed to change. When the language of oil and strategic interests met with domestic politics, the event took place in Sudan.

Barack Obama’s most likely success story is Palestine, but it is a complicated issue likely to meet with obstacles, and this is a man who has begun to make his calculations differently ever since he received a major blow during the midterm elections. This is a man who wants to remain in power, and has begun to reconsider his foreign policy, most prominently with regard to Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

For Iran, this is the year of accountability. Barack Obama’s policy, relying on shared responsibility with China and Russia over the Iranian issue and on partnership with the likes of India in strengthening sanctions, is a skillful one. Indeed, as long as Iran continues to be defiant and to take matters too far, it is providing all the ammunition needed for future measures to be taken, measures that may not exclude on the long term internationally sanctioned military operations. Barack Obama has decided to give his reelection priority, and laxity with Iran and Syria without anything in return has become a fundamental obstacle.

Lebanon today has become a success in the making for Barack Obama, through the UN Security Council and partnership with Russia and China, because Lebanon, with the STL now activated, has become an international and regional work in progress. Indeed, the Security Council today holds both the problem and the solution, and it will not be able to ignore the threats and menaces made by Hezbollah, with Iran behind it, nor the atte mpts by Syria to leap over justice by threatening with instability.

The space within which the Security Council tolerates political maneuvers has become reduced now that the STL has begun its judicial work. The Security Council today finds itself forced to act with shared responsibility, having adopted the resolution of stripping militias of their weapons and of establishing the rule of the state alone over the country, and being responsible for defending these resolutions in the face of challenges.

As for Barack Obama, Lebanon has for him become a success story in the making, or a story of failure in the making. And the main reason for this is: that the tribunal has begun.