Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bourgeois Roots Of Tunisia’s Revolution

By Michel Rocard
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 30/01/2011

Tunisia, one of the Arab League’s 22 members, is in the throes of a severe and profound crisis, albeit possibly one with a favourable resolution. It is the smallest North African country, covering 163,000 square kilometres - more or less twice the size of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg - and containing a population of 10.5 million.

It is also full of charm and moderation in terms of its climate, history and culture. It once was the pillar of the cultural dynamism and influence of the Roman republic and empire. The first African region to be Christianised, it was the land of Saint Augustine and the main source for Catholic evangelism in Africa.

Originally mainly Berber, it was conquered by the Arabs, Islamised and became for centuries a dependency of the Sublime Porte, and therefore Turkish.

It became a French protectorate, not a colony - as in the case of neighbouring Algeria - in the 19th century. That difference helps explain the relatively greater preservation of Tunisia’s social structures and local traditions.

Upon achieving independence in 1956, Tunisia adopted a French-style republican constitution that established a presidential system of government.

The first president, Habib Bourguiba, was the leader of the liberation movement, which emerged victorious much more quickly - and much less violently - than its counterpart in Algeria. A highly Westernised leader, Bourguiba maintained the secular character of the state that he took over from France, as well as many of its economic ties with the West (particularly France, of course), in a much more committed way than Algeria did after it gained independence.

Some rare attempts over the years by Marxist groups to seize power failed. Unlike other African or Middle Eastern countries, Tunisia remained largely a land of free enterprise, allowing for some industrial development. In recent years, it has become Africa’s leading exporter of industrial goods, outperforming even South Africa and Egypt.

In 1987, the aged Bourguiba became too debilitated to continue in office. His interior minister, Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, having been named prime minister, soon managed to certify Bourguiba as medically unfit and ousted him from the presidency.

The new leader was already noted for having repressed the Islamic movement, a policy he intensified after becoming president. Non-Muslim and secular Tunisian citizens - and a large part of world opinion, notably in France - were grateful. They made excuses for the brutality that lay behind Ben Ali’s policy, endorsing the results without observing and questioning the means by which they were achieved.

But those means ended up leading to the almost total suppression of any freedom of expression in Tunisia: a censored press, imprisonment of journalists, political trials, and arbitrary arrests within all circles of society, not merely those with ties to the Islamic movement. The aim was to suppress any and all forms of democratic opposition.

Ben Ali’s regime ultimately became a pure dictatorship. He and his family built-up empires within the local economy, cornering nearly all sectors and making a fortune for themselves.

But the industrialisation policy was maintained. A genuine middle class emerged, comparable to Egypt’s, but unlike that in any other Arab country, with the possible exception of Morocco.

And then, as occurred everywhere else, the global economic crisis that began in 2008 constrained growth, fuelling social tensions. Since the press and parliament were muzzled, the only way to relieve those tensions was in the streets.

The police shot at the crowd on several occasions, but proved too weak to intimidate the demonstrators. The decisive moment came when the army abstained from suppressing the protests. Once the army’s refusal to support his regime became clear, Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, after France refused to welcome him into exile.

For a brief moment, there was hope for a national-unity government, in which Ben Ali’s rump Cabinet and the opposition would unite to prepare a presidential election. But an infuriated public would have none of it. The only option left was a coalition comprised of old oppositions, which, given the absence of a respected institutional framework, will make a return to stability slow, difficult, and perilous.

So Tunisia is in danger. Islamism could eventually emerge victorious. But it is also possible that Tunisia is experiencing the Arab world’s first-ever “bourgeois” revolution. If so, Tunisia’s uprising could be a game-changing event for the entire region.

The writer is a former prime minister of France and a former leader of the Socialist Party. ©Project Syndicate, 2011.

Growing Fear In The Arab Palaces Of Power

Protests in Tunisia and Egypt prove that Arab people will no longer tolerate corruption and mismanagement

By Tariq A. Al Maeena
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 30/01/2011

The swift ouster earlier this month of the despotic Tunisian president Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali caught Arab leaders from Algeria to Yemen off-guard. Bin Ali, his wife and their extended family have been widely accused of abusing their power to enrich themselves, readily dipping into state coffers to loot and plunder, leaving very little for the ordinary Tunisian.

Following the people's revolution in Tunisia, protests have sprung up in Algeria, JordanEgypt and Yemen. There is discontent over leaders holding on to power for decades, often through the suppression of dissent by threat of force, and with little in the way of an improved life for the masses.

Tunisia has proven that you can only suppress and subjugate the Arab street to a point. Egypt is presently in the thick of an uprising. A republic that many Egyptians claim is ruled in an authoritarian manner, where leader was expected to pass on the mantle to a corrupt and inefficient son does not augur well.

Last week, inspired by the Tunisians, thousands of protesters had a run-in with police on the country's streets, stirred by lingering discontent with the perceived pervasive corruption.

In central Cairo, people who had nothing to lose were beaten with sticks and fists and dragged away as police fired tear gas into the crowd. Demonstrations also took place outside the capital in the port city of Suez and Alexandria.

The Daily Mail reported that Jamal, Mubarak's son was said to have fled to London after the country was rocked by two days of riots over poverty. Jamal Mubarak, 48, who was being groomed to be his father's successor, boarded a private jet from Cairo to London with his wife, daughter and around 100 pieces of luggage, according to reports.

Ray of hope 

Former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammad Al Baradei, an Egyptian, returned to the country, despite death threats, to be with "his people". Speaking to reporters last week, Al Baradei stated that "there was an edict against me a couple of weeks ago basically saying that my life should be dispensable because I am defying the rulers".

Asked whether he will run for the presidency, Al Baradei replied, "Whether I run or not, that is totally irrelevant. And I made it very clear; I will not run under the present conditions, when the deck is stacked completely. The priority for me is to shift Egypt into a democracy, is to catch up with the 21st century, to get Egypt to be a modern and moderate society and respecting human rights, respecting the basic freedoms of the people."

Sweet words to a people devoid of any democratic process or apparent respect for human rights. But such a statement could apply to a number of Arab countries, where the regimes have outlived their usefulness and are now mired in corruption and self-interest. The Arab street has only contempt for these long serving despots. 

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader who has held power since 1969, condemned the Tunisian protesters for inciting violence and causing the president to flee. "What is this for? To change Zine Al Abidine? Hasn't he told you he would step down after three years? Be patient for three years and your son stays alive," Gaddafi said in a speech last Sunday, according to a report that sourced Libya's state media. Another three years of corruption and the usurping of the country's treasury?

The message coming from some Arab leaders is often diametrically opposed to the expectations of their people. Promises of progress which have failed to improve the lot of the Arab street in most of the Arab world, whilst their leaders were swept away in a gluttonous frenzy to enrich themselves through nefarious means and at the public's expense will prove to have far less tolerance amongst the hungry and despairing citizens.

It isn't enough that one has no bread to eat. Nearly half of all Egyptians live under or just above the poverty line, set by the World Bank at $2 a day. But when the wife of the Tunisian president is reported to have flown the coop with gold bullion cleaned from state coffers, or the son of the Egyptian president flees with over 100 suitcases in a private jet, it clearly demonstrates where Arab leaders and their priorities actually lie.  

I applaud the current Tunisian regime's move to issue an international arrest warrant for Bin Ali, his wife Leila, as well as other family members charged with taking state money out of the country illegally. 

Banks across Europe must cooperate with the people of Tunisia and elsewhere to return such ill-gotten gains back to the respective countries. 

There is definitely a fear in the palaces of power. 

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon's Return To Syria-Backed Rule Is Likely To Keep Hezbollah In Check

Media reports are wrong: Syria, not Hezbollah, is in control – and it will not let its trial of military-free influence be disrupted

By Mohanad Hage Ali
This commentary was published in The Guaradian on 29/01/2011
Najib Mikati
Najib Mikati won the most votes to succeed Saad Hariri as prime minister of Lebanon. Photograph: Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images

The toppling of the pro-western March 14 alliance in Lebanon by its pro-Syrian adversaries – including Hezbollah – has led to a worldwide media scare. Many western news organisations portrayed it as some sort of Islamist takeover.

Even the BBC reported that the "Hezbollah nominee", Najib Mikati, won the most votes to succeed Saad Hariri as prime minister. Rupert Murdoch's Sky News went further in that direction, reporting: "Hezbollah gain control of Lebanese government".

The fact is that they are all missing the point. Syria, and not Hezbollah, won control of Lebanon's government. In the past year, many articles have shown Syria recovering its political weight, and the latest developments in Lebanon are testimony to this.

At the heart of the recent change of government in Lebanon are 11 former "March 14" MPs, including Mikati, who until recently was supposedly a Hariri ally. Among this group is Walid Jumblatt, a major power-broker and the leader of the Druze group, which has seven MPs. He said earlier this week that "geopolitics [now a codeword for Syria's influence] dictated that we choose between the sea or going to the Arab depth: Syria".

Jumblatt had previously accused Syria of assassinating his father, Kamal, and Rafik Hariri, the late prime minister, among others. Jumblatt was also a leading figure, if not "the one", behind the so-called "cedar revolution" of 2005 – the massive demonstrations that led to Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon, and the election of a western-backed anti-Syrian coalition government.

American support for the March 14 movement was overwhelming; Jumblatt and his allies spoke of a new era of American-infused democracy, specifically asking for the toppling of the Syrian regime that had dominated Lebanese politics since the end of the civil war in 1991.

At the end of the Bush era, Jumblatt changed course; Syria opened its doors again, and welcomed him back as an ally.

For 14 years, Syria – openly through its direct military presence and local allies – controlled every aspect of Lebanese political life. Its military and security chief in Beirut chose the candidates for the key posts in governments, played local politicians against each other, and utilised Lebanese institutions to crush any opposition.

During those years, the European and American governments tolerated Syria's influence, and dealt directly with Damascus on Lebanese issues. Today, after the dust of the Bush era is brushed away in Lebanon, Syria is back with the aid of its allies, among them the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. And according a European diplomat I interviewed on Monday, "We have lived with Syrian influence for years, we don't welcome it, but there will be no sanctions or a Vietnam". The British foreign secretary, William Hague, visited Syria on Thursday to discuss – among other issues – "the political situation in Lebanon".

The change of government in Lebanon does not mean that Hezbollah will be "ruling from the shadows", as Newsweek overstated. It will be Syria ruling from the shadows – the same regime that kept Hezbollah in check throughout the 1990s and until 2005. Many here in Lebanon believe that the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon would have not have happened under a Syria-backed regime.
In fact, and just days before the parliamentary consultations and the nomination of the new prime minister, Lebanese websites reported that there is a Syria-Hezbollah rift regarding the political situation, as the former wanted to give more time to reach a deal with Hariri. Jumblatt only announced his new stance after a quick meeting with the Syrian president, who had also met Mikati, an old friend.

With Syria's full support, this new government led by Mikati, a western-educated Sunni businessman, would probably lead Hezbollah back to its pre-2005 status, avoiding military confrontation and keeping a low profile on the anti-Israel front. Damascus considers this government a trial of what its influence would be like without military presence, so it will not let anyone, including Hezbollah, sabotage it.

Syria's primary concern will be confronting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and whose indictment is expected to name Hezbollah members and Syrian officials. Whether it will succeed or not depends on the international community's ability to keep the STL going with the Lebanese government's support.

Regardless of the outcome, Syria's comeback to Lebanese politics could only be secured if Damascus proved itself capable of playing Lebanese politicians against each other again. The Hezbollah-Jumblatt interaction and Damascus's ambiguous position in it were a sign of a return to that era. Will Hariri, now a former prime minister but still a very capable and representative leader, agree to play politics according to Syria's rules, like his father did for years before his assassination? After he lost the prime ministerial nomination this week, his parliamentary bloc severely criticised "Hezbollah's Iranian-backed coup", but when one of his MPs decided to condemn the Syrian president in a live speech, he was interrupted by a Hariri aide after receiving an anonymous call.

Jumblatt understands "geopolitics" and how to engage Syria's influence. Just like Hariri junior, he only joined politics after his father was assassinated, following a rift with the Syrian regime over invading Christian territory in the beginning of Lebanon's civil war. The question now is whether Hariri will follow Jumblatt's footsteps.

What I Learned From Iran's Failed Revolution

A Manifesto For Change In Egypt

Egyptian police used water cannon against Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei and his supporters as anti-Mubarak protests heated up Friday. Then ElBaradei was put under house arrest as riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters.
On the eve of his return, the former U.N. official who is the Mubarak regime's most high-profile opponent shared his thoughts on the young people who’ve taken to the streets, political Islam, and the role of the United States.

By Mohamed ElBaradei Info 
Mohamed ElBaradei
This commentary was published in The Daily Beast on 29/01/2011

When Egypt had parliamentary elections only two months ago, they were completely rigged. The party of President Hosni Mubarak left the opposition with only 3 percent of the seats. Imagine that. And the American government said that it was “dismayed.” Well, frankly, I was dismayed that all it could say is that it was dismayed. The word was hardly adequate to express the way the Egyptian people felt.

Then, as protests built in the streets of Egypt following the overthrow of Tunisia’s dictator, I heard Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assessment that the government in Egypt is “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people”. I was flabbergasted—and I was puzzled. What did she mean by stable, and at what price? Is it the stability of 29 years of “emergency” laws, a president with imperial power for 30 years, a parliament that is almost a mockery, a judiciary that is not independent? Is that what you call stability? I am sure not. And I am positive that it is not the standard you apply to other countries. What we see in Egypt is pseudo-stability, because real stability only comes with a democratically elected government.

If you would like to know why the United States does not have credibility in the Middle East, that is precisely the answer. People were absolutely disappointed in the way you reacted to Egypt’s last election. You reaffirmed their belief that you are applying a double standard for your friends, and siding with an authoritarian regime just because you think it represents your interests. We are staring at social disintegration, economic stagnation, political repression, and we do not hear anything from you, the Americans, or for that matter from the Europeans.

So when you say the Egyptian government is looking for ways to respond to the needs of the Egyptian people, I feel like saying, “Well, it’s too late!” This isn’t even good realpolitik. We have seen what happened in Tunisia, and before that in Iran. That should teach people there is no stability except when you have government freely chosen by its own people.

Of course, you in the West have been sold the idea that the only options in the Arab world are between authoritarian regimes and Islamic jihadists. That’s obviously bogus. If we are talking about Egypt, there is a whole rainbow variety of people who are secular, liberal, market-oriented, and if you give them a chance they will organize themselves to elect a government that is modern and moderate. They want desperately to catch up with the rest of the world.

Instead of equating political Islam with al Qaeda all the time, take a closer look. Historically, Islam was hijacked about 20 or 30 years after the Prophet and interpreted in such a way that the ruler has absolute power and is accountable only to God. That, of course, was a very convenient interpretation for whoever was the ruler. Only a few weeks ago, the leader of a group of ultra-conservative Muslims in Egypt issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for me to “repent” for inciting public opposition to President Hosni Mubarak, and declaring the ruler has a right to kill me, if I do not desist. This sort of thing moves us toward the dark ages. But did we hear a single word of protest or denunciation from the Egyptian government? No.

Despite all of this, I have hoped to find a way toward change through peaceful means. In a country like Egypt, it’s not easy to get people to put down their names and government ID numbers on a document calling for fundamental democratic reforms, yet a million people have done just that. The regime, like the monkey that sees nothing and hears nothing, simply ignored us.

As a result, the young people of Egypt have lost patience, and what you’ve seen in the streets these last few days has all been organized by them. I have been out of Egypt because that is the only way I can be heard. I have been totally cut off from the local media when I am there. But I am going back to Cairo, and back onto the streets because, really, there is no choice. You go out there with this massive number of people, and you hope things will not turn ugly, but so far, the regime does not seem to have gotten that message.

Each day it gets harder to work with Mubarak’s government, even for a transition, and for many of the people you talk to in Egypt, that is no longer an option. They think he has been there 30 years, he is 83 years old, and it is time for a change. For them, the only option is a new beginning.
How long this can go on, I don’t know. In Egypt, as in Tunisia, there are other forces than just the president and the people. The army has been quite neutral so far, and I would expect it to remain that way. The soldiers and officers are part of the Egyptian people. They know the frustrations. They want to protect the nation.

But this week the Egyptian people broke the barrier of fear, and once that is broken, there is no stopping them.

Mohamed ElBaradei was awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize along with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, which he headed at the time. Since his retirement at the end of 2009, he has emerged as a political force in his native Egypt. His book, The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times will be published in June.

How Tehran Sees Tunis

From Iran, it's more about 1979 than 2009.

By Mehrun Etebari
This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 29/01/2011

As Tunisian President-for-Life Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled into ignominious exile two weeks ago, democrats around the world found hope in the notion that Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution would spread to Iran. The images of demonstrations from Sidi Bouzid to Tunis reminded Americans of the massive 2009 protests that gave rise to Iran's opposition Green Movement, and as pro-democracy movements inspired by Tunisia emerged in Egypt and Yemen, many observers saw a chance for Iran to be next. But looking closer, it's clear that Iranians -- from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on down to the Green Movement opposition -- view the Tunisia situation as vastly different from their own, and not one that's likely to spill over into a renewed push for democratic reform in their own country. 

Despite the examples of Ben Ali and Egypt's beleaguered President Hosni Mubarak, Iran's leaders are far from running scared. In fact, Tehran is taking a distinctly more triumphalist understanding of the roots and effects of the Tunisian protests than American commentators would expect from another authoritarian Middle Eastern government -- particularly from one facing its own challenges from opposition forces. 

In the week following Ben Ali's frantic flight to Saudi Arabia, reactions from Iranian officials and state-supported media were, as always, bold and self-assured. But this is no skin-deep grandstanding designed to force a positive spin on an unsettling example of political upheaval. Where Washington sees an anti-authoritarian uprising, Tehran describes a 1979-style rejection of a U.S.-supported secularist: Ahmadinejad referred to the Tunisian uprising as an expression of the people's will for an Islamic order, and the Iranian Majlis voted overwhelmingly to support the "revolution." 

The conservative press thoroughly rejects any suggestion that the uprising in Tunisia is at all comparable to the Green Movement. A hard-line paper associated with the Revolutionary Guard Corps ridiculed comparisons in opposition media outlets between the economic conditions that helped spark the Tunisian riots and Iran's economic struggles, arguing that Tehran's recent success in implementing risky economic reforms was a testament to the regime's durable popular mandate. 

Hossein Shariatmadari -- one of the Islamic Republic's most influential conservatives -- used the Tunisian events to underscore the hard-liners' far-fetched claims that Iran's 2009 post-election violence represented a purely Western-oriented conspiracy. Writing in the hard-line Kayhan newspaper a few days after Ben Ali left the country, he likened the masses of Iranians who poured into the streets demanding a recount of the last presidential election to the despotic Ben Ali regime. By his logic, Tehran's repression of the protests and the Green Movement -- a Western plot -- was actually what emboldened Tunisians to seize their own independence from American-endorsed autocracy. 

Shariatmadari explained, "When the Muslim nations of the region see clearly that not just one arrogant power but all arrogant powers with all their powers and capabilities have been bitterly defeated against the Islamic faith and national perseverance of the Muslim people of Iran, do you not think that they would rise up for the liberation of themselves and their homeland from under the dominance of dictators and foreign colonialism?" While this idea may sound preposterous to American ears, the resonance it holds in the upper echelons of the Iranian leadership only points to a more assertive Tehran. 

In their triumphal postmortems of the Tunisian upheaval, Iran's conservatives have also excitedly forecasted similar revolutions in other pro-Western Arab regimes such as Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia -- a rare case where they and many American neoconservatives see eye to eye. These hard-liners are reveling in the notion that their Arab neighbors, particularly those governments that have aligned themselves closely with Washington, have become nervous about protesters emulating their Tunisian counterparts. 

As for Ahmadinejad's critics, their point of view is not too different. The most important political fault line in Iran currently lies between hard-liners and more moderate conservatives within the Islamic Republic's establishment -- not between the government and the opposition. Optimistic Western observers might hope to see moderate conservatives take a different view from that of their archconservative rivals. But on the issue of Tunisia, the conservatives seem to be marching in lock step. While they have been more likely to read the events in Tunisia as a revolt against authoritarianism as such, even some of Ahmadinejad's main conservative critics see the uprising as evidence of the reach of the Islamic Revolution. A commentator in the often critical Mardom-Salari daily wrote that it was clear that Iran had shown Tunisia that "Islamism is superior to non-Islamic and secular governments in Islamic countries." 

Perhaps the most important sign of Ahmadinejad's and Khamenei's staying power comes from the reaction of Iran''s dispirited and disorganized democratic opposition movement. Many in the Green Movement have embraced comparisons to the Tunisian protesters, but the opposition has largely struggled with how to interpret the Jasmine Revolution. Their reactions are bittersweet, ranging from a wistful sense of inspiration to soul-searching examinations of why Tunisians have succeeded where the Greens failed. Some have made excuses for the Green Movement's failure to remove Ahmadinejad, citing differences in the histories, demographics, and governments of Iran and Tunisia; others have tried hopefully to suggest that the Green Movement's lack of immediate and volatile results is actually a long-term strategic advantage. 

One piece written by Jamileh Kadivar, the now-exiled reformist intellectual and parliamentarian, and posted on the opposition Rah-e Sabz website just hours after Ben Ali's departure from power may be the best indicator of the Green Movement's current mood. Marveling at the Tunisian people's amazing feat, she called their actions a model for all oppressed populations worldwide. Without explicitly referencing Iran, she wrote, "This is a dawn that can be very close at hand for many of the peoples who are under the oppression of tyranny, if they only have pride and trust in their own strength." 

If American policymakers are looking for what the Green Movement is learning from the events in Tunisia, they may have to settle for Kadivar's vague optimism. What they will not find is an Iranian leadership conveying any sense of fear, disappointment, or insecurity as a result of the Tunisian uprising, or a reinvigorated, inspired reform movement like the one in Egypt. With no major divergence of views among the factions of the conservative establishment, it is impossible to conceive of cracks forming in the oft-uneasy alliance that maintains the Islamic Republic's stability; and the Green Movement is, at this point, simply too battered after a year and a half of severe repression to take advantage of cracks, if they were to open. 

It would be easy -- especially in light of the spread of protests to Egypt and other countries -- for Washington to embrace the idea that now is the time to openly and actively support the Iranian opposition. But this would be a grave miscalculation based on a false impression of Iranian weakness, one destined to backfire and brand the Green Movement as American puppets. Barack Obama's administration would be wisest to concede that no domino is likely to fall eastward onto Tehran.

Mehrun Etebari is a senior research assistant at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution

How Should The U.S. Respond To The Protests In The Middle East?

This article was published in The Washington Post On 30/01/2011

The Post asked experts what America should do about unrest in the Middle East. Below are responses from Steven Heydemann, Stephen J. Hadley, Aaron David Miller, Danielle Pletka, Hussein Agha, Robert Malley, Marina Ottaway, Andrew Albertson and Ed Husain.

Vice president at the U.S. Institute of Peace and special adviser to the Muslim World Initiative

Arab regimes are reeling from the aftershocks of events in Tunisia. Governments in Egypt and Yemen are the focus of mass protests expressing the anger that many Arab citizens feel toward their leaders. Surprises are possible, but it is most likely that the Egyptian and Yemeni regimes will survive these "days of rage."

After the truncheons have done their work, what are U.S. options? The administration has an extraordinary opportunity to reinvigorate support for democratic reform in the Arab world. For decades, supporters of reform have struggled to make a convincing case that Arab democracy is in America's interest. Fear of Islam and a strong preference for stability have long trumped arguments about the damage to U.S. interests of supporting authoritarian regimes. The recent uprisings demonstrate just how misguided these calculations have been. U.S. interests are poorly served by regimes that have lost the confidence of their people. Illegitimacy and instability are now linked; the connection provides compelling justification for a more assertive U.S. approach to political reform in the Arab world.

The United States can help the region's transition to democracy by acknowledging the depth of anger among Arab publics, making explicit the link between U.S. interests and the legitimacy of regimes, and communicating forcefully to our Arab allies that current governments will not overcome the crisis of legitimacy that is driving their citizens into the streets without fundamental political transformation - through processes that are themselves democratic, peaceful and inclusive. Such an approach does not require the isolation or abandonment of current regimes, but it would signal clearly that American interests and Arab democracy are now, finally, aligned.

National security adviser in the George W. Bush administration

Once the situation in Egypt got to a crisis point, America's options were limited. It did not have to be this way. Our government - and particularly then-President George W. Bush - urged the Egyptian government to encourage the growth of civil society and of non-Islamist political parties. Sadly, instead of fostering them, it oppressed them. The underground Islamist Muslim Brotherhood thus became the only alternative to the government party.

If Egypt descends into chaos, either a takeover by the army or a putsch by the Muslim Brotherhood is the most likely option. Neither will be a triumph of democracy nor give the Egyptian people the freedom they seek and deserve.

If the Egyptian government survives the current violence, even Mubarak may conclude that neither he nor his son can win the presidential elections scheduled to be held later this year. He will face a choice. Will he seek to transfer power to another authoritarian strongman or midwife a transition to democracy? Will he encourage the civil society and non-Islamist political parties that could give the Egyptian people real choices for a democratic future? Let us hope and urge President Mubarak to make this latter choice.

Public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; former Arab-Israeli peace negotiator for the State Department

Mr. President,

You smartly steered clear of the ideological freedom agenda of your predecessor. And now, in one of history's crueler ironies, you're confronted with a home-grown freedom agenda in Tunisia and Egypt and maybe elsewhere, with impact over time that may be far greater than the politics of Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you're smart and lucky, you won't make an already complicated situation worse, and you might even do some good. Remember:

You can't control history. The Middle East is littered with the remains of great powers that thought they could impose their will on small tribes. The changes loosed in the Arab world are primarily driven by local factors, and they'll have to play themselves out.

Don't abandon your friends. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may be an authoritarian, but since 1981 your predecessors and you have deemed him vital to American interests. Be careful what kind of signals you send until you have a much better sense of who or what will come after him. The worst outcome of Egyptian unrest would be a Mubarak who crushes the opposition and resents the United States because he believes that you wanted him on the next flight to Paris.
This will be a long movie. It's driven by deep-seated divisions in the Arab and Muslim world, first between the haves and have-nots over economic resources and second between those who can participate in governing their societies and those who cannot. You will need a strategy, but don't rush to come up with one; it will probably be wrong. For now, loudly proclaim the importance of American values such as respect for human rights, peaceful demonstrations, rule of law, good governance. But keep your distance until you have a much greater sense of where these changes are headed.

Vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute

There are three choices on foreign policy at any given time: to lead, to react or to be indifferent. When it comes to the question of human freedom, the Obama administration (and, before it, the Bush administration in its latter years) chose indifference. That is how we now find ourselves on the wrong side of history, watching the people of the Middle East as they stand against American-financed and -supported dictators. We have always had the chance to right our ways and to use our great moral, diplomatic and economic suasion to push for increased openness in the region, but other priorities - and the establishment's love affair with "stability" - have taken precedence.

Proponents of indifference (the proto-statesmen of the Foreign Service and their allies) like to posit a binary sort of choice between armed intervention in favor of democracy and the status quo, but that has never been the choice. Rather, we should be educating people about their rights, teaching consistently about the creation of political parties, working to free political prisoners and building the foundations of freedom. That, and not budgetary support and cash-transfer programs, is the proper role for American aid.

Some say that a freedom agenda only opens the door to Islamists; the truth is that our support for secular dictators does more for Islamists than democracy promotion ever did. We have an opportunity to right our ways and stand with the people of the Middle East - not forgetting Iran - in their quest for basic freedom. But it's going to take more than bland statements and White House hand-wringing. The president himself needs to stand up and unequivocally make clear America's position: in favor of the people over their oppressors. Suspend aid to the Egyptian government. Initiate an immediate review of all programs in the Middle East. Get the word out to our diplomats. Now.

Agha is senior associate member of St. Antony's College, Oxford University; Malley is Middle East program director at the International Crisis Group and was special assistant to the president for Arab-Israeli affairs from 1998 to 2001

Decades of U.S. policy in the Middle East are coming back to haunt Washington. The United States backed Arab regimes that supported U.S. objectives irrespective of whether they legitimately represented popular aspirations. It propped up "moderate" rulers whose moderation consisted almost exclusively of cooperating with American policies. The more they aligned themselves with Washington, the more generous America's support and the greater the erosion of their domestic credibility. As a result, the United States now faces a battle it cannot win.

To continue supporting unpopular rulers would further alienate those who are most likely to assume power in the future. Openly siding with the street would strain ties with regimes that might survive the unrest and whose help the United States still needs; signal to America's remaining friends that its support is fickle; precipitate the rise of forces hostile to U.S. interests; and do little to persuade demonstrators who will see in America's midnight conversion hypocrisy and opportunism.

Washington can cut its losses and begin turning the page in its relations with the Arab world. That will have to wait. For now, it means assuming a low profile and resisting the temptation to become part of the story. That hardly is an exciting agenda, but the United States could do far worse than do very little.

Director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Washington's reaction to the growing unrest will have almost no impact on what actually happens in the Arab world, which will be determined by domestic factors - the protesters' determination, the governments' response, the willingness of police and army units to use force against demonstrators. Protesters, who view the United States as the historical prop for Arab authoritarian regimes, will not heed Washington's calls to avoid violence. And regimes that have been authoritarian for decades will not suddenly see the wisdom of liberalization because of statements from Washington.

But what the United States says affects its standing in the region. The Obama administration's attempt to strike a balance between not offending incumbent regimes and refurbishing its image by sending a message that Washington wants reforms is failing - messages are circulating on the Internet to the effect that the United States is once again supporting authoritarianism. Washington must get off the fence and choose whether it wants to support democracy, and thus be on the side of Arab publics enraged by decades of repression, or whether it wants to continue supporting regimes that have been repressive for decades in the name of ill-defined strategic interests. It cannot do both. The United States' long-term interests would be best served by supporting unequivocally the messy process of democratic change.

Executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy from 2007 to 2010

The Obama administration has begun taking many of the right steps already. Aware of the dangers for U.S. interests posed by governments that resist democratic participation even as their people become more educated, affluent and connected to the outside world, they have repeatedly raised with Arab leaders the need for comprehensive reforms. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presciently warned regional foreign ministers two weeks ago, "Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries' problems for a little while, but not forever."

For far too long, the United States has relied on leaders in the Middle East who maintain their rule through coercion. Against the backdrop of appalling violence in Tunisia and Egypt, and the stark moral legitimacy of protests sweeping the region, the bankruptcy of that approach has never been clearer.

In the wake of Friday's events in Egypt, the administration needs to double down on its call for political reforms across the region. In Tunisia and Egypt, the administration should seize the opportunity to support full-scale transitions to democracy. New subsidies or cabinet shuffles aren't enough. What happened on the streets of Cairo was not a bread riot but a legitimacy riot. And forceful crackdowns represent a big roll of the dice - for regimes and for Washington, to the extent that the United States is perceived to be complicit in such violence.

People in the region want to be citizens - protagonists in their national political life, rather than subjects who passively take what the government gives. They want an end to ministries, parties and police forces that operate above the law and foster endemic corruption. The United States should quickly press allies such as Yemen, Jordan and Morocco to drop constraints on political participation, convene broad political dialogues, and place the highest premium on transparent and effective governance. The best guarantee of stability is participation, pluralism and progress.

Senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

Arabs regularly accuse America of flagrant hypocrisy: The United States claims that it stands up for freedom and democracy and yet supports the world's most tyrannical governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The current popular uprising is a chance to set the record straight. Former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice once quipped that America had traded freedom for stability in the region and got neither.

I've lived and traveled across the Arab world and witnessed the vast popularity of American clothes, Hollywood, McDonald's, baseball caps, cars and books. Visa applications overload U.S. embassies. Yet double standards in U.S. foreign policy anger young Arabs and fuel radicalization and terrorism. By proudly supporting the freedom chanters today, America has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help undermine terrorists and tyrants and support the people. So far, Vice President Biden has blundered by supporting Egypt's dictator. This needs to change.

The Arab world is no longer across the oceans. It is also on our streets here. Millions of American citizens are of Arab descent. Millions more are here as workers and students. What happens over there matters here. Can America make these people proud and empower them against Muslim extremists by changing the American story and making us all safer? Yes, it can. It must.

The End of the Gap

By Ghassan Charbel
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 29/01/2011

What Egypt has witnessed in the past days and what reached its peak yesterday is not restricted to Egypt alone. It was preceded by events that turned into a revolution in Tunisia and was accompanied by protests in Yemen and Jordan. It is obvious that we are faced with tremors that are not limited to a specific location.

Perhaps the region’s countries are paying the price for the delay of the governments in taking difficult decisions in the past years: bold decisions in the field of political and economic reform; decisions to listen to people instead of rushing to accuse them; decisions to open the window a little bit even if this might allow winds in. The governments were not mindful of the fact that allowing the winds in is better than providing the circumstances for the start of great storms. The region’s countries did not learn from what happened in other regions in the world. They were not aware that dealing with small tremors is better than entrenching themselves and waiting for the earthquake.

The most dangerous thing that can happen is to aggravate the gap between the government and the people, or a large part of them. It is for the ordinary citizen to feel that the horizon is blocked; that dialogue is absent and useless; that his voice is not getting through; and that his messages remain unanswered.

The most dangerous thing that can happen is the absence of hope and the absence of windows. It is for a young man to feel that his university degree is nothing but a membership card in the club of the unemployed; that a decent home is an unattainable dream; that things never change; that the change of governments does not concern him; that legislative elections widen the gap instead of bridging it; that participation is impossible; that he is marginalized; that talking about corruption is nothing but a way to absorb indignation; that the departure of a corrupted person offers another corrupted person the chance to replace him.

The most dangerous thing that can happen is for the citizen to decide not to believe the official media; to smile if the Minister of Information speaks; to frown if the Minister of the Interior speaks; to doubt so much that he doesn’t believe the figures of the development plan and of tourists, the extent of foreign investments, the anti-illiteracy plans, the results of municipal and legislative elections, the results of the baccalaureate exams, and even of blood tests.

It is a deep crisis of trust, a deep feeling of hopelessness, and feelings of wrath that are awaiting an opportunity to express themselves. All this happens in the absence of institutions that can make citizens participate in expressing their opinion and changing the way they live. The street becomes the option. In our countries, it is an option filled with hope at times and with dangers at others. Some of the practices that accompanied the protests in Egypt yesterday cause concern from the possibility of seeing them turn from the dream of change to the danger of falling into chaos.

We did not discover these feelings yesterday or during recent days. The Arab journalist can detect tensions in many Arab capitals despite the different circumstances. These feelings are not new, but the old world didn’t allow them to spread. The only source of information was the government. Regimes were able to shut off their countries and deal with protests by making them disappear and strictly punishing their perpetrators. What is new is that the world has changed. The communications revolution has killed the ability of the governments to conceal, prohibit, and repress. It has made millions of young men feel that they are able to raise their voice and change the reality they complain of.

It can be said that most of the Arab governments interpreted belatedly the transformations that took the world by storm around two decades ago. They considered the fall of the Berlin wall and the suicide of the Soviet Union to be remote events. They also miscalculated the effect of cable TV in Arab homes, and that of the millions who joined the army of Internet users and modern communications means. They also misread the awakening of the feelings of young people and their feeling of being entitled to demand bread, freedom, and dignity.

There is no other option than to listen to people. Security measures can prevent slipping towards chaos, but they are not enough for regaining stability. Protecting stability requires bold decisions that bridge the gap with the public – they are decisions that reopen the windows of dialogue and hope. It is an Egyptian and Arab necessity for Egypt to come out from its current situation.

Egypt: Our Fears Are Great

By Tariq Alhomayed
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 29/01/2011

It is the right of any Egyptian to ask his government for what he needs, even if these demands touch upon the president or the government itself. However Egypt is not just for the Egyptians; our fears are great, and this is something that the Egyptians must be aware of for we have repeated this time and again.
Now is not the time to recall mistakes, but rather to learn the harshest and most important lessons. This does not just apply to the Egyptians, but to the entire Arab world that is addicted to stagnancy to the point that there are not only slums in our cities, but also media and intellectual slums, and more. The Arab world – which has also become addicted to making promises and holding onto centralization [of power] – is not taking heed of the disasters that are occurring all around us. As Dr. Mamoun Fandy wrote in his article "we are not the people of Tunisia", the answer to this is always "we are not Iraq", "we are not Lebanon", "we are not Somalia", and "we are not Yemen", and the list goes on.
Therefore, legitimate demands are not made through violence, burning our countries to the ground, or destroying our economies. Egypt's economy is groaning and collapsing, its security is in a state of chaos, and the scenes of violence in the country are horrifying; from the burning of armoured police cars, to looting, to scenes of protestors throwing rocks [at the police] as if this were the Palestinian intifada. These are not protests, but violence, and this is violence that does not seem characteristic of the youths whose faces we have seen in the pictures [from Egypt]. The fear today is from sabotage, and from those who want to ride this wave [of anger] in Egypt. We have seen Mohamed ElBaradei – who has nothing to back his claim – return to Cairo in a disquieting manner and naively announce that he would be prepared to head a transitional government…whilst the Muslim Brotherhood have decided to take a leap and support the youth's protests. Therefore, there is much chaos and fear with regards to what is happening in Egypt, as for what is taking place outside of the country, we are facing unparalleled examples of hypocrisy, first and foremost from the Americans.
Washington issued around 10 contradictory statements in a 24-hour period; at one point it announced neutrality, and then came out calling for reform, as if reform could be achieved in one day. Washington pursued the policy of an outstretched hand towards Tehran whilst Iranian security was slaughtering their own people in front of the world, and despite all of the appeals for the US to help the oppressed [Iranian] demonstrators. In fact, the height of Washington's hypocrisy can be seen in its concern with regards to the demonstrations in Egypt, whilst doing nothing to stop the injustice suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis, which is something that would require libraries of books to document.
As for Britain, it is enough for us to recall what happened during the student protests there, and British police responded strongly to the student violence, and Westminster is still pursuing those who attacked the car of Prince Charles. As for France, we are seeing hypocrisy of another kind, and here we must recall the revelation that Paris intercepted a shipment of anti-riot equipment that was being sent to the Ben Ali regime [before its collapse]!

What I want to say here is that all popular demands are legitimate, and the provision of a dignified life is a right for any Arab, whilst confronting corruption is imperative to ensure our wealth, and protect the middle classes. This is not just with regards to Egypt, but for the entire Arab World without exception. It is the duty of government to provide security, health care, jobs, whilst also stimulating all social classes and not interfering in people's lives and oppressing them. This is the foundation and the principle. However, and this is most important of all, we must not burn our own countries to the ground, or destroy what we have gained. We must not increase our losses or deepen our wounds. Our nations are our own; we must protect them, regardless of our demands, or our anger

Friday, January 28, 2011

Exhilarating Arab Revolts, But What Comes Afterward?

By David Ignatius
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 29/01/2011

It’s a sign of the times that some Arab journalists attending the gathering of international power brokers in Davos, Switzerland, were spending their free time scanning Twitter messages about political protests back home. It’s that kind of moment in the Arab world, when people are nervous about anything that is connected to the status quo.

The unrest that toppled a government in Tunisia has spread across the region, with big street demonstrations in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. It’s a movement that appears leaderless – more like a “flash mob.” But it shares a common sensibility – the rising expectations of a younger generation that sees global change on the Internet, and has momentarily lost its fear of corrupt, autocratic leaders at home.

“I think it’s overdue,” says Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who runs the Alwaleed 24-hour news channel, speaking about the street protests in Egypt. “There were reasons for people to get angry 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and now it is here.” Indeed, he says, “the Arab world has been seeking renaissance for the last hundred years,” but has stalled the last several generations, caught between fear of authoritarian regimes and anger at their corruption.

It’s an easy revolution to like, and U.S. officials have wisely endorsed the protesters’ goals of openness and reform. But in truth, there’s little America could do to bolster the octogenarian Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, even if it wanted to. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may endorse reform, as she did Wednesday, but this is a post-American revolution, encouraged in part by a recognition of the limits of U.S. power.

The unrest follows a series of American failures in the region. President Barack Obama promised change. But he couldn’t bring Israel and the Palestinians to a peace agreement, and couldn’t counter Hezbollah in Lebanon or its patron, Iran. America is not the stopper in the bottle anymore, and the Arab man in the street knows it.

U.S. officials are encouraged by the fact that the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries seem autonomous of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamic groups. But that may be false comfort; this process is still in its early stages.

History teaches that revolutions are always attractive in their infancy, when freedom is in the air and the rebellion seems spontaneous. But from the French and Russian revolutions to the Iranian uprising of 1979, the idealistic but disorganized street protesters usually give way to a manipulative revolutionary elite – the “Revolutionary Guard,” as the Iranians like to call them.
This life cycle of revolution was evoked by scenes of protesters battling riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo this week. The square’s name means liberation, and it was named for Gamal Abdel Nasser’s revolution against the monarchy in 1952. But one set of Egyptian autocrats was gradually replaced by another.

Tunisia’s deposed President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali lost his nerve, something that hasn’t yet happened with Mubarak. On the very day he fled Tunis, Ben Ali is said to have called a member of the Saudi Cabinet for advice. He was told to talk to the protesters, stop shooting and stay in the country. By that night he had fled to Jeddah.

One Arab intelligence analyst speaks of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan as “unviable countries,” whose economies can’t seem to grow fast enough to meet the demands of their rising young populations. Joe Saddi, the head of Booz-Allen’s consulting operations in the Middle East, says that to succeed, Egypt needs India-level growth rates of 8 percent or more, rather than its recent 5 percent.

Lebanon is another step into the unknown, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati heading a new government dominated by Hezbollah. The Saudis, French and Americans have all bungled efforts to avoid this outcome; for now, they seem likely to let Lebanon stew in its internal political mess and foreign debt. Mikati may seek a middle path, in the classic Lebanese fashion. But one Arab foreign minister is said to have voiced privately what many suspect: The standoff between Hezbollah and its enemies will be resolved only by another war.

In the end, there’s a sense of inevitability about this revolution, like a rotten gourd that finally bursts. One Egyptian business executive in Davos warily summed up his feeling about regime change this way to an Arab friend: “Long term, it’s good; short term, it’s bad.” But even that is a piece of optimism about an Arab future that’s up for grabs


Hezbollah Enters Uncharted Territory

By Rami G. Khouri
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 29/01/2011

The new Lebanese prime minister-designate, Najib Mikati, has been widely portrayed in international media as “Hezbollah’s man.” His mandate to form the next government has generated considerable speculation about the consequences of a government formed in the shadow of Hezbollah, which means Iran and Syria to most people.
Indeed, critics of Hezbollah and the Mikati appointment – especially Sunni supporters of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri – speak disdainfully of Mikati as the “wilayat al-faqih” prime minister, referring to the formal title (“rule of the jurisprudent”) of the Iranian supreme leader system. Hariri and many of the Lebanese Sunnis he represents see the events of the past weeks as a successful coup by Hezbollah to take over the government.
All of this is incredibly significant in Middle Eastern terms, but the exact significance and consequences remain hazy to most observers. We have to wait and see the composition and political program of the Mikati government before judging the full meaning of what is going on. Several important aspects of this process can be identified already, however, and, like most Lebanese political developments, they relate simultaneously to local, regional and global issues--because Hezbollah is an organization that operates at all three levels.
I would first point out that if Mikati’s appointment indeed means that we now have a Hezbollah-named government in Lebanon, the most sensible thing to do it to wait and see what it does before judging it prematurely simply on the basis of whether one likes or dislikes Hezbollah. This is especially true for the United States, which has consistently made the wrong decision in recent years in opposing and fighting leading Islamist movements that enjoy strong support and considerable legitimacy in their own countries.
The combination of Hezbollah’s reputation for efficiency and diligence, on the one hand, and Mikati’s personal integrity and business success, as well as the respect he enjoys, on the other, suggests that this government may actually start to address some of the pressing issues and threats facing all Lebanese – including inadequate electricity supplies, declining water quality, rising prices, environmental degradation, corruption and severe developmental disparities across the country. Hezbollah and its main Christian ally Michel Aoun have repeatedly raised these domestic governance issues in their criticism of the Hariri and previous governments, alongside other divisive matters such as relations with the U.S. or the role of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which will indict and try those whom it believes killed Rafik Hariri and 21 others.

This indicates to me that perhaps the most important thing about the change of government that Hezbollah and its allies have forced is that they now will face the pressures of accountability that until now they had largely avoided at national level. Hezbollah has always disdained domestic Lebanese politics, in favor of its self-appointed primary role as the “resistance” that protects Lebanon from the two main dangers it sees: Israeli aggression and American-led Western cultural assault. This process today is the culmination of 20 years of the party’s gradual movement into Lebanese domestic politics – from local government, to national Parliament, to the cabinet, and now, indirectly, to the premiership – making it the single most powerful political group in the country to go along with its being the most important military force.
The problem with all this is that Hezbollah is not an ordinary political party or sectarian-based movement like most other Lebanese political groups. Its primary role is that of anti-Israeli military resistance or deterrence force and an anti-American political-cultural resistance force. The party seeks to protect those roles through political means; and its most significant relationships include links with Iran and Syria.
This means that for many of Hezbollah’s Lebanese and other critics, the party is a danger to Lebanon rather than an asset. Its movement into the heart of Lebanese politics is an opportunity for Hezbollah to reformulate its image and diversify its core mission – via the Mikati link – to include domestic good governance and equitable service delivery. This would allow more Lebanese to relate to Hezbollah as something more than an instigator of catastrophic war with Israel or a problematic Trojan Horse for Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanon.

This is largely uncharted territory for Islamist and militant movements in the Middle East. Hamas is a poor cousin to Hezbollah in this respect, and the successful governing Justice and Development Party in Turkey lacks Hezbollah’s military dimension or pluro-ethnic national context. The Special Tribunal is the immediate issue that challenges Lebanon and the government-formation process, but this is a transient issue that will be just one of the criteria by which Hezbollah’s historic move into the heart of Lebanese political governance will be judged. The others are socio-economic management, reducing corruption, promoting equitable development, and stabilizing sectarian relations at home, and regional issues such as ties to Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Negotiators Never Made Secret Deals Palestine Papers

Revelations that Palestinians negotiators were willing to offer a host of concessions to Israel have cast a shadow on the peace negotiations and raised questions of credibility, but it could also signify a desire to change rigid stances in an attempt to get an intransigient Israel to do more to resolve the age-old conflict

By Saeb Erakat
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 29/01/2011

The release of Palestinian documents by Al Jazeera reveals nothing new about the nature and content of negotiations. Rather, it constitutes an unambiguous slander campaign aimed at the Palestinian leadership at a time when we seek to take new measures in defence of the Palestinian cause.

We have been accused of making great concessions to Israel behind the backs of the Palestinian people. Such allegations are groundless. For the past 19 years, the Palestinian leadership has engaged in hard-fought but meaningful negotiations with Israel with the aim of achieving a permanent agreement based on two states on the 1967 borders, with occupied east Jerusalem as our capital and a just solution to the refugee issue based on international law and the United Nations Resolution 194.

These red lines have guided and shaped our discussions with Israel and at present with our American interlocutors.

In the course of these negotiations, we have explored a wide range of ideas with the purpose of reaching an understanding of mutual interests leading to an agreed-upon settlement. Yet all of our positions have been grounded in the principles of international law with respect to the rights of the Palestinian people, without exception.

A careful and complete reading of the documents at hand — which goes beyond the sensationalised headlines and spin — will reveal this to be true.

First and foremost, it is essential to understand that no agreement has ever been reached between the parties on any of the permanent status issues. This reality, by its very definition, renders it impossible that either party has conceded anything.

Fundamental premise

Of equal and closely related importance is the most fundamental premise that has been the basis of our negotiations with Israel: namely, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Accordingly, it is impossible to look at any negotiation map, proffered land swap, or any other issue in isolation without understanding the overall offer then on the table.

Any such attempt places an issue squarely out of context. It is at best a misguided exercise, and one that is assured of misrepresenting the facts in any given portion of what have been lengthy, detailed and highly-charged negotiations.

Furthermore, we have always made clear that any solution agreed upon at the negotiating table must hold up to a Palestinian national referendum. In other words, no agreement will be concluded without the approval of the Palestinian people. Therefore, there are no secrets or back door dealings. We shoulder a huge responsibility with far-reaching implications, and we have spent years trying to reach agreed terms that honour our rights and dignity and that, therefore, will meet the approval of our people.


What should be taken from these documents is that Palestinian negotiators have consistently come to the table in complete seriousness and in good faith, and that we have only been met by rejection at the other end.

Conventional wisdom, supported by the press, has allowed Israel to promote the idea that it has always lacked a partner at our end. If it has not been before, it should now be painfully obvious that the very opposite is true. It is Palestinians who have lacked, and who continue to lack, a serious partner for peace.

Ultimately the world must not be distracted from what has been the only constant throughout this process. Israel continues to occupy the land of Palestine, to colonise it relentlessly, and to deny the most fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, in particular our refugees.

These are the issues that demand attention and that must be addressed without further delay.

Dr Saeb Erekat is the Palestine Liberation Organisation's chief negotiator.

Obama Risky Path In Egypt

By Leslie H Gelb 
This commentary was published in The Daily Beast on 27/01/2011

Obama administration officials say they are not taking sides between President Hosni Mubarak, America’s key ally in the Arab world, and the street protesters who purportedly represent a path to democracy in authoritarian Egypt. These officials might even believe what they’re saying. But the very assertion of “not taking sides” is itself a tilt away from the all-out support traditionally given by Washington to this Egyptian strongman in recent decades.

The administration’s move is a slide toward the unknown. Senior officials have no idea of exactly who these street protesters are, whether the protesters are simply a mob force incapable of organized political action and rule, or if more sinister groups hover in the shadows, waiting to grab power and turn Egypt into an anti-Western, anti-Israeli bastion. The White House has called upon its intelligence agents and diplomats to provide answers, but only best guesses are forthcoming. No one, no matter how well informed about Egypt, can divine what will happen to power within Egypt if the protesters compel concessions from the Mubarak regime or, on the other hand, if Mubarak hangs onto power by using brutal force.

So, some administration officials are thinking that for all the risks of losing a good ally in Mubarak, it might well be better to get “on the right side of history.” Some U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers have long harbored the view that corrupt, inept, and inefficient Arab friends simply cannot retain power forever. They believe President Carter should have trusted his initial instincts and pushed the Shah of Iran toward reforms. In this way, the shah might have become viable, or failing that, Washington could have allied with moderates who might have succeeded him.

But those officials who think this way forget their history. When President George W. Bush made his push for democracy in Arab lands, he ended up with Hamas terrorists winning a democratic election and ruling the Gaza Strip. And this “democratic” thinking also overlooks that Bush’s pressing for democracy in Lebanon helped open the doors to power for the radical Hezbollah group. And yes, the anti-shah revolution in 1979 started out with moderates in power, only to be pushed aside by the clerical radicals who still rule today. In rotten regimes that fall to street mobs, the historical pattern has been moderates followed by new dictators. Just remember the model of the Bolsheviks, a tiny group of extremely well-organized communists, wresting control away from the great majority of discontented and disorganized Russians in 1917.

Judge for yourself whether the Obama team is leaning toward the protesters. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs reiterated that Egypt remains “a strong ally,” but then stressed support for the “universal rights” of the Egyptian people. “This isn’t about support or opposition to leaders,” he said, “it’s about support for universal rights of assembly and expression. We criticize actions that restrict those values,” Gibbs told ABC News.

Also on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters: “We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. And we urge the Egyptian authorities not to prevent peaceful protests or block communications, including on social media sites.” She continued: “We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time, to implement political, economic, and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.”

In sum, she and the administration are saying to Mubarak: Don’t use brute power and force to stop the protesters, and don’t interfere with the protesters doing their protesting. This message is flat contrary to the position of the Mubarak government, which has outlawed such protests and appears to be blocking Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tools. In other words, the Obama team is urging conciliation and, de facto, concessions to those who may well end up advocating far more than simple political and economic reforms.

The stakes are sky high. Egypt is the linchpin to peace in the Middle East. So long as Egypt refrains from warring against Israel, other Arab states cannot take military action by themselves. So long as Cairo remains pro-Western, it serves as an anchor for other such friendly governments. It occupies a central economic position in the region and a vital transportation hub through the Suez Canal. Most certainly, most Arab governments friendly to Washington need to make reforms. But to do so at a moment of weakness, to be seen as bending to mobs, however peaceful and moderate they look now, could open up the floodgates—in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.

The overriding point is that no knowledgeable diplomat, no secret agent or Harvard professor can speak with confidence about where turmoil will lead in poor and repressed countries like Egypt. This White House will have to be forgiven for not knowing whether to ride the tiger or help put him back in a cage—for a brief time at least.

Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009), a book that shows how to think about and use power in the 21st century. He is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Just Whose Side Are Arab Armies On, Anyway?

Tunisia’s military saved the people’s revolution. But in other Arab countries on the brink -- such as Egypt and Yemen -- the armed forces are far less likely to do the same.

By Ellen Knickmeyer 
This article was published in Foreign Policy in 28/01/2011

TUNIS—When security forces started firing on protestors earlier this month on the streets of cities around Tunisia, the military stepped in. President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's orders were to make the protests end, with live rounds if needed. The armed forces didn't listen. Troops moved into the streets and reportedly even deployed helicopters to stop paramilitary snipers who were shooting demonstrators from rooftops. The de facto head of the military, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Rachid Ammar, then prodded President Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali into exile, saved the people's revolution, and -- most miraculously of all -- then declined to take power himself.

Tonight in Cairo, where armed personnel carriers and tanks can be seen patrolling the streets to enforce President Hosni Mubarak's curfew, Egyptian protesters may be wishing they were so lucky. The reactions of national militaries often determine whether a popular revolution lives or dies. And the armed forces of Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen -- three countries where stunning public uprisings are challenging the existing order this week -- couldn't be more different. Among the three, Tunisia's small, professional force stands out as the exception, not just for its quality but for its separation from an entrenched, autocratic regime.

Long before protestors took to the streets late in 2010, the Tunisian military was unusual among its regional peers. First, unlike the bloated militaries of other Middle Eastern states, Tunisia's soldiers wouldn't fill the seats of most American college football stadiums. They are an enigma both to the Tunisian people and to the country's allies; the military often resists foreign aid, scoffing at such patronizing treatment. U.S. military officials told me Tunisia's armed forces had already canceled half the training exercises they had scheduled with the United States for 2011 because, frankly, the Tunisians couldn't be bothered. For the moment, the military is slated to get all of $4.9 million in U.S. military aid this year.

Then there is Egypt's military, which takes in about 260 times as much U.S. military aid -- an incredible $1.3 billion annually. That money means that, in many ways, the armed forces rule Egypt, says analyst Daniel Brumberg at the U.S. Institute for Peace. Mubarak, himself a former Air Force commander, has deftly used American taxpayers' dollars to underpin not just the military but his entire government. Egyptian generals are a privileged elite, enjoying weekends and retirements in breezy villas by the sea. They make clear that they expect a say in who rules the Arab world's most populous country once Mubarak leaves the scene. Keeping the U.S. military aid flowing dominates Mubarak's foreign policy, defined first and foremost in the region by its cold peace with Israel. After all, the annual influx of U.S. military aid ranks up there with tourism and Suez Canal tolls as Egypt's main sources of revenue.

So what will Egypt's military do should security forces start wholesale firing on Egyptian protestors, who are now pressing the largest-ever popular demands for an end to Mubarak's three decades in power? Only Egypt's commanders can know the answer. But what's clear is that the odds of the Egyptian military joining in a popular revolt are far more unlikely in Egypt than they were, in hindsight, in Tunisia.

If it came down to chaos in Egypt, with police and the people battling in the streets, the country's military probably would step in, retired Egyptian Gen. Mohammed Kadry Said told me by phone from Cairo before Friday's dramatic events. But not to save the people -- to save the buildings. Dealing with the people "is the mission of the interior minister," Said told me. "If the situation deteriorates,  I think of course like any country maybe the army will interfere, not to help the people in the streets, but to secure sensitive places" such as government offices and security installations.

In the past, many Egyptian officials, and some Egyptian commanders, have declared publicly that the military would move by force if needed to keep Egypt's outlawed opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, from ever coming to power. Said played down the role of Islamists in the country's protests, saying that they were mostly "normal people." And under the constitution, the retired general said, "the role of the military is to secure the country, whatever the threats from inside or outside. I imagine that the Egyptian military will continue doing the same role."

The only question late Friday was just how Egypt defined a threat to national security -- and how far the army was prepared to go to thwart it.

Yemen's military is yet another case altogether. The country's commanders are known for their rapacity and their forces for their ineptness. Yemeni troops and officers tend to sell their weapons and bullets on the black-market as soon as they are delivered. Some Yemeni commanders make a thriving business charging foreign contractors for protection, allegedly sometimes arranging attacks to convince the contractors they need protecting, a longtime analyst in Yemen told me. (He spoke on background for fear of retaliation by the government.)

As adept as the Yemeni army may be at profiting from its services, however, it is not very good at guarding against actual threats. The Yemen-Saudi branch of al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has killed dozens of Yemeni security forces and officials in attacks in recent months. Yemen has reported only a few AQAP casualties in return and has managed to capture none of AQAP's leaders.

Yemen's people are among the most heavily armed in the world; the majority of households stock at least one firearm. So should Yemen's protests turn violent and spread to all sectors of society, something that hasn't happened so far, it's easy to conceive of circumstances in which the public could overwhelm President Ali Abdullah Saleh's security forces, at least in the short term.

In response, there's a good chance that Yemen's counterterror forces, beefed up with American aid to help fight against AQAP, could use U.S.-provided arms against the public. U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks have already confirmed that the government using U.S. military aid against northern rebels. Diverting such aid to protect the regime in the capital Sanaa wouldn't be much more of a stretch. (In both Egypt and Tunisia, protesters have said that the tear-gas canisters fired at them were stamped, "Made in the USA.")

Given the state of its neighbors' armed forces, Tunisia's military looks even more like an oddity in the Middle East and North Africa: tiny, but tightly disciplined.

Perhaps one reason for the difference is simply organizational. Ben Ali, himself a former interior minister, followed a French model of keeping the ministries of interior and defense at a distance from one another -- and the military far from himself. It's the same system Napoleon used to forestall army coups d'état, a Western military official told me. Ben Ali deliberately dispatched conscript-filled military ranks to the perimeter of the country to do public-works projects, disaster relief, and other good deeds -- and stay out of trouble.

He also kept the military weak. Tunisia's army is only 27,000 strong; the navy has no deep-water ships. Some analysts say the air force has as few as 12 working helicopters. Even General Ammar was -- and remains -- a national unknown. Western officials, pressed to provide details about his character, know only that he is reputed to enjoy Scotch and joke about being a bad Muslim -- something that could be said for an indeterminate but powerful percentage of the adult male Muslim community worldwide. "No one could have put his name on a picture," Amine Ghali, program director of the Kawabiki Democracy Transition Center in Tunis, told me.

With Tunisia's military so far out of the limelight until now, "people had no ideas, no stereotypes" about the armed forces, Ghali said. "The first action they have done was very positive," he added, referring to their role in the uprising. "It has placed them in the public sympathy."

Other Arab governments will now decide how to interpret the lessons of Tunisia -- some perhaps by increasing the rights of their people, or some by increasing the power of their militaries. In Egypt, and across the Middle East and North Africa this week, leaders were promising political and economic reforms and pledging to listen harder to their people, even as they sought -- particularly in Egypt -- to deny their people even the right to protest. Egyptian Internet and cellular networks were down on Friday and a curfew was imposed, all in a futile effort to draw the protestors off the streets.

Despite the growing pressure from their people, however, the Arab world's dictators will find it difficult to break their addiction to armed rule, says Kristina Kausch, a researcher at the Spanish-based FRIDE think-tank who has worked here in Tunisia since 2004. In "the other Arab autocracies, the regime and the military live off each other," Kausch told me. "They don't need the Tunisia lesson. For the other regimes, keeping the militaries happy has been a central pillar of survival."

llen Knickmeyer is a former Associated Press bureau chief in Africa and former Washington Post Middle East bureau chief, now doing policy research in the Middle East. The Pulitzer Center funded expenses for this story.