Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lebanon: After March 13

By Walid Choucair
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 11/03/2011
There is much to say when comparing the political movement being witnessed in Lebanon in recent days to what is being called the Arab Spring, symbolized by the revolt of youth and entire peoples in a number of Arab states. These uprisings have expressed the decades of pent-up oppression, injustice and corruption in regimes characterized by dictatorship or one-party rule.

The new majority in Lebanon believes that the fall of Presidents Husni Mubarak and Zein al-Abidine bin Ali, and the impending fall of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi in Libya, is a victory for the policy of resistance in confronting the United States and Israel, an enhancing of its alliance with Iran and Syria, and a victory for its rivals in the March 14 movement. However, March 14 believes that this huge change supports its policies and general orientations, because it has raised the banner of confronting oppression, injustice and assassination, based on the slogans it is putting forward on the occasion of its call for a mass rally on Sunday, in the heart of Beirut.

Each side can exploit the massive changes underway in the Arab world to its own ends, in Lebanese fashion, benefiting from the vagueness when it comes to the overlapping goals and slogans, and their interconnection with regional interests enjoying influence in Lebanon, as an arena for various struggles. However, it is certain that these changes do not help the March 8 camp, and its Syrian and Iranian backers, because they have allowed the March 14 forces to return to focusing attention on what they have endured in the way of pressure from “the force of weapons,” and the regional backing for these weapons. These weapons led to the majority’s loss of MPs who switched to the other side, under the pressure of the possibility that weapons by Hezbollah would be used, whether under the pretext of confronting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon or another excuse. In addition, Hezbollah’s new allies in the new parliamentary majority, from Prime Minister-designate Najib Miqati to the head of the National Struggle Front bloc, Walid Jumblatt, do not hide the reasons for why they switched camps. They said that they had spared the country “huge civil strife” or a “civil war,” and allowed Lebanon to avoid a “big explosion.” This was an additional pretext for the new minority (March 14) to engage in pointing out the similarities between weapons and regional forces that back them, and the oppressive regimes that are seeing revolts against them in the Arab world. Is it enough for Hezbollah to adopt a policy of ignoring the campaign against its use of weapons to prevent any debate over the real reasons for the domestic changes in Lebanon, to avoid being accused of following a policy of oppression?

Hezbollah, and along with it Syria and Iran, dispatched the settlement that was being prepared by Saudi Arabia and Syria. This agreement would have seen a comprehensive national reconciliation conference for the Lebanese parties, with Arab sponsorship, to cover the entire past. What is the alternative to this reconciliation and settlement, other than bringing down Saad Hariri’s government and seeing Miqati take over? What is the program of the new majority, which we can assume will take power, other than ending Lebanon’s official cooperation with the STL? Can the program of any government be restricted to the STL? How will this presumed political program deal with the repercussions of such a stance on Lebanon’s foreign relations, and how this impacts the economy? Is it enough for the new majority (which has both old and new elements) to compensate for the lack of a cohesive program by preparing to take scattered steps and civil service appointments, and rely on Syrian and Iranian support? Or will all of this render its determination to hold on to power more difficult, and see March 8 resort to the force of weapons to confront this situation?

To the degree that the majority lacks a program, the question can also be posed to the new opposition minority. The political document that was issued on Thursday puts forward general items that exhibit some deficiencies.

March 14 will succeed on Sunday in gathering the masses and regaining a popular spark after having been liberated from the constraints of being in power, which will make it more difficult for its rivals to rule and increase the possibility of weakening and cornering Miqati. However, March 14 also faces the challenge of putting forward a clear program for its slogans. It must prepare for a long-term situation of being in the opposition, until the parliamentary elections of 2013, or succeed in bringing down the government before then. This does not relieve it, after this date, of its responsibility to mobilize its public and address the other camp, by proposing practical steps on ways on various issues: how to end the force of arms on the domestic scene and their influence on political life; how to guarantee the use of these weapons to confront Israel; how to absorb these weapons into frameworks that allow them to be used in affirming the role of the state in this confrontation. These steps must also cover March 14’s vision for using these arms in the context of the Arab-Israeli struggle.

In its new role as an opposition, March 14 cannot dispense with a program that deals with sensitive matters like the parliamentary election law, Lebanese-Syrian relations, completing the implementation of the Taif Accord, ending political sectarianism, rebuilding the state bureaucracy, which is experiencing crisis, fighting corruption, etc.

After the March 13 rally on Sunday, the March 14 camp is being asked to say what will prompt its public to say “yes,” before moving on to “no”s to this or that item.

Saudi Arabia: The Day Of The Silent Biy'aa

By Tariq al-Homayed
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 12/03/2010

As soon as the people of Saudi Arabian had concluded their Friday prayers, some of them returned to their homes, whilst others went back to work, this prompted the western media and some news agencies – both the neutral and the biased – to report that "calm had prevailed over the cities of Saudi Arabia." I was surprised at the use of term "calm", as if these cities had been experiencing chaos over the previous days!
The reality is that there was no chaos prior to Friday, but rather what we did see was a strong wave of incitement and confusion, and a desperate attempt by some – who have now been exposed – to promote a lie, namely the Saudi Arabian "day of rage." Everybody was surprised when this day of rage turned into a silent Bayaa [ceremony performed in Islamic societies where the public formally endorse the rule of a leader], which saw the Saudi public wordlessly express their support of their leadership. This was a day where it was made plain to the theorists, propagandists, and deceivers that Saudi Arabia is not Egypt, or Tunisia, or Libya, or Yemen…there are differences [between Saudi Arabia and these countries], and there are facts on the ground that no sane person can ignore. What is most striking is that some Americans, for example, were more aware of the nature of Saudi Arabia and its society than others who claim to well know this country.
The day before yesterday, Agence-France-Presse (AFP) quoted Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank as saying that "for the most part, people who are upset at what's going on in the country [of Saudi Arabia] or the policies of the government…are not upset at the king." This represents a huge difference with regards to what is happening elsewhere in the Arab world, and Boucek added that the ordinary Saudi Arabians want more freedoms and transparency, but that "no-one is calling for a revolution."
This is no secret, and there is nothing controversial about this statement, for anybody monitoring the Saudi media, particularly with regards to what happened at the girls' school in Mecca more than 7 years ago, can plainly see that the Saudi press has left no stone unturned with regards to its discussion of the requirements of the Saudi citizens. There are discussions and dialogue taking place, most importantly the National Dialogue initiative launched by King Abdullah, which broke many taboos, and indeed many officials lost their positions due to their inability to implement this. All of this confirms that the wheel of reform is turning, and whilst some might complain about the pace of this, nobody can deny that it is moving, and so this issue is one that should not be subject to blatant incitement. Therefore, Friday represented a silent Bayaa, with the Saudi public wordlessly offering its support for the ruling regime in response to the inciters and skeptics.
However one might ask; does this mean that Saudi Arabia is not in need of reform? The answer to this, of course, is no, for Saudi Arabia is in urgent need of reorganizing all of its files. Saudi Arabia needs to take reformative measures and bring in new blood and implement new ideas with regards to how to deal with the surrounding region and its issues, particularly as this region has, and continues to witness change. The same applies to Saudi Arabia's internal affairs that require more development in order to create greater job opportunities etc. However, what we can certainly say is that none of this will take place via incitement, back-stabbing, and exposing Saudi Arabia and its capabilities to danger, and this is what Saudi Arabia – both its leadership and its public – announced clearly and explicitly on Friday.
Therefore, everybody has received the message loud and clear, and this is that Saudi Arabia is not the country that these instigators believe it is, but rather it is a unified and united country. On Friday, the people of Saudi Arabia, all of its people, without exception or distinction, told these instigators and troublemakers that this would not be a day of rage, but rather a silent Bayaa [in support of the regime].

Friday, March 11, 2011

New Egypt, New Media

Egyptians will no longer tolerate paying for the state-run newspapers that peddled Hosni Mubarak's propaganda.

By Osama Diab
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 10/03/2011

egypt newspaper
Egypt's independent media are gaining readership in the country and internationally. Photograph: Peter Andrews/Reuters
A few hours before the ousting of the former president Hosni Mubarak, the Tahrir Square protesters were described in Egypt's state-run media as "vandals" and "hooligans". A few hours after Mubarak's fall, the "vandalisers" had become "heroes", and what was previously described as "chaos instigated by foreign powers" had suddenly become "a glorious revolution".

None of this impresses young Egyptians who – unlike older generations – have become accustomed to seeking out more neutral sources of information. They are increasingly fluent in alternative media, whether it's social media such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, or the newly emerging independent newspapers that suffered under the former regime and are seen as one of the reasons behind the 25 January revolution.

Sales of state-run papers have fallen quite drastically – partly because of the growth in independent media but also because of the way they sugar-coated Mubarak's unpopular regime. One of the more outrageous examples came last September when al-Ahram doctored a photograph taken during the Israel-Palestine peace talks in Washington to suggest that 82-year-old Mubarak was leading the negotiations.

The most loyal readers of the state-run press come from older generations who have a nostalgic attachment. Meanwhile, the young people who now represent the majority of the market prefer independent media – even foreign media such as the BBC, al-Jazeera and the Guardian – to get a more accurate picture.

There are no reliable circulation figures for the state-run press in Egypt. Rafik Bassel, a media analyst and chief executive of Smartcomm advertising agency, says al-Ahram claims a circulation of 800,000 on weekdays and 1,000,000 on Fridays. He doubts this claim and suggests the real figure is 140,000 on weekdays of which 40,000 are subscriptions paid for by the government and distributed to officials around the country.

"Advertising in state-run newspapers has been mandatory for businesses close to the previous regime," Bassel added. "Large companies, banks and services were ordered to publish ads ... not to mention obituaries, 'congratulation' ads, etc."

Mostafa Sakr, the chairman and editor of the independent al-Borsa daily (who used to work for al-Ahram's economic magazine) told me that not only has the circulation of all state-run newspapers plunged seriously, but their influence has declined too. According to Sakr, people want sources of information they can trust – which is why sales of the independent newspaper al-Shorouk doubled during the revolution, reaching a circulation of about 150,000 a day.

Even in the online world, independent media have proved more successful. Al-Youm al-Sabea news website was named as the Middle East's top online newspaper by Forbes. Al-Ahram, the highest-ranking state-run newspaper on the list, came in 24th place.

Economically speaking, these increasingly unpopular media outlets have become a financial burden on the Egyptian treasury. Taxpayers were paying the regime to provide them with lies and propaganda. A report from the Central Auditing Agency in 2008 accused Rose al-Youssef newspaper of wasting public money, since 74% of its printed copies were returned unsold, making its actual sales less than 2,500 a day. Rose al-Youssef, like many other state-run media, has a long and proud history that was severely polluted by its affiliation to unpopular, corrupt regimes.

The future situation of these outlets is still unclear. However, the supreme council of armed forces, which is in charge of Egypt until a new president is elected in August, has ordered the dissolution of the information ministry – something the opposition had long been calling for. The ministry was regarded as the government's means for controlling the media and limiting its freedom.

Many journalists have also demonstrated at the syndicate of journalists, calling for the dismantling of the higher council of journalism, a government body controlled by parliament which is in charge of – and owns – Egypt's seven state-funded newspapers.

Whatever the future of these publications, the status quo should not be an option. Some of these papers, such as Rose al-Youssef, circulate in the low thousands and get funding in the tens of millions. With new, independent, credible and economically successful models of newspapers, the state-run press should be something of the past.

If they can be made profitable they should probably be privatised so they can break free from the government's grip and develop a more independent tone. If they cannot be profitable (which is more likely) then there is no reason for them to stay and be the burden they are. "If the state stops funding [its] newspapers, they will collapse in a heartbeat," Bassel said.

Egyptians have long paid a huge bill to be told lies. It's time to do something more with this money. The era of communist-style propaganda is over in Egypt and the disparity between the content provided by state-run and independent newspapers has already narrowed since the fall of Mubarak's regime.

Starting a new era in Egypt should come with a new set of media practices and allow trusted names to lead a less stagnant media scene, replacing newspapers whose editorial policies were developed secretly in state security offices on presidential orders.

An Odd Calm In Beirut

By Marc Lynch
This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 10/03/2011

I've spent the last few days in Beirut, thanks to a kind invitation from the American University of Beirut to give a talk about the role of the new media in the wave of Arab uprisings.  I took advantage of the trip to meet with a wide range of Lebanese politicians and political strategists, journalists and academics, as well as some local NGO specialists and some of that "youth" you hear so much about these days. And a really crazy taxi driver, but that's another story.  The highlight, perhaps, was the young woman at Saad Hariri's office, who had absolutely no idea who I was before I introduced myself, carefully perusing The Middle East Channel on her laptop.  

What struck me most about my conversations was the sense of calm, even complacency, in the Lebanese political class about the stability of the political scene and of their relative insulation from the wave of Arab protests.   Across political trends, few seemed especially worried that Lebanon would experience any kind of protest wave, or that the forthcoming indictments by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon would lead to any particular turbulence. Indeed, there was little sense that they were especially affected by the Arab revolutions.  I can't quite decide whether to be reassured by this confidence that Lebanon really was different, or worried that it reflects an out-of-touch political elite about to be rudely surprised.  

The argument for Lebanon's relative insulation from the Arab protest wave has some merits.  The confessional system means that there is no single, consensus focal point for discontent, and great difficulty in organizing any kind of cross-confessional movement. Egyptians could all agree that Mubarak must go and Tunisians could agree on Ben Ali, but Lebanese would have to focus on the relative abstraction of the confessional system (I really don't think that Hezbollah's weapons can be such a unifying focus for popular mobilization, despite the hopes of the March 14 strategists).  There had in fact recently been a youth protest against the confessional system, but almost everyone I talked to dismissed the call as unrealistic --- an admirable goal for the distant future, but impractical today and probably a trojan horse for Shi'a power-seeking according to some of the Christians.

Besides the deep structure of the confessional system, many pointed to the intensely polarized, bipolar nature of the current political Lebanese system as an obstacle to such a popular movement.  Also, the crowded television media environment in Lebanon means that al-Jazeera can't command the same kind of overwhelming attention which it attracts in other Arab countries.  Finally, for what it's worth, many in the March 14 camp argued that the Cedar Revolution had already been the Lebanese version of today's Arab uprisings.  I don't know... is this more convincing than the "Egypt isn't Tunisia" talk of which we heard so much in the days before January 25?

I was more surprised at the extent to which the Tribunal's reportedly upcoming indictments are now taken in stride, in sharp contrast to the hysteria a few months ago about impending civil war. I heard from both sides of the political divide that the constant discussion of the likely indictments of Hezbollah has in a sense neutralized it as an issue.  It's already been so thoroughly aired that there won't be a major shock, people on both sides suggested, and neither side has any interest in seeing an escalation to street violence.  Even March 14 partisans grudgingly acknowledge, for the most part, that the Tribunal now suffers from a credibility problem -- even if they didn't like what I wrote about it a few months ago, bitterly dispute the critique, fervently hope for justice to be done, and blame it on Hezbollah propaganda.  

The main way that my contacts see the Arab uprisings affecting Lebanon is through their impact on the broader regional environment and particular actors.  Tunisia didn't matter much to them, but the fall of Mubarak and Omar Suleiman removed their role from the Lebanese arena.  I heard less about Libya than about Bahrain, which most seemed to view through a sectarian lens, and concerns about Saudi Arabia and Jordan.  There is some concern about what Israel might do, but it doesn't seem to be a pressing issue. Interestingly, I heard little support for the notion that regional events were increasing Iran's power, even from people from whom I might have expected it, and even less for the idea that the uprisings were good for the United States.  And almost all insisted repeatedly and urgently that the United States needed to push Israel towards serious peace talks with the Palestinians if it hoped to see moderate or pro-American forces succeeding in the new Arab environment.  

This isn't to say that the political scene is quiet, of course.  Elite politics goes on with all its intensity and gamesmanship. March 14 has decided to not join the new government of Najib Mikati, and seems somewhat liberated by the luxury of political opposition. They plan a large rally for Sunday which will focus on the issue of Hezbollah's arms.  There is the usual bickering and in-fighting over government portfolios, and the usual polarization.  But all of this seems to be understood as elite politics as usual. 

Frankly, it seems odd for Lebanon to feel so calm while the whole Arab world is in turmoil.  And after watching so many other Arab publics join in the protest wave, I can't help but wonder whether the elites are misjudging the potential for different forms of mobilization.   Strange times....  

A No-Fly Zone Over Libya

By John F. Kerry
This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 11/03/2011

Leaders around the world are vigorously debating the advisability of a no-fly zone to stop the violence unfolding in Libya. Some cite Bosnia, where NATO took too long to protect civilian populations in the mid-1990s. Others remember Rwanda, where President Bill Clinton expressed regret for not acting to save innocent lives. But the stakes in Libya today are more appropriately underscored by the tragedy that took place in southern Iraq in the waning days of the Persian Gulf War. 

As coalition forces were routing the Iraqi army in February 1991, President George H.W. Bush encouraged the Iraqi people to "take matters into their hands to force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside." When Iraqi Shiites, Kurds and Marsh Arabs rebelled against their brutal dictator, they believed American forces would protect them against Hussein's superior firepower. 

When Iraqi attack helicopters and elite troops began butchering their own people, coalition forces were ordered to stand down. The world watched as thousands of Iraqis were slaughtered. 

The situation in Libya today is not identical. Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan people rose up spontaneously against four decades of repression by Col. Moammar Gaddafi. Still, the specter that haunts me is the same - ordinary people facing off against an autocrat's airpower and well-armed soldiers, counting on the free world to protect them against massacre after we've applauded and bolstered their bravery with our words. 

So far, Gaddafi's forces have relied on airpower selectively. But Gaddafi is shrewd. My fear is that he is either choosing to bleed the opposition to death, rather than invite global action with a broad massacre, or waiting for the world to prove itself unwilling to act. Then he may well begin killing civilians in large numbers. 

We cannot wait for that to happen. We need to take concrete steps now so that we are prepared to implement a no-fly zone immediately if Gaddafi starts using his airpower to kill large numbers of civilians. Diplomacy is urgently needed to build broad support for a no-fly zone. 

The most important imprimatur should come from the United Nations, where debate should begin immediately over a resolution authorizing a no-fly zone. China and Russia have expressed reservations. If the Security Council fails to authorize action, those of us determined to protect Libyan civilians will face a more difficult choice should the violence escalate. 

So our diplomatic efforts must extend beyond the United Nations. The support of NATO and the African Union are important. To avoid the perception of NATO or the United States attacking another Muslim country, we need the backing of the Arab world. 

On that front, there are promising signs. The six Arab countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council have called for a U.N.-imposed no-fly zone. The Arab League may consider a similar proposal on Saturday. Muslim nations in particular should support preparations for intervention if the violence spirals out of control. 

Gaddafi cannot be allowed to think that he can massacre his people with impunity. And he cannot be free to make those attacks more lethal by using his airpower. If the United Nations cannot approve a resolution for implementing a no-fly zone, then the United States and its allies in NATO and the Arab world must be prepared to prevent a massacre like the one that occurred in Srebrenica in 1995, when more than 8,000 men and boys were slaughtered. 

Even imposing a no-fly zone would not be a panacea. It probably would not tip the balance if Libya deteriorates into a full-scale civil war. But it would eliminate airstrikes and save the lives of civilians. It is a tool that we should be ready to use if the situation warrants and would signal to the opposition that it is not alone. 

Before we reach that decision, the international community needs to provide humanitarian assistance and medical supplies to the rebels in eastern Libya. We should not allow them to be starved into submission. 

The one option that should not be on the table is American ground troops; no one wants to see U.S. forces bogged down in another war, especially in another Muslim country. And, as President Obama has said, we must not deprive the Libyan people of full ownership of their struggle for freedom or give Gaddafi a useful foil and scapegoat. 

Perhaps the mere threat of a no-fly zone will keep Gaddafi's pilots from using their helicopters and fighter jets to kill their own people. If it does not, we should be crystal-clear that we will lead the free world to avoid the senseless slaughter of any more Libyan citizens by a mad man bent on maintaining power. We should also make clear that the United States - just as we did in Bosnia and Kosovo - is taking a stand against a thug who is killing Muslims. 

The writer, a Democrat from Massachusetts, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The “State Security” Line

By Zuheir Kseibati
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 10/03/2011
Why would Colonel Gaddafi be concerned about Israel’s security in the face of “chaos,” if Al-Qaeda were to gain control over Libya? Why are the Americans and Europeans reluctant and why do Obama, Sarkozy, Cameron and Merkel stutter whenever they are asked about the available means to stop the massacres in the Jamahiriya of blood?

Why is Netanyahu concerned – or pretending to be– about the revolutions that are being won with the weapon of democracy in the Arab world, thus brandishing the Iranian “scarecrow?” Why is Ehud Barak in the meantime threatening with a war which Israel might be “forced” to wage if Washington does not enhance its “superiority” over the Arabs with $20 billion worth of sophisticated weaponry?

The Colonel is threatening with the rifle of Osama Ben Laden while Netanyahu is bestowing “compassion” upon the Arab youth in regard to the Iranian regional influence.

Why is Al-Bashir afraid of the word “rape” when uttered by women in Omdurman?

Who is stirring the murky water of political confessionalism in Lebanon to give us the impression that the demand is to immediately abolish it, at least out of shame, considering that the winds of revolutions and uprisings are too powerful to resist?

Who is behind the explosion waves in Algeria to preempt the attempts to extend the protests? And who is threatening the sun of Tahrir Square with the darkness of strife between the Muslims and the Copts to undermine the Egyptian January 25 revolution?

It was said there was no fifth or sixth line, but rather thugs and state security apparatuses which allied with those who were harmed by the revolution and the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. However, what is more dangerous is the beginning of arduous attempts to shake the Tahrir Square generation’s trust in the army which protected it well, by showing that the armed forces were reluctant and impotent before the symptoms of sectarian strife to protect this Square.

All of these images are emerging in regard to the Arab labor whose imminent end is difficult to imagine, despite the peaceful character of the birth of the new Tunisia and the new Egypt, which the Jamahiriya of blood is trying to disfigure by accusing it of collaborating with “terrorists” in Libya.

And while the comparison between the January 25 revolution and the Benghazi uprising is unlikely for known reasons, namely this uprising’s confrontation of massacres and insane exterminations between Benghazi and Tripoli, what was seen in Egypt during the last few days reveals the non-surrender of the remnants of the former regime, despite the fact that the High Council of the Armed Forces embraced the goals of the revolution. It has also become clear that the “counter revolution” is no longer a mere fear, in light of the introduction of lethal weapons to undermine the alliance between the army and the youth. Sectarian tensions are no longer individual incidents that can be forgotten. If this is not the case, how would one explain the occurrence of sectarian killings in three regions on a dark night, claiming the lives of dozens of Muslims and Christians? From Helwan to the suburb of Cairo, who is introducing the so-called Salafis to pour oil on the fire of the concerns of the Copts vis-à-vis the era of the revolution and the exaggeration of the popular and partisan strength of the Islamists?

The insistence on building a mosque over the site of a church that was burned down is definitely dubious, although it clearly reveals the ignorance of Islam and its tolerance by those who came up with the idea. It may also be safe to assume that the ones currently managing Egypt’s affairs and the affairs of its people, know that those who were harmed by the revolution will try to besiege it with a reputation of impotence at the level of security – even if on Tahrir square – and the inability to protect the Copts and their rights as citizens.

The transformation of the burning of the church into a sectarian fire to disfigure the image, dreams and goals of the January 25 revolution, serves the “state security” line.

But tomorrow is a day of “national unity” in Egypt. It will start on Tahrir Square and we hope it will besiege the line of sectarianism which is no longer enough to curse it while disregarding its ashes and bleakness. It is no longer enough – in the era of the revolution – to complain about those burning churches in the name of Islam and mosques on false claims.

The insistence of the latter on upholding religion is only matched by the Israelis’ insistence on upholding the newly-founded Arab democracies and the Colonel’s concerns over Israel from the “chaos of Al-Qaeda.”

The Hypocrisy Of Some Intellectuals

By Tariq Alhomayed
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 10/03/2011
There were rumors in Jordan that the Palace was planning to distribute financial donations to the poor, and that people were rushing to get their share. However, it transpired that the whole affair was a money-making scheme, whereby some people were offering to process forms filled in by the poor who hoped to receive these alleged donations, in return for a fee. Who is responsible for manipulating people's feelings like this?
Much of the responsibility lies with those who simplify and idealize the conditions and demands of the people, and depict revolutions as if they are the key to solutions, and the way for people to obtain their rights, portraying all Arab countries as being similar with regards to the suffering and misery present in them. Those primarily responsible for this are certain members of our cultural elite.
Will economic reform, for example, occur via government hand-outs, and would this lead to an immediate rise in one's personal income? Of course not! The first step of economic reform, anywhere, is to remove subsidies on goods, and anyone who seeks further clarification on this matter should contemplate Turkey's experience over the last ten years to understand that the country only reached its position today through hard work and perseverance. Some might ask: Does this mean that you are against political and economic reform? The answer is no, of course I am not against this, reform is something that all our countries need, and it is urgently needed in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Jordan, but are our regional countries all suffering from the same problems? The answer again is no, and here the blame lies on the intellectual dreamers who want to play on the feelings of the street.
Iraq went for nearly eight months without a government, so how can it be compared with Oman, the UAE, or Saudi Arabia? Furthermore, take the example of Egypt, the president of this presidential republic remained in power for 30 years and was attempting to bequeath power to his son, so how can this country be compared with Bahrain? Of course there is no comparison [in this regard], and the same applies to the demands for reform that have been raised in Bahrain, which are said to be legitimate, for what about the Shiite groups in the country who are calling for the ouster of the monarchy and the establishment of a Republic of Bahrain? This is something that is completely unacceptable! So how can it be said that the Gulf States and their varied problems are similar to the Republic of Yemen, which has been governed by a president who has been in power longer than any Gulf King or Emir?
Do we need to mention Libya, after what Gaddafi did, and continues to do, against his own people? Libya is a country that should only be comparable to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Qatar, in terms of its oil revenues, and today it stands below any other Arab country, even those which don't possess oil. Reform is urgent, because inflexibility and intransigence are the most prominent reasons for the ouster of regimes, and indeed the collapse of states. However, taking a shot in the dark, and ignoring the facts and realities of each state, is futile. They hypocrisy of the street represents a great danger to those governing a country, and unfortunately this is something that some intellectuals in the Arab world have been caught up in, especially those who have lent their names to political statements, whether these are Islamist statements or democratic statements.
I am saying this because the Gulf States in particular, and without exception, are now on the path to reform. Some of these states are moving quickly, whilst others more slowly, and others charting a course between these two extremes. However the Gulf States are not like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya or Yemen, and particularly not like Syria, which is another story altogether. This is the reality, and this is the logical assessment of the situation, but still some people seek to incite chaos, and this is something quite different.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Saudi Arabia Faces Difficult Choices

Joseph A. Kechichian writes: Kingdom will have to look beyond economic progress in its quest to become the world’s sixth richest state by 2050
This commentary was published in The Gulf News in 10/03/2011

According to a recent Citibank report, Singapore is set to become the world's richest country by 2050, with an estimated annual per capita income of $137,710 (Dh505,396). In this carefully assessed ranking, the city-state would be followed by Hong Kong ($116,639), Taiwan ($114,093), South Korea ($107,752) and the US ($100,802).

The surprise country in the top ten is Saudi Arabia coming sixth with $98,311. Canada ($96,375), the United Kingdom ($91,130), Switzerland ($90,956) and Austria ($90,158) round off the top ten.
As Saudi Arabia prepares to become the sixth richest global state, nearly quadrupling the current rate of $24,200, and against the tide of opposition voices spreading throughout the Arab world, can it accomplish this goal while struggling with public order?

Public safety, it goes without saying, is the first responsibility of any government and Riyadh is no exception even if King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz's latest benefits package failed to thwart a series of protests. While authorities released Tawfiq Al Amir, a prominent cleric who was arrested on February 27 for calling for a constitutional monarchy and equal rights, others remained in jail.
Moreover, and although the Council of Senior Ulama condemned "deviant ideas," calls for activism have not declined. In fact, while the Council affirmed that "demonstrations were forbidden," because "the correct way in Sharia to realise common interest was by advising, which was what the Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] established," the official statement published by the body headed by Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh highlighted innate concerns about governance.

Many of these were addressed a few days ago by Khalid Al Nowaiser, a Saudi lawyer and columnist, in an open letter to King Abdullah in the widely read Arab News.

In his letter, Al Nowaiser "candidly" expressed his apprehensions about a variety of challenges facing the kingdom, avowing that "regional events have shown that the power of any ruling system really depends upon how strong, peaceful and transparent the relation between the regime and its people" is.

Social contract

He then launched into a criticism of the very idea of reforms calling on Riyadh to adopt genuine measures on an urgent basis to quell dissent.

Al Nowaiser beseeched his government to alter the powers of the Shura Council, give it the tools to enhance the social contract between citizens and state institutions, and urged Riyadh to enhance personal freedoms.

Such guarantees, he claimed, would avoid social unrest, especially in the context of a constitution derived from the Quran. Basic freedoms, he elucidated, would shun excesses associated with regimes that allocate to themselves intrinsic political rights.

To be sure, these observations were not unknown, but in the context of current developments they took on a rare urgency. Rather than perceive challenges as threats, Al Nowaiser and many others correctly argue that greater political rights will lead to political stability that, in turn, would foster the environment for economic prosperity.


Only then would the kingdom's oil wealth matter. Indeed, although Saudi Arabia derives nearly half of its GDP from petroleum, this is set to change because the rapidly growing economy, set to register close to 4 per cent in 2011, will require solid contributions from non-oil sectors.

The latter are recording impressive gains and will naturally continue to accomplish small miracles but only if Riyadh continues to support diversification away from oil, provide real economic encentives, encourage private consumption as well as wealth creation and, most important, tolerate political emancipation.

To be sure, state institutions that focus on infrastructure and education must do a far better job than the Jeddah flooding catastrophes or mediocre graduation levels illustrate, but what is truly required for the kingdom to reach a coveted sixth position in the global economic food chain is for Saudi businesses to feel more confident.

They must be assured that the government will wither current tensions, eliminate the growing gap between haves and have-nots, and allow socio-economic expansion.

In the short term, Riyadh can spend its way out of the economic crisis that confront the country, though what it would really need over the long term are meaningful political, social and economic reforms. Dramatic changes cannot occur overnight and will not be ushered in by frail appointees lacking strong mandates to introduce systematic new approaches.

It behooves King Abdullah, indeed all Arab rulers, to unleash the genius of their populations and allow them to excel by creating their own opportunities, which would promote goals and responsibilities in tandem.

Beyond pure economic progress, therefore, two specific areas need urgent attention. First, the conditions of Saudi youths, both men and women, ought to change. Al Nowaiser asked, can Saudi Arabia secure its future while the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice continues to define the kingdom's morality?

Although Al Nowaiser invited the ruler to simply abolish the commission, it is far more important to instill a culture of life based on human rights, which cherishes individual freedom and dignity.

Equally important is the ability to empower the kingdom with a modern legal system that will define and protect rights, which are critical if citizens are to respect their government and work in earnest to add value and achieve the enviable ‘Sixth Global Power' position by 2050.

Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books on Gulf affairs.

President Saleh, Stand Aside And Give Yemen A Chance

By clinging to power Saleh is putting the stability and security of the region at risk-and the West must tell him so.

By Khalid al-Hureibi
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 10/03/2011

A demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh at the weekend
A demonstration demanding the resignation of the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Photograph: Muhammed Muheisen/AP

President Ali Abdullah Saleh is rapidly losing control in Yemen. Populist unrest is escalating despite a heavy-handed approach by the government. Last week, in a show of solidarity, the Hashed and the Bakeel – the two largest tribal groups in Yemen, and allies of Saleh over many years – announced their full support for youthful protesters demanding a change of regime.

Saleh has offered unprecedented concessions to the opposition. He retracted his plan for constitutional amendments that would have allowed him to stay in power indefinitely and proposed to form a government of unity. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the largest Yemeni opposition bloc, categorically rejected the offers and asked for his immediate departure. Some sources say Saleh even offered to let the opposition form a government on its own terms.

The president has lost credibility on the street and across the whole Yemeni political spectrum but western countries, led by the US, have not shown they appreciate the risks in retaining the status quo in Yemen. The longer the current situation continues, the more resentment will grow against the regime and the sooner a civil war will become imminent. This will not only affect Yemen but the repercussions would certainly affect the region and the security of the world at large.

In such circumstances, external military intervention would eventually be inevitable. The spectre of such a situation could dwarf current happenings in Afghanistan – not only because of the tribal structure of Yemeni society, but also because of the ready availability of weapons. Yemen is second only to the US in guns per capita (60 guns per 100 people, according to the Small Arms Survey in 2007).

Saleh once infamously described his efforts to rule the tribes of Yemen as like "dancing on the heads of snakes". It seems his days of being a good dancer are over and the snakes have transformed into dragons that will not only devour him but possibly the whole country and the region as well.

Saleh has received more than $300m from the US to fight terrorism but several WikiLeaks cables show the Americans are disappointed with his efforts.

The Yemeni government is directing all its security and military capabilities to control widespread uprisings and this has provided al-Qaida with the unstable environment it craves in order to escalate its activities in the Arabian peninsula. The situation will worsen if a civil war breaks out in Yemen and a power vacuum ensues.

The Houthis – the insurgent Shia group operating in north Yemen – are in total control of two provinces and their power is progressively increasing due to the weak central government. The Houthis will certainly take advantage of any turmoil and Iran would, quite possibly, support them.
The separatists in the south are growing stronger every day. Saleh's regime has denied them basic political rights and treated them as second-class citizens when allocating resources and land. Despite the use of excessive force and killings to crack down on dissent in the south, the numbers of protesters have been increasing. This instability has allowed al-Qaida to place its main strongholds on the Arabian peninsula in the south of Yemen.

Recent events in Egypt and Tunisia have shown it is not in the west's interest to adopt a "wait and see" policy until one side wins and only then lend support. The people in the region resent this opportunism, which severely undermines the credibility of western governments. This approach provides the radical anti-western discourse a golden opportunity to attract followers.

If Yemen descends into chaos, and this is a very real possibility, the anti-west resentment will grow exponentially if external military intervention becomes a necessity.

For any solution to be successful it should consider an honourable exit for Saleh and a smooth transition of power. The west needs to make it clear that Saleh should leave now. Pressure must be applied for a handover of power in a smooth and orderly fashion under international supervision.
Aspects needing urgent attention are:

• Forming a presidential council to rule for an interim transitional period. This council should include representatives from the JMP, the army and the protesters.
• Holding fair and free presidential and parliamentary elections within one year, monitored by regional and international observers.
• Guarantees that Saleh, or any of his family, will not be brought to trial, provided they relinquish all their government posts and return all money or gains made when in power.
• The assets of Saleh and his family inside the country and abroad should be frozen.
• An arms embargo should be enforced.
• The army should commit to a neutral status in any political conflict.

Without such urgent and proactive action, the situation will descend further into mayhem. The west should realise that Saleh has become so detrimental to the stability and security of the region and his clinging to power will prove to be very costly over the next few weeks.

America Shouldn't Hijack Egypt's Revolution

Obama must resist the urge to help Egyptian democrats -- unless they demand it.
By Steven  A. Cook This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 09/03/2011
Let's face it: Hosni Mubarak was a strategic asset to the United States. He ensured access to the Suez Canal, upheld the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, and kept the Islamists down. He also presided over a foul regime that abused its citizens and violated every principle that Americans hold dear. The fact that the United States supported this now-discredited government for three decades is not lost on Egyptians. And it shouldn't be lost on Washington, either, as it attempts to forge a new relationship with Cairo.
Washington has a long wish list for the new Egypt. Despite its baggage-laden history with the country, the United States wants Egypt to be democratic, economically successful, and a reliable ally. It wants Cairo to regain its luster as a regional leader so that it may bring its considerable diplomatic weight to bear as an interlocutor on Arab-Israeli affairs and a counterweight to Iran's regional ambitions. The United States also wants Egypt to serve as a model for political reform, inspiring countries throughout the Arab world toward a more just political order. This ambitious vision is unlikely to be fully realized, but if Egyptians achieve only a portion of their revolutionary aspirations, the Middle East will be a better place.
Policy analysts and democracy-promotion specialists are already racing to formulate a strategy that matches substantial resources to these lofty aims. They want to provide technical assistance to help Egypt develop political parties, impartial electoral laws, judicial independence, and legislative oversight. They also have plans for economic reform, which include U.S. assistance for debt relief and incentives for foreign investment and increased bilateral trade.
Sounds wonderful -- in theory. But it's time to tap the brakes on these grandiose plans, for there are significant drawbacks to a robust American role in post-Mubarak Egypt. If Washington is to realize its goals, it should approach the country's coming transformation with a lighter touch and a certain amount of humility.
The main reason is that Egyptians remain distrustful of Washington and its intentions. Why shouldn't they be? Successive administrations -- Republican and Democratic alike -- supported and benefited from their close ties to Mubarak. Even George W. Bush, who pressed Mubarak hardest to undertake reforms, never penalized him for his stubborn resistance to change. A high-profile approach to Egypt's transition will consequently raise suspicions about Washington's intentions and goals, complicating efforts to develop the kind of relationship with the new Egypt that President Barack Obama's administration wants.
Happily, anti-Americanism was not the main theme of the millions of Egyptians who took to the streets in late January and early February. But Americans should draw no conclusions from the absence of anger directed toward Washington during the 18 heady days of demonstrations. The political dynamics of the new Egypt will encourage the country's leaders to diverge from Washington, if only to establish their nationalist credentials. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi have already signaled that they will split from their predecessors and the United States on the Israeli blockade of Gaza and on Egypt's relationship with Iran.
Even if Washington pledges its total neutrality in Egyptian politics, a bold and public democracy-promotion effort could quickly lapse into support for one party, group, or movement. U.S. officials will be sorely tempted to gravitate toward liberal elements within the revolutionary movement, such as Ayman Nour's al-Ghad party, the newly licensed al-Wasat party, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, and a host of independent figures. Furthermore, it is hard to believe that Congress will remain neutral should the Obama administration choose to work with the Nasserists and the Muslim Brotherhood, both of which maintain views on Egyptian foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, that are inimical to American interests.
Already, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has expressed its concern about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best-organized Islamist group. Republican Sen. Mark Kirk released a statement on Feb. 2 cautioning that the United States "must heed growing warnings about the Muslim Brotherhood, their leaders and plans for taking Egypt back to the 13th century." Rep. Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has also expressed his desire to use U.S. funding to bolster liberal Egyptian political movements, and said that he is "skeptical" about the Muslim Brotherhood's democratic bona fides.
An aggressive American effort in Egypt also risks alienating leaders who would otherwise be willing to work with the United States. The perception that certain groups enjoy American largesse could complicate their efforts in a new, more democratic Egypt. The political environment in Cairo will naturally be hostile to anything even remotely connected to the Mubarak era -- including the United States. By taking a high-profile role in Egypt's transition, the United States increases the risk that potentially pro-American political leaders will be tarred with "Mubarakism."
The United States must also understand how this revolution fits into the last century of Egypt's political struggles, which have largely focused on achieving independence from international forces that seemingly conspired to rob Egyptians of control over their own destiny. Egypt's 1919 nationalist revolution aimed to end the British occupation that had compromised the national dignity of its people for 40 years. The 1952 coup that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power had many causes, but above all else it was a new phase in the anti-colonial effort to bring an end to Britain's continued influence in Egypt. Mubarak, by continuing his predecessor Anwar Sadat's alignment with Washington, compromised his country's independence in the eyes of many Egyptians. In time, it became conventional wisdom among his opponents that the relationship emasculated Egypt's regional influence while contributing to repression and stagnation at home.
The revolutionaries of Tahrir Square have now managed to alter the history that ostensibly all-powerful internal forces -- with the help of external patrons -- had written for them. As they see it, they brought down their dictator without anyone's help, and believe that they are capable of constructing a decent political system worthy of a great country. This is a source of empowerment for Egyptians, and a point of pride and dignity.
In the current environment, it is best for outsiders -- particularly those with ties to the ancien régime -- to keep a low profile. In practice, this means that Washington's message should focus exclusively on first-order principles: non-violence, tolerance, pluralism, and accountability. It also requires that the United States hew carefully to the needs Egyptians themselves articulate. If Egyptians want American help, then by all means, Washington should give it to them. But the sight of U.S. bureaucrats pushing out comprehensive programs, training, and grants -- along with congressional benchmarks and conditions -- is likely to embitter all parties involved.
Having long sought to manage their own destiny, Egyptians likely will be reluctant to take unsolicited advice from outsiders. Egypt has eminent jurists, learned scholars, and a large number of talented activists who understand what they want and how to get there. They need a lot less help than we think. If the United States wants to achieve its goals in Egypt, it should allow Egyptians the opportunity to triumph or fail on their own.

A Transition For Arab Economies

By David Ignatius
This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 10/03/2011
After the radiant sunrise of the Arab spring, here's a somber shadow: Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries making the transition to democracy are likely to face severe economic problems over the next several years - ones that could bring chaos if the Arabs and their friends in the West aren't wise.
For the dimensions of this economic transition, think of the Marshall Plan after World War II, but add several complicating factors: The United States and many of the European governments that would fund such a program can't afford it; the new democracies don't have governments yet to manage the assistance and probably won't for months; and the Arab people are likely to be prickly about accepting help, especially if it has U.S. strings attached. 
And here's one more post-revolutionary worry: Many of the initiatives that will be popular with the people, such as across-the-board wage increases and subsidies, will be good politics but bad economics. The public sector is already too big in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, and there will be pressure to expand it even more as the economic crisis worsens. 
"The challenge that faces Egypt and other Arab countries is how to go on with economic reform without bringing back a big role for the state in managing the economy," says Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister who is vice president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 
The weeks of protest in Tahrir Square were a heady school for democracy, but they brought economic activity almost to a standstill. Factories were idle; banks were shuttered; financial markets were closed; tourists canceled their trips. The World Bank says it doesn't have reliable forecasts for Egypt yet because officials there haven't been able to finish their assessments. 
The economic impact of turmoil is estimated by George Abed of the Institute of International Finance. He forecasts growth of just 1.5 percent this year in Egypt, and a decline of 1.5 percent in Tunisia and 31 percent in Libya. Egypt's budget deficit will grow to 9.8 percent of gross domestic product this year, compared to 7.9 percent in 2010, and deficits will total 4.5 percent of GDP in Tunisia and 35 percent in Libya, both of which recorded surpluses last year. 
How to avoid a post-democratic crackup? What's needed is a multilateral version of the Marshall Plan - that is, a framework of loans and other assistance that can steady the Arab countries as they make their transition to democracy and prosperity. America isn't really an option; we don't have the money, and our politicians wouldn't want to give it to foreigners, anyway. 
But I'm happy to report that there's an answer to this Middle East puzzle. The institution that was created 20 years ago to oversee Eastern Europe's transition, known as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), is ready to take on this new mission. I talked Tuesday with Thomas Mirow, its president, who said his organization is ready to act as a "bank for economic and political transition" in Egypt and neighboring countries. 
The Europeans have the expertise. As Mirow notes, the new Arab democracies have the same problems that Eastern European countries did: weak private sectors; feeble small andmedium-sized business; and poor infrastructure. The EBRD has the money, too, with about $17 billion in capital and the ability to raise far more from lenders. Mirow foresees providing about $1.4 billion to Egypt over the next several years, and up to twice that amount to neighboring countries. He's already thinking about opening an office in Cairo, so that Arabs will see this "bank for transition" as their own. 
White House officials like Mirow's idea for assisting the new democracies of the Middle East. This approach avoids the stigma of assistance from the International Monetary Fund or the basket-case aura of aid from the World Bank. It puts Egypt and its neighbors in the same category as Poland or Bulgaria - countries whose economic and political systems were shattered by authoritarian rulers. Perhaps the European bank could partner with the Inter-American Development Bank, which has expertise in transition from "Peronist," military-led systems. 
The young people who gathered in Tahrir Square say they want to be part of the Mediterranean world - civilized countries with prosperous economies and free political systems. This transition will be rocky because the foundations are so weak, but there are creative new ways - that aren't marked "Made in America" - to provide stability along the road to progress.

Oil Prices And OPEC’s Responsibility

By Randa Takieddine
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 09/03/2011
The massacre being committed by Gaddafi against his people and the ongoing war in his country, along with developments in the Arab world, in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Oman, have raised oil prices to unjustifiable levels that have exceeded $110 a barrel.

According to everyone in the oil industry, oil is available in markets. Despite the continuing drop in Libyan production of about 500,000 barrels a day, European refineries are finding all of the oil they need in the markets. Saudi Arabia raised its production to over 9 million barrels a day and the rest of the OPEC countries are producing at their utmost capacity; these countries’ production exceeded by 2.6 million barrels a day the agreed-upon production quota.

Speculation in financial markets, geopolitical events, and people’s fears of shortfalls in energy supplies have enhanced the ability of speculators to invest in oil futures markets. Moreover, investment in stocks has incurred losses, as the dollar’s value continues to drop.

In OPEC, there are responsible countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries and others, which believe that convening an extraordinary meeting might be useful, to show that OPEC is acting responsibly, and that it wants to calm oil markets, at least psychologically, because there is no shortfall in oil supplies. However, it might be positive to hold a meeting to let the world know about the additional quantities it wants to pump into markets, to reassure people that there is no cut-off in supplies.

However, countries such as Iran, Venezuela and the Libyan leadership, which continues to control oil production, do not want such a meeting, because they want more money to use in oppressing their people, and not improving the conditions of individual members of society. Iran, which produces more than 3.5 million barrels a day, uses this wealth to stoke strife and destabilize neighboring countries. The Iranian leadership is unconcerned with a deterioration in its economic conditions through any harsh international sanctions, and is content to achieve greater returns. Meanwhile, Gaddafi and his team are holding on, even though the freezing of their assets has encouraged some people to portray a false image of what is taking place in the country. It is said that Gaddafi tasked his oil minister, Shukri Ghanem, with bringing French journalists to Libya to meet with the colonel and relay his statements to the international media. Shukri Ghanem was an employee in the secretariat-general of OPEC in Vienna, where Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, submitted his doctoral thesis, written by Ghanem, on Libya’s economy. This is how Ghanem became prime minister, and then oil minister, as Saif al-Islam garnered the lion’s share - oil contracts would pass through him; a year ago, one of Saif al-Islam’s brothers was angry about this, and Gaddafi sidelined Ghanem for a period of time, on the pretext that he had received Italian citizenship. Ghanem then patched things up with the colonel, thanks to his son, Saif al-Islam. Gaddafi and his tribe continue to behave with Libya’s oil wealth as if it is their private property; they oppress and kill a people in revolt against a regime that has impoverished a state rich in natural resources and capabilities.

The Arab League and Arab countries have been slow to condemn Gaddafi’s massacres against his people, although the stance that had been awaited was finally taken. As for now, convening an OPEC conference will be useful to show the organization as a group of responsible countries that want to affirm that they do not want to destabilize the international economy. Also, they do not want to see an increase of poverty and despair in the world; they are keen to increase their production, so that there is no shortfall in oil.

The current problem is that a state like Iran is chairing OPEC for a one-year period, which makes joint action by the organization to reassure the world a difficult, if not impossible task, since it is headed by an irresponsible state.

The "Street" Remains A Street

By Adel al-Toraifi
This commentary was puiblished in Asharq al-Awsat on 10/03/2011

There is a heated debate taking place in the Middle East regarding the popular uprisings plaguing the region and this is a debate that is only intensifying day by day. This debate can be summarized as follows: Firstly, there are those who are of the view that enough is enough, and that it is now time for the protestors to hand over the reins of power, whether to the transitional government in Tunisia or the supreme military council in Egypt, so that these bodies can do their duty and restore stability and security, and begin the practical arrangements required for the transition of power. As for those who hold the second opinion, they argue that the revolution must continue until it has achieved all its objectives, and this means continuing demonstrations on the streets, and not imposing any ceiling on the protestors demands, so that all the demonstrators demands can be met and the people can seize their rights with their own hands, from the state apparatus which previously mistreated them under the former regime.
The Libyan crisis is ongoing, and in recent days it has begun to resemble a civil war, between those who call themselves revolutionaries, and those who continue to support the Gaddafi regime. No one knows what will happen in Libya, but whilst armed conflict is ongoing there, and whilst the death toll continues to rise, the model of taking to the street seems to be far more costly than was originally promised by those who advocated revolution.
Needless to say, there is no longer any talk about the return of former regimes, but the debate about what should be done now is still raging. Some wish to continue with this state of revolution regardless of the risk to state institutions and by doing so they are placing the legitimacy of the Arab republics, and their future, at stake. There are genuine fears about the collapse of the Arab republic system, which suffers from fundamental problems in its governing structure, with the existence of racial, regional, ethnic, and sectarian differences which threaten the unity of the Arab state as we know it, and there is significant evidence of this in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and elsewhere.
Politicians in the region are divided between those who believe they are immune to what is happening – and these politicians are deluding themselves – and those who are taking the initiative – often in an improvisational manner – to provide some political or financial concessions in order to rein in the fantasies of the public, which are being greatly influenced by what is happening in the region. But whilst politicians are drowning in their reports and evaluations, the majority of intellectuals and writers, in turn, are split between those who are concerned by this newfound "logic of the street" and those who are taking a gamble to stand side-by-side with the "revolutionary youth", whatever their demands or slogans, on the grounds that you cannot stand against the demands of the youth, as they form the largest demographic in our region.
It is not surprising that writers and intellectuals have rushed to join the list of signatories to [revolutionary] political statements, or are participating enthusiastically on social networking websites, under the pretext of supporting the "legitimate" demands and voice of the youth. However when we examine this further, we find that writers and intellectuals have no option but to side with the youth because the majority of the existing regimes are not worth defending, either because they are undemocratic on the one hand, or because they have failed to achieve – or have corrupted – the mechanisms for political participation, and thus are nothing more than an obstacle to freedom of expression. For such intellectuals, it is not acceptable to stand by the state – or the regime – because the youthful majority is in opposition. Moreover, the youth are prepared to confront political regimes with mass demonstrations, which provide them with legitimacy, and regardless how hard these regime might try, they are unable to break up these demonstrations by use of force – as they were previously able in the past. This is because the outside world is watching what is happening, and any state-sponsored confrontation of the masses would be met with dozens of youths, who support this rumbling revolutionary wave.
Here we find ourselves faced with two opposing arguments: there is the logic of the state, whether it is democratic or autocratic, and the logic of the "street". The state was, and still is, the primary custodian of stability and order, and if it is overthrown by revolutionary slogans, or indeed any slogans, then the idea of civil coexistence would find itself overwhelmed by those who want revenge or to settle scores, or who possess ideals regarding a pure utopian state that is free from sin. The problem with the idea of the "street" is that this entity has no face or name, and transferring power to such an entity would be tantamount to taking a shot in the dark, and this explains the current chaos in the region. Intellectuals, or writers, can choose not to support this regime, or that regime, but when they bless the "street" they are presenting it with absolute authority which is no less ethically dangerous than the power wielded by a totalitarian regime or an individual dictator. In addition to this, some intellectuals are seeking to brand any opinion that disagrees with the street as a justification for the tyranny of their rule, and in doing so, these intellectuals themselves are practicing tyranny and rhetorical violence against those who peacefully hold counter viewpoints.
There is great danger in justifying the existence of a state of statelessness, or prolonging a state of revolution, as my colleague Mshari Al-Zaydi wrote. He said that in such a state revolutions continue "every day but under a new title, and with new victims falling prey to anger." The Egyptian playwright Ali Salem also warned - in an article for Asharq Al-Awsat - against "the abolition of the state" or even some of its institutes, under the pretext of cleaning up the [political] system. The scenes of chaos which countries such as Egypt witnessed following the handover of power to the military council are unjustifiable and unacceptable. How can state institutions be violated, and government documents be seized by anonymous people, who use the street to impose their will? How can anybody justify the speech given by new Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf at Tahrir Square, when he said "you have completed your lesser jihad, and now you are facing the greater jihad of restoring Egypt"? What jihad is this prime minister, who was appointed by military decree following the departure of a president and the suspension of the constitution, talking about?

The "street" is not a source of legitimacy, because it only represents the wishes of those who participate, whether they are model citizens, or thieves, and also the state, as a civil regime, cannot compete with the noisy street. As for those intellectuals who seek to ride the wave of the revolution by building a rapport with the Arab street or even the "virtual [Arab] street", they must remember that it was the Arab republics that first raised the slogan: "with the blessing of the street". For decades this slogan was a means for authoritarian regimes to enact "populist" policies, and it stood as an obstacle to the achievement of a genuine civil (secular) state, reconciled with itself, and the outside world.
There is a big difference between state reform, and resorting to the street. The first seeks to build a state, whilst the second seeks to overcome it. Here we can say: "The revolutionaries do not create the revolution, but rather they search for the rising force on the street, and then they seize upon it".

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The U.S. Should Keep Out Of Libya

Gadhafi might survive the current civil war. But the U.S. does not need the burden of another vaguely defined intervention in a country where American interests are less than vital.
By Richard N. Haas
This commentary was published in The Wall Street Journal on 08/03/2011
A good many people across the political spectrum—including some members of the Obama administration—are pressuring the president to intervene militarily in Libya. Much of the commentary has focused on establishing a no-fly zone, but there have been calls as well for enforcing a no-drive zone, or for arming or otherwise assisting regime opponents.
Those making this case appeal to a mixture of morality and realpolitik. They argue that by intervening we will prevent the slaughter of innocents and at the same time demonstrate our willingness to make good on expressions of support for freedom and security.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has taken the opposite position. Testifying before Congress last week, Mr. Gates pointed out that the first step in establishing a no-fly zone that would ground Libyan aircraft and helicopters would be to suppress Libyan air defenses that could threaten U.S. or allied aircraft. This would entail attacking selected targets. In other words, to establish a no-fly zone would be to go to war.
Mr. Gates was and is correct in reminding people of what implementing a no-fly zone would actually mean. But the reasons for questioning the wisdom of establishing such a zone, or taking other military action, go well beyond his warnings.
To begin with, there is no reason to believe a no-fly zone would be decisive. In fact, we have every reason to believe it would not be, given that aircraft and helicopters are not central to the regime's military advantages. The regime could defeat the opposition without resorting to attack planes and helicopter gunships simply by exploiting its advantages in terms of foot soldiers and light arms.
What about other military steps outsiders could take? To impose a no-drive zone—which would aim to limit the government's ability to use tanks and armored personnel carriers—would require far more extensive military force than a no-fly zone. And even if it were implemented, no number of Western aircraft on patrol could stop the movement of every military vehicle. The only way to level the battlefield would be to put trainers, advisers and special forces on the ground.
There are political reasons to question the wisdom of the U.S. becoming a protagonist in Libya's civil war. It is one thing to acknowledge Moammar Gadhafi as a ruthless despot, which he has demonstrated himself to be. But doing so does not establish the democratic bona fides of those who oppose him. And even if some of those opposing him are genuine democrats, there is no reason to assume that helping to remove the regime would result in the ascendancy of such people.
To the contrary. Removing Gadhafi and those around him could easily set in motion a chain of events in which a different strongman, with the backing of a different tribe, took over. Or it could create a situation in which radical Islamists gain the upper hand. Either way, significant areas of the country would be beyond any government control, creating vacuums exploitable by al Qaeda and similar groups.
The wisdom of arming regime opponents is questionable for the same reason. Pre-9/11 Afghanistan offers something of an object lesson here, as the U.S. armed individuals and groups to defeat the regime backed by the Soviet Union. This policy worked in realizing its immediate goal, but in the years that followed it empowered individuals and groups who carried out an agenda hostile to U.S. interests. Arms transferred become arms over which control is forfeited.
There are many reasons to avoid making Libya the center of U.S. concerns in the region. Libya is far from the most important country in the Middle East—both in terms of political influence and its impact on the oil market. American policy makers would be wiser to focus on what they can do to see that Egypt's transition proceeds smoothly, that Saudi Arabia remains stable, and that Iran does not.
Intervening militarily in Libya would be a potentially costly distraction for the U.S. military. It is already overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing it needs is another vaguely defined intervention in a place where U.S. interests are less than vital.
To say that U.S. interests in Libya are less than vital is not to argue for doing nothing, but rather for making sure that the actions we take are commensurate with the stakes. In the case of Libya, asset freezes, arms embargoes, threatened prosecutions for war crimes, and the creation of humanitarian safe harbors inside the country or just across its borders would be appropriate.
Under this set of policies, Gadhafi could well survive the current challenge—regimes that are willing and able to attack domestic opponents often do. But, over time, such policies would weaken the regime while strengthening the opposition.
Such an approach will not be enough for some. But it does have the advantage of being consistent with the scale of U.S. interests in Libya and what can realistically be done to promote them
Mr. Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Arab World Isn't Clamouring For Our Help

By Anne Applebaum
This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 08/03/2011
I'm listening hard, but I just can't hear the "voices around the world" that my colleague Charles Krauthammer said last week are "calling for U.S. intervention to help bring down Moammar Gaddafi." It's true that John Bolton, former U.N. ambassador and present Fox News employee, has declared that "strong American words (and actions) were amply warranted" in Libya. It's also true that a clutch of American politicians and writers have come out in favor of a similarly muscular response as well. 
But outside America's borders, all is silent. Certainly nobody in the Arab world is clamoring for American military intervention, or indeed any American intervention: Egyptian democrats are even wary of taking our development money. ("Help from America can be misunderstood," one would-be Egyptian politician delicately explained to The Post a few days ago.) 
Nobody in Asia and nobody in Europe is calling for the Marines to be sent back to the shores of Tripoli either. The French, feeling guilty for having failed to support (or even foresee) the revolution in Tunisia, have sent humanitarian aid to Benghazi - but have simultaneously argued against military involvement. The British have already bungled their first solo attempt to see what could be done. On Saturday, a British special forces team and an MI6 intelligence officer touched down near Benghazi, intending simply to make contact with the rebels. They were promptly arrested, handcuffed, interrogated and sent out of the country. The last thing the rebels want, apparently, is the stigma of contact with foreigners. 
Why the Arab anxiety about American and Western help? Why the reluctance among our allies? The answer can be summed up in a single word: Iraq. Far from setting "an example for the entire region," as Krauthammer put it, Iraq serves as a dire warning: Beware, for this could be the fate of your country. When the U.S. Army entered Iraq, we knew nothing about the Iraqi opposition, except what we'd heard from a couple of exiles. Our soldiers didn't speak Arabic and hadn't been told what to do once they got to Baghdad. Chaos followed incompetence, which begat violence: Tens of thousands of people died in an eight-year civil war. Although a fragile democracy has emerged, this isn't an example anyone, anywhere, wants to follow. 
It's not hard to understand why Libyans and others might fear a repeat performance. In truth, the time to contact the Libyan opposition was a year ago - or five years ago - back when Tony Blair was shaking hands with Moammar Gaddafi inside desert tents and Western oil companies were going in to do business. But the British didn't. We didn't either. Now we don't even know who they are. Various colonels have emerged as "spokesmen" for the rebels - but for all of the rebels? Or just some of the rebels? News reports cite "secondhand reports through rebel networks" as sources; in other words, somebody told somebody else what's going on. As the failed British escapade shows, the spies don't know any better. 
We should enforce sanctions in Libya, offer humanitarian aid and put in place a no-fly zone, to be activated if the rebels really begin to lose. But at the moment, even if our military had unlimited funding - which it doesn't - the Pentagon is not equipped to launch democracy in Libya. That is a job for our underfunded international radio networks, especially the ones that broadcast in Arabic; for independent institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy; for groups that train judges and journalists. Unfortunately, we don't have the contacts such groups need. We should start making them now. 
It's nice to be on the right side of history, and I'm not surprised that George W. Bush's remaining supporters now feel good about the "freedom agenda" he sometimes advocated and sometimes forgot while in office. But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist. Let's not repeat past mistakes: Before sending in the 101st Airborne, we should find out what people on the ground want and need. Because right now, I don't hear them clamoring for us to come. They are afraid of what American "assistance" might do to their country.