Saturday, April 9, 2011

Arab Demand: Close Ties Among Palestinian

By Essa Bin Mohammed al-Zedjali
This commentary was published in The Arab News on 09/04/2011
Without doubt, camaraderie and close ties among the Palestinians will have a magical effect on their long-cherished goal, the cause of the century, if I may say so.
Solidarity in the ranks, ardent aspiration, close relations and deep sincerity for the cause will eventually lead to the dizzy days when the Palestinian flag will fly high in the skies. Palestine is indeed a dream state for innumerable youths, women, children and the elderly who have made great sacrifices for decades for its realization.
Decidedly, the recent revolutions across the Arab world have given a fillip to the Palestinian cause. Signs of a new dawn are visible on the Palestinian horizon, a dawn of fellowship and bonhomie among the Palestinian leaders which will certainly help further the Palestinian cause.
The winds of revolution sweeping across the Arab countries will serve as a catalyst for a solution to the Palestinian issue. The political scenario in the brotherly country of Egypt has come full circle, ushering in radical changes. Egypt is back on the right track thanks to the corrective measures initiated by the revolutionaries and symbolized by the "Blazing Square". It may be recalled that Egypt had contributed precious little to the Palestinian cause during the last regime.
The Palestinian cause has, as it were, snapped out of the hypnotic stranglehold with the ouster of the "guardian" of the American-Israeli policy in the Middle East. The "no action policy" aimed at keeping the status quo on the Palestinian issue and the political scene has been obliterated with one fell swoop of revolution.
The recent visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Gaza Strip was widely reported and rightly so. The visit was, no doubt, aimed at mending political fences with the Hamas leaders, something that augurs well for the Palestinian cause.
Close relationship between the Palestinian factions is the need of the hour and demand of all Arabs as it is bound to spoil the Israeli plot to create fissures among the Palestinian ranks and thus derail the Palestinian cause.
The statements of the Palestinian president have been supportive to the Palestinian reconciliation and national unity. His recent meeting in Ramallah with the kith and kin of the Palestinian captives who had gone on a hunger strike in the Israeli prisons has, no doubt, gone a long way toward reconciliation and national unity. Abbas said in a recent statement, published in Arabic papers, that without national reconciliation and unity there would be no real peace for the Palestinian people, no end to the occupation and no sovereign Palestinian state.
We are quite confident that the Hamas leaders too have a keen desire for reconciliation, especially in the wake of the recent changes in the Arab world. National unity is a key weapon for torpedoing the Israeli plans and a vital instrument for achieving freedom.
Whether it is the reign of President Obama or any other president, the US will not help find a solution to the Palestinian issue because it cares only for its own interests. The US, it may be noted, has adopted a totally different approach with regard to the popular movement in Libya in furtherance of its vested interests.
On the Palestinian issue, the US is clearly on the Israeli side, something which should be understood by all Arab countries. In the light of this total Israeli bias of the US and the drastic changes witnessed in the Arab world, it is imperative that the Arab countries rally behind the Palestinians fairly and squarely. The Palestinian cause needs the support of all the Palestinian people who have to unite and fight for their cause and achieve it, come what may.
The change we have seen in Egypt will, no doubt, pave the way for a more efficient way of dealing with the Palestinian issue. There would be no one in any Arab country who would approve of what had been going on during the regime that was ousted by the Egyptian revolution. History can never erase what the so-called leaders of the erstwhile regime did with regard to the Palestinian cause, and hopefully, they will be brought to the court of justice sooner or later.     
The present Egyptian leaders confirm that they have a new policy for dealing with the issue of Rafah crossing and the Palestinian cause in general. This was disclosed by Hamas leaders Dr. Mahmoud Al Zahar and Khalil Al Hayah after their visit to Egypt recently. Al Zahar said that they were given a number of promises which revealed the Egyptian government's stance on the Palestinian cause and on the issue of reconciliation among the Palestinians. "We have agreed on all points regarding Fatah and the Palestinian Authority", he affirmed.
Once again we stress the necessity of taking advantage of the current changes in the Arab world to further the Palestinian cause by adopting a whole new approach along with a real, sincere reconciliation among the Palestinian factions. We hope the coming days will witness key changes with regard to the Palestinian cause.
We also hope that all Palestinian leaders will come together under the umbrella of national unity and reconciliation and that a new prospect for the Palestinian cause will emerge in the coming days.

Bad Politics, Worse Prose

From suicidal astronauts to bestiality, you can learn a lot about what makes the world's worst tyrants tick from the terrible books they write.
By Suzanne Merkelson
This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 08/04/2011

Dictator: Muammar al-Qaddafi
Oeuvre: Hallucinogenic stream of consciousness 
When it comes to literary ventures, embattled Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is best known for his 1975 political treatise the Green Book, which lays out the foundation for Libya's jamahiriya system of government and is supposed to be required reading for all Libyans. But for those looking for additional insight into the dictator's mind, his follow-up publication, Escape to Hell, is the way to go -- if you can get past the incoherent stream-of-consciousness prose, described by one reviewer as "a lump of uneven, partially digested literary cud."
Escape to Hell is billed as a collection of short stories and essays, but most readers have found it lacking even the basic ingredients of plot or content. One of the most bizarre stories is called "The Astronaut's Suicide." It tells the story of an astronaut who returns to Earth from a long stay in space, finds he can't adjust to normal life, and kills himself. It's meant to be a children's book. Another piece titled "Stop Fasting When You See the New Moon" both praises and derides Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's proclamation about when Ramadan would occur for allied Islamic forces during the first Gulf War (a decision traditionally left to Islamic scholars).
Some themes do emerge from the mess. Qaddafi rages against urban decay and Islamic fundamentalism. Reviewers have noted how "environmentalism, tradition and enlightened interdependence are high on his list of virtues," especially in his yarns on the beauty of Bedouin life in the desert. He really does hate the city, though:
This is the city: a mill that grinds down its inhabitants, a nightmare to its builders. It forces you to change your appearance and replace your values; you take on an urban personality, which has no colour or taste to it.... The city forces you to hear the sounds of others whom you are not addressing. You are forced to inhale their very breaths.... Children are worse off than adults. They move from darkness to darkness.... Houses are not homes -- they are holes and caves...
Yesterday a young boy was run over in that street, where he was playing. Last year a speeding vehicle hit a little girl crossing the street, tearing her body apart. They gathered up her limbs in her mother's dress. Another child was kidnapped by professional criminals. After a few days, they released her in front of her home, after they had stolen one of her kidneys! Another boy was put into a cardboard box by the neighbourhood boys in a game, but was run over accidentally by a car.
No wonder he prefers staying in tents in the desert.
Dictator: Saddam Hussein
Oeuvre: Erotic allegorical fiction
While the United States was planning and executing an invasion of his country, Saddam Hussein spent the final weeks before the war working on a plot of his own -- a historical novel describing an ancient tribe repelling an attack from foreign invaders. It would have been the capstone in a remarkable literary career. Saddam's debut novel, Zabiba and the King, was published in 2000 and was followed by three more novels: The Fortified Castle (2001), Men and the City (2002), and Devil's Dance, the book supposedly completed just one day before the U.S. invasion and, smuggled out of Iraq by one of Saddam's daughters. The novels were popular in Iraq (though perhaps not by choice), and the last one has even been translated into Japanese.
Zabiba and the King, the first novel, was released anonymously, but critics quickly fingered Saddam (or, at least, his ghostwriters) as the probable author. It became a bestseller, with lavish praise from the Iraqi press. The Iraqi National Theater even produced a musical based on the novel, promoted as the country's "biggest production ever."
The novel is an allegorical love story, set in Arabian Nights-era Iraq, about a beautiful woman, Zabiba, who falls madly in love with a king named Arab and then teaches him about Islam and how to run a country. Zabiba's abusive husband is supposed to represent the predatory United States invading and pillaging an innocent Iraq. Not so coincidently, King Arab and his creator share the same birthplace, Tikrit.
Saddam's literary prowess is shadowed by his stilted prose, a fondness for profanity, and blatant attempts to use his political enemies as the central villains of his stories. According to the Guardian, the English translation contains repeated uses of the word "asshole" to describe the evil husband. It also features a bizarre bestiality sex scene:
Even an animal respects a man's desire, if it wants to copulate with him. Doesn't a female bear try to please a herdsman when she drags him into the mountains as it happens in the North of Iraq? She drags him into her den, so that he, obeying her desire, would copulate with her? Doesn't she bring him nuts, gathering them from the trees or picking them from the bushes? Doesn't she climb into the houses of farmers in order to steal some cheese, nuts and even raisins, so that she can feed the man and awake in him the desire to have her?
The book's English translator believes the bear is supposed to represent Russia.
Now, thanks to British satirist and actor Sacha Baron Cohen, of Borat fame, Hollywood will soon release an adaptation of Zabiba and the King, with Cohen in the role of King Arab. The Dictator is due out in May 2012, billed as "the heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed."
Saddam's writing career didn't end with the U.S. invasion. He continued to compose poetry from his Baghdad prison cell after he was sentenced to death. His poem "Unbind It" is believed to contain his last written words:
All people, we never let you down
And in catastrophes, our party is the leader.
I sacrifice my soul for you and for our nation
Blood is cheap in hard times
We never kneel or bend when attacking
But we even treat our enemy with honor…
Dictator: Kim Jong Il
Oeuvre: Revolutionary film criticism
If North Korean propaganda is to be believed, Dear Leader is the world's most prolific writer. Kim Jong Il claims to have written 1,500 books -- and that was just during his college years. Highlights include his 1974 On the Art of Opera: Talk to Creative Workers in the Field of Art and Literature, 1983's Let Us Advance Under the Banner of Marxism-Leninism and the Juche Idea, and Our Socialism Centered on the Masses Shall Not Perish, published in 1991. But the most well-known opus from this life-long film buff is probably On the Art of the Cinema, published in 1973 and available for $27.50 on
According to B.R. Myers, author of several books about North Korea, Kim's books aren't actually meant to be read. "This is not a country like China where citizens are expected to read and learn by heart a dictator's work," Myers says. "In North Korea, it's more about reading about the dictator's life. If you actually ask North Koreans about the content of Kim Jong Il's writings, they know very little and they get embarrassed about that."
On the Art of the Cinema calls for a "revolutionary transformation of the practice of directing." Tips include: "If the characters' behavior in a given situation is determined by the whim of the writer, and not by their own will and conviction, they will not seem like living people and will fail to arouse a genuine emotional response." Another of his books, The Cinema and Directing, describes, in the meandering, repetitive totalitarian-ese employed by Kim throughout his oeuvre, the connection between Juche and directing:
In film directing, the basic factor is also to work well with the artists, technicians and production and supply personnel who are directly involved in film-making. This is the essential requirement of the Juche-inspired system of directing. This system is our system of directing under which the director becomes the commander of the creative group and pushes ahead with creative work as a whole in a coordinated way, giving precedence to political work and putting the main emphasis on working with the people who make films. This system embodies the fundamental features of the socialist system and the basic principle of the Juche idea that man is the master of everything and decides everything. Hence, it fully conforms with the collective nature of film-making and the characteristic features of direction.
Kim Jong Il's books are written primarily to be showpieces for the regime, for display in libraries and museums. "When the regime really has something to say, it expresses it directly and concisely," Myers says. "When there's nothing much to say, that's when they slip into this boring, turgid style."
Dictator: Joseph Stalin
Oeuvre: Georgian pastoral odes
Before Joseph Stalin was known for murdering millions of his own people, the Soviet dictator was a locally famous Georgian poet who wrote flowery odes to nature and working-class heroes. Young Ioseb Dzhugashvili's work was considered good enough to be included in prestigious literary journals of the time and Georgian anthologies. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore's Young Stalin, the dictator's poems became minor Georgian classics even before he took power -- some were even unwittingly memorized by schoolchildren all the way up through the 1970s (Stalin typically published anonymously). His rhapsodic invocations of Georgia's rolling lush landscape, as in the poem "Morning," were beloved by nationalists and read as a rebuff to czarist repression:
The pinkish bud has opened,
Rushing to the pale-blue violet
And, stirred by a light breeze,
The lily of the valley has bent over the grass.
The lark has sung in the dark blue,
Flying higher than the clouds
And the sweet-sounding nightingale
Has sung a song to children from the bushes
Flower, oh my Georgia!
Let peace reign in my native land!
And may you, friends, make renowned
Our Motherland by study!
Stalin's poetry was fairly standard for early 19th century romantic poetry, as biographer Robert Service notes in Stalin: A Biography, if a little juvenile. "It wasn't very original," Service says. "I don't think it's very good, personally. It's very conventional, the imagery is very standardized and rather self-indulgent.… He's not one of the great poets."
Stalin largely gave up writing his own poetry after he took power, but he pursued his love of verse in other ways: In the 1940s, he translated and edited Georgian poetry into Russian, memorized poems by Nikolai Nekrasov and Alexander Pushkin, read translations of Goethe and Shakespeare, and could apparently recite Walt Whitman's work from memory. Supposedly, when Nobel Prize-winning poet and novelist Boris Pasternak was on a list of execution targets, Stalin said, "Leave that cloud-dweller in peace." "He had really romantic yearnings," says Service.
Stalin's poetry is not widely read today, a notable exception being among talented Georgian parrots.
Dictator: Saparmurat Niyazov
Oeuvre: Spiritual meditations
Some writers are their own worst critics. Not the late Turkmen autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov who reportedly instructed Turkmen youth that in order to go to heaven, they must read his book three times a day. "A person that reads Ruhnama becomes smart ... and after it, he will go to heaven," Niyazov, also known by the honorific title Turkmenbashi (Leader of All the Turkmen), told the country's young people at a concert celebrating a national spring holiday.
Over the course of his reign, which began after the dissolution of the Soviet empire and ended with his death in 2006, Niyazov established the kind of personality cult that turned Turkmenistan into, in the words of the New Yorker's David Remnick, "a cruel blend of Kim Jong Il's North Korea and Frank L. Baum's Oz." During Niyazov's reign, Turkmen doctors had to take an oath to Turkmenbashi, the first month of the year was redubbed Turkmenbashi, and most books were banned from stores and schools. But not Ruhnama, a 400-page collection of Niyazov's thoughts on Turkmen identity, philosophy, and history, which was "written with the help of inspiration sent to my heart by the God who created this wonderful universe."
According to Ruhnama, "the Turkmen people has a great history which goes back to the Prophet Noah":
Allah made the Turkmens prolific and their numbers greatly increased. God gave them two special qualities: spiritual richness and courage. As a light for their road, God also strengthened their spiritual and mental capacity with the ability to recognize the realities behind events. After that He gave His servants the following general name: TURK IMAN. Turk means core, iman means light. Therefore, TURK IMAN, namely Turkmen means "made from light, whose essence is light." The Turkmen name came to the world in this way.
"However peculiar the results may be, the rationale arose from reality," says Fred Starr, a professor at Johns Hopkins's School of Advanced International Studies and chairman of the Central-Asia Caucasus Institute. "I think [Turkmenistan's leaders] felt that things were really coming apart in a dangerous situation and they needed anything that could rally the country together. This text was what the president himself designated as an instrument for doing that."
At the height of Niyazov's reign, Ruhnama was everywhere: in schools, in government offices, and on state-run television, which was once devoted exclusively to promoting his work. The month of September was even renamed Ruhnama.
Today, the book no longer has the same grip on Turkmen society that it once did. New wealth, especially in the form of a natural gas pipeline to China, is providing the country with new rallying points. "It's being respectfully relegated to the past," Starr said. "There are still copies all over the place, but the country has moved on."
Dictator: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
Work: Persian mystical poetry
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini may have been a revolutionary leader, overthrowing the Pahlavi dynasty of Iran in 1979 and establishing an Islamic Republic with himself as supreme leader. But he was also a poet, inspired by centuries of Persian poetry like that written by famous Sufi mystic poets such as Rumi, who composed allegorical love poems notable for their use of music, dance, and even alcohol (despite it being banned by Muslim law) to express the rapture and hunger associated with both romantic and religious love.
This is just one of the reasons that "startling" is a word used more than once by critics describing Khomeini's work. Khomeini is, after all, the leader responsible for both the establishment of a theocratic regime dedicated to religious purity and calling for the assassination of writer Salman Rushdie for publishing a novel deemed offensive to Islam.
"For many, his poetry was a revelation," says journalist Baqer Moin. "Khomeini employed the customary symbolism, allusions, metonymy, and other literary tools and metaphors such as wine, love, beauty, beloved that one does not associate with an Ayatollah under whose rule the wine drinkers were flogged and the lovers punished."
But Khomeini's verse, such as this poem published first in English by the New Republic after his death, can seem surprisingly secular:
Open the door of the tavern and let us go there day and night,
For I am sick and tired of the mosque and seminary.
I have torn off the garb of asceticism and hypocrisy,
Putting on the cloak of the tavern-hunting shaykh and becoming aware.
The city preacher has so tormented me with his advice
That I have sought aid from the breath of the wine-drenched profligate.
Leave me alone to remember the idol-temple,
I who have been awakened by the hand of the tavern's idol.
Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic, was taken by both the poem's content and style. "Given what the West has thought of Khomeini, the lyricism of the poem and its radical, law-threatening mysticism are startling," he told the New York Times that same year. "The tyrant turns out to have been a religious intellectual in the fullest sense."
Khomeini deepened his interests in poetry and mysticism as a young man studying in the Shiite holy city of Qom. In the madrasa, other types of art like music and painting were forbidden. Poetry was not, and students, including Khomeini, used it as a way of dealing with the absence of other outlets for sensual expression in their lives.
During Khomeini's lifetime, his poetry was only known among a small circle of followers and friends. Grand ayatollahs are not supposed to be poets. According to Moin, the Quran "looks at poets as misguided, and Khomeini had problems with the traditionalist clergy in the 1940s who accused him of heresy because of his interest in teaching mysticism and writing about it."

Mideast Uprisings Show The Power Of The Weak

By David Ignatius from Cairo
This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 08/04/2011
The weak have a new power in the modern media age: Their suffering is visible to millions of well-intentioned people around the world who are likely to support humanitarian intervention to rescue them from their plight.
But there’s a dangerous corollary to this new power of the weak: It can lead disorganized groups to start fights with established authorities that they can’t finish — unless they are rescued by larger powers. In this sense, the media attention emboldens the very actions that can lead to slaughter and repression.
This paradoxical power of the weak is obvious today in Libya, where a ragtag, barely organized group of rebels challenged the entrenched power of the dictator, Moammar Gaddafi. The world (or at least, the portion of it that watches cable television) quickly rallied to the rebels’ cause. Their very helplessness was part of their attraction.
The impulse to help the embattled Libyan rebels preceded any serious analysis of their leadership and intentions. The images of their plight also trumped an assessment of whether the rebels could win, or how they would govern if, somehow, they did succeed. Reversing the normal order of priorities, Western intelligence agencies are struggling to assess who these people are, after the United Nations, the Arab League and NATO have decided to help them.
It may seem heartless to question the logic of humanitarian intervention, especially in the moment when disaster seems imminent. But it’s useful to have some benchmarks — and to understand the subtle reverse leverage that is at work here. Otherwise, policy will inevitably be driven by the images of defenseless people who have taken up arms against the evil regime.
I first saw the power of the weak in action in Lebanon during the early 1980s. Despite overwhelmingly superior firepower, the Israelis were unable to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization from Beirut in 1982. A major reason was that the conflict was televised. To pry the Palestinians loose, the Israelis would have had to use a level of force and physical intimidation that would have horrified the world.
The Israelis’ problem, as I wrote at the time, was that their media wires got crossed: The Palestinians watching concluded that the Israelis, despite their modern army, were less threatening than they appeared. The rest of the world concluded that with their overwhelming firepower, the Israelis were bullies. That problem of mixed messaging has persisted for Israel ever since.
Lebanese militias also used the power of the weak: The Christian militia known as the Phalange started a civil war in 1975 that it couldn’t win, expecting that France and other former colonial powers (plus the United States) would come to its rescue. In the end it was Syria that led a so-called Arab Deterrent Force to maintain the status quo, and the civil war ground on for another 15 years.
The power of the weak was demonstrated by the Muslims of Bosnia, who declared independence from the Serbian-led Yugoslavia in 1992, despite overwhelming Serbian military power. Their cause was appealing (as was that of the Lebanese Christians, the Palestinians and, more recently, the Libyans). The problem was that they couldn’t win on their own. So the world watched heart-rending images of the destruction of Sarajevo; it was the gruesome massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995 that finally brought decisive international intervention to stop the war.
Weakness was strength, too, for Kosovo in its 1999 campaign for independence from Serbia. The plucky Kosovars were lucky, too, in battling an unpopular foe, Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. The Kosovars would have been savaged had they continued to fight on their own. But NATO intervened with a three-month bombing campaign to support the breakaway province, and Milosevic capitulated in June 1999.
Back to Libya: The more we know about the chaotic rebel movement there, the less attractive an outright rebel victory seems. A better Libya is probably one where Gaddafi is replaced by a coalition government that includes both the rebels and “reconcilable” figures from the old regime who have broken from the dictator. Could this outcome have been achieved without military intervention? That’s a question worth pondering.
Here’s the troubling conclusion: If you want to maintain a dictatorial regime, break the opposition in private torture chambers, not on the streets. Intimidate or block media coverage; police the Internet to prevent dissemination of images that will shock the conscience of the world. That’s a cynical strategy, but it seems to work. Just look at Iran.

An Israeli Initiative Worth Watching

By Rami G. Khouri
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 09/04/2011
The historic transformations under way in many Arab countries have temporarily overshadowed other major regional issues. Well, this period seems to be coming to an end, forcing us all to refocus on understanding the hard reality that we can no longer isolate a single issue or conflict in the Middle East – Palestine-Israel, Iran, democratization, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, terrorism, Anglo-American invaders, corruption, take your pick – and address it on its own. The thick web of inter-linked issues, players and interests means that restoring stability, security and sustained development to the Middle East forces us to deal with underlying causes of tensions.
This week we have been reminded with a jolt that the oldest and most destabilizing issue in the region is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Much as some people would like for it to go away, it will not. It keeps rearing its head and demanding that we seek a just and realistic resolution.
The jolt this week has been the escalating attacks across the Israel-Gaza border. This is no surprise, given the determination of both sides to fight and kill for what they believe is their right to self-defense. The limited attacks, following on from the recent bombing of a West Jerusalem bus station, could easily spiral out of control into a renewed war. So it was fascinating that this week also saw the release of a new Israeli peace initiative by a group headed by prominent former Israeli political and security officials and private-sector leaders. They warned that Israel would become more vulnerable with time if no serious effort was made to resolve the conflict. Among the promoters of the initiative are Jacob Perry, former director of the Shin Bet internal security service; former Mossad head Danny Yatom; and former armed forces chief of staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak.
The plan has positive and negative elements, and all concerned in the region and abroad would do well to assess it carefully in order to build on the positive and ameliorate the negative. The positive elements of the plan could provide important building blocks for a wider national or official policy by Israelis, if public opinion and political circles support it. The positives are that the initiative calls on Israel to accept the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as a framework for starting negotiations. The Israeli group seems to accept that peace requires a full return of Israeli-occupied Arab lands (with relevant land swaps) in exchange for a full peace. The initiative also shows that serious, trusted national figures in Israel are willing to initiate diplomatic approaches that differ from the right-wing government now in power; and, it recognizes that Israel must make a serious effort to work for a comprehensive peace agreement that acknowledges prevailing Arab and international principles, rather than demanding peace accords that respond primarily to narrow Israeli security concerns.
As Perry correctly said a few days ago, “Israel no longer has the privilege of sitting around doing nothing.”
The main but deep weakness of the initiative – reflecting long-standing distortions in Israeli and American approaches to resolving this conflict – is that it embraces the importance of resolving the core, existential need of Israelis for official Arab recognition and security guarantees; however, it refuses to apply the same standard of seriousness or intensity in addressing the core, existential need of the Palestinians to have their refugee status acknowledge and redressed in accordance with prevailing international legal norms. The initiative is also a private one by individuals out of power, and thus carries fascinating political symbolism but no real weight, as of now.
Many Israelis honest enough to deal with the world as it is must appreciate that a more democratic Arab world where governments actually reflect public opinion will provide more diplomatic and material support for the Palestinians. Therefore, time is not on Israel’s side. The Israelis are also, rightly, worried that they and their policies are being subjected to an international campaign of delegitimization, while Palestinians are seeking and receiving more international support for United Nations recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state this coming autumn at the annual General Assembly in New York. Israel’s best defense is probably a strong offense.
While the Israeli government moves society towards a militaristic, quasi-racist, neo-colonialist policy, it is refreshing to see some influential Israelis propose more sensible and realistic diplomatic objectives. The Israeli peace initiative offers novel kernels of hope amid long-standing fistfuls of Zionist intemperance. It would be a productive investment by Arabs, Americans, Europeans and others to explore whether the hope can be expanded into a meaningful national policy by Israel. The Arabs have been waiting since 2002 for a reasonable response to their offer to coexist with Israel once Israel in turn coexists with the legitimate national rights of the Palestinians.

Help Yemen Out Of Crisis

By Ahmed al-Jarallah
This commentary was published in The Arab Times on 09/04/2011

THE opposition continues to impede efforts to resolve the impasse in Yemen although it does not enjoy enough popular support to enforce conditions. In fact, pro-government protests every Friday affirm that President Ali Abdullah Saleh enjoys the support of a majority of citizens who gather in fields and squares to renew their allegiance. But it seems the opposition is determined to mess up everything in Yemen like in Egypt which has been destroyed by the minority’s dictatorship logic. The Yemeni opposition, which never agrees on a single position because all groups have different objectives, should join President Ali Saleh on the roundtable for a dialogue, if it really wants to avoid a civil war. The president, since the beginning of the demonstrations, has announced his readiness to step down and hand over power to safe hands in line with the Yemeni constitution and in a peaceful manner.

However, the so-called opposition has rejected the offer and instead demanded his immediate ouster without presenting any acceptable alternative. Nobody understands this position, unless it means toeing the path of Houthis who have plans to establish a petty country as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon. They want to do what Hassan Nasrallah is doing in his country right now and control entire Yemen. The Yemeni opposition should realize the level of volcanic eruption that a single action will lead to in the region, precisely the damage it will cause to the internal security of the Arabian Gulf, including Yemen.

The GCC countries initiated a solution to resolve the impasse, but they should realize that it is impossible for the president to abandon majority supporters to satisfy the wishes of the minority. If GCC countries had taken a similar position on Bahrain, it would have amounted to submission to the whims of the minority under Iranian tutelage. They would have consequently urged King Hamad Bin Essa Al-Khalifa to step down to satisfy the minority. Therefore, the GCC should now stand by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in the same way they did with Bahrain. This is especially important since the entire world, except Iran which is planning to exploit the situation, understands the position of the man who abhors tension in his country. Even the US, which has announced many positions with a series of interpretations, did not ask President Saleh to step down immediately like it did to Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, who boarded his private jet and left Tunisia embroiled in crises.

The Yemeni opposition, which has rejected all solutions despite not being in a position to enforce its conditions, should first agree on who will represent them and speak on their behalf. Will the representatives be Houthis, Joint Forum, Southern Movement or even the devil? Will arbiters come from those groups or will they allow Yemenis to freely choose in line with their constitution?

The situation in Yemen defies explanations other than pushing the country towards a crisis and the absence of a legitimate leadership rather than determination for change. The situation is extremely dangerous. If the GCC countries leave it in this situation, the region will be bounded by another Lebanon ruled by someone worse than Hassan Nasrallah and with a different agenda. Egypt is a good example to prove the point, because the country has not settled down after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak and Egyptians have still not agreed on any particular leader.

The “Arab Spring” And The Palestinian Cause

By Raghida Dergham from New York
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 08/04/2011
While the U.S. President Barack Obama may want to dedicate his time to domestic affairs, in order to secure a second term in the White House, he must prepare himself for foreign policy issues intruding into his reelection campaign, especially Middle Eastern issues. This is because the “Arab Spring” may soon be followed by summer, autumn and winter, before it becomes clear whether it will blossom in the manner envisaged by Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution.

Today, there are fears in Tunisia of possible economic shakedowns and political turmoil. In Egypt, meanwhile, there are significant signs, seen through electoral victories, of forthcoming gains for Islamists, as well as in terms of the strategic choices made by the Egyptian transitional government. This is exemplified, for instance, by current rapprochement with Iran and backtracking from the moderate camp, which had brought together Egypt and Saudi Arabia alongside the United States.

Nevertheless, these future challenges, in places where the revolutions of change took place without a prohibitive cost, seem nearly benign when compared to the challenges posed by Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, and also by the growing conflict between Iran and the GCC countries. Meanwhile, Iraq is a wellspring of challenges of a different kind, a kind that Lebanon promises to be a spawning ground for. Then there is the issue of Israel, in light of the changes to the Arab geopolitical map and the emerging new order in the region. While the Arabs today seem to be distracted away from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this issue will return, and will pose a multitude of challenges for the U.S. administration, should the latter not seize the current window of opportunity to alter its policies.

This will be no easy matter for Barack Obama, in the midst of his bid for reelection. Nonetheless, it is necessary for him to afford it attention, lest he be forced to reckon with events only after the fact. The policy of patching things up will inevitably only cause complete rupture at some point, while catching up with developments can be no alternative to proactively taking initiatives, which is direly necessary for the United States to do at this crucial time.

The Libyan case is at the forefront of concerns as regards the American media. However, this has started to falter and recede considerably. Meanwhile, there is talk behind the scenes of arrangements for the departure of Gaddafi’s family, and on the other hand, there is the letter sent by Muammar Gaddafi to Barack Obama, in which he describes the latter as “our son”, and wishes for him to accept a deal that would keep Gaddafi in power.

Clearly, there is also regression in terms of achievements on the battlefield by the revolutionary forces, who are now blaming NATO for some of their failures. But the revolutionaries are right: NATO’s promises were indeed exaggerated to the extent of being misleading. There is also the fact that the timing of suspending NATO’s military operations has helped Gaddafi’s forces make gains on the ground. Thus the outcome was at the expense of the Libyan people first, and at the expense of the opposition and the revolutionaries second.

This coincided with the defection of Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister and the regime’s “black box” for decades, Moussa Koussa, who was received by British, French and American intelligence services. He was thus showered with guarantees of immunity, to entice him to give up everything he knows about the history of the regime that has managed to collectively subjugate two generations of the Libyan people, in addition to looting the country’s wealth.

A deal of this kind has been struck at the international level, for the purpose of intelligence gathering. This is despite the fact that the deal has been promoted as an effort to encourage further defection. In truth, Britain gathered in the past all the information the Gaddafi regime had on the Irish republican Army (IRA), in exchange for deals to legitimize the regime. Deals on the Lockerbie affair were also struck, by means of oil-related arrangements that favored the United States and financial reparations, which also gave further legitimacy to the regime. It is thus no wonder for Gaddafi and the men who took part in those deals to indulge in their excesses, believing that there is still a way to strike similar deals today.

The greatest fear is that some may encourage them to do so, inadvertently or purposely, through public statements, or behind-the-scenes promises, or even through reduced enthusiasm for settling matters on the battlefield, for fear that this would implicate the leaders of NATO further in the Libyan quagmire.

Indeed, political analysts close to government leaders in Washington, London and Paris have begun to speak in a tone of triumphalism, in the sense of having stopped a massacre in Benghazi. All of a sudden, the focus shifted to Benghazi alone – not on Libya’s future – as though Benghazi had from the start been the end of the line.

Worst of all is that there nearly seems to be reassurance by the idea of partitioning Libya, and in fact there are those who have begun to promote it. The danger of partitioning Libya resides certainly in the impression that would accompany such a move, which is reinforcing the prevailing belief that the United States’ long-term strategic policy is to partition Arab countries, from Sudan to Libya, and from Iraq to GCC countries. In fact, the United States is being accused of having taken the decision to partition the Arab countries, with a war as in Iraq, a referendum as in Sudan, insufficient support for the revolutionaries as in Libya, and sectarian strife as in Gulf countries and in Lebanon, as well as sheer negligence as in Yemen. Thus, the talk prevailing in the United States about living with the partition of Libya is dangerous at many levels.

Moreover, the partition of Libya would disillusion those who dreamt of revolution for the sake of reform, and will pave the way for al-Qaeda, which has a high-level organization in Libya. Partitioning Libya may also keep the Gaddafi regime – even if not Gaddafi himself or his children – in power. And then a culture of revenge would emerge.

It would be better for the Obama Administration to convey a clear message to Gaddafi and his family, one signifying that the achievements of his forces on the field are today his only window for a deal of safe departure. It is not at all logical for the Obama Administration to consider any other ideas, especially as the US President has stated that Muammar Gaddafi must leave. Meanwhile, it is unacceptable, logically, for deals of political inheritance to be struck for any of his sons, even during the transitional phase, because the crisis of political inheritance is what led to the revolution in Egypt, which resulted in toppling Hosni Mubarak’s family and keeping the regime’s military leaders.

Indeed, Egypt seems like a case study in US betrayal of its allies and friends, when the need for this arises. This is a historical process that has its effects and its drawbacks. What matters is that Egypt seems to be on the verge of a radical change in its regional strategy, perhaps towards protecting itself from any possible surprises. This means it may very well discount itself from the regional mass confronting Iran.

This is something the Obama Administration should pay heed to, especially at a time when the tension between Iran and the GCC states is growing ever more acute. The direct reason for this is Iran’s interference in Bahrain, as the Iraq war ceded tremendous influence for Iran in Iraq, and after international silence reigned as regards Iran’s de facto military base in Lebanon.

Iran, on the one hand, behaves today with even more overconfidence, because it feels that it is above being held to account through UN resolutions, which are not being enacted out of fear that this would increase the space of the clash with the Islamic Republic. And on the other, Iran is also behaving nervously, out of fear that the Arab popular faith in change might extend into its territories. Iran is taking a risk by feeding sectarian strife in GCC states, as it seeks to sow the seeds of division in some of these countries. It is doing all this while building its nuclear capabilities, ignoring the carrot and the stick offered to Iran by the major powers.

From the point of view of the GCC states, the battle is a fateful one. It is fateful not just because Iran now nearly controls Iraq in the wake of the American war there, but also because Iran’s tentacles stretch across Bahrain and Yemen – sometimes in coordination with Al-Qaeda – with the aim of besieging the remaining GCC states. It is a sectarian battle from one perspective, but it is a battle for survival at its core. The Barack Obama Administration must thus make a decision and choose a side in this battle, because the prevailing impression is that this administration abandons its friends and leaves them in the same bed with Iran.

Certainly, Iran still requires immediate and profound attention, no matter how much the world becomes preoccupied with Libya today or Yemen tomorrow. In fact, the coming preoccupation with Yemen certainly requires closely examining the role played by Iran there –in particular with al-Qaeda.

What the situation in Yemen requires is not for the international community – and in particular the United States – to come to terms with fast-developing events there after the fact. Instead, what is required is putting forward a road-map for everyone involved through a comprehensive, clearly stated strategy, in the face of confusion. The ticking time-bomb in Yemen would otherwise explode in the face of many players and bystanders, and its beneficiaries may well be the advocates of extremism, military solutions and suppression of reform and state-building ideals brought by the “Arab Spring”.

Yet it is not too late for cautious optimism. The overwhelming desire among the Arab youths is to speak in terms of jobs, social security and education, and of aspiring to a safe future. Some prefer not to use the terms “moderation” and “moderate” at this stage, but would rather call it the change of the “enlightened”. Regardless of terminology, the hopes of the new generation must not be done away with amidst narrow political considerations. And this is where the issue of Israel comes in.

Those who say that the Palestinian Cause is not at the forefront of Arab priorities at this juncture may be right, but this does not negate the fact that tomorrow may bring explosive feelings that are never in the interest of the coexistence sought-after. Indeed, the fire still burns under the embers and those who assume that the fire has been put out are only deceiving themselves.

It is therefore necessary for the Obama Administration to grant the utmost importance and support to the non-governmental Israeli initiative, which is the first comprehensive Israeli proposal on the issue of peace. In truth, the Arab Peace Initiative had remained on the shelf for years, essentially because it was not promoted at the Arab level and because the US, both in the government and in the media, refused to acknowledge and recognize it.

Today, there is an Israeli initiative for peace in the Middle East, announced by more than 40 major political, military and cultural figures in Israel, and which is tantamount to a positive response to the Arab Peace Initiative. Among those who have signed it are two former heads of the Shin Bet, the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, the former head of Mossad, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s son, and the former chief of the Labor Party. What they are saying is that the Palestinian state must be established on the basis of Israel’s withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied in 1967, with land-swaps, and East Jerusalem as its capital while the situation of Palestinian refugees must be resolved with reparations or return to the state of Palestine, with the exception of a few cases who would be allowed to return to Israel. The details of the initiative are important, yet what is more important is that there is an Israeli proposal for the first time under the title of the Israel Peace Initiative. This deserves some encouragement and enthusiasm on the part of the Barack Obama Administration, instead of entrusting the peace process to the man who has made of the very process an end in itself, i.e. Dennis Ross, whom Obama appointed to be in charge of the Middle Eastern issue.

So before the events of the Middle East intrude into Barack Obama’s campaign for the White house, it would be useful for him, for the United States, and for the world to be well-prepared with a strategy of initiative that preempts possible infringement by these issues.

Falling Into Ahmadinejad's Trap

By Abdul Rahman al-Rashid
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 09/04/2011

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not lying when he predicted that the price of a barrel of oil would rise to one hundred and fifty dollars. Indeed the market has already recorded a new record high, with prices reaching one hundred and twenty dollars per barrel. This followed Ahmadinejad's condemnation of the Gulf States and the Bahraini government, in which he warned of the consequences of what he called the "Saudi- UAE invasion of Bahrain" and put himself forward as the defender of Bahrain's Shiites.
Iran's economic situation is deplorable, due to declining government revenues and the adoption of a harsh austerity policy - in order for Iran to complete its nuclear project - which comes at the expense of citizens' living standards. Therefore raising the price of oil would bring additional financial gain [to Iran]. On top of this, Ahmadinejad's game of threats has been uncovered, thanks to Bahrain and the Gulf states, which entered into a public confrontation with Iran and raised the level of tension between the two sides to the highest levels for more than twenty-five years.
More important than money, for Ahmadinejad, is the political surge from Shiites in the Middle East. The crisis in Bahrain, along with Ahmadinejad's condemnation of the Gulf States, has granted him unprecedented popularity amongst Iran's own Shiite community, not to mention the Arab Shiites in general. Ahmadinejad has appeared as a savior to the Arab Shiites, somebody to rescue them from the clutches of the Sunnis, who were being portrayed as barbarians setting upon the Bahraini Shiites camped in Pearl Square, committing terrible massacres against them which were ignored by the international community.
A few weeks ago Ahmadinejad faced a renewed popular uprising in Tehran, prompting him to exploit the world's preoccupation with the revolution in Egypt to besiege his enemies [Grand Ayatollah] Montazeri and [Mir Hossein] Moussavi in Tehran. Public anger was growing against him after he lifted subsidies on vital goods, and raised the price of diesel and gasoline, which increased the misery of ordinary Iranians.
Thus Ahmadinejad switched strategy and abandoned his former slogans; such as the threat of Israel, his pan-Arab discourse, and victory in the interests of Islamic groups, both Sunni and Shiite. He decided instead to ride the wave of sectarianism and announce his defense for the Arab Shiites, particularly those in Bahrain.
His stock increased among the Gulf Shiites and the Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon, as he portrayed himself as the protector of Shiites. Ahmadinejad claimed he no longer wanted to lead the pan-Arabs, or defend them, specifically the Sunnis and groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, and did not return to his constant discourse of confronting Israel, which usually gains the support of most Sunnis. Ahmadinejad, like others, has noted that the Arab revolutions had produced a sectarian discourse in Bahrain and Syria, and it seems that the Iranian president – who is besieged in his own country – has realized that he can exploit this for his own benefit. Thus, he adopted a sectarian Shiite discourse. His affiliates in other Shiite leaderships, like Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah have noted this new strategy and have raised their threatening rhetoric. It seems that the Gulf States were provoked by this, thereby falling into Ahmadinejad's trap by responding to this discourse, and widening the debate and controversy, which is exactly what he hoped for. This has increased his domestic popularity for the first time since the elections, which he won by fraud. I expect Ahmadinejad's propaganda campaign to intensify in the coming days because he is aware of its value in the present environment, regardless of the negative consequences this has on the Bahraini [political] opposition, or Iran's relations with the Gulf States. The main concern for the [Iranian] president at this point, is to gain popularity among the Iranians, and to a lesser extent among the Arabs Shiites.
Ahmadinejad is detested by a large group of Iranian citizens, and most of them are Shiite, and is extremely hated by most of the Iranian political leadership who came to power with the founder of the Iranian Revolution thirty years ago. Therefore it is only natural that he would try to exploit this situation and ride the wave of sectarianism to break from his [political] isolation, and avoid the dangers of the revolutions burning close by.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Beware Men Of Power Who Turn To Writing Books

By Robert Fisk
This commentary was published in The Independent on 09/04/2011
Lebanon is a great place to pick up the linguistic ticks of the region's – hopefully still falling – dictators.
And I owe it to Alexandre Najjar to raise in the literary section of the French-language L'Orient Le Jour the weird parallels between Gaddafi's novels and short stories and some of his latest ravings. Saddam wrote the execrable Zabiba and the King. Old Syrian General Mustapha Tlass wrote about 40, some close to being anti-Semitic, along with a deeply embarrassing set of poems for Gina Lollobrigida. They write books, these guys, you know.
But back in the 1990s, Gaddafi – and you can forget his weird Green Book – came out with a series of stories which were later translated into French. Bound as a single volume, they were entitled – hold your breath, folks – Escape to Hell, Death, the City, the Village, the Land, the Suicide of the Cosmonaut, the 'Backward' People, and Others Stories from a writer called Muammar Gaddafi.
Well, I did warn you. And if you think the Green Book is lunatic, these stories are raving. At one point Gaddafi tells his readers: "Come then, let's come to the collapse of Christianity when the people realised that they were being lied to by the people who had told them that Christ was crucified for their sins... It was trusting in this belief, that the Christian states have massacred millions of people in the world and Christ pardoned them in advance!!" Christ's crucifixion was a historic lie, Gaddafi decided.
But it gets better. In "The City" and "The Village", the good colonel decries city life and urges his people to return to their roots. "The city is a hell, not a place of happiness. The city is the graveyard of all social life ... a grinder to destroy its inhabitants" – which is pretty much what his army is now trying to do to Misrata, Ajdabiya and all places east. "Flee the city ... The city-dweller has no name, no first name, no hope of improvement. His first name is the number of his apartment. It's the number of his telephone." And so on, and on. Gaddafi doesn't like cities, does he? That's why likes to live in a tribal tent. "Don't kill the land," he adds, "because then you will kill yourself."
In "The Cosmonaut", it gets even weirder, when our favourite author imagines a space traveller meeting a peasant and then committing suicide "because there is no work for him on earth". As Alexandre Najjar cruelly points out, Gaddafi then asks "a highly philosophical question". He asks if death is male or female. He waffles on, too, about the father of the prophet Joseph, about the Haj pilgrimage and Friday prayers and communism – which he concludes is not dead "because it was never born". The Russian revolution of 1917 was merely a copy of the 1789 French revolution. "Lenin and Stalin were only disciples of Robespierre and Danton."
But wait, there are two passages that cast a dark cloud over his attempts to kill the February revolution in Libya. "Refuse to turn your children into rats who go from madhouse to madhouse ... from gutter to gutter." This is the same man who called the insurgents rats who would be sought out alleyway by alleyway and house to house and room by room a few days ago. At the end of this extraordinary volume, Gaddafi raves on that "the hour of action has sounded" – precisely the same words he used in his crazed address when reading in Tripoli from the Green Book.
So don't say we weren't warned. Force is irresistible, he announces. "I love crowds like I love my own father." These stories are studied with quotations from the Koran, suggesting that the thoughts of the Prophet might be compared to the thoughts of the Libyan "Guide". In Lebanon's An Nahar newspaper, a Libyan even dared to compare Gaddafi to the great Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran. Fortunately, a living Lebanese poet, Charles Chehwan, wrote a sulphurous reply in which he described Gaddafi an "an illiterate Bedouin obsessed with ecology". But a warning note here. I fear that Arabs love a leader who wins. As a well-known politician text-messaged me this week, "Robert, I am amazed by the brigades of Kadafi [sic]. They look stronger than the Afrika Korps."
The Gaddafi volumes were originally published by a former French ambassador to Libya. Did he read them, I wonder? Did Lord Blair of Isfahan carry any briefing papers on his infamous visit to Tripoli, suggesting that Gaddafi was not eccentric but absolutely dotty and advising him to read some of this nonsense? Actually, Blair went a bit dotty in the end but at least he blessed us with only one book (so far, I fear).
And who, I ask myself, was it in the early 1920s who published a volume in German which many people laughed at and thought both boring and mad? By their books, I suppose, thou shalt know them.

No Moral Consistency In Obama's Middle East Policy

Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and now Libya. In the last decade the U.S. military has fought Muslims across the Middle East (Iraq and Libya) and South Asia (Afghanistan and Pakistan) for a number of reasons: national security, protection of vital interests such as oil supply, and humanitarian crises. Though our recent foray into Libya can be considered more nuanced than our earlier interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, our poorly defined words and actions have called into question our intent, with a mistrust of U.S. policy becoming a worldwide issue. In Libya, the U.S. lead role in the military intervention has proven that its advertised intentions and actions clash with reality on the ground.

The Arab world is desperately trying to shed its tyrants. Tunisia and Egypt have taken steps toward more democratic governments after the overthrow of their autocratic rulers. Bahrain and Yemen are in revolt, but help from the rest of the world has been scarce. Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has substantial agreements with the United States. In Yemen, the presence of an active al-Qaeda wing creates fears of any further instability. But in Libya, Gaddafi’s history of heinous acts, and threats to slaughter suspected rebels, created a storm of opportunity and humanitarian pleas.

President Obama laid out his reasons for intervening in Libya during a March 28 speech at the National Defense University. Referencing the looming human catastrophe, Obama cited past multilateral, UN-backed interventions to claim his Libya policy was linked to U.S. national interests. Though such humanitarian intervention seems noble, Obama’s policy is intentionally amorphous to accommodate the changing environment. The reports of CIA operatives inside Libya, contrary to the stated policy of no boots on the ground, only serves to engender more mistrust of our declared policies.

Most worrisome is the doublespeak regarding Arab support of intervention. In his speech, Obama referenced the Arab League vote in support of a no-fly zone as proof of Arab support for the intervention. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and several other administration officials — as well as countless pundits — also touted the Arab League’s support. Left unstated is that a number of the 22 Arab governments in the Arab League are headed by the despotic rulers whose people are currently in revolt. These are the leaders who pillaged their respective countries’ treasury, tortured their citizens, subjugated their women, and repressed any hope of freedom. (Post-revolt Egypt and Tunisia are new exceptions but have not had time to formulate a policy stance toward the Arab League.) It is cynical and the height of hypocrisy to use the actions of despotic rulers as indicators of Arab support for a military intervention. The Arab League is not equivalent to the Arab people.

The president correctly argued, “America cannot use our military whenever repression occurs... we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.” The president demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice humanitarian need by assuring non-interference to Bahrain’s ruling regime despite clear evidence of mass arrests, beatings, and imprisonment of opposition party leaders. Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive governments in the Middle East, has been assured of our support and friendship over three visits by Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. When a policy of realpolitik meets moral authority repeatedly, a suspicious world will question true intent. This shortsightedness betrays our stated commitment to freedom and buttresses the cynical views of the Arab people about U.S. designs. The United States should provide unfettered support to the “Arab Spring” movements to topple their illegitimate regimes — but without using military intervention. We should provide moral, economic, and educational support, and later help construct the civil society infrastructure required for freedom and democracy. Doing so may mean navigating through a more complex future Arab environment, but in the long run Americans and Arabs will both be winners.

The United States should declare outright that its vital national interest includes buying oil at the market price, supporting free and democratic regimes in the region, and destroying safe havens for terrorists. We should also declare that we have no hidden policy of occupation or installing compliant governments. With these pronouncements, we will be granting Arabs the dignity they long for and deserve.

Qaddafi's Great Arms Bazaar

The deadly weapons floating around in eastern Libya could serve as the fuel for a bloody insurgency.
By Peter Bouckaert
This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 08/04/2011
During his 42 years in power, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's unpredictable behavior has become the stuff of legend. But on one issue Qaddafi was remarkably consistent: He was unrelentingly obsessed with purchasing a massive arsenal of weapons from whoever was offering them. As a result, much of Libya resembles one vast arms bazaar -- a museum of curiosities for arms inspectors, and a gallery of horror for those concerned about the safety of civilians. With the collapse of Qaddafi's control in eastern Libya, vast amounts of weapons and munitions are now up for grabs, often to whoever gets there first.
I have been traveling around eastern Libya for most of the past six weeks, since the first days of the regime's collapse, trying to establish a record of the ongoing human rights abuses in the country. Human Rights Watch has been investigating the large-scale killings of protesters by Qaddafi's forces in February, as well as the more recent possible forced disappearance of hundreds of people into the custody of Qaddafi's fighters at the front. Reporting from eastern Libya has been a roller-coaster ride: I have witnessed the euphoria of the uprising's early days, as Libyans celebrated their newfound freedom, to the despair of just a few weeks ago as Qaddafi's forces were once again at the gates of Benghazi. For many in eastern Libya now coming to grips with the limitations of their own untrained and unskilled rebels, the future remains uncertain. For these people, there is no middle ground -- either the rebellion succeeds, or they face certain death if Qaddafi regains control of the East.
And we've been looking at weapons and munitions -- lots of them. These arsenals represent a matter of pressing concern for human rights organizations because in the wrong hands, powerful military weapons can wreak havoc on the civilian population. In 2003, Human Rights Watch researchers deployed all over Iraq to inform U.S. authorities of the massive, unsecured weapons caches that we had found scattered across the country, urging them to secure the stocks. But the U.S. and allied armed forces, too busy looking for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, failed to act. We watched in despair as weapons stocks were looted in places like Baquba, where Saddam's Second Military College had vast supplies of powerful munitions.
Everyone paid the price for the failure to secure those weapons: Baquba became the capital of the bomb technicians, turning thousands of high-explosive artillery shells into powerful explosives aimed at the civilian population, the Iraqi security forces, and the Western militaries occupying Iraq. And eight years later, the Iraqi insurgents still haven't run out of their stock of weapons.
Libyans are extraordinarily welcoming people, and they don't seem to mind when I poke my nose into the backs of the battle-ready pickups at the front line and snap some pictures of the weapons and munitions the rebels are carrying. Even at the military bases and weapon depots under rebel control, a few words of introduction normally led to a warm welcome and a tour of the facilities. That is, if there is anyone guarding the facilities in the first place. When I went to the main military weapons depot in the contested town of Ajdabiya on March 27, just after Qaddafi's forces had fled the city and rebels were still busy celebrating their victory, I had the entire base and its 35 munitions bunkers, stacked to the rafters with weapons, all to myself for several hours.
What we found was shocking. Qaddafi's weapon stocks far exceeded what we saw in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein; some of the weapons, such as the surface-to-air missiles capable of downing a civilian aircraft, now floating around freely in eastern Libya are giving security officials around the world sleepless nights. After I began circulating some of the pictures I had taken, I began getting anxious calls from arms-control officials, asking for more details about what I had seen. There is good cause for U.S. and European officials to worry -- there are rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air missiles, and artillery shells full of explosives that can easily be refashioned into car bombs. And there are plenty of groups in the region, including al Qaeda affiliates and rebel movements, that would love to get their hands on these weapons.
Among the weapons of greatest concern to Western security officials is the SA-7 "Grail" surface-to-air missile, a Soviet-designed, heat-seeking, shoulder-launched missile designed specifically to shoot down low-flying planes. The SA-7 -- basically a long green tube with the missile inside -- belongs to a family of weapons known as man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS. Although these weapons date back to the 1960s, they remain extremely deadly, especially against civilian planes without defense systems. Two SA-7 missiles were fired by al Qaeda operatives at an Israeli chartered Boeing 757 during a November 2002 attack in Mombasa, Kenya, narrowly missing the plane. During the past month and a half, we have seen literally hundreds of SA-7s floating around freely in eastern Libya. The SA-7s require assembly with a trigger mechanism and a battery cooling pack attached to the launch tube, and many of the launch tubes we saw were unassembled. However, some of the SA-7s had been fully assembled.
While the SA-7s have caused the greatest alarm among Western security experts, the rest of Qaddafi's extensive arsenal is nothing to laugh at. We found many varieties of guided anti-tank missiles, including the advanced laser-guided AT-14 "Spriggan" (known in Russia as the Kornet), which was reportedly used by Gaza-based militants one day ago in an attack on a school bus in southern Israel that critically injured a teenager. The Spriggan also served as one of Hezbollah's most effective weapons against Israeli tanks in the 2006 Lebanon war. And there are tens of thousands of some of the nastiest anti-tank mines in the world in Qaddafi's warehouses -- nasty because they are made mostly out of hard-to-detect plastic and can be armed with an anti-lifting device that causes the mine to explode when attempts are made to remove it from the ground.
We also found thousands of 122-mm "Grad" rockets, which are used in a launcher that fires salvos of 40 rockets at one go and are capable of sowing destruction up to 40 miles away. The Grads were the Afghan mujahideen's weapon of choice during their deadly civil war in the early 1990s following the Soviet withdrawal -- they used these rockets to reduce Kabul to rubble. Eastern Libya is also home to tens of thousands of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, which are powerful enough to blow up a tank or punch a hole in a concrete building. We found tens of thousands of artillery, tank, and howitzer shells of various calibers, all loaded with high explosives easily convertible into car or roadside bombs. We even found HESH (high-explosive squash-head) shells, which are filled with plastic explosives  -- a dangerous tool in the hands of terrorist groups.
The dangers we saw were not limited to the unguarded stockpiles of weapons. There are vast amounts of abandoned munitions and unexploded ordnance everywhere on the constantly shifting front lines along the coastal highway in eastern Libya. The recent airstrikes by international coalition forces on Libyan government military targets have added to the battlefield debris, leaving behind destroyed ammunition, vehicles, tanks, Grad launchers, and artillery pieces, often still loaded with munitions. Families, often with their children, have been visiting some of these strike sites, taking away potentially deadly mementos. Qaddafi's forces have added to the dangers by laying new minefields -- we discovered two such fields, containing dozens of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, in Ajdabiya after pro-regime forces withdrew. Who knows how many more such minefields have been laid, only to be discovered when someone steps or drives over these concealed hazards?
The news is not all grim. Part of the good news is that the opposition forces in eastern Libya have now begun to take stronger steps to secure the weapon storage facilities in the areas under their control, and have begun to deploy military teams to collect dangerous unexploded and abandoned weapons. Human Rights Watch has been meeting with opposition officials, both civilian and military, for weeks now to discuss the dangers posed by some of these weapons as well as other human rights concerns, and have been impressed by their willingness to consider our recommendations and take corrective actions. A lot remains to be done, of course, but the commitment of the rebel authorities to break with the past and build a modern country that respects civil rights seems sincere and consistent with their actions to date. We'll continue to watch them and their conduct closely.