Saturday, April 23, 2011

Libya Is At Stalemate – Now A New Strategy Is Needed

The perception of Britain's military involvement has not been helped by confused announcements
By Douglas Alexander
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 23/04/2011
When military action was first proposed in Libya, I said that those of us advocating the use of force have to accept that it can have unforeseen and often unpredictable consequences.
Weeks later, murderous slaughter by Muammar Gaddafi's forces still threatens the people of Misrata, and, as things stand, neither Benghazi nor Tripoli appears likely to fall imminently to either side. This situation has led the US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, to observe on Friday that Libya is "moving towards stalemate".
The standoff we see in Libya today was always one of a range of possible immediate outcomes resulting from the commencement of the air strikes that followed the passage of UN Resolution 1973.
Labour remains steadfast in its support for the enforcement of the United Nations Security Council resolution. That decision – implemented with professionalism and bravery by both our own and our allies' armed services – saved the 700,000 residents of Benghazi from a grim fate. But we are not, and should not be, deaf to the anxiety in the country about Britain's present and future role in the Libyan mission.
Over recent days, the government's announcements on Libya suggest that strategic, tactical and operational matters seem to have become worryingly confused. The specific operational steps announced by the government — providing telecommunications, body armour and ten military advisers — each had a rationale reflecting the new realities on the ground. But the ad hoc and uncoordinated manner in which they were announced, rooted in no clearly articulated plan, has only served to increase public anxieties.
None of the measures announced, in and of themselves, represents a breach of the mandate provided by the United Nations and approved by the House of Commons. But, in truth, none of them is likely to significantly affect the strategic situation in Libya.
As the opposition, we thought hard about the original decision to vote for the mission; we knew the dangers but we judged the alternatives were worse. But, in truth, we also knew that the first decision was the easiest and the situation thereafter would be far more complicated.
In my view, what is now needed from the British government is a clearer and better articulated strategy. Of course, in military conflict, certainty is elusive, but strategy is essential. And hope is not a strategy. The Government needs to acknowledge that while the realities on the ground have changed, Britain's strategic constraints endure — the finite nature of our military capacity, the need to maintain support in the UK and other participating countries, and the importance of keeping Libya's Arab neighbours on our side.
The urgency of the government framing such a strategy was only underlined by the article published last week by the American and French presidents and our own prime minister. While the piece made clear that they would adhere to the UN mandate, it also stated that "so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds".
We all understand Gaddafi's repeated disregard of previous ceasefires, his continuing use of brutal repression, and the very real difficulties that would be involved in trying to translate any "freezing" of the present situation on the ground into a durable self-enforcing stability. But the message of the article would surely have been all the more powerful if the prime minister was clearer about the military and non-military means by which he sees their stated aims being achieved.
For in the UK and beyond, there is no plan, no mandate, and no appetite for Nato troops attempting to fight their way into Tripoli to remove Gaddafi. It was also ill-judged and irresponsible for the defence secretary, Liam Fox, to compare the action in Libya to the continuing campaign in Afghanistan where, a decade on, Britain currently has about 11,000 combat troops deployed.
Such a comparison not only ignores the different order of threat to Britain's national security posed by al-Qaida and its supporters.
It also needlessly threatens support at home and abroad for the Libyan mission.
Speaking in support of the mission last week to the 26 ambassadors of our European Union partners, I said we needed an approach from the government that was practical as well as principled. When the House of Commons returns on Tuesday that will be my message at the dispatch box to, the foreign secretary, William Hague. We will be seeking clearer answers from the government on the distinction between political ambitions and military objectives, and the strategy needed to enforce UNSCR 1973.
There should be greater clarity about what support to anti-Gaddafi forces, in the government's view, would be both legal and advisable. Is an increasingly unwieldy 40-wide "contact group" proving an effective and agile enough forum to direct the mission? And is the government really doing enough diplomatic work to sustain and strengthen international support for both the military and non military aspects of the mission?
With thousands currently trapped in the fighting in Misrata, Gaddafi's forces now using cluster munitions against civilians, and British forces committed, these are issues that demand an urgent, coherent and strategic response.
It matters not simply to ensure that the government addresses the real concerns at home and abroad. Crucially, it matters to convince Gaddafi's henchmen that there is a credible strategy in place to ensure his brutal attacks on civilians will not prevail.

Syria: Every Concession Makes The President More Vulnerable

By Robert Fisk
This commentary was published in The Independent on 23/04/2011
Every dictator knows that, when he starts making concessions, he is at his most vulnerable.
It is an exquisite torture for the regime in power. Each gesture, each freeing of political prisoners, each concession – and the crowds demand more. Yesterday, it was President Bashar al-Assad who was under torture.
Had he not lifted the state of emergency for Syrians? Had he not allowed them permission to protest peacefully – albeit with permission to be obtained 24 hours in advance – and released a token number of prisoners? Had he not scrapped the hated state security court? But no such luck.
In Damascus, in Hama – that ancient city that tried to destroy Bashar's father Hafez with an Islamic uprising in the February of 1982 – and in Banias and Latakia and Deraa, they came out in their tens of thousands yesterday. They wanted 6,000 more political prisoners freed, they wanted an end to torture, an end to the security police. And they wanted Bashar al-Assad to go.
Syria is a proud country, but Tunisia and Egypt were studied by the Syrians (if not by Bashar himself – a big mistake). If the Arabs of north Africa could have their dignity, why couldn't the Syrians? And an end to the monopoly of the Ba'ath Party, while they were at it. And free newspapers; all the demands that they thought would be met 11 years ago, when Bashar walked behind his father's coffin and friends of the President told us that things were going to change. This was a confident new state under Bashar, they insisted.
But they didn't change. Bashar found that family and party and the massive security apparatus were too strong for him, too necessary for him. He failed. And now that failure is self-evident: in the tear gas fired at the crowds in Damascus; in the live rounds reportedly fired into the crowds in Hama, that dangerous, frightening city wherein there is not a man or woman over 30 who did not lose a relative or friend 29 years ago.
Bashar al-Assad is a tough guy. He stood up to Israel and American pressure. He supported Hezbollah and Iran and Hamas. But Syrians had other demands. They cared more about their domestic freedom than battles in Lebanon, more about torture in Tadmor prison than fighting for the Palestinians. And now they have marched with that ultimate demand: the end of the regime.
I'm not sure they'll get it yet. The Syrian Ministry of the Interior was playing the sectarian card again yesterday; the protesters were sectarian, they claimed. There may be some truth in this; but it is a small truth. The people on the streets of Syria want change. They were not, to be sure, in the vast numbers that Egypt produced to rid themselves of Mubarak; nor even the numbers of Tunisians. But it has begun.

What Happens When The Arab Spring Turns To Summer?

Ruminations on the revolutions of 2011.
By David Ignatius
This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 22/04/2011
Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's former ambassador to Washington, was commenting during a recent visit to the United States about the prospects for the Arab Spring. He cautioned that Americans didn't understand the weather in his part of the world. For Arabs, he said, it is always either summer or winter.
After the exhilarating days in Tahrir Square that led to the resignation on Feb. 11 of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, many observers have felt a chill in the political air -- whatever the season may be. The first electoral test of the new democracy came in the March 19 constitutional referendum. That resulted in resounding defeat for the democracy-building "no" vote urged by many leaders of the Tahrir Square revolution -- and a thumping 77 percent victory for the "yes" position advocated by the unspoken alliance between the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt's democratic revolutionaries, to be sure, are fighting back. They have stepped up their own political organizing and are forming new parties. They see the danger that their revolution will be hijacked, and they are organizing against that outcome.
To say that there are dangers ahead for Egypt and its neighbors is only to state the obvious. For the historical truth is that although revolutions are always lovable in their infancy, they tend to become less so as they age. The idealistic youth on the barricades, who seem drawn from the cast of Les Misérables, are replaced by small groups of determined revolutionaries who have the will and ideological or religious determination to steer the masses. And the revolutionary disorder, which seemed so exciting at first, becomes dark and insecure to the point that people demand order and give up the freedoms they fought so hard to obtain.
I don't mean to predict that the Arab Spring will turn to winter. In truth, we don't know where this process is heading; there are too many inflection points and uncertainties. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had it right when he said in March that this is "dark territory"; it's impossible to read the overhead imagery, so to speak, and know what's down there in terms of outcomes. In what follows, I want to offer a skeptical analytical look -- not predicting failure, but warning of obstacles ahead.
First, the reality of the Arab revolution: In my more than 30 years of covering foreign news, I have never seen anything quite like what is happening now in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria -- and datelines yet to be announced. I see this process as part of a "global political awakening" -- a movement for change that is enabled and accelerated by modern technology, but is also comparable to some other periods of revolutionary change in modern history.
I owe the "awakening" idea to Zbigniew Brzezinski. Three years ago, with the 2008 U.S. presidential election approaching, I worked with Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft on a book called America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy. The theme was that a global process of change was under way -- and that the basics of U.S. foreign policy needed to be reimagined by the next president. In my introduction, I described the central insight of these two former national security advisors this way: "Both men describe a political revolution that's sweeping the world -- Brzezinski speaks of a global awakening, while Scowcroft describes a yearning for dignity. They want America on the side of that process of change."
We are now seeing the full force of that political awakening as it sweeps across the Middle East. How and why did it happen? What similar events have occurred in the past? And what are the consequences for America?
First, the triggering event in Tunisia. It's almost a case study in how complex systems fail. What seems a small event disturbs the equilibrium and produces a very large change in outcomes. It's a discontinuity, a "tipping point," as pundits like to say -- an example of what mathematicians sometimes call "catastrophe theory."
Think of the collapse of a bridge: Observers may see that the steel girders of the bridge are rusting away; they may see it sway and shudder with each vehicle that passes. But who can explain why it gives way after the 1,000,001st truck rumbles across, when it didn't fail for the previous million? The bridge's collapse is a catastrophic event that was at once foreseeable and impossible to predict.
The same could be said for the "Arab Spring." We knew that the political systems in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria were rotten and that popular discontent was growing. Those problems had been developing for more than 20 years. But who could have predicted the inflection point, the moment when fear became rage, and rage became action that spread until it was a cascading wave of change?
Here's how it began in Tunisia, as my colleague Marc Fisher assembled the timeline in the Washington Post. It's an astonishing story, all the more as we see each day its eddying repercussions.
On Friday, Dec. 17, a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi in the town of Sidi Bouzid loaded his cart with what he told his family were the best oranges, dates, and apples he had ever seen. On his way to the market, he was blocked by two police officers who tried to take the fruit from his cart. His uncle protested to the police chief, who told one of the officers, a woman named Fedya Hamdi, to let the man go sell his produce.
The policewoman was indignant about the complaint and searched out Bouazizi, who had by now set up his stall in the market. She arrogantly carried off one load of his apples to her car and was about to take another when he protested. The policewoman then hit the street vendor with her baton, and when he struggled to his feet, she slapped him -- which made the young man weep with tears of humiliation and rage.
"Why are you doing this to me?... I'm a simple person, and I just want to work, " Bouazizi cried out, according to people who were interviewed later by Fisher.
Bouazizi went to city hall to complain about this mistreatment, but no officials would see him and clerks told him to go away.
The humiliated young man was seething when he got back to the market, and he told other vendors that he would show the wrong that had been done -- by lighting himself on fire. His friends didn't believe him, but within minutes he had wet his body with paint thinner and, standing in front of the local municipal building, lit himself on fire. He died of severe burns three weeks later in a hospital.
In the interim, this sad little incident -- this protest of a humiliated man who had no other way to express himself but self-immolation -- went viral. Bouazizi's cousin posted a cell-phone video that he shot of a protest in Sidi Bouzid the day after the incident. An activist posted that on Facebook, Al Jazeera picked it up that evening, and suddenly millions of people were sharing the shame and rage of the Tunisian fruit seller.
Less than a month after the incident in the Sidi Bouzid market, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had fled the country and his regime, once seen as one of the more advanced in the Arab world, had been toppled.
The Tunisian rupture spread quickly to Egypt. After Ben Ali fled Tunis, a Google marketing executive named Wael Ghonim and others used Facebook to organize a demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square to protest Mubarak's autocratic regime. On Jan. 25, the protesters took to the streets and stayed there, overwhelming riot police not just in Cairo but across the country. The regime, in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading, turned off the Internet. That further enraged the public, and on Friday, Jan. 28, a much larger demonstration, drawn from a far wider array of Egyptian society, gathered in the square. It grew and grew. The military was summoned; the protesters wisely embraced the soldiers as their army, not Mubarak's, and the troops returned the embrace. In that moment, you knew how it would end.
On Friday, Feb. 11, less than three weeks after the first protest, Mubarak was gone.
I arrived in Egypt several days later, when huge crowds were still filling the square, day and night, and revolution was in the air.
These massive gatherings -- on Friday, Feb. 18, more than a million people filled Tahrir Square -- were like a living organism. The crowd was spontaneous and only loosely organized, but it had the discipline and cohesion of a connected network.
As you moved through Tahrir Square, you passed from node to node: from a group singing patriotic songs, to a solemn knot of mourners holding portraits of martyrs who had died in the square, to a circle of leftists chanting slogans and waving banners, to a group of kids jumping gleefully on Army tanks.
Scientists sometimes speak of an "emergent phenomenon," a self-organizing process that unites what appear to be discrete individual entities. That's what Tahrir Square felt like, even a week later. It was at once a protest and a festival. An Egyptian friend told me that the Army wouldn't leave the square until the last Egyptian had his picture taken atop a tank.
In this cauldron of revolution, the normal divisions seemed to dissolve. That was the discontinuity -- the break with passivity and division to a new state of unity and fearless confidence. The protests brought together Christians and Muslims; socialists and capitalists; young and old; Internet tycoons and poor people from the slums. They were all united in the demand that Mubarak leave office. And despite brutal provocation -- as on the infamous "Day of the Camels" -- they generally held to the promise of their slogan, "salmiya, salmiya," "peaceful, peaceful."
The virus has continued to spread, with fits and starts. After visiting Syria in late February, I wrote about a flash mob that had gathered in downtown Damascus to protest a policeman's brutal treatment of a motorist he had detained. People emailed each other videos of the police beating, and soon hundreds of people were chanting slogans demanding dignity and freedom from harassment. That protest was defused when the Syrian interior minister himself arrived, 30 minutes later, to discipline the police officer.
I wrote at the time that if President Bashar al-Assad didn't follow through on what aides told me were his plans for reform, he might be too late. For one sure lesson of the Arab Spring is that delay can be fatal. But Assad waited, and his regime at this writing is in dire jeopardy.
As I look back at these three months of protest and try to find the unifying theme, I think back to the formulation of my mentors. There is a yearning for dignity, as Scowcroft said, and it is producing a political awakening. Of the many words chanted by the crowds in Tahrir Square, one of the most powerful was karama, or dignity. My favorite summary of the emotional core of this movement comes from my colleague Nora Boustany, a Lebanese journalist, who translated for me an Arab proverb: "The artery of shame has ruptured."
For Americans, that must seem like a strange concept. They are shameless, in the anthropological sense. But from the time I began covering the Middle East in 1980, I have seen what I now recognize was a shamed and broken political culture -- a culture of passivity and resignation, which often expressed itself in negative and self-destructive acts of political violence and accepted authoritarian governments and the slogans they used to justify themselves. As my Arab friends say, that was the culture of 1967 -- the culture of defeat, in which Arabs, with momentary exceptions, found themselves the pawns of a tiny but potent Israel and its superpower patron.
This is the culture that ended in 2011. That's not to say that what lies ahead is necessarily benign, from an American standpoint. But Arabs are now embracing a culture of activism and self-determination, as opposed to one of passivity and victimization. They are defying army tanks, secret police, gangs of roving thugs, and their own ethnic and religious differences to unite in revolt.
The Internet and Facebook have played a role in this revolution. But I am not a material determinist: I don't believe that the "means of information production" determine the course of history.
As I look back in history, there were other moments of sudden discontinuity, when people broke through the existing barriers of fear and defied authority, passing the message of revolt by the best available means. Thomas Paine's pamphlet, "Common Sense," had an electrifying effect on American revolutionaries when it was published in 1776. When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini swept to power in 1979, his rise was powered by an insidious new technology known as the "cassette tape," which allowed Iranians to listen secretly to his sermons. The movement that spread across Eastern Europe in 1989 and toppled the Soviet empire was sometimes called the "fax revolution," in honor of that liberating technology, and the first post-Soviet news agency proudly took the name "Interfax."
What's discouraging, as you look back through this history, is what Crane Brinton famously called the "Anatomy of Revolution." His book should be on every reading list this spring, but if you haven't looked at it recently, here's a brief summary:
Brinton noted that revolutions are born of hope, not poverty and despair. Their life arc moves from the uprising that displaces the old regime to a "honeymoon" in which a legal, moderate government tries to rule, even as an illegal, radical movement gains strength. The radical movement -- the Jacobins, if you will, or the Leninists or (in our darkest imagining of the future) the Muslim Brotherhood -- tend to win because, in Brinton's words, they are "better organized, better staffed, better obeyed."
The radicals' triumph brings on a period of fanatical activism, with purges and revenge attacks -- and a growing "reign of terror." Eventually the public demands order, and the street radicals are put down by a reaction that Brinton likened to the Thermidorian Reaction in France in 1794. With order comes a new dictator who presumes to speak for the people -- a Napoleon or Stalin or Khomeini.
Reading history reminds us that revolutionary change is a volatile and sometimes toxic process that confounds expectations.
The Arab Spring has been likened, for example, to the revolutions that swept across Europe in 1848, which was known in some countries as the "Spring of Nations." Now that was a revolutionary movement! Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sent the manuscript of the Communist Manifesto to the printers in February 1848, a few weeks before the revolution exploded in France. Recall the opening lines of the Manifesto:
A specter is haunting Europe -- the specter of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter.
Anyone who thinks that Muslim extremists invented intolerance or terrorism should read on in the manifesto:
You reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; this is just what we intend....
The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course.... Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty.
And this, in the Manifesto's closing paragraph:
The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be obtained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communistic revolution.
They failed, of course, that time around. They failed in France, they failed in Germany, they failed in Italy -- though with some stirring fights along the way. Victor Hugo's Les Misérables was actually set in the French revolution of 1832, but it has the same sense of virtuous disaster as the 1848 uprising, especially the leftist aftershock in June 1848 that was crushed by the forces of bourgeois France.
Marx did some superb "op-ed" journalism about these uprisings, collected in the book The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Just after the famous opening passage where he says that history always repeats itself -- first time tragedy, second time farce -- Marx offers this superb observation, which I find apposite for the events of today:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.
The Russian Revolution is another troubling point of comparison for observers of the Arab Spring, largely because of the weakness of the transitional figure who seemed to embody the hopes of the revolution, the moderate social democrat Alexander Kerensky. The revolution itself had been accomplished with very little violence, in the protests that led to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in March 1917. Alan Moorehead's study, The Russian Revolution, quotes the Soviet historian Nikolai Sukhanov: "The break had been accomplished with a sort of fabulous ease." That, too, reminds me of Egypt 2011.
Hearts in the West were aflutter at this initial Russian Spring. President Woodrow Wilson spoke on April 2, 1917, of "the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia."
But Kerensky was no match for Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who plotted furiously against him even as he tried to make his moderate government work. Sukhanov, who describes Kerensky as "this noisy lawyer," paints this scene in which Kerensky nervously tries to rally his colleagues to fight off an attack of Cossacks:
I demand that everyone -- to do his duty -- and not interfere -- when I -- give orders!
By October, the conservatives and radicals alike had decided that Kerensky was hopeless and that the situation required a firmer hand, which Lenin supplied. Brinton offered this epitaph for Kerensky and his variety of moderate revolutionary:
The eloquent compromisist leader seems to us a man of words, an orator who could move crowds but could not guide them, an impractical and incompetent person in the field of action.
A final, depressing stop on this historical tour is the Iranian revolution. I do not want to make too much of the parallel to contemporary Egypt, but what's striking is that the United States, just as now with Egypt, wanted Iran as a military ally, but also wanted to stress human rights. When President Jimmy Carter visited Tehran in December 1977, he proclaimed: "Iran under the great leadership of the shah is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world."
An August 1977 CIA analysis, cited by James A. Bill in his book, The Eagle and the Lion, concluded its 60-page review with the prediction: "the Shah will be an active participant in Iranian life well into the 1980s.... there will be no radical change in Iranian political behavior in the near future."
I do not have to tell you that there are similar statements about Mubarak's Egypt by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, and others.
The initial Kerensky figure in revolutionary Iran was a neat little man named Shahpour Bakhtiar. Washington tried to work with him, and when he gave way on Feb. 12, 1979, to Khomeini's man, Mehdi Bazargan, Carter expressed "continued hope for very productive and peaceful cooperation."
For a gripping account of what happened in Iran over the next months and years, I commend a visceral new memoir by my Newsweek colleague Maziar Bahari called Then They Came for Me, about how the Iranian revolution was kidnapped in slow motion, and mostly out of Western sight, culminating in the election putsch of June 2009 that triggered and then crushed the Green Revolution and led to Bahari's arrest and torture in Evin prison.
So I come back, somberly, to today and the Arab Spring. The best hope for avoiding the fate of so many of history's revolutions is solid, experienced leadership in the transition to democracy -- aided by strong allies. That certainly was the case with the American Revolution; and even with the genius of America's founders and the backing of France, Americans still made a mess of things initially with their first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. The democratic transitions of Indonesia, the Philippines, and the countries of Eastern Europe were also aided by this combination of good leadership and foreign support.
I hope a similar "virtuous cycle" will develop in Egypt. In April, on my third trip since the revolution began, I interviewed three "founding fathers" of the new Egypt: former International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei, outgoing Arab League chief Amr Moussa, and business leader Naguib Sawiris. They didn't make the revolution, but they did take personal risks in supporting it before the result was clear. Two are potential presidents, and the third, Sawiris, has formed a new, well-financed liberal party. They are tough, wily characters, with money and organizational skills. Suffice it to say that they do not remind me of Alexander Kerensky or Shahpour Bakhtiar. But we shall see.
Let me conclude by discussing the consequences of this Arab political awakening for the United States. I would make two basic points:
First, the success of the democratic revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere is absolutely in the interest of the United States. I am not yet convinced that there are democratic revolutions under way in Libya, Yemen, or Syria, but if that happens, they will deserve U.S. (nonmilitary) support, too.
Egypt, in particular, is decisive. It has roughly 25 percent of the population of the Arab world, and it was for much of the 20th century the region's engine of modernization. If democracy succeeds in Egypt, other countries will follow. Should the democratic experiment in Egypt be hijacked by the military or anti-democratic Islamist groups, the revolution will fail elsewhere.
This being the case, the United States must do everything it reasonably can to provide two things that post-revolutionary Egypt badly needs: financial assistance and help in creating a modern, democratic police and security service. The Egyptian economy is heading toward a severe cash squeeze this summer because of the drastic fall in tourism, foreign investment, and other economic activity since January. And insecurity is growing on Egypt's streets because of the disarray and demoralization of the Egyptian police. Both problems are potentially fatal to the revolution.
This is a "use it or lose it" situation in terms of Western assistance. The United States will accomplish its goals best by acting discreetly, working with allies -- especially those in Eastern Europe that have made successful transitions from authoritarian governments. Visiting Harvard University in April as I pondered these issues, I inevitably reread the speech given there on June 5, 1947 by George Marshall as he outlined a program of assistance for the shaky democracies of Europe. He used language that was civilized, sexist, but also crystal clear:
I need not tell you, gentlemen, that the world situation is very serious. That must be apparent to all intelligent people. I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation.... The truth of the matter is that Europe's requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products -- principally from America -- are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character.
The stakes in Egypt are so high that it is unimaginable to me that the United States would continue to spend more than $100 billion this year in Afghanistan and leave aid to Egypt as a sorry afterthought. The Obama administration's only offer thus far, I believe, is Clinton's pledge of $150 million.
Second, we cannot be sure that, even with timely assistance, the democratic revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere will succeed. It is entirely possible that they will follow the downward course of other revolutions in history. The political awakening -- this magnificent opening to the world -- may produce a counterreaction that has the effect of reducing freedom and democratic action, as has been the case in Iran since its June 2009 election.
In situations like this, where the outcome is unknown and unknowable, it's especially important to have a clear sense of where U.S. interests lie and make sure that they guide U.S. policy. I am indebted to conversations with FP blogger Stephen Walt for reminding me that this catalog of U.S. interests is actually quite simple to enumerate:
The United States has an interest in the secure supply of oil from the Persian Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in particular, to itself and to its allies. It has an interest in combating terrorist actions by al Qaeda and other groups that seek to target Americans. It has an interest in the security and well-being of Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East, and a concurrent interest in a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The United States also has an interest in the growth of stable, democratic regimes and the expansion of human rights.The intersection of these interests is the zone of ambiguity in which foreign-policy choices must always be made.
Obama has been wise to take a low-key approach to these developments -- to let Arabs write this new chapter in their history, without feeling they are taking dictation from the United States. He has been criticized for not being "tough" or "presidential" enough, but these criticisms are, to me, misguided. And I think he's absolutely right to let others who are closer to Libya fight most of that war -- and figure out, in the process, just who the good guys and bad guys are.
But there is a time for low-key, and there is a time for clarity. On the final two strategic imperatives I cited -- America's obligation to assist the democratic revolution in Egypt and its need to be clear and forthright about its own national interests -- I think Obama needs to speak as clearly and forcefully as Marshall did at Harvard's commencement 64 years ago: "I need not tell you, ladies and gentlemen, the future security of the United States depends on the success of the Arab Spring."
David Ignatius is a columnist for the Washington Post and author of the forthcoming novel Bloodmoney. This article is adapted from a lecture he gave April 15 at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where he was a visiting fellow.

Reforms The Arab Monarchies Cannot Avoid

By Abdulaziz Sager
This opinion was published in The Washington Post on 22/04/2011
In recent decades, the six Gulf Cooperation Council states have been a pillar of stability in a dangerous neighborhood. But the political change sweeping the Middle East has left its mark, as the situations in Bahrain and Oman underscore. The other GCC nations — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — have been affected. The Gulf monarchies must come to understand the repercussions of the “Arab Spring.”
So far, protests in GCC states have largely been limited to calls for reform from within, not for regime change. The Arab Gulf monarchies understandably enjoy a high degree of legitimacy: Ruling families have guided their populations through such tumultuous events as the discovery of oil and the subsequent economic transformation, the end of colonialism, and the advent of globalization and its social impact. Crises in the region, meanwhile, included the Iranian Revolution, the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait and the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The ruling families that were able to bring their societies into the modern age deserve credit.
It would be folly, however, to think that the arrangements of the past can last indefinitely. The Arab Spring has opened the door for a new era of political relations in the Middle East from which the GCC states cannot separate themselves. The social contract that has long defined the relationship between rulers and citizens — the unspoken trade-off of economic wealth for political power — is coming to an end. Similarly, the tribal traditions that had served the GCC states well are no longer applicable. With their legitimate demands for greater political rights and participation, the people of the Gulf are setting the stage for a fundamental reevaluation of the relationship between rulers and subjects.
If the ruling families of the Gulf want to maintain their legitimacy, they need to adapt quickly to the changing times and enact substantive political reform that reflects their people’s aspirations. Time is no longer on their side. If they wait too long, their rule cannot be assured.
Past efforts to expand political participation in GCC states have been inadequate. Shura councils or parliaments have been created by ruling families, but with the intention of solidifying the rulers’ power and representing their interests. Apart from, to some degree, the Kuwait experiment — where the parliament has taken a functional role in governing — other cosmetic steps toward reform that have been implemented have not been endorsed by the public. The guiding principle has been selection, not real election by the people. Similarly, key positions of power, from prime minister to the main ministries, remain under the ruling families’ control. Political power stays concentrated in the hands of a few.
Gulf citizens today are financially rich but politically poor. The economic incentives that governments have unveiled since the protests began this year will ultimately prove ineffectual. Those financial packages in no way tackle the Gulf economies’ structural problems: They will not lower chronically high levels of unemployment or narrow the wealth inequities that have grown in past decades. Many in the Gulf are satisfied economically with their state support, and new handouts do not address the real demand: greater political participation.
Gulf monarchies that hope to endure should recognize, in writing, the people’s demands for active participation in their governance, transparency and accountability. Vague, spoken promises of reform are no longer sufficient. The monarchies must craft constitutional mechanisms guaranteeing the people’s right to freedom of expression, the rule of law, and expanded political participation. In the immediate future, this means empowering legislative institutions. Other possible steps include naming as the head of government, or prime minister, a person from outside the ruling family.
The Arab monarchies should consider forward-looking and progressive political reforms both because their people demand them and because the GCC governments are ultimately not equipped to handle a widespread popular uprising. Rulers’ priority so far has been to protect themselves from a possible military coup; they have been largely successful, with relatives in charge of the various security services. But the region’s governments are not immune, and the role that security and military forces played in Egypt and Tunisia is instructive. The fact is, the threat now is of a people’s coup — not a military coup.
It should also be noted that now that the genie is out of the bottle, the United States will, in the end, support the aspirations of the people. U.S. principles and interests require recognition of political reform as necessary and unavoidable. Although Washington may have adopted a wait-and-see approach, the Gulf’s ruling families can no longer trust that they have an permanent American insurance policy should their populations become restive. Gulf monarchies must heed the clear message: Real reform can no longer be postponed.
The writer is chairman of the Gulf Research Center, an independent think tank with offices in Dubai, Geneva and Cambridge, England.

Why Sharjah’s Women Breed Confidence

By Rami G. Khouri
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 23/04/2011
The ongoing citizen revolts across the Arab world make me feel good, but what I encountered earlier this week at the Sharjah Women’s Higher College of Technology makes me feel even more confident that the Arab future is in good hands – if Arabs are allowed to shape that future for themselves, without the distortions and ravages that come from foreign invasions and manipulations, Israeli colonization, and Arab corruption and security states.
The constitutional and governance macro-changes that will emerge in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries in the midst of historic change are only part of the story. The other half of the determinants of the Arab future comprises micro-changes that occur in the minds and lives of individual men and women, and local institutions that have the courage and develop the capacity to break out of the constraints of the past and forge ahead into a bold future.
I have always been, and remain, confident that the Arab people will snap out of their terrible modern history and live like free, productive, dignified human beings. This is largely because every few weeks during the past 40 years of my professional life in the Arab world, without fail, I encounter a group of people or attend an event that reinforces my sense of confidence and optimism in the ability of the Arab world to allow its humanism and rationalism to triumph over the countervailing forces of emotionalism, fear and massive political disjunction.
I was privileged to participate in a two-day conference at the Sharjah Women’s Higher College of Technology this week entitled “Counseling Arabia 2011,” whose theme was “youth at the crossroads.” In themselves, these facts are not so special, as conferences on this theme take place every week somewhere in the region, but usually with few signs of any serious attempt to come to grips with the tough issues that define the world of young Arabs, including issues related to alienation, participation, sexuality and personal freedoms.
This gathering impressed and inspired me for several reasons. The most important was the nature of the topics that were discussed, all of which would normally be seen as highly controversial, and thus not appropriate for public discussion in the Arab world. The list of topics included: identity formation, dysfunctional families, the boyatt/she-male phenomenon, victims of domestic violence, the divorced young adult, substance abuse, illicit relationships, Arabizing the counseling profession, self-mutilation/ eating disorders/suicide among youth, common mental disorders (depression, bipolar personality, etc.), mental health and the young male.
It’s hard to think of a list of youth-related topics that deserves greater priority for research and public discussion in the Arab world than this. The fact that a state-run women’s college totally comprised of Emirati students is dealing with these topics is a small but significant – even historic, I would say – sign of change in the mindset and mission of state-run colleges and universities in the Gulf region, where the prevailing norm for decades has been to see private and public life as idyllic, requiring no serious research into problem areas.
The second impressive aspect of this conference was the strong representation of Emirati and Gulf scholars among those who presented papers or engaged in discussion. Most such gatherings in the Gulf region are dominated by foreign speakers, so the strong representation of Gulf nationals, mostly university professors, who shared their research findings is an important sign of maturity in these societies’ willingness and capacity to address sensitive issues in an open and serious manner. This was boosted by the fact that the conference was opened by the UAE minister of higher education and scientific research, thus making the state a partner in this process, rather than an obstacle, as is the case in most Arab countries.
The third impressive dimension of my experience was to watch a short documentary film that female students at the college made, exploring the most personal and sensitive aspects of young people’s evolving identities in a globalized world. What these Emirati young ladies produced is as good as anything I’ve seen produced elsewhere by university students around the world, both in the technical sphere and in the substance of the issues explored.
I know from experience with other colleges and universities around the Arab world that this is not a unique situation. Yet it stands out for me due to the impressive combination of the important and sensitive issues under discussion, new research being undertaken by locals and foreigners alike, the active participation of young women students in the process, and the official sanction of the state for all the above. With this sort of locally driven activity at the community level, combined with the changes in ruling power establishments, it is safe to say that there’s a better day coming for the Arab people.

Saleh's Game Is Into Extra Time

Sulaiman Al Hattlan writes: The Yemeni president's insistence on holding onto power could drag the country into civil war
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 23/04/2011
Yemen will likely slide into a devastating civil war if President Ali Abdullah Saleh continues to reject the demands of millions of youth who are adamant that the veteran leader step down immediately.
Although the youth have been insisting that Saleh leave, he still holds onto power. Stepping down is the key demand of the youth revolt, yet Saleh has not taken his people's calls seriously despite the graveness of the situation.
Apart from Saleh's stubbornness, his other problem is that he has become addicted to the ‘political game' playing Islamists and tribes against one another, as well as manipulating the sectarian strife and the threat of Al Qaida.
Saleh sometimes dances with snakes and sometimes sleeps with the wolves as he, appeases and employs various factions and tribes in order to maintain his power.
Nowadays, Saleh seems to be unaware that he is playing alone and in extra time! Many of those close to him are also looking for the earliest opportunity to escape from the pit in which Yemen's president is entrenched.
Mr President please tell me who is still with you? Are they a few ministers who are accustomed to your insults, or a handful of beneficiaries, including your cousins and clan? Are you still betting on your political adviser, Dr Abdul Karim Al Aryani who may soon save his reputation and abandon you after he stood by you all along while you plot against him in secret and public?
I will be truly surprised if Al Aryani does not stop betting on the losing horse and change his stand by announcing his support for the ‘youth of change'. There is still room for Al Aryani to clinch this historical chance to make amends for his long standing support for Saleh who, along with his clan wreaked havoc on the country.
The question is why does Saleh deny all facts around him and insist on staying in power?
Negligence in south
We will not overlook the Yemeni president's achievements, represented in two main issues: unity and relative stability. Yet there is another side. There is a long list of reasons behind Saleh's success in the unity project between north and south Yemen. And we are fully aware of factors that contributed to Yemen's relative stability after the conflict between the military men — coup planners and plotters — who came before Saleh.
Yet, these two achievements do not justify his present stance, treating the Yemeni presidency as though it were an heirloom. Saleh is a president of republic and not an heir to the throne.
Saleh's success in uniting Yemen does not justify his intentional negligence with regard to development in the south, and his narrow-minded approach to the issue. This is simply because unity does not mean excluding or marginalising southern Yemenis which was the reason behind the calls for separation by many southerners in the past two years.
However, calls for separation in the south have disappeared since the revolt began. This provides concrete evidence that the policies of Saleh and his associates were behind such calls. Corruption always leads to internal conflicts, division and separation — and this was the case in Yemen before the unrest.
Many veteran Yemeni politicians believe that reasons behind the call for separation will vanish with the departure of Saleh from the political scene. Among these is Haidar Abu Bakr Al Attas, former Yemeni prime minister — a prominent opponent who was calling for separation. He said to me over the phone that calls for separation will disappear once Saleh leaves, and that by holding onto power, Saleh seems to be trying to destroy one of his most important national achievements — unity.
Yemen's president has been totally engaged in political games at the expense of development. Yemen paid dearly for Saleh's political games and has been ranked on the list of failed states.
Many questions arise here: Where are modern state institutions and infrastructure projects in Yemen, where 40 per cent of the people live below the poverty line? Yemen has been registering the highest population growth rate with an annual 30 per cent increase. Under all these miserable conditions, what is the advantage of the stability which Saleh boasts about? Writing about Yemen is not only a professional and ethical responsibility towards the people in Yemen, but is a responsibility towards GCC countries.
This is because the deteriorating situation in Yemen will reflect on the GCC countries in many forms. And Saleh's insistence on holding onto power may take the country into a civil war that would also drag neighbouring states into sectarian and tribal conflicts, posing a threat to the whole region.
Therefore, efforts by GCC countries to end the crisis in Yemen are in the best interests of the Gulf national security. Yet, the effort will not be successful until the GCC openly calls for Saleh to quit after three decades in power.
Then, the GCC countries will turn a new page of cooperation with Yemen, where peace and tranquillity may prevail. Will Saleh listen to his people's calls and leave?
Sulaiman Al Hattlan, a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, is the host of Gulf Talks on Al Hurra TV. He is the founder of the upcoming news project, He lives and works in Dubai.

Dilemma For Tehran

By Ahmed al-Jarallah
This commentary was published in The Arab Times on 23/04/2011

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in his last speech, didn’t mention the fact that the culture of fundamentalism which is tearing the Arab society apart, especially in the Gulf region, wasn’t in existence before Iran started trying to export its Islamic revolution, which brought the Mullah regime to power in 1979 after the ousting of the Shah. Iran is responsible for the incitement of the Sunni- Shiite faceoff which President Ahmadinejad is warning of. Even if we agree with the Head of the Shura Council Ali Larijani who said ‘the arrogant world (the demons) is pushing towards this direction,’ isn’t it the duty of the country that prides itself as the first defender of Islam, Muslims and the weak people to confront the arrogant world and the demons and foil their conspiracies? Can’t the Iranian government give its Sunnis and Ahwazi Arabs their full rights or at least the right to build mosques and pray in whichever way they want? And why can’t Iran stop the sectarian speeches which provoke its neighbors against it?

Ahmadinejad, Larijani and the mullah’s regime cannot be allowed to make the region a hostage to the Persian expansionist agenda under any disguise. Iran’s attempts to export its revolution failed miserably because the Arab Shiites, who are aware of the intentions of Iran, were the first to oppose them. Starting from the attempt to slander and defame the path of Ahl Al-Bait to the constant attempts to make Qom the headquarters of Shiites while denying Najaf its historic role of the past 1,300 years, Arab Shiites will continue to resist Tehran’s agenda and they will never choose the Iranian model because they all live as free citizens in their societies, while the Iranian people are governed with an iron fist. No one will aspire to join such a hopeless nation, except a few who suffer from injustice and difficulties.

Ahmadinejad and his regime have forgotten that there are Shiite ministers, lawmakers, ambassadors and top officials in all GCC countries. These countries didn’t look at the candidates’ sectarian affiliation, but only at their competence. Shiites in all these countries enjoy full rights, while Iranian thinker Jalaluddin Al-Farsi wasn’t even allowed to contest for presidency because of his Arab origins. In fact, no Sunni person has ever headed a ministry or held a first grade portfolio in the Iranian regime for the past three decades. Can Ahmadinejad and his regime deny the fact that there are great thinkers and competent Sunnis in Iran? And where is Islamic justice in all this?

Ahmadinejad should realize by now that Arab Shiites will never allow themselves to be used as tools by Tehran in its expansionist agenda. He shouldn’t depend on the domination of gun-wielding Hezbollah in Lebanon and on Iraqi groups who depend on his Revolutionary Guard because all these things will not prevent the fall of his regime and its agendas. And surely, the level of Iranian interference in internal affairs of Arab nations will be exposed.

Therefore, the warnings of Ahmadinejad on an Arab-Iran war can only mean that Tehran is using the race card to threaten Arabs with war, and here we ask who is supposed to warn who? Should the Arab Gulf, which Iran covered with spy networks, terrorist elements and media propagandists, issue the threat or Iran that militarizes everything, including water and air?

Why Do We Care About The Syrian Events?

By Husam Itani
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 22/04/2011
We are on the brink of nothing less than historical change in Syria. The events that took place last month provide enough evidence and data to reach two solid conclusions: the first is that the regime has not proven its ability to introduce useful reforms, before both the domestic and foreign arenas, while the second is that the popular action is continuing and escalating following the fall of the barrier of fear.

Indeed, the multitude of protests, the increase of the number of participants in them and their expansion to new cities and provinces, reveal – without the shadow of a doubt – that the regime is no longer in control over the street and that the initiative has gone beyond its control. However, this reality does not deny the fact that the power transition might be extremely difficult, while the experience reveals that change is not always seen the way it was imagined by those who induced it. More often than not, it is in the form of a choice between what is bad and what is worse.

The complication on the Syrian scene and the connection between its numerous elements and the situation and conflicts in the region, along with the violent oppression exercised by the authority, are slowing down the pace of the opposition. This is due to the fact that the authority’s heavy investment in foreign policy, from the close relations with Iran to the political and economic cooperation with Turkey and the engagement in Lebanese and Palestinian politics and their implications – in terms of the armament and support of the resistance movements – as well as the unhealthy sectarian internal relations that have been deteriorating since the eighties, all reveal that change will not be easy and that domestic violence or regional war are likely. In the meantime, the Syrian regime has numerous internal and external cards it has not yet used, and might help it turn the table in case it were to sense the imminence of its end.

Consequently, the Lebanese parties opposing the rule in Syria seem to be specifically required to distance themselves from the developments, considering that any interference could raise the regime’s sensitivity and prompt it to export its crisis. In this context, it has already accused some deputies from the Future Movement of having smuggled arms to Syria, and might push some of its allies to tense up the situation for purposes serving the regime and shifting the attention away from its predicaments.

What is interesting is that the Lebanese are as concerned as the Syrians about the revolution in Syria. Indeed, the long shared history between the two peoples, the thousands of intermarriages, and the general feeling prevailing over the Lebanese that Syria is the natural, social and political guardian of their country, go hand in hand with the suffering endured by the Lebanese – as well as the Syrians – from the practices of the current regime since the first days of the Lebanese civil war, which the Syrian authority decided to use as a means to enhance its foreign policy and evacuate the domestic tensions.

Therefore, the Lebanese interest does not seem odd and does not constitute an intrusion in Syrian affairs. As for the acute division among the Lebanese over the developments in the brotherly country, it is a mere reflection of their own domestic division. Consequently, the legitimate and obvious demands that are now being raised by the Syrians and are related to freedom, dignity and justice, mean nothing to those who have decided to support the regime and have turned a resolutely deaf ear to the calls to instate the sovereignty of the law and end tyranny, under the pretext of standing alongside President Bashar al-Assad and his government against the Israeli-American attack. In the meantime, the March 14 forces’ disregarding of the warnings talking about the threat which the collapse of the Syrian regime might pose over the security of the region - in the absence of a convincing alternative - might stem from the same source, i.e. popular and domestic hostility among the Lebanese.

It goes without saying that Syria’s future is not drawn up in Lebanon or in any other country. It is drawn up by the Syrians themselves, with their own blood and patience. On the other hand, and with the same clarity, one must say that the support of the regime in Syria by those who consider themselves part of the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance forces for specific reasons – some of which are known and public while others are still concealed – will have negative repercussions on the future relations between the new Syria and the latter forces.

The Revolution Takes Universities By Storm

By Dr Amal al-Hazzani
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 22/04/2011
While observing the protests staged by students of the Faculty of Sciences in Damascus, and the Faculty of Arts in Aleppo, lining up with those demanding reform and change, I said to myself that I was fortunate to be tackling the issues of Higher Education, particularly the role and influence of universities, and their impact or lack thereof on society at large.
Young people usually enter university at the age of 18, after having many of their thoughts, behavioral patterns, and temperaments shaped and molded by their childhood. Yet it goes without saying that universities are capable of reshaping and rebuilding all those elements, in accordance with a different set of criteria. This is due to thought-provoking and theorizing professors, student activities, and wider social interaction, all of which are factors that can mold a personality. Each student stimulates their colleagues in some way, and effective blocs gradually form, although not necessarily positive.
In a previous meeting with Dr. Mohammed al-Issa, the Cultural Attaché at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, which coincided with the January 25 Revolution in Egypt, I asked him: What engages 30,000 male and female Saudi scholarship students in the US, other than their academic affairs? Here, I was particularly alluding to the pioneer scholarship students during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, who interacted with the political scene and intellectual transformations taking place at the time, with great enthusiasm and zeal. Some of them would attend the lectures and events organized by Pan-nationalists or Leftists, either out of admiration or curiosity. They would compliment fellow colleagues hailing from other countries, by participating in their partisan activities. Furthermore, a lot of early scholarship students took to the streets in 1979, whilst cheering in celebration for the overthrow of the Shah in Iran. I wanted to know whether scholarship students of the new millennium possess the same inclinations.
The Cultural Attaché asserted that generally speaking, things have changed considerably. The new youth generation shows no political or ideological interest like earlier generations. Their knowledge in that domain is not shallow, but they are not engrossed in the idea of focusing sharply on it. Today's youth are more inclined toward building social relations, whether real or virtual, via social networking sites, and they focus on developing their skills in handling modern technology. Most of the problems encountered by the Consulate in Washington fall into the category of marital discord, between scholarship students and their spouses. The Consulate endeavors to resolve those complaints, especially if they are formal ones. Yet such issues are expected to arise due to the large number of scholarship students.
What Dr. al-Issa said is quite true, and is not limited to his students in Washington. It applies to the Riyadh students as well. Actually, this change has not affected Saudis alone, because societies unite under their youth's interests, even if they differ in the details.
Students of the Faculty of Sciences in Damascus, and the Faculty of Arts in Aleppo, did not take to the streets in defense of an ideological belief, in allegiance to intellectual slogans, in response to partisan calls, or in expression of love for a political leader, as was the case with students of Syrian universities during the 1950s and 1960s. What mobilized the crowds today was their protest against poor economic and developmental conditions, as well as physical and moral repression. They took to the streets in protest over their conditions even though they knew that the State regime was a ruthless security intelligence apparatus, and that social and cultural figures had disappeared from their homes years ago for just writing a message or comment, a far cry from the mass protests and demonstrations witnessed today. To put it simply, the amount of pent-up anger was more than anyone could bear.
As happened in Egypt, the youth's revolution opened the doors for obscure Arab satellite TV stations broadcasting opposition party leaders no one had ever paid attention to or hosted before, even though they had been opposing the regime for decades. Those TV stations shook the dust of these figures and established them as fundamental participants in the revolution's outcome, even though they had actually failed throughout their political career to spark such an uprising.
I just hope President Assad doesn’t believe the story fabricated by his security apparatus, claiming that external powers are mobilizing the Syrian masses, such as the Zionists, America, or Arab figures at odds with Syria's regime. Such stories are remnants of the past. Besides, this is a tired recipe in Arab countries currently in a state of revolution. It is the duty of the Syrian president, who is not much older than the revolutionary youth of Damascus, Daraa, Baniyas and Aleppo, who confronted the riot police's gunfire with their bare chests, to open up to them and listen to their claims and demands. The president had previously pledged to meet a lot of those demands, yet he has since postponed any meaningful action.
The Algerian street has displayed substantial cohesion in the face of the wave of Arab revolutions, in spite of the fact that Algeria was the third candidate for a popular uprising after Tunisia and Egypt, in accordance with the "domino effect". Thanks to the Algerian government's swiftness in implementing reformative steps, the youth anger was eventually absorbed. Those steps included lifting the state of emergency, raising salaries, subsidizing commodities, pardoning a number of prisoners, and offering land for reclamation and cultivation. The initial reforms are just a prelude to greater promises, which the Algerian people are waiting for before deciding to embark on mass protests.
The remedy to all this popular discontent is no secret. The causes of the illness are well-known and the symptoms are clear. The problem lies in miscalculations, underestimating matters, refusing to admit being wrong, and not correcting one's mistakes in a timely manner.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Will Be The Arab World's Next Battle

Population growth and water supply are on a collision course. Hunger is set to become the main issue
By Lester Brown
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 22/04/2011
Long after the political uprisings in the Middle East have subsided, many underlying challenges that are not now in the news will remain. Prominent among these are rapid population growth, spreading water shortages, and growing food insecurity.

In some countries grain production is now falling as aquifers – underground water-bearing rocks – are depleted. After the Arab oil-export embargo of the 1970s, the Saudis realised that since they were heavily dependent on imported grain, they were vulnerable to a grain counter-embargo. Using oil-drilling technology, they tapped into an aquifer far below the desert to produce irrigated wheat. In a matter of years, Saudi Arabia was self-sufficient in its principal food staple.

But after more than 20 years of wheat self-sufficiency, the Saudis announced in January 2008 that this aquifer was largely depleted and they would be phasing out wheat production. Between 2007 and 2010, the harvest of nearly 3m tonnes dropped by more than two-thirds. At this rate the Saudis could harvest their last wheat crop in 2012 and then be totally dependent on imported grain to feed their population of nearly 30 million.

The unusually rapid phaseout of wheat farming in Saudi Arabia is due to two factors. First, in this arid country there is little farming without irrigation. Second, irrigation depends almost entirely on a fossil aquifer – which, unlike most aquifers, does not recharge naturally from rainfall. And the desalted sea water the country uses to supply its cities is far too costly for irrigation use – even for the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia's growing food insecurity has led it to buy or lease land in several other countries, including two of the world's hungriest, Ethiopia and Sudan. In effect, the Saudis are planning to produce food for themselves with the land and water resources of other countries to augment their fast-growing imports.

In neighbouring Yemen, replenishable aquifers are being pumped well beyond the rate of recharge, and the deeper fossil aquifers are also being rapidly depleted. Water tables are falling throughout Yemen by about two metres per year. In the capital, Sana'a – home to 2 million people – tap water is available only once every four days. In Taiz, a smaller city to the south, it is once every 20 days.
Yemen, with one of the world's fastest-growing populations, is becoming a hydrological basket case. With water tables falling, the grain harvest has shrunk by one-third over the last 40 years, while demand has continued its steady rise. As a result the Yemenis import more than 80% of their grain. With its meagre oil exports falling, with no industry to speak of, and with nearly 60% of its children physically stunted and chronically undernourished, this poorest of the Arab countries is facing a bleak and potentially turbulent future.

The likely result of the depletion of Yemen's aquifers – which will lead to further shrinkage of its harvest and spreading hunger and thirst – is social collapse. Already a failing state, it may well devolve into a group of tribal fiefdoms, warring over whatever meagre water resources remain. Yemen's internal conflicts could spill over its long, unguarded border with Saudi Arabia.

Syria and Iraq – the other two populous countries in the region – have water troubles, too. Some of these arise from the reduced flows of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which they depend on for irrigation water. Turkey, which controls the headwaters of these rivers, is in the midst of a massive dam building programme that is reducing downstream flows. Although all three countries are party to water-sharing arrangements, Turkey's plans to expand hydropower generation and its area of irrigation are being fulfilled partly at the expense of its two downstream neighbours.

Given the future uncertainty of river water supplies, farmers in Syria and Iraq are drilling more wells for irrigation. This is leading to overpumping in both countries. Syria's grain harvest has fallen by one-fifth since peaking at roughly 7m tonnes in 2001. In Iraq, the grain harvest has fallen by a quarter since peaking at 4.5m tonnes in 2002.

Jordan, with 6 million people, is also on the ropes agriculturally. Forty or so years ago, it was producing more than 300,000 tonnes of grain per year. Today it produces only 60,000 tonnes and thus must import over 90% of its grain. In this region, only Lebanon has avoided a decline in grain production.

Thus in the Arab Middle East, where populations are growing fast, the world is seeing the first collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the failure of governments to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 10,000 more people to feed, and less irrigation water with which to feed them.