Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Syrian Elite Don't Plan To Let The Revolution Spoil Their Party

The rich and powerful are indifferent to their fellow Syrians and have too much to lose to want the current regime to end 

By Simona Sikimic 
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 11/06/2011

syria protests
Syrian anti-government protesters calling for an end to a military siege in Nawa near the southern town of Daraa in April. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
International pressure for President Bashar al-Assad to step down may be growing, but it has failed to catch on among many of the Syrian elite who are carrying on with their lives as usual – in a bubble.

The growing violence – said to have left 1,200 dead and several thousands imprisoned even after the announcement of a prisoner amnesty on 31 May – has not dented the newly moneyed upper middle class's obsession with pleasure and luxury.

Private raves, hosted in the mansions of the rich and powerful, continue unabated, even as EU and US sanctions begin to bite at some of the regime's top personalities.

Pool parties in the Damascus suburb of Barada are openly promoted on Facebook, inviting patrons to get "wet and wild" every Friday as mosques call the faithful to prayer. The day is always busy and organisers say ticket sales failed to take a dip last month when fighting edged closer and sniper fire could be heard between the rare intermissions of trance music beats.

The fuel behind the fun is not escapism, but indifference. A sense of affiliation with fellow man does not regularly permeate the upper stratosphere of this former Soviet ally.

Many of the young, fashionable crowd in Damascus and Aleppo – who have varying degrees of association with the regime – drive in fast cars with blacked-out windows and openly smoke marijuana, knowing they are above the law and resenting the ongoing troubles.

Demands for higher living standards for all and at least a semblance of democratic reform, mixed with an undeniable religious zeal shared by the majority of protesters, could not be further away from the aspirations of the ruling few.

The Syrian elite cannot contemplate deserting Assad, no matter how unsettled about events they personally may be. They have too much to lose and virtually nothing to gain and feel irrevocably alienated from their fellow countrymen.

To an extent, this can be attributed to the sectarian divide which has pinned the majority Sunni population against the Alawite and Christian minorities, traditionally seen as loyal supporters of the largely secular Ba'athist regime.

But the problem is equally a battle of the haves and the have-nots. Certainly, religion matters much less at the Barada pool than who is ordering champagne and who is drinking the local beer.

More than just greed or corruption, the problem stems from conflicting visions regarding the future and how to move Syria forward.

After years of trying to modernise the economy by phasing out subsidies on key goods such as petrol and sugar, the regime immediately reversed its policy on 16 January after popular protests pushed Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from power.

According to Syrian finance minister Mohammad al-Hussein, the increase in the heating oil allowance alone will cost the state $326m (£200m) a year, benefiting two million public workers and retirees out of a population of 20m.

But populist measures such as this cannot endure if the elite's aspirations are to be fulfilled. In contrast to Egypt and Libya, where political resignations have become commonplace, no leading figures in Syria have publicly switched allegiances, even in the face of rising bloodshed.

For the business and political classes and their offspring, the price of dissent is high, but the fear of what would replace the status quo is even higher, and the Syrian people should not expect sympathies to turn or influential advocates to speak up on their behalf any time soon.

The Arab upheavals of the last six months have made the impossible look almost easy, but the wider the crevasse dividing the two sides, the harder the transition will be. So different are the various visions of the future vying for prominence in Syria that national reconciliation, no matter what reform promises may be made, is going to be very difficult

Yemen: Peace Is Not A Slogan

Our frustration at the international community won't distract Yemenis from true democracy

By Wasim Alqershi 
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 11/06/2011

Anti-government protests in Yemen
A Yemeni anti-government protester shouts slogans and flashes the victory sign during a demonstration at the protest square in Sana'a. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA
Yemen's popular youth revolution faced a unique set of circumstances among the contemporary revolutions of the Arab spring: a despotic regime; armed tribes; and an al-Qaida presence under the official auspices of the regime. But faced with all this, the youth insisted on achieving a comprehensive transformation by peaceful means. And millions of Yemenis responded to this invitation, descending on protest squares across the country.

The challenge of inviting the tribes of Yemen to join in with a revolution that was peaceful was significant; they represent a major segment of the population; and weapons are a part of their makeup. So when they began to pitch their tents in the squares, stripped of all weapons, it was a surprise and an indication of the desire by all Yemenis to move towards a modern democratic state.

Now, after spending 120 days in the squares, during which time we have suffered intense violence from President Saleh while the international community has spared him, no one has the right to condemn us for any step that we take. Because the world was only concerned with preventing civil war in Yemen, it allowed Saleh to continue his violence, despite him giving guarantees he would cease. Meanwhile, we were required to exercise self-restraint.

Safeguarding the peaceful nature of the revolution has become like grasping hot coals. Then Saleh's palace was bombed. It did not kill him, but lost him continuity as leader. The youth of the revolution believe Saleh is finished and that his presence in Saudi Arabia for treatment is to help the arrangement of post-Saleh conditions. It is also being used to get round our demands for radical changes, that the representatives of the regime be brought to trial, and that Yemen be ruled by a transitional presidential council committed to the goals of the revolution. However, the youth have the stronger card: the protests will not cease until all their demands are achieved.

Those who did not share in our sacrifice today will share our country with us. So the opposition political parties and the remains of the ruling party are to share the political authority, while the US controls the security services, and the Saudis are protected from the "revolutionary plague". Meanwhile, we are shot at by the remnants of Saleh's people, who America appears keen should remain in power. The US is ignoring the fact it may lose the co-operation of the Yemeni people in the fight against terrorism because the people hate those who stand at the head of the security forces – the same forces that killed hundreds of peaceful protesters.

Our young people felt optimistic about the international community but this has turned to frustration, as the community which claimed to stand for freedom, justice and democracy abandoned them to be killed without protection for the sake of these values. Rather than removing the cover of international legitimacy from the killers and freezing Saleh's assets, they gave him legal immunity.

These values could be mere slogans for western powers but the young people of the Yemeni revolution have demonstrated to the world true commitment to them. The youth opposed their country being seen only as an economic burden or a refuge for terrorism. Our frustrations over the international community will not distract us from our beliefs. Rather it will teach us to follow them while acting in the interests of our country. Today that interest lies in building a modern civil democratic country with a robust economy and a just legal system which renounces violence and terrorism and extends the hand of peace to all the world

Tragically, A Bloodbath May Now Be Inevitable In Syria

By Nikolaos van Dam 
This commentary was published in The Independent on 11/06/2011 

The latest actions of the Syrian regime yesterday indicate that all this is bound to lead to further bloody confrontation. The leadership knows that it is in danger, but it simply will not give up peacefully. 

After all, it has seen what happened in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak faces jail or perhaps even the death penalty.

So who is controlling the situation? It is clear that Bashar al-Assad doesn't have his own army and security people under control, and indeed, maybe never did. Bashar was parachuted on to the top of the regime to prevent disunity among the officers and ensure continuity, taking over from his father, Hafez, but that doesn't mean he has much power. He is not the one who issues the orders to shoot and kill; it is those who for tens of years have got used to acting with violence and intimidation. It was telling that a few weeks ago, the President's spokeswoman said Assad had ordered that there should be no more shooting, but it simply went on. He was apparently not in charge. But that does not mean that as president he is not fully responsible.
The situation is very different to Egypt, where the military is, more or less, still in place after the downfall of Mubarak. In Syria, the military is much more closely linked to the president. If he goes, his inner circle goes, albeit not without bloody confrontation. The leadership faces a major dilemma: reform could end this conflict, but they realise that any real reform will in the end lead to the disappearance of the present regime and the monopoly of the Baath Party.

The Syrian government is trying to start a national dialogue but I haven't seen any signs yet to suggest that the opposition wants to talk, unless certain preconditions are being met. The regime, after all, started this violence, and now it seems to be receiving it back. The regime reported that 120 of its forces died in Jisr al-Shughour at the hands of armed gangs, while some witnesses have suggested that it was in fact fighting between the military and its own defectors. If the violence at Jisr al-Shughour was because of defections then the regime really is in trouble.
The biggest danger to the regime is from within the armed forces. There will be some in the military who simply completely disagree with the atrocities which are taking place. Events may encourage them to plot against the regime and that could lead to the bloodiest confrontation yet.

Nikolaos van Dam is a former Dutch ambassador and has written extensively about Syria. The fourth edition of his book 'The Struggle for Power in Syria' has just been released.
The protest in numbers

-1,300 people have been killed, Syrian rights groups say. -10,000 people have been arrested, with reports emerging of torture in custody.
4,000 civilians have fled to Turkey fearing a crackdown on Jisr al-Shughour.
6,000 have sought refuge in Lebanon, but many have been forcibly returned.
325,000 soldiers and other personnel make up Syria's armed forces.

Russia, China Face Final Test

By Ahmed Al-Jarallah  
This commentary was published in The Arab Times on 11/06/2011 

Moscow and Beijing have failed yet another test by choosing to stand by wrong-doers and supporting the massacre of innocent victims. Instead of repenting for their misdeeds in Libya, they went on to commit another sin in Syria.

They deliberately aborted the decision of the United Nations Security Council when the UN denounced the killing of civilians by the monstrous government forces in Damascus.
This means the sun in Russia and China is setting at a time when people in the region have revolted against their regimes for freedom. This means these two nations have no mercy for the victims, instead they support repressive and murderous governments.

It will be difficult for states like China and Russia to recover after making wrong political calculations. It will also be futile when they try to catch up with the convoy because apologizing for past mistakes will not suffice to bring the dead back to life.
This is exactly what the two countries are trying to do now as they have realized that the Gaddafi’s regime has become ‘a thing of the past’. They are now trying to fraternize with the revolutionaries in Benghazi as a way of expressing regret. Can belated diplomatic efforts undo the destruction caused by supporting injustice?

This question is relevant to positions taken by Russia and China in Syria where the blood of the innocent has been spilled by the slogans of the dishonest bloody government through irrelevant justifications.
The two states have deprived Syrians of mercy of the international community due to their opposition to the proposed resolution presented by France, Britain and Germany in the Security Council.

The resolution was very light but good enough to stop the massacre of citizens in cities and villages - massacre of people who were demanding liberty and seeking reforms.
Russia and China may have realized their mistakes in Libya and the current losses in Syria. This became evident when demonstrators in an expression of anger set alight the flags of these nations because they had taken prejudicial positions.

The situation is dicey since the Syrian protesters are the people in charge of deciding future ties with other countries based on support given to the revolution.
There is no chance for a gamble in Damascus because the citizens are not prone to forgetting soon the stand adopted by Moscow and Beijing. It would be in the interest of both these nations to stand by the Syrians or look elsewhere for another exit window in the Middle East since the Syrian window is closed.

The current relationship linking Russia and China with the region is extremely significant in history, because it is coming after major changes in several Arab nations.
The situation has led to the collapse of former alliances based on principle of the cold war that ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Moscow and Beijing have failed to realize this fact since the time they lost a better part of their influence in many countries across the globe.

Moscow and Beijing probably still have time to catch up with the train by abandoning the Syrian government which continues to lose legitimacy on a daily basis.
They lose it locally due to consistent protests through which the protesters demand for its ouster, regardless of the brutal repression against citizens.

On the international stage, the government has lost its legitimacy because a number of countries have exposed the misdeeds of Damascus.
Will these two nations realize this fact or continue to move along the wrong path and allow posterity to indict them at every point? The future is in a better position to answer this question.

Ahmed Al-Jarallah is the editor-in-chief of The Arab Times and the Kuwaiti daily Assyassah

Israel's Rightists Are Living In A Colonial Past

Israel needs to realize that the Palestinian political reality of today has undergone a significant upheaval - and must tailor its policies accordingly.  

By Carlo Strenger
This commentary was published in the Israeli daily Haaretz on 10/06/2011 

Benjamin Netanyahu has one great upside and one great downside: the upside is that he is predictable. The downside is that, when it comes to foreign policy, he is utterly one-sided, uncreative and devoid of initiative, as Meir Dagan has recently pointed out.

He is neither ready for a historic compromise with the Palestinians, nor able to deliver anything, given that both his Likud party and his coalition partners live in a parallel universe in which the greater land of Israel is there to stay forever. Hence Netanyahu needs justifications for his inaction. His latest line: Palestinians do not want a state along the 1967 borders, they want the whole thing.

Let’s therefore take a truly realist look at developments in Palestinian society and politics: There are strong indications that Hamas is reconsidering its strategic options. Hamas, for quite some time, has largely refrained from using violence against Israel. Then came the surprise move of reconciliation with Fatah, after years of an uncompromising standoff. And now there are conflicting reports about Hamas’ intention to essentially let Fatah run Palestinian affairs.

There are two ways to understand this: the simple-minded one would say “Hamas only understands violence. Operation Cast Lead finally taught them a lesson”. This would be a big mistake: Henry Kissinger used to say that Israel has no foreign policy, only an internal one. That is pretty much true for all countries and political factions, and it is no less true for Palestinians than for Israel.

A realistic assessment of the reason Hamas is wavering about its long-term goals is simple: the steady erosion of its standing in the last year. Recent polls show that it would get less than 26 percent of the popular vote if elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza, and other polls have given them even less. This is probably the main reason why Hamas refused to participate in the elections that Mahmud Abbas wanted to call early this year.

There are some obvious reasons that have caused Hamas to lose ground: the West Bank’s economy under Salaam Fayyad’s management has seen steady growth of nine percent a year. A robust Palestinian business class is emerging that quietly builds infrastructure ranging from real estate development to cellular networks. Ramallah and Jenin are flourishing with economic activity.

Hamas, on the other hand, is keeping a stranglehold on Gaza's economy and is enforcing religious laws. Unlike their West Bank counterparts, Palestinians in Gaza under Hamas rule have had little reason to rejoice.

In addition to economic progress, the standing of Abu Mazen’s and Salaam Fayyad’s government around the world has steadily improved. A growing number of Western countries are considering recognition of a Palestinian state along 1967 borders, while Hamas remains an international Pariah that is primarily supported by Iran, and is about to lose its strategically important foothold in Syria.

Does this mean that Hamas is about to fall in love with Israel? Obviously this is not the case; but this is the wrong question to ask. There is very little reason to believe that Mahmud Abbbas loves Israel; or that Salaam Fayyad does for that matter. In fact, Israel’s persistent question asking whether the Palestinians have truly come to accept Israel’s existence is simply wrong-headed.

It is quite paradoxical that our right-wing tough realists grow strangely soft when it comes to Arabs’ relation to Israel: for some reason our hardliners keep asking whether we are really loved in the Middle East, and they will settle for nothing less.

Palestinian society is in transition on two issues: one is that its national ethos, for decades, has been to settle for no less than a return to Jaffa, Acre and all the other places from which they were expelled in 1948. The second is its ethos of resistance against Israel. For decades now, the Palestinians have used the dichotomy of resistance versus collaboration used in France under German occupation.

Fatah’s pragmatism requires a difficult transition: a profound change in Palestinians’ long-term aspirations; and the realization that the ethos of opposing Israeli occupation with violence has long ago stopped serving them. Mahmud Abbas’ admission last year that the second intifada was one of the Palestinians’ worst mistakes was an important step in this direction. Indeed, without this bloodbath, Palestinians would probably have a state by now, and thousands of lives could have been saved.

In the end, Palestinians will not change their ethos and aspirations because they love Israel, but because of their long-term interests. They are beginning to see that the international community’s consensus is that they should have a state along the 1967 borders; they know that the Arab world thinks the same, and this is why Abbas and Fayyad have been consistently working towards this goal.

The question is what conclusions Israel draws from this. The likes of Boogie Yaalon, Danny Danon, and Benny Begin say “Well, the good old Jabotinsky doctrine that Arabs only understand force has been proven right. We got the Palestinians off 1948; now we need another fifty years to make them forget about 1967, and the greater Land of Israel is ours.”

No wonder they keep quoting Jabotinsky, who, after all, developed his doctrine when Europe was still expanding its colonies and any non-European populations were largely considered as primitives that needed to be ruled rather than human beings with the same needs and right to dignity as Europeans.

They haven’t realized that the world has moved into a very different era; that Europe has divested itself of all its colonies after WWII, and that nowadays human rights are universal: the Palestinian right for self-determination is no longer questioned by anybody except Israel’s right wing. Their understanding of the world is roughly half a century out of tune with moral and political reality. Israel, meanwhile, is paying the price for their twisted and archaic worldview.  

Tweeting Change In Arab Journalism

Yasser Hareb writes: Traditional technology and content driven by reputation do not meet the expectations of young readers raised on Facebook and Twitter 
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 11/06/2011 

During the Arab Media Forum, held in Dubai last month, I could feel the concern traditional media outlets had towards social and new media such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. What struck me the most, however, was that those who belong to traditional media still debate whether or not new media is able to overcome traditional media. What they have yet to realise is that new media has gone far ahead of the game; in terms of technology and content and the broader audience base it has.

On YouTube's statistics page it reads that the video content uploaded on YouTube every 60 days equals the total production of all American TV stations over the past 60 years. Each day, users view two billion video clips on YouTube alone. Despite the fact that Arab media outlets have been discussing the effect of online journalism since 2004, they are still holding on to traditional technology and content which does not meet reader expectations. The new generation simply cannot tolerate long introductions to news bulletins, and talk shows no longer appeal to viewers as much as they did 10 years ago, especially when they discuss politics.
The success that some satellite stations achieved during the recent Arab uprisings was due, in large part, to content provided by young people on the ground using things like mobile phones. However, the number of people who followed the news on Twitter and other social media websites was not less than the number of people who watched it on TV. When half of the population in the Arab world is under the age of 25, it becomes a fact that half of the media's targeted audience is young people using smart phones and new means of communications. Those young people do not want to sit and watch news bulletins on TV and will not be disappointed if they miss a certain programme; nor will they wait for the re-run. They have their own understanding of media and in order for the media to reach them; it has to be available via their smart phones and in their online communities.

Simple language
Furthermore, we have seen new names emerge from these young social media addicts. They have started playing an important role in the social and cultural movement, in the Gulf region at least. It would be naive to ignore their roles just because they are young when compared to prominent intellectuals and thinkers.

 Writers who are active on Twitter were the real stars of the Arab Media Forum. Almost every one of them was surrounded by a group of people wanting to chat and exchange ideas or just to take photographs with them. During the sessions, those young Twitterers were the closest to the ordinary people, and they were able to address the problems facing the society in a simple way. Their speeches were not pre-written or printed; like a lot of the other speakers. They didn't try to use sophisticated terms and concepts to impress the audience.
Rather, they used the same language an ordinary person uses, the language derived from people's everyday lives. It did not matter whether these stars carried deep knowledge or not. What mattered was that technology has imposed them on the scene and they have become influential.

I noticed that many of the big names in Arab journalism, who have been writing for decades, did not get the same attention as these young writers received, because those big shots haven't taken new media seriously yet. They still write their articles by hand and fax them to the newspaper for publication. They still live in the past and like to talk about it, and they still, to a great extent, address only the elite. Many of them are unable to comprehend the changes that have happened in Arab societies and they cling to their traditional daily columns. They simply cannot compete with the modernisation that's sweeping the world. In an article published in Success magazine last March, Darren Hardy says that by 1900, it had taken 150 years to double all human knowledge. Today it takes only one or two years, and by 2020, knowledge will double every 72 days.
Some of the ‘veteran' writers accuse me of too often taking the side of young people and defending their thoughts. But, let's be realistic. With all the changes we have been witnessing, it's imperative for every writer, intellectual and author to keep pace with the changes, to be close to society and talk ‘with' the people not ‘to' them. The next stage does not need preaching nor theoretical speeches. Writers have to address the needs of people in a realistic manner. The role of the regular simple man is playing should not be stultified because the regular man is no longer as simple as we might think.

As for those who do not believe in modern technologies or in the young generation, they have alienated themselves from the social movement and are no longer able to help shape public opinion. New technologies are not simple means of entertainment or tools to pass time; they have become an integral part of life today. I wish to see Arab writers and intellectuals come down from their ivory towers and socialise with the society, so that both sides can understand each other better.
Yasser Hareb is an Emirati novelist and writer on political and social affairs

The Arab Awakening Embarrasses The World

By Raghida Dergham from Vienna
This commentary was pubished in al-Hayat on 10/06/2011 

Relations among the five permanent members of the Security Council will not deteriorate into confrontations risking bilateral or regional interests over their disagreement regarding the extent of the support that must be extended to the change currently taking place across the Arab region. However, the Arab awakening, which has succeeded in imposing itself on the agenda of many countries, has led the diplomatic discourse towards ‘embarrassment’, and has taken the equation out of the cycle of the often constrained ‘consensus’, behind which major countries such as China, Russia and other smaller nations in the Security council have hid behind, nations like Lebanon - the only Arab member of the Council- and several African countries.

Meanwhile, the U.S. administration has curtailed itself by way of its fear of repeating the Libyan model through a military intervention by NATO. As a result, the U.S. administration became a de facto partner of Russia, which in turn invokes this – that the Libyan model must not be repeated- as a slogan. Hence, the U.S. administration, despite its support for the text of the European draft resolution condemning Syria, became embarrassed as a result of its lack of enthusiasm, on par with that of Europe, for a strategy that would pursue the embarrassment of Russia, China and the African nations in the Security Council. The U.S. administration is also worried that Damascus may take this as encouragement for the regime to believe that it enjoys American protection, and not just Russian-Chinese protection in the Security Council.

Europe, for its part, has decided to express resentment and object to what is transpiring in Syria, even over the failure to adopt a resolution at the Security Council because of a Russian or Chinese veto. Europe has opted not to succumb to the ‘consensus’ approach, which has often hindered the Security Council whenever it sought to issue a statement that would require all 15 members to approve it. This is while passing a resolution requires a majority of 9 votes, provided that no permanent member of the Council vetoes it. Nevertheless, Europe is not above being held to account with respect to its relations with the Arab uprising, merely because it is engaged in a leading role in the Security Council. The Global Agenda Council for Europe and Central Asia, a subordinate body of the World Economic Forum which convened in Vienna this week, adopted a notable position in its communiqué, by stressing that the European response to the Arab Spring has lacked ambition, imagination and generosity. The deeds and actions of European leaders, according to the Council, focused too much on stopping the flux of immigrants, and too little on the historic opportunity to reorganize Europe's relationship with its neighbors to the south.

The Council’s communiqué also said that economic challenges – together with demographic trends, and rising inequality, unemployment and corruption- may well threaten the advent of the Arab spring. [The Council stated that] Europe must do everything in its power to avoid this scenario. The Council also stated that the movements for dignity that emerged in the Arab word did not call for joining the West, as much as they were an attempt to liberate the citizens in these countries from within. According to the Council, Europe must therefore find symbolic means and a comprehensive long-term political and economic vision for the nature of Europe's relations with its southern neighbors.

The discussions at Vienna’s Economic Forum for Europe and Central Asia placed European responsibility at the forefront by demanding that the continent rise to the challenges brought about by the Arab spring. However, this did not exonerate the Arabs from their historic responsibility, whether at the level of businessmen, who in their majority were partners of the regimes being toppled, or at the level of regional bodies such as the Arab League and the GCC.

There aren’t an adequate number of think tanks or strategic research institutes in the Arab world that would define what options are available ahead. For this reason, the process of establishing a new regional order appears vague to many and worrisome for others. Of course, there are the factors of the youths, social media networks and popular determination to change, and these may well be more willing, ready and engaged in drafting a new regional order than the 'old guard' may realize. There also are countries which, at the opportune moment, rushed to read the features of change early on and decided to ally themselves with it against yesterday's partners, with Qatar at the forefront of these - having appeared, like the Barack Obama administration, as though it were the 'Che Guevara' of the Middle East.

However, there is a notable absence by the Arab League in its capacity as a necessary institution for testing various scenarios impacting the very core of the Arab future. There is an urgent need for the Arab League to immediately reinvent itself, but it isn’t doing so.

In turn, the GCC is in front of a historic opportunity that it must not miss. Otherwise, it will continuously be lagging behind the developments on the Arab scene, flummoxed, and without a vision or any stakes in the Arab spring. Many countries in the GCC still view the Arab spring with disdain or suspicion, even when it is in their interest to provide immediate support to both Tunisia and Egypt, in order to help their model succeed - no matter what reservations and criticism they may have against both. It is an opportunity to influence though investment, instead of refraining from this in anger, resentment or as retribution. That would be, as the expression goes, cutting one's nose to spite one's face.

The GCC countries have played an important role in Libya, prompting the Arab League to adopt outstanding stances. This made action on the Libyan issue in the Security Council swift and effective. The GCC countries also played a central role in the Yemeni issue, with an initiative that gave President Ali Abdullah Saleh an exit strategy whereby he would leave power without being prosecuted. And as regards the Syrian issue, and despite some prominent stances by GCC countries in closed sessions, there is no public position similar to the GCC's positions on Libya or Yemen; certainly not by Bahrain, at any rate, where the GCC countries came together and placed geographical considerations above all else.

The absence of a Gulf stance and the Arab League’s opting not to adopt a position on the developments in Syria, both contribute to giving an excuse to Russia, China and the African nations in the Security Council. These countries pointed their fingers at the Arabs as a first line of defense. And some have publicly stated: Let the Arabs come to us with positions on Syria, and request our support, and you shall see what we will do. However, this view does not exonerate these countries, despite of the strong Arab alibi.

In truth, what prompted China to engage the Libyan opposition was not the Arab recognition of the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC). Instead, it is the fact that the road map towards the expiration of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's tyrannical regime is plain and obvious, and so is the success of NATO’s military support for the rebels, and the astute strategy pursued by the TNC, which includes in its ranks veteran experts on international policy. Thus, China was compelled to engage the opposition, and Russia was forced to abandon Gaddafi and dispatch a delegation to Benghazi. And what perhaps is speeding up the attempt to end the conflict in Libya, is the fact that Gaddafi himself buried all other alternatives to military settlement, in addition to his utter rejection of all formulas of transitioning power while being granted immunity from prosecution. Recently, Gaddafi appended to his threat to pursue the Libyan people 'alleyway by alleyway' a call to dissidents to 'repent'. Such stances have certainly contributed to reaffirming Russia and China’s ‘being compelled’ to reconsider their objections to the actions on Libya, especially with respect to NATO's role. However, what is noteworthy here is that Russia’s stances underwent a complete U-turn during the G8 summit in Deauville, where economic interests figured highly in the discussions, and not just political and strategic considerations.

Meanwhile, Yemen does not figure in the language of economic interests, but rather the opposite is true, as saving it from becoming a rogue state requires a massive infusion of funds in its direction. Yemen does not constitute a good investment in terms of oil, gas or even as a coastal stretch, as Libya does following the transitional phase. It is a good investment only in terms of preventing it from becoming a fertile ground for civil wars, and for al-Qaeda and similar extremist groups. Investing in Yemen is thus more like drawing out an insurance policy against the worst. And for geographical reasons, the GCC countries are more interested in Yemen than others. The fragmentation of Yemen and its transformation into a rogue state exploited by terrorism and extremism would directly impact the national security of certain countries in the GCC. However, this does not invalidate the critical importance attached by Washington to Yemen for sheer concern for and from the country, should it become a rogue state. As for Russia and China, they are both in the back seat when it comes to the Yemeni issue, until further notice.

There is a de facto consensus between the GCC countries and the five permanent members of the Security Council on the Yemeni question. There is also a near consensus among all these countries with respect to the strategy on Libya. This is in addition to the minimum level of understanding present among these countries regarding Bahrain, despite public criticisms of the latter’s government followed by praise for its measures for reform. However, when it comes to the Syrian question, there are clear differences, most notably between the efforts led by Europe and the Russian resistance in terms of referring the Syrian issue to the Security Council, and also against the U.S. administration’s subjugation to Russian dictates for fear of its veto or other ambiguous reasons and calculations.

The differences will not become confrontations that would endanger common interests. However, the approach adopted by Europe to embarrass reluctant sides is necessary so that the latter may not become comfortable with their obstinacy without accountability. Russia and China do not want the Arab spring to blow in their direction, and they are hiding behind Arab malingering and hesitancy and also American reluctance. However, the Arab scene is once again imposing itself on the international arena. Russia and China may soon see that their interests cannot be served by appearing as protectors of the regimes against their peoples that are calling for change, when the call for reform has failed.

A Lawful Revolution And Unlawful One

By Mshari Al-Zaydi
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 10/06/2011 

The Supreme Leader of the Khomeinist revolutionary state in Iran, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, was frank and overt in giving his blessings to the Arab revolutions [taking place in our region] and which he considers to be an extension of the revolution instigated by his mentor Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini. However, Khamenei's blessing did not extend to the popular uprising taking place today against the al-Assad regime in Syria.

According to the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper, which follows a pro-Hezbollah and pro-Syrian line, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech on the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini from in front of Khomeini's tomb in southern Tehran which was attended by some of Iran's most notable figures, during which he said that Iran supports the popular uprisings being staged by all Muslim peoples, with the exception of those being instigated by Washington, thereby ruling out the popular uprising taking place in Syria.

Khamenei said that the architect of the Islamic Revolution – his predecessor Grand Ayatollah Khomeini – had anticipated the events that the Middle East has witnessed over the past few months and which saw the Arab people rise up against their oppressive ruling regimes. Khamenei stressed that: "Our position is clear, when the movement is Islamic, popular, and anti-American, we support it." Without explicitly referring to Syria, he add that "where [popular] movements are instigated by the US and Zionism, we won't support them. When the US and Zionists interfere to overthrow a regime and occupy a state…we stand on the opposite side."

Khamenei deserves to be praised for his candor which has spared us the agony of engaging in heated arguments with those who, whenever they read or hear anything contradicting the Khomeinist Republic's propaganda, "thrust their fingers into their ears, put their heads in the sand, and become obstinate and arrogant."

Those who uphold the pure revolutionary logic of the "resistance" often neglect a fact that is staring us in the face, namely that there are no truly impartial stances being taken with regards to what is going on in the Arab World and the revolutions and major political changes taking place in the strategic map of the region.

Hassan Nasrallah, the loyal disciple of Khamenei, who showed great pride in following the Guardian Jurist, struck the same chord by differentiating between "pure" and impure Arab revolution. Nasrallah cheered, encouraged, hailed and applauded what happened in Libya and Egypt, welcoming this "revolution of the free peoples." However the Hezbollah chief, like Khamenei, remained silent when the time came to comment on the popular uprising taking place in Syria. This uprising has been brutally suppressed by the Syria regime in a manner that goes far beyond the violence seen during the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions.

Khamenei also tied what happened in Bahrain with what happened in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya; connecting all of these events with an all-encompassing Islamic revolution that was, of course, first inspired by the "pure" Khomeinist revolution in Iran. Khamenei's most loyal disciple, Hassan Nasrallah, followed suit, even though Bahrain is calm and stable today, and there are no tanks patrolling the streets of Bahraini cities, or military helicopters opening fire on the population, as is the case in Syria.

The end result is that the interests of Iran, and its agents like Hezbollah and possibly Hamas, are not served by the collapse of the Syrian regime, as this regime provides these states and groups with an advantage in the regional power game. Therefore we have not heard anything about the Syrian people's "honorable" heroism and sacrifice, and they are not included in these so-called "blessed" Islamic revolutions. In direct contradiction to this, the overthrow of the Mubarak, Ben Ali, Gaddafi and even the Saleh regimes is "useful" to the Iranian project, and for Tehran and its agents to extend their regional influence.  

In short, the Tehran's mullahs and their followers in the Arab World are following an equation of "profit and losses" [with regards to supporting or denouncing Arab revolutions]. However they portray the manner in which they make such decisions, to the zealous masses and through the media, as being according to high idealism.   

What is ironic is that during Khamenei's latest speech on the occasion of the anniversary of the death of Khomeini, he attacked the West's policy of double standards. According to the Lebanese al-Akhbar newspaper Grand Ayatollah Khamenei denounced "the double-standard policy adopted by the US administration and its exploitation of human rights issues to achieve its own interests."  

This cunning "mullah" did not stop for a second to acknowledge that he himself had just practiced a similarly outrageous double-standard by describing the popular uprising in Syria against the brutally suppressive al-Assad regime as being a US plot, rather than the product of decades of oppression and public anger. Furthermore, Khamenei portrayed the bulk of the Syrian revolutionaries, or those sympathizing with them, as agents or fools being incited or coerced by the Americans.   

I assume, although I cannot be certain, that matters have become plain for everyone to see, and this is something that should have been clear a long time ago, over the past decade. This was after Arab satellite TV stations, newspapers, writers and intellectuals, from trends other than the Muslim Brotherhood, actively began to defend the "resistance" rhetoric espoused by Iran and its allies including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. The bottom line is that the clamor of the Iranian, Syrian, and Muslim Brotherhood slogans are based on pure political "interests" and secular calculations. However Iran has always responded to such reasoning with vilification and accusations of treason.   

Once again, I would like to stress that the Supreme Leader [of Iran] is not to be blamed for his candor, rather those who believe the honeyed words of politics and politicians should be blamed.

The "resistance" slogan and the liberation of Palestine was the dagger that the Khomeinist propaganda machine utilized to create a rift within the Arab ranks. This same dagger was lately unsheathed by the Syrian regime, when it purposefully instigated a confrontation with Israel along the Golan Heights' borders, under the pretext of commemorating the anniversary of the Six-Day War. This also aimed to warn Israeli against allowing the Assad regime to collapse. In a recent interview with The New York Times, President Assad's cousin, Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf linked the security of the Syrian "regime" – rather than the security of Syria itself, for example – to Israel's security.

This is truly a macabre joke! The question that must now be asked is: Is this the "first" anniversary of the Six-Day War that we have ever observed? Was this the first time that the inhabitants of the Golan Heights and the Palestinians in Syria commemorating this occasions? Where were these crowds of protestors last year?

This was a brutal exploitation of the Palestinian cause for immediate political interests. The political elite in Damascus brutally capitalized on the Palestinian tragedy, and Khamenei did the same in Iran. His goal was to hit back at the enemies of Tehran, by raising the slogan of resistance, opposition, and of course Palestinian liberation.

In line with the famous Islamic saying "although he is a liar, he is telling the truth [in this instance]", the office of the Israeli Prime Minister issued a statement last Sunday asserting that the Syrian regime "the Syrian regime is trying to divert attention from the massacres it is committing in Syria." Although the Arabs might not admit this publicly, many will agree with the Israeli take on the Syrian regime's latest actions in the Golan Heights.

The problem is that the Palestinian Cause, with its deep moral sentiment in the Arab mentality, is being exploited and harmed by such abuse and continued attrition. Many Palestinians are being sacrificed in this political game, just as many other Palestinians were in the past. These Palestinians were sacrificed, not only by the Syrian regime and its latest showing in the Golan Heights, but also by Khomeinist Iran, Saddam's Iraq, and even by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.  None of these political figures, or there successors, have contributed anything to the Palestinians cause, except fiery rhetoric which helps such regimes cling onto power under the pretext of serving the Palestinian cause which is something that they exploit as an excuse to justify the legitimacy of their rule and ambition.

The only hope left for us, if there is any, amidst the political and moral exploitation of the Palestinian cause that we are currently witnessing, is for everybody to remove these exhausted masks once and for all, and to place all their cards on the table. The Arabs have now grown weary of the excessive use of metaphors, and slogans.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Tunisian Revolution And Its Reality

By Gabriel G Tabarani 

How beautiful and dizzyingly optimistic the early days of Tunisia’s revolution were back in January, and when the dust finally set, the air was tinged pink with the wildest of hopes and expectations. At that time, the Tunisians did not yet know that the brave new dawn that had just risen over their land would illuminate the entire Arab world, from the sands of Egypt to the orchards of Damascus.

It all began in earnest at the trauma ward of the town of Ben Arous where Mohammad Bouazizi was admitted after immolating himself on 17 December 2010, after having received a humiliating slap courtesy of Tunisian policemen. At the time, the university graduate turn subsistence peddler could not have known what the repercussions of his desperate actions would be – producing a butterfly effect resulting in the tornado that would change the political landscape across the Middle East.
The first, unsuspecting, victim of the ensuring political tumult was Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali  the muddled puppet, obeying the orders of a tyrannical wife. In the five months since, the Tunisian outlook is much greyer and harsh realities are beginning to set in as pro-democracy groups are resigned to preaching patience and hoping for better days. Clearly, the revolution is suffering from a hangover - you can hear it and see it.

However, Tunisia has always possessed a fair amount of the elements deemed necessary for establishing and maintaining a political system which at least approaches a Western-style democracy: social cohesion, an educated middle class, a legacy of authentic non-governmental civic and professional organizations, such as trade unions and its bar association as well as a strong tradition of secularism and concern for women's rights. Furthermore, it benefits from the absence of the grievances and complexes regarding its colonial past and the French language that one finds in neighbouring Algeria.
Nonetheless, Tunisian political life has from the outset been dominated by the office of President, leaving all other political parties and forces emasculated. As such the opening up of Tunisia’s political system carries its own risks which first began to appear after the revolution – in particular the return of the radical “Salafi” movement. In fact, the last serious challenge to the political order prior to the Jasmine Revolution (as January’s uprising is now known) came from the Islamist movement “el-Nahda”. Its leading figure, Rachid Ghannoushi, was once considered an Islamic thinker whose ideas came closer to accepting Western-style democracy and political pluralism than his counterparts elsewhere although one can certainly find other examples of such men. However, now that his party has been officially recognised by the government, the issue is whether “el-Nahda” constitutes an enemy from within for the Jasmine Revolution especially given its soaring popularity?

A video appeared on Facebook on 4 May, in which the former interior minister Farhat Rajhi, a trusted public figure in Tunisia, claimed that Ben Ali loyalists still hold significant sway in the political sphere and that they were planning a military coup, depending on the results of July’s election. Furthermore, he suspected that there is collusion with Algeria to counter the increased popularity of “el-Nahda” (who according to polls could get c.20 percent of votes in the event of an election).
Whether the accusations are true or not does not matter in the paranoia of post-revolution Tunisia. They proved to be a political bombshell as the message was delivered by a highly respected figure whose claims confirmed suspicions already harboured by many.

State practices such as internet censorship and police beatings of journalists, that Tunisians thought had been place firmly in the past, have returned. “First he tried to grab my phone from me and my camera,” said radio journalist Marwa Rekik, accosted by a policeman while covering the protests. “He hit me on the head; I have five stitches in my head.” Her legs were covered in bruises from police batons. Thirteen other journalists also report being beaten by the police.
The government has declined to comment, but in a televised interview on 7 May the Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi denied a counter-revolution and called Farhat Rajhi a liar. He said the beating of journalists was a mistake. Rekik finds that hard to believe: “They could say they took me for an ordinary citizen, but there were 14 of us and each of us said we were journalists.” However, that was last May, in the midst of the mess and troubles, when the state seemed overwhelmed by the accumulation of problems, unable to answer the many questions posed by the ordinary Tunisian.

Last Wednesday, the government settled the issue of elections for a Constituent Assembly or parliament. These had been originally scheduled for July 24, however the ballot will take place now on October 23 “in better conditions of freedom and transparency”. However, the wait for legislation necessary to establish a body with the remit to draft a new constitution could last indefinitely – this pause in progress could result in the "habits inherited from the former regime" continuing.
Bloggers, and there are millions, who connected to Facebook and Twitter express their dismay at the current inertia. Extracts quoted by Maghrabia highlight these concerns: "I'm afraid. What the future look like? who will lead the country? a new dictator? The reassuring signals are weak. We are talking about web blocked, torture, trials delays. Time is short.”  Highlighted in every such posting, the feeling of apprehension, even fear, is ubiquitous. With good reason, it seems.

The economy, once thriving, is on the road of arduous recovery. Tourism (representing almost 7 per cent of GDP) is falling into the red and nearly a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, and this is according to official figures – so the truth may be even worse. The young, the driving dynamo of the revolution, fear of unemployment and its inevitable consequence: that of social marginalization.
The Minister of Social Affairs, Mohammad Ennaceur has proposed reform including a new tax system, an increase in wages and improved education and healthcare systems. Once the backbone of Tunisian society, the middle class now barely is making ends meet. Furthermore, the gap between the rich and less rich is far from been filled. In addition, the gross disparity remains between coastal cities and inland, and the unanimous opinion is that the Association Agreement with the EU would need to be expanded to other partners. Tunisia, once the ancient granary of Rome, needs its second-wind at a time when the post-revolution has stalled and it now faces the challenges involved with learning about and establishing an effective democracy.

Certainly, in the life of nations, a mere semester does not count for a lot. At the very least one could augur that it is but the first step on the path to national renewal. However, there remains the risk that in the current vacuum that it could turn out to be a mere prelude to extremism - such an outcome is feared by the majority of Tunisians. An active and vocal minority are working against such a development.
The optimism and euphoria of January’s revolution has given unfortunately way to dread. The revolution is not yet over and its goals are far from assured. Observers still question whether a new social contract can be established between the political and economic elites and the public at large. One which can avoid excessive upheaval and trauma thus placing Tunisia on the path towards a better future? 

It seems that the answer must wait at least until next October.

This commentary was published in the same time in in USA and in the daily Arabs Today

Europe Is A Natural Partner In The Arab Transition To Democracy

By Ana Palacio
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 10/06/2011 

Until now, and with few exceptions, the West has nurtured two distinct communities of foreign-policy specialists: the development community and the democratic community.

More often than not they have had little or no connection with one another: Development specialists dealt comfortably with dictatorships and democracies alike, believing that prosperity can best be created by concentrating exclusively on economic issues and institutions.
The consequences of this approach have a special resonance in the Arab world today. But, as the recent United Nations Security Council debates on the Arab Spring have shown, it is not the major emerging countries that will influence events in the region. Brazil has barely uttered a word in reaction to the region’s tumult, while Russia and China have little taste for sanctions against Libya in light of their own autocratic governments.

All of this adds up to a unique opportunity for the European Union to support its neighbors’ transition from revolutionary upheaval to democratic government. At the same time, we need to promote the progress of other regimes in the region toward inclusive democracy. Indeed, the EU is their natural partner in this endeavor.
Since the launch of the Barcelona Process in 1995, the EU’s Mediterranean policy has been criticized for not linking financial aid to democratic reform, and for giving priority to European concerns like immigration, security, and cooperation on counter-terrorism. At the same time, EU policy has sidelined clear southern priorities, like opening up Europe’s agriculture and textile markets. The result is that the vision of the official Euro-Mediterranean Policy (EMP) has lagged far behind its original goals.

Europe should shift its focus on immigration and security back to policies that reflect the original objectives of the Barcelona Declaration. The EMP’s central goals were to advance a “comprehensive partnership” and political reform, and to create “a common area of peace and stability,” together with a Euro-Mediterranean free-trade area.
Moreover, the associated MEDA funding mechanism crucially and specifically included the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights. This link between security, democracy and human development has since been broken and needs to be restored through investment in good governance, regional development and education.

The EMP evolved in 2004 into the European Neighborhood Policy framework, and in 2007, the European Neighborhood Policy Instrument (ENPI) replaced MEDA as the EU’s main financing mechanism for Euro-Mediterranean policy. This put human rights funding into the National Indicative Program (NIP), which encompasses 17 countries: 10 in the south and seven in Eastern Europe. Although good governance and human rights remained among the ENP’s proclaimed goals, official communications of the European Commission show that it emphasized security and border control.
When the EMP was “re-launched” in 2008 under the newly established Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) to give it greater political emphasis, the result was an exercise in “realism” that further weakened the original EMP. And, for all its high-flown language, the UfM is an empty shell. This is partly due to unfortunate timing: the UfM’s launch coincided with the outbreak of the Gaza war and became entangled in the complexities of Arab-Israeli relations. But the initiative also failed to gain momentum among political leaders.

To implement the far-reaching vision of the Barcelona Process, the ENP will have to revisit the way it distributes its financial support, rebalance the funding that it provides to the EU’s eastern and southern neighborhoods, and place much greater emphasis on democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
Education remains a key area where the EU should contribute to the development of the southern neighborhood, if only because young people are a growing majority of the Arab population. Although many Arab states have been opening new schools and universities, and are allowing more private educational institutions to flourish, the quality of education in the region still leaves much to be desired.

Religion remains a compulsory subject throughout university programs, while inquisitiveness, critical thinking and objective analysis are all widely discouraged. As the Jordanian intellectual and former foreign minister Marwan al-Muasher has argued, state and religious interpretations of history, science, and political values are hammered into Arab students.
Wilfried Martens, the president of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament and former Prime Minister of Belgium, recently made a similar point: “The West is not at war with Islam. Christianity is not at war with Islam. And neither is democracy. All three, however, are incompatible with a certain interpretation which claims that the scripture is the basis upon which to build a state.”

Of the Arab countries receiving ENP funds, only Egypt has channeled a high proportion – nearly 50 percent – toward education. In any case, Europe’s spending on education in the region is scattered among inter-regional, national and thematic programs, which makes it difficult to see how these funds’ effectiveness might be measured.
Europe now faces key decisions that concern both its values and its interests in the Arab world, and the reconciliation of its short- and long-term objectives. Infrastructural investment and economic reform are crucial for the Mediterranean region’s future development, but they cannot transform the region without a parallel emphasis on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and education.

To advance both objectives, the EU must link its investment and aid programs to concrete progress on democratization, and press for much greater accountability and improvement in reforming educational systems throughout the region.
Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and a former senior vice president of the World Bank, is a senior fellow and lecturer at Yale University. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate-Europe’s World ( and

Egyptian Epic Enters Phase Two

By Rami G. Khouri 
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 10/06/2011

Egyptians refer to their “revolution” that overthrew the regime of president Hosni Mubarak on February 11 and they revel in its continuing afterglow, appreciating how significant and satisfying their deed was.

The post-revolution phase now under way in the country poses a more difficult challenge than the weeks of street demonstrations that sent Mubarak into retirement, where he, his two sons and some of his senior officials are detained and will soon be tried in court.

Everyone asks in Egypt whether the revolution really changed much beyond removing the top officials from office, and whether a new democratic system of governance will fully take root in the country.

Speaking with a range of ordinary Egyptians, with professionals, academics and activists in Cairo this week, I also had a rich vantage point from which to understand the deeper political issues at play here, where I participated in a two-day seminar of 30 representatives of non-governmental organisations from a dozen Arab countries, who gathered to discuss “Paths towards democratic changes and equitable development in the Arab region: towards building a civil state and establishing a new social contract”.

The meeting - convened by the Arab NGO Network for Development, the Arab Institute for Human Rights and the Egyptian Association for the Community Participation Enhancement - clarified what I see as the three most important political dynamics to emerge from the Egyptian experience (which is also taking place in Tunisia): the Tahrir Square experience was an exhilarating mass empowerment of once helpless individuals who came together and were able to remove their disliked government; the concept of “the consent of the governed” is now operational in Egypt, as “people power” has become the legitimate source of authority and governance, but without ideological expression or anchorage; the spirit of Tahrir Square must now be translated into a new governance structure and social contract that provide citizens with both their political and civil rights, and the promise of more egalitarian socio-economic development prospects.

The NGO activists in Cairo knew instinctively from their decades of experience that they had to achieve one overriding imperative if the newly forged assets of the popular rebellions across the Arab world were to be translated into long-term gains for all citizens: the new governance systems of the Arab world must be based on rights of citizens that are both clearly defined in constitutions and also implemented and enforced on the ground through credible legal and political structures.

Among the critical elements that must define a new social contract and credible constitutionalism are a strong, independent judiciary, and a new relationship between the military-security sector and the civilian population.

The political contest under way in Egypt today sees the spirit of Tahrir Square continuing to manifest itself in several forms (street demonstrations, legal action, new political parties, civil society activism, dynamic media) that seek to define a new governance system in the face of the two most powerful forces that hover over society: the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many Egyptians increasingly see a growing alliance between the military and the Islamists, which some activists even refer to as a quiet coup d’état. The new element at play now is the Arab citizen, whose courageous confrontation of the autocratic old order has energised and empowered him.

Masses of Arabs today feel that they actually have the ability not just to demand but also to enforce their rights as citizens in the pluralistic and constitutional democracies they seek to construct from the wreckage of the Arab security states they endured for many decades.

The polarisation, fragmentation or even violent collapse of some Arab states - Somalia, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Algeria and Iraq to date, with others lined up to follow suit - is the natural consequence of states that fail to provide their citizens with the rights they expect.

Rehabilitating and rebuilding more stable Arab states and governance systems today requires addressing the equal rights of all citizens in the political, civic, economic, cultural and social fields, and “constitutionalising the protection of citizen rights”, as one Moroccan scholar called it.

The historic change that Tunisia and Egypt have triggered is simply that Arab citizens are now players in this process, having been mostly idle bystanders during the past four generations when Arab statehood proliferated without any real citizen sovereignty taking root in parallel.

This struggle to define the new Arab world will go on for some years. The important thing is that it has finally started in earnest and its outcome will be determined largely by the interaction among indigenous actors that now include the once vanished but now reinvigorated protagonist in the saga of statehood: the Arab citizen.

Rocky Road Ahead For Iraqis

Mohammad Akef Jamal writes: The 100-day reform deadline actually saw a deterioration in security and lack of government services
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 10/06/2011 

The political crisis in Iraq is coming to a head as the 100-day government ultimatum ends today. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki had sought the time to undertake reforms.

Al Maliki had not been expected to meet his goals because he does not have the capabilities to fix the situation in Iraq in such a short time. Moreover, his pledge could have worsened the situation. And this is exactly what happened, as no one has seen any kind of improvement on the ground. In fact, things have deteriorated further in the country.
The prime minister had a major role in the deterioration of the political situation in Iraq, a country that is on the verge of collapsing as a result of the Arbil agreement not being implemented.

This agreement included nine chapters, and was concluded last November between Al Maliki and Eyad Allawi, Chairman of the Al Iraqiya list. It was sponsored by the President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani. It put an end to the government formation crisis that had lasted nine months.
The agreement included the establishment of the Supreme Policies Council, to be chaired by Allawi, and the formation of a real, national unity government. Both did not happen, resulting in protests by Al Iraqiya, which had received the most number of votes in the elections.

Al Iraqiya also suspended its members' attendance of parliamentary sessions while threatening to leave the political process altogether and calling for early elections to break the political deadlock.
The 100-day time limit also witnessed a noticeable deterioration in the security situation, and a lack of government services, especially electricity outside Baghdad's Green Zone.

What made things worse was that the political blocs in parliament agreed to appoint three vice- presidents, thereby disregarding people's will.
The crisis entered a new phase with differences seen between the prime minister and the house speaker regarding the authority of the parliament to make laws. The resignation of the first vice-president also revealed the size of the problems facing Iraq and its inability to address them.

Will the end of the 100-day deadline today be critical to the political process? Will Iraqi politicians keep their promises? Or will the most influential group force the others to sit down for talks?
The government crisis has been going on for 15 months, as a result of its weak structure and its members' unclear stand regarding the Arbil agreement.

The departure of the Al Iraqiya list may not lead to the collapse of the government, however it will lead to the destruction of the Iraqi political process. It will leave the prime minister with one of two options: dissolve parliament as per constitutional mechanisms or annul the national accord as he has threatened to do on several occasions, to establish a majority government.

Both options are not without difficulties. For the prime minister to establish a majority government, he will have to maintain the unity of the National Alliance, which secured him the premiership in the first place. He will also have to secure the approval of the Kurdish alliance. The prime minister will be obliged to resist US pressure on this matter, as it will not be pleased with this turn of events.
The government's approval of Mahdi Army's military parade a few weeks ago is one way of appeasing the Sadrists, as the prime minister will need their support to maintain the unity of the National Alliance, despite the harm such a parade inflicted on the image of the state.

Dismantling parliament is another thorny road to tread. Public support for different political blocs has changed since the last elections, and the street protests and demonstrations indicate changing loyalties and preferences.
However, the biggest loser of public support is the prime minister himself, because he is the one in the eye of the storm. Hence, it is not in his interest to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections.

Great efforts are being made behind the scenes to stem the collapse of the Iraqi political process, but this is accompanied by contradictory statements.
The statements made by Barzani are important and more attention must be given to what he has to say as he will no doubt have another approach to solving the crisis.

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.