Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why Israel Is Wrong About Iran

Israelis don't need to be paranoid about Iran's nuclear installations. Iran's leaders have other concerns on their minds 

By Meir Javedanfar

Israel Meir Dagan
Meir Dagan has been asked to return his diplomatic passport after saying he thinks attacking Iran would be 'a stupid idea'. Photograph: Dan Balilty/AP
Israel's former intelligence chief, Meir Dagan, has been subjected to a firestorm of criticism – from the Israeli government as well as sections of the media – since he stated that attacking Iran's nuclear installations would be "a stupid idea".
So strong has been the reaction that the prime minister's office even asked him to return his diplomatic passport.
What seems to be bothering some Israelis, including Ari Shavit, the respected Haaretz journalist, is that Dagan has now "made the Iranians think they can continue galloping to the bomb because they are not in any real danger".
This claim, though, is a clear example of where some in Israel are getting it wrong with regard to Iran and what the Iranian leadership perceives as serious threats.
Israel has to realise that the Tehran regime is more petrified by what is happening to its economy and among its own population than by the possibility of a military attack from Israel. When it comes to using violence, this regime has had 32 years of experience. It can cope.
However, the regime is so frightened of its own population that it breaks up silent demonstrations. It panicked when the shooting of Neda Agha Soltan was filmed and broadcast to the world. It even went as far as to temporarily ban books by Paulo Coelho – simply because his editor in Iran, Arash Hejazi, was seen trying to save Neda's life.
Dagan could be wrong in his assessment but, even if he is right, it does not mean that cessation of a military threat from Israel would induce the Iranian government to "gallop ahead" towards the bomb without any concern.
The biggest reason why Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has agreed to talks during the last few years is not the fear of a military attack by Israel. The biggest reason is that he is worried about his country's economy, which is far more crucial to the regime's survival than the nuclear programme. The Islamic regime in Iran has not and will not live on its nuclear programme. It lives on its economy.
Khamenei is worried that if he doesn't negotiate, the west will find it easier to justify isolating his country. This, in turn, will make it easier to gain international approval for tough economic sanctions.
With so much legitimacy lost domestically after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial election in 2009, Khamenei has even more reason to worry about the impact that sanctions could have on the survival of his regime. This is the main reason why he is negotiating and will continue to do so. This is also why he will be careful, as he was before Dagan's statement, in the way he approaches his nuclear programme.
One also has to ask: which is the bigger reason why the international community is becoming more united against Iran's nuclear programme? Its distaste and concern for Khamanei's desire to have access to a bomb (which is becoming more apparent from clause 35 of the most recent IAEA report), or threats by Israel to attack Iran's nuclear installations? After recent revelations, such as the secret enrichment site near Qom, the former is more true.
To deal with such a regime and to confront its controversial nuclear programme, instead of constantly relying on military threats, Israel's leaders would be better advised to study Coelho's masterpiece, The Alchemist, and page 121 in particular:
"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."
Israel is no longer alone in its belief that Iran wants to build a bomb. Judging by the support for sanctions, the UN and especially its security council members are more on the side of Israel than Iran. This includes countries such as South Korea that have adopted unilateral sanctions against Iran.
In its bid to stop Iran's nuclear programme Israel should help itself and the international community. The most potent way would be by improving relations with the Islamic world, especially the PLO and Turkey. Israel had good relations with them before. It can do so again.
Fortunately for Israel, and unfortunately for Khamenei, Israel even has the option to hurt the regime on its very own streets.
That option is the cessation of verbal military threats against Iran. Cessation of military threats from Israel will make it much harder for the regime to divert the public's attention away from its falling popularity and serious domestic problems. Silence from Israel will make Iran's leaders more worried, as it will rob Khamenei from an important tool which has helped him, and at a crucial time when the regime is hemorrhaging legitimacy and popularity at an unprecedented rate. The damage such an endeavour will cause is worth the inconvenience of Israeli politicians having to bite their tongues.
Cessation of verbal threats will also prevent significant future damage being caused to Israel's deterrence posture if, at the end of the day, it decides to not to attack Iran's nuclear installations.
Coelho once said:
"Be careful. You can hurt with your words, but you can also hurt with your silence."
The words of a wise man.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 25/06/2011
-Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst and co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran

How President Obama Can Help Libya

By David M. Tafuri 

Timidity can cost lives, in war and in diplomacy. The United States and NATO were right to intervene in Libya this spring. Moammar Gaddafi’s forces were at the gates of Benghazi, hours away from overrunning the city and brutally ending the Libyan people’s struggle for freedom from Gaddafi’s 40-year dictatorship.

Libyans will forever remember the U.S. leadership during their hour of great need. They and our allies are watching the debate between President Obama and Congress over who has authority to authorize this mission — which the House declined on Friday to give the president — and whether the president can continue military support.
The opposition leaders in Libya, the Transitional National Council, understand that this debate must be resolved internally.

But separate from the war powers debate, the president could give the TNC much of what it needs with one diplomatic stroke. The power to recognize successor governments of foreign states lies solely with the executive branch.
The president has already recognized the TNC as “the legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has met with TNC leaders, has said that the TNC is the institution through which the U.S. government “engages” the Libyan people. France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and others have given some level of recognition.

When the president’s top diplomat for the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman, visited Benghazi this month, he found a sense of joy, opportunity and gratitude to the United States unlike anything he had seen in his diplomatic career. “The TNC seems sincere in its commitment to building an inclusive, democratic Libya that is a partner with us,” he wrote. “And they are working to build functioning, accountable institutions from scratch, in the midst of an ongoing conflict.”
Feltman noted the contrast with the Gaddafi regime, which has vowed to hunt down “like rats” anyone who opposes the colonel.

But the State Department mandate remains unclear. State invited the TNC to open an office in Washington but noted in discussions this month that it would not be possible to provide access to the Libyan Embassy, its vehicles or its small bank account because Gaddafi has asked that they be preserved for his regime. U.S. officials acknowledge that Gaddafi forces have burned down the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. Yet the administration continues to stall on providing full diplomatic recognition to the TNC.
Why wait? 

Full diplomatic recognition would, first and foremost, legitimize the struggle of the TNC on behalf of the Libyan people against the Gaddafi regime. It would strip Gaddafi of any vestige of legal or diplomatic status to claim he is Libya’s rightful leader; would allow the TNC to oversee the $34 billion in Gaddafi assets frozen in the United States (funds that really belong to the Libyan people); and would reassure the international community that the TNC, not Gaddafi’s regime, has the right to transfer valid title to Libya’s natural resources.

The latter are critical to taking away Gaddafi’s financial advantage. Recognition would speed up a process begun when legislation — supported by the administration — was introduced in the Senate this month to confiscate Gaddafi’s frozen assets for humanitarian efforts in Libya. Unfortunately, that legislation is intertwined, and now bogged down, with the dispute over the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
The TNC is running out of money, while Gaddafi has been able to perfect a system of covert transactions during more than 30 years of sanctions. This provides him with the resources to pay foreign mercenaries to fight this war for him and to pay for smuggled imports of fuel and supplies.

The president has said that “it is U.S. policy that Gaddafi needs to go.” He has supported this policy militarily but with little diplomatic heft. Providing full legal and diplomatic recognition to the TNC, and the accompanying benefits, would hasten the TNC’s ability to achieve that goal without adding burdens for the U.S. military or U.S. taxpayers.
Traditionally, other nations recognize a new government when, among other things, it has control over its territory and general authority over its people, and it is able to enter into agreements with other nations and entities. Already, the TNC controls the majority of Libya. It acts as the government, maintains law and order, and provides basic services and support to the Libyan people. It has made agreements with other countries, such as Italy, Kuwait and the UAE, to secure loans and other support.

Our allies in Europe and the Middle East understood that by recognizing the TNC and providing access to funds belonging to the Libyan people, they would enhance the TNC’s legitimacy. Rather than drag its feet, Washington should remember that France, the Netherlands and Morocco all recognized the United States well before we defeated the British in the Revolutionary War.
Last month, 23 regional councils and tribes (including one specifically representing women and one from Gaddafi’s home town) announced their unequivocal support for the TNC during a conference in Qatar, and many more have since expressed their support.

Self-determination is an American ideal. We should provide the diplomatic recognition the TNC needs so Libyans can win their freedom with their own money and on their own terms.
The writer, a State Department official from 2006 to 2007, is a partner at Patton Boggs. He serves as legal counsel to the Transitional National Council of Libya.

This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 25/06/2011

What The Arab Revolts Leave Unanswered

By Rami G. Khouri
My pleasure at speaking this week in Ottawa at a gathering at the International Development Research Center of Canada was compounded by the very thoughtful questions and comments that members of the audience offered.
The audience raised new questions in my mind about what is likely or possibly may occur in the Arab region, as the current citizen revolt moves into its seventh month. The issues they raised revolved around the reality that there is no certain outcome to the developments in assorted Arab countries. While I and many other Arab citizens feel that the wave of democratic transformations will continue to wash across most of the region, sweeping away old and young autocrats and opening the door to new democracies, this is by no means certain.
Economic pressures, for one, could easily create such immense stresses on families that many Arabs who celebrated the Tunisian and Egyptian regime changes may welcome the return of strongmen who restrict citizens’ powers but provide more jobs. I doubt this will happen, but we can never rule it out. The demands of children’s stomachs crying out for food that many families cannot afford to buy are immensely powerful drivers of political behavior.
Another threat that some audience members raised was related to the potential break-up of some countries into smaller units that could be more easily controlled by regional or foreign powers. The first Arab revolt against the Ottomans around a century ago occurred simultaneously with the Sykes-Picot accord, by which France and Great Britain carved up the Arab east into smaller units that were put under the rule of locally chosen leaders whom the Europeans knew they could trust. It is possible that the current transformations might result in security vacuums that local parties or foreign powers could exploit to fragment some Arab states into smaller units that would then be more reliant on foreign support or protection.
Sudan has already split into northern and southern states, while Yemen, Iraq and possibly a few others are similarly susceptible to subdivision into smaller statelets. This raises difficult issues about the inviolability of the current Arab borders that the retreating Europeans created last century. I thought the secession of South Sudan was a perfectly acceptable development, if it reflected the will of the people of the south, and was not imposed on them. The operative principle in such possible developments is whether change reflects the consent of the governed and represents the will of the majority, while protecting the rights of minorities. If Yemenis decide to split again into two or even three states, and this reflects the free will of the Yemeni people, they should be allowed to do so without external interference.
There is nothing sacred or permanent about the borders of any country, especially Arab countries that were mostly created by the handiwork of European colonial officers. Countries evolve and sometimes change shape as a routine historical process. If some Arabs decide they are uncomfortable with their existing state boundaries and they wish to break away and form a separate country, that should always be an option. After all, the world mostly rejoiced when the former Soviet Union and its empire collapsed and some of its constituent republics fragmented into smaller units, notably Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.
We should be prepared to deal with the specter of existing Arab countries that reconfigure their frontiers and populations while they are reconfiguring their political governance systems.
Another point that was raised in several different forms related to how the current Arab revolt would affect relations with major Western countries, especially since many Western powers actively supported the Arab autocrats who are now being challenged and, in some cases, removed from office. Would newly liberated Arab citizenries seek revenge against Western powers?
My impression is that this will depend on the new policies that these Western powers adopt, rather than on what they did in the past. Most Arabs are critical of Western powers because they unquestioningly back Israel or support Arab autocrats. Should those policies be moderated and replaced by more even-handed postures toward the Middle East, newly liberated Arab citizens would probably be too busy building their new countries to allow themselves to be distracted by lingering resentments from the past.
What is the single most important development that could trigger regime change in some countries now facing domestic challenges and unrest, one person asked? Three reasons come to mind: economic collapse could do so; or key figures in the military and security agencies could stop protecting the regime; or strategically placed commercial, tribal, sectarian and business leaders in society could decide that the current course was disastrous and, in consequence, could bring about the fall of the regime.
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 25/06/2011

Let Voice Of Reason Prevail In Kuwait

The country needs a break to address more urgent matters such as development
Kuwaiti Prime Minister Shaikh Nasser Mohammad Al Ahmad Al Sabah leaves parliament
Kuwaiti Prime Minister Shaikh Nasser Mohammad Al Ahmad Al Sabah leaves parliament in Kuwait City on Thursday after surviving a no-confidence vote. Parliament rejected by 25 to 18 votes and six abstentions the no-cooperation motion filed by 10 MPs. (AP)

Last week a visibly stressed Kuwaiti Emir warned, in an address to the nation, that the political crisis in the Gulf state was spinning out of control. "We have had enough" of political and sectarian quarrelling and using the parliament to settle scores, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah said. Almost all politicians, in the government and its opponents in the National Assembly, said they will heed the Emir's call and pledged to work unitedly for the best interests of Kuwait, for long a beacon of democracy in the Gulf.

Two days earlier, a group of lawmakers grilled Prime Minister Shaikh Nasser Al Mohammad Al Sabah, for nine hours in parliament in a move the majority of Kuwaitis say is politically motivated. He survived the confidence vote on Wednesday and the citizens thought it was time to end the crisis.
They were wrong. Just as the prime minister was leaving the parliament building, three other MPs filed a new request to quiz him over other issues, some of which date back to 2007 and 2008. In addition to the request, they are mobilising their supporters to rally on the streets to force the resignation of Shaikh Nasser.

It has become clear that some parliamentary blocs, even those which consist of only two MPs, seek to prolong the crisis and force drastic measures by the Emir obviously. Such a measure can either be dissolving the government — this happened twice in the past two years — or the dissolution of the elected assembly, which will be a setback to the Kuwaiti parliamentary experience during what is being called the Arab Spring.
It is hoped that reason will prevail in Kuwait, and politicians will stand by the constitution, as the Emir said in his speech. The country needs a break to address more urgent matters such as the development plan, passed few months ago by parliament.

This was the Editorial of the GULF NEWS on 25/06/2011

Regime In Damascus Condemned To History

By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
THE ‘accomplishments’ of the Syrian revolution have not been provided to the people by the regime, as the official media and top officials want us to believe. They were provided by the protesters who are now changing the philosophy on which the country operated for the past four decades, and that is why we have all these massacres, butchering, repression, displacement and other atrocities in all cities and villages in defense of the status quo by those who stole the people’s money and impoverished the masses to build empires for themselves.
The Syrian people were left to bear their own cross without any help except from Turkey which opened its borders to receive those who fled the hell let loose by the ruthless Syrian regime. This is a regime that has its legitimacy eroded with every sunrise.
Freedom acquired through blood is not a passive issue in the recent history of the region. In fact, we are at a crossroad which will determine the direction of the Arab world and neighboring nations. The humane stance of Turkey will have profound effects, not only on the Syrian people but on all the Arab and Islamic nations that are now berating their governments and the Arab League for their silence on the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime which is aided by Iran and its allies in Lebanon on a daily basis. The helpers of the Syrian regime chose to support the killer and not the victims; they empowered it with all instruments of repression and torture. There are also those who are trying hard to justify what is happening in Syria under the claim of ‘conspiracy against Syria,’ when it is Syria that had actually conspired against itself by sowing venom in all corners of the country during the past four decades. After all this, we expect these people to show a little shame at least. They ought to hide their faces from the public, instead of flexing their media muscle in a bid to polish the already battered image of a butcher regime.
Yes! The Syrian regime fell with the first gunshot at an unarmed protester, because nothing it does now can bring that citizen back to life. What is going to determine the future of Syria is not the bragging of the Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on democracy, his geographical drawing of the new map of the world, where he cancelled off some countries, nor the promises of profound reform and a new constitution by President Bashar. Both are talking on an issue not in the hands of a regime already condemned to history after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets demanding for its fall and the trial of its top figures. What will determine the future of new Syria are those united voices challenging the brutality of the authority with a bare chest! The voices have spoken without any recommendation from a party that is already an item in the museum of terror.
Turkey has really embarrassed the Arabs, especially their league that is not capable of denouncing, let alone ruffling a feather on one of the worst massacres ever committed during our time. Even the Arab governments which buried their faces in the mud and disgraced their people by leaving the issue of the oppressed Syrian masses to a foreign neighboring country ought to feel embarrassed.
-This commentary was published in The ARAB TIMES on 25/06/2011
- Ahmed Al-Jarallah is the editor-in-chief of the Arab Times and of the Kuwaiti Daily Assyassah

Lebanese Ironies

By Walid Choucair
There are many ironies at play in Lebanon, a country of ironies to begin with.
These ironies are becoming more apparent, and this is made easier by the intersection between the crisis in the region, and particularly Syria, and the fluctuations in the domestic situation in Lebanon, between the government and the opposition, which is open to all possibilities.
In the country of ironies, a leading member of the new majority finds no embarrassment in threatening the leading member in the new opposition with putting him and his allies in prison. This coincides with the sponsor of this majority and its regional ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, issuing a general amnesty as the result of advice from countries that are maintaining a non-hostile position on the Syrian regime. They advised him of the necessity of releasing opposition figures from prisons, while calls are mounting by Arab and non-Arab countries, made openly and implicitly, to halt the crackdown and pull the security forces, the army, and the Shabbiha gangs from the street.
Even if the Syrian opposition considered the amnesty for crimes committed before 20 June 2011 insufficient, or a type of maneuver, as a way of hinting that Damascus was responding to the Western and Arab calls to halt violence and head toward dialogue, the leaders in the coalition making up the government of Najib Miqati in Lebanon see no reason for any maneuvering in their confrontation with their local rivals. They are not interested in giving any consideration to the stance of the international community, or the Arab states, and find no embarrassment in declaring their intention to confront their opponents, to the end.
If Assad is serious and carries out what he has committed himself to, based on what various Syrian officials have said, namely being more lenient with the Syrian opposition, then the hard-line stance by Syria's allies in Beirut against their opponents, and the escalation of the confrontation instead of moving toward dialogue, emphasizes this irony as well. The two developments, in any case, do not go together, but rather contradict each other. If the crisis in Syria and the fear of threats to the country's stability necessitate a cooling-off in Lebanon, in view of the need to reduce the repercussions of this crisis for the domestic situation in Lebanon, what is the interest in seeing the new majority, or some members of it, declare this escalation?
Another irony is the following: How can one reconcile the statement by Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, that "we'll forget that Europe is on the map," with the efforts by the Lebanese prime minister, a close friend of the Syrian leadership, to prove his commitment to the best possible relations with the West, and his attempt to find a formula that satisfies the European Union, whose ambassadors asked the other day that "the Special Tribunal for Lebanon continue its work without obstacles, and in cooperation with the Lebanese authorities"?
If the new government must observe the requirements of the Syrian confrontation with Europe, can it forget the 220 million Euros that the EU provides to Lebanon in the form of loans and grants, while Syria suspends political geography, and while Miqati is making efforts to secure the cooperation of Europe and the US, out of a fear that Lebanon will be isolated?
Will the ironies in Lebanon lead to scenarios that resemble what is taking place in several Arab countries, among them Syria, namely seeing demonstrations led by the opposition? Such demonstrations protest what the leader of the Change and Reform Bloc, General Michel Aoun, looks set to obtain, by threatening imprisonment or exclusion, and this would lead to an "uprising," not against the regime, as in Syria and other countries, but against the government and the forces holding power. What would happen if this scenario included the decision, by those who can make such a decision, to adopt a method of bloody confrontations that are taking place in several Arab countries, against protestors? This would be repeated in a country that prides itself on having no need for a revolution for freedom and democracy, as it has a pluralistic regime and already enjoys a considerable degree of freedom.
Logically, the opposition would not stand by idly if it is targeted.
If these ironies and scenarios indicate anything, it is this: It is not necessarily true that Lebanon can rest assured that it is isolated from the repercussions of the ongoing Arab uprisings and the political, security and popular unrest, because it has a different type of regime. This resting assured is opposed by some groups' desire to move backward, by exercising power in a way that is at odds with the country's particular characteristics. In this case, Lebanon's acceptable level of democracy and high level of freedom, compared to its neighbors, expose the country to violations by domestic leaders who are attracted to these neighbors, instead of being a part of Lebanon's fabric.
The Lebanese ironies and scenarios they generate might find an outlet in the new government, as a compensation for scenarios that involve the street, and they might bring down the coalition that causes them, if the same excesses continue.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 24/06/2011

Between The King's And The President's Speeches

By Osman Mirghani 

Only three days separated the speech given by King Mohamed VI of Morocco, and that of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, yet the differences between the two were huge. On one hand, we heard the King of Morocco address his people more than 5 times as "my dear people", telling them that he is their "first servant", before he announced a series of detailed constitutional reforms to expand the powers of the Moroccan government and parliament and strengthen the judiciary's independence. He said that the objective of these reforms is to establish a regime based on "royal, constitutional, democratic, parliamentary and social [legitimacy]."

On the other hand, we heard Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in his speech at Damascus University, mix the call for national dialogue with talk of a conspiracy, branding protestors as conspirators and saboteurs, and even describing what is happening in Syria today as something that "has nothing to do with development or reform, but rather sabotage." It is true that he spoke of national dialogue being the "title" of the forthcoming stage and also touched upon the issues of constitutional amendments and the political parties' law, yet he failed to provide specific proposals or a clear outlook on the situation, leaving matters vague and ambiguous. Despite his talk of how the necessary resolution of this crisis must be a political one, his rhetoric in other parts of his speech appeared to contradict this, particularly when he said that "there is no political solution for those who carry weapons and kill", and that "there can be no reform through destruction, sabotage, or chaos."
Someone may argue that a comparison between the two speeches is inappropriate because the circumstances in each country are different, as are the events they have experienced, even if both countries share the same climate of protests and demonstrations calling for reform and change. Yet the reality is that there is a strong basis for a comparison, although we do acknowledge that popular protests are by no means perfectly replicated whenever they spread from one country to another, because each country has its own circumstances and aspirations.

What necessitates this comparison is that King Mohamed VI and President Bashar al-Assad, two men of similar age, assumed power at almost the same time and in similar circumstances. They both came to power during a period where there was widespread talk about the emergence of a new young leadership in the region; a leadership that carried with it the promise of change and reform. King Mohammed VI came to the throne after his father King Hassan II passed away in 1999; this was within the framework of a clear monarchical hierarchy, which determined the mechanism governing the transfer of power and ascension to the throne. As for President Bashar al-Assad, he came to power in 2000 following the death of his father President Hafez al-Assad; this was within the framework of a republican system that does not stipulate hereditary rule, and in fact it should reject this in principle. Nevertheless, many welcomed Bashar al-Assad and believed that he would lead Syria towards genuine reform, openness and political pluralism.
Morocco proceeded to work towards openness, and adopted its "Equity and Reconciliation" plan, thereby turning over a new page of openness with opponents across the political spectrum. As a result, prominent political dissidents became prime ministers and various parties successively formed cabinets. It is true that the pace of reform subsequently slackened and that the Moroccans today are demanding greater measures, criticizing certain practices in the political arena, and seeking transparency, an end to corruption, and an independent judiciary, yet they still support their king and do not want to abolish the monarchy; rather are calling for reforms to transform it into a constitutional monarchy, whilst others want to see it become a parliamentary monarchy.

In Syria, some measures were taken towards economic openness, and promises of political reform were made without being fulfilled. It will be recorded in history that President Bashar al-Assad acknowledged that his regime delayed in implementing reform, which led to the situation reaching the state that it did in Syria, with regards to widespread protests. Had he realized this mistake in time for his first speech and responded with a series of quick reforms, national dialogue between all factions of society and the opposition, and constitutional amendments, Syria would have avoided the "difficult days" that he spoke about in his last speech. Had he done all this, the people of Syria would have avoided much suffering and bloodshed. The protestors in Syria took to the streets to demand freedom and dignity, political reform, and an end to corruption, yet they did not chant anti-Assad slogans at the very beginning, nor did they initially demand the ouster of the regime. It was the regime trying to tighten its security grip and resorting to brutally suppressing the protesters that pushed Syria towards this "defining moment". The scenes of killing, torture, and mass arrests only intensified the protests, and the demands of the protesters for the overthrowing of the regime.
In his speech at Damascus University, President al-Assad once again failed to understand the protesters message, calm the anger of the Syrian people, or adopt a clear policy of genuine reform to be implemented within a specific timeframe. He should have taken urgent steps to pave the way for his promised national dialogue, a dialogue which he branded as the "title" of the forthcoming stage, and a political way out of the crisis. The tone of his speech was confused, his messages were contradictory, and his talk of reform was vague. He also threatened to pursue and hold the protesters accountable, labeling them saboteurs and conspirators. Furthermore, measures previously announced by the regime, and which initially seemed positive, are not being implemented in a measured manner on the ground. For example, the announcement that the Emergency Law was to be lifted did not end the military and security campaigns, nor did the general amnesty end the widespread detentions [of Syrian citizens] or secure the release of all political prisoners.

On the other hand, Morocco did not resort to the violence adopted by the Syrian regime in confronting the protests. Instead, the King decided to respond to the demands of reform by making specific promises following his speech in March. He sought to fulfill his promises with sensible measures, something that enabled him to declare specific and clear constitutional reforms, which will be put to a popular referendum next month. Most importantly, his speech bore a reconciliatory tone, a tone that did not betray the protestors or underestimate their demands, or regard what happened as a foreign conspiracy. Rather, the declared constitutional reforms have helped to establish citizens' rights with the inclusion of an article that ensures the protection of all human rights. This inclusion "guarantees fair trials, criminalizes torture, arbitrary detention, and all forms of discrimination and humiliation, in addition to guaranteeing the freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to access information."
In his latest speech, President al-Assad said "the strength of the state stems from the strength of the people...let the people and the state come together." If only President al-Assad had interpreted this into concrete and specific reformative measures in response to the people's demands. Had he done this, his speech could have offered reassurance and hope, in the same manner as King Mohamed VI's speech.

This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 24/06/2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Libya: “Justifications” For U.S. Intervention

By Micah Zenko
As I’ve watched the Libyan adventure unfold, I’ve been particularly interested by the myriad justifications that proponents have offered for intervention.
The predominant reason given—and indeed authorized in UN Security Council Resolution 1973—has been “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.” Beyond this narrow mandate, however, an additional set of overlapping reasons have been put forth, before and since the intervention began on March 19.  Below are but five of the more prominent secondary justifications put forth by Obama administration officials, congressional members, pundits, and policy analysts.
One: Regime Change
On the second day of the bombing campaign, cruise missiles were launched into Muammar Qaddafi’s Bab al-Azizia compound in Tripoli. The stated military objective was to disrupt the “command and control” of loyalist forces, but the immediate intention was to kill Qaddafi in an attempt to quickly resolve the civil war. The day prior, British defense minister Liam Fox was asked if Qaddafi was a “legitimate target,” and responded that attacking the Libyan leader would “potentially be a possibility.” Since then, while NATO officials emphasize that it does not intentionally target specific individuals, the alliance has routinely bombed Qaddafi’s suspected residences, including one attack that reportedly killed the Libyan leader’s son and three of his grandchildren.
Since then, the calls for regime change through a targeted killing have only increased. Five weeks into the NATO-led bombing campaign, Senator Lindsey Graham demanded that the alliance “cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing [Qaddafi’s] inner circle.” Senator John McCain further lamented that while President Obama was limiting America’s military mission to achieve primarily humanitarian objectives, “the fact is that we need to take [Qaddafi] out.”
Foggy Bottom, apparently, wants Qaddafi deposed—but only of his own volition. Last week, when presented with several potential diplomatic solutions to resolving the civil war, a State Department spokesperson responded that the only option that the United States was willing to entertain was Qaddafi, “stepping down from power.” Thus, beyond the initial stated military mission of protecting civilians, the only acceptable outcome of the intervention has become the removal of Qaddafi from power, with the bombing campaign continuing until whenever that objective is achieved.
Two: Sending a Message to Other Dictators
The Libyan uprising and subsequent civil war occurred within the broader context of the Arab Spring that began in neighboring Tunisia, and has swept across North Africa into the Middle East. It was believed by many that the demonstration effect of intervening to attempt to stop the brutal repression used by the Qaddafi regime would deter other dictators from doing likewise.  As the events in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and even Libya have demonstrated, attempting to use force for second-order psychological effects is a fool’s errand, and should not be included as a justification for military intervention in the first place.
Nevertheless, in the absence of intervention in Libya’s civil war, President Obama warned in his March 28 address to the nation that the “democratic impulses…would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power;” former State Department official, Anne Marie Slaughter, contended that “if Colonel Qaddafi wins, regimes across the region will conclude that force is the way to answer protests;”  Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist, claimed that “If not for this intervention…the message would have gone out to all dictators that ruthlessness works;” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote, “We would send a signal of Western impotence in a region that analyzes such signals keenly;” and Senator John Kerry believed that a “military intervention in Libya sends a critical signal to other leaders in the region: They cannot automatically assume they can resort to large-scale violence to put down legitimate demands for reform without consequences.”
Three: Supporting the Libyan Rebels
While the Libyan rebels have been unable to remove Qaddafi from power, its self-appointed leadership group—the Transitional National Council (TNC)—has succeeded at courting western support since its founding on March 5. Utilizing the skills of multi-national public relations firms like the Harbour Group and Bell Pottinger, the TNC has consistently portrayed itself as inclusive, western-educated, committed to democratic principles, and opposed to any Islamist influences. The TNC’s official website—motto: “Freedom. Justice. Democracy”—provides upbeat messages about the progress of the war, and extensive coverage of every foreign official who tours Benghazi.
After one such visit in mid-May, Senator John McCain vouched for the rebel leadership, stating: “Their Prime Minister got a doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh. Their Finance Minister was recently teaching economics in Seattle…others are lawyers, doctors, women activists.”  Similarly, after British Foreign Secretary William Hague held talks with the TNC in the rebel-held capital in early June, he declared: “These people at the top of this organization are genuine believers in democracy and the rule of law. It is quite inspiring.” After another early June visit to Benghazi, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman wrote of being profoundly impressed by everyone he encountered, and drew a vivid picture for how the military intervention in Libya was transforming America’s image in the Arab world: “Imagine walking in the main square of a teeming Arab city and having people wave the American flag, clamor for photographs with a visiting American official, and celebrate the United States as both savior and model.”
Four: Repaying European Support in Afghanistan
Reports of the White House debate over whether to join the Paris and London-led war party show that the Obama administration has been a reluctant participant from the start. One reason that the administration overcame its reluctance was to maintain the limited support that European NATO allies have provided to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. To repay them for their cooperation in the Hindu-Kush, the United States was compelled to support those European allies in North Africa.
In explaining why the United States was intervening in a country that was not a “vital interest,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted in late March: “We asked our allies, our NATO allies, to go into Afghanistan with us ten years ago. They have been there and a lot of them have been there despite the fact they were not attacked… They stuck with us. When it comes to Libya, we started hearing from the U.K., France, Italy, other of our NATO allies. This was in their vital national interests.” This rationale has endured, with Secretary Gates acknowledging last week: “What was going on in Libya was considered a vital interest by some of our closest allies. Those are the same allies that have come to our support and assistance in Afghanistan. And so it seems to me the kind of limited measured role that the president decided on in support of our allies, who did consider it a vital interest, is a legitimate way to look at this problem.” Or, as Senators Joe Lieberman and Marco Rubio wrote yesterday: “American disengagement would also inflict irreparable damage on the NATO alliance…Having walked out on our European allies in the middle of a battle, we can expect them to do the same to us in Afghanistan.”
Five: It Will Be a Piece of Cake
A final proposition put forward by intervention proponents was that, ultimately, it would not be very hard to achieve the desired end state. Whether based on recent technological advances or the fragile nature of loyalist security forces, such best-case scenario thinking was evident on both sides of the Atlantic. Libya’s rebels encouraged the Western assumption that Qaddafi could be deposed with ease. One purported spokesperson for the rebels’ Transitional National Council claimed on March 13, “We are capable of controlling all of Libya, but only after the no-fly zone is imposed.”
The United States, according to Obama, would lead with “days, not weeks” of military action, thus “shaping the conditions for the international community to act together.”  White House spokesperson, Jay Carney, later clarified America’s role to be “a time-limited, scope-limited military action, in concert with our international partners.” My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliot Abrams asserted that only a “small amount of effort [is] needed from the United States to ensure that Qaddafi is defeated.”  The former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak, discussing the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, contended that it would “change their calculation of who might come out on top. Just the mere announcement of this might have an impact.” Meanwhile, the French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy, who was instrumental in flying Libyan rebel leaders to Paris to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, made the implausible claim that “If the decision had been made to intervene five or six days earlier, bombing three airports would have been sufficient.”
So Why Does This Matter?
Every time the United States considers the use of military force, proponents and opponents offer a smattering of justifications for why it should—or should not—happen. Of course, people have varying vantage points and biases, which leads different arguments to be convincing to different audiences. This is to be expected in a democracy. But presidents do not have the luxury of finding a lot of arguments convincing enough. When presidents authorize a military action, they must have a clear objective in mind. Without a singular, defined goal, policymakers cannot appropriately match means and ends, which increases the likelihood of failure.
The United States will assuredly use military force against another state in the future, whether to attempt to protect civilian populations, destroy threatening WMD or ballistic missile capabilities, or degrade assets associated with an adversarial regime. When the debates over such interventions unfurl, take the time to sift and winnow through each of the justifications provided by government officials and pundits. Then decide for yourself if these arguments—either individually, or in some cluster—rise to the level of requiring the use of the American military. In the case of Libya, there was one overarching rationale provided—the protection of civilians—yet the initial intervention and the now ninety-seven day bombing campaign has been about so much more.
This commentary was published on CFR blog on 24/06/2011

Showdown In Tehran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is fighting for his political survival. But that doesn't mean his clerical enemies will be the winners. 

By Vali Nasr

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fighting for his political life

While much of the Middle East is in the throes of a historic struggle for democracy, Iran's main political fissure pits the clerical establishment against muscular, nationalist upstarts who seek to usurp power. And in this contest between Iran's elite factions, the world should be rooting for the clergy.

The primary players in this battle are President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The two forged an ideological alliance in 2005 and worked closely to crush the "Green Movement" after the disputed 2009 election. They are now engaged in a public spat over the spoils of power and, more importantly, over the proper interpretation of the Shiite fundamentalist ideology that inspired the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The contest spilled dramatically into public view in April over Ahmadinejad's ultimately unsuccessful attempts to dismiss Iran's intelligence minister, and again this week with the forced resignation and arrest of the deputy foreign minister, an ally of the president's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

The political bickering masks a more fundamental dispute over the direction of the Shiite fundamentalist ideology that Iran's theocracy draws its legitimacy from. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini guided the 1979 revolution through a mix of religious zealotry and leftist revolutionary activism, with the aim of fomenting class war set to an Islamic tune. The Islamic state he envisioned was a dictatorship of the proletariat ruled by the clergy; in homage to Plato's Republic, Khomeini privileged a class distinguished by its education in Islamic law. He advanced the claim that, in the absence of the Shiite messiah, the Hidden Imam, they represent him in the world. And Khomeini assumed the position of the cleric supreme, vali-e faqih, the all-knowing philosopher-king with divine political authority.

The Islamic and the leftist components of Khomeinism came apart after his death in 1989. Exhausted by war and revolution, Iran opted for normalcy. Those interested in the Islamic aspect of the revolution, the so-called conservatives, gathered around Khamenei. They ended revolutionary activism, opened the economy to private-sector activity, and erected an authoritarian theocracy run by the supreme leader.

Meanwhile, the more radical Jacobin faction, which fed on revolutionary activism and favored a socialist economy, was pushed to the margins, only to resurface in the late 1990s in the guise of reformists. So it is that Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leftist prime minister of the 1980s, has emerged as the face of the Green Movement.

Conservatives and reformists-cum-reconstructed-leftists have fought over power for the past two decades. Reformists have placed their hopes in elections and a Vatican II-style transformation of Shiite theology. Conservatives have resisted tampering with both religion and ideology and have used brute force to hold on to power. In the process, Iran's Shiite fundamentalist ideology, shorn of its leftist legacy, turned stolid and unpopular, and the regime turned to repression to survive.

Ahmadinejad arrived on the scene in 2005 promising to breathe new life into the dying revolution by combining religious fundamentalism with Iranian nationalism and economic populism. This formula -- the same one Khomeini had used to dominate the revolution in 1979 -- proved to be a clever political strategy that won him the presidency. But the promise of unending revolution came crashing down in the 2009 election, when reformists mounted a winning election campaign and then brought millions into the streets to protest the fraudulent results.

What Ahmadinejad preached posed a direct threat to the supreme position of clergy in the Islamic Republic. The president and his circle of advisors are of the view that, because of the Islamic Revolution and his defeat of the reformist challenge, Iran is now a genuinely Islamic state, and the state should take over the role of the clergy.

This only confirms the singular importance of the Islamic Revolution to Shiite history and theology. If, as Khomeini claimed, the Islamic Republic is the embodiment of a just and sacred government, Shiites no longer need the clergy as the anchor of their faith. Holiness rests in the state and not the guardians of the state. The idea appeals to the muscular nationalism and Bonapartist ambitions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which believes that military might, rather than clerical leadership, sustain Iran against domestic and foreign enemies.

Many Iranians dismiss Ahmadinejad's cultish messianism as no more than boorish superstition and clever political positioning. The clerics see it as a direct threat. Since taking office, Ahmadinejad has charged his cabinet to sign a pledge committing them to serve the Hidden Imam, peppered his speeches with messianic themes, and even claimed that he leads the "Hidden Imam's government." It is a folksy but religiously charged proposition.

Ahmadinejad was ridiculed when a video clip showed him bragging to a senior ayatollah that the Shiite messiah had visited him during his 2005 address before the United Nations. The larger message, which was not lost on skittish ayatollahs, was that the lay president was giving notice that the messiah favored him over the clerics. Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's close advisor, has been blunter, declaring that Shiism can and should do without clerics and that the Islamic Republic no longer needs a supreme leader.

Unsurprisingly, many in Iran have come to see Ahmadinejad as the Shiite Martin Luther, determined to break the clergy. Senior ayatollahs have accordingly criticized the president at every turn and refused to receive him or his representatives in the holy city of Qom.

Ahmadinejad may believe the Hidden Imam is on his side, but for now Khamenei holds most of the cards: He controls the media and can mobilize the parliament, judiciary, and security forces against the president. Still, Ahmadinejad's ouster may not herald the death of his brand of Khomeinism. That will depend on how ambitious military leaders react and whether Ahmadinejad's base among the poor stays by his side. For now, both the IRGC and the base are divided over their allegiance to old Khomeinism and support for Ahmadinejad's new variety.

Around the region, Ahmadinejad has had little impact. The Shiite revival in the Arab world, which started in Iraq in 2003 and spread across the region, looks to the Iraqi Shiite religious center Najaf's quietist brand of the faith for inspiration. In pockets of Bahrain, Iraq, and Lebanon, where Khomeinism commands support, fealty belongs to Khamenei. The supreme leader has even bypassed Ahmadinejad's government and assigned a trusted advisor to oversee relations with Hezbollah.

Yet any victory the clergy could win against this new upstart will only be a Pyrrhic one. Ahmadinejad is a threat to clerical supremacy, but without him, Khomeinism is even more vulnerable to reformist challengers. The alternative would be a right-wing ideological state -- nationalist, fundamentalist, populist, and ruled by militarism, something akin to the Japan of the 1930s. And that cannot last. In this contest between Iran's elite factions, the world should be rooting for the clergy -- their victory will bring about the quickest end to the Islamic Republic.

-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 23/06/2011
-Vali Nasr is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and the author of Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World

Gaddafi's Weakness – Oil

The media has focused on front lines in the Libyan conflict, but fuel supplies are far more likely to be the decisive factor

By Oliver Miles

oil terminal Gaddafi
Gaddafi's forces were beaten by rebels in a battle for this oil terminal in Zuetina, 850km east of Tripoli. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
According to a Reuters report on 20 June, the Libyan rebels in Jebel Nafusa, south of Tripoli, have shut off the pipeline that brings crude oil from the far south-west to the refinery at Zawia, on the coast just west of Tripoli. This report, which seems to be confirmed, is important.
Media coverage of the fighting in Libya has concentrated on various front lines which are themselves of not much significance, given that most of the country is desert. It makes more sense to think in terms of lines of supply. The recent blacklisting of six Libyan ports is far more significant than quite dramatic movements up or down the desert road.
A recent incident in which civilians including children were killed by a Nato strike has rightly been strongly criticised. The UN mandate is to protect civilians, and any killing of civilians is not only tragic in itself, but calls into question the justification for the action.
However, a second incident in which the Gaddafi regime said that 19 civilians were killed in the home of Khouildi Hamidi outside Tripoli is probably of a different nature. Hamidi is one of the 12 original members of the Revolutionary Command Council, his family includes senior military officers, and the building was generally known to be a military command centre.
Alongside the reaction from the Italian foreign minister ("You can't run the risk of killing civilians, this is something that is absolutely unacceptable"), the secretary-general of the Arab League and others, it is worth quoting the London representative of the Transitional National Council, who said on 6 June that international intervention had prevented a mini-Rwanda, and Libya was grateful.
Dr Ali Tarhuni, minister for finance and oil, also wrote in an open letter on 20 June:
"Here in Benghazi we cannot sufficiently express our gratitude for the support the UK has extended to Libyans during our struggle against the tyrannical regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Together with her international partners, the UK has played a leading role in this defining battle for a free Libya. No one will ever forget this act of generosity and support for a democratic state."
Apart from the fighting, some attention has been paid to the question of oil exports, on which Libya normally lives. The rebels in Benghazi have succeeded in getting at least one tanker load away. This is important in relation to their most pressing problem, a shortage of cash. Gaddafi's forces have prevented more exports by destroying a pumping station which brings oil from the far south-east to an export terminal east of Benghazi, and more recently by attacking the oil fields themselves.
Nothing seems to have been said by the British government or Nato about this. These targets, and towns such as Jalu and Kufra where there has been fighting, are far away, and therefore more difficult, but they are important and ought not to be forgotten.
Paradoxically, the rebels are unable to get their hands on Libya's many billions of dollars, which are either in the Central Bank in Tripoli or frozen outside the country. At present the lawyers are baffled as to how to unfreeze them.
What has been overlooked is the straightforward issue of supply. One of the main complaints of the civilian population in Tripoli in recent months has been enormous queues for petrol. Why? Presumably existing stocks have been commandeered by the military, who need large quantities of petrol and diesel to operate, especially with tanks.
Tripoli's main supplies of oil products, including both petrol and diesel and also fuel oil for the main power station, come from the refinery in Zawia. It was damaged in earlier fighting, and is reported to be operating at about one-third capacity. It depends on crude oil supplies either by sea or by the pipeline from the south.
Supplies by sea have been cut off, although attempts to evade the blockade continue. Smaller quantities coming overland from Tunisia and Algeria have been pretty well closed down. If the pipeline remains closed, as now seems likely, Tripoli will run out of the fuel it needs to fight, and may also be blacked out.
There are some complications. Tripoli may still have some stocks of oil products. There is a second pipeline further west, close to the Algerian border, which supplies some oil to the coast, but that has also been shut down at source. Without power, water and sewage services would be affected, but some electricity generation capacity operates on gas, and gas supplies have not been interrupted.
Consumption of fuel by the military will have fallen as the war has become more static. The impact on the civilian population, already showing signs of discontent, may be more severe.
It is, as usual, not simple to predict the outcome. I would expect more serious fighting in the Jebel Nafusa area and along the western border, with Gaddafi's forces seeking to regain control of the pipeline and to reopen the second pipeline; they will probably find both impossible. I would also expect more draconian controls on civilian use of fuel in Tripoli, which will increase the pressure on the population.
But this may be the endgame. It is possible that lack of fuel will be the decisive blow against Gaddafi, and that it may not take more than a matter of weeks to be effective.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 24/06/2011
- Oliver Miles is a retired British diplomat and the chairman of MEC International

Which Destination In Cairo And Tunis?

 By Michael Meyer-Resende and Paul O’Grady  
The optimism of the early Arab Spring has been overshadowed by war in Libya and the brutal repression in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Even more important in defining such optimism, Egypt and Tunisia must make headway in showing that “Arab democracy” is no oxymoron.
The two countries’ trajectories appear to be similar. In order to fill a legitimacy gap, both Egypt and Tunisian plan to hold elections soon and in due course will write new constitutions. However, on the surface Tunisia’s transition seems to be the less stable. Two governments were forced to resign and elections, which were initially planned for July, have been postponed until October.
In contrast, in Egypt the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which assumed power after Mubarak’s ouster, has effected quick, limited constitutional changes. These it saw approved in a referendum and the council is now planning for elections in September. Yet, on closer scrutiny, Tunisia’s performance may actually indicate a process that holds more democratic promise than the one in Egypt.
Without a leader or a coherent opposition, Tunisia’s transition has lacked an anchor. There has been no Nelson Mandela or Lech Walesa to offer reassurance to a restive public. With nobody enjoying particular legitimacy, the transition has often been propelled by street protests. Amidst the turmoil the government created a transitional body to draft, among other things, a law on upcoming elections.The 170-member High Commission for the Realization of Revolutionary Goals, Political Reforms and Democratic Transition has proved to be as unwieldy as its name.
Yet after seven weeks of intense discussions, it managed to reach a consensus on the law, and more significantly, on the system for the election of the Constituent Assembly.
An electoral system translates votes into representation and hence will have a major bearing on the composition of the assembly, which will lay the foundations for the new Tunisia. At the outset, most political figures in Tunisia favored a system of many small electoral districts with few deputies, in order to create strong links between the deputies and constituents. However, by the time negotiations were concluded, a sizable majority in the High Commission had agreed on establishing few large districts, each with many deputies.
This ought to allow new parties and those with modest support to gain representation, facilitate the election of more women, and prevent a relative majority of votes from turning into a landslide for one party.
Other than reaching a convincing outcome, the process was important for allowing genuine debate, after which the commission reached near consensus on one of the thorniest questions in any transition.
Unlike Tunisia, Egypt has yet to determine its electoral system. The military council has passed this hot potato to a committee, which is supposed to make proposals for electoral legislation. But many believe that the military has its own fixed ideas.
Whatever the outcome, if the Mubarak-era electoral system is not fundamentally changed, this would favor the more established political groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and possibly the notables who underpinned the Mubarak regime, rather than the newly formed parties that need time to organize. As in Tunisia, a more proportional election system would allow for the proper representation of women.
Egypt’s military council is also planning constitutional reform, but it decided that the Constituent Assembly would be elected by the next Parliament rather than directly by the people. The current rules do not specify how Parliament should elect members of the Constituent Assembly. Some worry the next parliamentary majority might pack it with their candidates, resulting in a highly partisan institution – the exact opposite of what a Constitution-writing body should be.
While Egypt has approved some important reforms in the past months, the military council has not set up a framework for real public consultation. Rather, it seems single-minded in seeking to drive the country to elections in autumn on its own terms. This approach risks alienating important segments of the population.
In Tunisia, the risk has been the reverse. The government, fearful of demonstrations, has often appeared to hesitate, so that significant time has been devoted to consultations. This process has often seemed to be adrift. An election date was set for July 24, suggesting that the country was moving toward a fixed goal. That is why the postponement of elections until October disappointed many Tunisians. Ultimately, however, it was a reasonable price to pay for reaching consensus on the ground rules for these crucial elections.
Egypt and Tunisia may be moving in the same direction, but they are not on the same track.
In Egypt the military council is the driver but the people wonder about the destination. In Tunisia, many people are involved in charting the course. While there have been complaints about timetables and delays, they agree on a desired destination.
-This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 24/06/2011
-Michael Meyer-Resende and Paul O’Grady are directors of Democracy Reporting International, a Berlin-based non-governmental organization promoting political participation