Thursday, July 28, 2011

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood: Internal Divisions And External Challenges In The Post-Mubarak Era

By Andrew Black

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: what next?

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States government was in discussions with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on June 30. That the U.S. was willing to reach out to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) - an 83-year old Islamist organization often criticized for providing entrée to jihadism for young Egyptians - marked a significant policy shift for the Obama administration and may signify a new era for the Brotherhood. For the MB, this new era is coming to be defined by the toppling of the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt and the replacement of Osama bin Laden as al-Qaeda’s amir by Egyptian national Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Within Egypt, this rapprochement has come at a time of significant upheaval within the MB, as the organization struggles to maintain unity and hegemony within Egyptian Islamism and simultaneously compete for political influence in the rapidly democratizing post-Mubarak era. Complicating matters is the significant change in the rivalry between al-Qaeda and the MB, as defined by the emergence of al-Zawahiri and the apparent success of non-violent protests in Egypt and Tunisia.

Though its methods have changed at times, the MB’s long-term goals have remained consistent - namely the reformation of society in keeping with the Qur’an and Sunnah. Jihad remains a central tenet in the MB ideology, although it is now defined along the lines of the “inner struggle,” conducive to the Brotherhood’s emphasis on non-violent change, grass-roots activism and da’wa (proselytization). These views have put the MB in stark contrast with Salafi-Jihadis like those of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya (Egyptian Islamic Jihad - EIJ) and al-Qaeda, a rivalry that will be explored in greater detail below.

The Bothers in Egypt: Losing Unity?

Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (the Muslim Brotherhood), known in the Arabic world simply as the Ikhwan, was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt as a largely non-violent Salafist organization. In the eight decades since its founding, the MB has had very positive relations with the Egyptian government at certain times, while at other times the Brotherhood has been the target of state oppression. Far from being a truly homogenous organization, the MB has traditionally attempted to seek a balance among a number of internal streams, from moderate to extreme, in its effort to establish primacy within Egyptian Islamism. The MB has throughout been a driving force for Islamism in Egypt, presenting its constituency with outlets for political expression and access to social services such as the Brotherhood’s famed educational, religious, and medical resources. It has been through this holistic approach, anchored in the provision of social programs, that the Brotherhood has successfully woven itself into the fabric of Egyptian society.
Within the Egyptian polity, the MB maintains an avowed doctrine of wasatiya (centrism). This concept has been a defining point in the Brotherhood’s political activities, and has helped the Brotherhood to develop relationships with interest groups across ideological lines. The group’s pragmatism and rationalism became more entrenched with the assumption to leadership positions of the middle generation, a collection of more progressive Brothers who came of age in the university-based Islamist movements in the 1970s and the political pluralism of the 1980s.

The Ikhwan & the Egyptian Revolution

In the wake of the popular revolutionary movement in Tunisia, Egyptian youth took to the streets, bringing with them progressive ideas about governance and using new media to spread their ideals of solidarity and transparency across ideological and religious lines. This dynamic proved challenging for organizations like the Brotherhood, which developed under an Egyptian political establishment defined by strong anti-democratic leadership enforced by a strong state security apparatus. As the revolution was in full swing, the MB struggled to find its voice within this competitive forum of ideas.

The MB’s involvement in the revolution was led by its younger generation, which represented the Brotherhood in the 25 January Youth Coalition alongside liberals and secularists. Progressive members of the Brotherhood sought to increase the organization’s visibility in the movement, creating photo opportunities for its leaders in Tahrir Square and generating new content on the group’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. [1] Though these platforms appear to be maintained by the MB offices in London, they have nevertheless proved to be valuable sources of information on Ikhwan activities.

Whither the Unified Brotherhood?

In the months since the removal of Mubarak, the MB has been the assumed benefactor of the power vacuum in Cairo, able to use its organizational strength and political experience to dominate the new political order while new political parties scramble to form and register prior to the elections, now postponed to October or November. This has prompted complaints and warnings that the Ikhwan will use its advantage to install an Islamist government in Cairo. However, there is significant evidence from defectors and the Brotherhood’s own actions that show that the organization is struggling to maintain cohesiveness and balance between traditional and progressive streams.

As the military took power in Cairo and announced a hasty transition to democracy, the MB began building an Islamist political party. On June 6, the MB’s political wing, Hizb al-Horriya wa’l-Adala (Freedom & Justice Party - FJP), was officially recognized by the state. In establishing the FJP, the Brotherhood has attempted to show its populist and liberal credentials by giving voice to women and naming Dr. Rafiq Habib, a Coptic Christian, to be the vice president of the party.

While becoming more active politically, the Brotherhood has been forced to remain adaptable to daily events in Egypt while continuing to strike a balance between its progressive and traditional members. In developing its political strategy, the MB leadership claims to have learned the importance of moderation from recent history - namely the 2005 elections when the success of Brotherhood-endorsed candidates provoked a harsh crackdown by the state. To avoid contentiousness, the MB has announced that it will only be running for a minority position in the new parliament. The MB has stated unequivocally that no member will be permitted to compete in the presidential contest and that MB members are only permitted to join the FJP. The rationale for this, according to Khairat al-Shater, a Brotherhood leader and reputed strongman, is based on the experiences of the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria and HAMAS in the Palestinian Territories: “We cannot turn a blind eye to the Gazan and Algerian scenarios. When Islamists there reached power quickly, the military establishment turned against them” (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], June 20). Moreover, as Mubarak was forced from power, the Brotherhood was rumored to have negotiated with the military the Brotherhood’s withdrawal from the revolution in return for formal recognition of its political party (al-Masry al-Youm, April 1).

Splinters Emerge in the Ikhwan

As seen in several recent defections of high profile Brothers, the MB’s actions are emblematic of how out of touch and bureaucratic the Ikhwan leadership has become after decades of struggle against the Egyptian state (Al-Ahram Weekly [Cairo], July 2). These defections reflect not only the increasing ability of dissenters to establish themselves outside of the MB, but also the internal struggle “between three different generations in the Brotherhood: the leadership, mid-management and the young people who were part of the revolution and gained media exposure” (Al-Ahram Weekly [Cairo], July 2). In nearly every case, these defectors have highlighted the MB’s difficult position, balancing the increasingly liberal views of a younger generation against an old guard whose conservatism is both an anchor for the organization and a source of criticism and fear from outsiders.

Prominent among the defectors are Ibrahim al-Za’farani and Abu al-Fotouh.  Al-Za’farani stepped away from the MB in March 2011 to establish al-Nahda (“Renaissance”), a political party based in Alexandria (al-Masry al-Youm, March 25). Abu al-Fotouh’s departure from the MB came after al-Fotouh publicly declared his candidacy for president, contravening the MB’s policy (al-Masry al-Youm, June 20; Egypt Daily News, June 20). In June, the MB publicly announced it was revoking al-Fotouh’s membership, forcing him to pursue his candidacy as an independent.  Leaders like al-Fotouh and Za’farani are considered part of the MB’s middle generation, which was largely responsible for reinvigorating the MB, and they likely possess the networks and message that would keep the Brotherhood linked with the revolutionary spirit. Other political parties being established by former MB members include al-Riyada (“Pioneer”) and al-Tayar al-Masri (“Egyptian Current”), a youth-led organization founded by the trio of Islam Lotfi, Muhammad al-Kasaas and Muhammad Abbas, who represented the MB in the 25 January Youth coalition. Their left-leaning party claims to promote secularism in government with an Islamic frame of reference (Ahram Online, June 22).

Thus the Egyptian MB finds itself at a crossroads. On the one hand, the Egyptian polity is increasingly shaped by the ideals of a younger and newly empowered generation who forged their place and populist credentials during the protests against Mubarak. Their deeds have brought political opportunity and reinvigorated constituencies in Egypt’s urban areas, precisely the space needed by the MB to establish a lasting political presence. On the other hand, the MB leadership is seeking to maintain its traditional mores, by following a political plan that is seemingly more in keeping with past iterations of the Egyptian political landscape. Though in the past the Brotherhood was positioned to prevent significant defections, the new political realities are such that disaffected members of the MB can now establish themselves and their agendas outside the Brotherhood’s sphere. Consequently, it appears the MB leadership has chosen a middle path of careful calibration and balance, attempting to seize a moderate amount of key political territory without provoking backlash. In doing so, the leadership has risked appearing disorganized and representative of old style Egyptian politics.

International Influence: The Ikhwan Versus al-Qaeda

As the overthrow of Mubarak has fundamentally changed the MB’s place in Egypt, so too will the death of Osama bin Laden change the ongoing ideological struggle between the Ikhwan and al-Qaeda, as well as other Salafi-Jihadi groups. [2] The confluence of these two factors—a leadership change in al-Qaeda and the success of non-violent political activism—have fundamentally altered the influence each organization has on the Arab street.

Though commonly conflated, al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood represent opposing interpretations of Islamism, and their differences have manifested in bitter and even hostile rivalry in Egypt and beyond. In 2006-2007, al-Qaeda and its affiliate in Iraq engaged in vitriolic and violent exchanges with the Brotherhood-linked al-Jaysh al-Islami fi’l-Iraq (Islamic Army of Iraq). The rivalry became so deep that al-Qaeda’s leadership in Iraq would pejoratively identify nearly any Muslim opponent as “Ikhwani.”  Core al-Qaeda leaders like al-Zawahiri have also feuded with Egypt’s Brotherhood and HAMAS (an MB offshoot) over their willingness to engage in political processes.

In an effort to prove its hostility toward al-Qaeda, the MB’s official website maintains a regularly updated page entitled “MB vs. Qaeda,” providing readers with ideological, strategic, and tactical insights into the rivalry. While al-Qaeda and the Brotherhood share a strategic objective, their interpretations of that objective and the means by which to achieve it place them at odds. [3] Where the Brotherhood sees change as a long term, bottom-up and largely peaceful endeavor, al-Qaeda pursues it through the violent activities of a faithful vanguard. Although Abdullah Azzam was a key member of the Brotherhood, his view of violent jihad as fard al-ayn (“an individual duty”) has not been adopted by the mainstream MB. [4] Al-Qaeda and other Salafi-Jihadis, however, rely on Azzam’s writings as foundational to their justification of jihad. While the Brotherhood supported elements of the Iraq insurgency and HAMAS’ attacks against Israel, the MB has largely sworn off of violent tactics in pursuit of political and social goals.

Politically, the differences are even more apparent. Where al-Qaeda positions itself as anti-system and in pursuit of a purist interpretation of the Quran, the Brotherhood takes a more pragmatic approach, permitting political activism within the governing establishment. Nevertheless, the relationship is more complicated, as both organizations are Salafist in nature and profess comparable ambitions. The Brotherhood, for example, supports the Palestinian opposition to Israel and Iraqi insurgents fighting against the U.S.-led coalition. Moreover, they each appeal to conservative Muslims and have propagated similar diagnoses of socio-political issues. [5]

Revived Animosity?

Al-Qaeda’s new amir, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, has presented himself as more vehement than his predecessor in his criticisms of the Brotherhood. The leadership transition has therefore likely altered the zero-sum competition between al-Qaeda and the MB in the following ways:

The significance of the al-Qaeda leadership change lies with al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian legacy, his prior leadership of the EIJ, and his vitriolic criticisms of the Ikhwan’s political and ideological “deviations.” Having grown up in a family with close ties to the Brotherhood and having spent his formative years in jihadi groups like the EIJ, al-Zawahiri became engrossed in Islamic activism against the Cairo government. However, in public statements and works like his book Bitter Harvest, al-Zawahiri has condemned the Brotherhood, viewing its long-term strategy as inappropriate and its participation in politics as a deviation. With his succession to the leadership of al-Qaeda and his continued focus on Egypt, it should be expected that al-Zawahiri will direct al-Qaeda to become more heavily involved in Egypt, perhaps rekindling the battle with the MB.

The successful overthrow of the Egyptian and Tunisian governments through non-violent means provides a clear counter-argument to al-Qaeda’s violent, anti-system view. As al-Qaeda’s terrorist strategy was weakened by each peaceful protest, the Brotherhood’s approach was seemingly validated and strengthened through the group’s presence and placement in the subsequent Egyptian polity. Attempting to capitalize on this, the Brotherhood’s official website carried a criticism of al-Zawahiri’s April 2011 statement, stating it was “a desperate attempt by al Qaeda to impose itself as a player for change amidst the huge popular and international support for non-violent revolutions across the Arab world” (Ikhwan Web, April 17).

Conclusion: Which MB will survive 2011?

Looking toward Egypt’s upcoming elections as a seminal event, the future of the Egyptian MB appears uncertain. Weakened by internal divisions but strengthened by the removal of Hosni Mubarak and the validation of its argument against the Salafi-Jihadi camp, the organization will be forced to confront myriad internal and external challenges. With the removal of Mubarak as a coalescing force for the Brotherhood and the creation of a rapidly inclusive political space in Egypt, the Brotherhood’s more progressive members will either seek to have their voices heard within the group or defect to establish their own platforms. Though the Brotherhood’s leadership will doubtless attempt to maintain unity - evidenced in statements made by the FJP during the July 8 “Day of Perseverance” protests - it is unlikely the older leadership will permit the Brotherhood to play a dominant role in the immediate post-revolution era, fearing the sort of backlash experienced in 2005. This will naturally lead to the loss of key members of the Egyptian MB’s progressive, middle generation, thus increasing the influence of the organization’s more conservative streams.

More concerning is the potential role for more extreme elements that have previously been moderated by membership in the Brotherhood and firewalled from participation in jihadism. [6] Should al-Qaeda’s increasingly Egyptian persona become attractive and its anti-system argument be validated by disruptions to the democratic process, such as in Palestine or Algeria, these extremist defectors may auger a new era in Egyptian jihadism. Thus for counter-terrorism planners, the Egyptian MB’s ability or failure to maintain unity in the Islamist movement may have severe consequences for the future of jihadism in Egypt.

Notes and References:

-This essay was published in The Terrorism Monitor, Volume: 9, Issue: 29, July 22 2011,
1. The Egyptian MB’s Twitter handles are @ikhwan for Arabic and @ikhwanwebcom for English
2. An excellent exposition of the Ikhwan versus al-Qaeda can be found in Marc Lynch, “Islam Divided between Salafi-Jihad and the Ikhwan,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 33(6), May 3, 2010, pp. 467-487.
3. Wiktorowicz provides a useful typology of Salafism which elucidates the historical development of several key differences between “politicos” like the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadis like al-Qaeda. See Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Anatomy of the Salafi Movement,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29(3), 2006, p207-239.
4. The Muslim Brotherhood does support popular resistance and violent opposition to Israel and the U.S. occupation of Muslim countries. features a biography of the late Shaykh Ahmad Yassin, former head of HAMAS, as an icon of the Palestinian resistance to Israel. See For Abdullah Azzam’s ideology, see: Andrew McGregor, “’Jihad and the Rifle Alone’: ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam and the Islamist Revolution,” Journal of Conflict Studies 33(2), Fall 2003, pp.92-113.
5. Lynch, op cit, 2010.  See also Terrorism Monitor, March 23, 2006

Dissecting Iran's Economic Jihad

By Richard Javad Heydarian

In the absence of genuine democratic institutions, a set of common economic grievances is galvanizing the Arab Street against a diverse host of unaccountable regimes across the Arab world. However, deep and structural economic problems also characterize much of the Middle East, including non-Arab Iran. Recognizing the depth and gravity of the country’s economic challenges, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei has declared 2011 as the year of “economic jihad.”

A more careful analysis of Iran’s economy reveals a mixed legacy of both crucial developmental gains and persistent macro-economic challenges. Given Iran’s vast hydrocarbon reserves, among the world’s biggest, and its burgeoning industrial-technological complex, one of the largest among emerging economies, the country still represents a potential economic powerhouse in Asia. But Iran has suffered from successive rounds of international sanctions that have prevented the country from fully exploiting its tremendous economic potential. The region’s general insecurity is also affecting prospects for large-scale investment in the country.

In response Tehran has adopted a two-pronged policy. It is increasingly tilting east and south, trying to maximize its ties with major emerging economies across the globe. And it has introduced much-needed economic reform by restructuring its subsidy schemes, gradually privatizing its key economic sectors, and adopting a more conservative macroeconomic policy. As a result, the sanctions regime — designed to place economic stress on the country and force its leaders to alter behavior — has failed to substantially alter Iran’s foreign policy.

Iran’s Economic Rollercoaster

From 1960 to 1978 the Iranian economy experienced unprecedented levels of economic growth, creating a "Persian economic miracle" in West Asia. Rising oil prices enabled the Pahlavi monarchy to lay down the foundation of a modern industrial economy.

In All Fall Down, Gary Sick explains beneath the pretty picture of a country well poised to achieve developed country status well before the dawn of the century, growing inequality, political disenchantment, a glaring rural-urban divide, and high levels of inflation and urban poverty fueled a popular revolution against the monarchy. From 1978 to 1979, growing strikes, an exodus of skilled workers emigrating abroad, and massive popular protests brought the economy to a standstill. Just as the country’s leaders tried to consolidate power in a post-revolutionary period mired in political factionalism, Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Iran.

In economic terms, the 1980s were a lost decade for Iran. In The Great War for Civilization, British journalist Robert Fisk explains how the brutal Iran-Iraq war carried a tag price of around $100 billion in direct costs. According to former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the opportunity cost of the war stood at $1 trillion.

Additionally, Iran went through a historic demographic transition, which would exert a heavy long-term pressure on the economy. Realizing the extent of Iran’s economic problems, the country’s post-war leadership focused on reconstruction and rehabilitation. Not until the 1990s did Iran experience significant recovery in its GDP. From 1990 to 2005, Iran’s annual real GDP growth hovered around seven percent. From 1990-2010, its nominal GDP increased from $84 billion to around $488 billion. Buoyant oil prices and expansion in trade with Europe and major Asian economies enabled Iran to rise into the ranks of middle-income countries.

But despite steady economic expansion, high levels of inflation and unemployment continue to plague the national economy.

Developmental Gains

The mainstream media and analysts have largely overlooked Iran’s socio-economic development. One of the most impressive aspects of post-revolutionary Iran is the striking improvement in education, health, rural development, and industrial expansion. Despite having a significantly lower per-capita income compared to its globally integrated and wealthy neighbors, Iran is among regional leaders in key social indicators.

According to the World Bank, “The country’s social indicators are fairly high by regional standards…. the poverty headcount rate was more than halved between 1998 and 2005, to 3.1 percent… Iran’s health outcomes have also improved greatly over the past twenty years, standing currently above regional averages.” In addition, “Iran has a large social protection system with some 28 social insurance, social assistance, and disaster relief programs benefiting large segments of the population.” Iran has one of the fastest rates of growth in the human development index (HDI), and it now ranks among high HDI countries like Lithuania, Malaysia, and Chile.

Prominent economist Jeffrey Sachs in his book Common Wealth identifies Iran as one of the world’s most successful countries in terms of population-management and adult literacy programs. Based on the World Bank’s report, “Iran’s family planning program in the past two decades has been considered international best practice: Iran managed to decrease the fertility rate from 4.8 to 1.8 births/woman during 1990-2008.”

Rural development, eliminating extreme poverty, improving literacy rates, and bridging the urban-rural economic gap were all at the core of Iran’s revolutionary philosophy, which emphasized social equity and empowerment of the downtrodden. This explains why the regime continues to enjoy immense popularity in rural and less-developed areas.

Iran has also made great educational, technological, and industrial advancements. Iran is among the top 45 countries in terms of quality of math and science education, and its universities are considered among the best in many fields. Iran is the world leader in growth in scientific output, is among the top 20 countries in total volume of scientific output, and is a leader in cutting-edge industries like stem-cell research and nanotechnology. It is also one of the few countries to send a satellite into space.

Iran’s relatively closed economy allowed it to protect its industrial base against foreign competition. Today, Iran manufactures most of its industrial and consumer needs, its car industry is among the world’s top 10, and its steel industry is in the top 20 countries in the world. Moreover, Iran’s annual rate of industrial growth is one of the highest among emerging markets. According to Goldman Sachs, Iran's GDP is projected to become the 12th largest in the world by 2025.

But Iran still faces substantial challenges including sustained and high-impact international sanctions and a limited number of high-quality scientists. Regulatory capture, excessive protectionism, and lack of clear price signals have also led to lackluster performance in innovation and quality control. Nonetheless, Iran has gradually built the foundations of an industrial economy with an advanced scientific-technological complex.

The Impact of the Nuclear Saga

Iran’s huge population, excessive levels of energy consumption — thanks to domestic price subsidies — and burgeoning industrial base have exerted a huge pressure on its hydrocarbon energy resources. Iran’s aging energy infrastructure means that production levels will decline unless necessary investments are made. These economic pressures have formed the peaceful rationale behind Iran’s renewed interest in the once-abandoned nuclear program, which dates back to the 1960s.

Ironically, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology based on economic calculations has led to political complications, namely sanctions. Unlike the initial sanctions, which were primarily symbolic, the latest rounds of sanctions have had considerable impact on Iran’s economy. One of the most affected areas is large-scale investment in the energy sector. According to U.S. officials, Tehran might have lost around $60 billion in oil investments as a result of sanctions.

Sanctions have made Iran’s substantial trade with major European and Asian economies increasingly difficult and expensive. The sanctions have also affected Iran’s trade with the United Arab Emirates, the source of many of Iran’s essential imports.  Further worrying Tehran, a multi-billion dollar oil deal between Iran and India is stalled because EU sanctions affect German-based financial intermediaries. According to The Financial Times, sanctions might have also prevented China from settling around $30 billion in oil payments. Premiums on shipping commodities have risen, with insurance and transaction costs increasingly biting into Iran’s export-earnings while raising import costs.

Recently, Maersk, the world’s leading container shipping line, predicted possible disruption of Iranian food imports, since sanctions have hit a number of Iranian port operators. Moreover, Iran’s airline companies have also been experiencing serious problems with refueling in European airports. With sanctions hitting Iran’s ability to import much-needed refined oil and gas, the government has been forced to intensify production at aging and less-efficient domestic refineries. This has increased refining capacity by 18 percent, but it has also led to higher emissions and air pollution.

Even the transfer of money from parents to children studying abroad is affected, because Iranian banks have been hit by sanctions. The sanctions are anything but targeted, since they affect millions of ordinary Iranians.

The Challenge of Economic Reform

Iran’s economic woes have always been at the center of its domestic politics. Iranian presidential elections have focused on issues such as unemployment and inflation. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the 2005 elections was largely due to his promise to eliminate corruption, reduce poverty, and introduce large-scale infrastructure projects to boost the economy. Social justice and redistribution of Iran’s oil wealth were at the center of his economic agenda.

His first term was characterized by populist economic policies, combining a loose monetary policy with a Keynesian expansionary fiscal policy. Boosted by growing oil prices in recent years, his administration has continuously injected petrodollars into the domestic economy, which has resulted in strong GDP growth. But because of the lack of increase in the country’s productivity, Ahmadinejad’s policies have led to high inflation rates — reversing the price stability achieved by President Khatami’s administration. The 2009 elections were not only about civil liberties and political liberalization, but also about much-needed economic reforms to manage the repercussions of the global economic crisis and dampen Iran’s macroeconomic predicament.

In the last two years Iran’s economic growth has decreased amid persistent inflationary pressures and brewing political uncertainties both domestic and international. In a marked shift from his populist rhetoric, Ahmadinejad has adopted a more conservative economic approach. Currently, the focus of the administration is to lower the inflation rate — by tightening its monetary policy — and streamline government expenditures by restructuring Iran’s $100 billion subsidy program.

The subsidy-reduction has been understandably unpopular, as prices of gasoline and other commodities have more than doubled. Consequently, domestic demand has dramatically dropped, while many industries struggle to keep up with the price shocks. To avoid backlash, the government has provided a targeted subsidy to more vulnerable sectors, while depositing a certain sum — as a cushion against rising prices — in citizens’ bank accounts.

According to the International Monetary Fund, “While the subsidy reform is expected to result in a transitory slowdown in economic growth and temporary increase in the inflation rate, it should considerably improve Iran's medium term outlook by rationalizing domestic energy use, increasing export revenues, strengthening overall competitiveness, and bringing economic activity in Iran closer to its full potential.” The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that Iran’s economy is expected to double in the next five years, and its real growth rate, according to the Global Forecasting Service, is to stabilize at around 3.4 percent over the same period.

The country has also embarked on a series of privatization schemes encompassing state-owned enterprises such as the two giant automobile manufacturing companies, Saipa and Iran Khodro. Private companies are also emerging as major players. Last year, an Iranian company, Entekhab Industrial Group, purchased the Daewoo Electronics Corporation, while local companies won crucial contracts in Iran’s vast oil and gas fields.

However, despite massive subsidy cuts, the proposed budget for 2012 is 40 percent higher than the previous one, indicating even more government expenditures in other areas. Overall, it is still too soon to assess the real medium-term impact of the current reforms, but inflation rates are at least moderating — in light of price shocks — at around 10-15 percent.

The Policy of Looking South and East

The lure of Iran’s vast hydrocarbon reserves is the main challenge to the efficacy of sanctions. According to IMF economist Dominique Guillaume, “the country has sizeable energy reserves, with underground hydrocarbon resources estimated at $10 trillion in oil alone (at $75 a barrel) and natural gas reserves at between $3.5-4.5 trillion.”

Given Iran’s large national budget of $508 billion and small national debt, favorable oil and gas prices are keeping Iran’s economy relatively buoyant. This means the sanctions only hurt ordinary Iranians by raising the price of food and basic commodity imports, slowing down GDP growth, and driving away investments from Iran’s capital-hungry economy.

However, the impact of sanctions is not sufficient to make Tehran reconsider its nuclear ambitions. Sanctions regimes have been plagued by free-riding, non-compliance, and lack of a coordinated action. This is very understandable given how many major non-Western economies rely on Iran for a significant proportion of their energy imports.

Tehran’s strategy to counter its isolation within the Western order has been relatively successful. Leveraging its immense energy reserves, Iran has considerably expanded its economic-financial-investment ties with major economies such as China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, and India. Despite incessant U.S. pressure on these countries, the bilateral relationships continue to grow. Although Iran’s forays into Latin America have provoked much reaction in Washington, Iran's ties to China, Turkey, and even India represent its economic future. These countries are among the fastest growing economies, yet they continue to suffer from endemic energy insecurity as their energy consumption is set to grow in coming decades. With this in mind, Tehran has utilized a policy that combines diplomatic savvy and attractive investment opportunities.

Noticing emerging economies’ growing political independence, Iran has been able to increasingly embed Chinese and Turkish investors in its vast domestic market in order to plug the gap left by Western companies. Given how emerging economies are rapidly closing the technological gap, these alternative partners could likely assist Iran in developing its tremendous economic potential.

In general, neither an economic sanctions regime nor the military option seems to be the optimal solution to the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program. The status quo achieves nothing but more economic hardship for Iranian citizens without effectively altering their leaders’ strategic calculus.

Instead, the United States and Europe should focus on carrots, emphasizing how Iran can reverse decades of investment vacuum and economic isolation if it chooses a more moderate path. No major policy shift is expected unless and until the West realizes that Iran has achieved sufficient level of development and international cooperation to ameliorate the effects of, if not totally counter, any set of unilateral sanctions by major powers. So far, the West has not provided Iran with real incentives to alter its nuclear policy such as meaningful technological and financial assistance. Nor has it assisted diplomatic efforts when it ignored the Brazil-Turkey brokered deal, which held the promise of breaking the decade-long deadlock.

-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy In Focus on 28/07/2011
-Foreign Policy In Focus contributor Richard Javad Heydarian is a foreign affairs analyst based in Manila

Pathos In Beirut, And New Directions

By Michael Young
Pathos has become standard fare in Beirut lately. There was something pathetic in the bearing of Prime Minister Najib Mikati during his recent interview with CNN’s Richard Quest. And no less pathetic have been the assurances of March 14 figures that Saad Hariri will return to Beirut during the month of Ramadan.
With Mikati the pathos came in the prime minister’s unpersuasive effort to put a brave face on a bad situation. He told Quest that the four individuals indicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon were being actively sought by his government, even as the dubious reporter reminded him that Hezbollah’s secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, had vowed never to surrender the men. Mikati, too smart to engage in self-delusion, instead spread a pitiful illusion.
As for March 14, there was something just as wretched in the statements heralding Hariri’s homecoming. The former prime minister’s bloc and allies have been embarrassed by their leader’s disappearance and the contradictory explanations for this. Now Hariri is coming back and a zephyr of hope has kicked up in the coalition’s ranks, as no more explanations have to be offered.
Lebanon is being damaged by fragmentation in the political game. Nasrallah is flying the banner of defending our offshore gas fields – in search of new relevance for a party that has lost its meaning beyond being the armed sentinel of the Shiite sect, and that may soon be deprived of a valuable Syrian ally; Mikati is engaged in an elaborate act that all is dandy in Lebanon, to reverse waning confidence in stability; March 14 is all sound and fury, but signifying nothing as it fails to define an alternative to the vague program on the other side.
In this otherwise dispiriting context, there may yet be interesting things to watch for that will shape Lebanon’s political future. One, is whether the notion of a government of “one color” can provide a model of sorts, or alternatively will turn into a practice best avoided. Another, is whether such a “one-color” government will help spawn in positive ways a responsible opposition.
As much as a national-unity government is preferable given our present political predicament, because Lebanon needs a forum for dialogue in volatile times, that choice has not been the norm in modern Lebanon. One must differentiate between a representative government and a national-unity government: the first brings in a range of political forces who agree on the basics of policy, but does not necessarily integrate all major forces in the way that a national-unity government does. Lebanon has frequently had representative governments that were not national-unity governments.
It is too early to judge how the Mikati government will perform. However, the signs are not heartening when the prime minister finds himself on a different wavelength than Hassan Nasrallah, his far more powerful confederate. Oddly, this may not end up mattering much. Whatever the outcome for the government, success or failure, it may help bolster the view that a government of compatible political partners is better than a national-unity government.
Here’s why. If the Mikati government succeeds, then many Lebanese will, of course, applaud the experiment, seeing little to condemn in a politically compatible governing team. Conversely, if the government fails, then this is likely to discredit Mikati and those around him in their political capacity, but not at all the principle of a like-minded government. In other words, disappointment with the current ministers and their sponsors could create a backlash leading to the establishment of a substitute Cabinet of March 14 and its comrades.
Many Lebanese are tempted to favor compatible governments over national-unity governments. But that can only work if partisanship is kept in check and there is broad agreement over Lebanon’s social contract. When government actions and political and security appointments serve mainly to consolidate a politician’s or party’s interests at the expense of the majority, inside or outside government, then the advantages of compatibility break down.
And what of the opposition? March 14 has disappointed on a host of questions since Mikati took office. Tactically, the coalition has sought to highlight the flaws of the government, and the prime minister in particular. But it has been wishy-washy on sensitive issues, from addressing declining economic conditions, where the responsible position requires backing Mikati, to taking a stance on the Syrian situation, to providing a convincing counter-offer to the majority’s tendentious vision for a national dialogue. Demanding that Hezbollah’s weapons be included in a dialogue is natural, but this will not serve as the basis of serious discussion until March 14 corners the party by presenting a detailed project for disarmament that incorporates a political quid pro quo.
If we were to predict the popularity of March 14 in an election, what might we discover? Looking through a narrow but useful prism, if elections were held today in the different districts of Mount Lebanon, which accounts for a hefty number of parliamentarians, I would wager heavily that Michel Aoun would again win a lion’s share of seats. That’s not because the general is more popular than in 2009, but because his adversaries have lost ground. It was no coincidence that Michel Murr, an astute electoral operator, voted confidence in the Mikati government after his list’s disastrous results in the Metn two years ago. Expect him to negotiate with Aoun in 2013.
This should be a cautionary tale for March 14. A government of one color imposes obligations on an opposition. Even if the public has doubts about those in authority, that doesn’t mean it will side with their critics. Until now the opposition has appeared strident, devoid of ideas, and focused on provoking Mikati’s collapse. That’s not a serious strategy and it’s not working. It makes Mikati look good when his difficulties should expose how feeble the prime minister really is.
-This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 28/07/2011
-Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR and author of “The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggle” (Simon & Schuster), listed as one of the 10 notable books of 2010 by The Wall Street Journal

All Systems Are On Go For Palestine’s March To The UN

By Daoud Kuttab
If anyone outside Palestine had doubts that the Palestinian Authority was hesitant about going to the UN to request the recognition of Palestine as a full member, a trip to Ramallah would quickly put an end to this scepticism. Ramallah’s hotels are full of members of the Palestine Central Council (the second highest representative body in Palestinian politics after the Palestine National Council). PNC Speaker Salim Zannoun has held meetings in Amman, Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah in preparation for a crucial central council meeting in Ramallah this week. The leading independent daily published in Ramallah, Al Ayyam boasts a colourful map of the world with 122 flags representing world countries that have indicated that they will vote for Palestine to be a full member.
Robert H. Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, has been quoted in the local press as saying in New York that the Palestinians are ready to take responsibility for their state.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was dispatched to Cairo to convince an emergency meeting of the Arab League that they must step up and fulfil commitments to the Palestinian Authority. Ever since Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mishaal signed the reconciliation deal, Israel has illegally withheld taxes and customs it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) which usually cover 70 per cent of the PA’s running expenses. Salaries were paid at 50 per cent last month and are in doubt this month. Furthermore, threats from the US Congress to cut off aid to the PA is taken seriously here and therefore Palestinian leaders are making sure that they can get alternative sources of income. Palestinians want to make sure that Israel and the US are not going to financially blackmail them into taking positions that are contrary to Palestinian aspirations.
The readiness of the Palestinian leadership to go to New York, however, doesn’t reflect unanimity amongst Palestinians. It is true that Hamas has publicly said that they are not opposed to the idea. Aziz Dweik, the Hamas-supported speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who politely declined the invitation to attend the PCC sessions in Ramallah, wrote to Zannoun that while full participation will need to wait until the reform of the PLO as agreed on in the reconciliation agreement, he gave his blessing to the UN trip. And while Fayyad is trying to raise money for PA salaries, he has made it clear that he is not totally in favour of the UN bid. A close reading of Fayyad’s plan for independence focuses on the idea of creating a de facto state at the present rather than go for a vote at the UN.
There are also other small cracks in an almost wall-to-wall support for the UN move from different directions. Talking to Palestinians in the street one gets the feeling that there is concern that this move might not produce any concrete change while causing a lot of damage. A middle-class Hebron white-collar worker noted that in the last few years a huge number of Palestinian civil servants borrowed from local banks to buy homes and cars based on their PA salaries and they are now scrambling to pay their ?ebts without a consistent monthly salary.
Hani Masri, an independent writer who was active with the independent forum set up by businessman Munib Masri, argued in an op-ed in Al Ayyam against the idea that Palestinians should go back to negotiations after the UN vote. The UN vote is not a one-off idea, it must be the beginning of a process that will also be parallelled with serious hard work on the ground. Going back to negotiations after the UN vote will not improve our negotiating position, he said. Even PLO spokesman Yasser Abed Rabbo sounded a?tiny bit hesitant Tuesday. Speaking after a meeting of the PLO executive committee, he said that while there is no precedent that pushes us to go to the UN at any certain time, that doesn’t mean that we are hesitant about going to New York.
It is also not clear what the Palestinian diplomatic tactic will be in New York. Will the Palestinians risk a US veto by going to the UN Security Council and asking for full membership or will they skip the council and go directly to the General Assembly and request recognition as a state with observer (rather than full) membership.
Whatever some small voices here and there say, the Palestinian political machine is on high alert. All 90 Palestinian ambassadors around the world have been told to cancel all vacations and to work around-the clock in the coming two months. They met in Istanbul last week with President Mahmoud Abbas and were given the political directions for their mission. As far as Ramallah is concerned, Abbas will ask the PCC to officially approve his recommendation that due to the failure of the attempts to get Israel to agree on the basis of the talks that include agreeing to a settlement freeze and the failure of the Quartet to produce a mutually accepted plan, the Palestinians only non violent option is to go to the highest international body, the UN, and seek their help in ending the 44-year Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 28/07/2011

A Statue Of Liberty In Beirut

Lebanon requires a symbol to reawaken the concepts of equality and freedom in citizens amid all the political turmoil
By Joseph A. Kechichian
It used to be that Lebanon was the only Arab country that boasted genuine freedoms even if discrimination co-existed with liberty. While a Constitution guaranteed basic rights, the 1943 National Pact between Christians and Muslims etched freedoms for all, even if foreign interventions dampened its essence. Notwithstanding a bloody civil war, which cost the lives of over 100,000 civilians, the very spirit of liberty was seldom eradicated in the land of the cedars.
Ironically, and for well over 75 years, Beirut welcomed Arab dissidents while most of its elite were forced to emigrate. Today, serious demographic and socio-economic challenges mean that Lebanon is threatened by a new foe, just as Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis, Libyans, Syrians and others usher in epochal changes that literally ensure multiple awakenings.
Many are poised to surpass the Lebanese especially as the latter insist on destroying the freedoms that allow every dopy idea to find plenty of airtime.
With a new government in place, several competing programmes are now advanced to demonstrate competence where only incompetence prevails, and to sell a wary public seafront property in wastelands. It was ironic, for example, to read Energy Minister Gebran Bassil’s As-Safir interview in which he promised drilling for oil and gas resources by late 2012, even as Lebanon is in the middle of an international dispute over maritime borders with Israel.
The comical Bassil promised that the government would not be straddled with a drilling bill, allegedly because the designated company would assume all costs. In his perpetual zeal to impress a bewildered public, the minister did not identify the company that would, presumably, invest in disputed waters.
Regrettably, most Lebanese dismissed Bassil as a third-rate buffoon, although that was wrong. Rather, most should watch him like hawks, because of potential financial gains for those who sign lucrative contracts.
Bassil is not the only opportunist suffering from political amnesia. Prime Minister Najeeb Mikati embarked on equally problematic initiatives to distinguish himself from his predecessor. Ostensibly, the Sa’ad Hariri-led national unity government, which was painstakingly “created” after the Doha Accords, skirted major concerns though everyone seems to have forgotten conditions that prevented Beirut from accomplishing anything substantive.
Politics aside, the Lebanese continue to hammer for basics, including day-long electricity everywhere, the harnessing of water supplies instead of seeing the precious liquid go into the Mediterranean, delivering fast internet connections, and addressing the spiralling cost of living for a population that is still divided between the haves and the have-nots.
Whether Mikati and his team will manage to address these basic demands, not to mention horrible traffic, rising fuel prices, uncontrolled construction that literally removes mountains of forests only to replace them with luxury homes — at a time when there is a shortage of affordable housing — remains to be seen.
Above all else, however, the challenges that face Lebanon’s political elite are existential. Few officials dare to address glaring problems and while it was not possible to do so under Israeli and Syrian occupations, Beirut can no longer afford cosmetic changes. No one should be naive enough to assume that one party or one community can reconcile warring factions.
Regrettably, the Lebanese killed each other during the long civil war, though the army never actually opened fire on any demonstrators. Still, it is fair to ask what may be preventing the Lebanese today from respecting the law and, equally important, to wonder how Beirut can get out of its doldrums?
At the risk of sounding naive too, and to put it crudely, the primary reason why the Lebanese seem stuck in their positions is the absence of a living or fixed symbol that defines liberty for them.
When one visits New York harbour, Lady Liberty is there to greet you and, despite the vagaries of the ill-thought-out Patriot Act that stripped Americans of cherished freedoms, many still look up to the ideals she holds.
Visitors to Paris are greeted by the Arc de Triomphe, which honours those who fought and died for France in both the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars though the French also boast the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
Likewise, St Petersburg in Russia displays the huge Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great, which is a symbol of liberty for the city. Similar icons exist elsewhere.
Beirut needs a symbol of its own and while the old Martyr’s Square (Sahat Al Shuhadah) was briefly re-christened Liberty Square (Sahat Al Huriyyah) in 2005, few associate the majestic now bullet-riddled four statues there with freedom.  The old commemoration honoured Lebanese nationalists who were hanged during the First World War by Ottoman authorities in what was a quest for independence.
The time is ripe for architects to come up with a brand new symbol for Beirut, to restore its values through a new compact and a major arch  The Arch of Liberty — that will inspire a new generation to love the country.
Today, the challenges facing Lebanon are not limited to Hezbollah’s weapons, but also to the 1943 National Pact itself. While the 1989 Taif Accords amended the compact slightly, the country must reinvent the very idea of equality between all, with new symbols that will re-awaken in every citizen a hunger for, as well as the pursuit of, liberty. Until it is realised.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 28/07/2011
-Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books on Gulf affairs

Iran courts Egypt, worrying allies

By Karin Laub
One of Egypt's ruling generals took great pains this week to reassure his American audience: the military-led caretaker government has no intention of mending ties with Iran, a longtime foe and regional rival. But once an elected government takes over from Egypt's interim rulers in coming months, it would have to be responsive to public opinion, Maj Gen Mohammed Al-Assar said in a speech to a think tank in Washington, suggesting that a different course is then possible.
Iran has been strongly courting Egypt since the February fall of Hosni Mubarak, seeking to break its isolation and extend its influence in the Middle East. The prospect has alarmed Egypt's allies - particularly Saudi Arabia and the Arab countries of the Gulf, as well as Israel, all of which fear increasing Iranian power in the Middle East.
With its own suspicions of Iran and wary of alienating its allies, Egypt is unlikely to run into an embrace with Iran. But how much it does improve ties will be a major indicator of how far its future government will take a more independent foreign policy after decades under Mubarak, who stuck closely to the United States' line in the region. "What we might be witnessing in the next few months is a struggle within Egypt to define and redefine Egyptian foreign policy," said Fawaz Gerges, head of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics.
There is strong popular support in Egypt for a foreign policy that does not so strongly mirror Washington's, which proponents argue will help restore the country's clout as a regional leader. For most Egyptians, the top priority is to back off from the close cooperation that the Mubarak regime had with Israel on economic and security issues. But it could also mean an easing of Mubarak's staunchly anti-Iran stance. One of the leading contenders for the Egyptian presidency, ex-Arab League chief Amr Moussa, argues that Egypt would gain from peaceful or less tense relations with Iran.
Any warming would mark a shift in the political map of the region, which has sharply split between Iran's sphere of influence, including Syria and the Islamic militias of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and a US-backed camp led by Saudi Arabia, Gulf nations and Mubarak's Egypt. As recently as 2009, Mubarak's then-intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, told the US that Iran - with its suspected nuclear weapons program and funding of anti-Western militants - posed a threat to the entire region.
Just two weeks after Mubarak's fall, Iran tested the new Egypt, asking to send two warships through the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal. Egypt granted the request, a first since 1979, saying it was bound by canal rules of free passage. A month later, Egypt's new foreign minister, Nabil Elaraby, declared that "Iran is not an enemy" and that Egypt would seek to open a new page with every country in the world, including Iran.
The conciliatory message by Elaraby - who has since moved to the Arab League chief spot - came just as the Cold War between predominantly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and mainly Shiite Iran was deepening: In March, Saudi troops helped put down a Shiite-led uprising in Sunni-ruled Bahrain that Gulf leaders saw as a stalking horse for Iran. Apparently startled by the signals from Egypt, Saudi Arabia pledged $4 billion for Egyptian economic recovery. In July, Egypt changed course, saying relations with Iran won't come at the expense of security of the Gulf countries.
That same pressure will certainly remain on Egypt's next, elected government. And Egypt has its own suspicions about Iran's policies, particularly its support of Islamic militants around the region. Gerges expects Egypt will try to seek a middle ground. "This new thinking (in Egypt) revolves around Iran not being a threat to regional security," he said. "Iran is an integral part of the region and should be engaged politically, as opposed to a policy of confrontation." Iran seems to be the more eager side in the courtship. "As soon as I receive an invitation from Egyptian officials I will go immediately and with pride to Egypt," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as telling a 45-member Egyptian delegation visiting Tehran in June.
Relations between Egypt and Iran broke down after Tehran's Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Contacts have been channeled through interest sections, a low-level form of diplomatic representation. In May, Egypt expelled a low-level Iranian diplomat on suspicion he tried to set up spy rings in Egypt and the Gulf countries. Yet in a sign of a relationship in flux, the same plane that flew home the expelled Iranian diplomat also carried the Egyptian delegation of legislators, ex-diplomats and uprising activists to Tehran for their ice-breaking trip.
Former Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Ghamrawy, who led the group, argued that closer ties would help stabilize the Middle East. "Why is the West troubled by Iranian relations with Egypt, even though the Gulf countries all have ambassadors in Iran?" he said. Still, the trip also highlighted the ambivalence. Mustafa El-Naggar, an Egyptian uprising activist in the delegation, told an Egyptian TV interviewer that when his Iranian hosts claimed the popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world were part of an "Islamic awakening", he told them that the anti-Mubarak revolt was "not a religious revolution, but a human evolution".
Israel is watching the prospect of an improvement in Egypt-Iran ties with trepidation. Israel's military intelligence chief, Maj Gen Aviv Kochavi, told Israeli lawmakers this month that Iran has begun funding Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood ahead of parliament elections in the fall. He did not provide evidence, and the Brotherhood denied the claim. "We are keeping our fingers crossed for Saudi Arabia and Egypt, hoping that Iran will not succeed in its ambitions to penetrate into other areas of the Middle East, said Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. – AP
This analysis was published in The Kuwait Times on 28/07/2011

The Western Stance On Libya And Syria

By Randa Takieddine
The British-French understanding that was obvious in the discussions between the foreign ministers of the two countries, Alain Juppe and William Haig, on Monday, about what is taking place in Libya and Syria, is very important. This is because of the joint intervention by these countries in Libya, their membership on the United Nations Security Council and their influence in Europe's decision-making is of fundamental importance (with Britain's special relationship with the White House). This gives added significance to their role and their thinking about what is taking place in the Arab world, and especially in Libya, Syria and Egypt.
Certainly, for these countries and other Western states, things are clearer with regard to what is taking place in Libya than in Syria and Egypt. There is a firm strategy on Libya: military pressure will continue even if this takes longer than expected. However, an opposition has begun to coalesce, as an alternative, and when Qaddafi leaves power, the political track will experience a new situation for the post-Qaddafi period, and this will be decided by various political forces in the country. Britain and France are now making efforts to release the regime's frozen assets at Societe Generale and British banks, to help the opposition National Transitional Council. In the end, there is a joint conviction that the Gaddafi regime is on its way out, sooner or later, even if this takes more time and more discussions with African leaders who are friends of Britain and France.
As for Syria, the situation is different, since France and Britain are convinced that the Syrian regime lost legitimacy because of its repression and use of force, and killing, against a people demonstrating for European democratic values that these countries promote and call for, even if this has been a bit tardy. There are a number of questions about the Syrian situation, which have prevented any Western official from saying that Bashar Assad must leave power.
Officials in Britain, France and the US are wondering about an alternative if the Syrian regime falls; they are asking about the opposition, and the quality of this alternative, and how it will re-order itself to create a credible alternative. There is also strong dismay in France and Britain vis-à-vis Russia's refusal to condone any Security Council resolution that condemns and punishes the Syrian regime's oppression. This is because Russia believes the international community has overstepped the resolution in its intervention in Libya, and fears the same might happen in Syria. The Arab stance, represented by the Arab League, is ineffective. It also does not support the international position of punishing the Syrian regime, or saying that it has lost its legitimacy. The Syrian regime has lost friends such as Qatar, and another regional friend, Turkey. But the fear and anxiety about the situation in Syria is also linked to and is influential in the situation in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Turkey, or those countries with which it has borders. Western countries are certainly confused when it comes to thinking about the future of Syria, which makes them hesitant about saying something like they did about Libya, along the lines of President Assad must step down. This is even if there is a prevailing belief that the Syrian regime can remain stable, or last, if it continues its present course.
As for Egypt, the reading by Britain and France of the developments underway in this large and important country is worrying; Egypt is being discussed and thought about profoundly, in view of the country's importance, and also due to the lack of certainty about the direction of events there, after Egypt's democratic revolution was initially welcomed.
The British-French understanding reflects legitimate questions about the future of Arab revolutions, with definite support for this track of freedom, accountability and democracy.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 27/07/2011