Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Revolution, With Qualifications

What the naysayers got right about the Arab Spring. 

By James Traub

What is the future of the Arab Spring?

Over the last several months, there has been very little good news from the Arab world, and a lot of very bad news: bloody stalemate in Libya, Yemen, and Syria; ruthless repression in Bahrain; ongoing military rule in Egypt; growing restlessness and frustration in Tunisia. The waning of the Arab Spring has been deeply disheartening to both democratic activists in the Middle East and their enthusiasts abroad -- i.e., folks like me. It has, however, offered a gratifying sense of vindication to the stern realists who always viewed the whole thing as a mass delusion. I'm thinking of you, George Friedman.
Friedman is the armchair Metternich of Stratfor, a "global intelligence" firm whose highly informed analyses of world events -- often by former intelligence officials -- have been arriving, uninvited but very welcome, in my e-mail inbox for the last few years. Friedman -- sorry, "Dr. George Friedman" -- is Stratfor's founder and CEO, an international affairs theorist of the old school who views geopolitics as the clash of state interests. The good doctor is thoroughly immune to the American habit of falling in love with democratic movements abroad. In the most recent installment of his "Geopolitical Weekly," Friedman dismisses the idea that the Arab world is now experiencing a "revolution." Elsewhere he has written, "There is no Arab spring, just some demonstrations accompanied by slaughter and extraordinarily vacuous observers."

Hear him out. A minimal requirement for a revolution is the upending of an existing regime -- and, as Friedman points out, even in countries like Egypt where the ruler has been forced from office, the military regime remains firmly in power. (His case is weaker in Tunisia.) Compare the situation to the genuine revolution that toppled one regime after another in the former Communist bloc in 1989. There, entire populations overwhelmed despised governments. Much the same happened in Iran in 1979. The Arab world, by contrast, has seen street demonstrations, lead by the young and the well-educated. "The most interesting thing in Egypt," Friedman has written, "is not who demonstrated, but the vast majority who did not." These limited demonstrations succeeded only in persuading the military to get rid of President Hosni Mubarak. Elsewhere, the mass movements have produced stand-offs rather than victories.
Friedman is right that Arab regimes have had far more staying power than democracy advocates in the West naively imagined. Libya is the example par excellence: The Western narrative was that once NATO openly sided with the rebels, the worm-eaten Qaddafi regime would collapse, even if Qaddafi and a few loyalists would fight on to the bitter end. As the bombing continued week after week, some people -- me, for example -- sagely noted that the aerial assault on Kosovo took 76 days to bring Serbia to its knees. About double that time has passed, and only now does Qaddafi's grip on Tripoli appear to have seriously weakened. The Arab Spring has stalled because key sectors -- tribes in Libya and Yemen, business elites and ethnic minorities in Syria, the upper ranks of the military in Egypt -- have either stuck with the regime or stayed on the sidelines.

So 2011 is not 1989. What is it then? A flash in the pan? "The key principle that appears to be driving the risings," Friedman wrote in February shortly after Mubarak's fall, "is a feeling" that regimes "enriched themselves beyond what good taste permitted." This is like saying that Marie Antoinette's shepherdess parties provoked the French Revolution. But Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, did not set himself on fire because President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali ran a kleptocracy, but because that kleptocracy had destroyed his dignity and reduced his prospects to nothing -- which is more or less why the French stormed the Bastille. Unarmed citizens are braving bullets in Syria not because they feel that President Bashar al-Assad is unseemly, but because they view him as cruel and illegitimate. And while Arab citizens hate their corrupt and contemptuous leaders, they have also stopped accepting the autocratic rules which for so long they took for granted. This force will not be put back in a bottle.
The Arab Spring is, in fact, some kind of revolution; it seems niggling to withhold the term. But what kind? As Friedman notes, some revolutions, like the 1848 uprisings in Europe, do ultimately lead to a liberal transformation, even if regimes weather the first storm of protest. That would be the hopeful precedent. Others, like 1979 in Iran, produce a reactionary transformation. So if you accept the premise that, despite all the frustration and the reversals, something very large is happening in the Middle East which will ultimately lead to a different political order, the second-order question is: What will that order look like? Friedman gloomily concludes that "the places where the risings have the most support are the places that will be least democratic" -- presumably Yemen or Libya -- "while the places where there is the most democratic focus," such as Egypt, "have the weakest risings."

Of course, one of the most fundamental differences between Europe in 1989 and the Middle East today is that the former had deep experience of liberal rule and liberal political principles, and the latter has known little beyond autocracy. The tribalism, ethnic fragmentation, and low levels of development that kept the Arab world a democracy-free zone until now also make it unlikely that the old order will soon be supplanted by liberal democracy. Tunisia is not Poland.
But 1989 is an unfair standard. The threshold question should be: Will the new regimes be more liberal, more democratic, more accountable, and less grossly self-aggrandizing than the ones they replace? And the answer is: they could hardly fail to be. To be sure, they could fail either if states descend into chaos or if Islamist extremists gain the upper hand. Both scenarios have been hyped by Arab rulers, who depict themselves as the only bulwark against anarchy or fundamentalism. One could imagine the former happening in Yemen or Libya, and the latter perhaps in Syria. But they are hardly the likeliest outcome. Even Friedman, when he's not lashing out at vacuous observers, acknowledges that the Arab Spring is likely to "plant seeds that will germinate in the coming decades"; he expects those seeds to be democratic, but illiberal.

Liberalism does take far longer to evolve than democracy, as Fareed Zakaria points out in his book The Future of Freedom. But democracy of any kind sounds a lot better than the status quo. The Arab Spring is likely to produce better outcomes for Arab peoples. But this brings us to the third-order question: Will these changes, on balance, be positive or negative for the United States and the West?
You don't have to be a cold-blooded realist to believe, as Friedman does, that whatever new regimes come to power will not be sympathetic to the United States. Successive American administrations relied on rulers like Mubarak or King Hussein of Jordan precisely because they could afford to ignore the views of their own people -- which were, and are, deeply anti-American and anti-Israel. To see what democracy is likely to produce one need look no further than Turkey, whose generals were far more pro-American and pro-Western than the current democratic and mildly Islamic regime has proved to be. Already the state press in Egypt has begun to churn out diatribes against America diplomats there. This is almost certain to get worse before it gets better.

There are, I suppose, two reasons to dump cold water on the Arab Spring. The first is that you think the enthusiasm is overblown, and you enjoying taunting the romantic spirit that sees reflections of America and its democratic values in every popular uprising across the globe. Go ahead and jeer; I would only note that even the grumpy and skeptical John Quincy Adams, who famously abjured crusades to destroy foreign "monsters," added that the American people are "well-wishers" to those everywhere who seek freedom.

The second reason is that you believe that while it may be good for them, it's bad for us. But in the long term, that cannot be so. Illegitimate government in the Arab world has been a disaster for the neighborhood, and for the world. Legitimate government provides the only narrative powerful enough to prevail over the appeal of extremism. We have every reason to be well-wishers.
-This commentary was published in The Policy Foreign on 19/08/2011
-James Traub is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and author of, most recently, The Freedom Agenda. "Terms of Engagement," his column for, runs weekly

Barack Obama's Wars Without End

Atrocities such as the Kabul attack continue and troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the US president's pledges
By Mehdi Hasan
Smoke rises from British Council in Kabul following attack on August 19 2011
Smoke rises following a Taliban attack on the British Council in Kabul, Afghanistan on Friday. Nine people were killed. Photograph: Omar Sobhani/Reuters
Another day, another attack. On Friday, the Taliban celebrated Afghanistan's independence day with an audacious assault on the British Council office in Kabul, which killed nine people. The day before, insurgents killed at least 25 people after a roadside bomb ripped through a minibus in the western province of Herat and a suicide car bomb exploded at a US-run base in the eastern province of Paktia.
Earlier in the week, on Monday, insurgents in Iraq launched their most deadly attacks of the year. At least 70 people were killed and more than 300 wounded in a series of co-ordinated strikes across the country, involving car bombs, gunmen and suicide attacks.
A decade on from 9/11, bloodshed and chaos continue to plague Afghanistan and Iraq. A US state department report published on Thursday revealed that the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan had jumped by 55% last year; in Iraq, attacks were up 9%. The US-led invasions and occupations of both countries have been a dismal failure – thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars squandered. The presence of western troops in Muslim lands has provoked more terrorism than it has prevented.
In his book, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, the US political scientist Robert Pape analysed every known case of suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2005 – 315 attacks in total – and concluded that the "specific secular and strategic goal" of suicide terrorists was to end foreign military occupations. "The tap root of suicide terrorism is nationalism," he wrote; it is "an extreme strategy for national liberation".
Why does an intelligent politician such as Barack Obama have such difficulty understanding this? The US president has much to answer for. Yes, he inherited two bloody and costly wars from his predecessor. Yet, in Afghanistan, against the advice of his vice-president and his ambassador in Kabul, he escalated the conflict by sending an additional 30,000 young Americans to kill, and be killed by, the Taliban.
Putting more boots on the ground was a gross misjudgment. More US troops have died fighting in Afghanistan during Obama's two and a half years in the White House than in Bush's two terms in office – and, despite the recent decision to start bringing troops home, there will be more US military personnel fighting the Taliban at the end of Obama's first term in office than at the start.
Iraq, meanwhile, has become the forgotten war – yet an astonishing 47,000 US troops remain stationed there. Earlier this month, Obama told a group of supporters: "If somebody asks about the war [in Iraq] … you have a pretty simple answer, which is all our folks are going to be out of there by the end of the year."
Not quite. US military leaders expect to keep up to 10,000 "folks" in Iraq beyond the 31 December 2011 deadline, agreed by the Bush administration, for a full US withdrawal. Obama's hawkish new defence secretary, Leon Panetta, used his Senate confirmation hearings in June to announce that he had "every confidence" that the Iraqi government would "request" US troops to stay on in the country beyond the end of the year. However the anti-US Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr declared this month that any foreign soldier remaining in Iraq in 2012 would "be treated as an unjust invader and should be opposed with military resistance". So we can expect further bloodshed in that benighted nation: America's Mesopotamian misadventure is far from over.
It was the historian Charles Beard, writing in 1947, who described the national security doctrine of US presidents as "perpetual war for perpetual peace". His Nobel peace prize notwithstanding, Obama has proved to be no different to the rest.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 20/08/2011
Mehdi Hasan is senior editor (politics) at the New Statesman and a former news and current affairs editor at Channel 4. His New Statesman blog is here. He is co-author of Ed: the Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader

Bashar Assad Has One Choice: How To Exit

By Rami G. Khouri 

President Bashar Assad of Syria has painted himself into a corner from which he has options to determine only one thing: How does he leave office and start a democratic transition in the country?

The past week saw simultaneous and heightened American, Turkish, Arab and United Nations pressure on him to stop using military force against his demonstrating citizens who have challenged his regime across the entire country for five months. Thursday’s demand by leading Western powers that Assad step down immediately seals the imminent collapse of the Damascus regime that was initiated by Syrian citizens and hastened by Arab and Turkish pressure.
Having proved totally insincere in grasping the opportunity to reform in the past 10 years, and incompetent in responding to the domestic challenge he has faced since April, Assad now can only choose the manner of his departure – if he is lucky and is not forced out of office or killed trying to remain there. He might find some instruction in the manners in which three former Soviet-bloc leaders responded when they too faced demands from their people for more rights, dignity and prosperity: Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, Wojciech Jaruzelski in Poland and Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.

Assad can try to change the system by radically reforming it quickly from the top by his own unilateral decisions and then try to ride out the transformation, as Gorbachev did before he was voted out of office democratically (and is now largely remembered positively around the world). Assad can gradually negotiate a democratic transition with the opposition who have demonstrated against him for months or years, as Jaruzelski realized he had to do in Poland before he ultimately stepped aside in 1990 to allow Solidarity and Lech Walesa to lead the country. Or, he can use brute force to try and stay in power, only to find his regime overthrown by popular demand, and he and his colleagues subjected to severe reprisals. This is what happened to Ceausescu after his government was overthrown in December 1989, and he and his wife were executed following a speedy trial.
The performance of Assad to date suggests that his words and promises have very limited credibility in Syria and around the world. That is why key regional and Western powers finally lost patience with him in the past week and demanded that he change course. Assad’s telling U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday that military and police operations against demonstrators had ended was probably too little, too late. If Assad really does stop military operations, the subsequent rising tide of demonstrators will drive him from office. And if he continues applying force against his own citizens, the combination of a persistent revolt and rising regional and international pressures will also drive him from office.

Assad’s problem is that nobody believes him anymore, and his support base will quickly thin out and probably collapse soon, given the dramatically heightened diplomatic isolation he has experienced in the past 48 hours. Even if the Syrian president stops using force and explores a political transition to a more open, democratic system, very few credible Syrians will engage him in such an exercise. They see him as politically discredited for having acted so viciously against his own people when they demonstrated peacefully. Assad’s one chance to mobilize significant domestic support to engineer a peaceful transition to power-sharing probably ended last May 24.
That was the day when the horribly mutilated body of 13-year-old Hamza Khateeb was returned to his family near Deraa in south Syria, nearly a month after he had been arrested during a protest. That one incident, more than any other, captured for many Syrians and others around the world the gruesome deeds that the Syrian regime was prepared to carry out against its own people, including the torture of children. The demonstrations grew all across the country after that day, and people’s outrage was heightened to the point where it was greater than the fear of the retributions of the security services.

Assad’s opponents refrained from calling for his removal for a long time, and asked for the reforms that they thought he also wanted to implement. He and his aides proved to be totally incompetent in grasping how strong was the popular demand for real change towards a more open and humane governance system.
Assad’s brutal reply to the populist demonstrations was similar to the Soviet use of tanks, guns, torture chambers and prison camps in Russia, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania. So one of the few things the Syrian president can do now – after 40 years of rule by his family – is to study those countries’ histories and decide whether he wants to go down as a Gorbachev, a Jaruzelski or a Ceausescu, because the Assad era in Syria is at its end.

The implications of that for the entire Middle East will be enormous, indeed incalculable, as the consequences of a democratic Syria wash across the parched Arab region like a mighty river in the desert.
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 20/08/2011

Palestine: A Village's Struggle Or A Third Intifada?

Palestinians have been calling for global support to help them tear down the wall which 'imprisons Bal'ein'

By As'ad Abdul Rahman

Six hard years of peaceful protests, but the Palestinian village of Bal'ein has never given up on its struggle against the Israeli ‘apartheid' wall. The tiny village in the occupied West Bank has been leading a peaceful resistance, in a highly civilised manner, to protest against the Israeli wall, every Friday.

The people of the village, joined by many international organisations including Israeli human rights groups, have been calling upon all people of conscience around the world to support them to tear down the wall which imprisoned the village and swallowed 2,300 dunums (one dunum equals 1,000 square metres) of its farms.
Rateb Abu Rahmeh, Bal'ein's information coordinator of the Committee of Resistance against the Wall and the Settlement [Colony] policy, said that during six years of demonstrations, 1,400 individuals out of 2,000 of the population of the village were injured (of whom 10 received very serious injuries) as a result of the Israeli brutality waged against peaceful demonstrators. A few years ago the people of Bal'ein went to the Israeli High Court to address the issue of the wall as the world watched its litigations.

On September 4, 2007, the High Court declared the wall to be illegal and ordered the Israeli government to tear part of it down and to change its direction. Israeli authorities removed the wall from the western side of the village and the rest was expected to be removed by the end of July, 2011. Only 1,200 dunums were returned and 1,100 dunums remained behind the wall under Israeli control. A vast majority of people around the world have by now become absolutely convinced that the Apartheid Wall is not really a wall of security, but a devious means to confiscate more Palestinian lands.
The Israeli colonial occupation is not only using the so-called security needs to steal Palestinian lands, but it is also abusing Judaism by falsely claiming divine entitlements to Palestinian lands. Indeed, this is the first time in human history when a sacred Book, the Torah, is being misused to steal lands in the name of God.

Confiscating lands
Adding insult to injury, the Israeli colonial authority is demanding that Palestinians accept such confiscations annulling their deeds of homes and farms as a religious act ordained by God. That is what the Judaisation of the Hebrew State and the confiscation of the Occupied Territories, including occupied Jerusalem, really mean.

Let us see whether anyone in the West or anywhere in the world would accept the demand of someone knocking on his door waving his holy book and claiming that it has rendered the deeds of the house and the farm void and worthless, as the Palestinians are being actually asked to accept the Judaisation of their homes, farms and their places of worship. The Israeli colonial rule is creating ‘accomplished facts' on the ground by confiscating Palestinian lands and literally stealing Palestinian water from under the feet of Palestinians. The wall is creating isolated Palestinian ghettos without water or farms in order to make life in occupied Palestine difficult, saturated with helplessness and nearly impossible to endure for long.
The whole aim is to confine Palestinians within the wall, in order to ‘achieve' their uprooting and displacement as Judaisation of the Hebrew State calls for the ‘purification' of the Jewish State from any presence that is non- Jewish.

The village of Bal'ein has removed a mask revealing the ugly face of colonial Israeli Zionism which is absolutely racist. It has thus managed to draw the ‘roadmap' for a peaceful Palestinian struggle to end the Israeli colonial rule. All Palestinian towns and villages are now being invited to adopt and peacefully execute the plan. Indeed, the Arab Spring, long thought as never seeing the light of day, has become a reality inspiring the whole world.
It is about time for ‘the Palestinian Spring' to peacefully rise and call for the end of Israeli colonial rule backed by a humungous number of supporters from all countries around including a great number of the followers of the Jewish faith who abhor the rule of colonial Zionism in occupied Palestinian lands. Bal'ein's struggle has actually ushered in a third peaceful intifada against the Israeli colonial rule and apartheid policy in the ‘West Bank' of Palestine. This "third intifada is an absolute certainty in case the United Nations recognises the Palestinian independent state" wrote Ben Alof in Haaretz as he and other Israeli writers predicted a ‘tsunami' in September 2011.

He said, "A mere UN resolution would not establish the state, but the Palestinians would rise to get rid of the Israeli army from their territories. The reasons for the third intifada are very well known and it is not certain that the Palestinians would wait till September.
"It is now too late for Israel" he added, while the world "looks at Netanyahu as a ‘refusenik' of peace and all wish that he falls". He reminded the Israeli prime minister whose policies brought peace negotiations with the Palestinians to a standstill that "he will never be able to stop the third intifada which would cost Israel many lives and in the end would force the Israeli army to withdraw which is the very thing Netanyahu tried to prevent".

-This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 20/08/2011
-Professor As'ad Abdul Rahman is the Chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia

Why Hizballah Accused Are Untroubled By Indictment For Hariri Murder

By Nicholas Blanford and a TIME reporter / Beirut
A man accused by an international tribunal of killing an iconic Lebanese statesman, in the process provoking six years of political turmoil that still threatens to undermine the country's tenuous stability, might deem it a good idea to disappear for a while. But for the four members of the militant Shi'ite Hizballah movement indicted in late June for their alleged roles in the 2005 car-bomb assassination of Rafik Hariri, the accusations are of little concern. And the fact that the indictment relies largely on circumstantial evidence created by cell-phone traces will give Hizballah confidence that it can beat the rap in the court of public opinion.
"I don't care about the indictments. Let them come to arrest me," one of the four told TIME in an exclusive interview, which he gave on condition of anonymity despite having been publicly named among the four suspects. "If I was guilty, Hizballah would have turned me over from the first day to the so-called international justice. I said it once and will repeat it for the last time: I am innocent of all charges against me."
His interview marked the first public comments made by any of the four men, two of whom are senior Hizballah commanders, since their names were leaked to the media in late June after the Netherlands-based U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon handed a sealed indictment to the Lebanese authorities. On Aug. 17, the tribunal released a redacted version of the indictment detailing the evidence it has uncovered to be used by the prosecution in a future trial.
The four indicted individuals are:
Mustafa Badreddine, a veteran Hizballah operative who, according to the indictment, sometimes operated under the pseudonym Sami Issa and "served as the overall controller of the operation";
Salim Ayyash, allegedly Badreddine's deputy, "who coordinated the assassination team, which was responsible for the physical perpetration of the attack";
Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra, who are alleged to have prepared a scheme to divert blame for the Hariri assassination onto Sunni Islamist militants.
"As participants in the conspiracy, all four accused played important roles in the attack on 14 February 2005 and therefore all four bear criminal responsibility for the results of the attack," the indictment says.
The contents of the indictment have been long awaited in Lebanon with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation. The allegation that members of Hizballah, the leading force in the current government, had played a role in killing Sunni leader Hariri has further aggravated an already dangerous sectarian political showdown in Lebanon.
Hizballah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, dismissed the indictments as groundless and accused Israel and the U.S. of manipulating the tribunal to pave the way for "sectarian strife and civil war."
But Saad Hariri, son of the murder victim and a former Prime Minister himself, snapped back, accusing Nasrallah of stirring sectarian strife and calling on Hizballah to turn the accused over to the authorities.
The evidence disclosed by the indictment is based almost entirely on a painstaking analysis of cell-phone usage in the months leading to Hariri's assassination. From the millions of cell-phone calls made in Lebanon each day, investigators were able to tease out five covert and open networks of cell phones allegedly used by various conspirators to coordinate the operation. The core team used a "red network" of cell phones activated a month before the assassination and used only to communicate with one another. The last time any of the "red" phones was used was just two minutes before the bomb blast that killed Hariri. The other phone networks were color-coded by the tribunal as green, blue, yellow and purple. From the analysis, the investigators were able to pinpoint the past locations of various conspirators and assessed that the surveillance of Hariri's movements began on Nov. 11, 2004, three months before the assassination.
Daniel Bellemare, the tribunal prosecutor, admitted in the indictment that the evidence is circumstantial but added that such evidence is "often more reliable than direct evidence, which can suffer from firsthand memory loss or eyewitness distortion".
The probe into the cell-phone networks was first revealed in October 2005 in the initial report of a U.N. commission investigating the assassination. The cell-phone evidence does beg a question, however. The indictment acknowledges that the conspirators were aware that the locations of mobile phones can be traced — that's why, it argues, they sought to disguise their tracks by activating the red network in a stronghold of Sunni Islamists in north Lebanon where few Shi'ites are found. But if they were that diabolically clever, it's puzzling that the conspirators would use their carefully camouflaged red-network phones while also carrying not only other operational color-coded phones but even their personal cell phones, which can still be traced even when not being used. Hizballah's highly secretive and technologically proficient personnel would have known that the only way to avoid a trace is to remove the battery and sim card from the phone. Yet, according to the indictment, it was the proximity of the four men's personal phones to the color-coded secret phones that helped identify them.
Another surprise is the apparent lack of supporting evidence in the indictment. Although the tribunal's pretrial judge assessed that the accumulated evidence was sufficient to indict the four accused, it was widely assumed that after six years of investigations the tribunal would have amassed evidence beyond just the telecommunications records.
The prosecution's reliance on the cell-phone data suggests that Nasrallah will soon make another of his periodic televised addresses to sow doubt about the tribunal's credibility. Hizballah accuses Israel of killing Hariri, arguing that only the Jewish state stood to benefit from the assassination. A year ago, Nasrallah broadcast what he said was footage from Israeli reconnaissance drones intercepted by Hizballah technicians showing the routes taken by Hariri's motorcades in and around Beirut. He said this demonstrated that Israel had been monitoring Hariri's movements.
Nasrallah's effort to demolish the tribunal's case in the public mind will have been assisted by the arrest in June last year of a senior employee of Alfa, one of two state-run mobile-phone operators, on charges of collaborating with Israel. Charbel Qazzi, a senior technician, admitted under interrogation that he had been spying for Israel for 14 years. His position within Alfa reportedly enabled the Israelis to track and monitor individuals and tamper with telecommunications data.
Meanwhile, the four accused Hizballah men are rumored to be living openly and without fear of arrest in areas under the Shi'ite party's control. It is highly unlikely that Hizballah would hand over any of them to a tribunal it says was established as a means of attacking the organization.
The tribunal's methodical process, however, grinds on. Judge Antonio Cassese, the tribunal's president, on Aug. 18 instructed that "a form of advertisement" was necessary to publicize the indictment and the names and pictures of the four accused to help lead to their capture. If the four men continue to evade arrest, the tribunal will then decide when to proceed with trials in absentia.
Judging from the comments and relaxed attitude of the accused Hizballah member interviewed by TIME, it's a safe bet that the dock will be empty when the trials finally begin.
This report was published in The Time magazine on 18/08/2011

Accused Hizballah Man Speaks

During a recent conversation with a Hizballah source, a TIME reporter found himself introduced to one of the four members of the organization accused of playing a role in the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The accused man arrived alone aboard a scooter at the home of his Hizballah comrade. While discussing the indictments, he revealed his true identity and confirmed it by showing an old ID card, but agreed to be interviewed only on condition that neither his name nor the location be revealed.
TIME: Why did you agree to this interview?
I want to send a message to the world that I wasn't involved in the assassination of Rafik Hariri and that all the charges attributed to me are empty.
TIME: But what can you say about the cellphone data analysis?
Everyone knows that the Mossad can manipulate the cellphone data with the help of spies, and some of the spies were arrested which gives clear evidence that Israel can manipulate the telecommunications data. If the tribunal was built on [genuine] evidence I would have given myself [up] from the first day.
TIME: Let's go back to the day of the assassination. Where were you on February 14, 2005?
I was carrying out my [military] work and I cannot reveal where, but I can prove that I wasn't in the area of [the] Saint George [Hotel], the place of the assassination, and I was at least an hour-and-a-half away from that area.
TIME: Then you deny your participation in this terrorist act?
Absolutely. I was even surprised when I heard the news that Hariri was assassinated, and I stopped with a friend of mine in one of the coffee shops to watch it on TV. And the next day I went to my work as usual and people saw me. If I had participated in the assassination I would have taken more measures.
TIME: After the formation of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, did you expect you would be among the four defendants?
For several years, Syria was accused of the assassination, and the whole international community encircled Syria on this basis. But after Syria's cooperation with the international community, Hizballah was accused of the assassination and they put our names as the killers.
TIME: Why don't you hand yourself over to the Tribunal?
I will not turn myself in to a tribunal the main goal of which is to end Hizballah and not ... [to] reveal the [identity] of the real assassins. This is a politicized tribunal admitted to even by some of its members. If they are looking for the truth, let them search somewhere else than Lebanon. Let them go to neighboring countries and they will find the real suspects.
TIME: Do you mean Syria?
Of course not. They have to go to Israel which has the first and only interest in the killing of Hariri. Can't you see that the only beneficiary from this assassination is Israel and its allies?
TIME: Do you think Hizballah will deliver you to the Tribunal?
If I was guilty, Hizballah would have turned me over from the first day to the so-called international justice. I said it once and will repeat it for the last time: I am innocent of all charges against me.
TIME: The Lebanese authorities are also looking for you.
The Lebanese authorities know where I live, and if they wanted to arrest me they would have done it a long time ago. Simply, they cannot.
TIME: What do you think will happen to the Tribunal?
Since the day of its formation, the Tribunal has had no credibility. I am sure it will continue, but Lebanon will not execute any of its resolutions. The international community has to find a better way to end the Resistance [Hizballah], Syria, and Iran.
TIME: What are your future plans?
I will continue living my ordinary life without giving any attention to the Tribunal and any of its resolutions.
This interview was published in The Time magazine on 18/08/2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

Israel's Tent Protests Are Symptomatic Of A Larger Identity Crisis

By Mya Guarnieri

 The tent prostets in Tel Aviv
The media has been quick to depict the Israeli tent protests as a middle class movement. But there are other groups taking part: Palestinians, low-income Jewish Israelis, migrant workers, and African refugees. While all of these groups face a number of serious problems -- as does Israel's middle class -- one was living outdoors in Tel Aviv long before the first protest tent was pitched.
Take a walk through south Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park on any day of the year and you'll see dozens of African refugees sleeping on the grass. But they're not here in protest. These men and teenage boys are homeless.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls them "infiltrators." The state, however, has reported to the U.N. that about 90 percent of Israel's approximately 30,000 asylum seekers are indeed refugees. Most come from Eritrea -- a country gripped by a brutal dictatorship and fraught with religious persecution -- and war-torn Sudan. Some have escaped genocide in Darfur. Many flee first to Egypt, where they might spend several months or years working. From there, they walk to Israel, making a treacherous journey through the Sinai. A significant number of the refugees are "unaccompanied minors" -- teenagers who made this trip alone.
Since Israel's founding in 1948, the country has given status to about 200 non-Jewish refugees, mostly Vietnamese boat people and Christian Ethiopians. The recent wave of asylum seekers -- which began with a trickle in the early 2000s and gained momentum around 2006 -- has been subject to what Amnesty International calls a "policy of non-policy." While international law forbids Israel from deporting the refugees, the state refuses to grant status or work visas to a tremendous majority.
But the refugees have to work, of course, where they are forced to enter the black market. There, they often contend with wages that fall far short of the legally-mandated minimum. Sometimes they face "employers" who "hire" and then refuse to pay. All this leads to tremendous difficulties in finding affordable housing.
With wages too low, rent too high -- and receiving no help from the government -- refugees are left with few options. In a bid to bring the cost of living down, they cram themselves into apartments, sometimes as many as a dozen to a room. Or they sleep in public places, like south Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park.
As the number and visibility of refugees has grown, the issue has become increasingly contentious. In July of 2009, the Oz Unit -- the strong arm of the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority -- began enforcing the hitherto ignored Gedera-Hadera policy, which forbids asylum seekers from living in the center of the country.
In the summer of 2010, 25 Tel Aviv rabbis signed an edict that forbids Jewish Israelis from renting apartments to "infiltrators." A small group of real estate agents in south Tel Aviv -- where most of the city's asylum seekers live -- answered the call and began turning away African refugees.
Last year also saw the government announce its plans to build a detention center for African refugees. The barebones facility, which will house women, men, and children, will be located in the desert. It will be cramped and without air-conditioning. Speaking to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, an anonymous government official explained, "The instruction is to avoid indulging them, so this does not become a recreational facility."
But many Jewish Israelis and local NGOs are in the other proverbial tent. In the summer of 2009, a public outcry put an unofficial end to Gedera-Hadera. On one occasion, the Oz Unit filled a bus with African refugees, with the intent of sending them out of Tel Aviv. By forming a human chain around the vehicle, however, Jewish Israelis stopped the expulsion.
In December of 2010, Jewish Israelis and African refugees took to the streets of Tel Aviv to demonstrate against the detention center, marching 1000-strong. While the number seems small in comparison to today's tent protests, it was large enough to attract the local media's attention.
Concerned citizens have started everything from grassroots initiatives to help feed the refugees to full-fledged organizations like ASSAF (Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel). The African Refugee Development Center, which was founded by a Christian Ethiopian who received legal status in Israel, relies heavily on volunteers -- Jewish Israelis who are there in the spirit of tikkun olam, repairing the world. And every spring since 2008, individuals and NGOs have come together to hold a Passover seder for Tel Aviv's asylum seekers. Together, they celebrate the ancient Hebrews' flight from oppression in Egypt. It is not lost on anyone that the biblical story of exodus bears uncanny similarities to that of the African refugees.
The refugees' presence at the seder, and in Israel, strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Jewish state. Is it about demographics alone? Or is it about values, like the biblical command to care for the strangers among us? Can Jewish Israelis preserve both their hegemony and their humanity? What's really at issue here is the national identity -- or who gets a seat at the table.
The tent movement opens up other sides of the same issue by demanding that the state give the collective a bigger slice of the pie. But implicit in the idea of distribution is the question: who? Who is part of the collective? All citizens? All Jewish Israelis? Or just Jewish Israelis who live inside the Green Line? And what about all the "others", non-Jews who live inside the 1967 borders? Shouldn't the government give those who live inside the Green Line the same or more benefits than those who live, at great expense, beyond it? Or does the government only care to help those who push an expansionist agenda?
Until the Israeli collective -- and that includes the tent movement as well -- tackles these questions of identity, until borders are set, and the state figures out what this project called Israel is and who it includes, both the refugee and housing crises will remain unresolved.
-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 19/08/2011
-Mya Guarnieri is a Tel Aviv-based journalist and writer whose articles have appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Guardian, The Huffington Post and many other media outlets. She is currently working on a book about migrant workers in Israel

Out With Mubarak, In With Marx?

Hosni Mubarak's extreme capitalism demonstrably failed Egypt. Now social justice is on the mainstream agenda
By Austin Mackell
A defaced image of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak
Egyptian protesters hold a defaced photo of former president Hosni Mubarak during his trial in Cairo, on 15 August 2011. Photograph: Andre Pain/EPA
In a recent TV discussion, Hossam el-Hamalawy, the prominent Egyptian leftist blogger, was asked: "So you're the president of Egypt. You wake up, what's the first thing you're going to do to reorient the economy?"
Hamalawy's answer was admirably concrete: raise the minimum wage to 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($198) per month, set a wage ceiling of 15,000 pounds ($2,480), renationalise the corruptly privatised factories, cut military spending and redirect those funds to health and education.
That a Marxist should suggest such steps is not surprising, but in Egypt they have now entered the mainstream. Neoliberal economic policies were thoroughly tried under the Mubarak regime, and demonstrably failed.
In 2008 the World Bank named Egypt as its "top reformer". Mubarak's adherence to the Washington Consensus strategies, however, delivered prosperity only for the already affluent elite. Meanwhile, the quality of life for the rest of the country deteriorated. This has not been lost on Egyptians.
In a recent conversation, Ahmed Attiya, a journalist for the Egyptian daily al-Shorouk – who describes his own politics as centre-right – put it to me that "even the conservative liberals nowadays support income taxes and minimum wages", adding that "social justice measures are on the agenda of every Egyptian party I have heard of".
Even the interim cabinet seems to get it. In March, as part his first TV address as interim prime minister, Essam Sharaf affirmed social justice, along with freedom and democracy, as one of the main principles of the revolution. These words have been accompanied by at least some action – one example being tentative moves to reform Egypt's regressive income tax.
The old system (typical of tax policy in the region) was basically flat, with a top rate of 20%. This put an unfair burden on society's lower ranks and allowed those at the top to accumulate massive fortunes. These fortunes in turn drove rampant inflation which, combined with a 10% sales tax, put an ever-increasing strain on the spending power of the poor. Meanwhile, the public health and education systems fell apart.
The changes made so far are small – the tax-free threshold has been lifted slightly and the top rate raised to 25% – but they are an indication that Egypt's political class know which way they are supposed to be moving.
Perhaps a more significant indicator than the small steps taken on tax is the interim cabinet's decision to turn down a new round of unpopular and potentially devastating loans from the IMF. This decision will give the new government more freedom to chart its own economic course.
Of course the fight is not won yet. Less high-profile deals with western financial institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are still on the cards and have similar strings attached.
There are well-off enemies of social justice within Egypt, too, and they seem to have an ally in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has banned strikes and sit-ins along with protests. Their objections, however, are generally based less on principle than issues of practicality: that businesses, for example, can't agree to new wage structures now, amid such political uncertainty.
Market fundamentalism has no traction here any more and no new government will be able to hide behind experts that advocate it. The government will have to be seen to be acting directly to ease the population's suffering and re-levelling a very slanted playing field.
From the beginning, the class-based economic elements of this revolution have been undeniable to those paying attention. The "April 6" Facebook group which triggered the uprising in January had itself been inspired by the textile workers of Mahalla whose strike had been part of an ongoing rolling wave of industrial action across the country involving more than a million workers – a story the mainstream media has studiously ignored.
On the odd occasion that the unpopularity of Mubarak's neoliberal programme is mentioned now, it is with a tone of tutting condescension. Back in February, for instance, a Reuters business commentary on Egypt and other North African countries noted the "bitter irony" that:
"Citizens of the countries in question would be financially better off if their governments don't stray too far from the economic policies they have pursued in the past. But the toppling of unpopular regimes will make it difficult for their successors to adopt the same policies."
What the article did not consider was that it might be the other way round – and that Mubarak's extreme capitalist policies could have contributed to his unpopularity.
Such an analysis implies that the Egyptian people are so blinded by their hatred of the dictator that they don't know what's good for them. It relies on the assumption that the answer to such questions has been settled in favour of the Friedmanite policies that have been ascendant in the halls of power through the last few decades. Events in Egypt – and indeed around the world – should give those still indulging in such hubris pause for thought.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 19/08/2011
Austin Mackell is an Australian freelance journalist with a special interest in the Middle East and a progressive outlook. He has reported from Lebanon during the 2006 Israeli invasion, Iran during the turbulent 2009 elections and recently moved to Cairo to report on the transition to democracy

It's His Fast-Disappearing Billions That Will Worry Assad, Not Words From Washington

Nearly 10 per cent of Syria's deposits went in the first four months of 2011, some ending up in Lebanese banks 

By Robert Fisk

President Bashar Assad

Obama roars. World trembles. If only.

Obama says Assad must "step aside". Do we really think Damascus trembles? Or is going to? Indeed, the titan of the White House only dared to go this far after condemnation of Bashar al-Assad by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, the EU and Uncle Tom Cobley and all (except, of course, Israel – another story). The terrible triplets – Cameron, Sarkozy and Merkel – did their mimicking act a few minutes later.

But truly, are new sanctions against Assad "and his cronies" – I enjoyed the "cronies" bit, a good old 1665 word as I'm sure Madame Clinton realised, although she was principally referring to Bashar's businessman cousin Rami Makhlouf – anything more than the usual Obama hogwash? If "strong economic sanctions" mean a mere freeze on petroleum products of Syrian origin, the fact remains that Syria can scarcely produce enough oil for itself, let alone for export. A Swedish government agency recently concluded that Syria was largely unaffected by the world economic crisis – because it didn't really have an economy.

Of course, in the fantasy of Damascus – where Bashar appears to live in the same "sea of quietness" in which the Egyptian writer Mohamed Heikel believes all dictators breathe – the world goes on as usual. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – another earth-trembler if ever there was one – no sooner demands an "immediate" end to "all military operations and mass arrests", than dear old Bashar tells him that "military and police action" has stopped.

Well, blow me down, as the Syrian population must now be saying. So what were all those reports coming in yesterday from Syria, of widespread gunfire in Latakia, of troops looting private property in the city, of a man arrested in his hospital bed in Zabadani, of snipers still on the rooftops of government buildings in Deir el-Zour? Crimes against humanity? Needless to say, the Syrian government knows nothing about this.

Besides, hasn't Gaddafi been accused of "crimes against humanity"? Wasn't he supposed to have "stepped aside" six months ago? And isn't Gaddafi – a little more fragile now, of course – still in Tripoli? And this is after months of Nato bombardment, something that Bashar has nothing to worry about. Well, well, well.

Bashar will also have noticed a weird mantra adopted by the Great Roarer of Washington. Repeatedly, Assad was told by Obama to "step aside" – never "step down" – and to "get out of the way", whatever that means. Intriguingly, Madame Clinton used the phrase "step down" yesterday afternoon – and then immediately corrected herself to "step aside".

The Great and the Good don't use these phrases by chance. The implication still seems to be that "step aside" might allow Bashar to stay in Syria but let others take over, rather go on the run with a war crimes tribunal hanging over his head. Which is what, I suspect, yesterday's roaring was all about.

The real fear for Bashar is not oil sanctions but banks – especially the £12bn in foreign reserves that existed in Syria's Central Bank in February, a sum which is now being depleted by around £50m a week. In May, Syria's foreign minister – the mighty (physically) Walid Moallem – asked Baghdad for cheap Iraqi oil. Nearly 10 per cent of Syria's banking deposits disappeared in the first four months of 2011; £1.8bn was withdrawn, some of it ending up in Lebanese banks.

All in all, then, a nasty economic climate in which to go on bashing your own people. So who cares what Obama says? Certainly not the Syrians, which is why they are now trying to set up a "High Commission for Leading the Revolution" to co-ordinate protesters in the country's provinces.

This will indeed also worry Assad, who will have to send his spooks out to identify members of this "high commission" (which sounds unhappily like a colonial name) so they can spend some rest-and-recreation in the Latakia sports stadium under friendly interrogation from the state security police.

This commentary was published in The Independent on 19/08/2011