Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why The Libyan Rebels Are More Ready Than You Think

Meet the Libyan postwar planners who put the Bush administration's Iraq team to shame.
By James Traub

   The old Kingdom flag returned to new Lybia
At this moment of spectacular triumph in Tripoli, even the fiercest advocates of the NATO intervention that helped topple Muammar al-Qaddafi have been sounding notes of trepidation and sober caution; nobody wants to get caught out being unduly optimistic. Advocates of intervention endured a terrible chastening in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's now obvious, if it wasn't before, that in post-conflict situations, things are much likelier to go wrong than right. And Libya is arguably more fraught than any of its recent predecessors.
Allow me, in what I'm sure is a spirit of a priori hopefulness, to offer some tiny grounds for optimism. For the last several months, I have been following the deliberations of the Tripoli Task Force. This body was established in April by the National Transitional Council (NTC), the rebel government based in Benghazi, in order to plan for the post-Qaddafi transition. One of the peculiar advantages of the military stalemate that lasted until this past weekend is that it gave the task force ample time to plan for Day One of the new government.
Over time, the group's core members moved from Benghazi to Dubai. By the time the Qaddafi regime fell, about 70 people were engaged fulltime in the task of planning. This group oversaw a network of hundreds of Libyans, mostly professionals, divided into 17 teams responsible for policing, water supply, fuel, schools, and the like. They made a point of studying precedent. According to Sohail Nakhoody, who served as chief of staff to Aref Ali Nayed, a Libyan businessman who headed the task force (and now serves as the new government's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates), "We had in front of us the experience of Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Somalia." Iraq served as a kind of anti-template, especially on questions like how to treat regime elements -- i.e., no "de-Baathification."
Let me pause for a moment to recall the absurdity of the George W. Bush administration's own planning process for Day One of a post-Saddam Iraq. Back in the summer of 2002, the U.S. State Department established the Future of Iraq Project, a study exercise that brought Iraqi exiles together with American academic experts and government officials. But once Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld persuaded Bush to transfer control of postwar Iraq to the Defense Department, the entire effort was scrapped. In The Assassins' Gate, journalist George Packer describes meeting an Iraqi-American lawyer in Baghdad desperately trying to interest the new authorities in the State Department's 250-page report on transitional justice, and finding no takers. The planning process was transferred to a group of retired military officers heading something called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), whose very name denoted the strict limits of its mandate. Security was outside ORHA's mandate; so were politics and governance. Those things were supposed to take care of themselves. As we know now, they didn't.
The Tripoli Task Force is staffed by Libyans, with a Libyan sense of reality. The goal, says Nakhoody, is to "secure the conditions for normal life and for democratic processes to happen." In recent weeks, the planning was expanded in order to produce a post-conflict plan for the whole country. Nakhoody says that task force members considered a series of disaster scenarios, especially after Russian diplomats passed along information that Qaddafi planned to devastate Tripoli. Fire brigades were organized, and a three-to-four-month supply of oil was stored in tankers in secure staging areas. These may still, of course, prove necessary. Nakhoody says that in recent days, task force members forged a "unified military command structure" among police brigades. He concedes, however, that it's not clear to what extent police commanders in Tripoli continued to fight alongside Qaddafi's troops and, thus, to what extent their loyalty can be counted on.
How real is all this? Nayed, whom I reached just as he was boarding a flight from Tunis to Tripoli, says that "stabilization teams are already on the ground" in Tripoli and elsewhere and have already managed to increase the supply of electricity and water, partially restore Internet service, and use text messaging to communicate with citizens, including pleas to avoid revenge killing. "Things are on the mend," he says confidently. I asked a senior U.S. official deeply involved with Libya policy whether he thought this was so, and he said, "I'm getting a sense that some of the plan is being executed; I can't tell you what [the] percentage is."
The failure to deliver security and services in Baghdad doomed the American effort there. Even modest success in Tripoli and elsewhere would do a great deal to bolster the legitimacy of the NTC, which, according to the terms of a draft constitution, is to serve until a permanent constitution can be written and approved by referendum, and a new government elected, 15 to 20 months from today. Nayed says that what the new government needs from the West is money to pay salaries, purchase medicine and supplies, and restore the prostrate economy. NTC officials say that they do not want a peacekeeping force, whether from the United Nations or elsewhere, and insist that they can master the security situation on their own. That may prove naive. Qaddafi and his sons are still at large and may fight a rear-guard battle, as Saddam did. What's more, if rival forces refuse to put down their guns or if the ragtag militias prove unable to secure Qaddafi's weapons depots, the new regime may have to call on an outside force.
But the most important lesson of Baghdad is: It's the politics, stupid. A government that is not seen as legitimate will not be able to establish security. And this raises the most fundamental question: How can the Benghazi-based and European-backed NTC persuade Berbers, Islamists, southern tribesmen, and Qaddafi loyalists from the west that it is the government of all Libyans? After all, the very idea of "legitimate government" is foreign to Libya. The U.S. official I spoke to told me the obligation to be inclusive had been "taken seriously" by the NTC and gave the body credit for incorporating elements from Misrata and other major coastal cities, as well as from the mountain regions -- though not, as far as he could tell, from the remote south. David Rolfes, an official with the National Democratic Institute and a veteran of post-conflict settings in the Balkans and elsewhere, says that when he first traveled to Benghazi in April he was deeply skeptical about the rebels' political leadership, but that he wound up feeling "amazingly impressed at how they conducted themselves" and has only felt more so over time.
The political leaders say the right things; but, like the Tripoli Task Force, they've operated in a vacuum until now. No one can confidently predict what will happen in the vortex of post-Qaddafi Libya. Another lesson from Iraq is: Dictators poison their countries. They work their way into people's most intimate selves, into the ability to trust, to accept setbacks without violence, to be patient. Qaddafi spent 42 years playing Libyans against one another. And so even if, miraculously, everything goes according to plan, Libya will be a chaotic mess, and at times the Libyan people will wonder whether all the terrible bloodshed was worth it. Many Iraqis, after all, learned that life without Saddam could be even more terrifying than life with him.
I trust that I have now inoculated myself sufficiently against the charge of naive optimism. And so I can allow myself to say that the Libyan uprising has at times felt as deeply moving, as morally powerful, as the Spanish Civil War. But in this case, the heroes won.
-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 26/08/2011
-James Traub is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a fellow of the Center on International Cooperation

Prosecuting War Crimes? Be Sure To Read The Small Print

By Robert Fisk
Rogues' gallery: clockwise from top left, Hosni Mubarak, Slobodan Milosevic, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Joseph Stalin, Emperor Hirohito and Bashar al-Assad
Rogues' gallery: clockwise from top left, Hosni Mubarak, Slobodan Milosevic, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Joseph Stalin, Emperor Hirohito and Bashar al-Assad (GETTY IMAGES; EPA; AP; REUTERS)
It's good to see bad guys behind bars.
Especially if they're convicted. Justice is better than revenge. And justice must be done for the relatives of the victims as well as for the dead. Part two of the Mubarak trial this month was a case in point. Egyptians want to know exactly who ordered the killing of innocent demonstrators. Who was to blame? And since the buck stops – or is meant to stop – at the president's desk, how can Mubarak ultimately escape his just deserts? The same will apply to Gaddafi when – if? – we get him.
Ben Ali? Well, he'll stay, presumably, in his Saudi exile – which is anyway as near as you can get to a death sentence – since his in absentia trials in Tunis were travesties of justice. Bashar al-Assad? We shall see if we need him or not. Gaddafi? Probably better dead than sent to trial, because he would probably do a Milosevic, mock the court and die in custody. Please note that no tribunals have called for the princes and emirs of the Gulf, or the Plucky Little King of Jordan, or the weird President Bouteflika of Algeria and his henchmen, or the much creepier President of Iran, to be put on trial.
When we decided to keep Hirohito on his Japanese throne, we winnowed down the number of Japanese war criminals to be hanged. Oddly, it was Churchill who wanted the worst of the Nazis to be executed on the spot; it was Stalin who wanted a trial. But then again, Stalin wasn't going to be accused of the mass murder of millions of Soviet citizens, was he?
It all depends, I think, on whether criminals are our friends (Stalin at the time) or our enemies (Hitler and his fellow Nazis), whether they have their future uses (the Japanese emperor) or whether we'll get their wealth more easily if they are out of the way (Saddam and Gaddafi). The last two were or are wanted for killing "their own people" – in itself a strange expression since it suggests that killing people other than Iraqis or Libyans might not be so bad. In other words, civil war killers are just as likely to end up on the hangman's noose.
Or are they? In Lebanon, for example, things aren't that simple. While America would like to know who planned the bombing of its Beirut marine base in 1983, killing 241 US servicemen, it has no war crime trials planned. Nor do the Lebanese. In fact, two amnesties for killers of the 1975-90 civil war specifically exempt all murderers from trial except those who killed religious or political leaders. An interesting distinction.
If your mum and dad were butchered by a crazed neighbour who happened to be of a different religion, the murderer will not go to court. If, however, he knocked off the local priest or imam, he has no immunity. Lebanon's 1991 amnesty, for example – Article 3 for those who like to peek into legal inanities – stipulates that amnesties do not apply to those who commit "the assassination or attempted murder of religious dignitaries, political leaders, Arab and foreign diplomats". Lebanese law, in other words, bestows more value on the life of a bigwig than a prole.
As the Lebanese jurist Nizar Saghiyé puts it: "We have to forget collective massacres, crimes against humanity, ordinary victims – only the murder of a leader is supposed to be punished." When a Lebanese parliamentarian pointed out that this denied the constitution's insistence on equality before the law, the Lebanese president declared that a politician was a "national symbol". This also means that political leaders who have ordered torture and mass murder – of course, I meet them socially in Beirut today – are safe from prosecution. The killers of up to 150,000 Lebanese are also safe, unless they tried to knock off a bishop or a sayed or a warlord.
Just why civil wars are so cruel – and thus, surely, deserving of even more condign punishment – remains a legal mystery. In his preface to Aïda Kanafani-Zahar's splendid analysis, Liban: La guerre et la mémoire (Lebanon: War and Remembrance), Antoine Garapon suggests that because love is the opposite of hate, the most fraternal of communities can become the most murderous: "The cheerful neighbourliness between the (religious) communities – which is the glory of Lebanon – becomes its hell." Thus the Lebanese civil war was "a crime of passion", he says. Kanafani-Zahar draws attention to the fact that the murder of Christian Maronite president-elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982 was followed only a few hours later by the massacre of up to 1,700 Sabra and Chatila camp Palestinians by Israel's Phalangist allies (Gemayel being their now dead leader); yet only Gemayel's assassination was referred to the Lebanese "Council of Justice".
In Bosnia, criminals continue to be sought, although the war had much in common with the Lebanese conflict. Lebanese Christians usually supported the Croats (the Phalangists sent them weapons) while Arab Muslims naturally sympathised with the Bosnian Muslims. In Lebanon, however, there were official village "reconciliations", attended by Muslim and Christian prelates and political leaders. Not so in Bosnia.
But justice? As long as the killers are alive – however old they are, however long ago their crimes were committed – justice would seem to be served by punishment. John Demjanjuk's trial in Germany this year is a case in point. Reconciliations and amnesties are a postponement of justice in the hope that the victims' relatives will die off and their descendants will lose all interest in the outrages of the past. Unlikely. Who now remembers the Armenians, Hitler asked? Millions of people, is my reply.
This commentary was published in The Independent on 27/08/2011

Arab Rebels Must Defer To Legitimacy

By Rami G. Khouri
Libya these days reminds us that all Arab countries in political transition must answer how they will deal with the men and women who held senior posts in the former regimes that they overthrew.
The issue has both practical and political implications. Countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – which are working hard to move from their former conditions of political autocracy and socio-economic stagnation and mediocrity to a new era of stability, democracy, growth and social justice, – need governments that are efficient at delivering citizens’ basic needs, while also responding to the demand that those who govern have integrity, credibility and, above all, legitimacy. How to strike the critical balance between legitimacy and efficacy will challenge Arab societies for months to come.
Tunisia and Egypt threw out their former dictators swiftly, and those societies had no serious opportunity ahead of time to prepare for the transition to a new governance system. The Egyptian armed forces took control of the government, with popular broad approval, because they were trusted, and because there was no real alternative at that dramatic moment of change.
Libya is a different case, as will be other countries that experience revolutionary changes in the year ahead. It is a sign of realism and responsible maturity that rebels and revolutionaries now challenging the old orders on the street are also working in their homes and hotel rooms abroad to chart a transitional process to a new democratic era. How that process happens, in terms of efficiency and credibility, will be a crucial determinant of the condition of society in the years following transition.
We have a better idea now of how this process should work, because of the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences. Both were striking for revealing how strongly citizens felt about removing the vestiges of the old regime from the new system. In both countries demonstrators came back to the streets to demand that previous officials be removed from transitional governments.
This reaction clarifies a powerful, politically critical dimension of the transformations in several liberated Arab countries: the intangible element of “dignity” is more important to ordinary citizens than consistently pertinent issues like jobs or wages. This mirrors the reasons why citizens have changed governments of three Arab countries and are challenging others.
In one Arab country in the throes of a domestic revolt, I have learned from insiders that an unpublished survey was commissioned a few months ago to help the leadership gauge the range of sentiments among demonstrators. The survey revealed that “dignity” was the single most important reason, and by an overwhelming margin, for why people took to the streets demanding change, with material issues very far behind.
This fact is now also clear from the three North African experiences, and will remain operative as transitions take place to democratic governance systems. Getting the balance right between dignity and material well-being will be a critical determinant of how smoothly societies transition from the dark old days to something more promising.
The Transitional National Council in Libya has now moved to Tripoli from its Benghazi, and will have to deal with this issue quickly as it changes from a rebellion to a ruling government. If a single word captures the complexities of this challenge, it would be “legitimacy.” This means that those who served in the old regime could continue to hold positions in the new system, but only if they are seen to be legitimate in the eyes of their own people.
Such legitimacy should reflect several elements: whether officials were technocrats or ideologues; whether or not they were involved directly in security abuses and excesses; whether they express genuine regret or contrition, if appropriate, for their previous roles; whether their positive core values were seen to persist in the face of the brutality of the regimes they served; and, whether their service to the state was seen as a reflection of their sense of national duty or a more crass desire to share in the spoils of dictatorial power.
Not all former officials in the deposed governments are crooks or criminals. Some, like former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil who heads the Libyan transitional council, embody the triumph of nationalist and democratic values over the burdens of their past complicity in Gadhafi governments. Countries that pay attention to the centrality of the legitimacy of new government officials will have an easier time addressing the enormous challenges of rebuilding governance and, most important, giving expression to citizens’ sense of their own humanity.
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 27/08/2011

The Old Libya Unravels

Reconstituting a society after generations of colonial and indigenous subjection will be an onerous task 

By Fawaz Turki 

Earlier last week, Libyan revolutionaries entered the Green Square in their capital city and declared victory, putting an end to the long reign of Muammar Gaddafi, an over-achieving despot, under-educated man and — to those of us who cringed while watching his antics at the podium of the UN General Assembly in September last year — an embarrassingly unsophisticated statesman.

Now seemingly on the run, he will no longer engage in the kind of political bestiality and institutionalised sadism that had characterised his 42-year rule.
That's the easy part of the struggle for Libya's soul. The difficult part lies ahead. Where does a country with virtually no traditions of civil society, a country rendered infirm by a regime whose excesses spanned a whole gamut of villany, go from here? Will the new leadership, starting from scratch, find new coordinates for a political reference that touches urgently on the new contours of its people's lives?

Every person frames their world uniquely. Where a society is reassembled anew, after a long interval of repression and stagnation, it can reinvent itself by drawing on intellectual, ideological and symbolic constructs from its past. That, we know, happened in the wake of all revolutionary upheavals in European countries. What happens, however, when these antecedents are not naturally at hand, and a totally new present tense in the grammar of a social being has be created? Can it be done, one then wonders, from scratch? And the question here concerns no less those other Arab countries going through revolutionary ferment in this Arab Spring than it does Libya.
Unless you subscribe to the anachronistic, somewhat racist notion that the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa, by virtue of their faith, traditions and skin colour, are immune to democracy, it can be done. Indeed it has already been done. After the disintegration of the inefficient and repressive Ottoman Empire in 1922, for example, Turkey's Young Turks, its new cadre of intellectuals and political leaders, showed great eagerness, in their effort to modernise their nation, at borrowing ideas from the West that they felt were responsive to their needs.

There is no stigma, surely, to appropriating useful ideas outside the park. Cultures throughout history have been known to lend and borrow freely from each other, whether the ideas are derived from politics, literature, science, maths, philosophy, architecture and the rest of it. Consider this: every time a kid in high school in the United States works on an Algebraic equation, that kid is paying tribute to the genius of early Arab mathematicians; and every time someone in southern California walks through a house with horse-shoe, Moorish arches, intended to open walls to porticos that let in more air and light, you know that the design for that arch had travelled all the way from Damascus, beginning in the 7th century, to Andalusia in the Iberian Peninsula, then to South America, and finally to the state of California.
Human capital counts

The features of the new Arab landscape, the new order in the Arab world, should be unmistakably clear. A century ago, wealth in the Arab world was defined by land ownership. Half a century ago, a citizen derived security from material possessions. In today's world — today's competitive, globalised world — it is human capital that counts in society, that underwrites the survival, progress and well-being of polity.
That capital is accumulated as universal education in a highly-literate society: As the rule of law; as an independent media unhindered by outside control; as representative government; as freedom from intrusion by the state into the private affairs of ordinary citizens; as a recognition by the authorities of the civilising role of the arts and free discourse; as a chance for the under-class to pursue social mobility; as an enlightened pivot to gender interaction. And, well, yes, I leave it to you to make the list more extended and detailed, as surely it should be.

Meanwhile, what is there left to say about Muammar Gaddafi, a man with a gift for cheap pomp — and not only in his fashion statement — who threatened to hunt down the ‘rats', those Libyan revolutionaries who dared rise up against his regime, and show them ‘no mercy, no pity' once his troops caught up with them? His empty threats were to no avail.
Last week, as the circle of vengeance closed in on his compound, and citizen revolutionaries, many with stark memories of the monstrous evil he had loosed upon their country, gathered to celebrate in the Green Square, he and his son, Saif Al Islam, the regime's dauphin, took off to hiding places yet unknown.

Gaddafi himself, I say, is irrelevant, just as irrelevant as the deposed leaders of Egypt and Tunisia had become, two pathetic, aging figures languishing respectively in prison and in exile. What matters is how the revolutionaries, once in power, will define and direct Libya's future. If one interprets their leaders' various statements at all accurately, they appear to want their nation to emerge as free, pluralistic and democratic. The task of taking Libya there will not be easy. But then, reconstituting a society after generations of colonial and indigenous subjection never was.
-This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 28/08/2011
-Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile

Syria: The Ramifications And Foundations Of The Regime

By Husam Itani
Those who attacked Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat will disappear behind that jungle of security ramifications and branches, and his right to see justice done to him will consequently be lost, just like that of thousands among his fellow citizens.
It is also likely that some people from within the regime will come out and call on Farzat to reveal the names of those who assaulted him so that they are pursued, considering that the authority – just like any other – does not tolerate any attacks against the artists and the cultured by the rogue and the scoundrels. This is one of the rules of the “security” and opposition game in all dictatorships.
In Syria, the multiple facets of the regime are turning into a problem facing all those seeking negotiations or enmity with it. The testimonies at this level are too numerous to count, namely in regard to the Syrian command’s acceptance of one proposal and its opposite, its issuance of orders not to shoot the demonstrators while deploying troops to “cleanse and liberate” the villages, calling the journalists to give them full paragraphs from the president’s upcoming speech featuring drastic reforms, then ignoring all the demands and resorting to expressions such as “germs” and “Takfiri Salafi gangs.” There are also the pledges to discontinue the military operations before the tanks’ bombing of the homes of Homs and Al-Rastan among other areas, and even the information about the puzzlement prevailing over foreign officials and diplomats in regard to the side truly controlling the political and security decisions in the country and the difficulty of convincing the Syrian interlocutors of moving from the stage of talk to that of actions, as a necessary means to start exiting the crisis.
But there is something exceeding the allocation of the roles and the intentional coordination between the regime’s spiderlike “ramifications.” Some are talking about multiple decision makers and the absence of a centralized security-political plan within the regime to face the opposition. The rule in Syria was never known for having any “decentralization” tendencies, knowing that the local administration law is still among the laws which it is promising the reformists it will issue one day. But even if it were to appear that the numerous levels and types of responses to the demonstrators constitute a strategic gain for the protesters who exposed a main nerve in the authorities’ reaction to their activities, this carries – at the same time – a major threat facing the structure and future of the state in Syria.
Indeed, the security apparatuses which have been prominently present during the past years without any restraints or control and the implementation of an independent policy by every military brigade in accordance with the field data of the area in which they are deployed, all herald the threat of seeing the dismantlement of the apparatuses and the armed forces into groups which are only linked by their loyalty to the regime. This ought to distance them from all forms of containment or connections known even in totalitarian states.
Moreover, whoever follows the Syrian economic and financial indicators can notice the major drop affecting the tourism and exportation sectors and the increase of the reliance on transfers coming from abroad as the key characteristics of the current Syrian situation. One could even say that the regime has also become more reliant on foreign “political” funds to maintain the minimum level of the state institutions’ ability to perform their tasks, both the security and economic ones.
This bleak future is placing the patriotic Syrians before a massive responsibility, related to perceiving the future of their country from a new angle (namely at the level of public action), paying attention to the depth of the problems which they will face once change is induced, but more importantly, hastening the accomplishment of this change as a top priority.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 26/08/2011

Is There Space For Americans In The Muslim Ummah?

By Ahmed Younis
What is the state of Muslim identity and fraternity among the global community of Muslims, also known as the Ummah? Whether in the context of counter-extremism and Islamophobia in the West or radical change in majority-Muslim societies, the role of a global Muslim identity that binds the 1.4 billion members of this faith group is always central to these debates. Data is available to use Muslim Americans as an illustrative group to explore the state of global Muslim identity.
A recent study of Muslim American opinion by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center posed a number of questions to members of this community about the extent to which they identify with varying components of their identities. While 69 percent of Muslim Americans say they identify strongly with the U.S. and 65 percent say they identify strongly with Islam, 37 percent of Muslims Americans say they identify strongly with those that share their faith worldwide.
That means 37 percent of Muslim Americans identify strongly with the Ummah. Despite such high levels of fidelity to the United States, Muslim Americans are the American religious group most likely to see U.S. actions as causing unfavorable views of the U.S. in majority-Muslim countries, as opposed to the spreading of misinformation about America in those countries. Muslim Americans are also the religious group most likely to say that the Iraq war was a mistake and to agree with a Palestinian majority on the viability of a two-state solution (an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel).
The data paint a portrait of a community that, while challenged by prejudice and discrimination, is equally confident in its American and Muslim identities. Moreover, the community uses its freedom to voice disagreement or opposition to policies coming from Washington, D.C. So why would Muslim Americans have such low levels of identifying strongly with Muslims globally?
The Arab world, as the birthplace of Islam, has always carried significant sociological weight in the development of Muslim identity. As the region enters a new era of its development following the recent spring of revolutions, many commentators are speaking about the role of Islam and Muslim organizations in the future of post-revolutionary countries. Discourse is flowing throughout countries like Egypt about the role of organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and ultra-orthodox ideological movements such as some Salafist approaches to Islam. These domestic and sometimes insular debates are important and essential.
Such debates are insufficient, however, as this kind of domestic tunnel vision will likely lead to a loss of opportunity in the search for a way to rekindle the flame of collective identity among Muslims globally. As the Arab world progresses in the development of its communities, cities such as Cairo are beginning to experience a resurgent leadership role among Muslims globally. It will be interesting to see whether a new era of engagement with the Muslims of the West will come to pass.
There are many honorable efforts funded by Arab heads of state and supported with large financial backing to engage in interfaith dialogue globally. However, there is not a single effort to build bridges between Muslims in the Arab world and Muslim Americans. A strong argument can be made that Muslim Americans are an important community with resources to catalyze the progress of majority-Muslim societies.
A partnership with America can start in the form of a partnership with its Muslims. American Muslims can spark a resurgence in global Muslim communal (not necessarily spiritual) identity, but others must engage them. The changing landscape of the Arab world offers a leadership opportunity. The question is whether such efforts will come to fruition amidst the current chaos of change, and whether there is an appetite for such partnership among both sides.
-This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 27/08/2011  
- Ahmed Younis is a Senior Consultant of Gallup and a Senior Analyst of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and the Muslim-West Facts Initiative. He is the author of American Muslims: Voir Dire [Speak the Truth], a post-Sept. 11 look at the reality of debate surrounding American Muslims and their country

Friday, August 26, 2011

Egypt, Israel And Palestine: An Awkward Three-Way Dance

Relations between Israel and post-revolution Egypt are proving tetchy – but ordinary people hold the keys to peace
By Khaled Diab

Israeli strike on Gaza Strip
Palestinians survey the damage after an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS
It has been a tense week in Egyptian-Israeli relations. It all started when unknown assailants crossed from Sinai to carry out a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks in southern Israel, which left eight Israelis dead.
Terror was met with more terror and counter-terror, as Israel bombed embattled Gaza, leading to the deaths of at least 14 people, despite the absence of evidence that Gazans were behind the attack (some of the alleged perpetrators appear to be Egyptians), and Islamist militants in Gaza fired their Grad rockets into southern Israel.
In a reckless act that could have escalated the situation dangerously, Israeli troops – in a gunship that crossed the border, according to Egyptian security sources – also killed three Egyptian army and police personnel, apparently by accident.
Fortunately, Egypt refrained from taking a leaf out of Israel's book and did not give chase across the border to apprehend the killers. Instead, it sensibly decided to follow the diplomatic track and demand an apology and a joint investigation into the incident. A statement announcing the withdrawal of Egypt's ambassador to Israel was later retracted.
Though military tensions seem to have subsided, an escalating war of words is brewing between Egypt and Israel. In Israel, in addition to anger, grief and a desire for vengeance, allegations are flying that Egypt has "lost control" of Sinai. For its part, Egypt counters that the Israeli security apparatus was pretty much caught with its pants down in its failure to protect its borders. There is also a widespread foreboding that this is just a taste of things to come in post-revolution Egypt.
Egypt has also been gripped by anger, grief and calls for vengeance. Outraged protesters have spent days besieging the Israeli embassy – with one even climbing 21 storeys to replace the Israeli flag with an Egyptian one – to demand the expulsion of Israel's ambassador and the severing of ties.
So, what does the future hold for Egyptian-Israeli relations in light of this latest spat, the Egyptian revolution, the current hardline Israeli government and Palestinian plans to go to the UN next month to seek international recognition? Will the cold peace endure, escalate into a new cold war or warm into a big thaw?
At this juncture, it is very hard to tell which way the wind will blow. My reading of the situation – which I elaborated on at a recent conference – is that in spite of this recent flare-up the Egyptian-Israeli status quo will remain essentially unchanged, though relations between the two governments are likely to grow frostier.
A democratic Egypt more in tune with its public's mood is likely to collaborate less with Israel on security issues, such as the Mubarak's regime's unpopular involvement in the Gaza blockade, and might, I have argued, act as a deterrent against excessive Israeli militarism. In fact, some analysts and diplomats have concluded that the attack on Gaza was cut short out of fear of straining relations with Cairo further.
In my view, Israeli fears that a more radical regime, probably led by the Muslim Brotherhood, would "tear up" the Camp David peace accords are unfounded. Not only is the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood a lot less than doomsayers have been warning – a recent poll showed its approval rating to be just 17% – now that the possibility of entering government has become realistic, the group has demonstrated its political pragmatism.
Despite the Muslim Brotherhood's official opposition to peace with Israel, a spokesman has said that the future of the peace treaty would be decided by "the Egyptian people and not the Brotherhood".
Moreover, the anger on the streets and the strong anti-Israeli stance taken by opposition politicians and ordinary Egyptians notwithstanding, there is little appetite in Egypt to return to the bad old days of confrontation. A number of recent polls, including this one, show that the vast majority of Egyptians are in favour of maintaining the peace treaty with Israel.
Even radical critics of Israel, such as the popular novelist Alaa al-Aswany, who famously refused to have one of his best-selling novels translated into Hebrew, has not called for the reneging of the accord.
Instead, he has demanded that Egypt renegotiate the articles relating to the presence of Egyptian troops in the Sinai. Perhaps al-Aswany will be disappointed to learn that senior figures in the Israel Defence Forces are, following last week's attack, in full agreement with this suggestion.
It may take two to tango but in the case of Egyptian-Israeli relations, the dance is a three-way one, with the Palestinians making up the hate triangle. Despite the generally pessimistic tone of the Israeli discourse on the Egyptian revolution, Israel is not a passive bystander and can do much to improve future ties with Egypt, namely by working towards or reaching a just resolution with the Palestinians, the thorn in the side of Egyptian-Israeli ties.
Next month's Palestinian bid to go to the UN should not be read as an act of hostility but as a desperate plea for freedom and justice, albeit a misguided one – something that an increasing number of Israelis are growing to realise. Sadly, such enlightenment is not shared by the ideologues currently leading the Israeli government, and the Palestinian leadership; both the PA and Hamas benefit in their own warped ways from the status quo.
With such inertia, what can be done to change the dynamics of the situation for the better? I believe that it is time to follow a new track in which ordinary people lead the process and not just sit back and wait for their ineffective leaders to do something or wait for the arrival some unknown saviour.
Palestinians and Israelis need to awaken to their own power and unlock their dormant potential to steer their own destiny towards peace and reconciliation, through mass, peaceful joint activism. Likewise, ordinary Egyptians need to cast aside their ideological opposition to dealing with Israelis and help facilitate and mediate such a "people's peace".
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 26/08/2011 
- Khaled Diab is a Brussels-based journalist and write

The Alawis Will Determine Bashar's Fate

By Dov Zakheim

   Syrian President Bashar el-Assad
When Nicolae Ceaucescu was brutally executed in 1989, then-Syrian leader Hafez el-Assad took note. Determined not to share the Romanian dictator's fate, he tightened his already vise-like grip on Syria, and never relaxed it until the day he died in 2000. His son, Bashar, whose career as a London-based ophthalmologist came to a sudden end when his brother Basil, heir apparent to the Syrian throne, was killed in a car crash in 1994, never sought to match the elder Assad's ruthlessness until the uprising earlier this year. What Qaddafi threatened to do to his opponents, Assad actually has been doing; but it is only in the past few weeks that the West, including the United States, has done anything more than wring its hands over Syrians who have been either killed or kidnapped (or both)  by Assad's troops and secret police.
Qaddafi's imminent fall has no doubt encouraged the Syrian opposition to continue its nationwide protests. It is unlikely to sway Assad to make any real concessions to the protesters. On the contrary, convinced that the Army still supports him, and much as his father did after Ceaucescu's fall, Bashar can be expected to redouble his efforts to retain his hold over Syria. He may not succeed, however, not because of the growing strength of the opposition, but rather because his Alawi supporters may turn on him.
The Alawis know that they can expect no mercy from the majority Sunni population if the Assad regime falls. They are doubly hated, because of their heretical religion, and their abuse of power. They also know time is running out for them, as it has for Qaddafi and his supporters. Their only hope is to remove Bashar and his entire leadership team and replace them with a seemingly more civilized Alawi face who would who would both be acceptable to the West and, even more important, negotiate with the opposition to ensure the survival of the community. The Alawis may not succeed, but they have few alternatives.
Whatever happens, Iran is likely to be the big loser, and with it Hezbollah as well. That would certainly be the case if the Sunnis took power in Damascus. Even were the Alawis somehow to maintain control, their freedom of maneuver is likely to be far more restricted vis a vis Iran than it has been for the past few decades: a weakened Alawi regime would be more susceptible to Turkish and Arab League pressure.
Washington's policy regarding Syria has toughened in recent days with President Obama's call for Assad's departure and the extension of sanctions to include petroleum purchases. The Europeans, more heavily dependent on Syrian oil, may at last be ready to tighten sanctions as well. Even Russia's opposition to any pressure on Assad is beginning to soften. All of these developments will affect Alawi calculations, much as they are encouraging the Syrian opposition. Ultimately, however, it will be the day of Qaddafi's actual fall that forces the Alawis' hand to dispense with Bashar while they still can. That day surely is not very far off.
This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 26/08/2011

Why Assad Need Not Fear Qaddafi’s Fate

By Ed Husain
The dramatic scenes in Tripoli are already being seized upon by those keen to depose other despotic regimes. Taken alongside the unstable situation in Syria, there is now a risk of a dangerous moment of western triumphalism. This must be resisted, especially given that the odds of overthrowing dictator Bashar al-Assad are so small.
After months of holding his nerve, US president Barack Obama last week succumbed to calls from commentators and Syrian opposition leaders, and demanded Mr Assad's removal. The decision was a mistake. Earlier in the week, Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, noted that, if the US called for Mr Assad's head, then what?”. And, indeed, then what?
I lived in Syria for two years and still visit regularly, so I know only too well that the US is viewed with deep animosity. Officials told me many times, and with straight faces, that America is at war with Arabs and Muslims – a view also ingrained among the wider population, particularly after the Iraq war.
Calls for regime change will thus help Syria, as Mr Assad defies the west with ease. As elsewhere in the Middle East, defying Washington is a cause of strength and popularity, as Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran show. Every passing day will now be seen as a humiliation for Mr Obama, while the fragmented and shambolic Syrian opposition will be more credibly dubbed “American stooges”, or “Zionist agents”. For a population that is vehemently anti-American and anti-Israel, such labels are powerful and destructive.
The regime has been barbaric in responding to the brave people on the streets, but we must be careful about accepting the narrative that the whole of Syria is demanding change. The largest cities of Aleppo and Damascus remain relatively calm, while opinion in western capitals is led by reports generated via opposition movements, often using social media of questionable reliability. The army has committed many atrocities but hundreds of its members appear to have been killed, too. In the absence of international media, it is debatable whether the protesters are altogether peaceful.
Already, calls for military intervention are being made by Syrian opposition activists in meetings at the White House and US state department. Yet such movements have led us astray before, as when politicians such as Ahmed Chalabi misled the US about realities in Iraq. In truth, Mr Assad's regime is much less likely to fall than that of Muammer Gaddafi: there have been no high-profile political or military defections, while Mr Assad remains relatively popular among senior military commanders, Syrian mosque clerics, the middle-classes and business leaders.
This brings us back to the “then what” question. The numbers being killed now will wither in comparison with a possible future civil war, if an increasingly sectarian Syria splinters between the ruling Alawites, the elite and urban Christians, the majority Sunnis, the Kurds, Druze and others. There is no civil society to engineer a peaceful transition, while Syria could plausibly become another Lebanon, acting as a proxy battleground for regional powers.
This risk partly explains why Syria's ally Turkey has exerted such effort to rein in the slaughter, and why Saudi Arabia, Russia and China have not joined America's lead. They all want to give Mr Assad more time – because they recognise the thin chance of getting rid of him, and because they fear the violence that would follow if he did fall.
Almost 90 per cent of Syria's crude oil exports go to European countries. Almost $3bn of its annual trade is conducted with Turkey. Saudi Arabia is a regional power with vested interests in the country, and Russia and Syria enjoy historical relations, as well as arms deals. It is these countries that now must be on the front lines of reform, with the US largely working behind the scenes.
For the west, the most powerful and poignant moment in recent months came when US ambassador Robert Ford travelled to Hama, scene of protests, to show solidarity and monitor the regime's actions. His quiet move warmed usually hostile Sunni communities elsewhere in the Middle East to America, while putting fear into the heart of the tyrant himself. Such innovative, soft power strategies will do more to help Syrian democracy than loud statements from the White House.
The most powerful pressure on Mr Assad so far, however, has been from Al Jazeera's Arabic coverage, which encouraged Syrians to take control of their own destiny. This is surely right, for any long-term change must come from within. Sadly, in the short term and in a highly volatile region, at present Mr Assad remains the least worst option.
-This Op-Ed was published in The Financial Times on 23/08/2011
-The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Islamist

Libya Policy A Balancing Act For China

By Andrew Higgins in Hong Kong
In a frenzied February speech in which he vowed to wipe out rebels like “cockroaches,” Moammar Gaddafi held up China’s 1989 military assault on Tiananmen Square as an example of how to deal with popular unrest.
“Students in Beijing protested for days near a Coca-Cola sign,” he said. “Then the tanks came and crushed them.”
China’s ruling Communist Party, usually quick to publicize tributes from foreign leaders, banned all reference to the Libyan leader’s tirade in the Chinese media and blacked out foreign television coverage of his praise for the “Tiananmen solution.”
Today, the fortified Tripoli compound where Gaddafi declared his intention of mimicking China’s methods is overrun by rebels. And Beijing is scrambling to distance itself from a leader who lauded its approach to dissent and awarded Chinese companies billions of dollars in contracts — but who has for years also embarrassed, unsettled and sometimes defied the Chinese leadership.
Though often in sync with Gaddafi’s diatribes against Western “imperialism” and eager for a piece of Libya’s massive oil and gas reserves, Beijing has long looked askance at his erratic government, which flirted with Taiwan, criticized China for “colonial” behavior in Africa and frustrated the expansion plans of a big state-owned Chinese petroleum company.
Responding to the collapse of Gaddafi’s rule this week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said curtly that Beijing respected “the choice of the Libyan people.” It has not formally recognized rebel forces as Libya’s new masters but has clearly abandoned Gaddafi.
The six-month-long battle to unseat the Libyan autocrat confronted China with a now recurrent quandary: how to balance its oft-stated but increasingly threadbare doctrine of non-interference in the affairs of other nations with its own economic and political self-interest.
“Gaddafi criticized China and did not respect China, but there was still economic cooperation between China and Libya,” said Yin Gang, a researcher with the West Asian and African Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Now that Gaddafi has lost control, Yin added, China will accept whatever new order emerges in his place.
China’s Commerce Ministry has already called on post-Gaddafi Libyan leaders to “protect the interests and rights of Chinese investors.” The plea followed a warning from an official with the rebels’ oil company that China and Russia could lose out in petroleum deals under a new Libyan government because they had shown little support for the anti-Gaddafi rebellion — a stance that in China’s case reflected the tension at the heart of its diplomacy.
Throughout the uprising, Beijing voiced wariness of the West’s intentions and worried about the fate of Libyan contracts that it has valued at $18.8 billion. But it also proved unwilling to go to the mat for Gaddafi. It acquiesced in a U.N. resolution in March that endorsed the use of force, abstaining in a crucial vote that opened the way for intervention by NATO.
China later criticized NATO airstrikes, and state-controlled Chinese media emphasized the threat of chaos rather than Gaddafi’s brutal rule. Still, Beijing took no action to derail the West’s military campaign in support of rebel forces.
China has made similar calculations in Sudan, where it for years nurtured close ties with the government in Khartoum and secured access to Sudanese oil fields for the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC). Beijing shunned separatists in the south of Sudan, where much of the oil lies, and provided arms to Khartoum to fight them.
But with South Sudan now an independent nation, Beijing has dropped its hostility and is working to cement ties with the former rebels who have assumed control of major oil fields. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Juba, the capital of South Sudan, in July and hailed a “bright future” in relations.
China is a relatively modest player in Libya’s oil sector, which is dominated by European companies such as Italy’s Eni, but it had hoped to boost its role there as part of a push to feed a growing appetite for imported energy.
CNPC helped build a pipeline in Libya and won a raft of exploration contracts from Gaddafi’s regime. But it reported no major finds. CNPC also suffered a setback in 2009 when authorities in Tripoli torpedoed its effort to buy a Canadian company with sizable oil assets in Libya. Gaddafi’s government took control of the Canadian company’s concessions.
According to Yin, the Chinese researcher, Libya’s most promising oil fields “were all given to Western countries” and China got mostly the dregs.
“Gaddafi answered to the wishes of Western nations, but now the Western world does not like him and the Arab world does not like him, either,” Yin said. “They want to see him gone.”
When the anti-Gaddafi unrest began, CNPC reported attacks on several of its facilities in Libya. Along with other Chinese companies, CNPC pulled out its staff. More than 36,000 Chinese, mostly construction workers, fled Libya to escape the chaos.
China initially scorned the rebels’ Transitional National Council but, after Russia embraced the rebel cause, announced in late May that it would “keep contact with all sides in Libya.” The head of the council, Mahmoud Jibril, visited Beijing in June.
When rebels advanced into Tripoli this week, the People’s Daily, the party’s official organ, ran scant coverage of the tumultuous events in the city and  focused mainly on the perils of Western meddling. One article suggested that Western oil interests lay behind Gaddafi’s ouster.
“Famous People in Africa Condemn the Gunboat Policy of the West,” read a Friday headline in the People’s Daily.
But less tightly controlled media outlets have provided detailed and mostly factual accounts of events. Liberal newspapers denounced Gaddafi and even celebrated his departure.
“He was too much addicted to his own power,” said the Southern Metropolitan Daily. “Many promises he made turned out to be lies.”
-This article was published in The Washington Post on 26/08/2011
-Researcher Wang Juan in Shanghai contributed to this report

Hezbollah Faces Its Trial With Errors

By Michael Young

For a party that repeats how unconcerned it is with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Hezbollah spends much time showing how concerned it is with the tribunal. The latest installment was a press conference Tuesday by Muhammad Raad, the head of the party’s parliamentary bloc, in which he stated that the United States and Israel had drafted the institution’s recently released indictment.
Hezbollah’s concern is understandable. The indictment appeared to confirm many of the technical details (with some differences) of what emerged in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary last year. Using the methodology of “co-location,” investigators examined concentric rings of cellular telephone usage, and in that way identified the four Hezbollah suspects. However, one thing the indictment did not mention, but that the CBC program did, is that the Lebanese police officer Wissam Eid, in analyzing telecommunications before, during, and after the Hariri assassination, found that “[e]verything connected, however elliptically, to land lines inside Hezbollah’s Great Prophet Hospital in South Beirut, a sector of the city entirely controlled by the Party of God.”
 It is unclear if the special tribunal intends to pursue that line of investigation, or even if it has material to substantiate the CBC’s assertion. However, Hezbollah is well aware that the published indictment does not tell the whole story, therefore that it is best not to let its guard down. Hence Raad’s press conference, only a few days after the party arranged an interview between one of the suspects and an unidentified correspondent of Time magazine.
Hezbollah subsequently denied that any such meeting had taken place, alleging that it was all part of the plot directed against the party. However, there have been persistent reports in Beirut that the denial came at the urgent request of Najib Mikati. It didn’t take much for the prime minister to realize that he and his government’s credibility would disintegrate after the suspect claimed that 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.”
Taking willful blindness to new heights, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, whose every remark provokes dubiousness and consternation, avowed that the Time interview was “dangerous and targets Hezbollah.” Charbel, like Mikati, knows that the Time interview happened, was Hezbollah’s doing, and served to reiterate how the party controls state policy when it comes to the tribunal.
Hezbollah’s discomfort aside, as Lebanese we are entitled to begin asking whether there will be further indictments. There have been numerous unconfirmed leaks to that effect, and even members of prosecutor Daniel Bellemare’s team have said in private settings that the indictment process would come in stages. It may be useless to speculate, but we can appreciate why Hezbollah is so nervous. The party may conceivably find itself holding the gun alone in what was, plainly, a much vaster conspiracy that also involved Syrians and other Lebanese – to borrow from the reports of United Nations investigators Peter Fitzgerald, Detlev Mehlis, and Serge Brammertz.
The Time interview only reaffirmed how rigidly Hezbollah has addressed the special tribunal, highlighting implicit contradictions in its defense strategy. The suspect in question said things that may potentially jar with the party’s line on the institution. Of course, he echoed Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s view that the tribunal had issued false accusations so as to discredit Hezbollah, when the real culprits were in Israel. However, a sincere declaration of innocence, as the suspect engaged in and which Hezbollah orchestrated, would appear to have been unnecessary had the tribunal been an Israeli project. Does a victim of political intrigue really need to prove his bona fides?
And second, the suspect revealed that he had an alibi proving that he was not at the crime scene. He recalled, “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.” The most ardent Hezbollah partisan could legitimately ask why the party doesn’t allow the suspect and his comrade to speak to the special tribunal by satellite link-up. If they can establish that the suspect was far from the hotel district, that would seriously undermine Bellemare’s case.
Hezbollah will not authorize any such statements, because that would mean recognizing the tribunal’s authority. And yet such a fear did not prevent the party from permitting the Lebanese authorities to pass on to Bellemare its evidence pointing to purported Israeli responsibility for the Hariri killing. And why must Hezbollah engage in speech after speech and press conference after press conference, and lately organize an encounter between a suspect and a journalist, if it is so apparent that the party has been framed? Not only is this a case of protesting too much, we now have a suspect saying that he has ways of confirming that he, therefore Hezbollah, is blameless. This is never a good argument when you want to convince the public that you gain by steering clear of a judicial process. If Hezbollah can legally destroy a fraudulent indictment, then surely the party gains by taking the tribunal up on its challenge and providing information to that end.
Hezbollah may have boxed itself into a corner on the special tribunal. What worries the party is that not everything was disclosed in the indictment. As more data is gradually uncovered by the prosecution, the party will have to respond publicly with a shifting defense that must remain convincing. If telephone conversations lead to the Great Prophet Hospital, even Muhammad Raad may be speechless.
-This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 25/08/2011
-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