Saturday, February 11, 2012

Obama’s Middle Eastern Strategy: So Much For Plan A, But Where Is Plan B?

By Zaki Laidi

President Barack Obama with his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 
No sooner did U.S. President Barack Obama welcome home American troops from Iraq and laud that country’s stability and democracy than an unprecedented wave of violence – across Baghdad and elsewhere – revealed the severity of Iraq’s political crisis. Is that crisis an unfortunate exception, or, rather, a symptom of the failure of Obama’s Middle East diplomacy, from Egypt to Afghanistan?
Upon taking office, Obama set four objectives in the Middle East: Stabilize Iraq before leaving it; withdraw from Afghanistan from a position of strength and on the basis of minimal political convergence with Pakistan; achieve a major breakthrough in the Middle East peace process by pushing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze settlements; and open a dialogue with Iran on the future of its nuclear program. On these four major issues, Obama has clearly achieved little.
With regard to Iraq, since George W. Bush’s presidency, the United States has strived to exert a moderating influence on Shiite power, so that the country can create a more inclusive political system – specifically, by passing a new law on sharing oil-export revenues among the Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish communities. Unfortunately, the precise opposite happened.
Kurdistan has embarked on a path toward increased autonomy, while the Sunnis are increasingly marginalized by a sectarian and authoritarian Shiite-dominated central government. This has implications for the regional balance of power, because Iraq is growing closer to Iran in order to offset Turkey, which is seen as protecting the Sunnis.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s remark during a recent trip to Washington that he was more concerned about Turkey than Iran exposed the huge gulf between Iraq and the United States, which now appears to have lost all significant political influence over Iraqi affairs. Indeed, in a disturbing development, the U.S. decided not to play its last remaining card in dealing with Maliki: arms sales.
There can no longer be any doubt that the occupation of Iraq was a huge strategic defeat for the U.S., because it ultimately served only to strengthen Iran. Yet Obama lacks a medium-term vision to deal with the seriousness of the situation – an oversight that, sooner or later, will cost the U.S. dearly.
One of two things will happen: either tighter containment of Iran through sanctions on oil exports will produce positive results and weaken Iran, or containment will fail, leading the U.S. inexorably toward a new war in the Middle East. It is not unlikely that some in U.S. foreign-policy circles regard the deepening Iraqi crisis as a building block in constructing the case for military intervention in Iran.
But Obama is nobody’s fool. He has registered the U.S. Congress’s hostility toward Iran and the desire to confront the Islamic Republic militarily. He believes, however, that he can avoid extreme solutions; in diplomacy, anything can happen, and the worst-case scenario is never guaranteed.
The problem is that Obama has a strong tendency to overestimate America’s ability to influence weaker actors. What is true for Iraq is also true for Afghanistan: Obama can pride himself on having eliminated Osama bin Laden, which was undoubtedly a success, but one that failed to address the root of the problem. Despite a 10-year military presence, involving the deployment of more than 100,000 troops at a cost of $550 billion, the U.S. still has not succeeded in creating a credible alternative to the Taliban. Worse, its political alliance with Pakistan has frayed.
Indeed, U.S.-Pakistan relations have regressed to their level before Sept. 11, 2001, a time marked by deep mutual distrust. Pakistani leaders obviously bear a heavy responsibility for this state of affairs. But if the U.S. has been unable to involve Pakistan in resolving the Afghanistan conflict, that failure simply reflects America’s refusal to give the Pakistanis what they wanted: a shift in the regional balance of power at the expense of India.
Pakistan, accordingly, froze cooperation with the U.S., because its leaders no longer saw much to gain in fighting the Taliban. The risk is that when the American withdrawal from Afghanistan begins – a process that has just been brought forward to next year, from 2014 – the U.S. will again seek to impose sanctions on Pakistan, an unreliable nuclear state that will react by strengthening ties with China and deploying Islamist terrorism.
Obama also sought to use America’s influence to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as part of his strategy for the broader Middle East. He initially thought that by pressuring Netanyahu to freeze settlements, he would succeed in reviving the peace process. But he was quickly and skillfully outmaneuvered by his ally, who knows how important the Israeli issue is to U.S. domestic politics. By putting Obama at odds with the rest of the U.S. establishment, Netanyahu forced him to retreat.
In 2009, Obama envisioned a settlement of the conflict through the strong commitment of the international community. In 2011, he asserted that only both sides’ willingness could ensure a successful outcome. Clearly, the U.S. cannot do much to resolve the conflict.
There is no overarching explanation for Obama’s successive Middle East failures, but there are a few factors worth considering: the increase in the number of asymmetrical conflicts, in which the traditional use of force is largely ineffective; increasingly blurred lines between difficult allies and intransigent adversaries; and major political differences between a centrist U.S. president and a Congress that is dominated more than ever by extreme ideas.
But Obama himself bears a large part of the blame. Contrary to what one might think, he does not have a real strategic vision of the world – a shortcoming reflected in his quick capitulation in the face of opposition to his proposals. Obama often has a plan A, but never a plan B. When it comes to conducting a successful foreign policy, plan A is never enough.
-This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 11/-2/2012
-Zaki Laidi is a professor of international relations at the Institut d’études politiques in Paris (Sciences-Po). THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate © (

Friday, February 10, 2012

Votes Versus Rights In The Arab Spring

The debate that's shaping the outcome of the Arab Spring.
Elections in Egypt, and throughout the Arab Spring, pose a classic dilemma of political theory: Do you support democracy, even if it means sacrificing some civil rights? Or do you support rights, even if it means stifling democracy?
The largest Islamic parties in the region insist that they stand for both democracy and rights, and these assurances have been sufficient to win a plurality of votes in Tunisia and Egypt, the first countries of the Arab Spring to hold free elections. But political opponents, and many foreign observers, worry that governments led by these parties will suppress the rights of women and minorities, restrict freedom of expression, and potentially abandon democratic accountability altogether.
Suppose that these concerns are valid. Should people have the right to vote against rights?
For more than two centuries, democracies have struggled to identify which rights are so important that voters should not be allowed to violate them. The list of protections has varied from country to country and from era to era, but democracy and rights have always been at odds. Democracy empowers the will of the majority; rights set limits on these powers.
The founders of the United States of America obsessed over this problem. Just one year after the constitution was ratified, they went back and amended it to tweak the balance between democracy and rights. The first change they made was to protect freedom of religion, an issue as volatile in the 1780s as it is now. Even if a religion is unpopular, the First Amendment stipulates, the majority may not prohibit the free exercise thereof. That's why opponents of mosques in America appeal to traffic and parking regulations: Many voters and legislators may feel distressed by the religious implications of mosque construction, but they are constitutionally prohibited from blocking it on religious grounds.
The founders of the new democratic order in North Africa are also struggling with the balance between democracy and rights. Most Arab countries have had constitutions for more than a century, with increasing guarantees (at least on paper) for both popular sovereignty and a growing list of rights, including freedom of religion. Soon after the uprisings of early 2011, however, these constitutions were scrapped. Egypt's military junta drew up a constitutional declaration in March without waiting for new elections to be held, promising a robust set of rights. In Tunisia, elections were held first, and the provisional document recently approved by the country's constituent assembly offers only a vague reference to human rights and public freedoms.
Many of those calling for a more forceful defense of rights against the threat of majority rule are secularists. They are trying to shape the debate as the process of drafting permanent constitutions continues in both countries. Last summer Mohamed El Baradei, a presidential candidate in Egypt, proposed a bill of rights that was based in part on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights made a similar proposal on December 10, the day the country's "mini-constitution" was approved, which also happened to be International Human Rights Day (December 10).
Still, secularists are not the only ones demanding the protection of rights. Some Islamic organizations have sounded similar themes, albeit couched in religious language that makes some secularists nervous. Al-Azhar, Egypt's leading seminary, proposed a long list of protected constitutional rights, including a ban on religious discrimination and the exemption of non-Muslims from Islamic personal law, which it justified with reference to Quranic principles. Egypt's leading Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, issued an electoral platform that describes rights as a fundamental Islamic principle, including "non-discrimination among citizens in rights and duties on the basis of religion, sex, or color," and "freedoms of belief, commerce, property, opinion, expression, movement, assembly, the formation of parties and associations, and the publication of newspapers." Tunisia's main Islamic movement, the Renaissance Party, which won 40 percent of the vote in October's election, pledged "respect for human rights without discrimination on the basis of sex, color, belief or wealth, and the affirmation of women's rights to equality, education, employment and participation in public life."
This Islamic discourse of rights is not a recent invention. Over the course of the 19th century, a modernist Islamic movement developed Quranic justifications for elections, parliaments, and political parties, as well as natural law and sharia defenses for individual freedoms. In the early 20th century, this movement began to mobilize on a large scale, forcing constitutions on reluctant monarchs and defying colonial authorities. Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo, which the world came to know for its sit-ins in 2011, is named for one of these episodes, the Egyptian independence movement of 1919 that forced out the British.
Few post-colonial governments in the Middle East have lived up to ideals of human and civil rights, however, and there is no guarantee that the Arab Spring will either, even where dictators have been ousted. One threat to rights comes from military juntas claiming emergency powers, as in Egypt. Other threats to rights come from civil war, as in Yemen, and from unchecked militias, as in Libya. Another comes from revolutionary groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates, who reject democracy and human rights as usurpations of divine sovereignty and have targeted Islamic groups that participate in elections. (The photo above shows a young Yemeni woman sporting the flags of the Arab Spring countries on her fist during an anti-government protest.)
Yet another challenge to rights comes from the democratic process itself, namely from leaders who are elected with a mandate to subordinate rights to other priorities, such as religious principles. In Egypt, for example, Islamic parties advertised their intention to submit rights to religious review, and voters supported them anyway. The platform of the Freedom and Justice Party, which won 45 percent of the votes in elections over the past two months, qualified its endorsement of international human rights conventions with the phrase "so long as they are not contrary to the principles of Islamic law." The platform of the main Salafi party in Egypt, the Nour ("Divine Light") Party, also endorsed rights (including the freedom of expression, publication, and association), but only "within a framework of Islamic law."
As a result, democratically-elected Islamist governments might not adopt the full set of rights that many Americans have come to consider an indivisible package. For example, the new provisional constitution in Tunisia bars non-Muslims from serving as president. Non-Muslims constitute only 1 percent of the population, but the provision seems like a throwback to an older era when citizenship was bound up with religion. (My home state of North Carolina, for instance, limited government office to Christians until 1868.) Today, such restrictions strike many of us as an egregious violation of the norm of equal citizenship rights for all. But in Tunisia, the voters' representatives have adopted this restriction, democratically.
As democracy advances in the wake of the Arab Spring, we will no doubt witness further restrictions on rights. At what point might our objection, as outsiders, be so intense that we abandon our support for democracy? If a democratically-elected government began to slaughter a minority group? If a democratically-elected government rounded up a minority group on reservations? If a democratically-elected government outlawed the practice of a minority group's religion?
Fortunately, egregious rights violations such as these do not appear imminent in the Arab Spring. But Islamist governments might conceivably require men to wear beards and women to cover their hair. They might change divorce and custody and labor laws to favor men over women. They might strengthen longstanding restrictions in the region on proselytizing and religious conversion.
In other words, they might adopt policies that outsiders would not adopt. Of course, that is the nature of democracy. Egyptians make laws for Egyptians, Tunisians make laws for Tunisians, and outsiders have no vote. Those of us cheering the advance of democracy around the world should expect countries to forge their own legislative paths, even if we are uncomfortable with the results.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 10/02/2012
-Charles Kurzman is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Why the Syrian Rebels Should Put Down Their Guns

By Daniel Serwer
It is remarkable how quickly we've forgotten about nonviolence in Syria. Only a few months ago, the White House was testifying unequivocally in favor of nonviolent protest, rather than armed opposition, against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime's awful crackdown. Even today, President Obama eschews military intervention. Yesterday, Yahoo News' Laura Rozen offered the views of four experts on moving forward in Syria. While one doubted the efficacy of arming the opposition, none advocated nonviolence. When blogger Jasmin Ramsey wrote up a rundown of the debate over intervention in Syria, nonviolence wasn't even mentioned.
There are reasons for this. No one is going to march around Homs singing kumbaya while the Syrian army shells the city. It is correct to believe that Syrians have the right to defend themselves from a state that is attacking them. Certainly international military intervention in Bosnia, Kosovo, and arguably Libya saved a lot of lives. Why should Syrians not be entitled to protection? Isn't it our responsibility to meet that expectation?
First on protection: the responsibility belongs in the first instance to the Syrian government. The international community is not obligated to intervene. It may do so under particular circumstances, when the government has clearly failed to protect the population. I don't see a stomach for overt intervention in the U.S. Nor do I think the Arab League or Turkey will do it without the U.S., as Anne-Marie Slaughter suggests.
The Syrian government has not only failed to protect, it has in fact attacked its own citizens, indiscriminately and ferociously. Self-defense and intervention are justified. The question is whether they are possible or wise, which they do not appear to be.
The Free Syria Army, an informal collection of anti-regime insurgents, is nowhere near able to protect the population. Their activities provoke the government and its unfree Army to even worse violence. It would be far better if defected soldiers worked for strictly defensive purposes, accompanying street demonstrators and rooting out agents provocateurs rather than suicidally contesting forces that are clearly stronger and better armed. A few automatic weapon rounds fired in the general direction of the artillery regiments bombarding Homs are going to help the artillery with targeting and do little else.
Violence also reduces the likelihood of future defections from the security forces. For current Syrian soldiers weighing defection, it is one thing to refuse to fire on unarmed demonstrators. It is another to desert to join the people who are shooting at you. Defections are important -- eventually, they may thin the regime's support. But they aren't going to happen as quickly or easily if rebels are shooting at the soldiers they want to see defect.
But if you can't march around singing kumbaya, what are you going to do? There are a number of options, few of which have been tried. Banging pans at a fixed hour of the night is a tried and true protest technique that demonstrates and encourages opposition, but makes it hard for the authorities to figure out just who is opposing them. The Arab variation is Allahu akbar called out for 15 minutes every evening. A Libyan who helped organize the revolutionary takeover of Tripoli explained to me that their effort began with hundreds of empty mosques playing the call to prayer, recorded on CDs, at an odd hour over their loudspeakers. A general strike gives clear political signals and makes it hard for the authorities to punish all those involved. Coordinated graffiti, marking sidewalks with identical symbols, wearing of the national flag -- consult Gene Sharp's 198 methods for more.
The point is to demonstrate wide participation, mock the authorities, and deprive them of their capacity to generate fear. When I studied Arabic in Damascus a few years ago, I asked an experienced agitator friend about the efficacy of the security forces. She said they were lousy. "What keeps everyone in line?" I asked. "Fear," she replied. If the oppositions resorts to violence, it helps the authorities: by responding with sometimes random violence, they hope to re-instill fear.
Could the Syrians return to nonviolence after everything that's happened? As long as they are hoping for foreign intervention or foreign arms, it's not likely. Steve Heydemann, my former colleague at the United States Institute of Peace, recently suggested on PBS Newshour that we need a "framework" for arming the opposition that would establish civilian control over Free Syria Army. This is a bad idea if you have any hope of getting back to nonviolence, as it taints the civilians, making even the nonviolent complicit in the violence. It's also unlikely to work: forming an army during a battle is not much easier than building your airplane as you head down the runway.
What is needed now is an effort to calm the situation in Homs, Hama, Deraa, and other conflict spots. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is visiting Damascus, could help. The continuing assault on Homs and other population centers is a major diplomatic embarrassment to Moscow. The opposition should ask for a ceasefire and the return of the Arab League observers, who clearly had a moderating influence on the activities of the regime. And, this time around, they should be beefed up with UN human rights observers.
If the violence continues to spiral, the regime is going to win. They are better armed and better organized. The Syrian revolt could come to look like the Iranian street demonstrations of 2009, or more likely the bloody Shia revolt in Iraq in 1991, or the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama in 1982, which ended with the regime killing thousands. There is nothing inevitable about the fall of this or any other regime -- that is little more than a White House talking point. What will make it inevitable is strategic thinking, careful planning, and nonviolent discipline. Yes, even now.
-This opinion was published in The Atlantic on 09/02/2012
 -Dr. Daniel Serwer is a scholar at the Middle East Institute and a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He blogs at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sex For Sale In Beirut

Lebanon's "super nightclubs" straddle the line between brothel and strip club.
BY SULOME ANDERSON from Beirut, Lebanon
Jad sits on a couch in the lobby of a hotel in Maameltein, Lebanon. The air is thick with stale cigarette smoke, and the mirror-lined walls are smeared and cracked. A gold crucifix gleams on his chest. There's a large notebook on the chair beside him. Every so often, an attractive, young, Slavic-looking woman walks over, and he opens the notebook so she can sign her name.
"I have to make sure they sign out before leaving the hotel," says Jad, whose name has been changed. "Otherwise, Immigrations will make me pay a penalty."
Jad owns a "super nightclub," one of approximately 130 in Lebanon, most of which are located in the town of Maameltein -- just 20 minutes away from the glitzy clubs and high-end boutiques of Beirut. Not quite strip clubs, not quite brothels, super nightclubs represent the seedy underside of Lebanon's famous night life. Owners import women, usually from Eastern Europe or Morocco, to work in their clubs under an "artist" visa. It's understood, however, that "artist" is really just a euphemism for "prostitute."
Lebanese law stipulates that these women can enter the country only after signing an employment contract, which has to be approved by the Directorate of General Security. Although the women come voluntarily, it's not clear how many of them understand what their job will actually entail. According to Jad, most know what they're getting into. Once in Lebanon, however, the women's passports are usually confiscated until their contract is over.
There is no precise data on the super nightclub industry's revenues, but Jad estimates that he makes a maximum profit of $30,000 a month. In a 2009 article, Executive magazine reported that super nightclubs haul in at least $23 million a year through legitimate channels. That might be only the tip of the iceberg, however, as the industry also generates under-the-table income through prostitution. Although prostitution is technically legal in Lebanon under a 1931 law, it's only permitted in licensed brothels -- and the Lebanese government stopped issuing the licenses in 1975. Therefore, any prostitution that occurs in super nightclubs is nominally illegal.
As a result, a complicated ritual takes place in these establishments in order to stay on the right side of the law. Customers pay about $80 for a bottle of champagne (the government collects a 10 percent sales tax on each bottle) and an hour with one of the women at the club that night. The women are always fully dressed, and while kissing is allowed, further sexual contact is strictly prohibited. However, a bottle also buys you a "date" with the woman sometime during the next week. Although there are clubs that will allow customers to take a woman on the same night for an extra fee, Jad says, this is rare since the penalties for such offenses are severe.
"One mistake, and Immigrations can ruin your business," he says. "It's not worth it to break the rules, even if it makes you money, because if you get caught, it can cost you a lot more."
At first, Jad is evasive when asked whether the "dates" purchased by customers usually include sex.
"We don't sell girls," he maintains. "We're not bordellos. We sell time with the girls. I only make money from the transactions at the club. But I don't have GPS on every girl. If they want to do that, it's their business. Nobody's forcing them."
As the conversation continues, though, Jad concedes that most of the time, it's expected that the "date" will end in a room at one of Maameltein's many cheap hotels. He insists, however, that the women have the option of saying no, and he's adamant that the industry gets a bad rep.
"Everybody thinks that people who work at cabarets are the worst people in Maameltein," he says. "But we're really the cleanest people.… I'm not trying to say that we're saints, but we have rules."
Although Lebanon is widely considered to be one of the more sexually permissive countries in the Middle East, large portions of the country remain culturally conservative. According to Jad, most of his customers are wealthy, middle-aged Lebanese men, usually Muslim, who are looking to bypass the restrictions of Lebanese society.
"Lebanese girls don't like to go out and have fun because they're afraid people will say they're whores," he says. "Lebanese men like Russian girls because they like to have fun. If a guy wants to kiss a Lebanese girl, she'll probably start talking marriage and then he'll have to deal with her family."
When I ask whether it would be possible to speak with one of the women, Jad is initially reluctant, but he seems to relax as the interview continues. At one point, he is interrupted by his cell phone and, after a brief conversation in Russian, indicates that one of the women will be coming downstairs to answer a few questions, though he insists on being present. Shortly after, a tall woman with white-blond hair enters the lobby dressed in pajamas. She rubs her eyes sleepily and sits down next to him. Her name is Lina, and she's from Ukraine. Although she seems wary at first, it's soon clear that she has quite a different perspective on the industry. Surprisingly, Jad lets her talk.
"Coming here was the biggest mistake of my life," she says immediately. "In my country, I have my home, my family. But it's hard to make money. I worked with my brother in his business, but because of the economy, the business failed."
Lina lights a cigarette and sighs. "I've worked many jobs in my life, but I hate the system in Lebanon," she says. "I thought I was coming here to work in a disco, but when I came here and found out everything, I was shocked. Girls had told me what it would be like, but they only told me half the truth. I imagined that I would only have to go with people I liked.… I'm just waiting for my contract to finish so I can go home."
Her eyes fill with tears and she looks away. "I hate when someone chooses me," she says quietly. "I feel like I'm a product in a market and anyone can just point at me and say, 'I want that.'"
Jad interrupts her. "You're not happy you came to Lebanon?"
She looks him in the eye and smiles sadly. "I'm happy for one reason. You know why."
After she leaves, Jad leans back in his chair and is silent for a moment.
"I'm in love with her," he says after a while. "But I can't marry her, because if I do, I'd have to get out of this business, and I can't do that right now. This business isn't for her, and I respect her for that."
Not everyone involved with the industry is as forthcoming as Jad. It takes some time for Toros Siranossian, who represents super nightclubs to the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-Clubs and Pastries in Lebanon, which serves as a lobbying body between investors and owners and the government, to admit that he's involved with the industry at all.
Siranossian is a grandfatherly man with sharp black eyes, who looks to be in his late 60s. Every time he's asked a direct question, his perfect English suddenly fails him. When he reluctantly agrees to discuss the super nightclub industry, he insists it's a system that actually benefits Lebanese society.
"Lebanon is a tourist country, and because of that, we can't invite people to come see churches and mosques," he says. "We must have everything. It's better to have super nightclubs so people can go out with foreign girls instead of Lebanese girls. They'd have to pay a fortune to go out with Lebanese girls, and a lot of Lebanese girls would become prostitutes."
According to Siranossian, the industry has fallen on hard times in recent years.
"Girls cost more to bring over now," he says. "After paying money to the Ministry of Tourism and paying off the police, that's a lot of expenses.… Now, unless [super nightclubs] do dirty business, like forcing the girls to sleep with customers, they won't make enough."
Recent difficulties aside, the super nightclubs still have a loyal clientele among many Lebanese. Tony, a confident, muscular man in his early 40s dressed in jeans and a crew-neck sweater, is a frequent customer of the clubs. Although technically Christian, Tony, whose name has been changed, doesn't consider himself religious. He says that the industry is completely unique to Lebanon.
"These clubs would not be able to operate for one day in any other country," he says.
"They're in a category by themselves. I mean, the whole thing is such a procedure -- you can't even get a girl on the same night. But it works here, maybe because of the culture, which is open in a lot of ways but still very conservative in others."
According to Tony, the super nightclub industry has its redeeming qualities.
"There are benefits to the system," he says. "The girls have to get tested, and they're usually pretty well protected. But there are downsides too. Those girls basically live in a prison. They're locked in their hotels for most of the time, and they don't leave unless they have a customer. All the girls I meet at clubs are completely depressed. It's not exactly a turn-on."
Tony said that the government tolerates the industry because they can tax its revenues and because officials consider it better to contain and regulate prostitution than have it spread throughout the country. "They've turned Maameltein into Lebanon's red-light district," he says.
The complex nature of the super nightclub industry is typical of Lebanon, a country with more than its fair share of contradictions. As one drives past the neon signs of Maameltein's cheap hotels and seedy clubs, it's almost impossible not to compare it to the glitz and glamour of Beirut night life. Every Saturday night, while sleek Dior-clad women sip cocktails at luxurious rooftop clubs, super nightclub women just 20 minutes away don halter tops and micro-minis and prepare for work.
"It's like Jesus and Judas," Jad says of the industry, touching his crucifix. "God put Judas on Earth to kill Jesus. The super nightclubs are just fulfilling their purpose. Lebanon needs us, but it still judges us."
-This report was published in Foreign Policy on 07/02/2012
-Sulome Anderson is a recent alumna of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and a feature writer with the Daily Star, an English-language newspaper in Beirut

Yemen's Islamists And The Revolution

By Laurent Bonnefoy
                                                                             Tawakkol Karman
Islamist movements did not start Yemen's revolution, but they have loomed large over its fate. Tawakkol Karman, an ex-member of Islah, a coalition party that includes Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her tireless political campaigning. Backers of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned of the inexorable rise of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), even after the killing of ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki by a U.S. drone.
But as in much of the Arab world, the Yemeni revolution has presented both opportunities and challenges to its Islamists. At least five different Islamist trends have played important roles in the unfolding events -- and some have fared better than others. Those struggling to help Yemen's political transition must recognize the diversity and internal struggles among these Islamist trends, and be prepared to engage with them as part of the country's political landscape.
The Islamist trend most directly involved in the popular revolution is undoubtedly the Islah party. Islah qualifies as the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, but should be understood as a coalition that includes conservative tribal leaders and prominent businessmen. Islah began as a rather reluctant supporter of the "revolutionary youth" which was calling for the departure of Ali Abdullah Saleh in the early days of 2011. As a key part of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the platform of the unified opposition established since the early 2000s, Islah appeared to be willing to make compromises and accept dialogue with the regime, then becoming its main interlocutor.
As Saleh appeared to be losing grip in the late spring, however, Islah moved to capture a position as a central actor of the revolutionary process. Its mobilizing capacity through its mosques, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and activists ended up restructuring much of the revolution, both physically on Change Square in Sanaa, and in terms of agenda. No other structure or movement seemed able to compete with it. This has made Islah a key broker in the political gamesmanship unfolding over the transition, even as "revolutionary youth" complain that it has hijacked the revolution.
Sensitive to such critiques, Islah's leadership appears to have been willing to leave other players in the front row. It did not claim the position of prime minister of the national unity government that was announced in November 2011. But there should be no doubts about Islah's capacity to mobilize electors massively when general elections are organized. The movement, with its tribal allies, is also trying hard to challenge the narrative according to which alternatives to Saleh are inexistent or are lacking responsibility.
A less well-understood trend is the quietist Salafis, with Yahya al-Hajuri of Dar al-Hadith institute in Dammaj at their head, who have reasserted their stance of loyalty to the regime in order to fight what they describe as a chaotic situation. This branch of Salafism has played hard to delegitimize in religious terms the popular uprising, stigmatizing the "revolutionary youth" as well as the Muslim Brotherhood for encouraging a process whose main beneficiaries are, in their eyes, the "enemies of Islam." Appearing as the last supporters of the regime may end up being costly in the long run but could also see the quietist Salafis emerge as the popular advocates of stability should the situation deteriorate significantly. Indeed, while precise data is hard to come by, it appears that the quietist Salafis have been losing ground over the past year.
But the Salafis too are changing in the face of popular revolution. An offshoot of the quietist branch of Salafism has been increasingly engaging in political activities for the last few years, neglecting issues of loyalty and criticism of party politics (hizbiyya). These politicized Salafis see the Yemeni revolutionary process as a new opportunity for overt engagement in the political sphere. With the revolution, members of the Hikma and Ihsan associations, likely emboldened by the success of al-Nour party in Egypt, have announced projects to create parties and participate in upcoming elections. Among them, Aqil al-Maqtari, with important support in Taiz, has established the League for Renaissance and Change. Despite being fragmented along regional lines, these initiatives are significant and politicized Salafis are likely to emerge as a new political force, one that analysts will need in the near future to understand beyond criminalizing stereotypes.
Another trend are the jihadist movements, which are more or less linked to AQAP. They have engaged in a variety of processes that have to a certain extent normalized them, fully embedding these actors in the Yemeni context and in what can be labeled a continuum of violence, particularly in the southern governorates. They have used the revolutionary events to legitimize their own historical narrative. This process has changed the meaning of an "al Qaeda" militant in Yemen and leaves space for possible interactions and dialogue with other social and political actors.
Jihadi sympathizers have gained some control over territory in part because of the growing disorganization of the central state and of its shrinking military resources. Effective control over territory (in Jaar for instance) has favored a change in focus toward fighting a guerilla war against the regime and its allies and, at the local level, developing public policies addressing grievances of the population. Such a shift (which should not only be understood as the result of the assassination in September 2011 of Awlaki, the so-called mastermind of the transnational outreach of AQAP) has in a way transferred militant energy and resources on the Yemeni agenda. This process, which is not necessarily centralized or self-conscious, is likely to gain momentum and highlights that confrontation, repression, and the drone attacks strategies are hardly able to address the complexity of the issues that are at stake in revolutionary Yemen.
At another end of the Islamist spectrum, Zaydi revivalists (drawing from a Shiite background) with the so-called "Houthi movement" have also been directly affected by the revolutionary process. Over the course of 2011, the diminishing military capacity of the regime has forced it to focus on the capital, Sanaa, and therefore, in effect, to abandon much of the Saada governorate and its surroundings to the Houthi rebels it had been fighting since 2004. The Houthi leadership has simultaneously taken divergent options -- claiming to accept to play the institutional game including, for instance, by favoring the initiative of Muhammad Miftah to establish the Ummah party or letting some of its sympathizers reach out on Change Square in Sanaa toward non-Zaydi activists, while at the same time engaging in violence with competing Sunni Islamist groups, particularly quietist Salafis in Dammaj or members of Islah in al-Jawf.
The long-running, intense Yemeni crisis is thus radically reshaping the opportunities and the challenges to all Islamist trends. These movements are likely to continue being central actors at the national level and to emerge as necessary interlocutors at the international level. The most significant trend today appears to be one drawing, in the long run, the various Islamist movements toward greater institutionalization, inclusion in the political process, and eventually participation in future elections. But if that political process fails to take hold, the potential for mayhem and armed confrontation should not be neglected, including in the form of inter-sectarian warfare.
Both diverging outcomes obviously depend on internal variables and on the attitudes of Yemenis. But international actors can make a difference. The West should acknowledge the popular legitimacy of these Islamist movements, as well as their great internal diversity, and be prepared to engage with them as an important part of Yemen's future.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 09/02/2012
-Laurent Bonnefoy is a researcher based in the Levant at the Institut français du Proche-Orient, and author of "Salafism in Yemen: Transnationalism and Religious Identity" (Columbia University Press)

Libya Struggles To Curb Militias As Chaos Grows

By ANTHONY SHADID From Tripoli, Libya

A Zintan militia member rested in a housing container in Tripoli
As the militiamen saw it, they had the best of intentions. They assaulted another militia at a seaside base here this week to rescue a woman who had been abducted. When the guns fell silent, briefly, the scene that unfolded felt as chaotic as Libya’s revolution these days — a government whose authority extends no further than its offices, militias whose swagger comes from guns far too plentiful and residents whose patience fades with every volley of gunfire that cracks at night.
The woman was soon freed. The base was theirs. And the plunder began.
“Nothing gets taken out!” shouted one of the militiamen, trying to enforce order.
It did anyway: a box of grenades, rusted heavy machine guns, ammunition belts, grenade launchers, crates of bottled water and an aquarium propped improbably on a moped. Men from a half-dozen militias ferried out the goods, occasionally firing into the air. They fought over looted cars, then shot them up when they did not get their way.
“This is destruction!” complained Nouri Ftais, a 51-year-old commander, who offered a rare, unheeded voice of reason. “We’re destroying Libya with our bare hands.”
The country that witnessed the Arab world’s most sweeping revolution is foundering. So is its capital, where a semblance of normality has returned after the chaotic days of the fall of Tripoli last August. But no one would consider a city ordinary where militiamen tortured to death an urbane former diplomat two weeks ago, where hundreds of refugees deemed loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi waited hopelessly in a camp and where a government official acknowledged that “freedom is a problem.” Much about the scene on Wednesday was lamentable, perhaps because the discord was so commonplace.
“Some of it is really overwhelming,” said Ashur Shamis, an adviser to Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdel-Rahim el-Keeb. “But somehow we have this crazy notion that we can defeat it.”
There remains optimism in Tripoli, not least because the country sits atop so much oil. But Mr. Keeb’s government, formed Nov. 28, has found itself virtually paralyzed by rivalries that have forced it to divvy up power along lines of regions and personalities, by unfulfillable expectations that Colonel Qaddafi’s fall would bring prosperity, and by a powerlessness so marked that the national army is treated as if it were another militia.
The government could do little as local grievances gave rise last month to clashes in Bani Walid, once a Qaddafi stronghold, and between towns in the Nafusah Mountains, where rival fighters, each claiming to represent the revolution, slugged it out with guns, grenades and artillery.
“It’s a government for a crisis,” Mr. Shamis said, in an office outfitted in the sharp angles of glass and chrome. “It’s a crisis government. It is impossible to deliver everything.”
Graffiti in Tripoli still plays on Colonel Qaddafi’s most memorable speech last year, when he vowed to fight house to house, alley to alley. “Who are you?” he taunted, seeming to offer his best impression of Tony Montana in “Scarface.”
“Who am I?” the words written over his cartoonish portrait answered back.
Across from Mr. Shamis’s office a new slogan has appeared.
“Where are you?” it asks.
The question underlines the issue of legitimacy, which remains the most pressing matter in revolutionary Libya. Officials hope that elections in May or June can do what they did in Egypt and Tunisia: convey authority to an elected body that can claim the mantle of popular will. But Iraq remains a counterpoint. There, elections after the American invasion widened divisions so dangerously that they helped unleash a civil war.
A sense of entropy lingers here. Some state employees have gone without salaries for a year, and Mr. Shamis acknowledged that the government had no idea how to channel enough money into the economy so that it would be felt in the streets. Tripoli residents complain about a lack of transparency in government decisions. Ministries still seem paralyzed by the tendency, instilled during the dictatorship, to defer every decision to the top.
“They’re sitting on their chairs, they’re drinking coffee and they’re drafting projects that stay in the realm of their imagination,” said Israa Ahwass, a 20-year-old pharmacy student at Tripoli University, which was guarded by a knot of militiamen.
“How can you change people overnight?” interrupted her friend, Naima Mohammed, who is also studying pharmacy. “It’s been 42 years of ignorance.”
“They’re not doing a single thing,” Ms. Ahwass replied.
Like Tunisia to the west and Egypt to the east, Libya is confronting a diversity Colonel Qaddafi denied so strenuously that he tried to convince the minority Berbers that they were, in fact, Arabs. The revolution has its variation on this theme, appeals that mirror the fears of social fracturing. “No to discord” and “No to tribalism,” declare slogans that adorn the streets.
They all hint at the truth that the Libyan author Hisham Matar evoked in his first novel, “In the Country of Men,” when he wrote, “Nationalism is as thin as a thread, perhaps that’s why many feel that it needs to be anxiously guarded.” Authority here peels like an onion, imposed by militias bearing the stamp of towns elsewhere in the west, neighborhoods in the capital, even its streets.
“Where is the rule of law?” asked Ashraf al-Kiki, a vendor who had gone to a police station, the Tripoli Military Council and a militia from Zintan in pursuit of compensation after militiamen shot holes in his car. The scent of the kebab he grilled wafted over speakers playing the national anthem. “This is the rule of force, not the rule of law.”
The force at the Tripoli airport is the powerful militia from Zintan, a mountain town south of the capital, which played a role in Tripoli’s fall and still holds prisoner Colonel Qaddafi’s most prominent son, Seif al-Islam. By its count, it has 1,000 men at the airport, and one of its commanders there, Abdel-Mawla Bilaid, a 50-year-old man in fatigues, parroted the cavalier pronouncements of the government he helped overthrow. “Everything’s going 100 percent right,” he declared.
Mr. Shamis, the prime minister’s adviser, acknowledged the government’s inability to do anything about the militia’s presence. “Let it be for now,” he said.
That was the sense of the commander, too. “There’s no reason for us to leave,” Mr. Bilaid said. “The Libyan people want us to stay here.”
The militias are proving to be the scourge of the revolution’s aftermath. Though they have dismantled most of their checkpoints in the capital, they remain a force, here and elsewhere. A Human Rights Watch researcher estimated there are 250 separate militias in the coastal city of Misurata, the scene of perhaps the fiercest battle of the revolution. In recent months those militias have become the most loathed in the country.
Residents say some of the fighters have sought to preserve law and order in the midst of government helplessness. Militias from Benghazi and Zintan are trying to protect a refugee camp of 1,500 people driven from their homes in Tawergha by fighters from Misurata, who bitterly blamed them for aiding Colonel Qaddafi’s assault on their town. Since the Tawerghans arrived in the camp, which once housed Turkish construction workers in Tripoli, Misurata militiamen have staged raids five or six times there despite the presence of the other militias, detaining dozens, many of them still in custody.
“Nobody holds back the Misuratans,” said Jumaa Ageela, an elder there.
Bashir Brebesh said the same was true for the militias in Tripoli. On Jan. 19, his 62-year-old father, Omar, a former Libyan diplomat in Paris, was called in for questioning by militiamen from Zintan. The next day, the family found his body at a hospital in Zintan. His nose was broken, as were his ribs. The nails had been pulled from his toes, they said. His skull was fractured, and his body bore signs of burns from cigarettes.
The militia told the family that the men responsible had been arrested, an assurance Mr. Brebesh said offered little consolation. “We feel we are alone,” he said.
“They’re putting themselves as the policeman, as the judge and as the executioner,” said Mr. Brebesh, 32, a neurology resident in Canada, who came home after learning of his father’s death. He inhaled deeply. “Did they not have enough dignity to just shoot him in the head?” he asked. “It’s so monstrous. Did they enjoy hearing him scream?”
The government has acknowledged the torture and detentions, but it admits that the police and Justice Ministry are not up to the task of stopping them. On Tuesday, it sent out a text message on cellphones, pleading for the militias to stop.
“People are turning up dead in detention at an alarming rate,” said Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who was compiling evidence in Libya last month. “If this was happening under any Arab dictatorship, there would be an outcry.”
At the seaside base this week, the looting ended before midnight. Not much was left at the compound, which once belonged to Colonel Qaddafi’s son Saadi — a red beret, a car battery, a rusted ammunition case and an empty bottle of Tunisian wine.
But as on most nights, militias returned to contest other spots in the city, demarcating their turf. Like a winter squall, their shooting thundered over the Mediterranean seafront into the early hours. In the dark, no one could read the slogans in Quds Square. “Because the price was the blood of our children, let’s unify, let’s show tolerance and let’s live together,” one read. In the dark, no one knew who was firing.
“What’s wrong with them?” asked Mahmoud Mgairish. He stood near the square the next morning, as a soft sun seemed to wash the streets. “I don’t know where this country is heading,” he went on. “I swear to God, this will never get untangled.”
-This report was published in The New York Times on 09/02/2012

The Syrian Endgame: How The U.S. Can Speed Up Revolution

A bloody revolution will likely succeed, but the question is when. Former State Department. spokesman P.J. Crowley on how the U.S. can speed up the clock—and the pivotal role of Putin.
By P. J. Crowley
A burning portrait of embattled President Bashar al-Assad in Al-Qsair, near the city Homs, Jan. 25, 2012, Alessio Romenzi, AFP / Getty Images
The revolution in Syria is all about time.
The international community wants to hasten the day that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leaves office. Yesterday at a sidelined United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, rarely one to mince words, called out Assad, saying “Your days are numbered.”
This may be true, but ruling out a Libya-style military intervention, there are other tools that can eventually force change, but none that can speed up the clock. Meanwhile, the United States has closed its embassy in Damascus, a sure sign it expects violence to escalate dramatically in the weeks ahead.
Russia has given Assad at least a temporary lease on life through its weekend veto of a watered-down resolution that supported an Arab League plan for Assad to cede power and open the door to an elected government.
In Damascus yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for dialogue with the Syrian opposition and “reforms that address the legitimate demands of the people.” Russia does not consider a new president one of them, but Moscow may be forced to revisit that judgment at some point. In the meantime, Russian protection puts additional time on Assad’s clock.
Assad pledged yesterday to work with anyone who supports “a Syrian solution to the crisis.” U.S. officials fear that Assad will use Russian political cover as a “permission slip” to crack down even harder on protesters around the country.
The Syrian protest movement, after nearly a year on the street, still waits for its Spring. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, change in Syria was never going to be easy or quick. Syria’s revolution will likely succeed, but in slow motion.
With Russian political, economic, and military support, Assad can survive, potentially for months. Assad continues to command the loyalty of his security forces, although the pace of defections continues to increase. Try as the government might, it has been unable to make the protests go away.
The tipping point will come, according to Syria experts, not with a silver bullet but through sustained pressure from many different directions. This needs to involve the Arab League sooner and Russia later.
The Security Council resolution condemning Assad was a symbolic action, not insignificant but not by itself decisive. The resolution was really about Security Council unity, the key to economic sanctions and political consequences.
With major players not yet on the same side of history, the play shifts to the Arab League, which meets this weekend to consider next steps.
The Arab League deserves credit—even if self-serving to the surviving governments of the Arab Awakening—for its uncharacteristic call for Assad to step down. The Arab League, along with Turkey, will have to find ways to tighten the screws on the Syrian economy, a task made more difficult by Russia, China, and Iran, Syria’s key regional ally.
Working through a loose coalition of “friends of a democratic Syria,” the United States and the international community should increase efforts to build up the Syrian opposition, particularly those still in the country. Syria is splintered politically, with lots of communities, including Christians and minorities, still on the fence. The opposition must not only coalesce against Assad, but demonstrate they are a viable alternative that will protect everyone’s interests. Recent experiences in Egypt and Libya, not to mention Iraq, show how difficult this will be.
The West has indicated publicly it will not arm the Free Syrian Army, but countries in the region surely will, seeing in Syria an opportunity to reduce Iranian influence in the Middle East. If the Free Syrian Army is able to control pockets of territory, and protect the population in the process, political momentum in Syria can shift dramatically, as it did in Libya. Nonetheless, there is danger as the combatants increasingly view the struggle in military terms.
Forcing a Russian veto (with Beijing happy to hide in the background) does provide leverage.
Lavrov’s quick trip to Damascus reflects Russia’s isolation. While Lavrov again blamed both sides for the violence, Russia is quite aware where the international community will lay the proverbial dead cat if violence continues to escalate.
Russia will hold its current posture through its elections in early March. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, soon to be president again, is contending with his own unwelcome protesters and won’t support term limits elsewhere as he seeks another 12 years in office.
Syria is a longtime client state, a species Russia increasingly sees as endangered by this wave of political change. Not only is Syria an outlet for Russian military exports, it is the home of a Russian warm-water naval base at Tartus.
Nonetheless, if change is perceived as inevitable in Syria, Russia will recognize that the longer it holds on to Assad, the more it places its long-term interests in jeopardy.
The United States needs to find a way to exploit this conundrum. Distasteful as it might be, a realpolitik approach to Putin’s inevitable reelection—a pledge to work together and calm the existing choppy waters in the relationship—might pave the way for cooperation on a transition in Syria.
“If the Russians elect to play a positive role, they could be crucial,” said one administration official. “If they’re going to weigh in positively, I hope it’s soon because if Syria implodes, everyone loses.”
-This commentary was published in The Daily Beast on 08/02/2012
-Philip J. (P.J.) Crowley is the 2011-2012 Omar Bradley Chair for Strategic Leadership at Dickinson College, Penn State University Dickinson School of Law and School of International Affairs, and the Army War College. He served as the assistant secretary of state for public affairs and spokesman for the United States Department of State from May 2009 until March 2011