Friday, April 6, 2012

Drilling Down On The Iran-Pakistan Pipeline

By Arsla Jawaid
                                                                               Iranian President Ahmadinejad with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gillani
The controversial Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline has become an increasingly problematic issue in the vacillating U.S-Pakistan relationship. The United States has strongly condemned the project, but such rhetoric seems only to have made Pakistan more determined to continue with it. An energy agreement between Iran and Pakistan would be detrimental to U.S efforts to isolate Iran and force the shutdown of its nuclear program. And while it could potentially alleviate Pakistan's energy crisis, the proponents of the project seem more interested in defying the West than inquiring about its ‘real' benefits.
Pakistan is crippled by an energy crisis that causes power outages for hours, daily, leading to violent protests around the country, such as those in Lahore last week. Many do not have gas for heating or cooking purposes, and electricity outages affect schools, hospitals, businesses and industries, bringing an already dwindling economy to a halt. In such a scenario, Pakistan is forced to look elsewhere to meet its needs.
The IP gas pipeline is one such prospect. The idea, conceptualized in 1990 with negotiations starting in 1994, is to construct a pipeline that would pass solely between the two countries. As the prospect developed, India entered the game, and the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline -- popularly known as the "Peace Pipeline" -- came into existence. In 2008, however, India signed a civil nuclear power deal with the U.S and pulled out of the project; many analysts accused it of succumbing to American pressure.
On March 16, 2010, Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement on the pipeline during a meeting in the Turkish capital city of Ankara. The revised pipeline, with a projected cost of $1.5 billion, would start from the South Pars gas field in Iran's southern city of Asalouyeh and pass through Bandar-Abbas and Iranshahr, until it reaches Khuzdar, Balochistan. At Khuzdar, a section is planned to extend to Karachi while the rest of the pipeline would continue through Sui to Multan.
In July 2011, Iran claimed that it had almost completed 900 km of its construction of the 56 inch diameter pipeline, though this assertion remains unconfirmed. Pakistan is to lay 781 km of the pipeline in its territory, and the project is expected to be completed by December 2014. Although completion remains two years away, Pakistan views this project as a medium-term investment to pull it out of a crippling energy crisis. Iran has also expressed its commitment to alleviating Pakistan's woes, and once operations begin it will provide 750 million cubic feet of gas per day for 25 years.
Pakistan can no longer depend on domestic resources to address its crippling energy problems. During the third Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran trilateral summit held on February 16, 2012, turning to Iran, Pakistan has reiterated its commitment to the IP gas pipeline project, a 1,000-megawatt electricity transmission line, and a 100-megawatt power supply from Gwadar to meet Pakistan's energy woes. In return, Iran has offered to enhance bilateral trade to $10 billion by importing specific commodities such as rice and wheat, in the following few months. But, it is difficult to predict whether such bold developments will ever actually be implemented.
The United States, meanwhile, supports an alternate gas pipeline -- known as the TAPI pipeline because it would run through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The TAPI pipeline project has, however, been rejected by Pakistan for a number of reasons. It will take much longer to materialize, will pass through treacherous and unreliable terrain, and involves too many regional players -- specifically India and Afghanistan -- which Pakistan views with suspicion.
The TAPI pipeline would flow through war-torn Afghanistan, and until the end game there is clear, Pakistani authorities, justifiably, are not ready to take such a risk on their energy survival. The situation recently grew more complicated when Afghanistan hinted at possibly withdrawing from the project. Though the final round of the TAPI negotiations are to be held on April 19, if Afghanistan does indeed withdraw from the project, America's proposal of a viable alternate to the IP gas pipeline would be in grave danger.
On February 29, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton expressed frustration with Pakistan's intention to push ahead with the IP pipeline at a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. She threatened sanctions that "would be particularly damaging to Pakistan because their economy is already quite shaky," should Pakistan continue with its commitment to build the IP gas pipeline and hence, violate the Iran Sanctions Act. While a proposed Iran-Turkey pipeline appears to progress sans sanctions, Pakistan could face an immediate termination of financial and military assistance.
Secretary Clinton's remarks have raised serious objections, and have only made Pakistan more adamant about continuing with the project. The "threat" prompted brave words from Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar: "We are a sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan. All of these projects are in Pakistan's national interest, and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous considerations."
In November 2010, similar defensive posturing was prompted when Ambassador Munter stated that "the plan to get gas from Turkmenistan is a better idea" than the IP pipeline. Pakistani Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan slammed the comment, stating, "Islamabad will not accept any dictation regarding its internal affairs from any foreign country. Gas from Iran is in the country's best interest."
However, it is still unclear whether the IP gas pipeline is indeed in the best interests of the country. The pre-feasibility study that will determine whether the pipeline should be built by estimating the finances needed and the expected timeframe of the project has only just begun. The most pressing issue Pakistan will face if it decides to construct the IP gas pipeline, is that of raising finances. The issue has gained geo-political attention, and a consortium led by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has recently pulled out of the project, prompting the Pakistani government to look elsewhere for finances. The federal government is currently negotiating a deal with Russian giant gas monopoly, Gazprom, for financial and technical assistance. While no agreement has currently been reached, senior level discussions are underway. With a crippled economy and diminished finances, Pakistan may very well be unable to embark on the project due to lack of funds from international investors.
With Pakistan still grappling for funds, and the feasibility study commissioned by Pakistan not expected to be completed before October 2013, vehement U.S opposition and rhetoric is premature at this moment. Sanctions would severely affect the economy, and Pakistan is unlikely to be ready to take that risk. Most recently, Pakistan hired experts to study the consequences of the sanctions, should it move ahead with constructing the pipeline. While the country can benefit immensely from an energy pipeline with Iran, being closely associated with a nation receiving so much negative international attention may do it more harm than good.
Without a clear argument and only an unclear picture of the project itself, Pakistan's determination to construct the pipeline is simply a political move in response to foreign interference in internal matters, and nothing more than that at this moment.
Armed with this realization and an awareness of the rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan, the United States needs to adopt a more sensitive and informed approach to tackle the equally sensitive issue of the IP pipeline. The United States must differentiate between nuclear development and regional cooperation. By encouraging trade and energy agreements, it could illustrate a genuine concern for peace and stability in the region, as well as repair America's image abroad. The United States must show a serious commitment to alleviating the energy crisis in Pakistan, and hold talks with key players in the private sector. The private sector will not only serve as a wealth of information and a vehicle of action but also as a prime interlocutor.
The State Department is currently helping Pakistan with thermal energy generation, and investing in dams, but it must also consider working jointly with Pakistan on stand-alone power projects that utilize wind and water, contain leakages that remain a prime reason of energy wastage, suggest mechanisms to avoid energy theft, and foster dialogue between experts in the field.
Finding support for a conciliatory approach may not be easy. The Obama administration is facing tough questions at home on its continued engagement with the Af-Pak region, having achieved the objective of killing former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Defending the war in Afghanistan and securing a $2.2 billion budget in economic and security assistance for Pakistan will be difficult. Additionally, pressuring South Asian countries to ostracize Iran will only lead to more animosity. The need of the hour is cooperation, not sanctions. Illustrating a true commitment to addressing Pakistan's greatest handicap, instead of condemning regional policy decisions, will open up a world of opportunities for both sides.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 05/04/2012
-Arsla Jawaid is Assistant Editor at the monthly foreign policy magazine, SouthAsia. Arsla holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University, with a focus on foreign policy and security studies

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Five Reasons Americans Should Be Happy (In A Very Unhappy Middle East)

Cheer up. It's really bad. But all's not lost.


                                                                                  American President Barak Obama

Bad news abounds. The purveyors and prophets of doom and gloom proclaim the broader Middle East to be Dickens on steroids: It's the worst of times squared.

In Iran, the centrifuges spin ever closer to acquiring enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. In Egypt, Islamists crowd out the liberals and the Google generation. In Syria, the Assads maintain their bloody grip on power, defying the international community and the will of their own people. As for the Israelis and Palestinians, well ... they don't even pretend there's a negotiation in sight, let alone an end to their conflict.
And in the middle of this muddled mess sits the United States. Like some modern-day Gulliver, America seems tied down by small powers whose interests are not its own, and tied up by its illusions.

I'm here to tell you: Cheer up. It's really bad. But all's not lost. Without too much whistling past the graveyard, here are five reasons Americans can smile -- at least for a while -- in a region where things usually get worse before they get worse.

1. We're out of Iraq and soon out of Afghanistan.

It's not pretty, but America is out or getting out of its untenable combat role in the two longest wars in its history, neither of which now seems worth the terrible price we have paid in American lives, crushing traumatic injuries, resources, and credibility.

Winning -- defined as two cohesive stable countries with legitimately elected and accepted governments, the end of sectarian violence and a semblance of respect for democratic principles, human rights, transparency, etc. -- was never possible.

But leaving is. Staying in Afghanistan in significant numbers beyond the decent interval for extrication President Barack Obama has created makes little sense. Honor those who made the sacrifice and respect the good fight they waged. Don't rush for the exits. But do not let anymone guilt you into believing that the current glide path toward the exits will fundamentally betray the Afghans or diminish our credibility.

The notion that we'll be less secure if we don't stay longer is absurd logic. We can't fix Afghanistan -- not in a year or 10. The future of this so-called graveyard of empires will be determined less by anything we've done while there, and far more by events after we depart. But who ever thought otherwise?

The tipping point for extrication has been crossed. The American public rightly senses all too clearly -- as evident in recent polling -- that we can't win or even tie there. The purpose, urgency, and clarity of this war disappeared long ago. The president wants out, and even the Republicans increasingly sense that the game is up. We should be looking forward to the day when no more brave Americans need be killed or injured there, and be happy that soon America will be freed from the consummate great-power conundrum of the past decade: being stuck in places we can neither fix nor leave.

2. America and Middle East oil: the way of the dodo?

Don't say it too loudly: We don't want to jinx it, but the United States is slowly weaning itself off Arab oil.
That doesn't mean we're not still drunk on liquid hydrocarbons. (I have two SUVs, and am still trying to figure out why.) And even if we can free ourselves from Middle East oil, there's still the problem of energy security. For all practical purposes, the price of oil is determined in a single market, vulnerable to global disruptions; nor can we afford all those Middle East reserves falling into unfriendly hands.

But I'll take what I can get. In 2011, the United States imported 45 percent of the liquid fuels it used, down from 60 percent just 6 years earlier. As energy guru Daniel Yergin points out, a new oil order is emerging. And for America, that means the rise of Western Hemispheric energy at the expense of the Middle East. Between new oil in Brazil, oil-sands production in Canada, and shale-gas technology here at home, by 2020 we could cut our dependence on non-Western hemisphere oil by half. Combine that with the rise in national oil production and greater focus on fuel efficiency and conservation, and the trend lines are at least running in the right direction.

Don't get too excited: It's not time to pack up the bases and troops in the Persian Gulf quite yet. But as we become less dependent on Arab oil, those who still are (China, Japan, South Korea, the Europeans) ought to shoulder more of the financial burden for keeping that area stable and secure. Lucky for our fledgling economic recovery that the Arab kings and oil producers, namely the Saudis, have (so far) fared much better than the Arab presidents in weathering the Arab Spring and Winter.

Oil still reigns supreme. But at least be happy that Middle East oil is slowly being dethroned. If we're dedicated, disciplined, and lucky, it will be become less of a lubricant for why we act in this region. And hopefully as a result our own relationships and diplomacy will become a little less greasy too.

3. The Arab Spring did America a big favor.

I have many worries about the Arab Spring, which, in places like Bahrain, Syria, and even Egypt looks too much like winter.

But there's one thing we should be celebrating. In taking to the streets, Arabs did something for us we'd never be able to do for ourselves: Break the devil's bargain we cut with Arab authoritarians decades ago.
Don't get me wrong: Those deals -- you support our policies and we'll support you (and look the other way on bad governance and human rights abuses) carried American policy quite far. We got some Arab-Israeli peace agreements, continued access to Arab oil, sold a lot of military hardware, and procured stability.

But it proved a false stability. Like so much in the world of power politics, these arrangements were made with extractive regimes that were out of touch with their publics and simply couldn't endure. The Middle East may have warranted low expectations in the good-government department, but at some point the same forces of change that were transforming the rest of the world were bound to visit there as well. There was no way the United States would ever have pushed meaningful reform, let alone broken our ties with the authoritarians, unless the street did it for us.

Great powers don't pivot, or in this case let go easily. Indeed, we haven't yet in Egypt, where we're trying to maintain some influence with the military; nor in Bahrain where we tread carefully on regime change and human rights so as not to anger the Saudis or destabilize them. And we may need the Gulf autocrats' help not only to keep prices low at the pump, but also for the looming confrontation with Iran.

Let's be clear: There will be no revolutionary epiphanies here, no transformations in American policy. Our commitment to genuine democratic reform, particularly if we don't like the new democrats, will be slow and gradual. More likely, America will be dragged along and forced to deal with the new realities that emerge, particularly the rising power of the Islamists. If we're lucky, it will produce a more honest conversation between the Arabs and the United States, and just maybe an opportunity to bring America's values into greater alignment with its policies. But we also shouldn't kid ourselves: The process will be long and messy and may well not turn out the way we want.

4. We can't fix everything. Be happy.

America may be the world's indispensable nation, but these days it's with a small "i." Expectations for American power in this region have always run fantastically high. We've had moments of dramatic success, against the backdrop of decades of unspectacular or even failed diplomacy. The good news -- even though it's come at the expense of popping this inflated bubble -- is that the Arabs (and Israelis) too may be finally getting it: We can't, won't, and have no intention of saving them.

The jury is still out on the Iranian nuclear issue. If Israel doesn't bomb, we might. But on almost every other issue -- fixing Iraq and Afghanistan, promoting democratization, solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, bailing out the Arab economies with American dollars -- we really lack leverage and motivation to do much.
The Israeli-Palestinian issue is the poster child for how we have infantilized the Middle East and how it has become too dependent on us. I must have drafted scores of "next steps" memos in the peace process when there really were no next steps, truly.

We clearly still have an important role to play in maintaining security ties with the Gulf states, encouraging political and economic reform, and yes even on the peace process. But that role will depend on a good deal more ownership and responsibility on the part of the locals.

There will be no more 911 calls to save the peace process. And it's about time. We should have long ago tired of whining Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Europeans asking us to do things when they wouldn't or couldn't do their fair share. The two-state solution isn't dead, but the good news is that at least there's an honest recognition now that America alone can't deliver it.

5. We're learning (maybe).

Failure is one of life's great teachers. I know from personal experience, dealing with the Middle East for a few decades. And the United States has encountered plenty in recent years. Much of it has been heartbreaking.

The Middle East is still a mess. Lately, to be sure, it's also seen a great deal of rare promise and hope. But it continues to be marred by violence, economic misery, sectarian strife, religious extremism, conspiracy theories, and leaps of logic and rationality that should worry us all.

Still, I think we're learning a few things. The Obama administration has done pretty well in this regard. No spectacular successes, but no galactic failures either. Our approach is steady and deliberate. It's focused on getting priorities straight: seeing the threats and opportunities clearly and thinking matters through before throwing American military or diplomatic resources at a problem when there's no real strategy to guide it. If that's "leading from behind," so be it, particularly if leading from the front gets you Iraq and Afghanistan.

America doesn't need prophets, ideologues, or geniuses to run its Middle East policy. Just give me a smart president, an empowered secretary of state, and a lot of folks to help them who know history, can find their way around an atlas, and have common sense and good judgment about how American power can be best utilized. It may not guarantee a lot of success, but it will reduce our failures. And that, to be sure, is something to be happy about.

-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 04/04/2012
-Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His new book, Can America Have Another Great President?, will be published this year

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Militant Taunts US Over $10m Bounty

By Matthew Green in Islamabad, Farhan Bokhari in Rawalpindi and Geoff Dyer in Washington
hafiz saeed
One of Pakistan’s most notorious militants taunted the US for offering a $10m bounty for information leading to his arrest by appearing before journalists on Wednesday to claim the money for himself.
Tacitly underscoring his links to Pakistan’s security establishment, Hafiz Saeed, who is accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, addressed television crews and reporters at a hotel near the army headquarters in Rawalpindi a day after the US put a bounty on his head.
“I am here, I am visible. America should give that reward money to me,” Mr Saeed said. “I will be in Lahore tomorrow ... America can contact me whenever it wants to.”
Mr Saeed’s defiant tone raised the risk that the offer of a reward could backfire by emboldening hardline nationalists at a time when the US is trying to repair the worst crisis in relations with Pakistan in a decade.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the country needed “concrete evidence” to take any legal proceedings. Mr Saeed was detained after the Mumbai attacks but later released by a court in the eastern city of Lahore.
The state department in Washington said it was seeking evidence that could be used in court to link Mr Saeed to the Mumbai attacks.
“We are not looking for information about his location,” said spokesman Mark Toner. “Every journalist in Pakistan knows where to find him.”
Long backed by Pakistani intelligence, the professor of Islamic studies has been permitted to raise his public profile in the past six months, holding a series of rallies in major cities to give fiery speeches denouncing the US and India.
He is the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group that was formed in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invasion and rose to prominence fighting Indian forces in Kashmir in the 1990s. The organisation has since been blamed for attacks on Indian interests, including the Mumbai assault, and for battling Nato forces in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think there’s any question that a relationship exists between the Pakistani military and LeT,” said Stephen Tankel, an assistant professor at American University and an authority on the organisation. “It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that a day after the US puts a bounty on his head he’s giving a speech in the military’s backyard.”
Although there seems little chance that Mr Saeed will face arrest in Pakistan in the near future, US officials may have calculated that the reward will signal to his patrons in Pakistan’s security establishment that his activities are under renewed scrutiny. Only Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as head of al-Qaeda, commands a bigger US bounty, at $25m.
Lashkar-e-Taiba has been primarily focused on India, but experts say some members would like to stage attacks in the US or Europe. Perhaps the greatest risk it poses is that another Mumbai-style attack could one day push nuclear-armed Pakistan and India towards war.
“Lashkar-e-Taiba has the capacity to launch attacks in the west – the question is its level of intent,” Mr Tankel said.
The reward announcement, however, may complicate efforts by the US to assuage lingering anger over the raid that killed bin Laden in May and over the deaths of 24 Pakistani troops in a US air strike on the Afghan border in November.
Pakistan’s army has the biggest say in setting foreign policy but the parliament is also deliberating what kind of relationship the country should have with the US. Some politicians have warned that the reward offer may bolster Islamist parties pushing for a tougher stance against Washington.
India moved quickly to welcome the reward, aggravating Pakistani officials who believe Washington has long been biased towards its arch-rival.
The US may have been spurred into action by Mr Saeed’s increasingly public profile. He has repeatedly given television interviews and denounced India and the US at a series of rallies in major Pakistani cities in the past six months.
Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the US state department, said in Washington on Tuesday that Mr Saeed’s appearances had been “quite brazen”. She said: “The sense has been over the last few months that this kind of a reward might hasten the judicial process.”
Rallies have been organised by the Pakistan Defence Council, a coalition of extremist groups and hawkish ex-generals in which Mr Saeed is a leading luminary. The front has urged the government of Asif Ali Zardari to maintain a blockade on supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan imposed after the deaths of the 24 Pakistani soldiers.
-This report was published in Financial Times on 04/04/2012

Of Flags And Salafis

By Mohamed El Dahshan
In the second such incident this month, Tunisia's hardline Salafis decided to scale buildings in order to, well, put up a flag. Seeing the cheers of joy and victory, few things seem to entertain them more, it appears.
This latest incident occurred last week, on March 25. Half a dozen men climbed the clock tower at the entrance of Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis -- which was the flashpoint of the capital's revolutionary protests last year -- to hang, askew, a flag too small to be really visible from afar on the copper-colored ‘Big Ben.' The Tunisian blogosphere quipped, for that matter, that the Salafis were attempting to turn the clock back a few centuries.
In case you were wondering (as I was), that flag, black with white inscriptions (or vice-versa), is widely referred to as the "Caliphate" flag. It carries the shahada -- the declaration of faith, which states that "there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet." Some trace the origins of the flag to the Prophet Muhammad himself; contemporary narrators have informed us that he carried a black banner, which he called "the eagle," to battle, however it is not known if the shahada was inscribed on it. The white one is the ‘civilian' banner, which flew over the city in times of peace.
While it would historically have represented an Islamic nation-state, the flag is today common to a number of Islamist movements, perhaps the most notorious being Hizb-ut-Tahrir. It is a wholeheartedly partisan flag and, for Muslims, has no spiritual significance -- rather, it mostly looks like a photographic negative of the Saudi flag.
The more interesting flag-related incident, however, occurred three weeks ago, at Manouba University, which has for months been the scene of clashes between secular and salafi student groups.
A large, bearded man in a black robe climbed the rooftop of the School of Humanities, pulled down the national Tunisian flag, and replaced it with the black and white flag. Though at a clear disadvantage, a female student, Khaoula Rachidi, climbed to the roof and tried to stop him. I imagine her voice was a little shaky, mixing Arabic and French as Tunisian young people do, as she chastised him for replacing the flag. The giant didn't like what he heard: He pushed her to the ground.
Emboldened, other students followed suit and climbed the roof. An altercation between the salafis and secular students ensued.
In a matter of hours, Tunisia had a new icon. "We are all Khaoula Rachidi," wrote newspapers the next morning -- as they reminded, almost tongue-in-cheek, that the Tunisian national flag that the religious hardliner removed carries a crescent and a five-branched star, representing the five pillars of Islam.
Two divergent discussions ensued. The first was the creation of a perfect media story; the courage of a young woman, presented as a David to the Salafi Goliath, the flag-bearing Marianne of a real-life Tunisian Delacroix painting. Even the President invited her to a flag-raising ceremony the following week.
The second, however, was about what it means to replace the national flag with a partisan one, and how that is symbolic of the relationship between Salafis and the Tunisian community: Whether the former see themselves as part of the latter or, conversely, see Tunisia simply as a province in a larger Islamic nation.
Some downplayed the incident. The Salafi community promptly condemned it, reasserting its patriotism and stressing that "the mistakes of one cannot be blamed on the whole movement." Rashed El Ghannouchi, leader of the more moderate Ennahda party, said that "only a madman" would remove the flag. Many, however, condemned the act in the harshest terms with barely concealed disdain, casting doubt over the patriotism of the Salafi movement that chooses to raise a different flag over the national one.
Both events are quickly being forgotten, becoming sideshows on the long battle for the secular character of the Tunisian republic. The clock tower event is already an amusing topic of conversation, and Khaoula's name nearly forgotten. All that remains is the shadow of a black and white flag, not big enough to obscure the spring sun of Tunis. At least, not yet.
This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 03/04/2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Israeli-Palestinian Peace: A Special Regime Option For The Old City Of Jerusalem

By Arthur Hughes
Jerusalem will probably likely be the toughest issue in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The other three core issues – borders/settlements, security, and Palestinian refugees – will also be very difficult, but Jerusalem is at a different level. Jews, Muslims, and Christians worldwide have strong attachment to the city and its many holy sites. For Israelis and Palestinians, Jerusalem is the focal point of national, cultural, and religious identities and aspirations. Their conflicting claims are based on long history and narratives that do not accommodate the other. The question thus becomes: in order to achieve a peace deal, what arrangements might be possible that could meet the basic needs of all? In this time of scant mutual trust would it possible to find a way ahead?
The prevalent concept for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is for two states, Israel and the new state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have stated their support for this outcome. Generally included in this concept are two capitals for the two states: Israeli Yerushalayim in western Jerusalem and Palestinian al Quds (the Holy) in eastern Jerusalem.
But the Old City, with its many holy sites of all three religions, poses special problems. Who has authority over these sites? Would either Israel or Palestine agree that the Old City belonged solely to the other, that one or the other has sovereignty? Might the Old City, less than one square kilometer, be divided up, as the Clinton Parameters and the Geneva Accords suggest? Is there a way to share authority? What arrangements are thinkable to deal with the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif and the Western Wall that together are one holy place? Is there a way to set up a trusted authority to govern the Old City as a single unit?
Working on the hypothesis of a two-state and two-capital solution, the Jerusalem Old City Initiative (JOCI) has developed in great detail the concept of a Special Regime (SR) for the Old City. Initiated by a small group of Canadians with long and deep experience and responsibilities in the area, JOCI came to include Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and others in an eight year effort to design a Special Regime that would meet three key tests:
          Ensure the security and safety of all persons residing in or visiting the Old City;
          Ensure the security and sanctity of and appropriate access to the holy sites in the Old City; and
          Is sustainable, thus contributing to the stability and sustainability of the entire peace agreement.
The SR does not address sovereignty, but neither would it prejudice the claims of either party. Those could be further negotiated when mutual trust and confidence had been achieved. The SR is seen as an interim arrangement, but with no expiration date, that would deal with the Old City as a necessary part of reaching a peace agreement. It is designed to meet the basic needs of Israel, Palestine, and believers everywhere, and provide stability and calm at the heart of the conflict. It is the practical means by which Israel and Palestine together would ensure good governance of the Old City and preserve their interests without prejudicing their respective claims.
The issues of sovereignty and possible division of the Old City are very difficult. After scores of hours of discussion and debate with Palestinians and Israelis, JOCI concluded that in peace negotiations neither side would concede sovereignty to the other and that each would demand at least parity with the other. For example, Israeli law confirmed by its high court holds that only Jews may own property and reside in the Jewish Quarter. It is unimaginable that the Palestinians would agree to a peace deal that left that in place without at least providing parallel arrangements for Muslims and Christians in the Muslim, Christian, and Armenian Quarters.
Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apparently reached the same conclusions when he proposed to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (as Olmert recalled in a speech on March 26, 2012 in Washington) that “there would be no sovereignty over the Holy Basin or Temple Mount, not yours not ours,” and that “the Temple Mount and the Holy Basin would be administered by five nations, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and America.” Olmert further said that he had proposed the Israeli capital be composed of the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and that the Palestinians would have theirs in the Arab neighborhoods. Also relevant to the sovereignty question is that neither the United States nor the international community recognize Israel’s assertion of sovereignty over the Old City and east Jerusalem annexed after the 1967 war.
JOCI concluded as well that dividing the tiny Old City, especially because of security issues, would present very serious sustainability questions. A Special Regime is seen as a way to avoid these problems and enable a peace deal while ensuring good and equitable governance of the Old City, assured security for residents and visitors, and continued management of the holy sites by their current religious authorities.
The key element of the SR developed by JOCI is that it would be created by Israel and the new state of Palestine in their peace agreement. It would belong to them and be supervised by them. It would not be pressed upon them or controlled by outsiders. The JOCI Special Regime is not a revival of “internationalization.” Outside involvement in this SR would be strictly at the invitation of Israel and Palestine and restricted solely to responsibilities and tasks assigned by the two parties themselves in their treaty.
The SR would be assigned in the peace treaty powers and authority only in specific closely-defined areas and functions. These would include, for example, security, public order and safety and environmental protection. All of those not specified, including, for example, education, health, and family law, would be left for Israel and Palestine, each country for its own citizens. Jurisdiction for inter-communal and non-citizen matters would be defined in the treaty. While the Old City would be a separate jurisdiction with its own legal system for specified matters, the SR would have close relations and interactions with the two capital cities and with Israel and Palestine. The Old City would remain populated for the most part by Palestinians and Israelis who would have their close personal, family, economic and other links with their countries of citizenship. The SR would have mixed legal jurisdiction with different authorities, the SR, Israel and Palestine, for different matters.
The SR would be established with two main organs: a Governance Board and a Chief Administrator.
The Governance Board would be the oversight authority of the SR. It would consist of Palestinian and Israeli representatives and presumably those from other states as the two parties would agree. The Board would appoint a Chief Administrator (not an Israeli or Palestinian) to be the executive authority of the SR. While not being involved in the day-to-day operations of the SR, the Board would supervise and hold the Chief Administrator (CA) responsible in fulfilling his responsibilities set out in the peace agreement.

The Board would set its own organization and rules of procedure in ways that would not put at risk the claims and fundamental interests of either Israel or Palestine.
The Chief Administrator, under the supervision of and responsible to the Board, would have executive and regulatory powers of the SR. He could establish a police service and administrative apparatus to enable the SR to fulfill its mandate.
Under the SR, the Old City would be a weapons-free zone except for Police Service officers. The Service would have full authority to enforce law and maintain security and safety. It would consist of officers recruited from countries agreed by Palestine and Israel, but not from them. Israelis and Palestinians could serve on the Service as unarmed Community Liaison Officers.
The CA and the SR would be given no responsibilities for the internal management of the Holy Sites in the Old City. These sites would remain under the current religious authorities, perhaps as further set out in the peace agreement. The SR would have responsibility for security of the sites, ensuring appropriate access, decorum and respect for customary practice, and for structural soundness on safety grounds.
The mandate of the CA and SR would also include authority for planning, zoning and property, and for archeology. This is necessary to ensure that these highly contentious matters would not continue as flash points that could endanger the SR and even the peace agreement itself.
The SR as developed by JOCI has been widely briefed to and discussed among Israelis and Palestinians including at the highest levels. It has also been briefed throughout the U.S. government and in other capitals, and was the subject of a conference in May, 2010 in Washington, D.C. co-sponsored by the Middle East Institute and Windsor University, Ontario, Canada.
-This commentary was published by Middle East Institute on 02/04/2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Don’t Fear A Nuclear Arms Race In The Middle East

The conventional wisdom has it wrong: Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon won’t spur its neighbors to get the bomb.
On March 21, Haaretz correspondent Ari Shavit wrote a powerful op-ed in the New York Times that began with this stark and stunning claim: "An Iranian atom bomb will force Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt to acquire their own atom bombs." Indeed, it has become axiomatic among Middle East watchers, nonproliferation experts, Israel's national security establishment, and a wide array of U.S. government officials that Iranian proliferation will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. President Barack Obama himself, in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last month, said that if Iran went nuclear, it was "almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon."
Multiple nuclear powers on a hair trigger in the Middle East -- the most volatile region on earth, and one that is undergoing massive political change -- is a nightmare scenario for U.S. and other security planners, who have never before confronted a challenge of such magnitude. But thankfully, all the dire warnings about uncontrolled proliferation are -- if not exactly science fiction -- further from reality than Shavit and Obama indicate. There are very good reasons for the international community to meet the challenge that Iran represents, but Middle Eastern nuclear dominoes are not one of them.
Theorists of international politics, when pondering the decision-making process of states confronted by nuclear-armed neighbors, have long raised the fears of asymmetric power relations and potential for nuclear blackmail to explain why these states would be forced to proliferate themselves.
This logic was undoubtedly at work when Pakistan embarked on a nuclear program in 1972 to match India's nuclear development program. Yet for all its tribulations, the present-day Middle East is not the tinderbox that South Asia was in the middle of the 20th century. Pakistan's perception of the threat posed by India -- a state with which it has fought four wars since 1947 -- is far more acute than how either Egypt or Turkey perceive the Iranian challenge. And while Iran is closer to home for the Saudis, the security situation in the Persian Gulf is not as severe as the one along the 1,800-mile Indo-Pakistani border.
Most important to understanding why the Middle East will not be a zone of unrestrained proliferation is the significant difference between desiring nukes and the actual capacity to acquire them. Of all three states that Shavit mentioned, the one on virtually everyone's list for possible nuclear proliferation in response to Iran is Turkey. But the Turkish Republic is already under a nuclear umbrella: Ankara safeguards roughly 90 of the United States' finest B61 gravity bombs at Incirlik airbase, near the city of Adana. These weapons are there because Turkey is a NATO member, and Washington's extended deterrence can be expected to at least partially mitigate Turkey's incentives for proliferation.
But even if the Turks wanted their own bomb, they have almost no capacity to develop nuclear weapons technology. Indeed, Turkey does not even possess the capability to deliver the 40 B61 bombs at Incirlik that are allocated to Turkish forces in the event of an attack, according to a report released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Given the changes in Turkey's foreign policy and its drive for global influence, it is conceivable that it will want to develop a Turkish version of France's force de frappe. However, Ankara would literally be starting from scratch: Turkey has no fissile material, cannot mine or enrich uranium, and does not possess the technology to reprocess spent fuel, all of which are required for nuclear weapons development.
This does not mean that Turkey is not interested in nuclear technology. Yet Ankara's efforts, to the extent that they exist beyond the two small-scale facilities in Ankara and Kucukcekmece, are directly related to the country's predicted energy shortfall resulting from the combination of a booming economy and growing population. The Turkish government has announced plans for civilian nuclear power to provide a quarter of Turkey's electricity  needs by 2040. But even this three-decade timeline seems overly optimistic given the inchoate nature of Turkey's nuclear research.
The Egyptians are way ahead of the Turks in developing nuclear infrastructure, but don't expect to see the rise of a nuclear power on the Nile anytime soon. Egypt's nuclear program is actually older than India's, and was established only three years after Israel founded its Atomic Energy Commission. The Egyptian Atomic Energy Commission, which Gamal Abdel Nasser established in 1955, was exclusively dedicated to the development of peaceful atomic energy, though there were suspicions to the contrary. The 1956 nuclear cooperation agreement with the Soviet Union transferred to Egypt a 2-megawatt light water reactor that only produced small amounts of plutonium.
There were, of course, worrying signs about the Egyptian program -- specifically Cairo's refusal to open the Inshas reactor to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection until after the peace treaty with Israel. Yet neither President Anwar Sadat nor his successor, the recently deposed Hosni Mubarak, ever made any effort to develop nuclear weapons technology. Sadat signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1980, and Mubarak negotiated with the United States, France, Canada, and Germany for reactors and funding for Egypt's nuclear program. Nothing, however, ever came of these discussions because of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster -- and the fact that the Egyptians never signed what is known as the Additional Protocol, which gives the IAEA enhanced powers to inspect nuclear facilities. Given the trajectory of Egypt's nuclear development, Cairo's rejection of the Additional Protocol had more to do with politics and sovereignty than plans for a clandestine weapons program.
Even after Mubarak's son Gamal triumphantly declared at the ruling party's 2006 convention that Egypt was going to ramp up its nuclear development program, it is hard to believe that Egyptians ever really took him seriously. Mubarak spent $160 million on consultants to tell him where to build 10 planned nuclear power plants, and selected a location along the Mediterranean for the first one. But each of the power plants comes with a price tag of $1.5 billion -- and this is a country that in the last 15 months has spent approximately $26 billion of its $36 billion foreign currency reserves just to stay afloat.
One has to wonder about the pundits' warning of an Egyptian bomb: Have they even been to Egypt lately? If so, they might have a better grasp of Egypt's ramshackle infrastructure and the dire state of its economy, neither of which can support a nuclear program.
What about Saudi Arabia, then, the Sunni power that is on the tip of most analysts' tongues when it comes to Shiite Iran getting the bomb? Saudi Arabia has the cash to make large-scale investments in nuclear technology. Indeed, the only factor that makes warnings about Saudi proliferation -- such as that delivered by former Ambassador the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal last year -- even remotely credible is the resources the Saudis can muster to buy a nuclear program. Yet, while Riyadh can outfit itself with nuclear facilities with ease, it does not have the capacity to manage them. Mohamed Khilewi, a former Saudi diplomat, claims that the kingdom has been developing a nuclear arsenal to counter Israel since the mid-1970s -- but he offers no substantiated evidence to support these claims.
In fact, the country has no nuclear facilities and no scientific infrastructure to support them. It's possible that Saudi Arabia could import Pakistanis to do the work for them. But while Saudis feel comfortable with Pakistanis piloting some of their warplanes and joining their ground forces,  setting up a nuclear program subcontracted with Pakistani know-how -- or even acquiring a nuclear device directly from Islamabad -- poses a range of political risks for the House of Saud. No doubt there would be considerable international opprobrium. Certainly Washington, which implicitly extends its nuclear umbrella to Saudi Arabia, would have a jaundiced view of a nuclear deal between Riyadh and Islamabad. Moreover, it's one thing to hand the keys to an F-15 over to a foreigner, but letting them run your nuclear program is another matter altogether.
The concern about Saudi proliferation stems from fears that the kingdom would be forced to act if both Iran and Israel possessed a nuclear arsenal. "We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don't," an unnamed Saudi official declared to the Guardian on the sidelines of a meeting between Prince Turki al Faisal and NATO officials in June 2011. "It's as simple as that. If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit."
Yet given the fact that the Saudis have very little nuclear infrastructure to speak of, this kind of statement is little more than posturing designed to force the U.S. hand on Iran. Unlike similar warnings by Israel, which has the capacity to follow through on its threat to attack Iran's nuclear sites, Riyadh's rhetoric about acquiring nuclear weapons is empty. What is amazing is how many people take the Saudis seriously. If Khilewi had been telling the truth, now would seem like a good time for the Riyadh to give Tehran a look at what the royal family has been hiding in the palace basement all these years -- but so far, we have only heard crickets.
Despite its flimsiness, it is hard to ignore the utility of the Middle East's nuclear dominoes theory. For those who advocate a preventive military strike on Iran, it provides a sweeping geopolitical rationale for a dangerous operation. But the evidence doesn't bear this argument out: If Washington decides it has no other option than an attack, it should do so because Iran is a threat in its own right, and not because it belives it will thwart inevitable proliferation in places like Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. It won't, for the simple reason that there is no reason to believe these countries represent a proliferation risk in the first place.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 02/04/2012
-Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of The Struggle from Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

An Asian Model Of Politics To Help Shape The Middle East

By Elizabeth Dickinson
As soon as dictators started falling in the Middle East last year, a scramble began to fill the vacuum of ideas. The conversation has often veered towards the extremes, as an all-out battle between seculars vs Islamists, or Sharia vs constitutional law. Proponents have made their cases on the streets and on Twitter and YouTube, each claiming to be the legitimate representatives of their countries.
Yet as the debate has polarised, basic political science insists that there must be some middle ground. In fact, moderates - who make up the middle portion of the voting bell curve - should theoretically be the most numerous citizens. And in recent months, an unlikely player - the wealthy Southeast Asian country of Malaysia - made an unlikely play at owning that middle.
The idea is summed up in Malaysia's "Global Movement of the Moderates", first dreamed up by the country's Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in 2010. "We need to hear more from moderates of all religions from all countries and all walks of life," proclaimed Mr Najib in an opening address at a conference on the subject in January in Kuala Lumpur. "We come together at a particularly troubled juncture of history. ... We cannot allow this moment to be taken by extremists."
The idea of owning the middle is hardly a new one amid the Arab Spring, nor is Malaysia the first to claim it. Nearby Indonesia is perhaps the most obvious competitor; it is the world's most populous Muslim country and has won accolades from US President Barack Obama as an exemplar of how Islam and democracy can coexist. Turkey is also often brought up in conversations about how to balance a secular state with the values of the Muslim faith.
Malaysia offers its own compelling case. This country of roughly 29 million - 60 per cent of whom are Muslim - is run by a nominally Islamic but fundamentally capitalist government. Its three main ethnic groups - Malays, Indians and Chinese - live in peace, with relatively few disturbances to speak of among them. Various religions flourish - Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and increasingly, Christianity. And everything from the neighbourhoods to the cuisine shows signs of mixing.
The diversity of people who have praised a message of toleration worldwide suggests its appeal is real. Yet somehow, the middle seems not to have caught on yet. And I find myself wondering why the conversation is still dominated by extremes.
In Malaysia, I began to see one reason: moderation has a PR problem. It's a hard sell in difficult times; it comes across as almost passive in the face of sweeping change. And so far, no person or message has emerged to prove otherwise.
Just take the conference in January as an example. Elections are coming up in Malaysia soon, a fact that may explain the who's-who of the government in attendance during the week's events. The prime minister, foreign minister, a former prime minister, deputy prime minster and crown prince of a local state were all among the speakers. Just one non-Malaysian diplomat spoke: the foreign minister of Indonesia. Although the Global Movement of Moderates is a cornerstone of foreign policy for the government, it was hard to see who - other than Malaysians - the message was geared toward. There was scarcely a mention of how "moderation" could even be implemented outside a South Asian context.
More telling is the similarity that the ideas of the Global Movement of Moderates bear to those of Anwar Ibrahim, the beleaguered leader of the opposition who was recently acquitted of sodomy charges he claims were politically motivated (the prosecution has since appealed the acquittal). As early as the mid-1990s, when he was deputy prime minister, Mr Anwar began arguing that "Muslims [in Malaysia] have come to terms with modernity" and reconciled Islam and democracy.
The proclaimed intention for moderation alone is perhaps why western allies have bought into the arguments of not just Malaysia, but Turkey and Indonesia as well.
Yet herein lies the problem with marketing the middle. In truth, Malaysia is an impressive model of how to balance citizens' diverse beliefs and demands. In practice, however, that system has been coopted for political ends.
The loss is truly everyone's, as there are real lessons to be learned from Southeast Asia. Malaysia's approach to counterterrorism, for example, has shown impressive results. Economically, too, Malaysia is prospering - and has argued that minimising economic grievances is key to preventing terrorism before it starts.
This is not to say that there are no problems, of course. For example, although religious and ethnic differences coexist in relative calm, they are highly regulated by strict economic and social laws. Human rights groups, both local and international, have also often raised concerns about freedom of the political opposition. When the Saudi Arabian blogger Hamza Kashgari was arrested and extradited earlier this month it was hard not to notice the irony; Kashgari was in trouble for several Tweets he posted that were seen as offensive to Islam, but the country of moderation showed him little compassion.
Globally, moderation is still an idea in search of a leader (or leaders) - someone who can speak forcefully of its virtues without succumbing to the temptation of political gain. Until arguments more powerful and empowering arise, it will be far easier to listen to the ends of the spectrum than anything in between.
In Malaysia, the conference concluded optimistically. The hundreds of delegates who came from the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Americas would all say they are members of the middle. None can point to exactly what that means, but what they can say for sure is that they are not alone in looking for a way to define it.
On the sidelines, those aspirants of moderation met one other. And that's how real movements start.
-This commentary was published in The National on 02/04/2012
-Elizabeth Dickinson is a freelance journalist and author of the blog UnderReported

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Egypt’s Transition In Crisis: Falling Into The Wrong Turkish Model?

By Marina Ottaway and Nathan J. Brown
Egyptian secular parties and independent politicians with either a liberal or leftist orientation have decisively lost the first major political battles of post-Mubarak Egypt. In the recent parliamentary elections, they only managed to secure a measly 25 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly and a truly dismal 15 percent in the Shura Council. And they only initially secured about 40 seats in the 100-member Constituent Assembly, elected by the parliament to draft the constitution. (The present situation is difficult to ascertain because the majority of non-Islamist members appears to have withdrawn, the Islamists have offered to withdraw ten of their participants to make room for more non-Islamists, but it is not clear what has actually been implemented.)
Defeated politically, and with few prospects of electoral victories in the near future given their fragmentation and lack of on-the-ground organization, secular parties and independent politicians are now turning to the courts to reverse the outcome of the elections. They have filed two lawsuits that challenge, respectively, the election law on the basis of which the parliament was elected and that of the Constituent Assembly elected by the parliament. The two law suits, filed in the Administrative Courts, are likely to end up in front of the Supreme Constitutional Council. Whatever the legal merits of the cases, there is no doubt that this is a highly political maneuver to stop the rise of Islamist parties.
The courts have been put squarely in the middle of a political battle that challenges their capacity to remain neutral. Should the courts declare the election law unconstitutional and invalidate the elections, the country would be plunged into a major political crisis that could keep the military in power for months to come. And if the courts declare the way in which the parliament formed the Constituent Assembly unconstitutional, the country will hurtle toward the presidential elections scheduled for May 23 and 24 with the transition process in total shambles.
The real cipher is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Would the military use the opportunity of the artificially-induced crisis to step in and impose a new process, disband the parliament, and author its own constitutional text (or at least some clauses)? It has certainly not backed off in the war of words. And it has even decisively taken sides between secular and Islamist politicians when it issued a decree to allow the liberal Ayman Nour to run for president despite an earlier (and clearly political) conviction while not doing so for Brotherhood leader Khayrat al-Shatir, also previously convicted for political reasons. The SCAF has so far not gone beyond hinting that it might constrain or modify the process, but a constitutional coup remains a possibility. If it comes it could be ugly—especially if the Brotherhood calls its supporters out in the streets.
In the year since the uprising, there has been much speculation that Egypt might follow the so-called Turkish model. Depending on the speaker, this can mean one of two things: either a system in which the military would maintain ultimate oversight over the political process, as was the case in Turkey until recently; or conversely the rise to power of an Islamist party that would move away from religious dogma and become a broad, socially conservative, and economically liberal political party.
But with the secular parties’ decision to turn to the courts, another Turkish model has suddenly begun to loom very large for Egypt: one in which the elements of what Turks call “the deep state”—the military and the security apparatus, supported by other key institutions, including parts of the judiciary—strike back hard against Islamist movements, cheered in the process by non-Islamist civilian political parties that jettison their democratic credentials with alacrity and depend on nondemocratic actors to crush their Islamist opponents. This was the Turkish path after Islamist Necmettin Erbakan became prime minister in 1996. It is only in the past few years that this model has faded from the political scene in that country.
In the past week, the possibility of a showdown in Egypt between the Brotherhood and a motley political coalition of generals, liberals, senior bureaucrats, and scattered judges has emerged. And such a showdown could easily produce a severe crisis, with some kind of second coup or a set of street confrontations a real possibility. Egypt’s badly-designed transition could collapse completely. If that happens, the list of villains will be long—with hypocritical liberals, overreaching Islamists, and control-freak generals at the top.
The current crisis was precipitated by the composition of the Constituent Assembly, the body elected by parliament on March 24 to draft a permanent replacement for the interim Constitutional Declaration issued one year ago. The parliament decided that the Constituent Assembly would comprise 50 parliamentarians, apportioned among the parties according to the number of seats each has in parliament, and 50 public figures, experts, and representatives of various associations and state bodies (with even the SCAF getting a member). In choosing the composition of the assembly, the parliament was acting perfectly in accordance with the Constitutional Declaration issued by the SCAF in March, which simply stated that the parliament would elect a 100-member body to draft the constitution.
So why the fuss? The Constituent Assembly is dominated by Islamists and secular parties are determined to do everything they can to stop them from influencing the constitution. With the support of the SCAF they tried repeatedly to impose a set of supra-constitutional principles that the drafters of the constitution could not violate, but they failed. They tried, again with the support of the SCAF, to dictate the composition of the Constituent Assembly, although the Constitutional Declaration left that up to parliament, and again they failed.
They are now turning to the courts as a last resort, with some hoping that the SCAF will back them up. In addition, they have also pulled most of their representatives out of the Constituent Assembly. And some other key institutional actors—including the Supreme Constitutional Court, one of whose members was elected to the Constituent Assembly, and al-Azhar University—have joined the boycott, as have all Copts. Other actors (including non-Islamist youth leaders and professional diplomats) have made their displeasure known at what they perceive to be their own exclusion.
The decision of the courts concerning the two cases will inevitably be highly political, because Egypt is in constitutional limbo. The 1971 constitution was abrogated by the SCAF, which then proceeded to fill the void through a process based on a series of afterthoughts and ad hoc devices that seemed designed to create maximum confusion. It first appointed a committee to amend a number of articles of the abrogated constitution and had them approved in a referendum. It then realized that those amended articles by themselves neither represented an adequate stopgap constitution nor provided an official role for the SCAF. Without consulting anyone, the SCAF then took the referendum-approved articles and cobbled them together with other non-amended articles from the 1971 constitution to produce a “Constitutional Declaration” of dubious legal standing. It further confused the matter by talking at times as if the 1971 constitution was still valid.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, for even the most independent, impartial, and apolitical courts to decide on the constitutionality of any law or decision since it is not clear what the constitution is at this point. And in any case, the courts do not seem impartial in this case, as seen by the recent decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court to withdraw its representative from the Constituent Assembly.
The puzzling element of the current crisis is the Brotherhood’s reaction. Throughout the transition process, the leadership has shown both patience and discipline. It has avoided any confrontation over short-term issues, instead focusing like a laser on its goal of continuing the march toward elections and transition to civilian rule. Realizing that the polling station would be friendly terrain—and that the strictures on organizing in professional associations, university campuses, and the like were suddenly removed—the Brotherhood championed the democratic process, adopting a combative pose only when it seemed there was some threat to the transition.
The Brotherhood clearly sees that threat now, because it has suddenly engaged in nasty and portentous public fights with all sorts of political actors. In all cases, the movement can plausibly claim to have principle on its side, but only much more rarely can the Brotherhood be said to be acting judiciously or wisely. It has asserted the parliament’s prerogatives by threatening to withdraw confidence from the cabinet (the Constitutional Declaration does allow for parliamentary oversight of the cabinet but does not define oversight in any way, one of the many constitutional gaps).
The Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau has publicly mused about the possibility of running a presidential candidate, contradicting earlier statements that it would abjure the office in the first election. And the Brotherhood publicly attacked both the SCAF and the Constitutional Court in intemperate language—dismissing the Court as a tool of the SCAF. Whatever the merits of the charge, attacking the judge is an odd technique for a current litigant (it is the Court that will hear the challenge to the constitutionality of the parliament; it is also the president of the Court who chairs the Presidential Election Commission). The Brotherhood’s verbal volley provoked an angry response from the Court itself, hardly a promising response from the Brotherhood’s perspective.
The election of the Constituent Assembly was accomplished by having Brotherhood deputies form a bloc with the Salafis, something the Brotherhood has consistently said it did not wish to do. And the Brotherhood’s General Guide actually charged Egyptian media with following diabolical orders. Acting more like a wounded animal than a government-in-waiting, the movement seems to have lost its collective temper. (A Brotherhood decision on March 29 to withdraw ten of its members or sympathizers from the Constituent Assembly to make room for more liberals may be a sign that the organization is seeking to regain its cool.)
The response from other political forces has been just as fierce, though there are no signs yet that it is coupled to a clear strategy. The boycotts and lawsuits could be dismissed as the frustrated sputterings of sore electoral losers—and indeed may remain that—were it not for the real possibility that they will provoke the military, the courts, and other institutions that are part of the old Egyptian state—the deep state—to seize control of the transition process. There is no clear way to do that under the terms of the Constitutional Declaration, raising the specter of a hard or soft coup.
Will the secular political forces get the support they seek? The precedent for court action does exist (essentially based on past challenges to the complex provisions for partisan and independent candidates), but there is slim legal footing. Even on the two previous occasions when it found the parliament’s election invalid, the Constitutional Court let the actions of that parliament stand. The only result was to force new elections. If that precedent were followed in this case, it would leave the Constituent Assembly intact while dragging exhausted Egyptian voters back to the polls in balloting that would undoubtedly return similar results.
But might the Court act more ambitiously—and politically—this time by declaring all of parliament’s actions taken so far illegal and thus disbanding the Constituent Assembly? The Brotherhood clearly fears that the Court is in the SCAF’s pocket. Such a fear may be exaggerated but is hardly groundless. The Court is hard to read right now since it issues decisions as a body with no dissenting opinions, but there are certainly justices who have been providing legal advice to the SCAF, and others who have personal or career connections to the military. And the Court has been treated kindly by the SCAF, having been rewarded with a decree-law last summer that rendered the Court a more self-perpetuating body. The Brotherhood has been quietly preparing its own plans to revise the law governing the Court, indicating that its suddenly expressed fear had been privately harbored for a considerable period.
Is it too late for both sides to avoid confrontation and return to their more cautious and careful approaches? Might everyone be satisfied with a rejiggering of the composition of the Constituent Assembly and a focus on the large areas of consensus in constitutional reconstruction? The possibility probably still exists, but not for long. If both sides back off, Egypt may indeed move in the direction of the more benign (though still problematic) conceptions of the Turkish model—a military that keeps its finger in the political machinery in disruptive and undemocratic (but often manageable) ways and an Islamist party that uses its popularity to move the society slowly in its direction, unobstructed by a feckless opposition and aided by its majority status and ability to slowly penetrate the pockets of the state and the society from which it had been barred.
The result might not be ideal, but it may be more preferable than a battle that pits the deep state against a deeply entrenched social movement in a struggle to the death. Under either scenario, the secular parties would be among the losers.
-This commentary was published by Carnegie Endowment on 30/03/2012
-Marina Ottaway works on issues of political transformation in the Middle East and Gulf security. A long-time analyst of the formation and transformation of political systems, she has also written on political reconstruction in Iraq, the Balkans, and African countries
-Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, is a distinguished scholar and author of six well-received books on Arab politics