Saturday, May 19, 2012

Is It Time For Kofi Annan To Give Up In Syria?

By Richard Gowan

Is it time for Kofi Annan to declare that his bid to resolve the Syrian crisis has failed? A growing number of Western diplomats argue privately that he should. U.S. officials have stated publicly that Annan's peace plan "is failing," and the Saudi foreign minister has said confidence in his efforts is "rapidly falling." Syrian security forces continue to target dissidents, rebel forces remain active, and there have been attacks on convoys carrying U.N. monitors -- reinforcing the case that Annan should admit defeat.
The former U.N. Secretary-General has made it clear that he knows his mission is close to failure. But it's very difficult for him to call the whole thing off. While violence has continued in Syria at what Annan calls "unacceptable" levels, the death-rate has generally been lower than prior to the "ceasefire" he engineered in April. But whoever is attacking the U.N. observers probably wants to foment a full-scale war, and fighting appears not only to be on the rise again but also to be spreading into Lebanon.
If Annan were to quit now -- precipitating the withdrawal of U.N. military personnel from Syria -- he could risk a further escalation. This presents an ethical dilemma: Is it better for the United Nations to oversee, and arguably provide cover for, the current violence or retreat and open the way for something potentially worse?
Annan, previously pilloried for the U.N.'s failings in cases such as Srebrenica and Rwanda (some of which have been rehearsed by Western hawks who dislike his role in Syria) is deeply sensitive to attacks on his own performance and that of the U.N. In dealing with other conflicts, such as that in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo, he has argued for patience and persistence in the face of continuing violence. He can hardly turn away from that philosophy now, and is unlikely to admit defeat quickly.
Even if Annan wants to quit, the political implications of doing so might be destructive. Russia, which approved his mission to win breathing space for its allies in Damascus, would accuse him of having given up too early. The Western members of the Security Council could push for a new U.N. resolution imposing new sanctions on Syria. Russia and China (which has made sincere-sounding statements about backing Annan) would almost certainly then use their vetoes against the West for a third time on Syria.
This would mean the end of U.N. diplomacy over Syria, over a year after European members of the Security Council first proposed a resolution censuring Damascus. In theory, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon could find a replacement for Annan. But Ban has taken a much harder moral line on the conflict than Annan, and Syria has accused him of "outrageous" bias. It is hard to see how he could credibly re-launch talks. It is equally difficult to think of any international mediator with enough prestige and drive to take on Assad where Annan failed.
So Annan is trapped: he cannot keep up his peace process indefinitely, but nor can he resign peremptorily. If the Syrian situation deteriorates, he has one chance to escape this quandary. In late July, the Security Council will decide whether to renew the mandate for the U.N. monitoring mission. U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, has stated that she will veto the continuation of the mission if there is no improvement on the ground. Technically, Annan could continue his diplomatic efforts after the monitors went home. But the U.S. veto would be a vote of no confidence that he could not survive.
But Annan presumably does not want to be humiliated. So, with his original peace plan fraying, he needs some sort of Plan B, both to alleviate Syrian suffering and safeguard his reputation. He hasn't been coy about this, telling the Security Council at the start of May that he would "jump" at new ideas.
One Plan B -- calculated to please Western commentators -- would be for Annan to throw caution to the wind, declare that the Syrian government is irredeemable, and call for a major international intervention. There has been a lot of talk about a no-fly zone and creating safe areas or humanitarian corridors. But Annan and his team know that these are politically or operationally impractical. Even if Russia and China weren't primed to veto proposals for any U.N.-mandated military presence in Syria, there is very little evidence that NATO powers want to send in forces. While Western officials may think that it's time for Annan to announce that he's failed, they don't really want him to tell them what to do as a result.
A lower-risk alternative would be for Annan to state that, on the basis of reporting from the U.N. observers, he believes that it is time for a strategic pause in his diplomatic efforts. He could request the Security Council to keep the peacekeeping mission in place to track violence, and then lay out a series of conditions he needs to see met before renewing his mediating role. Some of these would be based on his initial peace plan, such as a lasting diminution of violence and the release of political prisoners.  
But Annan could also test the goodwill of some wavering international backers by asking for concrete signs of progress in bilateral efforts by the U.S., Russia, and others to prepare the ground for peace talks. If Annan is struggling, nobody else seems capable of pulling off a diplomatic coup either, as the Arab League's recent inability to convene Syrian opposition groups for a unity conference demonstrated. Annan could state that he remains willing to act as a mediator in the future -- but only if he is sure that the Security Council's members and regional powers can cajole or compel their clients in Syria to bargain.
A strategic pause might allow some facts on the ground to change to Annan's advantage. There have, for instance, been some signs of rebel forces regaining momentum in recent weeks. Peaceful protests also continue, having spread to previously quiet Aleppo this week. If these trends continue, the Syrian regime may begin to rethink its position on talks (the U.S. and its allies can continue to keep Damascus off-balance with gestures such as this week's war-games in Jordan.) Even the much-maligned U.N. observers, who have deployed faster than peacekeeping experts thought likely a month ago, may make a difference if they can switch from reporting on violent incidents to giving public warnings of upcoming Syrian offensives.
The odds against Annan succeeding remain daunting. But on balance, the risks of him quitting outright are too great for him to do so yet. By declaring a strategic pause, he could show that he is not willing to be treated like a fool by the Syrian regime -- and stay on standby for a better opening to mediate later.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 18/05/2012
-Richard Gowan is associate director for Crisis Diplomacy and Peace Operations at New York University's Center on International Cooperation and a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations

Salafis Coming To America

By Mohamed Elmenshawy

Just a few months ago, no one would have imagined that at the beginning of April a delegation of Egyptian Muslim Brothers would visit Washington -- let alone be warmly welcomed inside the White House and the State Department. Even more surprising, it now appears that the Egyptian Salafis -- the Muslim Brotherhood's more conservative Islamist counterparts in Parliament -- have grown jealous of the Brotherhood's warm reception in America's capital. A credible source close to the Salafis confirmed that they, too, now desire a visit to Washington.
The main Salafi political party, al-Nour, captured approximately 24 percent of the Parliament's seats in last winter's election. An inaugural Salafi visit to the U.S. is likely to occur as part of a larger delegation of Egyptian parliamentarians that includes representatives of all political parties. A trip under these circumstances would be acceptable to both the Salafis and the Obama administration, and could be justified as a step towards bridging the substantial cultural and political gap between the two sides.
The Nour party's endorsement on Saturday of moderate Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh for president sends a clear message about the party's pragmatic and flexible approach, since Abdel-Fotouh is supported by both moderates and liberals.
Nevertheless, the Salafis will face a dilemma when they visit Washington. For many in America and Europe, the Brotherhood has come to represent the face of moderate political Islam in Egypt. By contrast, it remains to be seen how the Salafis will present themselves to the Western world. Will they portray their movement as a replacement for violent political groups, as an alternative to al-Qaeda, or as the embodiment of conservative and fundamental Islam?
The Salafis will no doubt remind their Washington interlocutors that they, too, listened to President Obama at Cairo University in June 2009, where he pledged to respect the desires and choices of Egyptians, saying: "The United States will welcome all governments elected democratically and in a peaceful manner."
While the Salafis represent the most conservative of the religious right in Egyptian politics, they also represent about a quarter of the Egyptian population, and therefore cannot be ignored or marginalized. The United States recognizes and works with many conservative governments around the world, some of which are among Washington's most important allies. The U.S. also has its own right-wing religious movement, personified in the candidacy of Rick Santorum, which has exerted considerable political power in the past few years and is expected to influence the upcoming 2012 elections.
To be sure, some of the Salafis' current leadership previously rejected the validity of the democratic process. For example, Sheikh Yasser Burhami once explained: "We want democracy, but one constrained by God's laws. Ruling without God's laws is infidelity." Prominent Sheikhs who cautioned their followers against political participation in the past are now calling upon their followers to use democracy as a mechanism through which to implement Sharia' law.
If and when the Salafis come to Washington, they will be on the hook to explain their conservative positions on hot-button political issues like women's and minority rights. Members of Congress will grill them on the repeated proclamations by Salafi sheikhs that women be confined to the home and denied the right to work. They will want to know whether the Salafis will seek to impose Islamic dress standards on all Egyptian women. The Salafis will be hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory response to questions regarding the treatment of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, whom they believe should be barred from the presidency and from holding elected political office. Their leadership's refusal to endorse political pluralism will be the Salafis' greatest liability in Washington. Several months after its election to parliament, the al-Nour party still lacks a clear and coherent response to questions about how it will deal with the political and human rights and responsibilities of citizens, the role of religion in public life, and the definition of Egyptian citizenship. The Salafis can also expect congressmen to seek clarification on their exact position regarding the peace treaty with Israel.
Moreover, their persistent demand that the U.S. release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman won't win the Salafis friends in Washington, either. The Sheikh is currently serving a life sentence in a Colorado prison for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center Attacks, an act of terrorism that killed several American civilians. His release is completely untenable to the U.S., and the Salafis should drop any expectation that such a demand would be considered.
The Salafis may find a more receptive audience in Washington if their traveling group is led by representatives of the al-Nour Party, the most realistic and relatively moderate of the Salafi parties, especially when it comes to issues such as women's and minority rights and Sharia' law
This scenario would be their best chance at laying the foundation for a working relationship with the U.S. Establishing a direct dialogue serves the interests of the Salafis as well as the Americans, and holds the potential to raise Washington's stature in the Middle East. If it does manage to create ties with the Salafis, the U.S. can then rightfully claim that it works with all elements of the Egyptian polity, including those with which it does not share a common political belief. This would be a welcome development for U.S.-Egyptian relations and for America's standing in the region.
- This Opnion first appeared in the Huffington Post on May 11, 2012
- Mohamed Elmenshawy is  Director of Languages and Regional Studies in the Middle East Institute

Friday, May 18, 2012

Qatar's Ties With The Muslim Brotherhood Affect Entire Region

By Ahmed Azem

                                             Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani

The alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar is becoming a noticeable factor in the reshaping of the Middle East. There are several striking aspects to this evolving and deepening relationship.

First, note that the Brotherhood is barely involved in Qatari domestic affairs. The arrangement is akin to the one between Qatar and Al Jazeera, the biggest Arab television channel, which is based in Doha. The station covers news throughout the Arab world but refrains from covering controversial events in Qatar.
As a formal organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood in Qatar dissolved itself in 1999. Jasim Sultan - a former member of the Qatari Brotherhood - has explained in a television interview that this decision was justified because the state was carrying out its religious duties.
Mr Sultan supervises the Al Nahdah (Awakening) Project, which involves training, publishing and lecturing about public activism. Last August, he wrote an article asking Egyptian Islamists to change their discourse and move towards "partnership thought" instead of concentrating on "infiltrating the society to control it". Mr Sultan is active in training Islamists in Egypt and other countries on how to function within the institutions of democracy.
The second point of interest about Qatar and the Brotherhood is that the relationship was formed and is maintained largely through personal ties, which play a vital role. Doha has hosted individual activists, providing them with refuge and employment.
Yusif Al Qaradawi, a Qatari national and resident of Egyptian origin, is a good example. He is the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, and his television programme on Islamic laws and principles has made him a star on Al Jazeera. His current relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood is not clear, but he has been a leading member, and is highly respected by its members around the world.
One striking example of his influence is a recent photograph of him with Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minster of Hamas in Gaza. (Hamas is an arm of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood.) In the image, Mr Haniyeh, during a recent visit to Qatar, is bowing and kissing Mr Al Qaradawi's hand in a show of respect.
To better understand the role of Qatari-Islamist harmony in the Arab revolutions, consider the Academy of Change, headed by Hisham Mursi, an Egyptian paediatrician and British national living in Doha. News reports identify him as the son-in-law of Mr Al Qaradawi.
Mr Mursi has been active in Egypt's revolution from the very beginning. When he was arrested in the early days of the protests, Muslim Brotherhood websites campaigned for his release. His organisation takes a special interest in non-violent protest tactics; he has written manuals on the subject. He acknowledges, on the Academy of Change's website, that he benefits from the cooperation of Mr Sultan.
Another example of personal ties involves Rafiq Abdulsalaam, Tunisia's foreign minister. He is the son-in-law of Rashid Al Ghanouchi, the head of Ennahda, Tunisia's Muslim Brotherhood party. Mr Abdulasalaam was formerly the head of the Research and Studies Division in the Al Jazeera Centre in Doha.
An example from Libya is Ali Sallabi, described last December by The Washington Post as the "chief architect of Libya's most likely next government". Mr Sallabi has lived in Qatar for several years.
A third point to understand is what Qatar provides for the Brotherhood. There are strong indications of media help, political training and financial support. The role of people like those named above offers circumstantial evidence of such support. Further, key staff members of Al Jazeera have had - and maintain - close connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. These include the previous general manager, Waddah Khanfar, the head of the Amman office, Yasser Abu Hillaleh, and the Egyptian TV presenter, Ahmad Mansur.
Last August, Nevin Mus'ad, a politics professor at Cairo University, told the Egyptian daily Al Shorouq that she was surprised to notice that the university was offering a training course on democracy and human rights, organised by the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar. She said bearded men wearing the jilbab (Islamist dress) were organising the entrance of participants, most of whom were wearing Islamist dress. The women were veiled.
In Libya, Mr Sallabi - who is known also for his connection to Mr Al Qaradawi - told reporters that he had asked the Qatari leadership for assistance during the early stages of the Libyan revolution.
Last year Al Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper close to Hizbollah (Damascus's strong ally), said the rift between Qatar and the Syrian regime occurred when Doha attempted to convince Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to form an interim ruling council including Muslim Brotherhood representation.
The fourth factor helpful in understanding the Qatar-Brotherhood alliance involves what Qatar stands to gain.
First, the relationship ensures that Islamists will not criticise Qatari government policies or be active there. Second, as Islamists head towards power in several countries, Qataris are in position to expect special economic and political treatment in each. Third, Qatar will be well-positioned to mediate between Islamists and their rivals, and also between Islamists in general and the West. The Afghan Taliban, for example, are now expected to open an office in Qatar. Such developments offer Qatar greater international influence.
-This commentary was first published in The National on 18/05/2012
-Dr Ahmad Jamil Azem is a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge's faculty of Asian and Middle East studies

Don't Blame Syria – Lebanon's Leaders Are Fuelling The Fighting In Tripoli

Political leaders in Lebanon have long seen the benefits of maintaining well-equipped militias in Tripoli to fight their corner
By Patrick Galey

Lebanese army troops Tripoli
Lebanese army troops deploy in Bab al-Tabbaneh, one of two rival neighbourhoods in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, to order battling gunmen off the streets. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

The ongoing fighting in the northern city of Tripoli between Sunni and Alawite militias is among the worst witnessed by Lebanon for several years. And, in a nod to their shared past and intertwined present, whenever security in Lebanon is discussed, the mention of Syria is never far behind.
No surprise, then, that this week's Tripoli fighting has been reported as the inevitable progeny of the violence that has divided Syria and is now finally spilling over into Lebanon. The logic is not necessarily unsound, given Syria's historic tutelage, and given that Lebanon's political heavyweights – and, by extension, its people – are mortally divided over Bashar al-Assad. If you ask the fighters themselves, they tell you that their actions are derived either from love or loathing for the Syrian leader.
There is no doubt that the effect of Syria's tumult is being felt in Lebanon. From the alleged arms ships impounded by Lebanese authorities to the cross-border killings of citizens, to the mining of their shared northern frontier, the nature of Lebanese-Syrian relations has already led to several violent repercussions within Lebanon. But with its complicated sectarian, political and ideological divides, blaming Syria for the deaths of at least nine and the wounding of more than 100 in Tripoli over the past week is to overlook more than three decades of resentment in Lebanon's second city, as well as the conditions that have allowed such rancour to foment.
The Tripoli fighting has centred on the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh district and Jabal Mohsen, home to the same Alawite minority to which Assad belongs. These two were once one area of a relatively prosperous Tripoli, fuelled by income from its port. But by the time Lebanon's civil war broke out in 1975, Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen had split, following political upheavals and ideological cleaves between Arab nationalism, Islamism, Unionism, the Palestinian struggle and – yes – Syria.
As proxy battles continued to rage, northern leaders soon realised the advantage of maintaining well-equipped militias to keep Tripoli an unofficial war zone throughout the decades. At the end of the war, most militias were supposed to hand in their weapons. Few did, but fewer still kept their arms deployed in such close proximity to rival groups as occurred in Tripoli.
The resulting flare-ups have been carefully managed by sectarian leaders and have helped maintain the real reason why Tripoli is such a hotbed for hostility. For behind all of Syria's influence in Lebanon, and underneath a past of political manipulation, the true cause of Tripoli's violent present lies in the city's appalling neglect. The figures speak for themselves. Close to 40% of all Lebanon's poor live in Tripoli or the surrounding areas. More than half of Tripoli residents are classed as either "poor" or "extremely poor." Of those families who live in the trouble hotspots of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, 82% live on less than the equivalent of £336 per month. Illiteracy and unemployment rates in the city are way above the national average.
While it is true that all areas of Lebanon have suffered in recent decades as the country attempts to recover from its civil war and subsequent conflicts, Tripoli residents have endured special hardship. Compared for example to parts of southern Beirut and the south, where inhabitants worst affected by Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel have had their homes rebuilt and infrastructure improved, the people of Tripoli receive precious little by way of financial support from either state or private sponsors.
That is not to say Tripoli has been forgotten by power holders in Beirut. Parties are more than happy to arm partisans in the area and encourage them to "defend" themselves against rival sects. Allowing poverty to continue to disrupt the lives of residents is the best way, apparently, to ensure militia loyalty. Leaders paint themselves as saviours to their supporters (who believe them) and pump in arms and vitriol to vulnerable areas to provide the semblance of security for poor groups.
In turn, the residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, grateful for the sense of safety that arms given to them can provide, continue to have little to do other than use them. They fight because they rely on the nominal support of politicians who claim to look after their interests. Each group of fighters is directed to defend their neighbourhoods from the other when their deployment is little more than a ploy to maintain ground won over decades of violence.
The proximity of Tripoli's rival neighbourhoods is often cited as some sort of metaphor for Lebanon and its grudges. In fact, Tripoli is close to unique in the way its citizens continue the fights they first picked in the 1970s. And it is Lebanon and its negligent political establishment, not Syria, that is fuelling them.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 18/05/2012
Patrick Galey is a reporter based in Beirut, Lebanon, writing on security, environmental and social development issues

The Arab Gulf Needs Its Own NATO

And America needs to lead it.


This weekend, NATO will hold its 25th summit meeting in Chicago. Separated by a formidable security cordon from protesters, the heads of government attending -- including President Barack Obama back in his home town -- will attempt to tackle an agenda that includes the future of the military campaign in Afghanistan, implementing a missile defense plan for Europe, improving military cooperation inside the alliance, and addressing how the alliance should engage with outside partners.
Even as it struggles with its future, few would deny that NATO has been one of the most successful military alliances in history. In 1949, Lord Ismay, NATO's first secretary general, declared the goal of the alliance was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." After achieving at least the first two during the long Cold War, the alliance has hung together for another two decades, although not without questions about its future relevance.
Are there lessons here for other would-be alliance builders? On May 13, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosted his own summit meeting of the Sunni Persian Gulf kingdoms (including Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Oman) with the hope of building a future economic and security union. At a preparatory meeting in December, Abdullah pointed to Iran's encroachments and the uprisings swirling in the region and said, "You all know that we are targeted in our safety and security." He then warned that those who failed to cooperate with his proposal "will find himself at the back of the back of the caravan trail, and be lost." Abdullah was hoping to inject some life into the moribund Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group the six kingdoms formed in 1981 and has achieved little since.
From Riyadh's perspective, Bahrain is an obvious place to start building the stronger alliance. For over a year, Bahrain's Sunni royal family, with substantial Saudi assistance, has struggled to suppress an uprising by the country's Shiite majority, a rebellion the leaders in both countries believe Tehran has catalyzed. Deeper cooperation leading to success against the revolt would both highlight the perceived threat and show the advantages deeper security and economic cooperation could bring to all six kingdoms.
Abdullah's bid this week failed. The Gulf royals, undoubtedly wary of ceding any of their authority to an already dominant Saudi Arabia, left Riyadh on May 14 wanting, according to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal, "details, and the details of the details" regarding the Saudi proposal for a deeper alliance. Although the leaders undoubtedly fear revolution and Iran, for the moment they fear the House of Saud even more.
Can Abdullah learn anything from NATO's history? There seem to be some parallels to the challenges he perceives. In 1949, Western European and U.S. leaders saw an expansionist Soviet Union that maintained a menacing army and was simultaneously instigating internal subversion in Greece, central Europe, Italy, and elsewhere. Abdullah and his fellow Sunni royals worry about Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its support for proxy forces in Lebanon and Syria and provocateurs in Bahrain, eastern Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The solution for Western leaders in 1949 was a military alliance based on the principle of collective security. Abdullah apparently wants something similar.
Yet Abdullah's scheme is crippled by rivalry among the potential pact's members and distrust of Saudi Arabia's dominance and intentions. Left to themselves, Western Europe's leaders might similarly have struggled to form an effective alliance after World War II, in spite of the motivation the Soviet threat provided. Just like the Sunni leaders today, rivalry, distrust, and incentives to hedge might have dominated their decisions. As one example of internal mistrust, Lord Ismay's 1949 mission statement revealed that Western leaders were still worried that Germany, despite being flattened and dismembered by World War II, might once again rise up to become the dominant power in Europe, just as it had so quickly after the last world war. In addition, Europe had no history of trusting any of its other constituents to lead it, nor did it have many examples of enduring cooperation against common problems.
But Ismay's statement also contained the solution, namely inviting in a powerful outsider, the United States, to lead the alliance. As an outsider that had no claims in Europe and was largely neutral regarding the internal squabbles among the other members, the United States was seen as a partner all the European leaders could trust and the sole force that could hold the alliance together against its self-defeating instincts. The U.S. claim to leadership was certainly aided by its overwhelming economic and military strength after the war. But Europeans also trusted the United States to lead the alliance because an ocean separated it from Europe.
The same principle explains the strength of the U.S. alliance system in Asia. U.S. allies in the Western Pacific shared an interest in deterring first the Soviet Union and now China. A major reason why they can trust the United States as a partner is because it must project its military power across the Pacific Ocean, a task that would become difficult to sustain without the allies' cooperation. With this control over the U.S. reach, these allies have little reason to fear America asserting its own claims in the region. China, by contrast, is a large continental power whose intentions will always be questioned by its small neighbors. It should be no wonder that Beijing has so few allies in the region when Washington is available as a partner.
The United States has a strong interest in seeing Abdullah's initiative advance. From the U.S. perspective, the most sustainable and cost-effective end-state for the Iran problem is the achievement of a stable balance of power across the Persian Gulf. Encouraging the GCC to develop into an effective military alliance is essential to achieving this balance of power. But after three decades of effort, the GCC has yet to live up to this potential, as Abdullah's pleading reveals. And the GCC has failed because its small members do not trust Saudi Arabia.
Just as NATO needed the United States to overcome Europe's history of mistrust and rivalry, the GCC needs the United States in order to convince the smaller Sunni countries to finally work with Saudi Arabia. As a member of the GCC, the United States would reprise the roles it has played in NATO and Asia -- the dominant outsider, with no claims in the region, and a player the rest of the teammates can trust.
Getting the U.S. Senate to ratify a collective security treaty binding the U.S. military to the Persian Gulf would be a very tough sell for a country weary of engagement in that part of the world. It would seem an insuperable task to round up politicians in Washington willing to commit America in advance to more Middle East wars.
But ever since the arrival of the Carter Doctrine in January 1980, the United States has made an expanding de facto commitment to the security of the Persian Gulf region. Converting this de facto commitment into a treaty obligation to the GCC could improve its credibility and thus reduce the probability of actual conflict, as has long been the case with the U.S. treaty commitments to Europe and Asia.
In any case, the U.S. interest in Abdullah's initiative will remain because it continues to be the best path toward stability across the Persian Gulf. This week's meeting in Riyadh, combined with the GCC's own sad history, shows that Abdullah's pleas and Iran's peril are still not enough to overcome distrust. As they ponder how to bring stability to the Persian Gulf at the most reasonable cost, U.S. policymakers should consider the model that worked so well in Europe and Asia.
-This commentary was published in the Foreign Policy on 18/05/2012
-Robert Haddick is managing editor of Small Wars Journal

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Syria Drives A Wedge Between Turkey And Iran

By Alex Vatanka

The Iranian-Turkish conflict about the future of the Assad regime in Syria has the potential to set back relations between Ankara and Tehran by decades. However, the conflict has not reached a tipping point and it is unlikely to do so as long as the Iranian-Turkish rivalry is limited only to tactical efforts by each side in shaping the power struggle in Syria. What will significantly change the Iran-Turkey-Syria equation is if Tehran concludes that Turkey is leading a protracted US-backed drive to bring about regime changes in the Middle East and that “Libyan model” can be repeated first in Syria and later in Iran. Absent of such a scenario, Iran is neither overly free to shape the outcome in Syria nor reliant on the Syrian regime to the degree where it will risk all other regional interests to prop up Assad.  Seen from Tehran, the potential loss of the Assad regime is a recoverable strategic setback if it does not have a spillover effect that directly challenges the Islamic Republic’s grip on power in Tehran. Iran’s relations with Syria were from the beginning a marriage of convenience and plenty of suspicion existed in Damascus-Tehran relations before the Arab Spring. The post-Saddam Shia elite in Baghdad have already turned Iraq into Tehran’s key Arab ally and regional priority.   
What will also exacerbate Iranian-Turkish tensions is if Ankara deepens its challenge to Tehran’s political influence in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. This scenario has already begun to unfold and notably includes the dangerous introduction of the sectarian factor as a new split in Iran-Turkey ties.
Iranian-Turkish tensions did not begin with the Syrian crisis and the Arab Spring. The rivalry was evident even before and reflects Iran’s innate fears of Turkey gaining geopolitical advantages due to Tehran’s isolation which is a product of its nuclear standoff with the West and the limitations of its political appeal to Arab regimes and peoples. Meanwhile, due to the same international and regional isolation, Tehran is clearly reluctant to simply write off near a decade of investment in strengthening ties with Ankara.
In the short-term, differences over Syria and events elsewhere in the Arab World means that Ankara is no longer trusted as an interlocutor in its nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and West. For the U.S. and the West generally, the present state of affairs in Iran-Turkey relations and the fall of the Assad regime is an opportunity to further isolate Tehran in the hopes of convincing it to reassess its nuclear and regional policies. Additional and tougher rounds of U.S. and European sanctions against Iran which Turkey signs on to will invariably make the instrument of sanctions considerably more likely to change Iranian behavior. Even in such a scenario, however, the West’s ability to count on Ankara in pressuring Tehran will depend on the West not moving the goal posts. Turkey does not want to see a nuclear armed Iran, and can shift its approach toward Tehran as long as prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon is the objective.
How Tehran sees Assad
Iran’s immediate reaction to the Syrian uprising in its early days was the most telling. It was a reaction of bewilderment and hesitancy and revealed how Tehran looks at its long-time Arab partner. The Iranians were at first clearly avoiding any (at least public) unconditional line of support for Assad and plainly kept their options open in the event that Assad’s regime swiftly fell apart as in Egypt. Iran judged that the Syrian crisis represented a challenge to its geopolitical position, but at the same recognized that it could open other opportunities elsewhere in the Arab world. Importantly, the Arab Spring given Iran the potential opportunity to overhaul relations with Egypt, Yemen, and Libya. For Iran to unreservedly back the bloody Syrian crackdown would have been a major liability. The Iranian position was also shaped by the quick Turkish turnaround against Assad and Ankara’s aim for the moral high ground in the region. Iran was disinclined to be the benefactor of an Assad regime run amok in a time of democratic hope in the Middle East.
Without ever openly hinting at any Syrian opposition faction, Tehran was clearly contemplating a likely post-Assad era. Based on available open-source analysis produced in Iran, it can only be assumed that the Islamic Republic at this point judged that its leverage in Syria would not necessarily all disappear along with the regime in Damascus. This dynamic explained the early Iranian hesitancy and showed that the Iranian-Syrian partnership is devoid of a mechanism - such as NATO’s article five – that either Tehran or Damascus can rely on.
Moreover, in the context of assessing the early Iranian hesitancy toward the Syrian crisis one also needs to consider the lack of depth in economic, religious, or cultural linkages between the two countries. Iran’s trade with Syria is around $700 million per year (representing about half of Iranian trade with impoverished Afghanistan and a small portion of Iran’s trade with China of about $30 billion per year). Despite the tendency in the West to classify the Assad regime as Shia and therefore naturally aligned with Iran, there is not a strong sectarian connection here. Compared to the support for Shias in Bahrain for example, there have been no notable examples of  Iranian support along sectarian lines for the Assad’s Alawite-led regime. This also reflects the fact that the Islamic Republic, as a Persian and Shia state, cannot afford to conduct its policies along sectarian lines as it will find it much harder to appeal to the Sunni Arab majority of the region.                  
During the course of the Syrian uprising, Iran’s decision to move toward what is increasingly unconditional support for the Assad regime has come about due to a few key factors. First, since Iran’s initial hesitant reaction, the Assad regime no risks being toppled by the people.
In the meantime, the geopolitical stakes have increased. Iran thinks Turkey has signed up for a U.S.-led campaign along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others to remove Assad, which will isolate Iran further. In a worst case scenario for Tehran, this could mean that the “Libyan model” is repeated in Syria and later aimed at Iran itself. It is not the fate of the Assad regime that disturbs Tehran so much as the precedent Assad’s downfall would set for further U.S.-led action in the region.
Iran is also far less likely to be able to maintain its same degree of influence in Syria in a post-Assad era. Hamas and the broader Muslim Brotherhood, arguably Iran’s key alternatives to Assad in Syria, have abandoned the Assad regime and are resisting Iranian pressures. Despite Assad’s unreliability in the past, the current regime in Damascus is at the moment Iran’s best hope to maintain its geopolitical clout in the Levant. This Iranian position, however, is not set in stone. Tehran’s posture toward Assad can still change depending on realities on the ground in Syria and whether Iran can be allowed to be a stake-holder in Syria’s future.       
Iran-Turkey: Lots to Walk Away From
The arrival of the AKP to power in 2002 transformed Iranian-Turkish relations. Ties were strengthened on political, economic, and security levels. Most noticeably, trade volumes shot up from about $1 billion per year in 2000 to about a reported $16 billion in 2011. This increase occurred at a time when Iran faced an incremental economic squeeze by the West and Turkey became an alternative partner. Security cooperation meant joint efforts against militant Kurds and shared Iranian-Turkish opposition to an independent Kurdistan after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
To be sure, the Islamic Republic also publicly welcomed the Islamist attributes Erdogan’s AKP government. But it is important to recognize that mutual tangible benefits ) were the key drivers that pushed relations forward. Islamist ideology was never the glue that cemented Turkish-Iranian ties, despite rhetoric on both sides about pan-Islamist solidarity.
In fact, early on in this Iranian-Turkish renaissance there were expressions of Iranian doubt about Turkey’s intentions.  Some question whether the AKP’s Islamist posture was a front for what Jomhuriy-e Eslami called an American Trojan Horse designed to introduce “American Islam” to the region. Iranian criticism of Turkey has not been limited to the hardliners: many analysts associated with Iran’s reformists warned about tempering expectations for what Turkey could do for Iran.
Rivals Before, During and After the Arab Spring
In addition to the ongoing geo-political and economic rivalry between Iran and the AKP’s Sunni Islamist model (particularly in post-Saddam Iraq),  Tehran viewed Erdogan’s government as a rival to Iran’s Shia-based velayat-e faqih (rule of the supreme jurisprudent) and a threat to Tehran’s regional aspirations. Most notably, in May 2010, at the height of Iranian-Turkish trust and the signing of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey trilateral deal, Tehran reacted very jealously when Turkey gained much popular Arab support for its anti-Israel posture following the Gaza Flotilla raid.
The Arab Spring has raised the stakes (specifically in Syria, but also in Egypt and elsewhere) for Iran in its regional rivalry with Turkey. Tehran saw Turkey as a de facto collaborator with the West in toppling Muammar Gaddafi. Iran fears and warns Turkey about repeating the “Libyan model” in Syria. In Egypt, Prime Minister Erdogan’s comments promoting secular republicanism was judged as a direct threat to Iran’s message to the Arabs. Iranian propaganda now places Turkey in the same league as Saudi Arabia and Qatar as the three key [Sunni] instigators that push a U.S.-backed anti-Iran agenda in the region. Meanwhile, Turkey’s September 2011 decision to host a NATO anti-missile radar system is viewed in Iran as a major betrayal.
While Iranian leaders see a fair amount to be angry about, yet they have kept the door open to Turkey. A good example of this was Erdogan’s shuttle diplomacy in March that paved the way for the latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Istanbul. But it the Iranians did this very reluctantly. At the time, pushing ahead with nuclear talks with the P5+1 surpassed any desire to chide Ankara for its regional policies. Accordingly, it is highly doubtful that Iran will agree to Ankara  playing any important role in Iran’s nuclear issue  unless it becomes a prerequisite by the West, which is also unlikely. This considerable trust deficit in Ankara-Tehran ties will likely linger in the short to medium term.
Implications for the West
Whether Turkey can play a mediating role in Iran’s nuclear case is up to Tehran and whether it wants continued Turkish involvement. All the indications at the moment show unprecedented Iranian reluctance to turn to Ankara.
This presents an opportunity for the West if planned talks in Baghdad in May fail and imposing more sanctions becomes necessary. In such a scenario, Turkey can move from acting as an independent arbiter – as in May 2010 – to more convincingly aligning itself with the West against Iran. Such a posture by Ankara will not in itself further jeopardize Iran-Turkey relations. Events since early 2011 have already convinced the Iranians that Turkey is firmly anchored in the West and that Turkish goodwill is conditional and finite.
Such a change in posture by Turkey can nonetheless have an important impact on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his faction in Tehran and its reading of the viability of global sanctions against Iran. It could convince them to change course as the gradual political-economic isolation becomes more acute with time unless a resolution to the nuclear issue is found.
In the context of Iranian realities, signs that Tehran is preparing to change course is arguably already evident. The bigger unknown is Turkey’s foreign policy while the Iranian nuclear dispute continues and the Syrian crisis unfolds. Ankara’s regional goals appear far more ambitious than simply nullifying the Iranian nuclear threat or heading off Tehran’s counter-challenge in Syria. An all-out Turkish attempt to make Ankara the central player in the new broader Middle East will inevitably mean a continuation and likely hardening of Turkey’s opposition to Israeli policies and its nuclear arsenal. Such a strategy will at minimum complicate American counter-proliferation efforts and broader regional objectives, including the resolution of the Iranian nuclear challenge.          
-This analysis was published by the Middle East Institute on 16/05/2012

Bahrain's Triangle Of Conflict

By Reza H. Akbari & Jason Stern
The common media account of the crisis in Bahrain weaves a compelling narrative of a Shiite-majority people struggling to achieve their inalienable rights against a Sunni-dominant government. This "government versus the people" narrative implies that if only the government sheds its obstinacy or the people moderate their demands, then a political solution can be found in Bahrain. Yet the reality is far more complex. In fact, there are three main camps in Bahraini politics -- the government, the opposition, and the loyalist opposition -- that do not fall neatly along sectarian lines.
This triangle of conflict grows more entrenched by the day as moderates fall victim to the ever increasing fragmentation and polarization of Bahraini society. Any political process that holds any hope of achieving real reconciliation must include all three camps. Yet, in every camp, the hardline voices least likely to participate in such a dialogue grow stronger every day. Leaders of all three camps must urgently take measures to set aside short-term self-interest and break this destructive cycle before it is too late.
The internal divisions within the Bahraini regime are well known. The anti-reform faction led by the prime minister, the royal court minister, and the head of the Bahrain Defense Force believes that any reform will create a slippery slope that leads to the end of al-Khalifa rule. The reform faction led by the crown prince instead views reform as necessary to ensure the regime bends but does not break under popular pressure. Since the crackdown on the uprisings in March 2011, the anti-reform camp has had the clear upper hand.
The struggles between the two factions predate the February 14 uprising of 2011. For the past decade, the crown prince's reform faction gained influence as part of a broad reform project called the "Economic Vision 2030." This vision challenged the prime minister by establishing a series of reform-minded institutions under the crown prince's aegis that effectively created a parallel cabinet rival to the prime minister's official cabinet. The anti-reform faction regained the upper hand during the uprising, especially after the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military intervention into Bahrain closed the door to negotiations between the crown prince and the opposition. Today, many of the crown prince's key reform institutions have come under significant pressure. As one former government official lamented in an interview, the events of the past year have effectively "destroyed" the crown prince's Economic Vision 2030.
The opposition is also split, in their case between idealists and pragmatists who disagree over how much reform is possible and how to achieve it. The idealist faction includes illegal groups like Haq, Wafa, and the February 14th youth who launched the uprising last year. They consider the government wholly illegitimate, refuse any negotiations with the government, and call for the establishment of a republic. The pragmatist faction does not disagree with the idealist faction in principle, but instead contends that such radical changes are simply impossible given the current political reality. This faction is led by the most powerful Shiite opposition party, Wefaq, as well as some other minor parties including the Sunni leftist group Waad. Even though Shiites form the majority of the opposition and constitute the most influential party within it, the opposition as a whole spans the sectarian divide. As the crisis continues, the idealist faction gains increasing influence and the pragmatist faction is forced to raise its demands in an attempt to maintain popular support in the street.
The divides within the opposition also have a long history. In 2001, 98 percent of Bahrainis voted for the National Action Charter which called for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. Yet when King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa unilaterally promulgated a constitution that reneged on several key provisions of the charter, the opposition decided to boycott the country's first elections in decades. The main opposition party, Wefaq, decided to participate in the 2006 parliamentary elections, believing it could change the system from within. Individuals intent on maintaining their boycott against political participation left Wefaq to form the rival party Haq and later Wafa. Yet these newcomers could not match the strength of Wefaq, which performed impressively in both the 2006 and 2010 elections. Wefaq's dominance has begun to erode this past year, as increasing anger on the street leads to wider acceptance of the idealist argument that the political system cannot be reformed from within. Today, Wefaq officials stand in awkward silence at their own rallies as protesters chant "Down with King Hamad."
The "government versus the people" narrative entirely misses the rise of a loyalist opposition of primarily formerly apolitical Sunnis alienated by the demands made by the mobilized opposition during the uprising. This new political force has spearheaded what Justin Gengler calls "Bahrain's other revolution." During the uprising, many Bahrainis heard the opposition chants of "The people want..." in Pearl Roundabout and said to themselves, "That's not what I want." As one former Sunni MP explained in an interview, "The opposition does not represent all of Bahrain, perhaps 50 percent maximum. It is not like the 99 percent at Occupy Wall Street." The media often categorizes these people as "pro-government," but if anything they are more "anti-opposition" in that they mobilized primarily to counter the Pearl Roundabout protests. Moreover, they have come to formulate their own demands for gradual reform as well. Neither fully loyalist nor fully opposition, the hybrid loyalist opposition constitutes an important voice in Bahraini society that must be included in any reconciliation process.
This camp is split between the newly established National Gathering of Unity (TGONU) that portrays itself as an umbrella group for all Bahrainis and Islamists parties and youth movements that, by definition, represent only a segment of the population. When the first loyalist opposition protests began last year, all people and groups gathered underneath the TGONU's umbrella. Yet when the TGONU's leadership decided to officially register the group as a party, the pre-existing Islamist parties became competitors with the TGONU by default. The Islamists had no choice but to leave the TGONU and strike out on their own. In addition to the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate Minbar and the Salafi Asala, a new Islamist movement called the Sahwa Youth have gained increasing influence within the loyalist opposition camp. Today, protests take on a more sectarian and confrontational tenor than before. The rise of Islamist influence has not only alienated the more liberal, secular elements of the loyalist opposition, but it has also made this camp's participation in any potential dialogue more unlikely.
Three dynamics have caused the polarization and fragmentation that hinder reconciliation. First, a great chasm of mistrust divides the camps. Every time the government launches and oversells a superficial reform project, the opposition grows more distrustful of the government's seriousness to ever enact real reforms. As Brian Dooley of Human Rights First contends, "the gap between rhetoric and reality is huge" when the government talks about reform. Yet every time the opposition demands reform, the government and loyalist opposition, believing reform has already happened, accuse the opposition of constantly moving the goal posts. This dynamic not only polarizes the camps, but it also weakens the moderates in each camp who are blamed by hardliners for their gullibility in giving other camps the benefit of the doubt each time they try to negotiate. Without a basic trust that the other side will hold up its end of any potential deal, there is little incentive to take the risk of entering negotiations. As a result, politics in Bahrain have moved from the negotiation table to the streets.
Second, the dynamics of street politics have created a dangerous environment of protest, crackdown, and counter-protest. The opposition must protest to keep pressure on the government, yet every street action further angers the loyalist opposition -- especially when protests turn violent despite the leadership's insistence on peaceful methods. The loyalist opposition desires security in the streets, but with the government's inability to maintain that security, some groups have turned to their own, sometimes violent, street actions that undermine the very security they seek. The government could allow protests to continue and maintain its legitimacy with the opposition and international community, or it could crackdown further on the protests to maintain its legitimacy with the loyalist opposition. These dilemmas widen the schisms between the moderates and hardliners of every camp while simultaneously ensuring that the cycle of protest, crackdown, and counter-protest continues. Anger begets violence which begets yet more anger. As one human rights defender fretted in an interview, "I am worried moderates like myself will be sidelined if violence continues."
Third, the distrust and street dynamics create a ripe atmosphere for the spread of sectarianism. Bahrain has always suffered from socioeconomic and political divides between Shiite and Sunni, and the government has taken advantage by exacerbating these divides in a strategy of divide and rule. The government doubled down on this strategy during the February 14th uprising, unleashing what Kristin Smith Diwan calls an "onslaught of sectarianism" to stay in power. Yet the government also found a receptive audience for its sectarian narrative. Precisely because the disenfranchised Shiites would gain the most from reform in Bahrain, some Sunnis have come to view a democratic agenda as a Shiite agenda. The fate of the Sunnis in Iraq has only heightened the fears of Shiite intentions. Citing the Iraq example, a Minbar member of parliament (MP) warned in an interview, "This conflict is not about politics, human rights or anything else but religion. They want to kill us." Unfortunately, the opposition has failed to effectively assuage these fears. Now, there is the significant risk that the sectarianism that began as a government policy of divide and rule has spiraled out of control, with sectarian voices drowning out moderates. As a result, not only has Bahrain grown more vulnerable to the destabilizing effects of regional sectarian tensions, but what was once a political crisis might transform into a far more pernicious conflict of identities.
All of this leaves a fairly grim picture for Bahrain's future. On any given day, there are plenty of perfectly safe and secure areas in Bahrain. Yet on that very same day, those very same areas may suddenly become inundated with tear gas and the cries of the injured. All the tinder is set, the sparks are flying, and eventually the country will catch fire. Today, the greatest potential spark is the fate of human rights activist Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, on the brink of death from a hunger strike in prison demanding the release of all political prisoners. Yet even if al-Khawaja does not die, there will always be the next event, the next anniversary, the next protest, the next clash or the next death that could be the spark that lights the tinder.
To avoid that conflagration, everyone must work toward ameliorating the distrust, street, and sectarian dynamics that threaten to rip the very fabric of Bahraini society apart. Unfortunately, potential spoilers abound within each camp, especially among the hardline factions who view the crisis with vastly different lenses and even personally benefit from the continuation of the crisis. It is unclear whether these factions can be convinced to play a productive role on the path to reconciliation. What is clear, however, is that if current trends continue, it is only a matter of time before Bahrain suffers a major escalation.
-This article was published in The Foreign Policy on 17/05/2012
-Reza H. Akbari is a research assistant at the Middle East Institute and Jason Stern has a M.A. in Middle East Studies from George Washington University. This article is an adaptation of their master's thesis on the potential for political reconciliation in Bahrain

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Arab Populations Don't Read Enough

Shaping national literacy strategies and empowering individuals to excel should be a government's highest priority
By Joseph A. Kechichian

In one of his numerous speeches to what must surely be one of the most multi-faceted audiences ever invented by man, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's third secretary-general, recently declared that Israelis "assume[d] Arabs do not read". "Perhaps many Arabs do not read yet," he continued, adding: "In fact some Israeli generals say that they wrote books on all their previous wars before staging" them and that they executed various battles according to what they allegedly penned.
Nasrallah concluded his lecture by announcing that what distinguished the "resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine" was that "they are very well read".
While few ought to question such an assertion, given that Hezbollah cadre members are probably as well read as any other similar organisation, it behooves one to ask whether the Lebanese masses in particular and the Arabs in general are well read. What do the statistics tell us?
Regrettably, and save for professionals whose work requires hours of reading and analysis every day, the 300 million-strong Arab populations are not good readers. Greeks, with a minuscule population of 11 million, publish, buy, and read more books than all Arabs combined. Similar contrasts may be drawn with Italy or France or any number of countries.
In fact, annual figures from the UN Development Programme on global readership reveal that among 187 surveyed countries, Qatar ranked the highest among Arab states, standing in 37th place. Ironically, as the least populous Arab nation, Qatar's position was an honour. Not surprisingly, Sudan ranked last in the region, at 169th place, although it may now share this distinction with South Sudan.
Others fared slightly better: Bahrain came in 42nd, followed by Saudi Arabia (56) Kuwait (63), Libya (64), Lebanon (71), Oman (89), Tunisia (94), Jordan (95) and Algeria (96). Egypt, where an entire publishing industry flourished for centuries, filled the 113th place, followed by the Occupied Territories (114), with Morocco (130), Iraq (132) and Yemen (154) checking in at less distinguished levels. Israel secured the 17th global spot.
Statistics do not reveal everything, of course, and one should not assume that such categorisations indicate lack of attention. Moreover, one ought to factor in a variety of reasons why the average Arab does not consume more literature, or allocate specific hours each day to reading economic tomes or philosophical manuscripts or even psychological studies.
To be sure, the primary culprits are illiteracy and finances. In 2010, literacy rates in Yemen, Mauritania and Somalia were less that 60 per cent, and while Lebanon (95 per cent) and most GCC states boasted very high rates (over 90 per cent), average Arab literacy hovered around 70 per cent. The most populous Arab country, Egypt, could only claim a literacy rate of 66 per cent among its 82 million-strong realm.
Truth be told, and sadly, illiteracy weighed heavily on this part of the world. Most Arabs relied on television for entertainment and education, which were limited to say the least. Some even believed that ‘knowledge' was the privilege of doctors of law or religious authorities.
In contrast, modernising societies devoted countless hours to provide as many options as possible to their citizens, all to increase the number of volumes bought, or checked out from public libraries — perhaps the most important investment any local government agency can ever envisage to serve residents — that shape national literacy strategies, and empower individuals to excel.
Finland stood on top of this global food chain. In 2005, the last year for which such statistics were available, the average Finn devoted 46 minutes per day to reading. Canadians came in second (40), followed by Australians (39), Germans (38), Norwegians (36), Swedes (32), Brits (26), French (23), Americans (21) and Italians (18). The highest ranked Arab readers were Iraqis, at 9 minutes per day, though these averages ought to be assessed with relative care.
Regrettably, and notwithstanding Nasrallah's pronouncements regarding what Hezbollah cadre members focused on, Arabs did not read. When they did, most concentrated on religious, or spiritual fare.
Reading was a powerful tool because of its liberating powers. It intensified one's discipline to hone whatever skills one could muster to develop critical thinking that, mercifully, was an acquired ability. While intrinsic talent helped guide, one learned, improved his vocabulary, corrected grammatical mistakes, referred to previous works that enriched lives and, overall, added value by limiting errors.
It was a painful exercise, but still one of the key ingredients for freedom, which was always earned — never granted.
-This commentary was published in Gulf News on 17/05/2012
-Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is the author of the forthcoming Legal and Political Reforms in Saudi Arabia