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It’s time for the world to stop hiding behind Kofi Annan's skirts.
We gave diplomacy a chance in Syria; now we must accept that diplomacy has
BY JAMES TRAUB
years ago, Kofi Annan, then the U.N. secretary general, embarked on a desperate
mission to Baghdad to persuade Saddam Hussein to allow U.N. weapons inspectors
back in the country. Miraculously, he succeeded. And for his pains he was
awoken in the middle of the night and browbeaten by U.S. Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright, who worried that he had caved to Saddam. When he returned
to New York he was mocked for saying that he could "do business" with
the Iraqi dictator. Serving as interlocutor-with-evil is a thankless job.
mention this, of course, because Annan is now in the midst of another such
mission, this time as U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, where he has
been trying for the last three months to put an end to the mass killing of
civilians by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Assad has made Annan look
like a naïve devotee of peace-at-any-price by first accepting his six-point
plan and then systematically trampling on its terms. But Annan is taking a
beating in Damascus for the same reason that he once did in Baghdad: The major
powers don't know what else to do, and are hoping that he'll save them from
their own irresolution.
have known Kofi Annan for as long time, and it is true that he has a
temperament peculiarly well-suited to situations of powerlessness. He is a
gentleman who speaks ill of no one, and thinks ill of only a few. He does not
wear his dignity on his sleeve, or anywhere visible at all. He does not upset
apple carts, a habit which may have contributed to his inactivity in the face
of slaughter in Bosnia and Rwanda when he was the head of U.N. peacekeeping.
It's the part of him I admire least.
for a U.N. diplomat, powerlessness is a fact of life; it's much easier to
represent a superpower. In the summer of 2004, I watched Annan sit quietly in a
blazing hot office in Darfur while Sudanese officials piled one inane lie on
top of another. Didn't he know they were jerking him around? Of course he did,
he told me wearily. But what was the point of delivering threats? "I
don't," he said, "see anybody rushing in with troops."
that's the real point. Albright and the Clinton administration let Annan go to
Baghdad when they saw how little appetite there was in their own base for
airstrikes against Iraq (though they launched a few strikes later that year
when the deal Annan negotiated fell apart). And years later, Annan tried to
speak reason to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir because the Security Council
wasn't prepared to punish him for mounting a campaign of ethnic cleansing and
murder in Darfur.
Annan is exhorting Assad to do what he manifestly will not do -- withdraw his
security forces and heavy weapons from the cities where the opposition is
concentrated -- because nobody is rushing in with troops, or airstrikes. When I
asked Ahmad Fawzi, a former U.N. official who serves as the spokesman for the
mission in Syria, why Annan was still shuttling between capitals even as
Assad's forces continued to shell civilians, he said, "It's the only game
in town at the moment." Fawzi made only the most modest claims for the
mission's success: Violence goes down while inspectors occupy a given space,
though often returns to previous levels once they leave; civilians might
"start having faith in the presence of the observers." But it was
still better than the alternative -- even more killing.
is no pacifist. In the late 1990s, he championed the doctrine that came to be
known as "the responsibility to protect," which stipulates that when
states fail to act to stop atrocities, other states have an obligation to do
so. But Annan does believe that sometime atrocities can be halted, or
prevented, with diplomacy rather than with force. He and others did just that
when they mediated between the opposing sides after a disputed election in
Kenya in late 2008 led rival tribes to slaughter one another. That was an
effort worth making; so was his high-wire act in Baghdad in 1998; so was the
mission to Damascus. But is it still? Or is he now simply helping Assad to buy
is about to return to Syria. "He feels the time is now ripe," Fawzi
says, "to sit down with the president and assess where we are."
That's an extremely dubious proposition. The Syrian opposition, military and
political, won't relent until Assad leaves, but Assad almost certainly won't
leave unless he feels that the only alternative is death. And that moment is
still very far away. The Obama administration understands this well, but views
all the available alternatives as even worse than the current one -- talking
while Assad keeps killing. I was at a recent lunch with U.N. Ambassador Susan
Rice, who responded to a volley of questions about humanitarian corridors,
airstrikes, and the like by saying, "There is a risk it ends in more
violence, which is why the last peaceful game in town is one worth pursuing,
even if it's a low-probability game, which we readily admit it is."
question is: When do you stop pursuing this low-probability game? When, if at
all, do the risks of action become greater than the risks of inaction? The
international community kept talking with the Serbs until the massacre at
Srebrenica in July 1995 finally provoked a NATO bombing campaign. In Sudan, as
in Rwanda, nothing happened until it was too late to make much of a difference.
Annan knows this history all too well; it is his history. "He's been there
before," says Fawzi, "and he will know when the time has come to pull
the plug." Or maybe he won't. Maybe he'll recoil from the alternative.
has now become very hard to imagine any solution to the Syria crisis which is not
a terrible one. Though fewer people are dying per day than was true earlier
this year, when security forces were besieging the town of Homs, the violent
scenario to which Rice alluded is already a reality. According to recent
reports, the rebels have begun to receive significant quantities of weapons
from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as well as training
and equipment from Turkey. The Obama administration has admitted only to
supplying communications equipment and other nonlethal assistance, but is said
to be clandestinely helping direct arms to rebels forces. The White House, that
is, appears to be reluctantly accepting the inevitability of civil war.
says that no Plan B is on offer, but the fact is that an impromptu Plan B
appears to be taking shape: Turkey will provide its territory for the training
and organization of the Free Syrian Army, the United States will provide
logistical and command-and-control assistance, and Gulf states will supply the
hardware. Everyone, including Annan and the U.N., will labor mightily to keep
the Syrian National Council, the political organ of the opposition, from
collapsing into utter chaos, as it now threatens to do, and to persuade the
SNC, the rebel army, and the Local Coordinating Committees inside Syria to work
mustn't delude ourselves about Plan B's likelihood of success. The air war
which destroyed the Qaddafi regime in Libya was relatively swift and thoroughly
decisive, but Libya now teeters on the edge of anarchy. Syria hardly looks more
encouraging. If the rebels step up the pace of attacks, Assad is likely to
respond with yet more violence, possibly provoking the Gotterdammerung of
all-out sectarian war. And as foreign jihadists increasingly infiltrate the
rebel forces, and pervert their goals, the chances of creating an unarguably
better Syria than the one that existed before the uprising will recede. Syria
poses such a terrible problem because it is not about finding the political
will to do the right thing, but rather trying to find some way of doing more
good than harm.
the time has come -- or perhaps has very nearly come -- for the world to stop
hiding behind Kofi Annan's skirts. We gave diplomacy a chance; now we must
accept that diplomacy has failed.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 25/05/2012
-James Traub is a fellow of the Center on International Cooperation
Lebanese security forces supervise the opening of a street blocked by Shiite Muslims in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, May 22, 2012, to protest against Syrian rebels kidnapped of 12 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in the Syrian northern province of Aleppo. The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group Shaikh Hassan Nasrallah has appealed for calm following the abduction of 12 Lebanese Shiites in Syria.
about Syria's uprising spilling beyond its borders, countries which back
opposing sides in the rebellion against Damascus seem to agree on supporting
the stability of Lebanon.
from Moscow to Riyadh have expressed alarm that Syria's crisis has fuelled
sectarian clashes in Lebanon's north and gun battles in Beirut.
fear of chaos in Lebanon is about as close as world powers will get to
consensus over the 15-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad,
according to analysts. If anything, they say, these divisions will likely
produce more problems for Lebanon.
long as there is a lack of international consensus over what to do in Syria,
and so long as that fuels polarisation and division, that will directly feed
into the political debate in Lebanon and will most likely seep over and cause
further instability in Lebanon," said Julien Barnes-Dacey, a fellow at the
European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.
week the primary backers of Syria's rebels and its regime - Saudi Arabia and
Russia, respectively - weighed into the Lebanon debate with similar expressions
foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, warned that Syria's crisis could result in a
"very bad ending" for Lebanon's often feuding religious communities.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah urged Lebanon's president to stay out of Syrian
neither side shows any sign in compromising over their competing interests
which maintains a naval base in Syria, considers its allies in Damascus
valuable for projecting its influence in the region. Saudi Arabia, on the other
hand, views supporting Syria's Sunni-led rebellion as a way to diminish the
regional influence of Damascus' main partners, Iran and the Lebanese Shiite
would not only fuel fighting in Syria, analysts say. It also makes Lebanon a
useful arena for the competing interests of outside powers.
Arabia, along with Qatar and indirect support from the United States, is
reportedly using Sunni allies in Lebanon's north to funnel support to Syrian
rebels. That in turn is sounding alarms in Damascus and with its supporters.
The arrest this month of a little-known Sunni Islamist in Tripoli was seen by
many here as a result of growing pressure from the Syrian government to clamp
down on rebel supporters in the area.
most Lebanese do not want the Syria conflict to destabilise their own country,
said Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University
of Beirut. They are loath to see a repeat of their 15-year civil war.
problem is that this unity falls apart when it comes to the fight inside Syria,
he said. Lebanon's religious communities are divided over whether to support
the government or rebels, which in turn makes them convenient tools by outside
key question, Mr Khashan said, is how far Saudi Arabia and its allies, as well
as Iran and Russia, want to push their Lebanese contacts.
outside powers expect a degree of instability in Lebanon because, in a sense,
Lebanon has always been somewhat unstable," Mr Khashan said.
what they want to do is avoid doing things here that will turn instability in
Lebanon into an uncontrollable militant and combative kind of
-This report was published in The
National on 26/05/2012
Meet the terrorist group that's ruining the revolution.
BY AARON Y. ZELIN
suffered its worst terror attack in decades this month when two car bombs
exploded near a military intelligence branch in Damascus, killing 55 people and
wounding hundreds more. Syria's state-run news agency was quick to publish
gruesome pictures of the victims of the attack, which President Bashar
al-Assad's regime pinned on "foreign-backed terrorist groups."
first, the Syrian regime seemed to have evidence to back up its case. On May
12, a video was distributed on YouTube, purportedly from a Palestinian branch
of the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusrah ("The Victory Front" or JN),
claiming credit for the attack. But the release turned out to be a fake: On May
14, JN released a statement denying that it was behind the video. At the same
time, it did not deny conducting the attack. Rather, JN's media outlet said it
had yet to hear from JN's military commanders if they perpetrated the bombings.
or not JN was involved in the Damascus attack, the organization has become a
real force in recent weeks -- and one that threatens to undermine the Free
Syrian Army (FSA), the loose network of defectors and local militia fighting
the government. Its main goals are to awaken Muslims to the atrocities of the
Assad regime, and eventually take control of the state and implement its narrow
and puritanical interpretation of Islamic law. To that end, in the past month
alone, JN has perpetrated a series of suicide bombings and IED strikes -- and
the pace of attacks seems to be growing.
originally announced its existence on Jan. 23 in a video released to global
jihadi forums, featuring the group's spokesperson, al-Fatih ("The
Conqueror") Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani. In addition to repeating the usual
jihadi platitudes, Jawlani accused the United States, the Arab League, Turkey,
Iran, and the West in general for collaborating with the Assad regime against
(Sunni) Muslims. The video shows tens of individuals training with AK-47s in
unknown desert and wooded locations and posing with large flags similar to the
banners used by Sunni fundamentalists across the Middle East, featuring the
shahadah (the Muslim testament of faith).
JN's attacks might pack punch, they represent a miniscule portion of the Syrian
rebellion and have no known association to the FSA. But members of al Qaeda's
premier online forums have been elated over the creation of a new jihadist
organization in Syria. In addition to its online grassroots supporters, JN has
gained the stamp of approval from key jihadi ideologues, including Shaykh Abu
Sa'd al-‘Amili (a prominent online essayist), Shaykh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti
(one of the most influential ideologues worldwide), Shaykh Abu Muhammad
al-Tahawi (a prominent Jordanian Salafi), and Shaykh Abu al-Zahra' al-Zubaydi
(a popular Lebanese jihadi). All have called on Muslims to support JN's cause
by aiding them financially or joining them on the battlefield.
level of excitement, which has not been seen in jihadi circles since the height
of the Iraq war, can partly be attributed to the sectarian nature of the
struggle: Jihadis do not see the Assads as true Muslims because they are
Alawites -- members of a heterodox version of Shiism. As such, jihadis view
their role in repressing a Sunni Muslim majority as particularly reprehensible.
"Oh Allah made it possible for our brothers in Jabhat al-Nusrah, and bless
them and make the hearts of the people join them," one online jihadi
to quell Syria's domestic uprising, Assad still maintains that Syria is
fighting foreign terrorists. And, although Syria's homegrown protest movement
clearly makes up the overwhelming majority of the opposition, there are a
multitude of reports -- see here, here, here, here, and here -- of non-Syrian
Muslims going off to fight Assad. Fighters from al Qaeda in Iraq have also
reportedly crossed the border to assist their Sunni compatriots -- presumably
by way of the same networks they have long used to smuggle people and goods
from Syria into Iraq.
there is no hard evidence that these fighters are joining up with JN, there is
circumstantial evidence to suggest new recruits -- either foreign or local --
are bolstering its capabilities. While JN only conducted three operations from
January through mid-April, the pace of its attacks in the past month has raised
the specter of fresh support. On April 20, it conducted a suicide attack on a
Syrian military unit allegedly responsible for a massacre in al-Latamina, a
village outside Hama. A few days later, on April 24, JN bombed the Iranian Cultural
Center in Damascus. Then on April 27, JN claimed responsibility for a suicide
attack during Friday prayers in the Midan neighborhood of Damascus. And those
aren't the only attacks that JN has attempted: From April 20 to May 5, it
planted sticky improvised explosive devices to cars in a series of attempted
assassinations against Syrian officials, and also detonated two IEDs under
trucks at the Syrian military headquarters on Damascus's Revolution Street.
has also released three other videos since the message announcing its
existence. The first video, which was posted on jihadist forums on Feb. 26,
claimed responsibility for a twin suicide car bombing at a Syrian security
forces building in Aleppo earlier that month, as well as an attack in early January
in central Damascus. Appealing to the broader Syrian society, JN explained that
it executed the attacks to safeguard the women of Syria, who have been
brutalized and raped by Assad's security forces. The next video, which was
uploaded in mid-April, contained a sermon exhorting individuals to join the
jihad against Assad and his Alawite followers.
most recent video was published in late April and provided yet another
emotional appeal for individuals to take up arms to join its cause. It showed
anti-Assad demonstrations in the cities of Deraa and Homs, the Assad regime's
brutal destruction of Homs, and widows and mothers wailing over the deaths of
their sons and husbands. JN spokesman Jawlani claimed responsibility for a
"revenge" attack against the Syrian forces in Homs, and the video
showed "martyrdom" messages from two of its suicide bombers. Jawlani
linked JN's cause to that of 'Omar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph, who
completed the conquest of Syria that the Prophet Mohammad started in the 7th
century. Jawlani's mention of 'Omar is notable because Shiite tradition
considers him a traitor to Muhammad and a usurper of the right of Ali,
Muhammad's cousin, to become caliph. Jawlani undoubtedly understands this, and
his words are sure to stoke more sectarian tensions.
nascent jihadist organization has also bitterly opposed Kofi Annan's attempts
to orchestrate a ceasefire between rebel and government forces, calling his
efforts "deception" and a "magician's trick." JN called out
Annan for his failure to prevent massacres in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and it
said the proposed truce with the Assad regime was merely a way for Western
countries to undermine the Syrian people's ability to defend themselves while
allowing the Assad regime to continue to shell its citizens. As a result, its
argument goes, one cannot trust the West to provide assistance in the fight
against the regime. Rather, it is imperative that Muslims join JN's battle,
since it is the only true defender of Syrians and the Sunni community.
is noteworthy that JN has focused solely on military targets in its insurgency
against the regime. Perhaps it has learned from the experience of AQI, which
found that killing civilians alienates potential supporters. Nevertheless, even
if JN may be recruiting individuals at a higher rate, its vision for Syria's
future remains far outside the mainstream. As such, it will continue to be a
nuisance not only for the Syrian regime, but also to the FSA, which is
attempting to bolster its international legitimacy in order to gain supplies
and weapons from supporters of its cause. Amid the chaos in Syria, it
represents a spoiler in a conflict with no foreseeable end.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 22/05/2012
-Aaron Y. Zelin is the Richard Borow Fellow in the Stein Program on
Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East
If Amr Moussa wins Egypt's presidential election, is the
BY DAVID KENNER from BENI SUEF, Egypt
Moussa stood on a rickety stage, battling the summer heat and feedback from a
defective microphone, promising the Egyptian people the world. "We're
making a Second Republic, a renaissance for Egypt," he told the audience
of several hundred. "It is the time to rebuild the country, to fight
poverty and unemployment, which has resulted from mismanagement."
went on in that vein, ticking off the boxes of socioeconomic development:
health care, education, wages. Children played with posters featuring the visage
of the former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general and a
simple message: "Create jobs."
was the spectacle, not the speech, that counted. Moussa's campaign bus had been
joined by a convoy of honking cars as it entered the town; a makeshift band
played on the back of one pickup truck. Moussa's first stop was to the town's
mosques, where he prayed briefly among the crush of locals trying to get close
to him. Outside one mosque, the crowd thronged around the door in anticipation of
his exit, cheering expectantly. A man from the town exited before Moussa and
waved to the masses. "Thank you, thank you," he joked. "Yes, I
am the prime minister."
was just one stop in a frenetic campaign that has taken Moussa to seemingly
every village and hamlet in Egypt. The night before, Moussa had taken part in
Egypt's first-ever presidential debate, which concluded after 2 a.m. His
campaign bus left Cairo at 9 a.m., and he was still shaking hands and kissing
babies 12 hours later. "He's like the Energizer Bunny," said Ahmed
Kamel, his exhausted media advisor, at the end of the day.
Suef, a predominantly rural governorate of approximately 2.6 million people
south of Cairo, appeared at first glance to be a strange place for Moussa to
stump for votes. It is the home of Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed
Badie and has by and large stood behind his political vision. In Egypt's most
recent parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood's political wing won a majority
of the votes in the governorate, followed closely by the Salafi al-Nour Party.
there was Moussa -- an emphatically non-Islamist candidate and a consummate
establishment man in a country supposedly in revolution -- barnstorming across
the governorate. And it is working: Moussa remains the front-runner in the
presidential race set to kick off on May 23. A recent poll released by the
Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government-linked think
tank, placed him at the top of the heap, garnering the support of 31.7 percent
of voters, while a Brookings Institution poll had him a close second behind
Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. If none of the candidates wins
more than 50 percent of the vote, the election will move to a runoff between
the top two vote-getters on June 16 and 17, where Moussa would likely be in the
strongest position to forge a winning coalition.
what does Moussa's success say about the state of Egypt's politics? The word
"revolution" has been thrown about for the past 16 months to describe
the upheaval in the country; a victory by the 75-year-old veteran of
internecine battles within Hosni Mubarak's regime and the old Arab order
suggests something closer to a course correction. Moussa, for better or worse,
is not the culmination of anything approaching a revolution.
Egyptians recognize this, and resent it. Dissenters trail the crowds of
cheering supporters at Moussa's every campaign stop. His earnest speech in Beni
Suef was interrupted when a youth of no more than 20 burst into the tent to
denounce him as felool -- a derogatory term for "remnants" of the old
who would only give his first name, was wearing a violet T-shirt featuring an
image of a skull adorned with a top hat and holding a rose between its teeth.
The words "King of Kings" ran below the skull. "He's a member of
the old regime; he will reproduce the old tyranny," he said outside the
rally, after being ushered out. "He will never change things. He will
steal from us like they did. He never did anything at the Arab League."
among us here would vote for Amr Moussa?" he yelled to the crowd of young
men who had assembled around him outside, trying to rally support. The crowd
stared at him quietly, in trepidation.
broken transition to democracy, however, has caused many to answer Mahmoud's
rhetorical question in the affirmative. Violent protests have racked the
country since Mubarak's fall, threatening Egyptians' sense of security and
bolstering support for law-and-order candidates. Meanwhile, the Supreme Council
of the Armed Forces, the ruling military junta, has pledged to unilaterally
amend the Egyptian Constitution before the presidential poll, bypassing the
elected parliament. In this chaotic environment, Egyptians have looked to
candidates who would restore the basics of governance before those who
represent an embodiment of last year's revolution.
not only Moussa who has benefited from this dynamic. Mubarak's last prime
minister, Ahmed Shafiq, has surged ahead in the polls, going from also-ran to
legitimate contender. And Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's former intelligence chief,
quickly jumped to the top of polls in April after throwing his hat in the race
(he was later disqualified) -- a fact attributed to his skill at bringing
security, if not democracy.
you had to sketch out an ideal transition, you probably wouldn't have the
military taking over and then the prime minister of the previous regime running
for president," said Nabil Fahmy, the dean of American University in
Cairo's School of Public Affairs and a former ambassador to the United States,
referring to Shafiq. "But this is where we are."
the absence of a political road map, Moussa has touted his ability to serve as
a bridge between the old regime and the hoped-for democracy. He has pledged to
serve only one term and to appoint a vice president who would represent the
youth. Once he sets the country on the right path, the pitch goes, he will pass
power to a new generation of Egyptian leaders.
has also tried to remake himself as a critic of Mubarak, whom he pledged to
vote for before the revolution. "The road was not easy with President
Mubarak at junctures," he said shortly after announcing his intention to
run for president. In a recent interview, he also made the case that the
decline of Mubarak's government began around 2005, when "every day it was
getting worse" -- an effort to draw a distinction from the final years of
the regime and his tenure there.
did eventually kick Moussa up to the toothless Arab League when the tensions
between the two -- largely over how hard to push their Israeli interlocutors --
became too great. "It was only a matter of time," said Fahmy, who
served as Moussa's political advisor in the Foreign Ministry for seven years.
"It was like two players playing different tunes. Mubarak was more
concerned with domestic issues and wanted Moussa to tone it down. But that
wasn't who he was."
Suleiman, Ahmed Shafiq, and Amr Moussa have never been considered part of the
corruption side of the Mubarak regime. But they were not vocal on the issue of
reform, no matter what they say," said Abdel Moneim Said, president of the
Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and a member of the former
ruling party's Policies Committee. "I was there, and I never really found
one of them saying what's going on is wrong."
saw him a lot of times after he left the Foreign Ministry, very close with
Mubarak on a human basis," Said continued. "There were some
differences at some times.… But I think the difference between Mubarak and Amr
Moussa was quantitative -- it was not qualitative."
strategy for rebutting the felool charge is to present himself as an
experienced statesman. His decade-long tenure as foreign minister, from 1991 to
2001, earned praise from Egyptians for the aggressive manner in which he stood
up to Israel, particularly in a debate with then Israeli Foreign Minister
Shlomo Ben-Ami. To this day, the release of a schlocky pop song titled "I
Hate Israel and I Love Amr Moussa" is seen as the moment when Mubarak
became leery of Moussa's growing popularity and resolved to remove him from the
was good in two parts of diplomacy," Said noted of Moussa's tenure.
"Being nice and reconciling -- and at the same time he can be a son of a
bitch of the first order. He can be tough."
record bears that out. One of the defining political moments of Moussa's career
came during the 2000 Camp David summit, which ended in failure after Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat could not reach a
settlement on the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During that
time, Moussa repeatedly and publicly batted away American requests to pressure
the Palestinians to reach an agreement. "Are we supposed to pressure
President Arafat to make concessions on Jerusalem?" he asked. "This
is not our job."
Arafat, Moussa proved willing to walk away from the talks, the failure of which
paved the way for the Second Intifada. "Let me put it this way: If there
is no deal, the fallout will be bad; in the case of a bad deal, the
ramifications will be worse," he said as the talks were ongoing.
Moussa is no irreconcilable foe of Israel. As with all other issues, he bobs
and weaves, positioning himself for the best possible deal. During a massive
campaign rally, he made headlines when he declared the 1978 Camp David Accords
"dead and buried," saying there is "no such thing" as the
agreement. The line bolstered his reputation among anti-Israel Egyptians, but
few noted that Moussa's claim was technically true -- it's the 1979
Egypt-Israel peace treaty that officially defines the relationship between the
two states. And fewer still dwelled on what Moussa said next: "There is an
agreement between Israel and Egypt that we will honor as long as Israel honors
has also proved himself capable of having functional, even friendly,
relationships with top Israeli officials. Israeli President Shimon Peres once
recounted the then foreign minister's attempt to get a look at the site of
Israel's suspected nuclear weapons program: "You know, once Amr Moussa …
asked me: 'Shimon, we are good friends; why don't you take me to Dimona and let
me have a look at what's going on there?'" (Peres politely demurred.)
campaign has released an 86-page political program that lays out technocratic,
good-government solutions to everything from Egypt's widespread poverty to
deficits in the pension system to the stagnation in the agricultural sector. It
is his past, however, that offers a clearer preview of his prospective
presidential administration: He would try to cut deals with Egypt's diverse
poles of power in an attempt to reconsolidate the fractured Egyptian state. He
would try to be the leader who went to Tahrir Square during the revolution and
the one who says the Egyptian military "has been in charge for 60 years --
you can't just lock them out and say goodbye."
will be no easy task. Egypt's next president will be forced to balance the
interests of a powerful military establishment with that of an
Islamist-dominated parliament, all the while meeting the Egyptian people's
sky-high hopes for economic development. If Moussa succeeds at restoring
stability to the Egyptian state, it will be the magnum opus of an official who
has spent a career perfecting the art of political compromise. Just don't call
it a revolution.
-This commentary was first published in Foreign Policy on
-David Kenner is an associate editor at Foreign Policy
one of the most memorable lines of his March 4, 2012, speech on the Middle
East, President Obama declared, "Iran's leaders should understand that I
do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from
obtaining a nuclear weapon." However, containment is rarely a policy one
prefers, with its implication of preventing a bad situation from getting worse.
Instead, it tends to be the policy one is left with once other realistic
options have been exhausted.
containment, therefore, has less to do with declarations about the future, and
far more to do with sound strategy today: We must prevent ourselves from being
maneuvered into a corner where we have little choice other than to accept
containment as our de facto Iran policy. Instead of emphasizing what we may do
if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, or is on the cusp of doing so, the U.S.
should focus on denying Tehran the necessary building blocks to reach that
point -- in other words, a nuclear weapons capability.
Korea provides a case in point. It would surprise most Americans to learn that
the United States provided North Korea with over $1.3 billion in assistance
from 1995 to 2008. This aid, along with other benefits, such as North Korea's
removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and the unfreezing of key
assets, was provided even as the U.S. and its allies spent countless dollars
more defending themselves from the dangers emanating from Pyongyang, and as
North Korea made steady progress toward a nuclear weapon, culminating in a pair
of nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
North Korean regime was given relief, not in exchangefor irreversible denuclearization, but for
"confidence-building measures" (CBMs), which stopped short of
addressing Washington's core concerns. The net effect, however, is that
diplomatic confidence has instead been undermined due to the North's reversals,
and Pyongyang has reportedly assembled a nuclear arsenal despite withering
international pressure. While Iran and North Korea are different in many
regards, these outcomes should nevertheless be bracing for those involved in
the nuclear negotiations with Tehran, into which similar language regarding
interim agreements and CBMs has crept.
order for the talks resuming this week in Baghdad to provide a path to Iran's
denuclearization -- rather than a slippery slope towards containment -- the
Obama administration should avoid three key mistakes.
the U.S. should not provide relief from sanctions in exchange for anything less
than the full suspension of uranium enrichment by Tehran, and other
hard-to-reverse steps such as the removal of Iran's enriched uranium stocks and
dismantlement of its key fuel fabrication facilities.
is necessary for three reasons: First, it prevents Iran from using the talks
simply to derail the pressure campaign against it, only to renege on its
commitments later, as it has done in the past. Second, it prevents Iran from
legitimizing its uranium enrichment program and thereby gaining technical
mastery of the enrichment process, which would be a boon should the regime
later kick out inspectors. Finally, it would simplify the task of detecting
Iranian cheating. If Iran is permitted a legitimate enrichment program, then
the IAEA and Western intelligence agencies must seek to detect diversion of
uranium or other material and personnel to a possible parallel, clandestine
program, whereas if Iran is not permitted such activities at all, any
enrichment-related work would be a red flag and a cause for punitive action.
the U.S. must take care not to reward Iran for provocations. Decision-makers in
Tehran cannot help but be pleased that the international community is now
focused on Iran's 19.75 percent enrichment work and treats its 3.5 percent
enrichment as a fait accompli, or that their once-secret facilities at Natanz
and Arak seem likely to remain in operation in the nuclear proposals put
forward by the P5+1.
has tended to focus its energies on each marginal advance by Tehran, such that
what the U.S. now appears willing to do in return for a limit on Iran's
enrichment activities is equivalent to what had previously been offered for a
full suspension of enrichment. This constant re-drawing of U.S. redlines may
seem sensible in the diplomatic heat of battle, but the perverse effect is not
to cap Iran's activities, but to encourage further nuclear progress.
the U.S. must not neglect the bigger picture. It is a common fault of
policymakers -- or any decision-maker, for that matter -- that near-term costs
and benefits are given a disproportionate weight relative to longer-term ones.
For example, there is a great deal of analysis of the impact of military action
against Iran on the price of oil, but little on the long-term effect of Iran
obtaining a nuclear weapon or of a policy of containment on oil prices.
nuclear deal which stops short of fulfilling the U.N. Security Council's
repeated demand for the full suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran, among
other things, holds the possibility of eroding U.S. influence in the Middle
East, undermining U.S. deterrence broadly, strengthening the Iranian regime,
and damaging the integrity of the global non-proliferation regime. Washington
tends to exaggerate the benefits of a deal with Iran, given the short lifespan
of past agreements, and underestimate these long-term costs.
often, a compromise on Iran's nuclear program has been presented by its
advocates as a Hobson's choice -- accept a bad deal, or invite military
conflict. The real choice is between ineffective diplomacy which provides
Tehran with much-sought relief, yet leaves Washington's concerns unresolved and
U.S. policy on a slippery slope towards containment -- or a firmer approach
which provides Tehran with no benefits until it yields its nuclear weapons
capabilities irreversibly. Negotiations and agreements are useful insofar as
they advance our national security interests, but should never be seen as ends
in themselves. The leverage the U.S. has built up has been hard-won, but can be
easily lost, and should not be yielded too readily.
-This commentary was published first in Foreign
Policy on 22/05/2012
Sunday's spasm of violence bodes ill for Lebanese stability. But
the real problem is that there's nobody in charge.
BY MITCH PROTHERO from Beirut, Lebanon
streets of Beirut's working-class Sunni neighborhoods started filling up with
all the signs of trouble by about 9 p.m. on Sunday night. Young men on scooters
clustered together, barricading their neighborhoods with burning tires and
overturned dumpsters. But even cynical observers of Lebanon's descent into
chaos couldn't predict how bad it would get.
youths' fury stemmed from a killing earlier in the day of two prominent Sunni
religious figures from north Lebanon, who died in a hail of bullets at an army
checkpoint. But how and why the two men -- strong supporters of the Syrian
rebellion just over the border -- were killed quickly became moot in the eyes
of the frustrated young men of Beirut. The Army, long a symbol of national
unity in a country torn apart by religion, now appears to have become their
between Lebanon's political movements, which are divided between supporters and
enemies of the Syrian regime, are nothing new. Just last week, the northern
city of Tripoli witnessed clashes after a Lebanese security agency arrested a
popular Islamist activist. But what happened on Sunday night went well beyond
Lebanon's normal dysfunction.
all began when a group of openly armed men attempted to close the office of the
Arab Movement Party, a Sunni group allied with Hezbollah. The party members in
the office were armed but badly outnumbered, and they confronted the group of
furious young men on the street, forcing the Army to intervene. Usually, the
presence of the Lebanese Army calms such incidents. But not this time.
was on the corner of Beirut's Tareeq Jdeideh neighborhood when things turned
bonkers. Attackers opened fire with multiple automatic weapons on a group of
arguing men and soldiers. The soldiers ducked for cover along with the
civilians: A young soldier and I fell behind a Volkswagen sedan for cover as
scores of kids sprinted down the street away from the gunfire. Several were hit
in the back as they fled.
was impossible to see the source of the gunfire, although it was direct and very
close. As rounds bashed into the car and ground around us, the young solider
and I decided we were far too close to the front. Waiting for a lull in the
firing, we both counted off "one, two, three" and he stood up to run
back toward better cover.
soldier stood up with his M-16 ready to spray covering fire for our retreat
when he was promptly shot through the shoulder. He paused and stared down at me
with a confused look on his face. "Run, man, run," I hissed at him,
deciding that he was better off running wounded down the street to his mates,
while I was now much more comfortable laying where I was for the time being.
ran, and I could see him get into a Humvee, his wound serious but not
as it was at the front of the street, where I appeared to be the only one
without a weapon, the block we were trying to reach wasn't much safer. Armed
kids on scooters were using the anarchy to try to assassinate soldiers from
behind. One boy even drove up the street with a face mask on, pulled a pistol,
and pumped a few rounds into the back of a soldier who was returning fire down
the street in the other direction. I heard the pistol shots and saw the soldier
fall, and my colleague witnessed the gunman casually drive away and hand his
mask to one colleague and the gun to another, who zipped away into the night.
least three people were killed and more than a dozen wounded in the mayhem. As
tensions mount between Sunnis and the pro-Syrian neighborhoods of Tripoli,
fears that the rage would spread to Beirut were realized in force Sunday night.
did it all unravel so quickly? The May 20 violence was the culmination of a
steady drumbeat of humiliation for Lebanon's Sunnis that stretches back for
years. In May 2008, militiamen belonging to Hezbollah and its allies ended a
long-simmering political crisis by invading Sunni neighborhoods of West Beirut.
Then, as the Arab Spring unfolded across the Middle East, the main Sunni
leader, Saad al-Hariri, was forced from the premiership by a Hezbollah-led
coalition. And now, as a primarily Sunni rebellion rages against President
Bashar al-Assad, Lebanon's Sunnis are once again outraged at their government's
efforts to clamp down on their attempts to aid their co-religionists across the
yesterday's violence didn't spread outside of traditional Sunni strongholds.
Tareeq Jdeideh lies alongside the Shiite neighborhood of Chiya, and the fear
was that the chaos would draw in gunmen from Hezbollah and its chief ally,
Amal. But Sunday night seemed more about revenge toward the army for the
earlier shootings, months of pent-up frustration from being saddled with a
government perceived to be doing Syria's bidding, and an effort to cleanse
Sunni neighborhoods of proxy parties aligned with the Syrians and Hezbollah.
the experience of May 2008 has shown that the Sunnis are nowhere near capable
of tangling with Hezbollah's well-trained and equipped fighters. By 11 p.m., I
was in a Shiite neighborhood just a few hundred meters away, talking to sources
who described a mobilization by Hezbollah and its allies for a potential
conflict. While that skirmish never arrived, Hezbollah forces did mount an
operation late at night to extract the beleaguered staff of the Arab Movement
Party -- sending in several SUVs to make sure their allies got out.
being one of Lebanon's largest communities, the Sunnis have never been able to
match Hezbollah's street power -- another fact that has added immeasurably to
government kills us. Hezbollah can do anything they want without thinking. They
can take the entire country over if they like," moaned one Sunni partisan
on why they weren't pushing the fight toward their main rivals. "The
Sunnis have nothing."
actually a pretty fair assessment. Lebanon's Sunnis don't hold real political
power in Beirut today: Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni, is by all accounts
a decent and honest man, but he is forced to walk a tightrope between his
pro-Assad coalition partners, who are responsible for elevating him to the top
seat, and his friends in the Syrian regime who have repeatedly threatened to
invade parts of the north if the Lebanese Army does not get tough on smuggling
to the rebels. Whether he's a colorless technocrat doing his best in a tough
situation or a Hezbollah and Syrian stooge, he can hardly be seen as a
representative of the Sunni street.
this complete lack of real political leadership that bodes ill for Lebanon.
Since Hariri's departure last year, no Sunni political leader has gained the
respect and national patronage machine -- critical to getting anything done in
Lebanon -- to take his place.
al-Hariri, Saad's father and the country's longtime prime minister, once held
the community together through force of personality and generous financial
backing from the Saudis. However, his death in 2005 -- allegedly at the hands
of men affiliated with Hezbollah -- has left a hole his son hasn't been able to
fill with anything beyond money. And it would appear the Saudis have withdrawn
their backing for Saad as he waits out events abroad.
Shiites have [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah and [Amal leader Nabih] Berri
to tell them when to fight and when to stop, and their people listen," one
frustrated Beirut Sunni told me late in the evening as he checked the casualty
reports on his phone. "The Sunnis? We have a poster of a dead man."
Lebanon descends into lawlessness, it's hard to see what would assuage the
anger of this proud community, which feels alienated from its own government
and caught between a regional civil war.
only going to get worse: The government's response to the violence will almost
certainly be the tightening of pro-Assad forces' control over the Army, police
and intelligence services. There's already been a quiet movement within the
ministries to stack the bureaucracy with those sympathetic to Hezbollah and its
allies, and the arrests of Sunday night's partisans had already begun by Monday
as Lebanon drifts further into Syria's orbit, a large community of very angry
people began rebelling Sunday night. And the path ahead is neither clear nor
-This commentary was published first in Foreign Policy on
-Mitchell Prothero is a writer and photographer based in Beirut
The Algerian singer died in Cairo on 17 May, but her pleas for
freedom and democracy will live on across the Arab world
By Nabila Ramdani
Mourners at the funeral ceremony of Warda al-Jazairia in Algiers on 19 May 2012. Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters
revolution has its soundtrack, and right now it is the music of Warda
al-Jazairia that is dominating the Arab world. The 72-year-old singer died on
17 May, following a career that not only encompassed popular music and film but
was also deeply enmeshed in politics. Her pleas for freedom and democracy for
the Arab people could be as melodic as the love songs that first propelled her
to international fame. Little wonder, then, that classics like Listen to Me
have been adopted and adapted by demonstrators from Damascus to Tunis as they
try to make themselves heard.
is a particular poignancy to the passing of Warda here in Egypt, her adopted
country. She moved to Cairo in the 1970s, when the capital was the heart of the
Arab world's cultural scene, and it is now at the centre of its political
aspirations. Hugely important presidential elections take place on 24 and 25
May, when it will be the first time that Egyptians can choose a leader. It is
not only them but democrats the world over who want to see the hope and
idealism of the Arab spring translated into representative government.
year Tahrir Square became the tangible symbol of such aspirations as hundreds
of thousands packed into it to demand change. An 18-day revolt not only ended
the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, but galvanised protestors throughout the
Middle East and North Africa. Wandering around the busy traffic island
translated as "Liberation Square" today ,you do not get anything like
the same feeling of history, but still the sound of Warda is everywhere. It
belts out of cheap transistor radios in torn tents, just as it is played
constantly over the sound systems of upmarket western hotels, restaurants and
cafes. On Friday I even heard a national prayer being said for Warda at the Al
Hussein Mosque as worshippers eulogised a woman they loved and respected.
is pretending that the elections are the solution to Egypt's future. Secular
voters fear that Mubarak's autocracy will be replaced by an Islamic one. The
military remains as powerful and sinister as ever, with humans rights groups
accusing them of murder and torture. International monitors have arrived to
oversee the poll, but they are already complaining of interference, and
vote-rigging remains a major concern.
was as aware as anyone of how democratic ideals could be as far away from
reality as her poetic lyrics. She was the daughter of an Algerian father and a
Lebanese mother, and as a child sang nationalist Algerian songs in her father's
Paris cafe. Collections were made to fund the FLN, Algeria's National
Liberation Front, which spearheaded the bloody colonial struggle against the
French. Warda's family were eventually deported for their links with terrorism
(arms were found hidden alongside the coffee bags), and ended up in civil-war
ravaged Beirut. There Warda's anger about all forms of oppression was further
stirred up by meetings with Palestinian refugees and militant political exiles
from every corner of the Arab world.
such radical fervour, it is almost comical to consider that the relatively
anodine My Times Are Sweeter With You was Warda's first huge hit in Cairo. She
recorded some 300 other songs, sold more than 100m albums around the world, and
took the lead role in five feature films, proving that brutal realpolitik need
not be translated into abject cynicism. Her anthem We're Still Standing was
recorded to mark the 50th anniversary of Algerian Independence this year for
good reasons beyond Warda's banal nickname of "Algeria's Rose". It
had been the same when President Nasser of Egypt involved her in his grand
Pan-Arabism project, inviting her to sing in an indisputably idealistic (if
schmaltzy to some) opera called My Greater Homeland.
started her life singing on behalf of Algerian independence, and gradually
built up her repertoire to encompass the Arab world. She, of all people, would
have appreciated the high drama of exiting at the tail-end of the Arab spring.
She got some things very wrong (there was a flirtation with the hair-brained
nationalistic ideology of Muammar Gaddafi), but she knew that popular culture
was crucial to popular political action. Her role was ultimately that of an
artist using words and melody to instill hopes for a better future for all.
Warda's life work was never likely to change the world, but as long as Arabs
call for real change, she will be singing alongside them for a long time to
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 21/05/2012
-Nabila Ramdani is a Paris-born freelance journalist and academic of Algerian
descent. She specialises in Anglo-French issues, Islamic affairs, and the Arab
World. Nabila is also particularly interested in America's War on Terror in the
Muslim world. She was named a Young Global Leader 2012 by the World Economic
Forum and was a winner of the inaugural European Muslim Woman of Influence
Award in 2010
It won’t be easy -- but it sure beats the alternative.
BY MATTHEW BUNN & ABBAS MALEKI
would be forgiven for dismissing negotiations over Iran's nuclear program as
Kabuki theater. Despite years of on-again, off-again efforts, after all, fears
of war continue to simmer.
frustrations are understandable -- but they may not be entirely justified.
Despite real obstacles, there is a serious chance for progress if both sides
come to the table willing to compromise and focused on a step-by-step approach
that gives each side real gains, builds confidence, and allows more time for
talks on the harder issues. The next round of negotiations between Iran and
world powers, slated for May 23 in Baghdad, is crucial -- though only the start
of a long road.
one could claim these negotiations will be easy. Iran and the United States
have been locked in mutual hostility since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, and
this enmity has produced deep mistrust and tough political constraints on both
sides. In a U.S. presidential election year, compromise will be difficult, as
no candidate can be seen as "soft" on Iran -- and in Iran, which has
a presidential election next year, no faction can be seen as advocating retreat
in the face of Western pressure. For a deal to work, both sides have to see it
as genuinely serving their national interests.
as an American and an Iranian, both of us patriots, we believe that a
negotiated deal is possible. Although genuine clashes of interests are at
stake, we believe our countries would be better served by such a pact, however
imperfect, than by continued stalemate or military conflict. For Iran, the
status quo means ongoing sanctions, limited access to foreign investment and
technology, and the looming danger of military strikes. For the United States,
stalemate means no negotiated limits on the Iranian nuclear program, continued
high oil prices (reflecting the risks of conflict), and no resolution of
U.S.-Iranian disputes over terrorism, Israel, and more.
the confrontation deteriorated into a military conflict, it would be a disaster
for both countries' security. Strikes by the United States or Israel would risk
an unpredictable regional conflagration and could convince Iran to redouble its
nuclear efforts and build covert sites that would be hard to find and strike.
open the path to an accord, the parties must combine the realism of small
initial steps with a vision of a long-term rapprochement. Early steps should be
designed to build confidence on both sides that it is worth continuing the
process, and to buy time for further talks.
are a number of ways both sides could bolster confidence in the negotiating
process. Iran should offer to halt its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent
U-235, its buildup of larger stocks of 5 percent enriched uranium, and its
acquisition of ever-more centrifuges as long as the talks are making progress.
As in past proposals, the United States and Europe should offer to provide
low-enriched fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor in exchange for Iran's
agreement to ship a substantial portion of its enriched uranium out of the
country. And Iran should agree to implement the International Atomic Energy
Agency's Additional Protocol, which allows for broader international
inspections of nuclear facilities, as long as cooperation is moving forward.
the same time, the United States and Europe should offer to lift the new oil
and banking sanctions now going into effect -- again, as long as the talks are
making progress. Such initiatives would allow each side to say to skeptics in
its own camp: Things are no longer getting worse; give us more time.
an early gesture, the United States and Europe could also allow the shipment of
desperately needed spare parts for Iran's civilian aircraft, which have been
blocked under sanctions for decades, and allow Iranian airliners to refuel and
receive normal services in Europe. Iran could commit to prevent any arms or
other assistance from flowing to armed groups in Iraq or Afghanistan. The sides
could also negotiate a pact to prevent inadvertent clashes in the Persian Gulf
and work together to stop the flow of heroin from Afghanistan into Iran.
of these interim steps, of course, will be able to produce a breakthrough
unless both Iran and the United States share a long-term vision of forging a
more productive relationship. The nuclear deal that would be a part of this
vision would inevitably involve some level of continued enrichment in Iran
under agreed-upon constraints. Iran would agree to far-reaching inspections and
transparency, including resolving concerns about past work that the West
suspects may have been weapons-related. The United States and its negotiating
partners would agree that Iran's admissions about past activities will not be
part of a nuclear agreement, the United States and Europe should help Iran
replace the aging Tehran Research Reactor with a modern facility outside
densely populated Tehran -- and Iran should agree to suspend construction of
the Arak heavy-water reactor, which the West fears is well suited for plutonium
production, as it would no longer be needed.
not only the nuclear issue that divides Iran and the United States. The two
countries will have to talk directly to address the many other issues that divide
them, including terrorism, sanctions, regional security, and more. All
participants, including the United States, should assure Iran that they will
not attack or threaten to overthrow Iran's government as long as Iran complies
with the nuclear deal and does not commit or sponsor aggression. Iran, for its
part, proposed a nonaggression pact with its Persian Gulf neighbors after the
sides are likely to fear that the other will cheat on its commitments in such a
deal. Both will have to take some risks for peace, while seeking commitments
that are clear and verifiable. But there may be a chance to build a virtuous
cycle: Once the benefits begin to flow, it will likely be harder for those who
would call for ripping up the deal and returning to confrontation to win the
difficult as it is, both sides must come to Baghdad this month ready to offer
clear, verifiable first steps on the path toward compromise -- and away from
the abyss of armed confrontation.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 21/05/2012
-Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, is a
former nonproliferation advisor in the White House's Office of Science and
-Abbas Maleki, an associate professor of energy policy at Sharif University of
Technology in Tehran and Robert Wilhelm fellow at the Center for International
Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a former deputy
foreign minister of Iran
Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has just marked its 30th anniversary of liberation from
Israeli occupation, the region is perhaps less integrated with the rest of the
Egyptian state now than at any time since the Camp David Accords returned
sovereignty of the Sinai to Cairo. An influx of arms from Libya and elsewhere
is fuelling a growing insurgency amongst an alienated and disenfranchised
population and deteriorating relations between Egypt and Israel are threatening
to once more make the Sinai borderlands a battleground between these regional
security authorities blame most of the scores of attacks on police since the
January 25, 2011 Egyptian uprising on Gaza-based Palestinian militant groups
such as Jaljalat, Jaysh al-Islam, Izz al-Din al-Qassam and the local al-Qaeda
in the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt Independent, May 1). However, while radical Islamism and close
ties to Palestinian militants in Gaza play an important role in the unrest,
there is little question that the core of the Sinai insurgency consists of
armed Bedouin who exist largely on the fringes of Egypt’s Nile and Delta-based
enforcement has declined in the Sinai to the point that the police exist mainly
to protect police installations that increasingly resemble improvised
fortresses protected by large sand berms and steel walls to repel RPG attacks.
The security situation is not helped by continuing protests against the
military government by disgruntled police across Egypt, including in the towns
of the northern Sinai. The Bedouin tribesmen have little fear of government
authorities – security checkpoints are routinely attacked and security men and
The Bedouin Factor
chiefs have issued demands for the establishment of a free trade zone and open
passage for trade between Gaza and the Sinai, a move that would provide much
needed employment and opportunity for local tribesmen, but which is unlikely to
ever receive the necessary approval of Israel (MENA, April 21). It is estimated
that 90% of the Bedouin population is unemployed and prevented by law from
seeking employment in either the security services or the resorts of southern
Sinai. The Bedouin are demanding the right to participate in the local security
apparatus, but the idea has met resistance in Cairo where lingering questions
about Bedouin loyalty to the state have deterred providing the Bedouin with
modern arms and training. The release of Bedouin prisoners seized before last
year’s Egyptian Revolution and the right to own land are also high on the
military government used the Liberation Day holiday to announce the commitment
of $66 million to development projects in the northern Sinai, the largest
project involving an upgrade to the port at al-Arish (Ahram Online, April 25).
Further agreements to initiate a labor-intensive extension of water supply
lines in north and south Sinai were signed the next day (Bikya Masr [Cairo],
April 26). However, there is little chance of significant progress being made
until after Egypt’s presidential elections, a multi-staged process which will
begin on May 23.
The Sinai as an Election Issue
the elections approach, it has become clear that local issues in the Sinai have
become irretrievably interwoven with Egypt’s changing relationship with Israel,
as revealed by an examination of the platforms of several leading candidates:
Moderate Islamist candidate Muhammad Salim al-Awa has called for
negotiations with Israel to amend the Camp David treaty in areas “that go
against Egypt’s interests, like dividing the Sinai into three demilitarized
zones, allowing Israelis into the Sinai without visas and other privileges
given to Israel that should stop immediately” (Al-Ahram Weekly, May 10-16).
Amr Moussa, a secular candidate and former chairman of the Arab
League, has called for a new agreement with Israel for the export of Egyptian
natural gas across the Sinai based on current global market prices, adding that
Israel must abandon its “policy of intransigence, threatening, [development of]
settlements, occupation and [allow] the establishment of a sovereign
Palestinian state” (Business Today Egypt, May 8).Moussa has promised to restore stability in
the peninsula, end the marginalization of the Bedouin tribes and overturn the
prohibition against Bedouin owning land in the Sinai (Ahram Online, April 21).
Neo-Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi (Karame Party) has promised
to create a new local police force that is in tune with the rights and
traditions of the Bedouin as part of an effort to turn the Sinai into “a
paradise.” Nonetheless, his recent visit to the peninsula was cut short after
receiving threats on his life from a Salafist group in the northern Sinai town
of Shaykh Zuwayid despite promising to release all Bedouin political prisoners
and suspected militants without conditions if elected (Ahram Online, April 21;
Muhammad Mursi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and
Justice Party, has called for urban development in the Sinai and the
resettlement of millions of Egyptians in the sparsely inhabited region as
Egypt’s population surges towards the 90 million mark, far more than can be
comfortably supported in the Delta region and the slim fertile strip along the
Nile (Ahram Online, April 29). A message from Muslim Brotherhood leader
Muhammad Badi on April 26 said that the Mubarak regime had persecuted the
Bedouin as criminals when they were, in fact “patriotic citizens.” Badi added that
a mass transfer of Egyptians to the Sinai from other parts of Egypt would
“frustrate Zionist ambitions to seize Sinai once again” (EgyptWindow.net, April
these pledges have had only limited resonance with the Sinai Bedouin.As North Sinai Bedouin writer Ashraf Ayoub
put it, “Sinai doesn't need promises – what it really needs is reconciliation
between the locals of Sinai and the rest of Egypt which looks at them like
foreigners who plot against the country. We are more than a group of people who
live in a strategic location" (Ahram Online, April 29).
the meantime there is growing evidence that Libya’s looted armories are now
being used to equip militants in the Sinai much as they have provided modern
weaponry to militants in parts of North and West Africa. Egyptian security
forces reported the seizure on May 10 of a large quantity of weapons being
transferred to the Sinai for use against Egyptian security forces by a convoy
heading east from the Mediterranean port city of Mersa Matruh. Among the
weapons were 50 surface-to-surface rockets, 17 grenade-launchers, seven assault
rifles, a mortar and a large quantity of ammunition. The three smugglers
arrested were reported to be Sinai Bedouin (Daily Star [Beirut], May 10; AP,
authorities announced on April 5 that one or two rockets possibly of Libyan
origin had been fired at the Israeli Red Sea port of Eilat from the Egyptian
Sinai, though Egyptian spokesmen claimed Israel was only “spreading rumors”
(Al-Quds al-Arabi, April 7; NOW Lebanon, April 10; AP, May 10). Israel is
preparing to link Eilat to an early-warning system in anticipation of further
rocket attacks from Egypt.
sees the hand of Shiite Iran behind the turmoil in the Sunni Sinai. According
to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “The Sinai is turning into a kind of
“Wild West” which ... terror groups from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda,
with the aid of Iran, are using to smuggle arms, to bring in arms, to mount
attacks against Israel” (Voice of Israel Network B, April 24). Egyptian
security sources are reported to have expressed their own suspicions of Iranian
funding for weapons transfers from Libya to Sinai, though Iran has denied any
such activities (al-Sharq al-Awsat, May 8). Egypt and Iran have not had
diplomatic relations since Egypt’s recognition of Israel in 1980, though
efforts have been underway to re-establish relations since the overthrow of
Israel’s Natural Gas Supply
persistent irritant in Egyptian-Israeli relations are the long-term contracts
for the supply of Egyptian natural gas to Israel at below market rates
negotiated by corrupt businessmen within the inner circle of former president
Hosni Mubarak. With the pipeline to Israel having been blown by Sinai-based
militants 14 times since Mubarak was deposed in January 2011, Egypt finally
announced on April 23 that the natural gas agreement had been scrapped. The
pipeline, which has not been operational since March 5, was last bombed on
April 9 when militants mistakenly believed it had been returned to use after
noting the Interior Ministry had sent some 2,000 Special Forces officers to
guard it (Ma’an News Agency, April 9; April 15). A dispute over missing
payments appears to have been the main cause for the termination of the
official in Egypt’s oil ministry commented: “It was a popular demand to call
off this treaty, as we export gas to [Israel] cheaper than market prices… Their
error was not to pay on time, and we have taken the opportunity to stop this
shameful deal” (Bikya Masr [Cairo], April 23).
to an official of the East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG), Egypt has the right
“to cancel its contract with the company as… [Israel] has not paid its
commitments for several months…” (al-Hayat, April 29). EMG was founded by
fugitive financier Hussein Salim, a former crony of Mubarak. However,
international shareholders in the EMG are trying to paint the cancellation as a
political move as the basis for an $8 billion lawsuit (Ahram Online, May 3). A
statement from the shareholders claims that the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding
Company (ENGH) failed to protect the pipeline, though the latter describes the
repeated bombings of the pipeline as a force majeure situation and insists that
it was non-payment for gas received that led to the cancellation of further
shipments in line with the terms of the contract (al-Hayat, April 27).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to downplay suggestions that
Egypt’s cancellation was a form of aggression against Israel by confirming the
decision was part of a “legal-commercial dispute” that would not have
long-lasting effects due to the development of natural gas resources in the
Mediterranean that would make Israel “a major exporter of natural gas in the
world” (Voice of Israel Network B, April 24).
A Greater Threat to Israel than Iran?
foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman recently described Egypt as “more troubling
than the Iranian issue” and advised Prime Minister Netanyahu to move three to
four divisions up to the Sinai border, complaining that the seven Egyptian
battalions currently operating in the Sinai “aren’t carrying out real
antiterrorism activities” (Ma’ariv [Tel Aviv], April 22). Though offered
several opportunities to do so, Lieberman has not backed away from his
assessment that Egypt will commit a major violation of the 1979 peace treaty
after the upcoming presidential election in order to unite the nation around a
publication of Lieberman’s remarks was followed by an immediate request by
Egypt’s foreign minister Muhammad Kamel Amr for “clarification” on their
accuracy (Ahram Online, April 24). Lieberman’s assertion was also challenged by
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “The Iranian threat is a threat with
existential potential. At the moment this is not the case [with Egypt]…”
(Globes Online [Rishon Le-Zion], April 25).
Counterterrorism Bureauissued a warning
on April 21 for all Israelis in the Sinai to leave the region and return to
Israel after it claimed to have determined that terrorists were planning an
attack against resorts in the southern Sinai that are highly popular with
Israeli tourists (Ahram Online, April 21). However, the warnings appear to have
had little resonance with Israeli holiday-makers in search of a cheap vacation,
with border authorities reporting more Israelis entering Egypt than leaving and
resort owners in South Sinai reporting that most hotels were fully booked
(Jerusalem Post, April 23). South Sinai Governor Major General Khalid Fouda
suggested that Israel spread rumors of imminent terrorist attacks whenever
Egypt’s tourism industry showed signs of recovery from the low point reached
during the 2011 revolution (Ahram Online, April 21).
of the largely Bedouin “Sinai Revolutionaries Movement” attempted to strike a
symbolic blow against Israel on Liberation Day by planning to paint an Israeli
memorial in the Sinai to ten Israeli soldiers killed in a helicopter crash
during the Israeli occupation with the Egyptian colors (al-Youm al-Saba’a [Cairo],
April 25).The effort was prevented by
Egyptian security forces who are obliged to protect the memorial under the
terms of the Camp David agreement. Israel in turn maintains a memorial to
fallen Egyptian troops in the Negev Desert. A spokesman for the northern Sinai
tribes, Abd al-Mun’im al-Rifa’i, said the people of the Sinai reject this
provision of the treaty and cited a “need to demolish the rock [i.e. the
memorial in the form of a large rock] because it stands as a provocation” to
the Sinai tribes who “do not want any memorial for the Zionist entity on their
land” (al-Hayat, April 27). The movement cites Israel’s reluctance to agree to
a greater Egyptian security presence in the Sinai as a principal cause of the
region’s instability (Ma’an News Agency [Bethlehem], April 12). Annex 1 of the
Camp David Accords divides the Sinai Peninsula into four zones running roughly
north-south (“Zones A to D”), with the Egyptian security presence in each zone
decreasing as they grow closer to the Israeli border. Any change to these
deployments must be made with the agreement of the Israeli government, severely
limiting Cairo’s ability to meet security challenges in the Sinai.
state-controlled Egyptian media source suggested it was time to “change the
rules of the game” imposed on Egypt by the Camp David agreement:
is no longer acceptable to tolerate tipping the balances of power in favor of
the Israeli enemy. It is no longer possible to submit to conditions of
capitulation that undermine Egypt's sovereignty or allow its resources to be
stolen. It is no longer possible to be tolerant with Israel's conspiracies
against Egypt's interests in the waters of the Nile (al-Akhbar, April 29).
an effort to permanently cut off Hamas-governed Gaza from Egypt, Israel is
constructing a new security barrier along its border with Sinai that is
expected to be finished later this year. The new fence will be five meters
high, covered in barbed wire and augmented by dozens of radar installations.
120 km have been finished so far, with work continuing on a further 100 km
(Jerusalem Post, April 25). After five failed attempts, the new fence was
successfully breached by Bedouin smugglers using hydraulic tools in early May,
though the infiltrators were quickly caught by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF)
(Arutz Sheva [Tel Aviv], May 2; Times of Israel, May 2).
is also increasing its military presence along the border. The IDF’s 80th
“Edom” Division has experienced significant upgrades since it was redeployed
along the Sinai border following cross-border attacks last August (Ma’ariv [Tel
Aviv], April 6). In addition, the IDF announced call up orders for an
additional six battalions to man the Sinai and Syrian borders on May 3 (Arutz
Sheva [Tel Aviv], May 3).
month, Egypt’s Second Army commenced Nasr-7, one of the largest live-fire
exercises carried out in years in the Sinai. The commander of the Second Army,
Major General Muhammad Farid Hijazi, announced that the Egyptian military was
fully capable of defending the Sinai against attacks from any quarter (MENA,
April 23). Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt’s military
government, adopted a belligerent tone during the exercise, telling troops of
the Second Army: “We will break the legs of anyone who dares to come near to
the borders” (Ahram Online, April 23).
International Peacekeepers under Pressure
to ensure that the security provisions of the Camp David agreement are
maintained is the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), consisting of some
1400 soldiers and civilians from 12 nations, including 800 Americans operating
as a sub-unit known as “Task Force Sinai.”
the parties of the 1978 peace treaty having failed to obtain backing for a UN
peacekeeping force, the MFO was created in 1981 as an alternative, equipped
with a mandate to supervise the security provisions of the treaty and to use
its influence to prevent treaty violations. Financing for the force is divided
three ways between the United States, Israel and Egypt. The MFO deployment
began on April 25, 1982, as Israel withdrew from the Sinai and returned
sovereignty to Egypt. Increasingly, however, the MFO is finding its ability to
carry out its mission restricted by growing levels of militancy in the Sinai.
mid-March, some 300 Bedouin armed with automatic rifles surrounded a MFO base
holding hundreds of U.S., Colombian and Uruguayan troops to pressure Cairo to
release five tribesmen facing possible sentences of death or life in prison for
their alleged role in the 2005 bombings of the Sharm al-Shaykh resort in
southern Sinai (Ahram Online, March 15). On May 7, ten Fijian soldiers
belonging to the MFO were kidnapped along the Auja-Arish highway in northern
Sinai by Bedouin demanding the release of several tribesmen from prison. The
Fijians were released later that day following negotiations with Egyptian
authorities in which the kidnappers were assure their demands would be met
(Ahram Online [Cairo], May 7; AFP, May 7).
Egyptian relations with Israel continue to cool, the interim military
government in Cairo has no wish to become involved at this point in a military
confrontation with Israel sparked by the activities of militant groups in the
Sinai. While Field Marshal Tantawi talks tough about defending Egypt’s borders,
he and the rest of the military command are aware that even defensive clashes
with the IDF could jeopardize ongoing U.S. funding of the Egyptian military,
particularly in a sensitive election year in the United States. At the same
time, Israeli demands for greater security in the peninsula cannot be met
without revisions to those parts of the Camp David treaty governing the number
of troops and types of military equipment that can be deployed there. Most
important, however, is the need to address the long-standing grievances of the
indigenous Bedouin population who find themselves unhappily trapped on a
traditional Egyptian-Israeli battleground while held in suspicion by both
parties. In the absence of meaningful efforts to resolve their economic and
social issues, the Bedouin will continue to find themselves attracted to
militancy, a situation that has the potential of igniting a new Middle Eastern
-This report was published in the Terrorism Monitor, Volume: 10,
Issue: 10, on 18/05/2012
-Andrew McGregor is Director of Aberfoyle International Security, a
Toronto-based agency specializing in security issues related to the Islamic
1. For al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, see Andrew McGregor,
Jamestown Foundation Hot Issue, “Has al-Qaeda Opened a New Chapter in the Sinai
Peninsula?,” August 17, 2011