Saturday, June 30, 2012

Turkey In Game Of Chicken With Syria

By Emrullah Uslu

Turkish F-4 Phantom fighter jet (Source: The Guardian)

Turkey-Syria relations have entered a new stage after Syrian forces shot down a Turkish F-4 fighter jet on June 22 in international waters over the Mediterranean Sea. Syria claimed that the Turkish jet violated Syrian airspace, but Turkey protested that its aircraft was in Syrian airspace for only a brief time and left after just two minutes. Thirteen minutes after the Turkish plane exited Syrian airspace, Syria’s air defense forces shot down the jet. Its two pilots are still missing (TRT, June 24). Turkey considered the Syrian aggression to be an attack against Turkey and claimed that Syria has become a security risk for the region. In response to the incident, Ankara requested a meeting of the North Atlantic Alliance’s ambassadors in Brussels after invoking Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty, which entitles any member state to ask for consultations if it believes its security is threatened. At the consultation meeting, which was held on Tuesday, June 26, NATO members extended their support to Turkey and warned Syria not to ever again engage in such aggression. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “It is another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms. NATO allies will remain seized of developments” (, June 26).

Turkey has outlined its action plan against Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey considers Syria a regional security risk and that, in response, Turkey was changing its military rules of engagement. Prime Minister Erdogan declared: “Every military element approaching Turkey from the Syrian border and representing a security risk and danger will be assessed as a military threat and will be treated as a military target” (, June 26). 

Turkish experts believe that Erdogan’s statement suggests Ankara aims to build a de facto free zone inside Syria to protect Syrian oppositionists (Radikal, June 27). However it is unlikely that the Bashar al-Assad regime will allow Turkey to build such zone without military engagement with the Syrian Army.

Syrian President Assad told Iranian state television on Thursday that there is a difference between the policies Ankara endorses and the Turkish people’s view of Syria. Assad criticized Turkey: “What we see now shows the stance of some Turkish officials but not all.” He further said, “The policies of the Turkish officials lead to the killing and bloodshed of the Syrian people.” Assad noted he does not believe the crisis will result in military action in Syria, saying that what took place in Libya was “not a solution to be copied because it took Libya from one situation into a much worse one.” He added, “We all now see how the Libyan people are paying the price” (Today’s Zman, June 29).

Meanwhile Turkish diplomats have been working hard to bring the international community together against Syria. A Turkish diplomat told Jamestown on June 27 that Turkey will respond to Syria on its own timetable. However, Ankara will definitely take some action against Damascus, within the limits of international law. Syrian aggression against Turkey will not be tolerated, the diplomat said. 

Iranian diplomats, on the other hand, have urged Ankara and Damascus to show “restraint.” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi openly asked “both sides to show calm and restraint and hopes that, with tact and tolerance and dialogue, this issue will be evaluated; and through a peaceful resolution, tranquility and stability will be preserved in the region” (ANKA News Agency, June 24). Russia took a similar approach toward Turkey. The office of the Turkish Prime Minister revealed Erdogan had called Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the incident. According to Erdogan’s office, “Putin expressed his deep sorrow over the incident during the talk.” However, as Hurriyet Daily News pointed out, “Moscow described the attack as ‘unintentional and not provocative,’ obviously challenging Ankara’s technical findings on the incident” (, June 28).

Meanwhile, according to Turkish press reports, the Turkish military has been deploying armed units on the Turkish-Syrian border. For instance, in Gaizantep province, Turkey has deployed units armed with Stinger surface-to-air missiles aimed toward Syria (, June 29).

In response, Syria has also been positioning its military units on the Turkish border. According to a general from the Free Syrian Army, Assad deployed 170 tanks close to Turkish territory. It could be a challenge to Turkey as well as a signal of a planned operation inside Syria, the general said (, June 29). As expected, the Syrian regime has been deploying its military on the border to avoid the creation of a free zone inside its territory by outside forces; such a zone would be a safe haven for the Syrian opposition.

As late as today (June 29), Prime Minister Erdogan once more highlighted Ankara’s position on Syria: “When it comes to protecting our border, we will turn into a flood to wash over our enemy” (, June 29).

Despite Erdogan’s warmongering rhetoric, Turks do not want to engage in a war. According to an opinion poll carried out by ANAR, only five percent of Turks want to initiate a war with any other country, including Israel (Sabah, June 27). 

As Turkish expert Sami Kohen argues, Turkey’s strategy is based on a “controlled tension to mount pressure on the Assad regime.” Syria, on the other hand, expects mediators such as Russia and Iran to extend an apology and perhaps even some compensation to Ankara on behalf of Damascus. However, such an offer would not satisfy Turkey (Milliyet, June 29).

Thus, in the coming days, we should expect a game of chicken to play out on the Turkish-Syrian border. Whichever party loses its nerve first will also lose the game.

-This analysis was published first  Eurasia Daily Monitor, Volume: 9, Issue: 124,June 29, 2012

Jordan's High Stakes Electoral Reform

By Curtis R. Ryan

Jordan's lower house of parliament has approved the country's latest draft electoral law, and was soon seconded by the upper house or senate, with no revisions. The public response, however, was anything but quiet. The new electoral law triggered instant uproar across the kingdom among opposition and pro-reform activists.

Even in parliament itself, some members threatened to resign over passage of what they viewed as a regressive law, while others even came to blows. Opposition parties and movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated political party, the Islamic Action Front, threatened to boycott the election unless the law was changed. The Jordanian parts of the twitterverse and blogosphere lit up with animated discussions, most of which were scathing in their assessment of the new law and indeed of reform in the kingdom in general. Indeed, the draft law -- coupled with highly unpopular economic austerity measures -- seemed to reinvigorate Jordan's 17 month old protest movement.

Even writing this feels like déjà vu, however, since this is Jordan's second electoral law in as many months, put forth by its fourth government in the last 17 months. In a sense, we have seen this movie before.  Or have we? King Abdullah surprised many observers by calling for a special session of parliament, sending the legislation back to be amended, and even making the same suggestion as the opposition: adding seats for political parties and national lists.

The new law increased parliament from 120 to 140 seats. Voters will have two votes: one for a district representative and one for national level lists that include (but are not limited to) political parties. 15 seats will be reserved to guarantee women's representation (up from the previous 12). 108 seats will come from the traditional district format, while 17 (two more than in the electoral law proposed two months ago) would be reserved for the national lists.

So why the negative public response? Clearly government and opposition seem to have dramatically different senses of what is actually happening. But the polarization has, in fact, reached potentially dangerous levels. Adding difficult austerity measures to the already widespread lack of public confidence in the reform process creates a potentially volatile mix.

For the regime, this level of public disaffection is puzzling and may be due to the tedium of the process itself. It could be fixed, in other words, by simply completing the reform process and finally arriving at the end result. In my own meeting with the king a month ago, he was earnest and even passionate about his reform vision and about the urgency of getting this right. The electoral law, he argued, is in many respects the final piece in the overall political reform puzzle. The kingdom has already unveiled multiple constitutional amendments, a constitutional court, a new law on political parties, and an independent electoral commission.

King Abdullah has consistently insisted that elections be held before the end of the year. He has argued that elections and a new parliament would engage the citizenry in the reform project and launch Jordan into an entirely new era. The king also suggested that the next government might come from parliament itself, from whatever key parties and blocs of MPs coalesce after the election. Since this is a key opposition demand, it would mark a major departure from the last several decades of Jordanian politics.

For Jordan's array of opposition parties, popular movements, civil society organizations, and its even larger numbers of independent reform activists, the new law is a key opportunity to see -- once and for all -- if the reform process is real. They have consistently demanded an end to the one-person one-vote system used in various forms since 1993, since it is associated with various abuses and with curbing the strength of the opposition.

The National Dialogue Commission, formed after the start of the Arab spring movements, had recommended a mixed electoral system, and the government argues that that is exactly what they have produced. The opposition, however, sees this as the old one-person one-vote system, with a handful of additional seats tacked on for parties and national blocs. After all the talk of reform, they argue, the new law looks like the old law with a few post-it notes to parties attached. They have demanded that more seats be added for parties, making it a more genuinely mixed electoral system, and King Abdullah himself appears to agree.

The task at hand actually consists of at least three key parts: improving the electoral law, making the elections themselves more free and fair, and finally, making parliament itself a relevant institution again (which would entail a greater separation of powers between parliament and the monarchy). The first issue of adding seats can now be accomplished by parliamentary amendment. The current number of a mere 17 seats out of 140 seems far too small. But the demand of opposition parties for 50% of MPs to come from parties is likely far too large, at least at this stage (Jordan's first use of party lists and proportional representation). Yet an increase of some sort is clearly required. Even doubling the current number might reasonably respond meet opposition demands while also preventing widespread panic in old guard forces such as Jordan's always conservative mukhabarat or General Intelligence Directorate (GID).

The second task falls on the new electoral commission, which has the difficult task of making sure that the electoral process itself is fair, accurate, and free from the rigging that has at times marred electoral results, especially in the recent past.  The leader of the commission, Abd al-Ilah al-Khatib, a former foreign minister and the U.N.'s former envoy attempting to mediate the crisis in Libya, has a reputation for honesty and integrity. But he also has a tremendously difficult job and very little time to do it in. "Time matters," he noted, "But we won't cut corners, because credibility and transparency matter more than a particular date. Still, we would prefer to have the election before the end of the year." The commission therefore plans to draw on international expertise, in everything from voter cards, to ballots, ballot boxes, and handicapped accessibility of polling stations.

Meanwhile, Jordan's raging debate over political reform is further constrained by regional violence and unrest, and the influences of both successes and failures of movements outside Jordan -- from Egypt to Syria. Unfortunately for the reform movement in Jordan, the threats to Jordan's internal and external security tend to undermine their desires for openness and change. Knee-jerk security reactions always undermine democratic impulses, and certainly not just in Jordan. Instead, these dire domestic and regional circumstances should be read as King Abdullah has himself suggested on many occasions -- an opportunity.

This leads back to a broader question: given the difficult economic circumstances and regional unrest, should reform in Jordan slow down or speed up? Jordan's GID and much of its old guard elite consistently argue for the former. But they have just as consistently been wrong. The issue is not just reform or security in Jordan in 2012 or 2013. Public patience is long gone. Protests now include locations, clans, and tribes that had formerly been counted as bastions of regime loyalty. The deeper issue is the very nature and identity of Jordan's society and regime, now and well into the future.

Failure to proceed with real rather than cosmetic reform will be a far greater threat to regime security than anything occurring in Syria, Iraq, Israel, or Palestine. But since public patience is quickly dissipating, and there is no sign of an economic recovery in the near future (and indeed, more austerity measures can be expected), then the only pressure release the country has is to open the system politically. Allowing deeper reform via a more inclusive electoral law, revitalizing parliament as a significant institution, drawing government from the elected parliament, and allowing a greater separation of powers would actually strengthen the monarchy and Jordanian security for the long run.

The moment is now. Parliament has an opportunity to respond to both the king and Jordanian society by amending the electoral law to be more inclusive and democratic. The electoral commission has the daunting task of modernizing and cleaning up the electoral process itself. If these reforms were combined with clear commitments to draw the next government from the largest parliamentary blocs and thereafter allow a greater separation of powers (and hence a revitalization of parliamentary life and institutional significance) than the reform process can truly move forward.

King Abdullah has talked frequently and even passionately about the Arab spring as an opportunity rather than a constraint. He may well be right about that. And that is all the more reason not to miss this opportunity to create a truly alternative and uniquely Jordanian model for reform and democratic change.

-This commentary was published first in Foreign Policy on 29/06/2012
-Curtis R. Ryan @Curtisryan1 is associate professor of political science at Appalachian State University and author of Jordan in Transition: From Hussein to Abdullah and Inter-Arab Alliances: Regime Security and Jordanian Foreign Policy

Friday, June 29, 2012

Western Agreement 'Could Leave Syria In Assad's Hands For Two More Years'

Special Report: Need for oil routes buys time, claims key Damascus figure

By Robert Fisk

                                                               Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria may last far longer than his opponents believe – and with the tacit acceptance of Western leaders anxious to secure new oil routes to Europe via Syria before the fall of the regime. According to a source intimately involved in the possible transition from Baath party power, the Americans, Russians and Europeans are also putting together an agreement that would permit Assad to remain leader of Syria for at least another two years in return for political concessions to Iran and Saudi Arabia in both Lebanon and Iraq.

For its part, Russia would be assured of its continued military base at Tartous in Syria and a relationship with whatever government in Damascus eventually emerges with the support of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Russia’s recent concession – that Assad may not be essential in any future Syrian power structure – is part of a new understanding in the West which may accept Assad’s presidency in return for an agreement that prevents a further decline into civil war.

Information from Syria suggests that Assad’s army is now “taking a beating” from armed rebels, who include Islamist as well as nationalist forces; at least 6,000 soldiers are now believed to have been murdered or killed in action since the rebellion against Assad began 17 months ago. There are even unconfirmed reports that during any one week up to a thousand Syrian fighters are under training by mercenaries in Jordan at a base used by Western authorities for personnel seeking ‘anti-terrorist’ security exercises.

The US-Russian negotiations – easy to deny, and somewhat cynically hidden behind the current mutual accusations of Hillary Clinton and her Russian opposite number, Sergei Lavrov – would mean that the superpowers would acknowledge Iran’s influence over Iraq and its relationship with its Hezballah allies in Lebanon, while Saudi Arabia – and Qatar - would be encouraged to guarantee Sunni Muslim rights in Lebanon and in Iraq. Baghdad’s emergence as a centre of Shia power has caused much anguish in Saudi Arabia whose support for the Sunni minority in Iraq has hitherto led only to political division.

But the real object of talks between the world powers revolves around the West’s determination to secure oil and particularly gas from the Gulf states without relying upon supplies from Moscow. “Russia can turn off the spigot to Europe whenever it wants – and this gives it tremendous political power,” the source says. “We are talking about two fundamental oil routes to the West – one from Qatar and Saudi Arabia via Jordan and Syria and the Mediterranean to Europe, another from Iran via Shia southern Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean and on to Europe. This is what matters. This is why they will be prepared to let Assad last for another two years, if necessary. They would be perfectly content with that. And Russia will have a place in the new Syria.”

Diplomats who are still discussing these plans should, of course, be treated with some scepticism. It is one thing to hear political leaders excoriating the Syrian regime for its abuse of human rights and massacres – quite another to realise that Western diplomats are quite prepared to put this to one side for the proverbial ‘bigger picture’ which, as usual in the Middle East, means oil and gas supplies. They are prepared to tolerate Assad’s presence until the end of the crisis, rather than insisting his departure is the start of the end. The Americans apparently say the same. Now Russia believes that stability is more important than Assad himself.

It is clear that Bashar al-Assad should have gone ahead with extensive reforms when his father Hafez died in 2000. At that stage, according to Syrian officials, Syria’s economy was in a far better state than Greece is today. And the saner voices influencing Assad’s leadership were slowly deprived of their power. One official close to the president called him during the height of last year’s fighting to say that “Homs is burning”. Assad’s reaction was to refuse all personal conversation with the official in future, insisting on only SMS messages. “Assad no longer has personal power over all that happens in Syria,” the informant says. “It’s not because he doesn’t want to – there’s just too much going on all over the country for one man to keep in touch with it all.”

What Assad is still hoping for, according to Arab military veterans, is a solution a-l’Algerie. After the cancellation of democratic elections in Algeria, its army and generals – ‘le pouvoir’ to Algerians – fought a merciless war against rebels and Islamist guerrillas across the country throughout the 1990s, using torture and massacre to retain government power but leaving an estimated 200,000 dead among their own people.

Amid this crisis, the Algerian military actually sent a delegation to Damascus to learn from Hafez el-Assad’s Syrian army how it destroyed the Islamist rebellion in Hama – at a cost of up to 20,000 dead – in 1982. The Algerian civil war – remarkably similar to that now afflicting Assad’s regime – displayed many of the characteristics of the current tragedy in Syria: babies with their throats cut, families slaughtered by mysterious semi-military ‘armed groups’, whole towns shelled by government forces.

And, much more interesting to Assad’s men, the West continued to support the Algerian regime with weapons and political encouragement throughout the 1990s while huffing and puffing about human rights. Algeria’s oil and gas reserves proved more important than civilian deaths – just as the Damascus regime now hopes to rely upon the West’s desire for via-Syria oil and gas to tolerate further killings. Syrians say that Jamil Hassan, the head of Air Force intelligence in Syria is now the ‘killer’ leader for the regime – not so much Bashar’s brother Maher whose 4th Division is perhaps being given too much credit for suppressing the revolt. It has certainly failed to crush it.

The West, meanwhile has to deal with Syria’s contact man, Mohamed Nassif, perhaps Assad’s closest political adviser. The question remains, however, as to whether Bashar al-Assad – however much he fails to control military events on the ground – really grasps the epic political importance of what is going on in his country. Prior to the rebellion, European and Turkish leaders were astonished to hear from him that Sunni forces in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli were trying “to create a Salafist state” that would threaten Syria. How this extraordinary assertion – based, presumably on the tittle-tattle of an intelligence agent – could have formulated itself in Assad’s mind, remained a mystery.

-This commentary was published first in The Independent on 29/06/2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Explosive Video Documents Depth Of Putin's Mafia State

By Michael Weiss

It is no longer possible to distinguish where organized crime ends and the state begins in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. An extraordinary 17-minute video just exhibited by the anti-corruption website Russian Untouchables shows how an elite crime syndicate headed by a longtime gangster, Dmitry Klyuev, and including active agents of the Russian Interior Ministry and Moscow tax offices, managed to steal close to $1 billion from state coffers in fraudulent tax claims. It was the Klyuev Group that attorney Sergei Magnitsky exposed after one of his clients, Hermitage Capital, was raided and its corporate documents pilfered in order to defraud the Russian state of $230 million in a sham corporate tax refund—a refund which was processed in a single day by the co-conspirators themselves. After Magnitsky exposed it, the Klyuev Group had him framed, tortured, and murdered, then blamed for the crime. The substance of this new video, all obtained through Magnitsky’s relentless legal work and backed by bank, state, and airline records, is both the reason for his death as well as his testament. All the evidence corroborating what Magnitsky uncovered can be accessed at the Russian Untouchables website. What follows is a precis of the film.

Dmitry Klyuev was a petty crook who was hired in 2002 by Igor Sagiryan, the president of Renaissance Capital, one of Moscow’s most prominent investment firms, to act as a “tax advisor who had skills in arranging tax refunds through the Russian court system,” according to another Renaissance executive who testified in court. The scheme involved arranging a refund for a company Renaissance had only recently purchased; it was completed within 6 to 8 months.

Two years later, Klyuev and his lawyer, Andrey Pavlov, tried to steal $1.6 billion in shares from the iron ore company Mikhailovsky GOK. An investigation was launched by the Interior Ministry headed by Major Pavel Karpov, who instead of doing his duty, became an accomplice of his suspect. He and Klyuev went on holiday together to Larnaca, Cyprus four months before the verdict against the latter was announced. Karpov helpfully identified Klyuev’s 41 year-old driver, soon found dead of “heart failure,” as the true mastermind of the Mikhailovsky GOK fraud. Klyuev received a suspended sentence and light fine while his attorney Pavlov was never even indicted.

In August 2006, Karpov and his superior at the Interior Ministry, Lieutenant Colonel Artem Kuznetsov, acting at Klyuev’s behest, arranged the arrest of Fyodor Mikheev, a 36 year-old fertilizer executive from Moscow. Klyuev then asked his enforcer Sergei Orlov to take Mikheev from his prison cell at Petrovka 38 to a country house where Mikheev was held for a $20 million ransom by Orlov and a convicted killer and former sawmill worker, Viktor Markelov. These low-level thugs threatened to gang rape Mikheev’s wife if she went to the police. According to Ekaterina Mikheeva’s testimony, they told her: “[W]ould you like it if you were taken to a country house with many drunken men who would then rape you in a circle?” She went to the authorities anyway, relying on a federal anti-kidnapping task force to free her husband. Orlov and Markelov were arrested. A criminal case was opened against Karpov and Kuznetsov, and Klyuev was questioned. But the case was subsequently dropped, and Orlov and Markelov were freed despite being found holding Mikheev against his will. Mikheev later testified that Orlov had informed him that Karpov and Kuznetsov “were the vengeful sword of the Presidential Administration and they are allowed to take any bribes, and the Prosecutor of the City of Moscow would sign any document they submit to him.”  It certainly substantiates Mikheev’s allegation of criminality extending well beyond the Interior Ministry that he himself was then re-arrested and sentenced to 11 years in prison, where he remains today. The Russian magazine Ogonek recounted the details of the Mikheev affair in 2010.

Six months after the kidnapping, the Klyuev Group attempted another tax fraud, this one valued at $107 million and tied to the RenGaz Fund, an affiliate of Renaissance Capital. Klyuev’s lawyer Pavlov alleged that two of RenGaz’s subsidiaries—Financial Investments (Finansovye investizii) and Selen Securities—had been hit with civil judgments, reducing the Fund’s declared profits for its investors by the amount awarded in damages for the 2006 tax year. (You can dial up the phony lawsuits Pavlov filed here.) Thus, Pavlov falsely made RenGaz eligible for a massive refund. He brought in corrupt officials from Moscow Tax Offices 28 and 25 to process the claim and the money was wired to accounts in the Universal Savings Bank, which Klyuev owned. Amazingly, the Russian government has yet to declare the $107 million refund a crime or start an investigation.

In what became standard practice for the Klyuev Group, Klyuev, Olga Stepanova, the head of Moscow Tax Office 28, and Stepanova’s husband, all took a vacation together in Dubai whence they traveled to Geneva, where the Stepanovs held secret bank accounts with Credit Suisse. Klyuev and the Stepanovs returned to Moscow together on the same flight. At roughly the same time, Karpov and Pavlov and Pavlov’s wife all went on their own holiday, a 5-day shopping spree in London, just prior to New Year’s. Pavlov’s wife even noted on her UK Border Agency visa application that she and her husband were traveling with the Interior Ministry officer.

Next followed the theft from Hermitage Capital, a caper that was plotted from Cyprus in 2007 by all the key figures in the Klyuev Group. (I wrote about the case for World Affairs in the January/February 2012 issue.) Again, the evidence of a criminal fraternity is overwhelming. Kuznetsov flew to Larnaca on Klyuev’s private jet; Karpov and Pavlov and Pavlov’s wife traveled on the same flight to Larnaca a few days later. Stepanova and her husband arrived next. From here, each member of the syndicate was assigned his task, the Untouchables video and website shows. Kuznetsov and Karpov, backed by 25 Interior Ministry agents, raided Hermitage Capital in Moscow on June 4, 2007, stealing the fund’s corporate documents and seals. The documents were then used to re-register three Hermitage companies in the name of Viktor Markelov, the man who had kidnapped Fyodor Mikheev in league with Karpov and Kuznetsov a year before. These companies were transferred to Stepanova’s Tax Office 28 and Tax Office 25, run by her subordinates, and accounts were opened in Klyuev’s Universal Saving Bank. Pavlov performed the same trick he’d used in the RenGaz affair, claiming that a civil judgment against the re-registered Hermitage companies made Hermitage eligible for a colossal rebate. He even used the same courts and the same plaintiffs in the fabricated civil judgment as he had in the earlier fraud. $230 million was wired from Tax Offices 28 and 25 into the Universal Savings Bank accounts in a single day.

The gang then celebrated their triumph. On New Year’s Day 2008, Karpov, Pavlov and Pavlov’s wife traveled to Istanbul and returned to Moscow together four days later. Pavlov and his wife then went to Dubai to join the Stepanovs and Klyuev. The Stepanovs subsequently made four down payments from their Credit Suisse accounts on $8 million worth of properties at the Kempinski Hotel and Residences Palm Jumeirah. (In April 2011, the Swiss government froze the Stepanovs’ Geneva accounts.)

Magnitsky explained to Businessweek that all these thefts had the same perpetrators and were responsible for hundreds of millions in stolen money from the Russian government. He testified against everyone involved and fingered Karpov and Kuznetsov for the Hermitage theft.

After being identified publicly, Stepanova and her husband fled Moscow for Dubai. They were soon followed by Igor Segariyan, the president of Renaissance Capital who years earlier had arranged Klyuev’s first tax scam using the firm’s corporate holdings. Segariyan traveled with another Renaissance executive, Vladimir Jabarov, a former general with the FSB, the KGB’s successor agency.

The cover-up of the Hermitage crime commenced. The Stepanovs and Segariyan flew back to Moscow on the same flight. The next day, Kuznetsov had Magnitsky arrested and his files confiscated.

Magnitsky was tortured in custody, denied visits from his family and deprived of badly needed medical treatment, all in order to get him to withdraw his testimony against the Klyuev Group.  The Interior Ministry first blamed the entire conspiracy on Markelov, the low-level murderer and kidnapper of Mikheev. This didn’t pass the Russian media’s sniff test, so two more fall guys were named, the last being a 53 year-old security guard who had died two months before the $230 million was stolen.

Klyuev was now widely identified in the press as the mastermind of the Hermitage scam and the owner of Universal Savings Bank. So he sold the bank to a clothing salesman who had the misfortune, like other patsies associated with this crew, of dying in 2008 by falling off a balcony.

The Interior Ministry exonerated Olga Stepanova and her subordinates, claiming that they had been “tricked” into issuing the refunds. Yet as to how these officials collectively became $43 million richer when their state salaries were in the $10,000 range was apparently uninteresting to Russia’s largest domestic crime agency. As for the stolen money, alas, it was lost forever because, as the Ministry claimed, the truck carrying all the Universal Savings Bank records blew up.

On November 16, 2009, after suffering horribly from severe pancreatitis, Magnitsky was taken to Matrosskaya Tishina prison where he was handcuffed and beaten to death by eight riot guards in an isolation cell. His official cause of death was—what else?—“heart failure.” A year later, the Interior Ministry blamed Magnitsky for the Hermitage tax fraud.

Russia’s independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and the Financial Times found earlier this year that after framing and killing Magnitsky, the Klyuev Group went on to recoup an additional $400 million in bogus refunds, all sanctioned by Stepanova’s Tax Office 28. The new bank had the same registered address as the Universal Savings Bank Klyuev sold off.

After the Magnitsky affair became a cause célèbre in Russia, and the subject of countless international news articles, Stepanova, whose family constructed a $28 million mansion just outside of Moscow, resigned from her post only to be appointed by a new federal agency created by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to furnish Russian police and military with new equipment.

Major Karpov and Oleg Silchenko, the Interior Ministry senior investigator who alleged and purported to “investigate” Magnitsky’s guilt, were given top state honors for their police work on the anniversary of their victim’s death. This, despite the fact that Karpov and his family were shown to have amassed assets worth at minimum $1.3 million and the state’s own Public Oversight Commission, which examined Magnitsky’s treatment and demise in prison, found that “the circumstances that have led to the death of detainee Magnitsky cannot be viewed separately from the course of the investigation of the criminal case.” To date, no one actually associated with the Klyuev Group or the conspiracy to rob the Russian taxpayer and railroad Magnitsky has yet been brought to justice.

For this reason Congress is now set to pass the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which would impose visa bans and asset freezes against the 60 individuals credibly named in the conspiracy. (In the bill’s Senate version there’s a universal clause that applies not just to the one case or to Russia but to all future perpetrators of “gross violations of human rights” from any country in the world.) The White House contends that the impetus behind the act is obsolete, as the State Department has already—quietly—imposed sanctions on a select group of Magnitsky conspirators, although their identities have not been named. The public naming and shaming of human rights violators is the gravamen of the entire legislation, which is why the Russian Foreign Ministry is especially apoplectic about this bill inevitably becoming a law.

Senator John McCain this week wrote to President Obama asking him to invoke Executive Order 13581, which imposes sanctions against transnational criminal organizations, against the Klyuev Group.

-This report was published first in The World Affairs Journal on 27/06/2012

Turkey's Not Messing Around Anymore

But does Prime Minister Erdogan have a plan for what comes next in Syria?

BY JUSTIN VELA from Istunbul

                                                                 Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan

On June 22, a stricken Turkish RF-4 Phantom reconnaissance aircraft splashed down in the Mediterranean, brought down by anti-aircraft fire from the Syrian military. The pilots have yet to be located, and are most likely dead. The incident has deepened the rift between Turkey and Syria, former allies whose partnership deteriorated along with President Bashar al-Assad's brutal 15-month crackdown on his own people. Although this incident alone will not push Turkey into direct military confrontation with the Syrian regime, it has put the country in a position where one more incident will force it to, in the words of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, "teach those who dare to test the limits of its might."

Beyond the basic fact of a downed Turkish jet, Ankara and Damascus disagree over the essential details that led to the incident. Turkey insists that the plane was in international airspace when it was fired upon and had only crossed into Syrian airspace briefly, an event that President Abdullah Gul described as "routine." The Syrian regime, meanwhile, insists the Phantom was shot down well within Syrian territory -- a claim that backs up the regime's claim that the uprising, which the U.N. estimates has left more than 10,000 dead, is being guided by foreign powers.

Erdogan responded with typical anger over yet another Syrian provocation. In a June 26 address to a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara that was attended by Arab diplomats, he announced that any Syrian forces approaching the countries' 565-mile border would be considered a threat and that any infringement of the border would be met with force. The Syrian regime presented a "clear and present danger," Erdogan said.

Meanwhile, Erdogan's top aides publicly pushed the message that the rules of the game had changed. Ibrahim Kalin, one of the premier's top foreign-policy advisors, expanded on the statement on Twitter: "The rules of engagement for the Turkish armed forces have been changed and expanded," he wrote. "Any military element approaching Turkish borders from the Syrian side will be considered a direct military threat."

A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, backed up this newly aggressive rhetoric. With the continued bloodshed in Syria and, now the shooting down of the Turkish Phantom, Ankara is no longer playing "Mr. Nice Guy," the official said.

Erdogan's words immediately raised the question of whether a de facto safe zone -- a policy option long broached as one way Turkey could hasten the Assad regime's demise -- was being created to aid opposition forces, yet neither the prime minister nor his advisors specified what "approaching Turkish borders" meant.

Turkey's understanding of how the incident played out has its increased outrage at Assad. The Turkish official told me that the pilots accidently entered Syrian airspace for five minutes, most likely miscalculating their flight path by incorrectly identifying a pair of mountain ridges toward which they were supposed to fly. They were informed of their mistake by Turkish radar station operators and returned to Turkish airspace. The pilots were then asked to correctly repeat their maneuver, which was meant to test Turkey's domestic radar capabilities, the official said. They returned to international airspace, looping around and flying back toward Turkey, parallel to the Syrian coastline, when they were shot down near the Syrian city of Lattakia, according to the official.

Turkey intercepted the Syrian radio communications during the incident. There was "no panic" in the voices of Syrian forces, the Turkish official said. It appeared they had been previously instructed to take such actions and proved themselves aware it was a Turkish aircraft, referring to it as the "neighbors'" plane.

There is no denying that Turkey has emerged as a regional hub of anti-Assad activity in the Middle East. In the past year, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) has established an office in Istanbul, with a section dedicated to military coordination. The nominal leadership of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), along with an estimated 33,000 Syrians who fled the spiraling violence inside their country, are based in 10 Turkish camps in the border region. The U.S. State Department has also established an office in Istanbul to help train activists and provide non-lethal equipment to the opposition.

In the past weeks, reports have also claimed that Turkey's National Security Organization (MIT), its intelligence agency, has transported multiple shipments of weapons to rebels along the border. Turkey's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Selcuk Unal denied the claims, but one Syrian activist involved in transferring the new weapons from MIT to the rebels along the Syrian-Turkish border confirmed the shipments. "For myself, it was not my aim," said the activist, who had previously told me he preferred nonviolent measures to bring down the Assad regime. "But it's generally what everyone wants. It's sort of a victory."

Turkey is arguably doing more than any other country to help the Syrian guerrillas. But if Erdogan wants to convince the world that now he really means business, he's going to have to overcome skepticism from Syrian rebels themselves -- not to mention his domestic political opponents.
Abo Nidal, a 39-year-old FSA fighter, is one such skeptic. I first met him last December on a muddy hilltop in the Syrian village of Ain al-Baida. His FSA unit had raised the Turkish flag next to the green, white, and black standard of the Syrian opposition -- but now he didn't sound sure that Erdogan would match his actions to his words.

"With all due respect for Mr. Erdogan, the Syrian Army has more than several times crossed the border with helicopters and shooting. They shot a Turkish police station, they shot it from a distance," he said. "If Erdogan will help us, all we need is anti-aircraft weapons and anti-tanks weapons. We will respond and we will revenge this airplane."

Abo Nidal said that since joining the FSA he had fought only with a Kalashnikov. However, his unit had recently received rocket-propelled grenade launchers from the FSA, he said.

Mahmoud Mosa, a Syrian activist from the northern Syrian town of Bdama, echoed the lukewarm response to Erdogan's speech: "We have heard stronger threats to Syria from Erdogan before. We know that the Syrian forces are less than 300 meters from the Turkish borders in Ain al-Baida. We need deeds, not words."

The polls are also against Erdogan if he pushes for a military confrontation with Syria. According to a recent survey from the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), a Turkish think tank, 56.2 percent of respondents oppose an intervention in Syria while 40 percent say they do not support any diplomatic or military intervention. Just over 11 percent would like to see Turkey invade Syria. And only 7.9 percent of respondents support arming the FSA.

Faruk Logoglu, the deputy chairman in charge of foreign relations for the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), has signaled that he would oppose more aggressive action against the Assad regime. "The Turkish government has taken sides in this crisis since the very beginning," he told me. Instead of engaging with the Assad regime and the opposition on equal footing, he said, the AKP had simply chosen the opposition as a favorite.

While Logoglu condemned the violence in Syria, which he described as mostly being carried out by regime forces, he faulted Erdogan for "not listen[ing] to the full spectrum of voices" in Turkey. He also implied Erdogan was positioning himself as a Sunni standard-bearer for Western efforts to roll back Shiite Iran's influence in the Middle East.

"I am not pointing the finger at Mr. Erdogan and saying he is crusading for the Sunni leadership in the region," he said. "But most of his actions add up to such quote-unquote accusations or allegations, as you like."

The Turkish government's conditions for unilateral intervention in Syria have also yet to be met. Since Syrian refugees began fleeing into southern Turkey, Turkish officials have has made clear that there are two possible scenarios in which they'd ponder military action: First, if there were a mass influx of thousands of refugees that threatened to overwhelm Turkey's capabilities. The second scenario is if there were a large-scale massacre of defenseless civilians by pro-Assad military forces in the border area.

Yet even more important than the change in rules of engagement, the jet incident has confirmed Ankara's belief that Assad is rapidly losing control of the country. "It's a matter of time," the Turkish official said. "This guy will go."

On that point, at least, Syria's rebel fighters are inclined to agree. "He is losing his believers and the people who trust him more and more," Abo Nidal said. "There are defections every day. We think that is why they shot the Turkish plane."

Whether Ankara is prepared to give the Assad regime a final push remains to be seen, however. Asked if Erdogan's warning the Syrian military away from the border was creating a de facto buffer zone, the Turkish official demurred. "As a responsible government we had to think of everything," he said. "But frankly we haven't decided on anything yet."

-This commentary was published first in Foreign Policy on 27/06/2012
-Justin Vela is an Istanbul-based journalist

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is Qatar's Foreign Policy Sustainable?

By Giorgio Cafiero

               President Obama praised Emir Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani for Qatar's support. Photograph: Getty Images
Qatar, home to only 225,000 natives and 1.7 million foreign workers, has emerged as an influential regional actor in recent years. Emir Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has ruled Qatar since 1995, when he replaced his father in a bloodless palace coup, and has pursued an ambitious foreign policy for his statelet. Natural resource wealth, ownership of Al Jazeera, and a carefully constructed web of foreign alliances have allowed Doha to project itself throughout the Middle East.
The nature of Qatar’s foreign policy is the subject of some debate. Certain analysts contend that Qatar conducts a foreign policy uninfluenced by any ideology and that its only concerns relate to geopolitical gains. Doha, they say, lacks a regional vision and is not guided by any loyalties or principles. However, others posit that Qatar’s foreign policy is guided by a form of Sunni Islamist ideology and actively seeks to empower its followers throughout the Muslim world.
The truth may lie somewhere in between. But as Qatar continues its delicate balancing act, it is increasingly evident that Doha’s interests will not always align with those of Washington.
Pygmy with the Punch of a Giant
The concentration of power in the Al Thani family led to the creation of the modern state of Qatar during the 1800s. Qatar fell under Ottoman rule from 1872 until 1913 then was a British protectorate from 1916 until achieving independence in 1971. When the British left the Persian Gulf in the early 1970s, Qatar was one of the poorest Gulf countries. In Blake Hounshell’s words, “for most of its short history, Qatar has been an afterthought of an afterthought in global politics, an impoverished backwater that had often fallen prey to the schemes of stronger powers.”
The discovery of vast oil and gas fields changed everything. In February 2010, the Middle East Economic Digest declared that “Qatar is enjoying a period of unparalleled prosperity.” Qatar’s 15.8-percent rate of growth surpassed China’s in 2011, and its GDP per capita ranks second only to Lichtenstein. In 2010, the country ranked 20th in oil production, sixth in natural gas production, and third in natural gas exports. After 2006, Qatar became the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Unquestionably, Qatar’s petrodollars have facilitated its status as a rising power.
However, oil and gas wealth alone do not explain Qatar’s expanding influence. Doha’s multidimensional alliances, its activist foreign policy as a peace-broker throughout the Islamic world, and the soft-power effects of Qatar’s own Al Jazeera news network are important forces behind the country’s rise. Since 2011, Qatar has been quick to seize the opportunity to play its unique hand of cards to spread its influence as political openings have occurred throughout the Arab world.
Multidimensional Alliances
With an economy driven by oil and gas exports, Qatar has a vital national interest in maintaining stability in the Persian Gulf as its exports must travel through the Strait of Hormuz to reach Qatar’s top export partners – Japan, South Korea, India, and Singapore. Given Qatar’s tiny population and small military (the second smallest in the Middle East), Doha has relied to a large extent on foreign cooperation and support to safeguard security interests. With its foreign policy similar to the “zero problems with neighbors” policy of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), Qatar has pursued diplomatic measures to foster positive relations with all regional actors, including opposing stakeholders.
Since the first Gulf War, Qatar has been a close military ally of the United States and currently hosts the headquarters of U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM). But Doha also maintains close ties with Tehran. In March 2010, Qatar and Iran signed a security agreement “to combat terrorism and promote security cooperation,” and Qatar was the only member of the United Nations Security Council to vote against UNSC resolution 1696, which condemned Iran for its nuclear activities in 2006. Sharing the large North Field/South Pars natural gas deposit, Qatar and Iran have deep economic interests in maintaining cooperative relations. Also, given Qatar’s comparatively small Shia population, the specter of a Khomeini-inspired Shia uprising has never created the tension between Qatar and Iran that it has between Iran and most other Gulf States.
Although relations between Qatar and its only bordering neighbor, Saudi Arabia, have been troubled for decades, diplomatic initiatives in 2007 and 2008 led to a rapprochement in Qatari-Saudi relations. And prior to Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown in Syria, Qatar and Syria enjoyed deep political and economic ties. Although Qatar and Israel have never had official diplomatic relations, Israel had a trade center in Doha until Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. Commercial ties with Israel, moreover, did not prevent Qatar from developing amicable relations with Hamas and various Lebanese factions, including Hezbollah.
Qatar’s delicate balancing act and ample resource wealth have enabled its leaders to portray their country as a legitimate and impartial peace broker with the resources to finance extensive peace negotiations. In 2006, Qatar’s leaders began to mediate talks between warring Palestinian factions in Gaza following the 2006 parliamentary elections. Several years after civil war broke out in Yemen, Doha played a role in negotiating a ceasefire between Sana’a and the country’s Houthi rebels. Qatar’s biggest diplomatic success was its sponsorship of negotiations in Doha that ended the violence between Hezbollah and other Lebanese factions shortly after sectarian violence exploded throughout Lebanon in early 2008. Also in 2008, Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Ahmad bin Abdullah al-Mahmud, prepared his country to mediate talks between the Sudanese government and rebel groups in Darfur that began in 2009. In 2010, Qatar helped resolve a border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti.
Qatar’s bids to resolve conflicts thousands of miles away from the Persian Gulf indicate a determination to become a respected peace broker throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. Where the United States and EU have failed to resolve conflicts in the region’s volatile areas, Qatar sees an opportunity to emerge as a stabilizing force. Although such diplomatic efforts are expensive, Doha views these peace negotiations as an investment in Qatar’s long-term interests.
Still, analysts including Barak Barfi and Blake Houshell suggest that Qatar’s foreign policy may be unsustainable due to inherent limits given Qatar’s size and the political realities of the region where it exists. Doha’s ties with Tehran and others have been a thorn in relations with Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states, as well as with United States  – in 2009, for example, Senator John Kerry declared that “Qatar … cannot continue to be an American ally on Monday that sends money to Hamas on Tuesday.” Likewise, Qatar’s support for the Syrian opposition and efforts to isolate and weaken the Assad regime has brought tension to its relationship with Iran. Certain developments, such as a U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear sites or the spillover of violence in Syria into other states, may compel Qatar to pick a side. Whether or not Qatar can continue to maintain cordial ties with opposing stakeholders in this turbulent region is an open question.
Independent News Source or Qatari Weapon?
The heavy hand that Arab governments have traditionally played in censoring the media, as well as the dearth of media independence, has given many on the Arab street much cynicism about available news sources. However, since the Qatari government launched Al Jazeera in 1996, the satellite channel has served as a reliable news source for millions of Arabs.
Although unfavorable coverage of Doha itself is rare, Al Jazeera’s critical coverage abroad has often shaken authoritarian regimes to their core. As University of Iowa Professor Ahmed E. Souaiaia notes, throughout recent years “the Tunisian, Moroccan, Egyptian, Libyan, and Syrian [governments] shut down Al Jazeera offices in reaction to what they deemed ‘libelous,’ ‘slanderous,’ and ‘poisonous’ news stories. The Arab regimes’ hostility toward Al Jazeera only increased its popularity among the Arab masses.”                  
Throughout the 2000s, in Marc Lynch’s words, “Al Jazeera played a decisive role, linking together disparate national struggles into a coherent narrative of popular Arab protests against both foreign intervention and domestic repression.” Al Jazeera covered the al-Aqsa intifada and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in a manner that brought unity to Arabs and enabled them to openly discuss their governments’ cordial relations with the United States and inaction on the Palestinian question. In early 2011, Lynch adds, when the Arab Spring began and Al Jazeera showed footage of the demonstrations, it became “the unquestioned home of the revolution on the airwaves.”
However, some were quick to accuse Al Jazeera as acting on behalf of Qatar’s interests rather than as a strictly journalistic outlet. Lynch notes, for example, that Egyptian officials railed fervently against the “Qatari vendetta against Mubarak.” More controversially, he adds, “there is some reason to believe that Al Jazeera’s success in Egypt went to the heads of its management, and that the Qatari royal family began to treat it more as a useful weapon in regional politics than as the prestigious independent symbol it had long valued.”
Suspicions were further stoked when on September 20, 2011, David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times reported a WikiLeaks disclosure that the network’s former director general, Wadah Khanfar, had modified Al Jazeera’s coverage of the war in Iraq under pressure from the U.S. government. According to the 2005 cable, Kirkpatrick reports, a U.S. embassy official “handed Mr. Khanfar copies of critical reports by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency on three months of Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq war; Mr. Khanfar said that the Qatari Foreign Ministry had already provided him with two months of the American reports, according to the cable, suggesting a close three-way consultation involving the two governments and the network.”
Throughout the Arab Spring, charges have been levied against Al Jazeera that it has employed a double standard for covering the uprisings in Syria and Libya, compared to those in neighboring Bahrain, an ally of Qatar. Souaiaia concludes that “there is no doubt that Al Jazeera has become a powerful force and many governments wanted to either limit its influence or arrogate it for political purposes. The Qatari regime is very aware of this asset and they have been using it to raise their profile on the international stage.” To a large extent Qatar has relied on Al Jazeera to become a major player in the region and around the world.
Spreading Democracy or Qatari Imperialism? 
When the anti-Gaddafi uprisings began in Libya, Qatar was the first Arab state to endorse foreign military intervention and grant the rebels political legitimacy. Qatar’s support provided NATO with political cover as it began its military campaign against Gaddafi in March 2011. Doha also sent six Mirage fighter jets to the fight and trained Libyan rebels in Qatar. Blake Hounshell describes the close relationship between Libyan rebels and Qatar:
For months, Doha had teemed with Libyan exiles, not so secretly funded by Qatar, which put up the rebel leaders at expensive hotels and bankrolled their satellite channel. Qatari cargo jets ferried tens of millions dollars’ worth of humanitarian supplies, weapons, and special-operations troops to rebel headquarters in Benghazi on regular flights; nearly the entire Qatari air force helped enforce NATO’s no-fly zone. In August, when Libyan rebel fighters stormed Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya complex, they raised a Qatari flag in appreciation.
A similar situation seems to be playing out in Syria. When CBS News asked Qatar’s emir if he would support an Arab intervention in Syria, he responded, “I think for such a situation, to stop the killing, some troops should go to stop the killing.” Qatar played a leading role in the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria in November 2011. Qatar’s support for the Syrian opposition is not solely diplomatic, as Doha has provided the anti-Assad forces with weapons, according to opposition figures.
Doha’s real motives behind its support for military intervention in Libya and Syria are complicated, and observers disagree over Qatar’s actual agenda. Some credit the regime with having a humanitarian agenda, while others perceive a campaign to spread Wahhabism. Indeed, the support that Qatar has given to Sunni Islamists in Libya, Tunisia, and Syria, both during and after their struggles against secular regimes, suggests that Qatar may be seeking to form an ideological alliance with new forces in the new Middle East. But whether Qatar’s support for these factions is driven by a fidelity to Islamist ideology or is merely opportunistic is unclear.
Doha’s Challenges
Several factors will challenge the sustainability of Doha’s foreign policy.
Qatar’s history of impartiality and neutrality in the region’s turmoil has advanced its image as a legitimate peace broker. However, Doha will inevitably create enemies if it continues to take sides in foreign civil wars. In fact, during recent months, reports have surfaced that Syria’s government has waged cyber warfare against Qatar in retaliation for its support for Syrian rebels.
Some Libyan voices have also expressed strong objections to Doha’s interference in Libya’s domestic politics. According to Steven Sotloff, “many Libyans are now complaining that Qatari aid has come at a price. They say Qatar provided a narrow clique of Islamists with arms and money, giving them great leverage over the political process.” General Khalifa Hiftar has stated, “[i]f aid comes through the front door, we like Qatar, but if it comes through the window to certain people [and] bypassing official channels, we don’t want Qatar.” As Qatar provides further aid to Islamist parties in North Africa and Syria, it may well be confronted by secular forces within these countries. With new enemies in the Middle East and North Africa, Qatar’s image as a neutral actor determined to promote regional peace and stability will be undermined.
Additionally, geopolitical tensions in the region may reach a point at which Qatar is forced to align itself with one side or the other. So far, Qatar has successfully balanced the larger states’ interests against each other without making any enemies. However, this delicate balancing act may become nearly impossible under certain circumstances, such as a military confrontation in the Persian Gulf between the United States and Iran. In the meantime, Qatar will likely use its influence to try to prevent such a scenario from unfolding.
Finally, Qatar’s rhetorical commitment to spreading “democracy,” “freedom,” and “dignity” in the Arab world is often met with skepticism, and for good reason. Qatar is governed by an unelected emirate regime. The position belonging to Qatar’s head of state and head of government is hereditary. Authoritative human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House have documented high levels of censorship, an anemic independent media, and a discriminatory legal system. Moreover, the labor rights of the 1.7 million foreign workers in Qatar are not respected. These workers are not allowed to unionize or strike, and they frequently sign contracts under coercion. Complaints about late or unpaid wages are widespread.
However, many argue that Qatar’s emir is attempting to reshape his country’s image as more democratic and modern. Doha recently announced that elections would be held in 2013 for the legislative Shura Council. Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center has described this action as a bold move to ensure that the wave of protests across the region does not reach Qatar. With Qatar’s high GDP per capita, it is possible that the government can maintain its legitimacy and popularity by continuing to provide a high quality of life for Qatar’s citizens, preventing widespread protests. Whether such developments reflect a genuine commitment to democratic reforms remains to be seen, but the emir is clearly set on ensuring that an uprising like the one occurring in Bahrain does not break out in Qatar.                                                                                                                                     
Implications for U.S. Policy
As USCENTCOM’s host, Qatar has ultimately facilitated U.S. military dominance in the Middle East and West Asia. By hosting an Israeli commercial center before the 2008-2009 war on Gaza, it has proven to be more amenable to relations with the Jewish state than most Arab governments.
However, Qatar’s willingness to develop cordial relations with states and actors that proactively seek to undermine U.S. hegemony, as well as Islamist factions in North Africa, suggests that Qatar’s interests will not always align with those of Washington. Already, many in Washington are nervous about alleged connections between Qatar and anti-American militant groups in the region — one Wikileaks cable from the State Department even labeled Qatar as “the worst in the region” regarding counterterrorism efforts. This cable also stated that Qatar’s security services were “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals.” 
Nonetheless, no two states in the world possess the same interests at all times. And if U.S. hegemony in the region declines further, it is natural for other states, like Qatar, to attempt to fill the void. While doing so, Doha may feel less pressure to align with the agenda of a declining superpower when it does not serve its own national interests.
-This commentary was published first in Foreign Policy In Focus on 25/06/2012
-Giorgio Cafiero is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus

The Fear Factor


Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, met the Egyptian Military Council on Monday before taking office.  (AP)

If there is one thought that summarizes the strength and weakness of the Arab awakenings, it’s the one offered by Daniel Brumberg, a co-director of the democracy and governance studies program at Georgetown University, who observed that the Arab awakenings happened because the Arab peoples stopped fearing their leaders — but they stalled because the Arab peoples have not stopped fearing each other.

This dichotomy is no surprise. That culture of fear was exactly what the dictators fed off of and nurtured. Most of them ran their countries like Mafia dons operating “protection rackets.” They wanted their people to fear each other more than the leader, so that each dictator or monarch could sit atop the whole society, doling out patronage and protection, while ruling with an iron fist. But it will take more than just decapitating these regimes to overcome that legacy. It will take a culture of pluralism and citizenship. Until then, tribes will still fear tribes in Libya and Yemen, sects will still fear sects in Syria and Bahrain, the secular and the Christians will still fear the Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia and the philosophy of “rule or die” will remain a potent competitor to “one man, one vote.”

You would have to be very naïve to think that transitioning from primordial identities to “citizens” would be easy, or even likely. It took two centuries of struggle and compromise for America to get to a point where it could elect a black man with the middle name Hussein as president and then consider replacing him with a Mormon! And that is in a country of immigrants.

But you would also have to be blind and deaf to the deeply authentic voices and aspirations that triggered these Arab awakenings not to realize that, in all these countries, there is a longing — particularly among young Arabs — for real citizenship and accountable and participatory government. It is what many analysts are missing today. That energy is still there, and the Muslim Brotherhood, or whoever rules Egypt, will have to respond to it.

Precisely because Egypt is the opposite of Las Vegas — what happens there never stays there — the way in which the newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, ultimately learns to work with the secular, liberal, Salafist and Christian elements of Egyptian society will have a huge impact on all the other Arab awakenings. If Egyptians can forge a workable social contract to govern themselves, it will set an example for the whole region. America midwifed that social contract-writing in Iraq, but Egypt will need a Nelson Mandela.

Can Morsi play that Mandela role? Does he have any surprise in him? The early indications are mixed at best. “As Mohamed Morsi prepares to become Egypt’s first democratically elected president,” Brumberg wrote on, “he will have to decide who he really is: a political unifier who wants one ‘Egypt for all Egyptians’ as he said shortly after he was declared president, or an Islamist partisan devoted to the very proposition that he repeated during the first round of the election campaign, namely that ‘the Quran is our constitution.’

“This is not so much an intellectual choice as it is a political and practical one,” he added. “Morsi’s greatest challenge is to unite a political opposition that has suffered from fundamental divisions between Islamists and non-Islamists, and within each of these camps as well. If his call for a government of national unity merely represents a short-term tactic for confronting the military — rather than a strategic commitment to pluralism as a way of political life — the chances of resuscitating a transition that only days ago was on life support will be very slim indeed.”

It is incumbent on the Muslim Brotherhood to now authentically reach out to the other 50 percent of Egypt — the secular, liberal, Salafist and Christian elements — and assure them that not only will they not be harmed, but that their views and aspirations will be balanced alongside the Brotherhood’s. That is going to require, over time, a revolution in thinking by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and rank-and-file to actually embrace religious and political pluralism as they move from opposition to governance. It will not happen overnight, but if it doesn’t happen at all, the Egyptian democracy experiment will fail and a terrible precedent will be set for the region.

The U.S. has some leverage in terms of foreign aid, military aid and foreign investment — and we should use it by making clear that we respect the vote of the Egyptian people, and we want to continue to help Egypt thrive, but our support will be conditioned on certain principles. What principles? Our principles?

No. The principles identified by the 2002 U.N. Arab Human Development Report, which was written by and for Arabs. It said that for the Arab world to thrive it needs to overcome its deficit of freedom, its deficit of knowledge and its deficit of women’s empowerment. And, I would add, its deficit of religious and political pluralism. We should help any country whose government is working on that agenda — including an Egypt led by a Muslim Brotherhood president — and we should withhold our support from any that is not.

-This commentary was published first in the New York Times on 26/06/2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can Egypt Unite?

By Daniel Brumberg

As Mohammed Morsi prepares to become Egypt's first democratically elected president, he will have to decide who he really is: a political unifier who wants one "Egypt for all Egyptians" as he said shortly after he was declared president, or an Islamist partisan devoted to the very proposition that he repeated during the first round of the election campaign, namely that "the Quran is our constitution."

This is not so much an intellectual choice as it is a political and practical one. Morsi's greatest challenge is to unite a political opposition that has suffered from fundamental divisions between Islamists and non-Islamists, and within each of these camps as well. If his call for a government of national unity merely represents a short-term tactic for confronting the military -- rather than a strategic commitment to pluralism as a way of political life -- the chances of resuscitating a transition that only days ago was on life support will be very slim indeed.

Egypt's fractious political opposition has been an advantage to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to this point. If it fails to unite, the prospects for meaningful change will remain excruciatingly low. The record of transition from autocratic rule is fairly clear:  opposition solidarity is a necessary if insufficient condition for extricating militaries from the realm of civil political life. The record also shows, however, that such unity is hard to achieve when oppositions are divided by fundamental identity conflicts.

Such conflicts have long been a boon to the leaders of the Arab world's "liberalized autocracies." These semi-authoritarian systems survived not merely by brute force, but also by giving both Islamists and non-Islamists protection and patronage and then playing off one against the other. In Egypt, vestiges of this divide and rule strategy persisted well after Mubarak's downfall.  Hopes for defusing a long legacy of political fear mongering in Egypt rested on negotiating "credible guarantees" that assured all key groups that a democratic polity would protect individual and group rights.

While almost all Egyptian political forces have made mistakes, it is important to be clear: the strongest opposition forces had a special burden to reassure those who had the most to fear from a democratic outcome. Some Brotherhood leaders grasped this basic logic, some proved tone deaf, while still others -- such a Dr. Essam el-Erian -- promised political inclusion while asserting in the same breath that secular leaders are irrelevant to Egypt's future.

Such mixed messaging was to be expected. The Brotherhood sought to retain credibility with their base while reaching beyond it. Moreover, they had to pay special attention to the military since it held almost all the cards. Non-Islamists were quick to accuse Islamists of colluding with the SCAF, a behavior that they asserted was hardly new. But placating the military was a popular sport in Egypt's liberalized autocracy, where the line between opposition and collusion had always been blurred. Thus it was hardly surprising that well after Mubarak's fall both Islamist and non-Islamists turned first to the military and then only after that to themselves. Old habits not only die hard, they are sustained absent a significant incentive to jettison them.

The incentive to accommodate stemmed from the mutual perception of both the generals and the Brotherhood that their interests would be best served by avoiding conflict. Brotherhood leaders assumed -- as did many Western scholars -- that Islamists would never get the chance to mobilize an electoral majority sufficiently large to compel the military to cede authority to the parliament. Thus their best strategy was to seek modus vivendi with the SCAF and see where that would take them. However, this calculation only fed non-Islamists' suspicions, thus setting the stage for a series of collisions.

The first such occasion was in the March 2011 referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that defined the timetable for the transition. Predictably, the campaign quickly degenerated into a shouting match. Non-Islamists worried that holding parliamentary elections first and then writing the constitution would not only give electoral victors the means to impose an illiberal constitution, but would do so under the umbrella of the military. But because the referendum provided no alternative course of action in the event of its rejection, Islamists credibly argued that the only way forward was a yes vote. Determined to prevail, some Islamists accused their rivals of being anti-Islamic, while not a few non-Islamists warned that a yes vote would lead to a fundamentalist Islamic state. With neither side listening to the other, and in the wake of a 70% yes vote that some Islamists declared was victory for Islam itself, the seeds of massive distrust were planted and well watered.

This situation escalated after the SCAF issued a new constitutional declaration that went far beyond the few amendments voted for in the March 2011 referendum. Fearing an Islamist-SCAF deal, and dismayed by the courts' failure to hold military and security officials accountable for the violence during and after the January 2011 uprising, revolutionary groups remobilized in Tahrir Square. The ensuing repression of the protestors felt like Groundhog Day. Exposed to the bullets and blows of the security forces, non-Islamists bitterly recalled those early days of the January 2011 revolt, when MB activists joined the protestors only after their efforts seemed to be paying off.

For their part, Brotherhood leaders argued that the protestors were wasting valuable time and energy confronting a regime whose powers could only be attenuated by moving as quickly as possible to parliamentary elections. If this calculation offended young revolutionaries, it was not unreasonable. In the classic "moderate/radical" split that has figured in so many transitions, the Brotherhood played the role of opposition moderates. But in Egypt, the crucial missing element was coordination between the radicals seeking full scale revolution and the moderates trying to negotiate with elements of the old regime.

Splits within the Islamist and non-Islamist camps did little to heal the breach. While a positive sign of political diversification, efforts at ideological bridge building by secular and Islamist youth were not sufficient to create a "third alternative" capable of defusing the increasingly polarized atmosphere. No less than Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who had long called for dialogue, warned that Islamists where "hijacking" the revolution. Responding to such claims, leftists such as Hossem El-Hamalawy held that while we should "not stop exposing the hypocrisy of...the Muslim Brethren leadership...we should not give up trying to attract...those (youth) in the Muslim Brethren who are sincerely pro-revolution."  Hamalawy's call for cooperation made sense. During the first nine months of the post-Mubarak period, young MB leaders -- as well as some veteran activists such as Dr. Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh -- were expelled from the organization or saw their efforts to create alternative Islamist groups undermined.

The further fragmenting that these struggles produced came at an especially inauspicious time: by November 2011 members of the SCAF were floating proposals for retaining the military's powers and prerogatives. But with parliamentary elections coming up, the MB mostly refrained from commenting and instead concentrated on the campaign rather than confronting the military.  The scale of the Islamists' victory in those elections redefined the entire stakes of the transition.  With the MB taking 45% and the Salafis 25% of the seats, the fears of both the military and the non-Islamists escalated. After all, both had assumed that elections would produce a fragmented parliament, one in which the Islamists would not have sufficient seats to control next crucial stage in the revolution: the formation of a 100-member constituent assembly charged with writing a new constitution.

It was precisely because this assumption proved incorrect that the struggle over the assembly became so heated. Confronting the possibility of an Islamist-controlled parliament, in late fall 2012 the SCAF created an "advisory council" comprised of leaders from the Islamist and non-Islamists camps. Most groups on both sides agreed to play ball. But when the election results were finalized, the SCAF pushed to have the council play a role in selecting the constituent assembly, thus bypassing the parliament. Sensing a clear bid to undercut them, Brotherhood leader El-Erian warned that "the military wants to delay or disturb  the composition of the assembly, " and that "no people can support this now."

At this point, the onus was on the MB to guarantee non-Islamists enough seats to reassure them that they would have a real say in the drafting of the constitution. El-Erian promised as much in early January 2012. But when the MB selected an assembly that gave Islamists a strong majority, it inflamed the fears of the other trends, and an Egyptian court suspended the newly constituted assembly. In the ensuing months Islamists and non-Islamists MPs pursued fierce negotiations, a contest that the SCAF tried to influence by holding meetings with non-Islamists to discuss their concerns. By April an agreement was reached to split the assembly 50/50. But when Islamists then proposed to include in the "non-Islamist" category groups such as the Wasat Party (which many non-Islamists asserted were Islamists) the agreement fell apart. The matter was not settled until the second week of June 2012. But by the time assembly finally met on June 18, the High Constitutional Court had moved to partly or completely dissolve the parliament. To add injury to insult, many non-Islamists members of the assembly boycotted its opening.

The High Court's decision entailed a last ditch effort by ancien regime apparatchiks to prevent Islamists from taking democratic control of both the presidency and the legislature. In retrospect, the Brotherhood might have been far better off avoiding such a complete -- and thus threatening -- victory by negotiating an agreement with non-Islamists to field a consensus presidential candidate such as Fattouh. But having expelled him from their ranks, and determined to court the Salafi vote, the Brotherhood pursued no such agreement. As for non-Islamists, they too were hardly in a mood for compromise. So, the non-MB vote split between Fattouh, Hamdeen Sibbahi and Ahmed Shafiq. Paradoxically, while the first round suggested that at least fifty percent of the voting electorate preferred an alternative to the Brotherhood, the splitting of the non-Islamist vote produced a Morsi-Shafiq run-off.

During the first round of elections Morsi did little to reassure non-Islamists. As a conservative by nature, he repeatedly proclaimed that the "Quran is our constitution and the Shariah is our Guide" during his nation-wide campaign. To be fair, Fotouh's courting of the Salafis only made matters worse by alienating non-Islamists. But even if he had resisted such populist maneuvers, it is unlikely that the outcome would have been different. By May 2012, the opposition was in tatters.

"Regrets, I have a few," goes the old Sinatra classic. In the second round of elections, Morsi tried to win over non-Islamists and thus repair some of the damage for which he himself was responsible. The impetus for such belated bridge-building multiplied ten fold with the High Court's June 14 decision, and even more so three days later, when SCAF issued supplementary constitutional amendments to protect its powers at the expense of the once powerful presidency.   His efforts, combined with the alienating prospect of a victory for Ahmed Shafik and the restoration of the former Mubarak regime, allowed the Brotherhood's candidate to win by a sufficiently large margin.

The key to the next phase will be whether Morsi learned the right lessons from this turbulent record. Morsi must now make a genuine and sustained effort to include those in the opposition who fear that he is either insincere or incapable of mobilizing his closest allies in the Muslim Brotherhood behind a pluralistic political agenda. The creation of a government of national unity will go some way toward reassuring non-Islamists, as will Morsi's decision to resign from the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice party. Seeking to reinforce this message, in his late night TV address he promised an "Egypt for all Eygptians," one in which "national unity is the only war forward."

He will need such unity in what promises to be a very long struggle. In the coming weeks Morsi will either have to push back against a military that refuses to rescind its recent proclamation or to endorse compromises such as leaving the current parliament intact and reelecting only a third of its members. And even if such an accommodation does become possible, Morsi will have to sell it to the wider populace without being accused of betraying the revolution. That very balancing act could split the opposition yet again. Finally, there is the question of the non-Islamist opposition, particularly its secular revolutionaries. Suspicious of a stronger rival that was not averse to reaching its own accommodations with the military, non-Islamists will have to overcome their deep social, economic and political divisions if they are to carve out an effective role in Egypt's evolving political arena.

That role will be to push for the very constitution for which prominent non-Islamists such as Mohamed El-Baradei once pleaded. The prospects for achieving real democracy will hinge on securing basic constitutional rights for all Egyptians. For this reason, the boycott of the Constituent Assembly must end, its members must get down to business, and the military should allow them to reach consensus without its guidance, interference or even its well-meaning assistance. That, and not simply the election of a new President, will help decide Egypt's fate.

-This commentary was published first in Foreign Policy on 25/06/2012
-Daniel Brumberg is co-director of Democracy and Governance Studies at Georgetown University and senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace