Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

22
Oct

president sisi

 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi finished his first 100 days in office with diplomatic flourish this September. He addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York and met with President Barack Obama for the first time in what could be a turning point in the frosty relationship between the United States and Egypt. Much hinges, however, on the next few months and how Egypt addresses the multiple challenges it faces at home and in the region.

Sisi returned home with the same daunting list of challenges he faced before the trip: a need to spark economic growth to create jobs, a host of domestic and foreign security threats, and the country’s struggle over power in the midst of an incomplete political transition process. Perhaps Sisi’s biggest accomplishment since taking office has been his ability to keep Egypt’s myriad challenges from becoming full-blown crises. But he did so without offering a longer-term, sustainable plan for the country’s economic and political future.

The economic, security, and political challenges are intertwined, and how Sisi navigates them will be critical to both his political legitimacy at home, as well as to the amount of support he can build and maintain from abroad, including from the United States. The United States appears poised to open a new chapter in bilateral relations, but progress greatly depends on whether Egypt makes choices that position it to become a reliable partner, one that is capable of addressing its challenges and that builds a stable foundation for the country’s future. Read more…

 

By Brian KatulisMokhtar Awad, and Hardin Lang | October 20, 2014

Published in http://www.americanprogress.org/

16
Oct

Palestinians mark Nakba Day in Jerusalem

The British vote in parliament recognising a Palestinian state alongside Israel is seen by many as a landmark moment in British policy on the Palestinian question. The vote comes shortly after Sweden’s newly elected prime minister, Stefan Löfven, expressed his readiness to recognise the state of Palestine. But Sweden’s gesture is the more significant one, since Britain’s Conservative-led government has made it abundantly clear that the parliamentary vote will not change its positionon the Israel-Palestine issue.

Read more…

30
Sep

Gobal debate in recent weeks has centered on President Barack Obama’s initiative to prevent the advance of ISIS. But another force has emerged as an unlikely rampart against the barbaric and delusional leaders of the self-proclaimed caliphate: Lebanese pluralism. Indeed, despite the shortcomings of its political system, Lebanon can provide a template for managing cultural diversity and rejecting radicalism in an unstable and fragmented setting.

Last month, the Lebanese Army showed considerable fortitude as it fought ISIS militants in the Bekaa town of Arsal, near the border with Syria. Though the Army has sustained heavy losses – including two soldiers who were beheaded – it has managed to compel the militants, who were operating inside a Syrian refugee camp, largely to withdraw. And it continues to fight when the need arises. International aid is now flowing toward the Army, with Saudi Arabia alone pledging more than $3 billion.

But the international community should move beyond military aid to support Lebanon’s real strengths: its moderate, pluralist and vibrant society. After all, that is what has enabled the country, against all odds, to avoid all-out conflict, making it a beacon – however faint – of hope in a crisis-ravaged region.

Lebanon’s resilience has confounded expectations, given its lack of a shared national identity – a result of deep social divisions that resemble, to some extent, those besetting Iraq – and notoriously weak state institutions. In fact, Lebanon’s political system has been paralyzed by disagreements over Syria’s civil war, the consequences of which have been pouring over the Lebanese border. The country has not had a president since May; the Parliament is not functioning; and the Cabinet is practically powerless.

When ISIS arrived at the border, however, most of Lebanon’s political parties, media and civil society rallied together. Billboards were erected appealing to Sunnis to preserve moderation. Media outlets informally agreed not to provide a platform to radical militants. And performing-arts festivals featuring international figures went ahead – signaling the Lebanese people’s refusal to give in to radicalism and violence.

Moreover, the Army received an outpouring of public support, which is understandable, given the lack of any other unifying institution. Even the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has caused deep fissures in Lebanon by helping to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, supported the Army’s campaign (though the party’s desire to allow others to die fighting Assad’s opponents was undoubtedly a key motivation).

Ironically, the weakness of the Lebanese state may be contributing to the strength of its civil society. In Lebanon, unlike in other Arab countries, no single religious group enjoys a majority. Shiites and Sunnis compete to ally themselves with the Christian community, recognizing its vital social and political role in the country.

Lebanon’s acceptance of cultural diversity and pluralism has enabled the country to emerge whole from 15 years of civil war, to withstand decades of Syrian and Israeli occupation, and finally to stand up to ISIS. It may have taken years of violence, but Christians, Sunnis and Shias seem to have internalized the lesson that they cannot impose their will on one another.

Today, Lebanon is bustling with the cosmopolitan spirit and energy that once characterized the entire region. And the impact of its people’s creative activities is increasingly visible worldwide, with, for example, the fashion designer Elie Saab dressing Hollywood stars and Lamia Joreige’s art being exhibited in the permanent collection of London’s Tate Modern. Furthermore, both pluralism and moderation remain the dominant forces in the country; tellingly, ISIS could not find a single Lebanese to volunteer to act as its emir over Lebanon.

But this inspiring model is under threat, as Lebanon struggles to cope with a massive public debt and the spread of abject poverty in rural areas, especially among Sunnis. Making matters worse, more than a million Syrian refugees have poured into Lebanon since the start of the war in Syria in 2011 This is the equivalent, in proportional terms, of 80 million Mexicans suddenly arriving in the United States.


Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Commentary/2014/Sep-30/272421-against-barbarism-an-imperfect-lebanon-deploys-pluralism.ashx#ixzz3EnttDMhH

Published by Marwan Muasher on Sept. 30th.

26
Sep

When foreign dignitaries arrive in New York City for the annual gathering of the UN General Assembly, it’s often difficult to determine which world leaders are rolling past in which dark limousines. But one country’s representatives typically stand out. It’s the country whose embassy and consulate on Second Avenue are enclosed within a double row of metal barriers. A solid line of NYPD squad cars occupies every inch of surrounding curb; a white police booth stands guard at the entrance to the building. That country is Israel, and on a recent September morning I made my way through all of these obstacles to meet the man behind the fencing: Ambassador Ron Prosor.

The latest General Assembly session, which opens this week, may be more preoccupied than usual with the Jewish state, given the Gaza war over the summer. Perhaps even more importantly, this summer’s other crises—in Syria, in Iraq, in Ukraine, in the South China Sea—provide much that many nations are anxious not to talk about. The Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Group of 77, even the European Union: All can project unity if, and only if, the topic is Israel. In this respect, the Jewish state performs for the world community the same service that the weather or the dogs perform for a troubled family: a safe diversion from awkward disagreements.

Scan UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on the subject of Israel over the decades, and you’ll see that some, like one declaring the “permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” are adopted and re-adopted so often as to constitute an annual ritual on the UN calendar. No other problem or conflict on earth has generated so much UN activity. Here’s one stark way to visualize the disparity: Since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, the UN General Assembly has adopted four resolutions on one of the deadliest explosions of violence since 1945. In that same period, the General Assembly has adopted eight resolutions calling on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syrian rule.

In much of the developed world, the UN has lost considerable importance since the romantic days of the 1940s and 1950s. It’s inconceivable now that a former U.S. presidential nominee would accept the UN ambassadorship as an appropriate position, as Adlai Stevenson did under President Kennedy. The role is instead seen as a stepping stone to a higher rank; President Obama’s first UN ambassador, Susan Rice, now serves as his national security advisor. In some less-developed countries, the UN job offers a profitable capstone to a political career—a chance for a former foreign minister or even head of government to live in New York with a staff, a car, and a driver.

 For Israeli diplomats, meanwhile, the mission to the UN is a role second only to the mission to the United States. Because Israel is so central to the UN, the UN is inescapably central to Israel. The Washington job, however, is carried out among mostly friendly people. The UN ambassador must work under adverse and even hostile conditions to achieve even a small measure of the recognition that every other country enjoys as a matter of right. Read more…
Published by David Frum on Sept. 24, 2014 in http://www.theatlantic.com/
25
Sep

Winston Churchill once famously said that, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all of the alternatives.” He could have been speaking of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy.

For six years I have criticized the administration’s policies toward Iraq, Syria, and the wider Middle East (mostly excepting its Iran policy). But since the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State in June, at least where Iraq and Syria are concerned, I can find little to criticize and much to praise. The administration has reversed course in both countries, shifting from stubborn disengagement to smart leadership. Since the stunning ISIS offensive in Iraq in June, Washington’s moves have been uncharacteristically deft: promising greater military support to Iraq as leverage to effect political change there; providing air support and weapons to the Kurds to halt the ISIS offensive; launching a sustained air campaign against ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria; and deploying advisors and weapons to Iraq, to name a few.

The administration’s new approach has resulted in several important developments. Nouri al-Maliki was forced to step down as prime minister of Iraq. That country has a new, more inclusive government that’s committed both to fighting ISIS and accommodating the demands of its alienated Sunni community. Humanitarian tragedies have been averted at Mount Sinjar and Amerli. ISIS has been driven back from Mosul Dam and the approaches to Erbil. And many of the states of the region have signed on to the U.S.-led effort.

These are merely first steps in the right direction, but that in itself is an important achievement. When Mosul fell, the Middle East was plummeting into chaos. Today, at least in some key areas, it has started to pull out of that nosediveeven if it has not yet started to gain altitude. But there is one piece of the strategy that the Obama administration has not articulated and does not yet seem to be preparing for.

We must also start gearing up for nation-building, particularly in Syria.

 Both Iraq and Syria are classic intercommunal civil wars. ISIS is the symptom of that underlying problem, not the problem itself. And unless we stabilize both countries and end the civil wars there, we will never be rid of ISIS or the other threats to our interests in Syria and Iraq. As we have learned from both our successes and failures, healing civil wars requires a long-term process of nation-building. There is no way around that.

In Iraq, the framework of such a process is already in place, left over from the successful period of 2008-2010. Moreover, much of Washington’s heavy lifting already has been about how to get Iraq’s political leadership back on the path toward the stability and political functionality that were created back then. There are still many hurdles, and doing so will take a great deal of effort and luck, but it is of a different category entirely than what needs to be done in Syria.

Indeed, Obama himself recognized this unavoidable reality in his interview with Tom Friedman of The New York Times in August. The president said he learned from the Libyan strikes in 2011 that military intervention that was not backed by a major effort to build a functional state afterward would lead to chaos and new threats to American interests. In the interview, Obama seemed to be imply that this was one reason he didn’t want to intervene in Syria: because he was not ready to commit to such a program for Syria.

Well, the president has now committed to just such an intervention in Syria. Having done so, ensuring that the intervention turns out welland does not create more problems than it solvesmeans that he is also going to have to commit to nation-building there. Read more…

Kenneth M. Pollack is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Published on Sept. 24 in http://www.newrepublic.com/

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