Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

4
Sep

By Daoud Kuttab

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Throughout the post-colonial period, Arab countries have consistently failed to produce an efficient – let alone democratic – system of government. Now, after a half-century of competition between military or royal dictatorships and militant Islamist regimes, many Arabs are again seeking a “third way” – a path toward a credible form of representative democracy. But will their efforts prove as futile now as they have in the past?

The Middle East – named for its geographic position between Europe and East Asia – was under Ottoman rule for 400 years before the Allied powers, after defeating the Ottomans in World War I, partitioned the region into distinct political units that, under the Sykes-Picot Agreement, fell within spheres of influence carved out by the United Kingdom and France. But, in response to these new divisions, an Arab awakening – shaped by pan-Arabism and support for Palestine – was occurring.

Charismatic young military rulers-turned-dictators like Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Syria’s Hafez al-Assad used these popular causes to win public support. But their failure to deliver better lives to their citizens, together with the discrediting of left-wing ideologies following the Soviet Union’s collapse, fueled the rise of a rival movement: political Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood – established in the Egyptian town of Ismailia in 1928 and political Islam’s oldest, best organized, and most widespread proponent – was (and is) despised by both secular Arabs and Arab monarchies. Indeed, secular dictators have worked to suppress the Brothers at every turn – often violently, as when Assad ruthlessly crushed a Brotherhood-led uprising in Hama in 1982.

Forced to operate clandestinely, the Brotherhood built its support base with a social agenda that targeted the needs of the poor, while consistently reinforcing its Islamic ties, even using the compulsory zakat (annual financial contribution to religious causes) to build up its social network. The Brothers, with the help of a conservative society and the mosques, were prepared to seize power whenever the opportunity arose.

Another Islamist movement, Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front, almost had such an opportunity in 1991, when it won the first round of a general election. But the military prevented its victory by canceling the second round, triggering a brutal eight-year civil war in which an estimated 200,000 people died. Palestine’s Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, succeeded at the ballot box in 2006, but has since failed to deliver credible governance. Read more…

Daoud Kuttab is a former professor at Princeton University and the founder and former director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah.

As published in www.project-syndicate.org on September 4, 2013.

3
Sep

By Haizam Amirah Fernandez, Associate Professor at IE School of International Relations

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The worst forecasts are unfolding in Egypt. One year of the Muslim Brotherhood’s incompetent and sectarian governance polarised Egyptian society. For the past month and a half, the return to a regime dominated by the military has set Egyptians violently at odds with one another. Uniformed and bearded men now clash on the country’s streets on the basis of hatred, exclusion, cynicism and death. While many average Egyptians justify and applaud the actions of the army and the police, others consider themselves to be victims of a great injustice and cry out for revenge and martyrdom. This is how armed civil conflicts begin.

The sit-ins of the supporters of the deposed President Morsi constituted a serious threat to public order. The problem could have been resolved through political negotiation, which EU mediation advocated until the end. The army, however, along with some ‘liberals’ thought they could crush the Muslim Brotherhood and eradicate them as a political force by the use of force. In their cynicism, Islamist leaders needed to increase their list of martyrs; in their arrogance, Egypt’s generals are providing them with just that. The collective unreason and dehumanisation of the enemy seem to be the only points in common between the factions that are dragging Egypt towards social fracture, political instability and economic ruin.

Abandoning institutionalised politics and substituting it for machine guns, flaming torches and explosive belts is disastrous not only for Egypt; it also gives rise to nefarious ramifications in the entire Middle East and on both shores of the Mediterranean. Massive extrajudicial executions –widely distributed on social networks– in the name of the fight against ‘terrorism’ is fostering a new generation of radicals that will see that resorting to terrorist methods is justified. The prophecy will be self-fulfilled, although the return of a police state will not guarantee that instability will not lead to chaos, or even, lawlessness.

The Egyptian economy is in a critical state and is solely maintained thanks to Gulf-State petrodollars (mainly from Saudi Arabia). Today’s socioeconomic crisis is even more serious than when Mubarak was dislodged in February of 2011. The current head of the Egyptian army, general Sisi, will attempt to present himself as the ‘saviour of the country’, but in a context of increasing repression and instability he will find it very difficult to be the ‘saviour of the economy’. Even if the military are able to neutralise the Islamists, which is highly unlikely, the social upheaval on the streets will only continue. In the absence of democratic mechanisms to channel that frustration and search for solutions, the only paths available are the old formulas of repression, information manipulation and ‘conspiracy-paranoid’ nationalism. Read more…

As published in www.realinstitutoelcano.org on August 29, 2013.

29
Aug

And Why the United States Should Try

By Michael Weiss

A protester holds up a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration against Israeli air strikes in Syria, in Sanaa, May 10, 2013.

A protester holds up a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration against Israeli air strikes in Syria, in Sanaa, May 10, 2013.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of the recent chemical attack in Syria as an “undeniable” fact — not a subject for debate. He called it “moral obscenity” and laid the blame squarely on the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The statement was an undisguised war speech. The only question now is what form that war might take and how long the battle will last.

There are several rumors swirling. One is that the Obama administration would prefer a mere “punitive” campaign. Some precision-timed leaks to the media seem to point in this direction. But such a strategy would accomplish nothing if the goal is to deter the Assad regime from ever using chemical agents again. Over the past year, Israel has waged half a dozen pinprick strikes on caches of advanced weapons inside Syria, likely because they were destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. The very number of operations attests to how little they altered Assad’s mindset: he still imports high-tech hardware.

Another rumored plan, which NBC reported, citing senior U.S. officials, is that sorties over the next few days would not aim to kill Assad or topple his regime, but may seek to destroy or to degrade his command-and-control facilities, artillery systems, and airfields. That is surely a smarter option, provided that the strikes rise above sending a message and do some lasting damage to the regime’s military infrastructure. Anything short of that would be strategically useless and a waste of expensive missiles.

Indeed, U.S. President Barack Obama should rearticulate his policy of regime change for Syria, which he first announced in the summer of 2011 and has quietly revised and rescinded ever since. And he should gear any intervention toward furthering that policy, in accordance with what key American allies have said is their own preferred method for dislodging the 40-year dynastic dictatorship: the opposition’s gradual assertion of control. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, there are already examples that this can work in Syria.

THE PINCH

The easiest way to achieve regime change is no mystery to policymakers or to Pentagon war planners. Its initial phase might be called regime isolation. The United States should degrade or destroy the Assad regime’s aerial resupply capacity. This would entail no deployment of U.S. forces to Syria, nor would it spell the collapse of the regime overnight. But it would hinder his ability to move men and weapons around inside Syria. Read more…

As published in www.foreignaffairs.com on August 28, 2013.

28
Aug

Why dictators like Assad just can’t quit while they’re ahead.

By John Norris

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Not content to slowly exterminate his opposition and continue the massive depopulation of his country, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad apparently felt compelled to launch a blatant chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds, if not thousands. If this sort of supervillain behavior sounds familiar, you’re paying attention. Assad is replicating the same strategic blunder committed by a long list of his fellow tyrants and strongmen.

What gives? Why would Assad do something so provocative, something so stupid, something so obviously designed to trigger an international military response?

The answer is simple. Assad — like former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and former Libyan President Muammar al-Qaddafi — got so used to poking the great slumbering bear that is the United States and the international community without any response that he assumed he had absolute impunity to do whatever he pleased on the ground.

After all, the United States did not seem inclined to dramatic action even after the U.N. announced that there were a million children refugees from the conflict. President Obama’s initial, forceful declaration that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” later proved to be rather squishy. Russia and China have maintained a united front in the U.N. Security Council against concerted action, and it is obvious that the United States couldn’t be less eager to engage in another Middle Eastern war on the heels of costly interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Like Milosevic, Taylor, and Qaddafi, Assad can be forgiven for thinking that there simply was no outrage which would force the United States to get involved. Hadn’t Milosevic successfully engineered ethnic cleansing in Bosnia? Hadn’t Charles Taylor pushed neighboring Sierra Leone into a hellish landscape were rebels cut off the hands of children for sport? Hadn’t Qaddafi engineered the downing of Pan-Am Flight 103 killing all 259 passengers aboard?

Yes, they had. Read more…

John Norris is executive director of the Sustainable Security program at the Center for American Progress.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on August 26, 2013.

27
Aug

By Peter Bergen

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Pigeons lie dead on the ground on August 24 from after what activists say is the use of chemical weapons by government forces in the Damascus suburb of Arbeen

What is widely recognized as the most authoritative study of the United States’ responses to mass killings around the world — from the massacres of Armenians by the Turks a century ago, to the Holocaust, to the more recent Serbian atrocities against Bosnian Muslims and the ethnic cleansing of the Tutsis in Rwanda — concluded that they all shared unfortunate commonalities:

“Despite graphic media coverage, American policymakers, journalists and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination needed to reckon with evil. Ahead of the killings, they assume rational actors will not inflict seemingly gratuitous violence. They trust in good-faith negotiations and traditional diplomacy. Once the killings start, they assume that civilians who keep their head down will be left alone. They urge cease-fires and donate humanitarian aid.”

This is an almost perfect description of how the United States has acted over the past two years as it has tried to come up with some kind of policy to end the Assad regime’s brutal war on its own people in Syria.

The author who wrote the scathingly critical history of how the United States has generally dithered in the face of genocide and mass killings went on to win a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.”

A decade after winning the Pulitzer, that author is now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Her name, of course, is Samantha Power, and she is a longtime, close aide to President Barack Obama. She started working for Obama when he was a largely unknown junior senator from Illinois.

Power called her 610-page study of genocide “A Problem from Hell” because that’s how then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher referred to the Bosnian civil war and the unpalatable options available to the U.S. in the early 1990s to halt the atrocities by the Serbs.

One of the U.S. officials that Power took to task in her book is Susan Rice who, as the senior State Department official responsible for Africa, did nothing in the face of the genocide unfolding in Rwanda in 1994.

Rice is quoted in the book as suggesting during an interagency conference call that the public use of the word “genocide” to describe what was then going on in Rwanda while doing nothing to prevent it would be unwise and might negatively affect the Democratic Party in upcoming congressional elections.

Rice later told Power she could not recall making this statement but also conceded that if she had made it, the statement was “completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”

Rice is now Obama’s national security adviser. Read more…

Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation

As published in www.cnn.com on August 27, 2013.

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