Today Bibi Netanyahu put on a show, a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination, before the U.N. General Assembly. His performance was so over the top that it actually reminded me of George C. Scott’s performance as General “Buck” Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick’s movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
Good ‘Ol Bibi showed up with props and ACME-like-Bugs Bunny cartoon to alert the world to a danger that only he seems determined to eradicate in the most destructive and suicidal way. In fact, Good ‘Ol Bibi was as ridiculous and extreme as Ahmadinejad. While he was speaking, i couldn’t help myself thinking that i heard this speech before–it was like a déjà vu experience, and then it hit me: I was in fact listening to and watching Dr. Strangelove talking about the terrible Doomsday Machine and Doomsday Gap. At that point, i stopped worrying about Bibi, about his speech, about his concerns, and learned to love containment. There is something that good ‘ol Bibi needs to learn very fast: ain’t nobody on this side of the Atlantic who’s willing to start a doomsday scenario that no one knows how to end it. So Bibi, go peddle your fear-mongering and warmongering somewhere else.
Here is to Bibi Netanyahu’s U.N. Speech
Courtesy of Dr. Juan Cole
Posted on 06/17/2012 by Juan
The initial reaction of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party to the high court decision dissolving parliament had been acquiescence. On Sunday, they got a bit more active, arguing that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) did not have the right to dissolve parliament despite the court ruling (i.e. that it wasn’t the body with legal standing to do so). They also argued that the dissolution must be put to a popular referendum, since it voided the vote of millions of Egyptians.
All of this raises the question of why the Mubarak-appointed judiciary backed by SCAF moved against the parliament, which was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t believe that the SCAF coup was based on a rational calculation. Rather, I think the generals see the world as a conspiracy against them, and that the basis for their action was likely irrational.
Gen. Omar Suleiman addressed a letter to the Egyptian people Saturday, urging them to vote in the elections but implicitly criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood as arrogant and overbearing, and suggesting that you might hear them now talking about cooperating with everyone, but alleging that such talk is merely manipulative. Suleiman is a former head of military intelligence and was vice president in the last Mubarak government. He had wanted to run for president but was disqualified by the courts on the grounds that he hadn’t gathered enough petition signatures.
When I was in Cairo in May, a reporter told me that Suleiman gave a talk at the al-Ahram Center in which he alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood was preparing to develop a violent paramilitary capability. Generals such as he view the Brotherhood as not very different from al-Qaeda and as potentially violent, even though the organization gave up violence in the 1970s and has been disciplined about only using civil means to gain power ever since.
It also seems clear that the generals have a conspiracy theory that the United States is somehow behind the Jan. 25, 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak, and that Washington is secretly funding the leftist youth groups that spearheaded the big demonstrations then and since. That is why they keep harassing foreigners and journalists who seem too interested in Egyptian politics, and why they aired commercials recently discouraging Egyptians from speaking to foreigners.
Only a conspiracy theorist could simultaneously hold that the Muslim Brotherhood is a theocratic cabal with paramilitary aspirations and that the US is supporting it and other revolutionary forces.
Another alleged foreign player in Egypt is Qatar, which Egyptians see as a supporter and funder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Mufti or chief Muslim legal adviser of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, on Sunday riposted to an attack on him by the Muslim televangelist at al-Jazeerah Arabic, Yousuf al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi had blasted Gomaa for saying he was neutral in the presidential contest. Qaradawi insisted that all clerics had to come out for Muhammad Mursi, the Brotherhood candidate. (Actually using the pulpit to promote a partisan candidate is illegal in Egypt). Gomaa implied that Qaradawi is after personal glory and thinks he is a real Muslim while others are ersatz.
The subtext here is that many Egyptians see Qaradawi as a Muslim Brotherhood icon supported by the Qatari government. One Egyptian told me that when Qaradawi showed up in Tahrir Square in Feb. 2011 during the attempt overthrow Hosni Mubarak, it reminded him of Vladimir Lenin showing up in Russia after the initial revolution. Of course, Lenin later overthrew the parliamentary regime that briefly emerged, making Russia a communist dictatorship in the October Revolution of 1917. My friend was wondering if Qaradawi hoped to play Lenin in subverting a democratic revolution and putting in power an ideological one-party state.
Dr. Cole was in Libya. So, I am tempted to use the cliché and say that he went, he saw, and he is recounting what he witnessed. So, without further ado, here is a good analysis from Dr. Cole from Libya
Courtesy of Dr. Juan Cole.
Posted on 06/05/2012 by Juan
I spent May 27 through June 3 in Libya, and flew out of Tripoli airport to Cairo a day before a small Tarhouna militia came there to demonstrate against the disappearance of its leader. Despite that close call, I came back optimistic about Libya over-all. The Tarhouna demonstration was dealt with efficiently by the new Libyan army, which took control of the airport weeks ago, and there is every reason to believe that it will reopen shortly. When I flew in and out of the Tripoli airport, there were no militiamen there, just regular army and police (who have distinctive red-marked vehicles). There are also now regular flights from Cairo, e.g., to provincial cities like Misrata.
There is a kind of black legend about Libya, that it has become a failed state and is a mess, that there are armed militiamen everywhere, that everybody is a secessionist, that the transitional government is not doing anything, that people of subsaharan African heritage are bothered in the streets, etc., etc. The black legend is promoted in part by remnants of the Qaddafi regime and his admirers in the West, in part by overly anxious middle class Libyans navigating an admittedly difficult transition, in part by media editors looking for a dramatic story.
Henry Kissinger, in his recent op-ed against intervention in Syria, listed the erasure of the Libyan state as an argument against such interventions. I read the allegation with disbelief. Libya is not like Somalia! It isn’t even like Yemen. (The Libyans I talked to about Yemen sympathized with the country’s problems but were astonished to hear that some Western observers looked a their situations as similar!)
So imagine my surprise on visits to Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli, to find that there were no militiamen to be seen, that most things were functioning normally, that there were police at traffic intersections, that there were children’s carnivals open till late, families out, that jewelry shops were open till 8 pm, that Arabs and Africans were working side by side, and that people were proud in Benghazi of having demonstrated against calls for decentralizing the country.
As someone who has lived in conflict situations, I take as a very serious gauge of security whether shops are open and how late they stay open. Jewelry shops in particular are easily looted, and the loot is light and easy to fence. But in Tripoli there was loads of gold in rows of jewelry shops, along with clothing stores newly stocked with Italian fashions. Shopkeepers I interviewed were fully stocked, confident and glad to finally be rid of Qaddafi’s erratic governance, under which they were never sure if they would make a profit because policies changed frequently.
I caught a little celebration by recently graduated Libyan police at Martyr’s Square in Tripoli last week:
And here is a little set of carnival rides near Martyr’s Square in the capital:
Children’s Rides in Tripoli, Libya, June 2012
Shopping in Tripoli
Life is pretty normal. I talked to a Libyan of African heritage who had worked in Germany 14 years and recently had returned. He said he is *much* happier in Libya, even though he is working two jobs (one of them teaching Arabic). A friend of mine is organizing a music festival in the capital. People are gearing up for the election of the National Congress, which will draft a new constitution and gradually create a new government.
Cities unhappy with the foot-dragging of the transitional national government have simply staged their own municipal elections. Benghazi just held its successfully, and Misrata did this months ago. I met the husband of a newly-minted female city council member in Benghazi; she was the number one vote-getter among the candidates that ran, and may chair the council. The municipal governments have the legitimacy of the ballot box and are beginning to address local problems.
Campaigning in Benghazi, May 2012
So if you aren’t in danger of being mugged at night in Tripoli or Benghazi, are there other problems? Sure, loads of them. While I was there the dock workers went on strike at Tripoli to complain about the poor management of the port. Then, in an oil state, money flows to municipalities rather than cities raising money through taxes, and the transitional government still isn’t very good about remitting the money. There is a human rights situation that needs to be addressed in the small town of Tawergha, the militias of which committed war crimes on behalf of Gaddafi; Tawergha has been cleared of its inhabitants, and they need to be allowed to return to their homes. And while security on the whole is fine for individuals in the big northern cities, it probably is still not entirely satisfactory for new investors bringing in expensive equipment to places like Benghazi (though BP has decided to get back into Libya). You have occasional moments of militia protest like the one yesterday at the airport in Tripoli.
But I was struck at the air of normality everywhere I went, and by the obvious comfort people had in circulating, selling and going about their lives. There are no bombings, there is no civil war, there is no serious secessionism. One man told me that the biggest change is that people are no longer afraid. They had been captive of the revolutionary committees and the secret police. And that end of political fear, the Libyans I talked to insisted, made the uncertainties of this transitional period all worthwhile.
I went to Libya expecting to find people nervous about going out, expecting to find a lot of shops shuttered, and expecting to be stopped at militia checkpoints (which was common in Beirut in the late 1970s when I lived there in the first years of the Civil War). Maybe such things exist in smaller provincial cities that I didn’t visit, like Gadames in the South. I don’t know. In the urban north, I found a society actively reconstructing itself where people clearly were going about their ordinary lives, where stores were open and people were sitting in sidewalk cafes, where there were no militiamen on the streets, no checkpoints, and where there were actually traffic cops directing traffic.
So while I wouldn’t want to minimize what difficulties remain, and while I am aware that a week on the ground won’t reveal all the society’s problems, I can say with certainty that the image found in the Western press of the place is far more negative than what I saw with my own eyes and what I heard from locals in Arabic-language conversations.
And I can say categorically that Henry Kissinger is wrong about Libya.
The MB candidate in the pole position to win the run-off
From all the news sources that i consulted today, the results of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections won’t be released until Monday. The race, as the electoral commission has stated in its last press release, is too close to call.
However, early indicators derived from television network exit poll data show that Mohamed Mursi, the MB candidate, is in the lead. When Mursi entered the race, quite late, the Egyptian newspapers and television mucked him and dubbed him the Muslim Brotherhood’s “uncharismatic” candidate. Some other newspaper called him the “spare tire” candidate because the MB’s first choice candidate was disqualified by the electoral commission.
Ahmed Shafiq vs. Mohamed Mursi
However, the 60-year-old engineer conducted a very energetic campaign despite his soft-spoken voice and stands on most controversial issues. Mursi, according to the partial projections, came first in this opening round. These partial projections are also backed up by the MB tally, which showed off a remarkable and unequaled level of organization during this campaign.
Ahmed Shafiq, a former Hosni Mubarak’s prime minister, came in second position, which sets the run-off round to be of high quality between two well-qualified candidates. Moreover, the run-off (scheduled to be held on June 16 and 17) gives Egyptians a stark choice between a military man representing the past in many ways (Ahmed Shafiq was Mubarak’s last prime minister) and an Islamist whose conservative message appeals to some and frightens others (and not only in Egypt).
According to Muslim Brotherhood sources with votes counted from about 12,800 of the roughly 13,100 polling precincts, Mursi has garnered 25%, Shafiq 23%, a rival Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh 20%, and the leftist Hamdeen Sabahy 19%.
These early projections if confirmed give a strong electoral base and reservoir of voters to Mursi. There is no doubt that most of the About Fotouh’s voters will easily vote for Mursi in the run-off. However, Safiq will probably play the nationalist card and will call upon Egyptian’s high and keen sense of “the nation”. Safiq has already started casting and framing Mursi as a dangerous candidate for Egypt who will probably isolate the country with his stances and policies and will hurt Egypt with his amateurism and inexperience. But i doubt that this electoral strategy will work. Egyptians clearly want change, and want a clean break from the past. That’s what they have been expressing for the last year or so.
Having said that, Mursi, in the recent weeks, has given plenty of material to Shafiq to work with and use it to attack him as a novice politician. Mursi has called for a review of Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, saying Egypt’s neighbor has not respected the agreement–a stance that mirrors the position of most of the other candidates in the race. Talking before a large crowd this Sunday, Muris declared “We will take a serious step towards a better future, God willing…If they [meaning the military and the pro-Mubarak regime crowd] take a step to take us backwards, to forge the will of the people and fiddle with security, we know who they are…we will throw them in the rubbish bin of history.”
Mursi is also one of the rare candidate who has an actual campaign program, which he promoted throughout Egypt these last two months. It is called “The Renaissance Project”, an 80-page manifesto based on what Mursi calls a “centrist understanding” of Islam.”The Renaissance Project” outlines Mursi’s and the MB’s vision on everything from fighting inflation to unemployment to forging ties with the U.S. on a more equal footing. It also envisions deeper diplomatic and economic ties with Turkey. In Mursi’s vision and speeches, an Egyptian-Turkish alliance is a goal that must be achieved. It is also the only alliance that would create a counter-power, and a strong check on the behavior of Israel, the U.S. and Iran in the region.
Calling the “The Renaissance Project” a centrist understanding of Islam is a clever way for Mursi to distance himself and his political stances from the extremist Salafists ones. In sum, this manifesto has been quite successful. Mursi turned out to be an excellent campaigner despite a very shaky start, a very shaky debate performance, and a very stern and austere speech delivery. However, the non-Islamists, not least Christians who make up about a 10% of the population, are still unconvinced by his promises that freedoms, civil liberties, as well as religious freedoms will be safe under his leadership.
“It was for the sake of the Islamic sharia that men were … thrown into prison. Their blood and existence rests on our shoulders now…we will work together to realize their dream of implementing sharia.” Campaign speeches like this one do very little to alleviate the fears and concerns of the non-Islamists and non-Muslim minority in Egypt. He has clearly some work to do and he cannot force his agenda through once he is elected.
And now, i leave you to read a very good analysis of our friend Juan Cole. As always Juan hits the nail on the head.
Posted on 05/25/2012 by Juan
The results of the Egyptian presidential election, held on Wednesday and Thursday, won’t be announced until Monday, say official sources in the government. In contrast, the High Electoral Commission is indicating that it will announce the results as soon as they are definitively known. Egypt is on a precipice between a relatively smooth transition and a lot of social turmoil, depending on who the front runners are.
Egyptian Voters at Polling Station (Muqattam), May 24, 2012
Abdel Moneim Abou’l-Futouh, the “Muslim liberal” candidate who had broken with the Muslim Brotherhood, can be counted out. He has conceded, and has thrown his support to the Muslim Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Mursi. He had been favored to win the election only two or three weeks ago, but his attempt to make everyone from liberals to hard line Salafi fundamentalists happy badly damaged him, since it raised the question as to what his real agenda was. I suspect that the support he garnered from some Salafi leaders, who urged their followers to vote for him instead of for Mursi, also scared away a lot of the leftists and liberals who had considered voting for him.
Abou’l-Futouh also had the effect of splitting the Muslim fundamentalist vote, depriving Mursi of a clear victory and damaging the Brotherhood’s image as a party machine juggernaut.
Early returns also suggest that another possible front-runner, Amr Moussa (former foreign minister and former head of the Arab League), has also faded and looks unlikely to be in the run-off. His constituency deserted him in favor of Ahmad Shafiq.
As I write it is mid-afternoon on Friday, and there is a reported surge for the leftist candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi. He is now said to be in second place, ahead of former Aviation Minister and Air Force General Ahmad Shafiq. Sabahi won big in Alexandria, which had been trending fundamentalist, but which is a modern Mediterranean port city with a big, organized working class, who appear to have swung to him (perhaps along with a lot of government workers and the secular middle class, along with committed revolutionaries). Al-Nil television’s correspondent is reporting as I speak that Sabahi also took Port Said, a smaller port city.
If Sabahi can maintain his narrow lead over Ahmad Shafiq, the resulting run-off will give Egyptians a choice between a leftist secularist and a Muslim fundamentalist, both of them from the opposition to Mubarak.
If Shafiq can pull back ahead of Sabahi, the resulting election would be a huge catastrophe for Egypt.
If Egyptians have to decide between Mursi and Shafiq, they’ll have a stark choice. They could give the Muslim Brotherhood two of the major branches of civilian government and risk a swift move to Islamic law and one-party dominance. They could split the ticket and support the secular Shafiq, who is very much a creature of the old regime and of the Egyptian military. In some ways he would resurrect Mubarak’s policies but will face new limitations in presidential rule by fiat. He speaks warmly of Mubarak, and would be a highly polarizing figure who would certainly provoke a whole new round of big demonstrations on the part of the New Left youth and perhaps also Muslim fundamentalists. He has ominously promised to crack down hard on “destructive demonstrations.” Although the Western politicians and business classes might favor Shafiq for surface reasons, in fact they’d be buying a whole lot of trouble if they backed him.
A Mursi-Shafiq contest would certainly result in riots and fistfights all over the country, and if Shafiq won it would likely throw the country into substantial instability (an ironic outcome since the people voting for Shafiq in the big cities and the countryside are looking for a law and order candidate who can fight a slight rise in crime). It seems to me that the resulting demonstrations and unrest would risk further damaging Egypt’s economy.
A Mursi-Sabahi contest, in contrast, will be much smoother, though still contentious. Sabahi is probably acceptable to most of the New Left revolutionaries, though they were ambivalent about him because of his Nasserist commitments (raising questions about his dedication to parliamentary democracy). Still, he was a steadfast foe of Mubarak, and was involved in the key Kifaya! (enough) movement of 2004 and after, which laid the foundations for the revolution. As a critic of imperialism and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, he might have some support from some of the Muslim fundamentalists who focus on that issue. And his insistence on social justice obviously has wide appeal across ideological groups.
Egyptian voters in a Mursi-Sabahi match-up would have a real choice between a pluralistic system and a return to virtually one-party rule. They’d have a choice between Muslim Brotherhood emphasis on private property/Turkish-style Neoliberalism and a more socialist policy (a la Hollande in France, perhaps). And in any case, both candidates would have a claim on opposition to the old Mubarak regime, and so an extreme polarization and “a further revolution”, as promised by the New Left, could be avoided.
The final results will therefore be highly consequential for Egypt, and for US and Israeli foreign policy. Those rushing to declare the two run-off winners today, though, are probably jumping the gun, given the very small spread among the front-runners after Mursi.
A great post by our friend Juan Cole, and as always he nailed it.
Courtesy of Juan Cole
Posted on 05/23/2012 by Juan
Interpreting political behavior in a brand spanking new democracy such as Egypt is trying to become is littered with pitfalls, and these are multiplied when dealing with the Middle East.
The Muslim world, and especially the Arab world, has been depicted by some Western historians and social scientists as exceptionally impervious to democratic ideals and practices. Much of this Muslim or Arab exceptionalism derives from twentieth-century attempts to justify Western imperialism (rule over the Muslims for their own good by Europeans). Some of it is also rooted in apologetics for the Israel project, which is opposed by most Arabs and Muslims; if there is something wrong with the latter, then their complaints about the displacement and denationalization of the Palestinians can be dismissed. (Ironically, Israel under the Revisionist Likud Party is becoming less and less democratic itself, and many of the fundamentalist Jewish Haredim, now 8% of the population and growing, are no more democratic than the Saudi Wahhabis; so many of the arguments about “Islam” and Muslims and exceptionalism that had been made in the past increasingly could be applied to Israel itself).
The exceptionalism argument is ahistorical and peculiarly lacking in a comparative perspective. There is a major argument in modern German history about whether Germany was peculiar in lacking a national business class and in clinging to authoritarianism, save for the brief Weimar period, until the end of WW II. But then what of Spain? Italy? Austria? Hungary? (We are still not sure about Hungary, and Berlusconi’s Italy rather fell in the rankings). Which European countries were there, exactly, that did not have democracy imposed on them from the outside?
Then there are the other exceptionalisms. Most people who speak Chinese still live under relatively authoritarian governments, with Taiwan the major example of a Sinophone people’s transition toward parliamentary rule with regular contested elections. But just as being Muslim cannot possibly be related to people’s receptivity to democracy, neither can speaking Chinese.
There is something else going on. Most likely it has to do with the way the peasants of Egypt and Algeria made the transition to urban modernity, and likewise the Chinese. Some of the lack of democracy even derives from Western intervention against it (colonial regimes were poor teachers of democratic habits, and parliamentary regimes were overthrown by the West via coups from time to time, rather setting things back).
As for why Egyptians vote as they do, like any electorate they are complicated and even individual voters could go either way often. Egyptians did not give a majority to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis because a majority of them is pious (and 24% of Egyptians are definitely not hard line fundamentalists of the Salafi sort!) My interviewing suggests that in the parliamentary elections they wanted parties that a) were not connected to the corrupt and hated Hosni Mubarak and b) would be honest and transparent and avoid stealing from them or dunning them constantly for bribes. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis fit those bills. In contrast, a lot of the left had its roots in Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s progressive thought, and they were initially tainted with the brush of the longstanding military regime (Nasser was a leader of the Young Officers who made the 1952 coup, to which the current military junta is the heir).
But the Muslim Brotherhood made several major errors. They promised not to put up a candidate for president, to reassure people they weren’t trying to recreate Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, i.e. a one-party state. But then they reneged and put up Khairat al-Shater, a businessman with corruption convictions. They also tried to stack the committee charged with writing the constitution with their own members, causing even other Muslim forces to withdraw in disgust. And, they haven’t been good about reestablishing security, providing services, or bringing back the tourist trade.
As for the Salafis, they unwisely began talking about banning beer, and if there is one thing the Egyptian electorate is sure about it is that they like beer.
Ironically, you meet lots of Egyptian men with beards and prayer beads who are leftists, and clean-shaven, dapper men who are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. You suspect that they could fairly easily change their minds.
You have to think about what people are voting against, not just what they seem to be voting for. Last fall they were voting against the fulul, the remnants of Mubarak’s corrupt regime. This May, some large number of Egyptians are telling pollsters that they will be voting against a Muslim Brotherhood one-party state. They will be voting against Salafi puritanism. It is not that the Muslim fundamentalist candidate cannot win, but he now has high negatives to overcome.
Egyptian politics in this miraculous year is all about the rebound, not about the straight throw.
Egypt: First Presidential Debate: Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh vs. Amr Moussa
Yesterday, Egypt organized its first presidential debate, and according to El-Moheet newspaper and to many other observers, it was a stunning success. Egyptians, by the millions, watched this first presidential debate with great interest and anticipation. The debate commission as well as two television channels and two newspapers agreed to select the two top candidates who are leading in the polls. Officially, there are thirteen candidates in all, but the chose was narrowed down to two candidates, one of whom will most likely be the winner of the 23-24 May presidential elections
I have to say that the organization was good. The studio looked modern with a bit of dark lighting, which projected and added solemnness to the event and a serious dose of gravitas to the candidates and the moderator. For a country that went through a revolution and serious turmoil, the organization was top-notch and very professional. It is as if they have done this forever. It didn’t look or sound amateurish at all.
The two candidates leading the polls and who engaged in a serious debate last night are former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, and former Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh Abdel Hady. It is interesting to note that both candidates are running as independents, though both candidates have clearly outlined constituencies and are backed by somehow distinct electoral coalitions. And yesterday’s debate was aimed at reinforcing these constituencies and mobilizing these two distinct electoral coalitions.
Throughout the debate, Amr Moussa and Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh did not attack each other, and did not engage in rehashing the past very much. Both candidates had forward-looking strategies and narratives. They answered the questions directly and as Aboul Fotouh jokingly said, “bidouna laffy wa dawarane” –i.e., i answer your questions without any demagoguery or empty rhetoric. I have to say that in the first five minutes of debate, Aboul Fotouh looked nervous while Amr Moussa looked calm, and this is due to Amr Moussa’s vast experience with these kind of media exposure. Amr Moussa has a long experience answering questions in different international and national forums before different audiences and that gave him a small advantage. However, this advantage dissipated right the way and both candidates performed admirably.
The main contentious issue raised was the recent events and clashes in Cairo’s Abbassiya district. Both candidates argued that these violent events were due to the transitionary period that Egypt has been going through and to the lack of a clear and legitimate leader with a clear program at the top of the executive. However, Aboul Fotouh added that “If i were president, events like these would not have happened.” He went on to stress that although these events are regrettable, Egyptians and the military leadership need to remember that freedom of protest, peaceful assembly and demonstration are one of the gains of the January 25th revolution.
Overall, during this first debate, both candidates wanted to cement their constituencies and electoral coalitions and so they spoke directly to comfort the worries of the youth vote, including the left of center youth revolutionaries, of the secular middle class, of the Muslim Brotherhood moderate and divers coalition, of women, of the Coptic minority, and even the worries of the Salafists. In this exercise, Aboul Fotouh had the upper hand. He is (and was during the debate) well-aware that Amr Moussa represents a figure from the past that is still associated with the Mubarek regime. He is also aware that what the young revolutionary left wants more than anything else is a clear and definitive break from the practices of the past regime. This is why throughout the debate, Aboul Fotouh stressed his past as a major opposition figure to contrast it with the pro-Mubarek past of Amr Moussa. Using the 2008 U.S. election as an example of renewal and youth’s vigor, Aboul Fotouh promised to appoint a large number of young political leaders issued from the Egyptian civil society to high leadership positions in his future government should he be trusted with the presidency. He tried to reassure the secular middle class and the Coptic minority–both of which are more likely to favor Moussa–that he wouldn’t turn Egypt into a religious state or an Islamic republic. Finally, knowing that he has already a lock on the vote of the Salafists (the Salafists did not present a candidate and most leaders of the movement have already endorsed him), Aboul Fotouhe cleverly went after the MB moderate vote. His strategy is simple: minimize the damage and take as many votes away as possible from the formal Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad al-Mursi. Was he successful in doing that? I don’t know and we won’t know until elections day. However, he clearly reminded the MB voters that he is the legitimate figure of the opposition Muslim coalition and that splitting votes between the different Islamist candidates is sure way of losing the election. Basically, he used the card of the vote strategically or as the French call it “le vote utile.“
For Amr Moussa, this debate was a delicate exercise of balancing between the different electoral coalitions and their priorities. He wanted to reassure the Muslim voters without alienating the Coptic or the secular constituencies. He wanted to reassure the women vote without alienating the women who favor the MB policies (look at the breakdown of voting behavior in the last legislative elections). He wanted to promise robust economic programs and the revival of Egypt economy without looking reckless with tax-payers money and without sounding like he wanted to punish the wealthy class. As an experienced politician, he did a good job. He looked and sounded presidential, but he wasn’t successful in incarnating newness or embedding the “new” Egyptian political revival. This could just be a personal impression that is specific to me and doesn’t represent what the Egyptians felt after watching this debate.
In sum, for a first attempt, the organization a debate was spotless and very professional. In my opinion, this level of professionalism sets a standard for all newly democratized Arab countries to follow. I think that both candidate did a great job. However, i give a slight edge to Abdel-Moneim Aboul Fotouh just because he was a new figure representing a new democratic Egypt. He sounded new, he represented change and that is a serious advantage in a change election.
This post is courtesy of our friend Juan Cole
General Assembly Condemns Syria as Regime Bombards Homs Again
Posted on 02/17/2012 by Juan
The world condemned the Syria regime’s brutal crackdown on its own people at the UN General Assembly on Thursday. What would be the response of the ruling Baath Party? We didn’t have to wait long to find out.
On Friday morning, the Syrian armed forces subjected Baba Amr in Homs to one of the fiercest bombardments yet in the 14-day-old regime attempt to take back control of the rebellious city. Some observers allege that at the same time the regime’s hold on the north of the country has weakened. Revolutionaries appear also to have taken control of much of the city of Idlib.
At the UN, the Arab League presented a Saudi Arabian-crafted statement on Syria to the General Assembly. It condemned the state’s crackdown, which has cost thousands of civilian lives Of 193 nations, 137 voted in favor the resolution condemning the ruling Baath regime. Only 12 opposed, including Russia, China, Iran and Latin American friends of Iran, including Venezuela and Ecuador. (Venezuela is pledged to deliver oil to Syria at a time that it is facing economic sanctions and boycotts in other quarters.). The rest of the nations were absent or abstained.
The General Assembly vote was pursued by the Arab League out of knowledge that Russia and China would veto any strong censure at the level of the Security Council, as happened recently. Russia and China have trade interests in Baathist Syria, and also dislike the very idea of outside interference when putting down a popular revolt.
Unfortunately, the UNGA vote has no direct legal consequences. Unlike the UNSC, it cannot authorize the use of forces. It cannot refer cases to the International Criminal Court. The vote is symbolic more than anything else, and the Syrian opposition used it to advantage in video made after the resolution.
The world body’s vote came a day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pledged a February 26 vote in a referendum on a new constitution that would end Syria’s one-party state. Much of the opposition has decided to boycott the polls, believing that the whole thing is a stunt.
Meanwhile, on Thursday Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Anthony Shadid died in Syria of an asthma attack. He had sneaked in from Lebanon to find out more about the military wing of the opposition. Lebanese-American Shadid made his mark with his belief in the dignity of the Arab citizen, his searching and humane intelligence, and his knowledge of Arabic, gained initially as a student in university Arabic classes. He set a high bar indeed for younger journalists who will come after him.
La Syrie à la croisée des chemins: Ce que le plan de la Ligue Arabe pourrait faire pour débloquer la situation
The ICG issued a good risk analysis of the situation in Syria and the recent developments that have been taken place. Their recommendations are clear, direct, and on target. The Arab League proposal and its acceptance by Bashar’s regime represent a probable and viable way for the protest movement and the regime itself. However, there are conditions and engagements that both sides need to follow in order to find an exit to this protracted and bloody situation.
Brussels, 3 November 2011: Syria’s acceptance of the Arab League proposal to defuse the crisis presents an eleventh-hour opportunity to seek a negotiated transition before the conflict takes an even uglier turn. Despite understandable scepticism, both the protest movement and the international community ought to give this initiative a fair chance; for either one to dismiss or undermine it would be to offer the regime justification for rejecting both the deal and responsibility for its failure.
The regime’s intentions soon will be put to the test. In coming days, protesters will take to the streets with renewed energy, probing President Bashar al Assad’s sincerity after months of rising repression; they cannot be expected to show patience for protracted political talks devoid of swift, tangible results on the ground. The various strands of the opposition ought to publicly reject violent attacks against security forces and accept to engage in a dialogue with no condition other than the regime’s implementation of the plan. Likewise the international community should fully endorse the deal and adjust its reaction to developments on the ground. Only by giving Damascus a genuine opportunity to live up to its commitments under the plan can the international community reach consensus on holding it accountable should it choose to flout them.
The agreement unquestionably is flawed. It calls for a halt to violence and for the regime to withdraw its forces, release those detained as a result of recent events, grant access to the Arab League as well as Arab and international media, and, within two weeks, initiate a dialogue with the opposition under League auspices. But it does so in relatively vague terms, thereby virtually ensuring that the regime will try to re-negotiate in practice what it has already approved in principle.
The agreement does not explicitly mention the right to peaceful demonstrations, a key opposition demand. Likewise, it fails to provide a mechanism for effective on-the-ground monitoring to supervise implementation. As far as one can tell, it is backed by neither meaningful incentives nor credible threats in the event the regime reneges on its commitments or plays for time. More fundamentally, the agreement may simply be unrealistic. It is hard to imagine why the regime would risk jeopardizing its most significant achievement to date, namely preventing the kind of mass demonstrations that would conclusively establish its lack of legitimacy – and that the protest movement will now seek to organise. Indeed, large numbers of Syrians almost certainly will take to the streets – including in Damascus – were they to conclude that the deal provides them with some protection.
This could well be a last chance. If peaceful protests face continued repression in coming days, a more violent and dangerous confrontation is almost certain to develop. Syria’s eight-month-old uprising is fast approaching a dangerous tipping point.
Behind the thin veil of a so-called reform process that has been premised on the need to restore “law and order”, the regime has in the past three months almost entirely delegated the task of dealing with popular discontent to its security services. In turn, their indiscriminate violence and sectarian behaviour has begun to radicalise the street. The regime’s claim that it is exclusively eradicating armed groups while in reality treating non-violent demonstrators with equal ferocity is doing nothing to weaken the former while pushing the latter to the brink. The protesters’ overall restraint has been remarkable and so far has helped avoid descent into all-out civil war. But there are unmistakable signs of change.
Among demonstrators, the prospect of armed resistance is gaining appeal. A pattern of attacks against regime forces has emerged in border areas. Homs has served as a magnet for a steady stream of army defectors whose success in resisting regime attempts to retake the city is inspiring others to emulate its more confrontational tactics. Although still expensive, rudimentary weapons are now widely available due to intensive smuggling. Meanwhile, uninhibited brutality of regime henchmen, chiefly members of the Allawite minority, is fuelling sectarian retribution. Long an imaginary part of the regime’s propaganda, such retaliation is becoming a reality, particularly in central Syria.
For now, no credible evidence has emerged to suggest significant, organised foreign support for a developing insurgency; the regime frequently displays stacks of weapons, cash and telecommunications technology it claims to have seized from armed groups, yet has offered no proof regarding the identity and role of outside backers. This too could change. Already, Turkey is playing host to the leadership of the Free Syrian Army, which has openly claimed responsibility for attacks against Syrian forces. Some among the Syrian opposition make no secret of their goal to lure the international community into a Libyan-style military intervention, which they see as the only way of tilting the balance in their favour. On the ground, calls for a “no-fly-zone” – codeword for international military intervention – have become widespread; only weeks ago, they were unthinkable.
Should these dynamics intensify and the conflict morph into an armed, sectarian confrontation with heavy outside involvement, Syria’s cohesion would be threatened. Regional instability could spread. Spill-over effects most likely would be felt in Lebanon, where sectarian conflict risks being reignited. But a Syrian Sunni insurgency also could affect confessionally-divided Iraq and neighbouring Jordan. A proxy war could intensify between Ankara and Damascus, which already has reactivated ties with Kurdish forces battling Turkey. In short, the impression of a standstill – in which predominantly peaceful protests are met by increasingly intensive repression – is misleading. Beneath the surface lie developments that should be worrisome to all.
Until recently at least, the regime appeared relatively comfortable with these trends. From the outset, it sought to portray the protest movement as an Islamist, sectarian and foreign-backed insurgency; anything that could bolster its narrative was welcome. Framing the struggle in such terms helped justify the president’s decision, made in late July, to opt for a so-called “security solution” – i.e., all-out repression of all forms of dissent on the one hand and preservation of the fiction of “normalcy”, “reform” and “dialogue” on the other. Since then, the regime has rejected any meaningful compromise, recovering a sense of self-confidence even as the situation on the ground continued to deteriorate.
The regime found some reasons for solace. First, the “security solution” bolstered the security services’ cohesiveness, determination and loyalty; after months of internal disarray prompted by the leadership’s confusing mix of symbolic concessions and hesitant repression, they finally understood what they were expected to do. Second, the massive campaign of arrests, indiscriminate killings and other scare tactics diminished the number of demonstrators while largely circumscribing the protest movement within the communal, geographic and socio-economic boundaries that best suit the regime – namely a provincial movement of the Sunni underclass. In turn, the regime has used this to keep significant segments of the upper- and middle-class, largest cities and minorities on board. Third, Damascus ensured that the interests of key allies, Iran and Hizbollah, became intimately intertwined with its own fate: insofar as they have blindly aligned themselves with the regime, they are certain to lose were it to fall. Finally, the leadership has witnessed the international community’s divisions and impotence – whether motivated by fear of Islamism, suspicion of Western intervention or concern at Syria’s ability to spread chaos throughout the region.
But the security solution cannot resolve the regime’s most fundamental problems. It cannot address its economic predicament, which has reached alarming levels and which, in the absence of a political resolution, will only worsen as wave after wave of Western, and possibly international, sanctions are almost certainly unleashed. It cannot end the demonstrations, which invariably pick up wherever and whenever pressure relents. It cannot revive the regime’s legitimacy which was based on Assad’s personal reputation, a sense of communal coexistence, as well as the idea of resistance to Israel and U.S. hegemony. Instead, what support it enjoys today is almost entirely of a negative sort: fear of sectarian retribution, Islamism, foreign interference, social upheaval or, more simply, anxiety about the unknown. Nor can the regime forever count on the resilience of its security forces. For the country’s intense polarisation – between those who reject the regime’s brutality and those who see it as the only path to salvation – and the distrust this engenders has con taminated all institutions, including the army. Faced with an increasing number of defectors willing to take up arms against them, the security services find themselves in greater need of military protection precisely at a time when regime distrust of the army is growing. Tellingly, the regime has not yet been able to retake Homs – something it almost certainly would have done if it could muster sufficient trusted troops to do so.
The regime is not alone in having reached an impasse. In the past eight months, the protest movement has failed to break out of the straightjacket into which it has been forced by the security services. The growing number of student protests over the last several days is remarkable precisely because they break with the image carefully and relatively successfully cultivated by the regime – that of an undereducated, thuggish and extremist protest movement. Still, the middle class in the largest city, Aleppo, as well as in Damascus has remained largely quiet; only in Homs have demonstrators convincingly bridged social and communal divides. Minorities have either openly sided with the regime (in some Christian areas), kept a relatively low profile (in the Kurdish-dominated northeast and the Druze town of Sweida), or been crushed into submission (in the Ismaeli town of Salamiya). There have been few significant defections from within the regime’s technocratic ranks. Although several senior officials have been sidelined, no decisive cracks have emerged in the decision-making apparatus. Having rejected any dialogue with the regime so long as it resorts to violence – an understandable position given the level of repression – and having espoused ever more radical slogans (from toppling the regime at the beginning, to executing Assad now), the opposition had left itself with no alte rnative but to fight till the bitter and bloody end; the Arab League proposal perhaps now provides it with a small, but vital, margin for manouver.
Nor has the opposition succeeded in unifying its ranks or presenting a coherent program. Its most visible figures, whether in exile or at home, have shown insufficient leadership, unable to articulate a political platform that could provide either a basis for negotiations with the regime or some guarantee of continuity in the event of its collapse. Divided more often by petty personal rivalries than by deep substantive issues, the opposition’s failure to present a realistic way forward has helped persuade many despairing protesters that their only hope lies in domestic armed struggle or outside intervention.
A fractured international community also has been forced to watch largely from the sidelines. In the Arab world, the regime has benefited so far from support from countries such as Lebanon (which cannot afford to alienate its neighbour); Algeria (whose rulers fear the spread of popular uprisings); or Iraq (whose Shiite leadership has opted for an essentially sectarian perspective on Syria’s unrest). To date, efforts to pass a UN Security Council resolution have been resisted by, among others, Russia, China and India, who share an instinctive fear of Islamism, aversion to foreign interference in domestic affairs and distaste for the what they see as the West’s self-serving interpretation of international principles. As a result, Europe and the U.S. have had little to offer beyond heightened rhetorical condemnation (inevitably undermined by their inconsistent approach to other issues, such as Bahrain or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and an array of economic sanctions whose political impact remains uncertain and whose economic legacy could undermine any future transition.
Syria’s closest allies, Hizbollah and Iran, face their own perils. Their unconditional support for the regime was premised on appreciation for Syria’s role within the so-called axis of resistance and belief that Assad would successfully manage the crisis. In order to justify Damascus’ resort to extreme violence, they were compelled to embrace its version of a Sunni Islamist, foreign-backed insurgency seeking to tip the regional balance of powers. By the same token, they essentially dismissed the protesters’ legitimate demands and obvious sufferings, casting much of Syrian society as the enemy. The net effect has been to severely damage their moral standing across the Arab world, undermine the notion of resistance, expose them to the very same accusation of double-standards they typically levy against the West – in their case by condemning in Syria the popular revolt they champion in Bahrain – and cast them in a purely sectarian light. Iran and Hizbollah already have paid a steep price. It will be steeper still should the Syrian regime’s repression intensify and the conflict develop along ever-deepening sectarian lines.
There is good reason to doubt that anything will come out of the Arab League initiative. The opposition suspects a manoeuvre designed to gain time and thwart efforts at greater international involvement. It will be leery of providing the regime with any breathing space and eager to demonstrate the president’s bad faith. Among outside actors, some predictably will want to rush to condemn the regime, others to exonerate it.
If only because the alternative is so bleak, however, every effort should be made to maximise the proposal’s chances of success. It is crucial that President Assad sticks to his part of the agreement and rapidly implement its provisions, and crucial that the regime’s remaining friends press him convincingly to do so. So too must the opposition find a way to contain its well-justified scepticism, condemn acts of violence against regime forces and put aside any precondition for negotiations save for the agreement’s strict implementation. The international community, rather than follow Washington’s lead – which unhelpfully greeted the announcement with a renewed call for Assad’s immediate departure – should take a cautious approach and judge the regime based on its actions. But the converse also must hold, namely that Syria’s violation of the agreement should be met by swift international condemnation, including by those who have proved most reluctant to date and including in the form of a UN Security Council resolution.
Should it come to that, many undoubtedly will push for such a resolution to impose sanctions. But not only would insistence on this step likely impede chances of swift passage, there also are serious questions regarding its efficacy. Sanctions hurt the regime, but they hurt what is left of the middle class even more; those in power typically find ways to circumvent them and render themselves indispensable providers of goods and services, thereby heightening society’s dependency on the very forces the sanctions are intended to undermine. Rather than rush to enact new penalties, better to wait to see how those already in force play out. Above all else, the regime dreads further international isolation. That is one reason why it so warmly greeted Russia’s and China’s veto at the UN and why it decided to accept the Arab League’s proposal. If the regime reneges on its commitments, a consensus that lays the blame at its doorstep would be the worst possible outcome from its perspective – and both the most effective and achievable lever at the international community’s disposal.