Recent protests in the wake of an increase in fuel prices have left dozens of people killed and hundreds arrested in Sudan. Reports indicate that the government of President Omar al-Bashir, in power nearly a quarter century since a 1989 military coup, shut down the Internet. Major newspapers also shuttered, keeping the country in relative international obscurity.
These protests cannot be understood without placing them in the context of Sudan's political and legal history since its 1956 independence. Considering the demonstrations not as isolated events, but as part of a decades-long struggle for peace, leads to three insights into what may lie ahead for this troubled country.
"After these years of killings, what else can people feel but distrust?" asked rights campaigner Raci Bilici, who was trying to make himself heard over the rumble of a military helicopter flying low across the sky.
The ancient walls of Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of Turkey's Kurdish separatist movement, loomed overhead as Bilici traced the mass grave of 29 murdered political prisoners that were found here just one year ago. "So much has changed for the better, but this is still a city where nobody wants to know what is buried under their feet."
Hemmed in by military bases and patrolled by rock-battered armored cars, Diyarbakir is supposed to be a city moving toward peace. This week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a reform package aimed at expanding rights for the country's 15-million Kurds, billing the measure as a step toward ending a 30-year ethnic conflict that has taken at least 40,000 lives and devastated the country's southeast.
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It may be tempting to situate news that Tunisia's Islamist-led government is preparing to stand down as part of the demise of moderate Islamism across the Middle East and North Africa. This would be a mistake. As for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, this is about politics: the politics, that is, of who controls what within the narrow confines of a political elite, now at risk of sinking together unless they wake up to the demands of governing rather than squabbling.
Tunisia's seemingly endless rows about the role of Islam in politics have, in reality, been a side-show to old-fashioned power struggles. The anti-Islamist secularists who regularly accuse the leading party of the "troika" (three-party coalition) government, Ennahda, of having stolen "their" revolution, of allying with Salafist radicals to place Tunisia under sharia law, and of placing party allegiance above national interest seem blissfully unaware that a full 88 percent of Tunisians polled in March support some degree of reference to the Quran in Tunisian law. In focusing all their energies on vilifying Ennahda and its Islamist agenda, the opposition has failed to channel public debate toward the key demands of the 2011 protesters -- namely reform of the economy and state institutions, the implementation of a much-needed media law, and a root-and-branch clean-up of the discredited judiciary and security services.
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The recent court ruling calling for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to be outlawed comes as no surprise. The move was expected since the removal of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. The ruling reveals the current regime's determination to exclude and undermine the Brotherhood. The crucial questions are whether the ruling will be harmful to the movement's activities and network and to what extent it will affect the movement's future.
But before delving into these queries, at least two legal points are worth mentioning. First, the ruling orders a "ban" on all of the Brotherhood's activities and not a "dissolution" of its structure and network. The distinction is important, as with the former interpretation the Brotherhood can still operate and do business as usual but in a more cautious and secretive manner. It appears that the ruling aims at nothing more than putting more pressure on the Brotherhood. This is particularly evident considering that the ruling is silent on the fate of the Brotherhood's political arm the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and thus does not clarify whether it would be banned.
Syria's civil war did not start out as a sectarian conflict pitting Sunnis against a Shiite-backed regime. Sectarian language was largely absent from the early nonviolent protests and its leaders deliberately tried to create a multiethnic, multi-confessional front. But as the conflict turned violent, extremists on both sides recast the conflict as a sectarian apocalypse to discourage Syrians from creating the broad, cross-cutting coalition of Syrians necessary to take down the regime.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's sectarian strategy -- targeting Sunni civilians, labeling the opposition "al Qaeda," portraying himself as the protector of Syria's religious minorities -- is well known. Less well known is the sectarian strategy pursued by Sunni extremists, particularly the ultraconservative Salafis living in the Persian Gulf, who are sending "hundreds of millions" of dollars to ensure the worst factions of the revolt are ascendant -- mostly under the guise of humanitarian relief.
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On September 21, Iraqi Kurdistan held paliamentary elections, which for the first time in 22 years, have fundamentally altered the region's political landscape. Almost 3 million voters participated in the elections, with a total of 1,129 candidates competing for 111 parliamentary seats. While official results have been delayed by allegations of fraud, what the elections have made abundantly clear is the sweeping dissatisfaction with the Kurdistan Regional Government.
From its emergence in 1991, the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq has been ruled by an alliance of two parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Iraq's ailing President Jalal Talabani. This duopoly was broken on September 21, when Talabani's party appeared to hemmorage votes to the Gorran (Change) Movement, which split from the PUK in 2009. Preliminary results announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission on Sunday in which the KDP got 71,9004 votes, Gorran 44,6095 votes, PUK 33,2386 votes, Islamic Union 17,8681 votes, and Islamic Group 11,3260 votes. Eleven seats are reserved for minorities and religious sects. Gorran's jump to the second-biggest party in the parliament marks a new era in Kurdish politics.
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On September 5, 2012, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that the United States "lacked initiative" in dealing with the crisis in Syria. "There are certain things being expected from the United States. Obama has not yet catered to those expectations," he said. A year later Erdogan finds himself at sharper odds with the U.S. administration, whose decision to head off planned strikes on Syria has left him in a lonely spot both at home and in the region.
To Erdogan, a strong advocate of regime change, anything short of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ouster carries the risk of further weakening his hand domestically and regionally. Only a few years ago Turkey was praised as a non-sectarian actor mediating regional conflicts through its access to various actors from Iran to Israel, Hamas to Fatah. The Syrian conflict, however, has dealt a blow to its image as a regional superpower pursuing non-sectarian foreign policy. Turkey's active support for the Sunni-majority Syrian opposition in what has become a largely sectarian civil war has projected Turkey as a Sunni power with a sectarian regional agenda, thus making it appear less impartial and leading to a slide in its regional influence. With the Saudis taking over the Syria portfolio from Turkey and Qatar and the establishment of the recent Russian-U.S. deal, Turkey has been marginalized in regional and international efforts to tackle the Syrian crisis.
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While most attention at the U.N. General Assembly this week is focused on Iran and Syria, the Friends of Yemen group held its sixth ministerial meeting on the sidelines. The meeting presented an opportunity for the government of Yemen to hold donors accountable for pledged money and for donors to hold the Yemenis accountable for promised reforms. It is easy to overlook Yemen in the midst of a potential handshake between the American and Iranian presidents, but this is a pivotal moment in the country's transition process that necessitates continued U.S. and international attention. Yemen's friends and allies should take this opportunity to think creatively and strategically about the next steps in Yemen's transition process and formulate long-term, sustainable policies that will help Yemenis achieve the aspirations of the 2011 uprising -- greater economic opportunity, social justice and dignity, and an end to pervasive corruption.
Yemen is poised to complete its National Dialogue in the coming weeks -- delayed only slightly beyond the September 18 deadline -- which culminates months of work to hash out the country's most contentious issues among 565 delegates representing a cross-section of Yemeni political life. The dialogue has fostered an environment of robust debate, integrated women and youth voices, and upended cultural norms where tribal sheikhs always have the upper hand. While the military rears its authoritarian head in Egypt and the Assad regime continues its indiscriminate slaughter of civilians in Syria, Yemen's slow and steady progress to implement a peaceful, negotiated political transition deserves real recognition.
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For the first time in many years, Iranian leaders are declaring that they are ready to make a deal with the United States on the nuclear issue, leading some skeptics to question whether Tehran is serious this time or merely orchestrating a publicity blitz for newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani. Although it is never wise to take Iran's gestures at face value, several developments suggest a potentially unprecedented opportunity for diplomacy with Iran. Conciliatory statements from Iran's top leadership, including the Supreme Leader, combined with the nuclear portfolio's transfer from the defense establishment to the foreign ministry could signal a strategic shift in Iran.
This time there is one more important reason to take Iran's leaders seriously and include them in any negotiations aimed at seeking a political settlement to the Syrian conflict: Tehran appears willing to dispense eventually of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in exchange for some relief on the crippling U.S., EU, and U.N. sanctions. Tehran is signaling a willingness to jettison Assad -- who it now increasingly sees as a liability. By using Assad as a bargaining chip, the Iranians believe they will be under less pressure to make tortuous concessions on the nuclear program, such as capping enrichment at low percentages, because they would appear to have surrendered another one of their powerful weapons instead -- the Syrian leader.
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There have been more stirring declarations of independence, but in Egypt's constricted political environment, this one was still bold. Article 18 of the bylaws of Egypt's "committee of 50" drafting constitutional amendments proudly proclaims that the committee will complete its work in 60 days "not counting official holidays."
The 50 members now hard at work in Egypt are assigned the task of taking the very extensive list of amendments drafted by an earlier committee (consisting of 10 jurists) and developing a proposed text to submit to voters in a couple months. All committee members were appointed by interim President Adli Mansour, himself appointed by the military. The composition of the committee reflects a cross-section of Egyptian society but hardly a representative one. The last parliamentary elections resulted in a body that was two-thirds Islamists, but Islamist parties claim only one seat in the current committee. Various unions, syndicates, and state bodies were allowed to choose their own representatives, and the president peppered the body with some prominent politicians and intellectuals.
In the Sinai Peninsula, where government buildings and checkpoints have been bombarded by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and car bombs on a near-daily basis in recent weeks, the Egyptian state is losing ground to ultraconservative Islamists with an alternative vision for rule of law. The growing influence of self-taught sharia judges who uphold the Quran over Egyptian law reflects an alarming erosion of state sovereignty in the Sinai Peninsula. In late August, state courts in North Sinai were forced to transfer all of their cases to the comparatively stable jurisdiction of Ismailiya, in the face of escalating attacks by armed extremists targeting government buildings and security personnel. This week, two prominent sharia judges were among 15 hard-line Salafis arrested on charges of inciting terrorist attacks, as the Egyptian government struggles to contain rising extremism. But despite the current crackdown, it is clear that the deeply entrenched sharia courts of North Sinai are here to stay.
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On September 24, Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani will make his debut at the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). He is far from the first Iranian president to make this appearance. For a quarter century, Iran's top elected leaders have all used the green marble dais in the cavernous General Assembly to lay out Iran's vision for the Islamic Republic, the Middle East, and the world. Indeed, before becoming the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even then-President Ayatollah Ali Khamenei traveled to New York for the opening of the United Nations in 1987.
Rouhani's appearance this year may be particularly momentous. For the first time, both Iran and the United States are in sync about serious diplomacy -- and the bargaining may well begin in public but even more behind-the-scenes in New York. Rouhani has made clear that he will use the gathering of heads of state to announce a new era in Iran's relations with the outside word, especially with the United States and Europe. In his brief six weeks in office, the president has already talked extensively about moderation and "constructive engagement" on international disputes.
Iran is once again in the midst of a fierce internal battle to come out of its latest ideological shell. The showdown in Syria will demonstrate how pragmatic the Islamic Republic will become. It will also set the stage for the upcoming nuclear negotiations.
It was not that long ago that various Iranian figures claimed that fighting in Damascus would prevent fighting in Tehran. Now you hear these statements mostly from Syrian officials without any nod from their Iranian counterparts. Last February, a conservative cleric called Syria "Iran's 35th province" and claimed that losing the secular, Alawite-ruled country would be strategically more devastating than losing the oil-rich province of Khuzestan. Grim internal and regional realities, however, have undermined these hardline views.
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate on September 4 that "bad guys" and "extremists" make up between 15 and 25 percent of the Syrian insurgency. The reality is far more complicated -- with enormous significance for the prospect of U.S. military action.
First of all, the crucial point: the insurgency simply cannot effectively be divided into two simple, easy to digest, categories of "moderate" and "extremist." While estimates vary considerably, there are currently thought to be as many as 1,000 individual armed groups in Syria, representing approximately 100,000 fighters. A great deal of these groups are small and operate on a particularly localized level, but there are a number of alliances and lines of loose command and control that provide an inkling of clarity (to follow later).
As part of a series of attacks on police and security personnel, a bomb targeting the convoy of General Mohamed Ibrahim, the Egyptian minister of interior, exploded on Thursday leading to at least one death and the injury of over 20 people. The bombing comes at a critical time as negotiations between the interim government and the Muslim Brotherhood falters, making the future of political reconciliation all the more uncertain. The attack has serious repercussions on police reform efforts in light of the increasing securitization of the political crisis.
The bombing took place in Cairo's eastern suburb of Nasr City, a few miles away from the famous Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque where thousands of ousted President Mohamed Morsi supporters camped for weeks. While Ibrahim escaped harm, several of his guards and civilians who happened to be in the area were severely wounded as a result of the massive explosion. Early reports suspect that a car implanted with a heavy dose of TNT and parked near the minister's residence was the cause, raising fears of the introduction of roadside explosions into the country.
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It wasn't too long ago when Yemen launched its ostensibly inclusive National Dialogue process. The conference, which started on March 18, was meant to mend the wounds of the society and lead to the promulgation of the Yemeni constitution. But whoever thought that six months were sufficient for reconciliation and change was overly ambitious. The conference uncovered deep-rooted differences that confounded its participants and further polarized discussions, leading to a further indefinite delay.
In order to salvage the situation, the government of Yemen issued a statement on August 21 apologizing to the people of the southern, eastern, and northern provinces of the country for the wars and military campaigns launched during the Saleh regime. At the outset, the move seemed to be mature and reconciliatory, but it had counter effects on the ground. The apology came across as insipid at a time when the government has been either aggressive or ambivalent toward these areas. To make matters worse, the government exerted no effort in conducting consultations on the draft prior to issuing the statement. If it had done so, it would have probably been advised to remove some of its belligerent language that has inflamed, rather than quelled, the fury of many Yemenis.
Fatima Abo Alasrar
After a chemical attack killed hundreds of Syrian civilians -- up to around 1,400 people in estimates from the United States -- in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, the U.S. Congress is now debating whether to authorize military action. Yet, as President Barack Obama sought to rally a coalition of states to support a military operation, trusted allies like Britain and Germany announced that they would not participate in strikes. In tandem, the Arab League, whose support for the use of force in Libya was critical for securing further legitimacy, failed to vote to explicitly support U.S.-led military action.
Despite the reluctance from European and Arab states, the Turkish government has loudly proclaimed its support for military action. Turkish opposition parties, however, oppose the strike and argue that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's support is just the latest blunder in the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) handling of the Syrian civil war. The opposition has consistently criticized the government's Syria policy and for exposing Turkey to blowback from the conflict.
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Boxed into a corner by U.S. President Barack Obama's "red line" that the Assad regime has crossed with its apparent use of chemical weapons on August 21, the United States finds itself on the verge of intervening militarily in Syria's increasingly brutal and complex civil war.
Whatever the United States and its allies decide to do in Syria, scant attention has been paid to the few important lessons that can be drawn from the multilateral intervention in Libya two years ago. Libya teaches us three things: 1) any intervention has to have a clear political strategy defining the mission's objectives as well as plans to counteract the undesirable but foreseeable consequences that are natural byproducts of any intervention 2) limited intervention -- like the kind under consideration for Syria --could have very dangerous consequences, potentially more dangerous than a less limited intervention 3) the political legitimacy conferred by Arab and regional powers, such as Turkey or Qatar, is essential for the success and public relations aspect of the intervention, but also creates its own difficulties which must be actively counteracted.
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It is time to set Lakhdar Brahimi free. After a year's service as envoy for the United Nations and Arab League to Syria, the veteran Algerian mediator faces the final breakdown of his efforts to end the war. Disillusioned with both the Syrian government and its opponents, he came close to resigning in May. Since then he has hung on, mainly because his departure would look like an admission that a peace deal is impossible. His demeanor suggests that he is painfully conscious of the hopelessness of his situation.
A week ago, with Western military action against Damascus apparently looming after the regime's suspected use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, it looked like Brahimi finally had a way out. If the United States and its allies launched missile or air strikes without a U.N. mandate, he could resign with a clear conscience. Yet since Britain balked and U.S. President Barack Obama declared that he would put the issue to Congress, there have been calls for Brahimi to make a last-ditch attempt to show there is still some diplomatic way out of the crisis.
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As the United States moves closer to taking military action against the Syrian government, the leadership of the mainstream armed opposition force has chosen a curious time to appear to be on the verge of unraveling. Known generically as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), this assortment of mostly secular defecting Sunni Arab officers and mostly Islamist volunteers has attempted several reorganizations. The most recent of these is now seriously threatened by a resignation threat from senior commanders.
The most durable and potentially promising was the formation of the province-by-province military council (MC) system, formed in late 2011 and early 2012, and then the Supreme Military Council (SMC), established in December 2012. The SMC, whose joint staff is headed by General Salim Idriss, included commanders inside the country as well as exiles and was intended to overcome the gap between commanders on the ground who hold real power and the exiled opposition.
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Syria is Iran's only real state ally in the Middle East. Without Syria the Islamic Republic would be more isolated and weakened in an increasingly unstable and dangerous region. But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's behavior also puts Iranian leaders, especially the newly elected President Hassan Rowhani, in a quandary. Gassing innocent civilians in violation of international norms clearly runs against Rowhani's foreign policy of "reason and moderation." And Rowhani, keen to reduce sanctions against Iran, must demonstrate a softer side to his interlocutors, particularly the United States.
But hardline Iranians, particularly within the Revolutionary Guards, view the world differently. For them Syria is a "frontline" in the war against Israel and the United States. Could Rowhani win them over, or even manage to outmaneuver the most recalcitrant Guards officers? This is a possibility considering Rowhani's sharp political skills and the economic pressures faced by Tehran. But we shouldn't underestimate the capability of U.S. military strikes against Syria to undermine nuclear negotiations, especially if they inflict significant damage on Assad.
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Amid the considerable media frenzy regarding apparently imminent U.S.-led punitive strikes on Syrian military forces and facilities, one interesting party to this country's conflict has been largely ignored: the jihadists. In recent days, a notable number of members of the online jihadist community -- some involved directly and others indirectly in the conflict in Syria -- have been somewhat fixated on a widespread fear that their leaders, personnel, and bases will also be the target of Tomahawk cruise missiles.
While no Western officials have suggested any such eventuality is being considered, the extent of the discussion is telling. In the last one-and-a-half years, jihadists have established a concrete foothold in the heart of the Middle East. Jabhat al-Nusra maintains an operational presence in 11 of Syria's 13 governorates and the roughly four-month old Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) -- an extension of al Qaeda in Iraq's (AQI) front group, the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) -- is catching up fast. This is not to mention at least 10 other decidedly jihadist groups operating on a more localized level across the country. Clearly, this remarkable expansion in jihadist territorial spread and influence is of long-term concern to the West, and it is for this reason that jihadists are so concerned.
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It looks increasingly likely that the United States, in conjunction with key allies, has decided to launch a limited military strike in the coming days to punish Syria for its apparent use of chemical weapons on August 21. But U.S. President Barack Obama has also made it clear that he seeks to fulfill that goal without destroying the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, killing more innocent people, or sparking further regional escalation of the war. While the United States has considerable military assets at its disposal, including ships in the region carrying scores of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (the likely stand-off weapon of choice), it is a challenge to calibrate the response just right. Too little force could have little effect, while too much could backfire.
The United States is not alone in this delicate balancing act. Assad, too, must carefully weigh his options as he ponders how he can respond to an anticipated U.S. strike without unleashing the wrath of the U.S. military and, as a result, jeopardizing his own survival.
On the face of it, Qatar has been one of the United States's most valuable allies in the Middle East over the last decade. Qatar hosts a large U.S. Air Force base in the Persian Gulf and has often provided political and financial support for U.S. initiatives in the Middle East. Indeed, Washington has often encouraged Qatari activism to legitimize U.S. diplomacy, including its political support at the Arab League of a potential U.S. strike against Syria.
But Qatar's role in the United States's Middle East policy is far more problematic than is commonly recognized. The tiny yet ambitious Gulf emirate has sought to use its immense hydrocarbon wealth to finance and arm civil wars in Libya and Syria, to support Hamas in Gaza, and to mediate disputes in Sudan and Lebanon. Its interest sometimes align with the United States's -- but too often, they do not. The launch of Al-Jazeera America, the news network its government owns, should redirect attention to Doha's goals and means.
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Twin car bombs exploded outside packed mosques in Tripoli killing at least 47 people and wounding hundreds. This horrific attack came on the heels of a car bomb in Beirut's southern suburbs on August 15 that killed 27 people and wounded more than 300. Lebanese are more fearful than ever that their country is being dragged into yet another civil war. A return to all-out civil war remains unlikely, but the prospects for stability and security in Lebanon have never been dimmer.
Alarmist messages have sounded furiously in recent days. Lebanon's Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel recently warned of the danger of partition as religious leaders in Tripoli called for establishing vigilante groups to protect their neighborhoods and streets. Resident of Beirut's southern suburbs, considered a Hezbollah stronghold, are now subject to a daily search of their cars at checkpoints manned by Hezbollah men, every time they exit from or return to their homes. There is fear of more explosions in the near future that could drag the country into an irreversible cycle of tit-for-tat retaliatory violence.
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The United States government has had to make some tough calls on Egypt over the last few years. Did the events of January 25, 2011 constitute a revolution? Was the election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi to the presidency the beginning of a revolution of a different kind? Did General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's non-coup constitute the real revolution? These definitional questions were not merely academic. As the director for intelligence and research for the Middle East at the State Department over the last few years, I saw firsthand that the administration was preoccupied with such questions at the highest levels of government. Our inability to answer them even for ourselves has been crippling. The Hamlet complex has been stifling decisions, from Egypt to Syria to Iran, and now back to Egypt. In every case, actions not taken were merely deferred, only to be taken at a later time at the least propitious moment, when a Shakespearean denouement was all but inevitable.
The truth is that government analysts were caught flat-footed by the events in Tunisia and Egypt as they first unfolded. The magnitude and import of Tunisia eluded even the most astute among us. By the third day of events in Egypt in 2011, however, we were sure Hosni Mubarak was going to fall. Seeing, on live TV, the total lack of fear among protesters as they chased after and burnt police vans was sufficient to underline that something fundamental had changed. Those who discounted Tahrir Square as a genuine revolution argued for staying the course, out of loyalty to Mubarak and for safeguarding U.S. security interests from the unknown to follow should he be toppled. Values and accurate forecasting fortunately won the day, and Mubarak's denying the will of his people was decried.
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Egypt's Interim President Adli Mansour issued a new constitutional declaration on July 8 following President Mohamed Morsi's removal from office. This declaration laid out a three-step process for amending Egypt's constitution. First, a 10-member technical committee would be given one month to propose changes to the 2012 constitution. Following that, a 50-member constituent assembly (which will have only six political party representatives and which shall consist mostly of representatives from state institutions) will have two months to debate the proposed changes. Finally, a referendum will be organized to ratify the new constitution, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.
The first step in that process has now been completed, and the results are profoundly disappointing. The technical committee, which consisted of six judges and four academics (three of whom are retired), finalized its proposals on August 20. An official version of its proposed changes has not yet been released, but what looks like a final version has been circulated to various news outlets, and gives a good idea of what the technical committee has planned for the country's future. While a few of the changes that the technical committee offers are significant, the vast majority are not. The draft constitution that the committee has prepared merely tinkers with the 2012 constitution, which itself offered only minor departures from the 1971 constitution.
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In the wake of the recent carnage in Egypt some observers have declared the Arab Spring dead and buried. Its epitaph has been splashed across the pages of the New York Times and other publications, along with calls for the United States to give up efforts to promote competitive politics in the Arab world. A democracy agenda must now give way to an agenda of "responsible governance." This eulogy is animated by the assumption that Egyptian politics represents merely one extreme version of a shared political pathology for which there is no remedy. If democratization has failed in Egypt, it is bound to collapse in every Arab state now undergoing struggles for political change.
What happens in Egypt does matter. The epicenter of the Arab world, its political struggles are being closely watched by rival political forces throughout the region. Egypt's failure might be repeated, particularly if those groups that fear that democratization is giving rivals unchecked power decide to emulate Egypt's "Tamarod" movement by revolting against fragile transitions. But the carnage in Egypt could also encourage rival political leaders to revive efforts to forge political consensus. Not only is the game far from over: Egypt's struggles might help save what is left of the "Arab Spring."
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Upon first reading the short news item in the highbrow daily al-Shuruq that the judicial committee drafting amendments to Egypt's 2012 constitution is completing its work, a reader would likely have felt satisfied that it answered the Egyptian equivalent of the American question, "And apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" With the number of killed entering four digits and a political atmosphere in which Islamists and security forces appear locked in a deadly battle; with an overheated public atmosphere in which adversaries appear caught in a spiral of outlandish conspiracy theories and dehumanization; with foreign journalists subject to verbal abuse and harassment and Christians subject to much worse -- with all this, what is the point of talking about constitutional reform? The contours of Egypt's political future seem starkly clear: an abusive security state, operating (at least for the short term) in an atmosphere of panicked public approval; an Islamist opposition increasingly alienated from the political process and willing to use thuggish force; and ongoing civil strife. What does the constitutional process have to do with this? Can it even continue under such circumstances? Can a constitution written in 2012 largely by people now decried as terrorists really be amended to serve Egypt in 2013? Isn't the new regime's "road map" to restore constitutional rule and elections superseded by recent events?
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It is ironic that a state claiming to rule according to Islamic principles, Saudi Arabia, fears the rise to power of Islamists -- both at home and in neighboring countries. One regional Islamist trend worries the Saudi leadership, the Muslim Brotherhood which has decided to engage in politics through elections and the democratic process.
Saudi legitimacy is based on an appropriation of Islamic symbols such as claims that "our constitution is the Quran" and the application of sharia. The Saudi leadership fears losing its unique Islamic credentials as Islamists in other countries reach power. It wants to remain the sole Islamic model in the Arab region. The possibility of neighboring states combining Islamist politics with democracy threatens the Saudi model and seriously alarms the Saudi state.
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