Last week's attack on the French Embassy in Tripoli was the first significant terrorist attack against foreign interests in the Libyan capital since the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi. More crucially, it marks an escalation in the covert war being waged to determine the future orientation, institutions, constitution, and very soul of the new Libya. At the same time the conflict between the government and militias has escalated, with the latter besieging the ministries of defense, interior, and foreign affairs, demanding the resignation of the ministers and the immediate application of the political isolation law, which is in the process of being debated and voted on. Collectively, these events show a decrease in the legitimate political institutions' capacity to guide the transition process successfully and an increase in the attempts of armed elements to alter the rules of the political game in their favor.
For the international community the attack against the French Embassy and the radicalization of the conflict between militias and government institutions must serve as a wake-up call, and remind them that the gains of the NATO-led intervention are at risk of being undone. The countries that helped overthrow Qaddafi should redouble their efforts to support the creation of professional armed forces and police, vocational training, and constitution writing. If greater support is withheld, the French Embassy attack may prove to be the start of a trend, in which case Libyan -- and by extension North African -- instability would become a permanent status quo. The crisis in Mali and the growing instability in Algeria -- and most recently Tunisia -- offer clear evidence in support of this conjecture.
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Life rarely gives you second chances. But if handled deftly, the Arab Peace Initiative (API), discussed yesterday at a Blair House meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and an assembled group of Arab foreign ministers, could help form the basis of a serious reconstituted peace process. The delegation came to Washington under the guise of the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee -- a group charged with securing acceptance of the API by Israel and others.
The API was proposed over a decade ago by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah at a 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut that convened amidst raging Israeli-Palestinian violence. Endorsed by the Arab League, the proposal offered Israel the prospect of peace, security, and normal relations -- a goal Israel has sought since its independence in 1948. In return, the Arabs called on Israel to agree to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital.
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The hostage siege in Algeria continues as international officials question the efficacy of a unilateral Algerian military raid on Thursday. Algerian troops stormed the living quarters of the Tigantourine gas field in In Amenas where militants have been keeping an undisclosed number of Algerians and foreigners hostage. Reuters estimates 30 hostages and 11 militants were killed in the ensuing firefight, and an estimated 650 hostages have been freed, including 573 Algerians. According to the Algerian government, the raid by the army has ended, but the British Foreign Office said the "terrorist incident remains ongoing." Prime Minister David Cameron said that Algerian forces are still looking for some hostages and their captors. There are still many American, European, and Japanese citizens missing. The Algerian government ordered the siege without consulting other governments and has said it was necessary to prevent the militants from leaving the country with those they are holding captive. Japan called the operation "regrettable" and other officials said they wished they had been consulted. A U.S. plane has landed near the facility to evacuate hostages.
According to Syrian TV, rocket fire hit the Muhafaza Sakaniya neighborhood in western Aleppo on Friday, causing several casualties. However, opposition groups blamed Syrian forces for the blast, which hit the government controlled neighborhood. Syrian State TV also blamed opposition forces for two suicide car bombings Friday near a mosque in Daraa, south of Damascus. Meanwhile, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said the country would prevent the thousands of Syrian refugees expected to flee if the Assad regime falls from entering Jordan. He said, "We will stop them and keep them in their country." Ensour continued that the Jordanian government would deploy special forces troops to create "secure safe havens" within Syrian territory. There are already 285,000 Syrian refugees estimated in Jordan, exhausting resources.
AFP/Getty Images/ Oli Scarff
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi turned Egyptian politics on its head on Thanksgiving eve with his now familiar style of governance: a unilateral, surprise decree, the fourth of its kind since Morsi assumed his position in June. Each of these decisions has proceeded with little to no consultation and, regardless of their intent, each proclamation was notable for carving out further and broader authorities for the executive. The common thread linking these decisions is the majoritarian lens though which the Muslim Brotherhood understands political life and democratic politics -- one which bodes ill at this foundational moment when Egypt is attempting to refashion its social compact and establish a sustainable constitutional and political order.
Morsi's majoritarian mindset is not anti-democratic per se, but depends upon a distinctive conception of winner-takes-all politics and the denigration of political opposition. Winning elections, by this perspective, entitles the victors to govern unchecked by the concerns of the losers. This chronic overreach has cemented the divide between Islamists and non-Islamists and heightened suspicions of the Brotherhood's ultimate intentions.
The death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials in Libya last Wednesday should serve to draw much-needed attention to an increasingly untenable contradiction in U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Even while it seeks to recover from this latest attack by Islamic radicals, the United States continues to support or tolerate the mobilization of adherents of that very same ideology elsewhere in the region, most clearly in Syria and in Bahrain. There, U.S. policymakers should expect equally frightening results.
The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was carried out by suspected members of Ansar al-Sharia, or Partisans of Islamic Law, a group adhering to the same Salafi (or Wahhabi) religious interpretation more commonly associated with Saudi Arabia. And while the popular anti-American protests that have continued to spread across the region cannot be painted with a single brushstroke, and doubtless have roots in local political grievances, still one feature they share is the conspicuous presence -- and organizational power -- of Sunni Islamists.
read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/GettyImages
The Libyan government has arrested four people suspected to be connected with Tuesday night's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The attack resulted in the death of four U.S. diplomats. U.S. and Libyan officials continue to search for others who might have been involved, and are investigating the militant fundamentalist group Ansar al Sharia. New information has led U.S. officials to doubt initial assessments that the attack was planned in advance, but rather an opportunistic assault. Authorities released the names of the two people killed in addition to Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith. They are Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, both former Navy Seals. Meanwhile, four people were reported killed and an estimated 34 injured in clashes between protesters and police near the U.S. embassy in Yemen's capital Sanaa on Thursday. In Iran, protests outside the Swiss embassy, which handles U.S. interests, lasted for about two hours and peacefully dispersed. Protests continued in Cairo where demonstrators clashed with Egyptian police, injuring 224 people between the U.S. embassy and Tahrir Square. U.S. President Barack Obama called for Egypt to honor its commitments to protect U.S. diplomats and facilities. Relations between the United States and Egypt have become increasingly tense, and Obama in an interview with Telemundo, "I don't think that we would consider [Egypt] an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy." The United States has put embassies across the Arab world on high alert bracing for demonstrations expected after Friday prayers.
U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Damascus Thursday saying the conflict is worsening. He stated, "We came to Syria to consult with our Syrian brothers. There is a crisis in Syria, and I believe it is getting worse." Brahimi is set to meet with President Bashar al-Assad and opposition representatives on Friday. He is scheduled to meet with a delegation from the opposition National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC), a group of leftists, Kurds, and independent political activists. Meanwhile, heavy clashes were reported in the western and southern regions of Aleppo and outside Damascus. According to an activist, "There is a fresh campaign on the eastern parts of Damascus." Residents of the southern district of Tadamon said the opposition Free Syria Army (FSA) has pulled out of the neighborhood. One resident said, "Any house that had any link to the Free Syrian Army has been destroyed." And residents said the army threatened to destroy the remaining houses if the FSA is allowed to reenter. Increased sectarian violence is being reported between Shiite and Sunni communities, and the conflict is causing regional divisions along sectarian lines.
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The idea that the United States and Iran are locked in a "shadow war" has almost imperceptibly evolved into a new conventional wisdom. But this idea is not only conceptually confusing and historically misleading, it poses a serious risk of normalizing hostile interactions and expectations of conflict. The long public debate about the need for a more credible military threat for Iran's non-compliance in nuclear talks, the escalating use of sanctions as coercive diplomacy, the occasional dramatic revelations about the use of nonconventional force -- from targeting killings to cyber attacks -- create a perception of a virtual war, and crowd out a more reasoned discussion of U.S. goals and objectives vis-à-vis Iran, and how to achieve them.
The rhetorical use of "war" to describe U.S.-Iranian relations has been harmful, although such imprecise use of the word is not unique to Iran. War is used to describe counterterrorism efforts, and its use in domestic contexts (war on poverty, for example) has trivialized the term. History has also dumbed down the meaning; countries no longer exercise the quaint courtesy of declaring war to warn an adversary about the commencement of hostilities, and evolving international norms prefer the management of conflict to the formalities of war and peace. Most wars are undeclared, and peace agreements are sometimes not irrevocable commitments. Still, labeling U.S.-Iranian relations as in a state of war creates a mindset in both publics and political classes that undermines prospects for any normalization of relations.
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With the fighting in Syria escalating into Damascus, there is still no consensus among U.N. Security Council members to push for sanctions or military intervention (as they did for Libya). But the results of a new survey by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, published exclusively today on ForeignPolicy.com, reveals a general consensus among Americans of what they are and are not willing to do to help end the bloodshed in Syria. A sizable majority of those polled support a U.S. role in enforcing sanctions and a no-fly zone in Syria (though a larger majority opposes bombing Syrian air defenses, which could be a prerequisite step to enforcing a no-fly zone). At the same time, overwhelming majorities oppose more forceful measures such as arming the Syrian opposition or sending troops into Syria.
The Chicago Council Survey, fielded May 25 through June 8, asked over 1,800 Americans about a series of diplomatic and military options the United States could pursue along with its allies to stem the fighting in Syria. It found that the American public was generally ready to support limited measures, even before the fighting extended toward Damascus, but had little appetite for more direct actions. Six out of ten said they supported increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Syrian regime (63 percent), and nearly as many said they would support enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria (58 percent). Beyond these options, there is limited support for sending arms and supplies to anti-government groups in Syria (27 percent; 67 percent oppose), bombing Syrian air defenses (22 percent; 72 percent oppose), or sending troops into Syria (14 percent; 81 percent oppose).
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After a historic trial, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been convicted of a "breach of trust" and acquitted on two charges of corruption. Olmert was cleared of the central corruption charges including the Rishon Tours affair, in which he was accused of double-billing nonprofit organizations and using profits for personal trips, and the Talansky Affair, in which Olmert was charged with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a U.S. businessman. Olmert was found guilty of "procedural improprieties" in the Investment Center affair, granting illegal favors to a friend when he held the position of minister of industry, trade, and labor. Olmert resigned after three years as prime minister in 2009 due to pressure from the charges, at a time when he had been holding negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He is the first Israeli prime minister to face charges severe enough to hold prison terms, and could receive up to five years in jail at his sentencing in September.
International envoy Kofi Annan met with Iranian officials after agreeing to a peace deal with President Bashar al-Assad. Annan said, "My presence here proves that I believe Iran can play a positive role and should therefore be a part of the solution." Russia is pushing for new talks in Moscow between world powers on Syria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov stressed the desire to follow up on the June 30 meeting held in Geneva focused on saving Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan. However, Russia continues to insist that a negotiated plan cannot be contingent upon President Bashar al-Assad's removal from power. In contrast, the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, emphasized that there could be no transition without the fall of Assad. Venezuela has additionally propped up the regime by supplying Syria with oil and helping Assad to evade sanctions. Meanwhile, fighting was reported in Deir al-Zour, Deraa, Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus. Three people were killed in Lebanon in the second deadly attack in three days as the conflict continues to spill across the border.
Early polling shows Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi will face off with former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq for presidential election run-offs scheduled for June 16 and 17. While official results are not expect to be released by the electoral commission until May 27, the Muslim Brotherhood's estimate was reported after 90 percent of the country's votes were tallied. Over 50 percent of the 50 million eligible voters were estimated to have turned out to vote. The two days of the first round of polling were considered to be mostly calm with minor violations reported by election monitors, Observers Without Borders. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the "historic" election saying, "We will continue to stand with the Egyptian people." If early reports are correct, the election will be a contest between two of the field's most polarizing candidates. Morsi, who was the Brotherhood's selection after their preferred candidate, Khairat el Shater, was disqualified, has appealed to Islamists, but is criticized as being nothing more than a new face on Shater's platform. At the same time, revolutionaries fear that Shafiq symbolizes a return to the old regime. But, he is supported by Coptic Christians and secularists.
As the United Nations' observer mission has neared its full deployment of 300 monitors, international envoy Kofi Annan is preparing to travel to Syria to meet with the government to discuss the failing peace plan. The mission's mandate is for 90 days and is set to expire in July. However, demonstrations and extensive violence continue throughout the country. Protesters took to the streets after Friday prayers in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, and Deir el-Zour. According to the activist Local Coordination Committees, about 40 civilians were killed across Syria Thursday, and eight more on Friday. Prominent opposition member, Brigadier General Aqil Hashem, spoke to Britain's House of Commons Thursday, appealing for an international intervention, in the form of targeted air strikes, to halt the fighting in Syria. His comments, however, highlighted the increasing divisions within the opposition. Meanwhile, Syria's diplomatic mission in New York has been prevented from opening a bank account, and has complained that the United States, as the host country of the United Nations, is adopting "discriminatory" practices.
BERLIN - If at one time European governments believed the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran was far more frightening for the United States than for those across the Atlantic, those days are in the past. As talks near on Iran's nuclear program, Tehran should know that European officials' views are somewhere in the middle between America's caution and Israel's alarm.
This major shift among European states was on display during a recent closed-door meeting in Berlin, co-organized by the Heinrich Boell Stiftung, the political foundation affiliated with Germany's Green Party, and the American Jewish Committee Berlin. Not only did officials and experts agree with many in the Obama administration that the policy of containment has failed, all backed the demand that Iran must agree in upcoming talks scheduled for April 13 with the 5+1 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to stop enriching uranium for a certain period.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Imagesa
FIFA, the international federation for world soccer, is poised to make a decision in a few days that will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Muslim women -- whether or not to overturn the current ban on the hijab, or headscarf. Matters actually came to a head last summer, in June 2011, when the entire Iranian women's soccer team was prevented from playing in Olympic qualifying matches held in Jordan. The ouster of an entire national team, minutes before a key international match, led to a resurgent global debate on the relations between the hijab, sports, and international politics. Today, however, the winds of change seem to be blowing back in the other direction, as activists, athletes, and allies -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- appear to have met every FIFA objection and will arrive at the March 3 London meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) with a proposal to lift the ban and allow thousands of women an opportunity that is blocked under current rules.
Sport Hijab designed by Cindy van den Bremen, Capsters; Photo by Peter Stigter
In a formal ceremony on Saturday, Yemen's outgoing President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, handed over power to his Vice President, Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi. Hadi received 99 percent of votes in last week's election which was criticized for being merely akin to a one-sided referendum in which voters had only one option -- a "Yes" vote for Hadi. The election officially ended the 33-year rule of Saleh, however many are concerned that he will maintain influence through his family network in leadership roles, and concerns were heightened as he announced his support for Hadi. This fear made Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa boycott the power transfer ceremony and caused many Yemenis to protest, saying Hadi should not be seen with Saleh. U.S. President Barack Obama commended the transition, acclaiming the "new beginning" for Yemen. He said, "Under Hadi's leadership, Yemen has the potential to serve as a model for how peaceful transitions can occur when people resist violence and unite under a common cause." Hadi officially took office on Monday, and will oversee the drafting of a new constitution and is set to hold interim power until elections are to take place in two years. According to Saleh's aides, the ousted president will leave Yemen in two days to seek exile in Ethiopia. Protesters have called for his prosecution, challenging the Gulf Cooperation Council deal securing his immunity.
Violence and shelling continue in Homs as the Syrian government held a referendum on constitutional reform. The opposition boycotted the poll, accusing President Bashar al-Assad of failing to abide by the current constitution. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, "no one is fooled" by the referendum while the regime proceeds to "open fire on civilians." The polling was marred by violence with 63 civilians and soldiers killed during Sunday's voting. The European Union has extended sanctions on Syria including on its central bank. Meanwhile, China lashed out after a statement made by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Chinese and Russian vote blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria "despicable." China called the comments "unacceptable" and questioned the "sincerity and efficacy of U.S. policy", referring to the intervention in Iraq.
A team of five United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors arrived in Tehran a day after Iran cut off oil exports to Britain and France. A spokesman from Iran's Oil Ministry, Ali Reza Nikad-Rahbar, said the move was part of punitive measures that will be employed against "hostile" European countries that have complied with sanctions. European countries make up about 18 percent of imports of Iranian crude oil, and have collectively agreed to an oil embargo set to begin in the summer. The trip for the team of U.N. inspectors has been the second in a month during efforts to revive talks that collapsed in Istanbul a year ago. They come at a time of heightened tensions over concerns that Iran's nuclear program, which the country maintains is for peaceful purposes, is instead aimed at nuclear weapons development. Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an appearance on state television announcing progress in the program, increasing the amount of centrifuges and inserting nationally made fuel rods. Meanwhile, the United States has initiated escalating sanctions and not ruled out a military strike on Iran if concerns over the nuclear program are not allayed. Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said "In these negotiations we are looking for a way out of Iran's current nuclear issues so that both sides win."
Arguments & Analysis
'Fighting to remain relevant? The PKK in 2012' (Franco Galdini, Open Democracy)
"As the revolutionary upheavals are set to continue well into 2012, the question of future alternatives emerging in the Kurdish mainstream, especially from the youth, becomes crucial. In other words, if both the traditional (armed) and new (political) axes of the struggle are increasingly perceived as either irrelevant or too weak, respectively, to enforce a change of policy by the Turkish state, the possibility of a Kurdish (youth-led) movement taking matters in their own hands on the recent example of several countries around the region becomes very real."
'Muslim Brothers and Egypt's economy' (Mohamed El Dahshan, The Daily Star)
"How the Brotherhood's budget turns out depends on how parliamentary alliances coalesce. Existing tensions between liberal and Islamist parties will be replaced by common interests; the Brotherhood will find good allies in economic policy in smaller pro-market parties across the aisle. The end result will be a stumbling, learn-as-you-go pragmatic pro-market economic policy with a strong welfare component. Deregulation will slow. Relations with international donors won't change. In the end, the Brotherhood's economic policy may represent little change from the past two decades, as Egypt's economic policy maintained massive subsidization while conducting, or at least promising, pro-business reforms."
'Empty talk on Tahrir Square' (Tim Sebastian, New York Times)
"Parliament's unwillingness to confront the generals is understandable. After all, they still have higher than 80 percent approval ratings across the country -- and they're still making the key decisions. But it does mean that the new politicians' first days at school risk being defined by what they won't do, rather than what they will. A recent survey of the assembly's political parties, conducted by Amnesty International, found, for instance, a depressingly patchy response to the question of women's rights and very little appetite to campaign for female equality. More alarming, though, is the re-emergence of fear. Once again, I was told, Egyptians are starting to look over their shoulder to see who might be listening, to be careful what they say on the phone, to begin considering all over again who they can and cannot trust. "The intelligence services are extremely active," says a well-known commentator."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning human rights violations and calling for the end of violence in Syria. The resolution was overwhelmingly approved with 137 yes votes, 12 no votes, and 17 abstentions. China and Russia voted against the resolution, having previously vetoed a similar resolution in the U.N. Security Council. Russia maintained that the resolution was "unbalanced" because it only targets government violence and excludes the opposition. Meanwhile, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun said China is against foreign military intervention and forced regime change (he is scheduled to visit with Syrian officials to discuss a separate peace initiative). While the U.N. assembly's resolution is non-binding, it has significant symbolic value and further isolates the Syrian regime. According to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, "it sent a clear message to the people of Syria -- the world is with you." It is modeled after an Arab League plan which calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Meanwhile clashes continue throughout Syria, with extreme regime violence in Homs, which has lasted over two weeks. Human rights groups have estimated that the number of deaths attributed to the crackdown has exceeded 7,000 since the beginning of the uprisings about 11 months ago.
Bahraini activists and security forces have clashed as protesters attempted to return to the site of Manama's Pearl Roundabout, on the anniversary of last year's pro-democracy demonstrations. Beginning on February 14, 2011, mainly Shiite activists camped on the symbolic monument for a month before a siege razed tents and destroyed the Pearl Roundabout. Security forces have fired tear gas and were reported to have used stun grenades and shotguns to disburse protesters, some of whom have reportedly retaliated with Molotov cocktails. The government has blamed Bahrain's lead Shiite group, Al Wefaq, for instigating violence as the government-approved rally turned into a riot as activists broke off in an attempt to reoccupy the Pearl Roundabout. Up to 3,000 people have been detained since last year's uprisings and have been subject to extreme sentences and unfair trials, according to activists. Additionally, over 4,000 people have lost their jobs after being accused of anti-government activity. The Bahraini opposition and human rights groups say little has changed despite government promises and are calling for democratic reform. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa addressed the country on the eve of the anniversary claiming a commitment to the "modernization process" and said he had pardoned 291 prisoners. However, none of those released included activists arrested in last year's revolt.
Arguments & Analysis
'Yemen: Can AQAP mount an insurgency?' (Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, The Arabist)
"Al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula has thus far proven successful in Yemen thanks to a cadre of leaders who have imposed unusual discipline on the group, balancing competing constituents while pursuing local, regional, and more recently international agendas. However, the principles that help to explain AQAP's success as a small, leader-centric group will not predispose them for success in insurgency. Disciplining a tightly bound group focused on terrorist attacks and assassinations is one thing; keeping a hodgepodge of "insurgents" in check and on message is another. A larger AQAP means a broader movement, one less under the direct control of the Yemeni leaders who have guided the organization for more than five years."
'One year later, Bahrain slow to reform' (Gregg Carlstrom, Al Jazeera English)
"King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa quickly announced a few changes. He enlisted the help of John Timoney, a former police chief in the United States, and John Yates, a former assistant commissioner with the Metropolitan Police in the United Kingdom. And he issued a royal decree barring the National Security Agency, responsible for dozens of unlawful detentions last year, from carrying out arrests. Yet residents of many Bahraini villages say the abuses have continued. Police continue to raid homes in the dead of night; one unit last week even fired a tear gas canister into the house of Ali Salman, the leader of Al Wefaq. Two people have died under mysterious circumstances in police custody over the past month. Opposition activists say they were tortured."
'The agony of Nabeel Rajab' (Karen Leigh, The Atlantic)
"Many Bahrainis follow his example of peaceful protest and cyber activism. Fearing a media blackout, they bombard foreign rights workers and journalists with Tweets and emails about the violence they say is being perpetrated almost daily in Shi'a neighborhoods like Sitra, the country's hotbed of revolution, and to protesters serving what they say are unjust sentences..."We don't get as much coverage as Syria or Libya, but with our limited resources we have done our best," Rajab says. Bahrainis are some of the most active Arab protesters on social media. In a sense, they provide much of their own coverage."
--Tom Kutsch & Mary Casey
Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa (L) and his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan (L) attend a ministerial meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on February 12, 2012 to discuss their next move on Syria where a bloody 11-month crackdown has left thousands dead (MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)
Is there any hope for Yemen's political transition? Is Egypt on the way to a new revolution? And has the Arab Spring really, really vindicated neoconservativism? Those are only a few of the topics that I take up today in the second exciting episode of Abu Aardvark's MEC Video Blog. All that, and some great guest appearances, which I won't spoil here. Enjoy!
Syria signs Arab League deal to allow observer mission
Syria signed an Arab League initiative which will allow outside Arab monitors and which aims to end the violent nine-month crackdown on protests. The agreement was signed after the Arab League accepted various conditions, most significantly agreeing to lift recently imposed sanctions. According to the deal, in addition to allowing for monitors, Syria must withdraw troops from towns and villages, free thousands of political prisoners, and begin an Arab League-mediated dialogue with the opposition. Russia, after proposing a peace initiative to the U.N. Security Council last week, asked Syria to sign the deal, according to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who said, "Syria listened to the advice." Syria had resisted signing the Arab League's deal for weeks, making sure that it protected Syria's sovereignty, according to Muallem. He said that the country welcomes the observers, believing that their presence will vindicate the government's stance that protests have not been predominantly peaceful. He asserted, "There are many countries in the world who don't wish to admit the presence of terrorist armed groups in Syria," continuing, "They will come and see that they are present." An advance team of security, legal, and administrative observers will be sent into Syria within the next three days and will be followed by teams including human rights experts.
In light of the resignation of the National Security Council's Dennis Ross, and as the international community waits for the United Nations to consider Palestine's road to formal statehood, we call upon the Obama administration and so-called Middle East experts advising the various presidential hopefuls to take some introspective "down time." The purpose is to reassess heretofore time-honored policies, practices, political campaign pronouncements, and come up with a realistic and viable way forward.
It is clear that Obama's efforts toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire have been nothing short of a failure. When tallying on to previous failed administration attempts, the cumulative effect has been a clear loss of strategic leverage. This loss is detrimental to the U.S. interest of securing two states living side by side in peace in the region, as well as influencing the likes of Syria and Iran at a critical time. This trend must be reversed and replaced by revitalized action on a critical U.S. national security issue.
Egyptian-Americans let out a collective sigh of relief this week. After months of governmental handwringing, the Egyptian High Elections Commission finally confirmed that Egyptians abroad will be able to exercise their right to vote in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. Egyptian expatriates were permitted to begin registering yesterday on the Commission's website. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian-Americans have struggled to find their place in the new Egypt. But their participation in Egypt's first real elections will prove what they already knew -- that they too are Egyptians and they too will help chart Egypt's new course.
Like their fellow Egyptians in Tahrir Square, Egyptian-Americans rose up and demanded the fall of the regime on January 25. But unlike their compatriots in Tahrir, Egyptian-Americans also had to prove -- to others but more importantly to themselves -- that their demands were just as legitimate, that their voice was just as authentic.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Violent crackdown on Coptic Christians extinguishes faith in Egyptian military
The Egyptian cabinet held emergency talks on Monday after Sunday's clashes resulted in the death of over 25 people and the injury of nearly 300, mostly Coptic Christians. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) called for an investigation by a fact-finding commission urging "all measures against all those proven to have been involved, either directly or by incitement." Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said, "These events have taken us back several steps." Outrage over Sunday's violence has sparked severe criticism of the ruling military, with the Copts joining political liberals stating the public no longer has faith that the SCAF will provide for a democratic transition. Party leader Ayman Nour said, "The credit that the military received from the people in Tahrir Square just ran out yesterday."
After six months of ongoing peaceful protests, a fracturing of the armed forces, and ongoing violence in numerous parts of the country, Yemenis face increasingly dire conditions each day. And yet they keep showing up. While non-democratic (nay, anti-democratic) neighbors fitfully engage in mediation efforts while also giving refuge to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the U.S. continues to interpret the crisis through the lens of counterterrorism. Concerned about the risk of an emboldened al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the U.S. has offered tepid support for the aspirations of the country's majority, pinned its hopes on an atavistic autocrat, and opted to increase controversial drone attacks in some of the most unstable parts of the country.
This strategy is mistaken. It presupposes a narrow understanding of U.S. interests centered on counterterrorism, which I and others have argued against elsewhere. But it also assumes that working against the revolutionary aspirations of millions of Yemenis is, in fact, the best way to counter the threat of AQAP. Supporting the development of a democratically-constituted Yemen and offering support to its leaders as they build legitimate state institutions makes more sense. This Friday, the Organizing Committee of the Revolution, which is advocating for Saleh's immediate transfer of powers and the formation of a transitional council, has issued a call for a march in pursuit of a "Civil State." Yemenis from across ideological, occupational, generational, and class lines will gather around the country to demand a state accountable to its rights-bearing citizens. It will be the twenty-fifth Friday on which they have done so, camped out in the squares for the weeks in between.
The trajectory of peaceful demonstrations in Libya and Syria has been impacted by regime violence. The result: large populations of internally displaced peoples (IDP's) have been created inside of those countries as well as great numbers of refugees fleeing to bordering countries. Furthermore, the revolutions of the Arab Spring have serious ramifications for already existing refugee populations, notably the more than one million Iraqi refugees that have settled in Syria since 2006. The possibility of increased large-scale refugee movement from Libya and Syria will not only spur a devastating humanitarian crisis, but could also further destabilize the region.
Considering that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is already working with insufficient funds, Western policymakers should pay attention to these imminent crises. One need only look at the social and economic repercussions of the still unresolved predicament of Iraqi refugees to see the urgency of keeping the current situations from escalating into another protracted refugee crisis. The consequences of a prolonged refugee situation could be dire, especially as many of the countries to which the people are fleeing allow few -- if any -- rights, benefits, or protection for refugees.
Historical dates often emerge by sheer coincidence. In 2009, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad formulated an operational goal for his tenure: by 2011 he wanted to build institutions that would justify the proclamation of a Palestinian state. This would not just have symbolic value, as PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat's statement in 1988, but would carry practical implications. Fayyad's efforts have commanded international admiration. The West Bank is indeed run in a way that meets many criteria for successful statehood. As opposed to the past, funds are used responsibly and accounting standards are transparent. The security forces -- originally trained by U.S. Lieutenant General Keith Dayton -- are remarkably effective. Both the Palestinian population and the Israel Defense Forces rely on them more than ever. Hence, September 2011 began to crystallize as a realistic date for the founding of a Palestinian state.
Fayyad's 2011 deadline for the declaration of Palestinian statehood had acquired enormous importance, even though Fayyad never connected it to the bid for U.N. recognition. It has provided Palestinians with a political horizon and a strong motivation to try the route of peaceful resistance and reliance on the international community's support for the new state. The idea of turning to the U.N. for recognition of Palestine seems not to have been a long-term strategy; it emerged as an option faute de mieux, in the absence of negotiations, and without reasonable hope that Netanyahu has the will or the mandate for a meaningful Israeli compromise.
What conclusions are to be drawn about the state of Middle East peacemaking from the extraordinary spectacle of the adversarial encounter between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their several major adversarial addresses in the second half of May?
The spectacle did not bring an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement any closer. Indeed, Netanyahu's address to the U.S. Congress, no less than Congress's reaction to that speech, effectively buried the Middle East peace process for good. For what America's solons were jumping up and down to applaud so wildly as they pandered pathetically to the Israel lobby was Netanyahu's rejection of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, thus endorsing his determination to maintain permanently Israel's colonial project in the West Bank.
If Netanyahu succeeds in his objective, these members of Congress will be able to take credit for an Israeli apartheid regime that former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert predicted would be the inescapable consequence of policies the congressmen cheered and promised to continue to support as generously as they have in the past.
This week, in response to the highly publicized murder of a Jewish family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, a group of 27 U.S. senators signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to press Palestinian leaders to end "incitement directed against Jews and Israel within the Palestinian media, mosques, and schools." According to the letter, the grisly killings in Itamar (for which no suspects, Palestinian or otherwise, have been identified), "is a sobering reminder that words matter, and that Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel can lead to violence and terror."
As evidence for the allegation of pervasive anti-Jewish incitement in Palestinian society, the letter cites a recent, official ceremony honoring Delal Mughrabi, a perpetrator of the 1978 coastal road massacre in Israel, as well as a payment of financial compensation made by the Palestinian Authority to the family of a deceased terror suspect.
Such actions are deserving of condemnation. But if it is indeed the case that "words matter" -and if the elimination of violent and dehumanizing rhetoric is, as the letter says, "critical to establishing the conditions [for] a secure and lasting peace"-then what can explain the senators' silence on the veritable carnival of hate and racist incitement against Arabs and Palestinians that has lately engulfed Israeli society?
Israel has been unnerved by Egypt's revolution. The reason is simple: it fears for the survival of the 1979 peace treaty - a treaty which by neutralizing Egypt, guaranteed Israel's military dominance over the region for the next three decades.
By removing Egypt -- the strongest and most populous of the Arab countries -- from the Arab line-up, the treaty ruled out any possibility of an Arab coalition that might have contained Israel or restrained its freedom of action. As Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan remarked at the time: "If a wheel is removed, the car will not run again."
Since 1979 the United States has spent nearly $2 billion annually on aid to Egypt. Approximately two-thirds has been spent on "foster[ing] a well-trained, modern Egyptian military," with the purpose of ensuring stability in the country and in the region. The remainder of the aid has funded development and economic aid programs targeting civil society development, political party training, and educational exchanges, among other aims. In light of the Egyptian people's ongoing and forceful demonstrations for the removal of President Hosni Mubarak and their calls for a free and democratic political order, the U.S. should shift its aid distribution so that development aid is on par with funding to the military.
President Obama has already called for political change in Egypt leading to more freedom, opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people. In remarks on February 1, the President went so far as to press for an immediate and "orderly transition," leading to free and fair elections rooted in democratic principles. It is now time to begin putting in place the policies that support these words.
As the Palestinian leadership struggles to contain the damage caused by Al Jazeera's release of leaked documents detailing years of their negotiations with Israel, there is one lesson that risks being buried in all of the current hype. The Palestine Papers, and much of the response to them, demonstrate the increasingly narrow line the Palestinian leadership must walk between satisfying its U.S. and Western benefactors, as well as Israel, and maintaining credibility in the eyes of its own people.
As someone who was involved in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for many years, including in the development of many of the documents now in question, I have been particularly struck by the extent and tone of the outrage surrounding the leaked documents. For those Palestinians and other Arabs who actively oppose a two-state solution, I can understand and appreciate their outrage over some of the "unprecedented concessions" contained in these documents.
On the other hand, for those who understand the basic requirements of a two state-solution-an outcome most Palestinians and other Arabs still say they favor, even as they remain highly doubtful of the other side's intentions and the ability of their own leaders to achieve it-there hardly seems cause for surprise, at least as relates to the concessions on permanent status issues - if not on other matters.
Later this evening, the House is set to vote on a resolution "condemning unilateral declarations of a Palestinian state." Introduced by Rep. Howard Berman, the outgoing chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the suspension bill urges Palestinian leaders to "ease all efforts at circumventing the negotiation process, including efforts to gain recognition of a Palestinian state from other nations, within the United Nations, and in other international forums prior to achievement of a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and calls upon foreign governments not to extend such recognition." In other words, despite the fact that the Netanyahu government recently rejected what Thomas Friedman characterized as a $3.5 billion "bribe," the blame, yet again, is put squarely on the Palestinians.
The riled-up congressional response is predictable but in way, it also contradicts the traditional hardline argument in favor of continued occupation. One might naively expect foreign policy hawks to be overjoyed at the news that Palestinian leaders are thinking about declaring a state along June 4, 1967 borders. The hawks have long insisted that the Palestinians' raison d'être is to eradicate Israel. For instance, Jonathan Schanzer, research director at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, writes in his book Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine, "Palestinian nationalism has been based more on destruction (of a Jewish state) than creation (of its own state)."
But today we have Palestinians contemplating independence in territory limited to just 22% of historic Palestine. In other words, the very fact that the Palestinians are willing to settle for 22% of the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean demonstrates that the issue they care about is having their own state and ending the occupation, not supplanting Israel. If Palestinians take their case to the United Nations, then it's proof that their nationalism isn't rooted in destruction. It's a move that you'd expect hawks - especially those who understand that the occupation jeopardizes Israel's character and security - to endorse.
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